Works, by Guy de Maupassant

An Unfortunate Likeness

During one of those sudden changes of the electric light, which at one time throws rays of exquisite pale pink, at another a liquid gold, as if it had been filtered through the light hair of a woman, and at another, rays of a bluish hue with strange tints, such as the sky assumes at twilight, in which the women with their bare shoulders looked like living flowers — it was on the night of the first of January at Montonirail’s, the refined painter of great undulating poses figures, of brilliant dresses, of Parisian prettiness — that tall Pescarelle, whom some called Pussy, though I do not know why, suddenly said in a low voice:

“Well, people were not altogether mistaken, in fact, were only half wrong when they coupled my name with that of pretty Lucy Plonelle. She had captivated my heart, just as a bird-catcher on a frosty morning catches an imprudent wren on a limed twig, and she might have done whatever she liked with me.

“I was under the charm of her enigmatical and mocking smile, where her teeth had a cruel look between her red lips, and glistened as if they were ready to bite and to heighten the pleasure of the most delightful, the most voluptuous kiss, by pain.

“I loved everything in her, her feline suppleness, her slow looks, which seemed to glide from her half-closed lids, full of promises and temptation, her somewhat extreme elegance, and her hands, her long, delicate, white hands, with blue veins, like the bloodless hands of a female saint in a stained glass window, and her slender fingers, on which only the large drops of blood of a ruby glittered.

“I would have given her all my remaining youth and vigor to have laid my burning hands onto the nape of her cool round neck, and to feel that bright, silky, golden mane enveloping me and caressing my skin. I was never tired of hearing her disdainful, petulant voice, those vibrations which sounded as if they proceeded from clear glass, and that music, which at times, became hoarse, harsh and fierce, like the loud, sonorous calls of the Valkyries.

“Oh! Good heavens! to be her lover, to be her chattel, to belong to her, to devote one’s whole existence to her, to spend one’s last half-penny and to go under in misery, only to have the glory, the happiness of possessing the splendid beauty, the sweetness of her kisses, the pink, and the white of her demon-like soul all to myself, were it only for a few months!

“It makes you laugh, I know, to think that I should have been caught like that, I who give such good, prudent advice to my friends, who fear love as I do those quicksands and shoals which appear at low tide and in which one is swallowed up and disappears!

“But who can answer for himself, who can defend himself against such a danger, against the magnetic attraction that comes from such a woman? Nevertheless, I got cured, and perfectly cured, and that, quite accidentally, and this is how the enchantment, which was apparently so infrangible, was broken.

“On the first night of a play, I was sitting in the stalls close to Lucy, whose mother had accompanied her, as usual, and they occupied the front of a box, side by side. From some insurmountable attraction, I never ceased looking at the woman whom I loved with all the force of my being. I feasted my eyes on her beauty, I saw nobody except her in the theater, and did not listen to the piece that was being performed on the stage.

“Suddenly, however, I felt as if I had received a blow from a dagger in my heart, and I had an insane hallucination. Lucy had moved and her pretty head was in profile, in the same attitude and with the same lines as her mother. I do not know what shadow, or what play of light had hardened and altered the color of her delicate features and destroyed their ideal prettiness, but the more I looked at them both, the one who was young, and the one who was old, the greater that distressing resemblance became.

“I saw Lucy growing older and older, striving against those accumulating years which bring wrinkles in the face, produce a double chin and crow’s feet, and spoil the mouth. They almost looked like twins.

“I suffered so that I almost thought I should have gone mad, and, in spite of myself, instead of shaking off this feeling and make my escape out of the theater, far away into the noise and life on the boulevards, I persisted in looking at the other, at the old one, in scanning her over, in judging her, in dissecting her with my eyes; I got excited over her flabby cheeks, over those ridiculous dimples, that were half-filled up, over that treble chin, that hair which must have been dyed, those eyes which had no more brightness in them, and that nose which was a caricature of Lucy’s beautiful, attractive little nose.

“I had the prescience of the future. I loved her, and I should love her more and more every day, that little sorceress who had so despotically and so quickly conquered me. I should not allow any participation or any intrigue from the day she gave herself to me, and when once we had been so intimately connected, who could tell whether, just as I was defending myself against it most, the legitimate termination — marriage — might not come?

“Why not give one’s name to a woman whom one loves, and of whom one is sure? The reason was, that I should be tied to a disfigured, ugly creature with whom I should not venture to be seen in public, as my friends would leer at her with laughter in their eyes, and with pity in their hearts for the man who was accompanying those remains.”

“And so, as soon as the curtain had fallen, without saying good-day or good-evening, I had myself driven to the Moulin Rouge, and there I picked up the first woman I came across, and remained in her company until late next day.”

“Well,” Florise d’Anglet exclaimed, “I shall never take Mamma to the theater with me again, for men are really getting too mad!”

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