Guy de Maupassant.

The complete short stories of Guy de Maupassant online

. (page 96 of 125)
Online LibraryGuy de MaupassantThe complete short stories of Guy de Maupassant → online text (page 96 of 125)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

with a vivacity which increased their
satisfaction. He grasped their hands
warmly, congratulated them, and intoxi-
cated them with compliments.

He was quite charming in his manner
as they drove along the road to the
house; he expressed astonishment at the
'height of the trees, the excellence of
the crops, and the quickness of the

When he placed his foot on the steps
in front of the chiteau, M. de Meroul
said to him with a certain friendly

"Now you are at home."

Joseph Mouradour answered:
•'Thanks, old fellow; I coimted on that.
For my part, besides, I never put my-
self out with my friends. That's the
only hospitality I understand."

Then he went up to his own room,
where he put on the costume of a
peasant, as he was pleased to describe
it. and he came down again not very

long after, attired in blue linen, with
yellow boots, in the careless rig-out of a
Parisian out for a holiday. He seemed,
too, to have become more conmion,
more jolly, more familiar, having as-
sumed along with his would-be rustic
garb a free and easy swagger which he
thought suited the style of dress. Hb
new apparel somewhat shocked M.
and Madame de Meroul, who even at
home on their estate always remained
serious and respectable, as the particle
"de" before their name exacted a
certain amount of ceremonial even
with their intimate friends.

After lunch they went to visit the
farms; and the Parisian stupefied the
respectable peasant by talking to them
as if he were a comrade of theirs.

In the evening, the cur6 dined at the
house — a "fat old priest, wearing his Sim-
day suit, who had been specially asked
that day in order to meet the new-

When Joseph saw him he made a
grimace, then he stared at the priest m
astonishment as if he belonged to some
peculiar race of beings, the like of which
he had never seen before at such dose
quarters. He told a few stories allow-
able enough with a friend after dinner,
but apparently somewhat out of place
in the presence of an ecclesiastic. He
did not say, "Monsieur TAbbe," but
merely "Monsieur"; and he embarrassed
the priest with philosophical views as
to the various superstitions that i^e-
vailed on the surface of the globe.

He remarked:

"Your God, Monsieur, is one of those
persons whom we must respect, but also
one of those who must be discussed
Mine is called Reason; he has from

Digitized by




time immemorial be^ the enemy of

The Merouls, gteaily put out> at*
tempted to divert his thoughts. The
cur6 left very early.

Then the husband gently remarked:

**You went a little too far with that

But Joseph immediately replied:

"That's a very good joke, too! Am I
to bother my brains about a devil-
dodger? At any rate, do me the favor
of not ever again having such an old
fogy to dinner. Confoimd his impu-

"But, my friend, remember his sacred

Joseph Mouradour interrupted him:

**Yes, I know. We must treat them
like girls who get roses for being well
behaved! That's all right, my boy!
When these people respect my convic-
tions, I will respect theirs!*'

This was all that happened that day.

Next morning Madame de Meroul, on
entering her drawing-room, saw lying
on the table three newspapers which
made her draw back in horror, **Le
Voltaire," "La R6publique Frangaise,"
and *T-a Justice."

Presently Joseph Mouradour, stflj in
his blue blouse, appeared on the
threshold, reading "L'lntransigeant" at-
tentively. He exclaimed:

"Here is a splendid article by Rodie^
fort. That fellow is marvelous."

He read the article in a loud voice,
laying so much stress on its most strik-
ing passages that he did not notice the
entrance ot his friend.

M. de Meroul had a paper in each
hand: ^'Le Gaulois" for himself and
•Xe Clarion" for his wife.

The ardent prose of the master-writei
who overthrew the empire, violently de-
claimed, recited in the accent of the
south, rang through the peaceful draw-
ing-room, shook the old curtains with
their rigid folds, seemed to splash the
walls, the large upholstered chairs, the
solemn furniture fixed in the same posi-
tion for the past century, with a hail
of words, rebounding, impudent, ironi-
cal, and crushing.

The husband and the wife, the one
standing, the other seated, listened in a
state of stupor, so scandalized that they
no longer even ventured to make a ges-
ture. Mouradour flung out the conclud-
ing passage in the article as one sets off
a stream of fireworks; then in an em-
phatic tone he remarked:

"Thats a stinger, eh?"

But suddenly he perceived the two
prints belonging to his friend, and he
seemed himself for a moment overcome
with astonishment. Then he came
across to his host with great strides, de-
manding in an angry tone:

"What do you want to do with these

M. de Meroul replied in a hesitating

**Why, - these— these are my— my

"Your newspapers! Look here, now,
you are only laughing at me! You wilf
do me the favor to read riiine, to stir
you up with a few new ideas, and, as
for yours — this is what I do with

And before his host, filled with confu-
sion, could prevent him, he seized the
two newspapers and flung them out
through the window. Then he gravely
placed "La Justice" in the hands of

Digitized by




Madame de Meroul and 'Xe Voltaire"
in those of her husband, himself sinking
into an armchair to finish "L'lntransi-

The husband and the wife, through
feelings of delicacy, made a show of
reading a little, then they handed back
the Republican newspapers which they
touched with their finger-tips as if they
had been poisoned.

Then Mouradour burst out laughing
and said:

"A week of this sort of nourishment,
and I'll have you converted to my ideas."

At the end of a week, in fact, he
ruled the house. He had shut the door
on the cur^, whom Madame de Meroul
went to see in secret. He gave orders
that neither the "Gaulois" nor the
"Clarion" were to be admitted into the
house, which a manserveant went to get
In a mysterious fashion at the post-office,
and which, on his entrance, were hidden
away under the sofa cushions. He regu-
lated everything just as he liked, always
charming, always good-natured, a jovial
and all-powerful tyrant

Other friends were about to come on
a visit, religious people with Legitimist
opinions. The master and mistress of
the chateau considered it would be im-
possible to let them meet their lively
guest, and not knowing what to do, an-
nounced to Joseph Mouradour one
evening that they were obliged to go
away from home for a few days about a
little matter of business, and they begged
of him to remain in the house alone.

He showed no trace of emotion, and

"Very well: tis all the same to me;
111 wait here for you as long as you like.
What I say is this — there need be no
ceremony between friends. You're quite
right to look after your own affairs-
why the devil shouldn't you? Ill not
take offense at your doing that, quite
the contrary. It only makes me fed
quite at my ease with you. Go, my
friends — ^I'U wait for you."

M. and Madame de Meroul started
next morning.

He is waiting for them.

The Blind Man

How is it that the sunlight gives us
such joy? Why does this radiance when
it faUs on the earth fill us so much
with the delight of living? The sky is
all blue, the fields are all green, the
houses ail white; and our ravished eyes
drink in those bright colors which bring
ttiirthfulness to our souls. And then
there springs up in our hearts a desire
to dance, a desire to run, a desire to

sing, a happy lightness of thought, a
sort of enlarged tenderness; we fed a
longing to embrace the sun.

The blind, as they sit in tlie door-
ways, impassive in their eternal dark-
ness remain as calm as ever in the
midst of this fresh gaiety, and, not com-
prehending what is taking place around
them, they continue every moment to
stop their dogs from gamboling.

Digitized by




When, at the close of the day, they
are returning home on the arm of a
yoimg brother or a little sister, if the
child says: "It was a very fine day!"
the other answers; "I could notice that
'twas fine. Lulu wouldn't keep quiet."

I have known one of these men whose
life was one of the most cruel martyr-
doms that could possibly be conceived.

He was a peasant, the son of a Nor-
man farmer. As long as his father and
mother lived, he was more or less taken
care of; he suffered little save from his
horrible infirmity; but as soon as the old
people were gone, a life of atrocious
misery commenced for him. A depend-
ent on a sister of his, everybody in the
farmhouse treated him as a beggar who
is eating the bread of others. At every
meal the very food he swallowed was
made a subject of reproach against him;
he was called a drone, a clown; and al-
though his brother-in-law had taken pos-
session of his portion of the inheritance,
the soup was given to him grudgingly —
just enough to save him from dying.

His face was very pale and his two
big white eyes were like wafers. He
remained unmoved in spite of the in-
sults inflicted upon him, so shut up in
himself that one could not tell whether
he felt them at all.

Moreover, he had never known any
tenderness, his mother had always
treated him very imkindly, caring
scarcely at all for him; for in country
places the useless are obnoxious, and the
peasants would be glad, like hens, to
kill the infirm of their species.

As soon as the soup had been gulped
down, he went to the door in summer
time and sat down, to the chimney-cor-
ner in winter time, and, after that, never

stirred till night. He made no gesture,
no movement; only his eyelids, quiver-
ing from some nervous affection, fell
down sometimes over his white sight-
less orbs. Had he any intellect, any
thinking faculty, any consciousness of
his own existence? Nobody cared to
inquire as to whether he had or no.

For some years things went on in this
fashion. But his incapacity for doing
anything as well as his impassiveness
eventually exasperated his relatives, and
he became a laughing-stock, a sort of
martyred buffoon, a prey given over to
native ferocity, to the savage gaiety of
the brutes who surrounded him.

It is easy to imagine all the cruel
practical jokes inspired by his blind-
ness. And, in order to have some fun
in return for feeding him, they now con-
verted his meals into hours of pleasure
for the neighbors and of punishment
for the helpless creature himself.

The peasants from the nearest houses
came to this entertainment; it was talked
about from door to door, and every
day the kitchen of the farmhouse was
full of people. For instance, they put on
the table in front of his plate, when he
was beginning to take the soup, a cat or
a dog. The animal instinctively scented
out the man's infirmity, and, softly ap-
proaching, commenced eating noiselessly,
lapping up the soup daintily; and when
a rather loud licking of the tongue
awakened the poor fellow's attention, it
would prudently scamper away to avoid
the blow of the spoon directed at it by
the blind man at random!

Then the spectators, huddled against
the walls, burst out laughing, nudged
each other, and stamped then: feet on
the floor. And he, without ever uttering

Digitized by




a word, would continue eating with the
aid of his right hand, while stretching
out his left to protect and defend his

At another time they made him chew
corks, bits of wood, leaves, or even filth,
which he was unable to distinguish.

After this, they got tired even of these
practical jokes; and the brother-in-law,
mad at having to support him always,
struck him, cuffed him incessantly,
laughing at the useless efforts of the
other to ward off or return the blows.
Then came a new pleasure — ^the pleasure
of smacking his face. And the plow-
men, the servant-girls, and even every
passing vagabond were every moment
giving him cuffs, which caused his eye-
lashes to twitch spasmodically. He did
not know where to hide himself and re-
mained with his arms always held out to
guard against people coming too close to

At last he was forced to beg.

He was placed somewhere on the high-
road on market-days, and, as soon as he
heard the sound of footsteps or the roll-
ing of a vehicle, he reached out his hat,

"Charity, if you please!*'

But the peasant is not lavish, and,
for whole weeks, he did not bring back
a sou.

Then he became the victim of furious,
pitiless hatred. And this is how he died.

One winter, the ground was covered
with snow, and it froze horribly. Now
his brother-in-law led him one morning
at this season a great distance along the
highroad in order that he might solicit
alms. The blind man was left there all
day, and, when night came on, the
brother-in-law told the Deoole of his

house that he could find no trace of tbe
mendicant. Then he added:

"Pooh! best not bother about him!
He was cold, and got some one to take
him away. Never fear! he's not lost
He'll turn up soon enough to-morrow to
eat the soup."

Next day he did not come back.

After long hours of waiting, stiffened
with the cold, feeling that he was dying,
the blind man began to walk. Being
unable to find his way along the road,
owing to its thick coating of ice, he
went on at random, falling into dikes,
getting up again, without uttering a
sound, his sole object being to find
some house where he could take shelter.

But by degrees the descending snow
made a numbness steal over him, and his
feeble limbs being incapable of carrying
him farther, he had to sit down in the
middle of an open field. He did not get
up again.

The white flakes which kept continu-
ally falling buried him, so that his body,
quite stiff and stark, disappeared under
the incessant accumulation of their
rapidly thickening mass; and nothing
any longer indicated the place where
the corpse was lying.

His relatives made pretense of in-
quiring about him and searching for
him for about a week. They even made
a show of weeping.

The winter was severe, and the thaw
did not set in quickly. Now, one Sun-
day, on their way to mass, the farmers
noticed a great flight of crows, who were
whirling endlessly above the open field,
and then, like a shower of black rain,
descended in a heap at the same spot,
ever going and coming.

Digitized by




The following week these gloomy birds
jvere still there. There was a crowd of
them up in the air, as if they had gath-
ered from all comers of the horizon;
and they swooped down with a great
cawing into the shining snow, which they
filled curiously with patches of black,
and in which they kept rummaging ob-
stinately. A yoimg fellow went to see
what they were doing, and discovered

the body of the blind man, already half
devoured, mangled. His wan eyes had
disappeared, pecked out by the long
voracious beaks.

And I can never feel the glad radiance
of sunlit days without sadly remember-
ing and gloomily pondering over the
fate of the beggar so deprived of joy in
life that his horrible death was a relief
for all those who had known him.

The Impolite Sex

Madame de X. to Madame de L.

Etretat, Friday.

My Dear Aunt, — ^I am going to pay
you a visit without making much fuss
about it. I shall be at hes Fresnes on
the second of September, the day before
the hunting season opens ; I do not want
to miss it, so that I may tease these
gentlemen. You are very obliging,
Aunt, and I would like you to allow
them to dine with you, as you usually
do when there are no strange guests,
without dressing or shaving for the occa-
sion, on the ground that they are

They are delighted, of course, when I
am not present. But I shall be there,
and I shall hold a review, like a general,
at the dinner-hour; and, if I find a
single one of them at all careless in
dress, no matter how little, I mean to
send him down to the kitchen to the

The men of to-day have so little con-
sideration for others and so little good
manners that one must be always severe
with them. We live indeed in an age

of vulgarity. When they quarrel with
one another, they attack one another
with insults worthy of street porters,
and, in our presence, they do not con-
duct themselves even as well as our
servants. It is at the seaside that you
see this most clearly. They are to be
found there in battalion, and you can
judge them in the lump. Oh, what
coarse beings they are I

Just imagine, in a train, one of them,
a gentleman who looked well as I
thought, at first sight, thanks to his
tailor, was dainty enough to take off his
boots in order to put on a pair of old
shoes! Another, an old man, who Was
probably some wealthy upstart (these
are the most fll-bred), while sitting op,
posite to me, had the delicacy to place
his two feet on the seat quite close to
me. This is a positive fact.

At the watering-places, there is an un-
restrained outpouring of unmannerliness.
I must here make one admission — ^that
my indignation is perhaps due to the
fact that I am not accustomed to asso-
ciate as a rule with the sort of people
one comes across here, for I should be

Digitized by




less shocked by their manners if I had
the opportunity of observing them
oftener. In the inquiry-ofl&ce of the
hotel I was nearly thrown down by a^
young man, who snatched the key over
my head. Another knocked against me
so violently without begging my pardon
or lifting his hat, coming away from a
ball at the Casino, that he gave me a
pain in the chest. It is the same way
with all of them. Watch them address-
ing ladies on the terrace: they scarcely
ever bow. They merely raise their hands
to their headgear. But indeed, as they
are all more or less bald, it is the best

But what exasperates and disgusts me
especially is the liberty they take of
talking publicly, without any precaution
whatsoever, about the most revolting
adventures. When two men are together,
they relate to each other, in the broadest
language and with the most abominable
comments, really horrible stories, with-
out caring in the slightest degree
whether a woman's ear is within reach
of their voices. Yesterday, on the beach,
I was forced to go away from the place
where I sat in order not to be any
longer the involuntary confidant of an
obscene anecdote, told in such immodest
language that I felt as much humiliated
as I was indignant at having heard it.
Would not the most elementary good-
breeding have taught them to speak in a
lower tone about such matters when we
are near at hand? Etretat is, moreover,
the country of gossip and scandal.
From five to seven o'clock you can see
people wandering about in quest of
nasty stories about others, which they
retail from group to group. As you
remarked to me, my dear Aunt, tittle-

tattle is the mark of petty individuals
and petty minds. It is also the consola-
tion of women who are no longer loved
or sought after. It is enough for me to
observe the women who are fondest of
gossiping to be persuaded that you are
quite right.

The other day I was present at a
musical evening at the Casino, given by
a remarkable artist, Madame Masson,
who sings in a truly delightful manner.
I took the opportunity of applauding
the admirable Coquelin, as well as two
charming boarders of the Vaudeville,

M and Meillet. I was able, on the

occasion, to see all the bathers collected
together this year on the beach. There
were not many persons of distinction
among them.

One day I went to lunch at Yport. I
noticed a tall man with a beard who was
coming out of a large house like a castle.
It was the painter, Jean Paul Laurens.
He is not satisfied apparently with im-
prisoning the subjects of his pictures;
he insists on imprisoning himself.

Then I found myself seated on the
shingle close to a man still young, of
gentle and refined appearance, who was
reading some verses. But he read them
with such concentration, with such pas-
sion, I may say, that he did not even
raise his eyes toward me. I was some-
what astonished, and I asked the con-
ductor of the baths, without appearing
to be much concerned, the name of this
gentleman. I laughed inwardly a litUe
at this reader of rh3anes : he seemed be-
hind the age, for a man. This person, I
thought, must be a simpleton. Well,
Aunt, I am now infatuated about this
stranger. Just fancy, his name is SuDy
Prudhomme! [ turned round to lock at

Digitized by




!iim at my ease, just where I sat. His
face possesses tie two qualities of
calmness and elegance. As somebody
came to look for him, I was able to
hear his voice, which is sweet and almost
timid. He would certainly not tell ob-
scene stories aloud in public, or knock
against ladies without apologizing. He
is sure to be a man of refinement, but
his refinement is of an almost morbid,
vibrating character. I will try this win-
ter to get an introduction to him.

I have no more news to tell you, my
dear Aunt, and I must interrupt . this
letter in haste, as the post-hour is near.
I kiss your hands and your cheeks.

Your devoted niece,

Berths de X.

P.S. — ^I should add, however, by way
of justification of French politeness, that
our fellow-countrymen are, when trav-
eling, models of good manners in com-
parison with the abominable English, who
seem to have been brought up by stable-
boys, so much do they take care not to
incommode themselves in any way, while
they always incommode their neighbors.

Madame de L. to Madame de X.

Les Fresnes, Saturday.
My Dear Child, — ^Many of the
things you have said to me are very
reasonable, but that does not prevent
you from being wrong. Like you, I
used formerly to feel very indignant at
the impoliteness of men, who, as I sup-
posed, constantly treated me with neg-
lect; but as I grew older and reflected
on everything, putting aside coquetry
and observing things without taking any
part in them myself, I perceived this
much — that if men are not alwaj^s po-

lite, women are always indescribably

We imagine that we should be per-
mitted to do anything, my darling, knd
at the same time we consider that we
have a right to the utmost respect, and
in the most flagrant manner we commit
actions devoid of that elementary good-
breeding of which you speak with

I find, on the contrary, that men have,
for us, much consideration, as compared
with our bearing toward them. Besides,
darling, men must needs be, and are,
what we make them. In a state of
society where women are all true gentle-
women all men would become gentlemen.

Mark my words; just observe and

Look at two women meeting in the
street. What an attitude each assumes
toward the other! What disparaging
looks! What contempt they throw into
each glance ! How they toss their heads
while they inspect each other to find
something to condemn! And, if the
footpath is narrow, do you think one
woman will make room for another, or
will beg pardon as she sweeps by?
When two men jostle each other by acci-
dent in some narrow lane, each of them
bows and at the same time gets out of
the other's way, while we women press
against each other, stomach to stomach,
face to face, insolently staring each
other out of countenance.

Look at two women who are acquain*
tances meeting on a staircase before the
drawing-room door of a friend of theirs
to whom one has just paid a visit, and ^
to whom the other is about to pay a
visit. They begin to talk to each other,

Digitized by




and block up the passage. If anyone
happens to be coming up behind them,
man or woman, do you imagine that
they will put themselves half an inch
out of their way? Never! never!

I was waiting myself, with my watch
in my hands, one day last winter, at a
certain drawing-room door. Behind me
two gentlemen were also waiting with-
out showing any readiness to lose their
temper, like me. The reason was that
they had long grown accustomed to our
unconscionable insolence.

The other day, before leaving Paris,
I went to dine with no less a person
than your husband in the Champs-
Elys6es, in order to enjoy the open air.

Online LibraryGuy de MaupassantThe complete short stories of Guy de Maupassant → online text (page 96 of 125)