The Cripple by Guy de Maupassant
The following adventure happened to me about 1882. I had just taken the
train and settled down in a corner, hoping that I should be left alone,
when the door suddenly opened again and I heard a voice say: "Take care,
monsieur, we are just at a crossing; the step is very high."
Another voice answered: "That's all right, Laurent, I have a firm hold on
Then a head appeared, and two hands seized the leather straps hanging on
either side of the door and slowly pulled up an enormous body, whose feet
striking on the step, sounded like two canes. When the man had hoisted
his torso into the compartment I noticed, at the loose edge of his
trousers, the end of a wooden leg, which was soon followed by its mate. A
head appeared behind this traveller and asked; "Are you all right,
"Yes, my boy."
"Then here are your packages and crutches."
And a servant, who looked like an old soldier, climbed in, carrying in
his arms a stack of bundles wrapped in black and yellow papers and
carefully tied; he placed one after the other in the net over his
master's head. Then he said: "There, monsieur, that is all. There are
five of them—the candy, the doll the drum, the gun, and the pate de
"Very well, my boy."
"Thank you, Laurent; good health!"
The man closed the door and walked away, and I looked at my neighbor. He
was about thirty-five, although his hair was almost white; he wore the
ribbon of the Legion of Honor; he had a heavy mustache and was quite
stout, with the stoutness of a strong and active man who is kept
motionless on account of some infirmity. He wiped his brow, sighed, and,
looking me full in the face, he asked: "Does smoking annoy you,
Surely I knew that eye, that voice, that face. But when and where had I
seen them? I had certainly met that man, spoken to him, shaken his hand.
That was a long, long time ago. It was lost in the haze wherein the mind
seems to feel around blindly for memories and pursues them like fleeing
phantoms without being able to seize them. He, too, was observing me,
staring me out of countenance, with the persistence of a man who
remembers slightly but not completely. Our eyes, embarrassed by this
persistent contact, turned away; then, after a few minutes, drawn
together again by the obscure and tenacious will of working memory, they
met once more, and I said: "Monsieur, instead of staring at each other
for an hour or so, would it not be better to try to discover where we
have known each other?"
My neighbor answered graciously: "You are quite right, monsieur."
I named myself: "I am Henri Bonclair, a magistrate."
He hesitated for a few minutes; then, with the vague look and voice which
accompany great mental tension, he said: "Oh, I remember perfectly. I met
you twelve years ago, before the war, at the Poincels!"
"Yes, monsieur. Ah! Ah! You are Lieutenant Revaliere?"
"Yes. I was Captain Revaliere even up to the time when I lost my feet
—both of them together from one cannon ball."
Now that we knew each other's identity we looked at each other again. I
remembered perfectly the handsome, slender youth who led the cotillons
with such frenzied agility and gracefulness that he had been nicknamed
"the fury." Going back into the dim, distant past, I recalled a story
which I had heard and forgotten, one of those stories to which one
listens but forgets, and which leave but a faint impression upon the
There was something about love in it. Little by little the shadows
cleared up, and the face of a young girl appeared before my eyes. Then
her name struck me with the force of an explosion: Mademoiselle de
Mandel. I remembered everything now. It was indeed a love story, but
quite commonplace. The young girl loved this young man, and when I had
met them there was already talk of the approaching wedding. The youth
seemed to be very much in love, very happy.
I raised my eye to the net, where all the packages which had been brought
in by the servant were trembling from the motion of the train, and the
voice of the servant came back to me, as if he had just finished
speaking. He had said: "There, monsieur, that is all. There are five of
them: the candy, the doll, the drum, the gun, and the pate de foies
Then, in a second, a whole romance unfolded itself in my head. It was
like all those which I had already read, where the young lady married
notwithstanding the catastrophe, whether physical or financial;
therefore, this officer who had been maimed in the war had returned,
after the campaign, to the young girl who had given him her promise, and
she had kept her word.
I considered that very beautiful, but simple, just as one, considers
simple all devotions and climaxes in books or in plays. It always seems,
when one reads or listens to these stories of magnanimity, that one could
sacrifice one's self with enthusiastic pleasure and overwhelming joy. But
the following day, when an unfortunate friend comes to borrow some money,
there is a strange revulsion of feeling.
But, suddenly, another supposition, less poetic and more realistic,
replaced the first one. Perhaps he had married before the war, before
this frightful accident, and she, in despair and resignation, had been
forced to receive, care for, cheer, and support this husband, who had
departed, a handsome man, and had returned without his feet, a frightful
wreck, forced into immobility, powerless anger, and fatal obesity.
Was he happy or in torture? I was seized with an irresistible desire to
know his story, or, at least, the principal points, which would permit me
to guess that which he could not or would not tell me. Still thinking the
matter over, I began talking to him. We had exchanged a few commonplace
words; and I raised my eyes to the net, and thought: "He must have three
children: the bonbons are for his wife, the doll for his little girl, the
drum and the gun for his sons, and this pate de foies gras for himself."
Suddenly I asked him: "Are you a father, monsieur?"
He answered: "No, monsieur."
I suddenly felt confused, as if I had been guilty of some breach of
etiquette, and I continued: "I beg your pardon. I had thought that you
were when I heard your servant speaking about the toys. One listens and
draws conclusions unconsciously."
He smiled and then murmured: "No, I am not even married. I am still at
the preliminary stage."
I pretended suddenly to remember, and said:
"Oh! that's true! When I knew you, you were engaged to Mademoiselle de
Mandel, I believe."
"Yes, monsieur, your memory is excellent."
I grew very bold and added: "I also seem to remember hearing that
Mademoiselle de Mandel married Monsieur—Monsieur—"
He calmly mentioned the name: "Monsieur de Fleurel."
"Yes, that's it! I remember it was on that occasion that I heard of your
I looked him full in the face, and he blushed. His full face, which was
already red from the oversupply of blood, turned crimson. He answered
quickly, with a sudden ardor of a man who is pleading a cause which is
lost in his mind and in his heart, but which he does not wish to admit.
"It is wrong, monsieur, to couple my name with that of Madame de Fleurel.
When I returned from the war-without my feet, alas! I never would have
permitted her to become my wife. Was it possible? When one marries,
monsieur, it is not in order to parade one's generosity; it is in order
to live every day, every hour, every minute, every second beside a man;
and if this man is disfigured, as I am, it is a death sentence to marry
him! Oh, I understand, I admire all sacrifices and devotions when they
have a limit, but I do not admit that a woman should give up her whole
life, all joy, all her dreams, in order to satisfy the admiration of the
gallery. When I hear, on the floor of my room, the tapping of my wooden
legs and of my crutches, I grow angry enough to strangle my servant. Do
you think that I would permit a woman to do what I myself am unable to
tolerate? And, then, do you think that my stumps are pretty?"
He was silent. What could I say? He certainly was right. Could I blame
her, hold her in contempt, even say that she was wrong? No. However, the
end which conformed to the rule, to the truth, did not satisfy my poetic
appetite. These heroic deeds demand a beautiful sacrifice, which seemed
to be lacking, and I felt a certain disappointment. I suddenly asked:
"Has Madame de Fleurel any children?"
"Yes, one girl and two boys. It is for them that I am bringing these
toys. She and her husband are very kind to me."
The train was going up the incline to Saint-Germain. It passed through
the tunnels, entered the station, and stopped. I was about to offer my
arm to the wounded officer, in order to help him descend, when two hands
were stretched up to him through the open door.
"Hello! my dear Revaliere!"
"Ah! Hello, Fleurel!"
Standing behind the man, the woman, still beautiful, was smiling and
waving her hands to him. A little girl, standing beside her, was jumping
for joy, and two young boys were eagerly watching the drum and the gun,
which were passing from the car into their father's hands.
When the cripple was on the ground, all the children kissed him. Then
they set off, the little girl holding in her hand the small varnished
rung of a crutch, just as she might walk beside her big friend and hold