The Baroness by Guy de Maupassant
"Come with me," said my friend Boisrene, "you will see some very
interesting bric-a-brac and works of art there."
He conducted me to the first floor of an elegant house in one of the big
streets of Paris. We were welcomed by a very pleasing man, with
excellent manners, who led us from room to room, showing us rare things,
the price of which he mentioned carelessly. Large sums, ten, twenty,
thirty, fifty thousand francs, dropped from his lips with such grace and
ease that one could not doubt that this gentleman-merchant had millions
shut up in his safe.
I had known him by reputation for a long time Very bright, clever,
intelligent, he acted as intermediary in all sorts of transactions. He
kept in touch with all the richest art amateurs in Paris, and even of
Europe and America, knowing their tastes and preferences; he apprised
them by letter, or by wire if they lived in a distant city, as soon as he
knew of some work of art which might suit them.
Men of the best society had had recourse to him in times of difficulty,
either to find money for gambling, or to pay off a debt, or to sell a
picture, a family jewel, or a tapestry.
It was said that he never refused his services when he saw a chance of
Boisrene seemed very intimate with this strange merchant. They must have
worked together in many a deal. I observed the man with great interest.
He was tall, thin, bald, and very elegant. His soft, insinuating voice
had a peculiar, tempting charm which seemed to give the objects a special
value. When he held anything in his hands, he turned it round and round,
looking at it with such skill, refinement, and sympathy that the object
seemed immediately to be beautiful and transformed by his look and touch.
And its value increased in one's estimation, after the object had passed
from the showcase into his hands.
"And your Crucifix," said Boisrene, "that beautiful Renaissance Crucifix
which you showed me last year?"
The man smiled and answered:
"It has been sold, and in a very peculiar manner. There is a real
Parisian story for you! Would you like to hear it?"
"Do you know the Baroness Samoris?"
"Yes and no. I have seen her once, but I know what she is!"
"Would you mind telling me, so that I can see whether you are not
"Certainly. Mme. Samoris is a woman of the world who has a daughter,
without anyone having known her husband. At any rate, she is received in
a certain tolerant, or blind society. She goes to church and devoutly
partakes of Communion, so that everyone may know it, and she never
compromises herself. She expects her daughter to marry well. Is that
"Yes, but I will complete your information. She is a woman who makes
herself respected by her admirers in spite of everything. That is a rare
quality, for in this manner she can get what she wishes from a man. The
man whom she has chosen without his suspecting it courts her for a long
time, longs for her timidly, wins her with astonishment and possesses her
with consideration. He does not notice that he is paying, she is so
tactful; and she maintains her relations on such a footing of reserve and
dignity that he would slap the first man who dared doubt her in the
least. And all this in the best of faith.
"Several times I have been able to render little services to this woman.
She has no secrets from me.
"Toward the beginning of January she came to me in order to borrow thirty
thousand francs. Naturally, I did not lend them to her; but, as I wished
to oblige her, I told her to explain her situation to me completely, so
that I might see whether there was not something I could do for her.
"She told me her troubles in such cautious language that she could not
have spoken more delicately of her child's first communion. I finally
managed to understand that times were hard, and that she was penniless.
"The commercial crisis, political unrest, rumors of war, had made money
scarce even in the hands of her clients. And then, of course, she was
"She would associate only with a man in the best of society, who could
strengthen her reputation as well as help her financially. A reveller,
no matter how rich, would have compromised her forever, and would have
made the marriage of her daughter quite doubtful.
"She had to maintain her household expenses and continue to entertain, in
order not to lose the opportunity of finding, among her numerous
visitors, the discreet and distinguished friend for whom she was waiting,
and whom she would choose.
"I showed her that my thirty thousand francs would have but little
likelihood of returning to me; for, after spending them all, she would
have to find at least sixty thousand more, in a lump, to pay me back.
"She seemed very disheartened when she heard this. I did not know just
what to do, when an idea, a really fine idea, struck me.
"I had just bought this Renaissance Crucifix which I showed you, an
admirable piece of workmanship, one of the finest of its land that I have
"'My dear friend,' I said to her, 'I am going to send you that piece of
ivory. You will invent some ingenious, touching, poetic story, anything
that you wish, to explain your desire for parting with it. It is, of
course, a family heirloom left you by your father.
"'I myself will send you amateurs, or will bring them to you. The rest
concerns you. Before they come I will drop you a line about their
position, both social and financial. This Crucifix is worth fifty
thousand francs; but I will let it go for thirty thousand. The
difference will belong to you.'
"She considered the matter seriously for several minutes, and then
answered: 'Yes, it is, perhaps, a good idea. I thank you very-much.'
"The next day I sent her my Crucifix, and the same evening the Baron de
"For three months I sent her my best clients, from a business point of
view. But I heard nothing more from her.
"One day I received a visit from a foreigner who spoke very little
French. I decided to introduce him personally to the baroness, in order
to see how she was getting along.
"A footman in black livery received us and ushered us into a quiet little
parlor, furnished with taste, where we waited for several minutes. She
appeared, charming as usual, extended her hand to me and invited us to be
seated; and when I had explained the reason of my visit, she rang.
"The footman appeared.
"'See if Mlle. Isabelle can let us go into her oratory.' The young girl
herself brought the answer. She was about fifteen years of age, modest
and good to look upon in the sweet freshness of her youth. She wished to
conduct us herself to her chapel.
"It was a kind of religious boudoir where a silver lamp was burning
before the Crucifix, my Crucifix, on a background of black velvet. The
setting was charming and very clever. The child crossed herself and then
"'Look, gentlemen. Isn't it beautiful?'
"I took the object, examined it and declared it to be remarkable. The
foreigner also examined it, but he seemed much more interested in the two
women than in the crucifix.
"A delicate odor of incense, flowers and perfume pervaded the whole
house. One felt at home there. This really was a comfortable home,
where one would have liked to linger.
"When we had returned to the parlor I delicately broached the subject of
the price. Mme. Samoris, lowering her eyes, asked fifty thousand francs.
"Then she added: 'If you wish to see it again, monsieur, I very seldom go
out before three o'clock; and I can be found at home every day.'
"In the street the stranger asked me for some details about the baroness,
whom he had found charming. But I did not hear anything more from either
"Three months passed by.
"One morning, hardly two weeks ago, she came here at about lunch time,
and, placing a roll of bills in my hand, said: 'My dear, you are an
angel! Here are fifty thousand francs; I am buying your crucifix, and I
am paying twenty thousand francs more for it than the price agreed upon,
on condition that you always--always send your clients to me--for it is
sill for sale.'"