Part 2 out of 2
the course of your campaigns, you had never seen liquid white applied."
"Yes, aunt, I have some ideas; yes, I have some ideas about liquid white,
and by summoning together all my recollections--"
"Is it true, Captain, that it causes rheumatism?"
"No, not at all; have a couple of logs put on the fire and give me the
So saying, I turned up my sleeves and poured some of the "Milk of Beauty"
into a little onyx bowl that was at hand, then I dipped a little sponge
into it, and approached my Aunt Venus with a smile.
"You are sure that it has no effect on the skin--no, I really dare not."
As she said this she looked as prim as a vestal. "It is the first time,
do you know, that I ever used this liquid white, ah! ah! ah! What a
baby I am! I am all in a shiver."
"But, my dear, you are foolish," exclaimed the lady of the screen,
breaking into a laugh; "when one acts one must submit to the exigencies
of the footlights."
"You hear, aunt? Come, give me your arm."
She held out her full, round arm, on the surface of which was spread that
light and charming down, symbol of maturity. I applied the wet sponge.
"Oh! oh! oh!" exclaimed the Baroness; "it is like ice, a regular shower-
bath, and you want to put that all over me?"
Just then there was a knock at the door which led out of the Baron's
dressing-room, and instinctively I turned toward it.
"Who's there? Oh! you are letting it splutter all over me!" exclaimed
the Baroness. "You can't come in; what is it?"
"What is the matter, aunt?"
"You can't come in," exclaimed some one behind the screen; "my cuirass
has split. Marie, Rosine, a needle and thread, the gum."
"Oh! there is a stream all down my back, your horrid white is running
down," said the Baroness, in a rage.
"I will wipe it. I am really very sorry."
"Can you get your hand down my back, do you think?"
"Why not, aunt?"
"Why not, why not! Because where there is room for a drop of water,
there is not room for the hand of a lancer."
Another knock, this time at the door opening from the passage.
"What is it now?"
"The torches have come, Madame," said a footman. "Will you have them
"Ah! the torches of Mesdemoiselles de N., who are dressing in the
boudoir. No, certainly not, do not light them, they are not wanted till
the second tableau."
"Do not stir, aunt, I beg of you. Mesdemoiselles de N. appears too,
"Yes, with their mamma; they represent 'The Lights of Faith driving out
Unbelief,' thus they naturally require torches. You know, they are tin
tubes with spirits of wine which blazes up. It will be, perhaps, the
prettiest tableau of the evening. It is an indirect compliment we wish
to pay to the Cardinal's nephew; you know the dark young man with very
curly hair and saintly eyes; you saw him last Monday. He is in high
favor at court. The Comte de Geloni was kind enough to promise to come
this evening, and then Monsieur de Saint P. had the idea of this
tableau. His imagination is boundless, Monsieur de Saint P., not to
mention his good taste, if he would not break his properties."
"Is he not also a Chevalier of the Order of Saint Gregory?"
"Yes, and, between ourselves, I think that he would not be sorry to
become an officer in it."
"Ah! I understand, 'The Lights of Faith driving out,' et cetera. But
tell me, aunt, am I not brushing you too hard? Lift up your arm a
little, please. Tell me who has undertaken the part of Unbelief?"
"Don't speak of it, it is quite a history. As it happened, the casting
of the parts took place the very evening on which his Holiness's
Encyclical was published, so that the gentlemen were somewhat excited.
Monsieur de Saint P. took high ground, really very high ground; indeed,
I thought for a moment that the General was going to flare out. In
short, no one would have anything to do with Unbelief, and we had to have
recourse to the General's coachman, John--you know him? He is a good-
looking fellow; he is a Protestant, moreover, so that the part is not a
novel one to him."
"No matter, it will be disagreeable for the De N.'s to appear side by
side with a servant."
"Come! such scruples must not be carried too far; he is smeared over with
black and lies stretched on his face, while the three ladies trample on
him, so you see that social proprieties are observed after all. Come,
have you done yet? My hair is rather a success, is it not? Silvani is
the only man who understands how to powder one. He wanted to dye it red,
but I prefer to wait till red hair has found its way a little more into
"There; it is finished, aunt. Is it long before you have to go on?"
"No. Good Heavens, it is close on eleven o'clock! The thought of
appearing before all these people--don't the flowers drooping from my
head make my neck appear rather awkward, Ernest? Will you push them up
Then going to the door of the dressing-room she tapped at it gently,
saying, "Are you ready, Monsieur de V.?"
"Yes, Baroness, I have found my apple, but I am horribly nervous. Are
Minerva and Juno dressed? Oh! I am nervous to a degree you have no idea
"Yes, yes, every one is ready; send word to the company in the drawing-
room. My poor heart throbs like to burst, Captain."
HUSBAND AND WIFE
MY DEAR SISTERS:
Marriage, as it is now understood, is not exactly conducive to love.
In this I do not think that I am stating an anomaly. Love in marriage
is, as a rule, too much at his ease; he stretches himself with too great
listlessness in armchairs too well cushioned. He assumes the
unconstrained habits of dressing-gown and slippers; his digestion goes
wrong, his appetite fails and of an evening, in the too-relaxing warmth
of a nest, made for him, he yawns over his newspaper, goes to sleep,
snores, and pines away. It is all very well, my sisters, to say, "But
not at all--but how can it be, Father Z.?--you know nothing about it,
I maintain that things are as I have stated, and that at heart you are
absolutely of my opinion. Yes, your poor heart has suffered very often;
there are nights during which you have wept, poor angel, vainly awaiting
the dream of the evening before.
"Alas!" you say, "is it then all over? One summer's day, then thirty
years of autumn, to me, who am so fond of sunshine." That is what you
But you say nothing, not knowing what you should say. Lacking self-
confidence and ignorant of yourself, you have made it a virtue to keep
silence and not wake your husband while he sleeps; you have got into the
habit of walking on the tips of your toes so as not to disturb the
household, and your husband, in the midst of this refreshing half-sleep,
has begun to yawn luxuriously; then he has gone out to his club, where he
has been received like the prodigal son, while you, poor poet without pen
or ink, have consoled yourself by watching your sisters follow the same
road as yourself.
You have, all of you, ladies, your pockets full of manuscripts, charming
poems, delightful romances; it is a reader who is lacking to you, and
your husband takes up his hat and stick at the very sight of your
handwriting; he firmly believes that there are no more romances except
those already in print. From having read so many, he considers that no
more can be written.
This state of things I regard as absolutely detestable. I look upon you,
my dear sisters, as poor victims, and if you will permit I will give you
my opinion on the subject.
Esteem and friendship between husband and wife are like our daily bread,
very pleasant and respectable; but a little jam would not spoil that, you
will admit! If, therefore, one of your friends complains of the freedom
that reigns in this little book, let her talk on and be sure beforehand
that this friend eats dry bread. We have described marriage as we think
it should be--depicting smiling spouses, delighted to be together.
Is it because love is rare as between husband and wife that it is
considered unbecoming to relate its joys? Is it regret, or envy, that
renders you fastidious on the subject, sisters? Reserve your blushes for
the pictures of that society of courtesans where love is an article of
commerce, where kisses are paid for in advance. Regard the relation of
these coarse pleasures as immodest and revolting, be indignant, scold
your brethren--I will admit that you are in the right beforehand; but for
Heaven's sake do not be offended if we undertake your defence, when we
try to render married life pleasant and attractive, and advise husbands
to love their wives, wives to love their husbands.
You must understand that there is a truly moral side to all this. To
prove that you are adorable; that there are pleasures, joys, happiness,
to be found outside the society of those young women--such is our object;
and since we are about to describe it, we venture to hope that after
reflecting for a few minutes you will consider our intentions
praiseworthy, and encourage us to persevere in them.
I do not know why mankind has chosen to call marriage a man-trap, and all
sorts of frightful things; to stick up all round it boards on which one
reads: "Beware of the sacred ties of marriage;" "Do not jest with the
sacred duties of a husband;" "Meditate on the sacred obligation of a
father of a family;" "Remember that the serious side of life is
beginning;" "No weakness; henceforth you are bound to find yourself face
to face with stern reality," etc., etc.
I will not say that it is imprudent to set forth all those fine things;
but when done it should be done with less affectation. To warn people
that there are thorns in the path is all very well; but, hang it! there
is something else in married life, something that renders these duties
delightful, else this sacred position and these ties would soon be
nothing more than insupportable burdens. One would really think that to
take to one's self a pretty little wife, fresh in heart and pure in mind,
and to condemn one's self to saw wood for the rest of one's days, were
one and the same thing.
Well, my dear sisters, have you any knowledge of those who have painted
the picture in these gloomy colors and described as a punishment that
which should be a reward? They are the husbands with a past and having
rheumatism. Being weary and--how shall I put it?--men of the world,
they choose to represent marriage as an asylum, of which you are to be
the angels. No doubt to be an angel is very nice, but, believe me, it is
either too much or too little. Do not seek to soar so high all at once,
but, instead, enter on a short apprenticeship. It will be time enough to
don the crown of glory when you have no longer hair enough to dress in
any other fashion.
But, O husbands with a past! do you really believe that your own angelic
quietude and the studied austerity of your principles are taken for
anything else than what they really mean--exhaustion?
You wish to rest; well and good; but it is wrong in you to wish everybody
else about you to rest too; to ask for withered trees and faded grass in
May, the lamps turned down and the lamp-shades doubled; to require one to
put water in the soup and to refuse one's self a glass of claret; to look
for virtuous wives to be highly respectable and somewhat wearisome
beings; dressing neatly, but having had neither poetry, youth, gayety,
nor vague desires; ignorant of everything, undesirous of learning
anything; helpless, thanks to the weighty virtues with which you have
crammed them; above all, to ask of these poor creatures to bless your
wisdom, caress your bald forehead, and blush with shame at the echo of a
The deuce! but that is a pretty state of things for marriage to come to.
Delightful institution! How far are your sons, who are now five-and-
twenty years of age, in the right in being afraid of it! Have they not a
right to say to you, twirling their moustaches:
"But, my dear father, wait a bit; I am not quite ripe for it!"
"Yes; but it is a splendid match, and the young lady is charming."
"No doubt, but I feel that I should not make her happy. I am not old
enough--indeed, I am not."
And when the young man is seasoned for it, how happy she will be, poor
little thing!--a ripe husband, ready to fall from the tree, fit to be put
away in the apple-loft! What happiness! a good husband, who the day
after his marriage will piously place his wife in a niche and light a
taper in front of her; then take his hat and go off to spend elsewhere a
scrap of youth left by chance at the bottom of his pocket.
Ah! my good little sisters who are so very much shocked and cry "Shame!"
follow our reasoning a little further. It is all very well that you
should be treated like saints, but do not let it be forgotten that you
are women, and, listen to me, do not forget it yourselves.
A husband, majestic and slightly bald, is a good thing; a young husband
who loves you and eats off the same plate is better. If he rumples your
dress a little, and imprints a kiss, in passing, on the back of your
neck, let him. When, on coming home from a ball, he tears out the pins,
tangles the strings, and laughs like a madman, trying to see whether you
are ticklish, let him. Do not cry "Murder!" if his moustache pricks
you, but think that it is all because at heart he loves you well. He
worships your virtues; is it surprising hence that he should cherish
their outward coverings? No doubt you have a noble soul; but your body
is not therefore to be despised; and when one loves fervently, one loves
everything at the same time. Do not be alarmed if in the evening, when
the fire is burning brightly and you are chatting gayly beside it, he
should take off one of your shoes and stockings, put your foot on his
lap, and in a moment of forgetfulness carry irreverence so far as to kiss
it; if he likes to pass your large tortoise-shell comb through your hair,
if he selects your perfumes, arranges your plaits, and suddenly exclaims,
striking his forehead: "Sit down there, darling; I have an idea how to
arrange a new coiffure."
If he turns up his sleeves and by chance tangles your curls, where really
is the harm? Thank Heaven if in the marriage which you have hit upon you
find a laughing, joyous side; if in your husband you find the loved
reader of the pretty romance you have in your pocket; if, while wearing
cashmere shawls and costly jewels in your ears, you find the joys of a
real intimacy--that is delicious! In short, reckon yourself happy if in
your husband you find a lover.
But before accepting my theories, ladies, although in your heart and
conscience you find them perfect, you will have several little prejudices
to overcome; above all, you will have to struggle against your education,
which is deplorable, as I have already said, but that is no great matter.
Remember that under the pretext of education you have been stuffed, my
dear sisters. You have been varnished too soon, like those pictures
painted for sales, which crack all over six months after purchase. Your
disposition has not been properly directed; you are not cultivated; you
have been stifled, pruned; you have been shaped like those yew-trees at
Versailles which represent goblets and birds. Still, you are women at
the bottom, though you no longer look it.
You are handed over to us men swaddled, distorted, stuffed with
prejudices and principles, heavy as paving-stones; all of which are the
more difficult to dislodge since you look upon them as sacred; you are
started on the matrimonial journey with so much luggage reckoned as
indispensable; and at the first station your husband, who is not an
angel, loses his temper amidst all these encumbrances, sends it all to
the devil under some pretext or other, lets you go on alone, and gets
into another carriage. I do not require, mark me, that you should be
allowed to grow up uncared for, that good or evil instincts should be
suffered to spring up in you anyhow: but it were better that they should
not treat your poor mind like the foot of a well-born Chinese girl--that
they should not enclose it in a porcelain slipper.
A marriageable young lady is a product of maternal industry, which takes
ten years to fructify, and needs from five to six more years of study on
the part of the husband to purify, strip, and restore to its real shape.
In other words, it takes ten years to make a bride and six years at least
to turn this bride into a woman again. Admit frankly that this is time
lost as regards happiness, but try to make it up if your husband will
permit you to do so.
The sole guaranty of fidelity between husband and wife is love. One
remains side by side with a fellow-traveller only so long as one
experiences pleasure and happiness in his company. Laws, decrees, oaths,
may prevent faithlessness, or at least punish it, but they can neither
hinder nor punish intention. But as regards love, intention and deed are
Is it not true, my dear sisters, that you are of this opinion? Do not
you thoroughly understand that if love is absent from marriage it should,
on the contrary, be its real pivot? To make one's self lovable is the
main thing. Believe my white hairs that it is so, and let me give you
some more advice.
Yes, I favor marriage--I do not conceal it--the happy marriage in which
we cast into the common lot our ideas and our sorrows, as well as our
good-humor and our affections. Suppress, by all means, in this
partnership, gravity and affectation, yet add a sprinkling of gallantry
and good-fellowship. Preserve even in your intimacy that coquetry you so
readily assume in society. Seek to please your husband. Be amiable.
Consider that your husband is an audience, whose sympathy you must
In your manner of loving mark those shades, those feminine delicacies,
which double the price of things. Do not be miserly, but remember that
the manner in which one gives adds to the value of the gift; or rather do
not give--make yourself sought after. Think of those precious jewels
that are arranged with such art in their satin-lined jewel-case; never
forget the case. Let your nest be soft, let your presence be felt in all
its thousand trifles. Put a little of yourself into the ordering of
everything. Be artistic, delicate, and refined--you can do so without
effort--and let your husband perceive in everything that surrounds him,
from the lace on the curtains to the perfume that you use, a wish on your
part to please him.
Do not say to him, "I love you"; that phrase may perhaps recall to him a
recollection or two. But lead him on to say to you, "You do love me,
then?" and answer "No," but with a little kiss which means "Yes." Make
him feel beside you the present to be so pleasant that the past will fade
from his memory; and to this end let nothing about you recall that past,
for, despite himself, he would never forgive it in you. Do not imitate
the women whom he may have known, nor their head-dresses or toilettes;
that would tend to make him believe he has not changed his manner of
life. You have in yourself another kind of grace, another wit, another
coquetry, and above all that rejuvenescence of heart and mind which those
women have never had. You have an eagerness in life, a need of
expansion, a freshness of impression which are--though perhaps you may
not imagine it--irresistible charms. Be yourselves throughout, and you
will be for this loved spouse a novelty, a thousand times more charming
in his eyes than all the bygones possible. Conceal from him neither your
inclinations nor your inexperience, your childish joys or your childish
fears; but be as coquettish with all these as you are of the features of
your face, of your fine, black eyes and your long, fair hair.
Nothing is more easily acquired than a little adroitness; do not throw
yourself at his head, and always have confidence in yourself.
Usually, a man marries when he thinks himself ruined; when he feels in
his waistcoat pocket--not a louis--he is then seasoned; he goes at once
before the registrar. But let me tell you, sisters, he is still rich.
He has another pocket of which he knows nothing, the fool! and which is
full of gold. It is for you to act so that he shall find it out and be
grateful to you for the happiness he has had in finding a fortune.
I will sum up, at once, as time is flying and I should not like you to be
late for dinner. For Heaven's sake, ladies, tear from the clutches of
the women, whose toilettes you do very wrong in imitating, your husbands'
affections. Are you not more refined, more sprightly, than they? Do for
him whom you love that which these women do for all the world; do not
content yourselves with being virtuous--be attractive, perfume your hair,
nurture illusion as a rare plant in a golden vase. Cultivate a little
folly when practicable; put away your marriage-contract arid look at it
only once in ten years; love one another as if you had not sworn to do
so; forget that there are bonds, contracts, pledges; banish from your
mind the recollection of the Mayor and his scarf. Sometimes when you are
alone fancy that you are only sweethearts; sister, is not that what you
Ah! let candor and youth flourish. Let us love and laugh while spring
blossoms. Let us love our babies, the little dears, and kiss our wives.
Yes, that is moral and healthy; the world is not a shivering convent,
marriage is not a tomb. Shame on those who find in it only sadness,
boredom, and sleep.
My sisters, my sisters, strive to be real; that is the blessing I wish
The marriage ceremony at the Town Hall has, no doubt, a tolerable
importance; but is it really possible for a well-bred person to regard
this importance seriously? I have been through it; I have undergone like
every one else this painful formality, and I can not look back on it
without feeling a kind of humiliation. On alighting from the carriage
I descried a muddy staircase; walls placarded with bills of every color,
and in front of one of them a man in a snuff-colored coat, bare-headed, a
pen behind his ear, and papers under his arm, who was rolling a cigarette
between his inky fingers. To the left a door opened and I caught a
glimpse of a low dark room in which a dozen fellows belonging to the
National Guard were smoking black pipes. My first thought on entering
this barrack-room was that I had done wisely in not putting on my gray
dress. We ascended the staircase and I saw a long, dirty, dim passage,
with a number of half-glass doors, on which I read: "Burials. Turn the
handle," "Expropriations," "Deaths. Knock loudly," "Inquiries,"
"Births," "Public Health," etc., and at length "Marriages."
We entered in company with a small lad who was carrying a bottle of ink;
the atmosphere was thick, heavy, and hot, and made one feel ill.
Happily, an attendant in a blue livery, resembling in appearance the
soldiers I had seen below, stepped forward to ask us to excuse him for
not having at once ushered us into the Mayor's drawing-room, which is no
other than the first-class waiting-room. I darted into it as one jumps
into a cab when it begins to rain suddenly. Almost immediately two
serious persons, one of whom greatly resembled the old cashier at the
Petit-Saint-Thomas, brought in two registers, and, opening them, wrote
for some time; only stopping occasionally to ask the name, age, and
baptismal names of both of us, then, saying to themselves, "Semi-colon .
. . between the aforesaid . . . fresh paragraph, etc., etc."
When he had done, the one like the man cashier at the Petit-Saint-Thomas
read aloud, through his nose, that which he had put down, and of which I
could understand nothing, except that my name was several times repeated
as well as that of the other "aforesaid." A pen was handed to us and we
"Is it over?" said I to Georges, who to my great surprise was very pale.
"Not yet, dear," said he; "we must now go into the hall, where the
marriage ceremony takes place."
We entered a large, empty hall with bare walls; a bust of the Emperor was
at the farther end over a raised platform, some armchairs, and some
benches behind them, and dust upon everything. I must have been in a
wrong mood, for it seemed to me I was entering the waiting-room at a
railway-station; nor could I help looking at my aunts, who were very
merry, over the empty chairs. The gentlemen, who no doubt affected not
to think as we did, were, on the contrary, all very serious, and I could
discern very well that Georges was actually trembling. At length the
Mayor came in by a little door and appeared before us, awkward and podgy
in his dress-coat, which was too large for him, and which his scarf
caused to rise up. He was a very respectable man who had amassed a
decent fortune from the sale of iron bedsteads; yet how could I bring
myself to think that this embarrassed-looking, ill-dressed, timid little
creature could, with a word hesitatingly uttered, unite me in eternal
bonds? Moreover, he had a fatal likeness to my piano-tuner.
The Mayor, after bowing to us, as a man bows when without his hat, and in
a white cravat, that is to say, clumsily, blew his nose, to the great
relief of his two arms which he did not know what to do with, and briskly
began the little ceremony. He hurriedly mumbled over several passages of
the Code, giving the numbers of the paragraphs; and I was given
confusedly to understand that I was threatened with the police if I did
not blindly obey all the orders and crotchets of my husband, and if I did
not follow wherever he might choose to take me, even if it should be to a
sixth floor in the Rue-Saint-Victor. A score of times I was on the point
of interrupting the Mayor, and saying, "Excuse me, Monsieur, but those
remarks are hardly polite as regards myself, and you yourself must know
that they are devoid of meaning."
But I restrained myself for fear I might frighten the magistrate, who
seemed to me to be in a hurry to finish. He added, however, a few words
on the mutual duties of husband and wife--copartnership--paternity, etc.,
etc.; but all these things, which would perhaps have made me weep
anywhere else, seemed grotesque to me, and I could not forget that dozen
of soldiers playing piquet round the stove, and that row of doors on
which I had read "Public Health," "Burials," "Deaths," "Expropriations,"
etc. I should have been aggrieved at this dealer in iron bedsteads
touching on my cherished dreams if the comic side of the situation had
not absorbed my whole attention, and if a mad wish to laugh outright had
not seized me.
"Monsieur Georges -------- , do you swear to take for your wife
Mademoiselle ----------- ," said the Mayor, bending forward.
My husband bowed and answered "Yes" in a very low voice. He has since
acknowledged to me that he never felt more emotion in his life than in
uttering that "Yes."
"Mademoiselle Berthe -------- ," continued the magistrate, turning to me,
"do you swear to take for your husband -----------"
I bowed, with a smile, and said to myself: "Certainly; that is plain
enough; I came here for that express purpose."
That was all. I was married!
My father and my husband shook hands like men who had not met for twenty
years; the eyes of both were moist. As for myself, it was impossible for
me to share their emotion. I was very hungry, and mamma and I had the
carriage pulled up at the pastry-cook's before going on to the
The next morning was the great event, and when I awoke it was hardly
daylight. I opened the door leading into the drawing-room; there my
dress was spread out on the sofa, the veil folded beside it, my shoes, my
wreath in a large white box, nothing was lacking. I drank a glass of
water. I was nervous, uneasy, happy, trembling. It seemed like the
morning of a battle when one is sure of winning a medal. I thought of
neither my past nor my future; I was wholly taken up with the idea of the
ceremony, of that sacrament, the most solemn of all, of the oath I was
about to take before God, and also by the thought of the crowd gathered
expressly to see me pass.
We breakfasted early. My father was in his boots, his trousers, his
white tie, and his dressing-gown. My mother also was half dressed. It
seemed to me that the servants took greater pains in waiting on me and
showed me more respect. I even remember that Marie said, "The
hairdresser has come, Madame." Madame! Good girl, I have not forgotten
It was impossible for me to eat; my throat was parched and I experienced
all over me shudders of impatience, something like the sensation one has
when one is very-thirsty and is waiting for the sugar to melt. The tones
of the organ seemed to haunt me, and the wedding of Emma and Louis
recurred to my mind. I dressed; the hairdresser called me "Madame" too,
and arranged my hair so nicely that I said, I remember, "Things are
beginning well; this coiffure is a good omen." I stopped Marie, who
wished to lace me tighter than usual. I know that white makes one look
stouter and that Marie was right; but I was afraid lest it should send
the blood to my head. I have always had a horror of brides who looked as
if they had just got up from table. Religious emotions should be too
profound to be expressed by anything save pallor. It is silly to blush
under certain circumstances.
When I was dressed I entered the drawing-room to have a little more room
and to spread out my trailing skirts. My father and Georges were already
there, talking busily.
"Have the carriages come?--yes--and about the 'Salutaris'?--very good,
then, you will see to everything--and the marriage coin--certainly,
I have the ring--Mon Dieu! where is my certificate of confession? Ah!
good, I left it in the carriage."
They were saying all this hurriedly and gesticulating like people having
great business on hand. When Georges caught sight of me he kissed my
hand, and while the maids kneeling about me were settling the skirt, and
the hairdresser was clipping the tulle of the veil, he said in a husky
voice, "You look charming, dear."
He was not thinking in the least of what he was saying, and I answered
"Do you think so? Not too short, the veil, Monsieur Silvani. Don't
forget the bow on the bodice, Marie."
When one has to look after everything, one needs all one's wits.
However, Georges' husky voice recurred to me, and I said to myself, "I am
sure that he has caught a cold; it is plain that he has had his hair cut
I soon got at the true state of the case.
"You have a cold, my dear fellow," said my father.
"Don't speak of it," he answered in a low voice. And still lower, and
with a somewhat embarrassed smile: "Will you be so kind as to give me an
extra pocket-handkerchief? I have but one--"
"Certainly, my dear boy."
"Thanks, very much."
It was a trifle, to be sure, but I felt vexed, and I remember that, when
going downstairs with them holding up my train behind me, I said to
myself, "I do hope that he does not sneeze at the altar."
I soon forgot all about it. We got into the carriage; I felt that every
one was looking at me, and I caught sight of groups of spectators in the
street beyond the carriage gates. What I felt is impossible to describe,
but it was something delightful. The sound of the beadles' canes on the
pavement will forever reecho in my heart. We halted for a moment on the
red drugget. The great organ poured forth the full tones of a triumphal
march; thousands of eager faces turned toward me, and there in the
background, amidst an atmosphere of sunshine, incense, velvet, and gold,
were two gilt armchairs for us to seat ourselves on before the altar.
I do not know why an old engraving in my father's study crossed my mind.
It represents the entry of Alexander the Great into Babylon; he is on an
elephant which is glittering with precious stones. You must know it.
Only, Alexander was a heathen who had many things to reproach himself
with, while I was not.
God smiled on me, and with His paternal hand invited me to seat myself in
His house, on His red drugget, in His gilt armchair. The heavens, full
of joy, made music for me, and on high, through the glittering stained-
glass windows, the archangels, full of kind feeling, whispered as they
watched me. As I advanced, heads were bent as a wheat-field bends
beneath the breeze. My friends, my relatives, my enemies, bowed to us,
and I saw--for one sees everything in spite of one's self on these solemn
occasions--that they did not think that I looked ugly. On reaching the
gilt chair, I bent forward with restrained eagerness--my chignon was
high, revealing my neck, which is passable--and thanked the Lord. The
organ ceased its triumphal song and I could hear my poor mother bursting
into tears beside me. Oh! I understand what a mother's heart must feel
during such a ceremony. While watching with satisfaction the clergy who
were solemnly advancing, I noticed Georges; he seemed irritated; he was
stiff, upright, his nostrils dilated, and his lips set. I have always
been rather vexed at him for not having been a little more sensible to
what I was experiencing that day, but men do not understand this kind of
The discourse of his Reverence who married us was a masterpiece, and was
delivered, moreover, with that unction, that dignity, that persuasive
charm peculiar to him. He spoke of our two families "in which pious
belief was hereditary, like honor." You could have heard a pin drop,
such was the attention with which the prelate's voice was listened to.
Then at one point he turned toward me, and gave me to understand with a
thousand delicacies that I was wedding one of the noblest officers in the
army. "Heaven smiles," said he, "on the warrior who places at the
service of his country a sword blessed by God, and who, when he darts
into the fray, can place his hand upon his heart and shout to the enemy
that noble war-cry, 'I believe!'" How well that was turned! What
grandeur in this holy eloquence! A thrill ran through the assembly.
But that was not all. His Lordship then addressed Georges in a voice as
soft and unctuous as it had before been ringing and enthusiastic.
"Monsieur, you are about to take as your companion a young girl"--I
scarcely dare recall the graceful and delicate things that his Reverence
said respecting me--"piously reared by a Christian mother who has been
able to share with her, if I may say so, all the virtues of her heart,
all the charms of her mind." (Mamma was sobbing.) "She will love her
husband as she has loved her father, that father full of kindness, who,
from the cradle, implanted in her the sentiments of nobility and
disinterestedness which--" (Papa smiled despite himself.) "Her father,
whose name is known to the poor, and who in the house of God has his
place marked among the elect." (Since his retirement, papa has become
churchwarden.) "And you, Monsieur, will respect, I feel certain, so much
purity, such ineffable candor"--I felt my eyes grow moist--"and without
forgetting the physical and perishable charms of this angel whom God
bestows upon you, you will thank Heaven for those qualities a thousand
times more precious and more lasting contained in her heart and her
We were bidden to stand up, and stood face to face with one another like
the divine spouses in the picture of Raphael. We exchanged the golden
ring, and his Reverence, in a slow, grave voice, uttered some Latin
words, the sense of which I did not understand, but which greatly moved
me, for the prelate's hand, white, delicate, and transparent, seemed to
be blessing me. The censer, with its bluish smoke, swung by the hands of
children, shed in the air its holy perfume. What a day, great heavens!
All that subsequently took place grows confused in my memory. I was
dazzled, I was transported. I can remember, however, the bonnet with
white roses in which Louise had decked herself out. Strange it is how
some people are quite wanting in taste!
Going to the vestry, I leaned on the General's arm, and it was then that
I saw the spectators' faces. All seemed touched.
Soon they thronged round to greet me. The vestry was full, they pushed
and pressed round me, and I replied to all these smiles, to all these
compliments, by a slight bow in which religious emotion peeped forth in
spite of me. I felt conscious that something solemn had just taken place
before God and man; I felt conscious of being linked in eternal bonds.
I was married!
By a strange fancy I then fell to thinking of the pitiful ceremony of the
day before. I compared--God forgive me for doing so!--the ex-dealer in
iron bedsteads, ill at ease in his dress-coat, to the priest; the trivial
and commonplace words of the mayor, with the eloquent outbursts of the
venerable prelate. What a lesson! There earth, here heaven; there the
coarse prose of the man of business, here celestial poesy.
Georges, to whom I lately spoke about this, said:
"But, my dear, perhaps you don't know that marriage at the Town Hall
before the registrar is gratis, while--" I put my hand over his mouth to
prevent him from finishing; it seemed to me that he was about to utter
Gratis, gratis. That is exactly what I find so very unseemly.
A WEDDING NIGHT
Thanks to country manners and the solemnity of the occasion, the guests
had left fairly early. Almost every one had shaken hands with me, some
with a cunning smile and others with a foolish one, some with an
officious gravity that suggested condolence, and others with a stupid
cordiality verging on indiscretion.
General de S. and the prefect, two old friends of the family, were
lingering over a game of ecarte, and frankly, in spite of all the good-
will I bore toward them, I should have liked to see them at the devil, so
irritable did I feel that evening.
All this took place, I had forgotten to tell you, the very day of my
marriage, and I was really rather tired. Since morning I had been
overwhelmed by an average of about two hundred people, all actuated by
the best intentions, but as oppressive as the atmosphere before a storm.
Since morning I had kept up a perpetual smile for all, and then the good
village priest who had married us had thought it his duty, in a very neat
sermon so far as the rest of it went, to compare me to Saint Joseph, and
that sort of thing is annoying when one is Captain in a lancer regiment.
The Mayor, who had been good enough to bring his register to the chateau,
had for his part not been able, on catching sight of the prefect, to
resist the pleasure of crying, "Long live the Emperor!" On quitting the
church they had fired off guns close to my ears and presented me with an
immense bouquet. Finally--I tell you this between ourselves--since eight
o'clock in the morning I had had on a pair of boots rather too tight for
me, and at the moment this narrative begins it was about half an hour
I had spoken to every one except my dear little wife, whom they seemed to
take pleasure in keeping away from me. Once, however, on ascending the
steps, I had squeezed her hand on the sly. Even then this rash act had
cost me a look, half sharp and half sour, from my mother-in-law, which
had recalled me to a true sense of the situation. If, Monsieur, you
happen to have gone through a similar day of violent effusion and general
expansion, you will agree with me that during no other moment of your
life were you more inclined to irritability.
What can you say to the cousins who kiss you, to the aunts who cling
round your neck and weep into your waistcoat, to all these smiling faces
ranged one beyond the other before you, to all those eyes which have been
staring at you for twelve hours past, to all those outbursts of affection
which you have not sought, but which claim a word from the heart in
At the end of such a day one's very heart is foundered. You say to
yourself: "Come, is it all over? Is there yet a tear to wipe away,
a compliment to receive, an agitated hand to clasp? Is every one
satisfied? Have they seen enough of the bridegroom? Does any one want
any more of him? Can I at length give a thought to my own happiness,
think of my dear little wife who is waiting for me with her head buried
in the folds of her pillow? Who is waiting for me!" That flashes
through your mind all at once like a train of powder. You had not
thought of it. During the whole of the day this luminous side of the
question had remained veiled, but the hour approaches, at this very
moment the silken laces of her bodice are swishing as they are unloosed;
she is blushing, agitated, and dare not look at herself in the glass for
fear of noting her own confusion. Her aunt and her mother, her cousin
and her bosom friend, surround and smile at her, and it is a question of
who shall unhook her dress, remove the orange-blossoms from her hair, and
have the last kiss.
Good! now come the tears; they are wiped away and followed by kisses.
The mother whispers something in her ear about a sacrifice, the future,
necessity, obedience, and finds means to mingle with these simple but
carefully prepared words the hope of celestial benedictions and of the
intercession of a dove or two hidden among the curtains.
The poor child does not understand anything about it, except it be that
something unheard-of is about to take place, that the young man--she dare
not call him anything else in her thoughts--is about to appear as a
conqueror and address her in wondrous phrases, the very anticipation of
which makes her quiver with impatience and alarm. The child says not a
word--she trembles, she weeps, she quivers like a partridge in a furrow.
The last words of her mother, the last farewells of her family, ring
confusedly in her ears, but it is in vain that she strives to seize on
their meaning; her mind--where is that poor mind of hers? She really
does not know, but it is no longer under her control.
"Ah! Captain," I said to myself, "what joys are hidden beneath these
alarms, for she loves you. Do you remember that kiss which she let you
snatch coming out of church that evening when the Abbe What's-his-name
preached so well, and those hand-squeezings and those softened glances,
and--happy Captain, floods of love will inundate you; she is awaiting
Here I gnawed my moustache, I tore my gloves off and then put them on
again, I walked up and down the little drawing-room, I shifted the clock,
which stood on the mantel-shelf; I could not keep still. I had already
experienced such sensations on the morning of the assault on the
Malakoff. Suddenly the General, who was still going on with his eternal
game at ecarte with the prefect, turned round.
"What a noise you are making, Georges!" said he. "Cards, if you please,
"But, General, the fact is that I feel, I will not conceal from you, a
certain degree of emotion and--"
"The king-one-and four trumps. My dear friend, you are not in luck,"
said he to the prefect, and pulling up with an effort the white waistcoat
covering his stomach, he slipped some louis which were on the table L931
into his fob; then bethinking himself, he added: "In fact, my poor
fellow, you think yourself bound to keep us company. It is late and we
have three leagues to cover from here to B. Every one has left, too."
At last he departed. I can still see his thick neck, the back of which
formed a roll of fat over his ribbon of the Legion of Honor. I heard him
get into his carriage; he was still laughing at intervals. I could have
"At last!" I said to myself; "at last!" I mechanically glanced at
myself in the glass. I was crimson, and my boots, I am ashamed to say,
were horribly uncomfortable. I was furious that such a grotesque detail
as tight boots should at such a moment have power to attract my
attention; but I promised to be sincere, and I am telling you the whole
Just then the clock struck one, and my mother-in-law made her appearance.
Her eyes were red, and her ungloved hand was crumpling up a handkerchief
At the sight of her my first movement was one of impatience. I said to
myself, "I am in for a quarter of an hour of it at least."
Indeed, Madame de C. sank down on a couch, took my hand, and burst into
tears. Amid her sobs she ejaculated, "Georges--my dear boy--Georges--my
I felt that I could not rise to the occasion. "Come, Captain," I said to
myself, "a tear; squeeze forth a tear. You can not get out of this
becomingly without a tear, or it will be, 'My son-in-law, it is all
When this stupid phrase, derived from I do not know where--a Palais Royal
farce, I believe--had once got into my head, it was impossible for me to
get rid of it, and I felt bursts of wild merriment welling up to my lips.
"Calm yourself, Madame; calm yourself."
"How can I, Georges? Forgive me, my dear boy."
"Can you doubt me, Madame?"
I felt that "Madame" was somewhat cold, but I was afraid of making Madame
de C. seem old by calling her "mother." I knew her to be somewhat of a
"Oh, I do not doubt your affection; go, my dear boy, go and make her
happy; yes, oh, yes! Fear nothing on my account; I am strong."
Nothing is more unbearable than emotion when one does not share it.
I murmured "Mother!" feeling that after all she must appreciate such an
outburst; then approaching, I kissed her, and made a face in spite of
myself--such a salt and disagreeable flavor had been imparted to my
mother-in-law's countenance by the tears she had shed.
It had been decided that we should pass the first week of our honeymoon
at Madame de C.'s chateau. A little suite of apartments had been fitted
up for us, upholstered in blue chintz, delightfully cool-looking. The
term "cool-looking" may pass here for a kind of bad joke, for in reality
it was somewhat damp in this little paradise, owing to the freshly
A room had been specially reserved for me, and it was thither that, after
heartily kissing my dear mother-in-law, I flew up the stairs four at a
time. On an armchair, drawn in front of the fire, was spread out my
maroon velvet dressing-gown and close beside it were my slippers. I
could not resist, and I frantically pulled off my boots. Be that as it
may, my heart was full of love, and a thousand thoughts were whirling
through my head in frightful confusion. I made an effort, and reflected
for a moment on my position:
"Captain," said I to myself, "the approaching moment is a solemn one.
On the manner in which you cross the threshold of married life depends
your future happiness. It is not a small matter to lay the first stone
of an edifice. A husband's first kiss"--I felt a thrill run down my
back--"a husband's first kiss is like the fundamental axiom that serves
as a basis for a whole volume. Be prudent, Captain. She is there beyond
that wall, the fair young bride, who is awaiting you; her ear on the
alert, her neck outstretched, she is listening to each of your movements.
At every creak of the boards she shivers, dear little soul."
As I said this, I took off my coat and my cravat. "Your line of conduct
lies before you ready traced out," I added; "be impassioned with due
restraint, calm with some warmth, good, kind, tender; but at the same
time let her have a glimpse of the vivacities of an ardent affection and
the attractive aspect of a robust temperament." Suddenly I put my coat
on again. I felt ashamed to enter my wife's room in a dressing-gown and
night attire. Was it not equal to saying to her: "My dear, I am at home;
see how I make myself so"? It was making a show of rights which I did
not yet possess, so I rearranged my dress, and after the thousand details
of a careful toilette I approached the door and gave three discreet
little taps. Oh! I can assure you that I was all in a tremble, and my
heart was beating so violently that I pressed my hand to my chest to
restrain its throbs.
She answered nothing, and after a moment of anguish I decided to knock
again. I felt tempted to say in an earnest voice, "It is I, dear; may I
come in?" But I also felt that it was necessary that this phrase should
be delivered in the most perfect fashion, and I was afraid of marring its
effect; I remained, therefore, with a smile upon my lips as if she had
been able to see me, and I twirled my moustache, which, without
affectation, I had slightly perfumed.
I soon heard a faint cough, which seemed to answer me and to grant me
admission. Women, you see, possess that exquisite tact, that extreme
delicacy, which is wholly lacking to us. Could one say more cleverly,
in a more charming manner, "Come, I await you, my love, my spouse"?
Saint Peter would not have hit upon it. That cough was heaven opening to
me. I turned the handle, the door swept noiselessly over the soft
carpet. I was in my wife's room.
A delightful warmth met me face to face, and I breathed a vague perfume
of violets and orris-root, or something akin, with which the air of the
room was laden. A charming disorder was apparent, the ball dress was
spread upon a lounging-chair, two candles were discreetly burning beneath
I drew near the bed where Louise was reposing, on the farther side of it,
with her face to the wall, and her head buried in the pillows.
Motionless and with closed eyes she appeared to be asleep, but her
heightened color betrayed her emotion. I must acknowledge that at that
moment I felt the most embarrassed of mankind. I resolved humbly to
request hospitality. That would be delicate and irreproachable. Oh!
you who have gone through these trials, search your memories and recall
that ridiculous yet delightful moment, that moment of mingled anguish and
joy, when it becomes necessary, without any preliminary rehearsal, to
play the most difficult of parts, and to avoid the ridicule which is
grinning at you from the folds of the curtains; to be at one and the same
time a diplomatist, a barrister, and a man of action, and by skill, tact,
and eloquence render the sternest of realities acceptable without
banishing the most ideal of dreams.
I bent over the bed, and in the softest notes, the sweetest tones my
voice could compass, I murmured, "Well, darling?"
One does what one can at such moments; I could not think of anything
better, and yet, Heaven knows, I had tried.
No reply, and yet she was awake. I will admit that my embarrassment was
doubled. I had reckoned--I can say as much between ourselves--upon more
confidence and greater yielding. I had calculated on a moment of
effusiveness, full of modesty and alarm, it is true, but, at any rate, I
had counted upon such effusiveness, and I found myself strangely
disappointed. The silence chilled me.
"You sleep very soundly, dear. Yet I have a great many things to say;
won't you talk a little?"
As I spoke I--touched her shoulder with the tip of my finger, and saw her
"Come," said I; "must I kiss you to wake you up altogether?"
She could not help smiling, and I saw that she was blushing.
"Oh! do not be afraid, dear; I will only kiss the tips of your fingers
gently, like that," and seeing that she let me do so, I sat down on the
She gave a little cry. I had sat down on her foot, which was straying
beneath the bedclothes.
"Please let me go to sleep," she said, with a supplicating air; "I am so
"And how about myself, my dear child? I am ready to drop. See, I am in
evening dress, and have not a pillow to rest my head on, not one, except
this one." I had her hand in mine, and I squeezed it while kissing it.
"Would you be very vexed to lend this pillow to your husband? Come, are
you going to refuse me a little bit of room? I am not troublesome, I can
I thought I noted a smile on her lips, and, impatient to escape from my
delicate position, in a moment I rose, and, while continuing to converse,
hastelessly and noiselessly undressed. I was burning my ships. When my
ships were burned there was absolutely nothing left for me to do but to
get into bed.
Louise gave a little cry, then she threw herself toward the wall, and I
heard a kind of sob.
I had one foot in bed and the other out, and remained petrified, a smile
on my lips, and supporting myself wholly on one arm.
"What is the matter-dear; what is the matter? Forgive me if I have
I brought my head closer to her own, and, while inhaling the perfume of
her hair, whispered in her ear:
"I love you, my dear child; I love you, little wife; don't you think that
She turned toward me her eyes, moistened with tears, and said in a voice
broken by emotion and so soft, so low, so tender, that it penetrated to
the marrow of my bones:
"I love you, too. But let me sleep!"
"Sleep, my loved angel; sleep fearlessly, my love. I am going away;
sleep while I watch over you," I said.
Upon my honor I felt a sob rise to my throat, and yet the idea that my
last remark was not badly turned shot through my brain. I pulled the
coverings over her again and tucked her up like a child. I can still see
her rosy face buried in that big pillow, the curls of fair hair escaping
from under the lace of her little nightcap. With her left hand she held
the counterpane close up under her chin, and I saw on one of her fingers
the new and glittering wedding-ring I had given her that morning. She
was charming, a bird nestling in cottonwool, a rosebud fallen amid snow.
When she was settled I bent over her and kissed her on the forehead.
"I am repaid," said I to her, laughing; "are you comfortable, Louise?"
She did not answer, but her eyes met mine and I saw in them a smile which
seemed to thank me, but a smile so subtle that in any other circumstances
I should have seen a shadow of raillery in it.
"Now, Captain, settle yourself in this armchair and goodnight!" I said
this to myself, and I made an effort to raise my unfortunate foot which I
had forgotten, a heroic effort, but it was impossible to accomplish it.
The leg was so benumbed that I could not move it. As well as I could I
hoisted myself upon the other leg, and, hobbling, reached my armchair
without appearing too lame. The room seemed to me twice as wide to cross
as the Champ de Mars, for hardly had I taken a step in its chilly
atmosphere--the fire had gone out, it was April, and the chateau
overlooked the Loire--when the cold reminded me of the scantiness of my
costume. What! to cross the room before that angel, who was doubtless
watching me, in the most grotesque of costumes, and with a helpless leg
into the bargain! Why had I forgotten my dressing-gown? However, I
reached the armchair, into which I sank. I seized my dress-coat which
was beside me, threw it over my shoulders, twisted my white cravat round
my neck, and, like a soldier bivouacking, I sought a comfortable
It would have been all very well without the icy cold that assailed my
legs, and I saw nothing in reach to cover me. I said to myself,
"Captain, the position is not tenable," when at length I perceived on the
couch--One sometimes is childishly ashamed, but I really dared not, and I
waited for a long minute struggling between a sense of the ridiculous and
the cold which I felt was increasing. At last, when I heard my wife's
breathing become more regular and thought that she must be asleep, I
stretched out my arm and pulled toward me her wedding-gown which was on
the couch--the silk rustled enough to wake the dead--and with the energy
which one always finds on an emergency, wrapped it round me savagely like
a railway rug. Then yielding to an involuntary fit of sybaritism, I
unhooked the bellows and tried to get the fire to burn.
"After all," I said to myself, arranging the blackened embers and working
the little instrument with a thousand precautions, "after all, I have
behaved like a gentleman. If the General saw me at this moment he would
laugh in my face; but no matter, I have acted rightly."
Had I not sworn to be sincere, I do not know whether I should acknowledge
to you that I suddenly felt horrible tinglings in the nasal regions. I
wished to restrain myself, but the laws of nature are those which one can
not escape. My respiration suddenly ceased, I felt a superhuman power
contract my facial muscles, my nostrils dilated, my eyes closed, and all
at once I sneezed with such violence that the bottle of Eau des Carmes
shook again. God forgive me! A little cry came from the bed, and
immediately afterward the most silvery frank and ringing outbreak of
laughter followed. Then she added in her simple, sweet, musical tones:
"Have you hurt yourself--, Georges?" She had said Georges after a brief
silence, and in so low a voice that I scarcely heard it.
"I am very ridiculous, am I not, dear? and you are quite right to laugh
at me. What would you have? I am camping out and I am undergoing the
"You are not ridiculous, but you are catching cold," and she began to
"Cruel one, you ought to say, and you would not be wrong if I were to let
you fall ill." She said this with charming grace. There was a mingling
of timidity and tenderness, modesty and raillery, which I find it
impossible to express, but which stupefied me. She smiled at me, then I
saw her move nearer to the wall in order to leave room for me, and, as I
hesitated to cross the room.
"Come, forgive me," she said.
I approached the bed; my teeth were chattering.
"How kind you are to me, dear," she said to me after a moment or so;
"will you wish me good-night?" and she held out her cheek to me. I
approached nearer, but as the candle had just gone out I made a mistake
as to the spot, and my lips brushed hers. She quivered, then, after a
brief silence, she murmured in a low tone, "You must forgive me; you
frightened me so just now."
"I wanted to kiss you, dear."
"Well, kiss me, my husband."
Within the trembling young girl the coquetry of the woman was breaking
forth in spite of herself.
I could not help it; she exhaled a delightful perfume which mounted to my
brain, and the contact of this dear creature whom I touched, despite
myself, swept away all my resolutions.
My lips--I do not know how it was--met hers, and we remained thus for a
long moment; I felt against my breast the echo of the beating heart, and
her rapid breathing came full into my face.
"You do love me a little, dear?" I whispered in her ear.
I distinguished amid a confused sigh a little "Yes!" that resembled a
"I don't frighten you any longer?"
"No," she murmured, very softly.
"You will be my little wife, then, Louise; you will let me teach you to
love me as I love you?"
"I do love you," said she, but so softly and so gently that she seemed to
How many times have we not laughed over these recollections, already so
ETEXT EDITOR'S BOOKMARKS:
A ripe husband, ready to fall from the tree
Answer "No," but with a little kiss which means "Yes"
As regards love, intention and deed are the same
Clumsily, blew his nose, to the great relief of his two arms
Emotion when one does not share it
Hearty laughter which men affect to assist digestion
How rich we find ourselves when we rummage in old drawers
Husband who loves you and eats off the same plate is better
I came here for that express purpose
Ignorant of everything, undesirous of learning anything
It is silly to blush under certain circumstances
Love in marriage is, as a rule, too much at his ease
Rather do not give--make yourself sought after
Reckon yourself happy if in your husband you find a lover
There are pious falsehoods which the Church excuses
To be able to smoke a cigar without being sick
Why mankind has chosen to call marriage a man-trap