Part 3 out of 3
M. Marin attended to some business and then went home, passed the day
quietly, slept well, woke in a good humor and sent for his newspapers.
The first he opened was a radical sheet. He read:
"OUR CLERGY AND OUR GOVERNMENT OFFICIALS
"We shall never make an end of enumerating the misdeeds of the clergy.
A certain priest, named Ceinture, convicted of conspiracy against the
present government, accused of base actions to which we will not even
allude, suspected besides of being a former Jesuit, metamorphosed into a
simple priest, suspended by a bishop for causes that are said to be
unmentionable and summoned to Paris to give an explanation of his
conduct, has found an ardent defender in the man named Marin, a
councillor of state, who was not afraid to give this frocked malefactor
the warmest letters of recommendation to all the republican officials,
"We call the, attention of the ministry to the unheard of attitude of
this councillor of state----"
M. Marin bounded out of bed, dressed himself and hastened to his
colleague, Petitpas, who said to him:
"How now? You were crazy to recommend to me that old conspirator!"
M. Marin, bewildered, stammered out:
"Why no--you see--I was deceived. He looked such an honest man. He
played me a trick--a disgraceful trick! I beg that you will sentence him
severely, very severely. I am going to write. Tell me to whom I should
write about having him punished. I will go and see the attorney-general
and the archbishop of Paris--yes, the archbishop."
And seating himself abruptly at M. Petitpas' desk, he wrote:
"Monseigneur, I have the honor to bring to your grace's notice the fact
that I have recently been made a victim of the intrigues and lies of a
certain Abbe Ceinture, who imposed on my kind-heartedness.
"Deceived by the representations of this ecclesiastic, I was led----"
Then, having signed and sealed his letter, he turned to his colleague and
"See here; my dear friend, let this be a warning to you never to
recommend any one again."
"Bah!" exclaimed Karl Massouligny, "the question of complaisant husbands
is a difficult one. I have seen many kinds, and yet I am unable to give
an opinion about any of them. I have often tried to determine whether
they are blind, weak or clairvoyant. I believe that there are some which
belong to each of these categories.
"Let us quickly pass over the blind ones. They cannot rightly be called
complaisant, since they do not know, but they are good creatures who
cannot see farther than their nose. It is a curious and interesting
thing to notice the ease with which men and women can, be deceived.
We are taken in by the slightest trick of those who surround us, by our
children, our friends, our servants, our tradespeople. Humanity is
credulous, and in order to discover deceit in others, we do not display
one-tenth the shrewdness which we use when we, in turn, wish to deceive
some one else.
"Clairvoyant husbands may be divided into three classes: Those who have
some interest, pecuniary, ambitious or otherwise, in their wife's having
love affairs. These ask only to safeguard appearances as much as
possible, and they are satisfied.
"Next come those who get angry. What a beautiful novel one could write
"Finally the weak ones! Those who are afraid of scandal.
"There are also those who are powerless, or, rather, tired, who flee from
the duties of matrimony through fear of ataxia or apoplexy, who are
satisfied to see a friend run these risks.
"But I once met a husband of a rare species, who guarded against the
common accident in a strange and witty manner.
"In Paris I had made the acquaintance of an elegant, fashionable couple.
The woman, nervous, tall, slender, courted, was supposed to have had many
love adventures. She pleased me with her wit, and I believe that I
pleased her also. I courted her, a trial courting to which she answered
with evident provocations. Soon we got to tender glances, hand
pressures, all the little gallantries which precede the final attack.
"Nevertheless, I hesitated. I consider that, as a rule, the majority of
society intrigues, however short they may be, are not worth the trouble
which they give us and the difficulties which may arise. I therefore
mentally compared the advantages and disadvantages which I might expect,
and I thought I noticed that the husband suspected me.
"One evening, at a ball, as I was saying tender things to the young woman
in a little parlor leading from the big hall where the dancing was going
on, I noticed in a mirror the reflection of some one who was watching me.
It was he. Our looks met and then I saw him turn his head and walk away.
"I murmured: 'Your husband is spying on us.'
"She seemed dumbfounded and asked: 'My husband?'
"'Yes, he has been watching us for some time:
"'Nonsense! Are you sure?'
"'How strange! He is usually extraordinarily pleasant to all my.
"'Perhaps he guessed that I love you!'
"'Nonsense! You are not the first one to pay attention to me. Every
woman who is a little in view drags behind her a herd of admirers.'
"'Yes. But I love you deeply.'
"'Admitting that that is true, does a husband ever guess those things?'
"'Then he is not jealous?'
"She thought for an instant and then continued: 'No. I do not think that
I ever noticed any jealousy on his part.'
"'Has he never-watched you?'
"'No. As I said, he is always agreeable to my friends.'
"From that day my courting became much more assiduous. The woman did not
please me any more than before, but the probable jealousy of her husband
tempted me greatly.
"As for her, I judged her coolly and clearly. She had a certain worldly
charm, due to a quick, gay, amiable and superficial mind, but no real,
deep attraction. She was, as I have already said, an excitable little
being, all on the surface, with rather a showy elegance. How can I
explain myself? She was an ornament, not a home.
"One day, after taking dinner with her, her husband said to me, just as I
was leaving: 'My dear friend' (he now called me 'friend'), 'we soon leave
for the country. It is a great pleasure to my wife and myself to
entertain people whom we like. We would be very pleased to have you
spend a month with us. It would be very nice of you to do so.'
"I was dumbfounded, but I accepted.
"A month later I arrived at their estate of Vertcresson, in Touraine.
They were waiting for me at the station, five miles from the chateau.
There were three of them, she, the husband and a gentleman unknown to me,
the Comte de Morterade, to whom I was introduced. He appeared to be
delighted to make my acquaintance, and the strangest ideas passed through
my mind while we trotted along the beautiful road between two hedges.
I was saying to myself: 'Let's see, what can this mean? Here is a
husband who cannot doubt that his wife and I are on more than friendly
terms, and yet he invites me to his house, receives me like an old friend
and seems to say: "Go ahead, my friend, the road is clear!"
"'Then I am introduced to a very pleasant gentleman, who seems already to
have settled down in the house, and--and who is perhaps trying to get out
of it, and who seems as pleased at my arrival as the husband himself.
"'Is it some former admirer who wishes to retire? One might think so.
But, then, would these two men tacitly have come to one of these infamous
little agreements so common in society? And it is proposed to me that I
should quietly enter into the pact and carry it out. All hands and arms
are held out to me. All doors and hearts are open to me.
"'And what about her? An enigma. She cannot be ignorant of everything.
However--however--Well, I cannot understand it.'
"The dinner was very gay and cordial. On leaving the table the husband
and his friend began to play cards, while I went out on the porch to look
at the moonlight with madame. She seemed to be greatly affected by
nature, and I judged that the moment for my happiness was near. That
evening she was really delightful. The country had seemed to make her
more tender. Her long, slender waist looked pretty on this stone porch
beside a great vase in which grew some flowers. I felt like dragging her
out under the trees, throwing myself at her feet and speaking to her
words of love.
"Her husband's voice called 'Louise!'
"'You are forgetting the tea.'
"'I'll go and see about it, my friend.'
"We returned to the house, and she gave us some tea. When the two men
had finished playing cards, they were visibly tired. I had to go to my
room. I did not get to sleep till late, and then I slept badly.
"An excursion was decided upon for the following afternoon, and we went
in an open carriage to visit some ruins. She and I were in the back of
the vehicle and they were opposite us, riding backward. The conversation
was sympathetic and agreeable. I am an orphan, and it seemed to me as
though I had just found my family, I felt so at home with them.
"Suddenly, as she had stretched out her foot between her husband's legs,
he murmured reproachfully: 'Louise, please don't wear out your old shoes
yourself. There is no reason for being neater in Paris than in the
"I lowered my eyes. She was indeed wearing worn-out shoes, and I noticed
that her stockings were not pulled up tight.
"She had blushed and hidden her foot under her dress. The friend was
looking out in the distance with an indifferent and unconcerned look.
"The husband offered me a cigar, which I accepted. For a few days it was
impossible for me to be alone with her for two minutes; he was with us
everywhere. He was delightful to me, however.
"One morning he came to get me to take a walk before breakfast, and the
conversation happened to turn on marriage. I spoke a little about
solitude and about how charming life can be made by the affection of a
woman. Suddenly he interrupted me, saying: 'My friend, don't talk about
things you know nothing about. A woman who has no other reason for
loving you will not love you long. All the little coquetries which make
them so exquisite when they do not definitely belong to us cease as soon
as they become ours. And then--the respectable women--that is to say our
wives--are--are not--in fact do not understand their profession of wife.
Do you understand?'
"He said no more, and I could not guess his thoughts.
"Two days after this conversation he called me to his room quite early,
in order to show me a collection of engravings. I sat in an easy chair
opposite the big door which separated his apartment from his wife's, and
behind this door I heard some one walking and moving, and I was thinking
very little of the engravings, although I kept exclaiming: 'Oh, charming!
"He suddenly said: 'Oh, I have a beautiful specimen in the next room.
I'll go and get it.'
"He ran to the door quickly, and both sides opened as though for a
"In a large room, all in disorder, in the midst of skirts, collars,
waists lying around on the floor, stood a tall, dried-up creature. The
lower part of her body was covered with an old, worn-out silk petticoat,
which was hanging limply on her shapeless form, and she was standing in
front of a mirror brushing some short, sparse blond hairs. Her arms
formed two acute angles, and as she turned around in astonishment I saw
under a common cotton chemise a regular cemetery of ribs, which were
hidden from the public gaze by well-arranged pads.
"The husband uttered a natural exclamation and came back, closing the
doors, and said: 'Gracious! how stupid I am! Oh, how thoughtless! My
wife will never forgive me for that!'
"I already felt like thanking him. I left three days later, after
cordially shaking hands with the two men and kissing the lady's fingers.
She bade me a cold good-by."
Karl Massouligny was silent. Some one asked: "But what was the friend?"
"I don't know--however--however he looked greatly distressed to see me
leaving so soon."
The defendants, Cesaire-Isidore Brument and Prosper-Napoleon Cornu,
appeared before the Court of Assizes of the Seine-Inferieure, on a charge
of attempted murder, by drowning, of Mme. Brument, lawful wife of the
first of the aforenamed.
The two prisoners sat side by side on the traditional bench. They were
two peasants; the first was small and stout, with short arms, short legs,
and a round head with a red pimply face, planted directly on his trunk,
which was also round and short, and with apparently no neck. He was a
raiser of pigs and lived at Cacheville-la-Goupil, in the district of
Cornu (Prosper-Napoleon) was thin, of medium height, with enormously long
arms. His head was on crooked, his jaw awry, and he squinted. A blue
blouse, as long as a shirt, hung down to his knees, and his yellow hair,
which was scanty and plastered down on his head, gave his face a worn-
out, dirty look, a dilapidated look that was frightful. He had been
nicknamed "the cure" because he could imitate to perfection the chanting
in church, and even the sound of the serpent. This talent attracted to
his cafe--for he was a saloon keeper at Criquetot--a great many customers
who preferred the "mass at Cornu" to the mass in church.
Mme. Brument, seated on the witness bench, was a thin peasant woman who
seemed to be always asleep. She sat there motionless, her hands crossed
on her knees, gazing fixedly before her with a stupid expression.
The judge continued his interrogation.
"Well, then, Mme. Brument, they came into your house and threw you into a
barrel full of water. Tell us the details. Stand up."
She rose. She looked as tall as a flag pole with her cap which looked
like a white skull cap. She said in a drawling tone:
"I was shelling beans. Just then they came in. I said to myself, 'What
is the matter with them? They do not seem natural, they seem up to some
mischief.' They watched me sideways, like this, especially Cornu,
because he squints. I do not like to see them together, for they are two
good-for-nothings when they are in company. I said: 'What do you want
with me?' They did not answer. I had a sort of mistrust----"
The defendant Brument interrupted the witness hastily, saying:
"I was full."
Then Cornu, turning towards his accomplice said in the deep tones of an
"Say that we were both full, and you will be telling no lie."
The judge, severely:
"You mean by that that you were both drunk?"
Brument: "There can be no question about it."
Cornu: "That might happen to anyone."
The judge to the victim: "Continue your testimony, woman Brument."
"Well, Brument said to me, 'Do you wish to earn a hundred sous?' 'Yes,'
I replied, seeing that a hundred sous are not picked up in a horse's
tracks. Then he said: 'Open your eyes and do as I do,' and he went to
fetch the large empty barrel which is under the rain pipe in the corner,
and he turned it over and brought it into my kitchen, and stuck it down
in the middle of the floor, and then he said to me: 'Go and fetch water
until it is full.'
"So I went to the pond with two pails and carried water, and still more
water for an hour, seeing that the barrel was as large as a vat, saving
your presence, m'sieu le president.
"All this time Brument and Cornu were drinking a glass, and then another
glass, and then another. They were finishing their drinks when I said to
them: 'You are full, fuller than this barrel.' And Brument answered me.
'Do not worry, go on with your work, your turn will come, each one has
his share.' I paid no attention to what he said as he was full.
"When the barrel was full to the brim, I said: 'There, that's done.'
"And then Cornu gave me a hundred sous, not Brument, Cornu; it was Cornu
gave them to me. And Brument said: 'Do you wish to earn a hundred sous
more?' 'Yes,' I said, for I am not accustomed to presents like that.
Then he said: 'Take off your clothes!
"'Take off my clothes?'
"'Yes,' he said.
"'How many shall I take off?'
"'If it worries you at all, keep on your chemise, that won't bother us.'
"A hundred sous is a hundred sous, and I have to undress myself; but I
did not fancy undressing before those two good-for-nothings. I took off
my cap, and then my jacket, and then my skirt, and then my sabots.
Brument said, 'Keep on your stockings, also; we are good fellows.'
"And Cornu said, too, 'We are good fellows.'
"So there I was, almost like mother Eve. And they got up from their
chairs, but could not stand straight, they were so full, saving your
presence, M'sieu le president.
"I said to myself: 'What are they up to?'
"And Brument said: 'Are you ready?'
"And Cornu said: 'I'm ready!'
"And then they took me, Brument by the head, and Cornu by the feet, as
one might take, for instance, a sheet that has been washed. Then I began
"And Brument said: 'Keep still, wretched creature!'
"And they lifted me up in the air and put me into the barrel, which was
full of water, so that I had a check of the circulation, a chill to my
"And Brument said: 'Is that all?'
"Cornu said: 'That is all.'
"Brument said: 'The head is not in, that will make a difference in the
"Cornu said: 'Put in her head.'
"And then Brument pushed down my head as if to drown me, so that the
water ran into my nose, so that I could already see Paradise. And he
pushed it down, and I disappeared.
"And then he must have been frightened. He pulled me out and said: 'Go
and get dry, carcass.'
"As for me, I took to my heels and ran as far as M. le cure's. He lent
me a skirt belonging to his servant, for I was almost in a state of
nature, and he went to fetch Maitre Chicot, the country watchman who went
to Criquetot to fetch the police who came to my house with me.
"Then we found Brument and Cornu fighting each other like two rams.
"Brument was bawling: 'It isn't true, I tell you that there is at least a
cubic metre in it. It is the method that was no good.'
"Cornu bawled: 'Four pails, that is almost half a cubic metre. You need
not reply, that's what it is.'
"The police captain put them both under arrest. I have no more to tell."
She sat down. The audience in the court room laughed. The jurors looked
at one another in astonishment. The judge said:
"Defendant Cornu, you seem to have been the instigator of this infamous
plot. What have you to say?"
And Cornu rose in his turn.
"Judge," he replied, "I was full."
The Judge answered gravely:
"I know it. Proceed."
"I will. Well, Brument came to my place about nine o'clock, and ordered
two drinks, and said: 'There's one for you, Cornu.' I sat down opposite
him and drank, and out of politeness, I offered him a glass. Then he
returned the compliment and so did I, and so it went on from glass to
glass until noon, when we were full.
"Then Brument began to cry. That touched me. I asked him what was the
matter. He said: 'I must have a thousand francs by Thursday.' That
cooled me off a little, you understand. Then he said to me all at once:
'I will sell you my wife.'
"I was full, and I was a widower. You understand, that stirred me up.
I did not know his wife, but she was a woman, wasn't she? I asked him:
'How much would you sell her for?'
"He reflected, or pretended to reflect. When one is full one is not very
clear-headed, and he replied: 'I will sell her by the cubic metre.'
"That did not surprise me, for I was as drunk as he was, and I knew what
a cubic metre is in my business. It is a thousand litres, that suited
"But the price remained to be settled. All depends on the quality. I
said: 'How much do you want a cubic metre?'
"He answered: 'Two thousand francs.'
"I gave a bound like a rabbit, and then I reflected that a woman ought
not to measure more than three hundred litres. So I said: 'That's too
"He answered: 'I cannot do it for less. I should lose by it.'
"You understand, one is not a dealer in hogs for nothing. One
understands one's business. But, if he is smart, the seller of bacon, I
am smarter, seeing that I sell them also. Ha, Ha, Ha! So I said to him:
'If she were new, I would not say anything, but she has been married to
you for some time, so she is not as fresh as she was. I will give you
fifteen hundred francs a cubic metre, not a sou more. Will that suit
"He answered: 'That will do. That's a bargain!'
"I agreed, and we started out, arm in arm. We must help each other in
"But a fear came to me: 'How can you measure her unless you put her into
"Then he explained his idea, not without difficulty for he was full. He
said to me: 'I take a barrel, and fill it with water to the brim. I put
her in it. All the water that comes out we will measure, that is the way
to fix it.'
"I said: 'I see, I understand. But this water that overflows will run
away; how are you going to gather it up?'
"Then he began stuffing me and explained to me that all we should have to
do would be to refill the barrel with the water his wife had displaced as
soon as she should have left. All the water we should pour in would be
the measure. I supposed about ten pails; that would be a cubic metre.
He isn't a fool, all the same, when he is drunk, that old horse.
"To be brief, we reached his house and I took a look at its mistress. A
beautiful woman she certainly was not. Anyone can see her, for there she
is. I said to myself: 'I am disappointed, but never mind, she will be of
value; handsome or ugly, it is all the same, is it not, monsieur le
president?' And then I saw that she was as thin as a rail. I said to
myself: 'She will not measure four hundred litres.' I understand the
matter, it being in liquids.
"She told you about the proceeding. I even let her keep on her chemise
and stockings, to my own disadvantage.
"When that was done she ran away. I said: 'Look out, Brument! she is
"He replied: 'Do not be afraid. I will catch her all right. She will
have to come back to sleep, I will measure the deficit.'
"We measured. Not four pailfuls. Ha, Ha, Ha!"
The witness began to laugh so persistently that a gendarme was obliged to
punch him in the back. Having quieted down, he resumed:
"In short, Brument exclaimed: 'Nothing doing, that is not enough.' I
bawled and bawled, and bawled again, he punched me, I hit back. That
would have kept on till the Day of judgment, seeing we were both drunk.
"Then came the gendarmes! They swore at us, they took us off to prison.
I want damages."
He sat down.
Brument confirmed in every particular the statements of his accomplice.
The jury, in consternation, retired to deliberate.
At the end of an hour they returned a verdict of acquittal for the
defendants, with some severe strictures on the dignity of marriage, and
establishing the precise limitations of business transactions.
Brument went home to the domestic roof accompanied by his wife.
Cornu went back to his business.
THE IMPOLITE SEX
Madame de X. to Madame de L.
My Dear Aunt:
I am coming to see you without anyone knowing it. I shall be at Les
Fresnes on the 2d of September, the day before the hunting season opens,
as I do not want to miss it, so that I may tease these gentlemen. You
are too good, aunt, and you will allow them, as you usually do when there
are no strange guests, to come to table, under pretext of fatigue,
without dressing or shaving for the occasion.
They are delighted, of course, when I am not present. But I shall be
there and will hold a review, like a general, at dinner time; and, if I
find a single one of them at all careless in dress, no matter how little,
I mean to send them down to the kitchen with the servants.
The men of to-day have so little consideration for others and so little
good manners that one must be always severe with them. We live indeed in
an age of vulgarity. When they quarrel, they insult each other in terms
worthy of longshoremen, and, in our presence, they do not conduct
themselves even as well as our servants. It is at the seaside that you
see this most clearly. They are to be found there in battalions, and you
can judge them in the lump. Oh! what coarse beings they are!
Just imagine, in a train, a gentleman who looked well, as I thought at
first sight, thanks to his tailor, carefully took off his boots in order
to put on a pair of old shoes! Another, an old man who was probably some
wealthy upstart (these are the most ill-bred), while sitting opposite to
me, had the delicacy to place his two feet on the seat quite close to me.
This is a positive fact.
At the watering-places the vulgarity is unrestrained. I must here make
one admission--that my indignation is perhaps due to the fact that I am
not accustomed to associate, as a rule, with the sort of people one comes
across here, for I should be less shocked by their manners if I had the
opportunity of observing them oftener. In the office of the hotel I was
nearly thrown down by a young man who snatched the key over my head.
Another knocked against me so violently without begging my pardon or
lifting his hat, coming away from a ball at the Casino, that it gave me a
pain in the chest. It is the same way with all of them. Watch them
addressing ladies on the terrace; they scarcely ever bow. They merely
raise their hands to their headgear. But, indeed, as they are all more
or less bald, it is the best plan.
But what exasperates and disgusts me particularly is the liberty they
take of talking in public, without any kind of precaution, about the most
revolting adventures. When two men are together, they relate to each
other, in the broadest language and with the most abominable comments
really horrible stories, without caring in the slightest degree whether a
woman's ear is within reach of their voices. Yesterday, on the beach, I
was forced to leave the place where I was sitting in order not to be any
longer the involuntary confidante of an obscene anecdote, told in such
immodest language that I felt just as humiliated as indignant at having
heard it. Would not the most elementary good-breeding teach them to
speak in a lower tone about such matters when we are near at hand.
Etretat is, moreover, the country of gossip and scandal. From five to
seven o'clock you can see people wandering about in quest of scandal,
which they retail from group to group. As you remarked to me, my dear
aunt, tittle-tattle is the mark of petty individuals and petty minds.
It is also the consolation of women who are no longer loved or sought
after. It is enough for me to observe the women who are fondest of
gossiping to be persuaded that you are quite right.
The other day I was present at a musical evening at the Casino, given by
a remarkable artist, Madame Masson, who sings in a truly delightful
manner. I took the opportunity of applauding the admirable Coquelin, as
well as two charming vaudeville performers, M---- and Meillet. I met, on
this occasion, all the bathers who were at the beach. It is no great
distinction this year.
Next day I went to lunch at Yport. I noticed a tall man with a beard,
coming out of a large house like a castle. It was the painter, Jean Paul
Laurens. He is not satisfied apparently with imprisoning the subjects of
his pictures, he insists on imprisoning himself.
Then I found myself seated on the shingle close to a man still young, of
gentle and refined appearance, who was reading poetry. But he read it
with such concentration, with such passion, I may say, that he did not
even raise his eyes towards me. I was somewhat astonished and asked the
proprietor of the baths, without appearing to be much concerned, the name
of this gentleman. I laughed to myself a little at this reader of
rhymes; he seemed behind the age, for a man. This person, I thought,
must be a simpleton. Well, aunt, I am now infatuated about this
stranger. Just fancy, his name is Sully Prudhomme! I went back and sat
down beside him again so as to get a good look at him. His face has an
expression of calmness and of penetration. Somebody came to look for
him, and I heard his voice, which is sweet and almost timid. He would
certainly not tell obscene stories aloud in public or knock up against
ladies without apologizing. He is assuredly a man of refinement, but his
refinement is of an almost morbid, sensitive character, I will try this
winter to get an introduction to him.
I have no more news, my dear aunt, and I must finish this letter in
haste, as the mail will soon close. I kiss your hands and your cheeks.
Your devoted niece,
BERTHE DE X.
P. S.--I should add, however, by way of justification of French
politeness, that our fellow-countrymen are, when travelling, models of
good manners in comparison with the abominable English, who seem to have
been brought up in a stable, so careful are they not to discommode
themselves in any way, while they always discommode their neighbors.
Madame de L. to Madame de X.
LES FRESNES, Saturday.
My Dear Child:
Many of the things you have said to me are very sensible, but that does
not prevent you from being wrong. Like you, I used formerly to feel very
indignant at the impoliteness of men, who, as I supposed, constantly
treated me with neglect; but, as I grew older and reflected on
everything, putting aside coquetry, and observing things without taking
any part in them myself, I perceived this much--that if men are not
always polite, women are always indescribably rude.
We imagine that we should be permitted to do anything, my darling, and at
the same time we consider that we have a right to the utmost respect, and
in the most flagrant manner we commit actions devoid of that elementary
good-breeding of which you speak so feelingly.
I find, on the contrary, that men consider us much more than we consider
them. Besides, darling, men must needs be, and are, what we make them.
In a state of society, where women are all true gentlewomen, all men
would become gentlemen.
Come now; just observe and reflect.
Look at two women meeting in the street. What an attitude each assumes
towards the other! What disparaging looks! What contempt they throw
into each glance! How they toss their heads while they inspect each
other to find something to condemn! And, if the footpath is narrow, do
you think one woman would make room for another, or would beg pardon as
she sweeps by? Never! When two men jostle each other by accident in
some narrow lane, each of them bows and at the same time gets out of the
other's way, while we women press against each other stomach to stomach,
face to face, insolently staring each other out of countenance.
Look at two women who are acquaintances meeting on a staircase outside
the door of a friend's drawing-room, one of them just leaving, the other
about to go in. They begin to talk to each other and block up all the
landing. If anyone happens to be coming up behind them, man or woman, do
you imagine that they will put themselves half an inch out of their way?
I was waiting myself, with my watch in my hands, one day last winter at a
certain drawing-room door. And, behind me, two gentlemen were also
waiting without showing any readiness, as I did, to lose their temper.
The reason was that they had long grown accustomed to our unconscionable
The other day, before leaving Paris, I went to dine with no less a person
than your husband, in the Champs Elysees, in order to enjoy the fresh
air. Every table was occupied. The waiter asked us to wait and there
would soon be a vacant table.
At that moment I noticed an elderly lady of noble figure, who, having
paid for her dinner, seemed on the point of going away. She saw me,
scanned me from head to foot, and did not budge. For more than a quarter
of an hour she sat there, immovable, putting on her gloves, and calmly
staring at those who were waiting like myself. Now, two young men who
were just finishing their dinner, having seen me in their turn, hastily
summoned the waiter, paid what they owed, and at once offered me their
seats, even insisting on standing while waiting for their change. And,
bear in mind, my fair niece, that I am no longer pretty, like you, but
old and white-haired.
It is we, you see, who should be taught politeness, and the task would be
such a difficult one that Hercules himself would not be equal to it. You
speak to me about Etretat and about the people who indulged in "tittle-
tattle" along the beach of that delightful watering-place. It is a spot
now lost to me, a thing of the past, but I found much amusement therein
days gone by.
There were only a few of us, people in good society, really good society,
and a few artists, and we all fraternized. We paid little attention to
gossip in those days.
As we had no monotonous Casino, where people only gather for show, where
they whisper, where they dance stupidly, where they succeed in thoroughly
boring one another, we sought some other way of passing our evenings
pleasantly. Now, just guess what came into the head of one of our
husbands? Nothing less than to go and dance each night in one of the
farm-houses in the neighborhood.
We started out in a group with a street-organ, generally played by Le
Poittevin, the painter, with a cotton nightcap on his head. Two men
carried lanterns. We followed in procession, laughing and chattering
like a pack of fools.
We woke up the farmer and his servant-maids and farm hands. We got them
to make onion soup (horror!), and we danced under the apple trees, to the
sound of the barrel-organ. The cocks waking up began to crow in the
darkness of the out-houses; the horses began prancing on the straw of
their stables. The cool air of the country caressed our cheeks with the
smell of grass and of new-mown hay.
How long ago it is! How long ago it is! It is thirty years since then!
I do not want you, my darling, to come for the opening of the hunting
season. Why spoil the pleasure of our friends by inflicting on them
fashionable toilettes on this day of vigorous exercise in the country?
This is the way, child, that men are spoiled. I embrace you. Your old
GENEVIEVE DE L.
A WEDDING GIFT
For a long time Jacques Bourdillere had sworn that he would never marry,
but he suddenly changed his mind. It happened suddenly, one summer, at
One morning as he lay stretched out on the sand, watching the women
coming out of the water, a little foot had struck him by its neatness and
daintiness. He raised his eyes and was delighted with the whole person,
although in fact he could see nothing but the ankles and the head
emerging from a flannel bathrobe carefully held closed. He was supposed
to be sensual and a fast liver. It was therefore by the mere grace of
the form that he was at first captured. Then he was held by the charm of
the young girl's sweet mind, so simple and good, as fresh as her cheeks
He was presented to the family and pleased them. He immediately fell
madly in love. When he saw Berthe Lannis in the distance, on the long
yellow stretch of sand, he would tingle to the roots of his hair. When
he was near her he would become silent, unable to speak or even to think,
with a kind of throbbing at his heart, and a buzzing in his ears, and a
bewilderment in his mind. Was that love?
He did not know or understand, but he had fully decided to have this
child for his wife.
Her parents hesitated for a long time, restrained by the young man's bad
reputation. It was said that he had an old sweetheart, one of these
binding attachments which one always believes to be broken off and yet
which always hold.
Besides, for a shorter or longer period, he loved every woman who came
within reach of his lips.
Then he settled down and refused, even once, to see the one with whom he
had lived for so long. A friend took care of this woman's pension and
assured her an income. Jacques paid, but he did not even wish to hear of
her, pretending even to ignore her name. She wrote him letters which he
never opened. Every week he would recognize the clumsy writing of the
abandoned woman, and every week a greater anger surged within him against
her, and he would quickly tear the envelope and the paper, without
opening it, without reading one single line, knowing in advance the
reproaches and complaints which it contained.
As no one had much faith in his constancy, the test was prolonged through
the winter, and Berthe's hand was not granted him until the spring. The
wedding took place in Paris at the beginning of May.
The young couple had decided not to take the conventional wedding trip,
but after a little dance for the younger cousins, which would not be
prolonged after eleven o'clock, in order that this day of lengthy
ceremonies might not be too tiresome, the young pair were to spend the
first night in the parental home and then, on the following morning, to
leave for the beach so dear to their hearts, where they had first known
and loved each other.
Night had come, and the dance was going on in the large parlor. 'The two
had retired into a little Japanese boudoir hung with bright silks and
dimly lighted by the soft rays of a large colored lantern hanging from
the ceiling like a gigantic egg. Through the open window the fresh air
from outside passed over their faces like a caress, for the night was
warm and calm, full of the odor of spring.
They were silent, holding each other's hands and from time to time
squeezing them with all their might. She sat there with a dreamy look,
feeling a little lost at this great change in her life, but smiling,
moved, ready to cry, often also almost ready to faint from joy, believing
the whole world to be changed by what had just happened to her, uneasy,
she knew not why, and feeling her whole body and soul filled with an
indefinable and delicious lassitude.
He was looking at her persistently with a fixed smile. He wished to
speak, but found nothing to say, and so sat there, expressing all his
ardor by pressures of the hand. From time to time he would murmur:
"Berthe!" And each time she would raise her eyes to him with a look of
tenderness; they would look at each other for a second and then her look,
pierced and fascinated by his, would fall.
They found no thoughts to exchange. They had been left alone, but
occasionally some of the dancers would cast a rapid glance at them, as
though they were the discreet and trusty witnesses of a mystery.
A door opened and a servant entered, holding on a tray a letter which a
messenger had just brought. Jacques, trembling, took this paper,
overwhelmed by a vague and sudden fear, the mysterious terror of swift
He looked for a longtime at the envelope, the writing on which he did not
know, not daring to open it, not wishing to read it, with a wild desire
to put it in his pocket and say to himself: "I'll leave that till to-
morrow, when I'm far away!" But on one corner two big words, underlined,
"Very urgent," filled him with terror. Saying, "Please excuse me, my
dear," he tore open the envelope. He read the paper, grew frightfully
pale, looked over it again, and, slowly, he seemed to spell it out word
When he raised his head his whole expression showed how upset he was. He
stammered: "My dear, it's--it's from my best friend, who has had a very
great misfortune. He has need of me immediately--for a matter of life or
death. Will you excuse me if I leave you for half an hour? I'll be
Trembling and dazed, she stammered: "Go, my dear!" not having been his
wife long enough to dare to question him, to demand to know. He
disappeared. She remained alone, listening to the dancing in the
He had seized the first hat and coat he came to and rushed downstairs
three steps at a time. As he was emerging into the street he stopped
under the gas-jet of the vestibule and reread the letter. This is what
SIR: A girl by the name of Ravet, an old sweetheart of yours, it
seems, has just given birth to a child that she says is yours. The
mother is about to die and is begging for you. I take the liberty to
write and ask you if you can grant this last request to a woman who
seems to be very unhappy and worthy of pity.
Yours truly, DR. BONNARD.
When he reached the sick-room the woman was already on the point of
death. He did not recognize her at first. The doctor and two nurses
were taking care of her. And everywhere on the floor were pails full of
ice and rags covered with blood. Water flooded the carpet; two candles
were burning on a bureau; behind the bed, in a little wicker crib, the
child was crying, and each time it would moan the mother, in torture,
would try to move, shivering under her ice bandages.
She was mortally wounded, killed by this birth. Her life was flowing
from her, and, notwithstanding the ice and the care, the merciless
hemorrhage continued, hastening her last hour.
She recognized Jacques and wished to raise her arms. They were so weak
that she could not do so, but tears coursed down her pallid cheeks.
He dropped to his knees beside the bed, seized one of her hands and
kissed it frantically. Then, little by little, he drew close to the thin
face, which started at the contact. One of the nurses was lighting them
with a candle, and the doctor was watching them from the back of the
Then she said in a voice which sounded as though it came from a distance:
"I am going to die, dear. Promise to stay to the end. Oh! don't leave
me now. Don't leave me in my last moments!"
He kissed her face and her hair, and, weeping, he murmured: "Do not be
uneasy; I will stay."
It was several minutes before she could speak again, she was so weak.
She continued: "The little one is yours. I swear it before God and on my
soul. I swear it as I am dying! I have never loved another man but you
--promise to take care of the child."
He was trying to take this poor pain-racked body in his arms. Maddened
by remorse and sorrow, he stammered: "I swear to you that I will bring
him up and love him. He shall never leave me."
Then she tried to kiss Jacques. Powerless to lift her head, she held out
her white lips in an appeal for a kiss. He approached his lips to
respond to this piteous entreaty.
As soon as she felt a little calmer, she murmured: "Bring him here and
let me see if you love him."
He went and got the child. He placed him gently on the bed between them,
and the little one stopped crying. She murmured: "Don't move any more!"
And he was quiet. And he stayed there, holding in his burning hand this
other hand shaking in the chill of death, just as, a while ago, he had
been holding a hand trembling with love. From time to time he would cast
a quick glance at the clock, which marked midnight, then one o'clock,
The physician had returned. The two nurses, after noiselessly moving
about the room for a while, were now sleeping on chairs. The child was
asleep, and the mother, with eyes shut, appeared also to be resting.
Suddenly, just as pale daylight was creeping in behind the curtains, she
stretched out her arms with such a quick and violent motion that she
almost threw her baby on the floor. A kind of rattle was heard in her
throat, then she lay on her back motionless, dead.
The nurses sprang forward and declared: "All is over!"
He looked once more at this woman whom he had so loved, then at the
clock, which pointed to four, and he ran away, forgetting his overcoat,
in the evening dress, with the child in his arms.
After he had left her alone the young wife had waited, calmly enough at
first, in the little Japanese boudoir. Then, as she did not see him
return, she went back to the parlor with an indifferent and calm
appearance, but terribly anxious. When her mother saw her alone she
asked: "Where is your husband?" She answered: "In his room; he is coming
After an hour, when everybody had questioned her, she told about the
letter, Jacques' upset appearance and her fears of an accident.
Still they waited. The guests left; only the nearest relatives remained.
At midnight the bride was put to bed, sobbing bitterly. Her mother and
two aunts, sitting around the bed, listened to her crying, silent and in
despair. The father had gone to the commissary of police to see if he
could obtain some news.
At five o'clock a slight noise was heard in the hall. A door was softly
opened and closed. Then suddenly a little cry like the mewing of a cat
was heard throughout the silent house.
All the women started forward and Berthe sprang ahead of them all,
pushing her way past her aunts, wrapped in a bathrobe.
Jacques stood in the middle of the room, pale and out of breath, holding
an infant in his arms. The four women looked at him, astonished; but
Berthe, who had suddenly become courageous, rushed forward with anguish
in her heart, exclaiming: "What is it? What's the matter?"
He looked about him wildly and answered shortly:
"I--I have a child and the mother has just died."
And with his clumsy hands he held out the screaming infant.
Without saying a word, Berthe seized the child, kissed it and hugged it
to her. Then she raised her tear-filled eyes to him, asking: "Did you
say that the mother was dead?" He answered: "Yes--just now--in my arms.
I had broken with her since summer. I knew nothing. The physician sent
Then Berthe murmured: "Well, we will bring up the little one."
"To the Abbe Louis d'Ennemare, at Soissons.
"My Dear Abbe.
"My marriage with your cousin is broken off in the most stupid way, all
on account of an idiotic trick which I almost involuntarily played my
intedded. In my perplexity I turn to you, my old school chum, for you
may be able to help me out of the difficulty. If you can, I shall be
grateful to you until I die.
"You know Gilberte, or, rather, you think you know her, but do we ever
understand women? All their opinions, their ideas, their creeds, are a
surprise to us. They are all full of twists and turns, cf the
unforeseen, of unintelligible arguments, of defective logic and of
obstinate ideas, which seem final, but which they alter because a little
bird came and perched on the window ledge.
"I need not tell you that your cousin is very religious, as she was
brought up by the White (or was it the Black?) Ladies at Nancy. You know
that better than I do, but what you perhaps do not know is, that she is
just as excitable about other matters as she is about religion. Her head
flies away, just as a leaf is whirled away by the wind; and she is a true
woman, or, rather, girl, for she is moved or made angry in a moment,
starting off at a gallop in affection, just as she does in hatred, and
returning in the same manner; and she is pretty--as you know, and more
charming than I can say--as you will never know.
"Well, we became engaged, and I adored her, as I adore her still, and she
appeared to love me.
"One evening, I received a telegram summoning me to Cologne for a
consultation, which might be followed by a serious and difficult
operation, and as I had to start the next morning, I went to wish
Gilberte good-by, and tell her why I could not dine with them on
Wednesday, but would do so on Friday, the day of my return. Ah! Beware
of Fridays, for I assure you they are unlucky!
"When I told her that I had to go to Germany, I saw that her eyes filled
with tears, but when I said I should be back very soon, she clapped her
hands, and said:
"'I am very glad you are going, then! You must bring me back something;
a mere trifle, just a souvenir, but a souvenir that you have chosen for
me. You must guess what I should like best, do you hear? And then I
shall see whether you have any imagination.'
"She thought for a few moments, and then added:
"'I forbid you to spend more than twenty francs on it. I want it for the
intention, and for a remembrance of your penetration, and not for its
"And then, after another moment's silence, she said, in a low voice, and
with downcast eyes:
"'If it costs you nothing in money, but is something very ingenious and
pretty, I will--I will kiss you.'
"The next day I was in Cologne. It was a case of a terrible accident,
which had plunged a whole family into despair, and a difficult amputation
was necessary. They lodged me in the house; I might say, they almost
locked me up, and I saw nobody but people in tears, who almost deafened
me with their lamentations; I operated on a man who appeared to be in a
moribund state, and who nearly died under my hands, and with whom I
remained two nights; and then, when I saw that there was a chance of his
recovery, I drove to the station. I had, however, made a mistake in the
trains, and I had an hour to wait, and so I wandered about the streets,
still thinking of my poor patient, when a man accosted me. I do not know
German, and he was totally ignorant of French, but at last I made out
that he was offering me some relics. I thought of Gilberte, for I knew
her fanatical devotion, and here was my present ready to hand, so I
followed the man into a shop where religious objects were for sale, and I
bought a small piece of a bone of one of the Eleven Thousand Virgins.
"The pretended relic was inclosed in a charming old silver box, and that
determined my choice, and, putting my purchase into my pocket, I went to
the railway station, and so on to Paris.
"As soon as I got home, I wished to examine my purchase again, and on
taking hold of it, I found that the box was open, and the relic missing!
I searched in vain in my pocket, and turned it inside out; the small bit
of bone, which was no bigger than half a pin, had disappeared.
"You know, my dear little Abbe, that my faith is not very fervent, but,
as my friend, you are magnanimous enough to put up with my lukewarmness,
and to leave me alone, and to wait for the future, so you say. But I
absolutely disbelieve in the relics of secondhand dealers in piety, and
you share my doubts in that respect. Therefore, the loss of that bit of
sheep's carcass did not grieve me, and I easily procured a similar
fragment, which I carefully fastened inside my jewel-box, and then I went
to see my intended.
"As soon as she saw me, she ran up to me, smiling and eager, and, said to
"'What have you brought me?'
"I pretended to have forgotten, but she did not believe me, and I made
her beg, and even beseech me. But when I saw that she was devoured by
curiosity, I gave her the sacred silver box. She appeared overjoyed.
"'A relic! Oh! A relic!'
"And she kissed the box passionately, so that I was ashamed of my
deception. She was not quite satisfied, however, and her uneasiness soon
turned to terrible fear, and looking straight into my eyes, she said:
"'Are you sure-that it is genuine?'
"'How can you be so certain?'
"I was trapped; for to say that I had bought it of a man in the streets
would be my destruction. What was I to say? A wild idea struck me, and
I said, in a low, mysterious voice:
"'I stole it for you.'
"She looked at me with astonishment and delight in her large eyes.
"'Oh! You stole it? Where?'
"'In the cathedral; in the very shrine of the Eleven Thousand Virgins.'
"Her heart beat with pleasure, and she murmured:
"'Oh! Did you really do that-for me? Tell me-all about it!'
"That was the climax; I could not retract what I had said. I made up a
fanciful story; with precise details: I had given the custodian of the
building a hundred francs to be allowed to go about the building by
myself; the shrine was being repaired, but I happened to be there at the
breakfast hour of the workmen and clergy; by removing a small panel, I
had been enabled to seize a small piece of bone (oh! so small), among a
quantity of others (I said a quantity, as I thought of the amount that
the remains of the skeletons of eleven thousand virgins must produce).
Then I went to a goldsmith's and bought a casket worthy of the relic; and
I was not sorry to let her know that the silver box cost me five hundred
"But she did not think of that; she listened to me, trembling, in an
ecstasy, and whispering: 'How I love you!' she threw herself into my
"Just note this: I had committed sacrilege for her sake. I had committed
a theft; I had violated a church; I had violated a shrine; violated and
stolen holy relics, and for that she adored me, thought me perfect,
tender, divine. Such is woman, my dear Abbe, every woman.
"For two months I was the most admirable of lovers. In her room, she had
made a kind of magnificent chapel in which to keep this bit of mutton
chop, which, as she thought, had made me commit that divine love-crime,
and she worked up her religious enthusiasm in front of it every morning
and evening. I had asked her to keep the matter secret, for fear, as I
said, that I might be arrested, condemned, and given over to Germany, and
she kept her promise.
"Well, at the beginning of the summer, she was seized with an
irresistible desire to see the scene of my exploit, and she teased her
father so persistently (without telling him her secret reason), that he
took her to Cologne, but without telling me of their trip, according to
his daughter's wish.
"I need not tell you that I had not seen the interior of the cathedral.
I do not know where the tomb (if there be a tomb) of the Eleven Thousand
Virgins is; and then, it appears, it is unapproachable, alas!
"A week afterward, I received ten lines, breaking off our engagement, and
then an explanatory letter from her father, whom she had, somewhat late,
taken into her confidence.
"At the sight of the shrine, she had suddenly seen through my trickery
and my lie, and at the same time discovered my real innocence of any
crime. Having asked the keeper of the relics whether any robbery had
been committed, the man began to laugh, and pointed out to them how
impossible such a crime was. But, from the moment that I had not plunged
my profane hand into venerable relics, I was no longer worthy of my fair-
haired, sensitive betrothed.
"I was forbidden the house; I begged and prayed in vain; nothing could
move the fair devotee, and I became ill from grief. Well, last week, her
cousin, Madame d'Arville, who is your cousin also, sent me word that she
should like to see me, and when I called, she told me on what conditions
I might obtain my pardon, and here they are. I must bring her a relic, a
real, authentic relic of some virgin and martyr, certified to be such by
our Holy Father, the Pope, and I am going mad from embarrassment and
"I will go to Rome, if needful, but I cannot call on the Pope
unexpectedly, to tell him my stupid misadventure; and, besides, I doubt
whether they allow private individuals to have relics. Could not you
give me an introduction to some cardinal, or even to some French prelate
who possesses some remains of a female saint? Or, perhaps, you may have
the precious object she wants in your collection?
"Help me out of my difficulty, my dear Abbe, and I promise you that I
will be converted ten years sooner than I otherwise should be!
"Madame d'Arville, who takes the matter seriously, said to me the other
"'Poor Gilberte will never marry.'
"My dear old schoolmate, will you allow your cousin to die the victim of
a stupid piece of subterfuge on my part? Pray prevent her from being
virgin eleven thousand and one.
"Pardon me, I am unworthy, but I embrace you, and love you with all my
"Your old friend,