BY GUY DE MAUPASSANT
"Well, what do you say about women?"
"Well, there are no conjurors more subtle in
taking us in at every available opportunity
with or without reason, often for the sole
pleasure of playing tricks on us. And they
play these tricks with incredible simplicity,
astonishing audacity, unparalleled ingenuity.
They play tricks from morning till night, and
they all do it -- the most virtuous, the most
upright, the most sensible of them. You may
add that sometimes they are to some extent
driven to do these things. Man has always
idiotic fits of obstinacy and tyrannical
desires. A husband is continually giving
ridiculous orders in his own house. He is
full of caprices; his wife plays on them even
while she makes use of them for the purpose
of deception. She persuades him that a thing
costs so much because he would kick up a row
if its price were higher. And she always
extricates herself from the difficulty
cunningly by a means so simple and so sly
that we gape with amazement when by chance
we discover them. We say to ourselves in a
stupefied state of mind 'How is it we did
not see this till now?'"
* * * * * *
The man who uttered the words was an ex-Minister
of the Empire, the Comte de L----, a thorough
profligate, it was said, and a very accomplished
gentleman. A group of young men were listening
He went on:
"I was outwitted by an ordinary uneducated
woman in a comic and thorough-going fashion.
I will tell you about it for your instruction.
"I was at the time Minister for Foreign Affairs,
and I was in the habit of taking a long walk
every morning in the Champs Elysees. It was
the month of May; I walked along, sniffing in
eagerly that sweet odor of budding leaves.
"Ere long, I noticed, that I used to meet
every day a charming little woman, one of
those marvelous, graceful creatures, who bear
the trade-mark of Paris. Pretty? Well, yes
and no. Well-made? No, better than that: her
waist was too slight, her shoulders too narrow,
her breast too full, no doubt; but I prefer
those exquisite human dolls to that great
statuesque corpse, the Venus of Milo.
"And then this sort of woman trots along in
an incomparable fashion, and the very rustle
of her skirt fills the marrow of your bones
with desire. She seemed to give me a side-glance
as she passed me. But these women give you
all sorts of looks -- you never can tell . . .
"One morning, I saw her sitting on a bench
with an open book between her hands. I came
across, and sat down beside her. Five minutes
later, we were friends. Then, each day, after
the smiling salutation 'Good day, Madame,'
'Good day, Monsieur,' we began to chat. She
told me that she was the wife of a Government
clerk, that her life was a sad one, that in
it pleasures were few and cares numerous, and
a thousand other things.
"I told her who I was, partly through
thoughtlessness, and partly perhaps through
vanity. She pretended to be much astonished.
"Next day, she called at the Ministry to see
me; and she came again there so often that
the ushers, having their attention drawn to
her appearance, used to whisper to one another,
as soon as they saw her, the name with which
they had christened her 'Madame Leon' that is
my Christian name.
"For three months I saw her every morning
without growing tired of her for a second, so
well was she able incessantly to give variety
and piquancy to her physical attractiveness.
But one day I saw that her eyes were bloodshot
and glowing with suppressed tears, that she
could scarcely speak, so much was she preoccupied
with secret troubles.
"I begged of her, I implored of her, to tell
me what was the cause of her agitation.
"She faltered out at length with a shudder:
'I am -- I am pregnant!'
"And she burst out sobbing. Oh! I made a
dreadful grimace, and I have no doubt I turned
pale, as men generally do at hearing such a
piece of news. You cannot conceive what an
unpleasant stab you feel in your breast at
the announcement of an unexpected paternity
of this kind. But you are sure to know it
sooner or later. So, in my turn, I gasped:
'But -- but -- you are married, are you not?'
"She answered: 'Yes, but my husband has been
away in Italy for the last two months, and he
will not be back for some time.'
"I was determined at any cost to get out of
"I said: 'You must go and join him immediately.'
"She reddened to her very temples, and with
downcast eyes, murmured: 'Yes -- but --' She
either dared not or would not finish the
"I understood, and I prudently enclosed her
in an envelope the expenses of the journey.
* * * * * *
"Eight days later, she sent me a letter from
Genoa. The following week, I received one
from Florence. Then letters reached me from
Leghorn, Rome, and Naples.
"She said to me: 'I am in good health, my
dear love, but I am looking frightful. I
would not care to have you see me till it is
all over; you would not love me. My husband
suspects nothing. As his business in this
country will require him to stay there much
longer, I will not return to France till
after my confinement.'
"And, at the end of about eight months, I
received from Venice these few words: 'It is
"Some time after, she suddenly entered my
study one morning, fresher and prettier than
ever, and flung herself into my arms.
"And our former connection was renewed.
"I left the Ministry, and she came to live
in my house in the Rue de Grenelle. She often
spoke to me about the child, but I scarcely
listened to what she said about it; it did
not concern me. Now and then I placed a rather
large sum of money in her hand, saying: 'Put
that by for him.'
"Two more years glided by; and she was more
eager to tell me some news about the youngster -- 'about
"Sometimes she would say in the midst of
tears: 'You don't care about him; you don't
even wish to see him. If you know what grief
you cause me!'
"At last I was so much harassed by her that
I promised, one day, to go, next morning,
to the Champs Elysees, when she took the
child there for an airing.
"But at the moment when I was leaving the
house, I was stopped by a sudden apprehension.
Man is weak and foolish. What if I were to
get fond of this tiny being of whom I was
the father -- my son?
"I had my hat on my head, my gloves in my
hands. I flung down the gloves on my desk,
and my hat on a chair:
"No. Decidedly I will not go; it is wiser
not to go.'
"My door flew open. My brother entered the
room. He handed me an anonymous letter he had
received that morning:
"'Warn the Comte de L----, your brother,
that the little woman of the Rue Casette is
impudently laughing at him. Let him make some
inquiries about her.'
"I had never told anybody about this intrigue,
and I now told my brother the history of it
from the beginning to the end. I added:
"For my part, I don't want to trouble myself
any further about the matter; but will you,
like a good fellow, go and find out what you
can about her?
"When my brother had left me, I said to myself:
'In what way can she have deceived me? She has
other lovers? What does it matter to me? She
is young, fresh, and pretty; I ask nothing more
from her. She seems to love me, and as a matter
of fact, she does not cost me much. Really, I
don't understand this business.'
"My brother speedily returned. He had learned
from the police all that was to be known about
her husband: 'A clerk in the Home Department,
of regular habits and good repute, and, moreover,
a thinking man, but married to a very pretty
woman, whose expenses seemed somewhat extravagant
for her modest position.' That was all.
"Now, my brother having sought for her at her
residence, and finding that she was gone out,
succeeded, with the assistance of a little gold,
in making the doorkeeper chatter: 'Madame D----,
a very worthy woman, and her husband a very
worthy man, not proud, not rich, but generous.'
"My brother asked for the sake of saying something:
"'How old is her little boy now?'
"'Why, she has not got any little boy, monsieur.'
"'What? Little Leon?'
"'No, monsieur, you are making a mistake.'
"'I mean the child she had while she was in Italy,
two years ago?'
"'She has never been in Italy, monsieur; she has
not quitted the house she is living in for the
last five years.'
"My brother, in astonishment, questioned the
doorkeeper anew, and then he pushed his investigation
of the matter further. No child, no journey.
"I was prodigiously astonished, but without
clearly understanding the final meaning of this
"'I want,' said I to him, 'to have my mind perfectly
clear about the affair. I will ask her to come
here to-morrow. You shall receive her instead of
me. If she has deceived me, you will hand her these
ten thousand francs, and I will never see her again.
In fact, I am beginning to find I have had enough
"Would you believe it? I had been grieved the night
before because I had a child by this woman; and I
was now irritated, ashamed, wounded at having no
more of her. I found myself free, released from
all responsibility, from all anxiety, and yet I
felt myself raging at the position in which I was
"Next morning my brother awaited her in my study.
She came in as quickly as usual, rushing towards
him with outstretched arms, but when she saw
who it was she at once drew back.
"He bowed, and excused himself.
"'I beg your pardon, madame, for being here
instead of my brother, but he has authorized me
to ask you for some explanations which he would
find it painful to seek from you himself.'
"Then, fixing on her face a searching glance,
he said abruptly:
"'We know you have not a child by him.'
"After the first moment of stupor, she regained
her composure, took a seat, and gazed with a
smile at this man who was sitting in judgment on
"She answered simply:
"'No; I have no child.'
"'We know also that you have never been in Italy.'
"This time she burst out laughing in earnest.
"'No, I have never been in Italy.'
"My brother, quite stunned, went on:
"'The Comte has requested me to give you this
money, and tell you that it is all broken off.'
"She became serious again, calmly putting the
money into her pocket, and, in an ingenuous tone
"'And I am not, then, to see the Comte any more?'
"She appeared to be annoyed, and in a passionless
voice she said:
"'So much the worse; I was very fond of him.'
"Seeing that she had made up her mind on the
subject so resolutely, my brother, smiling in
his turn, said to her:
"'Look here, now, tell me why you invented all
this tricky yarn, complicating it by bringing
in the sham journey to Italy and the child?'"
She gazed at my brother in amazement, as if he
had asked her a stupid question, and replied:
"'I say! How spiteful you are! Do you believe a
poor little woman of the people such as I am -- nothing
at all -- could have for three years kept on my
hands the Comte de L----, Minister, a great
personage, a man of fashion, wealthy and seductive,
if she had not taken a little trouble about it?
Now it is all over. So much the worse. It couldn't
last for ever. None the less I succeeded in doing
it for three years. You will say many things to
him on my behalf.'
"She rose up. My brother continued questioning her:
"'But -- the child? You had one to show him?'
"'Certainly -- my sister's child. She lent it to me.
I'd bet it was she gave you the information.'
"'Good! And all those letters from Italy?'
"She sat down again so as to laugh at her ease.
"'Oh! those letters -- well, they were a bit of poetry.
The Comte was not a Minister of Foreign Affairs for
"'But -- another thing?'
"Oh! the other thing is my secret. I don't want to
"And bowing to him with a rather mocking smile,
she left the room without any emotion, an actress
who had played her part to the end."
And the Comte de L---- added by way of moral:
"So take care about putting your trust in that
sort of turtle dove!"
~~~~~~~ THE END ~~~~~~~