BY GUY DE MAUPASSANT
The sea was brilliant and unruffled, scarcely
stirred, and on the pier the entire town of
Havre watched the ships as they came on.
They could be seen at a distance, in great
numbers; some of them, the steamers, with
plumes of smoke; the others, the sailing
vessels, drawn by almost invisible tugs,
lifting towards the sky their bare masts, like
They hurried from every end of the horizon
towards the narrow mouth of the jetty which
devoured these monsters; and they groaned,
they shrieked, they hissed while they spat out
puffs of steam like animals panting for breath.
Two young officers were walking on the
landing-stage, where a number of people were
waiting, saluting or returning salutes, and
sometimes stopping to chat.
Suddenly, one of them, the taller, Paul d'Henricol,
pressed the arm of his comrade, Jean Renoldi,
then, in a whisper, said:
"Hallo, here's Madame Poincot; give a good
look at her. I assure you that she's making
eyes at you."
She was moving along on the arm of her husband.
She was a woman of about forty, very handsome
still, slightly stout, but, owing to her graceful
fullness of figure, as fresh as she was at twenty.
Among her friends she was known as the Goddess
on account of her proud gait, her large black
eyes, and the entire air of nobility of her
person. She remained irreproachable; never had
the least suspicion cast a breath on her life's
purity. She was regarded as the very type of a
virtuous, uncorrupted woman. So upright that no
man had ever dared to think of her.
And yet for the last month Paul d'Henricol had
been assuring his friend Renoldi that Madame
Poincot was in love with him, and he maintained
that there was no doubt of it.
"Be sure I don't deceive myself. I see it clearly.
She loves you--she loves you passionately, like
a chaste woman who had never loved. Forty years
is a terrible age for virtuous women when they
possess senses; they become foolish, and commit
utter follies. She is hit, my dear fellow; she
is falling like a wounded bird, and is ready to
drop into your arms. I say--just look at her!"
The tall woman, preceded by her two daughters,
aged twelve and fifteen years, suddenly turned
pale, on her approach, as her eyes lighted on
the officer's face. She gave him an ardent glance,
concentrating her gaze upon him, and no longer
seemed to have any eyes for her children, her
husband, or any other person around her. She
returned the salutation of the two young men
without lowering her eyes, glowing with such a
flame that a doubt, at last, forced its way
into Lieutenant Renoldi's mind.
His friend said, in the same hushed voice: "I
was sure of it. Did you not notice her this
time? By Jove, she is a nice tit-bit!"
* * * * * *
But Jean Renoldi had no desire for a society
intrigue. Caring little for love, he longed,
above all, for a quiet life, and contented
himself with occasional amours such as a young
man can always have. All the sentimentality,
the attentions, and the tenderness which a
well-bred woman exacts bored him. The chain,
however slight it might be, which is always
formed by an adventure of this sort, filled
him with fear. He said: "At the end of a month
I'll have had enough of it, and I'll be forced
to wait patiently for six months through
Then, a rupture exasperated him, with the
scenes, the allusions, the clinging attachment,
of the abandoned woman.
He avoided meeting Madame Poincot.
But, one evening he found himself by her side
at a dinner-party, and he felt on his skin,
in his eyes, and even in his heart, the burning
glance of his fair neighbor. Their hands met,
and almost involuntarily were pressed together
in a warm clasp. Already the intrigue was almost
He saw her again, always in spite of himself.
He realized that he was loved. He felt himself
moved by a kind of pitying vanity when he saw
what a violent passion for him swayed this
woman's breast. So he allowed himself to be
adored, and merely displayed gallantry, hoping
that the affair would be only sentimental.
But, one day, she made an appointment with him
for the ostensible purpose of seeing him and
talking freely to him. She fell, swooning, into
his arms; and he had no alternative but to be
And this lasted six months. She loved him with
an unbridled, panting love. Absorbed in this
frenzied passion, she no longer bestowed a
thought on anything else. She surrendered
herself to it utterly--her body, her soul, her
reputation, her position, her happiness--all
she had cast into that fire of her heart, as
one casts, as a sacrifice, every precious object
into a funeral pier.
He had for some time grown tired of her, and
deeply regretted his easy conquest as a fascinating
officer; but he was bound, held prisoner. At
every moment she said to him: "I have given
you everything. What more would you have?" He
felt a desire to answer:
"But I have asked nothing from you, and I beg
of you to take back what you gave me."
Without caring about being seen, compromised,
ruined, she came to see him every evening, her
passion becoming more inflamed each time they
met. She flung herself into his arms, strained
him in a fierce embrace, fainted under the
force of rapturous kisses which to him were
now terribly wearisome.
He said in a languid tone: "Look here! be
"I love you," and sank on her knees gazing at
him for a long time in an attitude of admiration.
At length, exasperated by her persistent gaze,
he tried to make her rise.
"I say! Sit down. Let us talk."
"No, leave me;" and remained there, her soul in
a state of ecstasy.
He said to his friend d'Henricol:
"You know, 'twill end by my beating her. I won't
have any more of it! It must end, and that without
further delay!" Then he went on:
"What do you advise me to do?"
The other replied:
"Break it off."
And Renoldi added, shrugging his shoulders:
"You speak indifferently about the matter; you
believe that it is easy to break with a woman
who tortures you with attention, who annoys you
with kindnesses, who persecutes you with her
affection, whose only care is to please you,
and whose only wrong is that she gave herself
to you in spite of you."
But suddenly, one morning the news came that
the regiment was about to be removed from the
garrison; Renoldi began to dance with joy. He
was saved! Saved without scenes, without cries!
Saved! All he had to do now was to wait patiently
for two months more. Saved!
In the evening she came to him more excited
than she had ever been before. She had heard
the dreadful news, and, without taking off her
hat she caught his hands and pressed them
nervously, with her eyes fixed on his, and her
voice vibrating and resolute.
"You are leaving," she said; "I know it. At
first, I felt heart-broken; then, I understood
what I had to do. I don't hesitate about doing
it. I have come to give you the greatest proof
of love that a woman can offer. I follow you.
For you I am abandoning my husband, my children,
my family. I am ruining myself, but I am happy.
It seems to me that I am giving myself to you
over again. It is the last and the greatest
sacrifice. I am yours for ever!"
He felt a cold sweat down his back, and was
seized with a dull and violent rage, the anger
of weakness. However, he became calm, and, in
a disinterested tone, with a show of kindness,
he refused to accept her sacrifice, tried to
appease her, to bring her to reason, to make
her see her own folly! She listened to him,
staring at him with her great black eyes and
with a smile of disdain on her lips, and said
not a word in reply. He went on talking to
her, and when, at length, he stopped, she said
"Can you really be a coward? Can you be one of
those who seduce a woman, and then throw her
over, through sheer caprice?"
He became pale, and renewed his arguments; he
pointed out to her the inevitable consequences
of such an action to both of them as long as
they lived--how their lives would be shattered
and how the world would shut its doors against
them. She replied obstinately: "What does it
matter when we love each other?" Then, all of
a sudden, he burst out furiously:
"Well, then, I will not. No--do you understand?
I will not do it, and I forbid you to do it."
Then, carried away by the rancorous feeling
which had seethed within him so long, he
relieved his heart:
"Ah, damn it all, you have now been sticking
on to me for a long time in spite of myself,
and the best thing for you now is to take
yourself off. I'll be much obliged if you do
so, upon my honor!"
She did not answer him, but her livid countenance
began to look shriveled up, as if all her nerves
and muscles had been twisted out of shape. And
she went away without saying good-bye.
The same night she poisoned herself.
For a week she was believed to be in a hopeless
condition. And in the city people gossiped about
the case, and pitied her, excusing her sin on
account of the violence of her passion, for
overstrained emotions, becoming heroic through
their intensity, always obtain forgiveness for
whatever is blameworthy in them. A woman who
kills herself is, so to speak, not an adulteress.
And ere long there was a feeling of general
reprobation against Lieutenant Renoldi for
refusing to see her again--a unanimous sentiment
It was a matter of common talk that he had
deserted her, betrayed her, ill-treated her.
The Colonel, overcome by compassion, brought
his officer to book in a quiet way. Paul d'Henricol
called on his friend:
"Deuce take it, Renoldi, it's not good enough
to let a woman die; it's not the right thing
The other, enraged, told him to hold his tongue,
whereupon d'Henricol made use of the word "infamy."
The result was a duel, Renoldi was wounded, to
the satisfaction of everybody, and was for some
time confined to his bed.
She heard about it, and only loved him the more
for it, believing that it was on her account he
had fought the duel; but, as she was too ill to
move, she was unable to see him again before the
departure of the regiment.
He had been three months in Lille when he received
one morning, a visit from the sister of his former
After long suffering and a feeling of dejection,
which she could not conquer, Madame Poincot's
life was now despaired of, and she merely asked
to see him for a minute, only for a minute, before
closing her eyes for ever.
Absence and time had appeased the young man's
satiety and anger; he was touched, moved to
tears, and he started at once for Havre.
She seemed to be in the agonies of death. They
were left alone together; and by the bedside of
this woman whom he now believed to be dying,
and whom he blamed himself for killing, though
it was not by his own hand, he was fairly crushed
with grief. He burst out sobbing, embraced her
with tender, passionate kisses, more lovingly
than he had ever done in the past. He murmured
in a broken voice:
"No, no, you shall not die! You shall get better!
We shall love each other for ever--for ever!"
She said in faint tones:
"Then it is true. You do love me, after all?"
And he, in his sorrow for her misfortunes, swore,
promised to wait till she had recovered, and full
of loving pity, kissed again and again the
emaciated hands of the poor woman whose heart
was panting with feverish, irregular pulsations.
The next day he returned to the garrison.
Six weeks later she went to meet him, quite
old-looking, unrecognizable, and more enamored
In his condition of mental prostration, he
consented to live with her. Then, when they
remained together as if they had been legally
united, the same colonel who had displayed
indignation with him for abandoning her,
objected to this irregular connection as
being incompatible with the good example
officers ought to give in a regiment. He
warned the lieutenant on the subject, and
then furiously denounced his conduct, so
Renoldi retired from the army.
He went to live in a village on the shore of
the Mediterranean, the classic sea of lovers.
And three years passed. Renoldi, bent under
the yoke, was vanquished, and became accustomed
to the woman's persevering devotion. His hair had
now turned white.
He looked upon himself as a man done for,
gone under. Henceforth, he had no hope, no
ambition, no satisfaction in life, and he
looked forward to no pleasure in existence.
But one morning a card was placed in his
hand, with the name--"Joseph Poincot,
The husband! The husband, who had said nothing,
realizing that there was no use in struggling
against the desperate obstinacy of women. What
did he want?
He was waiting in the garden, having refused
to come into the house. He bowed politely,
but would not sit down, even on a bench in a
gravel-path, and he commenced talking clearly
"Monsieur, I did not come here to address
reproaches to you. I know too well how things
happened. I have been the victim of--we have
been the victims of--a kind of fatality. I
would never have disturbed you in your retreat
if the situation had not changed. I have two
daughters, Monsieur. One of them, the elder,
loves a young man, and is loved by him. But
the family of this young man is opposed to
the marriage, basing their objection on the
situation of--my daughter's mother. I have no
feeling of either anger or spite, but I love
my children, Monsieur. I have, therefore,
come to ask my wife to return home. I hope
that to-day she will consent to go back to
my house--to her own house. As for me, I will
make a show of having forgotten, for--for the
sake of my daughters."
Renoldi felt a wild movement in his heart,
and he was inundated with a delirium of joy
like a condemned man who receives a pardon.
He stammered: "Why, yes--certainly, Monsieur--I
myself--be assured of it--no doubt--it is right,
it is only quite right."
This time M. Poincot no longer declined to sit
Renoldi then rushed up the stairs, and pausing
at the door of his mistress's room, to collect
his senses, entered gravely.
"There is somebody below waiting to see you,"
he said. "'Tis to tell you something about your
She rose up. "My daughters? What about them?
They are not dead?"
He replied: "No; but a serious situation has
arisen, which you alone can settle."
She did not wait to hear more, but rapidly
descended the stairs.
Then, he sank down on a chair, greatly moved,
He waited a long long time. Then he heard angry
voices below stairs, and made up his mind to go
Madame Poincot was standing up exasperated,
just on the point of going away, while her
husband had seized hold of her dress, exclaiming:
"But remember that you are destroying our
daughters, your daughters, our children!"
She answered stubbornly:
"I will not go back to you!"
Renoldi understood everything, came over to
them in a state of great agitation, and gasped:
"What, does she refuse to go?"
She turned towards him, and, with a kind of
shame-facedness, addressed him without any
familiarity of tone, in the presence of her
legitimate husband, said:
"Do you know what he asks me to do? He wants
me to go back, and live under one roof with
And she tittered with a profound disdain for
this man, who was appealing to her almost on
Then Renoldi, with the determination of a
desperate man playing his last card, began
talking to her in his turn, and pleaded the
cause of the poor girls, the cause of the
husband, his own cause. And when he stopped,
trying to find some fresh argument, M. Poincot,
at his wits' end, murmured, in the affectionate
style in which he used to speak to her in days
"Look here, Delphine! Think of your daughters!"
Then she turned on both of them a glance of
sovereign contempt, and, after that, flying
with a bound towards the staircase, she flung
at them these scornful words:
"You are a pair of wretches!"
Left alone, they gazed at each other for a
moment, both equally crestfallen, equally
crushed. M. Poincot picked up his hat, which
had fallen down near where he sat, dusted
off his knees the signs of kneeling on the
floor, then raising both hands sorrowfully,
while Renoldi was seeing him to the door,
remarked with a parting bow:
"We are very unfortunate, Monsieur."
Then he walked away from the house with a
~~~~~~~ THE END ~~~~~~~