Guy de Maupassant Fullscreen Dear friend (1885)


I did not know that there were so many ships as that."

They started an hour later, for they were to lunch with the old people, who had been forewarned some days beforehand.

A rusty open carriage bore them along with a noise of jolting ironmongery.

They followed a long and rather ugly boulevard, passed between some fields through which flowed a stream, and began to ascend the slope.

Madeleine, somewhat fatigued, had dozed off beneath the penetrating caress of the sun, which warmed her delightfully as she lay stretched back in the old carriage as though in a bath of light and country air.

Her husband awoke her, saying: "Look!"

They had halted two-thirds of the way up the slope, at a spot famous for the view, and to which all tourists drive.

They overlooked the long and broad valley through which the bright river flowed in sweeping curves.

It could be caught sight of in the distance, dotted with numerous islands, and describing a wide sweep before flowing through Rouen.

Then the town appeared on the right bank, slightly veiled in the morning mist, but with rays of sunlight falling on its roofs; its thousand squat or pointed spires, light, fragile-looking, wrought like gigantic jewels; its round or square towers topped with heraldic crowns; its belfries; the numerous Gothic summits of its churches, overtopped by the sharp spire of the cathedral, that surprising spike of bronze--strange, ugly, and out of all proportion, the tallest in the world.

Facing it, on the other side of the river, rose the factory chimneys of the suburb of Saint Serves--tall, round, and broadening at their summit.

More numerous than their sister spires, they reared even in the distant country, their tall brick columns, and vomited into the blue sky their black and coaly breath.

Highest of all, as high as the second of the summits reared by human labor, the pyramid of Cheops, almost level with its proud companion the cathedral spire, the great steam-pump of La Foudre seemed the queen of the busy, smoking factories, as the other was the queen of the sacred edifices.

Further on, beyond the workmen's town, stretched a forest of pines, and the Seine, having passed between the two divisions of the city, continued its way, skirting a tall rolling slope, wooded at the summit, and showing here and there its bare bone of white stone. Then the river disappeared on the horizon, after again describing a long sweeping curve.

Ships could be seen ascending and descending the stream, towed by tugs as big as flies and belching forth thick smoke.

Islands were stretched along the water in a line, one close to the other, or with wide intervals between them, like the unequal beads of a verdant rosary.

The driver waited until the travelers' ecstasies were over.

He knew from experience the duration of the admiration of all the breed of tourists.

But when he started again Duroy suddenly caught sight of two old people advancing towards them some hundreds of yards further on, and jumped out, exclaiming:

"There they are.

I recognize them."

There were two country-folk, a man and a woman, walking with irregular steps, rolling in their gait, and sometimes knocking their shoulders together.

The man was short and strongly built, high colored and inclined to stoutness, but powerful, despite his years. The woman was tall, spare, bent, careworn, the real hard-working country-woman who has toiled afield from childhood, and has never had time to amuse herself, while her husband has been joking and drinking with the customers.

Madeleine had also alighted from the carriage, and she watched these two poor creatures coming towards them with a pain at her heart, a sadness she had not anticipated.

They had not recognized their son in this fine gentleman and would never have guessed this handsome lady in the light dress to be their daughter-in-law.

They were walking on quickly and in silence to meet their long-looked-for boy, without noticing these city folk followed by their carriage.

They passed by when George, who was laughing, cried out:

"Good-day, Daddy Duroy!"

They both stopped short, amazed at first, then stupefied with surprise.

The old woman recovered herself first, and stammered, without advancing a step:

"Is't thou, boy?"

The young fellow answered: "Yes, it is I, mother," and stepping up to her, kissed her on both cheeks with a son's hearty smack.

Then he rubbed noses with his father, who had taken off his cap, a very tall, black silk cap, made Rouen fashion, like those worn by cattle dealers.

Then George said: "This is my wife," and the two country people looked at Madeleine.

They looked at her as one looks at a phenomenon, with an uneasy fear, united in the father with a species of approving satisfaction, in the mother with a kind of jealous enmity.

The man, who was of a joyous nature and inspired by a loveliness born of sweet cider and alcohol, grew bolder, and asked, with a twinkle in the corner of his eyes:

"I may kiss her all the same?"

"Certainly," replied his son, and Madeleine, ill at ease, held out both cheeks to the sounding smacks of the rustic, who then wiped his lips with the back of his hand.

The old woman, in her turn, kissed her daughter-in-law with a hostile reserve.

No, this was not the daughter-in-law of her dreams; the plump, fresh housewife, rosy-cheeked as an apple, and round as a brood mare.

She looked like a hussy, the fine lady with her furbelows and her musk.

For the old girl all perfumes were musk.

They set out again, walking behind the carriage which bore the trunk of the newly-wedded pair.

The old fellow took his son by the arm, and keeping him a little in the rear of the others, asked with interest:

"Well, how goes business, lad?"

"Pretty fair."

"So much the better.

Has thy wife any money?"

"Forty thousand francs," answered George.

His father gave vent to an admiring whistle, and could only murmur,