Maupassant's Short Stories Vol. 6
On The River
I rented a little country house last summer on the banks of the Seine, several leagues from
Paris, and went out there to sleep every evening. After a few days I made the
acquaintance of one of my neighbors, a man between thirty and forty, who certainly was
the most curious specimen I ever met. He was an old boating man, and crazy about
boating. He was always beside the water, on the water, or in the water. He must have
been born in a boat, and he will certainly die in a boat at the last.
One evening as we were walking along the banks of the Seine I asked him to tell me
some stories about his life on the water. The good man at once became animated, his
whole expression changed, he became eloquent, almost poetical. There was in his heart
one great passion, an absorbing, irresistible passion-the river.
Ah, he said to me, how many memories I have, connected with that river that you see
flowing beside us! You people who live in streets know nothing about the river. But
listen to a fisherman as he mentions the word. To him it is a mysterious thing, profound,
unknown, a land of mirages and phantasmagoria, where one sees by night things that do
not exist, hears sounds that one does not recognize, trembles without knowing why, as in
passing through a cemetery--and it is, in fact, the most sinister of cemeteries, one in
which one has no tomb.
The land seems limited to the river boatman, and on dark nights, when there is no moon,
the river seems limitless. A sailor has not the same feeling for the sea. It is often
remorseless and cruel, it is true; but it shrieks, it roars, it is honest, the great sea; while the
river is silent and perfidious. It does not speak, it flows along without a sound; and this
eternal motion of flowing water is more terrible to me than the high waves of the ocean.
Dreamers maintain that the sea hides in its bosom vast tracts of blue where those who are
drowned roam among the big fishes, amid strange forests and crystal grottoes. The river
has only black depths where one rots in the slime. It is beautiful, however, when it
sparkles in the light of the rising sun and gently laps its banks covered with whispering
The poet says, speaking of the ocean,
O waves, what mournful tragedies ye know--
Deep waves, the dread of kneeling mothers' hearts!
Ye tell them to each other as ye roll
On flowing tide, and this it is that gives
The sad despairing tones unto your voice
As on ye roll at eve by mounting tide."
Well, I think that the stories whispered by the slender reeds, with their little soft voices,
must be more sinister than the lugubrious tragedies told by the roaring of the waves.