Guy de Maupassant.

The complete short stories of Guy de Maupassant online

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a girl, and a handsome one."

They were again silent. At the end
of a few seconds, the mother, in a feeble
voice, said: "Show her to me, Ben*

He went and got the little one and
was presenting it to her as if it were
bread that had been blessed, when the
door opened and Isidore Vallin ap-
peared. He could not understand at
first, then suddenly, he guessed it all.

Benoist, somewhat disconcerted, mur-
mured: "I was passing, I was just
passing when I heard a cry — and I
came — here is your child, Vallin!"

Then the husband, with tears in his
eyes, took the frail little monkey that
was held out to him, embraced it, and
stood for some seconds overcome; then

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be placed the child on the bed, and ex-
tended both hands to Benoist, saying:
"Done now, Benoist; you see, between
us all is said. If you wish, we shall

from this time be friends; just that, a
pair of friends — "

And Benoist replied: "I am willing,
certainly — ^I am willing."


They were walking, these two old
friends, in the garden all in blossom,
where the gay springtime stirred with

One was a senator and the other a
member of the French Academy, grave,
both of them, full of reason and logic,
but solemn, — ^people of mark and repu-

They were speaking at first of poli-
tics, exchanging thoughts, not upon
ideas but men, personalities, which in
these matters, always precede reason.
Then they rose to reminiscences, then
they were silent, continuing to walk side
by side, both softened by the sweetness
of the air.

A great basket of radishes sent forth
their odor, fresh and delicate. A heap
of flowers, of every kind and color,
threw their sweetness to the breeze,
while a radiant ebony-tree full of yel-
low berries, scattered to the wind its
fine powder, a golden smoke which re-
minded one of honey, and which carried,
like the caressing powder of the per-
fumer, its embalmed seed across space.

The senator stopped, breathed in the
fertile sweetness that was floating by
him, looked at the blossoming tree, re-
splendent as a sun from which the
pollen was now escaping. And he said:

"When one thinks that these imper-

ceptible atoms, which smell good, can
bring into existence in a hundred places,
miles from here, plants of their own
kind, can start the sap and fiber of the
female trees, creating from a germ, as
we mortals do, they seem mortal, and
they will be replaced by other beings
of the same essence forever, like us!''

Then, planted before the radiant
ebony-tree whose vivifying perfume
permeated every breath of air, the sen-
ator added, as if addressing it:

"Ah! my jolly fellow, if you were to
count your children you would be woe-
fully embarrassed. And behold! here is
one that accomplishes them easily, who
lets himself go without remorse and
disturbs himself little about it after-

The Academician replied: "We do
as much, my friend."

The senator answered: "Yes, I do
not deny that; we do forget ourselves
sometimes, but we know it, at least, and
that constitutes our superiority."

The other man shook his head: *'No,
that is not what I mean; you see, my
dear, there is scarcely a man who does
not possess some unknown children,
those children labeled oj uriknovm
father, whom he has created, as this
tree reproduces itself, almost uncon*

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•*If it became necessary to establish
the count of the women we have had,
we should be, should we not, as embar-
rassed as this ebony-tree, which you call
upon to enumerate his descendants?

"From eighteen to forty perhaps,
bringing into line all our passing en-
coimters and contacts of an hour, it can
easily be admitted that we have had
intimate relations with two or three
hundred women. Ah, well! my friend,
among this number are vou sure that
you have not made fruitful at least one,
and that you have not, upon the streets
or in prison, some blackguard son, who
robs and assassinates honest people,
that is to say, people like us? or per-
haps a daughter, in some bad place? or
perhaps, if she chanced to be abandoned
by her mother, a cook in somebody's

"Think further that nearly all women
that we call 'public' possess one or two
children whose father they do not know,
children caught in the hazard of their
embraces at ten or twenty francs. In
every trade, there is profit and loss.
These castaways constitute the loss' of
their profession. Who were their gen-
erators? You — ^I — all of us, the men
who are 'all right!' These are the re-
sults of our joyous dinners to friends,
of our evenings of gaiety, of the hours
when our flesh contents us and pushes
us on to the completion of adventure.

"Robbers, rovers, all these miserable
creatures, in short, are our children.
And how much better that is for us
than if we were theirs, for they repro-
duce also, these beggars!

"For my part I have a villainous
story upon my conscience, which I
would like to tell you. It brings me

incessant remorse, and more than that,
continual doubt and an unappeasable
uncertainty which at times tortures me

"At the age of twenty-five I had
undertaken, with one of my friends,
now counselor of state, a journey
through Brittany, on foot.

"After fifteen or twentv days of
forced march, after having visited the
coasts of the north, and a part of
Finisterre, we arrived at Douamenez;
from there, in a day's march, we
reached the wildest point of the Raz, by
the bay of Trepasses, where we slept in
some village whose name ends in of.
When the morning came a strange fa-
tigue held my comrade in bed. I say
bed from habit, since our bed was com-
posed simply of two boxes of straw.

"It was impossible to remain in such
a place. I forced him to get up, and
we came into Audierne toward four or
five o'clock in the evening. The next
day he was a little better. We set out
again, but on the way he was taken with
intolerable weariness, and it was with
great difficulty that we were able to
reach Pont-Labbe.

"There at least there was an inn. My
friend went to bed, and the doctor,
whom we called from Quimper, found
a high fever without quite determining
the nature of it.

"*Do you know Pont-Labbe? No.'
Well, it is the most characteristic Bre-
ton town from Point Raz to Morbihan
— a region which contains the essence
of Breton morals, and legends, and cos-
tumes. To-day, even, this comer of
the country has scarcely changed at all.
I say *to-day, even,' because I retuni
there now every year, alas!

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"An old castle bathes the foot of its
towers in a dismal pond, sad with the
call of wild birds. A river, deep enough
for coasters, comes up to the town. In
the streets, narrowed by the old houses,
the men wear great hats and embroi-
dered waistcoats and the four coats, one
above the other; the first, about the
size of the hand, covers at least the
shoulder blades, while the last stops
just below the breeches.

"The girls, who are large, pretty, and
fresh looking, wear a bodice of thick
doth which forms a breast-plate and
corset, constraining and leaving scarcely
a suspicion of their swelling, martyr-
ized busts. Their headdresses are also
of strange fashion: over the temples
two embroidered bands in color frame
the face, binding the hair which falls in
a sheet behind the head and is mounted
by a singular bonnet on the very sum-
mit, often of tissue of gold or silver.

"The servant at our inn was eighteen
years old or more, with blue eyes, a
pale blue which were pierced with the
two little black dots of the pupils; and
with teeth short and white, which she
showed always in laughing and which
seemed made for biting granite.

"She did not know a word of French,
speaking only the Breton patois, as do
most of her compatriots.

"Well, my friend was no better, and,
although no malady declared itself, the
doctor forbade his setting out, ordering
complete rest. I spent the days near
him, the little maid coming in frequent-
ly, bringing perhaps my dinner or some
drink for him.

"I teased her a little, which seemed
to amuse her, but we did not talk, natur-

ally, since we could not understand each

"But one night, when I had remained
near the sick man very late, I met, in
going to my chamber, the girl entering
hers. It was just opposite my open
door. Then brusquely, without reflect-
ing upon what I was doing, and more in
the way of a joke than anything, I
seized her around the waist, and before
she was over her astonishment I had
taken her and shut her in my room.
She looked at me, startled, excited,
terrified, not daring to cry out for fear
of scandal, and of being driven out by
her master at first and her father after-

"I had done this in laughter; but
when I saw her there, the desire to pos-
sess her carried me away. There was
a long and silent struggle, a struggle of
body against body after the fashion of
athletes, with arms drawn, contracted,
twisted, respiration short, skin moist
with perspiration. Oh! she fought val-
iantly; and sometimes we would hit a
piece of furniture, a partition, or a
chair; then always clutching each other
we would remain immovable for some
seconds in the fear of some noise that
would awaken some one; then we would
commence again our exciting battle, I
attacking, she resisting. Exhausted,
finally, she fell; and I took her bru-
tally, upon the ground, upon the floor.

"As soon as she was released, she
ran to the door, drew the bolts, ano
fled. I scarcely met her for some days
following. She would not allow me to
approach her. Then, when my comrade
was strong and we were to continue out
journey, on the eve of our departure^
she entered my apartment at midnight

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barefooted, in her chemise, just as I
was about to retire.

"She threw herself in my arms, drew
me to her passionately, and, imtil day-
light, embraced me, caressed me, weep-
ing and sobbing giving me all the assur-
ances of tenderness and despair that a
woman can give when she does not
know a word of our language.

"A week after this I had forgotten
this adventure, so common and frequent
when on a journey, the servants of the
inns being generally destined to divert
travelers thus.

"Thirty years passed without my
thinking of, or returning to, Pont-Labbe.
Hien, in 1876, in the course of an ex-
cursion through Brittany, I happened to
go there, as I was compiling a document
which required statistics from the vari-
ous parts of the country.

"Nothing seemed to have changed.
The castle still soaked its gray walls in
the pond at the entrance of the little
town; the inn was there, too, although
repaired, remodeled, with a modem air.
On entering I was received by two
young Bretons, of about eighteen, fresh
and genteel, enlaced in their straight gir-
dles of cloth, and encapped with silver
embroidery over their ears.

It was about six o'clock in the eve-
ning. I had sat down to dine when, the
host coming to serve me himself, fatal-
ity, without doubt, led me to ask him:
*Did you know the former master of this
house? I passed a fortnight here once,
thirty years ago. I seem to be speak-
ing to you from afar.*

"He answered: 'Those were my par-
ents, sir.*

**Then I recounted the occasion of my
stopping there, recalling my being de-

tained by the illness of my comrade.
He did not allow me to finish:

" *0h ! I remember that perfectly,'
said he; *I was fifteen or sixteen then.
You slept in the room at the end of the
hall and your friend in the one that is
now mine, upon the street.*

"Then for the first time, a lively re-
membrance of the pretty maid comes
back to me. I asked: 'You recall a gen-
teel, pretty servant that your father
had, who had, if I remember, sparkling
eyes and fine teeth?*

"He replied: 'Yes, sir; she died in
childbed some time after.'

"And, pointing toward the courtyard
where a thin, lame man was taking out
some manure, he added: 'That is her

"I began to laugh. 'He is not
beautiful, and does not resemble his
mother at all. Takes after his father,
no doubt.*

"The inkeeper replied: *It may be;
but they never knew who his father was.
She died without telling, and no one
here knew she had a lover. It was a
famous surprise when we found it out.
No one was willing to believe it.*

"A kind of disagreeable shiver went
over me, one of those painful sugges-
tions that touch the heart, like the
approach of a heavy vexation. I looked
at the man in the yard. He came now
to draw some water for the horses and
carried two pails, limping, making griev-
ous effort with the limb that was shorten
He was ragged and hideously dirty, with
long yellow hair, so matted that it hung
in strings on his cheeks.

"The innkeeper added: *He doesn't
amount to anything, but is taken care
of by charity in the house. Perhaps he

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would have turned out better if he had
Jbeen brought up like anybody. But, you
Jce how it is, sir? No father, no mother,
no money! My parents took pity on
Mm as a child, but after all«>he was
not theirs, you see.'

"I said nothing.

"I went to bed in my old room, and
all night I could think of nothing but
that frightful hostler, repeating to my-
self: *What if that were my son! Could
I have killed that girl and brought that
creature into existence?*

"It was possible, surely. I resolved to
speak to this man and to find out ex-
actly the date of his birth. A differ-
ence of two months would arrest my

"I had him come to me the next day.
But he could not speak French at all.
He had the appearance of understanding
nothing. Besides, he was absolutely ig-
norant of his age, which one of the
maids asked him for me. And he held
himself with the air of an idiot before
me, rolling his cap in his knotty paws,
laughing stupidly, with something of the
old laugh of the mother in the comers
of his mouth and eyes.

"But the host, becoming interested,
went to look up his birth on the records.
He entered into life eight months and
twenty-six daj^ after my departure from
Pont-Labbe, because I recalled perfectly
arriving at Lorient on the fifteenth of
August. The record said: Tather un-
known.' The mother was called Jeanne

"Then my heart began to beat with
pressing blows. I could not speak, so
suffocated did I feel. And I looked at
that brute, whose long yellow hair
seemed dirty and more tangled than that

of beasts. And the beggar, constrained
by my look, ceased to laugh, turned his
head, and took himself off.

"Every day I would wander along
the little river, sadly reflecting. But to
what good? Nothing could help me.
For hours and hours I would weigh all
the reasons, good and bad, for and
against the chances of my paternity,
placing myself in inextricable positions,
only to return again to the horrible sus-
picion, then to the conviction, more
atrocious still, that his man was my

"I could not dine and I retired t6 my
room. It was a long time before I
could sleep. Then sleep came, a sleep
haunted with insupportable visions. I
could see this ninny laughing in my face
and calling me Tapa.* Then he would
change into a dog and bite me in the calf
of my leg, in vain I tried to free myself,
he would follow me always, and, in
place of barking, he would speak, abus-
ing me. Then he would go before my
colleagues at the Academy called to-
gether for the purpose of deciding
whether I was his father. And one of
them cried: It is indubitable! See
how he resembles him!*

"And in fact, I perceived that the
monster did resemble me. And I awoke
with this idea planted in my brain, and
with the foolish desire to see the man
again and decide whether he did or did
not have features in common with my

"I joined him as he was going to mass
(it was on Sunday) and gave him a
hundred sous, scanning his face anxious-
ly. He began to laugh in ignoble fash-
ion, took the money, then, again con-
strained by my eye, he fled, after hav^

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ing blurted out a word almost inarticu-
late, which meant to say *Thank you/
without doubt

"That day passed for me in the same
agony as the preceding. Toward eve-
ning I went to the proprietor and, with
much caution, clothing of words, finesse,
and roundabout conversation, I lold him
that I had become interested in this
poor being so abandoned by everybody
and so deprived of everything, and that
I wished to do something for him.

**The man replied: *0h, don't worry
about him, sir. He wants nothing; you
will only make trouble for yourself. I
employ him to clean the stable, and it
is all that he can do. For that, I feed
him and he sleeps with the horses. He
needs nothing more. If you have some
old clothes, give them to him, but they
will be in pieces in a week.*

"1 did not insist, reserving my opin-

'The beggar returned that evening,
horribly drunk, almost setting fire to the
house, striking one of the horses a blow
with a pickax, and finally ended the
score by going to sleep in the mud out
in the rain, thanks to my generosity.
They begged me, the next day, not to
give him any more money. Liquor
made him furious, and when he had
two sous in his pocket he drank it. The
innkeeper added: To give him money
is the same as wishing to kill him.' This
man had absolutely never had any
money, save a few centimes thrown to
him by travelers, and he knew no other
destination for it but the alehouse.

"Then I passed some hours in my
room with an open book which I made
a semblance of reading, but without
accomplishing anything except to look

at this brute. My son! my son! I was
trying to discover if he was anything
like me. By force of searching I be*
lieved I recognized some similar lines
in the brow and about the nose. And
I was immediately convinced of a re-
semblance which only different clothing
and the hideous mane of the man dis-

"I could not stay there very long
without becoming suspected, and I set
out with breaking heart, after having
left with the innkeeper some money to
sweeten the existence of his valet.

"For six years I lived with this
thought, this horrible uncertainty, this
abominable doubt. And each year I
condemned myself to the pimishment of
seeing this brute wallow in his filth,
imagining that he resembles me, and of
seeking, always in vain, to be helpful to

"And each year I come back more un-
decided, more tortured, more anxious.
I have tried to have him instructed, but
he is an idot without resource. I have
tried to render life less painful to him,
but he is an irremediable dnmkard and
uses all the money that is given him for
drink. And he knows very well how
to sell his clothes and procure liquor.

"I have tried to arouse pity in his
employer for him, that he might treat
him more gently, offering him money ^-
ways. The innkeeper, astonished, fi-
naUy remarked very sagely: *A11 this
that you would like to do for him only
ruins him. He must be kept like a
prisoner. As soon as he has time given
him or favors shown, he becomes xm-
manageable. If you wish to do good to
abandoned children, choose one that will
respond to your trouble.*

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"What could I say to that?

''And if I should disclose a suspicion
of the doubts which torture me, this
creature would certainly turn rogue and
exploit me, compromise me, ruin me.
He would cry out to me Tapa,' as in my

"And I tell myself that I have killed
the mother and ruined this atrophied
being, larva of the stable, hatched and
bred of vileness, this man who, treated
as others are, might have been like

"And you will not imderstand the
tensation strange, confused, and intol-
erable, the fear I have in his presence,
from thinking that this has come from
me, that he belongs to me by that in-
timate bond which binds father to son,
that, thanks to the terrible laws of
heredity, he is a part of me in a thou-
sand things, by his blood and his hair
and his flesh, and that he has the same

germs of sickness and the same fer«
ments of passion.

"And I have ever an unappeasable
need of seeing him, and thes sight of
him makes me suffer horribly; and from
my window down there I look at him as
he works in the dung-hill of the beasts,
repeating to myself: 'That is my son!'

"And I feel, sometimes, an intolerable
desire to embrace him. But I have
never even touched his sordid hand."

The Academician was silent. And his
companion, the political man, mur*
mured:."Yes, indeed; we ought to
occupy ourselves a little more with the
children who have no father."

Then a breath of wind traversing the
great tree shook its berries, and envel-
oped with a fine, odorous cloud the two
old men, who took long draughts of the
sweet perfume.

And the senator added: "It is good
to be twenty-five years old, and it is
even good to have children 1^ that."

A Way to Wealth

"Do you know what has become of

"He is captain of the Sixth

"And Pinson?"


"And RacoUet?''


We hunted up other names which re*
called to us young figures crowned with
caps trimmed with gold braid. Later,
We found some of these comrades,

bearded, bald, married, the fathers of
many children; and these meetings,
these changes, gave us some disagreeable
shivers, as they showed us how short
life is, how quickly everything changes
and passes away.

My friend asked: "And Patience, the
great Patience?"

I roared.

''Oh! If you want to hear about him,
listen to me: Four or five weeks age,
as traveling inspector at Limoges, I

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was awaiting the dinner hour. Seated
before the Grand Cafd in Theater
Square, I closed my eyes wearily. The
tradesmen were coming in, in twos, or
threes, or fours, taking their absinthe
or vermouth, talking in a loud voice of
their business and that of others, laugh-
ing violently, or lowering their voices
when they commimicated something im-
portant or delicate.

"I said to myself: 'What am I go-
ing to do after dinner?* And I thought
of the long evening in this provincial
town, of the slow, uninteresting walks
through the unknown streets, of the over-
whelming sadness which takes possession
of the solitary traveler, of the people
who pass, strangers in all things and
through all thmgs, the cut of their pro-
vincial coats, their hats, their trousers,
their customs, local accent, their houses,
shops and carriages of singular shape.
And then the ordinary sounds to which
one is not accustomed; the harassing
sadness which presses itself upon you
little by little until you feel as if you
were lost in a dangerous country, which
oppresses you and makes you wish your-
self back at the hotel, the hideous hotel,
where your room preserves a thousand
suspicious odors, where the bed makes
<me hesitate and the basin has a hair
glued in the dirt at the bottom.

'*I thought about all this as I watched
them light the gas, feeling my isolated
distress increase by the falling of the
shadows. What was I going to do after
dinner? I was alone, entirely alone, and
lamentably lonesome.

"A big man came in, seated himself
at a neighboring table, and commanded
in a formidable voice:

" Waiter, my bitters.*

''The 'my' in the phrase sounded like
the report of a cannon. I understood
immediately that everything in existence
was his, belonged to him and not to any
other, that he had his character, and,
by Jove! his appetite, his pantaloons,
his no matter what, after his own fash-
ion, absolute, and more complete than
important. He looked about him with a
satisfied air. They brought him his bit-
ters and he called:

" 'My paper.*

"I asked myself: *Which is his paper,
I wonder?' The name of that would
certainly reveal to me his opinions, his
theories, his hobbies, and his nature.

"The writer brought the 'Times.* I
was surprised. Why the 'Times,* a
grave, somber, doctrinal, heavy journal?
I thought:

" 'He is then a wise man, of serious
ways, regular habits, in short, a good

"He placed on his nose some gold eye-
glasses, turned around and, before com-
mencing to read, cast another glance all
around the room. He ncK:iced me and
immediately began to look at me in a
persistent, uneasy fashion. I was on the

Online LibraryGuy de MaupassantThe complete short stories of Guy de Maupassant → online text (page 44 of 125)