MERCADET A COMEDY IN THREE ACTS
HONORE DE BALZAC
Presented for the First Time in Paris At the Theatre du Gymnase-Dramatique August 24, 1851
PERSONS OF THE PLAY
Mercadet, a speculator Madame Mercadet, his wife Julie, their daughter Minard, clerk of Mercadet Verdelin, friend of Mercadet Goulard, creditor of Mercadet Pierquin, creditor of Mercadet Violette, creditor of Mercadet Mericourt, acquaintance of Mercadet De la Brive, suitor to Julie Justin, valet Therese, lady's maid Virginie, cook Various other creditors of Mercadet
SCENE: Paris, in the house of Mercadet
TIME: About 1845
(A drawing-room. A door in the centre. Side doors. At the front, to the left, a mantel-piece with a mirror. To the right, a window, and next it a writing-table. Armchairs.)
Justin, Virginie and Therese
Justin (finishing dusting the room) Yes, my dears, he finds it very hard to swim; he is certain to drown, poor M. Mercadet.
Virginie (her basket on her arm) Honestly, do you think that?
Justin He is ruined! And although there is much fat to be stewed from a master while he is financially embarrassed, you must not forget that he owes us a year's wages, and we had better get ourselves discharged.
Therese Some masters are so frightfully stubborn! I spoke to the mistress disrespectfully two or three times, and she pretended not to hear me.
Virginie Ah! I have been at service in many middle-class houses; but I have never seen one like this! I am going to leave my stove, and become an actress in some theatre.
Justin All of us here are nothing but actors in a theatre.
Virginie Yes, indeed, sometimes one has to put on an air of astonishment, as if just fallen from the moon, when a creditor appears: "Didn't you know it, sir?"—"No."—"M. Mercadet has gone to Lyons."—"Ah! He is away?" —"Yes, his prospects are most brilliant; he has discovered some coal- mines."—"Ah! So much the better! When does he return?"—"I do not know." Sometimes I put on an expression as if I had lost the dearest friend I had in the world.
Justin (aside) That would be her money.
Virginie (pretending to cry) "Monsieur and mademoiselle are in the greatest distress. It seems that we are going to lose poor Madame Mercadet. They have taken her away to the waters! Ah!"
Therese And then, there are some creditors who are actual brutes! They speak to you as if you were the masters!
Virginie There's an end of it. I ask them for their bill and tell them I am going to settle. But now, the tradesmen refuse to give anything without the money! And you may be sure that I am not going to lend any of mine.
Justin Let us demand our wages.
Virginie and Therese Yes, let us demand our wages.
Virginie Who are middle-class people? Middle-class people are those who spend a great deal on their kitchen—
Justin Who are devoted to their servants—
Virginie And who leave them a pension. That is how middle-class people ought to behave to their servants.
Therese The lady of Picardy speaks well. But all the same, I pity mademoiselle and young Minard, her suitor.
Justin M. Mercadet is not going to give his daughter to a miserable bookkeeper who earns no more than eighteen hundred francs a year; he has better views for her than that.
Therese and Virginie Who is the man he thinks of?
Justin Yesterday two fine young gentlemen came here in a carriage, and their groom told old Gruneau that one of them was going to marry Mlle. Mercadet.
Virginie You don't mean to say so! Are those gentlemen in yellow gloves, with fine flowered waistcoats, going to marry mademoiselle?
Justin Not both of them, lady of Picardy.
Virginie The panels of their carriage shone like satin. Their horse had rosettes here. (She points to her ears.) It was held by a boy of eight, fair, with frizzed hair and top boots. He looked as sly as a mouse—a very Cupid, though he swore like a trooper. His master is as fine as a picture, with a big diamond in his scarf. It ain't possible that a handsome young man who owns such a turnout as that is going to be the husband of Mlle. Mercadet? I can't believe it.
Justin You don't know M. Mercadet! I, who have been in his house for the last six years, and have seen him since his troubles fighting with his creditors, can believe him capable of anything, even of growing rich; sometimes I say to myself he is utterly ruined! Yellow auction placards flame at his door. He receives reams of stamped creditor's notices, which I sell by the pound for waste paper without being noticed. But presto! Up he bobs again. He is triumphant. And what devices he has! There is a new one every day! First of all, it is a scheme for wooden pavements—then it is dukedoms, ponds, mills. I don't know where the leakage is in his cash box; he finds it so hard to fill; for it empties itself as easily as a drained wine-glass! And always crowds of creditors! How well he turns them away! Sometimes I have seen them come with the intention of carrying off everything and throwing him into prison. But when he talks to them they end by being the best of friends, and part with cordial handshakes! There are some men who can tame jackals and lions. That's not a circumstance; M. Mercadet can tame creditors!
Therese One of them is not quite so easily managed; and that is M. Pierquin.
Justin He is a tiger who feeds on bankrupts. And to think of poor old Violette!
Virginie He is both creditor and beggar—I always feel inclined to give him a plate of soup.
Justin And Goulard!
Therese A bill discounter who would like very much to—to discount me.
Virginie (amid a general laugh) I hear madame coming.
Justin Let us keep a civil tongue in our heads, and we shall learn something about the marriage.
The same persons and Mme. Mercadet.
Mme. Mercadet Justin, have you executed the commissions I gave you?
Justin Yes, madame, but they refused to deliver the dresses, the hats, and indeed all the things you ordered until—
Virginie And I also have to inform madame that the tradesmen are no longer willing—
Mme. Mercadet I understand.
Justin The creditors are the cause of the whole trouble. I wish I knew how to get even with them.
Mme. Mercadet The best way to do so would be to pay them.
Justin They would be mightily surprised.
Mme. Mercadet It is useless to conceal from you the excessive anxiety which I suffer over the condition of my husband's affairs. We shall doubtless be in need of your discretion—for we can depend upon you, can we not?
All You need not mention it, madame.
Virginie We were just saying, what excellent employers we had.
Therese And that we would go through fire and water for you!
Justin We were saying—
(Mercadet appears unnoticed.)
Mme. Mercadet Thank you all, you are good creatures. (Mercadet shrugs his shoulders.) Your master needs only time, he has so many schemes in his head!—a rich suitor has offered himself for Mlle. Julie, and if—
The same persons and Mercadet.
Mercadet (interrupting his wife) My dearest! (The servants draw back a little. In a low voice to madame) And so this is how you speak to the servants! To-morrow they laugh at us. (To Justin) Justin, go at once to M. Verdelin's house, and ask him to come here, as I want to speak to him about a piece of business that will not admit of delay. Assume an air of mystery, for I must have him come. You, Therese, go to the tradesmen of Madame de Mercadet, and tell them, sharply, that they must send the things that have been ordered.—They will be paid for—yes—and cash, too—go at once. (Justin and Therese start.) Ah!—(They stop.) If—these people come to the house again, ask them to enter. (Mme. Mercadet takes a seat.)
Justin These—these people?—
Therese and Virginie These people? Eh!
Mercadet Yes, these people—these creditors of mine!—
Mme. Mercadet How is this, my dear?
Mercadet (taking a seat opposite his wife) I am weary of solitude—I want their society. (To Justin and Therese) That will do.
(Justin and Therese leave the room.)
Mercadet, Mme. Mercadet and Virginie.
Mercadet (to Virginie) Has madame given you any orders?
Virginie No, sir, and besides the tradespeople—
Mercadet I hope you will do yourself credit to-day. We are going to have four people to dinner—Verdelin and his wife, M. de Mericourt and M. de la Brive—so there will be seven of us. Such dinners are the glory of great cooks! You must have a fine fish after the soup, then two entrees, very delicately cooked—
Virginie But, sir, the trades—
Mercadet For the second course—ah, the second course ought to be at once rich and brilliant, yet solid. The second course—
Virginie But the tradespeople—
Mercadet Nonsense! You annoy me—To talk about tradespeople on the day when my daughter and her intended are to meet!
Virginie They won't supply anything.
Mercadet What have we got to do with tradespeople that won't take our trade? We must get others. You must go to their competitors, you must give them my custom, and they will tip you for it.
Virginie And how shall I pay those that I am giving up?
Mercadet Don't worry yourself about that,—it is my business.
Virginie But if they ask me to pay them—
Mercadet (aside, rising to his feet) That girl has money of her own. (Aloud) Virginie, in these days, credit is the sole wealth of the government. My tradespeople misunderstand the laws of their country, they will show themselves unconstitutional and utter radicals, unless they leave me alone.— Don't you trouble your head about people who raise an insurrection against the vital principles of all rightly constituted states! What you have got to attend to, is dinner,—that is your duty, and I hope that on this occasion you will show yourself to be what you are, a first-class cook! And if Mme. Mercadet, when she settles with you on the day after my daughter's wedding, finds that she owes you anything, I will hold myself liable for it all.
Virginie (hesitating) Sir—
Mercadet Now go about your business. I give you here an opportunity of gaining an interest of ten per cent every six months!—and that is better than the savings banks will do for you.
Virginie That it is; they only give four per cent a year!
Mercadet (whispering to his wife) What did I tell you!—(To Virginie) How can you run the risk of putting your money into the hands of strangers—You are quite clever enough to invest it yourself, and here your little nest-egg will remain in your own possession.
Virginie Ten per cent every six months!—I suppose that madame will give me the particulars with regard to the second course. I must start to work on it. (Exit.)
Mercadet and Mme. Mercadet
Mercadet (watching Virginie as she goes out) That girl has a thousand crowns of our good money in the savings bank, so that we needn't worry about the kitchen for awhile.
Mme. Mercadet Ah! sir, how can you stoop to such a thing as this?
Mercadet Madame, these are mere petty details; don't bother about the means to an end. You, a little time ago, were trying to control your servants by kindness, but it is necessary to command and compel them, and to do it briefly, like Napoleon.
Mme. Mercadet How can you order them when you don't pay them?
Mercadet You must pay them by a bluff.
Mme. Mercadet Sometimes you can obtain by affection what is not attainable by—
Mercadet By affection! Ah! Little do you know the age in which we live—To-day, madame, wealth is everything, family is nothing; there are no families, but only individuals! The future of each one is to be determined by the public funds. A young girl when she needs a dowry no longer appeals to her family, but to a syndicate. The income of the King of England comes from an insurance company. The wife depends for funds, not upon her husband, but upon the savings bank!—Debts are paid, not to creditors, but to the country, through an agency, which manages a sort of slave-trade in white people! All our duties are arranged by coupons—The servants which we exchange for them are no longer attached to their masters, but if you hold their money they will be devoted to you.
Mme. Mercadet Oh, sir, you who are so honorable, so upright, sometimes say things to me which—
Mercadet And what is said may also be done, that is what you mean, isn't it? Undoubtedly I would do anything to save myself, for (he pulls out a five-franc piece) this represents modern honor. Do you know why the dramas that have criminals for their heroes are so popular? It is because all the audience flatter themselves and say, "at any rate, I am much better than that fellow!"
Mme. Mercadet My dear!
Mercadet For my part I have an excuse, for I am bearing the burden of my partner's crime—of that fellow Godeau, who absconded, carrying with him the cash box of our house!—And besides that, what disgrace is it to be in debt? What man is there who does not owe his father his existence? He can never repay that debt. The earth is constantly bankrupt to the sun. Life, madame, is a perpetual loan! Am I not superior to my creditors? I have their money, when they can only expect mine. I do not ask anything of them, and yet they are constantly importuning me.—A man who does not owe anything is not thought about by any one, while my creditors take a keen interest in me.
Mme. Mercadet They take rather too much! To owe and to pay is well enough—but to borrow without any prospect of returning—
Mercadet You feel a great deal of compassion for my creditors, but our indebtedness to them springs from—
Mme. Mercadet Their confidence in us, sir.
Mercadet No, but from their greed of gain! The speculator and the broker are one and the same—each of them aims at sudden wealth. I have done a favor to all my creditors, and they all expect to get something out of me! I should be most unhappy but for the secret consciousness I have that they are selfish and avaricious—so that you will see in a few moments how I will make each of them play out his little comedy. (He sits down.)
Mme. Mercadet You have actually ordered them to be admitted?
Mercadet That I may meet them as I ought to!—(taking her hand.) I am at the end of my resources; the time has come for a master-stroke, and Julie must come to our assistance.
Mme. Mercadet What, my daughter!
Mercadet My creditors are pressing me, and harassing me. I must manage to make a brilliant match for Julie. This will dazzle them; they will give me more time. But in order that this brilliant marriage may take place, these gentlemen must give me more money.
Mme. Mercadet They give you more money!
Mercadet Isn't there need of it for the dresses which they are sending to you, and for the trousseau which I am giving? And a suitable trousseau to go with the dowry of two hundred thousand francs, will cost fifteen thousand.
Mme. Mercadet But you are utterly unable to give such a dowry.
Mercadet (rising) All the more reason why I should give the trousseau. Now this is what we stand in need of: twelve or fifteen thousand francs for the trousseau, and a thousand crowns to pay the tradesmen and to prevent any appearance of straitened circumstances in our house, when M. de la Brive arrives.
Mme. Mercadet How can you count on your creditors for that?
Mercadet Don't they now belong to the family? Can you find any relation who is as anxious as they are to see me wealthy and rich? Relations are always a little envious of the happiness of the wealth which comes to us; the creditor's joy alone is sincere. If I were to die, I should have at my funeral more creditors than relations, and while the latter carried their mourning in their hearts or on their heads, the former would carry it in their ledgers and purses. It is here that my departure would leave a genuine void! The heart forgets, and crape disappears at the end of a year, but the account which is unpaid is ineffaceable, and the void remains eternally unfilled.
Mme. Mercadet My dear, I know the people to whom you are indebted, and I am quite certain that you will obtain nothing from them.
Mercadet I shall obtain both time and money from them, rest assured of that. (Mme. Mercadet is perturbed.) Don't you see, my dear, that creditors when once they have opened their purses are like gamblers who continue to stake their money in order to recover their first losses? (Growing excited.) Yes! they are inexhaustible gold mines! If a man has no father to leave him a fortune, he finds his creditors are so many indefatigable uncles.
Justin (entering) M. Goulard wishes to know if it is true that you desire to see him?
Mercadet (to his wife) My message astounded him. (To Justin) Beg him to come in. (Justin goes out.) Goulard! The most intractable of them all!—who has three bailiffs in his employ. But fortunately he is a greedy though timid speculator who engages in the most risky affairs and trembles all the time they are being conducted.
Justin (announcing) M. Goulard!
The same persons and Goulard.
Goulard (in anger) Ah! you can be found, sir, when you want to be!
Mme. Mercadet (aside to her husband) My dear, how angry he seems!
Mercadet (making a sign that she should be calm) This is one of my creditors, my dear.
Goulard Yes, and I sha'n't leave this house until you pay me.
Mercadet (aside) You sha'n't leave this house until you give me some money—(Aloud) Ah! you have persecuted me most unkindly—me, a man with whom you have had such extensive dealings!
Goulard Dealings which have not always been to my advantage.
Mercadet All the more credit to you, for if advantage were the sole results of business, everybody would become a money-lender.
Goulard I hope you haven't asked me to come here, in order to show me how clever you are! I know that you are cleverer than I am, for you have got over me in money matters.
Mercadet Well, money matters have some importance. (To his wife) Yes, yes, you see in this man one who has hunted me as if I were a hare. Come, come, Goulard, admit it, you have behaved badly. Anybody but myself would have taken vengeance on you—for of course I could cause you to lose a considerable sum of money.
Goulard So you could, if you didn't pay me; but you shall pay me—your obligations are now in the hands of the law.
Mme. Mercadet Of the law?
Mercadet Of the law! You are losing your senses, you don't know what you are doing, you are ruining us both—yourself and me—at the same time.
Goulard (anxiously) How?—You—that of course is possible—but—but—me?
Mercadet Both of us, I tell you! Quick, sit down there—write—write—!
Goulard (mechanically taking his pen) Write—write what?
Mercadet Write to Delannoy that he must make them stay the proceedings, and give me the thousand crowns which I absolutely need.
Goulard (throwing down the pen) That is very likely, indeed!
Mercadet You hesitate, and, when I am on the eve of marrying my daughter to a man immensely wealthy—that is the time you choose to cause my arrest. And by that means you are killing both your capital and interest!
Goulard Ah! you are going to marry your daughter—
Mercadet To the Comte de la Brive; he possesses as many thousand francs as he is years old!
Goulard Then if he is up in years, there is reason for giving you some delay. But the thousand crowns—the thousand crowns—never.—I am quite decided on that point. I will give you nothing, neither delay nor—I must go now—
Mercadet (with energy) Very well! You can go if you like, you ungrateful fellow!—But don't forget that I have done my best to save you.
Goulard (turning back) Me?—To save me—from what?
Mercadet (aside) I have him now. (Aloud) From what?—From the most complete ruin.
Goulard Ruin? It is impossible.
Mercadet (taking a seat) What is the matter with you? You, a man of intelligence, of ability—a strong man, and yet you cause me all this trouble! You came here and I felt absolutely enraged against you—not because I was your friend, I confess it, but through selfishness. I look upon our interests as identical. I said to myself: I owe him so much that he is sure to give me his assistance when I have such a grand chance—like the one at this moment! And you are going to let out the whole business and to lose everything for the sake of a paltry sum! Everything! You are perhaps right in refusing me the thousand crowns—It is better, perhaps, to bury them in your coffers with the rest. All right! Send me to prison! Then, when all is gone, you'll have to look somewhere else for a friend!
Goulard (in a tone of self-reproach) Mercadet!—my dear Mercadet!—But is it actually true?
Mercadet (rising from his seat) Is it true? (to his wife) You would not believe he was so stupid. (To Goulard) She has ended by becoming a daring speculator. (To his wife) I may tell you, my dear, that Goulard is going to invest a large sum in our great enterprise.
Mme. Mercadet (ashamed) Sir!
Mercadet What a misfortune it will be if it does not turn out well.
Goulard Mercadet!—Are you talking about the Basse-Indre mines?
Mercadet Of course I am. (Aside) Ah! You have some of the Basse-Indre stock, I see.
Goulard But the investment seems to me first-class.
Mercadet First-class—Yes, for those who sold out yesterday.
Goulard Have any stockholders sold out?
Mercadet Yes, privately.
Goulard Good-bye. Thanks, Mercadet; madame, accept my respects.
Mercadet (stopping him) Goulard!
Mercadet What about this note to Delannoy?
Goulard I will speak to him about the postponement—
Mercadet No; write to him; and in the meantime I will find some one who will buy your stock.
Goulard (sitting down) All my Basse-Indre? (He takes up a pen.)
Mercadet (aside) Here you see the honest man, ever ready to rob his neighbor. (Aloud) Very well, write—ordering a postponement of three months.
Goulard (writing) Three months! There you have it.
Mercadet The man I allude to, who buys in secret for fear of causing a rise, wants to get three hundred shares; do you happen to have three hundred?
Goulard I have three hundred and fifty.
Mercadet Fifty more! Never mind! He'll take them all. (Examining what Goulard has written.) Have you mentioned the thousand crowns?
Goulard And what is your friend's name?
Mercadet His name? You haven't mentioned?—
Goulard His name!
Mercadet The thousand crowns.
Goulard What a devil of a man he is! (He writes.) There, you have it!
Mercadet His name is Pierquin.
Goulard (rising) Pierquin.
Mercadet He at least is the nominal buyer.—Go to your house and I will send him to you; it is never a good thing to run after a purchaser.
Goulard Never!—You have saved my life. Good-bye, my friend. Madame, accept my prayers for the happiness of your daughter. (Exit.)
Mercadet One of them captured! Now watch me get the others!
Mme. Mercadet, Mercadet, then Julie.
Mme. Mercadet Is there any truth in what you just now said? I could not quite follow you.
Mercadet It is to the interest of my friend Verdelin to cause a panic in Basse- Indre stock; this stock has been for a long time very risky and has suddenly become of first-class value, through the discovery of certain beds of mineral, which are known only to those on the inside.—Ah! If I could but invest a thousand crowns in it my fortune would be made. But, of course, our main object at present is the marriage of Julie.
Mme. Mercadet You are well acquainted with M. de la Brive, are you not?
Mercadet I have dined with him. He has a charming apartment, fine plate, a silver dessert service, bearing his arms, so that it could not have been borrowed. Our daughter is going to make a fine match, and he— when either one of a married couple is happy, it is all right.
Mme. Mercadet Here comes our daughter. Julie, your father and I have something to say to you on a subject which is always agreeable to a young girl.
Julie M. Minard has then spoken to you, father?
Mercadet M. Minard! Did you expect, madame, to find a M. Minard reigning in the heart of your daughter? Is not this M. Minard that under clerk of mine?
Julie Yes, papa.
Mercadet Do you love him?
Julie Yes, papa.
Mercadet But besides loving, it is necessary for a person to be loved.
Mme. Mercadet Does he love you?
Julie Yes, mamma!
Mercadet Yes, papa; yes, mamma; why don't you say mammy and daddy?—As soon as daughters have passed their majority they begin to talk as if they were just weaned. Be polite enough to address your mother as madame.
Julie Yes, monsieur.
Mercadet Oh! you may address me as papa. I sha'n't be annoyed at that. What proof have you that he loves you?
Julie The best proof of all; he wishes to marry me.
Mercadet It is quite true, as has been said, that young girls, like little children, have answers ready enough to knock one silly. Let me tell you, mademoiselle, that a clerk with a salary of eighteen hundred francs does not know how to love. He hasn't got the time, he has to work too hard—
Mme. Mercadet But, unhappy child—
Mercadet Ah! A lucky thought strikes me! Let me talk to her. Julie, listen to me. I will marry you to Minard. (Julie smiles with delight.) Now, look here, you haven't got a single sou, and you know it; what is going to become of you a week after your marriage? Have you thought about that?
Julie Yes, papa—
Mme. Mercadet (with sympathy, to her husband) The poor child is mad.
Mercadet Yes, she is in love. (To Julie) Tell me all about it, Julie. I am not now your father, but your confidant; I am listening.
Julie After our marriage we will still love each other.
Mercadet But will Cupid shoot you bank coupons at the end of his arrows?
Julie Father, we shall lodge in a small apartment, at the extremity of the Faubourg, on the fourth story, if necessary!—And if it can't be helped, I will be his house-maid. Oh! I will take an immense delight in the care of the household, for I shall know that it will all be done for him. I will work for him, while he is working for me. I will spare him every anxiety, and he will never know how straitened we are. Our home will be spotlessly clean, even elegant—You shall see! Elegance depends upon such little things; it springs from the soul, and happiness is at once the cause and the effect of it. I can earn enough from my painting to cost him nothing and even to contribute to the expenses of our living. Moreover, love will help us to pass through the days of hardship. Adolphe has ambition, like all those who are of lofty soul, and these are the successful men—
Mercadet Success is within reach of the bachelor, but, when a man is married, he exhausts himself in meeting his expenses, and runs after a thousand franc bill as a dog runs after a carriage.
Julie But, papa, Adolphe has strength of will, united with such capacity that I feel sure I shall see him some day a Minister, perhaps—
Mercadet In these days, who is there that does not indulge more or less the hope of being a minister? When a man leaves college he thinks himself a great poet, or a great orator! Do you know what your Adolphe will really become?—Why, the father of several children, who will utterly disarrange your plans of work and economy, who will end by landing his excellency in the debtor's prison, and who will plunge you into the most frightful poverty. What you have related to me is the romance and not the reality of life.
Mme. Mercadet Daughter, there can be nothing serious in this love of yours.
Julie It is a love to which both of us are willing to sacrifice everything.
Mercadet I suppose that your friend Adolphe thinks that we are rich?
Julie He has never spoken to me about money.
Mercadet Just so. I can quite understand it. (To Julie) Julie, write to him at once, telling him to come to me.
Julie (kissing him) Dear papa!
Mercadet And you must marry M. de la Brive. Instead of living on a fourth floor in a suburb, you will have a fine house in the Chaussee-d'Antin, and, if you are not the wife of a Minister, you perhaps will be the wife of a peer of France. I am sorry, my daughter, that I have no more to offer you. Remember, you can have no choice in the matter, for M. Minard is going to give you up.
Julie Oh! he will never do that, papa. He will win your heart—
Mme. Mercadet My dear, suppose he loves her?
Mercadet He is deceiving her—
Julie I shouldn't mind being always deceived in that way.
(A bell is heard without.)
Mme. Mercadet Some one is ringing, and we have no one to open the door.
Mercadet That is all right. Let them ring.
Mme. Mercadet I am all the time thinking that Godeau may return.
Mercadet After eight years without any news, you are still expecting Godeau! You seem to me like those old soldiers who are waiting for the return of Napoleon.
Mme. Mercadet They are ringing again.
Mercadet Julie, go and see who it is, and tell them that your mother and I have gone out. If any one is shameless enough to disbelieve a young girl— it must be a creditor—let him come in.
Mme. Mercadet This love she speaks of, and which, at least on her side, is sincere, disturbs me greatly.
Mercadet You women are all too romantic.
Julie (returning) It is M. Pierquin, papa.
Mercadet A creditor and usurer—a vile and violent soul, who humors me because he thinks me a man of resources; a wild beast only half-tamed yet cowed by my audacity. If I showed fear he would devour me. (Going to the door.) Come in, Pierquin, come in.
The same persons and Pierquin.
Pierquin My congratulations to you all. I hear that you are making a grand marriage for your daughter. Mademoiselle is to marry a millionaire; the report has already gone abroad.
Mercadet A millionaire?—No, he has only nine hundred thousand francs, at the most.
Pierquin This magnificent prospect will induce a lot of people to give you time. They are becoming devilishly tired of your talk about Godeau's return. And I myself—
Mercadet Were you thinking about having me arrested?
Mme. Mercadet (to Pierquin) Ah! sir.
Pierquin Now listen to me, you have had two years, and I never before let a bond go over so long; but this marriage is a glorious invention and—
Mme. Mercadet An invention!
Mercadet Sir, my future son-in-law, M. de la Brive, is a young man—
Pierquin So that there is a real young man in the case? How much are you going to pay the young man?
Mme. Mercadet Oh!
Mercadet (checking his wife by a sign) No more of this insolence! Otherwise, my dear sir, I shall be forced to demand a settlement of our accounts—and, my dear M. Pierquin, you will lose a good deal of the price at which you sold your money to me. And at the rate of interest you charge, I shall cost you more than the value of a farm in Bauce.
Mercadet (haughtily) Sir, I shall soon be so rich that I will not endure to be twitted by any one—not even by a creditor.
Mercadet Not a word—or I will pay you! Come into my private room and we will settle the business about which I asked you to come.
Pierquin I am at your service, sir. (Aside) What a devil of a man!
(Pierquin and Mercadet bow to the ladies and enter Mercadet's room.)
Mercadet (following Pierquin; aside to his wife) The wild beast is tamed. I'll get this one, too.
Mme. Mercadet, Julie, and later, Servants.
Julie O mamma! I cannot marry this M. de la Brive!
Mme. Mercadet But he is rich, you know.
Julie But I prefer happiness and poverty, to unhappiness and wealth.
Mme. Mercadet My child, happiness is impossible in poverty, while there is no misfortune that wealth cannot alleviate.
Julie How can you say such sad words to me?
Mme. Mercadet Children should learn a lesson from the experience of parents. We are at present having a very bitter taste of life's vicissitudes. Take my advice, daughter, and marry wealth.
Justin (entering, followed by Therese and Virginie) Madame, we have carried out the master's orders.
Virginie My dinner will be ready.
Therese And the tradesmen have consented.
Justin As far as concerns M. Verdelin—
The same persons and Mercadet (carrying a bundle of papers).
Mercadet What did my friend Verdelin say?
Justin He will be here in a moment. He was just on his way here to bring some money to M. Bredif, the owner of this house.
Mercadet Bredif is a millionaire. Take care that Verdelin speaks to me before going up to him. How did you get on, Therese, with the milliners and dressmakers?
Therese Sir, as soon as I gave them a promise of payment, every one greeted me with smiles.
Mercadet Very good. And shall we have a fine dinner, Virginie?
Virginie You will compliment it, sir, when you eat it.
Mercadet And the tradespeople?
Virginie They will wait your time.
Mercadet I shall settle with you all to-morrow. You can go now. (They go out.) A man who has his servants with him is like a minister who has the press on his side!
Mme. Mercadet And what of Pierquin?
Mercadet (showing the papers) All that I could extort from him is as follows.—He will give me time, and this negotiable paper in exchange for stock.—Also notes for forty-seven thousand francs, to be collected from a man named Michonnin, a gentleman broker, not considered very solvent, who may be a crook but has a very rich aunt at Bordeaux; M. de la Brive is from that district and I can learn from him if there is anything to be got out of it.
Mme. Mercadet But the tradesmen will soon arrive.
Mercadet I shall be here to receive them. Now leave me, leave me, my dears.
(Exeunt the two ladies.)
Mercadet, then Violette.
Mercadet (walking up and down) Yes, they will soon be here! And everything depends upon that somewhat slippery friendship of Verdelin—a man whose fortune I made! Ah! when a man has passed forty he learns that the world is peopled by the ungrateful—I do not know where all the benefactors have gone to. Verdelin and I have a high opinion of each other. He owes me gratitude, I owe him money, and neither of us pays the other. And now, in order to arrange the marriage of Julie, my business is to find a thousand crowns in a pocket which pretends to be empty—to find entrance into a heart in order to find entrance into a cash-box! What an undertaking! Only women can do such things, and with men who are in love with them.
Justin (without) Yes, he is in.
Mercadet It is he. (Violette appears.) Ah! my friend! It is dear old Violette!
Violette This is the eleventh call within a week, my dear M. Mercadet, and my actual necessity has driven me to wait for you three hours in the street; I thought the truth was told me when I was assured that you were in the country. But I came to-day—
Mercadet Ah! Violette, old fellow, we are both hard up!
Violette Humph! I don't think so. For my part, I've pledged everything I could put in the pawn-shop.
Mercadet So have we.
Violette I have never reproached you with my ruin, for I believe it is your intention to enrich me, as well as yourself; but still, fine words butter no parsnips, and I am come to implore you to give me a small sum on account, and by so doing you will save the lives of a whole family.
Mercadet My dear old Violette, you grieve me deeply! Be reasonable and I will share with you. (In a low voice) We have scarcely a hundred francs in the house, and even that is my daughter's money.
Violette Is it possible! You, Mercadet, whom I have known so rich?
Mercadet I conceal nothing from you.
Violette Unfortunate people owe it to each other to speak the truth.
Mercadet Ah! If that were the only thing they owed how prompt would be the payment! But keep this as a secret, for I am on the point of making a good match for my daughter.
Violette I have two daughters, sir, and they work without hope of being married! In your present circumstances I cannot press you, but my wife and my daughters await my return in the deepest anxiety.
Mercadet Stay a moment. I will give you sixty francs.
Violette Ah! my wife and my girls will bless you. (Aside, while Mercadet leaves the room for a moment.) The others who abuse him get nothing out of him, but by appealing to his pity, little by little I get back my money. (Chuckles and slaps his pocket.)
Mercadet (on the point of re-entering sees this action) The beggarly old miser! Sixty francs on account paid ten times makes six hundred francs. Come now, I have sown enough, it is time to reap the harvest. (Aloud) Take this.
Violette Sixty francs in gold! It is a long time since I have seen such a sum. Good-bye, we sha'n't forget to pray for the speedy marriage of Mlle. Mercadet.
Mercadet Good-bye, dear old Violette. (Holding him by the hand.) Poor old man, when I look at you, I think myself rich—your misfortunes touch me deeply. And yesterday I thought I would soon be on the point of paying back to you not only the interest but the principal of what I owe you.
Violette (turning back) Paying me back! In full!
Mercadet It was a close shave.
Violette What was?
Mercadet Imagine, my dear fellow, that there exists a most brilliant opportunity, a most magnificent speculation, the most sublime discovery—an affair which appeals to the interest of every one, which will draw upon all the exchanges, and for the realization of which a stupid banker has refused me the miserable sum of a thousand crowns— when there is more than a million in sight.
Violette A million!
Mercadet Yes, a million, from the start. Afterwards no one can calculate where the rage for protective pavement will stop.
Mercadet Protective pavement. A pavement on which no barricade can be raised.
Mercadet You see, that from henceforth all governments interested in the preservation of order will become our chief shareholders—Ministers, princes and kings will be our chief partners. Next come the gods of finance, the great bankers, those of independent income in commerce and speculation; even the socialists, seeing that their industry is ruined, will be forced to buy stocks for a living from me!
Violette Yes, it is fine! It is grand!
Mercadet It is sublime and philanthropic! And to think I have been refused four thousand francs, wherewith to send out advertisements and launch my prospectus!
Violette Four thousand francs! I thought it was only—
Mercadet Four thousand francs, no more! And I was to give away for the loan a half interest in the enterprise—that is to say a fortune! Ten fortunes!
Violette Listen—I will see—I will speak to some one—
Mercadet Speak to no one! Keep it to yourself! The idea would at once be snatched up—or perhaps they wouldn't understand it so well as you have immediately done. These money dealers are so stupid. Besides, I am expecting Verdelin here—
Violette Verdelin—but—we might perhaps—
Mercadet 'Twill be lucky for Verdelin, if he has the brains to risk six thousand francs in it.
Violette But you said four thousand just now.
Mercadet It was four thousand that they refused me, but I need six thousand! Six thousand francs, and Verdelin, whom I have already made a millionaire once, is likely to become so three, four, five times over! But he will deserve it, for he is a clever fellow, is Verdelin.
Violette Mercadet, I will find you the money.
Mercadet No, no, don't think of it. Besides, he will be here in a moment, and if I am to send him away without concluding the business with him, it will be necessary to have it settled with some one else before Verdelin comes—and, as that is impossible—good-bye—and good luck—I shall certainly be able to pay you your thirty thousand francs.
Violette But say—why couldn't I—?
Mme. Mercadet (entering) M. Verdelin has come, my dear.
Mercadet (aside) Good, good! (Aloud) Just detain him a minute. (Mme. Mercadet goes out.) Well, good-bye, dear old Violette—
Violette (pulling out a greasy pocketbook) Wait a moment—here, I have the money with me—and will give it you beforehand.
Mercadet You! Six thousand francs!
Violette A friend asked me to invest it for him, and—
Mercadet And you couldn't find a better opening. We'll sign the contract presently! (He takes the bills.) This closes the deal—and so much the worse for Verdelin—he has missed a gold mine!
Violette Well, I'll see you later.
Mercadet Yes—see you later! You can get out through my study.
(Mercadet shows Violette the way out. Mme. Mercadet enters.)
Mme. Mercadet Mercadet!
Mercadet (reappearing) Ah! my dear! I am an unfortunate man! I ought to blow my brains out.
Mme. Mercadet Good heavens! What is the matter?
Mercadet The matter is that a moment ago I asked this sham bankrupt Violette for six thousand francs.
Mme. Mercadet And he refused to give them to you?
Mercadet On the contrary, he handed them over.
Mme. Mercadet What, then, do you mean?
Mercadet I am an unlucky man, as I told you, because he gave them so quickly that I could have gotten ten thousand if I had only known it.
Mme. Mercadet What a man you are! I suppose you know that Verdelin is waiting for you.
Mercadet Beg him to come in. At last I have Julie's trousseau; and we now need only enough money for your dresses and for household expenses until the marriage. Send in Verdelin.
Mme. Mercadet Yes, he is your friend, and of course you will gain your end with him.
(Exit Mme. Mercadet.)
Mercadet (alone) Yes, he is my friend! And he has all the pride that comes with fortune; but he has never had a Godeau (looking round to see if he is alone). After all, Godeau! I really believe that Godeau has brought me in more money than he has taken from me.
Mercadet and Verdelin.
Verdelin Good-day, Mercadet. What is doing now? Tell me quickly for I was stopped here on my way up-stairs to Bredif's apartment.
Mercadet Oh, he can wait! How is it that you are going to see a man like Bredif?
Verdelin (laughing) My dear friend, if people only visited those they esteem they would make no visits at all.
Mercadet (laughing and taking his hand) A man wouldn't go even into his own house.
Verdelin But tell me what you want with me?
Mercadet Your question is so sudden that it hasn't left me time to gild the pill.
Verdelin Oh! my old comrade. I have nothing, and I am frank to say that even if I had I could give you nothing. I have already lent you all that my means permit me to dispose of; I have never asked you for payment, for I am your friend as well as your creditor, and indeed, if my heart did not overflow in gratitude towards you, if I had not been a man different from ordinary men, the creditor would long ago have killed the man. I tell you everything has a limit in this world.
Mercadet Friendship has a limit, that's certain; but not misfortune.
Verdelin If I were rich enough to save you altogether, to cancel your debt entirely, I would do so with all my heart, for I admire your courage. But you are bound to go under. Your last schemes, although cleverly projected, have collapsed. You have ruined your reputation, you are looked upon as a dangerous man. You have not known how to take advantage of the momentary success of your operations. When you are utterly beggared, you will always find bread at my house; but it is the duty of a friend to speak these plain truths.
Mercadet What would be the advantage of friendship unless it gave us the pleasure of finding ourselves in the right, and seeing a friend in the wrong—of being comfortable ourselves and seeing our friend in difficulties and of paying compliment to ourselves by saying disagreeable things to him? Is it true then that I am little thought of on 'Change?
Verdelin I do not say so much as that. No; you still pass for an honest man, but necessity is forcing you to adopt expedients—
Mercadet Which are not justified by the success which luckier men enjoy! Ah, success! How many outrageous things go to make up success. You'll learn that soon enough. Now, for instance, this morning I began to bear the market on the mines of Basse-Indre, in order that you may gain control of that enterprise before the favorable report of the engineers is published.
Verdelin Hush, Mercadet, can this be true? Ah! I see your genius there! (Puts his arm around him.)
Mercadet I say this in order that you may understand that I have no need of advice, or of moralizing,—merely of money. Alas! I do not ask any thing of you for myself, my dear friend, but I am about to make a marriage for my daughter, and here we are actually, although secretly, fallen into absolute destitution. We are in a house where poverty reigns under the appearance of luxury. The power of promises, and of credit, all is exhausted! And if I cannot pay in cash for certain necessary expenses, this marriage must be broken off. All I went here is a fortnight of opulence, just as all that you want is twenty-four hours of lying on the Exchange. Verdelin, this request will never be repeated, for I have only one daughter. Must I confess it to you? My wife and daughter are absolutely destitute of clothes! (Aside) He is hesitating.
Verdelin (aside) He has played me so many tricks that I really do not know whether his daughter is doing to be married or not. How can she marry?
Mercadet This very day I have to give a dinner to my future son-in-law, whom a mutual friend is introducing to us, and I haven't even my plate remaining in the house. It is—you know where it is—I not only need a thousand crowns, but I also hope that you will lend me your dinner service and come and dine here with your wife.
Verdelin A thousand crowns! Mercadet! No one has a thousand crowns to lend. One scarcely has them for himself; if he were to lend them whenever he was asked, he would never have them. (He retires to the fire-place.)
Mercadet (following him, aside) He will yet come to the scratch. (Aloud) Now look here, Verdelin, I love my wife and my daughter; these sentiments, my friend, are my sole consolation in the midst of my recent disasters; these women have been so gentle, so patient! I should like to see them placed beyond the reach of distress. Oh! It is on this point that my sufferings are most real! (They walk to the front of the stage arm in arm.) I have recently drunk the cup of bitterness, I have slipped upon my wooden pavement,—I organized a monopoly and others drained me of everything! But, believe me, this is nothing in comparison with the pain of seeing you refuse me help in this extremity! Nevertheless, I am not going to dwell upon the consequences—for I do not wish to owe anything to your pity.
Verdelin (taking a seat) A thousand crowns! But what purpose would you apply them to?
Mercadet (aside) I shall get them. (Aloud) My dear fellow, a son-in-law is a bird who is easily frightened away. The absence of one piece of lace on a dress reveals everything to them. The ladies' costumes are ordered, the merchants are on the point of delivering them—yes, I was rash enough to say that I would pay for everything, for I counted on you! Verdelin, a thousand crowns won't kill you, for you have sixty thousand francs a year. And the life of a young girl of whom you are fond is now at stake—for you are fond of Julie! She has a sincere attachment for your little girl, they play together like the happiest of creatures. Would you let the companion of your daughter pine away with despair? Misfortune is contagious! It brings evil on all around!
Verdelin My dear fellow, I have not a thousand crowns. I can lend you my plate; but I have not—
Mercadet You can give me your note on the bank. It is soon signed—
Verdelin (rising) I—no—
Mercadet Ah! my poor daughter! It is all over. (Falls back overcome in an armchair near the table.) God forgive me, if I put an end to the painful dream of life, and let me awaken in Thy bosom!
Verdelin (after a short silence) But— Have you really found a son-in-law?
Mercadet (rising abruptly to his feet) You ask if I have found a son-in-law! You actually throw a doubt upon this! You may refuse me, if you like, the means of effecting the happiness of my daughter, but do not insult me! I am fallen low indeed! O Verdelin! I would not for a thousand crowns have had such an idea of you, and you can never win absolution from me excepting by giving them.
Verdelin (wishing to leave) I must go and see if I can—
Mercadet No! This is only another way of refusing me! Can I believe it? Will not you whom I have seen spend the same sum upon some such trifle as a passing love affair—will you not apply the thousand crowns to the performance of a good action?
Verdelin (laughing) At the present time there are very few good actions, or transactions.
Mercadet Ha! Ha! Ha! How witty! You are laughing, I see there is a reaction!
Verdelin Ha! Ha! Ha! (He drops his hat.)
Mercadet (picking up the hat and dusting it with his sleeve) Come now, old fellow. Haven't we seen life! We two began it together. What a lot of things we have said and done! Don't you recollect the good old time when we swore to be friends always through thick and thin?
Verdelin Indeed, I do. And don't you recollect our party at Rambouillet, where I fought an officer of the Guard on your account?
Mercadet I thought it was for the lovely Clarissa! Ah! But we were gay! We were young! And to-day we have our daughters, daughters old enough to marry! If Clarissa were alive now, she would blame your hesitation!
Verdelin If she had lived, I should never have married.
Mercadet Because you know what love is, that you do! So I may count upon you for dinner, and you give me your word of honor that you will send me—
Verdelin The plate?
Mercadet And the thousand crowns—
Verdelin Ah! You still harp upon that! I have told you I cannot do it.
Mercadet (aside) It is certain that this fellow will never die of heart failure. (Aloud) And so it seems I am to be murdered by my best friend? Alas! It is always thus! You are actually untouched by the memory of Clarissa—and by the despair of a father! (He cries out towards the chamber of his wife.) Ah! it is all over! I am in despair! I am going to blow my brains out!
The same persons, Mme. Mercadet and Julie.
Mme. Mercadet What on earth is the matter with you, my dear?
Julie How your voice frightened us, papa!
Mercadet They heard us! See how they come, like two guardian angels! (He takes them by the hand.) Ah! you melt my heart! (To Verdelin) Verdelin! Do you wish to slay a whole family? This proof of their tenderness gives me courage to fall at your feet.
Julie Oh, sir! (She checks her father.) It is I who will implore you for him. Whatever may be his demand, do not refuse my father; he must, indeed, be in the most terrible anguish!
Mercadet Dear child! (Aside) In what accents does she speak! I couldn't speak so naturally as that.
Mme. Mercadet M. Verdelin, listen to us—
Verdelin (to Julie) You don't know what he is asking, do you?
Verdelin He is asking for a thousand crowns, in order to arrange your marriage.
Julie Then, forget, sir, all that I said to you; I do not wish for a marriage which has been purchased by the humiliation of my father.
Mercadet (aside) She is magnificent!
Verdelin Julie! I will go at once and get the money for you. (Exit.)
The same persons, except Verdelin; then the servants.
Julie Oh, father! Why did you not tell me?
Mercadet (kissing her) You have saved us all! Ah! when shall I be so rich and powerful that I may make him repent of a favor done so grudgingly?
Mme. Mercadet Do not be unjust; Verdelin yielded to your request.
Mercadet He yielded to the cry of Julie, not to my request. Ah! my dear, he has extorted from me more than a thousand crowns' worth of humiliation!
Justin (coming in with Therese and Virginie) The tradespeople.
Virginie The milliner and the dressmaker—
Therese And the dry-goods merchants.
Mercadet That is all right! I have succeeded in my scheme! My daughter shall be Comtesse de la Brive! (To the servants) Show them in! I am waiting, and the money is ready. (He goes proudly towards his study, while the servants look at him with surprise.)
Curtain to the First Act.
(Mercadet's study, containing book-shelves, a safe, a desk, an armchair and a sofa.)
Minard and Justin, then Julie.
Minard Did you say that M. Mercadet wished to speak with me?
Justin Yes, sir. But mademoiselle has requested that you await her here.
Minard (aside) Her father asks to see me. She wishes to speak to me before the interview. Something extraordinary must have happened.
Justin Mademoiselle is here.
Minard (going towards her) Mlle. Julie!
Julie Justin, inform my father that the gentleman has arrived. (Exit Justin.) If you wish, Adolphe, that our love should shine as bright in the sight of all as it does in our hearts, be as courageous as I have already been.
Minard What has taken place?
Julie A rich young suitor has presented himself, and my father is acting without any pity for us.
Minard A rival! And you ask me if I have any courage! Tell me his name, Julie, and you will soon know whether I have any courage.
Julie Adolphe! You make me shudder! Is this the way in which you are going to act with the hope of bending my father?
Minard (seeing Mercadet approach) Here he comes.
The same persons and Mercadet.
Mercadet Sir, are you in love with my daughter?
Minard Yes, sir.
Mercadet That is, at least, what she believes, and you seem to have had the talent to persuade her that it is so.
Minard Your manner of expressing yourself implies a doubt on your part, which in any one else would have been offensive to me. Why should I not love mademoiselle? Abandoned by my parents, it was from your daughter, sir, that I have learned for the first time the happiness of affection. Mlle. Julie is at the same time a sister and a friend to me. She is my whole family. She alone has smiled upon me and has encouraged me; and my love for her is beyond what language can express!
Julie Must I remain here, father?
Mercadet (to his daughter) Swallow it all! (To Minard) Sir, with regard to the love of young people I have those positive ideas which are considered peculiar to old men. My distrust of such love is all the more permissible because I am not the father blinded by paternal affection. I see Julie exactly as she is; without being absolutely plain, she has none of that beauty that makes people cry out, "See!" She is quite mediocre.
Minard You are mistaken, sir; I venture to say that you do not know your daughter.
Mercadet Permit me—
Minard You do not know her, sir.
Mercadet But I know her perfectly well—as if—in a word, I know her—
Minard No, sir, you do not.
Mercadet Do you mean to contradict me again, sir?
Minard You know the Julie that all the world sees; but love has transfigured her! Tenderness and devotion lend to her a transporting beauty that I alone have called up in her.
Julie Father, I feel ashamed—
Mercadet You mean you feel happy. And if you, sir, repeat these things—
Minard I shall repeat them a hundred times, a thousand times, and even then I couldn't repeat them often enough. There is no crime in repeating them before a father!
Mercadet You flatter me! I did believe myself her father; but you are the father of a Julie whose acquaintance I should very much like to make.
Minard You have never been in love, I suppose?
Mercadet I have been very much in love! And felt the galling chain of gold like everybody else.
Minard That was long ago. In these days we love in a better way.
Mercadet How do you do that?
Minard We cling to the soul, to the idea!
Mercadet What we used to call under the Empire, having our eyes bandaged.
Minard It is love, pure and holy, which can lend a charm to all the hours of life.
Mercadet Yes all!—except the dinner hour.
Julie Father, do not ridicule two children who love each other with a passion which is true and pure, because it is founded upon a knowledge of each other's character; on the certitude of their mutual ardor in conquering the difficulties of life; in a word, of two children who will also cherish sincere affection for you.
Minard (to Mercadet) What an angel, sir!
Mercadet (aside) I'll angel you! (Putting an arm around each.) Happy children!—You are absolutely in love? What a fine romance! (To Minard) You desire her for your wife?
Minard Yes, sir.
Mercadet In spite of all obstacles?
Minard It is mine to overcome them!
Julie Father, ought you not to be grateful to me in that by my choice I am giving you a son full of lofty sentiments, endowed with a courageous soul, and—
Julie Let me finish; I must have my say.
Mercadet My daughter, go and see your mother, and let me speak of matters which are a great deal more material than these.
Julie I will go, father—
Mercadet Come back presently with your mother, my child.
(Mercadet kisses Julie and leads her to the door.)
Minard (aside) I feel my hopes revive.
Mercadet (returning) Sir, I am a ruined man.
Minard What does that mean?
Mercadet Totally ruined. And if you wish to have my Julie, you are welcome to her. She will be much better off at your house, poor as you are, than in her paternal home. Not only is she without dowry, but she is burdened with poor parents—parents who are more than poor.
Minard More than poor! There is nothing beyond that.
Mercadet Yes, sir, we are in debt, deeply in debt, and some of these debts clamor for payment.
Minard No, no, it is impossible!
Mercadet Don't you believe it? (Aside) He is getting frightened. (Taking up a pile of papers from his desk. Aloud) Here, my would-be son-in-law, are the family papers which will show you our fortune—
Mercadet Or rather our lack of fortune! Read— Here is a writ of attachment on our furniture.
Minard Can it be possible?
Mercadet It is perfectly possible! Here are judgments by the score! Here is a writ of my arrest. You see in what straits we are! Here you see all my sales, the protests on my notes and the judgments classed in order— for, young man, understand well in a disordered condition of things, order is above all things necessary. When disorder is well arranged it can be relieved and controlled— What can a debtor say when he sees his debt entered up under his number? I make the government my model. All payments are made in alphabetic order. I have not yet touched the letter A. (He replaces the papers.)
Minard You haven't yet paid anything?
Mercadet Scarcely anything. You know the condition of my expenses. You know, because you are a book-keeper. See, (picking up the papers again) the total debit is three hundred and eighty thousand.
Minard Yes, sir. The balance is entered here.
Mercadet You can understand then how you must make me shudder when you come before my daughter with your fine protestations! Since to marry a poor girl with nothing but an income of eighteen hundred francs, is like inviting in wedlock a protested note with a writ of execution.
Minard (lost in thought) Ruined, ruined! And without resources!
Mercadet (aside) I thought that would upset him. (Aloud) Come, now, young man, what are you going to do?
Minard First, I thank you, sir, for the frankness of your admissions.
Mercadet That is good! And what of the ideal, and your love for my daughter?
Minard You have opened my eyes, sir.
Mercadet (aside) I am glad to hear it.
Minard I thought that I already loved her with a love that was boundless, and now I love her a hundred times more.
Mercadet The deuce you do!
Minard Have you not led me to understand that she will have need of all my courage, of all my devotion! I will render her happy by other means than my tenderness; she shall feel grateful for all my efforts, she shall love me for my vigils, and for my toils.
Mercadet You mean to tell me that you still wish to marry her?
Minard Do I wish! When I believed that you were rich, I would not ask her of you without trembling, without feeling ashamed of my poverty; but now, sir, it is with assurance and with tranquillity of mind that I ask for her.
Mercadet (to himself) I must admit that this is a love exceedingly true, sincere and noble! And such as I had believed it impossible to find in the whole world! (To Minard) Forgive me, young man, for the opinion I had of you— forgive me, above all, for the disappointment I am about to cause you.
Minard What do you mean?
Mercadet M. Minard—Julie—cannot be your wife.
Minard What is this, sir? Not be my wife? In spite of our love, in spite of all you have confided to me?
Mercadet Yes, and just because of all I have confided to you. I have shown you Mercadet the rich man in his true colors. I am going to show you him as the skeptical man of business. I have frankly opened my books to you. I am now going to open my heart to you as frankly.
Minard Speak out, sir, but remember how great my devotion to Mlle. Julie is. Remember that my self-sacrifice and unselfishness are equal to my love for her.
Mercadet Let it be granted that by means of night-long vigils and toils you will make a living for Julie! But who will make a living for us, her father and mother?
Minard Ah! sir—believe in me!
Mercadet What! Are you going to work for four, instead of working for only two? The task will be too much for you! And the bread which you give to us, you will have to snatch out of the hands of your children—
Minard How wildly you talk!
Mercadet And I, in spite of your generous efforts, shall fall, crushed under the weight of disgraceful ruin. A brilliant marriage for my daughter is the only means by which I would be enabled to discharge the enormous sums I owe. It is only thus that in time I could regain confidence and credit. With the aid of a rich son-in-law I can reconquer my position, and recuperate my fortune! Why, the marriage of my daughter is our last anchor of salvation! This marriage is our hope, our wealth, the prop of our honor, sir! And since you love my daughter, it is to this very love that I make my appeal. My friend, do not condemn her to poverty; do not condemn her to a life of regret over the loss and disgrace which she has brought upon her father!
Minard (in great distress) But what do you ask me to do?
Mercadet (taking him by the hand) I wish that this noble affection which you have for her, may arm you with more courage than I myself possess.
Minard I will show such courage—
Mercadet Then listen to me. If I refuse Julie to you, Julie will refuse the man I destine for her. It will be best, therefore, that I grant your request for her hand, and that you be the one—
Minard I!— She will not believe it, sir—
Mercadet She will believe you, if you tell her that you fear poverty for her.
Minard She will accuse me of being a fortune hunter.
Mercadet She will be indebted to you for having secured her happiness.
Minard (despairingly) She will despise me, sir!
Mercadet That is probable! But if I have read your heart aright, your love for her is such that you will sacrifice yourself completely to the happiness of her life. But here she comes, sir, and her mother is with her. It is on their account that I make this request to you, sir; can I count on you?
Mercadet Very good—I thank you.
The preceding, Julie and Mme. Mercadet.
Julie Come, mother, I am sure that Adolphe has triumphed over all obstacles.
Mme. Mercadet My dear, M. Minard has asked of you the hand of Julie. What answer have you given him?
Mercadet (going to the desk) It is for him to say.
Mercadet (aside) How can I tell her? My heart is breaking.
Julie What have you got to say, Adolphe?
Julie Mademoiselle! Am I no longer Julie to you? Oh, tell me quickly. You have settled everything with my father, have you not?
Minard Your father has shown great confidence in me. He has revealed to me his situation; he has told me—
Julie Go on, please go on—
Mercadet I have told him that we are ruined—
Julie And this avowal has not changed your plans—your love—has it, Adolphe?
Minard (ardently) My love! (Mercadet, without being noticed, seizes his hand.) I should be deceiving you—mademoiselle—(speaking with great effort)—if I were to say that my intentions are unaltered.
Julie Oh! It is impossible! Can it be you who speak to me in this strain?
Mme. Mercadet Julie—
Minard (rousing himself) There are some men to whom poverty adds energy; men capable of daily self-sacrifice, of hourly toil; men who think themselves sufficiently recompensed by a smile from a companion that they love—(checking himself). I, mademoiselle am not one of these. The thought of poverty dismays me. I—I could not endure the sight of your unhappiness.
Julie (bursting into tears and flinging herself into the arms of her mother) Oh! Mother! Mother! Mother!
Mme. Mercadet My daughter—my poor Julie!
Minard (in a low voice to Mercadet) Is this sufficient, sir?
Julie (without looking at Minard) I should have had courage for both of us. I should always have greeted you with a smile, I should have toiled without regret, and happiness would always have reigned in our home. You could never have meant this, Adolphe. You do not mean it.
Minard (in a low voice) Let me go—let me leave the house, sir.
Mercadet Come, then. (He retires to the back of the stage.)
Minard Good-bye—Julie. A love that would have flung you into poverty is a thoughtless love. I have preferred to show the love that sacrifices itself to your happiness—
Julie No, I trust you no longer. (In a low voice to her mother) My only happiness would have been to be his.
Justin (announcing visitors) M. de la Brive! M. de Mericourt!
Mercadet Take your daughter away, madame. M. Minard, follow me. (To Justin) Ask them to wait here for a while. (To Minard) I am well satisfied with you.
(Mme. Mercadet and Julie, Mercadet and Minard go out in opposite directions, while Justin admits Mericourt and De la Brive.)
De la Brive and Mericourt.
Justin M. Mercadet begs that the gentlemen will wait for him here. (Exit.)
Mericourt At last, my dear friend, you are on the ground, and you will be very soon officially recognized as Mlle. Mercadet's intended! Steer your bark well, for the father is a deep one.
De la Brive That is what frightens me, for difficulties loom ahead.
Mericourt I do not believe so; Mercadet is a speculator, rich to-day, to-morrow possibly a beggar. With the little I know of his affairs from his wife, I am led to believe that he is enchanted with the prospect of depositing a part of his fortune in the name of his daughter, and of obtaining a son-in-law capable of assisting him in carrying out his financial schemes.
De la Brive That is a good idea, and suits me exactly; but suppose he wishes to find out too much about me.
Mericourt I have given M. Mercadet an excellent account of you.
De la Brive I have fallen upon my feet truly.
Mericourt But you are not going to lose the dandy's self-possession? I quite understand that your position is risky. A man would not marry, excepting from utter despair. Marriage is suicide for the man of the world. (In a low voice) Come, tell me—can you hold out much longer?
De la Brive If I had not two names, one for the bailiffs and one for the fashionable world, I should be banished from the Boulevard. Woman and I, as you know, have wrought each the ruin of the other, and, as fashion now goes, to find a rich Englishwoman, an amiable dowager, an amorous gold mine, would be as impossible as to find an extinct animal.
Mericourt What of the gaming table?
De la Brive Oh! Gambling is an unreliable resource excepting for certain crooks, and I am not such a fool as to run the risk of disgrace for the sake of winnings which always have their limit. Publicity, my dear friend, has been the abolition of all those shady careers in which fortune once was to be found. So, that for a hundred thousand francs of accepted bills, the usurer gives me but ten thousand. Pierquin sent me to one of his agents, a sort of sub-Pierquin, a little old man called Violette, who said to my broker that he could not give me money on such paper at any rate! Meanwhile my tailor has refused to bank upon my prospects. My horse is living on credit; as to my tiger, the little wretch who wears such fine clothes, I do now know how he lives, or where he feeds. I dare not peer into the mystery. Now, as we are not so advanced in civilization as the Jews, who canceled all debts every half-century, a man must pay by the sacrifice of personal liberty. Horrible things will be said about me. Here is a young man of high esteem in the world of fashion, pretty lucky at cards, of a passable figure, less than twenty-eight years old, and he is going to marry the daughter of a rich speculator!
Mericourt What difference does it make?
De la Brive It is slightly off color! But I am tired of a sham life. I have learned at last that the only way to amass wealth is to work. But our misfortune is that we find ourselves quick at everything, but not good at anything! A man like me, capable of inspiring a passion and of maintaining it, cannot become either a clerk or a soldier! Society has provided no employment for us. Accordingly, I am going to set up business with Mercadet. He is one of the greatest of schemers. You are sure that he won't give less than a hundred and fifty thousand francs to his daughter.
Mericourt Judge yourself, my dear friend, from the style which Mme. Mercadet puts on; you see her at all the first nights, in her own box, at the opera, and her conspicuous elegance—
De la Brive I myself am elegant enough, but—
Mericourt Look round you here—everything indicates opulence—Oh! they are well off!
De la Brive Yet, it is a sort of middle-class splendor, something substantial which promises well.
Mericourt And then the mother is a woman of principle, of irreproachable behavior. Can you possibly conclude matters to-day?
De la Brive I have taken steps to do so. I won at the club yesterday sufficient to go on with; I shall pay something on the wedding presents, and let the balance stand.
Mericourt Without reckoning my account, what is the amount of your debts?
De la Brive A mere trifle! A hundred and fifty thousand francs, which my father- in-law will cut down to fifty thousand. I shall have a hundred thousand francs left to begin life on. I always said that I should never become rich until I hadn't a sou left.
Mericourt Mercadet is an astute man; he will question you about your fortune; are you prepared?
De la Brive Am I not the landed proprietor of La Brive? Three thousand acres in the Landes, which are worth thirty thousand francs, mortgaged for forty-five thousand and capable of being floated by a stock jobbing company for some commercial purpose or other, say, as representing a capital of a hundred thousand crowns! You cannot imagine how much this property has brought me in.
Mericourt Your name, your horse, and your lands seem to me to be on their last legs.
De la Brive Not so loud!
Mericourt So you have quite made up your mind?
De la Brive Yes, and all the more decidedly in that I am going into politics.
Mericourt Really—but you are too clever for that!
De la Brive As a preparation I shall take to journalism.
Mericourt And you have never written two lines in your life!
De la Brive There are journalists who write and journalists who do not write. The former are editors—and horses that drag the car; the latter, the proprietors, who furnish the funds; these give oats to their horses and keep the capital for themselves. I shall be a proprietor. You merely have to put on a lofty air and exclaim: "The Eastern question is a question of great importance and of wide influence, one about which there cannot be two opinions!" You sum up a discussion by declaiming: "England, sir, will always get the better of us!" or you make an answer to some one whom you have heard speak for a long time without paying attention to him: "We are advancing towards an abyss, we have not yet passed through all the evolutions of the evolutionary phase!" You say to a representative of labor: "Sir, I think there is something to be done in this matter." A proprietor of a journal speaks very little, rushes about and makes himself useful by doing for a man in power what the latter cannot do himself. He is supposed to inspire the articles, those I mean, which attract any notice! And then, if it is absolutely necessary he undertakes to publish a yellow-backed volume on some Utopian topic, so well written, so strong, that no one opens it, although every one declares that he has read it! Then he is looked upon as an earnest man, and ends by finding himself acknowledged as somebody, instead of something.
Mericourt Alas! What you say is too true, in these times!
De la Brive And we ourselves are a startling proof of this! In order to claim a part in political power you must not show what good but what harm you can do. You must not alone possess talents, you must be able also to inspire fear. Accordingly, the very day after my marriage, I shall assume an air of seriousness, of profundity, of high principles! I can take my choice, for we have in France a list of principles which is as varied as a bill of fare. I elect to be a socialist! The word pleases me! At every epoch, my dear friend, there are adjectives which form the pass-words of ambition! Before 1789 a man called himself an economist; in 1815 he was a liberal; the next party will call itself the social party—perhaps because it is so unsocial. For in France you must always take the opposite sense of a word to understand its meaning.
Mericourt Let me tell you privately, that you are now talking nothing but the nonsense of masked ball chatter, which passes for wit among those who do not indulge in it. What are you going to do when a certain definite knowledge becomes necessary?
De la Brive My dear friend! In every profession, whether of art, science or literature, a man needs intellectual capital, special knowledge and capacity. But in politics, my dear fellow, a man wins everything and attains to everything by means of a single phrase—
Mericourt What is that?
De la Brive "The principles of my friends, the party for which I stand, look for—"
Mericourt Hush! Here comes the father-in-law!
The same persons and Mercadet.
Mercadet Good-day, my dear Mericourt! (To De la Brive) The ladies have kept you waiting, sir. Ah! They are putting on their finery. For myself, I was just on the point of dismissing—whom do you think?—an aspirant to the hand of Mlle. Julie. Poor young man! I was perhaps hard on him, and yet I felt for him. He worships my daughter; but what could I do? He has only ten thousand francs' income.
De la Brive That wouldn't go very far!
Mercadet A mere subsistence!
De la Brive You're not the man to give a rich and clever girl to the first comer—
Mericourt Certainly not.
Mercadet Before the ladies come in, gentlemen, we must talk a little serious business.
De la Brive (to Mericourt) Now comes the tug of war!
(They all sit down.)
Mercadet (on the sofa) Are you seriously in love with my daughter?
De la Brive I love her passionately!
Mericourt (to his friend) You are over-doing it.
De la Brive (to Mericourt) Wait a moment. (Aloud) Sir, I am ambitious—and I saw in Mlle. Julie a lady at once distinguished, full of intellect, possessed of charming manners, who would never be out of place in the position in which my fortune puts me; and such a wife is essential to the success of a politician.
Mercadet I understand! It is easy to find a woman, but it is very rare that a man who wishes to be a minister or ambassador finds a wife. You are a man of wit, sir. May I ask your political leaning?
De la Brive Sir, I am a socialist.
Mercadet That is a new move! But now let us talk of money matters.
Mericourt It seems to me that the notary might attend to that.
De la Brive No! M. Mercadet is right; it is best that we should attend to these things ourselves.
Mercadet True, sir.
De la Brive Sir, my whole fortune consists in the estate which bears my name; it has been in my family for a hundred and fifty years, and I hope will never pass from us.
Mercadet The possession of capital is perhaps more valuable in these days. Capital is in your own hand. If a revolution breaks out, and we have had many revolutions lately, capital follows us everywhere. Landed property, on the contrary, must furnish funds for every one. There it stands stock still like a fool to pay the taxes, while capital dodges out of the way. But this is not real obstacle. What is the amount of your land?
De la Brive Three thousand acres, without a break.
Mercadet Without a break?
Mericourt Did I not tell you as much?
Mercadet I never doubted it.
De la Brive A chateau—
De la Brive And salt marshes, which can be worked as soon as the administration gives permission. They would yield enormous returns!
Mercadet Ah, sir, why have we been so late in becoming acquainted! Your land, then, must be on the seashore.
De la Brive Without half a league of it.
Mercadet And it is situated?
De la Brive Near Bordeaux.
Mercadet You have vineyards, then?
De la Brive No! fortunately not, for the disposal of wines is a troublesome matter, and, moreover, the cultivation of the vine is exceedingly expensive. My estate was planted with pine trees by my grandfather, a man of genius, who was wise enough to sacrifice himself to the welfare of his descendants. Besides, I have furniture, which you know—
Mercadet Sir, one moment, a man of business is always careful to dot his i's.
De la Brive (under his voice) Now we're in for it!
Mercadet With regard to your estate and your marshes,—I see all that can be got out of these marshes. The best way of utilizing them would be to form a company for the exploitation of the marshes of the Brive! There is more than a million in it!
De la Brive I quite understand that, sir. They need only to be thrown upon the market.
Mercadet (aside) These words indicate a certain intelligence in this young man. (Aloud) Have you any debts? Is your estate mortgaged?
Mericourt You would not think much of my friend if he had not debts.
De la Brive I will be frank, sir, there is a mortgage of forty-five thousand francs on my estate.
Mercadet (aside) An innocent young man! he might easily— (Rising from his seat. Aloud) You have my consent; you shall be my son-in-law, and are the very man I would choose for my daughter's husband. You do not realize what a fortune you possess.
De la Brive (to Mericourt) This is almost too good to be true.
Mericourt (to De la Brive) He is dazzled by the good speculation which he sees ahead.
Mercadet (aside) With government protection, which can be purchased, salt pits may be established. I am saved! (Aloud) Allow me to shake hands with you, after the English fashion. You fulfill all that I expected in a son- in-law. I plainly see you have none of the narrowness of provincial land-holders; we shall understand each other thoroughly.
De la Brive You must not take it in bad part, sir, if I, on my part, ask you—
Mercadet The amount of my daughter's fortune? I should have distrusted you if you hadn't asked! My daughter has independent means; her mother settles on her her own fortune, consisting of a small property—a farm of two hundred acres, but in the very heart of Brie, and provided with good buildings. Besides this, I shall give her two hundred thousand francs, the interest of which will be for your use, until you find a suitable investment for it. So you see, young man, we do not wish to deceive you, we wish to keep the money moving; I like you, you please me, for I see you have ambition.
De la Brive Yes, sir.
Mercadet You love luxury, extravagance; you wish to shine at Paris—
De la Brive Yes, sir.
Mercadet You see that I am already an old man, obliged to lay the load of my ambition upon some congenial co-operator, and you shall be the one to play the brilliant part.
De la Brive Sir, had I been obliged to take my choice of all the fathers-in-law in Paris, I should have given the preference to you. You are a man after my own heart! Allow me to shake hands, after the English fashion! (They shake hands for the second time.)
Mercadet (aside) It seems too good to be true.
De la Brive (aside) He fell head-first into my salt marshes!
Mercadet (aside) He accepts an income from me!
(Mercadet retires towards the door on the left side.)
Mericourt (to De la Brive) Are you satisfied?
De la Brive (to Mericourt) I don't see the money for my debts.
Mericourt (to De la Brive) Wait a moment. (To Mercadet) My friend does not dare to tell you of it, but he is too honest for concealment. He has a few debts.
Mercadet Oh, please tell me. I understand perfectly—I suppose it is about fifty thousand you owe?
Mericourt Very nearly—
De la Brive Very nearly—
Mercadet A mere trifle.
De la Brive (laughing) Yes, a mere trifle!
Mercadet They will serve as a subject of discussion between your wife and you; yes, let her have the pleasure of— But, we will pay them all. (Aside) In shares of the La Brive salt pits. (Aloud) It is so small an amount. (Aside) We will put up the capital of the salt marsh a hundred thousand francs more. (Aloud) The matter is settled, son-in-law.
De la Brive We will consider it settled, father-in-law.
Mercadet (aside) I am saved!
De la Brive (aside) I am saved!
The same persons, Mme. Mercadet and Julie.
Mercadet Here are my wife and daughter.
Mericourt Madame, allow me to present to you my friend, M. de la Brive, who regards your daughter with—
De la Brive With passionate admiration.
Mercadet My daughter is exactly the woman to suit a politician.
De la Brive (to Mericourt. Gazing at Julie through his eyeglass) A fine girl. (To Madame Mercadet) Like mother, like daughter. Madame, I place my hopes under your protection.
Mme. Mercadet Anyone introduced by M. Mericourt would be welcome here.
Julie (to her father) What a coxcomb!
Mercadet (to his daughter) He is enormously rich. We shall all be millionaires! He is an excessively clever fellow. Now, do try and be amiable, as you ought to be.
Julie (answering him) What would you wish me to say to a dandy whom I have just seen for the first time, and whom you destine for my husband?
De la Brive May I be permitted to hope, mademoiselle, that you will look favorably upon me?
Julie My duty is to obey my father.
De la Brive Young people are not always aware of the feelings which they inspire. For two months I have been longing for the happiness of paying my respects to you.
Julie Who can be more flattered than I am, sir, to find that I have attracted your attention?
Mme. Mercadet (to Mericourt) He is a fine fellow. (Aloud) We hope that you and your friend M. de la Brive will do us the pleasure of accepting our invitation to dine without ceremony?
Mercadet To take pot-luck with us. (To De la Brive) You must excuse our simplicity.
Justin (entering, in a low voice to Mercadet) M. Pierquin wishes to speak to you, monsieur.
Mercadet (low) Pierquin?
Justin He says it is concerning an important and urgent matter.
Mercadet What can he want with me? Let him come in. (Justin goes out. Aloud) My dear, these gentlemen must be tired. Won't you take them into the drawing-room? M. de la Brive, give my daughter you arm.
De la Brive Mademoiselle— (offers her his arm)
Julie (aside) He is handsome, he is rich—why does he choose me?
Mme. Mercadet M. de Mericourt, will you come and see the picture which we are going to raffle off for the benefit of the poor orphans?