Works, by Guy de Maupassant

The Substitute

“Madame Bonderoi?”

“Yes, Madame Bonderoi.”

“Impossible.”

“I tell you it is.”

Madame Bonderoi, the old lady in a lace cap, the devout, the holy, the honorable Madame Bonderoi, whose little false curls looked as if they were glued round her head.

“That is the very woman.”

“Oh! Come, you must be mad.”

“I swear to you that it is Madame Bonderoi.”

“Then please give me the details.”

“Here they are. During the life of Monsieur Bonderoi, the lawyer, people said that she utilized his clerks for her own particular service. She is one of those respectable middle-class women, with secret vices, and inflexible principles, of whom there are so many. She liked good-looking young fellows, and I should like to know what is more natural than that? Do not we all like pretty girls?”

“As soon as old Bonderoi was dead, his widow began to live the peaceful and irreproachable life of a woman with a fair, fixed income. She went to church assiduously, and spoke evil of her neighbors, but gave no handle to anyone for speaking ill of her, and when she grew old she became the little wizened, sour-faced, mischievous woman whom you know. Well, this adventure, which you would scarcely believe, happened last Friday.

“My friend, Jean d’Anglemare, is, as you know, a captain in a dragoon regiment, who is quartered in the barracks in the Rue de la Rivette, and when he got to his quarters the other morning, he found that two men of his squadron had had a terrible quarrel. The rules about military honor are very severe, and so a duel took place between them. After the duel they became reconciled, and when their officer questioned them, they told him what their quarrel had been about. They had fought on Madame Bonderoi’s account.”

“Oh!”

“Yes, my dear fellow, about Madame Bonderoi.”

“But I will let Trooper Siballe speak.”

“This is how it was, Captain. About a year and a half ago, I was lounging about the barrack-yard, between six and seven o’clock in the evening, when a woman came up and spoke to me, and said, just as if she had been asking her way: ‘Soldier, would you like to earn ten francs a week, honestly?’ Of course, I told her that I decidedly should, and so she said: ‘Come and see me at twelve o’clock tomorrow morning. I am Madame Bonderoi, and my address is No. 6, Rue de la Tranchée.’ ‘You may rely upon my being there, Madame.’ And then she went away, looking very pleased, and she added: ‘I am very much obliged to you, soldier.’ ‘I am obliged to you, Madame,’ I replied. But I plagued my head about the matter, until the time came, all the same.

“At twelve o’clock, exactly, I rang the bell, and she let me in herself. She had a lot of ribbons on her head.

“‘We must make haste,’ she said; ‘as my servant might come in.’

“‘I am quite willing to make haste,’ I replied, ‘but what am I to do?’

“But she only laughed, and replied: ‘Don’t you understand, you great knowing fellow?’

“I was no nearer her meaning, I give you my word of honor, Captain, but she came and sat down by me, and said:

“‘If you mention this to anyone, I will have you put in prison, so swear that you will never open your lips about it.’

“I swore whatever she liked, though I did not at all understand what she meant, and my forehead was covered with perspiration, so I took my pocket-handkerchief out of my helmet, and she took it and wiped my brow with it; then she kissed me, and whispered: ‘Then you will?’ ‘I will do anything you like, Madame,’ I replied, ‘as that is what I came for.’

“Then she made herself clearly understood by her actions, and when I saw what it was, I put my helmet onto a chair, and showed her that in the dragoons a man never retires, Captain.

“Not that I cared much about it, for she was certainly not in her prime, but it is no good being too particular in such a matter, as ten francs are scarce, and then I have relations whom I like to help, and I said to myself: ‘There will be five francs for my father, out of that.’

“When I had done my allotted task, Captain, I got ready to go, though she wanted me to stop longer, but I said to her:

“‘To everyone their due, Madame. A small glass of brandy costs two sous, and two glasses cost four.’

“She understood my meaning, and put a gold ten-franc piece into my hand. I do not like that coin, because it is so small that if your pockets are not very well made, and come at all unsewn, one is apt to find it in one’s boots, or not to find it at all, and so, while I was looking at it, she was looking at me. She got red in the face, as she had misunderstood my looks, and she said: ‘Is not that enough?’

“‘I did not mean that, Madame,’ I replied; ‘but if it is all the same to you, I would rather have two five-franc pieces.’ And she gave them to me, and I took my leave. This has been going on for a year and a half, Captain. I go every Tuesday evening, when you give me leave to go out of barracks; she prefers that, as her servant has gone to bed then, but last week I was not well, and I had to go into the infirmary. When Tuesday came, I could not get out, and I was very vexed, because of the ten francs which I had been receiving every week, and I said to myself:

“‘If anybody goes there, I shall be done; and she will be sure to take an artilleryman, and that made me very angry. So I sent for Paumelle, who comes from my part of the country, and I told him how matters stood:

“‘There will be five francs for you, and five for me,’ I said. He agreed, and went, as I had given him full instructions. She opened the door as soon as he knocked, and let him in, and as she did not look at his face, she did not perceive that it was not I, for, you know, Captain, one dragoon is very like another, with their helmets on.

“Suddenly, however, she noticed the change, and she asked, angrily: ‘Who are you? What do you want? I do not know you.’

“Then Paumelle explained matters; he told her that I was not well, and that I had sent him as my substitute; so she looked at him, made him also swear to keep the matter secret, and then she accepted him, as you may suppose, for Paumelle is not a bad-looking fellow, either. But when he came back, Captain, he would not give me my five francs. If they had been for myself, I should not have said a word, but they were for my father, and on that score, I would stand no nonsense, and I said to him:

“‘You are not particular in what you do, for a dragoon; you are a discredit to your uniform.’

“He raised his fist, Captain, saying that fatigue duty like that was worth double. Of course, everybody has his own ideas, and he ought not to have accepted it. You know the rest.”

“Captain d’Anglemare laughed until he cried as he told me the story, but he also made me promise to keep the matter a secret, just as he had promised the two soldiers. So, above all, do not betray me, but promise me to keep it to yourself.”

“Oh! You may be quite easy about that. But how was it all arranged, in the end?”

“How? It is a joke in a thousand! . . . Mother Bonderoi keeps her two dragoons, and reserves his own particular day for each of them, and in that way everybody is satisfied.”

“Oh! That is capital! Really capital!”

“And he can send his old father and mother the money as usual, and thus morality is satisfied.”

http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/m/maupassant/guy/works/chapter116.html

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