Maupassant's Short Stories Vol. 5 HTML version

The Thief
While apparently thinking of something else, Dr. Sorbier had been listening quietly to
those amazing accounts of burglaries and daring deeds that might have been taken from
the trial of Cartouche. "Assuredly," he exclaimed, "assuredly, I know of no viler fault nor
any meaner action than to attack a girl's innocence, to corrupt her, to profit by a moment
of unconscious weakness and of madness, when her heart is beating like that of a
frightened fawn, and her pure lips seek those of her tempter; when she abandons herself
without thinking of the irremediable stain, nor of her fall, nor of the morrow.
"The man who has brought this about slowly, viciously, who can tell with what science of
evil, and who, in such a case, has not steadiness and self-restraint enough to quench that
flame by some icy words, who has not sense enough for two, who cannot recover his self-
possession and master the runaway brute within him, and who loses his head on the edge
of the precipice over which she is going to fall, is as contemptible as any man who breaks
open a lock, or as any rascal on the lookout for a house left defenceless and unprotected
or for some easy and dishonest stroke of business, or as that thief whose various exploits
you have just related to us.
"I, for my part, utterly refuse to absolve him, even when extenuating circumstances plead
in his favor, even when he is carrying on a dangerous flirtation, in which a man tries in
vain to keep his balance, not to exceed the limits of the game, any more than at lawn
tennis; even when the parts are inverted and a man's adversary is some precocious,
curious, seductive girl, who shows you immediately that she has nothing to learn and
nothing to experience, except the last chapter of love, one of those girls from whom may
fate always preserve our sons, and whom a psychological novel writer has christened
'The Semi-Virgins.'
"It is, of course, difficult and painful for that coarse and unfathomable vanity which is
characteristic of every man, and which might be called 'malism', not to stir such a
charming fire, difficult to act the Joseph and the fool, to turn away his eyes, and, as it
were, to put wax into his ears, like the companions of Ulysses when they were attracted
by the divine, seductive songs of the Sirens, difficult only to touch that pretty table
covered with a perfectly new cloth, at which you are invited to take a seat before any one
else, in such a suggestive voice, and are requested to quench your thirst and to taste that
new wine, whose fresh and strange flavor you will never forget. But who would hesitate
to exercise such self-restraint if, when he rapidly examines his conscience, in one of those
instinctive returns to his sober self in which a man thinks clearly and recovers his head,
he were to measure the gravity of his fault, consider it, think of its consequences, of the
reprisals, of the uneasiness which he would always feel in the future, and which would
destroy the repose and happiness of his life?
"You may guess that behind all these moral reflections, such as a graybeard like myself
may indulge in, there is a story hidden, and, sad as it is, I am sure it will interest you on
account of the strange heroism it shows."