Widow by Guy de Maupassant
This story was told during the hunting season at the Chateau
Baneville. The autumn had been rainy and sad. The red leaves, instead
of rustling under the feet, were rotting under the heavy downfalls.
The forest was as damp as it could be. From it came an odor of must,
of rain, of soaked grass and wet earth; and the sportsmen, their backs
hunched under the downpour, mournful dogs, with tails between their
legs and hairs sticking to their sides, and the young women, with their
clothes drenched, returned every evening, tired in body and in mind.
After dinner, in the large drawing-room, everybody played lotto,
without enjoyment, while the wind whistled madly around the house. Then
they tried telling stories like those they read in books, but no one
was able to invent anything amusing. The hunters told tales of
wonderful shots and of the butchery of rabbits; and the women racked
their brains for ideas without revealing the imagination of
Scheherezade. They were about to give up this diversion when a young
woman, who was idly caressing the hand of an old maiden aunt, noticed a
little ring made of blond hair, which she had often seen, without
paying any attention to it.
She fingered it gently and asked, “Auntie, what is this ring? It
looks as if it were made from the hair of a child.”
The old lady blushed, grew pale, then answered in a trembling voice:
“It is sad, so sad that I never wish to speak of it. All the
unhappiness of my life comes from that. I was very young then, and the
memory has remained so painful that I weep every time I think of it.”
Immediately everybody wished to know the story, but the old lady
refused to tell it. Finally, after they had coaxed her for a long time,
she yielded. Here is the story:
“You have often heard me speak of the Santeze family, now extinct. I
knew the last three male members of this family. They all died in the
same manner; this hair belongs to the last one. He was thirteen when he
killed himself for me. That seems strange to you, doesn't it?
“Oh! it was a strange family—mad, if you will, but a charming
madness, the madness of love. From father to son, all had violent
passions which filled their whole being, which impelled them to do wild
things, drove them to frantic enthusiasm, even to crime. This was born
in them, just as burning devotion is in certain souls. Trappers have
not the same nature as minions of the drawing-room. There was a saying:
'As passionate as a Santeze.' This could be noticed by looking at them.
They all had wavy hair, falling over their brows, curly beards and
large eyes whose glance pierced and moved one, though one could not say
“The grandfather of the owner of this hair, of whom it is the last
souvenir, after many adventures, duels and elopements, at about sixty-five fell madly in love with his farmer's daughter. I knew them both.
She was blond, pale, distinguished-looking, with a slow manner of
talking, a quiet voice and a look so gentle that one might have taken
her for a Madonna. The old nobleman took her to his home and was soon
so captivated with her that he could not live without her for a minute.
His daughter and daughter-in-law, who lived in the chateau, found this
perfectly natural, love was such a tradition in the family. Nothing in
regard to a passion surprised them, and if one spoke before them of
parted lovers, even of vengeance after treachery, both said in the same
sad tone: 'Oh, how he must have suffered to come to that point!' That
was all. They grew sad over tragedies of love, but never indignant,
even when they were criminal.
“Now, one day a young man named Monsieur de Gradelle, who had been
invited for the shooting, eloped with the young girl.
“Monsieur de Santeze remained calm as if nothing had happened, but
one morning he was found hanging in the kennels, among his dogs.
“His son died in the same manner in a hotel in Paris during a
journey which he made there in 1841, after being deceived by a singer
from the opera.
“He left a twelve-year-old child and a widow, my mother's sister.
She came to my father's house with the boy, while we were living at
Bertillon. I was then seventeen.
“You have no idea how wonderful and precocious this Santeze child
was. One might have thought that all the tenderness and exaltation of
the whole race had been stored up in this last one. He was always
dreaming and walking about alone in a great alley of elms leading from
the chateau to the forest. I watched from my window this sentimental
boy, who walked with thoughtful steps, his hands behind his back, his
head bent, and at times stopping to raise his eyes as if he could see
and understand things that were not comprehensible at his age.
“Often, after dinner on clear evenings, he would say to me: 'Let us
go outside and dream, cousin.' And we would go outside together in the
park. He would stop quickly before a clearing where the white vapor of
the moon lights the woods, and he would press my hand, saying: 'Look!
look! but you don't understand me; I feel it. If you understood me, we
should be happy. One must love to know! I would laugh and then kiss
this child, who loved me madly.
“Often, after dinner, he would sit on my mother's knees. 'Come,
auntie,' he would say, 'tell me some love-stories.' And my mother, as a
joke, would tell him all the old legends of the family, all the
passionate adventures of his forefathers, for thousands of them were
current, some true and some false. It was their reputation for love and
gallantry which was the ruin of every one of these-men; they gloried in
it and then thought that they had to live up to the renown of their
“The little fellow became exalted by these tender or terrible
stories, and at times he would clap his hands, crying: 'I, too, I, too,
know how to love, better than all of them!'
“Then, he began to court me in a timid and tender manner, at which
every one laughed, it was, so amusing. Every morning I had some flowers
picked by him, and every evening before going to his room he would kiss
my hand and murmur: 'I love you!'
“I was guilty, very guilty, and I grieved continually about it, and
I have been doing penance all my life; I have remained an old maid—or,
rather, I have lived as a widowed fiancee, his widow.
“I was amused at this childish tenderness, and I even encouraged
him. I was coquettish, as charming as with a man, alternately caressing
and severe. I maddened this child. It was a game for me and a joyous
diversion for his mother and mine. He was twelve! think of it! Who
would have taken this atom's passion seriously? I kissed him as often
as he wished; I even wrote him little notes, which were read by our
respective mothers; and he answered me by passionate letters, which I
have kept. Judging himself as a man, he thought that our loving
intimacy was secret. We had forgotten that he was a Santeze.
“This lasted for about a year. One evening in the park he fell at my
feet and, as he madly kissed the hem of my dress, he kept repeating: 'I
love you! I love you! I love you! If ever you deceive me, if ever you
leave me for another, I'll do as my father did.' And he added in a
hoarse voice, which gave me a shiver: 'You know what he did!'
“I stood there astonished. He arose, and standing on the tips of his
toes in order to reach my ear, for I was taller than he, he pronounced
my first name: 'Genevieve!' in such a gentle, sweet, tender tone that I
trembled all over. I stammered: 'Let us return! let us return!' He said
no more and followed me; but as we were going up the steps of the
porch, he stopped me, saying: 'You know, if ever you leave me, I'll
“This time I understood that I had gone too far, and I became quite
reserved. One day, as he was reproaching me for this, I answered: 'You
are now too old for jesting and too young for serious love. I'll wait.'
“I thought that this would end the matter. In the autumn he was sent
to a boarding-school. When he returned the following summer I was
engaged to be married. He understood immediately, and for a week he
became so pensive that I was quite anxious.
“On the morning of the ninth day I saw a little paper under my door
as I got up. I seized it, opened it and read: 'You have deserted me and
you know what I said. It is death to which you have condemned me. As I
do not wish to be found by another than you, come to the park just
where I told you last year that I loved you and look in the air.'
“I thought that I should go mad. I dressed as quickly as I could and
ran wildly to the place that he had mentioned. His little cap was on
the ground in the mud. It had been raining all night. I raised my eyes
and saw something swinging among the leaves, for the wind was blowing a
“I don't know what I did after that. I must have screamed at first,
then fainted and fallen, and finally have run to the chateau. The next
thing that I remember I was in bed, with my mother sitting beside me.
“I thought that I had dreamed all this in a frightful nightmare. I
stammered: 'And what of him, what of him, Gontran?' There was no
answer. It was true!
“I did not dare see him again, but I asked for a lock of his blond
hair. Here—here it is!”
And the old maid stretched out her trembling hand in a despairing
gesture. Then she blew her nose several times, wiped her eyes and
“I broke off my marriage—without saying why. And I—I always have
remained the—the widow of this thirteen-year-old boy.” Then her head
fell on her breast and she wept for a long time.
As the guests were retiring for the night a large man, whose quiet
she had disturbed, whispered in his neighbor's ear: “Isn't it
unfortunate to, be so sentimental?”