I WILL NOT RECORD THE NAME EITHER OF THE COUNTRY OR OF the man
concerned. It was far, very far from this part of the world, on a
fertile and scorching sea-coast. All morning we had been following
a coast clothed with crops and a blue sea clothed in sunlight.
Flowers thrust up their heads quite close to the waves, rippling
waves, so gentle, drowsing. It was hot--a relaxing heat, redolent
of the rich soil, damp and fruitful: one almost heard the rising of
I had been told that, in the evening, I could obtain hospitality in
the house of a Frenchman, who lived at the end of a headland, in an
orange grove. Who was he? I did not yet know. He had arrived one
morning, ten years ago; he had bought a piece of ground, planted
vines, sown seed; he had worked, this man, passionately, furiously.
l hen, month by month, year by year, increasing his demesne,
continually fertilising the lusty and virgin soil, he had in this
way amassed a fortune by his unsparing labour.
Yet he went on working, all the time, people said. Up at dawn,
going over his fields until night, always on the watch, he seemed
to be goaded by a fixed idea, tortured by an insatiable lust for
money, which nothing lulls to sleep, and nothing can appease.
Now he seemed to be very rich.
The sun was just setting when I reached his dwelling. This was,
indeed, built at the end of an out-thrust cliff, in the midst of
orange-trees. It was a large plain-looking house, built
four-square, and overlooking the sea.
As I approached, a man with a big beard appeared in the door way.
Greeting him, I asked him to give me shelter for the night. He held
out his hand to me, smiling.
"Come in, sir, and make yourself at home."
He led the way to a room, put a servant at my disposal, with the
perfect assurance and easy good manners of a man of the world; then
he left me, saying:
"We will dine as soon as you are quite ready to come down."
We did indeed dine alone, on a terrace facing the sea. At the
beginning of the meal, I spoke to him of this country, so rich, so
far from the world, so little known. He smiled, answering
"Yes, it is a beautiful country. But no country is attractive that
lies so far from the country of one's heart."
"You regret France?"
"I regret Paris."
"Why not go back to it?"
"Oh, I shall go back to it."
Then, quite naturally, we began to talk of French society, of the
boulevards, and people, and things of Paris. He questioned me after
the manner of a man who knew all about it, mentioning names, all
the names familiar on the Vaudeville promenade.
"Who goes to Tortoni's now?"
"All the same people, except those who have died."
I looked at him closely, haunted by a vague memory. Assuredly I had
seen this face somewhere. But where? but when? He seemed weary
though active, melancholy though determined. His big fair beard
fell to his chest, and now and then he took hold of it below the
chin and, holding it in his closed hand, let the whole length of it
run through his fingers. A little bald, he had heavy eyebrows and
a thick moustache that merged into the hair covering his cheeks.
Behind us the sun sank in the sea, flinging over the coast a fiery
haze. The orange-trees in full blossom filled the air with their
sweet, heady scent. He had eyes for nothing but me, and with his
intent gaze he seemed to peer through my eyes, to see in the depths
of my thoughts the far-off, familiar, and well-loved vision of the
wide, shady pavement that runs from the Madeleine to the Rue
"Do you know Boutrelle?"
"Is he much changed?"
"Yes, he has gone quite white."
"And La Ridamie?"
"Always the same."
"And the women? Tell me about the woman. Let me see, Do you know
"Yes, very stout. Done for."
"Ah! And Sophie Astier?"
"Poor girl! And is . . . do you know. . . ."
But he was abruptly silent. Then in a changed voice, his face grown
suddenly pale, he went on:
"No, it would be better for me not to speak of it any more, it
Then, as if to change the trend of his thoughts, he rose.
"Shall we go in?"
"I am quite ready."
And he preceded me into the house.
The rooms on the ground floor were enormous, bare, gloomy,
apparently deserted. Napkins and glasses were scattered about the
tables, left there by the swan-skinned servants who prowled about
this vast dwelling all the time. Two guns were hanging from two
nails on the wall, and in the corners I saw spades, fishing-lines,
dried palm leaves, objects of all kinds, deposited there by people
who happened to come into the house, and remaining there within
easy reach until someone happened to go out or until they were
wanted for a job of work.
My host smiled.
"It is the dwelling, or rather the hovel; of an exile," said he,
"but my room is rather more decent. Let's go there."
My first thought, when I entered the room, was that I was
penetrating into a second-hand dealer's, so full of things was it,
all the incongruous, strange, and varied things that one feels must
be mementoes. On the walls two excellent pictures by well-known
artists, hangings, weapons, swords and pistols, and then, right in
the middle of the most prominent panel, a square of white satin in
a gold frame.
Surprised, I went closer to look at it and I saw a hairpin stuck in
the centre of the gleaming material.
My host laid his hand on my shoulder.
"There," he said, with a smile, "is the only thing I ever look at
in this place, and the only one I have seen for ten years. Monsieur
Prudhomme declared: 'This sabre is the finest day of my life!' As
for me, I can say: 'This pin is the whole of my life!'"
I sought for the conventional phrase; I ended by saying:
"Some woman has made you suffer?"
He went on harshly:
"I suffer yet, and frightfully. . . . But come on to my balcony. A
name came to my lips just now, that I dared not utter, because if
you had answered 'dead,' as you did for Sophie Astier, I should
have blown out my brains, this very day."
We had gone out on to a wide balcony looking towards two deep
valleys, one on the right and the other on the left, shut in by
high sombre mountains. It was that twilight hour when the vanished
sun lights the earth only by its reflection in the sky.
"Is Jeanne de Limours still alive?"
His eye was fixed on mine, full of shuddering terror.
"Very much alive . . . and prettier than ever."
"You know her?"
He took my hand:
"Talk to me about her."
"But there is nothing I can say: she is one of the women, or rather
one of the most charming and expensive gay ladies in Paris. She
leads a pleasant and sumptuous life, and that's all one can say."
He murmured: "I love her," as if he had said: "I am dying." Then
"Ah, for three years, what a distracting and glorious life we
lived! Five or six times I all but killed her; she tried to pierce
my eyes with that pin at which you have been looking. There, look
at this little white speck on my left eye. We loved each other! How
can I explain such a passion? You would not understand it.
"There must be a gentle love, born of the swift mutual union of two
hearts and two souls; but assuredly there exists a savage love,
cruelly tormenting, born of the imperious force which binds
together two discordant beings who adore while they hate.
"That girl ruined me in three years. I had four millions which she
devoured quite placidly, in her indifferent fashion, crunching them
up with a sweet smile that seemed to die from her eyes on to her
"You know her? There is something irresistible about her. What is
it? I don't know. Is it those grey eyes whose glance thrusts like
a gimlet and remains in you like the barb of an arrow? It is rather
that sweet smile, indifferent and infinitely charming, that dwells
on her face like a mask. Little by little her slow grace invades
one, rises from her like a perfume, from her tall, slender body,
which sways a little as she moves, for she seems to glide rather
than walk, from her lovely, drawling voice that seems the music of
her smile, from the very motion of her body, too, a motion that is
always restrained, always just right, taking the eye with rapture,
so exquisitely proportioned it is. For three years I was conscious
of no one but her. How I suffered! For she deceived me with every
one. Why? For no reason, for the mere sake of deceiving. And when
I discovered it, when I abused her as a light-o'-love and a loose
woman, she admitted it calmly. 'We're not married, are we?' she
"Since I have been here, I have thought of her so much that I have
ended by understanding her: that woman is Manon Lescaut come again.
Manon could not love without betraying for Manon, love, pleasure,
and money were all one."
He was silent. Then, some minutes later:
"When I had squandered my last sou for her, she said to me quite
simply: 'You realise, my dear, that I cannot live on air and
sunshine. I love you madly, I love you more than anyone in the
world, but one must live. Poverty and I would never make good
"And if I did but tell you what an agonising life I had lead with
her! When I looked at her, I wanted to kill her as sharply as I
wanted to embrace her. When I looked at her . . . I felt a mad
impulse to open my arms, to take her to me and strangle her. There
lurked in her, behind her eyes, something treacherous and for ever
unattainable that made me execrate her; and it is perhaps because
of that that I loved her so. In her, the Feminine, the detestable
and distracting Feminine, was more puissant than in any other
woman. She was charged with it, surcharged as with an intoxicating
and venomous fluid. She was Woman, more essentially than any one
woman has ever been.
"And look you, when I went out with her, she fixed her glance on
every man, in such a way that she seemed to be giving each one of
them her undivided interest. That maddened me and yet held me to
her the closer. This woman, in the mere act of walking down the
street, was owned by every man in it, in spite of me, in spite of
herself, by virtue of her very nature, although she bore herself
with a quiet and modest air. Do you understand?
"And what torture! At the theatre, in the restaurant, it seemed to
me that men possessed her under my very eyes. And as soon as I left
her company, other men did indeed possess her.
"It is ten years since I have seen her, and I love her more then
Night had spread its wings upon the earth. The powerful scent of
orange-trees hung in the air.
I said to him:
"You will see her again?"
"By God, yes. I have here, in land and money, from seven to eight
hundred thousand francs. When the million is complete, I shall sell
all and depart. I shall have enough for one year with her--one
entire marvellous year. And then goodbye, my life will be over."
"Afterwards, I don't know. It will be the end. Perhaps I shall ask
her to keep me on as her body-servant."
If you should have comments,
suggestions or problems to share with us, or if you want to share information
as mentioned above, please click on this text.
Back to Classic Short Stories
Please address your comments to
Gary Lindquist, firstname.lastname@example.org
Page format and design (obviously not the stories) are|
B&L Associates, Renton, Washington, U.S.A.
All Rights Reserved.
Last Modified June 2, 1997.