Guy de Maupassant.

The complete short stories of Guy de Maupassant online

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lodgings, and disappeared.

The blow was so heavy that she did
not look for ^the man who had aban-
doned her, but threw herself at her
mother's knees, confessed her misfor-
tune, and some months after gave birth
to a boy.

IV.

Years passed, and Franqois Tessier
grew old, without there having been any
alteration in his life. He led the dull,
monotonous life of bureaucrats, without
hopes and without expectations. Every
day he got up at the same time, went
through the same streets, went through
the same door, past the same porter,
went into the same ofl&ce, sat in the
same chair, and did the same work. He
was alone in the world, alone, during the
day, in the midst of his different col-
leagues, and alone at night in his bache-



lor's lodgings, and he laid by a hundred
francs a month, against old age.

Every Sunday he went to the Champs-
Elys6es to watch the elegant people, the
carriages, and the pretty women, and the
next day he used to say to one of his
colleagues: "The return of the car-
riages from the Bois de Boulogne was
very brilliant yesterday." One fine
Sunday morning, however, he went into
the Pare Monceau where the mothers
and nurses, sitting on the sides of the
walks, watched the children playing, and
suddenly Francois Tessier started. A
woman passed by, holding two children
by the hand: a little boy of about ten
and a little girl of four. It was she.

He walked another hundred yards,
and then fell into a chair, choking with
emotion. She had not recognized him,
and so he came back, wishing to see her
again. She was sitting down now and
the boy was standing by her side very
quietly, while the little girl was making
sand castles. It was she, it was cer-
tainly she, but she had the serious looks
of a lady, was dressed simply, and
looked self-possessed and dignified. . He
looked at her from a distance, for he did
not venture to go near, but the little
boy raised his head, and Francois Tessier
felt himself tremble. It was his own
son, there could be no doubt of that.
And as he looked at him, he thought he
could recognize himself as he eLppeaxti
in an old photograph taken years ago.
He remained hidden behind a tree, wait*
ing for her to go, that he might follow
her.

He did not sleep that night. The idea
of the child especially harassed him.
His son! Oh! If he could only have
known, have been sure? But what could



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THE FATHER



163



he have done? However, he went to the
house where she had once lived and
asked about her. He was told that a
neighbor, an honorable man of strict
morals had been touched by her distress
and had married her; he knew the fault
she had committed and had married her,
and had even recognized the child, his,
Francois Tessier's child, as his own.

He returned to the Pare Monceau
every Sunday, for then he always saw
her, and each time he was seized with a
mad, an irresistible longing to take his
son into his arms, cover him with kisses
and to steal him, to carry him off.

He suffered horribly in his wretched
isolation as an old bachelor, with nobody
to care for him, and he also suffered
atrocious mental torture, torn by pater-
nal tenderness springing from remorse,
longing, and jealousy, and from that
need of loving one's own children which
nature has implanted in all. And so
at last he determined to make a de-
spairing attempt, and going up to her,
as she entered the park, he said, stand-
ing in the middle of the path, pale and
with trembling lips : "You do not recog-
nize me." She raised her eyes, looked
at him, uttered an exclamation of hor-
ror, of terror, and taking the two chil-
dren by the hand she rushed away, drag-
ging them after her, while he went home
and wept, inconsolably.

Months passed without his seeing her
again. He suffered, day and night, for
he was a prey to his paternal love. He
would gladly have died, if he could only
have kissed his son; he would have com-
mitted murder, performed any task,
braved any danger, ventured anything.
He wrote to her, but she did not reply,
and after writing her. some twenty let-



ters he saw that there was no hope of
altering her determination. Then he
formed the desperate resolution of writ-
ing to her husband, being quite pre-
pared to receive a bullet from a revolver,
if need be. His letter only consisted of
a few lines, as follows:

"Monsieur :

"You must have a perfect horror of
my name, but I am so miserable, so
overcome by misery, that my only hope
is in you, and therefore I venture to re-
quest you to grant me an interview of
only five minutes.

*'I have the honor, etc."

The next day he received the reply:

"Monsieur :

"I shall expect you to-morrow, Tues-
day, at five o'clock.*'



As he went up the staircase, Francois
Tessier's heart beat so violently that he
had to stop several times. There was a
dull and violent noise in his breast, the
noise as of some animal galloping; he
could only breathe with difficiilty, and
had to hold on to the banisters in order
not to fall.

He rang the bell on the third floor, and
when a maidservant had opened the
door, he asked: ''Does Monsieur Flamel
live here?"

"Yes, Monsieur. Kindly come in."

He was shown into the drawing-room;
he was alone and waited, feeling be-
wildered, as in the midst of a catastro-
phe, until a door opened and a man
came in. He was tall, serious, and
rather stout, he wore a black frock-coat,
and pointed to a chair with his hand.



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WORKS OF GUY DE MAUPASSANT



Francois Tessier sat down, and said,
panting: "Monsieur — ^Monsieur — I do
not know whether you know my name —
whether you know — "

Monsieur Flamel interrupted him:
"You need not tell it me, Monsieur, I
know it. My wife has spoken to me
about you.'*

He spoke it in the dignified tone of
voice of a good man who wishes to be
severe, — ^with the commonplace state-
liness of an honorable man, and Fran-
cois Tessier continued: "Well, Mon-
sieur, I want to say this. I am dying
of grief, of remorse, of shame, and I
would like once, only once, to kiss the
duld."

Monsieur Flamel rose and rang the
bell, and when the servant came in, he
said: "Will you bring Louis here?"
When she had gone out, they remained
face to face, without speaking, having
nothing more to say to one another, and
waited. Then, suddenly, a little boy of
ten rushed into the room, and ran up to
the man whom he believed to be his



father, but he stopped when he saw a
stranger, and Monsieur Flamel kissed
him and said: "Now go and kiss that
gentleman, my dear." And the child
went up to Tessier nicely, and looked
at him.

Frangois Tessier had risen, he let his
hat fall and was ready to fall himself
as he looked at his son, while Monsieur
Flamel had turned away, from a feeling
of delicacy, and was looking out of the
window.

The child waited in surprise, but he
picked up the hat and gave it to the
stranger. Then Francois, taking the
child up in his arms, began to kiss him
wildly all over his face, on his eyes, his
cheeks, on his mouth, on his hair, and
the youngster, frightened at the shower
of kisses tried to avoid them, turned
away his head and pushed away the
man's face with his little hands. But
suddenly Francois Tessier put him down,
cried: "Good-bye! Good-bye!" and
rushed out of the room as if he had been
a thief.



The Artist



"Bah! Monsieur," the old mounte-
bank said to me; "it is a matter of ex-
ercise and habit, that is all ! Of course,
one requires to be a little gifted that
way and not to be butter-fingered, but
what is chiefly necessary is patience and
daily practice for long, long years."

His modesty surprised me all the
more, because of all performers who are
generally infatuated with their own skill,
he was the most wonderfully clever one



I had met. Certainly I had frequently
seen him, for everybody had seen him
in some circus or other, or even in trav-
eling shows, performing the trick that
consists of putting a man or woman with
extended arms against a wooden target,
and in throwing knives between their
fingers and round their heads, from a
distance. There is nothing very extraor-
dinary in it, after all, when one knows
the tricks of the trade, and that the



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THE ARTIST



165



knives are not the least sharp, and stick
into the wood at some distance from
the flesh. It is the rapidity of the
throws, the glitter of the blades, and
the curve which the handles make toward
their living object, which give an air of
danger to an exhibition that has become
commoni^ace, and only requires very
middling skill, v

But here there was no trick and no
deception, and no dust thrown into the
eyes. It was done in good earnest and
in all sincerity. The knives were as
sharp as razors, and the old motmtebank
planted them close to the flesh, exactly
in the angle between the Angers. He
surrounded the head with a perfect halo
of knives, and the neck with a collar
from which nobody could have extri-
cated himself without cutting his caro-
tid artery, while, to increase the difl&-
culty, the old fellow went through the
performance without seeing, his whole
face being covered with a close mask of
thick oilcloth.

Naturally, like other great artists, he
was not understood by the crowd, who
confoimded him with vulgar tricksters,
and his mask only appeared to them a
trick the more, and a very common trick
into the bargain.

"He must think us very stupid," they
said. "How could he possibly aim with-
out having his eyes open?"

And they thought there must be im-
perceptible holes in the oilcloth, a sort
of latticework concealed in the mate-
rial. It was useless for him to allow the
public to examine the mask for them-
sdves before the exhibition began. It
was all very well that they could not
discover any trick, but they were only
all the more convinced that they were



being tricked. Did not the people know
that they ought to be tricked?

I had recognized a great artist in the
old mountebank, and I was quite sure
that he was altogether incapable of any
trickery. I told him so, while express-
ing my admiration to him; and he had
been touched by my open admiration
and above all by the justice I had done
him. Thus we became good friends,
and he explained to me, very modestly,
the real trick which the crowd do not
understand, the eternal trick contained
in these simple words: "To be gifted
by nature and to practice eveiy day for
long, long years."

He had been especially struck by the
certainty which I expressed that any
trickery must become impossible to him.
"Yes," he said to me; "quite impos-
sible ! Impossible to a degree which you
cannot imagine. If I were to tell you I
But where would be the use?"

His face clouded over, and his eyes
filled with tears. I did not venture to
force myself into his confidence. My
looks, however, were not so discreet as
my silence, and begged him to speak; so
he responded to their mute appeal.

"After all," he said; "why should I
not tell you about it? You will under-
stand me." And he added, with a look
of sudden ferocity: "She understood it,
at any rate!"

"Who?" I asked.

"My strumpet of a wife," he replied.
"Ah I Monsieur, what an abominable
creature she was — if you only knew I
Yes, she understood it too well, too well,
and that is why I hate her so; even
more on that account, than for having
deceived me. For that is a natural fault,
is it not, and may be pardoned? But



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WORKS OF GUY DE MAUPASSANT



the other thing was a crime, a horrible
crime."

The woman, who stood against the
wooden target every night with her arms
stretched out and her fingers extended,
and whom the old mountebank fitted
with gloves and with a halo formed of
his knives, which were as sharp as razors
and which he planted close to her, was
his wife. She might have been a woman
of forty, and must have been fairly
pretty, but with a perverse prettiness;
she had an impudent mouth, a mouth
that was at the same time sensual and
bad, with the lower lip too thick for the
thin, dry upper lip.

I had several times noticed that every
time he planted a knife in the board,
she uttered a laugh, so low as scarcely to
be heard, but which was very signifi-
cant when one heard it, for it was a
hard and very mocking laugh. I had
always attributed that sort of reply to
an artifice which the occasion required.
It was intended, I thought, to accentuate
the danger she incurred and the con-
tempt that she felt for it, thanks to the
sureness of the thrower's hands, and so
I was very much surprised when the
mountebank said to me:

"Have you observed her laugh, I say?
Her evil laugh which makes fim of me,
and her cowardly laugh which defies me?
Yes, cowardly, because she knows that
nothing can happen to her, nothing, in
spite of all she deserves, in spite of all
that I ought to do to her, in spite of all
that I want to do to her.*'

"What do you want to do?"

"Confound it! Cannot you guess? I
want to kill her."

"To kill her, because she has — **

"Because she has deceived me? No,



no, not that, I tell you again. I have
forgiven her for that a long time ago,
and I am too much accustomed to it I
But the worst of it is that the first time
I forgave her, when I told her that all
the same I might soipe day have my re-
venge by cutting her throat, if I choose,
without seeming to do it on purpose, as
if it were an accident, 'mere awkward-
ness^—*'

"Oh I So you said that to her?"

"Of course I did, and I meant it. I
thought I might be able to do it, for you
see I had the perfect right to do so. It
was so simple, so easy, so tempting!
Just think! A mistake of less than half
an inch, and her skin would be cut at
the neck where the jugular vein is, and
the jugular would be severed. My
knives cut very well! And when once
the jugular is cut — good-bye. The blood
would spurt out, and one, two, three red
jets, and all would be over; she would
be dead, and I should have had my re-
venge!"

"That is true, certainly, horribly
true!"

"And without any risk to me, eh?
An accident, that is all; bad luck, one of
those mistakes which happen every day
in our business. What could they ac-
cuse me of? Whoever would think of
accusing me, even? Homicide through
imprudence, that would be all! They
would even pity me, rather than accuse
me. *My wife! My poor wife!' I
should say, sobbing. ^My wife, who Is
so necessary to me, who is half the
breadwinner, who takes part in my per*
formance!' You must acknowledge that
I should be pitied!"

"Certainly; there is not the least
doubt aboui that."



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FALSE ALARM



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"And you must allow that such a re-
venge would be a very nice revenge, the
best possible revenge which I could have
with assured impunity."

"Evidently that is so."

^'Very well! But when I told her so,
as I have told you, and more forcibly
still; threatening her, as I was mad with
rage and ready to do the deed that I
bad dreamed of on the spot, what do
you think she said?''

"That you were a good fellow, and
would certainly not have the atrocious
courage to — "

"Tut! tut I tut I I am not such a
good fellow as you think. I am not
frightened of blood, and that I have
proved already, though it would be use-
less to tell you how and where. But I
had no necessity to prove it to her, for
she knows that I am capable of a good
many things; even of crime; especially
of one crime."

"And she was not frightened?"

"No. She merely replied that I could
not do what I said; you understand.
That I could not do it!"

'Why not?"

"Ah! Monsieur, so you do not under-
stand? Why do you not? Have I not
explained to you by what constant, long,
daily practice I have learned to plant my
knives without seeing what I am doing?"

'Tes, well, what then?"

'Well! Cannot you understand what
she has understood with such terrible



results, that now my haiad would no
longer obey me if I wished to make a
mistake as I threw?"

"Is it possible?"

"Nothing is truer, I am sorry to say.
For I really have wished to have the
revenge which I have dreamed of, and
which I thought so easy. Exasperated
by that bad woman's insolence and con-
fidence in her own safety, I have sev-
eral times made up my mind to kill
her, and have exerted all my energy and
all my skill to make my knives fly
aside ^en I threw them to make a
border round her neck. I have tried
with all my might to make them deviate
half an inch, just enough to cut her
throat. I wanted to, and I have never
succeeded, never. And always the slut's
horrible laugh makes fun of me, always,
always."

And with a deluge of tears, with
something like a roar of unsatiated and
muzzled rage, he groimd his teeth as he
wound up: "She knows me, the jade;
she is in the secret of my work, of my
patience, of my trick, routine, whatever
you may call it I She lives in my inner-
most being, and sees into it more closely
than you do, or than I do myself. She
knows what a faultless machine I have
become, the machine of which she makes
fun, the machine which is too well
wound up, the machine which cannot get
out of order — ^and she knows that I can^
not make a mistake."



False Alarm



**I HAVE a perfect horror of pianos,"
said Fr6mecourt, "of those hateful boxes
which fill up a drawing-room, and have



not even the soft sound and the queei
shape of the mahogany or veneered
to which our grandmothers



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WORKS OF GUY DE MAUPASSANT



sighed out exquisite, long-forgotten bal-
lads, allowing their fingers to run over
the keys, while around them there floated
a delicate odor of powder and muslin,
and some little Abb6 or other turned
over the leaves, continually making mis-
takes as he looked at the patches close to
the lips on the white skin of the player
instead of at the music. *1 wish there
were a tax upon them, or that some
evening during a riot, the people would
make huge bonfires of them, which
would illuminate the whole town. They
dimply exasperate me, and affect my
serves, and make me think of the tor-
tures those poor girls must suffer, who
are condemned not to stir for hours,
but to keep on constantly strumming
away at the chromatic scales and
monotonous arpeggios, and to have no
other object in life except to win a prize
at the Conservatoire.

"Their incoherent music suggests to
me the sufferings of those who are ill,
abandoned, wounded. It proceeds from
every floor of every house, it irritates
you, nearly drives you mad, and makes
you break out into ironical fits of
laughter.

"And yet when that madcap Lilie
Spring honored me with her love — ^I
never can refuse anything to a woman
who smells of rare perfume, and who
has a large store of promises in her
looks, and who puts out her red, smiling
lips immediately, as if she were going to
offer you handsel money — I bought a
piano, so that she might strum upon it
to her heart's content. I got it, how-
ever, on the hire-purchase system, and
\^d so much a month, as grisettes* do
for their furniture.

"At that time I had the apartments I



had so long dreamed of: warm, elegant
light, well-arranged, with two entrances
and an incomparable porter*s wife, wh(
had been canteen-keeper in a Zouav(
regiment, and knew everything and un
derstood everything at a wink.

"It was the kind of apartment fron
which a woman has not the courage t(
escape, so as to avoid temptation, when
she becomes weak, and rolls herself uj
on the soft, eider-down cushions like i
cat, where she is appeased, and in spit<
of herself, thinks of love at the sight o:
the low, wide couch, so suitable fo
caresses, rooms with heavy curtains
which quite deaden the sound of voice
and of laughter, and filled with floweri
that scent the air, whose smell linger
on the folds of the hangings.

"They were rooms in which a womai
forgets time, where she begins by accept
ing a cup of tea and nibbling a swee
cake, and abandons her fingers timidl
and with regret to other fingers whic
tremble, and are hot, and so by degree
loses her head and succumbs.

"I do not know whether the pian
brought us ill luck, but Lalie had nc
even time to learn four songs before sli
disappeared like the wind, just as sb
had come — flick-flack, good-night, goo^
bye. Perhaps it was from spite, becaiil
she had found letters from other womc
on my table; perhaps to change hi|
companion, as she was not one of thoj
to hang on to one man and become ^
fixture.

"I had not been in love with m
certainly, but yet such breakings haj
always some effect on a man. Soo



*Work-girl, a name applied to th^
whose virtue is not too rigorous.



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FALSE ALARM '



169



string breaks when a woman leaves you,
and you think that you must start all
over again, and take another chance in
that forbidden sport in which one risks
so much, the sport that one has been
through a himdred times before, and
which leaves you nothing to show in the
end.

"Nothing is more unpleasant than to
lend your apartments to a friend, to
realize that some one is going to dis-
turb the mysterious intimacy which
really exists between the actual owner
and his fortune, and violate the soul of
those past kisses which float in the air;
that the room whose tints you connect
with some recollection, some dream,
some sweet vision, and whose colors
you have tried to make harmonize with
certain fair-haired, pink-skinned girls, is
going to become a commonplace lodg-
ing, like the rooms in an ordinary lodg-
ing house, fit only for hidden crime and
for evanescent love affairs.

"However, poor Stanis had begged me
so urgently to do him that service; he
was so very much in love with Madame
de Frejus. Among the characters in
this comedy there was a brute of a hus-
band who was terribly jealous and sus-
I»dous; one of those Othellos who have
always a flea in their ear, and come
back unexpectedly from shooting or the
dub, who pick up pieces of torn paper,
listen at doors, smell out meetings with
the nose of a detective, and seem to
have been sent into the world only to be
cuckolds, but who know better than most
how to lay a snare, and to play a nasty
trick. So when I went to Venice, I con-
sented to let him have my rooms.

"I will leave you to guess whether
they made up for lost time, although,



after all, it is no business of yours. My
journey, however, which was only to
have lasted a few weeks, — just long
enough for me to benefit by the change
of air, to rid my brain of the image
of my last mistress, and perhaps to find
another, among that strange mixture of
society which one meets there, a med-
ley of American, Slav, Viennese, and
Italian women, who instill a little arti-
ficial life into that old dty, asleep amid
the melancholy silence of the lagoons,
— was prolonged, and Stanis was as
much at home in my rooms as he waa
in his own.

"Madame PiquignoUes, the retired
canteen-keeper, took great interest in
this adventure, watched over their little
love affair, and, as she used to say, was
on guard as soon as they arrived one
after the other, the marchioness cov-
ered with a thick veil, and slipping in
as quickly as possible, always uneasy,
and afraid that Monsieur de Frdjus
might be following her, and Stanis with
the assured and satisfied look of an
amorous husband, who is going to meet
his little wife after having been away
from home for a few days.

"Well, one day during one of those
delicious moments when his beloved one,
fresh from her bath, and invigorated by
the coolness of the water, was pressing
close to her lover, reclining in his arms,
and smihng at him with half-closed eyes,
during one of those moments when peo-
ple do not speak, but continue their
dream, the sentinel, without even asking
leave, suddenly burst into the room, for
worthy Madame Piquignolks was in a
terrible fight.

"A few minutes before, a well-dressed
gentleman, followed by two others of



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seedy appearance, but who looked very
strong, and fit to knock anybody down,
had questioned and cross-questioned her
in a rough manner, and tried to turn her
inside out, as she said, asking her
whether Monsieur de Fremecourt lived
on the first floor, without giving her
any explanation. When she declared
that there was nobody occupying the
apartments then, as her lodger was not
in France, Monsieur de Frejus — for it
could certainly be nobody but he — ^had



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