PETTY TROUBLES OF MARRIED LIFE
HONORE DE BALZAC
If, reader, you have grasped the intent of this book,—and infinite honor is done you by the supposition: the profoundest author does not always comprehend, I may say never comprehends, the different meanings of his book, nor its bearing, nor the good nor the harm it may do—if, then, you have bestowed some attention upon these little scenes of married life, you have perhaps noticed their color—
"What color?" some grocer will doubtless ask; "books are bound in yellow, blue, green, pearl-gray, white—"
Alas! books possess another color, they are dyed by the author, and certain writers borrow their dye. Some books let their color come off on to others. More than this. Books are dark or fair, light brown or red. They have a sex, too! I know of male books, and female books, of books which, sad to say, have no sex, which we hope is not the case with this one, supposing that you do this collection of nosographic sketches the honor of calling it a book.
Thus far, the troubles we have described have been exclusively inflicted by the wife upon the husband. You have therefore seen only the masculine side of the book. And if the author really has the sense of hearing for which we give him credit, he has already caught more than one indignant exclamation or remonstrance:
"He tells us of nothing but vexations suffered by our husbands, as if we didn't have our petty troubles, too!"
Oh, women! You have been heard, for if you do not always make yourselves understood, you are always sure to make yourselves heard.
It would therefore be signally unjust to lay upon you alone the reproaches that every being brought under the yoke (conjugium) has the right to heap upon that necessary, sacred, useful, eminently conservative institution,—one, however, that is often somewhat of an encumbrance, and tight about the joints, though sometimes it is also too loose there.
I will go further! Such partiality would be a piece of idiocy.
A man,—not a writer, for in a writer there are many men,—an author, rather, should resemble Janus, see behind and before, become a spy, examine an idea in all its phases, delve alternately into the soul of Alceste and into that of Philaenete, know everything though he does not tell it, never be tiresome, and—
We will not conclude this programme, for we should tell the whole, and that would be frightful for those who reflect upon the present condition of literature.
Furthermore, an author who speaks for himself in the middle of his book, resembles the old fellow in "The Speaking Picture," when he puts his face in the hole cut in the painting. The author does not forget that in the Chamber, no one can take the floor between two votes. Enough, therefore!
Here follows the female portion of the book: for, to resemble marriage perfectly, it ought to be more or less hermaphroditic.
PETTY TROUBLES OF MARRIED LIFE
HUSBANDS DURING THE SECOND MONTH.
Two young married women, Caroline and Stephanie, who had been early friends at M'lle Machefer's boarding school, one of the most celebrated educational institutions in the Faubourg St. Honore, met at a ball given by Madame de Fischtaminel, and the following conversation took place in a window-seat in the boudoir.
It was so hot that a man had acted upon the idea of going to breathe the fresh night air, some time before the two young women. He had placed himself in the angle of the balcony, and, as there were many flowers before the window, the two friends thought themselves alone. This man was the author's best friend.
One of the two ladies, standing at the corner of the embrasure, kept watch by looking at the boudoir and the parlors. The other had so placed herself as not to be in the draft, which was nevertheless tempered by the muslin and silk curtains.
The boudoir was empty, the ball was just beginning, the gaming-tables were open, offering their green cloths and their packs of cards still compressed in the frail case placed upon them by the customs office. The second quadrille was in progress.
All who go to balls will remember that phase of large parties when the guests are not yet all arrived, but when the rooms are already filled —a moment which gives the mistress of the house a transitory pang of terror. This moment is, other points of comparison apart, like that which decides a victory or the loss of a battle.
You will understand, therefore, how what was meant to be a secret now obtains the honors of publicity.
A double sigh.
"Have you forgotten our agreement?"
"Why haven't you been to see me, then?"
"I am never left alone. Even here we shall hardly have time to talk."
"Ah! if Adolphe were to get into such habits as that!" exclaimed Caroline.
"You saw us, Armand and me, when he paid me what is called, I don't know why, his court."
"Yes, I admired him, I thought you very happy, you had found your ideal, a fine, good-sized man, always well dressed, with yellow gloves, his beard well shaven, patent leather boots, a clean shirt, exquisitely neat, and so attentive—"
"Yes, yes, go on."
"In short, quite an elegant man: his voice was femininely sweet, and then such gentleness! And his promises of happiness and liberty! His sentences were veneered with rosewood. He stocked his conversation with shawls and laces. In his smallest expression you heard the rumbling of a coach and four. Your wedding presents were magnificent. Armand seemed to me like a husband of velvet, of a robe of birds' feathers in which you were to be wrapped."
"Caroline, my husband uses tobacco."
"So does mine; that is, he smokes."
"But mine, dear, uses it as they say Napoleon did: in short, he chews, and I hold tobacco in horror. The monster found it out, and went without out it for seven months."
"All men have their habits. They absolutely must use something."
"You have no idea of the tortures I endure. At night I am awakened with a start by one of my own sneezes. As I go to sleep my motions bring the grains of snuff scattered over the pillow under my nose, I inhale, and explode like a mine. It seems that Armand, the wretch, is used to these surprises, and doesn't wake up. I find tobacco everywhere, and I certainly didn't marry the customs office."
"But, my dear child, what does this trifling inconvenience amount to, if your husband is kind and possesses a good disposition?"
"He is as cold as marble, as particular as an old bachelor, as communicative as a sentinel; and he's one of those men who say yes to everything, but who never do anything but what they want to."
"Deny him, once."
"I've tried it."
"What came of it?"
"He threatened to reduce my allowance, and to keep back a sum big enough for him to get along without me."
"Poor Stephanie! He's not a man, he's a monster."
"A calm and methodical monster, who wears a scratch, and who, every night—"
"Well, every night—"
"Wait a minute!—who takes a tumbler every night, and puts seven false teeth in it."
"What a trap your marriage was! At any rate, Armand is rich."
"Good heavens! Why, you seem to me on the point of becoming very unhappy—or very happy."
"Well, dear, how is it with you?"
"Oh, as for me, I have nothing as yet but a pin that pricks me: but it is intolerable."
"Poor creature! You don't know your own happiness: come, what is it?"
Here the young woman whispered in the other's ear, so that it was impossible to catch a single word. The conversation recommenced, or rather finished by a sort of inference.
"So, your Adolphe is jealous?"
"Jealous of whom? We never leave each other, and that, in itself, is an annoyance. I can't stand it. I don't dare to gape. I am expected to be forever enacting the woman in love. It's fatiguing."
"What are you going to do?"
"Resign myself. What are you?
"Fight the customs office."
This little trouble tends to prove that in the matter of personal deception, the two sexes can well cry quits.
I. CHODOREILLE THE GREAT.
A young man has forsaken his natal city in the depths of one of the departments, rather clearly marked by M. Charles Dupin. He felt that glory of some sort awaited him: suppose that of a painter, a novelist, a journalist, a poet, a great statesman.
Young Adolphe de Chodoreille—that we may be perfectly understood —wished to be talked about, to become celebrated, to be somebody. This, therefore, is addressed to the mass of aspiring individuals brought to Paris by all sorts of vehicles, whether moral or material, and who rush upon the city one fine morning with the hydrophobic purpose of overturning everybody's reputation, and of building themselves a pedestal with the ruins they are to make,—until disenchantment follows. As our intention is to specify this peculiarity so characteristic of our epoch, let us take from among the various personages the one whom the author has elsewhere called A Distinguished Provencal.
Adolphe has discovered that the most admirable trade is that which consists in buying a bottle of ink, a bunch of quills, and a ream of paper, at a stationer's for twelve francs and a half, and in selling the two thousand sheets in the ream over again, for something like fifty thousand francs, after having, of course, written upon each leaf fifty lines replete with style and imagination.
This problem,—twelve francs and a half metamorphosed into fifty thousand francs, at the rate of five sous a line—urges numerous families who might advantageously employ their members in the retirement of the provinces, to thrust them into the vortex of Paris.
The young man who is the object of this exportation, invariably passes in his natal town for a man of as much imagination as the most famous author. He has always studied well, he writes very nice poetry, he is considered a fellow of parts: he is besides often guilty of a charming tale published in the local paper, which obtains the admiration of the department.
His poor parents will never know what their son has come to Paris to learn at great cost, namely: That it is difficult to be a writer and to understand the French language short of a dozen years of heculean labor: That a man must have explored every sphere of social life, to become a genuine novelist, inasmuch as the novel is the private history of nations: That the great story-tellers, Aesop, Lucian, Boccaccio, Rabelais, Cervantes, Swift, La Fontaine, Lesage, Sterne, Voltaire, Walter Scott, the unknown Arabians of the Thousand and One Nights, were all men of genius as well as giants of erudition.
Their Adolphe serves his literary apprenticeship in two or three coffee-houses, becomes a member of the Society of Men of Letters, attacks, with or without reason, men of talent who don't read his articles, assumes a milder tone on seeing the powerlessness of his criticisms, offers novelettes to the papers which toss them from one to the other as if they were shuttlecocks: and, after five or six years of exercises more or less fatiguing, of dreadful privations which seriously tax his parents, he attains a certain position.
This position may be described as follows: Thanks to a sort of reciprocal support extended to each other, and which an ingenious writer has called "Mutual Admiration," Adolphe often sees his name cited among the names of celebrities, either in the prospectuses of the book-trade, or in the lists of newspapers about to appear. Publishers print the title of one of his works under the deceitful heading "IN PRESS," which might be called the typographical menagerie of bears.[*] Chodoreille is sometimes mentioned among the promising young men of the literary world.
[*] A bear (ours) is a play which has been refused by a multitude of theatres, but which is finally represented at a time when some manager or other feels the need of one. The word has necessarily passed from the language of the stage into the jargon of journalism, and is applied to novels which wander the streets in search of a publisher.
For eleven years Adolphe Chodoreille remains in the ranks of the promising young men: he finally obtains a free entrance to the theatres, thanks to some dirty work or certain articles of dramatic criticism: he tries to pass for a good fellow; and as he loses his illusions respecting glory and the world of Paris, he gets into debt and his years begin to tell upon him.
A paper which finds itself in a tight place asks him for one of his bears revised by his friends. This has been retouched and revamped every five years, so that it smells of the pomatum of each prevailing and then forgotten fashion. To Adolphe it becomes what the famous cap, which he was constantly staking, was to Corporal Trim, for during five years "Anything for a Woman" (the title decided upon) "will be one of the most entertaining productions of our epoch."
After eleven years, Chodoreille is regarded as having written some respectable things, five or six tales published in the dismal magazines, in ladies' newspapers, or in works intended for children of tender age.
As he is a bachelor, and possesses a coat and a pair of black cassimere trousers, and when he pleases may thus assume the appearance of an elegant diplomat, and as he is not without a certain intelligent air, he is admitted to several more or less literary salons: he bows to the five or six academicians who possess genius, influence or talent, he visits two or three of our great poets, he allows himself, in coffee-rooms, to call the two or three justly celebrated women of our epoch by their Christian names; he is on the best of terms with the blue stockings of the second grade,—who ought to be called socks,—and he shakes hands and takes glasses of absinthe with the stars of the smaller newspapers.
Such is the history of every species of ordinary men—men who have been denied what they call good luck. This good luck is nothing less than unyielding will, incessant labor, contempt for an easily won celebrity, immense learning, and that patience which, according to Buffon, is the whole of genius, but which certainly is the half of it.
You do not yet see any indication of a petty trouble for Caroline. You imagine that this history of five hundred young men engaged at this moment in wearing smooth the paving stones of Paris, was written as a sort of warning to the families of the eighty-six departments of France: but read these two letters which lately passed between two girls differently married, and you will see that it was as necessary as the narrative by which every true melodrama was until lately expected to open. You will divine the skillful manoeuvres of the Parisian peacock spreading his tail in the recesses of his native village, and polishing up, for matrimonial purposes, the rays of his glory, which, like those of the sun, are only warm and brilliant at a distance.
From Madame Claire de la Roulandiere, nee Jugault, to Madame Adolphe de Chodoreille, nee Heurtaut.
"You have not yet written to me, and it's real unkind in you. Don't you remember that the happier was to write first and to console her who remained in the country?
"Since your departure for Paris, I have married Monsieur de la Roulandiere, the president of the tribunal. You know him, and you can judge whether I am happy or not, with my heart saturated, as it is, with our ideas. I was not ignorant what my lot would be: I live with the ex-president, my husband's uncle, and with my mother-in-law, who has preserved nothing of the ancient parliamentary society of Aix but its pride and its severity of manners. I am seldom alone, I never go out unless accompanied by my mother-in-law or my husband. We receive the heavy people of the city in the evening. They play whist at two sous a point, and I listen to conversations of this nature:
"'Monsieur Vitremont is dead, and leaves two hundred and eighty thousand francs,' says the associate judge, a young man of forty-seven, who is as entertaining as a northwest wind.
"'Are you quite sure of that?'
"The that refers to the two hundred and eighty thousand francs. A little judge then holds forth, he runs over the investments, the others discuss their value, and it is definitely settled that if he has not left two hundred and eighty thousand, he left something near it.
"Then comes a universal concert of eulogy heaped upon the dead man's body, for having kept his bread under lock and key, for having shrewdly invested his little savings accumulated sou by sou, in order, probably, that the whole city and those who expect legacies may applaud and exclaim in admiration, 'He leaves two hundred and eighty thousand francs!' Now everybody has rich relations of whom they say 'Will he leave anything like it?' and thus they discuss the quick as they have discussed the dead.
"They talk of nothing but the prospects of fortune, the prospects of a vacancy in office, the prospects of the harvest.
"When we were children, and used to look at those pretty little white mice, in the cobbler's window in the rue St. Maclou, that turned and turned the circular cage in which they were imprisoned, how far I was from thinking that they would one day be a faithful image of my life!
"Think of it, my being in this condition!—I who fluttered my wings so much more than you, I whose imagination was so vagabond! My sins have been greater than yours, and I am the more severely punished. I have bidden farewell to my dreams: I am Madame la Presidente in all my glory, and I resign myself to giving my arm for forty years to my big awkward Roulandiere, to living meanly in every way, and to having forever before me two heavy brows and two wall-eyes pierced in a yellow face, which is destined never to know what it is to smile.
"But you, Caroline dear, you who, between ourselves, were admitted among the big girls while I still gamboled among the little ones, you whose only sin was pride, you,—at the age of twenty-seven, and with a dowry of two hundred thousand francs,—capture and captivate a truly great man, one of the wittiest men in Paris, one of the two talented men that our village has produced.—What luck!
"You now circulate in the most brilliant society of Paris. Thanks to the sublime privileges of genius. You may appear in all the salons of the Faubourg St. Germain, and be cordially received. You have the exquisite enjoyment of the company of the two or three celebrated women of our age, where so many good things are said, where the happy speeches which arrive out here like Congreve rockets, are first fired off. You go to the Baron Schinner's of whom Adolphe so often spoke to us, whom all the great artists and foreigners of celebrity visit. In short, before long, you will be one of the queens of Paris, if you wish. You can receive, too, and have at your house the lions of literature, fashion and finance, whether male or female, for Adolphe spoke in such terms about his illustrious friendships and his intimacy with the favorites of the hour, that I imagine you giving and receiving honors.
"With your ten thousand francs a year, and the legacy from your Aunt Carabas, added to the twenty thousand francs that your husband earns, you must keep a carriage; and since you go to all the theatres without paying, since journalists are the heroes of all the inaugurations so ruinous for those who keep up with the movement of Paris, and since they are constantly invited to dinner, you live as if you had an income of sixty thousand francs a year! Happy Caroline! I don't wonder you forget me!
"I can understand how it is that you have not a moment to yourself. Your bliss is the cause of your silence, so I pardon you. Still, if, fatigued with so many pleasures, you one day, upon the summit of your grandeur, think of your poor Claire, write to me, tell me what a marriage with a great man is, describe those great Parisian ladies, especially those who write. Oh! I should so much like to know what they are made of! Finally don't forget anything, unless you forget that you are loved, as ever, by your poor
From Madame Adolphe de Chodoreille to Madame la Presidente de la Roulandiere, at Viviers.
"Ah! my poor Claire, could you have known how many wretched little griefs your innocent letter would awaken, you never would have written it. Certainly no friend, and not even an enemy, on seeing a woman with a thousand mosquito-bites and a plaster over them, would amuse herself by tearing it off and counting the stings.
"I will begin by telling you that for a woman of twenty-seven, with a face still passable, but with a form a little too much like that of the Emperor Nicholas for the humble part I play, I am happy! Let me tell you why: Adolphe, rejoicing in the deceptions which have fallen upon me like a hail-storm, smoothes over the wounds in my self-love by so much affection, so many attentions, and such charming things, that, in good truth, women—so far as they are simply women—would be glad to find in the man they marry defects so advantageous. But all men of letters (Adolphe, alas! is barely a man of letters), who are beings not a bit less irritable, nervous, fickle and eccentric than women, are far from possessing such solid qualities as those of Adolphe, and I hope they have not all been as unfortunate as he.
"Ah! Claire, we love each other well enough for me to tell you the simple truth. I have saved my husband, dear, from profound but skillfully concealed poverty. Far from receiving twenty thousand francs a year, he has not earned that sum in the entire fifteen years that he has been at Paris. We occupy a third story in the rue Joubert, and pay twelve hundred francs for it; we have some eighty-five hundred francs left, with which I endeavor to keep house honorably.
"I have brought Adolphe luck; for since our marriage, he has obtained the control of a feuilleton which is worth four hundred francs a month to him, though it takes but a small portion of his time. He owes this situation to an investment. We employed the seventy thousand francs left me by my Aunt Carabas in giving security for a newspaper; on this we get nine per cent, and we have stock besides. Since this transaction, which was concluded some ten months ago, our income has doubled, and we now possess a competence, I can complain of my marriage in a pecuniary point of view no more than as regards my affections. My vanity alone has suffered, and my ambition has been swamped. You will understand the various petty troubles which have assailed me, by a single specimen.
"Adolphe, you remember, appeared to us on intimate terms with the famous Baroness Schinner, so renowned for her wit, her influence, her wealth and her connection with celebrated men. I supposed that he was welcomed at her house as a friend: my husband presented me, and I was coldly received. I saw that her rooms were furnished with extravagant luxury; and instead of Madame Schinner's returning my call, I received a card, twenty days afterward, and at an insolently improper hour.
"On arriving at Paris, I went to walk upon the boulevard, proud of my anonymous great man. He nudged me with his elbow, and said, pointing out a fat little ill-dressed man, 'There's so and so!' He mentioned one of the seven or eight illustrious men in France. I got ready my look of admiration, and I saw Adolphe rapturously doffing his hat to the truly great man, who replied by the curt little nod that you vouchsafe a person with whom you have doubtless exchanged hardly four words in ten years. Adolphe had begged a look for my sake. 'Doesn't he know you?' I said to my husband. 'Oh, yes, but he probably took me for somebody else,' replied he.
"And so of poets, so of celebrated musicians, so of statesmen. But, as a compensation, we stop and talk for ten minutes in front of some arcade or other, with Messieurs Armand du Cantal, George Beaunoir, Felix Verdoret, of whom you have never heard. Mesdames Constantine Ramachard, Anais Crottat, and Lucienne Vouillon threaten me with their blue friendship. We dine editors totally unknown in our province. Finally I have had the painful happiness of seeing Adolphe decline an invitation to an evening party to which I was not bidden.
"Oh! Claire dear, talent is still the rare flower of spontaneous growth, that no greenhouse culture can produce. I do not deceive myself: Adolphe is an ordinary man, known, estimated as such: he has no other chance, as he himself says, than to take his place among the utilities of literature. He was not without wit at Viviers: but to be a man of wit at Paris, you must possess every kind of wit in formidable doses.
"I esteem Adolphe: for, after some few fibs, he frankly confessed his position, and, without humiliating himself too deeply, he promised that I should be happy. He hopes, like numerous other ordinary men, to obtain some place, that of an assistant librarian, for instance, or the pecuniary management of a newspaper. Who knows but we may get him elected deputy for Viviers, in the course of time?
"We live in obscurity; we have five or six friends of either sex whom we like, and such is the brilliant style of life which your letter gilded with all the social splendors.
"From time to time I am caught in a squall, or am the butt of some malicious tongue. Thus, yesterday, at the opera, I heard one of our most ill-natured wits, Leon de Lora, say to one of our most famous critics, 'It takes Chodoreille to discover the Caroline poplar on the banks of the Rhone!' They had heard my husband call me by my Christian name. At Viviers I was considered handsome. I am tall, well made, and fat enough to satisfy Adolphe! In this way I learn that the beauty of women from the country is, at Paris, precisely like the wit of country gentleman.
"In short, I am absolutely nobody, if that is what you wish to know: but if you desire to learn how far my philosophy goes, understand that I am really happy in having found an ordinary man in my pretended great one.
"Farewell, dear Claire! It is still I, you see, who, in spite of my delusions and the petty troubles of my life, am the most favorably situated: for Adolphe is young, and a charming fellow.
Claire's reply contained, among other passages, the following: "I hope that the indescribable happiness which you enjoy, will continue, thanks to your philosophy." Claire, as any intimate female friend would have done, consoled herself for her president by insinuations respecting Adolphe's prospects and future conduct.
II. ANOTHER GLANCE AT CHODOREILLE.
(Letter discovered one day in a casket, while she was making me wait a long time and trying to get rid of a hanger-on who could not be made to understand hidden meanings. I caught cold—but I got hold of this letter.)
This fatuous note was found on a paper which the notary's clerks had thought of no importance in the inventory of the estate of M. Ferdinand de Bourgarel, who was mourned of late by politics, arts and amours, and in whom is ended the great Provencal house of Borgarelli; for as is generally known the name Bourgarel is a corruption of Borgarelli just as the French Girardin is the Florentine Gherardini.
An intelligent reader will find little difficulty in placing this letter in its proper epoch in the lives of Adolphe and Caroline.
"My dear Friend:
"I thought myself lucky indeed to marry an artist as superior in his talent as in his personal attributes, equally great in soul and mind, worldly-wise, and likely to rise by following the public road without being obliged to wander along crooked, doubtful by-paths. However, you knew Adolphe; you appreciated his worth. I am loved, he is a father, I idolize our children. Adolphe is kindness itself to me; I admire and love him. But, my dear, in this complete happiness lurks a thorn. The roses upon which I recline have more than one fold. In the heart of a woman, folds speedily turn to wounds. These wounds soon bleed, the evil spreads, we suffer, the suffering awakens thoughts, the thoughts swell and change the course of sentiment.
"Ah, my dear, you shall know all about it, though it is a cruel thing to say—but we live as much by vanity as by love. To live by love alone, one must dwell somewhere else than in Paris. What difference would it make to us whether we had only one white percale gown, if the man we love did not see other women dressed differently, more elegantly than we—women who inspire ideas by their ways, by a multitude of little things which really go to make up great passions? Vanity, my dear, is cousin-german to jealousy, to that beautiful and noble jealousy which consists in not allowing one's empire to be invaded, in reigning undisturbed in a soul, and passing one's life happily in a heart.
"Ah, well, my woman's vanity is on the rack. Though some troubles may seem petty indeed, I have learned, unfortunately, that in the home there are no petty troubles. For everything there is magnified by incessant contact with sensations, with desires, with ideas. Such then is the secret of that sadness which you have surprised in me and which I did not care to explain. It is one of those things in which words go too far, and where writing holds at least the thought within bounds by establishing it. The effects of a moral perspective differ so radically between what is said and what is written! All is so solemn, so serious on paper! One cannot commit any more imprudences. Is it not this fact which makes a treasure out of a letter where one gives one's self over to one's thoughts?
"You doubtless thought me wretched, but I am only wounded. You discovered me sitting alone by the fire, and no Adolphe. I had just finished putting the children to bed; they were asleep. Adolphe for the tenth time had been invited out to a house where I do not go, where they want Adolphe without his wife. There are drawing-rooms where he goes without me, just at there are many pleasures in which he alone is the guest. If he were M. de Navarreins and I a d'Espard, society would never think of separating us; it would want us always together. His habits are formed; he does not suspect the humiliation which weighs upon my heart. Indeed, if he had the slightest inkling of this small sorrow which I am ashamed to own, he would drop society, he would become more of a prig than the people who come between us. But he would hamper his progress, he would make enemies, he would raise up obstacles by imposing me upon the salons where I would be subject to a thousand slights. That is why I prefer my sufferings to what would happen were they discovered.
"Adolphe will succeed! He carries my revenge in his beautiful head, does this man of genius. One day the world shall pay for all these slights. But when? Perhaps I shall be forty-five. My beautiful youth will have passed in my chimney-corner, and with this thought: Adolphe smiles, he is enjoying the society of fair women, he is playing the devoted to them, while none of these attentions come my way.
"It may be that these will finally take him from me!
"No one undergoes slight without feeling it, and I feel that I am slighted, though young, beautiful and virtuous. Now, can I keep from thinking this way? Can I control my anger at the thought that Adolphe is dining in the city without me? I take no part in his triumphs; I do not hear the witty or profound remarks made to others! I could no longer be content with bourgeois receptions whence he rescued me, upon finding me distinguee, wealthy, young, beautiful and witty. There lies the evil, and it is irremediable.
"In a word, for some cause, it is only since I cannot go to a certain salon that I want to go there. Nothing is more natural of the ways of a human heart. The ancients were wise in having their gyneceums. The collisions between the pride of the women, caused by these gatherings, though it dates back only four centuries, has cost our own day much disaffection and numerous bitter debates.
"Be that as it may, my dear, Adolphe is always warmly welcomed when he comes back home. Still, no nature is strong enough to await always with the same ardor. What a morrow that will be, following the evening when his welcome is less warm!
"Now do you see the depth of the fold which I mentioned? A fold in the heart is an abyss, like a crevasse in the Alps—a profundity whose depth and extent we have never been able to calculate. Thus it is between two beings, no matter how near they may be drawn to each other. One never realizes the weight of suffering which oppresses his friend. This seems such a little thing, yet one's life is affected by it in all its length, in all its breadth. I have thus argued with myself; but the more I have argued, the more thoroughly have I realized the extent of this hidden sorrow. And I can only let the current carry me whither it will.
"Two voices struggle for supremacy when—by a rarely fortunate chance —I am alone in my armchair waiting for Adolphe. One, I would wager, comes from Eugene Delacroix's Faust which I have on my table. Mephistopheles speaks, that terrible aide who guides the swords so dexterously. He leaves the engraving, and places himself diabolically before me, grinning through the hole which the great artist has placed under his nose, and gazing at me with that eye whence fall rubies, diamonds, carriages, jewels, laces, silks, and a thousand luxuries to feed the burning desire within me.
"'Are you not fit for society?' he asks. 'You are the equal of the fairest duchesses. Your voice is like a siren's, your hands command respect and love. Ah! that arm!—place bracelets upon it, and how pleasingly it would rest upon the velvet of a robe! Your locks are chains which would fetter all men. And you could lay all your triumphs at Adolphe's feet, show him your power and never use it. Then he would fear, where now he lives in insolent certainty. Come! To action! Inhale a few mouthfuls of disdain and you will exhale clouds of incense. Dare to reign! Are you not next to nothing here in your chimney-corner? Sooner or later the pretty spouse, the beloved wife will die, if you continue like this, in a dressing-gown. Come, and you shall perpetuate your sway through the arts of coquetry! Show yourself in salons, and your pretty foot shall trample down the love of your rivals.'
"The other voice comes from my white marble mantel, which rustles like a garment. I think I see a veritable goddess crowned with white roses, and bearing a palm-branch in her hand. Two blue eyes smile down on me. This simple image of virtue says to me:
"'Be content! Remain good always, and make this man happy. That is the whole of your mission. The sweetness of angels triumphs over all pain. Faith in themselves has enabled the martyrs to obtain solace even on the brasiers of their tormentors. Suffer a moment; you shall be happy in the end.'
"Sometimes Adolphe enters at that moment and I am content. But, my dear, I have less patience than love. I almost wish to tear in pieces the woman who can go everywhere, and whose society is sought out by men and women alike. What profound thought lies in the line of Moliere:
"'The world, dear Agnes, is a curious thing!'
"You know nothing of this petty trouble, you fortunate Mathilde! You are well born. You can do a great deal for me. Just think! I can write you things that I dared not speak about. Your visits mean so much; come often to see your poor
"Well," said I to the notary's clerk, "do you know what was the nature of this letter to the late Bourgarel?"
"A note of exchange."
Neither clerk nor notary understood my meaning. Do you?
THE PANGS OF INNOCENCE.
"Yes, dear, in the married state, many things will happen to you which you are far from expecting: but then others will happen which you expect still less. For instance—"
The author (may we say the ingenious author?) qui castigat ridendo mores, and who has undertaken the Petty Troubles of Married Life, hardly needs to remark, that, for prudence' sake, he here allows a lady of high distinction to speak, and that he does not assume the responsibility of her language, though he professes the most sincere admiration for the charming person to whom he owes his acquaintance with this petty trouble.
"For instance—" she says.
He nevertheless thinks proper to avow that this person is neither Madame Foullepointe, nor Madame de Fischtaminel, nor Madame Deschars.
Madame Deschars is too prudish, Madame Foullepointe too absolute in her household, and she knows it; indeed, what doesn't she know? She is good-natured, she sees good society, she wishes to have the best: people overlook the vivacity of her witticisms, as, under louis XIV, they overlooked the remarks of Madame Cornuel. They overlook a good many things in her; there are some women who are the spoiled children of public opinion.
As to Madame de Fischtaminel, who is, in fact, connected with the affair, as you shall see, she, being unable to recriminate, abstains from words and recriminates in acts.
We give permission to all to think that the speaker is Caroline herself, not the silly little Caroline of tender years. But Caroline when she has become a woman of thirty.
"For instance," she remarks to a young woman whom she is edifying, "you will have children, God willing."
"Madame," I say, "don't let us mix the deity up in this, unless it is an allusion—"
"You are impertinent," she replies, "you shouldn't interrupt a woman—"
"When she is busy with children, I know: but, madame, you ought not to trifle with the innocence of young ladies. Mademoiselle is going to be married, and if she were led to count upon the intervention of the Supreme Being in this affair, she would fall into serious errors. We should not deceive the young. Mademoiselle is beyond the age when girls are informed that their little brother was found under a cabbage."
"You evidently want to get me confused," she replies, smiling and showing the loveliest teeth in the world. "I am not strong enough to argue with you, so I beg you to let me go on with Josephine. What was I saying?"
"That if I get married, I shall have children," returns the young lady.
"Very well. I will not represent things to you worse than they are, but it is extremely probable that each child will cost you a tooth. With every baby I have lost a tooth."
"Happily," I remark at this, "this trouble was with you less than petty, it was positively nothing."—They were side teeth.—"But take notice, miss, that this vexation has no absolute, unvarying character as such. The annoyance depends upon the condition of the tooth. If the baby causes the loss of a decayed tooth, you are fortunate to have a baby the more and a bad tooth the less. Don't let us confound blessings with bothers. Ah! if you were to lose one of your magnificent front teeth, that would be another thing! And yet there is many a woman that would give the best tooth in her head for a fine, healthy boy!"
"Well," resumes Caroline, with animation, "at the risk of destroying your illusions, poor child, I'll just show you a petty trouble that counts! Ah, it's atrocious! And I won't leave the subject of dress which this gentleman considers the only subject we women are equal to."
I protest by a gesture.
"I had been married about two years," continues Caroline, "and I loved my husband. I have got over it since and acted differently for his happiness and mine. I can boast of having one of the happiest homes in Paris. In short, my dear, I loved the monster, and, even when out in society, saw no one but him. My husband had already said to me several times, 'My dear, young women never dress well; your mother liked to have you look like a stick,—she had her reasons for it. If you care for my advice, take Madame de Fischtaminel for a model: she is a lady of taste.' I, unsuspecting creature that I was, saw no perfidy in the recommendation.
"One evening as we returned from a party, he said, 'Did you notice how Madame de Fischtaminel was dressed!' 'Yes, very neatly.' And I said to myself, 'He's always talking about Madame de Fischtaminel; I must really dress just like her.' I had noticed the stuff and the make of the dress, and the style of the trimmings. I was as happy as could be, as I went trotting about town, doing everything I could to obtain the same articles. I sent for the very same dressmaker.
"'You work for Madame de Fischtaminel,' I said.
"'Well, I will employ you as my dressmaker, but on one condition: you see I have procured the stuff of which her gown is made, and I want you to make me one exactly like it.'
"I confess that I did not at first pay any attention to a rather shrewd smile of the dressmaker, though I saw it and afterwards accounted for it. 'So like it,' I added, 'that you can't tell them apart.'
"Oh," says Caroline, interrupting herself and looking at me, "you men teach us to live like spiders in the depths of their webs, to see everything without seeming to look at it, to investigate the meaning and spirit of words, movements, looks. You say, 'How cunning women are!' But you should say, 'How deceitful men are!'
"I can't tell you how much care, how many days, how many manoeuvres, it cost me to become Madame de Fischtaminel's duplicate! But these are our battles, child," she adds, returning to Josephine. "I could not find a certain little embroidered neckerchief, a very marvel! I finally learned that it was made to order. I unearthed the embroideress, and ordered a kerchief like Madame de Fischtaminel's. The price was a mere trifle, one hundred and fifty francs! It had been ordered by a gentleman who had made a present of it to Madame de Fischtaminel. All my savings were absorbed by it. Now we women of Paris are all of us very much restricted in the article of dress. There is not a man worth a hundred thousand francs a year, that loses ten thousand a winter at whist, who does not consider his wife extravagant, and is not alarmed at her bills for what he calls 'rags'! 'Let my savings go,' I said. And they went. I had the modest pride of a woman in love: I would not speak a word to Adolphe of my dress; I wanted it to be a surprise, goose that I was! Oh, how brutally you men take away our blessed ignorance!"
This remark is meant for me, for me who had taken nothing from the lady, neither tooth, nor anything whatever of the things with a name and without a name that may be taken from a woman.
"I must tell you that my husband took me to Madame de Fischtaminel's, where I dined quite often. I heard her say to him, 'Why, your wife looks very well!' She had a patronizing way with me that I put up with: Adolphe wished that I could have her wit and preponderance in society. In short, this phoenix of women was my model. I studied and copied her, I took immense pains not to be myself—oh!—it was a poem that no one but us women can understand! Finally, the day of my triumph dawned. My heart beat for joy, as if I were a child, as if I were what we all are at twenty-two. My husband was going to call for me for a walk in the Tuileries: he came in, I looked at him radiant with joy, but he took no notice. Well, I can confess it now, it was one of those frightful disasters—but I will say nothing about it —this gentleman here would make fun of me."
I protest by another movement.
"It was," she goes on, for a woman never stops till she has told the whole of a thing, "as if I had seen an edifice built by a fairy crumble into ruins. Adolphe manifested not the slightest surprise. We got into the carriage. Adolphe noticed my sadness, and asked me what the matter was: I replied as we always do when our hearts are wrung by these petty vexations, 'Oh, nothing!' Then he took his eye-glass, and stared at the promenaders on the Champs Elysees, for we were to go the rounds of the Champs Elysees, before taking our walk at the Tuileries. Finally, a fit of impatience seized me. I felt a slight attack of fever, and when I got home, I composed myself to smile. 'You haven't said a word about my dress!' I muttered. 'Ah, yes, your gown is somewhat like Madame de Fischtaminel's.' He turned on his heel and went away.
"The next day I pouted a little, as you may readily imagine. Just as we were finishing breakfast by the fire in my room—I shall never forget it—the embroideress called to get her money for the neckerchief. I paid her. She bowed to my husband as if she knew him. I ran after her on pretext of getting her to receipt the bill, and said: 'You didn't ask him so much for Madame de Fischtaminel's kerchief!' 'I assure you, madame, it's the same price, the gentleman did not beat me down a mite.' I returned to my room where I found my husband looking as foolish as—"
She hesitates and then resumes: "As a miller just made a bishop. 'I understand, love, now, that I shall never be anything more than somewhat like Madame de Fischtaminel.' 'You refer to her neckerchief, I suppose: well, I did give it to her,—it was for her birthday. You see, we were formerly—' 'Ah, you were formerly more intimate than you are now!' Without replying to this, he added, 'But it's altogether moral.'
"He took his hat and went out, leaving me with this fine declaration of the Rights of Man. He did not return and came home late at night. I remained in my chamber and wept like a Magdalen, in the chimney-corner. You may laugh at me, if you will," she adds, looking at me, "but I shed tears over my youthful illusions, and I wept, too, for spite, at having been taken for a dupe. I remembered the dressmaker's smile! Ah, that smile reminded me of the smiles of a number of women, who laughed at seeing me so innocent and unsuspecting at Madame de Fischtaminel's! I wept sincerely. Until now I had a right to give my husband credit for many things which he did not possess, but in the existence of which young married women pertinaciously believe.
"How many great troubles are included in this petty one! You men are a vulgar set. There is not a woman who does not carry her delicacy so far as to embroider her past life with the most delightful fibs, while you—but I have had my revenge."
"Madame," I say, "you are giving this young lady too much information."
"True," she returns, "I will tell you the sequel some other time."
"Thus, you see, mademoiselle," I say, "you imagine you are buying a neckerchief and you find a petty trouble round your neck: if you get it given to you—"
"It's a great trouble," retorts the woman of distinction. "Let us stop here."
The moral of this fable is that you must wear your neckerchief without thinking too much about it. The ancient prophets called this world, even in their time, a valley of woe. Now, at that period, the Orientals had, with the permission of the constituted authorities, a swarm of comely slaves, besides their wives! What shall we call the valley of the Seine between Calvary and Charenton, where the law allows but one lawful wife.
THE UNIVERSAL AMADIS.
You will understand at once that I began to gnaw the head of my cane, to consult the ceiling, to gaze at the fire, to examine Caroline's foot, and I thus held out till the marriageable young lady was gone.
"You must excuse me," I said, "if I have remained behind, perhaps in spite of you: but your vengeance would lose by being recounted by and by, and if it constituted a petty trouble for your husband, I have the greatest interest in hearing it, and you shall know why."
"Ah," she returned, "that expression, 'it's altogether moral,' which he gave as an excuse, shocked me to the last degree. It was a great consolation, truly, to me, to know that I held the place, in his household, of a piece of furniture, a block; that my kingdom lay among the kitchen utensils, the accessories of my toilet, and the physicians' prescriptions; that our conjugal love had been assimilated to dinner pills, to veal soup and white mustard; that Madame de Fischtaminel possessed my husband's soul, his admiration, and that she charmed and satisfied his intellect, while I was a kind of purely physical necessity! What do you think of a woman's being degraded to the situation of a soup or a plate of boiled beef, and without parsley, at that! Oh, I composed a catilinic, that evening—"
"Philippic is better."
"Well, either. I'll say anything you like, for I was perfectly furious, and I don't remember what I screamed in the desert of my bedroom. Do you suppose that this opinion that husbands have of their wives, the parts they give them, is not a singular vexation for us? Our petty troubles are always pregnant with greater ones. My Adolphe needed a lesson. You know the Vicomte de Lustrac, a desperate amateur of women and music, an epicure, one of those ex-beaux of the Empire, who live upon their earlier successes, and who cultivate themselves with excessive care, in order to secure a second crop?"
"Yes," I said, "one of those laced, braced, corseted old fellows of sixty, who work such wonders by the grace of their forms, and who might give a lesson to the youngest dandies among us."
"Monsieur de Lustrac is as selfish as a king, but gallant and pretentious, spite of his jet black wig."
"As to his whiskers, he dyes them."
"He goes to ten parties in an evening: he's a butterfly."
"He gives capital dinners and concerts, and patronizes inexperienced songstresses."
"He takes bustle for pleasure."
"Yes, but he makes off with incredible celerity whenever a misfortune occurs. Are you in mourning, he avoids you. Are you confined, he awaits your churching before he visits you. He possesses a mundane frankness and a social intrepidity which challenge admiration."
"But does it not require courage to appear to be what one really is?" I asked.
"Well," she resumed, after we had exchanged our observations on this point, "this young old man, this universal Amadis, whom we call among ourselves Chevalier Petit-Bon-Homme-vil-encore, became the object of my admiration. I made him a few of those advances which never compromise a woman; I spoke of the good taste exhibited in his latest waistcoats and in his canes, and he thought me a lady of extreme amiability. I thought him a chevalier of extreme youth; he called upon me; I put on a number of little airs, and pretended to be unhappy at home, and to have deep sorrows. You know what a woman means when she talks of her sorrows, and complains that she is not understood. The old ape replied much better than a young man would, and I had the greatest difficulty in keeping a straight face while I listened to him.
"'Ah, that's the way with husbands, they pursue the very worst polity, they respect their wives, and, sooner or later, every woman is enraged at finding herself respected, and divines the secret education to which she is entitled. Once married, you ought not to live like a little school-girl, etc.'
"As he spoke, he leaned over me, he squirmed, he was horrible to see. He looked like a wooden Nuremberg doll, he stuck out his chin, he stuck out his chair, he stuck out his hand—in short, after a variety of marches and countermarches, of declarations that were perfectly angelic—"
"Yes. Petit-Bon-Homme-vil-encore had abandoned the classicism of his youth for the romanticism now in fashion: he spoke of the soul, of angels, of adoration, of submission, he became ethereal, and of the darkest blue. He took me to the opera, and handed me to my carriage. This old young man went when I went, his waistcoats multiplied, he compressed his waist, he excited his horse to a gallop in order to catch and accompany my carriage to the promenade: he compromised me with the grace of a young collegian, and was considered madly in love with me. I was steadfastly cruel, but accepted his arm and his bouquets. We were talked about. I was delighted, and managed before long to be surprised by my husband, with the viscount on the sofa in my boudoir, holding my hands in his, while I listened in a sort of external ecstasy. It is incredible how much a desire for vengeance will induce us to put up with! I appeared vexed at the entrance of my husband, who made a scene on the viscount's departure: 'I assure you, sir,' said I, after having listened to his reproaches, 'that it's altogether moral.' My husband saw the point and went no more to Madame de Fischtaminel's. I received Monsieur de Lustrac no more, either."
"But," I interrupted, "this Lustrac that you, like many others, take for a bachelor, is a widower, and childless."
"No man ever buried his wife deeper than he buried his: she will hardly be found at the day of judgment. He married before the Revolution, and your altogether moral reminds me of a speech of his that I shall have to repeat for your benefit. Napoleon appointed Lustrac to an important office, in a conquered province. Madame de Lustrac, abandoned for governmental duties, took a private secretary for her private affairs, though it was altogether moral: but she was wrong in selecting him without informing her husband. Lustrac met this secretary in a state of some excitement, in consequence of a lively discussion in his wife's chamber, and at an exceedingly early hour in the morning. The city desired nothing better than to laugh at its governor, and this adventure made such a sensation that Lustrac himself begged the Emperor to recall him. Napoleon desired his representatives to be men of morality, and he held that such disasters as this must inevitably take from a man's consideration. You know that among the Emperor's unhappy passions, was that of reforming his court and his government. Lustrac's request was granted, therefore, but without compensation. When he returned to Paris, he reappeared at his mansion, with his wife; he took her into society—a step which is certainly conformable to the most refined habits of the aristocracy —but then there are always people who want to find out about it. They inquired the reason of this chivalrous championship. 'So you are reconciled, you and Madame de Lustrac,' some one said to him in the lobby of the Emperor's theatre, 'you have pardoned her, have you? So much the better.' 'Oh,' replied he, with a satisfied air, 'I became convinced—' 'Ah, that she was innocent, very good.' 'No, I became convinced that it was altogether physical.'"
"The opinion of your admirer reduced this weighty trouble to what is, in this case as in yours, a very petty one."
"A petty trouble!" she exclaimed, "and pray for what do you take the fatigue of coquetting with a de Lustrac, of whom I have made an enemy! Ah, women often pay dearly enough for the bouquets they receive and the attentions they accept. Monsieur de Lustrac said of me to Monsieur de Bourgarel, 'I would not advise you to pay court to that woman; she is too dear.'"
WITHOUT AN OCCUPATION.
"You ask me, dear mother, whether I am happy with my husband. Certainly Monsieur de Fischtaminel was not the ideal of my dreams. I submitted to your will, as you know. His fortune, that supreme consideration, spoke, indeed, sufficiently loud. With these arguments, —a marriage, without stooping, with the Count de Fischtaminel, his having thirty thousand a year, and a home at Paris—you were strongly armed against your poor daughter. Besides, Monsieur de Fischtaminel is good looking for a man of thirty-six years; he received the cross of the Legion of Honor from Napoleon upon the field of battle, he is an ex-colonel, and had it not been for the Restoration, which put him upon half-pay, he would be a general. These are certainly extenuating circumstances.
"Many women consider that I have made a good match, and I am bound to confess that there is every appearance of happiness,—for the public, that is. But you will acknowledge that if you had known of the return of my Uncle Cyrus and of his intention to leave me his money, you would have given me the privilege of choosing for myself.
"I have nothing to say against Monsieur de Fischtaminel: he does not gamble, he is indifferent to women, he doesn't like wine, and he has no expensive fancies: he possesses, as you said, all the negative qualities which make husbands passable. Then, what is the matter with him? Well, mother, he has nothing to do. We are together the whole blessed day! Would you believe that it is during the night, when we are the most closely united, that I am the most alone? His sleep is my asylum, my liberty begins when he slumbers. This state of siege will yet make me sick: I am never alone. If Monsieur de Fischtaminel were jealous, I should have a resource. There would then be a struggle, a comedy: but how could the aconite of jealousy have taken root in his soul? He has never left me since our marriage. He feels no shame in stretching himself out upon a sofa and remaining there for hours together.
"Two felons pinioned to the same chain do not find time hang heavy: for they have their escape to think of. But we have no subject of conversation; we have long since talked ourselves out. A little while ago he was so far reduced as to talk politics. But even politics are exhausted, Napoleon, unfortunately for me, having died at St. Helena, as is well known.
"Monsieur de Fischtaminel abhors reading. If he sees me with a book, he comes and says a dozen times an hour—'Nina, dear, haven't you finished yet?'
"I endeavored to persuade this innocent persecutor to ride out every day on horseback, and I alleged a consideration usually conclusive with men of forty years,—his health! But he said that after having been twelve years on horseback, he felt the need of repose.
"My husband, dear mother, is a man who absorbs you, he uses up the vital fluid of his neighbor, his ennui is gluttonous: he likes to be amused by those who call upon us, and, after five years of wedlock, no one ever comes: none visit us but those whose intentions are evidently dishonorable for him, and who endeavor, unsuccessfully, to amuse him, in order to earn the right to weary his wife.
"Monsieur de Fischtaminel, mother, opens the door of my chamber, or of the room to which I have flown for refuge, five or six times an hour, and comes up to me in an excited way, and says, 'Well, what are you doing, my belle?' (the expression in fashion during the Empire) without perceiving that he is constantly repeating the same phrase, which is to me like the one pint too much that the executioner formerly poured into the torture by water.
"Then there's another bore! We can't go to walk any more. A promenade without conversation, without interest, is impossible. My husband walks with me for the walk, as if he were alone. I have the fatigue without the pleasure.
"The interval between getting up and breakfast is employed in my toilet, in my household duties; and I manage to get through with this part of the day. But between breakfast and dinner, there is a whole desert to plough, a waste to traverse. My husband's want of occupation does not leave me a moment of repose, he overpowers me by his uselessness; his idle life positively wears me out. His two eyes always open and gazing at mine compel me to keep them lowered. Then his monotonous remarks:
"'What o'clock is it, love? What are you doing now? What are you thinking of? What do you mean to do? Where shall we go this evening? Anything new? What weather! I don't feel well, etc., etc.'
"All these variations upon the same theme—the interrogation point —which compose Fischtaminel's repertory, will drive me mad. Add to these leaden arrows everlastingly shot off at me, one last trait which will complete the description of my happiness, and you will understand my life.
"Monsieur de Fischtaminel, who went away in 1809, with the rank of sub-lieutenant, at the age of eighteen, has had no other education than that due to discipline, to the natural sense of honor of a noble and a soldier: but though he possesses tact, the sentiment of probity, and a proper subordination, his ignorance is gross, he knows absolutely nothing, and he has a horror of learning anything. Oh, dear mother, what an accomplished door-keeper this colonel would have made, had he been born in indigence! I don't think a bit the better of him for his bravery, for he did not fight against the Russians, the Austrians, or the Prussians: he fought against ennui. When he rushed upon the enemy, Captain Fischtaminel's purpose was to get away from himself. He married because he had nothing else to do.
"We have another slight difficulty to content with: my husband harasses the servants to such a degree that we change them every six months.
"I so ardently desire, dear mother, to remain a virtuous woman, that I am going to try the effect of traveling for half the year. During the winter, I shall go every evening to the Italian or the French opera, or to parties: but I don't know whether our fortune will permit such an expenditure. Uncle Cyrus ought to come to Paris—I would take care of him as I would of an inheritance.
"If you discover a cure for my woes, let your daughter know of it —your daughter who loves you as much as she deplores her misfortunes, and who would have been glad to call herself by some other name than that of
Besides the necessity of describing this petty trouble, which could only be described by the pen of a woman,—and what a woman she was! —it was necessary to make you acquainted with a character whom you saw only in profile in the first half of this book, the queen of the particular set in which Caroline lived,—a woman both envied and adroit, who succeeded in conciliating, at an early date, what she owed to the world with the requirements of the heart. This letter is her absolution.
Women are either chaste—or vain—or simply proud. They are therefore all subject to the following petty trouble:
Certain husbands are so delighted to have, in the form of a wife, a woman to themselves,—a possession exclusively due to the legal ceremony,—that they dread the public's making a mistake, and they hasten to brand their consort, as lumber-dealers brand their logs while floating down stream, or as the Berry stock-raisers brand their sheep. They bestow names of endearment, right before people, upon their wives: names taken, after the Roman fashion (columbella), from the animal kingdom, as: my chick, my duck, my dove, my lamb; or, choosing from the vegetable kingdom, they call them: my cabbage, my fig (this only in Provence), my plum (this only in Alsatia). Never: —My flower! Pray note this discretion.
Or else, which is more serious, they call their wives:—Bobonne, —mother,—daughter,—good woman,—old lady: this last when she is very young.
Some venture upon names of doubtful propriety, such as: Mon bichon, ma niniche, Tronquette!
We once heard one of our politicians, a man extremely remarkable for his ugliness, call his wife, Moumoutte!
"I would rather he would strike me," said this unfortunate to her neighbor.
"Poor little woman, she is really unhappy," resumed the neighbor, looking at me when Moumoutte had gone: "when she is in company with her husband she is upon pins and needles, and keeps out of his way. One evening, he actually seized her by the neck and said: 'Come fatty, let's go home!'"
It has been alleged that the cause of a very famous husband-poisoning with arsenic, was nothing less than a series of constant indiscretions like these that the wife had to bear in society. This husband used to give the woman he had won at the point of the Code, public little taps on her shoulder, he would startle her by a resounding kiss, he dishonored her by a conspicuous tenderness, seasoned by those impertinent attentions the secret of which belongs to the French savages who dwell in the depths of the provinces, and whose manners are very little known, despite the efforts of the realists in fiction. It was, it is said, this shocking situation,—one perfectly appreciated by a discerning jury,—which won the prisoner a verdict softened by the extenuating circumstances.
The jurymen said to themselves:
"For a wife to murder her husband for these conjugal offences, is certainly going rather far; but then a woman is very excusable, when she is so harassed!"
We deeply regret, in the interest of elegant manners, that these arguments are not more generally known. Heaven grant, therefore, that our book may have an immense success, as women will obtain this advantage from it, that they will be treated as they deserve, that is, as queens.
In this respect, love is much superior to marriage, it is proud of indiscreet sayings and doings. There are some women that seek them, fish for them, and woe to the man who does not now and then commit one!
What passion lies in an accidental thou!
Out in the country I heard a husband call his wife: "Ma berline!" She was delighted with it, and saw nothing ridiculous in it: she called her husband, "Mon fiston!" This delicious couple were ignorant of the existence of such things as petty troubles.
It was in observing this happy pair that the author discovered this axiom:
Axiom:—In order to be happy in wedlock, you must either be a man of genius married to an affectionate and intellectual woman, or, by a chance which is not as common as might be supposed, you must both of you be exceedingly stupid.
The too celebrated history of the cure of a wounded self-love by arsenic, proves that, properly speaking, there are no petty troubles for women in married life.
Axiom.—Woman exists by sentiment where man exists by action.
Now, sentiment can at any moment render a petty trouble either a great misfortune, or a wasted life, or an eternal misery. Should Caroline begin, in her ignorance of life and the world, by inflicting upon her husband the vexations of her stupidity (re-read REVELATIONS), Adolphe, like any other man, may find a compensation in social excitement: he goes out, comes back, goes here and there, has business. But for Caroline, the question everywhere is, To love or not to love, to be or not to be loved.
Indiscretions are in harmony with the character of the individuals, with times and places. Two examples will suffice.
Here is the first. A man is by nature dirty and ugly: he is ill-made and repulsive. There are men, and often rich ones, too, who, by a sort of unobserved constitution, soil a new suit of clothes in twenty-four hours. They were born disgusting. It is so disgraceful for a women to be anything more than just simply a wife to this sort of Adolphe, that a certain Caroline had long ago insisted upon the suppression of the modern thee and thou and all other insignia of the wifely dignity. Society had been for five or six years accustomed to this sort of thing, and supposed Madame and Monsieur completely separated, and all the more so as it had noticed the accession of a Ferdinand II.
One evening, in the presence of a dozen persons, this man said to his wife: "Caroline, hand me the tongs, there's a love." It is nothing, and yet everything. It was a domestic revelation.
Monsieur de Lustrac, the Universal Amadis, hurried to Madame de Fischtaminel's, narrated this little scene with all the spirit at his command, and Madame de Fischtaminel put on an air something like Celimene's and said: "Poor creature, what an extremity she must be in!"
I say nothing of Caroline's confusion,—you have already divined it.
Here is the second. Think of the frightful situation in which a lady of great refinement was lately placed: she was conversing agreeably at her country seat near Paris, when her husband's servant came and whispered in her ear, "Monsieur has come, madame."
"Very well, Benoit."
Everybody had heard the rumblings of the vehicle. It was known that the husband had been at Paris since Monday, and this took place on Saturday, at four in the afternoon.
"He's got something important to say to you, madame."
Though this dialogue was held in a whisper, it was perfectly understood, and all the more so from the fact that the lady of the house turned from the pale hue of the Bengal rose to the brilliant crimson of the wheatfield poppy. She nodded and went on with the conversation, and managed to leave her company on the pretext of learning whether her husband had succeeded in an important undertaking or not: but she seemed plainly vexed at Adolphe's want of consideration for the company who were visiting her.
During their youth, women want to be treated as divinities, they love the ideal; they cannot bear the idea of being what nature intended them to be.
Some husbands, on retiring to the country, after a week in town, are worse than this: they bow to the company, put their arm round their wife's waist, take a little walk with her, appear to be talking confidentially, disappear in a clump of trees, get lost, and reappear half an hour afterward.
This, ladies, is a genuine petty trouble for a young woman, but for a woman beyond forty, this sort of indiscretion is so delightful, that the greatest prudes are flattered by it, for, be it known:
That women of a certain age, women on the shady side, want to be treated as mortals, they love the actual; they cannot bear the idea of no longer being what nature intended them to be.
Axiom.—Modesty is a relative virtue; there is the modesty of the woman of twenty, the woman of thirty, the woman of forty-five.
Thus the author said to a lady who told him to guess at her age: "Madame, yours is the age of indiscretion."
This charming woman of thirty-nine was making a Ferdinand much too conspicuous, while her daughter was trying to conceal her Ferdinand I.
FIRST STYLE. Caroline adores Adolphe, she thinks him handsome, she thinks him superb, especially in his National Guard uniform. She starts when a sentinel presents arms to him, she considers him moulded like a model, she regards him as a man of wit, everything he does is right, nobody has better taste than he, in short, she is crazy about Adolphe.
It's the old story of Cupid's bandage. This is washed every ten years, and newly embroidered by the altered manners of the period, but it has been the same old bandage since the days of Greece.
Caroline is at a ball with one of her young friends. A man well known for his bluntness, whose acquaintance she is to make later in life, but whom she now sees for the first time, Monsieur Foullepointe, has commenced a conversation with Caroline's friend. According to the custom of society, Caroline listens to this conversation without mingling in it.
"Pray tell me, madame," says Monsieur Foullepointe, "who is that queer man who has been talking about the Court of Assizes before a gentleman whose acquittal lately created such a sensation: he is all the while blundering, like an ox in a bog, against everybody's sore spot. A lady burst into tears at hearing him tell of the death of a child, as she lost her own two months ago."
"Who do you mean?"
"Why, that fat man, dressed like a waiter in a cafe, frizzled like a barber's apprentice, there, he's trying now to make himself agreeable to Madame de Fischtaminel."
"Hush," whispers the lady quite alarmed, "it's the husband of the little woman next to me!"
"Ah, it's your husband?" says Monsieur Foullepointe. "I am delighted, madame, he's a charming man, so vivacious, gay and witty. I am going to make his acquaintance immediately."
And Foullepointe executes his retreat, leaving a bitter suspicion in Caroline's soul, as to the question whether her husband is really as handsome as she thinks him.
SECOND STYLE. Caroline, annoyed by the reputation of Madame Schinner, who is credited with the possession of epistolary talents, and styled the "Sevigne of the note", tired of hearing about Madame de Fischtaminel, who has ventured to write a little 32mo book on the education of the young, in which she has boldly reprinted Fenelon, without the style:—Caroline has been working for six months upon a tale tenfold poorer than those of Berquin, nauseatingly moral, and flamboyant in style.
After numerous intrigues such as women are skillful in managing in the interest of their vanity, and the tenacity and perfection of which would lead you to believe that they have a third sex in their head, this tale, entitled "The Lotus," appears in three installments in a leading daily paper. It is signed Samuel Crux.
When Adolphe takes up the paper at breakfast, Caroline's heart beats up in her very throat: she blushes, turns pale, looks away and stares at the ceiling. When Adolphe's eyes settle upon the feuilleton, she can bear it no longer: she gets up, goes out, comes back, having replenished her stock of audacity, no one knows where.
"Is there a feuilleton this morning?" she asks with an air that she thinks indifferent, but which would disturb a husband still jealous of his wife.
"Yes, one by a beginner, Samuel Crux. The name is a disguise, clearly: the tale is insignificant enough to drive an insect to despair, if he could read: and vulgar, too: the style is muddy, but then it's—"
Caroline breathes again. "It's—" she suggests.
"It's incomprehensible," resumes Adolphe. "Somebody must have paid Chodoreille five or six hundred francs to insert it; or else it's the production of a blue-stocking in high society who has promised to invite Madame Chodoreille to her house; or perhaps it's the work of a woman in whom the editor is personally interested. Such a piece of stupidity cannot be explained any other way. Imagine, Caroline, that it's all about a little flower picked on the edge of a wood in a sentimental walk, which a gentleman of the Werther school has sworn to keep, which he has had framed, and which the lady claims again eleven years after (the poor man has had time to change his lodgings three times). It's quite new, about as old as Sterne or Gessner. What makes me think it's a woman, is that the first literary idea of the whole sex is to take vengeance on some one."
Adolphe might go on pulling "The Lotus" to pieces; Caroline's ears are full of the tinkling of bells. She is like the woman who threw herself over the Pont des Arts, and tried to find her way ten feet below the level of the Seine.
ANOTHER STYLE. Caroline, in her paroxysms of jealousy, has discovered a hiding place used by Adolphe, who, as he can't trust his wife, and as he knows she opens his letters and rummages in his drawers, has endeavored to save his correspondence with Hector from the hooked fingers of the conjugal police.
Hector is an old schoolmate, who has married in the Loire Inferieure.
Adolphe lifts up the cloth of his writing desk, a cloth the border of which has been embroidered by Caroline, the ground being blue, black or red velvet,—the color, as you see, is perfectly immaterial,—and he slips his unfinished letters to Madame de Fischtaminel, to his friend Hector, between the table and the cloth.
The thickness of a sheet of paper is almost nothing, velvet is a downy, discreet material, but, no matter, these precautions are in vain. The male devil is fairly matched by the female devil: Tophet will furnish them of all genders. Caroline has Mephistopheles on her side, the demon who causes tables to spurt forth fire, and who, with his ironic finger points out the hiding place of keys—the secret of secrets.
Caroline has noticed the thickness of a letter sheet between this velvet and this table: she hits upon a letter to Hector instead of hitting upon one to Madame de Fischtaminel, who has gone to Plombieres Springs, and reads the following:
"My dear Hector:
"I pity you, but you have acted wisely in entrusting me with a knowledge of the difficulties in which you have voluntarily involved yourself. You never would see the difference between the country woman and the woman of Paris. In the country, my dear boy, you are always face to face with your wife, and, owing to the ennui which impels you, you rush headforemost into the enjoyment of your bliss. This is a great error: happiness is an abyss, and when you have once reached the bottom, you never get back again, in wedlock.
"I will show you why. Let me take, for your wife's sake, the shortest path—the parable.
"I remember having made a journey from Paris to Ville-Parisis, in that vehicle called a 'bus: distance, twenty miles: 'bus, lumbering: horse, lame. Nothing amuses me more than to draw from people, by the aid of that gimlet called the interrogation, and to obtain, by means of an attentive air, the sum of information, anecdotes and learning that everybody is anxious to part with: and all men have such a sum, the peasant as well as the banker, the corporal as well as the marshal of France.
"I have often noticed how ready these casks, overflowing with wit, are to open their sluices while being transported by diligence or 'bus, or by any vehicle drawn by horses, for nobody talks in a railway car.
"At the rate of our exit from Paris, the journey would take full seven hours: so I got an old corporal to talk, for my diversion. He could neither read nor write: he was entirely illiterate. Yet the journey seemed short. The corporal had been through all the campaigns, he told me of things perfectly unheard of, that historians never trouble themselves about.
"Ah! Hector, how superior is practice to theory! Among other things, and in reply to a question relative to the infantry, whose courage is much more tried by marching than by fighting, he said this, which I give you free from circumlocution:
"'Sir, when Parisians were brought to our 45th, which Napoleon called The Terrible (I am speaking of the early days of the Empire, when the infantry had legs of steel, and when they needed them), I had a way of telling beforehand which of them would remain in the 45th. They marched without hurrying, they did their little six leagues a day, neither more nor less, and they pitched camp in condition to begin again on the morrow. The plucky fellows who did ten leagues and wanted to run to the victory, stopped half way at the hospital.'
"The worthy corporal was talking of marriage while he thought he was talking of war, and you have stopped half way, Hector, at the hospital.
"Remember the sympathetic condolence of Madame de Sevigne counting out three hundred thousand francs to Monsieur de Grignan, to induce him to marry one of the prettiest girls in France! 'Why,' said she to herself, 'he will have to marry her every day, as long as she lives! Decidedly, I don't think three hundred francs too much.' Is it not enough to make the bravest tremble?
"My dear fellow, conjugal happiness is founded, like that of nations, upon ignorance. It is a felicity full of negative conditions.
"If I am happy with my little Caroline, it is due to the strictest observance of that salutary principle so strongly insisted upon in the Physiology of Marriage. I have resolved to lead my wife through paths beaten in the snow, until the happy day when infidelity will be difficult.
"In the situation in which you have placed yourself, and which resembles that of Duprez, who, on his first appearance at Paris, went to singing with all the voice his lungs would yield, instead of imitating Nourrit, who gave the audience just enough to enchant them, the following, I think, is your proper course to—"
The letter broke off here: Caroline returned it to its place, at the same time wondering how she would make her dear Adolphe expiate his obedience to the execrable precepts of the Physiology of Marriage.
This trouble doubtless occurs sufficiently often and in different ways enough in the existence of married women, for this personal incident to become the type of the genus.
The Caroline in question here is very pious, she loves her husband very much, her husband asserts that she loves him too much, even: but this is a piece of marital conceit, if, indeed, it is not a provocation, as he only complains to his wife's young lady friends.
When a person's conscience is involved, the least thing becomes exceedingly serious. Madame de ——- has told her young friend, Madame de Fischtaminel, that she had been compelled to make an extraordinary confession to her spiritual director, and to perform penance, the director having decided that she was in a state of mortal sin. This lady, who goes to mass every morning, is a woman of thirty-six years, thin and slightly pimpled. She has large soft black eyes, her upper lip is strongly shaded: still her voice is sweet, her manners gentle, her gait noble—she is a woman of quality.
Madame de Fischtaminel, whom Madame de ——- has made her friend (nearly all pious women patronize a woman who is considered worldly, on the pretext of converting her),—Madame de Fischtaminel asserts that these qualities, in this Caroline of the Pious Sort, are a victory of religion over a rather violent natural temper.
These details are necessary to describe the trouble in all its horror.
This lady's Adolphe had been compelled to leave his wife for two months, in April, immediately after the forty days' fast that Caroline scrupulously observes. Early in June, therefore, madame expected her husband, she expected him day by day. From one hope to another,
"Conceived every morn and deferred every eve."
She got along as far as Sunday, the day when her presentiments, which had now reached a state of paroxysm, told her that the longed-for husband would arrive at an early hour.
When a pious woman expects her husband, and that husband has been absent from home nearly four months, she takes much more pains with her toilet than a young girl does, though waiting for her first betrothed.
This virtuous Caroline was so completely absorbed in exclusively personal preparations, that she forgot to go to eight o'clock mass. She proposed to hear a low mass, but she was afraid of losing the delight of her dear Adolphe's first glance, in case he arrived at early dawn. Her chambermaid—who respectfully left her mistress alone in the dressing-room where pious and pimpled ladies let no one enter, not even their husbands, especially if they are thin—her chambermaid heard her exclaim several times, "If it's your master, let me know!"
The rumbling of a vehicle having made the furniture rattle, Caroline assumed a mild tone to conceal the violence of her legitimate emotions.
"Oh! 'tis he! Run, Justine: tell him I am waiting for him here." Caroline trembled so that she dropped into an arm-chair.
The vehicle was a butcher's wagon.
It was in anxieties like this that the eight o'clock mass slipped by, like an eel in his slime. Madame's toilet operations were resumed, for she was engaged in dressing. The chambermaid's nose had already been the recipient of a superb muslin chemise, with a simple hem, which Caroline had thrown at her from the dressing-room, though she had given her the same kind for the last three months.
"What are you thinking of, Justine? I told you to choose from the chemises that are not numbered."
The unnumbered chemises were only seven or eight, in the most magnificent trousseau. They are chemises gotten up and embroidered with the greatest care: a woman must be a queen, a young queen, to have a dozen. Each one of Caroline's was trimmed with valenciennes round the bottom, and still more coquettishly garnished about the neck. This feature of our manners will perhaps serve to suggest a suspicion, in the masculine world, of the domestic drama revealed by this exceptional chemise.
Caroline had put on a pair of Scotch thread stockings, little prunella buskins, and her most deceptive corsets. She had her hair dressed in the fashion that most became her, and embellished it with a cap of the most elegant form. It is unnecessary to speak of her morning gown. A pious lady who lives at Paris and who loves her husband, knows as well as a coquette how to choose those pretty little striped patterns, have them cut with an open waist, and fastened by loops to buttons in a way which compels her to refasten them two or three times in an hour, with little airs more or less charming, as the case may be.
The nine o'clock mass, the ten o'clock mass, every mass, went by in these preparations, which, for women in love, are one of their twelve labors of Hercules.
Pious women rarely go to church in a carriage, and they are right. Except in the case of a pouring shower, or intolerably bad weather, a person ought not to appear haughty in the place where it is becoming to be humble. Caroline was afraid to compromise the freshness of her dress and the purity of her thread stockings. Alas! these pretexts concealed a reason.
"If I am at church when Adolphe comes, I shall lose the pleasure of his first glance: and he will think I prefer high mass to him."
She made this sacrifice to her husband in a desire to please him—a fearfully worldly consideration. Prefer the creature to the Creator! A husband to heaven! Go and hear a sermon and you will learn what such an offence will cost you.
"After all," says Caroline, quoting her confessor, "society is founded upon marriage, which the Church has included among its sacraments."
And this is the way in which religious instruction may be put aside in favor of a blind though legitimate love. Madame refused breakfast, and ordered the meal to be kept hot, just as she kept herself ready, at a moment's notice, to welcome the precious absentee.
Now these little things may easily excite a laugh: but in the first place they are continually occurring with couples who love each other, or where one of them loves the other: besides, in a woman so strait-laced, so reserved, so worthy, as this lady, these acknowledgments of affection went beyond the limits imposed upon her feelings by the lofty self-respect which true piety induces. When Madame de Fischtaminel narrated this little scene in a devotee's life, dressing it up with choice by-play, acted out as ladies of the world know how to act out their anecdotes, I took the liberty of saying that it was the Canticle of canticles in action.
"If her husband doesn't come," said Justine to the cook, "what will become of us? She has already thrown her chemise in my face."
At last, Caroline heard the crack of a postilion's whip, the well-known rumbling of a traveling carriage, the racket made by the hoofs of post-horses, and the jingling of their bells! Oh, she could doubt no longer, the bells made her burst forth, as thus:
"The door! Open the door! 'Tis he, my husband! Will you never go to the door!" And the pious woman stamped her foot and broke the bell-rope.
"Why, madame," said Justine, with the vivacity of a servant doing her duty, "it's some people going away."
"Upon my word," replied Caroline, half ashamed, to herself, "I will never let Adolphe go traveling again without me."
A Marseilles poet—it is not known whether it was Mery or Barthelemy —acknowledged that if his best fried did not arrive punctually at the dinner hour, he waited patiently five minutes: at the tenth minute, he felt a desire to throw the napkin in his face: at the twelfth he hoped some great calamity would befall him: at the fifteenth, he would not be able to restrain himself from stabbing him several times with a dirk.
All women, when expecting somebody, are Marseilles poets, if, indeed, we may compare the vulgar throes of hunger to the sublime Canticle of canticles of a pious wife, who is hoping for the joys of a husband's first glance after a three months' absence. Let all those who love and who have met again after an absence ten thousand times accursed, be good enough to recall their first glance: it says so many things that the lovers, if in the presence of a third party, are fain to lower their eyes! This poem, in which every man is as great as Homer, in which he seems a god to the woman who loves him, is, for a pious, thin and pimpled lady, all the more immense, from the fact that she has not, like Madame de Fischtaminel, the resource of having several copies of it. In her case, her husband is all she's got!
So you will not be surprised to learn that Caroline missed every mass and had no breakfast. This hunger and thirst for Adolphe gave her a violent cramp in the stomach. She did not think of religion once during the hours of mass, nor during those of vespers. She was not comfortable when she sat, and she was very uncomfortable when she stood: Justine advised her to go to bed. Caroline, quite overcome, retired at about half past five in the evening, after having taken a light soup: but she ordered a dainty supper at ten.
"I shall doubtless sup with my husband," she said.
This speech was the conclusion of dreadful catalinics, internally fulminated. She had reached the Marseilles poet's several stabs with a dirk. So she spoke in a tone that was really terrible. At three in the morning Caroline was in a profound sleep: Adolphe arrived without her hearing either carriage, or horse, or bell, or opening door!
Adolphe, who would not permit her to be disturbed, went to bed in the spare room. When Caroline heard of his return in the morning, two tears issued from her eyes; she rushed to the spare room without the slightest preparatory toilet; a hideous attendant, posted on the threshold, informed her that her husband, having traveled two hundred leagues and been two nights without sleep, requested that he might not be awakened: he was exceedingly tired.
Caroline—pious woman that she was—opened the door violently without being able to wake the only husband that heaven had given her, and then hastened to church to listen to a thanksgiving mass.
As she was visibly snappish for three whole days, Justine remarked, in reply to an unjust reproach, and with a chambermaid's finesse:
"Why, madame, your husband's got back!"
"He has only got back to Paris," returned the pious Caroline.
Put yourself in the place of a poor woman of doubtful beauty, who owes her husband to the weight of her dowry, who gives herself infinite pains, and spends a great deal of money to appear to advantage and follow the fashions, who does her best to keep house sumptuously and yet economically—a house, too, not easy to manage—who, from morality and dire necessity, perhaps, loves no one but her husband, who has no other study but the happiness of this precious husband, who, to express all in one word, joins the maternal sentiment to the sentiment of her duties. This underlined circumlocution is the paraphrase of the word love in the language of prudes.
Have you put yourself in her place? Well, this too-much-loved husband by chance remarked at his friend Monsieur de Fischtaminel's, that he was very fond of mushrooms a l'Italienne.
If you have paid some attention to the female nature, in its good, great, and grand manifestations, you know that for a loving wife there is no greater pleasure than that of seeing the beloved one absorbing his favorite viands. This springs from the fundamental idea upon which the affection of women is based: that of being the source of all his pleasures, big and little. Love animates everything in life, and conjugal love has a peculiar right to descend to the most trivial details.