THE STEPMOTHER A DRAMA IN FIVE ACTS
HONORE DE BALZAC
Presented for the First Time in Paris At the Theatre-Historique May 25, 1848
PERSONS OF THE PLAY
Comte de Grandchamp, a Napoleonic General Eugene Ramel, a State's Attorney Ferdinand Marcandal Doctor Vernon Godard An Investigating Magistrate Felix, servant to General de Grandchamp Champagne, a foreman Baudrillon, a druggist Napoleon, son to General de Grandchamp by his second wife Gertrude, second wife to General de Grandchamp Pauline, daughter to General de Grandchamp by his first wife Marguerite, maid to Pauline Gendarmes, Sheriff's Officer, the Clergy
SCENE: Chateau of the General de Grandchamp, near Louviers, Normandy
(A richly decorated drawing-room; on the walls are portraits of Napoleon I. and his son. The entry is by a large double glass door, which opens on a roofed veranda and leads by a short stairway to a park. The door of Pauline's apartments are on the right; those of the General and his wife are on the left. On the left side of the central doorway is a table, and on the right is a cabinet. A vase full of flowers stands by the entrance to Pauline's room. A richly carved marble mantel, with a bronze clock and candelabras, faces these apartments. In the front of the stage are two sofas, one on the left, the other on the right. Gertrude enters, carrying the flowers which she has just plucked, and puts them in the vase.)
Gertrude and the General.
Gertrude I assure you, my dear, that it would be unwise to defer any longer giving your daughter in marriage. She is now twenty-two. Pauline has been very slow in making her choice; and, in such a case, it is the duty of parents to see that their children are settled. Moreover, I am very much interested in her.
The General In what way?
Gertrude The position of stepmother is always open to suspicion; and for some time it has been rumored in Louviers that I am the person who throws obstacles in the way of Pauline's marriage.
The General That is merely the idle gossip of little towns. I should like to cut out some of those silly tongues. And to think that they should attack you of all people, Gertrude, who have been a real mother to Pauline—whom you have educated most excellently!
Gertrude It is the way of the world! They will never forgive us for living so close to the town, yet never entering it. The society of the place revenges itself upon us for slighting it. Do you think that our happiness can escape envy? Even our doctor—
The General Do you mean Vernon?
Gertrude Yes, Vernon is very envious of you; he is vexed to think that he has never been able to inspire any woman with such affection as I have for you. Moreover, he pretends that I am merely playing a part,—as if I could do it for twelve years! Rather unlikely, I should think.
The General No woman could keep up the pretence for twelve years without being found out. The idea is absurd! And Vernon also is—
Gertrude Oh, he is only joking! And so, as I told you before, you had better see Godard. I am astonished that he has not yet arrived. He is so rich that it would be folly to refuse him. He is in love with Pauline, and although he has his faults, and is somewhat provincial, he is quite able to make her happy.
The General I have left Pauline quite free to choose a husband for herself.
Gertrude There is no cause for anxiety. A girl so gentle, so well brought up, so well behaved, is sure to do right.
The General Gentle, did you say? She is headstrong, like her father.
Gertrude She, headstrong? And you, come now, do you not always act as I wish?
The General You are no angel, and always wish what pleases me! By the bye, Vernon takes dinner with us after his autopsy.
Gertrude Was it necessary to tell me that?
The General I only told you, in order that he might have his favorite wines.
Felix (enters, announcing) Monsieur de Rimonville!
The General Ask him in.
Gertrude (making a sign to Felix to arrange the vase of flowers) I will go to Pauline's room, while you are talking business. I should like to superintend the arrangement of her toilet. Young people do not always understand what is most becoming to them.
The General She has no expense spared her! During the last eighteen months her dress has cost twice as much as it previously did; after all, poor girl, it is the only amusement she has.
Gertrude How can you say it is her only amusement while she has the privilege of living with us! If it were not my happy lot to be your wife, I should like to be your daughter. I will never leave you, not I! Did you say for the last eighteen months? That is singular! Well, when I come to think of it, she has begun to care more about laces, jewels, and other pretty things.
The General She is quite rich enough to indulge her tastes.
Gertrude And she is now of age. (Aside) Her fondness of dress is the smoke. Can there be any fire? (Exit.)
The General (alone) What a pearl among women! Thus I am made happy after twenty-six campaigns, a dozen wounds, and the death of an angel, whose place she has taken in my heart; truly a kind Providence owed me some such recompense as this, if it were only to console me for the death of the Emperor.
Godard and the General.
Godard (entering) Well, General!
The General Ah! good day, Godard! I hope you are come to spend the day with us?
Godard I thought perhaps I might spend the week, General, if you should regard favorably the request which I shall venture to make of you.
The General Go in and win! I know what request you mean—My wife is on your side. Ah, Godard, you have attacked the fortress at its weak point!
Godard General, you are an old soldier, and have no taste for mere phrases. In all your undertakings you go straight ahead, as you did when under fire.
The General Straight and facing the whole battery.
Godard That suits me well, for I am rather timid.
The General You! I owe you, my dear friend, an apology; I took you for a man who was too well aware of his own worth.
Godard You took me to be conceited! But General, as a matter of fact, I intend to marry because I don't know how to pay any court to women.
The General (aside) What a civilian! (Aloud) How is this? You talk like an old man, and —that is not the way to win my daughter.
Godard Do not misunderstand me. I have a warm heart; I wish only to feel sure that I shall be accepted.
The General That means that you don't mind attacking unwalled towns.
Godard That is not it at all, General. You quite alarm me, with your banter.
The General What do you mean then?
Godard I understand nothing about the tricks of women. I know no more when their yes means no, than when their no means yes; and when I am in love, I wish to be loved in return.
The General (aside) With such ideas as those he has precious little chance.
Godard There are plenty of men like me, men who are supremely bored by this little warfare of manners and whims.
The General But there is something also delightful in it,—I mean in the feminine show of resistance, which gives one the pleasure of overcoming it.
Godard Thank you, nothing of that sort for me! When I am hungry, I do not wish to coquette with my soup. I like to have things decided, and care very little how the decision is arrived at, although I do come from Normandy. In the world, I see coxcombs who creep into the favor of women by saying to them, "Ah! madame, what a pretty frock you have on. Your taste is perfect. You are the only person who could wear that," and starting from such speeches as that they go on and on—and gain their end. They are wonderful fellows, upon my honor! I don't see how they reach success by such idle talk. I should beat about the bush through all eternity before I could tell a pretty woman the effect she had made on me.
The General The men of the Empire were not of that sort.
Godard It is on account of that, that I put on a bold face! This boldness when backed by an income of forty thousand francs is accepted without protest, and wins its way to the front. That is why you took me for a good match. So long as there are no mortgages on the rich pasture lands of the Auge Valley, so long as one possesses a fine chateau, well furnished—for my wife need bring with her nothing but her trousseau, since she will find there even the cashmeres and laces of my late mother—when a man has all that, General, he has got all the courage he need have. Besides, I am now Monsieur de Rimonville.
The General No, you're only Godard.
Godard Godard de Rimonville.
The General Godard for short.
Godard General, you are trying my patience.
The General As for me, it would try my patience to see a man, even if he were my son-in-law, deny his father; and your father, a right honest man, used himself to drive his beeves from Caen to Poissy, and all along the road was known as Godard—Father Godard.
Godard He was highly thought of.
The General He was, in his own class. But I see what's the matter; as his cattle provided you with an income of forty thousand francs, you are counting upon other animals to give you the name of De Rimonville.
Godard Now come, General, you had better consult Mlle. Pauline; she belongs to her own epoch—that she does. We are now in the year 1829 and Charles X. is king. She would sooner hear the valet call out, as she left a ballroom, "the carriage of Madame de Rimonville," than, "the carriage of Madame Godard."
The General Well, if such silliness as this pleases my daughter, it makes no difference to me. For, after all, you would be the one they'd poke fun at, my dear Godard.
Godard De Rimonville.
The General Godard, you are a good fellow, you are young, you are rich, you say that you won't pay your court to women, but that your wife shall be the queen of your house. Well, if you gain her consent you can have mine; for bear in mind, Pauline will only marry the man she loves, rich or poor. There may be one exception, but that doesn't concern you. I would prefer to attend her funeral rather than take her to the registry office to marry a man who was a son, grandson, brother, nephew, cousin or connection of one of the four or five wretches who betrayed—you know what my religion is—
Godard Betrayed the Emperor. Yes, everyone knows your creed, General.
The General God, first of all; then France or the Emperor—It is all the same to me. Lastly, my wife and children! Whoever meddles with my gods becomes my enemy; I would kill him like a hare, remorselessly. My catechism is short, but it is good. Do you know why, in the year 1816, after their cursed disbanding of the army of the Loire, I took my little motherless child and came here, I, colonel of the Young Guard, wounded at Waterloo, and became a cloth manufacturer of Louviers?
Godard I suppose you didn't wish to hold office under them.
The General No, because I did not wish to die as a murderer on the scaffold.
Godard What do you mean?
The General If I had met one of those traitors, I should have finished his business for him. Even to-day, after some fifteen years, my blood boils if I read their names in the newspaper or anyone mentions them in my presence. And indeed, if I should meet one of them, nothing would prevent me from springing at his throat, tearing him to pieces, strangling him—
Godard You would do right. (Aside) I must humor him.
The General Yes, sir, I would strangle him! And if my son-in-law were to ill-treat my dear child, I would do the same to him.
The General I shouldn't wish him to be altogether under her thumb. A man ought to be king in his own house, as I am here.
Godard (aside) Poor man! How he deceives himself!
The General Did you speak?
Godard I said, General, that your threat had no terrors for me! When one has nothing but a wife to love, he loves her well.
The General Quite right, my dear Godard. And now with regard to the marriage settlement?
Godard Oh, yes!
The General My daughter's portion consists of—
Godard Consists of—
The General It comprises her mother's fortune and the inheritance of her uncle Boncoeur. It will be undivided, for I give up my rights to it. This will amount to three hundred and fifty thousand francs and a year's interest, for Pauline is twenty-two.
Godard This will make up three hundred and sixty-seven thousand five hundred francs.
The General No.
Godard Why not?
The General It will be more!
The General Four hundred thousand francs. (Godard seems astonished.) I make up the difference! But when I die there will be nothing more coming to her. Do you understand?
Godard I do not understand.
The General I am very much attached to little Napoleon.
Godard You mean the young Duke of Reichstadt?
The General No, my son whom they would enter in the register only under the name of Leon; but I had inscribed here (he places his hand upon his heart) the name of Napoleon! Do you see I must provide for him and his mother?
Godard (aside) Especially for his mother; she'll take care of that!
The General What are you saying? If you don't agree with me, out with it!
Godard (aside) If I did so, we should find ourselves in the law courts. (Aloud) I agree, and will back you in everything, General.
The General Good for you! And I'll tell you why, my dear Godard.
Godard De Rimonville.
The General Godard, I prefer Godard. I'll tell you why. After having commanded the grenadiers of the Young Guard, I, General Comte de Grandchamp, now weave the cloth for their uniforms.
Godard This is very commendable! You should keep on storing up, General, so that your widow may not be left without a fortune.
The General She is an angel, Godard!
Godard De Rimonville.
The General Godard, she is an angel, to whom you are indebted for the education of your intended, whom she has moulded after her own image. Pauline is a pearl, a jewel; she has never left this home; she is as pure and innocent as she was in her cradle.
Godard General, let me admit that Mlle. Pauline is beautiful!
The General I am quite sure of that.
Godard She is very beautiful; but there are numbers of beautiful girls in Normandy, some of them very rich, much richer than she is. Well now, you'll scarcely believe how the mothers and fathers of these heiresses run after me! It is scarcely decent. But it amuses me immensely; I visit their chateaus; they overwhelm me with attentions—
The General I said he was conceited!
Godard Oh, I am quite aware that it is not for my sake! I don't delude myself as to that; it is for my unmortgaged pastures; for my savings, and for my habit of living within my income. Do you know what it is that makes me seek an alliance with you above all others?
The General No.
Godard There are certain rich would-be fathers-in-law who promise to obtain from his Majesty a decree, by which I shall be created Comte de Rimonville and Peer of France.
The General You?
Godard Yes, I.
The General Have you won any battles? Have you saved your country? Have you added to its glory? This is pitiful!
Godard Pitiful? (Aside) What shall I say? (Aloud) We differ in our views on this subject, but do you know why I prefer your adorable Pauline?
The General I suppose it is because you love her.
Godard That is a matter of course; but it is also on account of the harmony, the tranquillity, the happiness which reign here! It is so delightful to enter a family of high honor, of pure, sincere, patriarchal manners! I am a man of observation.
The General That is to say, you are inquisitive.
Godard Curiosity, General, is the mother of observation. I know the seamy side of the whole department.
The General Really?
Godard Yes, really! In all the families of which I have spoken to you, I have seen some shabbiness or other. The public sees the decent exterior of irreproachable mothers of family, of charming young persons, of good fathers, of model uncles; they are admitted to the sacrament without confession, they are entrusted with the investments of others. But just learn their inner side, and it is enough to startle a police magistrate.
The General Ah! That is the way you look at the world, is it? For my part, I try to keep up the illusions in which I have lived. To peer into the inner life of people in that way is the business of priests and magistrates; I have no love for the black robed gentlemen, and I hope to die without ever having seen them! But the sentiment which you express with regard to my house is more pleasing to me than all your fortune. Stick to that point, and you will win my esteem, something which I lightly bestow on no one.
Godard Thank you, General. (Aside) I have won over the father-in-law at any rate.
The same persons, Pauline and Gertrude.
The General (catching sight of Pauline) Ah! Here you are, darling.
Gertrude Doesn't she look beautiful?
Gertrude Forgive me, sir. I had no eyes excepting for my handiwork.
Godard Mademoiselle is radiant!
Gertrude We have some people to dinner to-day, and I am something more than a stepmother to her; I love to deck her out, for she is to me like my own daughter.
Godard (aside) They were evidently expecting me!
Gertrude (aside to Godard) I am going to leave you alone with her. Now is the time for your declaration. (To the General) My dear, let us go out on the veranda and see if our friend the doctor is coming.
The General I am at your service, as usual. (To Pauline) Good-bye, my pet. (To Godard) I shall see you later.
(Gertrude and the General go to the veranda, but Gertrude keeps her eye on Godard and Pauline. Ferdinand shows his head at the door of Pauline's chamber, but at a quick sign from her, he hurriedly withdraws it unobserved.)
Godard (at the front of the stage) Let me see, what fine and dainty speech can I make to her? Ah, I have it! (To Pauline) It is a very fine day, mademoiselle.
Pauline It certainly is, sir.
Godard It is in your power to make the day still finer for me.
Pauline How can I do that?
Godard Don't you understand me? Has not Madame de Grandchamp said anything to you about the subject nearest my heart?
Pauline While she was helping me to dress, an instant ago, she said a great many complimentary things about you!
Godard And did you agree with her, even in the slightest way?
Pauline Oh, sir, I agreed with all she said!
Godard (seating himself on a chair, aside) So far so good. (Aloud) Did she commit a pardonable breach of confidence by telling you that I was so much in love with you that I wished to see you the mistress of Rimonville?
Pauline She gave me to understand by her hints that you were coming with the intention of paying me a very great compliment.
Godard (falling on his knees) I love you madly, mademoiselle; I prefer you to Mlle. de Blondville, to Mlle. de Clairville, to Mlle. de Verville, to Mlle. de Pont-de-Ville—to—
Pauline Oh, that is sufficient, sir, you throw me into confusion by these proofs of a love which is quite unexpected! Your victims make up almost a hecatomb. (Godard rises.) Your father was contented with taking the victims to market! But you immolate them.
Godard (aside) I really believe she is making fun of me. But wait awhile! Wait awhile!
Pauline I think at least we ought to wait awhile; and I must confess—
Godard You do not wish to marry yet. You are happy with your parents, and you are unwilling to leave your father.
Pauline That is it, exactly.
Godard In that case, there are some mothers who would agree that their daughter was too young, but as your father admits that you are twenty-two I thought that you might possibly have a desire to be settled in life.
Godard You are, I know, quite at liberty to decide both your own destiny and mine; but in accordance with the wishes of your father and of your second mother, who imagine that your heart is free, may I be permitted still to have hope?
Pauline Sir, however flattering to me may be your intention in thus seeking me out, that does not give you any right to question me so closely.
Godard (aside) Is it possible I have a rival? (Aloud) No one, mademoiselle, gives up the prospect of happiness without a struggle.
Pauline Do you still continue in this strain? I must leave you, sir.
Godard Thank you, mademoiselle. (Aside) So much for your sarcasm.
Pauline Come sir, you are rich, and nature has given you a fine person; you are so well educated and so witty that you will have no difficulty in finding some young person richer and prettier than I am.
Godard How can that be when one is in love?
Pauline Well sir, that is the very point.
Godard (aside) She is in love with someone; I must find out who it is. (Aloud) Mademoiselle, will you at least permit me to feel that I am not in disgrace and that I may stay here a few days?
Pauline My father will answer you on that score.
Gertrude (coming forward to Godard) Well, how are things going?
Godard A blunt refusal, without even a hope of her relenting; her heart is evidently already occupied.
Gertrude (to Godard) Her heart occupied? This child has been brought up by me, and I know to the contrary; and besides that, no one ever comes here. (Aside) This youth has roused in me suspicions which pierce my heart like a dagger. (To Godard) Why don't you ask her if such is the case?
Godard How could I ask her anything? At my first word of jealous suspicion, she resented my curiosity.
Gertrude Well, I shall have no hesitation in questioning her.
The General Ah, here comes the doctor! We shall now learn the truth concerning the death of Champagne's wife.
The same persons and Dr. Vernon.
The General Well, how are you?
Vernon I was quite sure of it. Ladies (he bows to them), as a general rule when a man beats his wife, he takes care not to poison her; he would lose too much by that. He doesn't want to be without a victim.
The General (to Godard) He is a charming fellow!
The General (to the doctor, presenting Godard to him) M. Godard.
Godard De Rimonville.
Vernon (looking at Godard) If he kills her, it is by mistake from having hit her a little too hard; and he is overwhelmed with grief; while Champagne is innocently delighted to have been made a widower by natural causes. As a matter of fact, his wife died of cholera. It was a very rare case, but he who has once seen Asiatic cholera cannot forget it, and I am glad that I had that opportunity; for, since the campaign in Egypt, I have never met with a case. If I had been called in time I could have saved her.
Gertrude How fortunate we are, for if a crime had been committed in this establishment, which for twelve years has been so free from disturbance, I should have been horrified.
The General Here you see the effect of all this tittle-tattle. But are you quite sure, Vernon?
Vernon Am I certain? That's a fine question to put to a retired surgeon-in-chief who has attended twelve French armies, from 1793 to 1815, and has practiced in Germany, in Spain, in Italy, in Russia, in Poland, and in Egypt!
The General (poking him in the ribs) Away, you charlatan! I reckon you have killed more people than I have in those countries.
Godard What is this talk that you are alluding to?
Gertrude This poor Champagne, our foreman, was supposed to have poisoned his wife.
Vernon Unhappily, the night before she died, they had had an altercation which ended in blows. Ah! they don't take example from their masters.
Godard Such happiness as reigns here ought to be contagious, but the virtues which are exemplified in the countess are very rare.
Gertrude Is there any merit in loving an excellent husband and a daughter such as these?
The General Come, Gertrude, say no more! Such words ought not to be spoken in public.
Vernon (aside) Such things are always said in this way, when it is necessary to make people believe them.
The General (to Vernon) What are you muttering about?
Vernon I was saying that I was sixty-seven years old, and that I was younger than you are, and that I should wish to be loved like that. (Aside) If only I could be sure that it was love.
The General (to the doctor) I see you are dubious! (to his wife) My dear child, there is no need for me to bless the power of God on your behalf, but I think He must have lent it me, in order that I might love you sufficiently.
Vernon You forget that I am a doctor, my dear friend. What you are saying to Madame is only good for the burden of a ballad.
Gertrude The burdens of some ballads, doctor, are exceedingly true.
The General Doctor, if you continue teasing my wife, we shall quarrel; to doubt on such a subject as that is an insult.
Vernon I have no doubt about it. (to the General) I would merely say, that you have loved so many women with the powers of God, that I am in an ecstasy as a doctor to see you still so good a Christian at seventy!
(Gertrude glides softly towards the sofa, where the doctor is seated.)
The General Pshaw! The last passions, my friend, are always the strongest.
Vernon You are right. In youth, we love with all our strength which grows weaker with age, while in age we love with all our weakness which is ever on the increase.
The General Oh, vile philosophy!
Gertrude (to Vernon) Doctor, how is it that you, who are so good, try to infuse doubts into the heart of Grandchamp? You know that he is so jealous that he would kill a man on suspicion. I have such respect for his feelings that I have concluded upon seeing no one, but you, the mayor and the cure. Do you want me also to forego your society which is so pleasant, so agreeable to us? Ah! Here is Napoleon.
Vernon (aside) I take this for a declaration of war. She has sent away everyone else, she intends to dismiss me.
Godard (to Vernon) Doctor, you are an intimate friend of the house, tell me, pray, what do you think of Mlle. Pauline?
(The doctor rises from his seat, looks at the speaker, blows his nose, and goes to the middle of the stage. The dinner bells sounds.)
The same persons, Napoleon and Felix.
Napoleon Papa, papa, didn't you say I could ride Coco?
The General Certainly.
Napoleon (to Felix) Do you hear that?
Gertrude (wiping her son's forehead) He is quite warm!
The General But only on the condition that some one goes with you.
Felix You see I was right, Master Napoleon. General, the little rascal wished to go on his pony alone into the country.
Napoleon He was frightened for me! Do you think I am afraid of anything?
(Exit Felix. Dinner bell rings.)
The General Come and let me kiss you for that word. He is a little soldier and belongs to the Young Guard.
Vernon (with a glance at Gertrude) He takes after his father!
Gertrude (quickly) As regards courage, he is his father's counterpart; but as to physique, he resembles me.
Felix Dinner is served.
Gertrude Very well! But do you know where Ferdinand is? He is generally so punctual. Here, Napoleon, go to the entrance of the factory and see if he is coming. Tell him to hurry; the bell has rung.
The General We need not wait for Ferdinand. Godard, give your arm to Pauline. (Vernon offers his arm to Gertrude.) Excuse me, Vernon, you ought to be aware that I never permit anybody but myself to take my wife's arm.
Vernon (aside) Decidedly, he is incurable.
Napoleon (running back) I saw Ferdinand down in the main avenue.
Vernon Give me your hand, you little tyrant!
Napoleon Tyrant yourself! I'll bet I could tire you out.
(Napoleon turns Vernon round and round. All leave, chatting gaily.)
Ferdinand (cautiously stealing from Pauline's room) The youngster saved me, but I do not know how he happened to see me in the avenue! One more piece of carelessness like this may ruin us! I must extricate myself from this situation at any price. Here is Pauline refusing Godard's proposal. The General, and especially Gertrude, will try to find out the motives of her refusal! But I must hasten to reach the veranda, so that I may have the appearance of having come from the main avenue, as Leon said. I hope no one will catch sight of me from the dining-room. (He meets Ramel.) What, Eugene Ramel!
Ferdinand and Ramel.
Ramel You here, Marcandal!
Ferdinand Hush! Don't pronounce that name in this place! If the General heard that my name was Marcandal, he would kill me at once as if I were a mad dog.
Ramel And why?
Ferdinand Because I am the son of General Marcandal.
Ramel A general to whom the Bourbons are in part indebted for their second innings.
Ferdinand In the eyes of General Grandchamp, to leave Napoleon for service under the Bourbons was treason against France. Alas! this was also my father's opinion, for he died of grief. You must therefore remember to call me by the name of Ferdinand Charny, my mother's maiden name.
Ramel And what are you doing here?
Ferdinand I am the manager, the cashier, the factotum of Grandchamp's factory.
Ramel How is this? Do you do it from necessity?
Ferdinand From dire necessity! My father spent everything, even the fortune of my poor mother, who lived during her later years in Brittany on the pension she received as widow of a lieutenant-general.
Ramel How is it that your father, who had command of the Royal Guard, a most brilliant position, died without leaving you anything, not even a patron?
Ferdinand Had he never betrayed his friends, and changed sides, without any reason—
Ramel Come, come, we won't talk any more about that.
Ferdinand My father was a gambler—that was the reason why he was so indulgent to me. But may I ask what has brought you here?
Ramel A fortnight ago I was appointed king's attorney at Louviers.
Ferdinand I heard something about it. But the appointment was published under another name.
Ramel De la Grandiere, I suppose.
Ferdinand That is it.
Ramel In order that I might marry Mlle. de Boudeville, I obtained permission to assume my mother's name—as you have done. The Boudeville family have given me their protection, and in a year's time I shall doubtless be attorney-general at Rouen—a stepping-stone towards a position at Paris.
Ferdinand And what brings you to our quiet factory?
Ramel I came to investigate a criminal case, a poisoning affair,—a fine introduction into my office.
Felix Monsieur, Madame is worrying about you—
Ferdinand Please ask her to excuse me for a few moments. (Exit Felix.) My dear Eugene, in case the General—who like all retired troopers is very inquisitive—should inquire how we happen to meet here, don't forget to say that we came up the main avenue. It is important for me that you should say so. But go on with your story. It is on account of the wife of Champagne, our foreman, that you have come here; but he is innocent as a new-born babe!
Ramel You believe so, do you? Well, the officers of justice are paid for being incredulous. I see that you still remain, as I left you, the noblest, the most enthusiastic fellow in the world; in short, a poet! A poet who puts the poetry into his life instead of writing it, and believes in the good and the beautiful! And that reminds me—that angel of your dreams, that Gertrude of yours, whatever has become of her?
Ferdinand Hush! Not only has the minister of justice sent you here, but some celestial influence has sent to me at Louviers the friend whose help I need in my terrible perplexity. Eugene, come here and listen to me a while. I am going to appeal to you as my college friend, as the confidant of my youth; you won't put on the airs of the prosecuting attorney to me, will you? You will see from the nature of my admissions that I impose upon you the secrecy of the confessional.
Ramel Is it anything criminal?
Ferdinand Oh, nonsense! My faults are such as the judges themselves would be willing to commit.
Ramel Perhaps I had better not listen to you; or, if I do listen to you—
Ramel I could demand a change of position.
Ferdinand You are always my best and kindest friend. Listen then! For over three years I have been in love with Mlle. Pauline de Grandchamp, and she—
Ramel You needn't go on; I understand. You have been reviving Romeo and Juliet—in the heart of Normandy.
Ferdinand With this difference, that the hereditary hatred which stood between the two lovers of the play was a mere trifle in comparison with the loathing with which the Comte de Grandchamp contemplates the son of the traitor Marcandal!
Ramel Let me see! Mlle. Pauline de Grandchamp will be free in three years; she is rich in her own right—I know this from the Boudevilles. You can easily take her to Switzerland and keep her there until the General's wrath has had time to cool; and then you can make him the respectful apologies required under the circumstances.
Ferdinand Do you think I would have asked your advice if the only difficulty lay in the attainment of this trite and easy solution of the problem?
Ramel Ah! I see, my dear friend. You have already married your Gertrude—your angel—who has become to you like all other angels, after their metamorphoses into a lawful wives.
Ferdinand 'Tis a hundred times worse than that! Gertrude, my dear sir, is now Madame de Grandchamp.
Ramel Oh, dear! How is it you've thrust yourself into such a hornets' nest?
Ferdinand In the same way that people always thrust themselves into hornets' nests; that is, with the hope of finding honey there.
Ramel Oh, oh! This is a very serious matter! Now, really, you must conceal nothing from me.
Ferdinand Mlle. Gertrude de Meilhac, educated at St. Denis, without doubt loved me first of all through ambition; she was glad to know that I was rich, and did all she could to gain my attachment with a view to marriage.
Ramel Such is the game of all these intriguing orphan girls.
Ferdinand But how came it about that Gertrude has ended by loving me so sincerely? For her passion may be judged by its effects. I call it a passion, but with her it is first love, sole and undivided love, which dominates her whole life, and seems to consume her. When she found that I was a ruined man, towards the close of the year 1816, and knowing that I was like you, a poet, fond of luxury and art, of a soft and happy life, in short, a mere spoilt child, she formed a plan at once base and sublime, such a plan as disappointed passion suggests to women who, for the sake of their love, do all that despots do for the sake of their power; for them, the supreme law is that of their love—
Ramel The facts, my dear fellow, give me the facts! You are making your defence, recollect, and I am prosecuting attorney.
Ferdinand While I was settling my mother in Brittany, Gertrude met General de Grandchamp, who was seeking a governess for his daughter. She saw nothing in this battered warrior, then fifty-eight years old, but a money-box. She expected that she would soon be left a widow, wealthy and in circumstances to claim her lover and her slave. She said to herself that her marriage would be merely a bad dream, followed quickly by a happy awakening. You see the dream has lasted twelve years! But you know how women reason.
Ramel They have a special jurisprudence of their own.
Ferdinand Gertrude is a woman of the fiercest jealousy. She wishes for fidelity in her lover to recompense her for her infidelity to her husband, and as she has suffered martyrdom, she says, she wishes—
Ramel To have you in the same house with her, that she may keep watch over you herself.
Ferdinand She has been successful in getting me here. For the last three years I have been living in a small house near the factory. I should have left the first week after my arrival, but that two days' acquaintance with Pauline convinced me that I could not live without her.
Ramel Your love for Pauline, it seems to me as a magistrate, makes your position here somewhat less distasteful.
Ferdinand My position? I assure you, it is intolerable, among the three characters with whom I am cast. Pauline is daring, like all young persons who are innocent, to whom love is a wholly ideal thing, and who see no evil in anything, so long as it concerns a man whom they intend to marry. The penetration of Gertrude is very acute, but we manage to elude it through Pauline's terror lest my name should be divulged; the sense of this danger gives her strength to dissemble! But now Pauline has just refused Godard, and I do not know what may be the consequences.
Ramel I know Godard; under a somewhat dull exterior he conceals great sagacity, and he is the most inquisitive man in the department. Is he here now?
Ferdinand He dines here to-day.
Ramel Do not trust him.
Ferdinand If two women, between whom there is no love lost, make the discovery that they are rivals, one of them, I can't say which, is capable of killing the other, for one is strong in innocence and lawful love; the other, furious to see the fruit of so much dissimulation, so many sacrifices, even crimes lost to her forever.
Ramel You alarm me—me, the prosecuting attorney! Upon my word and honor, women often cost more than they are worth.
Napoleon Dear friend! Papa and mamma are impatient about you; they send word that you must leave your business, and Vernon says that your stomach requires it.
Ferdinand You little rogue! You are come eavesdropping!
Napoleon Mamma whispered in my ear: "Go and see what your friend is doing."
Ferdinand Run away, you little scamp! Be off! I am coming. (To Ramel) You see she makes this innocent child a spy over me.
Ramel Is this the General's child?
Ramel He is twelve years old?
Ramel Have you anything more to tell me?
Ferdinand Really, I think I have told you enough.
Ramel Very well! Go and get your dinner. Say nothing of my arrival, nor of my purpose here. Let them finish their dinner in peace. Now go at once.
Ramel (alone) Poor fellow! If all young people had studied the annals of the court, as I have done in seven years of a magistrate's work, they would come to the conclusion that marriage must be accepted as the sole romance which is possible in life. But if passion could control itself it would be virtue.
Curtain to First Act.
(Stage setting remains as in Act I.)
Ramel and Marguerite; later, Felix.
(Ramel is buried in his reflections, reclining on the sofa in such a way as to be almost out of sight. Marguerite brings in lights and cards. Night is approaching.)
Marguerite Four card tables—that will be enough, even though the cure, the mayor and his assistant come. (Felix lights the candles.) I'll wager anything that my poor Pauline will not be married this time. Dear child! If her late mother were to see that she was not queen of the house, she would weep in her coffin! I only remain here in order to comfort and to wait upon her.
Felix (aside) What is this old woman grumbling about? (Aloud) Whom are you complaining of now, Marguerite? I'll bet it is the mistress.
Marguerite No, it is not; I am blaming the master.
Felix The General? You had better mind your own business. He is a saint, is that man.
Marguerite Yes, a stone saint, for he is blind.
Felix You had better say that he has been blinded.
Marguerite You hit the nail on the head there.
Felix The General has but one fault—he is jealous.
Marguerite Yes, and obstinate, too.
Felix Yes, obstinate; it is the same thing. When once he suspects anything he comes down like a hammer. That was the way he laid two men lifeless at a blow. Between ourselves, there is only one way to treat a trooper of that sort; you must stuff him with flattery. And the mistress certainly does stuff him. Besides, she is clever enough to put blinders on him, such as they put on shying horses; he can see neither to the right nor to the left, and she says to him, "My dear, look straight ahead!" So she does!
Marguerite Ah! You think with me that a woman of thirty-two does not love a man of seventy without some object. She is scheming something.
Ramel (aside) Oh, these servants! whom we pay to spy over us!
Felix What can be her scheme? She never leaves the house, she never sees anyone.
Marguerite She would skin a flint! She has taken away the keys from me—from me who always had the confidence of the former mistress; do you know why she did so?
Felix I suppose she is saving up her pile.
Marguerite Yes, out of the fortune of Mlle. Pauline, and the profits of the factory. That is the reason why she puts off the marriage of the dear child as long as she can, for she has to give up her fortune when she marries her.
Felix Yes, that's the law.
Marguerite I would forgive her everything, if only she made Mademoiselle happy; but I sometimes catch my pet in tears, and I ask her what is the matter, and she says nothing but "Good Marguerite!" (Exit Felix.) Let me see, have I done everything? Yes, here are the card tables—the candles—the cards—Ah! the sofa. (She catches sight of Ramel) Good Lord! A stranger!
Ramel Don't be startled, Marguerite.
Marguerite You must have heard all we said.
Ramel Don't be alarmed. My business is to keep secrets. I am the state's attorney.
The same persons, Pauline, Godard, Vernon, Napoleon, Ferdinand, the General, Madame de Grandchamp.
(Gertrude rushes to Marguerite and snatches the cushions from her hands.)
Gertrude Marguerite, you know very well what pain you give me, by not allowing me to do everything for your master; besides, I am the only one who knows how to arrange the cushions to his liking.
Marguerite (to Pauline) What a to-do about nothing!
Godard Why, look! Here is the state's attorney!
The General The state's attorney at my house?
Gertrude I am surprised!
The General (to Ramel) Sir, what brings you here?
Ramel I asked my friend, M. Ferdinand Mar—
(Ferdinand checks him by a gesture. Gertrude and Pauline look at him in alarm.)
Gertrude (aside) It is his friend, Eugene Ramel.
Ramel My friend, Ferdinand de Charny, to whom I have told the object of my visit, to say nothing about it until you had finished your dinner.
The General Ferdinand then is your friend?
Ramel I have known him from childhood; and here we met in your avenue. On meeting, after nine years of separation, we had so many things to talk about, that I caused him to be late.
The General But, sir, to what circumstance am I to attribute your presence here?
Ramel I come in the matter of Jean Nicot, known as Champagne, your foreman, who is charged with a crime.
Gertrude But, sir, our friend, Doctor Vernon, has declared that Champagne's wife died a natural death.
Vernon Yes, sir, cholera.
Ramel Justice, sir, believes in nothing but investigations and convictions of its own. You did wrong to proceed before my arrival.
Felix Madame, shall I bring in the coffee?
Gertrude Wait a while! (Aside) How changed this man is, this attorney. I shouldn't have recognized him. He terrifies me.
The General But how could you be brought here by the crime of Champagne, an old soldier for whom I would stand security?
Ramel You will earn that, on the arrival of the investigating magistrate.
The General Will you be pleased to take a seat?
Ferdinand (to Ramel, pointing out Pauline) That is she!
Ramel A man might lay down his life for such a lovely girl.
Gertrude (to Ramel) We do not know each other! You have never seen me, have you? You must have pity on us!
Ramel You may depend upon me for that.
The General (who sees Ramel and Gertrude talking together) Is my wife to be called to this investigation?
Ramel Certainly, General. I came here myself because the countess had not been notified that we required her presence.
The General My wife mixed up in such an affair? It is an outrage!
Vernon Keep cool, my friend.
Felix (announcing) Monsieur, the investigating magistrate!
The General Let him come in.
The same persons, the investigating magistrate, Champagne, Baudrillon and a gendarme who is guarding Champagne.
The Magistrate (bowing to the company) Monsieur the state's attorney, this is M. Baudrillon, the druggist.
Ramel Has M. Baudrillon seen the accused?
The Magistrate No, monsieur, the accused came in charge of a gendarme.
Ramel We shall soon learn the truth in this case! Let M. Baudrillon and the accused approach.
The Magistrate Come forward, M. Baudrillon; (to Champagne) and you also.
Ramel M. Baudrillon, do you identify this man as the person who bought arsenic from you two days ago?
Baudrillon Yes, that is the very man.
Champagne Didn't I tell you, M. Baudrillon, that it was for the mice that were eating up everything, even in the house, and that I wanted it for Madame?
The Magistrate Do you hear him, madame? This is his plea; he pretends that you yourself sent him to get this stuff, and that he handed the package to you just as he took it from M. Baudrillon.
Gertrude It is true, sir.
Ramel Did you make any use of the arsenic, madame?
Gertrude No, sir.
The Magistrate You can then show us the package sent by M. Baudrillon; it should have his label, and if he acknowledges that it is entire and unbroken, the serious charges made against your foreman will in part be disproved. We shall then have nothing more to do than to receive the report of the physician who held the autopsy.
Gertrude The package, sir, has never been taken from the desk in my bedroom. (Exit.)
Champagne Ah! General, I am saved.
The General Poor old Champagne!
Ramel General, we shall be very happy if we have to announce the innocence of your foreman; unlike you soldiers, we are always delighted to be beaten.
Gertrude (returning) Here it is, gentlemen.
(The Magistrate, Baudrillon and Ramel examine the package.)
Baudrillon (putting on his glasses) It is intact, gentlemen, perfectly intact. Here is my seal on it unbroken.
The Magistrate Lock that up carefully, madame, for the assizes for sometime have had to deal with nothing but poisoning cases.
Gertrude You see, sir, I have kept it in my desk, in which none but the General and myself have access.
(Gertrude returns to her bedroom.)
Ramel General, we will not wait for the report of the autopsy. The principal charge, which you will agree with me was very serious, for all the town was talking of it, has been disproved; and we have full confidence in the skill and integrity of Doctor Vernon. (Gertrude returns) Champagne, you are at liberty. (General expression of satisfaction.) But you see, my friend, to what painful suspicions a man exposes himself when his home has a bad name.
Champagne Ask the General, your Honor, if I am not mild as a lamb; but my wife, God forgive her, was the worst that was ever made. An angel could not have stood her. If I have sometimes tried to bring her to reason, the anxious moments you have made me pass here, have been punishment enough! To be taken up for a prisoner, and to know yourself innocent, while you are in the hands of justice. (Weeps.)
The General Well! well! You are acquitted now!
Napoleon Papa, what is justice?
The General Gentlemen, justice ought not to commit errors of this kind.
Gertrude There seems to be always something fatal in this justice! And this poor man will always bear a bad name from your arrival here.
Ramel Madame, for the innocent there is nothing fatal in criminal justice. You see that Champagne has been promptly discharged. (Fixing his eyes upon Gertrude.) Those who live without reproach, who indulge no passions, save the noble and the lawful, have nothing to fear from justice.
Gertrude Sir, you do not know the people of this country. Ten years from this time they will say that Champagne poisoned his wife, that the officers of justice came to investigate and, but for our protection—
The General Say no more, Gertrude. These gentlemen have done only their duty. (Felix prepares the coffee.) Gentlemen, can I offer you a cup of coffee?
The Magistrate Thank you, General; the urgency of this affair called me away from home rather suddenly, and my wife is waiting dinner for me at Louviers. (He goes on the veranda to talk with the doctor.)
The General (to Ramel) You are a friend of Ferdinand's, I believe?
Ramel Yes, General, and you have in him the noblest heart, the most spotless integrity, the most charming character that I have ever met.
Pauline This state's attorney seems to be a very kind man!
Godard (aside) And why does she say that? Is it because he praised M. Ferdinand? Ah! there's something there!
Gertrude (to Ramel) Whenever you have any moments to spare, you must come to see M. de Charny. (To the General) Would not that be nice, dear?
The Magistrate (coming in from the veranda) M. de la Grandiere, our physician, agrees with Doctor Vernon that this death resulted from Asiatic cholera. We beg, therefore, that you, countess, and you, count, will excuse us for having disturbed, even for a moment, the tranquillity of your charming household.
Ramel (to Gertrude in the front of the stage) Take care! God never protects undertakings so rash as yours. I have discovered all. Give up Ferdinand, leave his life free, and be satisfied with the happiness of a wife. The path which you are following leads to crime.
Gertrude I'll die before I give him up!
Ramel (aside) I must get Ferdinand away from this place.
(Ramel beckons to Ferdinand, takes his arm, and goes out with him after exchange of formal bows.)
The General At last we are rid of them! (To Gertrude) Let the coffee be handed round.
Gertrude Pauline, kindly ring for the coffee.
The same persons, excepting Ferdinand, Ramel, the Magistrate and Baudrillon.
Godard (aside) I shall find out presently whether Pauline loves Ferdinand. This urchin, who wants to know about justice, seems to me pretty cute; I'll make use of him.
Gertrude The coffee.
(Felix brings in the tray.)
Godard (who has taken Napoleon aside) Would you like to play a nice trick on somebody?
Napoleon That I would. Do you know one?
Godard Come with me, and I'll tell you how you must do it.
(Godard goes on the veranda with Napoleon.)
The General Pauline, my coffee. (Pauline brings it to him.) It isn't sweet enough. (Pauline gives him some sugar.) Thank you, dear.
Gertrude M. de Rimonville?
The General Godard?
Gertrude M. de Rimonville?
The General Godard, my wife wants to know if you would like some coffee?
Godard Yes, thank you.
(Godard places himself in such a way as to watch Pauline.)
The General It is pleasant to sit down and take a little coffee in quiet.
Napoleon (running in) Mamma, mamma! My good friend Ferdinand has just fallen down; he has broken his leg and they are carrying him into the house.
Vernon That's dreadful!
The General How very unfortunate!
(Pauline falls back on her chair.)
Gertrude What is that you said?
Napoleon It is all a joke! I only wished to see if you all loved my good friend.
Gertrude It is very naughty of you to act in that way; how did you come to think of such a trick?
Napoleon (whispering) It was Godard.
Godard (aside) She loves him! She was nicely caught by my trap, which I have never known to fail.
Gertrude (to Godard, as she offers him some coffee) Are you aware, sir, that you would make a very indifferent preceptor? It is very bad of you to teach a child such mischievous tricks.
Godard You will come to the conclusion that I did pretty well, when you learn that I have been enabled by this little stratagem to discover my rival.
(Godard points to Ferdinand who is entering the room.)
Gertrude (letting fall the sugar basin) He!
Godard (aside) She is in the same box!
Gertrude (aloud) You startled me.
The General (who has risen from his seat) What is the matter with you, my dear child?
Gertrude Nothing; it is Godard's nonsense; he told me that the public prosecutor had come back. Felix, take away this sugar basin, and bring me another one.
Vernon This is a day of surprises.
Gertrude M. Ferdinand, they are going to bring some sugar for you. (Aside) He is not looking at her. (Aloud) How is it, Pauline, you did not put any sugar in your father's coffee?
Napoleon Why, of course, it was because she was too scared; didn't you hear her say "oh!"?
Pauline Won't you hold your tongue, you little story-teller! You are always teasing me.
(Pauline sits on her father's knee, and puts sugar in his cup.)
Gertrude Can it be true? And to think that I have taken such pains in dressing her! (To Godard) If you are right, your marriage will take place in a fortnight. (Aloud) M. Ferdinand, here is your coffee.
Godard (aside) It seems that I caught two in my mouse-trap! And all the time the General is so calm, so tranquil, and this household is so peaceful! Things are getting mixed up. I shan't go yet; I wish to have a game of whist! Oh! I give up all thoughts of marriage for the present. (Glancing at Ferdinand) There's a lucky fellow! He is loved by two women—two charming, delightful creatures! He is indeed a factotum! But how is it that he is more successful than I am, who have an income of forty thousand?
Gertrude Pauline, my dear, offer the cards to the gentlemen for a game of whist. It is almost nine o'clock. If they are going to have a game, there is no time to be lost. (Pauline puts out the cards.) Come, Napoleon, bid good-night to the gentlemen, let them see you are a good boy, and don't try to stay up as you usually do.
Napoleon Good-night, papa. What is justice like?
The General Justice is blind! Good-night, my pet.
Napoleon Good-night, M. Vernon! What is justice made of?
Vernon It is made up of all our crimes. When you are naughty, they whip you; that is justice.
Napoleon They never whip me.
Vernon Then they never do justice to you!
Napoleon Good-night, my good friend! Good-night, Pauline! Good-night M. Godard.
Godard De Rimonville.
Napoleon Have I been good?
(Gertrude kisses Napoleon.)
The General I have the king.
Vernon And I, the queen.
Ferdinand (to Godard) Monsieur, we are partners.
Gertrude (seeing Marguerite) Be sure to say your prayers, and don't provoke Marguerite. Now, go to bed, dear heart.
Napoleon Yes, dear heart! What is love made of?
The same persons, except Napoleon.
The General When that child begins to ask questions, he is an amusing youngster.
Gertrude It is often very embarrassing to answer him. (To Pauline) Come, Pauline, let us go and finish our work.
Vernon It is your lead, General.
The General Mine? You ought to get married, and we could visit at your house, as you visit here, and you would have all the happiness of a family. Don't forget, Godard, that there is no one in the department happier than I am.
Vernon When a man reaches sixty-seven without reaching happiness, it is impossible to catch up. I shall die a bachelor.
(The two women set to work at the same piece of embroidery.)
Gertrude (seated with Pauline at the front of the stage) How is this, my child! Godard tells me that you received his advances very coldly; yet he is a very good match for you.
Pauline My father, madame, has given me leave to choose a husband for myself.
Gertrude Do you know what Godard will say? He will say that you refused him because you had already made your choice.
Pauline If it were true, you and my father would know it. What reason have I for not giving you my confidence?
Gertrude I cannot say, and I do not blame you. You see in matters of love women keep their secret with heroic constancy, sometimes in the midst of the most cruel torments.
Pauline (aside, picking up the scissors, which she had let drop) Ferdinand was wise in telling me to distrust her—she is so insinuating!
Gertrude Perhaps you have in your heart a love like that. If such a misfortune has befallen you, you may rely on my help—I love you, remember! I can win your father's consent; he has confidence in me, and I can sway both his mind and affections. Therefore, dear child, you may open your heart to me.
Pauline You can read my heart, madame, for I am concealing nothing from you.
The General Vernon, what in the name of everything are you doing?
(Faint murmurs are heard among the card players; Pauline casts a look at them.)
Gertrude (aside) The question point-blank does not do with her. (Aloud) How happy you make me! For this provincial joker, Godard, avers that you almost fainted when he prompted Napoleon to declare that Ferdinand had broken his leg. Ferdinand is a pleasant young fellow, our intimate friend for some four years; what is more natural than your attachment for the youth, whose birth and talents are both in his favor?
Pauline He is my father's clerk.
Gertrude Thank God, you are not in love with him; I was a little anxious for the moment, for, my dear child, he is a married man.
Pauline What! He is married? Why then does he make a secret of it? (Aside) Married? That would be outrageous. I will ask him this evening. I will give him the signal on which we agreed to meet.
Gertrude (aside) Not a line of her face changed! Godard is wrong, or this child is more self-possessed than I am. (Aloud) What is the matter with you, my pet?
Pauline Oh! nothing.
Gertrude (touching Pauline's neck) Why, you are quite hot! Do you feel so? (Aside) She loves him, that is plain. But the question is, does he love her? I suffer the torments of the damned!
Pauline I have been working too closely at this frame! And what, pray, is the matter with you?
Gertrude Nothing. But you asked me why Ferdinand kept his marriage secret.
Pauline Ah! yes!
Gertrude (rising, aside) If she is in love, she has a will of iron. But where can they have met? I never leave her in the daytime, and Champagne sees him all the time at the factory. No! it is absurd. If she does love him, it is without his knowledge, and she is like all other young girls, who begin to love a man in secret. But if they have come to an understanding, I have given her such a start that she will be sure to communicate with him about it, if only through her eyes. I will keep them both well in sight.
Godard We have had wonderful luck, M. Ferdinand!
(Ferdinand leaves off playing and goes towards Gertrude.)
Pauline (aside) I did not know that it was possible to suffer so much and yet live on.
Ferdinand (to Gertrude) Madame, won't you take my place in the game?
Gertrude Pauline, will you go instead? (Aside) I can't tell him that he loves Pauline, that would suggest what may be a new idea to him. What shall I do? (to Ferdinand) She has confessed all.
Ferdinand Confessed what?
Gertrude Why, all!
Ferdinand I don't understand. Do you refer to Mlle. de Grandchamp?
Ferdinand And what has she been doing?
Gertrude You have not been false to me? You do not want to kill me?
Ferdinand Kill you? She? I?
Gertrude Am I the victim of one of Godard's jokes?
Ferdinand Gertrude, you are beside yourself!
Godard (to Pauline) Ah! Mademoiselle, that is bad play!
Pauline You lost a great deal by not taking my stepmother for a partner.
Gertrude (to Ferdinand) Ferdinand, I do not know whether I am rightly or wrongly informed; but this I do know; I prefer death to the loss of our hopes.
Ferdinand Take care! The doctor has been watching us very keenly for the last few days.
Gertrude (aside) She has not once looked back at him! (Aloud) She will marry Godard, for her father will compel her to do so.
Ferdinand Godard would make an excellent match for any one.
The General I can't stay here any longer! My daughter plays vilely, and you, Vernon, have trumped my king!
Vernon My dear General, it was a finesse.
The General You stupid! Come, it is ten o'clock, and time to go to sleep instead of playing cards. Ferdinand, be good enough to take Godard to his room. As for you, Vernon, you deserve to sleep on the floor as a punishment, for trumping my king.
Godard It is, after all, merely a matter of five francs, General.
The General It is also a matter of honor. (To Vernon) Come, now, although you have played so badly, let me hand you your hat and cane.
(Pauline takes a flower from the vase and plays with it.)
Gertrude (aside) A signal! I will watch her this night, even though my husband should afterwards kill me for it!
Ferdinand (taking a candlestick from Felix) M. de Rimonville, I am at your service.
Godard I wish you good-night, madame. My respects to you, mademoiselle. General, good-night.
The General Good-night, Godard.
Godard De Rimonville—Doctor, I—
Vernon (looking at him and blowing his nose) Good-bye, my friend.
The General (attending the doctor on his way out) Good-bye till to-morrow, Vernon, but come early.
Gertrude, Pauline and the General.
Gertrude My dear, Pauline refuses Godard.
The General And what are your reasons, my daughter?
Pauline I do not like him sufficiently to take him for a husband.
The General Well, never mind! We will look out some one else for you; but it is time for this to end, for you are now twenty-two, and people will begin to talk about you, my wife and me unless you make an early choice.
Pauline May I not be permitted, if I choose, to remain single?
Gertrude She has made her choice, but probably wishes to tell you by yourself. I will leave you, and she will confess it. (To Pauline) Good-night, my child; talk freely with your father. (Aside) I will listen.
(Gertrude enters her chamber and proceeds to close the door.)
The General and Pauline.
The General (aside) Act as my daughter's confessor! I am utterly unfitted for such a task! She might rather act as confessor to me. (Aloud) Pauline, come here. (He takes her on his knee) Now, do you really think, my pet, that an old trooper like me doesn't understand your resolution to remain single? Why, of course, that means, in every language in which it has ever been uttered, that a young person is in a special hurry to be married—to some one that she is in love with.
Pauline Papa, I would like to tell you something, but I cannot have confidence in you.
The General And why not, mademoiselle?
Pauline Because you tell everything to your wife.
The General And you mean to tell me that you have a secret of such a kind that it cannot be revealed to an angel, to the woman who has educated you—to your second mother!
Pauline Oh! If you are going to be vexed, I shall get off to bed. I used to think that a father's heart would be a place of unfailing refuge for a daughter.
The General You silly child! Come, I am going to be in a good humor.
Pauline How kind you are! But listen! Suppose I were in love with the son of one of those whom you detest?
The General (rising abruptly to his feet and repulsing her) I should detest you!
Pauline And this is what you call being good humored?
The General My child, there are feelings in my heart that you should never rouse in me; you ought to know this. They are my very life. Do you wish to be the death of your father?
The General Dear child! I have had my day. My lot, with you and Gertrude at my side, is an enviable one. But, however sweet and charming is my life, I would quit it without regret, if by that means I could render you happy; for happiness is a debt we owe to those who owe to us their existence.
Pauline (noticing the door ajar, aside) Ah! she is listening. (Aloud) Father, I didn't mean what I said, but suppose I felt a love of that kind and it was so violent that I was likely to die of it?
The General It would be best for you to tell me nothing about it, and wait for your happiness until my death. And yet, since there is nothing more sacred, nothing more dear next to God and country, than children to their parents, children in their turn ought to hold sacred their parents' wishes and never to disobey them, even after their death. If you do not remain faithful to this hatred of mine, I think I should come forth from my grave to curse you!
Pauline (kissing her father) Oh! you bad, bad man! At any rate, I shall now find out whether you can keep a secret or not. Swear to me on your honor that you'll not repeat a syllable of what I told you.
The General I promise you that. But what reason have you for distrusting Gertrude?
Pauline If I told you, you would not believe it.
The General Are you trying to torture your father?
Pauline No. But which do you place first,—this hatred for traitors, or your own honor?
The General They are both first with me, for they are based upon a common principle.
Pauline Very well; if you throw away your honor by violating your oath, you may as well throw away your hatred. That is all I wanted to find out.
The General If women are angelic, they have in them also something of the diabolical. Tell me, who has filled the head of such an innocent girl as you are with ideas like these? This is the way they lead us by the—
Pauline (interrupting him) Good-night, father.
The General You naughty child!
Pauline Keep my secret, or I will bring you a son-in-law that will drive you wild.
(Pauline enters her own apartment.)
The General (alone) There must certainly be some key to this enigma! It must be discovered! Yes, and Gertrude shall discover it!
(Pauline's chamber; a small plain room with a bed in the centre and a round table at the left; the entrance is at the right, but there is a secret entrance on the left.)
Pauline At last I am alone! At last I can be natural! Married? My Ferdinand married? If this is so, he is the falsest, foulest, vilest of men! And I could kill him! Kill him? But I myself could not survive one hour the knowledge that he was actually married. My stepmother I detest! And if she becomes my enemy, there will be war between us, and war in earnest. It would be terrible, for I should tell my father all I know. (She looks at her watch.) Half-past eleven, and he cannot come before midnight, when the whole household is asleep. Poor Ferdinand! He has to risk his life for a few minutes' chat with her he loves! That is what I call true love! Such perils men will not undergo for every woman! But what would I not undergo for him! If my father surprised us, I would be the one to take the first blow. Oh! To suspect the man you love is to suffer greater torment than to lose him! If he dies, you can follow him in death; but doubt—is the cruelest of separations!—Ah! I hear him.
Ferdinand and Pauline (who locks the door).
Pauline Are you married?
Ferdinand What a joke! Wouldn't I have told you?
Pauline Ah! (She sinks back on a chair, then falls upon her knees.) Holy Virgin, what vows shall I make to thee? (She kisses Ferdinand's hand.) And you, a thousand blessings on your head!
Ferdinand Who could have told you such a foolish thing?
Pauline My stepmother.
Ferdinand Why, she knows all about me, and if she did not, she would set spies to discover all; for suspicion with such women as that is certitude! Listen, Pauline, moments now are precious. It was Madame de Grandchamp who brought me into this house.
Pauline And why?
Ferdinand Because she is in love with me.
Pauline How horrible! And what of my father?
Ferdinand She was in love with me before her marriage.
Pauline She is in love with you; but you, are you in love with her?
Ferdinand Do you think if I were, I should have remained in this house?
Pauline And she is still in love with you?
Ferdinand Yes, unhappily she is! I ought to tell you that she was at one time beloved by me; but to-day I hate her from the bottom of my heart, and I sometimes ask myself why. Is it because I am in love with you, and every genuine and pure love is by nature exclusive? Is it because the contrast between an angel of purity, such as you, and a devil like her excites in me just as much hatred towards her as it rouses love towards you, my joy, my bliss, my beauteous treasure? I cannot say. But I hate her, and I love you so much that I should not regret dying if your father killed me; for one talk with you, one hour spent in this chamber by your side, seems, even when it is passed away, a whole lifetime to me.
Pauline Oh, say those dear words again! For they bring back my confidence once more. After hearing you speak thus, I forgive you the wrong you have done me in telling that I am not your first and only love, as you are mine. It is but a lost illusion, that is all! Do not be vexed with me. Young girls are foolish, they have no ambition but in their love, and they would fain rule over the past as they rule over the future of their beloved! But you hate her! And in that word, you give me more proof of love than you have given me for the two years that we have loved. If only you knew with what cruelty this stepmother has put me on the rack, by her questions! But I will be avenged!
Ferdinand You must be very careful! She is a very dangerous woman! She rules your father. She is a woman who will fight to the death!
Pauline To the death! That is as I wish it!
Ferdinand Be prudent, dear Pauline! We are going to act in harmony, are we not? Well, my love, the prosecuting attorney is of opinion that if we would triumph over the difficulties that prevent our union, we must have fortitude enough to part for some time.
Pauline Oh! Give me two days and I will win over my father!
Ferdinand But you do not know Madame de Grandchamp. She has gone too far to leave off without ruining you, and to do that she will go to any lengths. But I will not go away without giving you what may prove most effective weapons against her.
Pauline Oh, give them, give them to me!
Ferdinand Not yet. And you must promise me not to make use of them, unless your life is in danger; for what I am doing is certainly a breach of confidence. But it is for your sake I do it.
Pauline Tell me what it is?
Ferdinand To-morrow I shall put into your hands the letters which she wrote to me, some of them before, some of them after her marriage. Pauline, do not read them! Swear this to me, in the name of our love, in the name of our happiness! It will be sufficient, should it ever become absolutely necessary, that she knows that they are in your possession; at that moment you will see her trembling and groveling at your feet, for all her machinations then are foiled. But do not use them excepting as a last resort, and keep them well concealed.
Pauline What a terrible duel it will be!
Ferdinand Terrible! But, Pauline be courageous, as you have so far been, in keeping the secret of our love; do not acknowledge it, until you find it no longer possible to deny it.
Pauline Oh, why did your father betray the Emperor? If fathers knew how their children would be punished for the sins of their parents, there would be none but good men!
Ferdinand Perhaps this sad interview will prove the last moment of happiness we shall have!
Pauline (aside) I will rejoin him, if he leaves me—(Aloud) See, I no longer weep, I am full of courage! But tell me, will your friend know the place where you are hiding?
Ferdinand Eugene will be our confidential friend.
Pauline And the letters?
Ferdinand To-morrow! To-morrow! But where will you conceal them?
Pauline I shall keep them about me.
Ferdinand Good! Farewell!
Pauline Oh no, not yet!
Ferdinand A moment more may ruin us.
Pauline Or unite us for life. Come, let me show you out, I shall not rest until I see you in the garden. Come!
Ferdinand Let me take one more glance at this maiden chamber, in which you will think of me—where all things speak of you.
(The drawing-room before described.)
Pauline on the veranda; Gertrude at the door of the room.
Gertrude She is seeing him out! He has been deceiving me! So has she! (Taking Pauline by the hand, she leads her to the front of the stage.) Will you dare tell me, now, mademoiselle, that you do not love him?
Pauline Madame, I am deceiving no one.
Gertrude You are deceiving your father.
Pauline And you, madame?
Gertrude So both of you are against me—Oh, I shall—
Pauline You shall do nothing, either against me or against him.
Gertrude Do not compel me to show my power! You must be obedient to your father, and—he is obedient to me.
Pauline We shall see!
Gertrude (aside) Her coolness makes my blood boil. My brain reels! (Aloud) Do you know that I would rather die than live without him?
Pauline And so would I, madame. But I am free. I have not sworn as you have to be faithful to a husband—And your husband is my father!
Gertrude (kneeling before Pauline) What have I done to you? I have loved you, I have educated you, I have been a good mother to you.
Pauline Be a faithful wife, and I will say no more.
Gertrude Nay! Speak! Say all you like—Ah! the struggle has begun.
The same persons and the General.
The General How is this? What is going on here?
Gertrude (to Pauline) You must feign sickness. Come lie down. (She makes her lie down.) I happened, my dear, to hear moans. Our dear child was calling for help; she was almost suffocated by the flowers in her bedroom.
Pauline Yes, papa, Marguerite had forgotten to take away the vase of flowers, and I almost died.
Gertrude Come, my daughter, come into the open air.
(Gertrude and Pauline go towards the door.)
The General Stay a moment. What have you done with the flowers.
Pauline I do not know where Madame has put them.
Gertrude I threw them into the garden.
(The General abruptly rushes out, after setting his candle on the card table.)
Pauline and Gertrude; later, the General.
Gertrude Go back to your room, lock yourself in! I'll take all the blame. (Pauline goes to her room.) I will wait for him here.
(Gertrude goes back into her room.)
The General (coming in from the garden) I can find the vase of flowers nowhere. There is some mystery in all these things. Gertrude?—There is no one here! Ah! Madame de Grandchamp, you will have to tell me!—It is a nice thing that I should be deceived by both wife and daughter!
Curtain to the Second Act.
(Same stage-setting. Morning.)
Gertrude; then Champagne.
Gertrude (brings a flower vase from the garden and puts it down on the table) What trouble I had to allay his suspicions! One or two more scenes like that and I shall lose control of him. But I have gained a moment of liberty now—provided Pauline does not come to trouble me! She must be asleep—she went to bed so late!—would it be possible to lock her in her room? (She goes to the door of Pauline's chamber, but cannot find the key.) I am afraid not.
Champagne (coming in) M. Ferdinand is coming, madame.
Gertrude Thank you, Champagne. He went to bed very late, did he not?
Champagne M. Ferdinand makes his rounds, as you know, every night, and he came in at half-past one o'clock. I sleep over him, and I heard him.
Gertrude Does he ever go to bed later than that?
Champagne Sometimes he does, but that is according to the time he makes his rounds.
Gertrude Very good. Thank you, Champagne. (Exit Champagne.) As the reward for a sacrifice which has lasted for twelve years, and whose agonies can only be understood by women,—for what man can guess at such tortures!—what have I asked? Very little! Merely to know that he is here, near to me, without any satisfaction saving, from time to time, a furtive glance at him. I wished only to feel sure that he would wait for me. To feel sure of this is enough for us, us for whom a pure, a heavenly love is something never to be realized. Men never believe that they are loved by us, until they have brought us down into the mire! And this is how he has rewarded me! He makes nocturnal assignations with this stupid girl! Ah! He may as well pronounce my sentence of death; and if he has the courage to do so, I shall have the courage at once to bring about their eternal separation; I can do it! But here he comes! I feel faint! My God! Why hast Thou made me love with such desperate devotion him who no longer loves me!
Ferdinand and Gertrude.
Gertrude Yesterday you deceived me. You came here last night, through this room, entering by means of a false key, to see Pauline, at the risk of being killed by M. de Grandchamp! Oh! you needn't lie about it. I saw you, and I came upon Pauline just as you concluded your nocturnal promenade. You have made a choice upon which I cannot offer you my congratulations. If only you had heard us discussing the matter, on this very spot! If you had seen the boldness of this girl, the effrontery with which she denied everything to me, you would have trembled for your future, that future which belongs to me, and for which I have sold myself, body and soul.
Ferdinand (aside) What an avalanche of reproach! (Aloud) Let us try, Gertrude, both of us, to behave wisely in this matter. Above all things, let us try to avoid base accusations. I shall never forget what you have been to me; I still entertain towards you a friendship which is sincere, unalterable and absolute; but I no longer love you.
Gertrude That is, since eighteen months ago.
Ferdinand No. Since three years ago.
Gertrude You must admit then that I have the right to detest and make war upon your love for Pauline; for this love has rendered you a traitor and criminal towards me.
Gertrude Yes, you have deceived me. In standing as you did between us two, you made me assume a character which is not mine. I am violent as you know. Violence is frankness, and I am living a life of outrageous duplicity. Tell me, do you know what it is to have to invent new lies, on the spur of the moment, every day,—to live with a dagger at your heart? Oh! This lying! But for us, it is the Nemesis of happiness. It is disgraceful, when it succeeds; it is death, when it fails. And you, other men envy you because you make women love you. You will be applauded, while I shall be despised. And you do not wish me to defend myself! You have nothing but bitter words for a woman who has hidden from you everything—her remorse—her tears! I have suffered alone and without you the wrath of heaven; alone and without you I have descended into my soul's abyss, an abyss which has been opened by the earthquake of sorrow; and, while repentance was gnawing at my heart, I had for you nothing but looks of tenderness, and smiles of gaiety! Come, Ferdinand, do not despise a slave who lies in such utter subjection to your will!
Ferdinand (aside) I must put an end to this. (Aloud) Listen to me, Gertrude. When first we met it was youth alone united us in love. I then yielded, you may say, to an impulse of that egotism which lies at the bottom of every man's heart, though he knows it not, concealed under the flowers of youthful passion. There is so much turbulence in our sentiments at twenty-two! The infatuation which may seize us then, permits us not to reflect either upon life as it really is, or upon the seriousness of its issues—
Gertrude (aside) How calmly he reasons upon it all! Ah! It is infamous!
Ferdinand And at that time I loved you freely, with entire devotion; but afterwards—afterwards, life changed its aspect for both of us. If you ask why I remained under a roof which I should never have approached, it is because I chose in Pauline the only women with whom it was possible for me to end my days. Come, Gertrude, do not break yourself to pieces against the barrier raised by heaven. Do not torture two beings who ask you to yield to them happiness, and who will ever love you dearly.
Gertrude Ah, I see! You are the martyr—and I—I am the executioner! Would not I have been your wife to-day, if I had not set your happiness above the satisfaction of my love?
Ferdinand Very well! Do the same thing to-day, by giving me my liberty.
Gertrude You mean the liberty of loving some one else. That is not the way you spoke twelve years ago. Now it will cost my life.
Ferdinand It is only in romance that people die of love. In real life they seek consolation.
Gertrude Do not you men die for your outraged honor, for a word, for a gesture? Well, there are women who die for their love, that is, when their love is a treasure which has become their all, which is their very life! And I am one of those women. Since you have been under this roof, Ferdinand, I have feared a catastrophe every moment. Yes. And I always carry about me something which will enable me to quit this life, the very moment that misfortune falls on us. See! (She shows him a phial.) Now you know that life that I have lived!
Ferdinand Ah! you weep!
Gertrude I swore that I would keep back these tears, but they are strangling me! For you—While you speak to me with that cold politeness which is your last insult,—your last insult to a love which you repudiate!—you show not the least sympathy towards me! You would like to see me dead, for then you would be unhampered by me. But, Ferdinand, you do not know me! I am willing to confess everything to the General, whom I would not deceive. This lying fills me with disgust! I shall take my child, I shall come to your house, we will flee together. But no more of Pauline!
Ferdinand If you did this, I would kill myself.
Gertrude And I, too, would kill myself! Then we should be united in death, and you would never be hers!
Ferdinand (aside) What an infernal creature!
Gertrude And there is this consideration. What would you do if the barrier which separates you from Pauline were never broken down?
Ferdinand Pauline will be able to maintain her own independence.
Gertrude But if her father should marry her to some one else?
Ferdinand It would be my death.
Gertrude People die of love in romance. In real life they console themselves with some one else, and a man only does his duty by being true to her with whom he has plighted troth.
The General (outside) Gertrude! Gertrude!
Gertrude I hear the general calling. (The General appears.) You will then finish your business as quickly as you can, M. Ferdinand, and return promptly; I shall wait for you here.
The General, Gertrude, then Pauline.
The General This is rather early in the morning for you to be holding a conference with Ferdinand! What were you discussing? The factory?
Gertrude What were we discussing? I will tell you; for you are exactly like your son; when once you begin to ask questions, you must have a direct answer. I had an impression that Ferdinand had something to do with Pauline's refusal to marry Godard.
The General When I come to think of it, you were perhaps right.
Gertrude I got M. Ferdinand to come here for the purpose of clearing up my suspicions, and you interrupted us at the very moment when I seemed likely to gain some information.
(Pauline pushes the door ajar unseen.)
The General But if my daughter is in love with M. Ferdinand—
Pauline (aside) I must listen.
The General I do not see why, when I questioned her yesterday in a paternal manner and with absolute kindness, she should have concealed it from me, for I left her perfectly free, and her feeling for him would be absolutely natural.
Gertrude She probably misunderstood you or you questioned her before she had made up her mind. The heart of a young girl, as you ought to know, is full of contradictions.
The General And why should there not be something between them? This young man toils with the courage of a lion, he is the soul of honor, he is probably of good family.
Pauline (aside) I understand the situation now.
The General He will give us information on this point. He is above all things trustworthy; but you ought to know his family, for it was you who discovered this treasure for us.
Gertrude I proposed him to you on the recommendation of old Madame Morin.
The General But she is dead!
Gertrude (aside) It is very lucky that I quoted her then! (Aloud) She told me that his mother was Madame de Charny to whom he is devoted; she lives in Brittany and belongs to the Charnys, an old family of that country.
The General The Charnys. Then if he is in love with Pauline, and Pauline with him, I, for my part, would prefer him to Godard in spite of Godard's fortune. Ferdinand understands the business of the factory, he could buy the whole establishment with the dowry of Pauline. That would be understood. All he has to do is to tell us where he comes from, who he is, and who his father was. But we will see his mother.
Gertrude Madame Charny?
The General Yes, Madame Charny. Doesn't she live near Saint-Melo? That is by no means at the other end of the world.
Gertrude Just use a little tact, some of the manoeuvres of an old soldier, and be very gentle, and you will soon learn whether this child—
The General Why should I worry about it? Here comes Pauline herself.
The same persons, Marguerite, then Pauline.
The General Ah! It is you, Marguerite. You came near causing the death of my daughter last night by your carelessness. You forgot—
Marguerite I, General, cause the death of my child!
The General You forgot to take away the vase containing flowers of a strong scent, and she was almost suffocated.
Marguerite Impossible! I took away the vase before the arrival of M. Godard, and Madame must have seen that it was not there while we were dressing Mademoiselle—
Gertrude You are mistaken. It was there.
Marguerite (aside) She's a hard one. (Aloud) Does not Madame remember that she wished to put some natural flowers in Mademoiselle's hair, and that she remarked about the vase being gone?
Gertrude You are inventing a story. But where did you carry it?
Marguerite To the foot of the veranda.
Gertrude (to the General) Did you find it there last night?
The General No.
Gertrude I took it from the chamber myself last night, and put it where it now stands. (Points to the vase of flowers on the veranda.)
Marguerite Sir, I swear to you by my eternal salvation—
Gertrude Do not swear. (Calling.) Pauline!
The General Pauline!
Gertrude Was the vase of flowers in your room last night?
Pauline Yes. Marguerite, my dear old friend, you must have forgotten it.
Marguerite Why don't you say, Mademoiselle, that some one put it there on purpose to make you ill!
Gertrude Whom do you mean by some one?
The General You old fool, if your memory failed you, it is unnecessary for you, at any rate, to accuse anybody else.
Pauline (aside to Marguerite) Keep silence! (Aloud) Marguerite, it was there! You forgot it.
Marguerite It is true, sir, I was thinking of the day before yesterday.
The General (aside) She has been in my service for twenty years. Strange that she should be so persistent! (Takes Marguerite aside.) Come! What did you say about the flowers for my daughter's hair?
Marguerite (while Pauline makes signs to her) I said that, sir—I am so old that my memory is treacherous.
The General But even then, why did you suppose that any one in the house had an evil thought towards—
Pauline Say no more, father! She has so much affection for me, dear Marguerite, that she is sometimes distracted by it.
Marguerite (aside) I am quite sure I took away the flowers.
The General (aside) Why should my wife and my daughter deceive me? An old trooper like me doesn't permit himself to be caught between two fires, and there is something decidedly crooked—
Gertrude Marguerite, we will take tea in this room when M. Godard comes down. Tell Felix to bring in all the newspapers.
Marguerite Very good, madame.
Gertrude, the General and Pauline.
The General (kissing his daughter) You've not even said good-morning to me, you unnatural child.
Pauline (kissing him) But, you began by scolding about nothing. I declare, father, I am going to undertake your education. It is quite time for you, at your age, to control yourself a little,—a young man would not be so quick as you are! You have terrified Marguerite, and when women are in fear, they tell little falsehoods, and you can get nothing out of them.
The General (aside) I'm in for it now! (Aloud) Your conduct, young lady, does not do much towards promoting my self-control. I wish you to marry, and I propose a man who is young—
Pauline Handsome and well educated!
The General Please keep silence, when your father addresses you, mademoiselle. A man who possesses a magnificent fortune, at least six times as much as yours, and you refuse him. You are well able to do so, because I leave you free in the matter; but if you do not care for Godard, tell me who it is you choose, if I do not already know.
Pauline Ah, father, you are much more clear-sighted than I am. Tell me who he is?
The General He is a man from thirty to thirty-five years old, who pleases me much more than Godard does, although he is without fortune. He is already a member of our family.
Pauline I don't see any of our relations here.
The General I wonder what you can have against this poor Ferdinand, that you should be unwilling—
Pauline Ah! Who has been telling you this story? I'll warrant that it is Madame de Grandchamp.
The General A story? I suppose, you will deny the truth of it! Have you never thought of this fine young fellow?
Gertrude (to the General) She is lying! Just look at her.
Pauline Madame de Grandchamp has doubtless her reasons for supposing that I have an attachment for my father's clerk. Oh! I see how it is, she wishes you to say: "If your heart, my daughter, has no preference for any one, marry Godard." (In a low voice to Gertrude) This, madame, is an atrocious move! To make me abjure my love in my father's presence! But I will have my revenge.
Gertrude (aside to Pauline) As you choose about that; but marry Godard you shall!
The General (aside) Can it be possible that these two are at variance? I must question Ferdinand. (Aloud) What were you saying to each other?
Gertrude Your daughter, my dear, did not like my idea that she was taken with a subordinate; she is deeply humiliated at the thought.
The General Am I to understand, then, my daughter, that you are not in love with him?
Pauline Father, I—I do not ask you to marry me to any one! I am perfectly happy! The only thing which God has given us women, as our very own, is our heart. I do not understand why Madame de Grandchamp, who is not my mother, should interfere with my feelings.
Gertrude My child, I desire nothing but your happiness. I am merely your stepmother, I know, but if you had been in love with Ferdinand, I should have—
The General (kissing Gertrude's hand) How good you are!
Pauline (aside) I feel as if I were strangled! Ah! If I could only undo her!
Gertrude Yes, I should have thrown myself at your father's feet, to win his consent, if he had refused it.
The General Here comes Ferdinand. (Aside) I shall question him at my discretion; and then perhaps the mystery will be cleared up.
The same persons and Ferdinand.
The General (to Ferdinand) Come here, my friend. You have been with us over three years now, and I am indebted to you for the power of sleeping soundly amid all the cares of an extensive business. You are almost as much as I am the master of my factory. You have been satisfied with a salary, pretty large it is true, but scarcely proportionate perhaps to the services rendered by you. I think at last I understand the motive of your disinterestedness.
Ferdinand It is my duty, General.
The General Granted; but does not the heart count for a good deal in this? Come now, Ferdinand, you know my way of considering the different ranks of society, and the distinctions pertaining to them. We are all the sons of our own works. I have been a soldier. You may therefore have full confidence in me. They have told me all; how you love a certain young person, here present. If you desire it, she shall be yours. My wife had pleaded your cause, and I must acknowledge that she has gained it before the tribunal of my heart.
Ferdinand General, can this be true? Madame de Grandchamp has pleaded my cause? Ah, madame! (He falls on his knees before her.) I acknowledge in this your greatness of heart! You are sublime, you are an angel! (Rising and rushing forward to Pauline.) Pauline, my Pauline!
Gertrude (to the General) I guessed aright; he is in love with Pauline.
Pauline Sir, have I ever given you the right, by a single look, or by a single word, to utter my name in this way? No one could be more astonished than I am to find that I have inspired you with sentiments which might flatter others, but which I can never reciprocate; I have a higher ambition.
The General Pauline, my child, you are more than severe. Come, tell me, is there not some misunderstanding here? Ferdinand, come here, come close to me.
Ferdinand How is it, mademoiselle, when your stepmother, and your father agree?
Pauline (in a low voice to Ferdinand) We are lost!
The General Now I am going to act the tyrant. Tell me, Ferdinand, of course your family is an honorable one?
Pauline (to Ferdinand) You hear that!
The General Your father must certainly have been a man of as honorable a profession as mine was; my father was sergeant of the watch.
Gertrude (aside) They are now separated forever.
Ferdinand Ah! (To Gertrude) I understand your move. (To the General) General, I do not deny that once in a dream, long ago, in a sweet dream, in which it was delicious for a man poor and without family to indulge in—dreams we are told are all the fortune that ever comes to the unfortunate—I do not deny that I once regarded it as a piece of overwhelming happiness to become a member of your family; but the reception which mademoiselle accords to those natural hopes of mine, and which you have been cruel enough to make me reveal, is such that at the present moment they have left my heart, never again to return! I have been rudely awakened from that dream, General. The poor man has his pride, which it is as ungenerous in the rich man to wound, as it would be for any one to insult—mark what I say—your attachment to Napoleon. (In a low voice to Gertrude) You are playing a terrible part!
Gertrude (aside to Ferdinand) She shall marry Godard.
The General Poor young man! (To Pauline) He is everything that is good! He inspires me with affection. (He takes Ferdinand aside.) If I were in your place, and at your age, I would have—No, no, what the devil am I saying?—After all she is my daughter!
Ferdinand General, I make an appeal to your honor; swear that you will keep, as the most profound secret, what I am going to confide to you; and this secrecy must extend so far even as to Madame de Grandchamp.
The General (aside) What is this? He also, like my daughter, seems to distrust my wife. But, by heaven, I will learn what it means! (Aloud) I consent; you have the word of a man who has never once broken a promise given.
Ferdinand After having forced me to reveal that which I had buried in the recesses of my heart, and after I have been thunderstruck, for that is the only word in which to express it, by the disdain of Mademoiselle Pauline, it is impossible for me to remain here any longer. I shall therefore put my accounts in order; this evening I shall quit this place, and to-morrow will leave France for America, if I can find a ship sailing from Havre.
The General (aside) It is as well that he should leave, for he will be sure to return. (To Ferdinand) May I tell this to my daughter?
Ferdinand Yes, but to no one else.
The General (aside to Pauline) Pauline! My daughter, you have so cruelly humiliated this poor youth, that the factory is on the point of losing its manager; Ferdinand is to leave this evening for America.