Guy de Maupassant

The Works of Guy de Maupassant: Short Stories. Roslyn, NY: Black's Readers Service Co., n.d. (copyright 1903 by M. Walter Dunne, London) pages 311-316.

[311] The five friends had finished their dinner; there were two bachelors and three married men, all middle-aged and wealthy. They assembled thus once a month, in memory of old times, and lingered to gossip over their coffee till late at night. Many a happy evening was spent in this way, for they were fond of one another's society, and had remained closely united. Conversation among them was a sort of review of the daily papers, commenting on everything that interests and amuses Parisians. One of the cleverest, Joseph de Bardon, was a bachelor. He lived the life of a boulevardier most thoroughly and fanatically, without being debauched or depraved. It interested him, and as he was still young, being barely forty, he enjoyed it keenly. A man of the world in the broadest and best sense of the word, he possessed a great deal of wit without much depth, a general knowledge without real learning, quick perception without serious penetration, but his adventures and observations furnished him many amusing stories, which he told with so much philosophy and humor that society voted him very intellectual.

He was a favorite after-dinner speaker, always having some story to relate to which his friends looked forward. Presently he began to tell a story without being asked. Leaning on the table with a half-filled glass of brandy in front of his plate, in the smoky atmosphere filled with the fragrance of coffee, he seemed perfectly at ease, just as some beings are entirely at home in certain places and under certain conditions--as a goldfish in its [312] aquarium, for instance, or a nun in her cloister.

Puffing at his cigar, he said:

"A rather curious thing happened to me a little while ago."

All exclaimed at once: "Tell us about it!"

Presently he continued:

"You all know how I love to roam around the city, like a collector in search of antiquities. I enjoy watching people and things. About the middle of September, the weather being very fine, I went for a walk one afternoon, without a definite purpose. Why do we men always have the vague impulse to call on some pretty woman? We review them in our mind, compare their respective charms, the interest they arouse in us, and finally decide in favor of the one that attracts us most.

"But when the sun shines brightly and the air is balmy, sometimes we altogether lose the desire for calling.

"That day the sun was bright and the air balmy, so I simply lighted a cigar and started for the Boulevard Extérieur. As I was sauntering along, I thought I would take a look around the cemetery at Montmartre. Now, I have always liked cemeteries because they sadden and rest me; and I need that influence at times. Besides, many of my friends are laid to rest there, and I go to see them once in a while.

"As it happens, I once buried a romance in this particular cemetery,--an old love of mine, a charming little woman whose memory awakens all kinds of regrets in me--I often dream beside her grave. All is over for her now!

"I like graveyards because they are such immense, densely populated cities. Just think of all the bodies buried in that small space, of the countless generations of Parisians laid there forever, eternally entombed in the little vaults of their little graves marked by a cross or a stone, while the living fools that they are!--take up so much room and make such a fuss.

"Cemeteries have some monument, quite as interesting as those to be seen in the museums. Cavaignac's tomb I liken, without comparing it, to that masterpiece of Jean Gonjon, the tombstone of Louis de Brézé in the subterranean chapel in the cathedral of Rouen. My friends, all so-called modem and realistic art originated there. That reproduction of Louis de Brézé is more life-like and terrible, more convulsed with agony, than any one of the statues that decorate modern tombs.

"In Montmartre is Baudin's monument, and it is quite imposing; also the tombs of Gautier and Mürger, where the other day I found a solitary wreath of yellow immortelles, laid there--by whom do you suppose? Perhaps by the last grisette, grown old, and possibly become a janitress in the neighborhood! It's a pretty little statue by Millet, but it is ruined by neglect and accumulated filth. Sing of youth, O Mürger!

"Well, I entered the cemetery, filled with a certain sadness, not too poignant, a feeling suggesting such thoughts as this: The place is not very cheerful, but I am not to be put here yet.

"The impression of autumn, a warm dampness smelling of dead leaves, the pale, anaemic rays of the sun, intensified and poetized the solitude of this place, [313] which reminds one of death and of the end of all things.

"I walked slowly along the alleys of graves where neighbors no longer visit, no longer sleep together, nor read the papers. I began reading the epitaphs. There is nothing more amusing in the world. Labiche and Meilhac have never made me laugh as much as some of these tombstone inscriptions. I tell you these crosses and marble slabs on which the relatives of the dead have poured out their regrets and their wishes for the happiness of the departed, their hopes of reunion--the hypocrites l--make better reading than Balzac's funniest tales! But what I love in Montmartre are the abandoned plots filled with yew, trees and cypress, the resting-place of those departed long ago. However, the green t trees nourished by the bodies will be felled to make room for those that have recently passed away, whose graves will be there, under little marble slabs. "After loitering awhile, I felt tired, and decided to pay my faithful tribute to my little friend's memory. When I reached the grave, my heart was very sad. Poor child[ she was so sweet and loving, so fair and white--and now-should her grave be reopened--

"Bending over the iron railing I murmured a prayer, which she probably never heard, and I turned to leave, when I caught sight of a woman in deep mourning kneeling beside a neighboring grave. Her crape veil was thrown back, disclosing her blond hair, which seemed illumined under the darkness of her hat. I forgot to leave.

She seemed bowed with sorrow. She had buried her face in her hands, apparently lost in deep thought. With closed lids, as rigid as a statue, she was living over torturing memories and seemed herself a corpse mourning a corpse. Presently I saw that she was weeping, as there was a convulsive movement of her back and shoulders. Suddenly she uncovered her face. Her eyes, brimming with tears, were charming. For a moment she gazed around as if awakening from a nightmare. She saw me looking at her and quickly hid her face again, greatly abashed. Now, with convulsive sobs she bent her head slowly over the tombstone. She rested her forehead against it, and her veil, falling around her, covered the whiteness of the beloved sepulcher with a dark shroud. I heard her moan and then saw her fall to the ground in a faint.

"I rushed to her side and began slapping her hands and breathing on her temples, while reading this simple inscription on the tombstone:

"'Here lies Louis-Thédore Carrel Captain in the Marine Infantry, killed by the enemy in Tonkin. Pray for his soul.'

"This death was quite recent. I was moved almost to tears, and renewed my efforts to revive the poor girl. At last she came to. I am not so very bad looking, and my face must have shoed how upset I was, for her very first glance showed me that she was likely to be grateful for my care. Between sobs she told me of her marriage to the officer who had been killed in Tonkin within a year after their wedding. Be had married her for love, she being an orphan and possessing nothing above the required dowry.

[314] "I consoled her, comforted her, and assisted her to her feet, saying:

"'You must not stay here. Come away.'

"'I am unable to walk,' she whispered.

"'Let me help you,' I said. "'

Thank you, you are very kind,' she murmured. 'Did you also come to mourn some one?'

"'Yes, Madame.'

"'A woman?'

"'Yes, Madame.'

"'Your wife?'

"'A friend.'

"'One may love a friend just as much as a wife, for passion knows no law,' said the lady.

"'Yes, Madame,' I replied.

"And so we left the spot together, she leaning on me and I almost carrying her through the alleys. As we came out, she murmured:

"I'm afraid that I'm going to faint.'

"'Wouldn't you like to take something, Madame?' I inquired.

"'Yes,' she said, 'I would.'

"I discovered a restaurant near at hand, where the friends of the dead gather to celebrate the end of their painful duty. We went in, and I made her drink a cup of hot tea, which appeared to give her renewed strength.

"A faint smile dawned on her lips and she began telling me about herself: how terrible it was to go through life all alone, to be alone at home day and night, to have no one on whom to lavish love, confidence, and intimacy.

"It all seemed sincere and sounded well coming from her. I was softened. She was very young, perhaps twenty. I paid her several compliments that appeared to please her, and as it was growing dark I offered to take her home in a cab. She accepted. In the carriage we were so close to each other that we could feel the warmth of our bodies through our clothing, which really is the most intoxicating thing in the world.

"When the cab stopped in front of her home she said:

"'I hardly feel able to walk upstairs, for I live on the fourth floor. You have already been so kind. that I am going to ask you to assist me to my rooms.'

"I consented gladly. She walked up slowly, breathing heavily at each step. In front of her door she added:

"'Do come in for a few minutes, so that I can thank you again for your kindness.'

"And I, of course, followed her.

"Her apartment was modest, even a trifle poor, but well-kept and in good taste.

"We sat down side by side on a small divan, and she again began to speak of her loneliness.

"Then she rang for the maid, so as to offer me some refreshments. But the girl failed to appear, and I joyfully concluded that this maid probably came only in the morning, and was a sort of scrub-woman.

"She had taken off her hat. How pretty she was! Her clear eyes looked steadily at me, so clear and so steady ? that a great temptation came to me, to which I promptly yielded. Clasping her in my arms, I kissed her again and again on her half-closed lids.

"She repelled me, struggling to free herself and repeating:

"'Do stop--do end it--'

[315] "What did she mean to imply by this word? Under such conditions, to 'end' could have at least two meanings. In order to silence her, I passed from her eyes to her lips, and gave to the word :end' the conclusion I preferred. She did not resist very much, and as our eyes met after this insult to the memory of the departed captain, I saw that her expression was one of tender resignation, which quickly dispelled my misgivings.

"Then I grew attentive and gallant. After an hour's chat I asked her:

"'Where do you dine?'

"'In a small restaurant near by.' "'All alone?'

"'Why. yes.'

"'Will you take dinner with me?'


"'In a good restaurant on the Boulevard.'

"She hesitated a little, but at last consented, consoling herself with the argument that she was so desperately lonely, and adding, 'I must put on a lighter gown.'

"She retired to her room, and when she emerged she was dressed in a simple gray frock that made her look exquisitely slender. She apparently had different costumes for street and for cemetery wear!

"Our dinner was most pleasant and cordial. She drank some champagne, thereby becoming very animated and lively, and we returned to her apartment together.

"This liaison, begun among tombstones, lasted about three weeks. But man tires of everything and especially of women. So I pleaded an urgent trip and left her. Of course, I managed to be generous, for which she was duly thankful, making me premise and even I swear that I would come back, for she really seemed to care a little for me.

"In the meantime I formed other attachments, and a month or so went by without the memory of this love being vivid enough to bring me back to her. Still, I had not forgotten her. She haunted me like a mystery, a psychological problem, an unsolved question.

"I can't tell why, but one day I imagined that I should find her in the cemetery. So I went back. I walked around a long time without meeting anyone but the usual visitors of the place, mourners who had not broken off all relations with their dead. The grave of the captain killed in Tonkin was deserted, without flowers, or wreaths.

"As I was passing through another part of this great city of Death, I suddenly saw a couple in deep mourning coming toward me through one of the narrow paths hedged with crosses. When they drew near, Oh, surprise! I recognized--her! She saw me and blushed. As I brushed past her, she gave me a little wink that meant clearly: Don't recognize me, and also seemed to say: Do come back.

"The man who accompanied her was about fifty years old, fine-looking and distinguished, an officer of the Legion of Honor. He was leading her just as I had, when we left the cemetery together.

"I was utterly nonplussed, reluctant to believe what my eyes had just seen, and I wondered to what strange tribe of creatures this graveyard huntress belonged. Was she merely a clever courtesan, an inspired prostitute, who haunted cemeteries for men disconsolate [316] at the loss of some woman, a mistress or a wife, and hungering for past caresses? Is it a profession? Are the cemeteries worked like the streets? Are there graveyard sirens? Or had she alone the idea--wonderful for its deep philosophy--to profit by the amorous regrets awakened in these awful places? I would have given a great deal to know whose widow she was that day!