Une Vie, by Guy de Maupassant

Chapter 13

Jeanne in Paris

Two hours later the carriage stopped at a little brick house built in the middle of a lot planted with pear trees at the side of the high road.

Four trellised arbors covered with honeysuckle and clematis formed the four corners of the garden, which was divided into little beds of vegetables separated by narrow paths bordered with fruit trees.

A very high box hedge enclosed the whole property, which was separated by a field from the neighboring farm. There was a blacksmith’s shop about a hundred feet further along the road. There were no other houses within three-quarters of a mile.

The house commanded a view of the level district of Caux, covered with farms surrounded by their four double rows of tall trees which enclosed the courtyard planted with apple trees.

As soon as they reached the house, Jeanne wanted to rest; but Rosalie would not allow her to do so for fear she would begin to think of the past.

The carpenter from Goderville was there, and they began at once to place the furniture that had already arrived while waiting for the last load. This required a good deal of thought and planning.

At the end of an hour the wagon appeared at the gate and had to be unloaded in the rain. When night fell the house was in utter disorder, with things piled up anyhow. Jeanne, tired out, fell asleep as soon as she got into bed.

She had no time to mourn for some days, as there was so much to be done. She even took a certain pleasure in making her new house look pretty, the thought that her son would come back there haunting her continually. The tapestries from her old room were hung in the dining-room, which also had to serve as a parlor; and she took special pains with one of the two rooms on the first floor, which she thought of as “Poulet’s room.”

She kept the other room herself, Rosalie sleeping above, next to the loft. The little house, furnished with care, was very pretty, and Jeanne was happy there at first, although she seemed to lack something, but she did not know what.

One morning the lawyer’s clerk from Fécamp brought her three thousand six hundred francs, the price of the furniture left at “The Poplars,” and valued by an upholsterer. She had a little thrill of pleasure at receiving this money, and as soon as the man had gone, she ran to put on her hat, so as to get to Goderville as quickly as possible to send Paul this unexpected sum.

But as she was hurrying along the high road she met Rosalie coming from market. The servant suspected something, without at once guessing the facts; and when she discovered them, for Jeanne could hide nothing from her, she placed her basket on the ground that she might get angry with more comfort.

She began to scold with her fists on her hips; then taking hold of her mistress with her right arm and taking her basket in her left, and still fuming, she continued on her way to the house.

As soon as they were in the house the servant asked to have the money handed over to her. Jeanne gave all but six hundred francs, which she held back; but Rosalie soon saw through her tricks, and she was obliged to hand it all over. However, she consented to her sending this amount to the young man.

A few days later he wrote: “You have rendered me a great service, my dear mother, for we were in the greatest distress.”

Jeanne, however, could not get accustomed to Batteville. It seemed to her as if she could not breathe as she did formerly, that she was more lonely, more deserted, more lost than ever. She went out for a walk, got as far as the hamlet of Verneuil, came back by the Trois-Mares, came home, then suddenly wanted to start out again, as if she had forgotten to go to the very place she intended.

And every day she did the same thing without knowing why. But one evening a thought came to her unconsciously which revealed to her the secret of her restlessness. She said as she was sitting down to dinner: “Oh, how I long to see the sea!”

That was what she had missed so greatly, the sea, her big neighbor for twenty-five years, the sea with its salt air, its rages, its scolding voice, its strong breezes, the sea which she sought from her window at “The Poplars” every morning, whose air she breathed day and night, the sea which she felt close to her, which she had taken to loving unconsciously as she would a person.

Winter was approaching, and Jeanne felt herself overcome by an unconquerable discouragement. It was not one of those acute griefs which seemed to wring the heart, but a dreary, mournful sadness.

Nothing roused her. No one paid any attention to her. The high road before her door stretched to right and left with hardly any passersby. Occasionally a dogcart passed rapidly, driven by a red-faced man, with his blouse puffed out by the wind, making a sort of blue balloon; sometimes a slow-moving wagon, or else two peasants, a man and a woman, who came near, passed by, and disappeared in the distance.

As soon as the grass began to grow again, a young girl in a short skirt passed by the gate every morning with two thin cows who browsed along the side of the road. She came back every evening with the same sleepy face, making a step every ten minutes as she walked behind the animals.

Jeanne dreamed every night that she was still at “The Poplars.” She seemed to be there with father and little mother, and sometimes even with Aunt Lison. She did over again things forgotten and done with, thought she was supporting Madame Adelaide in her walk along the avenue. And each awakening was attended with tears.

She thought continually of Paul, wondering what he was doing — how he was — whether he sometimes thought of her. As she walked slowly in the by-roads between the farms, she thought over all these things which tormented her, but above all else, she cherished an intense jealousy of the woman who had stolen her son from her. It was this hatred alone which prevented her from taking any steps, from going to look for him, to see him. It seemed to her that she saw that woman standing on the doorsill asking: “What do you want here, madame?” Her mother’s pride revolted at the possibility of such a meeting. And her haughty pride of a good woman whose character is blameless made her all the more indignant at the cowardice of a man subjugated by an unworthy passion.

When autumn returned with its long rains, its gray sky, its dark clouds, such a weariness of this kind of life came over her that she determined to make a great effort to get her Poulet back; he must have got over his infatuation by this time.

She wrote him an imploring letter:

“My Dear Child: I am going to entreat you to come back to me. Remember that I am old and delicate, all alone the whole year round except for a servant maid. I am now living in a little house on the main road. It is very lonely, but if you were here all would be different for me. I have only you in the world, and I have not seen you for seven years! You were my life, my dream, my only hope, my one love, and you failed me, you deserted me!

“Oh, come back, my little Poulet — come and embrace me. Come back to your old mother, who holds out her despairing arms towards you.

“Jeanne.”

He replied a few days later:

“My Dear Mother: I would ask nothing better than to go and see you, but I have not a penny. Send me some money and I will come. I wanted, in any case, to see you to talk to you about a plan that would make it possible for me to do as you ask.

“The disinterestedness and love of the one who has been my companion in the dark days through which I have passed can never be forgotten by me. It is not possible for me to remain any longer without publicly recognizing her love and her faithful devotion. She has very pleasing manners, which you would appreciate. She is also educated and reads a good deal. In fact, you cannot understand what she has been to me. I should be a brute if I did not show her my gratitude. I am going, therefore, to ask you to give me your permission to marry her. You will forgive all my follies and we will all live together in your new house.

“If you knew her you would at once give your consent. I can assure you that she is perfect and very distingué. You will love her, I am sure. As for me, I could not live without her.

“I shall expect your reply with impatience, my dear mother, and we both embrace you with all our heart.

“Your son,

“Vicomte Paul de Lamare.”

Jeanne was crushed. She remained motionless, the letter on her lap, seeing through the cunning of this girl who had had such a hold on her son for so long, and had not let him come to see her once, biding her time until the despairing old mother could no longer resist the desire to clasp her son in her arms, and would weaken and grant all they asked.

And grief at Paul’s persistent preference for this creature wrung her heart. She said: “He does not love me. He does not love me.”

Rosalie just then entered the room. Jeanne faltered: “He wants to marry her now.”

The maid was startled. “Oh, madame, you will not allow that. M. Paul must not pick up that rubbish.”

And Jeanne, overcome with emotion, but indignant, replied: “Never that, my girl. And as he will not come here, I am going to see him, myself, and we shall see which of us will carry the day.”

She wrote at once to Paul to prepare him for her visit, and to arrange to meet him elsewhere than in the house inhabited by that baggage.

While awaiting a reply she made her preparations for departure. Rosalie began to pack her mistress’ clothes in an old trunk, but as she was folding a dress, one of those she had worn in the country, she exclaimed: “Why, you have nothing to put on your back. I will not allow you to go like that. You would be a disgrace to everyone; and the Parisian ladies would take you for a servant.”

Jeanne let her have her own way, and the two women went together to Goderville to choose some material, which was given a dressmaker in the village. Then they went to the lawyer, M. Roussel, who spent a fortnight in the capital every year, in order to get some information; for Jeanne had not been in Paris for twenty-eight years.

He gave them lots of advice on how to avoid being run over, on methods of protecting yourself from thieves, advising her to sew her money up inside the lining of her coat, and to keep in her pocket only what she absolutely needed. He spoke at length about moderate priced restaurants, and mentioned two or three patronized by women, and told them that they might mention his name at the Hotel Normandie.

Jeanne had never yet seen the railroad, though trains had been running between Paris and Havre for six years, and were revolutionizing the whole country.

She received no answer from Paul, although she waited a week, then two weeks, going every morning to meet the postman, asking him hesitatingly: “Is there anything for me, Père Malandain?” And the man always replied in his hoarse voice: “Nothing again, my good lady.”

It certainly must be this woman who was keeping Paul from writing.

Jeanne, therefore, determined to set out at once. She wanted to take Rosalie with her, but the maid refused for fear of increasing the expense of the journey. She did not allow her mistress to take more than three hundred francs, saying: “If you need more you can write to me and I will go to the lawyer and ask him to send it to you. If I give you any more, M. Paul will put it in his pocket.”

One December morning Denis Lecoq came for them in his light wagon and took them to the station. Jeanne wept as she kissed Rosalie good-by, and got into the train. Rosalie was also affected and said: “Good-by, madame, bon voyage, and come back soon!”

“Good-by, my girl.”

A whistle and the train was off, beginning slowly and gradually going with a speed that terrified Jeanne. In her compartment there were two gentlemen leaning back in the two corners of the carriage.

She looked at the country as they swept past, the trees, the farms, the villages, feeling herself carried into a new life, into a new world that was no longer the life of her tranquil youth and of her present monotonous existence.

She reached Paris that evening. A commissionaire took her trunk and she followed him in great fear, jostled by the crowd and not knowing how to make her way amid this mass of moving humanity, almost running to keep up with the man for fear of losing sight of him.

On reaching the hotel she said at the desk: “I was recommended here by M. Roussel.”

The proprietress, an immense woman with a serious face, who was seated at the desk, inquired:

“Who is he — M. Roussel?”

Jeanne replied in amazement: “Why, he is the lawyer at Goderville, who stops here every year.”

“That’s very possible,” said the big woman, “but I do not know him. Do you wish a room?”

“Yes, madame.”

A boy took her satchel and led the way upstairs. She felt a pang at her heart. Sitting down at a little table she sent for some luncheon, as she had eaten nothing since daybreak. As she ate, she was thinking sadly of a thousand things, recalling her stay here on the return from her wedding journey, and the first indication of Julien’s character betrayed while they were in Paris. But she was young then, and confident and brave. Now she felt old, embarrassed, even timid, weak and disturbed at trifles. When she had finished her luncheon she went over to the window and looked down on the street filled with people. She wished to go out, but was afraid to do so. She would surely get lost. She went to bed, but the noise, the feeling of being in a strange city, kept her awake. About two o’clock in the morning, just as she was dozing off, she heard a woman scream in an adjoining room; she sat up in bed and then she thought she heard a man laugh. As daylight dawned the thought of Paul came to her, and she dressed herself before it was light.

Paul lived in the Rue du Sauvage, in the old town. She wanted to go there on foot so as to carry out Rosalie’s economical advice. The weather was delightful, the air cold enough to make her skin tingle. People were hurrying along the sidewalks. She walked as fast as she could, according to directions given her, along a street, at the end of which she was to turn to the right and then to the left, when she would come to a square where she must make fresh inquiries. She did not find the square, and went into a baker’s to ask her way, and he directed her differently. She started off again, went astray, inquired her way again, and finally got lost completely.

Half crazy, she now walked at random. She had made up her mind to call a cab, when she caught sight of the Seine. She then walked along the quays.

After about an hour she found the Rue Sauvage, a sort of dark alley. She stopped at a door, so overcome that she could not move.

He was there, in that house — Poulet.

She felt her knees and hands trembling; but at last she entered the door, and walking along a passage, saw the janitor’s quarters. She said, as she held out a piece of money: “Would you go up and tell M. Paul de Lamare that an old lady, a friend of his mother’s, is downstairs, and wishes to see him?”

“He does not live here any longer, madame,” replied the janitor.

A shudder went over her. She faltered:

“Oh! Where — where is he living now?”

“I do not know.”

She grew dizzy as though she were about to fall over, and stood there for some moments without being able to speak. At length, with a great effort, she collected her senses and murmured:

“How long is it since he left?”

“About two weeks ago. They went off like that, one evening, and never came back. They were in debt everywhere in the neighborhood, so you can understand that they did not care to leave their address.”

Jeanne saw lights before her eyes, flashes of flame, as though a gun had been fired off in front of her eyes. But she had one fixed idea in her mind, and that sustained her, and kept her outwardly calm and rational. She wished to find Poulet and know all about him.

“Then he said nothing when he was going away?”

“Nothing at all; they ran off to escape their debts, that’s all.”

“But he surely sends someone to get his mail.”

“More frequently than I send it. He never got more than ten letters a year. I took one up to them, however, two days before they left.”

That was probably her letter. She said abruptly: “Listen! I am his mother, his own mother, and I have come to look for him. Here are ten francs for you. If you can get any news or any particulars about him, come and see me at the Hotel Normandie, Rue du Havre, and I will pay you well.”

“You may count on me, madame,” he replied.

She left him and began to walk away without caring whither she went. She hurried along as though she were on some important business, knocking up against people with packages, crossing the streets without paying attention to the approaching vehicles, and being sworn at by the drivers, stumbling on the curb of the sidewalk, and tearing along straight ahead in utter despair.

All at once she found herself in a garden, and was so tired that she sat down on a bench to rest. She stayed there some time apparently, weeping without being conscious of it, for passersby stopped to look at her. Then she felt very cold, and rose to go on her way; but her legs would scarcely carry her, she was so weak and distressed.

She wanted to go into a restaurant and get a cup of bouillon, but a sort of shame, of fear, of modesty at her grief being observed held her back. She would pause at the door, look in, see all the people sitting at table eating, and would turn away, saying: “I will go into the next one.” But she had not the courage.

Finally she went into a bakery and bought a crescent and ate it as she walked along. She was very thirsty, but did not know where to go to get something to drink, so did without it.

Presently she found herself in another garden surrounded by arcades. She recognized the Palais Royal. Being tired and warm, she sat down here for an hour or two.

A crowd of people came in, a well-dressed crowd, chatting, smiling, bowing to each other, that happy crowd of beautiful women and wealthy men who live only for dress and amusement. Jeanne felt bewildered in the midst of this brilliant assemblage, and got up to make her escape. But suddenly the thought came to her that she might meet Paul in this place; and she began to wander about, looking into the faces, going and coming incessantly with her quick step from one end of the garden to the other.

People turned round to look at her, others laughed as they pointed her out. She noticed it and fled, thinking that they were doubtless amused at her appearance and at her dress of green plaid, selected by Rosalie, and made according to her ideas by the dressmaker at Goderville.

She no longer dared even to ask her way of passersby, but at last she ventured to do so and found her way back to the hotel.

The following day she went to the police department to ask them to look for her child. They could promise her nothing, but said they would do all they could. She wandered about the streets hoping that she might come across him. And she felt more alone in this bustling crowd, more lost, more wretched than in the lonely country.

That evening when she came back to the hotel she was informed that a man had come to see her from M. Paul, and that he would come back again the following day. Her heart began to beat violently and she never closed her eyes that night. If it should be he! Yes, it assuredly was, although she would not have recognized him from the description they gave her.

About nine o’clock the following morning there was a knock at the door. She cried: “Come in!” ready to throw herself into certain outstretched arms. But an unknown person appeared; and while he excused himself for disturbing her, and explained his business, which was to collect a debt of Paul’s, she felt the tears beginning to overflow, and wiped them away with her finger before they fell on her cheeks.

He had learned of her arrival through the janitor of the Rue Sauvage, and as he could not find the young man, he had come to see his mother. He handed her a paper, which she took without knowing what she was doing and read the figures — ninety francs — which she paid without a word.

She did not go out that day.

The next day other creditors came. She gave them all that she had left except twenty francs and then wrote to Rosalie to explain matters to her.

She passed her days wandering about, waiting for Rosalie’s answer, not knowing what to do, how to kill the melancholy, interminable hours, having no one to whom she could say an affectionate word, no one who knew her sorrow. She now longed to return home to her little house at the side of the lonely high road. A few days before she thought she could not live there, she was so overcome with grief, and now she felt that she could never live anywhere else but there where her serious character had been formed.

One evening the letter at last came, enclosing two hundred francs. Rosalie wrote:

“Madame Jeanne: Come back at once, for I shall not send you any more. As for M. Paul, it is I who will go and get him when we know where he is.

“With respect, your servant,

“Rosalie.”

Jeanne set out for Batteville one very cold, snowy morning.

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Last updated Friday, March 7, 2014 at 23:09