Guy de Maupassant.

The complete short stories of Guy de Maupassant online

. (page 30 of 125)
Online LibraryGuy de MaupassantThe complete short stories of Guy de Maupassant → online text (page 30 of 125)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

papa was angry and wanted to give my
husband a beating. And the porter, a
good servant helped him to dress him-
self before us — ^before us. He but-
toned his braces for him — ^what a joke
it was! As for Rose, she was perfect,
absolutely perfect. She cried— oh! she
cried very well. She is an invaluable
girl. If you ever want her, don't for-

^^And here I am. I came immedi*
ately to tell you of the affair directly.
I am free. Long live divorce!"

And she began to dance in the middle
of the drawing-room, while the little
Baroness, who was thoughtful and put
out, said:

"Why did you not invite me to see

The Signal

The little Marchioness de Rennedon
was still asleep in her dark and per-
fumed bedroom.

In her soft, low bed, between sheets
of delicate cambric, fine as lace and
caressing as a kiss, she was sleeping
alone and tranquil, the happy and pro-
found sleep of divorced women.

She was awakened by loud voices in
the little blue drawing-room, and she
recogni^d her dear friend, the little
Baroness de Grangerie, who was dis-
puting with the lady's maid, because the

latter would not allow her to go into
the Marchioness's room. So the little
Marchioness got up, opened the door,
drew back the door-hangings and showed
her head, nothing but her fair head,
hidden under a cloud of hair.

"What is the matter with you, that
you have come so early?" she asked,
"It is not nine o'clock yet."

The little Baroness, who was very
pale, nervous, and feverish, replied: "I
must speak to you. Something horrible
has happened to me."

Digitized by




"Come in, my dear."

She went in, they kissed each other
and the little Marchioness got back into
her berf, while the lady's maid opened
the windows to let in light and air. Then
when she had left the room, Madame de
Kennedon went on: "Well, tell me
what it is."

Madame de Grangerie began to cry,
shedding those pretty bright tears which
make women more charming. She
sobbed out, without wiping her eyes,
so as not to make them red: "Oh, my
dear, what has happened to me is abom-
inable, abominable. I have not slept all
night, not a minute; do you hear, not
a minute. Here, just feel my heart,
how it is beating."

And taking her friend's hand, she put
it on her breast, on that firm, roimd
covering of women's hearts which often
suffices men, and prevents them from
seeking beneath. But her heart was
really beating violently.

She continued: "It happened to me
yesterday during the day, at about four
o'clock — or half past four; I cannot say
exactly. You Imow my apartments,
and you know that my little drawing-
room, where I always sit, looks on to the
Rue Saint-Lazare, and that I have a
mania for sitting at the window to
look at the people passing. The neigh-
borhood of the railway station is very
gay; so full of motion and lively — ^just
what I like! So, yesterday, I was sit-
ting in the low chair which I have placed
in my window recess; the window was
open and I was not thinking of any-
thing, simply breathing the fresh air.
You remember how fine it was yester-

"Suddenly, I remarked a woman sit-

ting at the window opposite — a, woman
in red. I was in mauve, you know,
my pretty mauve costume. I did not
know the woman, a new lodger, who
had been there a month, and as it has
been raining for a month, I had not yet
seen her, but I saw immediately that
she was a bad girl. At first I was very
much shocked and disgusted that she
should be at the window just as I was;
and then by degrees, it amused me to
watch her. She was resting her elbows
on the window ledge, and looking at the
men, and the men looked at her also,
all or nearly all. One might have said
that they knew of her presence by some
means as they got near the house, that
they scented her, as dogs scent game,
for they suddenly raised their heads,
and exchanged a swift look with her,
a sort of freemason's look. Hers said:
'Will you?' Theirs replied: 1 have no
time,' or else: 'Another day'; or else:
1 have not got a sou'; or else: 'Hide
yourself, you wretch!*

"You cannot imagine how funny it
was to see her carrying on such a piece
of work, though after all it is her regular

"Occasionally she shut the window
suddenly, and I saw a gentleman go in.
She had caught him like a fisherman
hooks a gudgeon. Then I looked at my
watch, and I found that they never
stopped longer than from twelve to
twenty minutes. In the end she really
infatuated me, the spider! And th«n
the' creature is so ugly.

"I asked myself: 'How does she man-
age to make herself understood so
quickly, so well and so completely?
Does she add a sign of the head or a
motion of the hands to her looks?* And

Digitized by VjOOQ IC



I took my opera-glasses to watch her
proceedings. Oh! they were very sim-
ple: first of all a glance, then a smile,
then a slight sign with the head which
meant: *Are you coming up?* But it
was so slight, so vague, so discreet, that
it required a great deal of knack to
succeed as she did. And I asked my-
self: *I wonder if I could do that littie
movement, from below upward, which
was at the same time bold and pretty,
as well as she does,' for her gesture
was very pretty.

"I went and tried it before the look-
ing-glass, and my dear, I did it better
than she, a great deal better! I was
enchanted, and resumed my place at
the window.

' "She caught nobody more then, poor
girl, nobody. She certainly had no luck.
It must really be very terrible to earn
one's bread in that way, terrible and
amusing occasionally, for really some of
these men one meets in the street are
rather nice.

"After that they all came on my
side of the road and none on hers; the
sun had turned. They came one after
the other, young, old, dark, fair, gray,
white. I saw some who looked very
nice, really very nice, my dear, far bet-
ter than my husband or than yours — ^I
mean than your late husband, as you
have got a divorce. Now you can

"I said to myself: Tf I give them the
sign, will they understand me, who am
a respectable woman?' And I was
seized with a mad longing to make that
sign to them. I had a longing, a terrible
longing; you know, one of those long-
ings which one cannot resist! I have
6ome like that occasionally. How silly

such things are, don't you think so? I
believe that we women have the souls
of monkeys. I have been told (and
it was a physician who told me) that the
brain of a monkey is' very like ours.
Of course we must imitate some one or
other. We imitate our husbands when
we love them, during the first months
after our marriage, and then our lovers,
our female friends, our confessors when
they are nice. We assume their ways of
thought, their manners of speech, theit
words, their gestures, everything. It
is very foolish.

"However, as for me, when I am
much tempted to do a thing I always
do it, and so I said to myself: *I will
try it once, on one man only, just to
see. What can happen to me?
Nothing whatever! We shall exchange
a smile and that will be all and I shall
deny it, most certainly.'

"So I began to make my choice, I
wanted some one nice, very nice, and.
suddenly I saw a tall, fair, very good-
looking fellow coming alone. I like
fair men, as you know. I looked at him,
he looked at me; I smiled, he smiled,
I made the movement, oh! so faintly;
he replied yes with his head, and there
he was, my dear! He came in at the
large door of the house.

"You cannot imagine what passed
through my mind then! I thought I
should go mad. Oh! how frightened I
was. Just think, he will speak to the
servants ! To Joseph, who is devoted to
my husband! Joseph would certainly
think that I had known that gentleman
for a long time.

"What could I do, just tell me? And
he would ring in a moment. What could
I do, tell me? I thought I would go

Digitized by




and meet him, and tell him he had made
a mistake, and beg him to go away. He
would have pity on a woman, on a poor
woman: So I rushed to the door and
opened it, just at the moment when he
was going to ring the bell, and I stam-
mered out, quite stupidly: *Go away,
Monsieur, go away; you have made a
mistake, a terrible mistake; I took you
for one of my friends whom you are
very like. Have pity on me, Mon-

"But he only began to laugh, my
dear, and replied: *Good morning, my
dear, I know all about your little story,
you may be sure. You are married, and
so you want forty francs instead of
twenty, and you shall have them, so just
show the way/

"And he pushed me in, closed the
door, and as I remained standing before
him, horror-struck, he kissed me, put
his arm round my waist and made me
go back into the drawing-room, the door
of which had remained open. Then he
began to look at everything like an
auctioneer, and continued: *By Jove, it
is very nice in your rooms, very nice.
You must be very down on your luck
just now, to do the window business!'

"Then I began to beg him again.
*0h! Monsieur, go away, please go
away! My husband will be coming m
soon^ it is just his time. I swear tliat
you have made a mistake!* But he an-
swered quite coolly: *Come, my beauty,
I have had enough of this nonsense, and
if your husband comes in, I will give
him five francs to go and have a drink
at the cafS opposite.' And then seemg
Raoul's photograph on the chimney-
piece, he asked me: *Is that your—
your husband?*

" *Yes, that is he.'

" *He looks like a nice, disagreeable
sort of fellow. And who is this? One
of your friends?'

"It was your photograph, my dear,
you know, Uie one in ball dress. I did
not know any longer what I was saying
and I stammered: *Yes, it is one of my

" *She is very nice; you shall intro-
duce me to her.'

"Just then the dock struck five, and
Raoul comes home every day at half
past! Suppose he were to come home
before the other had gone, just fancy
what would have happened! Then^
then— I completely lost my head — ^alto-
gether—I thought — ^I thought — ^that —
that — the best thing would be — ^to gfet
rid — of — of this man — as quickly aa
possible— The sooner it was over—*
you understand."
♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ 4e 4r

The little Marchioness de Rennedon
had begun to laugh, to laugh madly,
with her head buried in her pillow, so
that the whole bed shook, and when
she was a little calmer she asked:

"And — ^and — ^was he good-looking?'*


"And yet you complain?"

"But — but — don't you see, my deaf,
he said — ^he said — he should come again
to-morrow — ^at the same time — ^and I — ^I
am terribly frightened — You have no
idea how tenacious he is and obstinate—
What can I do — ^tell me — ^what can 1

The little Marchioness sat up in bed
to reflect, and then she suddenly said;
"Have him arrested!"

The little Baroness looked stupefied^

Digitized by




and stammered out: **What do you
say? What are you thinking of? H&ve
him arrested? Under what pretext?"

"That is very simple. Go to the
Commissary of Police and say that a
gentleman has been following you about
for three months; that he had the in-
solence to go up to your apartments
yesterday; that he has threatened you
with another visit to-morrow, and that
you demand the protection of the law,
and they will give you two police offi-
cers who will arrest him.*'
"But, my dear, suppose he tells — "
*They will not believe him, you silly
thing, if you have told your tale cleverly
to the commissary, but they will believe
jou, who are an irreproachable woman,
aid in society."
"Oh! I shall never dare to do it.'*
**You must dare, my dear, or you are

"But think that he wiH— he will in-
sult me if he is arrested."

"Very well, you will have witnesses,
and he will be sentenced."

"Sentenced to what?"

"To pay damages. In such cases, one
must be pitiless!"

"Ah! speaking of damages — ^there is
one thing that worries me very much-
very much indeed. He left me two
twenty-franc pieces on the mantelpiece."

"Two twenty-francs pieces?"


"No more?'


"That is very little. It would have
humiliated me. Well?"

"WeU! What am I to do with that

The little Marchioness hesitated for a
few seconds, and then she replied in a
serious voice:

"My dear — ^you must make — ^you
must make your husband a little present
with it. That will be only fair!"

The Devil

The peasant was standing opposite
tie doctor, by the bedside of the dying
oid woman, and she, calmly resigned
aad quite lucid, looked at them and
listened to their talking. She was going
to die, and she did not rebel at it, for
her life was over — she was ninety-two.

The July sim streamed in at the win-
dow and through the open door and
cast its hot flames on to the uneven
brown clay floor, which had been
stamped down by four generations of
cfedhoppers. The smell of the fields

came in also, driven by the brisk wind,
and parched by the noontide heat. The
grasshoppers chirped themselves hoarse,
filling the air with their shrill noise,
like that of the wooden crickets which
^re sold to children at fair time.

The doctor raised his voice and said:
"Honor6, you cannot leave your mother
in this state; she may die at any mo-
ment." And the peasant, in great dis-
tress, replied: "But I must get in my
wheat, for it has been lying on the
ground a long time, and the weather i&

Digitized by




just ri^ht for it; what do you say about
it, mother?" And the dying woman, stSll
possessed by her Norman avariciousness,
replies yes with her eyes and her fore-
head, and so urged her son to get in his
wheat, and to leave her to die alone.
But the doctor got angry, and stamping
his foot he said: '^You are no better
than a brute, do you hear, and I will
not allow you to do it Do you under-
stand? And if you must get in your
wheat to-day, go and fetch Rapet's wife
and make her look after your mother.
I will have it. And if you do not obey
me, I will let you die like a dog, when
you are ill in your turn; do you hear

The peasant, a tall, thin fellow with
slow movements, who was tormented by
indecision, by his fear of the doctor
and his keen love for saving, hesitated,
calculated, and stammered out: "How
much does La Rapet charge for attend-
ing sick people?"

"How should I know?" the doctor
cried. "That depends upon how long
she is wanted for. Settle it with her,
by Jove! But I want her to be here
within an hour, do you hear."

So the man made up his mind. "I
will go for her," he replied; "don't get
angry, doctor." And the latter left,
calling out as he went : "Take care, you
know, for I do not joke when I am
angry!" And as soon as they were
alone, the peasant turned to his mother,
and said in a resigned voice: "I will go
and fetch La Rapet, as the man will
have it. Don't go off while I am away."

And he went out in his turn.

La Rapet, who was an old washer-
woman, watched the dead and the dying
of the neighborhood, and then, as soon

as she had sewn her customers into that
linen cloth from which they would
emerge no more, she went and took up
her irons to smooth the linen of the liv-
ing. Wrinkled like a last year's apple,
spiteful, envious, avaricious with a phe-
nomenal avarice, bent double, as if she
had been broken in half across the
loins, by the constant movement of the
iron over the linen, one might have said
that she had a kind of monstrous and
cynical affection for a death struggle.
She never spoke of anjrthing but of the
people she had seen die, of the various
kinds of deaths at which she had been
present, and she related, with the great-
est minuteness, details which were al-
ways the same, just like a sportsman
talks of his shots.

When Honore Bontemps entered her
cottage, he foimd her jwreparing the
starch for the collars of the village
women, and he said: "Good evening;
I hope you are pretty well, Mother

She turned her head round to look at
him and said: "Fairly well, fairly well,
and you?"

"Oh! as for me, I am as well as I
could wish, but my mother is very

"Your mother?"

"Yes, my mother!"

"What's the matter with her?"

"She is going to turn up her toes,
that's what's the matter with her!"

The old woman took her hands out
of the water and asked with sudden
sympathy: "Is she as bad as all that?"

"The doctor sa3rs she wffl not last
till morning."

"Then she certainly is very bad!"
Honor6 hesitated, for he wanted to make

Digitized by




a few preliminary remarks before com-
ing to his proposal, but as be could bit
upon notbing, be made up bis mind sud-

•"How mucb are you going to ask to
stop witb ber till the end? You know
that I am not rich, and I cannot even
afford to keep a servant-girl. It is just
that which has brought my poor mother
to this state, too much work and fatigue!
She used to work for ten, in spite of
her ninety-two years. You don't find
any made of that stuff nowadays!"

La Rapet answered gravely: "There
are two prices: Forty sous by day and
three francs by night for the rich, and
twenty sous by day, and forty by night
for the others. You shall pay me the
twenty and forty." But the peasant re-
flected, for he knew his mother well.
He knew bow tenacious of life, how
vigorous and unyielding she was. He
knew, too, that she might last another
week, in spite of the doctor's opinion,
and so he said resolutely: "No, I would
rather you would fix a price until the
end. I will take my chance, one way
or the other. The doctor says she will
die very soon. If that happens, so much
the better for you, and so mucb the
worse for me, but if she holds out till
to-morrow or longer, so much the better
for me and so much the worse for you!"

The nurse looked at the man in
astonishment, for she had never treated
a death as a speculative job, and she
hesitated, tempted by the idea of the
possible gain. But almost immediately
she suspected that he wanted to juggle
her. "I can say nothing until I have
seen your mother," she replied.

**Then come with me and see her."

She washed her hands, and went with

him inmiediately. They did not speak
on the road; she walked with short,
hasty steps, while he strode on with his
long legs, as if he were crossing a brook
at every step. The cows lying down
in the fields, overcome by the beat,
raised their beads heavily and lowed
feebly at the two passers-by, as if to
ask them for some green grass.

When they got near the bouse,
Honor6 Bontemps murmured: "Sup-
pose it is all over?" And the uncon-
scious wish that it might be so showed
itself in the sound of his voice.

But the old woman was not dead.
She was lying on ber back, on her
wretched bed, her hands covered with
a pink cotton counterpane, horribly thin,
knotty paws, like some strange animal's,
or like crabs' claws, hands closed by
rheumatism, fatigue, and the work of
nearly a century which she had accom-

La Rapet went up to the bed and
looked at the dying woman, felt her
pulse, tapped her on the chest, listened
to her breathing, and asked her ques-
tions, so as to hear her speak: then,
having looked at her for some time
longer, she went out of the room, fol-
lowed by Honor6. His decided opinion
was, that the old woman would not last
out the night, and he asked: "Well?"
And the sick-nurse replied: "Well, she
may last two days, perhaps three. You
will have to give me six francs, every-
thing included."

"Six francs! six francs!" he shouted.
*'Are you out of your mind? I tell yo«
that she cannot last more than five o'^
six hours!" And they disputed angrily
for some time, but as the nurse said
she would go home, as the time waA

Digitized by




slipping away, and as his wheat would
not come to the farmyard of its own
accord, he agreed to her terms at last:

"Very well, then, that is settled; six
francs including everything, until the
corpse is taken out."

"That is settled, six francs."

And he went away, with long strides,
to the wheat, which was lying on the
ground under the hot sun which ripens
the grain, while the sick-nurse returned
to the house.

She had brought some work with her,
for she worked without stopping by the
side of the dead and dying, sometimes
for herself, sometimes for the family,
who employed her as seamstress also,
paying her rather more in that capacity.
Suddenly she asked:

"Have you received the last sacra-
ment. Mother Bontemps?"

The old peasant woman said "No"
with her head, and La Rapet, who was
very devout, got up quickly: "Good
heavens, is it possible? I will go and
fetch the cur6*': and she rushed off
to the parsonage so quickly, that the
urchins in the street thought some acci-
dent had happened, when they saw her
trotting off like that.

The priest came immediately in his
surplice, preceded by a choir-boy, who
rang a bell to announce the passage of
the Host through the parched and quiet
country. Some men, working at a dis-
tance, took off their large hats and re-
mained motionless until the white vest-
ment had disappeared behind some farm
buildings; the women who were making
up the sheaves stood up to make the
sign of the cross; the frightened black
hens ran away along the ditch imtil they
teached a well-known hole through

which they suddenly disappeared, while
a foal, which was tied up in a meadow,
took fright at the sight of the surplice
and began to gallop round at the length
of its rope, kicking violently. The chofa:-
boy, in his red cassock, walked quickly,
and the priest, the square biretta on his
bowed head, followed him, muttering
some prayers. Last of all came La
Rapet, bent almost double, as if she
wished to prostrate herself; she walked
with folded hands, as if she were in

Honore saw them pass in the dis*
tance, and he asked: "Where is our
priest going to?" And his man, whs
was more acute, replied: "He is taking
the sacrament to your mother, of

The peasant was not surprised and
said: "That is quite possible," and went
on with his work.

Mother Bontemps confessed, received
absolution and extreme unction, and the
priest took his departure, leaving the
two women alone in the suffocating cot-
tage. La Rapet began to look at the
dying woman, and to ask herself whether
it could last much longer.

The day was on the wane, and a
cooler air came in stronger puffs, mak-
ing a view of Epinal, which was fast-
ened to the wall by two pins, flap up
and down. The scanty window cur-
tains, which had formerly been white,
but were now yellow and covered with
fly-specks, looked as if they were going
to fly off, and seemed to struggle to
get away, like the old woman's soul.

Lying motionless, with her eyes open,
the old mother seemed to await the
death which was so near, and which yet
delayed its coming, with perfect indif**

Digitized by




ference* Her short breath ^^listled in
her throat. It would stop altogether
soon, and there would be one woman less
in the world, one whom nobody would

At nightfall Honor6 returned, and
when he went up to the bed and saw
that his mother was still alive he asked:
''How is she?" just as he had done
formerly, when she had been sick. Then
he sent La Rapet away, saying to her:
**To-morrow morning at five o'clock,
without fan." And she replied: "To-
morrow at five o'clock."

She came at daybreak, and found
Honor6 eating his soup, which he had
made himself, before going to work.

**Well, is your mother dead?" asked
the nurse.

"She is rather better, on the con-
trary," he replied, with a malignant look
out of the comer of his eyes. Then
he went out.

La Kapet was seized with anxiety, and
went up to the dying woman, who was
m the same state, lethargic and impas-
sive, her eyes open and her hands clutch-
ing the coimterpane. The nurse per-
ceived that this might go on thus for
two days, four days, eight days, even,
and her avaricious mind was seized with
fear. She was excited to fury against
the cunning fellow who had tricked her,
and against the woman who would not

Nevertheless, she began to sew and
waited with her eyes fixed on the
wrinkled face of Mother Bontemps.
When Honor! returned to breakfast he
seemed quite satisfied, and even in a
bantering humor, for he was carrying

Online LibraryGuy de MaupassantThe complete short stories of Guy de Maupassant → online text (page 30 of 125)