The First Snowfall by Guy de Maupassant
The long promenade of La Croisette winds in a curve along the edge of the
blue water. Yonder, to the right, Esterel juts out into the sea in the
distance, obstructing the view and shutting out the horizon with its
pretty southern outline of pointed summits, numerous and fantastic.
To the left, the isles of Sainte Marguerite and Saint Honorat, almost
level with the water, display their surface, covered with pine trees.
And all along the great gulf, all along the tall mountains that encircle
Cannes, the white villa residences seem to be sleeping in the sunlight.
You can see them from a distance, the white houses, scattered from the
top to the bottom of the mountains, dotting the dark greenery with specks
Those near the water have gates opening on the wide promenade which is
washed by the quiet waves. The air is soft and balmy. It is one of those
warm winter days when there is scarcely a breath of cool air. Above the
walls of the gardens may be seen orange trees and lemon trees full of
golden fruit. Ladies are walking slowly across the sand of the avenue,
followed by children rolling hoops, or chatting with gentlemen.
A young woman has just passed out through the door of her coquettish
little house facing La Croisette. She stops for a moment to gaze at the
promenaders, smiles, and with an exhausted air makes her way toward an
empty bench facing the sea. Fatigued after having gone twenty paces, she
sits down out of breath. Her pale face seems that of a dead woman. She
coughs, and raises to her lips her transparent fingers as if to stop
those paroxysms that exhaust her.
She gazes at the sky full of sunshine and swallows, at the zigzag summits
of the Esterel over yonder, and at the sea, the blue, calm, beautiful
sea, close beside her.
She smiles again, and murmurs:
"Oh! how happy I am!"
She knows, however, that she is going to die, that she will never see the
springtime, that in a year, along the same promenade, these same people
who pass before her now will come again to breathe the warm air of this
charming spot, with their children a little bigger, with their hearts all
filled with hopes, with tenderness, with happiness, while at the bottom
of an oak coffin, the poor flesh which is still left to her to-day will
have decomposed, leaving only her bones lying in the silk robe which she
has selected for a shroud.
She will be no more. Everything in life will go on as before for others.
For her, life will be over, over forever. She will be no more. She
smiles, and inhales as well as she can, with her diseased lungs, the
perfumed air of the gardens.
And she sinks into a reverie.
She recalls the past. She had been married, four years ago, to a Norman
gentleman. He was a strong young man, bearded, healthy-looking, with wide
shoulders, narrow mind, and joyous disposition.
They had been united through financial motives which she knew nothing
about. She would willingly have said No. She said Yes, with a movement of
the head, in order not to thwart her father and mother. She was a
Parisian, gay, and full of the joy of living.
Her husband brought her home to his Norman chateau. It was a huge stone
building surrounded by tall trees of great age. A high clump of pine
trees shut out the view in front. On the right, an opening in the trees
presented a view of the plain, which stretched out in an unbroken level
as far as the distant, farmsteads. A cross-road passed before the gate
and led to the high road three kilometres away.
Oh! she recalls everything, her arrival, her first day in her new abode,
and her isolated life afterward.
When she stepped out of the carriage, she glanced at the old building,
and laughingly exclaimed:
"It does not look cheerful!"
Her husband began to laugh in his turn, and replied:
"Pooh! we get used to it! You'll see. I never feel bored in it, for my
That day they passed their time in embracing each other, and she did not
find it too long. This lasted fully a month. The days passed one after
the other in insignificant yet absorbing occupations. She learned the
value and the importance of the little things of life. She knew that
people can interest themselves in the price of eggs, which cost a few
centimes more or less according to the seasons.
It was summer. She went to the fields to see the men harvesting. The
brightness of the sunshine found an echo in her heart.
The autumn came. Her husband went out shooting. He started in the morning
with his two dogs Medor and Mirza. She remained alone, without grieving,
moreover, at Henry's absence. She was very fond of him, but she did not
miss him. When he returned home, her affection was especially bestowed on
the dogs. She took care of them every evening with a mother's tenderness,
caressed them incessantly, gave them a thousand charming little names
which she had no idea of applying to her husband.
He invariably told her all about his sport. He described the places where
he found partridges, expressed his astonishment at not having caught any
hares in Joseph Ledentu's clever, or else appeared indignant at the
conduct of M. Lechapelier, of Havre, who always went along the edge of
his property to shoot the game that he, Henry de Parville, had started.
She replied: "Yes, indeed! it is not right," thinking of something else
all the while.
The winter came, the Norman winter, cold and rainy. The endless floods of
rain came down tin the slates of the great gabled roof, rising like a
knife blade toward the sky. The roads seemed like rivers of mud, the
country a plain of mud, and no sound could be heard save that of water
falling; no movement could be seen save the whirling flight of crows that
settled down like a cloud on a field and then hurried off again.
About four o'clock, the army of dark, flying creatures came and perched
in the tall beeches at the left of the chateau, emitting deafening cries.
During nearly an hour, they flew from tree top to tree top, seemed to be
fighting, croaked, and made a black disturbance in the gray branches. She
gazed at them each evening with a weight at her heart, so deeply was she
impressed by the lugubrious melancholy of the darkness falling on the
Then she rang for the lamp, and drew near the fire. She burned heaps of
wood without succeeding in warming the spacious apartments reeking with
humidity. She was cold all day long, everywhere, in the drawing-room, at
meals, in her own apartment. It seemed to her she was cold to the marrow
of her bones. Her husband only came in to dinner; he was always out
shooting, or else he was superintending sowing the seed, tilling the
soil, and all the work of the country.
He would come back jovial, and covered with mud, rubbing his hands as he
"What wretched weather!"
"A fire looks comfortable!"
"Well, how are you to-day? Are you in good spirits?"
He was happy, in good health, without desires, thinking of nothing save
this simple, healthy, and quiet life.
About December, when the snow had come, she suffered so much from the
icy-cold air of the chateau which seemed to have become chilled in
passing through the centuries just as human beings become chilled with
years, that she asked her husband one evening:
"Look here, Henry! You ought to have a furnace put into the house; it
would dry the walls. I assure you that I cannot keep warm from morning
At first he was stunned at this extravagant idea of introducing a furnace
into his manor-house. It would have seemed more natural to him to have
his dogs fed out of silver dishes. He gave a tremendous laugh from the
bottom of his chest as he exclaimed:
"A furnace here! A furnace here! Ha! ha! ha! what a good joke!"
"I assure you, dear, I feel frozen; you don't feel it because you are
always moving about; but all the same, I feel frozen."
He replied, still laughing:
"Pooh! you'll get used to it, and besides it is excellent for the health.
You will only be all the better for it. We are not Parisians, damn it! to
live in hot-houses. And, besides, the spring is quite near."
About the beginning of January, a great misfortune befell her. Her father
and mother died in a carriage accident. She came to Paris for the
funeral. And her sorrow took entire possession of her mind for about six
The mildness of the beautiful summer days finally roused her, and she
lived along in a state of sad languor until autumn.
When the cold weather returned, she was brought face to face, for the
first time, with the gloomy future. What was she to do? Nothing. What was
going to happen to her henceforth? Nothing. What expectation, what hope,
could revive her heart? None. A doctor who was consulted declared that
she would never have children.
Sharper, more penetrating still than the year before, the cold made her
She stretched out her shivering hands to the big flames. The glaring fire
burned her face; but icy whiffs seemed to glide down her back and to
penetrate between her skin and her underclothing. And she shivered from
head to foot. Innumerable draughts of air appeared to have taken up their
abode in the apartment, living, crafty currents of air as cruel as
enemies. She encountered them at every moment; they blew on her
incessantly their perfidious and frozen hatred, now on her face, now on
her hands, and now on her back.
Once more she spoke of a furnace; but her husband listened to her request
as if she were asking for the moon. The introduction of such an apparatus
at Parville appeared to him as impossible as the discovery of the
Having been at Rouen on business one day, he brought back to his wife a
dainty foot warmer made of copper, which he laughingly called a "portable
furnace"; and he considered that this would prevent her henceforth from
ever being cold.
Toward the end of December she understood that she could not always live
like this, and she said timidly one evening at dinner:
"Listen, dear! Are we, not going to spend a week or two in Paris before
He was stupefied.
"In Paris? In Paris? But what are we to do there? Ah! no by Jove! We are
better off here. What odd ideas come into your head sometimes."
"It might distract us a little."
He did not understand.
"What is it you want to distract you? Theatres, evening parties, dinners
in town? You knew, however, when you came here, that you ought not to
expect any distractions of this kind!"
She saw a reproach in these words, and in the tone in which they were
uttered. She relapsed into silence. She was timid and gentle, without
resisting power and without strength of will.
In January the cold weather returned with violence. Then the snow covered
One evening, as she watched the great black cloud of crows dispersing
among the trees, she began to weep, in spite of herself.
Her husband came in. He asked in great surprise:
"What is the matter with you?"
He was happy, quite happy, never having dreamed of another life or other
pleasures. He had been born and had grown up in this melancholy district.
He felt contented in his own house, at ease in body and mind.
He did not understand that one might desire incidents, have a longing for
changing pleasures; he did not understand that it does not seem natural
to certain beings to remain in the same place during the four seasons; he
seemed not to know that spring, summer, autumn, and winter have, for
multitudes of persons, fresh amusements in new places.
She could say nothing in reply, and she quickly dried her eyes. At last
she murmured in a despairing tone:
"I am—I—I am a little sad—I am a little bored."
But she was terrified at having even said so much, and added very
"And, besides—I am—I am a little cold."
This last plea made him angry.
"Ah! yes, still your idea of the furnace. But look here, deuce take it!
you have not had one cold since you came here."
Night came on. She went up to her room, for she had insisted on having a
separate apartment. She went to bed. Even in bed she felt cold. She
"It will be always like this, always, until I die."
And she thought of her husband. How could he have said:
"You—have not had one cold since you came here"?
She would have to be ill, to cough before he could understand what she
And she was filled with indignation, the angry indignation of a weak,
She must cough. Then, perhaps, he would take pity on her. Well, she would
cough; he should hear her coughing; the doctor should be called in; he
should see, her husband, he should see.
She got out of bed, her legs and her feet bare, and a childish idea made
"I want a furnace, and I must have it. I shall cough so much that he'll
have to put one in the house."
And she sat down in a chair in her nightdress. She waited an hour, two
hours. She shivered, but she did not catch cold. Then she resolved on a
She noiselessly left her room, descended the stairs, and opened the gate
into the garden.
The earth, covered with snows seemed dead. She abruptly thrust forward
her bare foot, and plunged it into the icy, fleecy snow. A sensation of
cold, painful as a wound, mounted to her heart. However, she stretched
out the other leg, and began to descend the steps slowly.
Then she advanced through the grass saying to herself:
"I'll go as far as the pine trees."
She walked with quick steps, out of breath, gasping every time she
plunged her foot into the snow.
She touched the first pine tree with her hand, as if to assure herself
that she had carried out her plan to the end; then she went back into the
house. She thought two or three times that she was going to fall, so
numbed and weak did she feel. Before going in, however, she sat down in
that icy fleece, and even took up several handfuls to rub on her chest.
Then she went in and got into bed. It seemed to her at the end of an hour
that she had a swarm of ants in her throat, and that other ants were
running all over her limbs. She slept, however.
Next day she was coughing and could not get up.
She had inflammation of the lungs. She became delirious, and in her
delirium she asked for a furnace. The doctor insisted on having one put
in. Henry yielded, but with visible annoyance.
She was incurable. Her lungs were seriously affected, and those about her
feared for her life.
"If she remains here, she will not last until the winter," said the
She was sent south. She came to Cannes, made the acquaintance of the sun,
loved the sea, and breathed the perfume of orange blossoms.
Then, in the spring, she returned north.
But she now lived with the fear of being cured, with the fear of the long
winters of Normandy; and as soon as she was better she opened her window
by night and recalled the sweet shores of the Mediterranean.
And now she is going to die. She knows it and she is happy.
She unfolds a newspaper which she has not already opened, and reads this
"The first snow in Paris."
She shivers and then smiles. She looks across at the Esterel, which is
becoming rosy in the rays of the setting sun. She looks at the vast blue
sky, so blue, so very blue, and the vast blue sea, so very blue also, and
she rises from her seat.
And then she returned to the house with slow steps, only stopping to
cough, for she had remained out too long and she was cold, a little cold.
She finds a letter from her husband. She opens it, still smiling, and she
"MY DEAR LOVE: I hope you are well, and that you do not regret too
much our beautiful country. For some days last we have had a good
frost, which presages snow. For my part, I adore this weather, and
you my believe that I do not light your damned furnace."
She ceases reading, quite happy at the thought that she had her furnace
put in. Her right hand, which holds the letter, falls slowly on her lap,
while she raises her left hand to her mouth, as if to calm the obstinate
cough which is racking her chest.