Works, by Guy de Maupassant

Caught in the Very Act

“It is certain,” Sulpice de Laurièr said, “that I had absolutely forgotten the date on which I was to allow myself to be taken in the very act, with a mistress for the occasion. As neither my wife nor I had any serious nor plausible reason for a divorce, not even the slightest incompatibility of temper, and as there is always a risk of not softening the heart of even the most indulgent judge when he is told that the parties have agreed to drag their load separately, each for themselves, that they are too frisky, too fond of pleasure and of wandering about from place to place to continue the conjugal experiment, we between us got up the ingenious stage arrangement of, ‘a serious wrong . . . ’

“This was funnier than all the rest, and under any other circumstances it would have been repugnant to me to mix up our servants in the affair like so many others do, or to distress that pretty little, fair and delicate Parisian woman, even though it were only in appearance and to pass as a common Sganarelle with the manners of a carter, in the eyes of some scoundrel of a footman, or of some lady’s maid. And so when Maître Le Chevrier, that kind lawyer who certainly knows more female secrets than the most fashionable confessor, gave a startled exclamation on seeing me still in my dressing-gown, and slowly smoking a cigar like an idler who has no engagements down on his tablets, and who is quietly waiting for the usual time for dressing and going to dine at his club, he exclaimed:

“‘Have you forgotten that this is the day, at the Hôtel de Bade, between five and six o’clock? In an hour, Madame de Laurière will be at the office of the Police Commissary in the Rue de Provence, with her uncle and Maître Cantenac . . . ’

“An hour; I only had an hour, sixty short minutes to dress in, to take a room, find a woman and persuade her to go with me immediately, and to excite her feelings, so that this extravagant adventure might not appear too equivocal to the Commissary of Police. One hour in which to carry out such a program was enough to make a man lose his head. And there were no possible means of putting off that obligatory entertainment, to let Madame Le Laurière know in time, and to gain a few minutes more.

“‘Have you found a woman, at any rate?’ Maître de Chevrier continued anxiously.

“‘No, my dear sir!’

“I immediately began to think of the whole string of my dear female friends. Should I choose Liline Ablette, who could refuse me nothing, Blanch Rebus, who was the best comrade a man ever had, or Lalie Spring, that luxurious creature, who was constantly in search of something new? Neither one nor the other of them, for it was ninety-nine chances to one that all these confounded girls were in the Bois de Boulogne, or at their dressmakers!”

“‘Bah! Just pick up the first girl you meet on the pavement.’

“And before the hour was up, I was bolting the door of a room, which looked out onto the boulevard.

“The woman whom I had picked up, as she was walking past the cafés, from the Vaudeville to Tortoni’s, was twenty at the most. She had an impudent, snub nose, as if it had been turned up in fun by a fillip, large eyes with-deep rims round them; her lips were too red, and she had the slow, indolent walk of a girl who goes in for debauchery too freely and who began too soon, but she was pretty, and her linen was very clean and neat. And she was evidently used to chance love-making, and had a way of undressing herself in two or three rapid movements, of throwing her toggery to the right and left, until she was extremely lightly clad, and of throwing herself onto the bed which astonished me as a sight that was well worth seeing.

“She did not talk much, though she began by saying: ‘Pay up at once, old man . . . You don’t look like a fellow who would bilk a girl, but it puts me into better trim when I have been paid.’

“I gave her two napoleons, and she eyed me with gratitude and respect at the same time, but also with that uneasy look of a girl who asks herself: ‘What does this tool expect for it?’

“The whole affair began to amuse me, and I must confess that I was rather taken with her, for she had a beautiful figure and complexion, and I was hoping that the Commissary would not come directly, when there was a loud rapping at the door.

“She sat up with a start, and grew so pale that one would have said she was about to faint.

“‘What a set of pigs, to come and interrupt people like this!’ she muttered between her teeth; while I affected the most complete calm.

“‘Somebody who has made a mistake in the room, my dear,’ I said.

“But this noise increased, and suddenly I heard a man’s voice saying clearly and authoritatively:

“‘Open the door, in the name of the law!’

“On hearing that, one would have thought that she had received a shock from an electric battery, by the nimble manner in which she jumped out of bed; and quickly putting on her stays and her dress anyhow, she endeavored to discover a way out in every corner of the room, like a wild beast, trying to escape from its cage. I thought that she was going to throw herself out of the window, so I seized hold of her to prevent her.

“The unfortunate creature acted like a madwoman, and when she felt my arm round her waist, she cried in a hoarse voice:

“‘I see it . . . You have sold me . . . You thought that I should expose myself. . . . Oh! you filthy brutes — you filthy brutes!’

“And suddenly, passing from abuse to entreaties, pale and with chattering teeth, she threw herself at my feet, and said, in a low voice:

“‘Listen to me, my dear: you don’t look a bad sort of fellow, and you would not like them to lock me up. I have a kid and the old woman to keep. Hide me behind the bed, do, and please don’t give me up. . . . I will make it up to you, and you shall have no cause for grumbling. . . . ’

“At that moment however, the lock which they had unscrewed fell onto the floor with a metallic sound, and Madame de Laurière and the Police Commissary, wearing his tricolored scarf, appeared in the door, while behind them the heads of the uncle and of the lawyer could be seen indistinctly in the background.

“The girl had uttered a cry of terror and going up to the Commissary she said, panting:

“‘I swear to you that I am not guilty, that I was not . . . I will tell you everything if you will promise me not to tell them that I spilt, for they would pay me out. . . . ’

“The Commissary, who was surprised, but who guessed that there was something which was not quite clear behind all this, forgot to draw up his report, and so the lawyer went up to him and said:

“‘Well, monsieur, what are we waiting for?’

“But he paid no attention to anything but the woman, and looking at her sharply and suspiciously through his gold-rimmed spectacles, he said to her in a hard voice:

“‘Your names and surnames?’

“‘Juliette Randal, or as I am generally called, Jujutte Pipehead.’

“‘So you will swear you were not — ’

“She interrupted him eagerly:

“‘I swear it, monsieur, and I know that my little man had nothing to do with it either. He was only keeping a look-out while the others collared the swag. . . . I will swear that I can account for every moment of my time that night. Roquin was drunk, and told me everything. . . . They got five thousand francs from Daddy Zacharias, and of course Roquin had his share, but he did not work with his partners. It was Minon Ménilmuche, whom they call Drink-without-Thirst, who held the gardener’s hands, and who bled him with a blow from his knife.’

“The Commissary let her run on, and when she had finished, he questioned me, as if I had belonged to Jujutte’s band.

“‘Your name, Christian name, and profession?’

“‘Marquis Sulpice de Laurièr, living on my own private income, at 24, Rue de Galilee.’

“‘De Laurièr? Oh, very well. . . . Excuse me, monsieur, but at Madame de Laurière’s request, I declare formally before these gentlemen, who will be able to give evidence, that the girl Juliette Randal, whom they call Jujutte Tête-dePipe, is your mistress. You are at liberty to go, Monsieur le Marquis, and you, girl Randal answer my questions.’

“Thus, by the most extraordinary chance, our divorce suit created a sensation which I had certainly never foreseen. I was obliged to appear in the Assize Court as a witness in the celebrated case of those burglars, when three of them were condemned to death, and to undergo the questioning of the idiotic Presiding Judge, who tried by all means in his power to make me acknowledge that I was Jujutte Tête-dePipe’s regular lover; and in consequence, ever since then I have passed as an ardent seeker after novel sensations, and a man who wallows in the lowest depths of the Parisian dunghill.

“I cannot say that this unjust reputation has brought me any pleasant love affairs. Women are so perverse, so absurd, and so curious!”

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