Lasting Love by Guy de Maupassant
It was the end of the dinner that opened the shooting season. The Marquis
de Bertrans with his guests sat around a brightly lighted table, covered
with fruit and flowers. The conversation drifted to love. Immediately
there arose an animated discussion, the same eternal discussion as to
whether it were possible to love more than once. Examples were given of
persons who had loved once; these were offset by those who had loved
violently many times. The men agreed that passion, like sickness, may
attack the same person several times, unless it strikes to kill. This
conclusion seemed quite incontestable. The women, however, who based
their opinion on poetry rather than on practical observation, maintained
that love, the great passion, may come only once to mortals. It resembles
lightning, they said, this love. A heart once touched by it becomes
forever such a waste, so ruined, so consumed, that no other strong
sentiment can take root there, not even a dream. The marquis, who had
indulged in many love affairs, disputed this belief.
"I tell you it is possible to love several times with all one's heart and
soul. You quote examples of persons who have killed themselves for love,
to prove the impossibility of a second passion. I wager that if they had
not foolishly committed suicide, and so destroyed the possibility of a
second experience, they would have found a new love, and still another,
and so on till death. It is with love as with drink. He who has once
indulged is forever a slave. It is a thing of temperament."
They chose the old doctor as umpire. He thought it was as the marquis had
said, a thing of temperament.
"As for me," he said, "I once knew of a love which lasted fifty-five
years without one day's respite, and which ended only with death." The
wife of the marquis clasped her hands.
"That is beautiful! Ah, what a dream to be loved in such a way! What
bliss to live for fifty-five years enveloped in an intense, unwavering
affection! How this happy being must have blessed his life to be so
The doctor smiled.
"You are not mistaken, madame, on this point the loved one was a man. You
even know him; it is Monsieur Chouquet, the chemist. As to the woman, you
also know her, the old chair-mender, who came every year to the chateau."
The enthusiasm of the women fell. Some expressed their contempt with
"Pouah!" for the loves of common people did not interest them. The doctor
continued: "Three months ago I was called to the deathbed of the old
chair-mender. The priest had preceded me. She wished to make us the
executors of her will. In order that we might understand her conduct, she
told us the story of her life. It is most singular and touching: Her
father and mother were both chair-menders. She had never lived in a
house. As a little child she wandered about with them, dirty, unkempt,
hungry. They visited many towns, leaving their horse, wagon and dog just
outside the limits, where the child played in the grass alone until her
parents had repaired all the broken chairs in the place. They seldom
spoke, except to cry, 'Chairs! Chairs! Chair-mender!'
"When the little one strayed too far away, she would be called back by
the harsh, angry voice of her father. She never heard a word of
affection. When she grew older, she fetched and carried the broken
chairs. Then it was she made friends with the children in the street, but
their parents always called them away and scolded them for speaking to
the barefooted child. Often the boys threw stones at her. Once a kind
woman gave her a few pennies. She saved them most carefully.
"One day—she was then eleven years old—as she was walking through
a country town she met, behind the cemetery, little Chouquet, weeping
bitterly, because one of his playmates had stolen two precious liards
(mills). The tears of the small bourgeois, one of those much-envied
mortals, who, she imagined, never knew trouble, completely upset her. She
approached him and, as soon as she learned the cause of his grief, she
put into his hands all her savings. He took them without hesitation and
dried his eyes. Wild with joy, she kissed him. He was busy counting his
money, and did not object. Seeing that she was not repulsed, she threw
her arms round him and gave him a hug—then she ran away.
"What was going on in her poor little head? Was it because she had
sacrificed all her fortune that she became madly fond of this youngster,
or was it because she had given him the first tender kiss? The mystery is
alike for children and for those of riper years. For months she dreamed
of that corner near the cemetery and of the little chap. She stole a sou
here and, there from her parents on the chair money or groceries she was
sent to buy. When she returned to the spot near the cemetery she had two
francs in her pocket, but he was not there. Passing his father's drug
store, she caught sight of him behind the counter. He was sitting between
a large red globe and a blue one. She only loved him the more, quite
carried away at the sight of the brilliant-colored globes. She cherished
the recollection of it forever in her heart. The following year she met
him near the school playing marbles. She rushed up to him, threw her
arms round him, and kissed him so passionately that he screamed, in fear.
To quiet him, she gave him all her money. Three francs and twenty
centimes! A real gold mine, at which he gazed with staring eyes.
"After this he allowed her to kiss him as much as she wished. During the
next four years she put into his hands all her savings, which he pocketed
conscientiously in exchange for kisses. At one time it was thirty sons,
at another two francs. Again, she only had twelve sous. She wept with
grief and shame, explaining brokenly that it had been a poor year. The
next time she brought five francs, in one whole piece, which made her
laugh with joy. She no longer thought of any one but the boy, and he
watched for her with impatience; sometimes he would run to meet her. This
made her heart thump with joy. Suddenly he disappeared. He had gone to
boarding school. She found this out by careful investigation. Then she
used great diplomacy to persuade her parents to change their route and
pass by this way again during vacation. After a year of scheming she
succeeded. She had not seen him for two years, and scarcely recognized
him, he was so changed, had grown taller, better looking and was imposing
in his uniform, with its brass buttons. He pretended not to see her, and
passed by without a glance. She wept for two days and from that time
loved and suffered unceasingly.
"Every year he came home and she passed him, not daring to lift her eyes.
He never condescended to turn his head toward her. She loved him madly,
hopelessly. She said to me:
"'He is the only man whom I have ever seen. I don't even know if another
exists.' Her parents died. She continued their work.
"One day, on entering the village, where her heart always remained, she
saw Chouquet coming out of his pharmacy with a young lady leaning on his
arm. She was his wife. That night the chair-mender threw herself into the
river. A drunkard passing the spot pulled her out and took her to the
drug store. Young Chouquet came down in his dressing gown to revive her.
Without seeming to know who she was he undressed her and rubbed her; then
he said to her, in a harsh voice:
"'You are mad! People must not do stupid things like that.' His voice
brought her to life again. He had spoken to her! She was happy for a long
time. He refused remuneration for his trouble, although she insisted.
"All her life passed in this way. She worked, thinking always of him. She
began to buy medicines at his pharmacy; this gave her a chance to talk to
him and to see him closely. In this way, she was still able to give him
"As I said before, she died this spring. When she had closed her pathetic
story she entreated me to take her earnings to the man she loved. She had
worked only that she might leave him something to remind him of her after
her death. I gave the priest fifty francs for her funeral expenses. The
next morning I went to see the Chouquets. They were finishing breakfast,
sitting opposite each other, fat and red, important and self-satisfied.
They welcomed me and offered me some coffee, which I accepted. Then I
began my story in a trembling voice, sure that they would be softened,
even to tears. As soon as Chouquet understood that he had been loved by
'that vagabond! that chair-mender! that wanderer!' he swore with
indignation as though his reputation had been sullied, the respect of
decent people lost, his personal honor, something precious and dearer to
him than life, gone. His exasperated wife kept repeating: 'That beggar!
"Seeming unable to find words suitable to the enormity, he stood up and
began striding about. He muttered: 'Can you understand anything so
horrible, doctor? Oh, if I had only known it while she was alive, I
should have had her thrown into prison. I promise you she would not have
"I was dumfounded; I hardly knew what to think or say, but I had to
finish my mission. 'She commissioned me,' I said, 'to give you her
savings, which amount to three thousand five hundred francs. As what I
have just told you seems to be very disagreeable, perhaps you would
prefer to give this money to the poor.'
"They looked at me, that man and woman,' speechless with amazement. I
took the few thousand francs from out of my pocket. Wretched-looking
money from every country. Pennies and gold pieces all mixed together.
Then I asked:
"'What is your decision?'
"Madame Chouquet spoke first. 'Well, since it is the dying woman's wish,
it seems to me impossible to refuse it.'
"Her husband said, in a shamefaced manner: 'We could buy something for
our children with it.'
"I answered dryly: 'As you wish.'
"He replied: 'Well, give it to us anyhow, since she commissioned you to
do so; we will find a way to put it to some good purpose.'
"I gave them the money, bowed and left.
"The next day Chouquet came to me and said brusquely:
"'That woman left her wagon here—what have you done with it?'
"'Nothing; take it if you wish.'
"'It's just what I wanted,' he added, and walked off. I called him back
"'She also left her old horse and two dogs. Don't you need them?'
"He stared at me surprised: 'Well, no! Really, what would I do with
"'Dispose of them as you like.'
"He laughed and held out his hand to me. I shook it. What could I do? The
doctor and the druggist in a country village must not be at enmity. I
have kept the dogs. The priest took the old horse. The wagon is useful to
Chouquet, and with the money he has bought railroad stock. That is the
only deep, sincere love that I have ever known in all my life."
The doctor looked up. The marquise, whose eyes were full of tears, sighed
"There is no denying the fact, only women know how to love."