BOULE de SUIF AND OTHER STORIES
Guy de Maupassant
The little Marchioness de Rennedon was still asleep in her closed and perfumed bedroom, in her soft, low bed, between her sheets of delicate cambric, fine as lace and caressing as a kiss; she was sleeping alone and tranquil, the happy and profound sleep of divorced women.
She was awakened by loud voices in the little blue drawing-room, and she recognized her dear friend, the little Baroness de Grangerie, who was disputing with the lady’s maid, because the latter would not allow her to go into her mistress’ room. So the little Marchioness got up, opened the door, drew back the door-hangings and showed her head, nothing but her fair head, hidden under a cloud of hair.
“What is the matter with you, that you have come so early?” she asked. “It is not nine o’clock yet.”
The little baroness who was very pale, nervous and feverish, replied: “I must speak to you. Something horrible has happened to me.” “Come in, my dear.”
She went in, they kissed each other, and the little Marchioness got back into her bed while the lady’s maid opened the windows to let in light and air, and then when she had left the room, Madame de Rennedon went on: “Well, tell me what it is.”
Madame de Grangerie began to cry, shedding those pretty, bright tears which make woman more charming, and she stammered without wiping her eyes, so as not to make them red: “Oh! my dear, what has happened to me is abominable, abominable. I have not slept all night, not a minute; do you hear, not a minute. Here, just feel my heart, how it is beating.”
And, taking her friend’s hand, she put it on her breast, on that firm, round covering of women’s hearts which often suffices men, and prevents them from seeking beneath. But her breast was really beating violently.
She continued: “It happened to me yesterday during the day, at about four o’clock… or half-past four; I cannot say exactly. You know my apartments, and you know that my little drawing-room, where I always sit, looks onto the Rue Saint-Lazare, and that I have a mania for sitting at the window to look at the people passing. The neighborhood of the railway station is very gay; so full of motion and lively… Well, that is just what I like! So, yesterday, I was sitting in the low chair which I have placed in my window recess; the window was open and I was not thinking of anything; I was breathing the fresh air. You remember how fine it was yesterday!
“Suddenly, I remarked that there was also a woman sitting at the window, a woman in red; I was in mauve, you know, my pretty mauve costume. I did not know the woman, a new lodger, who had been there a month, and as it had been raining for a month, I had not yet seen her, but I saw immediately that she was a bad girl. At first I was very much shocked and disgusted that she should be at the window like I was; and then, by degrees, it amused me to examine her. She was resting her elbows on the window ledge, and looking at the men, and the men looked at her also, all or nearly all. One might have said that they were apprised beforehand by some means as they got near the house, which they scented as dogs scent game, for they suddenly raised their heads, and exchanged a swift look with her, a freemason’s look. Hers said: ‘Will you?’
“Theirs replied: ‘I have no time,’ or else: ‘another day;’ or else: ‘I have not got a half penny;’ or else: ‘Will you hide yourself, you wretch!’
“You cannot imagine how funny it was to see her carrying on such a piece of work, though, after all, it is her regular business.
“Sometimes she shut the window suddenly, and I saw a gentleman go in. She had caught him like a fisherman hooks a gudgeon. Then I looked at my watch, and I found that they stopped from twelve to twenty minutes, never longer. In the end she really infatuated me, the spider! And then the creature is so ugly.
“I asked myself: How does she manage to make herself understood so quickly, so well and so completely? Does she add a sign of the head or a motion of the hands to her looks? And I took my opera-glasses to watch her proceedings. Oh! they were very simple: first of all a glance, then a smile, then a slight sign with the head, which meant: ‘Are you coming up?’ But it was so slight, so vague, so discreet, that it required a great deal of knack to succeed as she did. And I asked myself: ‘I wonder if I could do that little movement, from below upwards, which was at the same time bold and pretty, as well as she does,’ for her gesture was very pretty.
“I went and tried it before the looking-glass, and, my dear, I did it better than she, a great deal better! I was enchanted, and resumed my place at the window.
“She caught nobody more then, poor girl, nobody. She certainly had no luck. It must really be very terrible to earn one’s bread in that way, terrible and amusing occasionally, for really some of these men one meets in the street are rather nice.
“After that they all came on my side of the road and none on hers; the sun had turned. They came one after the other, young, old, dark, fair, gray, white. I saw some who looked very nice, really very nice, my dear, far better than my husband or than yours, I mean than your late husband, as you have got a divorce. Now you can choose.
“I said to myself! If I give them the sign, will they understand me, who am a respectable woman? And I was seized with a mad longing to make that sign to them. I had a longing, the longing of a pregnant woman… a terrible longing; you know, one of those longings which one cannot resist! I have some like that occasionally. How stupid such things are, don’t you think so? I believe that we woman have the souls of monkeys. I have been told (and it was a physician who told me) that the brain of a monkey was very like ours. Of course we must imitate some one or other. We imitate our husbands, when we love them, during the first months after our marriage, and then our lovers, our female friends, our confessors, when they are nice. We assume their ways of thought, their manners of speech, their words, their gestures, everything. It is very stupid.
“However, as for me, when I am too much tempted to do a thing I always do it, and so I said to myself: ‘I will try it once, on one man only, just to see. What can happen to me? Nothing whatever! We shall exchange a smile and that will be all, and I shall deny it, most certainly.’
“So I began to make my choice. I wanted someone nice, very nice, and suddenly I saw a tall, fair, very good-looking fellow coming along. I like fair men, as you know. I looked at him, he looked at me; I smiled, he smiled; I made the movement; oh! but scarcely; he replied
with his head, and there he was, my dear! He came in at the large door of the house.
“You cannot imagine what passed through my mind then! I thought I should go mad. Oh! how frightened I was. Just think, he will speak to the servants! To Joseph, who is devoted to my husband! Joseph would certainly think that I had known that gentleman for a long time.
“What could I do, just tell me? And he would ring in a moment. What could I do, tell me? I thought I would go and meet him, and tell him he had made a mistake, and beg him to go away. He would have pity on a woman, on a poor woman: So I rushed to the door and opened it, just at the moment when he was going to ring the bell, and I stammered out, quite stupidly: ‘Go away, Monsieur, go away; you have made a mistake, a terrible mistake; I took you for one of my friends whom you are very like. Have pity on me, Monsieur.’
“But he only began to laugh, my dear, and replied: ‘Good morning, my dear, I know all about your little story, you may be sure. You are married, and so you want forty francs instead of twenty, and you shall have them, so just show the way.’
“And he pushed me in, closed the door, and as I remained standing before him, horror-struck, he kissed me, put his arm round my waist and made me go back into the drawing-room, which had remained open. Then he began to look at everything, like an auctioneer, and continued: ‘By Jove, it is very nice in your rooms, very well. You must be very down on your luck just now, to do the window business!’
“Then I began to beg him again: ‘Oh! Monsieur, go away, please go away! My husband will be coming in soon, it is just his time. I swear that you have made a mistake!’ But he answered quite coolly: ‘Come, my beauty, I have had enough of this nonsense, and if your husband comes in, I will give him five francs to go and have a drink at the café opposite.’ And then, seeing Raoul’s photograph on the chimney-piece, he asked me: ‘Is that your… your husband?’ ‘Yes, that is he.’ ‘He looks a nice, disagreeable sort of fellow. And who is this? One of your friends?’
“It was your photograph, my dear, you know, the one in ball dress. I did not know any longer what I was saying, and I stammered: ‘Yes, it is one of my friends.’ ‘She is very nice; you shall introduce me to her.’
“Just then the clock struck five, and Raoul comes home every day at half past! Suppose he were to come home before the other had gone, just fancy what would have happened! Then… then… I completely lost my head… altogether… I thought… I thought… that… that… the best thing would be… to get rid… of… of this man… as quickly as possible… The sooner it was over… you understand… and… and there… as it must be done… and I was obliged, my dear… he would not have gone away without it… Well I… I locked the drawing-room door… There!”
The little Marchioness de Rennedon had begun to laugh, to laugh madly, with her head buried in her pillow, so that the whole bed shook, and when she was a little calmer she asked: “And… and… was he good-looking?” “Yes.” “And yet you complain?” “But… but… don’t you see, my dear, he said… he said… he should come again to-morrow… at the same time… and I… I am terribly frightened… You have no idea how tenacious he is and obstinate… What can I do… tell me… what can I do?”
The little Marchioness sat up in bed to reflect, and then she suddenly said: “Have him arrested!”
The little Baroness looked stupefied, and stammered out: “What do you say? What are you thinking of? Have him arrested? Under what pretext?” “That is very simple. Go to the Commissary of Police and say that a gentleman has been following you about for three months; that he had the insolence to go up to your apartments yesterday; that he has threatened you with another visit to-morrow, and that you demand the protection of the law, and they will give you two police officers, who will arrest him.”
“But, my dear, suppose he tells…” “They will not believe him, you silly thing, if you have told your tale cleverly to the commissary, but they will believe you, who are an irreproachable woman, and in society.” “Oh! I shall never dare to do it.” “You must dare, my dear, or you are lost.” “But think that he will… he will insult me if he is arrested.” “Very well, you will have witnesses, and he will be sentenced.” “Sentenced to what?” “To pay damages. In such cases, one must be pitiless!” “Ah! speaking of damages… There is one thing that worries me very much… very much indeed… He left me two twenty franc pieces on the mantelpiece.” “Two twenty franc pieces?” “Yes.” “No more?” “No.” “That is very little. It would have humiliated me. Well?” “Well! What am I to do with that money?”
The little Marchioness hesitated for a few seconds, and then she replied in a serious voice:
“My dear… you must make… you must make your husband a little present with it… That will be only fair!”