Works, by Guy de Maupassant

Joseph

They were both of them drunk, quite drunk, little Baroness Andrée de la Fraisières and little Countess Noemi de Gardens. They had been dining alone together, in the large room which faced the sea. The soft breeze of a summer evening blew in at the open window, soft and fresh at the same time, a breeze that smelt of the sea. The two young women, extended in their lounging chairs, sipped their Chartreuse from time to time, as they smoked their cigarettes, and they were talking most confidentially, telling each other details which nothing but this charming intoxication could have induced their pretty lips to utter.

Their husbands had returned to Paris that afternoon, and had left them alone on that little deserted beach, which they had chosen so as to avoid those gallant marauders who are constantly met with in fashionable watering places. As they were absent for five days in the week, they objected to country excursions, luncheons on the grass, swimming lessons and those sudden familiarities which spring up in the idle life of watering places. Dieppe, Etratat, Trouville seemed to them to be places to be avoided, and they had rented a house which had been built and abandoned by an eccentric individual in the valley of Roqueville, near Fécamp, and there they buried their wives for the whole summer.

They were drunk. Not knowing what to hit upon to amuse themselves, the little Baroness had suggested a good dinner and champagne. To begin with, they had found great amusement in cooking this dinner themselves, and then they had eaten it merrily, and had drunk freely, in order to allay the thirst which the heat of the fire had excited. Now they were chatting and talking nonsense, while gently gargling their throats with Chartreuse. In fact they did not in the least know any longer what they were saying.

The Countess, with her legs in the air on the back of a chair, was further gone than her friend.

“To complete an evening like this,” she said, “we ought to have a lover apiece. If I had foreseen this some time ago, I would have sent for a couple from Paris, and I would have let you have one. . . . ” “I can always find one,” the other replied; “I could have one this very evening, if I wished.” “What nonsense! At Roqueville, my dear? It would have to be some peasant, then.” “No, not altogether.” “Well, tell me all about it.” “What do you want me to tell you?” “About your lover.” “My dear, I do not want to live without being loved, for I should fancy I was dead if I were not loved.” “So should I.” “Is not that so?” “Yes. Men cannot understand it! And especially our husbands!” “No, not in the least. How can you expect it to be different? The love which we want is made up of being spoilt, of gallantries and of pretty words and actions. That is the nourishment of our hearts; it is indispensable to our life, indispensable, indispensable. . . . ” “Indispensable.”

“I must feel that somebody is thinking of me, always, everywhere. When I go to sleep and when I wake up, I must know that somebody loves me somewhere, that I am being dreamt of, longed for. Without that, I should be wretched, wretched! Oh! yes, unhappy enough to do nothing but cry.” “I am just the same.”

“You must remember that anything else is impossible. When a husband has been nice for six months, or a year, or two years, he necessarily becomes a brute, yes, a regular brute. . . . He does not put himself out for anything, but shows himself just as he is, and makes a scene on the slightest provocation, or without any provocation whatever. One cannot love a man with whom one lives constantly.” “That is quite true.” “Isn’t it? . . . What was I saying? I cannot the least remember?” “You were saying that all husbands are brutes!” “Yes, brutes . . . all of them.” “That is quite true.” “And then?” “What do you mean?” “What was I saying just then?” “I don’t know because you did not say it!” “But I had something to tell you.” “Oh! yes, that is true; well? . . . ” “Oh! I have got it. . . . ” “Well, I am listening.” “I was telling you that I can find lovers everywhere.” “How do you manage it?” “Like this. Now follow me carefully. When I get to some fresh place, I take notes and make my choice.” “You make your choice?” “Yes, of course I do. First of all, I take notes. I ask questions. Above all, a man must be discreet, rich and generous; is not that so?” “It is quite true!” “And then he must please me, as a man.” “Of course.” “Then I bait the hook for him.” “You bait the hook?” “Yes, just as one does to catch fish. Have you never fished with a hook and line?” “No, never.” “You are wrong; It is very amusing, and besides that, it is instructive. Well then, I bait the hook. . . . ” “How do you do it?” “How stupid you are. Does not one catch the man one wants to catch, without their having any choice? And they really think that they choose . . . the fools . . . but it is we who choose . . . always. . . . Just think, when one is not ugly, nor stupid, as is the case with us, all men aspire to us, all . . . without exception. We look them over from morning till night, and when we have selected one, we fish for him. . . . ” “But that does not tell me how you do it?” “How I do it? . . . Why, I do nothing; I allow myself to be looked at, that is all.” “You allow yourself to be looked at? . . . ” “Why yes; that is quite enough. When one has allowed oneself to be looked at several times following, a man immediately thinks you the most lovely, most seductive of women, and then he begins to make love to you. I give him to understand that he is not so bad looking, without saying anything to him, of course, and he falls in love, like a dog. I have him fast, and it lasts a longer or a shorter time, according to his qualities.”

“And do you catch all whom you please, like that?” “Nearly all.” “Oh! So there are some who resist?” “Sometimes.” “Why?” “Oh! Why? A man is a Joseph for three reasons. Because he is in love with another woman. Because he is excessively timid, or because he is . . . how shall I say it? . . . incapable of carrying out the conquest of a woman to the end. . . . ” “Oh! my dear! . . . Do you really believe? . . . ” “I am sure of it. . . . There are many of this latter class, many, many . . . many more than people think. Oh! they look just like everybody else . . . they strut like peacocks. . . . No, when I said peacocks . . . I made a mistake, for they could not display themselves.” “Oh! my dear. . . . ” “As to the timid, they are sometimes unspeakably stupid. They are the sort of men, who ought not to undress themselves, even when they are going to bed alone, when there is a looking-glass in their room. With them, one must be energetic, make use of looks, and squeeze their hands, and even that is useless sometimes. They never know how or where to begin. When one faints in their presence . . . as a last resource . . . they try to bring you round . . . and if you do not recover your senses immediately . . . they go and get assistance.

“Those whom I prefer myself, are other women’s lovers. I carry them by assault . . . at . . . at . . . at the point of the bayonet, my dear!” “That is all very well, but when there are no men, like here, for instance?” “I find them!” “You find them. But where?” “Everywhere. But that reminds me of my story.

“Now listen. Just two years ago, my husband made me pass the summer on his estate at Bougrolles. There was nothing there . . . you know what I mean, nothing, nothing, nothing, whatever! In the neighboring country houses there were a few disgusting boors, who cared for nothing but shooting, and who lived in country houses which had not even a bathroom, men who perspire, go to bed covered with perspiration, and whom it would be impossible to improve, because their principles of life are dirty. Now just guess what I did!” “I cannot possibly.” “Ha! ha! ha! I had just been reading a number of George Sand’s novels which exalt the man of the people, novels in which the workmen are sublime, and all the men of the world are criminals. In addition to this I had seen Ruy Blas the winter before, and it had struck me very much. Well, one of our farmers had a son, a good-looking young fellow of two and twenty who had studied for a priest, but had left the seminary in disgust. Well, I took him as footman!” “Oh! . . . And then? . . . What afterwards?”

“Then . . . then, my dear, I treated him very haughtily, and showed him a good deal of my person. I did not entice this rustic on, I simply inflamed him! . . . ” “Oh! Andrée!” “Yes, and I enjoyed the fun very much. People say that servants count for nothing! Well he did not count for much. I used to ring to give him his orders every morning while my maid was dressing me, and every evening as well, while she was undressing me.” “Oh! Andrée!”

“My dear he caught fire like a thatched roof. Then, at meals, I used continually to talk about cleanliness, about taking care of one’s person, about baths and shower baths, until at the end of a fortnight he bathed in the river morning and night, and used to scent himself enough to poison the whole château. I was even obliged to forbid him to use perfumes, telling him, with furious looks, that men ought never to use scent except Eau de Cologne.”

“Oh! Andrée!”

“Then, I took it into my head to get together a library suitable to the country. I sent for a few hundred moral novels, which I lent to all our peasants, and all my servants. A few books . . . a few . . . poetical books . . . such as excite the mind of . . . schoolboys and schoolgirls . . . had found their way into my collection . . . and I gave them to my footman. That taught him life . . . a funny sort of life.” “Oh! Andrée!”

“Then I grew familiar with him, and used to say thou1 to him. I had given him the name of Joseph. And, my dear, he was in a state . . . in a terrible state. . . . He got as thin as . . . as a barn-door cock . . . and rolled his eyes like an idiot. I was extremely amused; it was one of the most delightful summers I ever spent. . . . ” “And then? . . . ” “Then? . . . Oh! yes. . . . Well, one day when my husband was away from home, I told him to order the basket carriage and to drive me into the woods. It was warm, very warm. . . . There!” “Oh Andrée, do tell me all about it. . . . It is so amusing. . . . ” “Here have a glass of Chartreuse, otherwise I shall empty the decanter myself. Well, I felt ill, on the road.” “How?” “You are very stupid. I told him that I was not feeling well, and that he must lay me on the grass, and when I was lying there, I told him I was choking, and that he must unlace me. And then, when I was unlaced, I fainted.” “Did you go right off?” “Oh! dear no, not the least.” “Well?”

1 The second person singular is used in French — as in German — amongst relations and intimate friends, and to servants. — TRANSLATOR.

“Well, I was obliged to remain unconscious for nearly an hour, as he could find no means of bringing me round. But I was very patient, and did not open my eyes.”

“Oh! Andrée! . . . And what did you say to him?” “I? Nothing at all! How was I to know anything, as I was unconscious? I thanked him, and told him to help me into the carriage, and he drove me back to the Château; but he nearly upset us in turning into the gate!” “Oh! Andrée! And is that all? . . . ” “That is all. . . . ” “You did not faint more than that once?” “Only once, of course! I did not want to take such a fellow for my lover.” “Did you keep him long after that?” “Yes, of course. I have him still. Why should I have sent him away? I had nothing to complain of.” “Oh! Andrée! And is he in love with you still?” “Of course he is.” “Where is he?”

The little Baroness put out her hand to the wall and touched the electric bell, and the door opened almost immediately, and a tall footman came in who diffused a scent of Eau de Cologne all round him. “Joseph,” she said to him, “I am afraid I am going to faint; send my lady’s maid to me.”

The man stood motionless, like a soldier before his officer, and fixed an ardent look on his mistress, who continued: “Go quickly, you great idiot, we are not in the wood today, and Rosalie will attend to me better than you would.” He turned on his heels and went, and the little Baroness asked nervously: “But what shall you say to your maid?” “I shall tell her what we have been doing! No, I shall merely get her to unlace me; it will relieve my chest, for I can scarcely breathe. I am drunk . . . my dear . . . so drunk that I should fall, if I were to get up from my chair.”

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