Confession by Guy de Maupassant
All Veziers-le-Rethel had followed the funeral procession of M.
Badon- Leremince to the grave, and the last words of the funeral
oration pronounced by the delegate of the district remained in the
minds of all: “He was an honest man, at least!”
An honest man he had been in all the known acts of his life, in his
words, in his examples, his attitude, his behavior, his enterprises, in
the cut of his beard and the shape of his hats. He never had said a
word that did not set an example, never had given an alms without
adding a word of advice, never had extended his hand without appearing
to bestow a benediction.
He left two children, a boy and a girl. His son was counselor
general, and his daughter, having married a lawyer, M. Poirel de la
Voulte, moved in the best society of Veziers.
They were inconsolable at the death of their father, for they loved
As soon as the ceremony was over, the son, daughter and son-in-law
returned to the house of mourning, and, shutting themselves in the
library, they opened the will, the seals of which were to be broken by
them alone and only after the coffin had been placed in the ground.
This wish was expressed by a notice on the envelope.
M. Poirel de la Voulte tore open the envelope, in his character of a
lawyer used to such operations, and having adjusted his spectacles, he
read in a monotonous voice, made for reading the details of contracts:
My children, my dear children, I could not sleep the eternal
in peace if I did not make to you from the tomb a confession,
confession of a crime, remorse for which has ruined my life.
I committed a crime, a frightful, abominable crime.
I was twenty-six years old, and I had just been called to the
Paris, and was living the life off young men from the
are stranded in this town without acquaintances, relatives, or
I took a sweetheart. There are beings who cannot live alone. I
one of those. Solitude fills me with horrible anguish, the
of my room beside my fire in the evening. I feel then as if I
alone on earth, alone, but surrounded by vague dangers,
terrible things; and the partition that separates me from my
neighbor, my neighbor whom I do not know, keeps me at as great
distance from him as the stars that I see through my window. A
of fever pervades me, a fever of impatience and of fear, and
silence of the walls terrifies me. The silence of a room where
lives alone is so intense and so melancholy It is not only a
of the mind; when a piece of furniture cracks a shudder goes
you for you expect no noise in this melancholy abode.
How many times, nervous and timid from this motionless silence,
have begun to talk, to repeat words without rhyme or reason,
make some sound. My voice at those times sounds so strange
am afraid of that, too. Is there anything more dreadful than
talking to one's self in an empty house? One's voice sounds
that of another, an unknown voice talking aimlessly, to no
the empty air, with no ear to listen to it, for one knows
they escape into the solitude of the room exactly what words
uttered. And when they resound lugubriously in the silence,
seem no more than an echo, the peculiar echo of words
My sweetheart was a young girl like other young girls who live
Paris on wages that are insufficient to keep them. She was
good, simple. Her parents lived at Poissy. She went to spend
several days with them from time to time.
For a year I lived quietly with her, fully decided to leave her
I should find some one whom I liked well enough to marry. I
make a little provision for this one, for it is an understood
in our social set that a woman's love should be paid for, in
if she is poor, in presents if she is rich.
But one day she told me she was enceinte. I was thunderstruck,
saw in a second that my life would be ruined. I saw the fetter
I should wear until my death, everywhere, in my future family
in my old age, forever; the fetter of a woman bound to my life
through a child; the fetter of the child whom I must bring up,
over, protect, while keeping myself unknown to him, and
hidden from the world.
I was greatly disturbed at this news, and a confused longing, a
criminal desire, surged through my mind; I did not formulate
I felt it in my heart, ready to come to the surface, as if
hidden behind a portiere should await the signal to come out.
some accident might only happen! So many of these little
before they are born!
Oh! I did not wish my sweetheart to die! The poor girl, I loved
her very much! But I wished, possibly, that the child might
before I saw it.
He was born. I set up housekeeping in my little bachelor
an imitation home, with a horrible child. He looked like all
children; I did not care for him. Fathers, you see, do not
affection until later. They have not the instinctive and
tenderness of mothers; their affection has to be awakened
their mind must become attached by bonds formed each day
beings that live in each other's society.
A year passed. I now avoided my home, which was too small,
soiled linen, baby-clothes and stockings the size of gloves
lying round, where a thousand articles of all descriptions lay
the furniture, on the arm of an easy-chair, everywhere. I went
chiefly that I might not hear the child cry, for he cried on
slightest pretext, when he was bathed, when he was touched,
was put to bed, when he was taken up in the morning,
I had made a few acquaintances, and I met at a reception the
who was to be your mother. I fell in love with her and became
desirous to marry her. I courted her; I asked her parents'
to our marriage and it was granted.
I found myself in this dilemma: I must either marry this young
whom I adored, having a child already, or else tell the truth
renounce her, and happiness, my future, everything; for her
who were people of rigid principles, would not give her to me
I passed a month of horrible anguish, of mortal torture, a
haunted by a thousand frightful thoughts; and I felt
me a hatred toward my son, toward that little morsel of
screaming flesh, who blocked my path, interrupted my life,
me to an existence without hope, without all those vague
expectations that make the charm of youth.
But just then my companion's mother became ill, and I was left
with the child.
It was in December, and the weather was terribly cold. What a
My companion had just left. I had dined alone in my little
room and I went gently into the room where the little one was
I sat down in an armchair before the fire. The wind was
making the windows rattle, a dry, frosty wind; and I saw
window the stars shining with that piercing brightness that
have on frosty nights.
Then the idea that had obsessed me for a month rose again to
surface. As soon as I was quiet it came to me and harassed me.
ate into my mind like a fixed idea, just as cancers must eat
the flesh. It was there, in my head, in my heart, in my whole
it seemed to me; and it swallowed me up as a wild beast might
I endeavored to drive it away, to repulse it, to open my mind
other thoughts, as one opens a window to the fresh morning
drive out the vitiated air; but I could not drive it from my
not even for a second. I do not know how to express this
It gnawed at my soul, and I felt a frightful pain, a real
and moral pain.
My life was ruined! How could I escape from this situation? How
could I draw back, and how could I confess?
And I loved the one who was to become your mother with a mad
passion, which this insurmountable obstacle only aggravated.
A terrible rage was taking possession of me, choking me, a rage
verged on madness! Surely I was crazy that evening!
The child was sleeping. I got up and looked at it as it slept.
was he, this abortion, this spawn, this nothing, that
to irremediable unhappiness!
He was asleep, his mouth open, wrapped in his bed-clothes in a
beside my bed, where I could not sleep.
How did I ever do what I did? How do I know? What force urged
on? What malevolent power took possession of me? Oh! the
temptation to crime came to me without any forewarning. All I
recall is that my heart beat tumultuously. It beat so hard
could hear it, as one hears the strokes of a hammer behind a
partition. That is all I can recall—the beating of my heart!
In my head there was a strange confusion, a tumult, a
disorder, a lack of presence of mind. It was one of those
bewilderment and hallucination when a man is neither conscious
his actions nor able to guide his will.
I gently raised the coverings from the body of the child; I
them down to the foot of the crib, and he lay there uncovered
He did not wake. Then I went toward the window, softly, quite
softly, and I opened it.
A breath of icy air glided in like an assassin; it was so cold
I drew aside, and the two candles flickered. I remained
near the window, not daring to turn round, as if for fear of
what was doing on behind me, and feeling the icy air
across my forehead, my cheeks, my hands, the deadly air which
streaming in. I stood there a long time.
I was not thinking, I was not reflecting. All at once a little
cough caused me to shudder frightfully from head to foot, a
that I feel still to the roots of my hair. And with a frantic
movement I abruptly closed both sides of the window and,
round, ran over to the crib.
He was still asleep, his mouth open, quite naked. I touched his
legs; they were icy cold and I covered them up.
My heart was suddenly touched, grieved, filled with pity,
tenderness, love for this poor innocent being that I had
kill. I kissed his fine, soft hair long and tenderly; then I
and sat down before the fire.
I reflected with amazement with horror on what I had done,
myself whence come those tempests of the soul in which a man
all perspective of things, all command over himself and acts
as in a
condition of mad intoxication, not knowing whither he is
a vessel in a hurricane.
The child coughed again, and it gave my heart a wrench. Suppose
should die! O God! O God! What would become of me?
I rose from my chair to go and look at him, and with a candle
hand I leaned over him. Seeing him breathing quietly I felt
reassured, when he coughed a third time. It gave me such a
tat I started backward, just as one does at sight of something
horrible, and let my candle fall.
As I stood erect after picking it up, I noticed that my temples
bathed in perspiration, that cold sweat which is the result of
anguish of soul. And I remained until daylight bending over my
becoming calm when he remained quiet for some time, and filled
atrocious pain when a weak cough came from his mouth.
He awoke with his eyes red, his throat choked, and with an air
When the woman came in to arrange my room I sent her at once
doctor. He came at the end of an hour, and said, after
“Did he not catch cold?”
I began to tremble like a person with palsy, and I faltered:
“No, I do not think so.”
And then I said:
“What is the matter? Is it serious?”
“I do not know yet,” he replied. “I will come again this
He came that evening. My son had remained almost all day in a
condition of drowsiness, coughing from time to time. During
night inflammation of the lungs set in.
That lasted ten days. I cannot express what I suffered in those
interminable hours that divide morning from night, right from
And since—since that moment, I have not passed one hour, not a
single hour, without the frightful burning recollection, a
recollection, a memory that seems to wring my heart, awaking
like a savage beast imprisoned in the depth of my soul.
Oh! if I could have gone mad!
M. Poirel de la Voulte raised his spectacles with a motion that was
peculiar to him whenever he finished reading a contract; and the three
heirs of the defunct looked at one another without speaking, pale and
At the end of a minute the lawyer resumed:
“That must be destroyed.”
The other two bent their heads in sign of assent. He lighted a
candle, carefully separated the pages containing the damaging
confession from those relating to the disposition of money, then he
held them over the candle and threw them into the fireplace.
And they watched the white sheets as they burned, till they were
presently reduced to little crumbling black heaps. And as some words
were still visible in white tracing, the daughter, with little strokes
of the toe of her shoe, crushed the burning paper, mixing it with the
old ashes in the fireplace.
Then all three stood there watching it for some time, as if they
feared that the destroyed secret might escape from the fireplace.