Works, by Guy de Maupassant

The Odalisque of Senichou

In Senichou, which is a suburb of Prague, there lived about twenty years ago, two poor but honest people, who earned their bread by the sweat of their brow; he worked in a large printing establishment, and his wife employed her spare time as a laundress. Their pride, and their only pleasure, was their daughter Viteska, who was a vigorous, voluptuous-looking, handsome girl of eighteen, whom they brought up very well and carefully. She worked for a dress-maker, and was thus able to help her parents a little, and she made use of her leisure moments to improve her education, and especially her music. She was a general favorite in the neighborhood on account of her quiet modest demeanor, and she was looked upon as a model by the whole suburb.

When she went to work in the town, the tall girl with her magnificent head, which resembled that of an ancient, Bohemian Amazon, with its wealth of black hair, and her dark, sparkling yet soft eyes, attracted the looks of passers-by, in spite of her shabby dress, much more than the graceful, well-dressed ladies of the aristocracy. Frequently some young, wealthy lounger would follow her home; and even try to get into conversation with her, but she always managed to get rid of them and their importunities, and she did not require any protector, for she was quite capable of protecting herself from any insults.

One evening, however, she met a man on the suspension bridge, whose strange appearance made her give him a look which evinced some interest, but perhaps even more surprise. He was a tall, handsome man with bright eyes and a black beard; he was very sunburnt, and in his long coat, which was like a caftan, with a red fez on his head, he gave those who saw him the impression of an Oriental; he had noticed her look all the more as he himself had been so struck by her poor, and at the same time regal, appearance, that he remained standing and looking at her in such a way, that he seemed to be devouring her with his eyes, so that Viteska, who was usually so fearless, looked down. She hurried on and he followed her, and the quicker she walked, the more rapidly he followed her, and, at last, when they were in a narrow, dark street in the suburb, he suddenly said in an insinuating voice: “May I offer you my arm, my pretty girl?” “You can see that I am old enough to look after myself,” Viteska replied hastily; “I am much obliged to you, and must beg you not to follow me any more; I am known in this neighborhood, and it might damage my reputation.” “Oh! You are very much mistaken if you think you will get rid of me so easily,” he replied. “I have just come from the East and am returning there soon, come with me, and as I fancy that you are as sensible as you are beautiful, you will certainly make your fortune there, and I will bet that before the end of a year, you will be covered with diamonds, and be waited on by eunuchs and female slaves.”

“I am a respectable girl, sir,” she replied proudly, and tried to go on in front, but the stranger was immediately at her side again. “You were born to rule,” he whispered to her. “Believe me, and I understand the matter, that you will live to be a Sultaness, if you have any luck.” The girl did not give him any answer, but walked on. “But, at any rate, listen to me,” the tempter continued. “I will not listen to anything; because I am poor, you think it will be easy for you to seduce me,” Viteska exclaimed: “but I am as virtuous as I am poor, and I should despise any position which I had to buy with shame.” They had reached the little house where her parents lived, and she ran in quickly, and slammed the door behind her.

When she went into the town the next morning, the stranger was waiting at the corner of the street where she lived, and bowed to her very respectfully. “Allow me to speak a few words with you,” he began. “I feel that I ought to beg your pardon for my behavior yesterday.” “Please let me go on my way quietly,” the girl replied. “What will the neighbors think of me?” “I did not know you,” he went on, without paying any attention to her angry looks, “but your extraordinary beauty attracted me. Now that I know that you are as virtuous as you are charming, I wish very much to become better acquainted with you. Believe me, I have the most honorable intentions.”

Unfortunately, the bold stranger had taken the girl’s fancy, and she could not find it in her heart to refuse him. “If you are really in earnest,” she stammered in charming confusion, “do not follow me about in the public streets, but come to my parents’ house like a man of honor, and state your intentions there.” “I will certainly do so, and immediately, if you like,” the stranger replied, eagerly. “No, no,” Viteska said; “but come this evening if you like.”

The stranger bowed and left her, and really called on her parents in the evening. He introduced himself as Ireneus Krisapolis, a merchant from Smyrna, spoke of his brilliant circumstances, and finally declared that he loved Viteska passionately. “That is all very nice and right,” the cautious father replied, “but what will it all lead to? Under no circumstances can I allow you to visit my daughter. Such a passion as yours often dies out as quickly as it arises, and a respectable girl is easily robbed of her virtue.” “And suppose I make up my mind to marry your daughter?” the stranger asked, after a moment’s hesitation. “Then I shall refer you to my child, for I shall never force Viteska to marry against her will,” her father said.

The stranger seized the pretty girl’s hand, and spoke in glowing terms of his love for her, of the luxury with which she would be surrounded in his house, of the wonders of the East, to which he hoped to take her, and at last Viteska consented to become his wife. Thereupon the stranger hurried on the arrangements for the wedding, in a manner that made the most favorable impression on them all, and during the time before their marriage he lay at her feet like her humble slave.

As soon as they were married, the newly-married couple set off on their journey to Smyrna and promised to write as soon as they got there, but a month, then two and three, passed without the parents, whose anxiety increased every day, receiving a line from them, until at last the father in terror applied to the police.

The first thing was to write to the Consul at Smyrna for information: his reply was to the effect that no merchant of the name of Ireneus Krisapolis was known in Smyrna, and that he had never been there. The police, at the entreaties of the frantic parents, continued their investigations, but for a long time without any result. At last, however, they obtained a little light on the subject, but it was not at all satisfactory. The police at Pestle said that a man, whose personal appearance exactly agreed with the description of Viteska’s husband, had a short time before carried off two girls from the Hungarian capital, to Turkey, evidently intending to trade in that coveted, valuable commodity there, but that when he found that the authorities were on his track he had escaped from justice by a sudden flight.

Four years after Viteska’s mysterious disappearance, two persons, a man and a woman, met in a narrow street in Damascus, in a scarcely less strange manner, than when the Greek merchant met Viteska on the suspension bridge at Prague. The man with the black beard, the red fez, and the long, green caftan, was no one else than Ireneus Krisapolis; matters appeared to be going well with him; he had his hands comfortably thrust into the red shawl which he had round his waist, and a negro was walking behind him with a large parasol, while another carried his Chiloque after him. A noble Turkish lady met him in a litter borne by four slaves; she was wrapped like a ghost in a white veil, only that a pair of large, dark, threatening eyes flashed at the merchant.

He smiled, for he thought that he had found favor in the eyes of an Eastern houri, and that flattered him; but he soon lost sight of her in the crowd, and forgot her almost immediately. The next morning however, a eunuch of the pasha’s came to him, to his no small astonishment, and told him to come with him. He took him to the Sultan’s most powerful deputy, who ruled as an absolute despot in Damascus. They went through dark, narrow passages, and curtains were pushed aside, which rustled behind them again. At last they reached a large rotunda, the center of which was occupied by a beautiful fountain, while scarlet divans ran all around it. Here the eunuch told the merchant to wait, and left him. He was puzzling his brains what the meaning of it all could be, when suddenly a tall, commanding woman came into the apartment. Again a pair of large, threatening eyes looked at him through the veil, while he knew from her green, gold-embroidered caftan, that if it was not the pasha’s wife, it was at least one of his favorites, who was before him, and so he hurriedly knelt down, and crossing his hands on his breast, he put his head on to the ground before her. But a clear, diabolical laugh made him look up, and when the beautiful Odalisque threw back her veil, he uttered a cry of terror, for his wife, his deceived wife, whom he had sold, was standing before him.

“Do you know me?” she asked with quiet dignity. “Viteska!” “Yes, that was my name when I was your wife,” she replied quickly, in a contemptuous voice; “but now that I am the pasha’s wife, my name is Sarema. I do not suppose you ever expected to find me again, you wretch, when you sold me in Varna to an old Jewish profligate, who was only half alive. You see I have got into better hands, and I have made my fortune, as you said I should do. Well? What do you expect of me; what thanks, what reward?”

The wretched man was lying overwhelmed, at the feet of the woman whom he had so shamefully deceived, and could not find a word to say; he had felt that he was lost, and had not even got the courage to beg for mercy. “You deserve death, you miscreant,” Sarema continued. “You are in my hands, and I can do whatever I please with you, for the pasha has left your punishment to me alone. I ought to have you impaled, and to feast my eyes on your death agonies. That would be the smallest compensation for all the years of degradation that I have been through, and which I owe to you.” “Mercy, Viteska! Mercy!” the wretched man cried, trembling all over, and raising his hands to her in supplication.

The Odalisque’s only reply was a laugh, in which rang all the cruelty of an insulted woman’s deceived heart. It seemed to give her pleasure to see the man whom she had loved, and who had so shamefully trafficked in her beauty, in his mortal agony, as he cringed before her, whining for his life, as he clung to her knees, but at last she seemed to relent somewhat.

“I will give your life, you miserable wretch,” she said, “but you shall not go unpunished.” So saying, she clapped her hands, and four black eunuchs came in, and seized the favorite’s unfortunate husband and in a moment bound his hands and feet.

“I have altered my mind, and he shall not be put to death,” Sarema said, with a smile that made the traitor’s blood run cold in his veins; “but give him a hundred blows with the bastinade, and I will stand by and count them.” “For God’s sake,” the merchant screamed, “I can never endure it.” “We will see about that,” the favorite said, coldly, “and if you die under it, it was allotted you by fate; I am not going to retract my orders.”

She threw herself down on the cushions, and began to smoke a long pipe, which a female slave handed to her on her knees. At a sign from her the eunuchs tied the wretched man’s feet to the pole, by which the soles of the culprit were raised, and began the terrible punishment. Already at the tenth blow the merchant began to roar like a wild animal, but his wife whom he had betrayed, remained unmoved, carelessly blowing the blue wreaths of smoke into the air, and resting on her lovely arm, she watched his features, which were distorted by pain, with merciless enjoyment.

During the last blows he only groaned gently, and then he fainted.

A year later the dealer was caught with his female merchandise by the police in an Austrian town, and handed over to justice, when he made a full confession, and by that means the parents of the Odalisque of Senichou heard of their daughter’s position. As they knew that she was happy and surrounded by luxury, they made no attempt to get her out of the Pasha’s hands, who, like a thorough Mussulman, had become the slave of his slave.

The unfortunate husband was sent over to the frontier when he was released from prison. His shameful traffic, however, flourishes still, in spite of all the precautions of the police and of the consuls, and every year he provides the harems of the East with those voluptuous Boxclanas, especially from Bohemia and Hungary, who, in the eyes of a Mussulman, vie for the prize of beauty, with the slender Circassian women.

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