Clair De Lune by Guy de Maupassant
Abbe Marignan's martial name suited him well. He was a tall, thin priest,
fanatic, excitable, yet upright. All his beliefs were fixed, never
varying. He believed sincerely that he knew his God, understood His
plans, desires and intentions.
When he walked with long strides along the garden walk of his little
country parsonage, he would sometimes ask himself the question: "Why has
God done this?" And he would dwell on this continually, putting himself
in the place of God, and he almost invariably found an answer. He would
never have cried out in an outburst of pious humility: "Thy ways, O Lord,
are past finding out."
He said to himself: "I am the servant of God; it is right for me to know
the reason of His deeds, or to guess it if I do not know it."
Everything in nature seemed to him to have been created in accordance
with an admirable and absolute logic. The "whys" and "becauses" always
balanced. Dawn was given to make our awakening pleasant, the days to
ripen the harvest, the rains to moisten it, the evenings for preparation
for slumber, and the dark nights for sleep.
The four seasons corresponded perfectly to the needs of agriculture, and
no suspicion had ever come to the priest of the fact that nature has no
intentions; that, on the contrary, everything which exists must conform
to the hard demands of seasons, climates and matter.
But he hated woman—hated her unconsciously, and despised her by
instinct. He often repeated the words of Christ: "Woman, what have I to
do with thee?" and he would add: "It seems as though God, Himself, were
dissatisfied with this work of His." She was the tempter who led the
first man astray, and who since then had ever been busy with her work of
damnation, the feeble creature, dangerous and mysteriously affecting one.
And even more than their sinful bodies, he hated their loving hearts.
He had often felt their tenderness directed toward himself, and though he
knew that he was invulnerable, he grew angry at this need of love that is
always vibrating in them.
According to his belief, God had created woman for the sole purpose of
tempting and testing man. One must not approach her without defensive
precautions and fear of possible snares. She was, indeed, just like a
snare, with her lips open and her arms stretched out to man.
He had no indulgence except for nuns, whom their vows had rendered
inoffensive; but he was stern with them, nevertheless, because he felt
that at the bottom of their fettered and humble hearts the everlasting
tenderness was burning brightly—that tenderness which was shown
even to him, a priest.
He felt this cursed tenderness, even in their docility, in the low tones
of their voices when speaking to him, in their lowered eyes, and in their
resigned tears when he reproved them roughly. And he would shake his
cassock on leaving the convent doors, and walk off, lengthening his
stride as though flying from danger.
He had a niece who lived with her mother in a little house near him. He
was bent upon making a sister of charity of her.
She was a pretty, brainless madcap. When the abbe preached she laughed,
and when he was angry with her she would give him a hug, drawing him to
her heart, while he sought unconsciously to release himself from this
embrace which nevertheless filled him with a sweet pleasure, awakening in
his depths the sensation of paternity which slumbers in every man.
Often, when walking by her side, along the country road, he would speak
to her of God, of his God. She never listened to him, but looked about
her at the sky, the grass and flowers, and one could see the joy of life
sparkling in her eyes. Sometimes she would dart forward to catch some
flying creature, crying out as she brought it back: "Look, uncle, how
pretty it is! I want to hug it!" And this desire to "hug" flies or lilac
blossoms disquieted, angered, and roused the priest, who saw, even in
this, the ineradicable tenderness that is always budding in women's
Then there came a day when the sexton's wife, who kept house for Abbe
Marignan, told him, with caution, that his niece had a lover.
Almost suffocated by the fearful emotion this news roused in him, he
stood there, his face covered with soap, for he was in the act of
When he had sufficiently recovered to think and speak he cried: "It is
not true; you lie, Melanie!"
But the peasant woman put her hand on her heart, saying: "May our Lord
judge me if I lie, Monsieur le Cure! I tell you, she goes there every
night when your sister has gone to bed. They meet by the river side; you
have only to go there and see, between ten o'clock and midnight."
He ceased scraping his chin, and began to walk up and down impetuously,
as he always did when he was in deep thought. When he began shaving again
he cut himself three times from his nose to his ear.
All day long he was silent, full of anger and indignation. To his
priestly hatred of this invincible love was added the exasperation of her
spiritual father, of her guardian and pastor, deceived and tricked by a
child, and the selfish emotion shown by parents when their daughter
announces that she has chosen a husband without them, and in spite of
After dinner he tried to read a little, but could not, growing more and,
more angry. When ten o'clock struck he seized his cane, a formidable oak
stick, which he was accustomed to carry in his nocturnal walks when
visiting the sick. And he smiled at the enormous club which he twirled in
a threatening manner in his strong, country fist. Then he raised it
suddenly and, gritting his teeth, brought it down on a chair, the broken
back of which fell over on the floor.
He opened the door to go out, but stopped on the sill, surprised by the
splendid moonlight, of such brilliance as is seldom seen.
And, as he was gifted with an emotional nature, one such as had all those
poetic dreamers, the Fathers of the Church, he felt suddenly distracted
and moved by all the grand and serene beauty of this pale night.
In his little garden, all bathed in soft light, his fruit trees in a row
cast on the ground the shadow of their slender branches, scarcely in full
leaf, while the giant honeysuckle, clinging to the wall of his house,
exhaled a delicious sweetness, filling the warm moonlit atmosphere with a
kind of perfumed soul.
He began to take long breaths, drinking in the air as drunkards drink
wine, and he walked along slowly, delighted, marveling, almost forgetting
As soon as he was outside of the garden, he stopped to gaze upon the
plain all flooded with the caressing light, bathed in that tender,
languishing charm of serene nights. At each moment was heard the short,
metallic note of the cricket, and distant nightingales shook out their
scattered notes—their light, vibrant music that sets one dreaming,
without thinking, a music made for kisses, for the seduction of
The abbe walked on again, his heart failing, though he knew not why. He
seemed weakened, suddenly exhausted; he wanted to sit down, to rest
there, to think, to admire God in His works.
Down yonder, following the undulations of the little river, a great line
of poplars wound in and out. A fine mist, a white haze through which the
moonbeams passed, silvering it and making it gleam, hung around and above
the mountains, covering all the tortuous course of the water with a kind
of light and transparent cotton.
The priest stopped once again, his soul filled with a growing and
And a doubt, a vague feeling of disquiet came over him; he was asking one
of those questions that he sometimes put to himself.
"Why did God make this? Since the night is destined for sleep,
unconsciousness, repose, forgetfulness of everything, why make it more
charming than day, softer than dawn or evening? And does why this
seductive planet, more poetic than the sun, that seems destined, so
discreet is it, to illuminate things too delicate and mysterious for the
light of day, make the darkness so transparent?
"Why does not the greatest of feathered songsters sleep like the others?
Why does it pour forth its voice in the mysterious night?
"Why this half-veil cast over the world? Why these tremblings of the
heart, this emotion of the spirit, this enervation of the body? Why this
display of enchantments that human beings do not see, since they are
lying in their beds? For whom is destined this sublime spectacle, this
abundance of poetry cast from heaven to earth?"
And the abbe could not understand.
But see, out there, on the edge of the meadow, under the arch of trees
bathed in a shining mist, two figures are walking side by side.
The man was the taller, and held his arm about his sweetheart's neck and
kissed her brow every little while. They imparted life, all at once, to
the placid landscape in which they were framed as by a heavenly hand. The
two seemed but a single being, the being for whom was destined this calm
and silent night, and they came toward the priest as a living answer, the
response his Master sent to his questionings.
He stood still, his heart beating, all upset; and it seemed to him that
he saw before him some biblical scene, like the loves of Ruth and Boaz,
the accomplishment of the will of the Lord, in some of those glorious
stories of which the sacred books tell. The verses of the Song of Songs
began to ring in his ears, the appeal of passion, all the poetry of this
poem replete with tenderness.
And he said unto himself: "Perhaps God has made such nights as these to
idealize the love of men."
He shrank back from this couple that still advanced with arms
intertwined. Yet it was his niece. But he asked himself now if he would
not be disobeying God. And does not God permit love, since He surrounds
it with such visible splendor?
And he went back musing, almost ashamed, as if he had intruded into a
temple where he had, no right to enter.