His Avenger by Guy de Maupassant
When M. Antoine Leuillet married the widow, Madame Mathilde Souris, he
had already been in love with her for ten years.
M. Souris has been his friend, his old college chum. Leuillet was very
much attached to him, but thought he was somewhat of a simpleton. He
would often remark: "That poor Souris who will never set the world on
When Souris married Miss Mathilde Duval, Leuillet was astonished and
somewhat annoyed, as he was slightly devoted to her, himself. She was
the daughter of a neighbor, a former proprietor of a draper's
establishment who had retired with quite a small fortune. She married
Souris for his money.
Then Leuillet thought he would start a flirtation with his friend's wife.
He was a good-looking man, intelligent and also rich. He thought it
would be all plain sailing, but he was mistaken. Then he really began to
admire her with an admiration that his friendship for the husband obliged
him to keep within the bounds of discretion, making him timid and
embarrassed. Madame Souris believing that his presumptions had received
a wholesome check now treated him as a good friend. This went on for
One morning a messenger brought Leuillet a distracted note from the poor
woman. Souris had just died suddenly from the rupture of an aneurism.
He was dreadfully shocked, for they were just the same age. But almost
immediately a feeling of profound joy, of intense relief, of emancipation
filled his being. Madame Souris was free.
He managed, however, to assume the sad, sympathetic expression that was
appropriate, waited the required time, observed all social appearances.
At the end of fifteen months he married the widow.
This was considered to be a very natural, and even a generous action. It
was the act of a good friend of an upright man.
He was happy at last, perfectly happy.
They lived in the most cordial intimacy, having understood and
appreciated each other from the first. They had no secrets from one
another and even confided to each other their most secret thoughts.
Leuillet loved his wife now with a quiet and trustful affection; he loved
her as a tender, devoted companion who is an equal and a confidante.
But there lingered in his mind a strange and inexplicable bitterness
towards the defunct Souris, who had first been the husband of this woman,
who had had the flower of her youth and of her soul, and had even robbed
her of some of her poetry. The memory of the dead husband marred the
happiness of the living husband, and this posthumous jealousy tormented
his heart by day and by night.
The consequence was he talked incessantly of Souris, asked about a
thousand personal and secret minutia, wanted to know all about his habits
and his person. And he sneered at him even in his grave, recalling with
self-satisfaction his whims, ridiculing his absurdities, dwelling on his
He would call to his wife all over the house:
"Here I am, dear."
"Come here a moment."
She would come, always smiling, knowing well that he would say something
about Souris and ready to flatter her new husband's inoffensive mania.
"Tell me, do you remember one day how Souris insisted on explaining to me
that little men always commanded more affection than big men?"
And he made some remarks that were disparaging to the deceased, who was a
small man, and decidedly flattering to himself, Leuillet, who was a tall
Mme. Leuillet allowed him to think he was right, quite right, and she
laughed heartily, gently ridiculing her former husband for the sake of
pleasing the present one, who always ended by saying:
"All the same, what a ninny that Souris was!"
They were happy, quite happy, and Leuillet never ceased to show his
devotion to his wife.
One night, however, as they lay awake, Leuillet said as he kissed his
"See here, dearie."
"Was Souris--I don't exactly know how to say it--was Souris very loving?"
She gave him a kiss for reply and murmured "Not as loving as you are, mon
He was flattered in his self-love and continued:
"He must have been--a ninny--was he not?"
She did not reply. She only smiled slyly and hid her face in her
"He must have been a ninny and not--not--not smart?"
She shook her head slightly to imply, "No--not at all smart."
"He must have been an awful nuisance, eh?"
This time she was frank and replied:
He kissed her again for this avowal and said:
"What a brute he was! You were not happy with him?"
"No," she replied. "It was not always pleasant."
Leuillet was delighted, forming in his mind a comparison, much in his own
favor, between his wife's former and present position. He was silent for
a time, and then with a burst of laughter he asked:
"Will you be frank, very frank with me?"
"Why yes, my dear."
"Well then, tell me truly did you never feel tempted to--to--to deceive
that imbecile Souris?"
Mme. Leuillet said: "Oh!" pretending to be shocked and hid her face again
on her husband's shoulder. But he saw that she was laughing.
"Come now, own up," he persisted. "He looked like a ninny, that
creature! It would be funny, so funny! Good old Souris! Come, come,
dearie, you do not mind telling me, me, of all people."
He insisted on the "me" thinking that if she had wished to deceive Souris
she would have chosen him, and he was trembling in anticipation of her
avowal, sure that if she had not been a virtuous woman she would have
encouraged his own attentions.
But she did not answer, laughing still, as at the recollection of
something exceedingly comical.
Leuillet, in his turn began to laugh, thinking he might have been the
lucky man, and he muttered amid his mirth: "That poor Souris, that poor
Souris, oh, yes, he looked like a fool!"
Mme. Leuillet was almost in spasms of laughter.
"Come, confess, be frank. You know I will not mind."
Then she stammered out, almost choking with laughter: "Yes, yes."
"Yes, what?" insisted her husband. "Come, tell all."
She was quieter now and putting her mouth to her husband's ear, she
whispered: "Yes, I did deceive him."
He felt a chill run down his back and to his very bones, and he stammered
out, dumfounded: "You--you--deceived him--criminally?"
She still thought he was amused and replied: "Yes--yes, absolutely."
He was obliged to sit up to recover his breath, he was so shocked and
upset at what he had heard.
She had become serious, understanding too late what she had done.
"With whom?" said Leuillet at length.
She was silent seeking some excuse.
"A young man," she replied at length.
He turned suddenly toward her and said drily:
"I did not suppose it was the cook. I want to know what young man, do
She did not answer.
He snatched the covers from her face, repeating:
"I want to know what young man, do you hear?"
Then she said sorrowfully: "I was only in fun." But he was trembling
with rage. "What? How? You were only in fun? You were making fun of
me, then? But I am not satisfied, do you hear? I want the name of the
She did not reply, but lay there motionless.
He took her by the arm and squeezed it, saying: "Do you understand me,
finally? I wish you to reply when I speak to you."
"I think you are going crazy," she said nervously, "let me alone!"
He was wild with rage, not knowing what to say, exasperated, and he shook
her with all his might, repeating:
"Do you hear me, do you hear me?"
She made an abrupt effort to disengage herself and the tips of her
fingers touched her husband's nose. He was furious, thinking she had
tried to hit him, and he sprang upon her holding her down; and boxing her
ears with all his might, he cried: "Take that, and that, there, there,
When he was out of breath and exhausted, he rose and went toward the
dressing table to prepare a glass of eau sucree with orange flower, for
he felt as if he should faint.
She was weeping in bed, sobbing bitterly, for she felt as if her
happiness was over, through her own fault.
Then, amidst her tears, she stammered out:
"Listen, Antoine, come here, I told you a lie, you will understand,
And prepared to defend herself now, armed with excuses and artifice, she
raised her disheveled head with its nightcap all awry.
Turning toward her, he approached, ashamed of having struck her, but
feeling in the bottom of his heart as a husband, a relentless hatred
toward this woman who had deceived the former husband, Souris.