Moonlight by Guy de Maupassant
Madame Julie Roubere was expecting her elder sister, Madame Henriette
Letore, who had just returned from a trip to Switzerland.
The Letore household had left nearly five weeks before. Madame Henriette
had allowed her husband to return alone to their estate in Calvados,
where some business required his attention, and had come to spend a few
days in Paris with her sister. Night came on. In the quiet parlor Madame
Roubere was reading in the twilight in an absent-minded way, raising her,
eyes whenever she heard a sound.
At last, she heard a ring at the door, and her sister appeared, wrapped
in a travelling cloak. And without any formal greeting, they clasped each
other in an affectionate embrace, only desisting for a moment to give
each other another hug. Then they talked about their health, about their
respective families, and a thousand other things, gossiping, jerking out
hurried, broken sentences as they followed each other about, while Madame
Henriette was removing her hat and veil.
It was now quite dark. Madame Roubere rang for a lamp, and as soon as it
was brought in, she scanned her sister's face, and was on the point of
embracing her once more. But she held back, scared and astonished at the
On her temples Madame Letore had two large locks of white hair. All the
rest of her hair was of a glossy, raven-black hue; but there alone, at
each side of her head, ran, as it were, two silvery streams which were
immediately lost in the black mass surrounding them. She was,
nevertheless, only twenty-four years old, and this change had come on
suddenly since her departure for Switzerland.
Without moving, Madame Roubere gazed at her in amazement, tears rising to
her eyes, as she thought that some mysterious and terrible calamity must
have befallen her sister. She asked:
"What is the matter with you, Henriette?"
Smiling with a sad face, the smile of one who is heartsick, the other
"Why, nothing, I assure you. Were you noticing my white hair?"
But Madame Roubere impetuously seized her by the shoulders, and with a
searching glance at her, repeated:
"What is the matter with you? Tell me what is the matter with you. And if
you tell me a falsehood, I'll soon find it out."
They remained face to face, and Madame Henriette, who looked as if she
were about to faint, had two pearly tears in the corners of her drooping
Her sister continued:
"What has happened to you? What is the matter with you? Answer me!"
Then, in a subdued voice, the other murmured:
"I have—I have a lover."
And, hiding her forehead on the shoulder of her younger sister, she
Then, when she had grown a little calmer, when the heaving of her breast
had subsided, she commenced to unbosom herself, as if to cast forth this
secret from herself, to empty this sorrow of hers into a sympathetic
Thereupon, holding each other's hands tightly clasped, the two women went
over to a sofa in a dark corner of the room, into which they sank, and
the younger sister, passing her arm over the elder one's neck, and
drawing her close to her heart, listened.
"Oh! I know that there was no excuse for me; I do not understand myself,
and since that day I feel as if I were mad. Be careful, my child, about
yourself—be careful! If you only knew how weak we are, how quickly
we yield, and fall. It takes so little, so little, so little, a moment of
tenderness, one of those sudden fits of melancholy which come over you,
one of those longings to open, your arms, to love, to cherish something,
which we all have at certain moments.
"You know my husband, and you know how fond I am of him; but he is mature
and sensible, and cannot even comprehend the tender vibrations of a
woman's heart. He is always the same, always good, always smiling, always
kind, always perfect. Oh! how I sometimes have wished that he would clasp
me roughly in his arms, that he would embrace me with those slow, sweet
kisses which make two beings intermingle, which are like mute
confidences! How I have wished that he were foolish, even weak, so that
he should have need of me, of my caresses, of my tears!
"This all seems very silly; but we women are made like that. How can we
"And yet the thought of deceiving him never entered my mind. Now it has
happened, without love, without reason, without anything, simply because
the moon shone one night on the Lake of Lucerne.
"During the month when we were travelling together, my husband, with his
calm indifference, paralyzed my enthusiasm, extinguished my poetic ardor.
When we were descending the mountain paths at sunrise, when as the four
horses galloped along with the diligence, we saw, in the transparent
morning haze, valleys, woods, streams, and villages, I clasped my hands
with delight, and said to him: 'How beautiful it is, dear! Give me a
kiss! Kiss me now!' He only answered, with a smile of chilling
kindliness: 'There is no reason why we should kiss each other because you
like the landscape.'
"And his words froze me to the heart. It seems to me that when people
love each other, they ought to feel more moved by love than ever, in the
presence of beautiful scenes.
"In fact, I was brimming over with poetry which he kept me from
expressing. I was almost like a boiler filled with steam and hermetically
"One evening (we had for four days been staying in a hotel at Fluelen)
Robert, having one of his sick headaches, went to bed immediately after
dinner, and I went to take a walk all alone along the edge of the lake.
"It was a night such as one reads of in fairy tales. The full moon showed
itself in the middle of the sky; the tall mountains, with their snowy
crests, seemed to wear silver crowns; the waters of the lake glittered
with tiny shining ripples. The air was mild, with that kind of
penetrating warmth which enervates us till we are ready to faint, to be
deeply affected without any apparent cause. But how sensitive, how
vibrating the heart is at such moments! how quickly it beats, and how
intense is its emotion!
"I sat down on the grass, and gazed at that vast, melancholy, and
fascinating lake, and a strange feeling arose in me; I was seized with an
insatiable need of love, a revolt against the gloomy dullness of my life.
What! would it never be my fate to wander, arm in arm, with a man I
loved, along a moon-kissed bank like this? Was I never to feel on my lips
those kisses so deep, delicious, and intoxicating which lovers exchange
on nights that seem to have been made by God for tenderness? Was I never
to know ardent, feverish love in the moonlit shadows of a summer's night?
"And I burst out weeping like a crazy woman. I heard something stirring
behind me. A man stood there, gazing at me. When I turned my head round,
he recognized me, and, advancing, said:
"'You are weeping, madame?'
"It was a young barrister who was travelling with his mother, and whom we
had often met. His eyes had frequently followed me.
"I was so confused that I did not know what answer to give or what to
think of the situation. I told him I felt ill.
"He walked on by my side in a natural and respectful manner, and began
talking to me about what we had seen during our trip. All that I had felt
he translated into words; everything that made me thrill he understood
perfectly, better than I did myself. And all of a sudden he repeated some
verses of Alfred de Musset. I felt myself choking, seized with
indescribable emotion. It seemed to me that the mountains themselves, the
lake, the moonlight, were singing to me about things ineffably sweet.
"And it happened, I don't know how, I don't know why, in a sort of
"As for him, I did not see him again till the morning of his departure.
"He gave me his card!"
And, sinking into her sister's arms, Madame Letore broke into groans
—almost into shrieks.
Then, Madame Roubere, with a self-contained and serious air, said very
"You see, sister, very often it is not a man that we love, but love
itself. And your real lover that night was the moonlight."