BOULE de SUIF AND OTHER STORIES
Guy de Maupassant
Certainly, at this blessed epoch of Equality of mediocrity, of rectangular abomination, as Edgar Poe says, at this delightful period, when everybody dreams of resembling everybody else, so that it has become impossible to tell the President of the Republic from a waiter; in these days, which are the forerunners of that promising, blissful day, when everything in this world will be of a dully, neuter uniformity, certainly at such an epoch, one has the right, or rather it is one’s duty, to be ugly.
He, however, assuredly, exercised that right with the most cruel vigor, and he fulfilled that duty with the fiercest heroism, and to make matters worse, the mysterious irony of fate had caused him to be born with the name of Lebeau, while an ingenious godfather, the unconscious accomplice of the pranks of destiny, had given him the Christian name of Antinous.
Even among our contemporaries, who were already on the high road to the coming ideal of universal ugliness, Antinous Lebeau was remarkable for his ugliness, and one might have said that he positively threw zeal, too much zeal, into the matter, though he was not hideous like Mirabeau, who made the people exclaim: “Oh! the beautiful monster!”
Alas! No. He was without any beauty, even without the beauty of ugliness. He was ugly, that was all; nothing more nor less; in short, he was uglily ugly. He was not humpbacked, nor knock-kneed, nor pot-bellied; his legs were not like a pair of tongs, and his arms were neither too long nor too short, and yet, there was an utter lack of uniformity about him, not only in painters’ eyes, but also in everybody’s, for nobody could meet him in the street without turning to look after him, and thinking: “Good heavens! What an object.”
His hair was of no particular color; a light chestnut, mixed with yellow. There was not much of it, but still, he was not absolutely bald, but quite bald enough to allow his butter-colored pate to show. Butter-colored? Hardly! The color of margarine would be more applicable, and such pale margarine.
His face was also like margarine, but of adulterated margarine, certainly. By the side of it, his
, the color of unadulterated margarine, looked almost like butter, by comparison.
There was very little to say about his mouth! Less than little; the sum total was—nothing. It was a chimerical mouth.
But take it, that I have said nothing about him, and let us replace this vain description by the useful formula:
Impossible to describe him
. But you must not forget that Antinous Lebeau was ugly, that the fact impressed everybody as soon as they saw him, and that nobody remembered ever having seen an uglier person; and let us add, that as the climax of his misfortune, he thought so himself.
From this you will see that he was not a fool, but, then, he was not ill-natured, either; but, of course, he was unhappy. An unhappy man thinks only of his wretchedness, and people take his night cap for a fool’s cap, while, on the other hand, goodness is only esteemed when it is cheerful. Consequently, Antinous Lebeau passed for a fool, and an ill-tempered fool, and he was not even pitied because he was so ugly.
He had only one pleasure in life, and that was to go and roam about the darkest streets on dark nights, and to hear the street-walkers say:
“Come home with me, you handsome, dark man!”
It was, alas! a furtive pleasure, and he knew that it was not true. For, occasionally, when the woman was old or drunk and he profited by the invitation, as soon as the candle was lighted in the garret, they no longer murmured the fallacious:
handsome, dark man
; and when they saw him, the old women grew still older, and the drunken women got sober. And more than one, although hardened against disgust, and ready for all risks, said to him, and in spite of his liberal payment:
“My little man, you are most confoundedly ugly, I must say.”
At last, however, he renounced even that lamentable pleasure, when he heard the still more lamentable words which a wretched woman could not help uttering when he went home with her:
“Well, he must have been very hungry!”
Alas! He was hungry, unhappy man; hungry for love, for something that should resemble love, were it ever so little; he longed not to live like a pariah any more, not to be exiled and proscribed in his ugliness. And the ugliest, the most repugnant woman would have appeared beautiful to him, if she would only have not consented to think him ugly, or, at any rate, not to tell him so, and not to let him see that she felt horror at him on that account.
The consequence was, that, when he one day met a poor, blear-eyed creature, with her face covered with scabs, and bearing evident signs of alcoholism, with a driveling mouth, and ragged and filthy petticoats, to whom he gave liberal alms, for which she kissed his hand, he took her home with him, had her clean dressed and taken care of, made her his servant, and then his housekeeper. Next he raised her to the rank of his mistress, and, finally, of course, he married her.
She was almost as ugly as he was! She really was; but only, almost. Almost, but certainly not quite; for she was hideous, and her hideousness had its charm and its beauty, no doubt; that something by which a woman can attract a man. And she had proved that by deceiving him, and she let him see it better still, by seducing another man.
That other was actually uglier than he was.
He was certainly uglier, that collection of every physical and moral ugliness, that companion of beggars whom she had picked up among her former vagrant associates, that jailbird, that dealer in little girls, that vagabond covered with filth, with legs like a toad’s, with a mouth like a lamprey, and a death’s head, in which the nose had been replaced by two holes.
“And you have wronged me with a wretch like that,” the poor cuckold said. “And in my own house! and in such a manner that I might catch you in the very act! And why, why, you wretch? Why, seeing that he is uglier than I am?”
“Oh! no,” she exclaimed. “You may say what you like, but do not say that he is uglier than you are.”
And the unhappy man stood there, vanquished and overcome by her last words, which she uttered without understanding all the horror which he would feel at them.
“Because, you see, he has his own particular ugliness, while you are merely ugly like everybody else is.”