A Sister's Confession by Guy de Maupassant
Marguerite de Therelles was dying. Although she was-only fifty-six years
old she looked at least seventy-five. She gasped for breath, her face
whiter than the sheets, and had spasms of violent shivering, with her
face convulsed and her eyes haggard as though she saw a frightful vision.
Her elder sister, Suzanne, six years older than herself, was sobbing on
her knees beside the bed. A small table close to the dying woman's couch
bore, on a white cloth, two lighted candles, for the priest was expected
at any moment to administer extreme unction and the last communion.
The apartment wore that melancholy aspect common to death chambers; a
look of despairing farewell. Medicine bottles littered the furniture;
linen lay in the corners into which it had been kicked or swept. The very
chairs looked, in their disarray, as if they were terrified and had run
in all directions. Death—terrible Death—was in the room,
hidden, awaiting his prey.
This history of the two sisters was an affecting one. It was spoken of
far and wide; it had drawn tears from many eyes.
Suzanne, the elder, had once been passionately loved by a young man,
whose affection she returned. They were engaged to be married, and the
wedding day was at hand, when Henry de Sampierre suddenly died.
The young girl's despair was terrible, and she took an oath never to
marry. She faithfully kept her vow and adopted widow's weeds for the
remainder of her life.
But one morning her sister, her little sister Marguerite, then only
twelve years old, threw herself into Suzanne's arms, sobbing: "Sister, I
don't want you to be unhappy. I don't want you to mourn all your life.
I'll never leave you—never, never, never! I shall never marry,
either. I'll stay with you always—always!"
Suzanne kissed her, touched by the child's devotion, though not putting
any faith in her promise.
But the little one kept her word, and, despite her parents'
remonstrances, despite her elder sister's prayers, never married. She was
remarkably pretty and refused many offers. She never left her sister.
They spent their whole life together, without a single day's separation.
They went everywhere together and were inseparable. But Marguerite was
pensive, melancholy, sadder than her sister, as if her sublime sacrifice
had undermined her spirits. She grew older more quickly; her hair was
white at thirty; and she was often ill, apparently stricken with some
unknown, wasting malady.
And now she would be the first to die.
She had not spoken for twenty-four hours, except to whisper at daybreak:
"Send at once for the priest."
And she had since remained lying on her back, convulsed with agony, her
lips moving as if unable to utter the dreadful words that rose in her
heart, her face expressive of a terror distressing to witness.
Suzanne, distracted with grief, her brow pressed against the bed, wept
bitterly, repeating over and over again the words:
"Margot, my poor Margot, my little one!"
She had always called her "my little one," while Marguerite's name for
the elder was invariably "sister."
A footstep sounded on the stairs. The door opened. An acolyte appeared,
followed by the aged priest in his surplice. As soon as she saw him the
dying woman sat up suddenly in bed, opened her lips, stammered a few
words and began to scratch the bed-clothes, as if she would have made
hole in them.
Father Simon approached, took her hand, kissed her on the forehead and
said in a gentle voice:
"May God pardon your sins, my daughter. Be of good courage. Now is the
moment to confess them—speak!"
Then Marguerite, shuddering from head to foot, so that the very bed shook
with her nervous movements, gasped:
"Sit down, sister, and listen."
The priest stooped toward the prostrate Suzanne, raised her to her feet,
placed her in a chair, and, taking a hand of each of the sisters,
"Lord God! Send them strength! Shed Thy mercy upon them."
And Marguerite began to speak. The words issued from her lips one by
one—hoarse, jerky, tremulous.
"Pardon, pardon, sister! pardon me! Oh, if only you knew how I have
dreaded this moment all my life!"
Suzanne faltered through her tears:
"But what have I to pardon, little one? You have given me everything,
sacrificed all to me. You are an angel."
But Marguerite interrupted her:
"Be silent, be silent! Let me speak! Don't stop me! It is terrible. Let
me tell all, to the very end, without interruption. Listen. You
Suzanne trembled and looked at her sister. The younger one went on:
"In order to understand you must hear everything. I was twelve years
old—only twelve—you remember, don't you? And I was spoilt; I
did just as I pleased. You remember how everybody spoilt me? Listen. The
first time he came he had on his riding boots; he dismounted, saying that
he had a message for father. You remember, don't you? Don't speak.
Listen. When I saw him I was struck with admiration. I thought him so
handsome, and I stayed in a corner of the drawing-room all the time he
was talking. Children are strange—and terrible. Yes, indeed, I
dreamt of him.
"He came again—many times. I looked at him with all my eyes, all my
heart. I was large for my age and much more precocious than—any one
suspected. He came often. I thought only of him. I often whispered to
"'Henry-Henry de Sampierre!'
"Then I was told that he was going to marry you. That was a blow! Oh,
sister, a terrible blow—terrible! I wept all through three
"He came every afternoon after lunch. You remember, don't you? Don't
answer. Listen. You used to make cakes that he was very fond
of—with flour, butter and milk. Oh, I know how to make them. I
could make them still, if necessary. He would swallow them at one
mouthful and wash them down with a glass of wine, saying: 'Delicious!' Do
you remember the way he said it?
"I was jealous—jealous! Your wedding day was drawing near. It was
only a fortnight distant. I was distracted. I said to myself: 'He shall
not marry Suzanne—no, he shall not! He shall marry me when I am old
enough! I shall never love any one half so much.' But one evening, ten
days before the wedding, you went for a stroll with him in the moonlight
before the house—and yonder—under the pine tree, the big pine
tree—he kissed you—kissed you—and held you in his arms
so long—so long! You remember, don't you? It was probably the first
time. You were so pale when you came back to the drawing-room!
"I saw you. I was there in the shrubbery. I was mad with rage! I would
have killed you both if I could!
"I said to myself: 'He shall never marry Suzanne—never! He shall
marry no one! I could not bear it.' And all at once I began to hate him
"Then do you know what I did? Listen. I had seen the gardener prepare
pellets for killing stray dogs. He would crush a bottle into small pieces
with a stone and put the ground glass into a ball of meat.
"I stole a small medicine bottle from mother's room. I ground it fine
with a hammer and hid the glass in my pocket. It was a glistening powder.
The next day, when you had made your little cakes; I opened them with a
knife and inserted the glass. He ate three. I ate one myself. I threw the
six others into the pond. The two swans died three days later. You
remember? Oh, don't speak! Listen, listen. I, I alone did not die. But I
have always been ill. Listen—he died—you know—listen—that was not the
worst. It was afterward, later—always—the most terrible—listen.
"My life, all my life—such torture! I said to myself: 'I will never
leave my sister. And on my deathbed I will tell her all.' And now I have
told. And I have always thought of this moment—the moment when all
would be told. Now it has come. It is terrible—oh!—sister—
"I have always thought, morning and evening, day and night: 'I shall have
to tell her some day!' I waited. The horror of it! It is done. Say
nothing. Now I am afraid—I am afraid! Oh! Supposing I should see
him again, by and by, when I am dead! See him again! Only to think of it!
I dare not—yet I must. I am going to die. I want you to forgive me.
I insist on it. I cannot meet him without your forgiveness. Oh, tell her
to forgive me, Father! Tell her. I implore you! I cannot die without it."
She was silent and lay back, gasping for breath, still plucking at the
sheets with her fingers.
Suzanne had hidden her face in her hands and did not move. She was
thinking of him whom she had loved so long. What a life of happiness they
might have had together! She saw him again in the dim and distant
past-that past forever lost. Beloved dead! how the thought of them rends
the heart! Oh! that kiss, his only kiss! She had retained the memory of
it in her soul. And, after that, nothing, nothing more throughout her
The priest rose suddenly and in a firm, compelling voice said:
"Mademoiselle Suzanne, your sister is dying!"
Then Suzanne, raising her tear-stained face, put her arms round her
sister, and kissing her fervently, exclaimed:
"I forgive you, I forgive you, little one!"