The Test by Guy de Maupassant
The Bondels were a happy family, and although they frequently quarrelled
about trifles, they soon became friends again.
Bondel was a merchant who had retired from active business after saving
enough to allow him to live quietly; he had rented a little house at
Saint-Germain and lived there with his wife. He was a quiet man with very
decided opinions; he had a certain degree of education and read serious
newspapers; nevertheless, he appreciated the gaulois wit. Endowed with a
logical mind, and that practical common sense which is the master quality
of the industrial French bourgeois, he thought little, but clearly, and
reached a decision only after careful consideration of the matter in
hand. He was of medium size, with a distinguished look, and was beginning
to turn gray.
His wife, who was full of serious qualities, had also several faults. She
had a quick temper and a frankness that bordered upon violence. She bore
a grudge a long time. She had once been pretty, but had now become too
stout and too red; but in her neighborhood at Saint-Germain she still
passed for a very beautiful woman, who exemplified health and an
Their dissensions almost always began at breakfast, over some trivial
matter, and they often continued all day and even until the following
day. Their simple, common, limited life imparted seriousness to the most
unimportant matters, and every topic of conversation became a subject of
dispute. This had not been so in the days when business occupied their
minds, drew their hearts together, and gave them common interests and
But at Saint-Germain they saw fewer people. It had been necessary to make
new acquaintances, to create for themselves a new world among strangers,
a new existence devoid of occupations. Then the monotony of loneliness
had soured each of them a little; and the quiet happiness which they had
hoped and waited for with the coming of riches did not appear.
One June morning, just as they were sitting down to breakfast, Bondel
"Do you know the people who live in the little red cottage at the end of
the Rue du Berceau?"
Madame Bondel was out of sorts. She answered:
"Yes and no; I am acquainted with them, but I do not care to know them."
"Why not? They seem to be very nice."
"This morning I met the husband on the terrace and we took a little walk
Seeing that there was danger in the air, Bendel added: "It was he who
spoke to me first."
His wife looked at him in a displeased manner. She continued: "You would
have done just as well to avoid him."
"Because there are rumors about them."
"Oh! rumors such as one often hears!"
M. Bondel was, unfortunately, a little hasty. He exclaimed:
"My dear, you know that I abhor gossip. As for those people, I find them
She asked testily: "The wife also?"
"Why, yes; although I have barely seen her."
The discussion gradually grew more heated, always on the same subject for
lack of others. Madame Bondel obstinately refused to say what she had
heard about these neighbors, allowing things to be understood without
saying exactly what they were. Bendel would shrug his shoulders, grin,
and exasperate his wife. She finally cried out: "Well! that gentleman is
deceived by his wife, there!"
The husband answered quietly: "I can't see how that affects the honor of
She seemed dumfounded: "What! you don't see?—you don't
see?—well, that's too much! You don't see!—why, it's a public
scandal! he is disgraced!"
He answered: "Ah! by no means! Should a man be considered disgraced
because he is deceived, because he is betrayed, robbed? No, indeed! I'll
grant you that that may be the case for the wife, but as for him—"
She became furious, exclaiming: "For him as well as for her. They are
both in disgrace; it's a public shame."
Bondel, very calm, asked: "First of all, is it true? Who can assert such
a thing as long as no one has been caught in the act?"
Madame Bondel was growing uneasy; she snapped: "What? Who can assert it?
Why, everybody! everybody! it's as clear as the nose on your face.
Everybody knows it and is talking about it. There is not the slightest
He was grinning: "For a long time people thought that the sun revolved
around the earth. This man loves his wife and speaks of her tenderly and
reverently. This whole business is nothing but lies!"
Stamping her foot, she stammered: "Do you think that that fool, that
idiot, knows anything about it?"
Bondel did not grow angry; he was reasoning clearly: "Excuse me. This
gentleman is no fool. He seemed to me, on the contrary, to be very
intelligent and shrewd; and you can't make me believe that a man with
brains doesn't notice such a thing in his own house, when the neighbors,
who are not there, are ignorant of no detail of this liaison—for
I'll warrant that they know everything."
Madame Bondel had a fit of angry mirth, which irritated her husband's
nerves. She laughed: "Ha! ha! ha! they're all the same! There's not a man
alive who could discover a thing like that unless his nose was stuck into
The discussion was wandering to other topics now. She was exclaiming over
the blindness of deceived husbands, a thing which he doubted and which
she affirmed with such airs of personal contempt that he finally grew
angry. Then the discussion became an angry quarrel, where she took the
side of the women and he defended the men. He had the conceit to declare:
"Well, I swear that if I had ever been deceived, I should have noticed
it, and immediately, too. And I should have taken away your desire for
such things in such a manner that it would have taken more than one
doctor to set you on foot again!"
Boiling with anger, she cried out to him: "You! you! why, you're as big a
fool as the others, do you hear!"
He still maintained: "I can swear to you that I am not!"
She laughed so impertinently that he felt his heart beat and a chill run
down his back. For the third time he said:
"I should have seen it!"
She rose, still laughing in the same manner. She slammed the door and
left the room, saying: "Well! if that isn't too much!"
Bondel remained alone, ill at ease. That insolent, provoking laugh had
touched him to the quick. He went outside, walked, dreamed. The
realization of the loneliness of his new life made him sad and morbid.
The neighbor, whom he had met that morning, came to him with outstretched
hands. They continued their walk together. After touching on various
subjects they came to talk of their wives. Both seemed to have something
to confide, something inexpressible, vague, about these beings associated
with their lives; their wives. The neighbor was saying:
"Really, at times, one might think that they bear some particular
ill-will toward their husband, just because he is a husband. I love my
wife—I love her very much; I appreciate and respect her; well!
there are times when she seems to have more confidence and faith in our
friends than in me."
Bondel immediately thought: "There is no doubt; my wife was right!"
When he left this man he began to think things over again. He felt in his
soul a strange confusion of contradictory ideas, a sort of interior
burning; that mocking, impertinent laugh kept ringing in his ears and
seemed to say: "Why; you are just the same as the others, you fool!" That
was indeed bravado, one of those pieces of impudence of which a woman
makes use when she dares everything, risks everything, to wound and
humiliate the man who has aroused her ire. This poor man must also be one
of those deceived husbands, like so many others. He had said sadly:
"There are times when she seems to have more confidence and faith in our
friends than in me." That is how a husband formulated his observations on
the particular attentions of his wife for another man. That was all. He
had seen nothing more. He was like the rest—all the rest!
And how strangely Bondel's own wife had laughed as she said: "You, too
—you, too." How wild and imprudent these creatures are who can
arouse such suspicions in the heart for the sole purpose of revenge!
He ran over their whole life since their marriage, reviewed his mental
list of their acquaintances, to see whether she had ever appeared to show
more confidence in any one else than in himself. He never had suspected
any one, he was so calm, so sure of her, so confident.
But, now he thought of it, she had had a friend, an intimate friend, who
for almost a year had dined with them three times a week. Tancret, good
old Tancret, whom he, Bendel, loved as a brother and whom he continued to
see on the sly, since his wife, he did not know why, had grown angry at
the charming fellow.
He stopped to think, looking over the past with anxious eyes. Then he
grew angry at himself for harboring this shameful insinuation of the
defiant, jealous, bad ego which lives in all of us. He blamed and accused
himself when he remembered the visits and the demeanor of this friend
whom his wife had dismissed for no apparent reason. But, suddenly, other
memories returned to him, similar ruptures due to the vindictive
character of Madame Bondel, who never pardoned a slight. Then he laughed
frankly at himself for the doubts which he had nursed; and he remembered
the angry looks of his wife as he would tell her, when he returned at
night: "I saw good old Tancret, and he wished to be remembered to you,"
and he reassured himself.
She would invariably answer: "When you see that gentleman you can tell
him that I can very well dispense with his remembrances." With what an
irritated, angry look she would say these words! How well one could feel
that she did not and would not forgive—and he had suspected her
even for a second? Such foolishness!
But why did she grow so angry? She never had given the exact reason for
this quarrel. She still bore him that grudge! Was it?—But
no—no—and Bondel declared that he was lowering himself by
even thinking of such things.
Yes, he was undoubtedly lowering himself, but he could not help thinking
of it, and he asked himself with terror if this thought which had entered
into his mind had not come to stop, if he did not carry in his heart the
seed of fearful torment. He knew himself; he was a man to think over his
doubts, as formerly he would ruminate over his commercial operations, for
days and nights, endlessly weighing the pros and the cons.
He was already becoming excited; he was walking fast and losing his
calmness. A thought cannot be downed. It is intangible, cannot be caught,
cannot be killed.
Suddenly a plan occurred to him; it was bold, so bold that at first he
doubted whether he would carry it out.
Each time that he met Tancret, his friend would ask for news of Madame
Bondel, and Bondel would answer: "She is still a little angry." Nothing
more. Good Lord! What a fool he had been! Perhaps!
Well, he would take the train to Paris, go to Tancret, and bring him back
with him that very evening, assuring him that his wife's mysterious anger
had disappeared. But how would Madame Bondel act? What a scene there
would be! What anger! what scandal! What of it?—that would be
revenge! When she should come face to face with him, unexpectedly, he
certainly ought to be able to read the truth in their expressions.
He immediately went to the station, bought his ticket, got into the car,
and as soon as he felt him self being carried away by the train, he felt
a fear, a kind of dizziness, at what he was going to do. In order not to
weaken, back down, and return alone, he tried not to think of the matter
any longer, to bring his mind to bear on other affairs, to do what he had
decided to do with a blind resolution; and he began to hum tunes from
operettas and music halls until he reached Paris.
As soon as he found himself walking along the streets that led to
Tancret's, he felt like stopping, He paused in front of several shops,
noticed the prices of certain objects, was interested in new things, felt
like taking a glass of beer, which was not his usual custom; and as he
approached his friend's dwelling he ardently hoped not meet him. But
Tancret was at home, alone, reading. He jumped up in surprise, crying:
"Ah! Bondel! what luck!"
Bondel, embarrassed, answered: "Yes, my dear fellow, I happened to be in
Paris, and I thought I'd drop in and shake hands with you."
"That's very nice, very nice! The more so that for some time you have not
favored me with your presence very often."
"Well, you see—even against one's will, one is often influenced by
surrounding conditions, and as my wife seemed to bear you some ill-will"
"Jove! 'seemed'—she did better than that, since she showed me the
"What was the reason? I never heard it."
"Oh! nothing at all—a bit of foolishness—a discussion in
which we did not both agree."
"But what was the subject of this discussion?"
"A lady of my acquaintance, whom you may perhaps know by name, Madame
"Ah! really. Well, I think that my wife has forgotten her grudge, for
this very morning she spoke to me of you in very pleasant terms."
Tancret started and seemed so dumfounded that for a few minutes he could
find nothing to say. Then he asked: "She spoke of me—in pleasant
"You are sure?"
"Of course I am. I am not dreaming."
"And then—as I was coming to Paris I thought that I would please
you by coming to tell you the good news."
"Why, yes—why, yes—"
Bondel appeared to hesitate; then, after a short pause, he added: "I even
had an idea."
"What is it?"
"To take you back home with me to dinner."
Tancret, who was naturally prudent, seemed a little worried by this
proposition, and he asked: "Oh! really—is it possible? Are we not
exposing ourselves to—to—a scene?"
"No, no, indeed!"
"Because, you know, Madame Bendel bears malice for a long time."
"Yes, but I can assure you that she no longer bears you any
ill—will. I am even convinced that it will be a great pleasure for
her to see you thus, unexpectedly."
"Well, then! let us go along. I am delighted. You see, this
misunderstanding was very unpleasant for me."
They set out together toward the Saint-Lazare station, arm in arm. They
made the trip in silence. Both seemed absorbed in deep meditation. Seated
in the car, one opposite the other, they looked at each other without
speaking, each observing that the other was pale.
Then they left the train and once more linked arms as if to unite against
some common danger. After a walk of a few minutes they stopped, a little
out of breath, before Bondel's house. Bondel ushered his friend into the
parlor, called the servant, and asked: "Is madame at home?"
"Please ask her to come down at once."
They dropped into two armchairs and waited. Both were filled with the
same longing to escape before the appearance of the much-feared person.
A well-known, heavy tread could be heard descending the stairs. A hand
moved the knob, and both men watched the brass handle turn. Then the door
opened wide, and Madame Bondel stopped and looked to see who was there
before she entered. She looked, blushed, trembled, retreated a step, then
stood motionless, her cheeks aflame and her hands resting against the
sides of the door frame.
Tancret, as pale as if about to faint, had arisen, letting fall his hat,
which rolled along the floor. He stammered out: "Mon Dieu—madame—it is
I—I thought—I ventured—I was so sorry—"
As she did not answer, he continued: "Will you forgive me?"
Then, quickly, carried away by some impulse, she walked toward him with
her hands outstretched; and when he had taken, pressed, and held these
two hands, she said, in a trembling, weak little voice, which was new to
"Ah! my dear friend—how happy I am!"
And Bondel, who was watching them, felt an icy chill run over him, as if
he had been dipped in a cold bath.