Maupassant's Short Stories Vol. 6
A Tress Of Hair
The walls of the cell were bare and white washed. A narrow grated window, placed so
high that one could not reach it, lighted this sinister little room. The mad inmate, seated
on a straw chair, looked at us with a fixed, vacant and haunted expression. He was very
thin, with hollow cheeks and hair almost white, which one guessed might have turned
gray in a few months. His clothes appeared to be too large for his shrunken limbs, his
sunken chest and empty paunch. One felt that this man's mind was destroyed, eaten by his
thoughts, by one thought, just as a fruit is eaten by a worm. His craze, his idea was there
in his brain, insistent, harassing, destructive. It wasted his frame little by little. It--the
invisible, impalpable, intangible, immaterial idea--was mining his health, drinking his
blood, snuffing out his life.
What a mystery was this man, being killed by an ideal! He aroused sorrow, fear and pity,
this madman. What strange, tremendous and deadly thoughts dwelt within this forehead
which they creased with deep wrinkles which were never still?
"He has terrible attacks of rage," said the doctor to me. "His is one of the most peculiar
cases I have ever seen. He has seizures of erotic and macaberesque madness. He is a sort
of necrophile. He has kept a journal in which he sets forth his disease with the utmost
clearness. In it you can, as it were, put your finger on it. If it would interest you, you may
go over this document."
I followed the doctor into his office, where he handed me this wretched man's diary,
saying: "Read it and tell me what you think of it." I read as follows:
"Until the age of thirty-two I lived peacefully, without knowing love. Life appeared very
simple, very pleasant and very easy. I was rich. I enjoyed so many things that I had no
passion for anything in particular. It was good to be alive! I awoke happy every morning
and did those things that pleased me during the day and went to bed at night contented, in
the expectation of a peaceful tomorrow and a future without anxiety.
"I had had a few flirtations without my heart being touched by any true passion or
wounded by any of the sensations of true love. It is good to live like that. It is better to
love, but it is terrible. And yet those who love in the ordinary way must experience ardent
happiness, though less than mine possibly, for love came to me in a remarkable manner.
"As I was wealthy, I bought all kinds of old furniture and old curiosities, and I often
thought of the unknown hands that had touched these objects, of the eyes that had
admired them, of the hearts that had loved them; for one does love things! I sometimes
remained hours and hours looking at a little watch of the last century. It was so tiny, so
pretty with its enamel and gold chasing. And it kept time as on the day when a woman
first bought it, enraptured at owning this dainty trinket. It had not ceased to vibrate, to
live its mechanical life, and it had kept up its regular tick-tock since the last century. Who
had first worn it on her bosom amid the warmth of her clothing, the heart of the watch