The Unknown by Guy de Maupassant
We were speaking of adventures, and each one of us was relating his story
of delightful experiences, surprising meetings, on the train, in a hotel,
at the seashore. According to Roger des Annettes, the seashore was
particularly favorable to the little blind god.
Gontran, who was keeping mum, was asked what he thought of it.
"I guess Paris is about the best place for that," he said. "Woman is like
a precious trinket, we appreciate her all the more when we meet her in
the most unexpected places; but the rarest ones are only to be found in
He was silent for a moment, and then continued:
"By Jove, it's great! Walk along the streets on some spring morning. The
little women, daintily tripping along, seem to blossom out like flowers.
What a delightful, charming sight! The dainty perfume of violet is
everywhere. The city is gay, and everybody notices the women. By Jove,
how tempting they are in their light, thin dresses, which occasionally
give one a glimpse of the delicate pink flesh beneath!
"One saunters along, head up, mind alert, and eyes open. I tell you it's
great! You see her in the distance, while still a block away; you already
know that she is going to please you at closer quarters. You can
recognize her by the flower on her hat, the toss of her head, or her
gait. She approaches, and you say to yourself: 'Look out, here she is!'
You come closer to her and you devour her with your eyes.
"Is it a young girl running errands for some store, a young woman
returning from church, or hastening to see her lover? What do you care?
Her well-rounded bosom shows through the thin waist. Oh, if you could
only take her in your arms and fondle and kiss her! Her glance may be
timid or bold, her hair light or dark. What difference does it make? She
brushes against you, and a cold shiver runs down your spine. Ah, how you
wish for her all day! How many of these dear creatures have I met this
way, and how wildly in love I would have been had I known them more
"Have you ever noticed that the ones we would love the most distractedly
are those whom we never meet to know? Curious, isn't it? From time to
time we barely catch a glimpse of some woman, the mere sight of whom
thrills our senses. But it goes no further. When I think of all the
adorable creatures that I have elbowed in the streets of Paris, I fairly
rave. Who are they! Where are they? Where can I find them again? There is
a proverb which says that happiness often passes our way; I am sure that
I have often passed alongside the one who could have caught me like a
linnet in the snare of her fresh beauty."
Roger des Annettes had listened smilingly. He answered: "I know that as
well as you do. This is what happened to me: About five years ago, for
the first time I met, on the Pont de la Concorde, a young woman who made
a wonderful impression on me. She was dark, rather stout, with glossy
hair, and eyebrows which nearly met above two dark eyes. On her lip was a
scarcely perceptible down, which made one dream-dream as one dreams of
beloved woods, on seeing a bunch of wild violets. She had a small waist
and a well-developed bust, which seemed to present a challenge, offer a
temptation. Her eyes were like two black spots on white enamel. Her
glance was strange, vacant, unthinking, and yet wonderfully beautiful.
"I imagined that she might be a Jewess. I followed her, and then turned
round to look at her, as did many others. She walked with a swinging gait
that was not graceful, but somehow attracted one. At the Place de la
Concorde she took a carriage, and I stood there like a fool, moved by the
strongest desire that had ever assailed me.
"For about three weeks I thought only of her; and then her memory passed
out of my mind.
"Six months later I descried her in the Rue de la Paix again. On seeing
her I felt the same shock that one experiences on seeing a once dearly
loved woman. I stopped that I might better observe her. When she passed
close enough to touch me I felt as though I were standing before a red
hot furnace. Then, when she had passed by, I noticed a delicious
sensation, as of a cooling breeze blowing over my face. I did not follow
her. I was afraid of doing something foolish. I was afraid of myself.
"She haunted all my dreams.
"It was a year before I saw her again. But just as the sun was going down
on one beautiful evening in May I recognized her walking along the Avenue
des Champs-Elysees. The Arc de Triomphe stood out in bold relief against
the fiery glow of the sky. A golden haze filled the air; it was one of
those delightful spring evenings which are the glory of Paris.
"I followed her, tormented by a desire to address her, to kneel before her,
to pour forth the emotion which was choking me. Twice I passed by her
only to fall back, and each time as I passed by I felt this sensation, as
of scorching heat, which I had noticed in the Rue de la Paix.
"She glanced at me, and then I saw her enter a house on the Rue de
Presbourg. I waited for her two hours and she did not come out. Then I
decided to question the janitor. He seemed not to understand me. 'She
must be visiting some one,' he said.
"The next time I was eight months without seeing her. But one freezing
morning in January, I was walking along the Boulevard Malesherbes at a
dog trot, so as to keep warm, when at the corner I bumped into a woman
and knocked a small package out of her hand. I tried to apologize. It was
"At first I stood stock still from the shock; then having returned to her
the package which she had dropped, I said abruptly:
"'I am both grieved and delighted, madame, to have jostled you. For more
than two years I have known you, admired you, and had the most ardent
wish to be presented to you; nevertheless I have been unable to find out
who you are, or where you live. Please excuse these foolish words.
Attribute them to a passionate desire to be numbered among your
acquaintances. Such sentiments can surely offend you in no way! You do
not know me. My name is Baron Roger des Annettes. Make inquiries about
me, and you will find that I am a gentleman. Now, if you refuse my
request, you will throw me into abject misery. Please be good to me and
tell me how I can see you.'
"She looked at me with her strange vacant stare, and answered smilingly:
"'Give me your address. I will come and see you.'
"I was so dumfounded that I must have shown my surprise. But I quickly
gathered my wits together and gave her a visiting card, which she slipped
into her pocket with a quick, deft movement.
"Becoming bolder, I stammered:
"'When shall I see you again?'
"She hesitated, as though mentally running over her list of engagements,
and then murmured:
"'Will Sunday morning suit you?'
"'I should say it would!'
"She went on, after having stared at me, judged, weighed and analyzed me
with this heavy and vacant gaze which seemed to leave a quieting and
deadening impression on the person towards whom it was directed.
"Until Sunday my mind was occupied day and night trying to guess who she
might be and planning my course of conduct towards her. I finally decided
to buy her a jewel, a beautiful little jewel, which I placed in its box
on the mantelpiece, and left it there awaiting her arrival.
"I spent a restless night waiting for her.
"At ten o'clock she came, calm and quiet, and with her hand outstretched,
as though she had known me for years. Drawing up a chair, I took her hat
and coat and furs, and laid them aside. And then, timidly, I took her
hand in mine; after that all went on without a hitch.
"Ah, my friends! what a bliss it is, to stand at a discreet distance and
watch the hidden pink and blue ribbons, partly concealed, to observe the
hazy lines of the beloved one's form, as they become visible through the
last of the filmy garments! What a delight it is to watch the
ostrich-like modesty of those who are in reality none too modest. And
what is so pretty as their motions!
"Her back was turned towards me, and suddenly, my eyes were irresistibly
drawn to a large black spot right between her shoulders. What could it
be? Were my eyes deceiving me? But no, there it was, staring me in the
face! Then my mind reverted to the faint down on her lip, the heavy
eyebrows almost meeting over her coal-black eyes, her glossy black hair
—I should have been prepared for some surprise.
"Nevertheless I was dumfounded, and my mind was haunted by dim visions of
strange adventures. I seemed to see before me one of the evil genii of
the Thousand and One Nights, one of these dangerous and crafty creatures
whose mission it is to drag men down to unknown depths. I thought of
Solomon, who made the Queen of Sheba walk on a mirror that he might be
sure that her feet were not cloven.
"And when the time came for me to sing of love to her, my voice forsook
me. At first she showed surprise, which soon turned to anger; and she
said, quickly putting on her wraps:
"'It was hardly worth while for me to go out of my way to come here.'
"I wanted her to accept the ring which I had bought for her, but she
replied haughtily: 'For whom do you take me, sir?' I blushed to the roots
of my hair. She left without saying another word.
"There is my whole adventure. But the worst part of it is that I am now
madly in love with her. I can't see a woman without thinking of her. All
the others disgust me, unless they remind me of her. I cannot kiss a
woman without seeing her face before me, and without suffering the
torture of unsatisfied desire. She is always with me, always there,
dressed or nude, my true love. She is there, beside the other one,
visible but intangible. I am almost willing to believe that she was
bewitched, and carried a talisman between her shoulders.
"Who is she? I don't know yet. I have met her once or twice since. I
bowed, but she pretended not to recognize me. Who is she? An Oriental?
Yes, doubtless an oriental Jewess! I believe that she must be a Jewess!
But why? Why? I don't know!"