Works, by Guy de Maupassant

Under the Yoke

As he was a man of quiet and regular habits, and of a simple and affectionate disposition, and had nothing to disturb the even tenor of his life, Monsieur de Loubancourt suffered more than most men do from his widowerhood. He regretted his lost happiness, was angry with fate, which separated united couples so brutally, and which made choice of a tranquil existence, whose sleepy quietude had not hitherto been troubled by any cares or chimeras, in order to rob it of its happiness.

Had he been younger, he might, perhaps, have been tempted to form a new line, to fill up the vacant place, and to marry again. But when a man is nearly sixty, such ideas make people laugh, for they have something ridiculous and insane about them; and so he dragged on his dull and weary existence, escaped from all those familiar objects which constantly recalled the past to him, and went from hotel to hotel without taking an interest in anything, without becoming intimate with anyone, even temporarily; inconsolable, silent, almost enigmatical, and looking funereal in his eternal black clothes.

He was generally alone, though on rare occasions he was accompanied by his only son, who used to yawn by stealth, and who seemed to be mentally counting the hours, as if he were performing some hateful, enforced duty in spite of himself.

Two years of this crystallization went past, and one was as monotonous, and as void of incident, as the other.

One evening, however, in a boarding-house at Cannes, where he was staying on his wanderings, there was a young woman dressed in mourning, among the new arrivals, who sat next to him at dinner. She had a sad, pale face, that told of suffering, a beautiful figure, and large, blue eyes with deep rings round them, but which, nevertheless, looked like the first star which shines in the twilight.

All remarked her, although he usually took no notice of women, no matter whatever they were, ugly or pretty; he looked at her and listened to her. He felt less lonely by her side, though he did not know why. He trembled with instinctive and confused happiness, just as if in some distant country he had found some female friend or relative, who at last would understand him, tell him some news, and talk to him in his dear native language about everything that a man leaves behind him when he exiles himself from home.

What strange affinity had thrown them together thus? What secret forces had brought their grief in contact? What made him so sanguine and so calm, and incited him to take her suddenly into his confidences, and urged him on to resistless curiosity?

She was an experienced traveler, who had no illusions, and was in search of adventures; one of those women who frequently change their name, and who, as they have made up their minds to swindle if luck is not on their side, act a continual part, an adventuress, who could put on every accent; who for the sake of her course, transformed herself into a Slav, or into an American, or simply into a provincial; who was ready to take part in any comedy in order to make money, and not to be obliged to waste her strength and her brains on fruitless struggles or on wretched expedients. Thus she immediately guessed the state of this melancholy sexagenarian’s mind, and the illusions which attracted him to her, and scented the spoils which offered themselves to her cupidity of their own accord, and divined under what guise she ought to show herself, to make herself accepted and loved.

She initiated him into depths of grief which were unknown to him, by phrases which were cut short by sighs, by fragments of her story, which she finished by a disgusted shrug of the shoulders, and a heartrending smile, and by insensibly exciting his feelings. In a word, she triumphed over the last remaining doubts, which might still have mingled with the affectionate pity with which that poor, solitary heart, which, so full of bitterness, overflowed.

And so, for the first time since he had become a widower, the old man confided in another person, poured out his old heart into that soul which seemed to be so like his own, which seemed to offer him a refuge where he could be cheered up, and where the wounds of his heart could be healed, and he longed to throw himself into those sisterly arms, to dry his tears and to exercise his grief there.

Monsieur de Loubancourt, who had married at twenty-five, as much from love as from judgment, had lived quietly and peacefully in the country, much more than in Paris. He was ignorant of the female wiles of temptations, offered to creatures like Wanda Pulska, who was made up of lies, and only cared for pleasure, a virgin soil on which any seed will grow.

She attached herself to him, became his shadow, and by degrees, part of his life. She showed herself to be a charitable woman who devoted herself to an unhappy man, who endeavored to console him, and who, in spite of her youth, was willing to be the inseparable companion of the old man in his slow, daily walks. She never appeared to tire of his anecdotes and reminiscences, and she played cards with him. She waited on him carefully when he was confined to his bed, appeared to have no sex, and transformed herself; and though she handled him skillfully, she seemed ingenuous and ignorant of evil. She acted like an innocent young girl, who had just been confirmed; but for all that, she chose dangerous hours and certain spots in which to be sentimental and to ask questions which agitated and disconcerted him, and abandoned her slender fingers to his feverish hands, which pressed and held them in a tender clasp.

And then, there were wild declarations of love, prayers and sobs which frightened her; wild adieux, which were not followed by his departure, but which brought about a touching reconciliation and the first kiss, and then, one night, while they were traveling together, he forced open the door of her bedroom at the hotel, which she had locked, and came in like a mad man. There was the phantom of violence, and the fallacious submission of a woman, who was overcome by so much tenderness, who rebelled no longer, but who accepted the yoke of her master and lover. And then, the conquest of the body after the conquest of the heart, which forged his chain link by link, pleasures which besot and corrupt old men, and dry up their brains, until at last he allowed himself to be induced, almost unconsciously, to make an odious and stupid will.

Informed, perhaps, by anonymous letters, or astonished because his father kept him altogether at a distance from him, and gave no signs of life, Monsieur de Loubancourt’s son joined them in Provence. But Wanda Pulska, who had been preparing for that attack for a long time, waited for it fearlessly.

She did not seem disconcerted at that sudden visit, but was very charming and affable towards the new comer, reassured him by her careless airs of a girl, who took life as it came, and who was suffering from the consequences of a fault, and did not trouble her head about the future.

He envied his father, and grudged him such a treasure. Although he had come to combat her dangerous influence, and to treat the woman, who had assumed the place of death, and who governed her lover as his sovereign mistress, as an enemy, he shrunk from his task, panted with desire, lost his head, and thought of nothing but treason and of an odious partnership.

She managed him even more easily than she had managed Monsieur de Loubancourt, molded him just as she chose; made him her tool, without even giving him the tips of her fingers, or granting him the slightest favor, induced him to be so imprudent, that the old man grew jealous, watched them, discovered the intrigue, and found mad letters in which his son was angry, begged, threatened and implored.

One evening, when she knew that her lover had come in, and was hiding in a dark cupboard in order to watch them, Wanda happened to be alone in the drawing-room, which was full of light, of beautiful flowers, with this young fellow, five-and-twenty. He threw himself at her feet and declared his love, and besought her to run away with him, and when she tried to bring him to reason and repulsed him, and told him in a loud and very distinct voice, how she loved Monsieur de Loubancourt, he seized her wrists with brutal violence, and maddened with passion and stammering words of love and lust, he pushed her towards one of the couches.

“Let me go,” she said, “let me go immediately, . . . You are a brute to take advantage of a woman like that. . . . Please let me go, or I shall call the servants to my assistance.”

The next moment, the old man, terrible in his rage, rushed out of his hiding place with clenched fists and a slobbering mouth, threw himself on the startled son, and pointing to the door with a superb gesture, he said:

“You are a dirty scoundrel, sir. Get out of my house immediately, and never let me see you again!”

The comedy was over. Grateful for such fidelity and real affection, Monsieur de Loubancourt married Wanda Pulska, whose name appeared on the civil register — which was a detail of no importance to a man who was in love — as Frida Krubstein; she came from Saxony, and had been a servant at an inn. Then he disinherited his son, as far as he could.1

1 According to French law, nobody can altogether disinherit a child, and no son or daughter can be “cut off” with a “proverbial shilling.”]

And now that she is a respectable and respected widow, Madame de Loubancourt is received everywhere by society in those places of winter resort where people’s by-gone history is so rarely gone into, and where women bear a name, who are pretty, and who can waltz — like the Germans can, are always well received.

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