Monsieur Parent by Guy de Maupassant
George's father was sitting in an iron chair, watching his little son
with concentrated affection and attention, as little George piled up the
sand into heaps during one of their walks. He would take up the sand with
both hands, make a mound of it, and put a chestnut leaf on top. His
father saw no one but him in that public park full of people.
The sun was just disappearing behind the roofs of the Rue Saint-Lazare,
but still shed its rays obliquely on that little, overdressed crowd. The
chestnut trees were lighted up by its yellow rays, and the three
fountains before the lofty porch of the church had the appearance of
Monsieur Parent, accidentally looking up at the church clock, saw that he
was five minutes late. He got up, took the child by the arm, shook his
dress, which was covered with sand, wiped his hands, and led him in the
direction of the Rue Blanche. He walked quickly, so as not to get in
after his wife, and the child could not keep up with him. He took him up
and carried him, though it made him pant when he had to walk up the steep
street. He was a man of forty, already turning gray, and rather stout. At
last he reached his house. An old servant who had brought him up, one of
those trusted servants who are the tyrants of families, opened the door
"Has madame come in yet?" he asked anxiously.
The servant shrugged her shoulders:
"When have you ever known madame to come home at half-past six,
"Very well; all the better; it will give me time to change my things, for
I am very warm."
The servant looked at him with angry and contemptuous pity. "Oh, I can
see that well enough," she grumbled. "You are covered with perspiration,
monsieur. I suppose you walked quickly and carried the child, and only to
have to wait until half-past seven, perhaps, for madame. I have made up
my mind not to have dinner ready on time. I shall get it for eight
o'clock, and if, you have to wait, I cannot help it; roast meat ought not
to be burnt!"
Monsieur Parent pretended not to hear, but went into his own room, and as
soon as he got in, locked the door, so as to be alone, quite alone. He
was so used now to being abused and badly treated that he never thought
himself safe except when he was locked in.
What could he do? To get rid of Julie seemed to him such a formidable
thing to do that he hardly ventured to think of it, but it was just as
impossible to uphold her against his wife, and before another month the
situation would become unbearable between the two. He remained sitting
there, with his arms hanging down, vaguely trying to discover some means
to set matters straight, but without success. He said to himself: "It is
lucky that I have George; without him I should-be very miserable."
Just then the clock struck seven, and he started up. Seven o'clock, and
he had not even changed his clothes. Nervous and breathless, he
undressed, put on a clean shirt, hastily finished his toilet, as if he
had been expected in the next room for some event of extreme importance,
and went into the drawing-room, happy at having nothing to fear. He
glanced at the newspaper, went and looked out of the window, and then sat
down again, when the door opened, and the boy came in, washed, brushed,
and smiling. Parent took him up in his arms and kissed him passionately;
then he tossed him into the air, and held him up to the ceiling, but soon
sat down again, as he was tired with all his exertion. Then, taking
George on his knee, he made him ride a-cock-horse. The child laughed and
clapped his hands and shouted with pleasure, as did his father, who
laughed until his big stomach shook, for it amused him almost more than
it did the child.
Parent loved him with all the heart of a weak, resigned, ill-used man. He
loved him with mad bursts of affection, with caresses and with all the
bashful tenderness which was hidden in him, and which had never found an
outlet, even at the early period of his married life, for his wife had
always shown herself cold and reserved.
Just then Julie came to the door, with a pale face and glistening eyes,
and said in a voice which trembled with exasperation: "It is half-past
Parent gave an uneasy and resigned look at the clock and replied: "Yes,
it certainly is half-past seven."
"Well, my dinner is quite ready now."
Seeing the storm which was coming, he tried to turn it aside. "But did
you not tell me when I came in that it would not be ready before eight?"
"Eight! what are you thinking about? You surely do not mean to let the
child dine at eight o'clock? It would ruin his stomach. Just suppose that
he only had his mother to look after him! She cares a great deal about
her child. Oh, yes, we will speak about her; she is a mother! What a pity
it is that there should be any mothers like her!"
Parent thought it was time to cut short a threatened scene. "Julie," he
said, "I will not allow you to speak like that of your mistress. You
understand me, do you not? Do not forget it in the future."
The old servant, who was nearly choked with surprise, turned and went
out, slamming the door so violently after her that the lustres on the
chandelier rattled, and for some seconds it sounded as if a number of
little invisible bells were ringing in the drawing-room.
Eight o'clock struck, the door opened, and Julie came in again. She had
lost her look of exasperation, but now she put on an air of cold and
determined resolution, which was still more formidable.
"Monsieur," she said, "I served your mother until the day of her death,
and I have attended to you from your birth until now, and I think it may
be said that I am devoted to the family." She waited for a reply, and
"Why, yes, certainly, my good Julie."
"You know quite well," she continued, "that I have never done anything
for the sake of money, but always for your sake; that I have never
deceived you nor lied to you, that you have never had to find fault with
"Certainly, my good Julie."
"Very well, then, monsieur; it cannot go on any longer like this. I have
said nothing, and left you in your ignorance, out of respect and liking
for you, but it is too much, and every one in the neighborhood is
laughing at you. Everybody knows about it, and so I must tell you also,
although I do not like to repeat it. The reason why madame comes in at
any time she chooses is that she is doing abominable things."
He seemed stupefied and not to understand, and could only stammer out:
"Hold your tongue; you know I have forbidden you——"
But she interrupted him with irresistible resolution. "No, monsieur, I
must tell you everything now. For a long time madame has been carrying on
with Monsieur Limousin. I have seen them kiss scores of times behind the
door. Ah! you may be sure that if Monsieur Limousin had been rich, madame
would never have married Monsieur Parent. If you remember how the
marriage was brought about, you would understand the matter from
beginning to end."
Parent had risen, and stammered out, his face livid: "Hold your tongue
—hold your tongue, or——"
She went on, however: "No, I mean to tell you everything. She married you
from interest, and she deceived you from the very first day. It was all
settled between them beforehand. You need only reflect for a few moments
to understand it, and then, as she was not satisfied with having married
you, as she did not love you, she has made your life miserable, so
miserable that it has almost broken my heart when I have seen it."
He walked up and down the room with hands clenched, repeating: "Hold your
tongue—hold your tongue——" For he could find nothing
else to say. The old servant, however, would not yield; she seemed
resolved on everything.
George, who had been at first astonished and then frightened at those
angry voices, began to utter shrill screams, and remained behind his
father, with his face puckered up and his mouth open, roaring.
His son's screams exasperated Parent, and filled him with rage and
courage. He rushed at Julie with both arms raised, ready to strike her,
exclaiming: "Ah! you wretch. You will drive the child out of his senses."
He already had his hand on her, when she screamed in his face:
"Monsieur, you may beat me if you like, me who reared you, but that will
not prevent your wife from deceiving you, or alter the fact that your
child is not yours——"
He stopped suddenly, let his arms fall, and remained standing opposite to
her, so overwhelmed that he could understand nothing more.
"You need only to look at the child," she added, "to know who is its
father! He is the very image of Monsieur Limousin. You need only look at
his eyes and forehead. Why, a blind man could not be mistaken in him."
He had taken her by the shoulders, and was now shaking her with all his
might. "Viper, viper!" he said. "Go out the room, viper! Go out, or I
shall kill you! Go out! Go out!"
And with a desperate effort he threw her into the next room. She fell
across the table, which was laid for dinner, breaking the glasses. Then,
rising to her feet, she put the table between her master and herself.
While he was pursuing her, in order to take hold of her again, she flung
terrible words at him.
"You need only go out this evening after dinner, and come in again
immediately, and you will see! You will see whether I have been lying!
Just try it, and you will see." She had reached the kitchen door and
escaped, but he ran after her, up the back stairs to her bedroom, into
which she had locked herself, and knocking at the door, he said:
"You will leave my house this very instant!"
"You may be certain of that, monsieur," was her reply. "In an hour's time
I shall not be here any longer."
He then went slowly downstairs again, holding on to the banister so as
not to fall, and went back to the drawing-room, where little George was
sitting on the floor, crying. He fell into a chair, and looked at the
child with dull eyes. He understood nothing, knew nothing more; he felt
dazed, stupefied, mad, as if he had just fallen on his head, and he
scarcely even remembered the dreadful things the servant had told him.
Then, by degrees, his mind, like muddy water, became calmer and clearer,
and the abominable revelations began to work in his heart.
He was no longer thinking of George. The child was quiet now and sitting
on the carpet; but, seeing that no notice was being taken of him, he
began to cry. His father ran to him, took him in his arms, and covered
him with kisses. His child remained to him, at any rate! What did the
rest matter? He held him in his arms and pressed his lips to his light
hair, and, relieved and composed, he whispered:
"George—my little George—my dear little George——"
But he suddenly remembered what Julie had said! Yes, she had said that he
was Limousin's child. Oh! it could not be possible, surely. He could not
believe it, could not doubt, even for a moment, that he was his own
child. It was one of those low scandals which spring from servants'
brains! And he repeated: "George—my dear little George." The
youngster was quiet again, now that his father was fondling him.
Parent felt the warmth of the little chest penetrate through his clothes,
and it filled him with love, courage, and happiness; that gentle warmth
soothed him, fortified him and saved him. Then he put the small, curly
head away from him a little, and looked at it affectionately, still
repeating: "George! Oh, my little George!" But suddenly he thought:
"Suppose he were to resemble Limousin, after all!" He looked at him with
haggard, troubled eyes, and tried to discover whether there was any
likeness in his forehead, in his nose, mouth, or cheeks. His thoughts
wandered as they do when a person is going mad, and his child's face
changed in his eyes, and assumed a strange look and improbable
The hall bell rang. Parent gave a bound as if a bullet had gone through
him. "There she is," he said. "What shall I do?" And he ran and locked
himself up in his room, to have time to bathe his eyes. But in a few
moments another ring at the bell made him jump again, and then he
remembered that Julie had left, without the housemaid knowing it, and so
nobody would go to open the door. What was he to do? He went himself, and
suddenly he felt brave, resolute, ready for dissimulation and the
struggle. The terrible blow had matured him in a few moments. He wished
to know the truth, he desired it with the rage of a timid man, and with
the tenacity of an easy-going man who has been exasperated.
Nevertheless, he trembled. Does one know how much excited cowardice there
often is in boldness? He went to the door with furtive steps, and stopped
to listen; his heart beat furiously. Suddenly, however, the noise of the
bell over his head startled him like an explosion. He seized the lock,
turned the key, and opening the door, saw his wife and Limousin standing
before him on the stairs.
With an air of astonishment, which also betrayed a little irritation, she
"So you open the door now? Where is Julie?"
His throat felt tight and his breathing was labored as he tried to.
reply, without being able to utter a word.
"Are you dumb?" she continued. "I asked you where Julie is?"
"She—she—has—gone——" he managed to stammer.
His wife began to get angry. "What do you mean by gone? Where has she
By degrees he regained his coolness. He felt an intense hatred rise up in
him for that insolent woman who was standing before him.
"Yes, she has gone altogether. I sent her away."
"You have sent away Julie? Why, you must be mad."
"Yes, I sent her away because she was insolent, and because—because
she was ill-using the child."
"What was she insolent about?"
"Yes, because the dinner was burnt, and you did not come in."
"And she said——"
"She said—offensive things about you—which I ought
not—which I could not listen to——"
"What did she, say?"
"It is no good repeating them."
"I want to hear them."
"She said it was unfortunate for a man like me to be married to a woman
like you, unpunctual, careless, disorderly, a bad mother, and a bad
The young woman had gone into the anteroom, followed by Limousin, who did
not say a word at this unexpected condition of things. She shut the door
quickly, threw her cloak on a chair, and going straight up to her
husband, she stammered out:
"You say? You say? That I am——"
Very pale and calm, he replied: "I say nothing, my dear. I am simply
repeating what Julie said to me, as you wanted to know what it was, and I
wish you to remark that I turned her off just on account of what she
She trembled with a violent longing to tear out his beard and scratch his
face. In his voice and manner she felt that he was asserting his position
as master. Although she had nothing to say by way of reply, she tried to
assume the offensive by saying something unpleasant. "I suppose you have
had dinner?" she asked.
"No, I waited for you."
She shrugged her shoulders impatiently. "It is very stupid of you to wait
after half-past seven," she said. "You might have guessed that I was
detained, that I had a good many things to do, visits and shopping,"
And then, suddenly, she felt that she wanted to explain how she had spent
her time, and told him in abrupt, haughty words that, having to buy some
furniture in a shop a long distance off, very far off, in the Rue de
Rennes, she had met Limousin at past seven o'clock on the Boulevard
Saint-Germain, and that then she had gone with him to have something to
eat in a restaurant, as she did not like to go to one by herself,
although she was faint with hunger. That was how she had dined with
Limousin, if it could be called dining, for they had only some soup and
half a chicken, as they were in a great hurry to get back.
Parent replied simply: "Well, you were quite right. I am not finding
fault with you."
Then Limousin, who, had not spoken till then, and who had been half
hidden behind Henriette, came forward and put out his hand, saying: "Are
you very well?"
Parent took his hand, and shaking it gently, replied: "Yes, I am very
But the young woman had felt a reproach in her husband's last words.
"Finding fault! Why do you speak of finding fault? One might think that
you meant to imply something."
"Not at all," he replied, by way of excuse. "I simply meant that I was
not at all anxious although you were late, and that I did not find fault
with you for it."
She, however, took the high hand, and tried to find a pretext for a
quarrel. "Although I was late? One might really think that it was one
o'clock in the morning, and that I spent my nights away from home."
"Certainly not, my dear. I said late because I could find no other word.
You said you should be back at half-past six, and you returned at
half-past eight. That was surely being late. I understand it perfectly
well. I am not at all surprised, even. But—but—I can hardly
use any other word."
"But you pronounce them as if I had been out all night."
"Oh, no-oh, no!"
She saw that he would yield on every point, and she was going into her
own room, when at last she noticed that George was screaming, and then
she asked, with some feeling: "What is the matter with the child?"
"I told you that Julie had been rather unkind to him."
"What has the wretch been doing to him?"
"Oh nothing much. She gave him a push, and he fell down."
She wanted to see her child, and ran into the dining room, but stopped
short at the sight of the table covered with spilt wine, with broken
decanters and glasses and overturned saltcellars. "Who did all that
mischief?" she asked.
"It was Julie, who——" But she interrupted him furiously:
"That is too much, really! Julie speaks of me as if I were a shameless
woman, beats my child, breaks my plates and dishes, turns my house upside
down, and it appears that you think it all quite natural."
"Certainly not, as I have got rid of her."
"Really! You have got rid of her! But you ought to have given her in
charge. In such cases, one ought to call in the Commissary of Police!"
"But—my dear—I really could not. There was no reason. It
would have been very difficult——"
She shrugged her shoulders disdainfully. "There! you will never be
anything but a poor, wretched fellow, a man without a will, without any
firmness or energy. Ah! she must have said some nice things to you, your
Julie, to make you turn her off like that. I should like to have been
here for a minute, only for a minute." Then she opened the drawing-room
door and ran to George, took him into her arms and kissed him, and said:
"Georgie, what is it, my darling, my pretty one, my treasure?"
Then, suddenly turning to another idea, she said: "But the child has had
no dinner? You have had nothing to eat, my pet?"
Then she again turned furiously upon her husband. "Why, you must be mad,
utterly mad! It is half-past eight, and George has had no dinner!"
He excused himself as best he could, for he had nearly lost his wits
through the overwhelming scene and the explanation, and felt crushed by
this ruin of his life. "But, my dear, we were waiting for you, as I did
not wish to dine without you. As you come home late every day, I expected
you every moment."
She threw her bonnet, which she had kept on till then, into an
easy-chair, and in an angry voice she said: "It is really intolerable to
have to do with people who can understand nothing, who can divine nothing
and do nothing by themselves. So, I suppose, if I were to come in at
twelve o'clock at night, the child would have had nothing to eat? Just as
if you could not have understood that, as it was after half-past seven, I
was prevented from coming home, that I had met with some hindrance!"
Parent trembled, for he felt that his anger was getting the upper hand,
but Limousin interposed, and turning toward the young woman, said:
"My dear friend, you, are altogether unjust. Parent could not guess that
you would come here so late, as you never do so, and then, how could you
expect him to get over the difficulty all by himself, after having sent
But Henriette was very angry, and replied:
"Well, at any rate, he must get over the difficulty himself, for I will
not help him," she replied. "Let him settle it!" And she went into her
own room, quite forgetting that her child had not had anything to eat.
Limousin immediately set to work to help his friend. He picked up the
broken glasses which strewed the table and took them out, replaced the
plates and knives and forks, and put the child into his high chair, while
Parent went to look for the chambermaid to wait at table. The girl came
in, in great astonishment, as she had heard nothing in George's room,
where she had been working. She soon, however, brought in the soup, a
burnt leg of mutton, and mashed potatoes.
Parent sat by the side of the child, very much upset and distressed at
all that had happened. He gave the boy his dinner, and endeavored to eat
something himself, but he could only swallow with an effort, as his
throat felt paralyzed. By degrees he was seized with an insane desire to
look at Limousin, who was sitting opposite to him, making bread pellets,
to see whether George was like him, but he did not venture to raise his
eyes for some time. At last, however, he made up his mind to do so, and
gave a quick, sharp look at the face which he knew so well, although he
almost fancied that he had never examined it carefully. It looked so
different to what he had imagined. From time to time he looked at
Limousin, trying to recognize a likeness in the smallest lines of his
face, in the slightest features, and then he looked at his son, under the
pretext of feeding him.
Two words were sounding in his ears: "His father! his father! his
father!" They buzzed in his temples at every beat of his heart. Yes, that
man, that tranquil man who was sitting on the other side of the table,
was, perhaps, the father of his son, of George, of his little George.
Parent left off eating; he could not swallow any more. A terrible pain,
one of those attacks of pain which make men scream, roll on the ground,
and bite the furniture, was tearing at his entrails, and he felt inclined
to take a knife and plunge it into his stomach. He started when he heard
the door open. His wife came in. "I am hungry," she said; "are not you,
He hesitated a little, and then said: "Yes, I am, upon my word." She had
the leg of mutton brought in again. Parent asked himself "Have they had
dinner? Or are they late because they have had a lovers' meeting?"
They both ate with a very good appetite. Henriette was very calm, but
laughed and joked. Her husband watched her furtively. She had on a pink
teagown trimmed with white lace, and her fair head, her white neck and
her plump hands stood out from that coquettish and perfumed dress as
though it were a sea shell edged with foam.
What fun they must be making of him, if he had been their dupe since the
first day! Was it possible to make a fool of a man, of a worthy man,
because his father had left him a little money? Why could one not see
into people's souls? How was it that nothing revealed to upright hearts
the deceits of infamous hearts? How was it that voices had the same sound
for adoring as for lying? Why was a false, deceptive look the same as a
sincere one? And he watched them, waiting to catch a gesture, a word, an
intonation. Then suddenly he thought: "I will surprise them this
evening," and he said:
"My dear, as I have dismissed Julie, I will see about getting another
girl this very day. I will go at once to procure one by to-morrow
morning, so I may not be in until late."
"Very well," she replied; "go. I shall not stir from here. Limousin will
keep me company. We will wait for you." Then, turning to the maid, she
said: "You had better put George to bed, and then you can clear away and
go up to your room."
Parent had got up; he was unsteady on his legs, dazed and bewildered, and
saying, "I shall see you again later on," he went out, holding on to the
wall, for the floor seemed to roll like a ship. George had been carried
out by his nurse, while Henriette and Limousin went into the
As soon as the door was shut, he said: "You must be mad, surely, to
torment your husband as you do?"
She immediately turned on him: "Ah! Do you know that I think the habit
you have got into lately, of looking upon Parent as a martyr, is very
Limousin threw himself into an easy-chair and crossed his legs. "I am not
setting him up as a martyr in the least, but I think that, situated as we
are, it is ridiculous to defy this man as you do, from morning till
She took a cigarette from the mantelpiece, lighted it, and replied: "But
I do not defy him; quite the contrary. Only he irritates me by his
stupidity, and I treat him as he deserves."
Limousin continued impatiently: "What you are doing is very foolish! I am
only asking you to treat your husband gently, because we both of us
require him to trust us. I think that you ought to see that."
They were close together: he, tall, dark, with long whiskers and the
rather vulgar manners of a good-looking man who is very well satisfied
with himself; she, small, fair, and pink, a little Parisian, born in the
back room of a shop, half cocotte and half bourgeoise, brought up to
entice customers to the store by her glances, and married, in
consequence, to a simple, unsophisticated man, who saw her outside the
door every morning when he went out and every evening when he came home.
"But do you not understand; you great booby," she said, "that I hate him
just because he married me, because he bought me, in fact; because
everything that he says and does, everything that he thinks, acts on my
nerves? He exasperates me every moment by his stupidity, which you call
his kindness; by his dullness, which you call his confidence, and then,
above all, because he is my husband, instead of you. I feel him between
us, although he does not interfere with us much. And then—-and
then! No, it is, after all, too idiotic of him not to guess anything! I
wish he would, at any rate, be a little jealous. There are moments when I
feel inclined to say to him: 'Do you not see, you stupid creature, that
Paul is my lover?'
"It is quite incomprehensible that you cannot understand how hateful he
is to me, how he irritates me. You always seem to like him, and you shake
hands with him cordially. Men are very extraordinary at times."
"One must know how to dissimulate, my dear."
"It is no question of dissimulation, but of feeling. One might think
that, when you men deceive one another, you like each other better on
that account, while we women hate a man from the moment that we have
"I do not see why one should hate an excellent fellow because one is
friendly with his wife."
"You do not see it? You do not see it? You all of you are wanting in
refinement of feeling. However, that is one of those things which one
feels and cannot express. And then, moreover, one ought not. No, you
would not understand; it is quite useless! You men have no delicacy of
And smiling, with the gentle contempt of an impure woman, she put both
her hands on his shoulders and held up her lips to him. He stooped down
and clasped her closely in his arms, and their lips met. And as they
stood in front of the mantel mirror, another couple exactly like them
embraced behind the clock.
They had heard nothing, neither the noise of the key nor the creaking of
the door, but suddenly Henriette, with a loud cry, pushed Limousin away
with both her arms, and they saw Parent looking at them, livid with rage,
without his shoes on and his hat over his forehead. He looked at each,
one after the other, with a quick glance of his eyes and without moving
his head. He appeared beside himself. Then, without saying a word, he
threw himself on Limousin, seized him as if he were going to strangle
him, and flung him into the opposite corner of the room so violently that
the other lost his balance, and, beating the air with his hand, struck
his head violently against the wall.
When Henriette saw that her husband was going to murder her lover, she
threw herself on Parent, seized him by the neck, and digging her ten
delicate, rosy fingers into his neck, she squeezed him so tightly, with
all the vigor of a desperate woman, that the blood spurted out under her
nails, and she bit his shoulder, as if she wished to tear it with her
teeth. Parent, half-strangled and choking, loosened his hold on Limousin,
in order to shake off his wife, who was hanging to his neck. Putting his
arms round her waist, he flung her also to the other end of the
Then, as his passion was short-lived, like that of most good-tempered
men, and his strength was soon exhausted, he remained standing between
the two, panting, worn out, not knowing what to do next. His brutal fury
had expended itself in that effort, like the froth of a bottle of
champagne, and his unwonted energy ended in a gasping for breath. As soon
as he could speak, however, he said:
"Go away—both of you—immediately! Go away!"
Limousin remained motionless in his corner, against the wall, too
startled to understand anything as yet, too frightened to move a finger;
while Henriette, with her hands resting on a small, round table, her head
bent forward, her hair hanging down, the bodice of her dress unfastened,
waited like a wild animal which is about to spring. Parent continued in a
stronger voice: "Go away immediately. Get out of the house!"
His wife, however, seeing that he had got over his first exasperation
grew bolder, drew herself up, took two steps toward him, and, grown
almost insolent, she said: "Have you lost your head? What is the matter
with you? What is the meaning of this unjustifiable violence?"
But he turned toward her, and raising his fist to strike her, he
stammered out: "Oh—oh—this is too much, too much! I heard
everything! Everything—do you understand? Everything! You
wretch—you wretch! You are two wretches! Get out of the house, both
of you! Immediately, or I shall kill you! Leave the house!"
She saw that it was all over, and that he knew everything; that she could
not prove her innocence, and that she must comply. But all her impudence
had returned to her, and her hatred for the man, which was aggravated
now, drove her to audacity, made her feel the need of bravado, and of
defying him, and she said in a clear voice: "Come, Limousin; as he is
going to turn me out of doors, I will go to your lodgings with you."
But Limousin did not move, and Parent, in a fresh access of rage, cried
out: "Go, will you? Go, you wretches! Or else—or else——" He seized
a chair and whirled it over his head.
Henriette walked quickly across the room, took her lover by the arm,
dragged him from the wall, to which he appeared fixed, and led him toward
the door, saying: "Do come, my friend—you see that the man is mad.
As she went out she turned round to her husband, trying to think of
something that she could do, something that she could invent to wound him
to the heart as she left the house, and an idea struck her, one of those
venomous, deadly ideas in which all a woman's perfidy shows itself, and
she said resolutely: "I am going to take my child with me."
Parent was stupefied, and stammered: "Your—your—child? You
dare to talk of your child? You venture—you venture to ask for your
child—after-after—Oh, oh, that is too much! Go, you vile
She went up to him again, almost smiling, almost avenged already, and
defying him, standing close to him, and face to face, she said: "I want
my child, and you have no right to keep him, because he is not
yours—do you understand? He is not yours! He is Limousin's!"
And Parent cried out in bewilderment: "You lie—you lie—worthless
But she continued: "You fool! Everybody knows it except you. I tell you,
this is his father. You need only look at him to see it."
Parent staggered backward, and then he suddenly turned round, took a
candle, and rushed into the next room; returning almost immediately,
carrying little George wrapped up in his bedclothes. The child, who had
been suddenly awakened, was crying from fright. Parent threw him into his
wife's arms, and then, without speaking, he pushed her roughly out toward
the stairs, where Limousin was waiting, from motives of prudence.
Then he shut the door again, double-locked and bolted it, but had
scarcely got back into the drawing-room when he fell to the floor at full
Parent lived alone, quite alone. During the five weeks that followed
their separation, the feeling of surprise at his new life prevented him
from thinking much. He had resumed his bachelor life, his habits of
lounging, about, and took his meals at a restaurant, as he had done
formerly. As he wished to avoid any scandal, he made his wife an
allowance, which was arranged by their lawyers. By degrees, however, the
thought of the child began to haunt him. Often, when he was at home alone
at night, he suddenly thought he heard George calling out "Papa," and his
heart would begin to beat, and he would get up quickly and open the door,
to see whether, by chance, the child might have returned, as dogs or
pigeons do. Why should a child have less instinct than an animal? On
finding that he was mistaken, he would sit down in his armchair again and
think of the boy. He would think of him for hours and whole days. It was
not only a moral, but still more a physical obsession, a nervous longing
to kiss him, to hold and fondle him, to take him on his knees and dance
him. He felt the child's little arms around his neck, his little mouth
pressing a kiss on his beard, his soft hair tickling his cheeks, and the
remembrance of all those childish ways made him suffer as a man might for
some beloved woman who has left him. Twenty or a hundred times a day he
asked himself the question whether he was or was not George's father, and
almost before he was in bed every night he recommenced the same series of
He especially dreaded the darkness of the evening, the melancholy feeling
of the twilight. Then a flood of sorrow invaded his heart, a torrent of
despair which seemed to overwhelm him and drive him mad. He was as afraid
of his own thoughts as men are of criminals, and he fled before them as
one does from wild beasts. Above all things, he feared his empty, dark,
horrible dwelling and the deserted streets, in which, here and there, a
gas lamp flickered, where the isolated foot passenger whom one hears in
the distance seems to be a night prowler, and makes one walk faster or
slower, according to whether he is coming toward you or following you.
And in spite of himself, and by instinct, Parent went in the direction of
the broad, well-lighted, populous streets. The light and the crowd
attracted him, occupied his mind and distracted his thoughts, and when he
was tired of walking aimlessly about among the moving crowd, when he saw
the foot passengers becoming more scarce and the pavements less crowded,
the fear of solitude and silence drove him into some large cafe full of
drinkers and of light. He went there as flies go to a candle, and he
would sit down at one of the little round tables and ask for a "bock,"
which he would drink slowly, feeling uneasy every time a customer got up
to go. He would have liked to take him by the arm, hold him back, and beg
him to stay a little longer, so much did he dread the time when the
waiter should come up to him and say sharply: "Come, monsieur, it is
He thus got into the habit of going to the beer houses, where the
continual elbowing of the drinkers brings you in contact with a familiar
and silent public, where the heavy clouds of tobacco smoke lull
disquietude, while the heavy beer dulls the mind and calms the heart. He
almost lived there. He was scarcely up before he went there to find
people to distract his glances and his thoughts, and soon, as he felt too
lazy to move, he took his meals there.
After every meal, during more than an hour, he sipped three or four small
glasses of brandy, which stupefied him by degrees, and then his head
drooped on his chest, he shut his eyes, and went to sleep. Then, awaking,
he raised himself on the red velvet seat, straightened his waistcoat,
pulled down his cuffs, and took up the newspapers again, though he had
already seen them in the morning, and read them all through again, from
beginning to end. Between four and five o'clock he went for a walk on the
boulevards, to get a little fresh air, as he used to say, and then came
back to the seat which had been reserved for him, and asked for his
absinthe. He would talk to the regular customers whose acquaintance he
had made. They discussed the news of the day and political events, and
that carried him on till dinner time; and he spent the evening as he had
the afternoon, until it was time to close. That was a terrible moment for
him when he was obliged to go out into the dark, into his empty room full
of dreadful recollections, of horrible thoughts, and of mental agony. He
no longer saw any of his old friends, none of his relatives, nobody who
might remind him of his past life. But as his apartments were a hell to
him, he took a room in a large hotel, a good room on the ground floor, so
as to see the passers-by. He was no longer alone in that great building.
He felt people swarming round him, he heard voices in the adjoining
rooms, and when his former sufferings tormented him too much at the sight
of his bed, which was turned down, and of his solitary fireplace, he went
out into the wide passages and walked up and down them like a sentinel,
before all the closed doors, and looked sadly at the shoes standing in
couples outside them, women's little boots by the side of men's thick
ones, and he thought that, no doubt, all these people were happy, and
were sleeping in their warm beds. Five years passed thus; five miserable
years. But one day, when he was taking his usual walk between the
Madeleine and the Rue Drouot, he suddenly saw a lady whose bearing struck
him. A tall gentleman and a child were with her, and all three were
walking in front of him. He asked himself where he had seen them before,
when suddenly he recognized a movement of her hand; it was his wife, his
wife with Limousin and his child, his little George.
His heart beat as if it would suffocate him, but he did not stop, for he
wished to see them, and he followed them. They looked like a family of
the better middle class. Henriette was leaning on Paul's arm, and
speaking to him in a low voice, and looking at him sideways occasionally.
Parent got a side view of her and recognized her pretty features, the
movements of her lips, her smile, and her coaxing glances. But the child
chiefly took up his attention. How tall and strong he was! Parent could
not see his face, but only his long, fair curls. That tall boy with bare
legs, who was walking by his mother's side like a little man, was George.
He saw them suddenly, all three, as they stopped in front of a shop.
Limousin had grown very gray, had aged and was thinner; his wife, on the
contrary, was as young looking as ever, and had grown stouter. George he
would not have recognized, he was so different from what he had been
They went on again and Parent followed them. He walked on quickly, passed
them, and then turned round, so as to meet them face to face. As he
passed the child he felt a mad longing to take him into his arms and run
off with him, and he knocked against him as if by accident. The boy
turned round and looked at the clumsy man angrily, and Parent hurried
away, shocked, hurt, and pursued by that look. He went off like a thief,
seized with a horrible fear lest he should have been seen and recognized
by his wife and her lover. He went to his cafe without stopping, and fell
breathless into his chair. That evening he drank three absinthes. For
four months he felt the pain of that meeting in his heart. Every night he
saw the three again, happy and tranquil, father, mother, and child
walking on the boulevard before going in to dinner, and that new vision
effaced the old one. It was another matter, another hallucination now,
and also a fresh pain. Little George, his little George, the child he had
so much loved and so often kissed, disappeared in the far distance, and
he saw a new one, like a brother of the first, a little boy with bare
legs, who did not know him! He suffered terribly at that thought. The
child's love was dead; there was no bond between them; the child would
not have held out his arms when he saw him. He had even looked at him
Then, by degrees he grew calmer, his mental torture diminished, the image
that had appeared to his eyes and which haunted his nights became more
indistinct and less frequent. He began once more to live nearly like
everybody else, like all those idle people who drink beer off
marble-topped tables and wear out their clothes on the threadbare velvet
of the couches.
He grew old amid the smoke from pipes, lost his hair under the gas
lights, looked upon his weekly bath, on his fortnightly visit to the
barber's to have his hair cut, and on the purchase of a new coat or hat
as an event. When he got to his cafe in a new hat he would look at
himself in the glass for a long time before sitting down, and take it off
and put it on again several times, and at last ask his friend, the lady
at the bar, who was watching him with interest, whether she thought it
Two or three times a year he went to the theatre, and in the summer he
sometimes spent his evenings at one of the open-air concerts in the
Champs Elysees. And so the years followed each other slow, monotonous,
and short, because they were quite uneventful.
He very rarely now thought of the dreadful drama which had wrecked his
life; for twenty years had passed since that terrible evening. But the
life he had led since then had worn him out. The landlord of his cafe
would often say to him: "You ought to pull yourself together a little,
Monsieur Parent; you should get some fresh air and go into the country. I
assure you that you have changed very much within the last few months."
And when his customer had gone out be used to say to the barmaid: "That
poor Monsieur Parent is booked for another world; it is bad never to get
out of Paris. Advise him to go out of town for a day occasionally; he has
confidence in you. Summer will soon be here; that will put him straight."
And she, full of pity and kindness for such a regular customer, said to
Parent every day: "Come, monsieur, make up your mind to get a little
fresh air. It is so charming in the country when the weather is fine. Oh,
if I could, I would spend my life there!"
By degrees he was seized with a vague desire to go just once and see
whether it was really as pleasant there as she said, outside the walls of
the great city. One morning he said to her:
"Do you know where one can get a good luncheon in the neighborhood of
"Go to the Terrace at Saint-Germain; it is delightful there!"
He had been there formerly, just when he became engaged. He made up his
mind to go there again, and he chose a Sunday, for no special reason, but
merely because people generally do go out on Sundays, even when they have
nothing to do all the week; and so one Sunday morning he went to
Saint-Germain. He felt low-spirited and vexed at having yielded to that
new longing, and at having broken through his usual habits. He was
thirsty; he would have liked to get out at every station and sit down in
the cafe which he saw outside and drink a "bock" or two, and then take
the first train back to Paris. The journey seemed very long to him. He
could remain sitting for whole days, as long as he had the same
motionless objects before his eyes, but he found it very trying and
fatiguing to remain sitting while he was being whirled along, and to see
the whole country fly by, while he himself was motionless.
However, he found the Seine interesting every time he crossed it. Under
the bridge at Chatou he saw some small boats going at great speed under
the vigorous strokes of the bare-armed oarsmen, and he thought: "There
are some fellows who are certainly enjoying themselves!" The train
entered the tunnel just before you get to the station at Saint-Germain,
and presently stopped at the platform. Parent got out, and walked slowly,
for he already felt tired, toward the Terrace, with his hands behind his
back, and when he got to the iron balustrade, stopped to look at the
distant horizon. The immense plain spread out before him vast as the sea,
green and studded with large villages, almost as populous as towns. The
sun bathed the whole landscape in its full, warm light. The Seine wound
like an endless serpent through the plain, flowed round the villages and
along the slopes. Parent inhaled the warm breeze, which seemed to make
his heart young again, to enliven his spirits, and to vivify his blood,
and said to himself:
"Why, it is delightful here."
Then he went on a few steps, and stopped again to look about him. The
utter misery of his existence seemed to be brought into full relief by
the intense light which inundated the landscape. He saw his twenty years
of cafe life—dull, monotonous, heartbreaking. He might have
traveled as others did, have gone among foreigners, to unknown countries
beyond the sea, have interested himself somewhat in everything which
other men are passionately devoted to, in arts and science; he might have
enjoyed life in a thousand forms, that mysterious life which is either
charming or painful, constantly changing, always inexplicable and
strange. Now, however, it was too late. He would go on drinking "bock"
after "bock" until he died, without any family, without friends, without
hope, without any curiosity about anything, and he was seized with a
feeling of misery and a wish to run away, to hide himself in Paris, in
his cafe and his lethargy! All the thoughts, all the dreams, all the
desires which are dormant in the slough of stagnating hearts had
reawakened, brought to life by those rays of sunlight on the plain.
Parent felt that if he were to remain there any longer he should lose his
reason, and he made haste to get to the Pavilion Henri IV for lunch, to
try and forget his troubles under—the influence of wine and
alcohol, and at any rate to have some one to speak to.
He took a small table in one of the arbors, from which one can see all
the surrounding country, ordered his lunch, and asked to be served at
once. Then some more people arrived and sat down at tables near him. He
felt more comfortable; he was no longer alone. Three persons were eating
luncheon near him. He looked at them two or three times without seeing
them clearly, as one looks at total strangers. Suddenly a woman's voice
sent a shiver through him which seemed to penetrate to his very marrow.
"George," it said, "will you carve the chicken?"
And another voice replied: "Yes, mamma."
Parent looked up, and he understood; he guessed immediately who those
people were! He should certainly not have known them again. His wife had
grown quite white and very stout, an elderly, serious, respectable lady,
and she held her head forward as she ate for fear of spotting her dress,
although she had a table napkin tucked under her chin. George had become
a man. He had a slight beard, that uneven and almost colorless beard
which adorns the cheeks of youths. He wore a high hat, a white waistcoat,
and a monocle, because it looked swell, no doubt. Parent looked at him in
astonishment. Was that George, his son? No, he did not know that young
man; there could be nothing in common between them. Limousin had his back
to him, and was eating; with his shoulders rather bent.
All three of them seemed happy and satisfied; they came and took luncheon
in the country at well-known restaurants. They had had a calm and
pleasant existence, a family existence in a warm and comfortable house,
filled with all those trifles which make life agreeable, with affection,
with all those tender words which people exchange continually when they
love each other. They had lived thus, thanks to him, Parent, on his
money, after having deceived him, robbed him, ruined him! They had
condemned him, the innocent, simple-minded, jovial man, to all the
miseries of solitude, to that abominable life which he had led, between
the pavement and a bar-room, to every mental torture and every physical
misery! They had made him a useless, aimless being, a waif in the world,
a poor old man without any pleasures, any prospects, expecting nothing
from anybody or anything. For him, the world was empty, because he loved
nothing in the world. He might go among other nations, or go about the
streets, go into all the houses in Paris, open every room, but he would
not find inside any door the beloved face, the face of wife or child
which smiles when it sees you. This idea worked upon him more than any
other, the idea of a door which one opens, to see and to embrace somebody
And that was the fault of those three wretches! The fault of that
worthless woman, of that infamous friend, and of that tall, light-haired
lad who put on insolent airs. Now he felt as angry with the child as he
did with the other two. Was he not Limousin's son? Would Limousin have
kept him and loved him otherwise? Would not Limousin very quickly have
got rid of the mother and of the child if he had not felt sure that it
was his, positively his? Does anybody bring up other people's children?
And now they were there, quite close to him, those three who had made him
suffer so much.
Parent looked at them, irritated and excited at the recollection of all
his sufferings and of his despair, and was especially exasperated at
their placid and satisfied looks. He felt inclined to kill them, to throw
his siphon of Seltzer water at them, to split open Limousin's head as he
every moment bent it over his plate, raising it again immediately.
He would have his revenge now, on the spot, as he had them under his
hand. But how? He tried to think of some means, he pictured such dreadful
things as one reads of in the newspapers occasionally, but could not hit
on anything practical. And he went on drinking to excite himself, to give
himself courage not to allow such an opportunity to escape him, as he
might never have another.
Suddenly an idea struck him, a terrible idea; and he left off drinking to
mature it. He smiled as he murmured: "I have them, I have them! We will
see; we will see!"
They finished their luncheon slowly, conversing with perfect unconcern.
Parent could not hear what they were saying, but he saw their quiet
gestures. His wife's face especially exasperated him. She had assumed a
haughty air, the air of a comfortable, devout woman, of an
unapproachable, devout woman, sheathed in principles, iron-clad in
virtue. They paid their bill and got up from table. Parent then noticed
Limousin. He might have been taken for a retired diplomat, for he looked
a man of great importance, with his soft white whiskers, the tips of
which touched his coat collar.
They walked away. Parent rose and followed them. First they went up and
down the terrace, and calmly admired the landscape, and then they went.
into the forest. Parent followed them at a distance, hiding himself so as
not to excite their suspicion too soon.
Parent came up to them by degrees, breathing hard with emotion and
fatigue, for he was unused to walking now. He soon came up to them, but
was seized with fear, an inexplicable fear, and he passed them, so as to
turn round and meet them face to face. He walked on, his heart beating,
feeling that they were just behind him now, and he said to himself:
"Come, now is the time. Courage! courage! Now is the moment!"
He turned round. They were all three sitting on the grass, at the foot of
a huge tree, and were still chatting. He made up his mind, and walked
back rapidly; stopping in front of them in the middle of the road, he
said abruptly, in a voice broken by emotion:
"It is I! Here I am! I suppose you did not expect me?"
They all three stared at this man, who seemed to be insane. He continued:
"One would suppose that you did not know me again. Just look at me! I am
Parent, Henri Parent. You thought it was all over, and that you would
never see me again. Ah! but here I am once more, you see, and now we will
have an explanation."
Henriette, terrified, hid her face in her hands, murmuring: "Oh! Good
Seeing this stranger, who seemed to be threatening his mother, George
sprang up, ready to seize him by the collar. Limousin, thunderstruck,
looked in horror at this apparition, who, after gasping for breath,
"So now we will have an explanation; the proper moment has come! Ah! you
deceived me, you condemned me to the life of a convict, and you thought
that I should never catch you!"
The young man took him by the shoulders and pushed him back.
"Are you mad?" he asked. "What do you want? Go on your way immediately,
or I shall give you a thrashing!"
"What do I want?" replied Parent. "I want to tell you who these people
George, however, was in a rage, and shook him; and was even going to
"Let me go," said Parent. "I am your father. There, see whether they
recognize me now, the wretches!"
The young man, thunderstruck, unclenched his fists and turned toward his
mother. Parent, as soon as he was released, approached her.
"Well," he said, "tell him yourself who I am! Tell him that my name is
Henri Parent, that I am his father because his name is George Parent,
because you are my wife, because you are all three living on my money, on
the allowance of ten thousand francs which I have made you since I drove
you out of my house. Will you tell him also why I drove you out? Because
I surprised you with this beggar, this wretch, your lover! Tell him what
I was, an honorable man, whom you married for money, and whom you
deceived from the very first day. Tell him who you are, and who I
He stammered and gasped for breath in his rage. The woman exclaimed in a
"Paul, Paul, stop him; make him be quiet! Do not let him say this before
Limousin had also risen to his feet. He said in a very low voice: "Hold
your tongue! Hold your tongue! Do you understand what you are doing?"
"I quite know what I am doing," resumed Parent, "and that is not all.
There is one thing that I will know, something that has tormented me for
twenty years." Then, turning to George, who was leaning against a tree in
consternation, he said:
"Listen to me. When she left my house she thought it was not enough to
have deceived me, but she also wanted to drive me to despair. You were my
only consolation, and she took you with her, swearing that I was not your
father, but, that he was your father. Was she lying? I do not know. I
have been asking myself the question for the last twenty years." He went
close up to her, tragic and terrible, and, pulling away her hands, with
which she had covered her face, he continued:
"Well, now! I call upon you to tell me which of us two is the father of
this young man; he or I, your husband or your lover. Come! Come! tell
Limousin rushed at him. Parent pushed him back, and, sneering in his
fury, he said: "Ah! you are brave now! You are braver than you were that
day when you ran downstairs because you thought I was going to murder
you. Very well! If she will not reply, tell me yourself. You ought to
know as well as she. Tell me, are you this young fellow's father? Come!
Come! Tell me!"
He turned to his wife again. "If you will not tell me, at any rate tell
your son. He is a man, now, and he has the right to know who his father
is. I do not know, and I never did know, never, never! I cannot tell you,
He seemed to be losing his senses; his voice grew shrill and he worked
his arms about as if he had an epileptic 'fit.
"Come! . . . Give me an answer. She does not know . . . I will make a bet
that she does not know . . . No . . . she does not know, by Jove! Ha! ha!
ha! Nobody knows . . . nobody . . . How can one know such things?
"You will not know either, my boy, you will not know any more than I do
. . . never. . . . Look here . . . Ask her you will find that she does
not know . . . I do not know either . . . nor does he, nor do you, nobody
knows. You can choose . . . You can choose . . . yes, you can choose him
or me. . . Choose.
"Good evening . . . It is all over. If she makes up her mind to tell you,
you will come and let me know, will you not? I am living at the Hotel des
Continents . . . I should be glad to know . . . Good evening . . . I hope
you will enjoy yourselves very much . . ."
And he went away gesticulating, talking to himself under the tall trees,
in the quiet, the cool air, which was full of the fragrance of growing
plants. He did not turn round to look at them, but went straight on,
walking under the stimulus of his rage, under a storm of passion, with
that one fixed idea in his mind. All at once he found himself outside the
station. A train was about to start and he got in. During the journey his
anger calmed down, he regained his senses and returned to Paris,
astonished at his own boldness, full of aches and pains as if he had
broken some bones. Nevertheless, he went to have a "bock" at his brewery.
When she saw him come in, Mademoiselle Zoe asked in surprise: "What! back
already? are you tired?"
"Yes—yes, I am tired . . . very tired . . . You know, when one is
not used to going out. . . I've had enough of it. I shall not go into the
country again. It would have been better to have stayed here. For the
future, I shall not stir out."
She could not persuade him to tell her about his little excursion, much
as she wished to.
For the first time in his life he got thoroughly drunk that night, and
had to be carried home.