Maupassant's Short Stories Vol. 5 HTML version
In Argenteuil she was called Queen Hortense. No one knew why. Perhaps it was because
she had a commanding tone of voice; perhaps because she was tall, bony, imperious;
perhaps because she governed a kingdom of servants, chickens, dogs, cats, canaries,
parrots, all so dear to an old maid's heart. But she did not spoil these familiar friends; she
had for them none of those endearing names, none of the foolish tenderness which
women seem to lavish on the soft fur of a purring cat. She governed these beasts with
authority; she reigned.
She was indeed an old maid--one of those old maids with a harsh voice and angular
motions, whose very soul seems to be hard. She never would stand contradiction,
argument, hesitation, indifference, laziness nor fatigue. She had never been heard to
complain, to regret anything, to envy anyone. She would say: "Everyone has his share,"
with the conviction of a fatalist. She did not go to church, she had no use for priests, she
hardly believed in God, calling all religious things "weeper's wares."
For thirty years she had lived in her little house, with its tiny garden running along the
street; she had never changed her habits, only changing her servants pitilessly, as soon as
they reached twenty-one years of age.
When her dogs, cats and birds would die of old age, or from an accident, she would
replace them without tears and without regret; with a little spade she would bury the dead
animal in a strip of ground, throwing a few shovelfuls of earth over it and stamping it
down with her feet in an indifferent manner.
She had a few friends in town, families of clerks who went to Paris every day. Once in a
while she would be invited out, in the evening, to tea. She would inevitably fall asleep,
and she would have to be awakened, when it was time for her to go home. She never
allowed anyone to accompany her, fearing neither light nor darkness. She did not appear
to like children.
She kept herself busy doing countless masculine tasks--carpentering, gardening, sawing
or chopping wood, even laying bricks when it was necessary.
She had relatives who came to see her twice a year, the Cimmes and the Colombels, her
two sisters having married, one of them a florist and the other a retired merchant. The
Cimmes had no children; the Colombels had three: Henri, Pauline and Joseph. Henri was
twenty, Pauline seventeen and Joseph only three.
There was no love lost between the old maid and her relatives.