Guy de Maupassant.

The complete short stories of Guy de Maupassant online

. (page 99 of 125)
Online LibraryGuy de MaupassantThe complete short stories of Guy de Maupassant → online text (page 99 of 125)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

Cure! It will console me to know that

he will know it one day — that this was
the cause of my death! Swear it!"

" 'Well, I gave her my promise,
M'sieu r Baron! and, on the faith of
an honest man, I have kept my word*

"And then he ceased spealdng, his
eyes filling with tears.
♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ *

"Upon my soul, my dear boy, you
can't form any idea of the emotion tiiat
filled me when I heard this poor devil,
whose wife I had caused the death of
without knowing it, telling me this story
on that wet night in this very kitchen.

"I exclaimed: "Ah! my poor Jean!
my poor Jean I*

"He murmured: Well, that's all,
M'sieu r Baron. I could do nothing,
one way or another — and now its all

"I caught his hand across the table,
and I began to cry.

"He asked: Will you come and sec
her grave?' I nodded by way of assent,
for I couldn't speak. He rose up, lighted
a lantern, and we walked through the
blinding rain which, in the light of the
lamp, looked like falling arrows.

"He opened a gate, and I saw some
crosses of blackwood.

"Suddenly, he said: There it is, in
front of a marble slab/ and he flashed
the lantern close to it so that I could
read the inscription:


Wife of Jean-Frangois Lebrument,

She was a faithful Wife!
rest her Soul I'


*We fell on our knees in the damp
grass, he and I, with the lantern be*

Digitized by




twecn us, and I saw the rain beating on
the white marble slab. And I thought
of the heart of her sleeping there in her
grave. Ah! poor heart! poor heart!
♦ *♦♦♦♦

"Since then, I have been coming here
every year. And I don't know why,
but I feel as if I were guilty of some
crime in the presence of this man who
always shows that he forgives met''

Beside a Dead Man

£te was slowly dying, as consumptives
die. I saw him sitting down every day
at two o'clock under the windows of
the hotel, facing the tranquil sea, on an
open-air bench. He remained for some
time without moving, in the heat of the
sun, gazing mournfully at the Mediter-
ranean. Every now and then he cast
a glance at the lofty mountain with
vaporous summits which shuts in Men-
tone; then, with a very slow movement,
he crossed his long legs, so thin that
tiiey seemed two bones, around which
fluttered the cloth of his trousers, and
opened a book, which was always the
same. And then he did not stir any
more, but read on, read on with his
eye and with his mind; all his poor ex-
piring body seemed to read, all his soul
plunged, lost itself, disappeared, in this
book, up to the hour when the cool air
made him cough a little. Then he got
up and re-entered the hotel.

He was a tall German, with a fair
beard, who breakfasted and dined in his
own room, and spoke to nobody.

A vague curiosity attracted me to him.
One day I sat down by his side, hav-
ing taken up a book, too, to keep up
appearances, a volume of Musset's

And I began to run through "RoUa.'*

Suddenly, my neighbor said to me, in
good French:

"Do you know German, Monsieur?"

"Not at all, Monsieur."

"I am sorry for that. Since chance
has thrown us side by side, I could have
lent you, I could have shown you, an
inestimable thing — ^this book whidi I
hold in my hand."

"What is, pray?"

"It is a copy of my master, Schopen«
hauer, annotated with his own hand.
All the margins, as you may see, are
covered with his handwriting."

I took the book from him reverently,
and I gazed at those forms incompre-
hensible to me, but which revealed the
immortal thoughts of the greatest shat-
terer of dreams who had ever dwelt on

And Musset's verses arose in my

"Hast thou found out, Voltaire, that it is
bliss to die,
Or does thy hideous smile over thy
bleached bones fly?"

And involuntarily I compared the
childish sarcasm, the religious sarcasm,
of Voltaire with the irresistible irony of
the German philosopher whose influence
is henceforth ineffaceable.

Digitized by




Let us protest and let us be angry,
let us be indignant or let us be en*
tiiusiastic. Schopenhauer has marked
bumanity with the seal of his disdain
and of his disenchantment. A disa*
bused pleasure-seeker, he overthrew be-
liefs, liopes, poetic ideals, and chimeras,
destroyed the aspirations, ravaged the
confidence of sods, killed love, dragged
down the chivalrous worship of women>
crushed the illusions of hearts, and ac-
complished the most gigantic task ever
attempted by scepticism. He passed
over everything with his mocking spirit,
and left everything empty. And even
to-day those who execrate him seem to
carry portions of his thought, in spite
of themselves, in their own souls.

"So, then, you were intimately ac-
quainted with Schopenhauer?" I said
to the German.

fle smiled sadly,

"Up to the time of his death, Mon-

And he spoke to me about the phi-
losopher and told me about the almost
supernatural impression which, this
strange being made on aU who came
near ^^^^.

He gave me an account of the inter-
view of the old iconoclast with a French
politician, a doctrinaire Republican, who
wanted to get a glimpse of this man,
and found him in a noisy tavern, seated
in the midst of his disciples, dry,
wrinkled, laughing with an unforget-
table laugh, eating and tearing ideas and
beliefs with a single word, as a dog
tears with one bite of his teeth the
tissues with which he i^ys.

He repeated for me the comment of
this Frenchman as he went away,
scared and terrified: . VI thought thai

I had spent an hour with the devH*

Then he added:

"He had, indeed, Monsieur, a in^»
ful smile, which terrified us even after
his death. I can tell you an anecdote
about it not generally known, if it has
any interest for you."

And he began, in a tired voice, in-
terrupted by frequent fits of coughing:

"Schopenhauer had just died, and it
was arranged that we should watch, in
turn, two by two, till morning;

"He was lying in a krge apartment,
very simple, vast, and gloomy. Two
wax-candles were burning on the bed-
side stand.

"It was midnight when I took up my
task of watching along with one of our
comrades. The two friends whom we
replaced had left the ^partm^it, and
we came and sat down at the foot of
the bed.

"The face was not dianged. It was
laughing. That pucjcer which we knew
so well lingered still iiround the comets
of the lips, i^nd it seemed to us that he
was about to open his eyes, to move,
and to speak. His thought, or rather
his thoughts, enveloped us. We felt
ourselves more than ever in the atmos-
phere of his genius, absorbed, possessed
by him. His dcmiination seemed to us
even more sovereign now that he was
dead. A sense of mystery was blended
with the power of this incomparahla

"The bodies of these men disappetfi
but they remain themselves; and in
the m'ght which follows the stoppage
of their heart's beating, I assure yoUj
Monsieur, they are terrifying.

"And in hushed tones we talked abool
hiih, recalling to mind certain saying^

Digitized by




certain formulas of Us, those startling
maxims which are like jets of flame
flung, by means of some words, into
the darkness of the Unknown Life.

"*It seems to me that he is going
to speak,' said my comrade. And we
stared with uneasiness bordering on fear
at the motionless face with its eternal
laugh. Gradually, we began to feel ill
at ease, oppressed, on the point of faint-
ing. I faltered:

"*I dont know what is the matter
with me, but, I assure you I am not

"And at that moment we noticed that
there was an unpleasant odor from the

"Then, my comrade suggested that we
should go into the adjoining room, and
leave the door open; and I assented to
this proposal.

"I took one of the wax-candles which
binned on the bedside stand, and I
left the second behind. Then we went
and sat down at the other end of the ad-
joining apartment, so as to be able to
see from where we were the bed and
the corpse clearly revealed by the light.

"But he still held possession of us.
One would have said that his immaterial
essence, liberated, free, all-powerful,
and dominating, was flitting around us.
And sometimes, too, the dreadful smell
of the decomposing body came toward
us and penetrated us, sickening and in-

"Suddenly a shiver passed through
our bones: a sound, a slight sound, came
from the death-chamber. Inmiediately
we fixed our glances on him, and we
saw, yes, Monsieur, we saw distinctly,
both of us, something white flying over

the bed, falling on the carpet, and van*
ishing under the armchair.

"We were on our feet before we had
time to think of anything, distracted by
stupefying terror, ready to run away.
Then we stared at each other. We were
horribly pale. Our hearts throbbed so
fiercdy that our clothes swelled over
our chests. I was the flrst to speak.

" Tou saw?'

" 'Yes, I saw.'

" 'Can it be that he is not dead?'

" Why not, when the body is putre-

" What are we to do?'
"My companion said in a hesitating

" We must go and look.*

"I took our wax-candle and I
entered first, searching with my eye
through all the large apartment with
its dark comers. There was not the
least movement now, and I approached
the bed. But I stood transfixed with
stupor and fright: Schopenhauer was
no longer laughing ! He was grinning in
a horrible fashion, with his lips pressed
together and deep hollows in his che^s.
I stammered out:

"'He is not dead!'

"But the terrible odor rose up to my
nose and stifled me. And I no longer
moved, but kept staring fixedly at him,
scared as if in the presence of an ap-
partition. Then my companion, having
seized the other wax-candle, bent for*
ward. Then, he touched my arm with-
out uttering a word. I followed his
glance, and I saw on the floor, under
the armchair by th*^ side of the bed, all

Digitized by




white on the dark carpet, open as if to
bite, Schopenhauer's set of artificial

"The work of decomposition, loosen-
ing the jaws, had made it jump out of
the mouth.

"I was really frightened that day,

And as the sun was sinking toward
the glittering sea, the consumptive
German rose from his seat, gave me a
parting bow, and retired into the hoteL

A Queer Night in Paris

Maitre Saval, notary at Vernon, was
passionately fond of music. Still yo ung,
though already bald, always carefully
shaved, a little corpulent, as w?^ fit-
ting, wearing a gold pince-nez instead of
old-fashioned spectacles, active, gallant,
and joyous, he passed in Vernon for an
artist. He thrummed on the piano and
played on the violin, and guve musical
evenings where interpretations were
given of new operas.

He had even what is called a bit of
a voice; nothing but a bit, a very little
bit of a voice; but he managed it with
so much taste that cries of "Bravo!"
"Exquisite!" "Surprising!" "Adorable!''
issued from every throat as soon as he
had murmured the last note.

He was a subscriber to a music pub-
lisher in Paris, who sent all new pieces
to him. From time to time to the
high society of the town he sent little
notes something in this style:

"Your are invited to be present on
Monday evening at the house of M.
Saval, notary, Vernon, at the first pro-
duction of *Sais.' "

A few officers, gifted with good
voices formed the chorus. Two or
three of the vinedressers* families also
sang. The notary filled the part of

leader of the orchestra with so mudi
skill that the band-master of the 190th
regiment of the line said one day, at the
Caf6 de I'Europe:

"Oh! M. Saval is a master. It is a
great pity that he did not adopt the
career of an artist."

When his name was mentioned in a
drawing-room, there was always found
somebody to declare: "He is not an
amateur; he is an artist, a genuine ar«
tist." And two or three persons would
repeat, in a tone of profound convic-
tion : "Oh ! yes, a genuine artist," laying
particular stress on the word "genuine."

Every time that a new work was in-
terpreted at a big Parisian theater, M.
Saval paid a visit to the capital. Last
year, according to his custom, he went
to hear "Henry VIII." He then took
the express which arrives in Paris at
4:30 P. M., intending to return by the
12:35 A. M. train so as not to have to
sleep at a hotel. He had put on eve-
ning dress, a black coat and white tie,
which he concealed under his overcoat
with the collar turned up.

As soon as he had planted his foot
on the Rue d'Amsterdam, he felt in
quite a jovial mood, and said to himself:

"Decidedly the air of Paris does not

Digitized by




resemble any other air. It bas in it
something indescribably stimulating, ex-
citing, intoxicating, which hlls you with
a strange longing to gambol and to do
many other things. As soon as I ar-
rive here, it seems to me, all of a sudden,
that I have taken a bottle of champagne.
What a life one can lead in this city in
the midst of artists! Happy are the
elect, the great men who enjoy re-
nown in such a city! What an exis-
tence is theirs!"

And he made plans; he would have
liked to know some of those celebrated
men, to talk about them in Vernon,
and to spend an evening with them from
time to time in Paris.

But suddenly an idea struck him. He
had heard allusions to little cajis in
the outer boulevards at which well-
known painters, mpn of letters, and
even musicians gathered, and he pro-
ceeded to go toward Montmartre at a
slow pace.

He had two hours before him. He
wanted to have a look round. He
passed in front of taverns frequented
by belated Bohemians, gazing at the
different faces, seeking to discover the
artists. Finally, he came to the sign of
"The Dead Rat,'* and, allured by the
name, he entered.

Five or six women with their el-
bows resting on the marble tables, were
talking in low tones about their love
affairs, the quarrels of Lucie with Hor-
tense, and the scoundrelism of Octave.
They were no longer young, but were
fat or thin, tired out, used up. You
could see that they were almost bald;
and they drank bocks like men.

M. Saval sat down at some distance

from them, and waited, for the hour
for taking absinthe was at hand.

A tall young man soon came in and
took a seat beside him. The landlady
called him "M. Romantin." The notary
quivered. Was this the Romantin who
had taken a medal at the last Salon?

The young man made a sign to the

"You will bring up my dinner at once,
and then carry to my new studio, IS,
Boulevard de Clichy, thirty bottles of
beer and the ham I ordered this morn-
ing. We are going to have a house-

M. Saval immediately ordered dinner.
Then he took off his overcoat, so that
his dress coat and his white tie could be
seen. His neighbor did not seem to
notice him. M. Saval glanced sideways
at him, burning with the desire to speak
to him.

Two young men entered, in red vel-
vet, and peaked beards in the fashion
of Henry III. They sat down opposite

The first of the pair said:

"It is for this evening?"

Romantin pressed his hand.

*T believe you, old chap, and every-
one will be there. I have Bonnat,
Guillemet, Gervex, B6raud, Hebert,
Duez, Clairin, and Jean-Paul Laurens.
It will be a glorious blowout! And
women, too! Wait till you see! Every
actress without exception— of course I
mean, you know all those who have
nothing to do this evening."

The landlord of the establishment
came across.

"Do you often have this housewarm-

The painter replied:

Digitized by




"Certainly — every three montlis, each

M. Saval could not restrain himself
any longer, and in a hesitating voice

*1 beg your pardon for intruding on
you, Monsieur, but I heard your name
pronounced, and I would be very glad
to know if you really are M. Romantin
whose work in the last Salon I have so
much admired."

The painter answered:

"I am the person, Monsieur.'*

The notary then paid the artist a
very well-turned compliment, show-
ing that he was a man of culture. The
painter, gratified, thanked him politely
IB reply. Then they chatted. Romantin
returned to the subject of his house-
warming going into details as to the
magnificence of the forthcoming enter-

M. Saval questioned him as to all
the men he was going to receive, adding:

"It would be an extraor<finary piece
of good fortune for a stranger, to meet
at one time, so many celebrities as-
sembled in the studio of an artist of
your rank.'*

Romantin, overcome, answered: "If
it would be agreeable to you, come."

M. Saval accepted the invitation
with enthusiasm, reflecting:

"m always have timia enough to
see *Henry VIII.* "

Both of them had finished their meal.
The notary insisted on paying the two
bills, wishing to repay his neighbor's
civilities. He also paid for the drinks
of the young fellows in red velvet; then
he left the establishment with the

They stopped in front of a very long

house, by no means high, the first story
of which had the ai^earance of an in-
terminable conservatory. Six studios
stood in a row with their fronts facing
the boulevards.

Romantin was the first to enter. As-
cending the stairs, he opened a door,
and lighted a match and then a candle.

They found themselves in an im-
mense apartment, the furniture of whidi
consisted of three chairs, two easek,
and a few sketches lying on the floor
along the walls. M. Saval remained
standing at the door in a stupefied state
of mind.

The painter remarked:

"Here you are! We've got to the
spot; but everything has yet to be

Then, examining the high, bare apart*
ment, whose ceiling was veiled in shad*
ows, he said:

"We might make a great deal out of
this studio."

He walked around it, surveying it
with the utmost attention, then w^nt

"I have a mistress who might easily
give us a helping hand. Women are in-
comparable for hanging drapery. But I
sent her to the country to-day in order
to get her off my hands this evening.
It is not that she bores me, but she is
too much lacking in the ways of good
society. It would be embarrassing to
my guests."

He reflected for a few seconds, and
then added:

"She is a good girl, but not easy tc
deal with. If she knew that I was
holding a reception, she would tear out
my eyes."

Digitized by




M. Saval had not even moved; lie
did not understand.

. The artist came over to him.

"Since I have invited you, you are
going to give me some help."

The notary said emphatically:

"Make any use of me you please I
am at your disposal.

Romantin took off his jacket.

"Well, citizen, to work! We are
first going to clean up."

He went to the back of the easel, on
which there was a canvas represeiiting
a cat, and seized a very worn-out broom.

"I say! Just brush up while I look
after the lighting."

M. Saval took the broom, inspected
it, and then began to sweep the floor
very awkwardly, raising a whirlwind of

Romantin, disgusted, stopped him:
•T>euce take it! you don't know how
to sweep the floor! Look at me!"

And he began to roll before him a
heap of grayish sweepings, as if he had
done nothing else all his life. Then
he gave back the broom to the notary,
who imitated him.

In five minutes, such a cloud of
dust filled the studio that Romantin

"Where are you? I can't see you any

M. Saval, who was coughing, came
nearer to him. The painter said to him:

"How are you going to manage to
get up a chandelier."

The other stunned, asked:

"What chandelier?"

"Why, a chandelier to Kght— a
chandeUer with wax-candles."

The notary did not understand.

He answered: "I don't know."

The painter began to jump about
cracking his fingers.

**Well, Monseigneur, I have found
out a way."

Then he went more cilmly:

"Have you got five francs about

M. Saval replied:

"Why, yes.".

The artist said:

"Well! you'll go and buy for me five
francs' worth of wax-candles while I go
and see the cooper."

And he pushed the notary in his eve-
ning coat into the street. At the end
of five minutes, they had returned,
one of them with the wax-candles, and
the other with the hoop of a cask. Then
Romantin plunged his hand into a cup-
board, and drew forth twenty empty
bottles, which he fixed in the form of
a crown around the hoop. He then came
down, and went to borrow a ladder from
the doorkeeper, after having explained
that he obtained the favors of the old
woman by painting the portrait of her
cat exhibited on the easel.

When he moimted the ladder, be
said to M. Saval:

"Are you active?"

The other, without understanding

"Why, yes.'*

"Well, you just climb up there, and
fasten this chandelier for me to the
ring of the ceiling. Then you must put
a wax-candle in each bottle, and light
it. I tell you I have a genius for light-
ing up. But off with your coat, damn
it ! you are just like a Jeames."

The door was opened violently. A
woman appeared, with her eyes flash-
ing, and remained standing on the thres-

Digitized by




hold. Roznantin gazed at her with a
look of terror. She waited some sec-
onds, crossed her arms over her breast,
and then in a shill, vibrating, ex-
asperated voice said:

"Ha! you villain, is this the way you
leave me?"

Romantin made no reply. She went

"Ha! you scoundrel! You are again
doing the swell, while you pack me off
to the country. You'll soon see the
way 111 settle your jollification. Yes,
I'm going to receive your friends.'*

She grew warmer:

"I'm going to slap their faces with
the bottles and the wax-candles."

Romantin uttered one soft word:


But she did not pay any attention
to him; she went on:

"Wait a little, my fine fellow! wait
a Uttle!"

Romantin went over to her, and
tried to take her by the hands:


But she was now fairly under way;
and on she went, emptying the vials of
hpr wrath with strong words and re-
proaches. They flowed out of her
mouth, like a stream sweeping a heap
of filth along with it. The words hurled
out seemed strugglmg for exit. She
stuttered, stammered, yelled, suddenly
rfecovering her Voice to cast forth an
insult or a curse.

He seized her hands without her hav-
ing even noticed it. She did not seem
to see anything, so much occupied was
she in holding forth and relieving her
heart. And suddenly she began to weep,
rhe tears flowed from her eyes with-
out making her stem the tide of her

complaints. But her words had taken
a howling, shrieking tone; they were a
continuous cry interrupted by sobbings.
She commenced afresh twice or three
times, till she stopped as if something
were choking her, and at last she ceased
with a regular flood of tears.

Then he clasped her in his arms and
kissed her hair, himself affected.

"Mathilde, my little Mathilde, listen.
You must be reasonable. You ^ow, if
I give a supper party to my friends, it
is to thank these gentlemen for the
medal I got at the Salon. I cannot re-
ceive women. You ought to understand
that. It is not the same with artists
as with other people."

She stammered in the midst of ha
tears :

"Why didn't you tell me this?"

He replied:

"It was in order not to annoy you,
not to give you pain. Listen, I'm going
to see you home. You will be very
sensible, very nice; you will remain
quietly waiting for me in bed, and lH
come back as soon as it's over."

She murmured:

"Yes, but you will not b^^ over

"No, I swear to you!"

He turned toward M. Saval, who had
at last hooked on the chandelier:

"My dear friend, I am coming back
in five minutes. If anyone arrives in
my absence, do the honors for me,
will you not?"

And he carried off Mathilde, who
kept drying her eyes with her handker-
chief as she went along.

Left to himself, M. Saval succeeded
in putting everything around him in

Digitized by




order. Then he lighted the wax-candles
and waited.

He waited for a quarter of an hour,
half an hour, an hour. Romantin did
not return. Then, suddenly, there was
a dreadful noise on the stairs, a song
shouted out in chorus by twenty mouths
and a regular march like that of a

Online LibraryGuy de MaupassantThe complete short stories of Guy de Maupassant → online text (page 99 of 125)