Abandoned by Guy de Maupassant
"I really think you must be mad, my dear, to go for a country walk in
such weather as this. You have had some very strange notions for the last
two months. You drag me to the seaside in spite of myself, when you have
never once had such a whim during all the forty-four years that we have
been married. You chose Fecamp, which is a very dull town, without
consulting me in the matter, and now you are seized with such a rage for
walking, you who hardly ever stir out on foot, that you want to take a
country walk on the hottest day of the year. Ask d'Apreval to go with
you, as he is ready to gratify all your whims. As for me, I am going back
to have a nap."
Madame de Cadour turned to her old friend and said:
"Will you come with me, Monsieur d'Apreval?"
He bowed with a smile, and with all the gallantry of former years:
"I will go wherever you go," he replied.
"Very well, then, go and get a sunstroke," Monsieur de Cadour said; and
he went back to the Hotel des Bains to lie down for an hour or two.
As soon as they were alone, the old lady and her old companion set off,
and she said to him in a low voice, squeezing his hand:
"At last! at last!"
"You are mad," he said in a whisper. "I assure you that you are mad.
Think of the risk you are running. If that man—"
"Oh! Henri, do not say that man, when you are speaking of him."
"Very well," he said abruptly, "if our son guesses anything, if he has
any suspicions, he will have you, he will have us both in his power. You
have got on without seeing him for the last forty years. What is the
matter with you to-day?"
They had been going up the long street that leads from the sea to the
town, and now they turned to the right, to go to Etretat. The white road
stretched in front of him, then under a blaze of brilliant sunshine, so
they went on slowly in the burning heat. She had taken her old friend's
arm, and was looking straight in front of her, with a fixed and haunted
gaze, and at last she said:
"And so you have not seen him again, either?"
"Is it possible?"
"My dear friend, do not let us begin that discussion again. I have a wife
and children and you have a husband, so we both of us have much to fear
from other people's opinion."
She did not reply; she was thinking of her long past youth and of many
sad things that had occurred. How well she recalled all the details of
their early friendship, his smiles, the way he used to linger, in order
to watch her until she was indoors. What happy days they were, the only
really delicious days she had ever enjoyed, and how quickly they were
And then—her discovery—of the penalty she paid! What anguish!
Of that journey to the South, that long journey, her sufferings, her
constant terror, that secluded life in the small, solitary house on the
shores of the Mediterranean, at the bottom of a garden, which she did not
venture to leave. How well she remembered those long days which she spent
lying under an orange tree, looking up at the round, red fruit, amid the
green leaves. How she used to long to go out, as far as the sea, whose
fresh breezes came to her over the wall, and whose small waves she could
hear lapping on the beach. She dreamed of its immense blue expanse
sparkling under the sun, with the white sails of the small vessels, and a
mountain on the horizon. But she did not dare to go outside the gate.
Suppose anybody had recognized her!
And those days of waiting, those last days of misery and expectation! The
impending suffering, and then that terrible night! What misery she had
endured, and what a night it was! How she had groaned and screamed! She
could still see the pale face of her lover, who kissed her hand every
moment, and the clean-shaven face of the doctor and the nurse's white
And what she felt when she heard the child's feeble cries, that wail,
that first effort of a human's voice!
And the next day! the next day! the only day of her life on which she had
seen and kissed her son; for, from that time, she had never even caught a
glimpse of him.
And what a long, void existence hers had been since then, with the
thought of that child always, always floating before her. She had never
seen her son, that little creature that had been part of herself, even
once since then; they had taken him from her, carried him away, and had
hidden him. All she knew was that he had been brought up by some peasants
in Normandy, that he had become a peasant himself, had married well, and
that his father, whose name he did not know, had settled a handsome sum
of money on him.
How often during the last forty years had she wished to go and see him
and to embrace him! She could not imagine to herself that he had grown!
She always thought of that small human atom which she had held in her
arms and pressed to her bosom for a day.
How often she had said to M. d'Apreval: "I cannot bear it any longer; I
must go and see him."
But he had always stopped her and kept her from going. She would be
unable to restrain and to master herself; their son would guess it and
take advantage of her, blackmail her; she would be lost.
"What is he like?" she said.
"I do not know. I have not seen him again, either."
"Is it possible? To have a son and not to know him; to be afraid of him
and to reject him as if he were a disgrace! It is horrible."
They went along the dusty road, overcome by the scorching sun, and
continually ascending that interminable hill.
"One might take it for a punishment," she continued; "I have never had
another child, and I could no longer resist the longing to see him, which
has possessed me for forty years. You men cannot understand that. You
must remember that I shall not live much longer, and suppose I should
never see him, never have seen him! . . . Is it possible? How could I
wait so long? I have thought about him every day since, and what a
terrible existence mine has been! I have never awakened, never, do you
understand, without my first thoughts being of him, of my child. How is
he? Oh, how guilty I feel toward him! Ought one to fear what the world
may say in a case like this? I ought to have left everything to go after
him, to bring him up and to show my love for him. I should certainly have
been much happier, but I did not dare, I was a coward. How I have
suffered! Oh, how those poor, abandoned children must hate their
She stopped suddenly, for she was choked by her sobs. The whole valley
was deserted and silent in the dazzling light and the overwhelming heat,
and only the grasshoppers uttered their shrill, continuous chirp among
the sparse yellow grass on both sides of the road.
"Sit down a little," he said.
She allowed herself to be led to the side of the ditch and sank down with
her face in her hands. Her white hair, which hung in curls on both sides
of her face, had become tangled. She wept, overcome by profound grief,
while he stood facing her, uneasy and not knowing what to say, and he
merely murmured: "Come, take courage."
She got up.
"I will," she said, and wiping her eyes, she began to walk again with the
uncertain step of an elderly woman.
A little farther on the road passed beneath a clump of trees, which hid a
few houses, and they could distinguish the vibrating and regular blows of
a blacksmith's hammer on the anvil; and presently they saw a wagon
standing on the right side of the road in front of a low cottage, and two
men shoeing a horse under a shed.
Monsieur d'Apreval went up to them.
"Where is Pierre Benedict's farm?" he asked.
"Take the road to the left, close to the inn, and then go straight on; it
is the third house past Poret's. There is a small spruce fir close to the
gate; you cannot make a mistake."
They turned to the left. She was walking very slowly now, her legs
threatened to give way, and her heart was beating so violently that she
felt as if she should suffocate, while at every step she murmured, as if
"Oh! Heaven! Heaven!"
Monsieur d'Apreval, who was also nervous and rather pale, said to her
"If you cannot manage to control your feelings, you will betray yourself
at once. Do try and restrain yourself."
"How can I?" she replied. "My child! When I think that I am going to see
They were going along one of those narrow country lanes between
farmyards, that are concealed beneath a double row of beech trees at
either side of the ditches, and suddenly they found themselves in front
of a gate, beside which there was a young spruce fir.
"This is it," he said.
She stopped suddenly and looked about her. The courtyard, which was
planted with apple trees, was large and extended as far as the small
thatched dwelling house. On the opposite side were the stable, the barn,
the cow house and the poultry house, while the gig, the wagon and the
manure cart were under a slated outhouse. Four calves were grazing under
the shade of the trees and black hens were wandering all about the
All was perfectly still; the house door was open, but nobody was to be
seen, and so they went in, when immediately a large black dog came out of
a barrel that was standing under a pear tree, and began to bark
There were four bee-hives on boards against the wall of the house.
Monsieur d'Apreval stood outside and called out:
"Is anybody at home?"
Then a child appeared, a little girl of about ten, dressed in a chemise
and a linen, petticoat, with dirty, bare legs and a timid and cunning
look. She remained standing in the doorway, as if to prevent any one
"What do you want?" she asked.
"Is your father in?"
"Where is he?"
"I don't know."
"And your mother?"
"Gone after the cows."
"Will she be back soon?"
"I don't know."
Then suddenly the lady, as if she feared that her companion might force
her to return, said quickly:
"I shall not go without having seen him."
"We will wait for him, my dear friend."
As they turned away, they saw a peasant woman coming toward the house,
carrying two tin pails, which appeared to be heavy and which glistened
brightly in the sunlight.
She limped with her right leg, and in her brown knitted jacket, that was
faded by the sun and washed out by the rain, she looked like a poor,
wretched, dirty servant.
"Here is mamma," the child said.
When she got close to the house, she looked at the strangers angrily and
suspiciously, and then she went in, as if she had not seen them. She
looked old and had a hard, yellow, wrinkled face, one of those wooden
faces that country people so often have.
Monsieur d'Apreval called her back.
"I beg your pardon, madame, but we came in to know whether you could sell
us two glasses of milk."
She was grumbling when she reappeared in the door, after putting down her
"I don't sell milk," she replied.
"We are very thirsty," he said, "and madame is very tired. Can we not get
something to drink?"
The peasant woman gave them an uneasy and cunning glance and then she
made up her mind.
"As you are here, I will give you some," she said, going into the house,
and almost immediately the child came out and brought two chairs, which
she placed under an apple tree, and then the mother, in turn, brought out
two bowls of foaming milk, which she gave to the visitors. She did not
return to the house, however, but remained standing near them, as if to
watch them and to find out for what purpose they had come there.
"You have come from Fecamp?" she said.
"Yes," Monsieur d'Apreval replied, "we are staying at Fecamp for the
And then, after a short silence, he continued:
"Have you any fowls you could sell us every week?"
The woman hesitated for a moment and then replied:
"Yes, I think I have. I suppose you want young ones?"
"Yes, of course."
"'What do you pay for them in the market?"
D'Apreval, who had not the least idea, turned to his companion:
"What are you paying for poultry in Fecamp, my dear lady?"
"Four francs and four francs fifty centimes," she said, her eyes full of
tears, while the farmer's wife, who was looking at her askance, asked in
"Is the lady ill, as she is crying?"
He did not know what to say, and replied with some hesitation:
"No—no—but she lost her watch as we came along, a very
handsome watch, and that troubles her. If anybody should find it, please
let us know."
Mother Benedict did not reply, as she thought it a very equivocal sort of
answer, but suddenly she exclaimed:
"Oh, here is my husband!"
She was the only one who had seen him, as she was facing the gate.
D'Apreval started and Madame de Cadour nearly fell as she turned round
suddenly on her chair.
A man bent nearly double, and out of breath, stood there, ten-yards from
them, dragging a cow at the end of a rope. Without taking any notice of
the visitors, he said:
"Confound it! What a brute!"
And he went past them and disappeared in the cow house.
Her tears had dried quickly as she sat there startled, without a word and
with the one thought in her mind, that this was her son, and D'Apreval,
whom the same thought had struck very unpleasantly, said in an agitated
"Is this Monsieur Benedict?"
"Who told you his name?" the wife asked, still rather suspiciously.
"The blacksmith at the corner of the highroad," he replied, and then they
were all silent, with their eyes fixed on the door of the cow house,
which formed a sort of black hole in the wall of the building. Nothing
could be seen inside, but they heard a vague noise, movements and
footsteps and the sound of hoofs, which were deadened by the straw on the
floor, and soon the man reappeared in the door, wiping his forehead, and
came toward the house with long, slow strides. He passed the strangers
without seeming to notice them and said to his wife:
"Go and draw me a jug of cider; I am very thirsty."
Then he went back into the house, while his wife went into the cellar and
left the two Parisians alone.
"Let us go, let us go, Henri," Madame de Cadour said, nearly distracted
with grief, and so d'Apreval took her by the arm, helped her to rise, and
sustaining her with all his strength, for he felt that she was nearly
fainting, he led her out, after throwing five francs on one of the
As soon as they were outside the gate, she began to sob and said, shaking
"Oh! oh! is that what you have made of him?"
He was very pale and replied coldly:
"I did what I could. His farm is worth eighty thousand francs, and that
is more than most of the sons of the middle classes have."
They returned slowly, without speaking a word. She was still crying; the
tears ran down her cheeks continually for a time, but by degrees they
stopped, and they went back to Fecamp, where they found Monsieur de
Cadour waiting dinner for them. As soon as he saw them, he began to laugh
"So my wife has had a sunstroke, and I am very glad of it. I really think
she has lost her head for some time past!"
Neither of them replied, and when the husband asked them, rubbing his
"Well, I hope that, at least, you have had a pleasant walk?"
Monsieur d'Apreval replied:
"A delightful walk, I assure you; perfectly delightful."