The Will by Guy de Maupassant
I knew that tall young fellow, Rene de Bourneval. He was an agreeable
man, though rather melancholy and seemed prejudiced against everything,
was very skeptical, and he could with a word tear down social hypocrisy.
He would often say:
"There are no honorable men, or, at least, they are only relatively so
when compared with those lower than themselves."
He had two brothers, whom he never saw, the Messieurs de Courcils. I
always supposed they were by another father, on account of the difference
in the name. I had frequently heard that the family had a strange
history, but did not know the details. As I took a great liking to Rene
we soon became intimate friends, and one evening, when I had been dining
with him alone, I asked him, by chance: "Are you a son of the first or
second marriage?" He grew rather pale, and then flushed, and did not
speak for a few moments; he was visibly embarrassed. Then he smiled in
the melancholy, gentle manner, which was peculiar to him, and said:
"My dear friend, if it will not weary you, I can give you some very
strange particulars about my life. I know that you are a sensible man, so
I do not fear that our friendship will suffer by my I revelations; and
should it suffer, I should not care about having you for my friend any
"My mother, Madame de Courcils, was a poor little, timid woman, whom her
husband had married for the sake of her fortune, and her whole life was
one of martyrdom. Of a loving, timid, sensitive disposition, she was
constantly being ill-treated by the man who ought to have been my father,
one of those boors called country gentlemen. A month after their marriage
he was living a licentious life and carrying on liaisons with the wives
and daughters of his tenants. This did not prevent him from having three
children by his wife, that is, if you count me in. My mother said
nothing, and lived in that noisy house like a little mouse. Set aside,
unnoticed, nervous, she looked at people with her bright, uneasy,
restless eyes, the eyes of some terrified creature which can never shake
off its fear. And yet she was pretty, very pretty and fair, a pale
blonde, as if her hair had lost its color through her constant fear.
"Among the friends of Monsieur de Courcils who constantly came to her
chateau, there was an ex-cavalry officer, a widower, a man who was
feared, who was at the same time tender and violent, capable of the most
determined resolves, Monsieur de Bourneval, whose name I bear. He was a
tall, thin man, with a heavy black mustache. I am very like him. He was a
man who had read a great deal, and his ideas were not like those of most
of his class. His great-grandmother had been a friend of J. J.
Rousseau's, and one might have said that he had inherited something of
this ancestral connection. He knew the Contrat Social, and the Nouvelle
Heloise by heart, and all those philosophical books which prepared in
advance the overthrow of our old usages, prejudices, superannuated laws
and imbecile morality.
"It seems that he loved my mother, and she loved him, but their liaison
was carried on so secretly that no one guessed at its existence. The
poor, neglected, unhappy woman must have clung to him in despair, and in
her intimacy with him must have imbibed all his ways of thinking,
theories of free thought, audacious ideas of independent love; but being
so timid she never ventured to speak out, and it was all driven back,
condensed, shut up in her heart.
"My two brothers were very hard towards her, like their father, and never
gave her a caress, and, accustomed to seeing her count for nothing in the
house, they treated her rather like a servant. I was the only one of her
sons who really loved her and whom she loved.
"When she died I was seventeen, and I must add, in order that you may
understand what follows, that a lawsuit between my father and mother had
been decided in my mother's favor, giving her the bulk of the property,
and, thanks to the tricks of the law, and the intelligent devotion of a
lawyer to her interests, the right to make her will in favor of whom she
"We were told that there was a will at the lawyer's office and were
invited to be present at the reading of it. I can remember it, as if it
were yesterday. It was an imposing scene, dramatic, burlesque and
surprising, occasioned by the posthumous revolt of that dead woman, by
the cry for liberty, by the demands of that martyred one who had been
crushed by our oppression during her lifetime and who, from her closed
tomb, uttered a despairing appeal for independence.
"The man who believed he was my father, a stout, ruddy-faced man, who
looked like a butcher, and my brothers, two great fellows of twenty and
twenty-two, were waiting quietly in their chairs. Monsieur de Bourneval,
who had been invited to be present, came in and stood behind me. He was
very pale and bit his mustache, which was turning gray. No doubt he was
prepared for what was going to happen. The lawyer double-locked the door
and began to read the will, after having opened, in our presence, the
envelope, sealed with red wax, of the contents of which he was ignorant."
My friend stopped talking abruptly, and rising, took from his
writing-table an old paper, unfolded it, kissed it and then continued:
"This is the will of my beloved mother:
"'I, the undersigned, Anne Catherine-Genevieve-Mathilde de
Croixluce, the legitimate wife of Leopold-Joseph Gontran de Councils
sound in body and mind, here express my last wishes.
"I first of all ask God, and then my dear son Rene to pardon me for
the act I am about to commit. I believe that my child's heart is
great enough to understand me, and to forgive me. I have suffered
my whole life long. I was married out of calculation, then
despised, misunderstood, oppressed and constantly deceived by my
"'I forgive him, but I owe him nothing.
"'My elder sons never loved me, never petted me, scarcely treated me
as a mother, but during my whole life I did my duty towards them,
and I owe them nothing more after my death. The ties of blood
cannot exist without daily and constant affection. An ungrateful
son is less than, a stranger; he is a culprit, for he has no right
to be indifferent towards his mother.
"'I have always trembled before men, before their unjust laws, their
inhuman customs, their shameful prejudices. Before God, I have no
longer any fear. Dead, I fling aside disgraceful hypocrisy; I dare
to speak my thoughts, and to avow and to sign the secret of my
"'I therefore leave that part of my fortune of which the law allows
me to dispose, in trust to my dear lover, Pierre-Germer-Simon de
Bourneval, to revert afterwards to our dear son Rene.
"'(This bequest is specified more precisely in a deed drawn
up by a notary.)
"'And I declare before the Supreme Judge who hears me, that I should
have cursed heaven and my own existence, if I had not found the
deep, devoted, tender, unshaken affection of my lover; if I had not
felt in his arms that the Creator made His creatures to love,
sustain and console each other, and to weep together in the hours of
"'Monsieur de Courcils is the father of my two eldest sons; Rene,
alone, owes his life to Monsieur de Bourneval. I pray the Master of
men and of their destinies, to place father and son above social
prejudices, to make them love each other until they die, and to love
me also in my coffin.
"'These are my last thoughts, and my last wish.
"'MATHILDE DE CROIXLUCE.'"
"Monsieur de Courcils had risen and he cried:
"'It is the will of a madwoman.'
"Then Monsieur de Bourneval stepped forward and said in a loud,
penetrating voice: 'I, Simon de Bourneval, solemnly declare that this
writing contains nothing but the strict truth, and I am ready to prove it
by letters which I possess.'
"On hearing that, Monsieur de Courcils went up to him, and I 'thought
that they were going to attack each other. There they stood, both of them
tall, one stout and the other thin, both trembling. My mother's husband
stammered out: 'You are a worthless wretch!' And the other replied in a
loud, dry voice: 'We will meet elsewhere, monsieur. I should have already
slapped your ugly face and challenged you long since if I had not, before
everything else, thought of the peace of mind during her lifetime of that
poor woman whom you caused to suffer so greatly.'
"Then, turning to me, he said: 'You are my son; will you come with me? I
have no right to take you away, but I shall assume it, if you are willing
to come with me: I shook his hand without replying, and we went out
together. I was certainly three parts mad.
"Two days later Monsieur de Bourneval killed Monsieur de Courcils in a
duel. My brothers, to avoid a terrible scandal, held their tongues. I
offered them and they accepted half the fortune which my mother had left
me. I took my real father's name, renouncing that which the law gave me,
but which was not really mine. Monsieur de Bourneval died three years
later and I am still inconsolable."
He rose from his chair, walked up and down the room, and, standing in
front of me, said:
"Well, I say that my mother's will was one of the most beautiful, the
most loyal, as well as one of the grandest acts that a woman could
perform. Do you not think so?"
I held out both hands to him, saying:
"I most certainly do, my friend."