The old doctor and his young patient were talking by the side of the
fire. There was nothing the matter with her, except that she had one of
those little feminine ailments from which pretty women frequently
suffer; slight anaemia, nervous attack, and a suspicion of fatigue, of
that fatigue from which newly married people often suffer at the end of
the first month of their married life, when they have made a love match.
She was lying on the couch and talking. "No, doctor," she said; "I shall
never be able to understand a woman deceiving her husband. Even allowing
that she does not love him, that she pays no heed to her vows and
promises, how can she give herself to another man? How can she conceal
the intrigue from other people's eyes? How can it be possible to love
amidst lies and treason?"
The doctor smiled, and replied: "It is perfectly easy, and I can assure
you that a woman does not think of all those little subtle details, when
she has made up her mind to go astray. I even feel certain that no woman
is ripe for true love until she has passed through all the
promiscuousness and all the loathsomeness of married life, which,
according to an illustrious man, is nothing but an exchange of
ill-tempered words by day, and disagreeable odors at night. Nothing is
more true, for no woman can love passionately until after she has
"As for dissimulation, all women have plenty of it on hand on such
occasions, and the simplest of them are wonderful, and extricate
themselves from the greatest dilemmas in an extraordinary way."
The young woman, however, seemed incredulous. ... "No, doctor," she
said, "one never thinks until after it has happened, of what one ought
to have done in a dangerous affair, and women are certainly more liable
than men to lose their heads on such occasions." The doctor raised his
hands. "After it has happened, you say! Now, I will tell you something
that happened to one of my female patients, whom I always considered as
an immaculate woman.
"It happened in a provincial town, and one night when I was sleeping
profoundly, in that deep, first sleep from which it is so difficult to
arouse us, it seemed to me, in my dreams, as if the bells in the town
were sounding a fire alarm, and I woke up with a start. It was my own
bell, which was ringing wildly, and as my footman did not seem to be
answering the door, I, in turn, pulled the bell at the head of my bed,
and soon I heard banging, and steps in the silent house, and then Jean
came into my room, and handed me a letter which said: 'Madame Lelièvre
begs Doctor Simeon to come to her immediately.'
"I thought for a few moments, and then I said to myself: 'A nervous
attack, vapors, nonsense; I am too tired.' And so I replied: 'As Doctor
Simeon is not at all well, he must beg Madame Lelièvre to be kind enough
to call in his colleague, Monsieur Bonnet.' I put the note into an
envelope, and went to sleep again, but about half an hour later the
street bell rang again, and Jean came to me and said: 'There is somebody
downstairs; I do not quite know whether it is a man or a woman, as the
individual is so wrapped up, who wishes to speak to you immediately. He
says it is a matter of life and death for two people. Whereupon, I sat
up in bed and told him to show the person in.
"A kind of black phantom appeared, who raised her veil as soon as Jean
had left the room. It was Madame Berthe Lelièvre, quite a young woman,
who had been married for three years to a large shop-keeper in the town,
who was said to have married the prettiest girl in the neighborhood.
"She was terribly pale, her face was contracted like the faces of mad
people are, occasionally, and her hands trembled violently. Twice she
tried to speak, without being able to utter a sound, but at last she
stammered out: 'Come... quick... quick, Doctor... Come... my... my lover
has just died in my bedroom.' She stopped, half suffocated with emotion,
and then went on: 'My husband will... be coming home from the club very
"I jumped out of bed, without even considering that I was only in my
night-shirt, and dressed myself in a few moments, and then I said: 'Did
you come a short time ago?' 'No,' she said, standing like a statue
petrified with horror. 'It was my servant... she knows.' And then, after
a short silence, she went on: 'I was there... by his side.' And she
uttered a sort of cry of horror, and after a fit of choking, which made
her gasp, she wept violently, and shook with spasmodic sobs for a minute
or two. Then her tears suddenly ceased, as if by an internal fire, and
with an air of tragic calmness, she said: 'Let us make haste.'
"I was ready, but I exclaimed: 'I quite forgot to order my carriage.' 'I
have one,' she said; 'it is his, which was waiting for him!' She wrapped
herself up, so as to completely conceal her face, and we started."
"When she was by my side in the darkness of the carriage, she suddenly
seized my hand, and crushing it in her delicate fingers, she said, with
a shaking voice, that proceeded from a distracted heart: 'Oh! If you
only knew, if you only knew what I am suffering! I loved him, I have
loved him distractedly, like a mad woman, for the last six months.' 'Is
anyone up in your house?' I asked. 'No, nobody except Rose, who knows
"We stopped at the door, and evidently everybody was asleep, and we went
in without making any noise, by means of her latch-key, and walked
upstairs on tip-toe. The frightened servant was sitting on the top of
the stairs, with a lighted candle by her side, as she was afraid to stop
by the dead man, and I went into the room, which was turned upside down,
as if there had been a struggle in it. The bed, which was tumbled and
open, seemed to be waiting for somebody; one of the sheets was hanging
onto the floor, and wet napkins, with which they had bathed the young
man's temples, were lying on the floor, by the side of a wash-hand basin
and a glass, while a strong smell of vinegar pervaded the room."
"The dead man's body was lying at full length in the middle of the room,
and I went up to it, looked at it, and touched it. I opened the eyes,
and felt the hands, and then, turning to the two women, who were shaking
as if they were frozen, I said to them: 'Help me to carry him onto the
bed.' When we had laid him gently onto it, I listened to his heart, and
put a looking-glass to his lips, and then said: 'It is all over; let us
make haste and dress him.' It was a terrible sight!
"I took his limbs one by one, as if they had belonged to some enormous
doll, and held them out to the clothes which the women brought, and they
put on his socks, drawers, trousers, waistcoat, and lastly the coat, but
it was a difficult matter to get the arms into the sleeves.
"When it came to buttoning his boots, the two women knelt down, while I
held the light, but as his feet were rather swollen, it was very
difficult, and as they could not find a button-hook, they had to use
their hairpins. When the terrible toilet was over, I looked at our work,
and said: 'You ought to arrange his hair a little.' The girl went and
brought her mistress's large-toothed comb and brush, but as she was
trembling, and pulling out his long, matted hair in doing it, Madame
Lelièvre took the comb out of her hand, and arranged his hair as if she
were caressing him. She parted it, brushed his beard, rolled his
moustachios gently round her fingers, as she had no doubt been in the
habit of doing, in the familiarities of their intrigue.
"Suddenly, however, letting go of his hair, she took her dead lover's
inert head in her hands, and looked for a long time in despair at the
dead face, which no longer could smile at her, and then, throwing
herself onto him, she took him into her arms and kissed him ardently.
Her kisses fell like blows onto his closed mouth and eyes, onto his
forehead and temples, and then, putting her lips to his ear, as if he
could still hear her, and as if she were about to whisper something to
him, to make their embraces still more ardent, she said several times,
in a heartrending voice: 'Adieu, my darling!'
"Just then the clock struck twelve, and I started up. 'Twelve o'clock!'
I exclaimed. 'That is the time when the club closes. Come, Madame, we
have not a moment to lose!' She started up, and I said: 'We must carry
him into the drawing-room.' And when we had done this, I placed him on a
sofa, and lit the chandeliers, and just then the front door was opened
and shut noisily. He had come back, and I said: Rose, bring me the basin
and the towels, and make the room look tidy. Make haste, for heaven's
sake! Monsieur Lelièvre is coming in.'
"I heard his steps on the stairs, and then his hands feeling along the
walls. 'Come here, my dear fellow,' I said, 'we have had an accident.'
"And the astonished husband appeared in the door with a cigar in his
mouth, and said: 'What is the matter? What is the meaning of this?' 'My
dear friend,' I said, going up to him; 'you find us in great
embarrassment. I had remained late, chatting with your wife and our
friend, who had brought me in his carriage, when he suddenly fainted,
and in spite of all we have done, he has remained unconscious for two
hours. I did not like to call in strangers, and if you will now help me
downstairs with him, I shall be able to attend to him better at his own
"The husband, who was surprised, but quite unsuspicious, took off his
hat, and then he took his rival, who would be quite inoffensive for the
future, under his arms. I got between his two legs, as if I had been a
horse between the shafts, and we went downstairs, while his wife lighted
us. When we got outside, I held the body up, so as to deceive the
coachman, and said: 'Come, my friend; it is nothing; you feel better
already, I expect. Pluck up your courage, and make an attempt. It will
soon be over.' But as I felt that he was slipping out of my hands, I
gave him a slap on the shoulder, which sent him forward and made him
fall into the carriage, and then I got in after him. Monsieur Lelièvre,
who was rather alarmed, said to me: 'Do you think it is anything
serious?' To which I replied, 'No,' with a smile, as I looked at his
wife, who had put her arm into that of her legitimate husband, and was
trying to see into the carriage.
"I shook hands with them, and told my coachman to start, and during the
whole drive the dead man kept falling against me. When we got to his
house, I said that he had become unconscious on the way home, and helped
to carry him upstairs, where I certified that he was dead, and acted
another comedy to his distracted family, and at last I got back to bed,
not without swearing at lovers."
The doctor ceased, though he was still smiling, and the young woman, who
was in a very nervous state, said: "Why have you told me that terrible
He gave her a gallant bow, and replied:
"So that I may offer you my services, if necessary."