Maupassant's Short Stories Vol. 13 HTML version
It was a men's dinner party, and they were sitting over their cigars and brandy and
discussing magnetism. Donato's tricks and Charcot's experiments. Presently, the
sceptical, easy-going men, who cared nothing for religion of any sort, began telling
stories of strange occurrences, incredible things which, nevertheless, had really occurred,
so they said, falling back into superstitious beliefs, clinging to these last remnants of the
marvellous, becoming devotees of this mystery of magnetism, defending it in the name of
science. There was only one person who smiled, a vigorous young fellow, a great ladies'
man who was so incredulous that he would not even enter upon a discussion of such
He repeated with a sneer:
"Humbug! humbug! humbug! We need not discuss Donato, who is merely a very smart
juggler. As for M. Charcot, who is said to be a remarkable man of science, he produces
on me the effect of those story-tellers of the school of Edgar Poe, who end by going mad
through constantly reflecting on queer cases of insanity. He has authenticated some cases
of unexplained and inexplicable nervous phenomena; he makes his way into that
unknown region which men are exploring every day, and unable always to understand
what he sees, he recalls, perhaps, the ecclesiastical interpretation of these mysteries. I
should like to hear what he says himself."
The words of the unbeliever were listened to with a kind of pity, as if he had blasphemed
in an assembly of monks.
One of these gentlemen exclaimed:
"And yet miracles were performed in olden times."
"I deny it," replied the other: "Why cannot they be performed now?"
Then, each mentioned some fact, some fantastic presentiment some instance of souls
communicating with each other across space, or some case of the secret influence of one
being over another. They asserted and maintained that these things had actually occurred,
while the sceptic angrily repeated:
"Humbug! humbug! humbug!"
At last he rose, threw away his cigar, and with his hands in his pockets, said: "Well, I also
have two stories to tell you, which I will afterwards explain. Here they are:
"In the little village of Etretat, the men, who are all seafaring folk, go every year to
Newfoundland to fish for cod. One night the little son of one of these fishermen woke up
with a start, crying out that his father was dead. The child was quieted, and again he woke