Maupassant's Short Stories Vol. 6 HTML version

The Hand
All were crowding around M. Bermutier, the judge, who was giving his opinion about the
Saint-Cloud mystery. For a month this in explicable crime had been the talk of Paris.
Nobody could make head or tail of it.
M. Bermutier, standing with his back to the fireplace, was talking, citing the evidence,
discussing the various theories, but arriving at no conclusion.
Some women had risen, in order to get nearer to him, and were standing with their eyes
fastened on the clean-shaven face of the judge, who was saying such weighty things.
They, were shaking and trembling, moved by fear and curiosity, and by the eager and
insatiable desire for the horrible, which haunts the soul of every woman. One of them,
paler than the others, said during a pause:
"It's terrible. It verges on the supernatural. The truth will never be known."
The judge turned to her:
"True, madame, it is likely that the actual facts will never be discovered. As for the word
'supernatural' which you have just used, it has nothing to do with the matter. We are in
the presence of a very cleverly conceived and executed crime, so well enshrouded in
mystery that we cannot disentangle it from the involved circumstances which surround it.
But once I had to take charge of an affair in which the uncanny seemed to play a part. In
fact, the case became so confused that it had to be given up."
Several women exclaimed at once:
"Oh! Tell us about it!"
M. Bermutier smiled in a dignified manner, as a judge should, and went on:
"Do not think, however, that I, for one minute, ascribed anything in the case to
supernatural influences. I believe only in normal causes. But if, instead of using the word
'supernatural' to express what we do not understand, we were simply to make use of the
word 'inexplicable,' it would be much better. At any rate, in the affair of which I am about
to tell you, it is especially the surrounding, preliminary circumstances which impressed
me. Here are the facts:
"I was, at that time, a judge at Ajaccio, a little white city on the edge of a bay which is
surrounded by high mountains.
"The majority of the cases which came up before me concerned vendettas. There are
some that are superb, dramatic, ferocious, heroic. We find there the most beautiful causes
for revenge of which one could dream, enmities hundreds of years old, quieted for a time