Forgiveness by Guy de Maupassant
She had been brought up in one of those families who live entirely to
themselves, apart from all the rest of the world. Such families know
nothing of political events, although they are discussed at table; for
changes in the Government take place at such a distance from them that
they are spoken of as one speaks of a historical event, such as the death
of Louis XVI or the landing of Napoleon.
Customs are modified in course of time, fashions succeed one another, but
such variations are taken no account of in the placid family circle where
traditional usages prevail year after year. And if some scandalous
episode or other occurs in the neighborhood, the disreputable story dies
a natural death when it reaches the threshold of the house. The father
and mother may, perhaps, exchange a few words on the subject when alone
together some evening, but they speak in hushed tones—for even
walls have ears. The father says, with bated breath:
"You've heard of that terrible affair in the Rivoil family?"
And the mother answers:
"Who would have dreamed of such a thing? It's dreadful."
The children suspected nothing, and arrive in their turn at years of
discretion with eyes and mind blindfolded, ignorant of the real side of
life, not knowing that people do not think as they speak, and do not
speak as they act; or aware that they should live at war, or at all
events, in a state of armed peace, with the rest of mankind; not
suspecting the fact that the simple are always deceived, the sincere made
sport of, the good maltreated.
Some go on till the day of their death in this blind probity and loyalty
and honor, so pure-minded that nothing can open their eyes.
Others, undeceived, but without fully understanding, make mistakes, are
dismayed, and become desperate, believing themselves the playthings of a
cruel fate, the wretched victims of adverse circumstances, and
exceptionally wicked men.
The Savignols married their daughter Bertha at the age of eighteen. She
wedded a young Parisian, George Baron by name, who had dealings on the
Stock Exchange. He was handsome, well-mannered, and apparently all that
could be desired. But in the depths of his heart he somewhat despised his
old-fashioned parents-in-law, whom he spoke of among his intimates as "my
dear old fossils."
He belonged to a good family, and the girl was rich. They settled down in
She became one of those provincial Parisians whose name is legion. She
remained in complete ignorance of the great city, of its social side, its
pleasures and its customs—just as she remained ignorant also of
life, its perfidy and its mysteries.
Devoted to her house, she knew scarcely anything beyond her own street;
and when she ventured into another part of Paris it seemed to her that
she had accomplished a long and arduous journey into some unknown,
unexplored city. She would then say to her husband in the evening:
"I have been through the boulevards to-day."
Two or three times a year her husband took her to the theatre. These were
events the remembrance of which never grew dim; they provided subjects of
conversation for long afterward.
Sometimes three months afterward she would suddenly burst into laughter,
"Do you remember that actor dressed up as a general, who crowed like a
Her friends were limited to two families related to her own. She spoke of
them as "the Martinets" and "the Michelins."
Her husband lived as he pleased, coming home when it suited him
—sometimes not until dawn—alleging business, but not putting
himself out overmuch to account for his movements, well aware that no
suspicion would ever enter his wife's guileless soul.
But one morning she received an anonymous letter.
She was thunderstruck—too simple-minded to understand the infamy of
unsigned information and to despise the letter, the writer of which
declared himself inspired by interest in her happiness, hatred of evil,
and love of truth.
This missive told her that her husband had had for two years past, a
sweetheart, a young widow named Madame Rosset, with whom he spent all his
Bertha knew neither how to dissemble her grief nor how to spy on her
husband. When he came in for lunch she threw the letter down before him,
burst into tears, and fled to her room.
He had time to take in the situation and to prepare his reply. He knocked
at his wife's door. She opened it at once, but dared not look at him. He
smiled, sat down, drew her to his knee, and in a tone of light raillery
"My dear child, as a matter of fact, I have a friend named Madame Rosset,
whom I have known for the last ten years, and of whom I have a very high
opinion. I may add that I know scores of other people whose names I have
never mentioned to you, seeing that you do not care for society, or fresh
acquaintances, or functions of any sort. But, to make short work of such
vile accusations as this, I want you to put on your things after lunch,
and we'll go together and call on this lady, who will very soon become a
friend of yours, too, I am quite sure."
She embraced her husband warmly, and, moved by that feminine spirit of
curiosity which will not be lulled once it is aroused, consented to go
and see this unknown widow, of whom she was, in spite of everything, just
the least bit jealous. She felt instinctively that to know a danger is to
be already armed against it.
She entered a small, tastefully furnished flat on the fourth floor of an
attractive house. After waiting five minutes in a drawing-room rendered
somewhat dark by its many curtains and hangings, a door opened, and a
very dark, short, rather plump young woman appeared, surprised and
George introduced them:
"My wife—Madame Julie Rosset."
The young widow uttered a half-suppressed cry of astonishment and joy,
and ran forward with hands outstretched. She had not hoped, she said, to
have this pleasure, knowing that Madame Baron never saw any one, but she
was delighted to make her acquaintance. She was so fond of George (she
said "George" in a familiar, sisterly sort of way) that, she had been
most anxious to know his young wife and to make friends with her, too.
By the end of a month the two new friends were inseparable. They saw each
other every day, sometimes twice a day, and dined together every evening,
sometimes at one house, sometimes at the other. George no longer deserted
his home, no longer talked of pressing business. He adored his own
fireside, he said.
When, after a time, a flat in the house where Madame Rosset lived became
vacant Madame Baron hastened to take it, in order to be near her friend
and spend even more time with her than hitherto.
And for two whole years their friendship was without a cloud, a
friendship of heart and mind—absolute, tender, devoted. Bertha
could hardly speak without bringing in Julie's name. To her Madame Rosset
She was utterly happy, calm and contented.
But Madame Rosset fell ill. Bertha hardly left her side. She spent her
nights with her, distracted with grief; even her husband seemed
One morning the doctor, after leaving the invalid's bedside, took George
and his wife aside, and told them that he considered Julie's condition
As soon as he had gone the grief-stricken husband and wife sat down
opposite each other and gave way to tears. That night they both sat up
with the patient. Bertha tenderly kissed her friend from time to time,
while George stood at the foot of the bed, his eyes gazing steadfastly on
the invalid's face.
The next day she was worse.
But toward evening she declared she felt better, and insisted that her
friends should go back to their own apartment to dinner.
They were sitting sadly in the dining-room, scarcely even attempting to
eat, when the maid gave George a note. He opened it, turned pale as
death, and, rising from the table, said to his wife in a constrained
"Wait for me. I must leave you a moment. I shall be back in ten minutes.
Don't go away on any account."
And he hurried to his room to get his hat.
Bertha waited for him, a prey to fresh anxiety. But, docile in
everything, she would not go back to her friend till he returned.
At length, as he did not reappear, it occurred to her to visit his room
and see if he had taken his gloves. This would show whether or not he had
had a call to make.
She saw them at the first glance. Beside them lay a crumpled paper,
evidently thrown down in haste.
She recognized it at once as the note George had received.
And a burning temptation, the first that had ever assailed her urged her
to read it and discover the cause of her husband's abrupt departure. Her
rebellious conscience protester' but a devouring and fearful curiosity
prevailed. She seized the paper, smoothed it out, recognized the
tremulous, penciled writing as Julie's, and read:
"Come alone and kiss me, my poor dear. I am dying."
At first she did not understand, the idea of Julie's death being her
uppermost thought. But all at once the true meaning of what she read
burst in a flash upon her; this penciled note threw a lurid light upon
her whole existence, revealed the whole infamous truth, all the treachery
and perfidy of which she had been the victim. She understood the long
years of deceit, the way in which she had been made their puppet. She saw
them again, sitting side by side in the evening, reading by lamplight out
of the same book, glancing at each other at the end of each page.
And her poor, indignant, suffering, bleeding heart was cast into the
depths of a despair which knew no bounds.
Footsteps drew near; she fled, and shut herself in her own room.
Presently her husband called her:
"Come quickly! Madame Rosset is dying."
Bertha appeared at her door, and with trembling lips replied:
"Go back to her alone; she does not need me."
He looked at her stupidly, dazed with grief, and repeated:
"Come at once! She's dying, I tell you!"
"You would rather it were I."
Then at last he understood, and returned alone to the dying woman's
He mourned her openly, shamelessly, indifferent to the sorrow of the wife
who no longer spoke to him, no longer looked at him; who passed her life
in solitude, hedged round with disgust, with indignant anger, and praying
night and day to God.
They still lived in the same house, however, and sat opposite each other
at table, in silence and despair.
Gradually his sorrow grew less acute; but she did not forgive him.
And so their life went on, hard and bitter for them both.
For a whole year they remained as complete strangers to each other as if
they had never met. Bertha nearly lost her reason.
At last one morning she went out very early, and returned about eight
o'clock bearing in her hands an enormous bouquet of white roses. And she
sent word to her husband that she wanted to speak to him. He came-anxious
"We are going out together," she said. "Please carry these flowers; they
are too heavy for me."
A carriage took them to the gate of the cemetery, where they alighted.
Then, her eyes filling with tears, she said to George:
"Take me to her grave."
He trembled, and could not understand her motive; but he led the way,
still carrying the flowers. At last he stopped before a white marble
slab, to which he pointed without a word.
She took the bouquet from him, and, kneeling down, placed it on the
grave. Then she offered up a silent, heartfelt prayer.
Behind her stood her husband, overcome by recollections of the past.
She rose, and held out her hands to him.
"If you wish it, we will be friends," she said.