Guy de Maupassant Translated by Alice Long, Ph.D.
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Guy de Maupassant Translated for American College and Secondary School Readers by A. Long, Ph.D. Our evening’s conversation, in reference to a recent and much-discussed lawsuit, had turned towards the subject of an individual’s being confined to a room, an apartment, perhaps a makeshift cell. It was near the end of an intimate soirée among close friends at a fine old home in the Rue de Grenelle. Everyone there had a story to tell on the subject, and all stories, it was affirmed, were true. Then the old Marquis de la Tour-Samuel, 82 years of age, stood up and leaned himself against the fireplace mantle. In a voice that bore the hint of a tremble, he said: “I, too—I know a strange thing—so very strange that it has been the obsession of my life. It has been fifty-six years since this adventure happened to me, and a month never passes that I don’t revisit it in a dream. It has left upon me to this very day a mark, an imprint of fear.” The Marquis glanced over us, assembled in our fine evening attire, sipping our wine. Abruptly, he demanded: “Do you understand me? Yes, I suffered a horrible fright that endured perhaps ten minutes, but a fright of such a fashion that since that hour, a sort of constant terror stays with me in my soul itself. Unexpected noises make me shudder; objects that I cannot see clearly in the shadows of the evening give me a crazy notion of running from them to save myself.” The old man took a deep breath. “To be blunt,” he said, “I am afraid of the night.” We regarded him with wonder: his age, his unwaveringly aristocratic demeanor, the quiver in his speech all testified to the fact of the story he was about to tell us. Yes, the Marquis’ story was going to be, like the sense of nobility and honor that defined him, undeniably true.
2 “ Oh!” he said, half-laughingly. “I would never have admitted to any of this before having attained my present age. Now that I’m an old man, I can tell all. It’s permissible to fear imaginary dangers when one is eighty-two years old.” Then, giving us a slight bow of his noble head, he insisted, “Gentlemen, you all know me. Ladies, to you I will explain that when faced with real dangers, I have never once backed down.” We nodded. Was it out of politeness? A tribute to the old man’s rank and former military valor? No one doubted his nature, his reputation, or his word. And all of us stared at him, spellbound by the melancholy manner of his speech, his somber elegance, his venerable presence itself. We were his. We would not interrupt him. “This story,” he went on, after a sigh, “this event has so distressed my spirit, has thrown me into a troublesomeness of mind so profound, so mysterious, so appalling that I have never told it. I have kept it at the bottom of my heart, in that place where one hides painful secrets, shameful secrets, all the unconfessed weaknesses that we encounter in our lives. “I am going to tell you the adventure as it occurred, without seeking to explain it. It is certainly explainable, at least if I’d had—how shall I say this?—my own hour of insanity. But no, I was not insane, and I will prove it to you. Imagine what you wish. Here are the facts, plain and simple. “It was in 1827, in the month of July, and I was a young officer garrisoned at Rouen. One day, as I was walking along the dock, I encountered a man whom I thought I recognized without my being able to recall who he was. By sheer instinct, I slowed my pace. The stranger noticed my gesture, looked closely at me, and fell into my arms. “He was a friend from my youth whom I had genuinely loved. I had not seen him for five years; he seemed to have aged half a century. His hair was completely white, and he walked as if he was exhausted, his shoulders bent and bowed. He understood my surprise at his aged appearance, and he told me about his life. A terrible sadness had shattered him. “Having fallen head over heels in love with a young woman, he had married her in a sort of ecstasy of happiness. After only one year of joy that surpassed even the truest love and the most unappeasable passion, she died suddenly of a heart condition, killed by love itself, no doubt.
3 “He left his country estate the same day that his young wife was buried, and he came to live in his townhouse in Rouen. He lived there, solitary and desperate, tortured by sadness, so miserable that he thought of nothing but suicide. “ ‘Since I’ve found you again,’ he said to me, ‘I will ask you to do me a great favor—to go to my country house and to look in the secretary in my bedroom . . . our bedroom for several papers which I need urgently. I can’t give this task to a servant or a businessman, as the utmost discretion and absolute silence are necessary. For my own part, nothing in this world could make me re-enter that house. “ ‘I will give you the key to this bedroom, which I closed myself in leaving, and the key to the secretary. And I’ll give you a note to my gardener asking him to open the house for you. But come have lunch with me tomorrow, and we will arrange all of this.’ “I promised him that I’d render him this favor, which was only a slight one; it was no more than a short journey for me, as his country estate was situated only about five miles from Rouen. “At ten o’clock the next day, I went to his house in Rouen. We lunched tête-àtête (face to face), though he hardly spoke twenty words. He begged me to excuse him; the thought of the visit that I was to make in this bedroom, where his happiness once lay, upset him, he told me. To me, he seemed strangely agitated, preoccupied, as if something mysterious battled in his soul. “Finally, he explained to me exactly what I needed to do. It was very simple. I was to take two packets of letters and one closed bundle of papers in the first drawer on the right hand side of the desk, to which I had the key. “He added: ‘I don’t need to ask you not to read any of them.’ “I was hurt by his remark, and I told him so a bit harshly. After all, I am a marquis. I was an officer and a gentleman! How dare he suspect me of doing anything further than the simple favor he had requested? “He stammered, ‘Pardon me. I suffer too much.” And the poor man began to cry. “At about one o’clock that afternoon, I left to accomplish my mission for my old friend. The weather was beautiful, and I rode my horse at a high trot across the fields, listening to the songs of the larks and the rhythmic noise of my saber hitting my boot. Then I entered the forest, and I walked my mount. Branches of trees caressed my face,
4 and once in a while, I snatched a leaf with my teeth, and I chewed it eagerly in one of those moments of joies de vivre [joy of living], which fill you—you don’t know why— with a quick, tumultuous happiness as ephemeral as being suddenly drunk with power. “Approaching my friend’s country estate, I searched in my pocket for the letter which I was to give to the gardener, and I noticed with astonishment that the letter was sealed! What? Did my childhood friend suspect that I’d read his letter to his gardener, too? Oh! My sense of honor was so terribly insulted that I very nearly headed back to Rouen without accomplishing my mission. But then I thought that by doing so, I would simply be showing too much touchiness over bad taste. My friend might have closed and sealed the letter by habit, not to keep me from reading it, particularly considering the troubled state he was in. “The country manor seemed as if it had been abandoned for twenty years. The gate, open and deteriorated, still managed to stand, though I don’t know how it did so. Grass had covered all the walkways; one could no longer distinguish the flower beds on the lawn. “When I made a noise by kicking a shutter, and old man came out of a side door and appeared stupefied to see me. I dismounted and handed him the letter. He read it, reread it, turned it over in his hands, looked me over from head to toe, put the letter in his pocked, and announced, ‘Ah, well! What is it that you want here?” “I responded brusquely, ‘You should know, since you have received your master’s orders within the contents of that letter. I want to enter the manor house.’ “He seemed overwhelmed. He declared, ‘Then you are going in . . . into the bedroom?” I began to get impatient. “ ‘Damn you, servant! Is it your intention to interrogate me, by chance?’ “He stammered, ‘No . . . Monsieur . . . but it’s just that . . . it’s just that the room hasn’t been opened since . . . since the . . . death. If you want to wait for me for five minutes, I am going to go . . . to go see if . . . ‘ “I interrupted him with anger. ‘Ah! We’ll see about that! Is this some attempt of yours to run me off? You know very well that you cannot enter that bedroom, since I have the key myself!’
5 “He did not know what else to say. ‘Very well, Monsieur,’ he said to me, ‘I’ll show you the way.’ “ ‘Show me the staircase and leave me alone. I will find the room well enough without you.” “ ‘But . . . Monsieur . . . however . . . ‘ “This time, I sidestepped him and said, ‘You are addressing a marquis, my good man. Now, be quiet, eh? Or else you’ll have to deal with me!’ “I dismissed him rudely and went into the house. First, I crossed the kitchen, then two little rooms that this man lived in with his wife. I went through a large hallway, I climbed the stairs, and I recognized the bedroom door as described by my friend. “I opened the door with no trouble at all and went into the room.
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Alice Long, Ph.D. English Language Learning
Copyright TygerBlue~Dorian Press MMXIII