A Family by Guy de Maupassant
I was to see my old friend, Simon Radevin, of whom I had lost sight for
fifteen years. At one time he was my most intimate friend, the friend who
knows one's thoughts, with whom one passes long, quiet, happy evenings,
to whom one tells one's secret love affairs, and who seems to draw out
those rare, ingenious, delicate thoughts born of that sympathy that gives
a sense of repose.
For years we had scarcely been separated; we had lived, travelled,
thought and dreamed together; had liked the same things, had admired the
same books, understood the same authors, trembled with the same
sensations, and very often laughed at the same individuals, whom we
understood completely by merely exchanging a glance.
Then he married. He married, quite suddenly, a little girl from the
provinces, who had come to Paris in search of a husband. How in the world
could that little thin, insipidly fair girl, with her weak hands, her
light, vacant eyes, and her clear, silly voice, who was exactly like a
hundred thousand marriageable dolls, have picked up that intelligent,
clever young fellow? Can any one understand these things? No doubt he had
hoped for happiness, simple, quiet and long-enduring happiness, in the
arms of a good, tender and faithful woman; he had seen all that in the
transparent looks of that schoolgirl with light hair.
He had not dreamed of the fact that an active, living and vibrating man
grows weary of everything as soon as he understands the stupid reality,
unless, indeed, he becomes so brutalized that he understands nothing
What would he be like when I met him again? Still lively, witty,
light-hearted and enthusiastic, or in a state of mental torpor induced by
provincial life? A man may change greatly in the course of fifteen years!
The train stopped at a small station, and as I got out of the carriage, a
stout, a very stout man with red cheeks and a big stomach rushed up to me
with open arms, exclaiming: "George!" I embraced him, but I had not
recognized him, and then I said, in astonishment: "By Jove! You have not
grown thin!" And he replied with a laugh:
"What did you expect? Good living, a good table and good nights! Eating
and sleeping, that is my existence!"
I looked at him closely, trying to discover in that broad face the
features I held so dear. His eyes alone had not changed, but I no longer
saw the same expression in them, and I said to myself: "If the expression
be the reflection of the mind, the thoughts in that head are not what
they used to be formerly; those thoughts which I knew so well."
Yet his eyes were bright, full of happiness and friendship, but they had
not that clear, intelligent expression which shows as much as words the
brightness of the intellect. Suddenly he said:
"Here are my two eldest children." A girl of fourteen, who was almost a
woman, and a boy of thirteen, in the dress of a boy from a Lycee, came
forward in a hesitating and awkward manner, and I said in a low voice:
"Are they yours?" "Of course they are," he replied, laughing. "How many
have you?" "Five! There are three more at home."
He said this in a proud, self-satisfied, almost triumphant manner, and I
felt profound pity, mingled with a feeling of vague contempt, for this
vainglorious and simple reproducer of his species.
I got into a carriage which he drove himself, and we set off through the
town, a dull, sleepy, gloomy town where nothing was moving in the streets
except a few dogs and two or three maidservants. Here and there a
shopkeeper, standing at his door, took off his hat, and Simon returned
his salute and told me the man's name; no doubt to show me that he knew
all the inhabitants personally, and the thought struck me that he was
thinking of becoming a candidate for the Chamber of Deputies, that dream
of all those who bury themselves in the provinces.
We were soon out of the town, and the carriage turned into a garden that
was an imitation of a park, and stopped in front of a turreted house,
which tried to look like a chateau.
"That is my den," said Simon, so that I might compliment him on it. "It
is charming," I replied.
A lady appeared on the steps, dressed for company, and with company
phrases all ready prepared. She was no longer the light-haired, insipid
girl I had seen in church fifteen years previously, but a stout lady in
curls and flounces, one of those ladies of uncertain age, without
intellect, without any of those things that go to make a woman. In short,
she was a mother, a stout, commonplace mother, a human breeding machine
which procreates without any other preoccupation but her children and her
She welcomed me, and I went into the hall, where three children, ranged
according to their height, seemed set out for review, like firemen before
a mayor, and I said: "Ah! ah! so there are the others?" Simon, radiant
with pleasure, introduced them: "Jean, Sophie and Gontran."
The door of the drawing-room was open. I went in, and in the depths of an
easy-chair, I saw something trembling, a man, an old, paralyzed man.
Madame Radevin came forward and said: "This is my grandfather, monsieur;
he is eighty-seven." And then she shouted into the shaking old man's
ears: "This is a friend of Simon's, papa." The old gentleman tried to say
"good-day" to me, and he muttered: "Oua, oua, oua," and waved his hand,
and I took a seat saying: "You are very kind, monsieur."
Simon had just come in, and he said with a laugh: "So! You have made
grandpapa's acquaintance. He is a treasure, that old man; he is the
delight of the children. But he is so greedy that he almost kills himself
at every meal; you have no idea what he would eat if he were allowed to
do as he pleased. But you will see, you will see. He looks at all the
sweets as if they were so many girls. You never saw anything so funny;
you will see presently."
I was then shown to my room, to change my dress for dinner, and hearing a
great clatter behind me on the stairs, I turned round and saw that all
the children were following me behind their father; to do me honor, no
My windows looked out across a dreary, interminable plain, an ocean of
grass, of wheat and of oats, without a clump of trees or any rising
ground, a striking and melancholy picture of the life which they must be
leading in that house.
A bell rang; it was for dinner, and I went downstairs. Madame Radevin
took my arm in a ceremonious manner, and we passed into the dining-room.
A footman wheeled in the old man in his armchair. He gave a greedy and
curious look at the dessert, as he turned his shaking head with
difficulty from one dish to the other.
Simon rubbed his hands: "You will be amused," he said; and all the
children understanding that I was going to be indulged with the sight of
their greedy grandfather, began to laugh, while their mother merely
smiled and shrugged her shoulders, and Simon, making a speaking trumpet
of his hands, shouted at the old man: "This evening there is sweet
creamed rice!" The wrinkled face of the grandfather brightened, and he
trembled more violently, from head to foot, showing that he had
understood and was very pleased. The dinner began.
"Just look!" Simon whispered. The old man did not like the soup, and
refused to eat it; but he was obliged to do it for the good of his
health, and the footman forced the spoon into his mouth, while the old
man blew so energetically, so as not to swallow the soup, that it was
scattered like a spray all over the table and over his neighbors. The
children writhed with laughter at the spectacle, while their father, who
was also amused, said: "Is not the old man comical?"
During the whole meal they were taken up solely with him. He devoured the
dishes on the table with his eyes, and tried to seize them and pull them
over to him with his trembling hands. They put them almost within his
reach, to see his useless efforts, his trembling clutches at them, the
piteous appeal of his whole nature, of his eyes, of his mouth and of his
nose as he smelt them, and he slobbered on his table napkin with
eagerness, while uttering inarticulate grunts. And the whole family was
highly amused at this horrible and grotesque scene.
Then they put a tiny morsel on his plate, and he ate with feverish
gluttony, in order to get something more as soon as possible, and when
the sweetened rice was brought in, he nearly had a fit, and groaned with
greediness, and Gontran called out to him:
"You have eaten too much already; you can have no more." And they
pretended not to give him any. Then he began to cry; he cried and
trembled more violently than ever, while all the children laughed. At
last, however, they gave him his helping, a very small piece; and as he
ate the first mouthful, he made a comical noise in his throat, and a
movement with his neck as ducks do when they swallow too large a morsel,
and when he had swallowed it, he began to stamp his feet, so as to get
I was seized with pity for this saddening and ridiculous Tantalus, and
interposed on his behalf:
"Come, give him a little more rice!" But Simon replied: "Oh! no, my dear
fellow, if he were to eat too much, it would harm him, at his age."
I held my tongue, and thought over those words. Oh, ethics! Oh, logic!
Oh, wisdom! At his age! So they deprived him of his only remaining
pleasure out of regard for his health! His health! What would he do with
it, inert and trembling wreck that he was? They were taking care of his
life, so they said. His life? How many days? Ten, twenty, fifty, or a
hundred? Why? For his own sake? Or to preserve for some time longer the
spectacle of his impotent greediness in the family.
There was nothing left for him to do in this life, nothing whatever. He
had one single wish left, one sole pleasure; why not grant him that last
solace until he died?
After we had played cards for a long time, I went up to my room and to
bed; I was low-spirited and sad, sad, sad! and I sat at my window. Not a
sound could be heard outside but the beautiful warbling of a bird in a
tree, somewhere in the distance. No doubt the bird was singing in a low
voice during the night, to lull his mate, who was asleep on her eggs. And
I thought of my poor friend's five children, and pictured him to myself,
snoring by the side of his ugly wife.