Works, by Guy de Maupassant

The Confession

Monsieur de Champdelin had no reason to complain of his lot as a married man; nor could he accuse destiny of having played him in a bad turn, as it does so many others, for it would have been difficult to find a more desirable, merrier, prettier little woman, or one who was easier to amuse and to guide than his wife. To see the large, limpid eyes which illuminated her fair, girlish face, one would think that her mother must have spent whole nights before her birth, in looking dreamily at the stars, and so had become, as it were, impregnated with their magic brightness. And one did not know which to prefer — her bright, silky hair, or her slightly restroussé nose, with its vibrating nostrils, her red lips, which looked as alluring as a ripe peach, her beautiful shoulders, her delicate ears, which resembled mother-of-pearl, or her slim waist and rounded figure, which would have delighted and tempted a sculptor.

And then she was always merry, overflowing with youth and life, never dissatisfied, only wishing to enjoy herself, to laugh, to love and be loved, and putting all the house into a tumult, as if it had been a great cage full of birds. In spite of all this, however, that worn out fool, Champdelin, had never cared much about her, but had left that charming garden lying waste, and almost immediately after their honeymoon, he had resumed is usual bachelor habits, and had begun to lead the same fast life that he had done of old.

It was stronger than he, for his was one of those libertine natures which are constant targets for love, and which never resign themselves to domestic peace and happiness. The last woman who came across him, in a love adventure, was always the one whom he loved best, and the mere contact with a petticoat inflamed him, and made him commit the most imprudent actions.

As he was not hard to please, he fished, as it were, in troubled waters, went after the ugly ones and the pretty ones alike, was bold even to impudence, was not to be kept off by mistakes, nor anger, nor modesty, nor threats, though he sometimes fell into a trap and got a thrashing from some relative or jealous lover; he withstood all attempts to get hush-money out of him, and became only all the more enamored of vice and more ardent in his lures and pursuit of love affairs on that account.

But the work-girls and the shop-girls and all the tradesmen’s wives in Saint Martéjoux knew him, and made him pay for their whims and their coquetry, and had to put up with his love-making. Many of them smiled or blushed when they saw him under the tall plane-trees in the public garden, or met him in the unfrequented, narrow streets near the Cathedral, with his thin, sensual face, whose looks had something satyr-like about them, and some of them used to laugh at him and make fun of him, though they ran away when he went up to them. And when some friend or other, who was sorry that he could forget himself so far, used to say to him, when he was at a loss for any other argument: “And your wife, Champdelin? Are you not afraid that she will have her revenge and pay you out in your own coin?” his only reply was a contemptuous and incredulous shrug of the shoulders.

She deceive him, indeed; she, who was as devout, as virtuous, and as ignorant of forbidden things as a nun, who cared no more for love than she did for an old slipper! She, who did not even venture on any veiled allusions, who was always laughing, who took life as it came, who performed her religious duties with edifying assiduity, she to pay him back, so as to make him look ridiculous, and to gad about at night? Never! Anyone who could think such a thing must have lost his senses.

However, one summer day, when the roofs all seemed red-hot, and the whole town appeared dead, Monsieur de Champdelin had followed two milliner’s girls, with bandboxes in their hands from street to street, whispering nonsense to them, and promising beforehand to give them anything they asked him for, and had gone after them as far as the Cathedral. In their fright, they took refuge there, but he followed them in, and, emboldened by the solitude of the nave, and by the perfect silence in the building, he became more enterprising and bolder. They did not know how to defend themselves, or to escape from him, and were trembling at his daring attempts, and at his kisses, when he saw a confessional whose doors were open, in one of the side chapels. “We should be much more comfortable in there, my little dears,” he said, going into it, as if to get such an unexpected nest ready for them.

But they were quicker than he, and throwing themselves against the grated door, they pushed it to before he could turn round, and locked him in. At first he thought it was only a joke, and it amused him; but when they began to laugh heartily and putting their tongues at him, as if he had been a monkey in a cage, and overwhelmed him with insults, he first of all grew angry, and then humble, offering to pay well for his ransom, and he implored them to let him out, and tried to escape like a mouse does out of a trap. They, however, did not appear to hear him, but naively bowed to him ceremoniously, wished him good night, and ran out as fast as they could.

Champdelin was in despair; he did not know what to do, and cursed his bad luck. What would be the end of it? Who would deliver him from that species of prison, and was he going to remain there all the afternoon and night, like a portmanteau that had been forgotten at the lost luggage office? He could not manage to force the lock, and did not venture to knock hard against the sides of the confessional, for fear of attracting the attention of some beadle or sacristan. Oh! those wretched girls, and how people would make fun of him and write verses about him, and point their fingers at him, if the joke were discovered and got noised abroad!

By and by, he heard the faint sound of prayers in the distance and through the green serge curtain that concealed him Monsieur Champdelin heard the rattle of the beads on the chaplets, as the women repeated their Ave Maria’s, and the rustle of dresses and the noise of footsteps on the pavement.

Suddenly, he felt a tickling in his throat that nearly choked him, and he could not altogether prevent himself from coughing, and when at last it passed off, the unfortunate man was horrified at hearing some one come into the chapel and up to the confessional. Whoever it was, knelt down, and gave a discreet knock at the grating which separated the priest from his penitents, so he quickly put on the surplice and stole which were hanging on a nail, and covering his face with his handkerchief, and sitting back in the shade, he opened the grating.

It was a woman, who was already saying her prayers and he gave the responses as well as he could, from his boyish recollections, and was somewhat agitated by the delicious scent that emanated from her half-raised veil and from her bodice; but at her first words he started so, that he almost fainted. He had recognized his wife’s voice, and it felt to him as if his seat were studded with sharp nails, that the sides of the confessional were closing in on him, and as if the air were growing rarified.

He now collected himself, however, and regaining his self-possession, he listened to what she had to say with increasing curiosity, and with some uncertain, and necessary interruptions. The young woman sighed, was evidently keeping back something, spoke about her unhappiness, her melancholy life, her husband’s neglect, the temptations by which she was surrounded, and which she found it so difficult to resist; her conscience seemed to be burdened by an intolerable weight, though she hesitated to accuse herself directly. And in a low voice, with unctuous and coaxing tones, and mastering himself, Champdelin said:

“Courage, my child; tell me everything; the divine mercy is infinite; tell me all, without hesitation.”

Then, all at once, she told him everything that was troubling her; how passion and desire had thrown her into the arms of one of her husband’s best friends, the exquisite happiness that they felt when they met every day, his delightful tenderness, which she could no longer resist, the sin which was her joy, her only object, her consolation, her dream. She grew excited, sobbed, seemed enervated and worn out, as if she were still burning from her lover’s kisses, hardly seemed to know what she was saying, and begged for temporary absolution from her sins; but then Champdelin, in his exasperation, and unable to restrain himself any longer, interrupted her in a furious voice:

“Oh! no! Oh! no; this is not at all funny . . . keep such sort of things to yourself, my dear!”

Poor little Madame de Champdelin nearly went out of her mind with fright and astonishment, and they are now waiting for the decree which will break their chains and let them part.

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