Guy de Maupassant.

The complete short stories of Guy de Maupassant online

. (page 67 of 125)
Online LibraryGuy de MaupassantThe complete short stories of Guy de Maupassant → online text (page 67 of 125)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


certainly shown herself very silly, vfhisa
she could not understand that prodigious
monster. And as she had seduced me
only by her intellect and her perversity,
I was disgusted as soon as she laid aside
that mask. I left her without telling
her of my intention, and never saw her
again, either.

"No doubt they both took me for a
spy from the Third Section of the Im-
perial Chancellery.' In that case, they
must have thought me very clever to
have escaped discovery, and all I have
to do is to look out, lest any afi&liated
members of their society recognize
me!''

Then he smiled and, turning to the
waiter who had just come in, said:
"Open another bottle of champagne, and
make the cork pop! It will, at any rate,
remind us of the day when we ourselves
shall be blown up with dynamite."



Digitized by



Google



A Useful House



Royaumont's fat sides shook with
laughter at the mere recollection of the
funny story that he had promised to his
friends, and throwing himself back in
the great armchair, which he completely
filled, that confirmed gossip and busy-
body, as they called him at the club,
at last said:

"It is perfectly true. Bordenave does
not owe anyone a penny and can go
through any street he likes, and publish
those famous memoirs of sheriff's offi-
cers, which he has been writing for the
last ten years, when he did not dare to
go out, and in which he carefully
brought out the characters and peculiar-
ities of all those generous distributors
of stamped paper with whom he had
had dealings — their tricks and wiles,
their weaknesses, their jokes, their man-
ner of performing their duties, some-
times with brutal rudeness and at others
with cunning good nature, now embar-
rassed and almost ashamed of their
work, and again ironically jovial; as well
as the artifices of clerks to get a few
crumbs from their employer's cake. The
book will soon be published, and Ma-
chin, the 'Vaudeville' writer, has prom-
ised him a preface, so that it will be a
most amusing work. You are surprised,
eh? Confess that you are absolutely
surprised, and I will lay you any bet
you like that you will not guess how
our excellent friend, whose existence is
an inexplicable problem, has been able
to settle with his creditors, and suddenly
produce the requisite amount."

"Do get to the facts, confound
it," Captain Hardeur said, who was
growing tired of all this verbiage.

"All right, I will get to ♦hem as quick-



ly as possible," Royaumont replied,
throwing the stump of his cigar into the
fire. " I will clear my throat and be-
gin. I suppose you all of you know that
two better friends than Bordenave and
Quillanet do not exist; neither of
them could do without the other, and
they have ended by dressing alike, by
having the same gestures, the same
laugh, the same walk, and the same in-
flections of voice, so that one would
think that son:Le close bond united them,
and that they had been brought up to-
gether from childhood.

"There is, however, this difference be-
tween them, that Bordenave is com-
pletely ruined and that all that he pos-
sesses are bundles of mortgages, laugh-
able parchments which attest his ancient
race, and chimerical hopes of inhmtini
money some day, though these expecta-
tions are already heavily hypothecated.
Consequently he is always on the look-
out for some fresh expedient for raising
money, though he is superbly indifferent
about everything; while Sebastien Quil-
lanet, of the banking house of Quillanet
Brothers, must have an income of eight
hundred thousand francs a year, but is
descended from an obscure laborer who
managed to secure some of the national
property. Then he becomes an army
contractor, speculated on defeat as well
as on victory, and does not know now
what to do with his money.

"But as the millionaire is timid, dull,
and always bored, the spendthrft amuses
him by his impertinent ways and jokes;
he prompts him when he is at a loss for
an answer, extricates him ouc of his
difficulties, serves as his guide in the
great forests of Paris which are strewn



531



Digitized by



Google



532



WORKS OF GUY DE MAUPASSANT



with so many pitfalls, and helps him to
avoid those vulgar adventures which
socially ruin a man, no matter how well
ballasted he may be. Then he points
out to him what women would make
suitable mistresses for him, who make
a man noted and give the effect of some
rare and beautiful flower pinned into
his buttonhole. He is the confidant of
his intrigues, his guest when he gives
small, special entertainments, his daily,
familiar table companion, and the buf-
foon whose sly humor stimulates one,
and whose witticisms you tolerate."

"Really, really," the captain inter-
rupted him, "you have been going on
for more than a quarter of an hour
without saying anything."

But Royaumont shrugged his shoul-
ders and continued:

"Oh! you can be very tiresome when
you please, my dear fellow ! Last year,
when he was at daggers drawn with his
people, who were deafening him with re-
criminations, were worrying him and
threatening him with a lot of annoyance,
Quillanet got married. It was a mar-
riage of reason, which apparently
changed his habits and his tastes, more
especially as the banker was at that
time keeping a perfect little marvel of
a woman, a Parisian jewel of unspeak-
able attraction and of bewitchmg deli-
cacy, that adorable Suzette Marly, who
is just like a pocket Venus, and who in
some prior stage of existence must have
been Phryne or Lesbia. Of course he
did not get rid of her, but as he was
bound to take some judicious precau-
tions, which are necessary for a man
who is deceiving his wife, he rented and
furnished a house, with a courtyard in
front, and a garden at the back, which



one might think had been built to shel«
ter some amorous folly. It was the
ideal that he had dreamed of, warm,
snug, elegant, the walls covered with
silk hangings of subdued tints, large
pier-glasses, allegorical pictures, and
filled with luxurious, low furniture that
seemed to invite caresses and embraces,

"Bordenave occupied the ground
floor, and the next . floor served as a
shrine for the banker and his mistress.
Well, just a week ago, in order to hide
the situation better. Bordwiave asked
Quillanet and some other friends to
one of those luncheons which he under-
stands so well how to order, such a
delicious luncheon, that before it was
quite over, every man had a woman on
his lap, and was asking himself whether
a kiss from coaxing and naughty lips
was not a thousand times more intoxi-
cating than the finest old brandy or the
choicest vintage wines, when the butler
came in with an embarrassed look, and
whispered something to him.

"Tell the gentleman that he bas
made a mistake, and ask him to leave
me in peace.' Bordenave replied to
him in an angry voice. The servant
went out and returned immediately to
say that the intruder was using threats,
that he refused to leave the house, and
even spoke of having recourse to the
commissary of police. Bordenave
frowned, threw his napkin down, upset
two glasses, and swaggered out widi a
red face, swearing and ejaculating:

"'This is rather too much, and the
fellow shall find out what going out of
the window means, if he will not leave
by the door.' But in the anteroom he
found himself face to face with a veiy



Digitized by



Google



THE COLONEL'S IDEAJ



533



cool, polite, impassive gentleman, who
said very quietly to him:

" 'You are Count Robert de Borde-
nave, I believe, Monsieur?'

" 'Yes, Monsieur/

" 'And the lease that you signed at
the lawyer^s, Monsieur Albin Calvert, in
the Rue du Frabourg-Poissonni^re, is in
your name, I believe?'

" 'Certainly, Monsieur.'

" 'Then I regret extremely to have to
tell you that if you are not in a posi-
tion to pay the various accounts which
different people have intrusted to me
for collection here, I shall be obliged
to seize all the furniture, pictures, plate,
clothes, etc., which are here in the
presence of two witnesses who are wait-
ing for m€ downstairs in the street.'



" 'I suppose this is some joke, Mon«
sieur?'

" Tt would be a very poor joke. Mon-
sieur le Comte, and one which I should
certainly not allow myself toward you!'

"The situation was absolutely critical
and ridiculous, the more so, that in the
dining-room the women, who were
slightly tipsy, were tapping the wine*
glasses with their spoons, and calling for
him. What could he do except explain
his misadventure to Quillanet, who be-
came sobered immediately, and rather
than see his shrine of love violated, his
secret sin disclosed, and his pictures,
ornaments, and furniture sold, gave a
check in due form for the claim there
and then, though with a very wry face.
And in spite of this, some people will
deny that men who are utterly broke
often have a stroke of luck!''



The Colonels Ideas



"Upon my word," said Colonel La-
porte, "I am old and gouty, my legs are
as stiff as two sticks, and yet if a pretty
woman were to tell me to go through
the eye of a needle, I believe I should
take a jump at it, like a clown through
a hoop. I shall die like that; it is in
the blood I am an old beau, one of
the old rSgime, and the sight of a wo-
man, a pretty woman, stirs me to the
tips of my toes. There!

'*And then we are all very much alike
in France; we remain cavaliers, cava-
liers of love and fortune, since God has
been abolished, whose bodyguard we
really were. But nobody will ever get



the woman out of our hearts; there she
is, and there she will remain; we love
her, and shall continue to love her, and
to commit all kinds of frolics on her
account, so long as there is a France
on the map of Europe. And even if
France were to be wiped off the map^
there would always be Frenchmen left
**When I am in the presence of a.
woman, of a pretty woman, I feel capa*-
ble of anything. By Jove, when I fed
her looks penetrating me, those con-
founded looks which set your blood od
fire, I could do anything: fight a duel,
have a row, smash the furniture, any*
thing just to show that I am the strong-



Digitized by



Google



534



WORKS OF GUY DE MAUPASSANT



est, the bravest, the most daring, and
the most devoted of men.

"But I am not the only one — cer-
tainly not; the whole French army is
like me, that I will swear to. From the
conmion soldier to the general, we all
go forward, and to the very end, mark
you, when there is a woman in the case,
a pretty woman. Remember what Joan
of Arc made us do formerly! Come, I'd
make a bet that if a pretty woman had
taken command of the army on the eve
of Sedan, when Marshal MacMahon
was wounded, we should have broken
through the Prussian lines, by Jove!
and have had a drink out of their guns.

"It was not Trochu, but Saint-Gene-
vieve, who was required in Paris, and
I remember a little anecdote of the war
which proves that we are capable of
everything in the presence of a woman.

"I was a captain, a simple captain,
at the time, and was in command of a
detachment of scouts who were retreat-
ing through a district swarming with
Prussians. We were surrounded, pur-
sued, tired out, and half dead with
fatigue and hunger, and by the next day
we had to reach Bar-sur-Tain; other-
wise we should be done for, cut off
from the main body and killed. I do
not know how we managed to escape
so far. However, we had ten leagues to
go during the night, ten leagues through
the snow, and upon empty stomachs. I
thought to myself:

" 'It is all over; my poor fellows will
never be able to do it.'

'^e had eaten nothing since the day
before, and the whole day long we re-
mained hidden in a bam, huddled close
together, so as not to feel the cold
much; we did not venture to speak or



even move, and we slept by fits and
starts, like you sleep when you are
worn out with fatigue.

"It was dark by five o'clock, that wan
darkness caused by the snow, and I
shook up my men. Some of them would
not get up; they were almost incapa-
ble of moving or of standing upright,
and their joints were stiff from the cold
and want of motion.

"In front of us there was a large ex-
panse of flat, bare country; the snow was
still falling like a curtam, in large, white
flakes, which concealed everything
under a heavy, thick, frozen mantle, a
mattress of ice. You would have
thou^t that it was the end of things.

" *Come, my lads, let us start.'

"They looked at the thick, white dust
which was coming down, and seemed to
think: *We have had enough of this;
we may just as well die here!' Then I
took out my revolver, and said:

"*I will shoot the first man who
flinches.' And so they set off, but very
slowly, like men whose legs were of
very little use to them. I sent four of
them three hundred yards ahead, to
scout, and the others followed pellmell,
walking at random and without any or-
der. I put the strongest in the rear,
with orders to quicken the pace of the
sluggards with the points of their
bayonets in the back.

"The snow seemed as if it were going
to bury us alive; it powdered our kSpis*
and cloaks without melting, and made
phantoms of us, ghosts of womout sol-=
diers who were very tired, and I said to
myself : *We shall never get out of this,
except by a miracle.'



♦Forage-caps.



Digitized by



Google



THE COLONEL'S IDEAS



S3S



'"Sometimes we had to stop for a few
minutes, on account of those who could
not follow us, hearing nothing but the
falling snow, that vague, almost indis-
cernible sound which the flakes make,
as they come down together. Some of
the men shook themselves, but others
did not move, and so I gave the order
to set off again; they shouldered their
rifles, and with weary feet we set out
again, when suddenly the scouts fell
back. Something had alarmed them;
they had heard voices in front of them,
and so I sent six men and a sergeant
on ahead, and waited.

"All at once a shrill cry, a woman's
cry, pierced through the heavy silence
of the snow, and in a few minutes they
brought back two prisoners, an old man
and a girl, whom I questioned in a low
voice. They were escaping from the
Prussians, who had occupied their house
during the evening, and who had got
drunk. The father had become alarmed
on his daughter's account, and, without
even telling their servants, they had
made their escape into the darkness. I
saw immediately that they belonged to
the upper classes, and, as I should have
done in any case, I invited them to
come with us. So we started off to-
gether, and as the old man knew the
road, be acted as our guide.

"It had ceased snowing; the stars
appeared, and the cold became intense.
Tlie girl, who was leaning on her father's
arm, walked wearily and with jerks, and
several times she murmured:

" *I have no feeling at all in my feet.'
I suffered more than she did, I believe,
to see that poor litUe woman dragging
herself like ,that through the snow. But
suddenly she stopped, and said:



" Tather, I am so tired that I cannot
go any further.'

"The old man wanted to carry her,
but he could not even lift her up, and
she fell on the ground with a deep sigh.
We all came round her, and as for me,
I stamped on the ground, not knowing
what to do, quite unable to make up my
mind to abandon that man and girl like
that. Suddenly one of the soldiers, a
Parisian, whom they had nicknamed
Tratique,* said:

" 'Come, comrades, we must carry the
young lady, otherwise we shall not show
ourselves Frenchmen, confound it!'

"I really believe that I swore with
pleasure, and said: That is very good
of you, my children; I will take my
share of the burden.'

"We could indistinctly see the trees
of a little wood on the left, through
the darkness. Several men went into it,
and soon came back with a bundle of
branches twisted into a litter.

" 'Who will lend us his cloak? It is for
a pretty girl, comrades,' Pratique said,
and ten cloaks were thrown to him. In
a moment, the girl was lying, warm and
comfortable, among them, and was
raised upon six shoulders. I placed
m3rself at their head, on the right, and
very pleased I was with my charge.

"We started off much more briskly, as
if we had been having a drink of wine,
and I even heard a few jokes. A wo-
man is quite enough to electrify French-
men, you see. The soldiers, who were
reanimated and warm, had almost re*
formed their ranks, and an old franc^
tireur* who was following the litter.



♦Volunteers, in the Franco-German
war of 1870-1871, of whom the Germans
often made short work when caught



Digitized by



Google



536



WORKS OF GUY DE MAUPASSANT



waiting for his turn to replace the first
of his comrades who might give in, said
to one of his neighbors, loud ' enough
for me to hear :

"*I am not a young man, now; but
by Jove, there is nothing like a woman
to make you feel queer from head to
foot!'

"We went on, almost without stop-
ping, until three o'clock in the morning,
when suddenly our scouts fell back
again. Soon the whole detachment
showed nothing but a vague shadow on
the ground, as the men lay on the snow,
and I gave my orders in a low voice, and
heard the harsh, metallic sound of the
cocking of rifles. There, in the middle
of the plain, some strange object was
moving about. It might have been
taken for some enormous animal nm-
ning about, which uncoiled itself like a
serpent, or came together into a coil,
then suddenly went quickly to the right
or left, stopped, and then went on again.
But presently the wandering shape came
near, and I saw a dozen lancers, one be-
hind the other, who were trying to find
their way, which they had lost.

"By this time they were so near that
I could hear the panting of the horses,
the clink of the swords, and the creaking
of the saddles, and so cried: Tire!'

"Fifty rifle-shots broke the stillness of
the night; then there were four or five
reports, and at last one single shot was
heard. When the smoke had cleared away
we saw that th« twelve men and nine
horses had fallen. Three of the animals
were galloping away at a furious pace.
One of them was dragging the body of
its rider behind it. His foot had caught
in the stirrup, and his body rebounded
from the ground in a horrible way.



"One of the soldiers behind nxe gave a
harsh laugh, and said: There are a
few more widows now!'

"Perhaps he was married. And
another added: 'It did not take longT

"A head was put out of the litter:

"'What is the matter?' she asked;
*you are fighting?'

" 'It is nothing. Mademoiselle,' I re-
plied; 'we have got rid of a dozen Prus-
sians!'

" 'Poor fellows ! ' she said. But as she
was cold, she quickly disappeared be-
neath the cloaks again, and we started
off once more. We marched on for a
long time, and at last the sky began
to grow pale. The snow became quite
clear, luminous, and bright, and a rosy
tint appeared in the east. Suddenly a
voice in the distance cried:

" 'Who goes there?'

"The whole detachment halted, and
I advanced to say who we were. We
had reached the French lines, and as
my men defiled before the outpost, a
commandant on horseback, whom I
had informed of what had taken place,
asked in a sonorous voice, as he saw
the litter pass him:

" 'What have you there?'

"And immediately a small bead, coy*
ered with light hair, appeared, dis*
beveled and smiling, and replied:

" 'It is I, Monsieur.'

"At this, the men raised a hearty
laugh, and we felt quite light-hearted,
•while Pratique, who was walking by the
side of the litter, waved his kipi, and
shouted :

*' 'Vive la France!' And I felt really
moved. I do not know why, except that
I thought it a pretty and gallant thing
to say.



Digitized by



Google



TWO LITTLE SOLDIERS



537



"It seemed to me as if we had just
saved the whole of France, and had
done something that other men could not
have done, something simple, and really
patriotic. I shall never forget that little
face, you may be sure, and if I had to
give my opinion about abolishing drums,
trumpets, and bugles, I should propose
to replace them in every regiment by a
pretty girl, and that would be even



better than playing the 'Marseillaise/
By Jove! it would put some spirit into
a trooper to have a Madonna like that,
a living Madonna, by the coloners side."

He was silent for a few moments, and
then with an air of conviction, and jerk*
ing his head, continued:

"You see, we are very fond of wo*
men, we Frenchmen 1"



Two Little Soldiers



EvsRY Sunday, the moment they were
dismissed, the two little soldiers made
off. Once outside the barracks, they
struck out to the right through Cour**
bevoie, walking with long rapid strides,
as though they were on a march.

When they were beyond the last of
the houses, they slackened pace £dong
the bare, dusty roadway which goes to-
ward 66zons.

They were both small and thin, and
looked quite lost in their coats, which
were too big and too long. Their sleeves
hung down over their hands, and they
found their enormous red breeches,
which compelled them to waddle, very
much in the way. Under their stiff,
high helmets their faces had little char-
acter — two poor, sallow Breton faces,
simple with an almost animal simplicity,
and with gentle and quiet blue eyes.

They never conversed during these
walks, but went straight on, each with
the same thoughts in his head. This
thought atoned for the lack of con-
versation; it was this that just inside
the little wood near Les Champioux they



had found a place which reminded them
of their own country, where they could
feel happy again.

When they arrived under the trees
where the roads from Colombes and
from Chatou cross, they would take off
their heavy helmets and wipe their fore-
heads. They always halted on the
Bdzons bridge to look at the Seine, and
would remain there two or three
minutes, bent double, leaning on the
parapet.

Sometimes they would gaze out over
the great basin of Argenteuil, where the
skiffs might be seen scudding, with their
white, careening sails, recalling perhaps
the look of the Breton waters, the har-
bor of Vanne, near which they lived,
and the fishing-boats standing out across
the Morbihan to the open sea.

Just beyond the Seine they boug^
their provisions from a sausage mer*
chant, a baker, and a wine-seller. A
piece of blood-pudding, four sous* worth
of bread, and a liter of "petit bleu" con-
stituted the provisions, which they car-
ried off in their handkerchiefs. Afte;



Digitized by



Google



S3S



WORKS OF GUY DE MAUPASSANT



ilbey had left B^ons they traveled
slowly and began to talk.

In front of them a barren plain
studded with clumps of trees led to the
wood, to the little wood which had
seemed to them to resemble Ihe one at
Kermarivan. Grainfiields and hayfiields
bordered the narrow path, which lost
itself in the young preenness of the
crops, and Jean Kerderen would always
say to Luc le Ganidec:

"It looks like it does near Plounivon.'*

"Yes; exactly."

Side by side they strolled, their souls
filled with vague memories of their
own country, with awakened images as
naive as the pictures on the colored
broadsheets which you buy for a penny.
They kept on recognizing, as it were,
now a comer of a field, a hedge, a bit
of moorland, now a crossroad, now a
granite cross. Then, too, they would al-
ways stop beside a certain landmark, a
great stone, because it looked something
like the cromlech at Locneuven.

Every Sunday on arriving at the first
clump of trees Luc le Ganidec would cut
a switch, a hazel switch, and begin
gently to peel off the bark, thinking
meanwhile of the folk at home. Jean
Kerderen carried the provisions.

From time to time Luc would men-
tion a name, or recall some deed of their
childhood in a few brief words, which
caused long thoughts. And their own
country, their dear, distant country, re-
captured them little by little, seizing on
their imaginations, and sending to them
from afar her shapes, her sounds, her
well-known prospects, her odors — odors
of the green lands where the salt sea^iir
was blowing.

No longer conscious of the exhala-



tions of the Parisian stables, on which
the earth of the banlieue fattens, they
scented the perfume of the flowering
broom, which the salt breeze of the open
sea plucks and bears away. And the
sails of the boats from the river banks
seemed like the white wings of the
coasting vessels seen beyond the great
plain which extended from their homes
to the very margin of the sea.

They walked with short steps, Luc



Online LibraryGuy de MaupassantThe complete short stories of Guy de Maupassant → online text (page 67 of 125)