He could not abstain from murmuring:
“Is it you, Lise?”
“Yes, it is I; it is I, indeed. You would not have known me, would you? I have had so much sorrow–so much sorrow. Sorrow has consumed my life. Look at me now–or, rather, don’t look at me! But how handsome you have kept–and young! If I had by chance met you in the street I would have exclaimed: ‘Jaquelet!’ Now, sit down and let us, first of all, have a chat. And then I will call my daughter, my grown-up daughter. You’ll see how she resembles me–or, rather, how I resembled her–no, it is not quite that; she is just like the ‘me’ of former days–you shall see! But I wanted to be alone with you first. I feared that there would be some emotion on my side, at the first moment. Now it is all over; it is past. Pray be seated, my friend.”
He sat down beside her, holding her hand; but he did not know what to say; he did not know this woman–it seemed to him that he had never seen her before. Why had he come to this house? What could he talk about? Of the long ago? What was there in common between him and her? He could no longer recall anything in presence of this grandmotherly face. He could no longer recall all the nice, tender things, so sweet, so bitter, that had come to his mind that morning when he thought of the other, of little Lise, of the dainty Ashflower. What, then, had become of her, the former one, the one he had loved? That woman of far-off dreams, the blonde with gray eyes, the young girl who used to call him “Jaquelet” so prettily?
They remained side by side, motionless, both constrained, troubled, profoundly ill at ease.
As they talked only commonplaces, awkwardly and spasmodically and slowly, she rose and pressed the button of the bell.
“I am going to call Renée,” she said.
There was a tap at the door, then the rustle of a dress; then a young voice exclaimed:
“Here I am, mamma!”
Lormerin remained bewildered as at the sight of an apparition.
Then, turning toward the mother:
“Oh! it is you!”
In fact, it was she, she whom he had known in bygone days, the Lise who had vanished and come back! In her he found the woman he had won twenty-five years before. This one was even younger, fresher, more childlike.
He felt a wild desire to open his arms, to clasp her to his heart again, murmuring in her ear:
A man-servant announced:
“Dinner is ready, madame.”
And they proceeded toward the dining-room.
What passed at this dinner? What did they say to him, and what could he say in reply? He found himself plunged in one of those strange dreams which border on insanity. He gazed at the two women with a fixed idea in his mind, a morbid, self-contradictory idea:
“Which is the real one?”
The mother smiled, repeating over and over again:
“Do you remember?” And it was in the bright eyes of the young girl that he found again his memories of the past. Twenty times he opened his mouth to say to her: “Do you remember, Lison?” forgetting this white-haired lady who was looking at him tenderly.
And yet, there were moments when he no longer felt sure, when he lost his head. He could see that the woman of to-day was not exactly the woman of long ago. The other one, the former one, had in her voice, in her glances, in her entire being, something which he did not find again. And he made prodigious efforts of mind to recall his lady love, to seize again what had escaped from her, what this resuscitated one did not possess.
The baronne said:
“You have lost your old vivacity, my poor friend.”
“There are many other things that I have lost!”
But in his heart, touched with emotion, he felt his old love springing to life once more, like an awakened wild beast ready to bite him.
The young girl went on chattering, and every now and then some familiar intonation, some expression of her mother’s, a certain style of speaking and thinking, that resemblance of mind and manner which people acquire by living together, shook Lormerin from head to foot. All these things penetrated him, making the reopened wound of his passion bleed anew.
He got away early, and took a turn along the boulevard. But the image of this young girl pursued him, haunted him, quickened his heart, inflamed his blood. Apart from the two women, he now saw only one, a young one, the old one come back out of the past, and he loved her as he had loved her in bygone years. He loved her with greater ardor, after an interval of twenty-five years.
He went home to reflect on this strange and terrible thing, and to think what he should do.
But, as he was passing, with a wax candle in his hand, before the glass, the large glass in which he had contemplated himself and admired himself before he started, he saw reflected there an elderly, gray-haired man; and suddenly he recollected what he had been in olden days, in the days of little Lise. He saw himself charming and handsome, as he had been when he was loved! Then, drawing the light nearer, he looked at himself more closely, as one inspects a strange thing with a magnifying glass, tracing the wrinkles, discovering those frightful ravages, which he had not perceived till now.
And he sat down, crushed at the sight of himself, at the sight of his lamentable image, murmuring:
“All over, Lormerin!”
by: Guy de Maupassant (1850-1893)
The following story is reprinted from Une Vie, a Piece of String and Other Stories. Guy de Maupassant. London: Classic Publishing Company, 1911.