THE PHYSIOLOGY OF MARRIAGE
HONORE DE BALZAC
RELATING TO CIVIL WAR.
"Lovely as the seraphs of Klopstock, Terrible as the devils of Milton." —DIDEROT.
The Preliminary precepts, by which science has been enabled at this point to put weapons into the hand of a husband, are few in number; it is not of so much importance to know whether he will be vanquished, as to examine whether he can offer any resistance in the conflict.
Meanwhile, we will set up here certain beacons to light up the arena where a husband is soon to find himself, in alliance with religion and law, engaged single-handed in a contest with his wife, who is supported by her native craft and the whole usages of society as her allies.
LXXXII. Anything may be expected and anything may be supposed of a woman who is in love.
LXXXIII. The actions of a woman who intends to deceive her husband are almost always the result of study, but never dictated by reason.
LXXXIV. The greater number of women advance like the fleas, by erratic leaps and bounds, They owe their escape to the height or depth of their first ideas, and any interruption of their plans rather favors their execution. But they operate only within a narrow area which it is easy for the husband to make still narrower; and if he keeps cool he will end by extinguishing this piece of living saltpetre.
LXXXV. A husband should never allow himself to address a single disparaging remark to his wife, in presence of a third party.
LXXXVI. The moment a wife decides to break her marriage vow she reckons her husband as everything or nothing. All defensive operations must start from this proposition.
LXXXVII. The life of a woman is either of the head, of the heart, or of passion. When a woman reaches the age to form an estimate of life, her husband ought to find out whether the primary cause of her intended infidelity proceeds from vanity, from sentiment or from temperament. Temperament may be remedied like disease; sentiment is something in which the husband may find great opportunities of success; but vanity is incurable. A woman whose life is of the head may be a terrible scourge. She combines the faults of a passionate woman with those of the tender-hearted woman, without having their palliations. She is destitute alike of pity, love, virtue or sex.
LXXXVIII. A woman whose life is of the head will strive to inspire her husband with indifference; the woman whose life is of the heart, with hatred; the passionate woman, with disgust.
LXXXIX. A husband never loses anything by appearing to believe in the fidelity of his wife, by preserving an air of patience and by keeping silence. Silence especially troubles a woman amazingly.
XC. To show himself aware of the passion of his wife is the mark of a fool; but to affect ignorance of all proves that a man has sense, and this is in fact the only attitude to take. We are taught, moreover, that everybody in France is sensible.
XCI. The rock most to be avoided is ridicule.—"At least, let us be affectionate in public," ought to be the maxim of a married establishment. For both the married couple to lose honor, esteem, consideration, respect and all that is worth living for in society, is to become a nonentity.
These axioms relate to the contest alone. As for the catastrophe, others will be needed for that.
We have called this crisis Civil War for two reasons; never was a war more really intestine and at the same time so polite as this war. But in what point and in what manner does this fatal war break out? You do not believe that your wife will call out regiments and sound the trumpet, do you? She will, perhaps, have a commanding officer, but that is all. And this feeble army corps will be sufficient to destroy the peace of your establishment.
"You forbid me to see the people that I like!" is an exordium which has served for a manifesto in most homes. This phrase, with all the ideas that are concomitant, is oftenest employed by vain and artificial women.
The most usual manifesto is that which is proclaimed in the conjugal bed, the principal theatre of war. This subject will be treated in detail in the Meditation entitled: Of Various Weapons, in the paragraph, Of Modesty in its Connection with Marriage.
Certain women of a lymphatic temperament will pretend to have the spleen and will even feign death, if they can only gain thereby the benefit of a secret divorce.
But most of them owe their independence to the execution of a plan, whose effect upon the majority of husbands is unfailing and whose perfidies we will now reveal.
One of the greatest of human errors springs from the belief that our honor and our reputation are founded upon our actions, or result from the approbation which the general conscience bestows upon on conduct. A man who lives in the world is born to be a slave to public opinion. Now a private man in France has less opportunity of influencing the world than his wife, although he has ample occasion for ridiculing it. Women possess to a marvelous degree the art of giving color by specious arguments to the recriminations in which they indulge. They never set up any defence, excepting when they are in the wrong, and in this proceeding they are pre-eminent, knowing how to oppose arguments by precedents, proofs by assertions, and thus they very often obtain victory in minor matters of detail. They see and know with admirable penetration, when one of them presents to another a weapon which she herself is forbidden to whet. It is thus that they sometimes lose a husband without intending it. They apply the match and long afterwards are terror-stricken at the conflagration.
As a general thing, all women league themselves against a married man who is accused of tyranny; for a secret tie unites them all, as it unites all priests of the same religion. They hate each other, yet shield each other. You can never gain over more than one of them; and yet this act of seduction would be a triumph for your wife.
You are, therefore, outlawed from the feminine kingdom. You see ironical smiles on every lip, you meet an epigram in every answer. These clever creatures force their daggers and amuse themselves by sculpturing the handle before dealing you a graceful blow.
The treacherous art of reservation, the tricks of silence, the malice of suppositions, the pretended good nature of an inquiry, all these arts are employed against you. A man who undertakes to subjugate his wife is an example too dangerous to escape destruction from them, for will not his conduct call up against them the satire of every husband? Moreover, all of them will attack you, either by bitter witticisms, or by serious arguments, or by the hackneyed maxims of gallantry. A swarm of celibates will support all their sallies and you will be assailed and persecuted as an original, a tyrant, a bad bed-fellow, an eccentric man, a man not to be trusted.
Your wife will defend you like the bear in the fable of La Fontaine; she will throw paving stones at your head to drive away the flies that alight on it. She will tell you in the evening all the things that have been said about you, and will ask an explanation of acts which you never committed, and of words which you never said. She professes to have justified you for faults of which you are innocent; she has boasted of a liberty which she does not possess, in order to clear you of the wrong which you have done in denying that liberty. The deafening rattle which your wife shakes will follow you everywhere with its obtrusive din. Your darling will stun you, will torture you, meanwhile arming herself by making you feel only the thorns of married life. She will greet you with a radiant smile in public, and will be sullen at home. She will be dull when you are merry, and will make you detest her merriment when you are moody. Your two faces will present a perpetual contrast.
Very few men have sufficient force of mind not to succumb to this preliminary comedy, which is always cleverly played, and resembles the hourra raised by the Cossacks, as they advance to battle. Many husbands become irritated and fall into irreparable mistakes. Others abandon their wives. And, indeed, even those of superior intelligence do not know how to get hold of the enchanted ring, by which to dispel this feminine phantasmagoria.
Two-thirds of such women are enabled to win their independence by this single manoeuvre, which is no more than a review of their forces. In this case the war is soon ended.
But a strong man who courageously keeps cool throughout this first assault will find much amusement in laying bare to his wife, in a light and bantering way, the secret feelings which make her thus behave, in following her step by step through the labyrinth which she treads, and telling her in answer to her every remark, that she is false to herself, while he preserves throughout a tone of pleasantry and never becomes excited.
Meanwhile war is declared, and if her husband has not been dazzled by these first fireworks, a woman has yet many other resources for securing her triumph; and these it is the purpose of the following Meditations to discover.
PRINCIPLES OF STRATEGY.
The Archduke Charles published a very fine treatise on military under the title Principles of Strategy in Relation to the Campaigns of 1796. These principles seem somewhat to resemble poetic canons prepared for poems already published. In these days we are become very much more energetic, we invent rules to suit works and works to suit rules. But of what use were ancient principles of military art in presence of the impetuous genius of Napoleon? If, to-day, however, we reduce to a system the lessons taught by this great captain whose new tactics have destroyed the ancient ones, what future guarantee do we possess that another Napoleon will not yet be born? Books on military art meet, with few exceptions, the fate of ancient works on Chemistry and Physics. Everything is subject to change, either constant or periodic.
This, in a few words, is the history of our work.
So long as we have been dealing with a woman who is inert or lapped in slumber, nothing has been easier than to weave the meshes with which we have bound her; but the moment she wakes up and begins to struggle, all is confusion and complication. If a husband would make an effort to recall the principles of the system which we have just described in order to involve his wife in the nets which our second part has set for her, he would resemble Wurmser, Mack and Beaulieu arranging their halts and their marches while Napoleon nimbly turns their flank, and makes use of their own tactics to destroy them.
This is just what your wife will do.
How is it possible to get at the truth when each of you conceals it under the same lie, each setting the same trap for the other? And whose will be the victory when each of you is caught in a similar snare?
"My dear, I have to go out; I have to pay a visit to Madame So and So. I have ordered the carriage. Would you like to come with me? Come, be good, and go with your wife."
You say to yourself:
"She would be nicely caught if I consented! She asks me only to be refused."
Then you reply to her:
"Just at the moment I have some business with Monsieur Blank, for he has to give a report in a business matter which deeply concerns us both, and I must absolutely see him. Then I must go to the Minister of Finance. So your arrangement will suit us both."
"Very well, dearest, go and dress yourself, while Celine finishes dressing me; but don't keep me waiting."
"I am ready now, love," you cry out, at the end of ten minutes, as you stand shaved and dressed.
But all is changed. A letter has arrived; madame is not well; her dress fits badly; the dressmaker has come; if it is not the dressmaker it is your mother. Ninety-nine out of a hundred husbands will leave the house satisfied, believing that their wives are well guarded, when, as a matter of fact, the wives have gotten rid of them.
A lawful wife who from her husband cannot escape, who is not distressed by pecuniary anxiety, and who in order to give employment to a vacant mind, examines night and day the changing tableaux of each day's experience, soon discovers the mistake she has made in falling into a trap or allowing herself to be surprised by a catastrophe; she will then endeavor to turn all these weapons against you.
There is a man in society, the sight of whom is strangely annoying to your wife; she can tolerate neither his tone, his manners nor his way of regarding things. Everything connected with him is revolting to her; she is persecuted by him, he is odious to her; she hopes that no one will tell him this. It seems almost as if she were attempting to oppose you; for this man is one for whom you have the highest esteem. You like his disposition because he flatters you; and thus your wife presumes that your esteem for him results from flattered vanity. When you give a ball, an evening party or a concert, there is almost a discussion on this subject, and madame picks a quarrel with you, because you are compelling her to see people who are not agreeable to her.
"At least, sir, I shall never have to reproach myself with omitting to warn you. That man will yet cause you trouble. You should put some confidence in women when they pass sentence on the character of a man. And permit me to tell you that this baron, for whom you have such a predilection, is a very dangerous person, and you are doing very wrong to bring him to your house. And this is the way you behave; you absolutely force me to see one whom I cannot tolerate, and if I ask you to invite Monsieur A——-, you refuse to do so, because you think that I like to have him with me! I admit that he talks well, that he is kind and amiable; but you are more to me than he can ever be."
These rude outlines of feminine tactics, which are emphasized by insincere gestures, by looks of feigned ingenuousness, by artful intonations of the voice and even by the snare of cunning silence, are characteristic to some degree of their whole conduct.
There are few husbands who in such circumstances as these do not form the idea of setting a mouse-trap; they welcome as their guests both Monsieur A——- and the imaginary baron who represents the person whom their wives abhor, and they do so in the hope of discovering a lover in the celibate who is apparently beloved.
Oh yes, I have often met in the world young men who were absolutely starlings in love and complete dupes of a friendship which women pretended to show them, women who felt themselves obliged to make a diversion and to apply a blister to their husbands as their husbands had previously done to them! These poor innocents pass their time in running errands, in engaging boxes at the theatre, in riding in the Bois de Boulogne by the carriages of their pretended mistresses; they are publicly credited with possessing women whose hands they have not even kissed. Vanity prevents them from contradicting these flattering rumors, and like the young priests who celebrate masses without a Host, they enjoy a mere show passion, and are veritable supernumeraries of love.
Under these circumstances sometimes a husband on returning home asks the porter: "Has no one been here?"—"M. le Baron came past at two o'clock to see monsieur; but as he found no one was in but madame he went away; but Monsieur A——- is with her now."
You reach the drawing-room, you see there a young celibate, sprightly, scented, wearing a fine necktie, in short a perfect dandy. He is a man who holds you in high esteem; when he comes to your house your wife listens furtively for his footsteps; at a ball she always dances with him. If you forbid her to see him, she makes a great outcry and it is not till many years afterwards [see Meditation on Las Symptoms] that you see the innocence of Monsieur A——- and the culpability of the baron.
We have observed and noted as one of the cleverest manoeuvres, that of a young woman who, carried away by an irresistible passion, exhibited a bitter hatred to the man she did not love, but lavished upon her lover secret intimations of her love. The moment that her husband was persuaded that she loved the Cicisbeo and hated the Patito, she arranged that she and the Patito should be found in a situation whose compromising character she had calculated in advance, and her husband and the execrated celibate were thus induced to believe that her love and her aversion were equally insincere. When she had brought her husband into the condition of perplexity, she managed that a passionate letter should fall into his hands. One evening in the midst of the admirable catastrophe which she had thus brought to a climax, madame threw herself at her husband's feet, wet them with her tears, and thus concluded the climax to her own satisfaction.
"I esteem and honor you profoundly," she cried, "for keeping your own counsel as you have done. I am in love! Is this a sentiment which is easy for me to repress? But what I can do is to confess the fact to you; to implore you to protect me from myself, to save me from my own folly. Be my master and be a stern master to me; take me away from this place, remove me from what has caused all this trouble, console me; I will forget him, I desire to do so. I do not wish to betray you. I humbly ask your pardon for the treachery love has suggested to me. Yes, I confess to you that the love which I pretended to have for my cousin was a snare set to deceive you. I love him with the love of friendship and no more.—Oh! forgive me! I can love no one but"—her voice was choked in passionate sobs—"Oh! let us go away, let us leave Paris!"
She began to weep; her hair was disheveled, her dress in disarray; it was midnight, and her husband forgave her. From henceforth, the cousin made his appearance without risk, and the Minotaur devoured one victim more.
What instructions can we give for contending with such adversaries as these? Their heads contain all the diplomacy of the congress of Vienna; they have as much power when they are caught as when they escape. What man has a mind supple enough to lay aside brute force and strength and follow his wife through such mazes as these?
To make a false plea every moment, in order to elicit the truth, a true plea in order to unmask falsehood; to charge the battery when least expected, and to spike your gun at the very moment of firing it; to scale the mountain with the enemy, in order to descend to the plain again five minutes later; to accompany the foe in windings as rapid, as obscure as those of a plover on the breezes; to obey when obedience is necessary, and to oppose when resistance is inertial; to traverse the whole scale of hypotheses as a young artist with one stroke runs from the lowest to the highest note of his piano; to divine at last the secret purpose on which a woman is bent; to fear her caresses and to seek rather to find out what are the thoughts that suggested them and the pleasure which she derived from them—this is mere child's pay for the man of intellect and for those lucid and searching imaginations which possess the gift of doing and thinking at the same time. But there are a vast number of husbands who are terrified at the mere idea of putting in practice these principles in their dealings with a woman.
Such men as these prefer passing their lives in making huge efforts to become second-class chess-players, or to pocket adroitly a ball in billiards.
Some of them will tell you that they are incapable of keeping their minds on such a constant strain and breaking up the habits of their life. In that case the woman triumphs. She recognizes that in mind and energy she is her husband's superior, although the superiority may be but temporary; and yet there rises in her a feeling of contempt for the head of the house.
If many man fail to be masters in their own house this is not from lack of willingness, but of talent. As for those who are ready to undergo the toils of this terrible duel, it is quite true that they must needs possess great moral force.
And really, as soon as it is necessary to display all the resources of this secret strategy, it is often useless to attempt setting any traps for these satanic creatures. Once women arrive at a point when they willfully deceive, their countenances become as inscrutable as vacancy. Here is an example which came within my own experience.
A very young, very pretty, and very clever coquette of Paris had not yet risen. Seated by her bed was one of her dearest friends. A letter arrived from another, a very impetuous fellow, to whom she had allowed the right of speaking to her like a master. The letter was in pencil and ran as follows:
"I understand that Monsieur C——- is with you at this moment. I am waiting for him to blow his brains out."
Madame D——- calmly continued the conversation with Monsieur C——-. She asked him to hand her a little writing desk of red leather which stood on the table, and he brought it to her.
"Thanks, my dear," she said to him; "go on talking, I am listening to you."
C——- talked away and she replied, all the while writing the following note:
"As soon as you become jealous of C——- you two can blow out each other's brains at your pleasure. As for you, you may die; but brains —you haven't any brains to blow out."
"My dear friend," she said to C——-, "I beg you will light this candle. Good, you are charming. And now be kind enough to leave me and let me get up, and give this letter to Monsieur d'H——-, who is waiting at the door."
All this was said with admirable coolness. The tones and intonations of her voice, the expression of her face showed no emotion. Her audacity was crowned with complete success. On receiving the answer from the hand of Monsieur C——-, Monsieur d'H——- felt his wrath subside. He was troubled with only one thing and that was how to disguise his inclination to laugh.
The more torch-light one flings into the immense cavern which we are now trying to illuminate, the more profound it appears. It is a bottomless abyss. It appears to us that our task will be accomplished more agreeably and more instructively if we show the principles of strategy put into practice in the case of a woman, when she has reached a high degree of vicious accomplishment. An example suggests more maxims and reveals the existence of more methods than all possible theories.
One day at the end of a dinner given to certain intimate friends by Prince Lebrun, the guests, heated by champagne, were discussing the inexhaustible subject of feminine artifice. The recent adventure which was credited to the Countess R. D. S. J. D. A——-, apropos of a necklace, was the subject first broached. A highly esteemed artist, a gifted friend of the emperor, was vigorously maintaining the opinion, which seemed somewhat unmanly, that it was forbidden to a man to resist successfully the webs woven by a woman.
"It is my happy experience," he said, "that to them nothing is sacred."
The ladies protested.
"But I can cite an instance in point."
"It is an exception!"
"Let us hear the story," said a young lady.
"Yes, tell it to us," cried all the guests.
The prudent old gentleman cast his eyes around, and, after having formed his conclusions as to the age of the ladies, smiled and said:
"Since we are all experienced in life, I consent to relate the adventure."
Dead silence followed, and the narrator read the following from a little book which he had taken from his pocket:
I was head over ears in love with the Comtesse de ——-. I was twenty and I was ingenuous. She deceived me. I was angry; she threw me over. I was ingenuous, I repeat, and I was grieved to lose her. I was twenty; she forgave me. And as I was twenty, as I was always ingenuous, always deceived, but never again thrown over by her, I believed myself to have been the best beloved of lovers, consequently the happiest of men. The countess had a friend, Madame de T——-, who seemed to have some designs on me, but without compromising her dignity; for she was scrupulous and respected the proprieties. One day while I was waiting for the countess in her Opera box, I heard my name called from a contiguous box. It was Madame de T——-.
"What," she said, "already here? Is this fidelity or merely a want of something to do? Won't you come to me?"
Her voice and her manner had a meaning in them, but I was far from inclined at that moment to indulge in a romance.
"Have you any plans for this evening?" she said to me. "Don't make any! If I cheer your tedious solitude you ought to be devoted to me. Don't ask any questions, but obey. Call my servants."
I answered with a bow and on being requested to leave the Opera box, I obeyed.
"Go to this gentleman's house," she said to the lackey. "Say he will not be home till to-morrow."
She made a sign to him, he went to her, she whispered in his ear, and he left us. The Opera began. I tried to venture on a few words, but she silenced me; some one might be listening. The first act ended, the lackey brought back a note, and told her that everything was ready. Then she smiled, asked for my hand, took me off, put me in her carriage, and I started on my journey quite ignorant of my destination. Every inquiry I made was answered by a peal of laughter. If I had not been aware that this was a woman of great passion, that she had long loved the Marquis de V——-, that she must have known I was aware of it, I should have believed myself in good luck; but she knew the condition of my heart, and the Comtesse de ——-. I therefore rejected all presumptuous ideas and bided my time. At the first stop, a change of horses was supplied with the swiftness of lightning and we started afresh. The matter was becoming serious. I asked with some insistency, where this joke was to end.
"Where?" she said, laughing. "In the pleasantest place in the world, but can't you guess? I'll give you a thousand chances. Give it up, for you will never guess. We are going to my husband's house. Do you know him?"
"Not in the least."
"So much the better, I thought you didn't. But I hope you will like him. We have lately become reconciled. Negotiations went on for six months; and we have been writing to one another for a month. I think it is very kind of me to go and look him up."
"It certainly is, but what am I going to do there? What good will I be in this reconciliation?"
"Ah, that is my business. You are young, amiable, unconventional; you suit me and will save me from the tediousness of a tete-a-tete."
"But it seems odd to me, to choose the day or the night of a reconciliation to make us acquainted; the awkwardness of the first interview, the figure all three of us will cut,—I don't see anything particularly pleasant in that."
"I have taken possession of you for my own amusement!" she said with an imperious air, "so please don't preach."
I saw she was decided, so surrendered myself to circumstances. I began to laugh at my predicament and we became exceedingly merry. We again changed horses. The mysterious torch of night lit up a sky of extreme clearness and shed around a delightful twilight. We were approaching the spot where our tete-a-tete must end. She pointed out to me at intervals the beauty of the landscape, the tranquillity of the night, the all-pervading silence of nature. In order to admire these things in company as it was natural we should, we turned to the same window and our faces touched for a moment. In a sudden shock she seized my hand, and by a chance which seemed to me extraordinary, for the stone over which our carriage had bounded could not have been very large, I found Madame de T——- in my arms. I do not know what we were trying to see; what I am sure of is that the objects before our eyes began in spite of the full moon to grow misty, when suddenly I was released from her weight, and she sank into the back cushions of the carriage.
"Your object," she said, rousing herself from a deep reverie, "is possibly to convince me of the imprudence of this proceeding. Judge, therefore, of my embarrassment!"
"My object!" I replied, "what object can I have with regard to you? What a delusion! You look very far ahead; but of course the sudden surprise or turn of chance may excuse anything."
"You have counted, then, upon that chance, it seems to me?"
We had reached our destination, and before we were aware of it, we had entered the court of the chateau. The whole place was brightly lit up. Everything wore a festal air, excepting the face of its master, who at the sight of me seemed anything but delighted. He came forward and expressed in somewhat hesitating terms the tenderness proper to the occasion of a reconciliation. I understood later on that this reconciliation was absolutely necessary from family reasons. I was presented to him and was coldly greeted. He extended his hand to his wife, and I followed the two, thinking of my part in the past, in the present and in the future. I passed through apartments decorated with exquisite taste. The master in this respect had gone beyond all the ordinary refinement of luxury, in the hope of reanimating, by the influence of voluptuous imagery, a physical nature that was dead. Not knowing what to say, I took refuge in expressions of admiration. The goddess of the temple, who was quite ready to do the honors, accepted my compliments.
"You have not seen anything," she said. "I must take you to the apartments of my husband."
"Madame, five years ago I caused them to be pulled down."
"Oh! Indeed!" said she.
At the dinner, what must she do but offer the master some fish, on which he said to her:
"Madame, I have been living on milk for the last three years."
"Oh! Indeed!" she said again.
Can any one imagine three human beings as astonished as we were to find ourselves gathered together? The husband looked at me with a supercilious air, and I paid him back with a look of audacity.
Madame de T——- smiled at me and was charming to me; Monsieur de T——- accepted me as a necessary evil. Never in all my life have I taken part in a dinner which was so odd as that. The dinner ended, I thought that we would go to bed early—that is, I thought that Monsieur de T——- would. As we entered the drawing-room:
"I appreciate, madame," said he, "your precaution in bringing this gentleman with you. You judged rightly that I should be but poor company for the evening, and you have done well, for I am going to retire."
Then turning to me, he added in a tone of profound sarcasm:
"You will please to pardon me, and obtain also pardon from madame."
He left us. My reflections? Well, the reflections of a twelvemonth were then comprised in those of a minute. When we were left alone, Madame de T——- and I, we looked at each other so curiously that, in order to break through the awkwardness, she proposed that we should take a turn on the terrace while we waited, as she said, until the servants had supped.
It was a superb night. It was scarcely possible to discern surrounding objects, they seemed to be covered with a veil, that imagination might be permitted to take a loftier flight. The gardens, terraced on the side of a mountain, sloped down, platform after platform, to the banks of the Seine, and the eye took in the many windings of the stream covered with islets green and picturesque. These variations in the landscape made up a thousand pictures which gave to the spot, naturally charming, a thousand novel features. We walked along the most extensive of these terraces, which was covered with a thick umbrage of trees. She had recovered from the effects of her husband's persiflage, and as we walked along she gave me her confidence. Confidence begets confidence, and as I told her mine, all she said to me became more intimate and more interesting. Madame de T——- at first gave me her arm; but soon this arm became interlaced in mine, I know not how, but in some way almost lifted her up and prevented her from touching the ground. The position was agreeable, but became at last fatiguing. We had been walking for a long time and we still had much to say to each other. A bank of turf appeared and she sat down without withdrawing her arm. And in this position we began to sound the praises of mutual confidence, its charms and its delights.
"Ah!" she said to me, "who can enjoy it more than we and with less cause of fear? I know well the tie that binds you to another, and therefore have nothing to fear."
Perhaps she wished to be contradicted. But I answered not a word. We were then mutually persuaded that it was possible for us to be friends without fear of going further.
"But I was afraid, however," I said, "that that sudden jolt in the carriage and the surprising consequences may have frightened you."
"Oh, I am not so easily alarmed!"
"I fear it has left a little cloud on your mind?"
"What must I do to reassure you?"
"Give me the kiss here which chance—"
"I will gladly do so; for if I do not, your vanity will lead you to think that I fear you."
I took the kiss.
It is with kisses as with confidences, the first leads to another. They are multiplied, they interrupt conversation, they take its place; they scarce leave time for a sigh to escape. Silence followed. We could hear it, for silence may be heard. We rose without a word and began to walk again.
"We must go in," said she, "for the air of the river is icy, and it is not worth while—"
"I think to go in would be more dangerous," I answered.
"Perhaps so! Never mind, we will go in."
"Why, is this out of consideration for me? You wish doubtless to save me from the impressions which I may receive from such a walk as this —the consequences which may result. Is it for me—for me only—?"
"You are modest," she said smiling, "and you credit me with singular consideration."
"Do you think so? Well, since you take it in this way, we will go in; I demand it."
A stupid proposition, when made by two people who are forcing themselves to say something utterly different from what they think.
Then she compelled me to take the path that led back to the chateau. I do not know, at least I did not then know, whether this course was one which she forced upon herself, whether it was the result of a vigorous resolution, or whether she shared my disappointment in seeing an incident which had begun so well thus suddenly brought to a close but by a mutual instinct our steps slackened and we pursued our way gloomily dissatisfied the one with the other and with ourselves. We knew not the why and the wherefore of what we were doing. Neither of us had the right to demand or even to ask anything. We had neither of us any ground for uttering a reproach. O that we had got up a quarrel! But how could I pick one with her? Meanwhile we drew nearer and nearer, thinking how we might evade the duty which we had so awkwardly imposed upon ourselves. We reached the door, when Madame de T——- said to me:
"I am angry with you! After the confidences I have given you, not to give me a single one! You have not said a word about the countess. And yet it is so delightful to speak of the one we love! I should have listened with such interest! It was the very best I could do after I had taken you away from her!"
"Cannot I reproach you with the same thing?" I said, interrupting her, "and if instead of making me a witness to this singular reconciliation in which I play so odd a part, you had spoken to me of the marquis—"
"Stop," she said, "little as you know of women, you are aware that their confidences must be waited for, not asked. But to return to yourself. Are you very happy with my friend? Ah! I fear the contrary—"
"Why, madame, should everything that the public amuses itself by saying claim our belief?"
"You need not dissemble. The countess makes less a mystery of things than you do. Women of her stamp do not keep the secrets of their loves and of their lovers, especially when you are prompted by discretion to conceal her triumph. I am far from accusing her of coquetry; but a prude has as much vanity as a coquette.—Come, tell me frankly, have you not cause of complaint against her?"
"But, madame, the air is really too icy for us to stay here. Would you like to go in?" said I with a smile.
"Do you find it so?—That is singular. The air is quite warm."
She had taken my arm again, and we continued to walk, although I did not know the direction which we took. All that she had hinted at concerning the lover of the countess, concerning my mistress, together with this journey, the incident which took place in the carriage, our conversation on the grassy bank, the time of night, the moonlight—all made me feel anxious. I was at the same time carried along by vanity, by desire, and so distracted by thought, that I was too excited perhaps to take notice of all that I was experiencing. And, while I was overwhelmed with these mingled feelings, she continued talking to me of the countess, and my silence confirmed the truth of all that she chose to say about her. Nevertheless, certain passages in her talk recalled me to myself.
"What an exquisite creature she is!" she was saying. "How graceful! On her lips the utterances of treachery sound like witticism; an act of infidelity seems the prompting of reason, a sacrifice to propriety; while she is never reckless, she is always lovable; she is seldom tender and never sincere; amorous by nature, prudish on principle; sprightly, prudent, dexterous though utterly thoughtless, varied as Proteus in her moods, but charming as the Graces in her manner; she attracts but she eludes. What a number of parts I have seen her play! Entre nous, what a number of dupes hang round her! What fun she has made of the baron, what a life she has led the marquis! When she took you, it was merely for the purpose of throwing the two rivals off the scent; they were on the point of a rupture; for she had played with them too long, and they had had time to see through her. But she brought you on the scene. Their attention was called to you, she led them to redouble their pursuit, she was in despair over you, she pitied you, she consoled you— Ah! how happy is a clever woman when in such a game as this she professes to stake nothing of her own! But yet, is this true happiness?"
This last phrase, accompanied by a significant sigh, was a master-stroke. I felt as if a bandage had fallen from my eyes, without seeing who had put it there. My mistress appeared to me the falsest of women, and I believed that I held now the only sensible creature in the world. Then I sighed without knowing why. She seemed grieved at having given me pain and at having in her excitement drawn a picture, the truth of which might be open to suspicion, since it was the work of a woman. I do not know how I answered; for without realizing the drift of all I heard, I set out with her on the high road of sentiment, and we mounted to such lofty heights of feeling that it was impossible to guess what would be the end of our journey. It was fortunate that we also took the path towards a pavilion which she pointed out to me at the end of the terrace, a pavilion, the witness of many sweet moments. She described to me the furnishing of it. What a pity that she had not the key! As she spoke we reached the pavilion and found that it was open. The clearness of the moonlight outside did not penetrate, but darkness has many charms. We trembled as we went in. It was a sanctuary. Might it not be the sanctuary of love? We drew near a sofa and sat down, and there we remained a moment listening to our heart-beats. The last ray of the moon carried away the last scruple. The hand which repelled me felt my heart beat. She struggled to get away, but fell back overcome with tenderness. We talked together through that silence in the language of thought. Nothing is more rapturous than these mute conversations. Madame de T——- took refuge in my arms, hid her head in my bosom, sighed and then grew calm under my caresses. She grew melancholy, she was consoled, and she asked of love all that love had robbed her of. The sound of the river broke the silence of night with a gentle murmur, which seemed in harmony with the beating of our hearts. Such was the darkness of the place it was scarcely possible to discern objects; but through the transparent crepe of a fair summer's night, the queen of that lovely place seemed to me adorable.
"Oh!" she said to me with an angelic voice, "let us leave this dangerous spot. Resistance here is beyond our strength."
She drew me away and we left the pavilion with regret.
"Ah! how happy is she!" cried Madame de T——-.
"Whom do you mean?" I asked.
"Did I speak?" said she with a look of alarm.
And then we reached the grassy bank, and stopped there involuntarily. "What a distance there is," she said to me, "between this place and the pavilion!"
"Yes indeed," said I. "But must this bank be always ominous? Is there a regret? Is there—?"
I do not know by what magic it took place; but at this point the conversation changed and became less serious. She ventured even to speak playfully of the pleasures of love, to eliminate from them all moral considerations, to reduce them to their simplest elements, and to prove that the favors of lovers were mere pleasure, that there were no pledges—philosophically speaking—excepting those which were given to the world, when we allowed it to penetrate our secrets and joined it in the acts of indiscretion.
"How mild is the night," she said, "which we have by chance picked out! Well, if there are reasons, as I suppose there are, which compel us to part to-morrow, our happiness, ignored as it is by all nature, will not leave us any ties to dissolve. There will, perhaps, be some regrets, the pleasant memory of which will give us reparation; and then there will be a mutual understanding, without all the delays, the fuss and the tyranny of legal proceedings. We are such machines—and I blush to avow it—that in place of all the shrinkings that tormented me before this scene took place, I was half inclined to embrace the boldness of these principles, and I felt already disposed to indulge in the love of liberty.
"This beautiful night," she continued, "this lovely scenery at this moment have taken on fresh charms. O let us never forget this pavilion! The chateau," she added smilingly, "contains a still more charming place, but I dare not show you anything; you are like a child, who wishes to touch everything and breaks everything that he touches."
Moved by a sentiment of curiosity I protested that I was a very good child. She changed the subject.
"This night," she said, "would be for me without a regret if I were not vexed with myself for what I said to you about the countess. Not that I wish to find fault with you. Novelty attracts me. You have found me amiable, I should like to believe in your good faith. But the dominion of habit takes a long time to break through and I have not learned the secret of doing this—By the bye, what do you think of my husband?"
"Well, he is rather cross, but I suppose he could not be otherwise to me."
"Oh, that is true, but his way of life isn't pleasant, and he could not see you here with indifference. He might be suspicious even of our friendship."
"Oh! he is so already."
"Confess that he has cause. Therefore you must not prolong this visit; he might take it amiss. As soon as any one arrives—" and she added with a smile, "some one is going to arrive—you must go. You have to keep up appearance, you know. Remember his manner when he left us to-night."
I was tempted to interpret this adventure as a trap, but as she noticed the impression made by her words, she added:
"Oh, he was very much gayer when he was superintending the arrangement of the cabinet I told you about. That was before my marriage. This passage leads to my apartment. Alas! it testifies to the cunning artifices to which Monsieur de T——- has resorted in protecting his love for me."
"How pleasant it would be," I said to her, keenly excited by the curiosity she had roused in me, "to take vengeance in this spot for the insults which your charms have suffered, and to seek to make restitution for the pleasures of which you have been robbed."
She doubtless thought this remark in good taste, but she said: "You promised to be good!"
* * * * *
I threw a veil over the follies which every age will pardon to youth, on the ground of so many balked desires and bitter memories. In the morning, scarcely raising her liquid eyes, Madame de T——-, fairer than ever, said to me:
"Now will you ever love the countess as much as you do me?"
I was about to answer when her maid, her confidante, appeared saying:
"You must go. It is broad daylight, eleven o'clock, and the chateau is already awake."
All had vanished like a dream! I found myself wandering through the corridors before I had recovered my senses. How could I regain my apartment, not knowing where it was? Any mistake might bring about an exposure. I resolved on a morning walk. The coolness of the fresh air gradually tranquilized my imagination and brought me back to the world of reality; and now instead of a world of enchantment I saw myself in my soul, and my thoughts were no longer disturbed but followed each other in connected order; in fact, I breathed once more. I was, above all things, anxious to learn what I was to her so lately left—I who knew that she had been desperately in love with the Marquis de V——-. Could she have broken with him? Had she taken me to be his successor, or only to punish him? What a night! What an adventure! Yes, and what a delightful woman! While I floated on the waves of these thoughts, I heard a sound near at hand. I raised my eyes, I rubbed them, I could not believe my senses. Can you guess who it was? The Marquis de V——-!
"You did not expect to see me so early, did you?" he said. "How has it all gone off?"
"Did you know that I was here?" I asked in utter amazement.
"Oh, yes, I received word just as you left Paris. Have you played your part well? Did not the husband think your visit ridiculous? Was he put out? When are you going to take leave? You had better go, I have made every provision for you. I have brought you a good carriage. It is at your service. This is the way I requite you, my dear friend. You may rely on me in the future, for a man is grateful for such services as yours."
These last words gave me the key to the whole mystery, and I saw how I stood.
"But why should you have come so soon?" I asked him; "it would have been more prudent to have waited a few days."
"I foresaw that; and it is only chance that has brought me here. I am supposed to be on my way back from a neighboring country house. But has not Madame de T——- taken you into her secret? I am surprised at her want of confidence, after all you have done for us."
"My dear friend," I replied, "she doubtless had her reasons. Perhaps I did not play my part very well."
"Has everything been very pleasant? Tell me the particulars; come, tell me."
"Now wait a moment. I did not know that this was to be a comedy; and although Madame de T——- gave me a part in the play—"
"It wasn't a very nice one."
"Do not worry yourself; there are no bad parts for good actors."
"I understand, you acquitted yourself well."
"And Madame de T——-?"
"To think of being able to win such a woman!" said he, stopping short in our walk, and looking triumphantly at me. "Oh, what pains I have taken with her! And I have at last brought her to a point where she is perhaps the only woman in Paris on whose fidelity a man may infallibly count!"
"You have succeeded—?"
"Yes; in that lies my special talent. Her inconstancy was mere frivolity, unrestrained imagination. It was necessary to change that disposition of hers, but you have no idea of her attachment to me. But really, is she not charming?"
"I quite agree with you."
"And yet entre nous I recognize one fault in her. Nature in giving her everything, has denied her that flame divine which puts the crown on all other endowments; while she rouses in others the ardor of passion, she feels none herself, she is a thing of marble."
"I am compelled to believe you, for I have had no opportunity of judging, but do you think that you know that woman as well as if you were her husband? It is possible to be deceived. If I had not dined yesterday with the veritable—I should take you—"
"By the way, has he been good?"
"Oh, I was received like a dog!"
"I understand. Let us go in, let us look for Madame de T——-. She must be up by this time."
"But should we not out of decency begin with the husband?" I said to him.
"You are right. Let us go to your room, I wish to put on a little powder. But tell me, did he really take you for her lover?"
"You may judge by the way he receives me; but let us go at once to his apartment."
I wished to avoid having to lead him to an apartment whose whereabouts I did not know; but by chance we found it. The door was open and there I saw my valet de chambre asleep on an armchair. A candle was going out on a table beside him. He drowsily offered a night robe to the marquis. I was on pins and needles; but the marquis was in a mood to be easily deceived, took the man for a mere sleepy-head, and made a joke of the matter. We passed on to the apartment of Monsieur de T——-. There was no misunderstanding the reception which he accorded me, and the welcome, the compliments which he addressed to the marquis, whom he almost forced to stay. He wished to take him to madame in order that she might insist on his staying. As for me, I received no such invitation. I was reminded that my health was delicate, the country was damp, fever was in the air, and I seemed so depressed that the chateau would prove too gloomy for me. The marquis offered me his chaise and I accepted it. The husband seemed delighted and we were all satisfied. But I could not refuse myself the pleasure of seeing Madame de T——- once more. My impatience was wonderful. My friend conceived no suspicions from the late sleep of his mistress.
"Isn't this fine?" he said to me as we followed Monsieur de T——-. "He couldn't have spoken more kindly if she had dictated his words. He is a fine fellow. I am not in the least annoyed by this reconciliation; they will make a good home together, and you will agree with me, that he could not have chosen a wife better able to do the honors."
"Certainly," I replied.
"However pleasant the adventure has been," he went on with an air of mystery, "you must be off! I will let Madame de T——- understand that her secret will be well kept."
"On that point, my friend, she perhaps counts more on me than on you; for you see her sleep is not disturbed by the matter."
"Oh! I quite agree that there is no one like you for putting a woman to sleep."
"Yes, and a husband too, and if necessary a lover, my dear friend."
At last Monsieur de T——- was admitted to his wife's apartment, and there we were all summoned.
"I trembled," said Madame de T——- to me, "for fear you would go before I awoke, and I thank you for saving me the annoyance which that would have caused me."
"Madame," I said, and she must have perceived the feeling that was in my tones—"I come to say good-bye."
She looked at me and at the marquis with an air of disquietude; but the self-satisfied, knowing look of her lover reassured her. She laughed in her sleeve with me as if she would console me as well as she could, without lowering herself in my eyes.
"He has played his part well," the marquis said to her in a low voice, pointing to me, "and my gratitude—"
"Let us drop the subject," interrupted Madame de T——-; "you may be sure that I am well aware of all I owe him."
At last Monsieur de T——-, with a sarcastic remark, dismissed me; my friend threw the dust in his eyes by making fun of me; and I paid back both of them by expressing my admiration for Madame de T——-, who made fools of us all without forfeiting her dignity. I took myself off; but Madame de T——- followed me, pretending to have a commission to give me.
"Adieu, monsieur!" she said, "I am indebted to you for the very great pleasure you have given me; but I have paid you back with a beautiful dream," and she looked at me with an expression of subtle meaning. "But adieu, and forever! You have plucked a solitary flower, blossoming in its loveliness, which no man—"
She stopped and her thought evaporated in a sigh; but she checked the rising flood of sensibility and smiled significantly.
"The countess loves you," she said. "If I have robbed her of some transports, I give you back to her less ignorant than before. Adieu! Do not make mischief between my friend and me."
She wrung my hand and left me.
More than once the ladies who had mislaid their fans blushed as they listened to the old gentleman, whose brilliant elocution won their indulgence for certain details which we have suppressed, as too erotic for the present age; nevertheless, we may believe that each lady complimented him in private; for some time afterwards he gave to each of them, as also to the masculine guests, a copy of this charming story, twenty-five copies of which were printed by Pierre Didot. It is from copy No. 24 that the author has transcribed this tale, hitherto unpublished, and, strange to say, attributed to Dorat. It has the merit of yielding important lessons for husbands, while at the same time it gives the celibates a delightful picture of morals in the last century.
Of all the miseries that civil war can bring upon a country the greatest lies in the appeal which one of the contestants always ends by making to some foreign government.
Unhappily we are compelled to confess that all women make this great mistake, for the lover is only the first of their soldiers. It may be a member of their family or at least a distant cousin. This Meditation, then, is intended to answer the inquiry, what assistance can each of the different powers which influence human life give to your wife? or better than that, what artifices will she resort to to arm them against you?
Two beings united by marriage are subject to the laws of religion and society; to those of private life, and, from considerations of health, to those of medicine. We will therefore divide this important Meditation into six paragraphs:
1. OF RELIGIONS AND OF CONFESSION; CONSIDERED IN THEIR CONNECTION WITH MARRIAGE. 2. OF THE MOTHER-IN-LAW. 3. OF BOARDING SCHOOL FRIENDS AND INTIMATE FRIENDS. 4. OF THE LOVER'S ALLIES. 5. OF THE MAID. 6. OF THE DOCTOR.
1. OF RELIGIONS AND OF CONFESSION; CONSIDERED IN THEIR CONNECTION WITH MARRIAGE.
La Bruyere has very wittily said, "It is too much for a husband to have ranged against him both devotion and gallantry; a woman ought to choose but one of them for her ally."
The author thinks that La Bruyere is mistaken.
2. OF THE MOTHER-IN-LAW.
Up to the age of thirty the face of a woman is a book written in a foreign tongue, which one may still translate in spite of all the feminisms of the idiom; but on passing her fortieth year a woman becomes an insoluble riddle; and if any one can see through an old woman, it is another old woman.
Some diplomats have attempted on more than one occasion the diabolical task of gaining over the dowagers who opposed their machinations; but if they have ever succeeded it was only after making enormous concessions to them; for diplomats are practiced people and we do not think that you can employ their recipe in dealing with your mother-in-law. She will be the first aid-de-camp of her daughter, for if the mother did not take her daughter's side, it would be one of those monstrous and unnatural exceptions, which unhappily for husbands are extremely rare.
When a man is so happy as to possess a mother-in-law who is well-preserved, he may easily keep her in check for a certain time, although he may not know any young celibate brave enough to assail her. But generally husbands who have the slightest conjugal genius will find a way of pitting their own mother against that of their wife, and in that case they will naturally neutralize each other's power.
To be able to keep a mother-in-law in the country while he lives in Paris, and vice versa, is a piece of good fortune which a husband too rarely meets with.
What of making mischief between the mother and the daughter?—That may be possible; but in order to accomplish such an enterprise he must have the metallic heart of Richelieu, who made a son and a mother deadly enemies to each other. However, the jealousy of a husband who forbids his wife to pray to male saints and wishes her to address only female saints, would allow her liberty to see her mother.
Many sons-in-law take an extreme course which settles everything, which consists in living on bad terms with their mothers-in-law. This unfriendliness would be very adroit policy, if it did not inevitably result in drawing tighter the ties that unite mother and daughter. These are about all the means which you have for resisting maternal influence in your home. As for the services which your wife can claim from her mother, they are immense; and the assistance which she may derive from the neutrality of her mother is not less powerful. But on this point everything passes out of the domain of science, for all is veiled in secrecy. The reinforcements which a mother brings up in support of a daughter are so varied in nature, they depend so much on circumstances, that it would be folly to attempt even a nomenclature for them. Yet you may write out among the most valuable precepts of this conjugal gospel, the following maxims.
A husband should never let his wife visit her mother unattended.
A husband ought to study all the reasons why all the celibates under forty who form her habitual society are so closely united by ties of friendship to his mother-in-law; for, if a daughter rarely falls in love with the lover of her mother, her mother has always a weak spot for her daughter's lover.
3. OF BOARDING SCHOOL FRIENDS AND INTIMATE FRIENDS.
Louise de L——-, daughter of an officer killed at Wagram, had been the object of Napoleon's special protection. She left Ecouen to marry a commissary general, the Baron de V——-, who is very rich.
Louise was eighteen and the baron forty. She was ordinary in face and her complexion could not be called white, but she had a charming figure, good eyes, a small foot, a pretty hand, good taste and abundant intelligence. The baron, worn out by the fatigues of war and still more by the excesses of a stormy youth, had one of those faces upon which the Republic, the Directory, the Consulate and the Empire seemed to have set their impress.
He became so deeply in love with his wife, that he asked and obtained from the Emperor a post at Paris, in order that he might be enabled to watch over his treasure. He was as jealous as Count Almaviva, still more from vanity than from love. The young orphan had married her husband from necessity, and, flattered by the ascendancy she wielded over a man much older than herself, waited upon his wishes and his needs; but her delicacy was offended from the first days of their marriage by the habits and ideas of a man whose manners were tinged with republican license. He was a predestined.
I do not know exactly how long the baron made his honeymoon last, nor when war was declared in his household; but I believe it happened in 1816, at a very brilliant ball given by Monsieur D——-, a commissariat officer, that the commissary general, who had been promoted head of the department, admired the beautiful Madame B——-, the wife of a banker, and looked at her much more amorously than a married man should have allowed himself to do.
At two o'clock in the morning it happened that the banker, tired of waiting any longer, went home leaving his wife at the ball.
"We are going to take you home to your house," said the baroness to Madame B——-. "Monsieur de V——-, offer your arm to Emilie!"
And now the baron is seated in his carriage next to a woman who, during the whole evening, had been offered and had refused a thousand attentions, and from whom he had hoped in vain to win a single look. There she was, in all the lustre of her youth and beauty, displaying the whitest shoulders and the most ravishing lines of beauty. Her face, which still reflected the pleasures of the evening, seemed to vie with the brilliancy of her satin gown; her eyes to rival the blaze of her diamonds; and her skin to cope with the soft whiteness of the marabouts which tied in her hair, set off the ebon tresses and the ringlets dangling from her headdress. Her tender voice would stir the chords of the most insensible hearts; in a word, so powerfully did she wake up love in the human breast that Robert d'Abrissel himself would perhaps have yielded to her.
The baron glanced at his wife, who, overcome with fatigue, had sunk to sleep in a corner of the carriage. He compared, in spite of himself, the toilette of Louise and that of Emilie. Now on occasions of this kind the presence of a wife is singularly calculated to sharpen the unquenchable desires of a forbidden love. Moreover, the glances of the baron, directed alternately to his wife and to her friend, were easy to interpret, and Madame B——- interpreted them.
"Poor Louise," she said, "she is overtired. Going out does not suit her, her tastes are so simple. At Ecouen she was always reading—"
"And you, what used you to do?"
"I, sir? Oh, I thought about nothing but acting comely. It was my passion!"
"But why do you so rarely visit Madame de V——-? We have a country house at Saint-Prix, where we could have a comedy acted, in a little theatre which I have built there."
"If I have not visited Madame de V——-, whose fault is it?" she replied. "You are so jealous that you will not allow her either to visit her friends or to receive them."
"I jealous!" cried Monsieur de V——-, "after four years of marriage, and after having had three children!"
"Hush," said Emilie, striking the fingers of the baron with her fan, "Louise is not asleep!"
The carriage stopped, and the baron offered his hand to his wife's fair friend and helped her to get out.
"I hope," said Madame B——-, "that you will not prevent Louise from coming to the ball which I am giving this week."
The baron made her a respectful bow.
This ball was a triumph of Madame B——-'s and the ruin of the husband of Louise; for he became desperately enamored of Emilie, to whom he would have sacrificed a hundred lawful wives.
Some months after that evening on which the baron gained some hopes of succeeding with his wife's friend, he found himself one morning at the house of Madame B——-, when the maid came to announce the Baroness de V——-.
"Ah!" cried Emilie, "if Louise were to see you with me at such an hour as this, she would be capable of compromising me. Go into that closet and don't make the least noise."
The husband, caught like a mouse in a trap, concealed himself in the closet.
"Good-day, my dear!" said the two women, kissing each other.
"Why are you come so early?" asked Emilie.
"Oh! my dear, cannot you guess? I came to have an understanding with you!"
"What, a duel?"
"Precisely, my dear. I am not like you, not I! I love my husband and am jealous of him. You! you are beautiful, charming, you have the right to be a coquette, you can very well make fun of B——-, to whom your virtue seems to be of little importance. But as you have plenty of lovers in society, I beg you that you will leave me my husband. He is always at your house, and he certainly would not come unless you were the attraction."
"What a very pretty jacket you have on."
"Do you think so? My maid made it."
"Then I shall get Anastasia to take a lesson from Flore—"
"So, then, my dear, I count on your friendship to refrain from bringing trouble in my house."
"But, my child, I do not know how you can conceive that I should fall in love with your husband; he is coarse and fat as a deputy of the centre. He is short and ugly—Ah! I will allow that he is generous, but that is all you can say for him, and this is a quality which is all in all only to opera girls; so that you can understand, my dear, that if I were choosing a lover, as you seem to suppose I am, I wouldn't choose an old man like your baron. If I have given him any hopes, if I have received him, it was certainly for the purpose of amusing myself, and of giving you liberty; for I believed you had a weakness for young Rostanges."
"I?" exclaimed Louise, "God preserve me from it, my dear; he is the most intolerable coxcomb in the world. No, I assure you, I love my husband! You may laugh as you choose; it is true. I know it may seem ridiculous, but consider, he has made my fortune, he is no miser, and he is everything to me, for it has been my unhappy lot to be left an orphan. Now even if I did not love him, I ought to try to preserve his esteem. Have I a family who will some day give me shelter?"
"Come, my darling, let us speak no more about it," said Emilie, interrupting her friend, "for it tires me to death."
After a few trifling remarks the baroness left.
"How is this, monsieur?" cried Madame B——-, opening the door of the closet where the baron was frozen with cold, for this incident took place in winter; "how is this? Aren't you ashamed of yourself for not adoring a little wife who is so interesting? Don't speak to me of love; you may idolize me, as you say you do, for a certain time, but you will never love me as you love Louise. I can see that in your heart I shall never outweigh the interest inspired by a virtuous wife, children, and a family circle. I should one day be deserted and become the object of your bitter reflections. You would coldly say of me 'I have had that woman!' That phrase I have heard pronounced by men with the most insulting indifference. You see, monsieur, that I reason in cold blood, and that I do not love you, because you never would be able to love me."
"What must I do then to convince you of my love?" cried the baron, fixing his gaze on the young woman.
She had never appeared to him so ravishingly beautiful as at that moment, when her soft voice poured forth a torrent of words whose sternness was belied by the grace of her gestures, by the pose of her head and by her coquettish attitude.
"Oh, when I see Louise in possession of a lover," she replied, "when I know that I am taking nothing away from her, and that she has nothing to regret in losing your affection; when I am quite sure that you love her no longer, and have obtained certain proof of your indifference towards her—Oh, then I may listen to you!—These words must seem odious to you," she continued in an earnest voice; "and so indeed they are, but do not think that they have been pronounced by me. I am the rigorous mathematician who makes his deductions from a preliminary proposition. You are married, and do you deliberately set about making love to some one else? I should be mad to give any encouragement to a man who cannot be mine eternally."
"Demon!" exclaimed the husband. "Yes, you are a demon, and not a woman!"
"Come now, you are really amusing!" said the young woman as she seized the bell-rope.
"Oh! no, Emilie," continued the lover of forty, in a calmer voice. "Do not ring; stop, forgive me! I will sacrifice everything for you."
"But I do not promise you anything!" she answered quickly with a laugh.
"My God! How you make me suffer!" he exclaimed.
"Well, and have not you in your life caused the unhappiness of more than one person?" she asked. "Remember all the tears which have been shed through you and for you! Oh, your passion does not inspire me with the least pity. If you do not wish to make me laugh, make me share your feelings."
"Adieu, madame, there is a certain clemency in your sternness. I appreciate the lesson you have taught me. Yes, I have many faults to expiate."
"Well then, go and repent of them," she said with a mocking smile; "in making Louise happy you will perform the rudest penance in your power."
They parted. But the love of the baron was too violent to allow of Madame B——-'s harshness failing to accomplish her end, namely, the separation of the married couple.
At the end of some months the Baron de V——- and his wife lived apart, though they lived in the same mansion. The baroness was the object of universal pity, for in public she always did justice to her husband and her resignation seemed wonderful. The most prudish women of society found nothing to blame in the friendship which united Louise to the young Rostanges. And all was laid to the charge of Monsieur de V——-'s folly.
When this last had made all the sacrifices that a man could make for Madame B——-, his perfidious mistress started for the waters of Mount Dore, for Switzerland and for Italy, on the pretext of seeking the restoration of her health.
The baron died of inflammation of the liver, being attended during his sickness by the most touching ministrations which his wife could lavish upon him; and judging from the grief which he manifested at having deserted her, he seemed never to have suspected her participation in the plan which had been his ruin.
This anecdote, which we have chosen from a thousand others, exemplifies the services which two women can render each other.
From the words—"Let me have the pleasure of bringing my husband" up to the conception of the drama, whose denouement was inflammation of the liver, every female perfidy was assembled to work out the end. Certain incidents will, of course, be met with which diversify more or less the typical example which we have given, but the march of the drama is almost always the same. Moreover a husband ought always to distrust the woman friends of his wife. The subtle artifices of these lying creatures rarely fail of their effect, for they are seconded by two enemies, who always keep close to a man—and these are vanity and desire.
4. OF THE LOVER'S ALLIES.
The man who hastens to tell another man that he has dropped a thousand franc bill from his pocket-book, or even that the handkerchief is coming out of his pocket, would think it a mean thing to warn him that some one was carrying off his wife. There is certainly something extremely odd in this moral inconsistency, but after all it admits of explanation. Since the law cannot exercise any interference with matrimonial rights, the citizens have even less right to constitute themselves a conjugal police; and when one restores a thousand franc bill to him who has lost it, he acts under a certain kind of obligation, founded on the principle which says, "Do unto others as ye would they should do unto you!"
But by what reasoning can justification be found for the help which one celibate never asks in vain, but always receives from another celibate in deceiving a husband, and how shall we qualify the rendering of such help? A man who is incapable of assisting a gendarme in discovering an assassin, has no scruple in taking a husband to a theatre, to a concert or even to a questionable house, in order to help a comrade, whom he would not hesitate to kill in a duel to-morrow, in keeping an assignation, the result of which is to introduce into a family a spurious child, and to rob two brothers of a portion of their fortune by giving them a co-heir whom they never perhaps would otherwise have had; or to effect the misery of three human beings. We must confess that integrity is a very rare virtue, and, very often, the man that thinks he has most actually has least. Families have been divided by feuds, and brothers have been murdered, which events would never have taken place if some friend had refused to perform what passes to the world as a harmless trick.
It is impossible for a man to be without some hobby or other, and all of us are devoted either to hunting, fishing, gambling, music, money, or good eating. Well, your ruling passion will always be an accomplice in the snare which a lover sets for you, the invisible hand of this passion will direct your friends, or his, whether they consent or not, to play a part in the little drama when they want to take you away from home, or to induce you to leave your wife to the mercy of another. A lover will spend two whole months, if necessary, in planning the construction of the mouse-trap.
I have seen the most cunning men on earth thus taken in.
There was a certain retired lawyer of Normandy. He lived in the little town of B——-, where a regiment of the chasseurs of Cantal were garrisoned. A fascinating officer of this regiment had fallen in love with the wife of this pettifogger, and the regiment was leaving before the two lovers had been able to enjoy the least privacy. It was the fourth military man over whom the lawyer had triumphed. As he left the dinner-table one evening, about six o'clock, the husband took a walk on the terrace of his garden from which he could see the whole country side. The officers arrived at this moment to take leave of him. Suddenly the flame of a conflagration burst forth on the horizon. "Heavens! La Daudiniere is on fire!" exclaimed the major. He was an old simple-minded soldier, who had dined at home. Every one mounted horse. The young wife smiled as she found herself alone, for her lover, hidden in the coppice, had said to her, "It is a straw stack on fire!" The flank of the husband was turned with all the more facility in that a fine courser was provided for him by the captain, and with a delicacy very rare in the cavalry, the lover actually sacrificed a few moments of his happiness in order to catch up with the cavalcade, and return in company with the husband.
Marriage is a veritable duel, in which persistent watchfulness is required in order to triumph over an adversary; for, if you are unlucky enough to turn your head, the sword of the celibate will pierce you through and through.
5. OF THE MAID.
The prettiest waiting-maid I have ever seen is that of Madame V——y, a lady who to-day plays at Paris a brilliant part among the most fashionable women, and passes for a wife who keeps on excellent terms with her husband. Mademoiselle Celestine is a person whose points of beauty are so numerous that, in order to describe her, it would be necessary to translate the thirty verses which we are told form an inscription in the seraglio of the Grand Turk and contain each of them an excellent description of one of the thirty beauties of women.
"You show a great deal of vanity in keeping near you such an accomplished creature," said a lady to the mistress of the house.
"Ah! my dear, some day perhaps you will find yourself jealous of me in possessing Celestine."
"She must be endowed with very rare qualities, I suppose? She perhaps dresses you well?"
"Oh, no, very badly!"
"She sews well?"
"She never touches her needle."
"She is faithful?"
"She is one of those whose fidelity costs more than the most cunning dishonesty."
"You astonish me, my dear; she is then your foster-sister?"
"Not at all; she is positively good for nothing, but she is more useful to me than any other member of my household. If she remains with me ten years, I have promised her twenty thousand francs. It will be money well earned, and I shall not forget to give it!" said the young woman, nodding her head with a meaning gesture.
At last the questioner of Madame V——y understood.
When a woman has no friend of her own sex intimate enough to assist her in proving false to marital love, her maid is a last resource which seldom fails in bringing about the desired result.
Oh! after ten years of marriage to find under his roof, and to see all the time, a young girl of from sixteen to eighteen, fresh, dressed with taste, the treasures of whose beauty seem to breathe defiance, whose frank bearing is irresistibly attractive, whose downcast eyes seem to fear you, whose timid glance tempts you, and for whom the conjugal bed has no secrets, for she is at once a virgin and an experienced woman! How can a man remain cold, like St. Anthony, before such powerful sorcery, and have the courage to remain faithful to the good principles represented by a scornful wife, whose face is always stern, whose manners are always snappish, and who frequently refuses to be caressed? What husband is stoical enough to resist such fires, such frosts? There, where you see a new harvest of pleasure, the young innocent sees an income, and your wife her liberty. It is a little family compact, which is signed in the interest of good will.
In this case, your wife acts with regard to marriage as young fashionables do with regard to their country. If they are drawn for the army, they buy a man to carry the musket, to die in their place and to spare them the hardships of military life.
In compromises of this sort there is not a single woman who does not know how to put her husband in the wrong. I have noticed that, by a supreme stroke of diplomacy, the majority of wives do not admit their maids into the secret of the part which they give them to play. They trust to nature, and assume an affected superiority over the lover and his mistress.
These secret perfidies of women explain to a great degree the odd features of married life which are to be observed in the world; and I have heard women discuss, with profound sagacity, the dangers which are inherent in this terrible method of attack, and it is necessary to know thoroughly both the husband and the creature to whom he is to be abandoned, in order to make successful use of her. Many a woman, in this connection, has been the victim of her own calculations.
Moreover, the more impetuous and passionate a husband shows himself, the less will a woman dare to employ this expedient; but a husband caught in this snare will never have anything to say to his stern better-half, when the maid, giving evidence of the fault she has committed, is sent into the country with an infant and a dowry.
6. OF THE DOCTOR.
The doctor is one of the most potent auxiliaries of an honest woman, when she wishes to acquire a friendly divorce from her husband. The services that the doctor renders, most of the time without knowing it, to a woman, are of such importance that there does not exist a single house in France where the doctor is chosen by any one but the wife.
All doctors know what great influence women have on their reputation; thus we meet with few doctors who do not study to please the ladies. When a man of talent has become celebrated it is true that he does not lend himself to the crafty conspiracies which women hatch; but without knowing it he becomes involved in them.
I suppose that a husband taught by the adventures of his own youth makes up his mind to pick out a doctor for his wife, from the first days of his marriage. So long as his feminine adversary fails to conceive the assistance that she may derive from this ally, she will submit in silence; but later on, if all her allurements fail to win over the man chosen by her husband, she will take a more favorable opportunity to give her husband her confidence, in the following remarkable manner.
"I don't like the way in which the doctor feels my pulse!"
And of course the doctor is dropped.
Thus it happens that either a woman chooses her doctor, wins over the man who has been imposed upon her, or procures his dismissal. But this contest is very rare; the majority of young men who marry are acquainted with none but beardless doctors whom they have no anxiety to procure for their wives, and almost always the Esculapius of the household is chosen by the feminine power. Thus it happens that some fine morning the doctor, when he leaves the chamber of madame, who has been in bed for a fortnight, is induced by her to say to you:
"I do not say that the condition of madame presents any serious symptoms; but this constant drowsiness, this general listlessness, and her natural tendency to a spinal affection demand great care. Her lymph is inspissated. She wants a change of air. She ought to be sent either to the waters of Bareges or to the waters of Plombieres."
"All right, doctor."
You allow your wife to go to Plombieres; but she goes there because Captain Charles is quartered in the Vosges. She returns in capital health and the waters of Plombieres have done wonders for her. She has written to you every day, she has lavished upon you from a distance every possible caress. The danger of a spinal affection has utterly disappeared.
There is extant a little pamphlet, whose publication was prompted doubtless by hate. It was published in Holland, and it contains some very curious details of the manner in which Madame de Maintenon entered into an understanding with Fagon, for the purposes of controlling Louis XIV. Well, some morning your doctor will threaten you, as Fagon threatened his master, with a fit of apoplexy, if you do not diet yourself. This witty work of satire, doubtless the production of some courtier, entitled "Madame de Saint Tron," has been interpreted by the modern author who has become proverbial as "the young doctor." But his delightful sketch is very much superior to the work whose title I cite for the benefit of the book-lovers, and we have great pleasure in acknowledging that the work of our clever contemporary has prevented us, out of regard for the glory of the seventeenth century, from publishing the fragment of the old pamphlet.
Very frequently a doctor becomes duped by the judicious manoeuvres of a young and delicate wife, and comes to you with the announcement:
"Sir, I would not wish to alarm madame with regard to her condition; but I will advise you, if you value her health, to keep her in perfect tranquillity. The irritation at this moment seems to threaten the chest, and we must gain control of it; there is need of rest for her, perfect rest; the least agitation might change the seat of the malady. At this crisis, the prospect of bearing a child would be fatal to her."
"Ah, yes! I know that!"
He laughs and leaves the house.
Like the rod of Moses, the doctor's mandate makes and unmakes generations. The doctor will restore you to your marriage bed with the same arguments that he used in debarring you. He treats your wife for complaints which she has not, in order to cure her of those which she has, and all the while you have no idea of it; for the scientific jargon of doctors can only be compared to the layers in which they envelop their pills.
An honest woman in her chamber with the doctor is like a minister sure of a majority; she has it in her power to make a horse, or a carriage, according to her good pleasure and her taste; she will send you away or receive you, as she likes. Sometimes she will pretend to be ill in order to have a chamber separate from yours; sometimes she will surround herself with all the paraphernalia of an invalid; she will have an old woman for a nurse, regiments of vials and of bottles, and, environed by these ramparts, will defy you by her invalid airs. She will talk to you in such a depressing way of the electuaries and of the soothing draughts which she has taken, of the agues which she has had, of her plasters and cataplasms, that she will fill you with disgust at these sickly details, if all the time these sham sufferings are not intended to serve as engines by means of which, eventually, a successful attack may be made on that singular abstraction known as your honor.
In this way your wife will be able to fortify herself at every point of contact which you possess with the world, with society and with life. Thus everything will take arms against you, and you will be alone among all these enemies. But suppose that it is your unprecedented privilege to possess a wife who is without religious connections, without parents or intimate friends; that you have penetration enough to see through all the tricks by which your wife's lover tries to entrap you; that you still have sufficient love for your fair enemy to resist all the Martons of the earth; that, in fact, you have for your doctor a man who is so celebrated that he has no time to listen to the maunderings of your wife; or that if your Esculapius is madame's vassal, you demand a consultation, and an incorruptible doctor intervenes every time the favorite doctor prescribes a remedy that disquiets you; even in that case, your prospects will scarcely be more brilliant. In fact, even if you do not succumb to this invasion of allies, you must not forget that, so far, your adversary has not, so to speak, struck the decisive blow. If you hold out still longer, your wife, having flung round you thread upon thread, as a spider spins his web, an invisible net, will resort to the arms which nature has given her, which civilization has perfected, and which will be treated of in the next Meditation.