Artfulness (Maupassant)

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Summary of the Short Story
Microsummary: A cunning woman tricked a wealthy man into believing he fathered her child, maintaining their relationship for years until the truth was revealed, ending their affair.

A former minister, the Count of L, shared a story with a group of young men about how he was deceived by a woman. He met a charming woman during his morning walks and soon became friends with her.

Count of L — narrator; ex-minister of the Empire, intelligent, wealthy, and a real rake.

She told him she was married to a clerk and had a sad life. The Count revealed his identity to her, and she began visiting him at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Madame D — young, pretty, and cunning; wife of a clerk; skilled in deception and manipulation.

After three months, the woman tearfully informed the Count that she was pregnant. He suggested she join her husband in Italy, and gave her money for the journey. She sent him letters from various Italian cities, and eventually informed him that she had given birth to a boy. The woman returned to Paris, and their relationship resumed.

The Count's brother received an anonymous letter warning him about the woman's deception. He investigated and discovered that she had never been to Italy and had no child. The Count decided to end the relationship and asked his brother to give her a sum of money. When confronted, the woman admitted to her lies but claimed she had done it to keep the Count's interest.

Do you think a poor little insignificant bourgeoise like me could have kept the Count of L, a minister, a great nobleman, a popular man in society, wealthy and attractive, for three years if she had not given him something to think about?

She had borrowed her sister's child to show him and had written the letters from Italy herself. The woman left, asking the Count's brother to remember her kindly to him.

I was very fond of him.

The Count of L concludes his story with this advice, warning his listeners not to trust women like Madame D, who are skilled in deception and manipulation.