The Log by Guy de Maupassant
The drawing-room was small, full of heavy draperies and discreetly
fragrant. A large fire burned in the grate and a solitary lamp at one end
of the mantelpiece threw a soft light on the two persons who were
She, the mistress of the house, was an old lady with white hair, but one
of those old ladies whose unwrinkled skin is as smooth as the finest
paper, and scented, impregnated with perfume, with the delicate essences
which she had used in her bath for so many years.
He was a very old friend, who had never married, a constant friend, a
companion in the journey of life, but nothing more.
They had not spoken for about a minute, and were both looking at the
fire, dreaming of no matter what, in one of those moments of friendly
silence between people who have no need to be constantly talking in order
to be happy together, when suddenly a large log, a stump covered with
burning roots, fell out. It fell over the firedogs into the drawing-room
and rolled on to the carpet, scattering great sparks around it. The old
lady, with a little scream, sprang to her feet to run away, while he
kicked the log back on to the hearth and stamped out all the burning
sparks with his boots.
When the disaster was remedied, there was a strong smell of burning, and,
sitting down opposite to his friend, the man looked at her with a smile
and said, as he pointed to the log:
"That is the reason why I never married."
She looked at him in astonishment, with the inquisitive gaze of women who
wish to know everything, that eye which women have who are no longer very
young,—in which a complex, and often roguish, curiosity is
reflected, and she asked:
"Oh, it is a long story," he replied; "a rather sad and unpleasant story.
"My old friends were often surprised at the coldness which suddenly
sprang up between one of my best friends whose Christian name was Julien,
and myself. They could not understand how two such intimate and
inseparable friends, as we had been, could suddenly become almost
strangers to one another, and I will tell you the reason of it.
"He and I used to live together at one time. We were never apart, and the
friendship that united us seemed so strong that nothing could break it.
"One evening when he came home, he told me that he was going to get
married, and it gave me a shock as if he had robbed me or betrayed me.
When a man's friend marries, it is all over between them. The jealous
affection of a woman, that suspicious, uneasy and carnal affection, will
not tolerate the sturdy and frank attachment, that attachment of the
mind, of the heart, and that mutual confidence which exists between two
"You see, however great the love may be that unites them a man and a
woman are always strangers in mind and intellect; they remain
belligerents, they belong to different races. There must always be a
conqueror and a conquered, a master and a slave; now the one, now the
other—they are never two equals. They press each other's hands,
those hands trembling with amorous passion; but they never press them
with a long, strong, loyal pressure, with that pressure which seems to
open hearts and to lay them bare in a burst of sincere, strong, manly
affection. Philosophers of old, instead of marrying, and procreating as a
consolation for their old age children, who would abandon them, sought
for a good, reliable friend, and grew old with him in that communion of
thought which can only exist between men.
"Well, my friend Julien married. His wife was pretty, charming, a little,
curly-haired blonde, plump and lively, who seemed to worship him. At
first I went but rarely to their house, feeling myself de trop. But,
somehow, they attracted me to their home; they were constantly inviting
me, and seemed very fond of me. Consequently, by degrees, I allowed
myself to be allured by the charm of their life. I often dined with them,
and frequently, when I returned home at night, thought that I would do as
he had done, and get married, as my empty house now seemed very dull.
"They appeared to be very much in love, and were never apart.
"Well, one evening Julien wrote and asked me to go to dinner, and I
"'My dear fellow,' he said, 'I must go out directly afterward on
business, and I shall not be back until eleven o'clock; but I shall be
back at eleven precisely, and I reckon on you to keep Bertha company.'
"The young woman smiled.
"'It was my idea,' she said, 'to send for you.'
"I held out my hand to her.
"'You are as nice as ever, I said, and I felt a long, friendly pressure
of my fingers, but I paid no attention to it; so we sat down to dinner,
and at eight o'clock Julien went out.
"As soon as he had gone, a kind of strange embarrassment immediately
seemed to arise between his wife and me. We had never been alone together
yet, and in spite of our daily increasing intimacy, this tete-a-tete
placed us in a new position. At first I spoke vaguely of those
indifferent matters with which one fills up an embarrassing silence, but
she did not reply, and remained opposite to me with her head down in an
undecided manner, as if she were thinking over some difficult subject,
and as I was at a loss for small talk, I held my tongue. It is surprising
how hard it is at times to find anything to say.
"And then also I felt something in the air, something I could not
express, one of those mysterious premonitions that warn one of another
person's secret intentions in regard to yourself, whether they be good or
"That painful silence lasted some time, and then Bertha said to me:
"'Will you kindly put a log on the fire for it is going out.'
"So I opened the box where the wood was kept, which was placed just where
yours is, took out the largest log and put it on top of the others, which
were three parts burned, and then silence again reigned in the room.
"In a few minutes the log was burning so brightly that it scorched our
faces, and the young woman raised her eyes to mine—eyes that had a
strange look to me.
"'It is too hot now,' she said; 'let us go and sit on the sofa over
"So we went and sat on the sofa, and then she said suddenly, looking me
full in the face:
"'What would you do if a woman were to tell you that she was in love with
"'Upon my word,' I replied, very much at a loss for an answer, 'I cannot
foresee such a case; but it would depend very much upon the woman.'
"She gave a hard, nervous, vibrating laugh; one of those false laughs
which seem as if they must break thin glass, and then she added: 'Men are
never either venturesome or spiteful.' And, after a moment's silence, she
continued: 'Have you ever been in love, Monsieur Paul?' I was obliged to
acknowledge that I certainly had, and she asked me to tell her all about
it. Whereupon I made up some story or other. She listened to me
attentively, with frequent signs of disapproval and contempt, and then
suddenly she said:
"'No, you understand nothing about the subject. It seems to me that real
love must unsettle the mind, upset the nerves and distract the head; that
it must—how shall I express it?—be dangerous, even terrible,
almost criminal and sacrilegious; that it must be a kind of treason; I
mean to say that it is bound to break laws, fraternal bonds, sacred
obligations; when love is tranquil, easy, lawful and without dangers, is
it really love?'
"I did not know what answer to give her, and I made this philosophical
reflection to myself: 'Oh! female brain, here; indeed, you show
"While speaking, she had assumed a demure saintly air; and, resting on
the cushions, she stretched herself out at full length, with her head on
my shoulder, and her dress pulled up a little so as to show her red
stockings, which the firelight made look still brighter. In a minute or
two she continued:
"'I suppose I have frightened you?' I protested against such a notion,
and she leaned against my breast altogether, and without looking at me,
she said: 'If I were to tell you that I love you, what would you do?'
"And before I could think of an answer, she had thrown her arms around my
neck, had quickly drawn my head down, and put her lips to mine.
"Oh! My dear friend, I can tell you that I did not feel at all happy!
What! deceive Julien? become the lover of this little, silly,
wrong-headed, deceitful woman, who was, no doubt, terribly sensual, and
whom her husband no longer satisfied.
"To betray him continually, to deceive him, to play at being in love
merely because I was attracted by forbidden fruit, by the danger incurred
and the friendship betrayed! No, that did not suit me, but what was I to
do? To imitate Joseph would be acting a very stupid and, moreover,
difficult part, for this woman was enchanting in her perfidy, inflamed by
audacity, palpitating and excited. Let the man who has never felt on his
lips the warm kiss of a woman who is ready to give herself to him throw
the first stone at me.
"Well, a minute more—you understand what I mean? A minute more,
and—I should have been—no, she would have been!—I beg
your pardon, he would have been—when a loud noise made us both jump
up. The log had fallen into the room, knocking over the fire irons and
the fender, and on to the carpet, which it had scorched, and had rolled
under an armchair, which it would certainly set alight.
"I jumped up like a madman, and, as I was replacing on the fire that log
which had saved me, the door opened hastily, and Julien came in.
"'I am free,' he said, with evident pleasure. 'The business was over two
hours sooner than I expected!'
"Yes, my dear friend, without that log, I should have been caught in the
very act, and you know what the consequences would have been!
"You may be sure that I took good care never to be found in a similar
situation again, never, never. Soon afterward I saw that Julien was
giving me the 'cold shoulder,' as they say. His wife was evidently
undermining our friendship. By degrees he got rid of me, and we have
altogether ceased to meet.
"I never married, which ought not to surprise you, I think."