Guy de Maupassant.

The complete short stories of Guy de Maupassant online

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an itinerant mountebank, and the other,
who was dressed in what was supposed
to be the costume of a Mexican trapper,
held a revolver in his hand. There were
large-type advertisements in all the pa-
pers that the Montefiores would appear
without fail at the Eden Reunis, the
next Monday.



Nothing else was talked about, for
the puff and humbug attracted people.
The Montefiores, like fashionable
knickknacks, succeeded that whimsical
jade Rose Pech6, who had gone off the
preceding autumn, between the third and
fourth acts of the burlesque, "Ousca
Iscar," in order to make a study of love
in company of a young fellow of seven-
teen, who had just entered the uni-
versity. The novelty and difl&cidty of
their performance revived and agitated
the curiosity of the public, for there
seemed to be an implied threat oi
death, or, at any rate, of wounds and of
blood in it, and it seemed as if they de-
fied danger with absolute indifference.
And that always pleases women; it holds
them and masters them, and they grow
pale with emotion and cruel enjoyment
Consequently, all the seats in the large
theater were let almost immediately,
and were soon taken for several days in
advance. And stout Compardin, losing
his glass of absinthe over a game of
dominoes, was in high spirits^ seeing thd



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THE MOUNTEBANKS



147



future through rosy glasses, and ex-
claimed in a loud voice: "I think I
have turned up trumps, by George!"
* ******

The Countess Regina de Villegby was
lying on the sofa in her boudoir, lan-
guidly fanning herself. She had only
received three or four intimate friends
that day, Saint Mars Montalvin, Tom
ShefiSeld, and her cousin Madame de
Rhouel, a Creole, who laughed as in-
cessantly as a bird sings. It was grow-
ing dusk, and the distant rumbling of
the carriages in the Avenue of the
Champs-Elysees sounded like some som-
nolent rhythm. There was a delicate
perfume of flowers; the lamps had not
been brought in yet, and chatting and
laughing filled the room with a con-
fused noise.

"Would you pour out the tea?" the
Countess said, suddenly, touching Saint
Mars's fingers, who was beginning an
amorous conversation in a low voice,
with her fan. And while he slowly
filled the little china cup, he continued:
"Are the Montefiores as good as the
lying newspapers make out?"

Then Tom Sheffield and the others
all joined in. They had never seen any-
thing like it, they declared; it was
most exciting, and made one shiver un-
pleasantly, as when the espada comes to
close quarters with the infuriated brute
at a bull fight.

Countess Regina listened in silence,
and nibbled the petals of a tea rose.

"How I should like to see them!"
giddy Madame de Rhouel exclaimed.

'^Unfortunately, cousin," the Count-
ess said, in the solemn tones of a
preacher, "a respectable woman dare not
let herself be seen in improper places."



They all agreed with her. Neverthe-
less, Madame de Villegby was present
at the Montefiores' performance, two
days later, dressed all in black, and
wearing a thick veil, at the back of a
stage box.

Madame de Villegby was as cold as
a steel buckler. She had married as
soon as she left the convent in which
she had been educated, without any
affection or even hking for her husband ;
the most sceptical respected her as a
saint, and she had a look of virgin
purity on her calm face as she went
down the steps of the Madeleine on
Sundays, after high mass.

Countess Regina stretched herself
nervously, grew pale, and trembled like
the strings of a violin, on which an
artist had been playing some wild sym-
phony. She inhaled the nasty smell of
the sawdust, as if it had been the per-
fume of a bouquet of unknown flowers;
she clenched her hands, and gazed
eagerly at the two mountebanks, whom
the public applauded rapturously at
every feat. And contemptuously and
haughtily she compared those two men,
who were as vigorous as wild animals
that have grown up in the open air,
with the rickety limbs that look so awk-
ward in the dress of an English groom.

>|c >|c )|c )|c ]|c 4( *

Count de Villegby had gone back to
the country, to prepare for his election
as Councillor-General, and the very eve-
ning that he started, Regina again took
the stage box at the Eden R^unis. Con-
sumed by sensual ardor as if by some
love philter, she scribbled a few words
on a piece of paper — the eternal for-
mula that women write on such occa-
sions.



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148



WORKS OF GUY DE MAUPASSANT



"A carriage will be waiting for you
at the stage door after the performance
— An unknown woman who adores you.**

And then she gave it to a box opener,
who handed it to the Montefiore who
was the champion pistol shot.

Oh! that interminable waiting in a
malodorous cab, the overwhelming emo-
tion, and the nausea of disgust, the fear,
the desire of waking the coachman who
was nodding on the box, of giving him
her address, and telling him to drive
her home. But she remained with her
face against the window, mechanically
watching the dark passage illuminated
by a gas lamp, at the "actors' entrance,"
through which men were continually
hurrying, who talked in a loud voice,
and chewed the end of cigars which had
gone out. She sat as if she were glued
to the cushions, and tapped impatiently
on the bottom of the cab with her heels.

When the actor, who thought it was a
joke, made his appearance, she could
hardly utter a word, for evil pleasure is
as intoxicating as adulterated liquor. So
face to face with this immediate sur-
render, and this unconstrained immod-
esty, he at first thought that he had to
do with a street-walker.

Regina felt various sensations, and a
morbid pleasure throughout her whole
person. She pressed close to him, and
raised her veil to show how yoimg,
beautiful, and desirable she was. They
did not speak a word, like wrestlers be-
fore a combat. She was eager to be
locked up with him, to give herself to
him, and, at last, to know that moral
uncjeanness, of which she was, of course,
ignorant as a chaste wife; and when
they left the room in the hotel together,
where they had spent hours like amorous



deer, the man dragged himself along,
and almost groped his way like a blind
man, while Regina was smiling, though
she exhibited the serene candor of an
imsullied virgin, like she did on Sundays,
after mass.

Then she took the second. He was
very sentimental, and his head was full
of romance. He thought the unknown
woman, who merely used him as her
plaything, really loved hun, and be was
not satisfied with furtive meetings. He
questioned her, besought her, and the
Countess made fun of him. Then she
chose the two mountebanks in turn.
They did not know it, for she had for-
bidden them ever to talk about her to
each other, under the penalty of never
seeing her again, and one night the
younger of them said with humble ten-
derness, as he knelt at her feet:

"How kind you are, to love me and
to want me! I thought that such hap-
piness only existed in novels, and that
ladies of rank only made fun of poor
strolling mountebanks, like us!'*

Regina knitted her golden brows.

*Do not be angry," he continued,
**because I followed you and found out
where you lived, and your real name,
and that you are a countess, and rich,
very rich.'*

'Tou fool!" she exclaimed, trembling
with anger. "People make you believe
things, as easily as they can a child T'

She had had enough of him; he knew
her name, and might compromise her.
The Coimt might possibly come back
from the country before the elections,
and then the mountebank began to love
her. She no longer had any feeling, any
desire for those two loyers, whom a fillip
from her rosy fingers could bend to her



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UGLY



149



will. It was time to go on to the next
chapter, and to seek for fresh pleasures
elsewhere.

"Listen to me," she said to the cham-
pion shot, the next night, "I would
rather not hide anything from you. I
like your comrade; I have given myself
to him, and I do not want to have any-
thing more to do with you."

"My comrade!" he repeated.

*Well, what then? The change
amuses me!"

He uttered a furious cry, and rushed
at Regina with clenched fists. She
thought he was going to kill her, and
dosed her eyes, but he had not the
courage to hurt that delicate body,
which he had so often covered with
caresses, and in despair, and hanging his
head, he said hoarsely:

"Very well, we shall not meet again,
since it is your wish."

The house at the Eden Reunis was as
full as an overfilled basket. The violins
were playing a soft and delightful waltz
of Gungl's, which the reports of a re-
volver accentuated.

The Montefiores were standing oppo-
site to one another, as in Ch6ret's pic-
ture, and about a dozen yards apart. An
electric light was thrown on the younger,
who was leaning against a large white
target, and very slowly the other traced
his living outline with bullet after bullet.



He aimed with prodigious skill, and the
black dots showed on the cardboard, and
marked the shape of his body. The ap-
plause drowned the orchestra, and in-
creased continually, when suddenly a
shrill cry of horror resounded from one
end of the hall to the other. The wo-
men fainted, the violins stopped, and the
spectators jostled each other. At the
ninth ball, the younger brother had
fallen to the ground, an inert mass,
with a gaping wound in his forehead.
His brother did not move, and there
was a look of madness on his face,
while the Countess de Villegby leaned
on the ledge of her box, and fanned
herself calmly, as implacably as any
cruel goddess of ancient mythology.

The next day, between four and five,
when she was surrounded by her usual
friends in her little, warm, Japanese
drawing-room, it was strange to hear in
what a languid and indifferent voice she
exclaimed:

"They say that an accident happened
to one of those famous clowns, the
Monta — the Monte — ^what is the name,
fom?"

"The Montefiores, Madame!"

And then they began to talk about
Ang^le Velours, who was going to buy
the former Folies, at the Hotel Drouot,
before marrying Prince Storbeck.



Ugly



Certainly, at this blessed epoch of
the equality of mediocrity, of rectangu-
lar abomination, as Edgar Allan Poe
^says — ^at this delightful period, when



everybody dreams of resembling every-
body else, so that it has become im-
possible to tell the President of the
Republic from a waiter — ^in these days



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ISO



WORKS OF GUY DE MAUPASSANT



which are the forerunners of that prom-
ising, blissful day, when everything in
this world will be of a dull, neutral uni-
formity, certainly at such an epoch, one
has the right, or rather it is one's duty,
to be ugly.

Lebeau, however, assuredly exercised
that right with the most cruel vigor. He
fulfilled that duty with the fiercest
heroism, and to make matters worse, the
mysterious irony of fate had caused him
to be born with the name of Lebeau,
while an ingenious god-father, the un-
conscious accomplice of the pranks of
destiny, had given him the Christian
name of Antinous.*

Even among our contemporaries, who
were already on the highroad to the
coming ideal of universal hideousness,
Antinous Lebeau was remarkable for his
ugliness, and one might have said that
he pK)sitively threw zeal, too much zeal,
into the matter, though he was not
hideous like Mirabeau, who made people
exclaim, "Oh! the beautiful monster I"

Alas! No. He was without any
beauty of ugliness. He was ugly, that
was all, nothing more nor less ; in short,
he was uglily ugly. He was not hump-
backed, nor knock-kneed, nor pot-
bellied; his legs were not like a pair of
tongs, and his arms were neither too long
nor too short, and yet, there was an
utter lack of uniformity about him, not
only in painters' eyes, but also in every-
body's, for nobody could meet him in
the street without turning to look after
him, and thinking: "Good heavens!
what an object."

His hair was of no particular color; a
light chestnut, mixed with yellow.
There was not much of it; still, he was
not absolutely bald, but just bald



enough to allow his butter-colored pate
to show. Butter-colored? Hardly!
The color of margarine would be more
applicable, and such pale margarine!

His face was also like margarine, but
of adulterated margarine, certainly.
His cranium, the color of imadulterated
margarine, looked almost like butter, in
comparison.

There was very little to say about his
mouth! Less than little; the sum total
was — ^nothing. It was a chimerical
mouth.

But take it that I have said nothing
about him, and let us replace this vain
description by the useful formula: "Im-
possible to describe." But you must
not forget that Antinous Lebeau was
ugly, that the fact impressed every-
body as soon as they saw him, and that
nobody remembered ever having -seen an
uglier person; and let us add, as the
climax of his misfortune, that he thought
so himself.

From this you will see that he was
not a fool, and not ill-natured either;
but, of course, he was imhappy. An
unhappy man thinks only of his wretch-
edness, and people take his nightcap for
a fool's cap, while, on the other hand,
goodness is only esteemed when it is
cheerful. Consequently, Antinous Le-
beau passed for a fool, and an iH-
tempered fool; he was not even pitied
because he was so ugly!

He had only one pleasure in- life, and

*A youth of extraordinary beauty,
page to the Emperor Hadrian (A. D.
117-138), and the object of his extrava-
gant affection. He was drowned in the
Nile, whether by accident, or in order to
escape from the life he was leading, is
uncertain.



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UGLY



151



that was to go and roam about the
darkest streets on dark nights, and to
hear the street- walkers say:

"Come home with me, you handsome,
dark man!"

It was, alas! a furtive pleasure, and
he knew that it was not true. For, occa-
sionally, when the woman was old or
drunk and he profited by the invitation,
as soon as the candle was lighted in the
garret, they no longer murmured the
fallacious ''handsome, dark man." When
they saw him, the old women grew still
older, and the drunken women get sober.
And more than one, although hardened
against disgust and ready for all risks,
said to him, in spite of liberal payment:

"My little man, I must say, you are
most confoundedly ugly."

At last, however, he renounced even
that lamentable pleasure, when he heard
the still more lamentable words which a
wretched woman could not help uttering
when he went home with her:

"Well, I must have been very hungry l"

Alas! It was he was hungry, unhappy
man; hungry for something that should
resemble love, were it ever so little; he
longed not to live like a pariah any
more, not to be exiled and proscribed
by his ugliness. And the ugliest, the
most repugnant woman would have ap-
peared beautiful to him, if she would
only not think him ugly, or, at any rate,
not tell him so, and not let him see that
she felt horror at him on that account.

The consequence was, that, when he
one day met a poor, blear-eyed creature,
with her face covered with scabs, and
bearing evident signs of alcoholism, with
a driveling mouth, and ragged and filthy
petticoats, to whom he gave liberal alms,
for which she kissed his hand, he took



her home with him, had her cleansed,
dressed, and taken care of, made her his
servant, and then his housekeeper. Next
he raised her to the rank of his mistress,
and, finally, of course, he married her.

She was almost as ugly as he was!
Almost, but certainly not quite; for she
was hideous, and her hideousness had
its charm and its beauty, no doubt; that
something by which a woman can attract
a man. And she had proved that by
deceiving him, and she let him see it
better still, by seducing another man.

That other man was actually uglier
than he was.

He was certainly uglier, a collection
of every physical and moral ugliness, a
companion of beggars whom she had
picked up among her former vagrant
associates, a jail-bird, a dealer in little
girls, a vagabond covered with filth, with
legs, like a toad's, with a mouth like a
lamprey's, and a death's head, in which
the nose had been replaced by two holes.

"And you have wronged me with a
wretch like that," the poor cuckold said.
"And in my own house! and in such a
manner that I might catch you in the
very act! And why, why, you wretch?
Why, seeing that be is uglier than I
am?"

**0h! no," she exclaimed. "You may
say what you like, that I am a dirty
slut and a strumpet; but do not say
that he is uglier than you are."

And the unhappy man stood there,
vanquished and overcome by her last
words, which she uttered without un-
derstanding all the horror which he
would feel at them.

"Because, you see, he has his own
particular ugliness, while you are merely
ugly like everybody else is."



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The Debt



"Pst! Pst! Come with me, you
handsome dark fellow. I am very nice,
as you will see. Do come up. At any
rate you will be able to warm yourself,
for I have a capital fire at home."

But nothing enticed the foot-passen-
gers, neither being called a handsome,
dark fellow, which she applied quite im*
partially to old or fat men also, nor the
promise of pleasure which was empha-
sized by, a caressing ogle and smile, nor
even the promise of a good fire, which
was so attractive in the bitter December
wind. And tall Fanny continued her
useless walk, and the night advanced
and foot-passengers grew scarcer. In
another hour the streets would be abso-
lutely deserted, and imless she could
manage to pick up some belated drunken
man, she would be obliged to return
home alone.

And yet tall Fanny was a beautiful
woman! With the head of a Bacchante,
and the body of a goddess, in all the
full splendor of her twenty-three years,
she deserved something better than this
miserable pavement, where she could not
even pick up the five francs which she
wanted for the requirements of the next
day. But there! In this infernal Paris,
in this swarming crowd of competitors
who all jostled each other, courtesans,
like artists, did not attain to eminence
until their later years. In that they re-
sembled precious stones, as the most
valuable of them are those that have
been set the oftenest.

And that was why tall Fanny, who
was later to become one of the richest
and most brilliant stars of Parisian gal-
lantry, was walking about the streets on
this bitter December night without a



half-penny in her pocket, in spite of the
head of a Bacchante, and the body of a
goddess, and in all the full splendor of
her twenty-three years.

However, it was too late now to hope
to meet anybody; there was not a single
foot-passenger about; the street was de-
cidedly empty, dull, and lifeless. Noth-
ing was to be heard, except the whistling
of sudden gusts of wind, and nothing
was to be seen, except the flickering gas
lights, which looked like dying butter-
flies. Well! The only thing was to re-
turn hbme alone.

But suddenly, tall Fanny saw a hu-
man form standing on the pavement at
the next crossing. It seemed to be hesi-
tating and uncertain which way to go.
The figure, which was very small and
slight, was wrapped in a long cloak,
which reached almost to the ground.

"Perhaps he is a hunchback," the girl
said to herself. "They like tall women!"
And she walked quickly toward him,
from habit already saying: *'Pstl Pst I
Come home with me, you handsome,
dark fellow!" What luck! The man
did not go away, but came toward
Fanny, although somewhat timidly,
while she went to meet him, repeating
her wheedling words, so as to reassure
him. She went all the quicker, as she
saw that he was staggering with the
zigzag walk of a drunken man, and she
thought to herself: "When once they
sit down, there is no possibility of get-
ting these beggars up again, for they
want to go to sleep just where they are.
I only hope I shall get to him before he
tumbles down."

Luckily she reached him just in time
to catch him in her arms, but as soon



U2



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THE DEBT



153



as she had done so, she almost let him
fall, in her astonishment. It was neither
a drunken man, nor a hunchback, but a
child of twelve or thirteen in an over-
coat, who was crying, and who said in a
weak voice: *I beg your pardon,
Madame, I beg your pardon. If you
only knew how hungry and cold I am!
I beg your pardon ! Oh! I am so cold."

"Poor child!" she said, putting her
arms around him and kissing him. And
she carried him off, with a full, but
happy heart, and while he continued to
sob, she said to him mechanically:
"Don't be frightened, my little man.
You will see how nice I can be! And
then, you can warm yourself; I have a
capital fire."

But the fire was out; the room, how-
ever, was warm, and the child said, as
soon as they got in: "Oh! How com-
fortable it is here! It is a great deal
better than in the streets, I can tell
you! And I have been living in the
streets for six days." He began to cry
again, and added: "I beg your pardon,
Madame. I have eaten nothing for two
days."

Tall Fanny opened her cupboard,
which had glass doors. The middle shelf
hdd all her linen, and on the upper
one there was a box of Albert biscuits, a
drop of brandy at the bottom of a
bottle, and a few small lumps of sugar
in a cup. With that and some water
out of a jug, she concocted a sort of
broth, which he swallowed ravenously,
and when he had done, he wished to
tell his story, which he did, yawning all
the time.

His grandfather (Uie only one of his
relatives whom he had ever known),
who had been a painter and decorator at



Soisson, had died about a month before;
but before his death he had said to him :

"When I am gone, httle man, you
will find a letter to my brother, who is
in business in Paris, among my papers.
You must take it to him, and he will be
certain to take care of you. However,
in any case you must go to Paris, for
you have an aptitude for painting, and
only there can you hope to become an
artist."

When the old man was dead (he died
in the hospital), the child started,
dressed in an old coat of his grand-
father's, and with thirty francs, which
was all that the old man had left be-
hind him, in his pocket. But when he
got to Paris, there was nobody of the
name at the address mentioned on the
letter. The dead man's brother had left
there six months before; nobody knew
where he had gone to, and so the child
was alone. For a few days he managed
to exist on what he had over, after pay-
ing for his journey. After he had spent
his last franc, he had wandered about
the streets, as he had no money with
which to pay for a bed, buying his
bread by the half-penny-worth, imtil for
the last forty-eight hours he had been
without anything, absolutely without
anything.

He told her all this while he was half
asleep, amid sobs and yawns, so that
the girl did not venture to ask him any
more questions, in spite of her curiosity,^
but, on the contrary, cut him short, and
undressed him while she listened, and
only interrupted him to kiss him, and
to say to him: "There, there, my poor
child! You shall tell me the rest to-
morrow. You cannot go on now, so go
to bed and have a good sleep." And



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WORKS OF GUY DE MAUPASSANT



fts soon as he had finished, she put hun
to bed, where he immediately fell into a
profound sleep. Then she undressed
herself quickly got into bed by his side,
so that she might keep him warm, and
went to sleep, crying to herself, without
exactly knowing why.

The next day they breakfasted and
dined together at a common eating-
house, on money that she had borrowed,
and when it was dark, she said to the
chad: "Wait for me here; I will come
for you at closing time." She came
back sooner, however, about ten o'clock.
She had twelve francs, which she gave
him, telling him that she had earned
them, and she continued, with a laugh:
"I feel that I shall make some more. I
am in luck this evening, and you have
brought it me. Do not be impatient,
but have some milk-posset while you are
waiting for me.''

She kissed him, and the kind girl felt
real maternal happiness as she went out.
An hour later, however, she was arrested
by the police for having been found in a
prohibited place, and off she went, food
for St. Lazare.*

And the child, who was turned out by
the proprietor at closing time, and th^



Online LibraryGuy de MaupassantThe complete short stories of Guy de Maupassant → online text (page 20 of 125)