Yvette, by Guy de Maupassant

Chapter 3

Enlightenment

Yvette, also, could not sleep. Like her mother, she leaned upon the sill of the open window, and tears, her first bitter tears, filled her eyes. Up to this time she had lived, had grown up, in the heedless and serene confidence of happy youth. Why should she have dreamed, reflected, puzzled? Why should she not have been a young girl, like all other young girls? Why should a doubt, a fear, or painful suspicion have come to her?

She seemed posted on all topics because she had a way of talking on all subjects, because she had taken the tone, demeanor, and words of the people who lived around her. But she really knew no more than a little girl raised in a convent; her audacities of speech came from her memory, from that unconscious faculty of imitation and assimilation which women possess, and not from a mind instructed and emboldened.

She spoke of love as the son of a painter or a musician would, at the age of ten or twelve years, speak of painting or music. She knew or rather suspected very well what sort of mystery this word concealed; — too many jokes had been whispered before her, for her innocence not to be a trifle enlightened, — but how could she have drawn the conclusion from all this, that all families did not resemble hers?

They kissed her mother’s hand with the semblance of respect; all their friends had titles; they all were rich or seemed to be so; they all spoke familiarly of the princes of the royal line. Two sons of kings had even come often, in the evening, to the Marquise’s house. How should she have known?

And, then, she was naturally artless. She did not estimate or sum up people as her mother, did. She lived tranquilly, too joyous in her life to worry herself about what might appear suspicious to creatures more calm, thoughtful, reserved, less cordial, and sunny.

But now, all at once, Servigny, by a few words, the brutality of which she felt without understanding them, awakened in her a sudden disquietude, unreasoning at first, but which grew into a tormenting apprehension. She had fled home, had escaped like a wounded animal, wounded in fact most deeply by those words which she ceaselessly repeated to get all their sense and bearing: “You know very well that there can be no question of marriage between us — but only of love.”

What did he mean? And why this insult? Was she then in ignorance of something, some secret, some shame? She was the only one ignorant of it, no doubt. But what could she do? She was frightened, startled, as a person is when he discovers some hidden infamy, some treason of a beloved friend, one of those heart-disasters which crush.

She dreamed, reflected, puzzled, wept, consumed by fears and suspicions. Then her joyous young soul reassuring itself, she began to plan an adventure, to imagine an abnormal and dramatic situation, founded on the recollections of all the poetical romances she had read. She recalled all the moving catastrophes, or sad and touching stories; she jumbled them together, and concocted a story of her own with which she interpreted the half-understood mystery which enveloped her life.

She was no longer cast down. She dreamed, she lifted veils, she imagined unlikely complications, a thousand singular, terrible things, seductive, nevertheless, by their very strangeness. Could she be, by chance, the natural daughter of a prince? Had her poor mother, betrayed and deserted, made Marquise by some king, perhaps King Victor Emmanuel, been obliged to take flight before the anger of the family? Was she not rather a child abandoned by its relations, who were noble and illustrious, the fruit of a clandestine love, taken in by the Marquise, who had adopted and brought her up?

Still other suppositions passed through her mind. She accepted or rejected them according to the dictates of her fancy. She was moved to pity over her own case, happy at the bottom of her heart, and sad also, taking a sort of satisfaction in becoming a sort of a heroine of a book who must: assume a noble attitude, worthy of herself.

She laid out the part she must play, according to events at which she guessed. She vaguely outlined this role, like one of Scribe’s or of George Sand’s. It should be endued with devotion, self- abnegation, greatness of soul, tenderness; and fine words. Her pliant nature almost rejoiced in this new attitude. She pondered almost till evening what she should do, wondering how she should manage to wrest the truth from the Marquise.

And when night came, favorable to tragic situations, she had thought out a simple and subtile trick to obtain what she wanted: it was, brusquely, to say that Servigny had asked for her hand in marriage.

At this news, Madame Obardi, taken by surprise, would certainly let a word escape her lips, a cry which would throw light into the mind of her daughter. And Yvette had accomplished her plan.

She expected an explosion of astonishment, an expansion of love, a confidence full of gestures and tears. But, instead of this, her mother, without appearing stupefied or grieved, had only seemed bored; and from the constrained, discontented, and worried tone in which she had replied, the young girl, in whom there suddenly awaked all the astuteness, keenness, and sharpness of a woman, understanding that she must not insist, that the mystery was of another nature, that it would be painful to her to learn it, and that she must puzzle it out all alone, had gone back to her room, her heart oppressed, her soul in distress, possessed now with the apprehensions of a real misfortune, without knowing exactly either whence or why this emotion came to her. So she wept, leaning at the window.

She wept long, not dreaming of anything now, not seeking to discover anything more, and little by little, weariness overcoming her, she closed her eyes. She dozed for a few minutes, with that deep sleep of people who are tired out and have not the energy to undress and go to bed, that heavy sleep, broken by dreams, when the head nods upon the breast.

She did not go to bed until the first break of day, when the cold of the morning, chilling her, compelled her to leave the window.

The next day and the day after, she maintained a reserved and melancholy attitude. Her thoughts were busy; she was learning to spy out, to guess at conclusions, to reason. A light, still vague, seemed to illumine men and things around her in a new manner; she began to entertain suspicions against all, against everything that she had believed, against her mother. She imagined all sorts of things during these two days. She considered all the possibilities, taking the most extreme resolutions with the suddenness of her changeable and unrestrained nature. Wednesday she hit upon a plan, an entire schedule of conduct and a system of spying. She rose Thursday morning with the resolve to be very sharp and armed against everybody.

She determined even to take for her motto these two words: “Myself alone,” and she pondered for more than an hour how she should arrange them to produce a good effect engraved about her crest, on her writing paper.

Saval and Servigny arrived at ten o’clock. The young girl gave her hand with reserve, without embarrassment, and in a tone, familiar though grave, she said:

“Good morning, Muscade, are you well?” “Good morning, Mam’zelle, fairly, thanks, and you?” He was watching her. “What comedy will she play me,” he said to himself.

The Marquise having taken Saval’s arm, he took Yvette’s, and they began to stroll about the lawn, appearing and disappearing every minute, behind the clumps of trees.

Yvette walked with a thoughtful air, looking at the gravel of the pathway, appearing hardly to hear what her companion said and scarcely answering him.

Suddenly she asked: “Are you truly my friend, Muscade?”

“Why, of course, Mam’zelle.”

“But truly, truly, now?”

“Absolutely your friend, Mam’zelle, body and soul.”

“Even enough of a friend not to lie to me once, just once?”

“Even twice, if necessary.”

“Even enough to tell me the absolute, exact truth?”

“Yes, Mam’zelle.”

“Well, what do you think, way down in your heart, of the Prince of Kravalow?”

“Ah, the devil!”

“You see that you are already preparing to lie.”

“Not at all, but I am seeking the words, the proper words. Great Heavens, Prince Kravalow is a Russian, who speaks Russian, who was born in Russia, who has perhaps had a passport to come to France, and about whom there is nothing false but his name and title.”

She looked him in the eyes: “You mean that he is —?”

“An adventurer, Mam’zelle.”

“Thank you, and Chevalier Valreali is no better?” “You have hit it.”

“And Monsieur de Belvigne?”

“With him it is a different thing. He is of provincial society, honorable up to a certain point, but only a little scorched from having lived too rapidly.”

“And you?”

“I am what they call a butterfly, a man of good family, who had intelligence and who has squandered it in making phrases, who had good health and who has injured it by dissipation, who had some worth perhaps and who has scattered it by doing nothing. There is left to me a certain knowledge of life, a complete absence of prejudice, a large contempt for mankind, including women, a very deep sentiment of the uselessness of my acts and a vast tolerance for the mob.”

“Nevertheless, at times, I can be frank, and I am even capable of affection, as you could see, if you would. With these defects and qualities I place myself at your orders, Mam’zelle, morally and physically, to do what you please with me.”

She did not laugh; she listened, weighing his words and his intentions; then she resumed:

“What do you think of the Countess de Lammy?”

He replied, vivaciously: “You will permit me not to give my opinion about the women.”

“About none of them?”

“About none of them.” “Then you must have a bad opinion of them all. Come, think; won’t you make a single exception?”

He sneered with that insolent air which he generally wore; and with that brutal audacity which he used as a weapon, he said: “Present company is always excepted.”

She blushed a little, but calmly asked: “Well, what do you think of me?”

“You want me to tell. Well, so be it. I think you are a young person of good sense, and practicalness, or if you prefer, of good practical sense, who knows very well how to arrange her pastime, to amuse people, to hide her views, to lay her snares, and who, without hurrying, awaits events.”

“Is that all?” she asked.

“That’s all.”

Then she said with a serious earnestness: “I shall make you change that opinion, Muscade.”

Then she joined her mother, who was proceeding with short steps, her head down, with that manner assumed in talking very low, while walking, of very intimate and very sweet things. As she advanced she drew shapes in the sand, letters perhaps, with the point of her sunshade, and she spoke, without looking at Saval, long, softly, leaning on his arm, pressed against him.

Yvette suddenly fixed her eyes upon her, and a suspicion, rather a feeling than a doubt, passed through her mind as a shadow of a cloud driven by the wind passes over the ground.

The bell rang for breakfast. It was silent and almost gloomy. There was a storm in the air. Great solid clouds rested upon the horizon, mute and heavy, but charged with a tempest. As soon as they had taken their coffee on the terrace, the Marquise asked:

“Well, darling, are you going to take a walk today with your friend Servigny? It is a good time to enjoy the coolness under the trees.”

Yvette gave her a quick glance.

“No, mamma, I am not going out to-day.”

The Marquise appeared annoyed, and insisted. “Oh, go and take a stroll, my child, it is excellent for you.”

Then Yvette distinctly said: “No, mamma, I shall stay in the house to-day, and you know very well why, because I told you the other evening.”

Madame Obardi gave it no further thought, preoccupied with the thought of remaining alone with Saval. She blushed and was annoyed, disturbed on her own account, not knowing how she could find a free hour or two. She stammered:

“It is true. I was not thinking of it. I don’t know where my head is.”

And Yvette taking up some embroidery, which she called “the public safety,” and at which she worked five or six times a year, on dull days, seated herself on a low chair near her mother, while the two young men, astride folding-chairs, smoked their cigars.

The hours passed in a languid conversation. The Marquise fidgety, cast longing glances at Saval, seeking some pretext, some means, of getting rid of her daughter. She finally realized that she would not succeed, and not knowing what ruse to employ, she said to Servigny: “You know, my dear Duke, that I am going to keep you both this evening. To-morrow we shall breakfast at the Fournaise restaurant, at Chaton.”

He understood, smiled, and bowed: “I am at your orders, Marquise.”

The day wore on slowly and painfully under the threatenings of the storm. The hour for dinner gradually approached. The heavy sky was filled with slow and heavy clouds. There was not a breath of air stirring. The evening meal was silent, too. An oppression, an embarrassment, a sort of vague fear, seemed to make the two men and the two women mute.

When the covers were removed, they sat long upon the terrace; only speaking at long intervals. Night fell, a sultry night. Suddenly the horizon was torn by an immense flash of lightning, which illumined with a dazzling and wan light the four faces shrouded in darkness. Then a far-off sound, heavy and feeble, like the rumbling of a carriage upon a bridge, passed over the earth; and it seemed that the heat of the atmosphere increased, that the air suddenly became more oppressive, and the silence of the evening deeper.

Yvette rose. “I am going to bed,” she said, “the storm makes me ill.”

And she offered her brow to the Marquise, gave her hand to the two young men, and withdrew.

As her room was just above the terrace, the leaves of a great chestnut-tree growing before the door soon gleamed with a green hue, and Servigny kept his eyes fixed on this pale light in the foliage, in which at times he thought he saw a shadow pass. But suddenly the light went out. Madame Obardi gave a great sigh.

“My daughter has gone to bed,” she said.

Servigny rose, saying: “I am going to do as much, Marquise, if you will permit me.” He kissed the hand she held out to him and disappeared in turn.

She was left alone with Saval, in the night. In a moment she was clasped in his arms. Then, although he tried to prevent her, she kneeled before him murmuring: “I want to see you by the lightning flashes.”

But Yvette, her candle snuffed out, had returned to her balcony, barefoot, gliding like a shadow, and she listened, consumed by an unhappy and confused suspicion. She could not see, as she was above them, on the roof of the terrace.

She heard nothing but a murmur of voices, and her heart beat so fast that she could actually hear its throbbing. A window closed on the floor above her. Servigny, then, must have just gone up to his room. Her mother was alone with the other man.

A second flash of lightning, clearing the sky; lighted up for a second all the landscape she knew so well, with a startling and sinister gleam, and she saw the great river, with the color of melted lead, as a river appears in dreams in fantastic scenes.

Just then a voice below her uttered the words: “I love you!” And she heard nothing more. A strange shudder passed over her body, and her soul shivered in frightful distress. A heavy, infinite silence, which seemed eternal, hung over the world. She could no longer breathe, her breast oppressed by something unknown and horrible. Another flash of lightning illumined space, lighting up the horizon for an instant, then another almost immediately came, followed by still others. And the voice, which she had already heard, repeated more loudly: “Oh! how I love you! how I love you!” And Yvette recognized the voice; it was her mother’s.

A large drop of warm rain fell upon her brow, and a slight and almost imperceptible motion ran through the leaves, the quivering of the rain which was now beginning. Then a noise came from afar, a confused sound, like that of the wind in the branches: it was the deluge descending in sheets on earth and river and trees. In a few minutes the water poured about her, covering her, drenching her like a shower-bath. She did not move, thinking only of what was happening on the terrace.

She heard them get up and go to their rooms. Doors were closed within the house; and the young girl, yielding to an irresistible desire to learn what was going on, a desire which maddened and tortured her, glided downstairs, softly opened the outer door, and, crossing the lawn under the furious downpour, ran and hid in a clump of trees, to look at the windows.

Only one window was lighted, her mother’s. And suddenly two shadows appeared in the luminous square, two shadows, side by side. Then distracted, without reflection, without knowing what she was doing, she screamed with all her might, in a shrill voice: “Mamma!” as a person would cry out to warn people in danger of death.

Her desperate cry was lost in the noise of the rain, but the couple separated, disturbed. And one of the shadows disappeared, while the other tried to discover something, peering through the darkness of the garden.

Fearing to be surprised, or to meet her mother at that moment, Yvette rushed back to the house, ran upstairs, dripping wet, and shut herself in her room, resolved to open her door to no one.

Without taking, off her streaming dress, which clung to her form, she fell on her knees, with clasped hands, in her distress imploring some superhuman protection, the mysterious aid of Heaven, the unknown support which a person seeks in hours of tears and despair.

The great lightning flashes threw for an instant their livid reflections into her room, and she saw herself in the mirror of her wardrobe, with her wet and disheveled hair, looking so strange that she did not recognize herself. She remained there so long that the storm abated without her perceiving it. The rain ceased, a light filled the sky, still obscured with clouds, and a mild, balmy, delicious freshness, a freshness of grass and wet leaves, came in through the open window.

Yvette rose, took off her wet, cold garments, without thinking what she was doing, and went to bed. She stared with fixed eyes at the dawning day. Then she wept again, and then she began to think.

Her mother! A lover! What a shame! She had read so many books in which women, even mothers, had overstepped the bounds of propriety, to regain their honor at the pages of the climax, that she was not astonished beyond measure at finding herself enveloped in a drama similar to all those of her reading. The violence of her first grief, the cruel shock of surprise, had already worn off a little, in the confused remembrance of analogous situations. Her mind had rambled among such tragic adventures, painted by the novel-writers, that the horrible discovery seemed, little by little, like the natural continuation of some serial story, begun the evening before.

She said to herself: “I will save my mother.” And almost reassured by this heroic resolution, she felt herself strengthened, ready at once for the devotion and the struggle. She reflected on the means which must be employed. A single one seemed good, which was quite in keeping with her romantic nature. And she rehearsed the interview which she should have with the Marquise, as an actor rehearses the scene which he is going to play.

The sun had risen. The servants were stirring about the house. The chambermaid came with the chocolate. Yvette put the tray on the table and said:

“You will say to my mother that I am not well, that I am going to stay in bed until those gentlemen leave, that I could not sleep last night, and that I do not want to be disturbed because I am going to try to rest.”

The servant, surprised, looked at the wet dress, which had fallen like a rag on the carpet.

“So Mademoiselle has been out?” she said.

“Yes, I went out for a walk in the rain to refresh myself.”

The maid picked up the skirts, stockings, and wet shoes; then she went away carrying on her arm, with fastidious precautions, these garments, soaked as the clothes of a drowned person. And Yvette waited, well knowing that her mother would come to her.

The Marquise entered, having jumped from her bed at the first words of the chambermaid, for a suspicion had possessed her, heart since that cry: “Mamma!” heard in the dark.

“What is the matter?” she said.

Yvette looked at her and stammered: “I— I— ” Then overpowered by a sudden and terrible emotion, she began to choke.

The Marquise, astonished, again asked: “What in the world is the matter with you?”

Then, forgetting all her plans and prepared phrases, the young girl hid her face in both hands and stammered:

“Oh! mamma! Oh! mamma!”

Madame Obardi stood by the bed, too much affected thoroughly to understand, but guessing almost everything, with that subtile instinct whence she derived her strength. As Yvette could not speak, choked with tears, her mother, worn out finally and feeling some fearful explanation coming, brusquely asked:

“Come, will you tell me what the matter is?”

Yvette could hardly utter the words: “Oh! last night — I saw — your window.”

The Marquise, very pale; said: “Well? what of it?”

Her daughter repeated, still sobbing: “Oh! mamma! Oh! mamma!”

Madame Obardi, whose fear and embarrassment turned to anger, shrugged her shoulders and turned to go. “I really believe that you are crazy. When this ends, you will let me know.”

But the young girl, suddenly took her hands from her face, which was streaming with tears.

“No, listen, I must speak to you, listen. You must promise me — we must both go, away, very far off, into the country, and we must live like the country people; and no one must know what has become of us. Say you will, mamma; I beg you, I implore you; will you?”

The Marquise, confused, stood in the middle of the room. She had in her veins the irascible blood of the common people. Then a sense of shame, a mother’s modesty, mingled with a vague sentiment of fear and the exasperation of a passionate woman whose love is threatened, and she shuddered, ready to ask for pardon, or to yield to some violence.

“I don’t understand you,” she said.

Yvette replied:

“I saw you, mamma, last night. You cannot — if you knew — we will both go away. I will love you so much that you will forget — ”

Madame Obardi said in a trembling voice: “Listen, my, daughter, there are some things which you do not yet understand. Well, don’t forget — don’t forget-that I forbid you ever to speak to me about those things.”

But the young girl, brusquely taking the role of savior which she had imposed upon herself, rejoined:

“No, mamma, I am no longer a child, and I have the right to know. I know that we receive persons of bad repute, adventurers, and I know that, on that account, people do not respect us. I know more. Well, it must not be, any longer, do you hear? I do not wish it. We will go away: you will sell your jewels; we will work, if need be, and we will live as honest women, somewhere very far away. And if I can marry, so much the better.”

She answered: “You are crazy. You will do me the favor to rise and come down to breakfast with all the rest.”

“No, mamma. There is some one whom I shall never see again, you understand me. I want him to leave, or I shall leave. You shall choose between him and me.”

She was sitting up in bed, and she raised her voice, speaking as they do on the stage, playing, finally, the drama which she had dreamed, almost forgetting her grief in the effort to fulfill her mission.

The Marquise, stupefied, again repeated: “You are crazy — ” not finding anything else to say.

Yvette replied with a theatrical energy: “No, mamma, that man shall leave the house, or I shall go myself, for I will not weaken.”

“And where will you go? What will you do?”

“I do not know, it matters little — I want you to be an honest woman.”

These words which recurred, aroused in the Marquise a perfect fury, and she cried:

“Be silent. I do not permit you to talk to me like that. I am as good as anybody else, do you understand? I lead a certain sort of life, it is true, and I am proud of it; the ‘honest women’ are not as good as I am.”

Yvette, astonished, looked at her, and stammered: “Oh! mammal”

But the Marquise, carried away with excitement, continued:

“Yes, I lead a certain life — what of it? Otherwise you would be a cook, as I was once, and earn thirty sous a day. You would be washing dishes, and your mistress would send you to market — do you understand — and she would turn you out if you loitered, just as you loiter, now because I am — because I lead this life. Listen. When a person is only a nursemaid, a poor girl, with fifty francs saved up, she must know how to manage, if she does not want to starve to death; and there are not two ways for us, there are not two ways, do you understand, when we are servants. We cannot make our fortune with official positions, nor with stockjobbing tricks. We have only one way — only one way.”

She struck her breast as a penitent at the confessional, and flushed and excited, coming toward the bed, she continued: “So much the worse. A pretty girl must live or suffer — she has no choice!” Then returning to her former idea: “Much they deny themselves, your ‘honest women.’ They are worse, because nothing compels them. They have money to live on and amuse themselves, and they choose vicious lives of their own accord. They are the bad ones in reality.”

She was standing near the bed of the distracted Yvette, who wanted to cry out “Help,” to escape. Yvette wept aloud, like children who are whipped. The Marquise was silent and looked at her daughter, and, seeing her overwhelmed with despair, felt, herself, the pangs of grief, remorse, tenderness, and pity, and throwing herself upon the bed with open arms, she also began to sob and stammered:

“My poor little girl, my poor little girl, if you knew, how you were hurting me.” And they wept together, a long while.

Then the Marquise, in whom grief could not long endure, softly rose, and gently said:

“Come, darling, it is unavoidable; what would you have? Nothing can be changed now. We must take life as it comes to us.”

Yvette continued to weep. The blow had been too harsh and too unexpected to permit her to reflect and to recover at once.

Her mother resumed: “Now, get up and come down to breakfast, so that no one will notice anything.”

The young girl shook her head as if to say, “No,” without being able to speak. Then she said, with a slow voice full of sobs:

“No, mamma, you know what I said, I won’t alter my determination. I shall not leave my room till they have gone. I never want to see one of those people again, never, never. If they come back, you will see no more of me.”

The Marquise had dried her eyes, and wearied with emotion, she murmured:

“Come, reflect, be reasonable.”

Then, after a moment’s silence:

“Yes, you had better rest this morning. I will come up to see you this afternoon.” And having kissed her daughter on the forehead, she went to dress herself, already calmed.

Yvette, as soon as her mother had disappeared, rose, and ran to bolt the door, to be alone, all alone; then she began to think. The chambermaid knocked about eleven o’clock, and asked through the door: “Madame the Marquise wants to know if Mademoiselle wishes anything, and what she will take for her breakfast.”

Yvette answered: “I am not hungry, I only ask not to be disturbed.”

And she remained in bed, just as if she had been ill. Toward three o’clock, some one knocked again. She asked:

“Who is there?”

It was her mother’s voice which replied: “It is I, darling, I have come to see how you are.”

She hesitated what she should do. She opened the door, and then went back to bed. The Marquise approached, and, speaking in low tones, as people do to a convalescent, said:

“Well, are you better? Won’t you eat an egg?”

“No, thanks, nothing at all.”

Madame Obardi sat down near the bed. They remained without saying anything, then, finally, as her daughter stayed quiet, with her hands inert upon the bedclothes, she asked:

“Don’t you intend to get up?”

Yvette answered: “Yes, pretty soon.”

Then in a grave and slow tone she said: “I have thought a great deal, mamma, and this — this is my resolution. The past is the past, let us speak no more of it. But the future shall be different or I know what is left for me to do. Now, let us say no more about it.”

The Marquise, who thought the explanation finished, felt her impatience gaining a little. It was too much. This big goose of a girl ought to have known about things long ago. But she did not say anything in reply, only repeating:

“You are going to get up?”

“Yes, I am ready.”

Then her mother became maid for her, bringing her stockings, her corset, and her skirts. Then she kissed her.

“Will you take a walk before dinner?”

“Yes, mamma.”

And they took a stroll along the water, speaking only of commonplace things.

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