Guy de Maupassant Fullscreen Dear friend (1885)


The Works of Guy de Maupassant



When the cashier had given him the change out of his five francpiece, George Duroy left the restaurant.

As he had a good carriage, both naturally and from his military training, he drew himself up, twirled his moustache, and threw upon the lingering customers a rapid and sweeping glance--one of those glances which take in everything within their range like a casting net.

The women looked up at him in turn--three little work-girls, a middle-aged music mistress, disheveled, untidy, and wearing a bonnet always dusty and a dress always awry; and two shopkeepers' wives dining with their husbands--all regular customers at this slap-bang establishment.

When he was on the pavement outside, he stood still for a moment, asking himself what he should do.

It was the 28th of June, and he had just three francs forty centimes in his pocket to carry him to the end of the month.

This meant the option of two dinners without lunch or two lunches without dinner.

He reflected that as the earlier repasts cost twenty sous apiece, and the latter thirty, he would, if he were content with the lunches, be one franc twenty centimes to the good, which would further represent two snacks of bread and sausage and two bocks of beer on the boulevards.

This latter item was his greatest extravagance and his chief pleasure of a night; and he began to descend the Rue Notre-Dame de Lorette.

He walked as in the days when he had worn a hussar uniform, his chest thrown out and his legs slightly apart, as if he had just left the saddle, pushing his way through the crowded street, and shouldering folk to avoid having to step aside.

He wore his somewhat shabby hat on one side, and brought his heels smartly down on the pavement. He seemed ever ready to defy somebody or something, the passers-by, the houses, the whole city, retaining all the swagger of a dashing cavalry-man in civil life.

Although wearing a sixty-franc suit, he was not devoid of a certain somewhat loud elegance.

Tall, well-built, fair, with a curly moustache twisted up at the ends, bright blue eyes with small pupils, and reddish-brown hair curling naturally and parted in the middle, he bore a strong resemblance to the dare-devil of popular romances.

It was one of those summer evenings on which air seems to be lacking in Paris.

The city, hot as an oven, seemed to swelter in the stifling night.

The sewers breathed out their poisonous breath through their granite mouths, and the underground kitchens gave forth to the street through their windows the stench of dishwater and stale sauces.

The doorkeepers in their shirtsleeves sat astride straw-bottomed chairs within the carriage entrances to the houses, smoking their pipes, and the pedestrians walked with flagging steps, head bare, and hat in hand.

When George Duroy reached the boulevards he paused again, undecided as to what he should do.

He now thought of going on to the Champs Elysees and the Avenue du Bois de Boulogne to seek a little fresh air under the trees, but another wish also assailed him, a desire for a love affair.

What shape would it take?

He did not know, but he had been awaiting it for three months, night and day.

Occasionally, thanks to his good looks and gallant bearing, he gleaned a few crumbs of love here and there, but he was always hoping for something further and better.

With empty pockets and hot blood, he kindled at the contact of the prowlers who murmur at street corners:

"Will you come home with me, dear?" but he dared not follow them, not being able to pay them, and, besides, he was awaiting something else, less venally vulgar kisses.

He liked, however, the localities in which women of the town swarm--their balls, their cafes, and their streets. He liked to rub shoulders with them, speak to them, chaff them, inhale their strong perfumes, feel himself near them.

They were women at any rate, women made for love.

He did not despise them with the innate contempt of a well-born man.

He turned towards the Madeleine, following the flux of the crowd which flowed along overcome by the heat.

The chief cafes, filled with customers, were overflowing on to the pavement, and displayed their drinking public under the dazzling glare of their lit-up facias.

In front of them, on little tables, square or round, were glasses holding fluids of every shade, red, yellow, green, brown, and inside the decanters glittered the large transparent cylinders of ice, serving to cool the bright, clear water.

Duroy had slackened his pace, a longing to drink parched his throat.

A hot thirst, a summer evening's thirst assailed him, and he fancied the delightful sensation of cool drinks flowing across his palate.

But if he only drank two bocks of beer in the evening, farewell to the slender supper of the morrow, and he was only too well acquainted with the hours of short commons at the end of the month.

He said to himself: "I must hold out till ten o'clock, and then I'll have my bock at the American cafe.

Confound it, how thirsty I am though."

And he scanned the men seated at the tables drinking, all the people who could quench their thirst as much as they pleased.

He went on, passing in front of the cafes with a sprightly swaggering air, and guessing at a glance from their dress and bearing how much money each customer ought to have about him.

Wrath against these men quietly sitting there rose up within him.

If their pockets were rummaged, gold, silver, and coppers would be found in them.

On an average each one must have at least two louis. There were certainly a hundred to a cafe, a hundred times two louis is four thousand francs.

He murmured "the swine," as he walked gracefully past them.

If he could have had hold of one of them at a nice dark corner he would have twisted his neck without scruple, as he used to do the country-folk's fowls on field-days.

And he recalled his two years in Africa and the way in which he used to pillage the Arabs when stationed at little out-posts in the south.

A bright and cruel smile flitted across his lips at the recollection of an escapade which had cost the lives of three men of the Ouled-Alane tribe, and had furnished him and his comrades with a score of fowls, a couple of sheep, some gold, and food for laughter for six months.

The culprits had never been found, and, what is more, they had hardly been looked for, the Arab being looked upon as somewhat in the light of the natural prey of the soldier.

In Paris it was another thing.

One could not plunder prettily, sword by side and revolver in hand, far from civil authority.

He felt in his heart all the instincts of a sub-officer let loose in a conquered country.