A Widow by Guy de Maupassant
This story was told during the hunting season at the Chateau Baneville.
The autumn had been rainy and sad. The red leaves, instead of rustling
under the feet, were rotting under the heavy downfalls.
The forest was as damp as it could be. From it came an odor of must, of
rain, of soaked grass and wet earth; and the sportsmen, their backs
hunched under the downpour, mournful dogs, with tails between their legs
and hairs sticking to their sides, and the young women, with their
clothes drenched, returned every evening, tired in body and in mind.
After dinner, in the large drawing-room, everybody played lotto, without
enjoyment, while the wind whistled madly around the house. Then they
tried telling stories like those they read in books, but no one was able
to invent anything amusing. The hunters told tales of wonderful shots and
of the butchery of rabbits; and the women racked their brains for ideas
without revealing the imagination of Scheherezade. They were about to
give up this diversion when a young woman, who was idly caressing the
hand of an old maiden aunt, noticed a little ring made of blond hair,
which she had often seen, without paying any attention to it.
She fingered it gently and asked, "Auntie, what is this ring? It looks as
if it were made from the hair of a child."
The old lady blushed, grew pale, then answered in a trembling voice: "It
is sad, so sad that I never wish to speak of it. All the unhappiness of
my life comes from that. I was very young then, and the memory has
remained so painful that I weep every time I think of it."
Immediately everybody wished to know the story, but the old lady refused
to tell it. Finally, after they had coaxed her for a long time, she
yielded. Here is the story:
"You have often heard me speak of the Santeze family, now extinct. I knew
the last three male members of this family. They all died in the same
manner; this hair belongs to the last one. He was thirteen when he killed
himself for me. That seems strange to you, doesn't it?
"Oh! it was a strange family—mad, if you will, but a charming
madness, the madness of love. From father to son, all had violent
passions which filled their whole being, which impelled them to do wild
things, drove them to frantic enthusiasm, even to crime. This was born in
them, just as burning devotion is in certain souls. Trappers have not the
same nature as minions of the drawing-room. There was a saying: 'As
passionate as a Santeze.' This could be noticed by looking at them. They
all had wavy hair, falling over their brows, curly beards and large eyes
whose glance pierced and moved one, though one could not say why.
"The grandfather of the owner of this hair, of whom it is the last
souvenir, after many adventures, duels and elopements, at about
sixty-five fell madly in love with his farmer's daughter. I knew them
both. She was blond, pale, distinguished-looking, with a slow manner of
talking, a quiet voice and a look so gentle that one might have taken her
for a Madonna. The old nobleman took her to his home and was soon so
captivated with her that he could not live without her for a minute. His
daughter and daughter-in-law, who lived in the chateau, found this
perfectly natural, love was such a tradition in the family. Nothing in
regard to a passion surprised them, and if one spoke before them of
parted lovers, even of vengeance after treachery, both said in the same
sad tone: 'Oh, how he must have suffered to come to that point!' That was
all. They grew sad over tragedies of love, but never indignant, even when
they were criminal.
"Now, one day a young man named Monsieur de Gradelle, who had been
invited for the shooting, eloped with the young girl.
"Monsieur de Santeze remained calm as if nothing had happened, but one
morning he was found hanging in the kennels, among his dogs.
"His son died in the same manner in a hotel in Paris during a journey
which he made there in 1841, after being deceived by a singer from the
"He left a twelve-year-old child and a widow, my mother's sister. She
came to my father's house with the boy, while we were living at
Bertillon. I was then seventeen.
"You have no idea how wonderful and precocious this Santeze child was.
One might have thought that all the tenderness and exaltation of the
whole race had been stored up in this last one. He was always dreaming
and walking about alone in a great alley of elms leading from the chateau
to the forest. I watched from my window this sentimental boy, who walked
with thoughtful steps, his hands behind his back, his head bent, and at
times stopping to raise his eyes as if he could see and understand things
that were not comprehensible at his age.
"Often, after dinner on clear evenings, he would say to me: 'Let us go
outside and dream, cousin.' And we would go outside together in the park.
He would stop quickly before a clearing where the white vapor of the moon
lights the woods, and he would press my hand, saying: 'Look! look! but
you don't understand me; I feel it. If you understood me, we should be
happy. One must love to know! I would laugh and then kiss this child, who
loved me madly.
"Often, after dinner, he would sit on my mother's knees. 'Come, auntie,'
he would say, 'tell me some love-stories.' And my mother, as a joke,
would tell him all the old legends of the family, all the passionate
adventures of his forefathers, for thousands of them were current, some
true and some false. It was their reputation for love and gallantry which
was the ruin of every one of these-men; they gloried in it and then
thought that they had to live up to the renown of their house.
"The little fellow became exalted by these tender or terrible stories,
and at times he would clap his hands, crying: 'I, too, I, too, know how
to love, better than all of them!'
"Then, he began to court me in a timid and tender manner, at which every
one laughed, it was, so amusing. Every morning I had some flowers picked
by him, and every evening before going to his room he would kiss my hand
and murmur: 'I love you!'
"I was guilty, very guilty, and I grieved continually about it, and I
have been doing penance all my life; I have remained an old
maid—or, rather, I have lived as a widowed fiancee, his widow.
"I was amused at this childish tenderness, and I even encouraged him. I
was coquettish, as charming as with a man, alternately caressing and
severe. I maddened this child. It was a game for me and a joyous
diversion for his mother and mine. He was twelve! think of it! Who would
have taken this atom's passion seriously? I kissed him as often as he
wished; I even wrote him little notes, which were read by our respective
mothers; and he answered me by passionate letters, which I have kept.
Judging himself as a man, he thought that our loving intimacy was secret.
We had forgotten that he was a Santeze.
"This lasted for about a year. One evening in the park he fell at my feet
and, as he madly kissed the hem of my dress, he kept repeating: 'I love
you! I love you! I love you! If ever you deceive me, if ever you leave me
for another, I'll do as my father did.' And he added in a hoarse voice,
which gave me a shiver: 'You know what he did!'
"I stood there astonished. He arose, and standing on the tips of his toes
in order to reach my ear, for I was taller than he, he pronounced my
first name: 'Genevieve!' in such a gentle, sweet, tender tone that I
trembled all over. I stammered: 'Let us return! let us return!' He said
no more and followed me; but as we were going up the steps of the porch,
he stopped me, saying: 'You know, if ever you leave me, I'll kill
"This time I understood that I had gone too far, and I became quite
reserved. One day, as he was reproaching me for this, I answered: 'You
are now too old for jesting and too young for serious love. I'll wait.'
"I thought that this would end the matter. In the autumn he was sent to a
boarding-school. When he returned the following summer I was engaged to
be married. He understood immediately, and for a week he became so
pensive that I was quite anxious.
"On the morning of the ninth day I saw a little paper under my door as I
got up. I seized it, opened it and read: 'You have deserted me and you
know what I said. It is death to which you have condemned me. As I do not
wish to be found by another than you, come to the park just where I told
you last year that I loved you and look in the air.'
"I thought that I should go mad. I dressed as quickly as I could and ran
wildly to the place that he had mentioned. His little cap was on the
ground in the mud. It had been raining all night. I raised my eyes and
saw something swinging among the leaves, for the wind was blowing a gale.
"I don't know what I did after that. I must have screamed at first, then
fainted and fallen, and finally have run to the chateau. The next thing
that I remember I was in bed, with my mother sitting beside me.
"I thought that I had dreamed all this in a frightful nightmare. I
stammered: 'And what of him, what of him, Gontran?' There was no answer.
It was true!
"I did not dare see him again, but I asked for a lock of his blond hair.
Here—here it is!"
And the old maid stretched out her trembling hand in a despairing
gesture. Then she blew her nose several times, wiped her eyes and
"I broke off my marriage—without saying why. And I—I always
have remained the—the widow of this thirteen-year-old boy." Then
her head fell on her breast and she wept for a long time.
As the guests were retiring for the night a large man, whose quiet she
had disturbed, whispered in his neighbor's ear: "Isn't it unfortunate to,
be so sentimental?"