A Meeting by Guy de Maupassant
It was nothing but an accident, an accident pure and simple. On that
particular evening the princess' rooms were open, and as they appeared
dark after the brilliantly lighted parlors, Baron d'Etraille, who was
tired of standing, inadvertently wandered into an empty bedroom.
He looked round for a chair in which to have a doze, as he was sure his
wife would not leave before daylight. As soon as he became accustomed to
the light of the room he distinguished the big bed with its
azure-and-gold hangings, in the middle of the great room, looking like a
catafalque in which love was buried, for the princess was no longer
young. Behind it, a large bright surface looked like a lake seen at a
distance. It was a large mirror, discreetly covered with dark drapery,
that was very rarely let down, and seemed to look at the bed, which was
its accomplice. One might almost fancy that it had reminiscences, and
that one might see in it charming female forms and the gentle movement of
The baron stood still for a moment, smiling, almost experiencing an
emotion on the threshold of this chamber dedicated to love. But suddenly
something appeared in the looking-glass, as if the phantoms which he had
evoked had risen up before him. A man and a woman who had been sitting on
a low couch concealed in the shadow had arisen, and the polished surface,
reflecting their figures, showed that they were kissing each other before
Baron d'Etraille recognized his wife and the Marquis de Cervigne. He
turned and went away like a man who is fully master of himself, and
waited till it was day before taking away the baroness; but he had no
longer any thoughts of sleeping.
As soon as they were alone he said:
"Madame, I saw you just now in Princesse de Raynes' room; I need say no
more, and I am not fond either of reproaches, acts of violence, or of
ridicule. As I wish to avoid all such things, we shall separate without
any scandal. Our lawyers will settle your position according to my
orders. You will be free to live as you please when you are no longer
under my roof; but, as you will continue to bear my name, I must warn you
that should any scandal arise I shall show myself inflexible."
She tried to speak, but he stopped her, bowed, and left the room.
He was more astonished and sad than unhappy. He had loved her dearly
during the first period of their married life; but his ardor had cooled,
and now he often amused himself elsewhere, either in a theatre or in
society, though he always preserved a certain liking for the baroness.
She was very young, hardly four-and-twenty, small, slight—too
slight—and very fair. She was a true Parisian doll: clever,
spoiled, elegant, coquettish, witty, with more charm than real beauty. He
used to say familiarly to his brother, when speaking of her:
"My wife is charming, attractive, but—there is nothing to lay hold
of. She is like a glass of champagne that is all froth; when you get to
the wine it is very good, but there is too little of it, unfortunately."
He walked up and down the room in great agitation, thinking of a thousand
things. At one moment he was furious, and felt inclined to give the
marquis a good thrashing, or to slap his face publicly, in the club. But
he decided that would not do, it would not be good form; he would be
laughed at, and not his rival, and this thought wounded his vanity. So he
went to bed, but could not sleep. Paris knew in a few days that the Baron
and Baroness d'Etraille had agreed to an amicable separation on account
of incompatibility of temper. No one suspected anything, no one laughed,
and no one was astonished.
The baron, however, to avoid meeting his wife, travelled for a year, then
spent the summer at the seaside, and the autumn in shooting, returning to
Paris for the winter. He did not meet the baroness once.
He did not even know what people said about her. In any case, she took
care to respect appearances, and that was all he asked for.
He became dreadfully bored, travelled again, restored his old castle of
Villebosc, which took him two years; then for over a year he entertained
friends there, till at last, tired of all these so-called pleasures, he
returned to his mansion in the Rue de Lille, just six years after the
He was now forty-five, with a good crop of gray hair, rather stout, and
with that melancholy look characteristic of those who have been handsome,
sought after, and liked, but who are deteriorating, daily.
A month after his return to Paris, he took cold on coming out of his
club, and had such a bad cough that his medical man ordered him to Nice
for the rest of the winter.
He reached the station only a few minutes before the departure of the
train on Monday evening, and had barely time to get into a carriage, with
only one other occupant, who was sitting in a corner so wrapped in furs
and cloaks that he could not even make out whether it was a man or a
woman, as nothing of the figure could be seen. When he perceived that he
could not find out, he put on his travelling cap, rolled himself up in
his rugs, and stretched out comfortably to sleep.
He did not wake until the day was breaking, and looked at once at his
fellow-traveller, who had not stirred all night, and seemed still to be
M. d'Etraille made use of the opportunity to brush his hair and his
beard, and to try to freshen himself up a little generally, for a night's
travel does not improve one's appearance when one has attained a certain
A great poet has said:
"When we are young, our mornings are triumphant!"
Then we wake up with a cool skin, a bright eye, and glossy hair.
As one grows older one wakes up in a very different condition. Dull eyes,
red, swollen cheeks, dry lips, hair and beard disarranged, impart an old,
fatigued, worn-out look to the face.
The baron opened his travelling case, and improved his looks as much as
The engine whistled, the train stopped, and his neighbor moved. No doubt
he was awake. They started off again, and then a slanting ray of sunlight
shone into the carriage and on the sleeper, who moved again, shook
himself, and then his face could be seen.
It was a young, fair, pretty, plump woman, and the baron looked at her in
amazement. He did not know what to think. He could really have sworn that
it was his wife, but wonderfully changed for the better: stouter
—why she had grown as stout as he was, only it suited her much
better than it did him.
She looked at him calmly, did not seem to recognize him, and then slowly
laid aside her wraps. She had that quiet assurance of a woman who is sure
of herself, who feels that on awaking she is in her full beauty and
The baron was really bewildered. Was it his wife, or else as like her as
any sister could be? Not having seen her for six years, he might be
She yawned, and this gesture betrayed her. She turned and looked at him
again, calmly, indifferently, as if she scarcely saw him, and then looked
out of the window again.
He was upset and dreadfully perplexed, and kept looking at her sideways.
Yes; it was surely his wife. How could he possibly have doubted it? There
could certainly not be two noses like that, and a thousand recollections
flashed through his mind. He felt the old feeling of the intoxication of
love stealing over him, and he called to mind the sweet odor of her skin,
her smile when she put her arms on to his shoulders, the soft intonations
of her voice, all her graceful, coaxing ways.
But how she had changed and improved! It was she and yet not she. She
seemed riper, more developed, more of a woman, more seductive, more
desirable, adorably desirable.
And this strange, unknown woman, whom he had accidentally met in a
railway carriage, belonged to him; he had only to say to her:
"I insist upon it."
He had formerly slept in her arms, existed only in her love, and now he
had found her again certainly, but so changed that he scarcely knew her.
It was another, and yet it was she herself. It was some one who had been
born and had formed and grown since he had left her. It was she, indeed;
she whom he had loved, but who was now altered, with a more assured smile
and greater self-possession. There were two women in one, mingling a
great part of what was new and unknown with many sweet recollections of
the past. There was something singular, disturbing, exciting about it
—a kind of mystery of love in which there floated a delicious
confusion. It was his wife in a new body and in new flesh which lips had
And he thought that in a few years nearly every thing changes in us; only
the outline can be recognized, and sometimes even that disappears.
The blood, the hair, the skin, all changes and is renewed, and when
people have not seen each other for a long time, when they meet they find
each other totally different beings, although they are the same and bear
the same name.
And the heart also can change. Ideas may be modified and renewed, so that
in forty years of life we may, by gradual and constant transformations,
become four or five totally new and different beings.
He dwelt on this thought till it troubled him; it had first taken
possession of him when he surprised her in the princess' room. He was not
the least angry; it was not the same woman that he was looking at
—that thin, excitable little doll of those days.
What was he to do? How should he address her? and what could he say to
her? Had she recognized him?
The train stopped again. He got up, bowed, and said: "Bertha, do you want
anything I could bring you?"
She looked at him from head to foot, and answered, without showing the
slightest surprise, or confusion, or anger, but with the most perfect
"I do not want anything—-thank you."
He got out and walked up and down the platform a little in order to
recover himself, and, as it were, to recover his senses after a fall.
What should he do now? If he got into another carriage it would look as
if he were running away. Should he be polite or importunate? That would
look as if he were asking for forgiveness. Should he speak as if he were
her master? He would look like a fool, and, besides, he really had no
right to do so.
He got in again and took his place.
During his absence she had hastily arranged her dress and hair, and was
now lying stretched out on the seat, radiant, and without showing any
He turned to her, and said: "My dear Bertha, since this singular chance
has brought up together after a separation of six years—a quite
friendly separation—are we to continue to look upon each other as
irreconcilable enemies? We are shut up together, tete-a-tete, which is so
much the better or so much the worse. I am not going to get into another
carriage, so don't you think it is preferable to talk as friends till the
end of our journey?"
She answered, quite calmly again:
"Just as you please."
Then he suddenly stopped, really not knowing what to say; but as he had
plenty of assurance, he sat down on the middle seat, and said:
"Well, I see I must pay my court to you; so much the better. It is,
however, really a pleasure, for you are charming. You cannot imagine how
you have improved in the last six years. I do not know any woman who
could give me that delightful sensation which I experienced just now when
you emerged from your wraps. I really could not have thought such a
Without moving her head or looking at him, she said: "I cannot say the
same with regard to you; you have certainly deteriorated a great deal."
He got red and confused, and then, with a smile of resignation, he said:
"You are rather hard."
"Why?" was her reply. "I am only stating facts. I don't suppose you
intend to offer me your love? It must, therefore, be a matter of perfect
indifference to you what I think about you. But I see it is a painful
subject, so let us talk of something else. What have you been doing since
I last saw you?"
He felt rather out of countenance, and stammered:
"I? I have travelled, done some shooting, and grown old, as you see. And
She said, quite calmly: "I have taken care of appearances, as you ordered
He was very nearly saying something brutal, but he checked himself; and
kissed his wife's hand:
"And I thank you," he said.
She was surprised. He was indeed diplomatic, and always master of
He went on: "As you have acceded to my first request, shall we now talk
without any bitterness?"
She made a little movement of surprise.
"Bitterness? I don't feel any; you are a complete stranger to me; I am
only trying to keep up a difficult conversation."
He was still looking at her, fascinated in spite of her harshness, and he
felt seized with a brutal Beside, the desire of the master.
Perceiving that she had hurt his feelings, she said:
"How old are you now? I thought you were younger than you look."
"I am forty-five"; and then he added: "I forgot to ask after Princesse de
Raynes. Are you still intimate with her?"
She looked at him as if she hated him:
"Yes, I certainly am. She is very well, thank you."
They remained sitting side by side, agitated and irritated. Suddenly he
"My dear Bertha, I have changed my mind. You are my wife, and I expect
you to come with me to-day. You have, I think, improved both morally and
physically, and I am going to take you back again. I am your husband, and
it is my right to do so."
She was stupefied, and looked at him, trying to divine his thoughts; but
his face was resolute and impenetrable.
"I am very sorry," she said, "but I have made other engagements."
"So much the worse for you," was his reply. "The law gives me the power,
and I mean to use it."
They were nearing Marseilles, and the train whistled and slackened speed.
The baroness rose, carefully rolled up her wraps, and then, turning to
her husband, said:
"My dear Raymond, do not make a bad use of this tete-a tete which I had
carefully prepared. I wished to take precautions, according to your
advice, so that I might have nothing to fear from you or from other
people, whatever might happen. You are going to Nice, are you not?"
"I shall go wherever you go."
"Not at all; just listen to me, and I am sure that you will leave me in
peace. In a few moments, when we get to the station, you will see the
Princesse de Raynes and Comtesse Henriot waiting for me with their
husbands. I wished them to see as, and to know that we had spent the
night together in the railway carriage. Don't be alarmed; they will tell
it everywhere as a most surprising fact.
"I told you just now that I had most carefully followed your advice and
saved appearances. Anything else does not matter, does it? Well, in order
to do so, I wished to be seen with you. You told me carefully to avoid
any scandal, and I am avoiding it, for, I am afraid—I am
She waited till the train had quite stopped, and as her friends ran up to
open the carriage door, she said:
"I am afraid"—hesitating—"that there is another
reason—je suis enceinte."
The princess stretched out her arms to embrace her,—and the
baroness said, painting to the baron, who was dumb with astonishment, and
was trying to get at the truth:
"You do not recognize Raymond? He has certainly changed a good deal, and
he agreed to come with me so that I might not travel alone. We take
little trips like this occasionally, like good friends who cannot live
together. We are going to separate here; he has had enough of me
She put out her hand, which he took mechanically, and then she jumped out
on to the platform among her friends, who were waiting for her.
The baron hastily shut the carriage door, for he was too much disturbed
to say a word or come to any determination. He heard his wife's voice and
their merry laughter as they went away.
He never saw her again, nor did he ever discover whether she had told him
a lie or was speaking the truth.