MoboReader > Literature > The Works of Guy de Maupassant, Volume II (of 8)

   Chapter 1 No.1

The Works of Guy de Maupassant, Volume II (of 8) By Guy de Maupassant Characters: 45274

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:03


Little George was making hills of sand in one of the walks; he took it up with both his hands, made it into a pyramid, and then put a chestnut leaf on the top, and his father, sitting on an iron chair was looking at him with concentrated and affectionate attention, and saw nobody but him in that small public garden which was full of people. All along the circular road other children were occupied in the same manner, or else were indulging in childish games, while nursemaids were walking two and two, with their bright cap ribbons floating behind them, and carrying something wrapped up in lace, on their arms, and little girls in short petticoats and bare legs were talking seriously together, during the intervals of trundling their hoops.

The sun was just disappearing behind the roofs of the Rue Saint-Lazare, but still shed its rays obliquely on that little over-dressed crowd. The chestnut trees were lighted up with its yellow rays, and the three fountains before the lofty porch of the church, had the appearance of liquid silver.

Monsieur Parent looked at his son sitting in the dusk, he followed his slightest movements with affection, but accidentally looking up at the church clock, he saw that he was five minutes late, so he got up, took the child by the arm and shook his dress which was covered with sand, wiped his hands and led him in the direction of the Rue Blanche, and he walked quickly, so as not to get in after his wife, but as the child could not keep up with him, he took him up and carried him, though it made him pant when he had to walk up the steep street. He was a man of forty, turning gray already, rather stout, and had married, a few years previously, a young woman whom he dearly loved, but who now treated him with the severity and authority of an all-powerful despot. She found fault with him continually for everything that he did, or did not do, reproached him bitterly for his slightest acts, his habits, his simple pleasures, his tastes, his movements and walk, and for having a round stomach and a placid voice.

He still loved her, however, but above all he loved the child which he had had by her, and George, who was now three, had become the greatest joy, and had preoccupation of his heart. He himself had a modest private fortune, and lived without doing anything on his twenty thousand francs a year, and his wife, who had been quite portionless, was constantly angry at her husband's inactivity.

At last he reached his house, put down the child, wiped his forehead and walked upstairs, and when he got to the second floor, he rang. An old servant who had brought him up, one of those mistress-servants who are the tyrants of families, opened the door to him, and he asked her anxiously: "Has Madame come in yet?" The servant shrugged her shoulders: "When have you ever known Madame to come home at half past six, Monsieur?" And he replied with some embarrassment: "Very well; all the better; it will give me time to change my things, for I am very hot."

The servant looked at him with angry and contemptuous pity, and grumbled: "Oh! I can see that well enough, you are covered with perspiration, Monsieur. I suppose you walked quickly and carried the child, and only to have to wait until half past seven, perhaps, for Madame. I have made up my mind not to have it ready at the time. Shall get it for eight o'clock, and if you have to wait, I cannot help it; roast meat ought not to be burnt!" Monsieur Parent, however, pretended not to hear, but only said: "All right! all right. You must wash George's hands, for he has been making sand pits. I will go and change my clothes; tell the maid to give the child a good washing."

And he went into his own room, and as soon as he got in he locked the door, so as to be alone, quite alone. He was so used now to being abused and badly treated, that he never thought himself safe, except when he was locked in. He no longer ventured even to think, reflect and reason with himself, unless he had guarded himself against her looks and insinuations, by locking himself in. Having thrown himself into a chair, in order to rest for a few minutes before he put on clean linen, he remembered that Julie was beginning to be a fresh danger in the house. She hated his wife, that was quite plain, but she hated his friend Paul Limousin still more, who had continued to be the familiar and intimate friend of the house, after having been the inseparable companion of his bachelor days, which is very rare. It was Limousin who acted as a buffer between his wife and himself, and who defended him ardently, and even severely, against her undeserved reproaches, against crying scenes, and against all the daily miseries of his existence.

But now for six months, Julie had constantly been saying things against her mistress, and repeated twenty times a day: "If I were you, Monsieur, I should not allow myself to be led by the nose like that. Well, well... There, ... everyone according to his nature." And one day, she had even ventured to be insolent to Henriette, who, however, merely said to her husband, at night: "You know, the next time she speaks to me like that, I shall turn her out of doors." But she, who feared nothing; seemed to be afraid of the old servant, and Parent attributed her mildness to her consideration for the old domestic who had brought him up, and who had closed his mother's eyes. Now, however, it was finished, matters could not go on like that much longer, and he was frightened at the idea of what was going to happen. What could he do? To get rid of Julie seemed to him to be such a formidable thing to do, that he hardly ventured to think of it, but it was just as impossible to uphold her against his wife, and before another month now, the situation would become unbearable between the two. He remained sitting there, with his arms hanging down, vaguely trying to discover some means to set matters straight, but without success, and he said to himself: "It is only lucky that I have George ... without him I should be very miserable."

Then he thought he would consult Limousin, but the recollection of the hatred that existed between his friend and the servant made him fear lest the former should advise him to turn her away, and again he was lost in doubts and unhappy uncertainty. Just then the clock struck seven, and he started up. Seven o'clock, and he had not even changed his clothes yet! Then nervous and breathless, he undressed, put on a clean shirt, and hastily finished his toilet, as if he had been expected in the next room for some event of extreme importance, went into the drawing-room, happy at having nothing to fear. He glanced at the newspaper, went and looked out of the window, and then sat down on the sofa again, when the door opened, and the boy came in, washed, brushed and smiling, and Parent took him up in his arms and kissed him passionately; then he tossed him into the air, and held him up to the ceiling, but soon sat down again, as he was tired with all his efforts, and taking George onto his knee, he made him ride a cock-horse, and the child laughed and clapped his hands, and shouted with pleasure, as his father did also, for he laughed until his big stomach shook, for it amused him almost more than it did the child.

He loved him with all the heart of a weak, resigned, ill-used man. He loved with mad bursts of affection, with caresses and with all the bashful tenderness which was hidden in him, and which had never found an outlet, even at the early period of his married life, for his wife had always shown herself cold and reserved. Just then, however, Julie came to the door, with a pale face and glistening eyes, and she said in a voice which trembled with exasperation: "It is half past seven, Monsieur." Parent gave an uneasy and resigned look at the clock and replied: "Yes, it certainly is half past seven." "Well, my dinner is quite ready, now."

Seeing the storm which was coming, he tried to turn it aside. "But did you not tell me when I came in that it would not be ready before eight?" "Eight! what are you thinking about? You surely do not mean to let the child dine at eight o'clock? It would ruin his stomach. Just suppose that he only had his mother to look after him! She cares a great deal about her child. Oh! yes, we will speak about her; she is a mother. What a pity it is that there should be any mothers like her!"

Parent thought it was time to cut short a threatened scene, and so he said: "Julie, I will not allow you to speak like that of your mistress. You understand me, do you not? Do not forget it for the future."

The old servant, who was nearly choked with surprise, turned round and went out, slamming the door so violently after her, that the lusters on the chandelier rattled, and for some seconds it sounded as if a number of little invisible bells were ringing in the drawing room.

George who was surprised at first, began to clap his hands merrily, and blowing out his cheeks, he gave a great boum with all the strength of his lungs, to imitate the noise of the door banging. Then his father began to tell him stories, but his mind was so preoccupied that he every moment lost the thread of his story, and the child, who could not understand him, opened his eyes wide, in astonishment.

Parent never took his eyes off the clock; he thought he could see the hands move, and he would have liked to have stopped them, until his wife's return. He was not vexed with her for being late, but he was frightened, frightened of her and of Julie, frightened at the thought of all that might happen. Ten minutes more, would suffice to bring about an irreparable catastrophe, explanations and acts of violence that he did not dare to picture to himself. The mere idea of a quarrel, of their loud voices, of insults flying through the air like bullets, the two women standing face to face, looking at each other and flinging abuse at one another, made his heart beat, and his tongue as parched as if he had been walking in the sun, and made him as limp as a rag, so limp that he no longer had the strength to lift up the child, and to dance him on his knee.

Eight o'clock struck, the door opened once more and Julie came in again. She had lost her look of exasperation, but now she put on an air of cold and determined resolution, which was still more formidable. "Monsieur," she said, "I served your mother until the day of her death, and I have attended to you from your birth until now, and I think it may be said that I am devoted to the family." She waited for a reply, and Parent stammered: "Why yes, certainly, my good Julie." She continued: "You know quite well that I have never done anything for the sake of money, but always for your sake; that I have never deceived you nor lied to you, that you have never had to find fault with me..." "Certainly, my good Julie." "Very well, then, Monsieur, it cannot go on any longer like this. I have said nothing, and left you in your ignorance, out of respect and liking for you, but it is too much, and everyone in the neighborhood is laughing at you. Everybody knows about it, and so I must tell you also, although I do not like to repeat it. The reason why Madame comes in at any time she chooses is, that she is doing abominable things."

He seemed stupefied, and not to understand, and could only stammer out: "Hold your tongue, you know I have forbidden you ..." But she interrupted him with irresistible resolution. "No, Monsieur, I must tell you everything, now. For a long time Madame has been doing wrong with Monsieur Limousin, I have seen them kiss scores of times behind the doors. Ah! you may be sure that if Monsieur Limousin had been rich, Madame would never have married Monsieur Parent. If you remember how the marriage was brought about, you would understand the matter from beginning to end." Parent had risen, and stammered out, deadly pale: "Hold your tongue hold your tongue or ..." She went on, however: "No, I mean to tell you everything. She married you from interest, and she deceived you from the very first day. It was all settled between them beforehand. You need only reflect for a few moments to understand it, and then, as she was not satisfied with having married you, as she did not love you, she has made your life miserable, so miserable that it has almost broken my heart when I have seen it ..."

He walked up and down the room with his hands clenched, repeating: "Hold your tongue ... hold your tongue ..." for he could find nothing else to say; the old servant, however, would not yield; she seemed resolved on everything, but George, who had been at first astonished, and then frightened at those angry voices, began to utter shrill screams, and remained behind his father, and he roared with his face puckered up and his mouth open.

His son's screams exasperated Parent and filled him with rage and courage. He rushed at Julie with both arms raised, ready to strike her, and exclaiming: "Ah! you wretch! you will send the child out of his senses." He was already touching her, when she said: "Monsieur, you may beat me if you like, me who reared you, but that will not prevent your wife from deceiving you, or alter the fact that your child is not yours ..." He stopped suddenly, and let his arms fall, and he remained standing opposite to her, so overwhelmed that he could understand nothing more, and she added: "You need only look at the child to know who is its father! He is the very image of Monsieur Limousin, you need only look at his eyes and forehead, why, a blind man could not be mistaken in him...."

But he had taken her by the shoulders, and was now shaking her with all his might, while he said: "Viper ... viper! Go out the room, viper! ... go out, or I shall kill you! ... Go out! Go out! ..."

And with a desperate effort he threw her into the next room. She fell onto the table which was laid for dinner, breaking the glasses, and then, getting up, she put it between her master and herself, and while he was pursuing her, in order to take hold of her again, she flung terrible words at him: "You need only go out this evening after dinner, and come in again immediately ... and you will see! ... you will see whether I have been lying! Just try it ... and you will see." She had reached the kitchen door and escaped, but he ran after her, up the back stairs to her bedroom into which she had locked herself, and knocking at the door, he said! "You will leave my house this very instant." "You may be certain of that, Monsieur," was her reply. "In an hour's time I shall not be here any longer."

He then went slowly downstairs again, holding on to the banister, so as not to fall, and went back to the drawing-room, where little George was sitting on the floor, crying; he fell into a chair, and looked at the child with dull eyes. He understood nothing, be knew nothing more, he felt dazed, stupefied, mad, as if he had just fallen on his head, and he scarcely even remembered the dreadful things the servant had told him. Then, by degrees his reason grew clearer like muddy water, and the abominable revelation began to work in his heart.

Julie had spoken so clearly, with so much force, assurance and sincerity, that he did not doubt her good faith, but he persisted in not believing her penetration. She might have been deceived, blinded by her devotion to him, carried away by unconscious hatred for Henriette. However, in measure as he tried to reassure and to convince himself, a thousand small facts recurred to his recollection, his wife's words, Limousin's looks, a number of unobserved, almost unseen trifles, her going out late, their simultaneous absence, and even some almost insignificant, but strange gestures, which he could not understand, now assumed an extreme importance for him and established a connivance between them. Everything that had happened since his engagement, surged through his over-excited brain, in his misery, and he obstinately went through his five years of married life, trying to recollect every detail month by month, day by day, and every disquieting circumstance that he remembered stung him to the quick like a wasp's sting.

He was not thinking of George any more, who was quiet now and on the carpet, but seeing that no notice was being taken of him the boy began to cry. Then his father ran up to him, took him into his arms, and covered him with kisses. His child remained to him at any rate! What did the rest matter? He held him in his arms and pressed his lips onto his light hair, and relieved and composed, he whispered: "George, ... my little George, ... my dear little George ..." But he suddenly remembered what Julie had said! ... Yes! she had said that he was Limousin's child... Oh! It could not be possible, surely! He could not believe it, could not doubt, even for a moment, that he was his own child. It was one of those low scandals which spring from servants' brains! And he repeated: "George ... my dear little George." The youngster was quiet again, now that his father was fondling him.

Parent felt the warmth of the little chest penetrate to his through their clothes, and it filled him with love, courage and happiness; that gentle heat soothed him, fortified him and saved him. Then he put the small, curly head away from him a little and looked at it affectionately, still repeating: "George! ... Oh! my little George! ..." But suddenly he thought, "Suppose he were to resemble Limousin, ... after all!"

There was something strange working within him, a fierce feeling, a poignant and violent sensation of cold in his whole body, in all his limbs, as if his bones had suddenly been turned to ice. Oh! if he were to resemble Limousin and he continued to look at George, who was laughing now. He looked at him with haggard, troubled eyes, and he tried to discover whether there was any likeness in his forehead, in his nose, mouth or cheeks. His thoughts wandered like they do when a person is going mad, and his child's face changed in his eyes, and assumed a strange look, and unlikely resemblances.

Julie had said: "A blind man could not be mistaken in him." There must, therefore, be something striking, an undeniable likeness! But what? The forehead? Yes, perhaps, Limousin's forehead, however, was narrower. The mouth then? But Limousin wore a beard, and how could any one verify the likeness between the fat chin of the child, and the hairy chin of that man?

Parent thought: "I cannot see anything now, I am too much upset; I could not recognize anything at present ... I must wait; I must look at him well to-morrow morning, when I am getting up." And immediately afterwards he said to himself: "But if he is like me, I shall be saved! saved!" And he crossed the drawing-room in two strides, to examine the child's face by the side of his own in the looking-glass. He had George on his arm, so that their faces might be close together, and he spoke out loud almost without knowing it. "Yes ... we have the same nose ... the same nose ... perhaps, but that is not sure ... and the same look ... But no, he has blue eyes ... Then good heavens! I shall go mad ... I cannot see anything more ... I am going mad!..."

He went away from the glass to the other end of the drawing-room, and putting the child into an easy chair, he fell into another and began to cry; and he sobbed so violently that George, who was frightened at hearing him, immediately began to scream.

The hall bell rang, and Parent gave a bound as if a bullet had gone through him. "There she is," he said ... "What shall I do? ..." And he ran and locked himself up in his room, so at any rate to have time to bathe his eyes. But in a few moments another ring at the bell made him jump again, and he remembered that Julie had left, without the housemaid knowing it, and so nobody would go to open the door. What was he to do? He went himself, and suddenly he felt brave, resolute, ready for dissimulation and the struggle. The terrible blow had matured him in a few moments, and then he wished to know the truth, he wished it with the rage of a timid man, and with the tenacity of an easy-going man, who has been exasperated.

But nevertheless he trembled! Was it fear? Yes . . . Perhaps he was still frightened of her? Does one know how much excited cowardice there often is in boldness? He went to the door with furtive steps, and stopped to listen; his heart beat furiously, and he heard nothing but the noise of that dull throbbing in his chest, and George's shrill voice, who was still crying in the drawing room. Suddenly, however, the noise of the bell over his head startled him like an explosion; then he seized the lock, turned the key and opening the door, saw his wife and Limousin standing before him on the stairs.

With an air of astonishment, which also betrayed a little irritation she said: "So you open the door now? Where is Julie?" His throat felt tight, and his breathing was labored and he tried to reply, without being able to utter a word, so she continued: "Are you dumb? I asked you where Julie is?" And then he managed to say: "She ... she ... has ... gone ..." Whereupon his wife began to get angry. "What do you mean by gone? Where has she gone? Why?" By degrees he regained his coolness, and he felt immense hatred for that insolent woman who was standing before him, rise up in him: "Yes, she has gone altogether ... I sent her away ..." "You have sent away Julie?... Why you must be mad." "Yes, I have sent her away because she was insolent ... and because, because she was ill-using the child." "Julie?" "Yes ... Julie." "What was she insolent about?" "About you." "About me?" "Yes, because the dinner was burnt, and you did not come in." "And she said ...?" "She said ... offensive things about you ... which I ought not ... which I could not listen to ..." "What did she say?" "It is no good repeating them." "I want to hear them." "She said it was unfortunate for a man like me to be married to a woman like you, unpunctual, careless, disorderly, a bad mother and a bad wife ..."

The young woman had gone into the anteroom followed by Limousin, who did not say a word at this unexpected position of things. She shut the door quickly, threw her cloak onto a chair, and going straight up to her husband, she stammered out: "You say? ... you say? ... that I am ...?"

He was very pale and calm and replied: "I say nothing, my dear. I am simply repeating what Julie said to me, as you wanted to know what it was, and I wish you to remark that I turned her off jus

t on account of what she said."

She trembled with a violent longing to tear out his beard and scratch his face. In his voice and manner she felt that he was asserting his position as master, although she had nothing to say by way of reply, and she tried to assume the offensive, by saying something unpleasant: "I suppose you have had dinner?" she asked.

"No, I waited for you." She shrugged her shoulders impatiently. "It is very stupid of you to wait after half past seven," she said. "You might have guessed that I was detained, that I had a good many things to do, visits and shopping."

And then suddenly, she felt that she wanted to explain how she had spent her time, and she told him in abrupt, haughty words, that having to buy some furniture in a shop a long distance off, very far off, in the Rue de Rennes, she had met Limousin at past seven o'clock on the Boulevard Saint-Germain, and that then she had gone with him to have something to eat in a restaurant, as she did not like to go to one by herself, although she was faint with hunger. That was how she had dined, with Limousin, if it could be called dining, for they had only had some soup and half a fowl, as they were in a great hurry to get back, and Parent replied simply: "Well, you were quite right. I am not finding fault with you."

Then Limousin, who had not spoken till then, and who had been half hidden behind Henriette, came forward, and put out his hand, saying: "Are you very well?" Parent took his hand, and shaking it gently, replied: "Yes, I am very well." But the young woman had felt a reproach in her husband's last words. "Finding fault! ... Why do you speak of finding fault? ... One might think that you meant to imply something." "Not at all," he replied, by way of excuse. "I simply meant, that I was not at all anxious although you were late, and that I did not find fault with you for it." She, however, took the high hand, and tried to find a pretext for a quarrel. "Although I was late? ... One might really think that it was one o'clock in the morning, and that I spent my nights away from home." "Certainly not, my dear. I said late, because I could find no other word. You said you should be back at half past six, and you returned at half past eight. That was surely being late! I understand it perfectly well ... I am not at all surprised ... even. But ... but ... I can hardly use any other word." "But you pronounce them, as if I had been out all night." "Oh! no, ... oh! no ..."

She saw that he would yield on every point, and she was going into her own room, when at last she noticed that George was screaming, and then she asked, with some feeling: "Whatever is the matter with the child?" "I told you, that Julie had been rather unkind to him?" "What has the wretch been doing to him?" "Oh! Nothing much. She gave him a push, and he fell down."

She wanted to see her child, and ran into the dining-room but stopped short at the sight of the table covered with spilt wine, with broken decanters and glasses and overturned salt-cellars. "Who did all that mischief?" she asked. "It was Julie who ..." But she interrupted him furiously: "That is too much, really! Julie speaks of me as if I were a shameless woman, beats my child, breaks my plates and dishes, turns my house upside down, and it appears that you think it all quite natural." "Certainly not, as I have got rid of her!" "Really ... you have got rid of her! ... But you ought to have given her in charge. In such cases, one ought to call in the Commissary of Police!" "But ... my dear ... I really could not ... there was no reason ... It would have been very difficult." She shrugged her shoulders disdainfully.

"There, you will never be anything but a poor, wretched fellow, a man without a will, without any firmness or energy. Ah! she must have said some nice things to you, your Julie, to make you turn her off like that. I should like to have been here for a minute, only for a minute." Then she opened the drawing-room door and ran to George, took him into her arms and kissed him, and said: "Georgie, what is it, my darling, my pretty one, my treasure?" But as she was fondling him he did not speak, and she repeated: "What is the matter with you?" And he having seen, with his child's eyes, that something was wrong, replied: "Julie beat papa."

Henriette turned towards her husband, in stupefaction at first, but then an irresistible desire to laugh shone in her eyes, passed like a slight shiver over her delicate cheeks, made her upper lip curl and her nostrils dilate, and at last a clear, bright burst of mirth came from her lips, a torrent of gayety which was lively and sonorous as the song of a bird. She repeated, with little mischievous exclamations which issued from between her white teeth, and hurt Parent as much as a bite would have done: "Ha!... ha!... ha!... ha! she beat ... she beat ... my husband ... ha!... ha! ha!... How funny!... Do you hear, Limousin? Julie has beaten ... has beaten ... my ... husband ... Oh! dear oh! dear ... how very funny!"

But Parent protested: "No ... no ... it is not true, it is not true ... It was I, on the contrary, who threw her into the dining room so violently that she knocked the table over. The child did not see clearly, I beat her!" "Here, my darling." Henriette said to her boy "did Julie beat papa?" "Yes, it was Julie," he replied. But then, suddenly turning to another idea, she said, "But the child has had no dinner? You have had nothing to eat, my pet?" "No, mamma." Then she again turned furiously onto her husband. "Why, you must be mad, utterly mad! It is half past eight, and George has had no dinner!"

He excused himself as best he could, for he had nearly lost his wits by the overwhelming scene and the explanation, and felt crushed by this ruin of his life. "But, my dear, we were waiting for you, as I did not wish to dine without you. As you come home late every day, I expected you every moment."

She threw her bonnet, which she had kept on till then, into an easy chair, and in an angry voice she said: "It is really intolerable to have to do with people who can understand nothing, who can divine nothing, and do nothing by themselves. So, I suppose, if I were to come in at twelve o'clock at night, the child would have had nothing to eat? Just as if you could not have understood that, as it was after half past seven, I was prevented from coming home, that I had met with some hindrance!..."

Parent trembled, for he felt that his anger was getting the upper hand, but Limousin interposed and turning towards the young woman, he said: "My dear friend, you are altogether unjust. Parent could not guess that you would come here so late, as you never do so, and then, how would you expect him to get over the difficulty all by himself, after having sent away Julie?"

But Henriette was very angry and replied "Well, at any rate, he must get over the difficulty himself, for I will not help him. Let him settle it". And she went into her own room, quite forgetting that her child had not had anything to eat.

Then Limousin immediately set to work to help his friend. He picked up the broken glass which strewed the table and took them out. He replaced the plates, knives and forks and put the child into his high chair. While Parent went to look for the lady's maid, to wait at table; who came in great astonishment. As she had heard nothing in George's room, where she had been working. She soon however, brought in the soup, a burnt leg of mutton, and mashed potatoes.

Parent sat by the side of the child, very much upset and distressed at all that had happened. He gave the boy his dinner, and endeavored to eat something him self. But he could only swallow with an effort, as if his throat had been paralyzed. By degrees, he was seized by an insane desire of looking at Limousin who was sitting opposite to him and making bread pellets, to see whether George was like him, but he did not venture to raise his eyes for some time; at last, however, he made up his mind to do so, and gave a quick, sharp look at the face which he knew so well, although he almost fancied that he had never looked at it carefully, as it looked so different to what he had fancied. From time to time he looked at him, trying to recognize a likeness in the smallest lines of his face, in the slightest features, and then he looked at his son, under the pretext of feeding him.

Two words were sounding in his ears "His father! his father! his father!" They buzzed in his temples at every beat of his heart. Yes, that man, that tranquil man who was sitting on the other side of the table was, perhaps, the father of his son, of George, of his little George. Parent left off eating; he could not manage any more; a terrible pain, one of those attacks of pain which make men scream, roll on the ground and bite the furniture, was tearing at his entrails, and he felt inclined to take a knife and plunge it into his stomach. It would ease him and save him, and all would be over.

For could he live now? Could he get up in the morning, join in the meals, go out into the streets, go to bed at night and sleep with that idea dominating him: "Limousin is Little George's father!" No, he would not have the strength to walk a step, to dress himself, to think of anything, to speak to anybody! Every day, every hour, every moment, he should be trying to know, to guess, to discover this terrible secret. And the little boy, his dear little boy, he could not look at him any more without enduring the terrible pains of that doubt, of being tortured by it to the very marrow of his bones. He would be obliged to live there, to remain in that house, with that child whom he should love and hate! Yes, he should certainly end by hating him. What torture! Oh! If he were sure that Limousin was his father, he might, perhaps, grow calm, become accustomed to his misfortune and his pain, but not to know, was intolerable.

Not to know, to be always trying to find out, to be continually suffering, to kiss the child every moment, another man's child, to take him out for walks, to carry him, to caress him, to love him, and to think continually: "Perhaps he is not my child? Would it not be better not to see him, to abandon him,-to lose him in the streets, or to go away, far away, himself so far away that he should never hear anything more spoken about, never!"

He started when he heard the door open. His wife came. "I am hungry," she said; "are not you also, Limousin?" He hesitated a little, and then said: "Yes, I am, upon my word." And she had the leg of mutton brought in again, while Parent asked himself: "Have they had dinner? Or are they late because they have had a lovers' meeting?"

They both ate with a very good appetite. Henriette was very calm, but laughed and joked, and her husband watched her furtively. She had on a pink dressing gown trimmed with white lace, and her fair head, her white neck and her plump hands stood out from that coquettish and perfumed dress, like from a sea shell, edged with foam. What had she been doing all day with that man? Parent could see them kissing, and stammering out words of ardent love! How was it that he could not manage to know everything, to guess the whole truth, by looking at them, sitting side by side, opposite to him?

What fun they must be making of him, if he had been their dupe since the first day? Was it possible to make a fool of a man, of a worthy man, because his father had left him a little money? Why could one not see these things in people's souls, how was it that nothing revealed to upright hearts the deceits of infamous hearts, how was it that voices had the same sound for adoring as for lying, why was a false, deceptive look the same as a sincere one? And he watched them waiting to catch a gesture, a word, an intonation; then suddenly he thought: "I will surprise them this evening," and he said: "My dear, as I have dismissed Julie, I will see about getting another this very day, and I shall go out immediately to procure one by to-morrow morning, so I may not be in until late."

"Very well," she replied; "go, I shall not stir from here. Limousin will keep me company. We will wait for you." And then, turning to the maid, she said: "You had better put George to bed, and then you can clear away and go up to your own room."

Parent had got up; he was unsteady on his legs, dazed and giddy, and saying: "I shall see you again later on," he went out, holding onto the wall, for the floor seemed to roll, like a ship. George had been carried out by his nurse, whilst Henriette and Limousin went into the drawing-room, and as soon as the door was shut, he said: "You must be mad, surely, to torment your husband as you do?" She immediately turned on him: "Ah! Do you know that I think the habit you have got into lately, of looking upon Parent as a martyr, is very unpleasant?"

Limousin threw himself into an easy-chair, and crossed his legs: "I am not setting him up as a martyr in the least, but I think that, situated as we are, it is ridiculous to defy this man as you do, from morning till night." She took a cigarette from the mantel-piece, lighted it, and replied: "But I do not defy him, quite the contrary; only, he irritates me by his stupidity ... and I treat him as he deserves." Limousin continued impatiently: "What you are doing is very foolish! However, all women are alike. Look here: he is an excellent, kind fellow, stupidly confiding and good, who never interferes with us, who does not suspect us for a moment, who leaves us quite free and undisturbed, whenever we like, and you do all you can to put him into a rage and to spoil our life."

She turned to him: "I say, you worry me. You are a coward, like all other men are! You are frightened of that poor creature!" He immediately jumped up and said, furiously: "I should like to know what he does, and why you are so set against him? Does he make you unhappy? Does he beat you? Does he deceive you and go with another woman? No, it is really too bad to make him suffer, merely because he is too kind, and to hate him merely because you are unfaithful to him." She went up to Limousin, and looking him full in the face, she said: "And you reproach me with deceiving him? You? You? What a filthy heart you must have?"

He felt rather ashamed, and tried to defend himself: "I am not reproaching you, my dear; I am only asking you to treat your husband gently, because we both of us require him to trust us. I think that you ought to see that."

They were close together; he, tall, dark, with long whiskers, and the rather vulgar manners of a good-looking man, who is very well satisfied with himself; she, small, fair and pink, a little Parisian, half shopkeeper, half one of those of easy virtue, born behind a shop, brought up at its door to entice customers by her looks, and married, accidentally, in consequence to a simple, unsophisticated man, who saw her outside the door every morning when he went out, and every evening when he came home.

"But do you not understand, you great booby," she said, "that I hate him just because he married me, because he bought me; in fact, because everything that he says and does, everything that he thinks, acts on my nerves? He exasperates me every moment by his stupidity, which you call his kindness, by his dullness, which you call his confidence, and then, above all, because he is my husband, instead of you! I feel him between us, although he does not interfere with us much. And then?... and then?... No, it is, after all, too idiotic of him not to guess anything! I wish he would at any rate be a little jealous. There are moments when I feel inclined to say to him: 'Do you not see, you stupid creature, that Paul is my lover?'"

Limousin began to laugh: "Meanwhile, it would be a good thing if you were to keep quiet, and not disturb our life." "Oh! I shall not disturb it, you may be sure! There is nothing to fear, with such a fool. No; but it is quite incomprehensible that you cannot understand how hateful he is to me, how he irritates me. You always seem to like him, and you shake hands with him cordially. Men are very surprising at times."

"One must know how to dissimulate, my dear." "It is no question of dissimulation, but of feeling. One might think that, when you men deceive another, you liked him all the more on that account, while we women hate the man from the moment that we have betrayed him." "I do not see why one should hate an excellent fellow, because one has his wife." "You do not see it?... You do not see it?... You all of you are wanting in that fineness of feeling! However, that is one of those things which one feels, and which one cannot express. And then, moreover, one ought not.... No, you would not understand; it is quite useless. You men have no delicacy of feeling."

And smiling, with the gentle contempt of a debauched woman, she put both her hands onto his shoulders and held up her lips to him, and he stooped down and clasped her closely in his arms, and their lips met. And as they stood in front of the chimney glass, another couple exactly like them, embraced behind the clock.

They heard nothing, neither the noise of the key, nor the creaking of the door, but suddenly Henriette, with a loud cry, pushed Limousin away with both her arms, and they saw Parent, who was looking at them, livid with rage, without his shoes on, and his hat over his forehead. He looked at them, one after the other, with a quick glance of his eyes without moving his head. He appeared mad, and then, without saying a word, he threw himself on Limousin; he seized him as if he were going to strangle him, and flung him into the opposite corner of the room so violently that the other lost his balance, and beating the air with his hand, cracked against the wall with his head.

But when Henriette saw that her husband was going to murder her lover, she threw herself onto Parent, seized him by the neck and digging her ten delicate and rosy fingers into his neck, she squeezed him so tightly, with all the vigor of a desperate woman, that the blood spurted out under her nails, and she bit his shoulder, as if she wished to tear it with her teeth. Parent, half-strangled and choked, loosened his hold on Limousin, in order to shake off his wife, who was hanging onto his neck; and putting his arms around her waist, he flung her also to the other end of the drawing-room.

Then, as his passion was short-lived, like that of most good-tempered men, and his strength was soon exhausted, he remained standing between the two, panting, worn out, not knowing what to do next. His brutal fury had expended itself in that effort, like the froth of a bottle of champagne, and his unwonted energy ended in a want of breath. As soon as he could speak, however he said: "Go away ... both of you ... immediately ... go away!..."

Limousin remained motionless in his corner, against the wall, too startled to understand anything as yet, too frightened to move a finger, while Henriette, with her hands resting on a small, round table, her head bent forward, with her hair hanging down, the bodice of her dress unfastened and bosom bare, waited like a wild animal which is about to spring, and Parent went on, in a stronger voice: "Go away immediately.... Get out of the house!"

His wife, however, seeing that he had got over his first exasperation, grew bolder, drew herself up, took two steps towards him, and grown almost insolent already, she said: "Have you lost your head?... What is the matter with you?... What is the meaning of this unjustifiable violence?" But he turned towards her, and raising his fist to strike her, he stammered out: "Oh!... oh!... this is too much!... too much!... I ... heard everything! Everything!... do you understand?... Everything!... you wretch ... you wretch ... you are two wretches!... Get out of the house!... both of you!... Immediately ... or I shall kill you!... Leave the house!..."

She saw that it was all over, and that he knew everything, that she could not prove her innocence, and that she must comply, but all her impudence had returned to her, and her hatred for the man, which was exasperated now, drove her to audacity, made her feel the need of bravadoes, and of defying him, and so she said in a clear voice: "Come, Limousin, as he is going to turn me out of doors, I will go to your lodgings with you."

But Limousin did not move, and Parent, in a fresh access of rage, cried out: "Go, will you! go, you wretches!... or else!... or else!..." and he seized a chair and whirled it over his head.

Then Henriette walked quickly across the room, took her lover by the arm, dragged him from the wall to which he appeared fixed, and dragged him towards the door, saying: "Do come, my friend ... you see that the man is mad.... Do come!"

As she went out, she turned round to her husband, trying to think of something that she could do, something that she could invent to wound him to the heart as she left the house, and an idea struck her, one of those venomous, deadly ideas in which all a woman's perfidy shows itself, and she said resolutely: "I am going to take my child with me."

Parent was stupefied and stammered: "Your ... your ... child? You dare to talk of your child?... You venture ... you venture to ask for your child ... after ... after ... Oh! oh! that is too much!... Go, you horrid wretch!... Go!..." She went up to him again, almost smiling, almost avenged already, and defying him, standing close to him, and face to face, she said: "I want my child, and you have no right to keep him, because he is not yours ... do you understand?... he is not yours ... he is Limousin's." And Parent cried out in bewilderment: "You lie ... you lie you wretch!"

But she continued: "You fool! Everybody knows it, except you. I tell you, this is his father. You need only look at him, to see it...."

Parent staggered back from her, and then he suddenly turned round, took a candle and rushed into the next room; almost immediately, however, he returned, carrying little George, wrapped up in his bed clothes, and the child, who had been suddenly awakened, was crying with fright. Parent threw him into his wife's arms, and then, without saying anything more, he pushed her roughly out, towards the stairs, where Limousin was waiting, from motives of prudence.

Then he shut the door again, double-locked it, and bolted it, and he had scarcely got into the drawing-room, when he fell onto the floor at full length.

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