Julie Romain by Guy de Maupassant
Two years ago this spring I was making a walking tour along the shore of
the Mediterranean. Is there anything more pleasant than to meditate
while walking at a good pace along a highway? One walks in the sunlight,
through the caressing breeze, at the foot of the mountains, along the
coast of the sea. And one dreams! What a flood of illusions, loves,
adventures pass through a pedestrian's mind during a two hours' march!
What a crowd of confused and joyous hopes enter into you with the mild,
light air! You drink them in with the breeze, and they awaken in your
heart a longing for happiness which increases with the hun ger induced by
walking. The fleeting, charming ideas fly and sing like birds.
I was following that long road which goes from Saint Raphael to Italy,
or, rather, that long, splendid panoramic highway which seems made for
the representation of all the love-poems of earth. And I thought that
from Cannes, where one poses, to Monaco, where one gambles, people come
to this spot of the earth for hardly any other purpose than to get
embroiled or to throw away money on chance games, displaying under this
delicious sky and in this garden of roses and oranges all base vanities
and foolish pretensions and vile lusts, showing up the human mind such as
it is, servile, ignorant, arrogant and full of cupidity.
Suddenly I saw some villas in one of those ravishing bays that one meets
at every turn of the mountain; there were only four or five fronting the
sea at the foot of the mountains, and behind them a wild fir wood slopes
into two great valleys, that were untraversed by roads. I stopped short
before one of these chalets, it was so pretty: a small white house with
brown trimmings, overrun with rambler roses up to the top.
The garden was a mass of flowers, of all colors and all kinds, mixed in a
coquettish, well-planned disorder. The lawn was full of them, big pots
flanked each side of every step of the porch, pink or yellow clusters
framed each window, and the terrace with the stone balustrade, which
enclosed this pretty little dwelling, had a garland of enormous red
bells, like drops of blood. Behind the house I saw a long avenue of
orange trees in blossom, which went up to the foot of the mountain.
Over the door appeared the name, "Villa d'Antan," in small gold letters.
I asked myself what poet or what fairy was living there, what inspired,
solitary being had discovered this spot and created this dream house,
which seemed to nestle in a nosegay.
A workman was breaking stones up the street, and I went to him to ask the
name of the proprietor of this jewel.
"It is Madame Julie Romain," he replied.
Julie Romain! In my childhood, long ago, I had heard them speak of this
great actress, the rival of Rachel.
No woman ever was more applauded and more loved--especially more loved!
What duets and suicides on her account and what sensational adventures!
How old was this seductive woman now? Sixty, seventy, seventy-five!
Julie Romain here, in this house! The woman who had been adored by the
greatest musician and the most exquisite poet of our land! I still
remember the sensation (I was then twelve years of age) which her flight
to Sicily with the latter, after her rupture with the former, caused
She had left one evening, after a premiere, where the audience had
applauded her for a whole half hour, and had recalled her eleven times in
succession. She had gone away with the poet, in a post-chaise, as was
the fashion then; they had crossed the sea, to love each other in that
antique island, the daughter of Greece, in that immense orange wood which
surrounds Palermo, and which is called the "Shell of Gold."
People told of their ascension of Mount Etna and how they had leaned over
the immense crater, arm in arm, cheek to cheek, as if to throw themselves
into the very abyss.
Now he was dead, that maker of verses so touching and so profound that
they turned, the heads of a whole generation, so subtle and so mysterious
that they opened a new world to the younger poets.
The other one also was dead--the deserted one, who had attained through
her musical periods that are alive in the memories of all, periods of
triumph and of despair, intoxicating triumph and heartrending despair.
And she was there, in that house veiled by flowers.
I did not hesitate, but rang the bell.
A small servant answered, a boy of eighteen with awkward mien and clumsy
hands. I wrote in pencil on my card a gallant compliment to the actress,
begging her to receive me. Perhaps, if she knew my name, she would open
her door to me.
The little valet took it in, and then came back, asking me to follow him.
He led me to a neat and decorous salon, furnished in the Louis-Philippe
style, with stiff and heavy furniture, from which a little maid of
sixteen, slender but not pretty, took off the covers in my honor.
Then I was left alone.
On the walls hung three portraits, that of the actress in one of her
roles, that of the poet in his close-fitting greatcoat and the ruffled
shirt then in style, and that of the musician seated at a piano.
She, blond, charming, but affected, according to the fashion of her day,
was smiling, with her pretty mouth and blue eyes; the painting was
careful, fine, elegant, but lifeless.
Those faces seemed to be already looking upon posterity.
The whole place had the air of a bygone time, of days that were done and
men who had vanished.
A door opened and a little woman entered, old, very old, very small, with
white hair and white eyebrows, a veritable white mouse, and as quick and
furtive of movement.
She held out her hand to me, saying in a voice still fresh, sonorous and
"Thank you, monsieur. How kind it is of the men of to-day to remember
the women of yesterday! Sit down."
I told her that her house had attracted me, that I had inquired for the
proprietor's name, and that, on learning it, I could not resist the
desire to ring her bell.
"This gives me all the more pleasure, monsieur," she replied, "as it is
the first time that such a thing has happened. When I received your
card, with the gracious note, I trembled as if an old friend who had
disappeared for twenty years had been announced to me. I am like a dead
body, whom no one remembers, of whom no one will think until the day when
I shall actually die; then the newspapers will mention Julie Romain for
three days, relating anecdotes and details of my life, reviving memories,
and praising me greatly. Then all will be over with me."
After a few moments of silence, she continued:
"And this will not be so very long now. In a few months, in a few days,
nothing will remain but a little skeleton of this little woman who is now
She raised her eyes toward her portrait, which smiled down upon this
caricature of herself; then she looked at those of the two men, the
disdainful poet and the inspired musician, who seemed to say: "What does
this ruin want of us?"
An indefinable, poignant, irresistible sadness overwhelmed my heart, the
sadness of existences that have had their day, but who are still debating
with their memories, like a person drowning in deep water.
From my seat I could see on the highroad the handsome carriages that were
whirling from Nice to Monaco; inside them I saw young, pretty, rich and
happy women and smiling, satisfied men. Following my eye, she understood
my thought and murmured with a smile of resignation:
"One cannot both be and have been."
"How beautiful life must have been for you!" I said.
She heaved a great sigh.
"Beautiful and sweet! And for that reason I regret it so much."
I saw that she was disposed to talk of herself, so I began to question
her, gently and discreetly, as one might touch bruised flesh.
She spoke of her successes, her intoxications and her friends, of her
whole triumphant existence.
"Was it on the stage that you found your most intense joys, your true
happiness?" I asked.
"Oh, no!" she replied quickly.
I smiled; then, raising her eyes to the two portraits, she said, with a
"It was with them."
"Which one?" I could not help asking.
"Both. I even confuse them up a little now in my old woman's memory, and
then I feel remorse."
"Then, madame, your acknowledgment is not to them, but to Love itself.
They were merely its interpreters."
"That is possible. But what interpreters!"
"Are you sure that you have not been, or that you might not have been,
loved as well or better by a simple man, but not a great man, who would
have offered to you his whole life and heart, all his thoughts, all his
days, his whole being, while these gave you two redoubtable rivals, Music
"No, monsieur, no!" she exclaimed emphatically, with that still youthful
voice, which caused the soul to vibrate. "Another one might perhaps have
loved me more, but he would not have loved me as these did. Ah! those
two sang to me of the music of love as no one else in the world could
have sung of it. How they intoxicated me! Could any other man express
what they knew so well how to express in tones and in words? Is it
enough merely to love if one cannot put all the poetry and all the music
of heaven and earth into love? And they knew how to make a woman
delirious with songs and with words. Yes, perhaps there was more of
illusion than of reality in our passion; but these illusions lift you
into the clouds, while realities always leave you trailing in the dust.
If others have loved me more, through these two I have understood, felt
and worshipped love."
Suddenly she began to weep.
She wept silently, shedding tears of despair.
I pretended not to see, looking off into the distance. She resumed,
after a few minutes:
"You see, monsieur, with nearly every one the heart ages with the body.
But this has not happened with me. My body is sixty-nine years old,
while my poor heart is only twenty. And that is the reason why I live
all alone, with my flowers and my dreams."
There was a long silence between us. She grew calmer and continued,
"How you would laugh at me, if you knew, if you knew how I pass my
evenings, when the weather is fine. I am ashamed and I pity myself at
the same time."
Beg as I might, she would not tell me what she did. Then I rose to
"Already!" she exclaimed.
And as I said that I wished to dine at Monte Carlo, she asked timidly:
"Will you not dine with me? It would give me a great deal of pleasure."
I accepted at once. She rang, delighted, and after giving some orders to
the little maid she took me over her house.
A kind of glass-enclosed veranda, filled with shrubs, opened into the
dining-room, revealing at the farther end the long avenue of orange trees
extending to the foot of the mountain. A low seat, hidden by plants,
indicated that the old actress often came there to sit down.
Then we went into the garden, to look at the flowers. Evening fell
softly, one of those calm, moist evenings when the earth breathes forth
all her perfumes. Daylight was almost gone when we sat down at table.
The dinner was good and it lasted a long time, and we became intimate
friends, she and I, when she understood what a profound sympathy she had
aroused in my heart. She had taken two thimblefuls of wine, as the
phrase goes, and had grown more confiding and expansive.
"Come, let us look at the moon," she said. "I adore the good moon. She
has been the witness of my most intense joys. It seems to me that all my
memories are there, and that I need only look at her to bring them all
back to me. And even--some times--in the evening--I offer to myself a
pretty play--yes, pretty--if you only knew! But no, you would laugh at
me. I cannot--I dare not--no, no--really--no."
I implored her to tell me what it was.
"Come, now! come, tell me; I promise you that I will not laugh. I swear
it to you--come, now!"
She hesitated. I took her hands--those poor little hands, so thin and so
cold!--and I kissed them one after the other, several times, as her
lovers had once kissed them. She was moved and hesitated.
"You promise me not to laugh?"
"Yes, I swear it to you."
"Well, then, come."
She rose, and as the little domestic, awkward in his green livery,
removed the chair behind her, she whispered quickly a few words into his
"Yes, madame, at once," he replied.
She took my arm and led me to the veranda.
The avenue of oranges was really splendid to see. The full moon made a
narrow path of silver, a long bright line, which fell on the yellow sand,
between the round, opaque crowns of the dark trees.
As these trees were in bloom, their strong, sweet perfume filled the
night, and swarming among their dark foliage I saw thousands of
fireflies, which looked like seeds fallen from the stars.
"Oh, what a setting for a love scene!" I exclaimed.
"Is it not true? Is it not true? You will see!"
And she made me sit down beside her.
"This is what makes one long for more life. But you hardly think of
these things, you men of to-day. You are speculators, merchants and men
You no longer even know how to talk to us. When I say 'you,' I mean
young men in general. Love has been turned into a liaison which very
often begins with an unpaid dressmaker's bill. If you think the bill is
dearer than the woman, you disappear; but if you hold the woman more
highly, you pay it. Nice morals--and a nice kind of love!"
She took my hand.
I looked, astonished and delighted. Down there at the end of the avenue,
in the moonlight, were two young people, with their arms around each
other's waist. They were walking along, interlaced, charming, with
short, little steps, crossing the flakes of light; which illuminated them
momentarily, and then sinking back into the shadow. The youth was
dressed in a suit of white satin, such as men wore in the eighteenth
century, and had on a hat with an ostrich plume. The girl was arrayed in
a gown with panniers, and the high, powdered coiffure of the handsome
dames of the time of the Regency.
They stopped a hundred paces from us, and standing in the middle of the
avenue, they kissed each other with graceful gestures.
Suddenly I recognized the two little servants. Then one of those
dreadful fits of laughter that convulse you made me writhe in my chair.
But I did not laugh aloud. I resisted, convulsed and feeling almost ill,
as a man whose leg is cut off resists the impulse to cry out.
As the young pair turned toward the farther end of the avenue they again
became delightful. They went farther and farther away, finally
disappearing as a dream disappears. I no longer saw them. The avenue
seemed a sad place.
I took my leave at once, so as not to see them again, for I guessed that
this little play would last a long time, awakening, as it did, a whole
past of love and of stage scenery; the artificial past, deceitful and
seductive, false but charming, which still stirred the heart of this
amorous old comedienne.