HotFreeBooks.com
A Comedy of Marriage & Other Tales
by Guy De Maupassant
Previous Part     1  2  3  4     Next Part
Home - Random Browse

MME. DE RONCHARD

I wish that it may be, Monsieur, without daring to hope for it.

MARTINEL

Never mind. There are two things on which I am an expert—the merits of women and of wine.

MME. DE RONCHARD [aside]

Especially upon the latter.

MARTINEL

They are the only two things worth knowing in life.



SCENE II.

(The same characters and Petitpre who enters C, with Leon.)

PETITPRE

Now that this red-letter day has gone by as any other day goes, will you play a game of billiards with me, Monsieur Martinel?

MARTINEL

Most certainly, I am very fond of billiards.

LEON [comes down stage]

You are like my father. It seems to me that when anyone begins to like billiards at all, they become infatuated with the game; and you two people are two of a kind.

MARTINEL

My son, when a man grows old, and has no family, he has to take refuge in such pleasures as these. If you take bait-fishing as your diversion in the morning and billiards for the afternoon and evening, you have two kinds of amusement that are both worthy and attractive.

LEON

Oh, ho! Bait-fishing, indeed! That means to say, getting up early and sitting with your feet in the water through wind and rain in the hope of catching, perhaps each quarter of an hour, a fish about the size of a match. And you call that an attractive pastime?

MARTINEL

I do, without a doubt. But do you believe that there is a single lover in the world capable of doing as much for his mistress throughout ten, twelve, or fifteen years of life? If you asked my opinion, I think he would give it up at the end of a fortnight.

MME. DE RONCHARD

Of a truth; he would.

LEON [interrupts]

Pardon me, I should give it up at the end of a week.

MARTINEL

You speak sensibly.

PETITPRE

Come along, my dear fellow.

MARTINEL

Shall we play fifty up?

PETITPRE

Fifty up will do.

MARTINEL [turns to Mme. de Ronchard]

We shall see you again shortly, Madame.

MME. DE RONCHARD

Well, I have had enough of Havre for the present.

[Exit Martinel and Petitpre C.]



SCENE III.

(Leon and Mme. de Ronchard.)

LEON

Martinel is a good fellow. Not a man of culture, but bright as sunshine and straight as a rule.

MME. DE RONCHARD [seated L.]

He is lacking in distinction of manner.

LEON [inadvertently]

How about yourself, Aunt?

MME. DE RONCHARD

What do you mean?

LEON [corrects himself and approaches Mme. de Ronchard]

I said, how about yourself? You know what I mean—you have such an intimate knowledge of the world that you are a better judge of human nature than anyone I know.

MME. DE RONCHARD

Indeed, I am. You were too small a boy to recollect it, but nevertheless, I went a great deal into society before my husband spent all my money, and let me tell you that I was a great success. For instance, at a grand ball given by the Turkish ambassador, at which I was dressed as Salammbo—

LEON [interrupts]

What, you, the Carthaginian princess?

MME. DE RONCHARD

Certainly. Why not? Let me tell you that I was greatly admired, for my appearance was exquisite. My dear, that was in eighteen hundred and sixty—

LEON [sits near Mme. de Ronchard]

Oh, no dates! for goodness sake, no dates!

MME. DE RONCHARD

It is not necessary to be sarcastic.

LEON

What! I, sarcastic? God forbid! It is simply this: in view of the fact that you did not wish this marriage to take place, and that I did, and that the marriage has taken place, I feel very happy. Do you understand me? It is a triumph for me, and I must confess that I feel very triumphant this evening. Tomorrow, however, vanish the triumpher, and there will remain only your affectionate little nephew. Come, smile, Auntie. At heart you are not as ill-natured as you pretend to be, and that is proved by the generosity of soul you have evinced in founding at Neuilly, despite your modest means, a hospital for—lost dogs!

MME. DE RONCHARD

What else could I do. When a woman is alone and has no children—and I was married such a short time—do you know what I am, after all? Simply an old maid, and like all old maids—

LEON [finishes the sentence for her]

You love toy dogs.

MME. DE RONCHARD

As much as I hate men.

LEON

You mean to say one man. Well, I could hardly blame you for hating him.

MME. DE RONCHARD

And you know for what kind of girl he abandoned and ruined me. You never saw her, did you?

LEON

Pardon me, I did see her once in the Champs-Elysees. I was walking with you and my father. A gentleman and lady came toward us; you became excited, quickened your steps, and clutched nervously at my father's arm, and I heard you say in a low voice, "Don't look at them; it is she!"

MME. DE RONCHARD

And what were you doing?

LEON

I?—I was looking at him.

MME. DE RONCHARD [rises]

And you thought her horrible, didn't you?

LEON

I really don't know. You know I was only eleven years old.

MME. DE RONCHARD [crosses R.]

You are insufferable! Go away, or I shall strike you.

LEON [soothingly, and rising]

There, there, Aunt, I won't do it again. I will be good, I promise you, if you will forgive me.

MME. DE RONCHARD [rises, as if to go out C.]

I will not!

LEON

Please do!

MME. DE RONCHARD [returns]

I will not! If it were simply a case of teasing me, I could let it pass, for I can take care of myself; but you have done your sister a wrong, and that is unforgivable.

LEON

How?

MME. DE RONCHARD [stands R. of table and drums on it with her fingers]

Why, this marriage! You brought it about.

LEON [imitates her action at L. of table]

That is true, and I did right. Moreover, I shall never be tired asserting that what I did was right.

MME. DE RONCHARD [still tapping on the table]

And for my part I shall never be tired of saying that Gilberte has not married the right man.

LEON [still tapping]

Well, what kind of man do you think Gilberte ought to have married?

MME. DE RONCHARD

A man of position, a public official, or an eminent physician, or—an engineer.

LEON

Do you mean a theatrical engineer?

MME. DE RONCHARD

There are other kinds of engineers. Then, above all, she should not have married a handsome man.

LEON

Do you reproach Jean for his good looks? If you do, my dear Aunt, there are a good many men in the world who must plead guilty. Suppose, even, that a man has no need of good looks, it does not follow that he ought to be ugly.

MME. DE RONCHARD [sits on a little stool by the table, clasps her hands, and looks upward]

My husband was handsome, nay, superb, a veritable guardsman—and I know how much it cost me.

LEON

It might have cost you a great deal more if he had been ugly! [Mme. de Ronchard rises to go away.] Besides Jean is not only good-looking but he is good. He is not vain, but modest; and he has genius, which is manifesting itself more and more every day. He will certainly attain membership in the Institute. That would please you, would it not? That would be worth more than a simple engineer; and, moreover, every woman finds him charming, except you.

MME. DE RONCHARD

That's the very thing for which I blame him. He is too good and too honest. He has already painted the portraits of a crowd of women, and he will continue to do that. They will be alone with him in his studio for hours at a time, and everybody knows what goes on in those studios.

LEON

You have been accustomed to go there, my dear Aunt?

MME. DE RONCHARD [dreamily]

Oh, yes. [Corrects herself.] I mean to say, once I went to Horace Vernet's studio.

LEON

The painter of battle scenes!

MME. DE RONCHARD

Well, what I say of Jean, I say of all artists—that they ought not to be allowed to marry into a family of lawyers and magistrates, such as ours. Such doings always bring trouble. I ask you as a man, is it possible to be a good husband under such conditions—among a crowd of women continually around you who do nothing but unrobe and re-dress themselves, whether they be clients or models (pointedly), especially models? [Mme. de Ronchard rises and Leon is silent.] I said models, Leon.

LEON

I understand you, Aunt. You make a very pointed and delicate allusion to Jean's past. Well, what of it? If he did have one of his models for a mistress, he loved her, and loved her sincerely for three years—

MME. DE RONCHARD

You mean to tell me a man can love such women?

LEON

Every woman can be loved, my dear Aunt; and this woman certainly deserved to be loved more than most women.

MME. DE RONCHARD

A great thing, truly, for a model to be pretty! That is the essential thing, I should think.

LEON

Whether it be essential or not, it is nevertheless very nice to be pretty. But this girl was better than pretty, for she had a nature which was exceptionally tender, good, and sincere.

MME. DE RONCHARD

Well, then, why did he leave her?

LEON

What! Can you ask me such a question?—you, who know so much about the world and the world's opinions? [Folds his arms.] Would you advocate free love?

MME. DE RONCHARD [indignantly]

You know I would not.

LEON [seriously]

Listen. The truth is, that it happened to Jean as it has happened to many others besides him—that is to say, there was a pretty little nineteen-year-old girl whom he met, whom he loved, and with whom he established an intimacy little by little—an intimacy which lasted one, two, three years—the usual duration of that sort of thing. Then, as usually happens, there came a rupture—a rupture which is sometimes violent, sometimes gentle, but which is never altogether good-natured. Then also, as usual in such cases, each went a separate way—the eternal ending, which is always prosaic, because it is true to life. But the one thing that distinguishes Jean's liaison from the usual affair is the truly admirable character of the girl in the case.

MME. DE RONCHARD

Oh, admirable character! Mademoiselle—tell me, what is the name of this young lady? If you mentioned it I have forgotten it. Mademoiselle Mus— Mus—

LEON

Musotte, Auntie; little Musotte.

MME. DE RONCHARD

Musette! Pshaw, that's a very common name. It reminds me of the Latin quarter and of Bohemian life. [With disgust.] Musette!

LEON

No, no; not Musette. Musotte, with an O instead of an E. She is named Musotte because of her pretty little nose; can't you understand? Musotte, the name explains itself.

MME. DE RONCHARD [with contempt]

Oh, yes; a fin-de-siecle Musotte, which is still worse. Musotte is not a name.

LEON

My dear Aunt, it is only a nickname. The nick-name of a model. Her true name is Henriette Leveque.

MME. DE RONCHARD [puzzled]

Leveque?

LEON

Yes, Leveque. What does this questioning mean? It is just as I told you, or else I know nothing about it. Now, Henriette Leveque, or Musotte, if you prefer that term, has not only been faithful to Jean during the course of her love affair with him; has not only been devoted and adoring, and full of a tenderness which was ever watchful, but at the very hour of her rupture with him, she gave proof of her greatness of soul. She accepted everything without reproach, without recrimination; the poor little girl understood everything—understood that all was finished and finished forever. With the intuition of a woman, she felt that Jean's love for my sister was real and deep, she bowed her head to circumstances and she departed, accepting, without a murmur, the loneliness that Jean's action brought upon her. She carried her fidelity to the end, for she would have slain herself sooner than become [hesitating out of respect for Mme. de Ronchard] a courtesan. And this I know.

MME. DE RONCHARD

And has Jean never seen her since?

LEON

Not once; and that is more than eight months ago. He wished for news of her, and he gave me the task of getting it. I never found her and I have never been able to gain any knowledge of her, so cunningly did she arrange this flight of hers—this flight which was so noble and so self-sacrificing. [Changing his tone.] But I don't know why I repeat all this. You know it just as well as I do, for I have told it to you a dozen times.

MME. DE RONCHARD

It is just as incredible at the twentieth time as at the first.

LEON

It is nevertheless the truth.

MME. DE RONCHARD [sarcastically]

Well, if it is really the truth, you were terribly wrong in helping Jean to break his connection with such an admirable woman.

LEON

Oh, no, Aunt, I only did my duty. You have even called me hairbrained, and perhaps you were right; but you know that I can be very serious when I wish. If this three-year-old liaison had lasted until now, Jean would have been ruined.

MME. DE RONCHARD

Well, how could we help that?

LEON

Well, these things are frightful—these entanglements—I can't help using the word. It was my duty as a friend—and I wish to impress it upon you—to rescue Jean; and as a brother, it was my duty to marry my sister to such a man as he. The future will tell you whether I was right or not. [Coaxingly.] And then, my dear Aunt, when later you have a little nephew or a little niece to take care of, to dandle in your arms, you will banish all these little spaniels that you are taking care of at Neuilly.

MME. DE RONCHARD

The poor little darlings! I, abandon them! Don't you know that I love them as a mother loves her children?

LEON

Oh, yes; you can become an aunt to them, then, because you will have to become a mother to your little nephew.

MME. DE RONCHARD

Oh, hold your tongue; you irritate me. (Jean appears with Gilberte for a moment at C.)

JEAN [to servant entering R.]

Joseph, have you forgotten nothing, especially the flowers?

SERVANT

Monsieur and Madame may rest assured that everything has been done.

[Exit servant L.]

LEON [to Mme. de Ronchard]

Look at them; aren't they a bonny couple?



SCENE IV.

(The same with Jean and Gilberte.)

JEAN [approaches Mme. de Ronchard and speaks to her]

Do you know of whom we were talking just now? We were talking of you.

LEON [aside]

Ahem! ahem!

JEAN

Yes; I was just saying that I had not made you a present on the occasion of my nuptials, because the choosing of it demanded a great deal of reflection.

MME. DE RONCHARD [dryly]

But Gilberte made me a very pretty one for you both, Monsieur.

JEAN

But that is not enough. I have been looking for something which I thought would be particularly acceptable to you; and do you know what I found? It is a very small thing, but I ask you, Madame, to be so good as to accept this little pocketbook, which holds some bank-notes, for the benefit of your dear little deserted pets. You can add to your home for these little pets some additional kennels on the sole condition that you will allow me from time to time to come and pet your little pensioners, and on the additional condition that you will not pick out the most vicious among them to greet me.

MME. DE RONCHARD [greatly impressed]

With all my heart, I thank you. How good of you to think of my poor little orphans!

LEON [whispers to Jean]

You diplomat, you!

JEAN

There is nothing extraordinary about it, Madame. I am very fond of dumb animals. They are really the foster-brothers of man, sacrificed for them, slaves to them, and in many cases their food. They are the true martyrs of the world.

MME. DE RONCHARD

What you say is very true, Monsieur, and I have often thought of it in that way. For instance, take those poor horses, scourged and beaten by coachmen in the streets.

LEON [with sarcastic emphasis]

And the pheasants, Auntie, and the partridges and the blackcock falling on all sides under a hail of lead, flying panic-stricken before the horrible massacre of the guns.

MME. DE RONCHARD

Oh, don't talk like that, it makes me shudder; it is horrible!

JEAN [turns to Gilberte]

Horrible, indeed!

LEON [after a pause, in light tone]

Perhaps so, but they are good eating.

MME. DE RONCHARD

You are pitiless.

LEON [aside to his aunt]

Pitiless, perhaps, toward animals, but not pitiless, like you, toward people.

MME. DE RONCHARD [in the same tone]

What do you mean by that?

LEON [in the same tone pointing to Jean and Gilberte, who are seated on a sofa R.]

Do you think that your presence here can be acceptable to those two lovers? [Takes her arm.] My father has certainly finished smoking; come into the billiard-room for a little while.

MME. DE RONCHARD

And what are you going to do?

LEON

I am going down into my study on the ground floor, and I shall come up here after a little while.

MME. DE RONCHARD [sarcastically]

Your study, indeed—your studio—you mean, you rascal, where your clients are—models—

LEON [with mock modesty]

Oh, Auntie. My clients, at least, don't unrobe—alas! [Exit Leon R., giving a mock benediction to the lovers.] Children, receive my benediction!

[Exit Madame de Ronchard C.]



SCENE V.

(Jean and Gilberte seated on the sofa at right.)

JEAN

At last, you are my wife, Mademoiselle.

GILBERTE

Mademoiselle?

JEAN

Forgive me. I hardly know how to address you.

GILBERTE

Call me Gilberte. There is nothing shocking about that, is there?

JEAN

Gilberte, at last, at last, at last, you are my wife!

GILBERTE

And truly, not without a good deal of trouble.

JEAN

And what a dainty, energetic little creature you are! How you fought with your father, and with your aunt, for it is only through you, and thanks to you, that we are married, for which I thank you with all my heart—the heart which belongs to you.

GILBERTE

But it is only because I trusted you, and that is all.

JEAN

And have you only trust for me?

GILBERTE

Stupid boy! You know that you pleased me. If you had only pleased me, my confidence in you would have been useless. One must love first. Without that, Monsieur, nothing can come.

JEAN

Call me Jean, just as I have called you Gilberte.

GILBERTE [hesitates]

But that is not altogether the same thing. It seems to me—that—that—I cannot do it. [Rises and crosses L.]

JEAN [rises]

But I love you. I am no trifler, believe me; I love you. I am the man who loves you because he has found in you qualities that are inestimable. You are one of those perfect creatures who have as much brains as sentiment; and the sentimentality that permeates you is not the sickly sentimentality of ordinary women. It is that gloriously beautiful faculty of tenderness which characterizes great souls, and which one never meets elsewhere in the world. And then, you are so beautiful, so graceful, with a grace that is all your own, and I, who am a painter, you know how I adore the beautiful. Then, above everything, you drew me to you, but not only that, you wiped out the traces of the world from my mind and eyes.

GILBERTE

I like to hear you say that. But, don't talk any more just now in that way, because it embarrasses me. However, I know, for I try to foresee everything, that to enjoy these things I must listen to them to-day, for your words breathe the passion of a lover. Perhaps in the future your words will be as sweet, for they could not help being so when a man speaks as you spoke and loves as you appear to love, but at the same time, they will be different.

JEAN

Oh!

GILBERTE [sits on stool near the table]

Tell me it over again.

JEAN

What drew me to you was the mysterious harmony between your natural form and the soul within it. Do you recollect my first visit to this house?

GILBERTE

Oh, yes, very well. My brother brought you to dinner, and I believe that you did not wish to come.

JEAN [laughs]

If that were true, it was very indiscreet of your brother to tell you. And he told you that? I am annoyed that he did so, and I confess I did hesitate somewhat, for you know I was an artist accustomed to the society of artists, which is lively, witty, and sometimes rather free, and I felt somewhat disturbed at the idea of entering a house so serious as yours—a house peopled by dignified lawyers and young ladies. But I was so fond of your brother, I found him so full of novelty, so gay, so wittily sarcastic and discerning, under his assumed levity, that not only did I go everywhere with him, but I followed him to the extent of meeting you. And I never cease to thank him for it. Do you remember when I entered the drawing-room where you and your family were sitting, you were arranging in a china vase some flowers that had just been sent to you?

GILBERTE

I do.

JEAN

Your father spoke to me of my Uncle Martinel, whom he had formerly known. This at once formed a link between us, for all the time that I was talking to him I was watching you arrange your flowers.

GILBERTE [smiles]

You looked far too long and too steadfastly for a first introduction.

JEAN

I was looking at you as an artist looks, and was admiring you, for I found your figure, your movements, and your entire self attractive. And then for the last six months I have often come to this house, to which your brother invited me and whither your presence attracted me, and finally I felt your sway as a lover feels the sway of the one he adores. There was an inexplicable, unseen attraction calling me to you. [Sits beside her R. of table.] Then a dim idea entered my brain,—an idea that one day you might become my wife. It gained possession of my soul, and I immediately took steps to renew the friendship between your father and my uncle. The two men again became friends. Did you never divine my maneuvers?

GILBERTE

Divine your maneuvers? No, I suspected a little at times, but I was so astounded that a man like you—in the full flush of success, so well known, so sought after—should concern himself with such a little, unimportant girl as I, that, really, I could place no faith in the sincerity of your attention.

JEAN

Nevertheless, we quickly knew how to understand each other, did we not?

GILBERTE

Your character pleased me. I felt that you were loyal, and then you entertained me greatly, for you brought into our house that artistic air which gave my fancies life. I ought to tell you that my brother had already warned me that I should like you. You know that Leon loves you.

JEAN

I know it, and I think it was in his brain that the first idea of our marriage had birth. [After a short silence] You remember our return from Saint-Germain after we had dined in the Henri IV. Pavilion?

GILBERTE

I remember it well.

JEAN

My uncle and your aunt were in the front of the landau, and you and I on the rear seat, and in another carriage were your father and Leon. What a glorious spring night! But how coldly you treated me!

GILBERTE

I was so embarrassed!

JEAN

You ought to recall that I put to you that day a question which I had already asked you, because you cannot deny that I had paid you very tender attention and that you had captured my heart.

GILBERTE

True. Nevertheless it surprised and upset me. Oh, how often have I remembered it since! But I have never been able to recall the very words you used. Do you remember them?

JEAN

No; they came from my lips, issuing from the bottom of my heart like a prayer for mercy. I only know that I told you that I should never re-enter your house if you did not give me some little hope that there should be a day when you would know me better. You pondered a long time before you answered me, but you spoke in such a low tone that I was anxious to make you repeat it.

GILBERTE [takes up his sentence and speaks as if in a dream]

I said that it would pain me greatly if I should see you no more.

JEAN

Yes, that is what you said.

GILBERTE

You have forgotten nothing!

JEAN

Could anyone forget that? [With deep emotion.] Do you know what I think? As we look at each other and examine our hearts, our souls, our mutual understanding, our love, I verily believe that we have set out on the true road to happiness. [Kisses her. For a moment they are silent.]

GILBERTE [rises]

But I must leave you. [Goes toward door L.] I must prepare for our journey. Meanwhile, go and find my father.

JEAN [follows her]

Yes, but tell me before you go that you love me.

GILBERTE

Yes—I love you.

JEAN [kisses her forehead]

My only one.

[Exit Gilberte L., a second after. Enter M. Martinel C. with a very agitated air, and a letter in his hand.]

MARTINEL [perceives Jean, quickly slips the letter into his pocket; then, recollecting himself]

Have you seen Leon?

JEAN

No, are you looking for him?

MARTINEL

No, no, I have just a word to say to him concerning an engagement of small importance.

JEAN [perceives Leon]

Wait a moment. Here he comes.

[Enter Leon R. Exit Jean. C.]



SCENE VI.

(Martinel and Leon.)

MARTINEL [goes quickly up to Leon]

I must have five minutes with you. Something terrible has happened. Never in the course of my life have I been placed in so awkward and so embarrassing a situation.

LEON

Quick! What is it?

MARTINEL

I had just finished my game at billiards when a servant brought me a letter addressed to M. Martinel, without any Christian name by which to identify it, but with these words on the letter "Exceedingly urgent." I thought it was addressed to me, so I tore open the envelope, and I read words intended for Jean—words which have well-nigh taken away my reason. I came to find you in order to ask advice, for this is a thing which must be decided upon the moment.

LEON

Tell me, what is it?

MARTINEL

I am responsible for my own actions, M. Leon, and I would ask advice of no one if the matter concerned myself only, but unfortunately it concerns Jean; therefore, I hesitate—the matter is so grave, and then the secret is not mine—I came upon it accidentally.

LEON

Tell me quickly, and do not doubt my faith.

MARTINEL

I do not doubt your faith. Here is the letter. It is from Dr. Pellerin, who is Jean's physician, who is his friend, our friend, a good fellow, a free liver, and a physician to many women of the world, and one who would not write such things unless necessity compelled him. [Hands the letter to Leon, who holds it close to his eyes.]

LEON [reads]

"MY DEAR FRIEND:

"I am more than annoyed at having to communicate with you upon this evening, above every other evening, upon such a subject as this. But I am sure that if I did otherwise you would never forgive me. Your former mistress, Henriette Leveque, is dying and would bid you farewell. [Throws a glance at Martinel who signs to him to continue.] She will not live through the night. She dies after bringing into the world, some fifteen days ago, a child who on her deathbed she swears is yours. So long as she was in no danger, she determined to leave you in ignorance of this child's existence. But, to-day, doomed to death, she calls to you. I know how you have loved her in the past. But you must do as you think fit. She lives in the Rue Chaptal at Number 31. Let me know how I can serve you, my dear fellow, and believe me,

"Always yours,

"PELLERIN."

MARTINEL

There you are. That letter came this evening. That is to say, at the one moment above all others when such a misfortune could threaten the whole future—the whole life of your sister and of Jean. What would you do if you were I? Would you keep this confounded letter, or would you give it to him? If I keep it, we may save appearances, but such an act would be unworthy of me.

LEON [energetically]

I should say so. You must give the letter to Jean.

MARTINEL

Well, what will he do?

LEON

He alone is the judge of his own actions. We have no right to hide anything from him.

MARTINEL

Supposing he consults me?

LEON

He will not do it. In such situations a man consults only his conscience.

MARTINEL

But he treats me like a father. If he hesitates a moment between his attention to his wife and the effacement of his happiness, what shall I tell him to do?

LEON

Just what you would do yourself in like case.

MARTINEL

My impulse would be to go to the woman. What would be yours?

LEON [resolutely]

I should go.

MARTINEL

But how about your sister?

LEON [sadly, seating himself by the table]

Yes, my poor little sister! What an awakening for her!

MARTINEL [after a few seconds' hesitation, crosses abruptly from L. to R.]

No; it is too hard a thing to do. I shall not give him this letter. I shall be blamed perhaps, but so much the worse. In any case, I save him.

LEON

You cannot do such a thing, sir. We both know my sister, poor little girl, and I am sure that if this marriage is annulled, she will die. [Rises.] When a man has for three years enjoyed the love of such a woman as the one who sends for him, he cannot refuse to see her on her deathbed whatever may happen.

MARTINEL

What will Gilberte do?

LEON

She worships Jean—but you know how proud she is.

MARTINEL

Will she accept the situation? Will she forgive it?

LEON

Of that I am very doubtful, especially after all that has been said about this poor girl in the family circle. But what does that matter? Jean must be warned at once. I am going to find him and bring him to you. [Rises as if to go out C.]

MARTINEL

Well, how would you like me to tell him?

LEON Simply give him the letter. [Exit Leon C.]



SCENE VII.

MARTINEL [alone]

Poor children! in the midst of their happiness and at the zenith of joy! And that other poor girl, who is now suffering and slowly dying! Heavens! How unjust and how cruel life is at times.



SCENE VIII.

(Re-enter Leon with Jean)

JEAN [walks briskly to C. of stage]

What is it all about?

MARTINEL

One minute, my poor boy; read this, and forgive me for having opened your letter. I opened it because I thought it was intended for me. [Gives letter to Jean, and watches him read it. Leon also watches him, standing L.]

JEAN [after reading the letter, speaks to himself in a low tone, touched with deep but contained emotion]

I must do it! I owe it to her! [To Martinel.] Uncle, I leave my wife in your charge. Say nothing until I return, and remain here till I come back. Wait for me. [Turns to Leon.] I know you well enough to realize that you do not disapprove of what I am doing. To you I confide my future. I am going. [Turns to the door R., but after casting a glance at the door L., which leads to his wife's chamber, says to Leon.] To you I owe the love your sister has bestowed upon me. Help me now to preserve it.

[Exit quickly R.]



SCENE IX.

(Martinel and Leon.)

MARTINEL [seated R.]

What shall we do now? What are we going to say? What explanations can we give?

LEON

Let me manage it. It is only right that I should do it since I brought about this marriage.

MARTINEL [rises]

Well, I'd dearly love to be forty-eight hours older. [Rising.] I confess I do not like these love tragedies, and moreover the fact of the child entering into the case is awful. What is going to become of that poor little mortal? We cannot send him to the foundling asylum. [Enter Gilberte L.] Gilberte!



SCENE X.

Gilberte has removed her marriage robes, and now wears a handsome house gown. She carries an opera cloak, which she throws over a chair neat the door.

GILBERTE

Where is Jean?

LEON

Do not be disturbed, he will be back directly.

GILBERTE [in astonishment]

Has he gone out?

LEON

Yes.

GILBERTE

Gone out? And on this evening, above all others!

LEON

A sudden and grave circumstance compelled him to go out for an hour.

GILBERTE [excitedly]

What is going on? What is it that you are hiding from me? Your story is impossible. Some awful misfortune must have happened.

LEON AND MARTINEL [together]

Oh, no, no!

GILBERTE

Then, what is it? Tell me! Speak!

LEON

I cannot tell you anything. Be patient for an hour. It is Jean's duty to tell you of the sudden and unexpected call which has summoned him hence at such a time.

GILBERTE

What curious words you use! A sudden and unexpected call? He is an orphan—his uncle is his only relative,—then what? Who? Why? Oh, God, how you frighten me!

LEON

There are duties of many kinds, my dear; friendship, pity, sympathy can impose many of them. But I must not say any more. Be patient for an hour, I implore you.

GILBERTE [to Martinel]

And you, Uncle? Speak! I implore you! What is he doing? Where has he gone? I feel—oh, I feel the shadow of a terrible misfortune hovering over us; speak, I entreat.

MARTINEL [with tears in his eyes]

But I cannot tell you any more, my dear child. I cannot. Like your brother, I promised to say nothing, and I would have done just as Jean has done. Wait for an hour, I beseech you—just an hour.

GILBERTE

And you, too, are upset. It must be a catastrophe.

MARTINEL

No, no! The fact that you are so distressed agitates me, because you know I love you with my whole heart. [Embraces her.]

GILBERTE [to Leon]

You have spoken of friendship, of pity, and of sympathy, but if it were any of these reasons you could tell me so; meanwhile, as I look at you two, I feel that here is some unspoken reason, some mystery which appalls me.

LEON [resolutely]

My dear little sister, won't you trust in me?

GILBERTE

Yes, you ought to know all.

LEON

Will you trust me absolutely?

GILBERTE

Absolutely.

LEON

I swear to you, on my faith as a gentleman, that I would have done just as Jean has done; that his absolute fidelity to you, his fidelity, which perhaps is even exaggerated by love for you, is the only reason which had led him to forget at this very moment the very thing that he has gone to learn anew.

GILBERTE [looks Leon straight in the eyes]

I believe you, Leon, and I thank you. Nevertheless, I tremble yet and I shall tremble until he returns. If you swear to me that my husband was entirely ignorant of the cause which has made him leave me at this supreme moment, I will content myself as well as I can, trusting in you two. [She stretches both hands to the two men.]



SCENE XI.

(The same, with M. de Petitpre and Mme. de Ronchard, who enters quickly C.)

PETITPRE

What is this I hear? Jean Martinel gone out?

MARTINEL

He is coming back very soon, sir.

PETITPRE

But why on earth did he go out on such an evening as this without a word of explanation to his wife? [Turns to Gilberte] You know nothing about it, do you?

GILBERTE [seated L. of table]

Father, I know nothing at all about it.

MME. DE RONCHARD

And without a word of explanation to the family! That is indeed a lack of courtesy.

PETITPRE [to Martinel]

And why has he acted in this way, sir?

MARTINEL

Your son knows as much as I do, sir; but neither of us can reveal it to you. Moreover, your daughter has consented to wait until she can learn all about it from her husband on his return.

PETITPRE

My daughter has consented—but I do not consent! Besides, it seems that you alone were forewarned of this sudden departure.

MME. DE RONCHARD [in agitation to Martinel]

It was to you they brought the letter, and you were the one who read it first.

MARTINEL

You are correctly informed, Madame; a letter was delivered here, but I would not shoulder the responsibility of this matter, and I showed the letter to your son, sir [turns to Petitpre], and asked his advice with the intention of following it.

LEON

The advice that I gave is exactly what my brother-in-law has done of his own volition, and I esteem him all the more for it.

PETITPRE [turns to Leon]

It is I who should have been consulted, not you. If Jean's action is indeed excusable, his want of courtesy is absolutely unpardonable.

MME. DE RONCHARD

It is scandalous!

LEON [to M. Petitpre]

Yes, it would have been better to consult you, but the urgency of the matter did not allow it. You would have discussed the matter; my aunt would have discussed the matter; we should all have discussed the matter the whole night long, and you know there are times when one cannot afford to lose even seconds. Silence was necessary until Jean's return. When he does return he will hide nothing from you, and I feel sure that you will judge him as I myself have judged him.

MME. DE RONCHARD [turns to Martinel]

But this letter, from whom did it come?

MARTINEL

Oh, I can tell you that. It came from a physician.

MME. DE RONCHARD

From a physician—a physician—then he must have a sick patient—and it is on account of this patient that he made Jean come to him. But who is the patient? Oh, ho! I surmise that it is a woman—that woman—his former mistress, who has played this card today. Sick! I suppose she has made a pretense of poisoning herself in order to show him that she loves him still and will always love him. Oh, the little wretch! [To Leon.] This is the kind of people you stand up for! Yes, you!

LEON

It would be only reasonable, my dear Aunt, not to air all these revolting theories of yours in Gilberte's presence, especially when you really know nothing at all.

GILBERTE [rises]

Do not speak any more about it, I pray you. Everything that I have heard just now distresses me beyond measure. I will wait for my husband; I do not wish to know anything except from his lips, as I have absolute confidence in him. If misfortune has threatened us, I will not hear such things talked of. [Exit L, accompanied by Petitpre. Short silence.]

MME. DE RONCHARD [turns to Leon]

Well, Leon, do you always win? You see what charming fellows these husbands are—every one of them!



ACT II.

SCENE I.

Musotte's bedroom, neatly furnished, but without luxury. Disordered bed stands L. A screen stands L. I. E., almost hiding Musotte, who lies stretched at length upon a steamer-chair. Beside the bed is a cradle, the head of which is turned up stage. On the mantelpiece and on small tables at R. and L. are vials of medicine, cups, chafing-dish, etc. A table stands, R. I. E. Musotte is sleeping. La Babin and Mme. Flache stand C. looking at her.

LA BABIN [in low tones]

How she sleeps!

MME. FLACHE [in the same voice]

But she will not sleep long now, unless she is going into her last sleep.

LA BABIN

Oh, there is no chance of that. That is enough to give one the horrors. Fancy losing one's life for a child!

MME. FLACHE

But how can you prevent it? Death is as necessary as birth, or the world would become too small for us all.

LA BABIN [sits R. of table]

All people ought to die in the same way and at the same age—every one of us; then one would know what to expect.

MME. FLACHE [pours out some tea]

What simple ideas you have, Madame Babin! Personally, I would rather not know the hour of my death. I would sooner finish my life while sleeping in the middle of the night—during slumber—without suffering—by a sudden failure of the heart.

LA BABIN

Look at the sick woman. How silly of her to wish to rest upon that steamer-chair as she has done. The doctor told her plainly that such an effort would probably finish her.

MME. FLACHE [sits L. of table]

Oh, I understand her motive. When a girl like her has a lover she commits every kind of folly, and more especially, nurse, when they are at all coquettish; but you country people do not know anything about such things. They are coquettish through and through. That is the reason she wished to look her prettiest. She was afraid of being thought ugly, don't you understand? So I had to put on her peignoir, and tidy her up, and arrange her hair just as I have done.

LA BABIN

Oh, these Parisians! It is necessary that they should have a hairdresser even to the last gasp! [A short silence.] But will this gentleman of hers come?

MME. FLACHE

I do not think so. Men are not overfond of obeying the calls of their former mistresses at such times, and then, this lover of hers was married to-day, poor fellow!

LA BABIN

Well, that is a joke.

MME. FLACHE

I should say so.

LA BABIN

Certainly, then, he won't come. In such a case would you go to see a man?

MME. FLACHE

Oh, if I loved him very much I should go.

LA BABIN

Even if you were marrying another the same day?

MME. FLACHE

Just the same. For such a combination of circumstances would pierce my heart; would penetrate me with a strong emotion,—and, oh, I am so fond of such emotions!

LA BABIN

Well, so far as I am concerned, I certainly would not go. I should be too much afraid of the shock.

MME. FLACHE

But Doctor Pellerin asserts that the man will come.

LA BABIN

Do you know this physician well?

MME. FLACHE

Who, Doctor Pellerin?

LA BABIN

Yes; he has the air of a charming man of the world.

MME. FLACHE

Oh, yes; he is all that, but he is also a good physician. Then he is such good company, and has such a smooth tongue. And you know he is not physician to the Opera for nothing.

LA BABIN

That little puppy of a—

MME. FLACHE

A puppy! You don't very often find puppies among men of his caliber, and then,-oh, how he used to love the girls! Oh, oh! Although, for the matter of that, there are many physicians who are like him. It was at the Opera that I first met him.

LA BABIN

At the Opera!

MME. FLACHE

Yes, at the Opera. You know, I was a dancer there for eight years. Yes, indeed, even I—just as you see me, a dancer at the Opera.

LA BABIN

You, Madame Flache!

MME. FLACHE

Yes, my mother was a midwife, and taught me the business at the same time that she taught me dancing, because she always said it was well to have two strings to your bow. Dancing, you see, is all very well, provided you are not too ambitious of appearing on first nights, but, unhappily, that was the case with me. I was as slender as a thread when I was twenty, and very agile, but I grew fat and scant of breath, and became rather heavy in my steps; so when my mother died, as I had my diploma as a midwife, I took her apartment and her business, and I added the title of "Midwife to the Opera," for all their business comes to me. They like me very much there. When I was dancing, they used to call me Mademoiselle Flacchi the premiere.

LA BABIN

Then you have been married since then?

MME. FLACHE

No, but a woman in my profession should always assume the title of Madame for the sake of its dignity. You know, it gives confidence. But, how about you, nurse, from what place do you come? You know, you have only just come here, and nobody consulted me about engaging you.

LA BABIN

I am from Yvetot.

MME. FLACHE

Is this your first engagement as a nurse?

LA BABIN

No, my third. I have had two daughters and a little boy.

MME. FLACHE

And your husband, is he a farmer or a gardener?

LA BABIN [Simply]

I am not married.

MME. FLACHE [laughing]

Not married, and with three children! Upon my word, let me compliment you; you are indeed precocious.

LA BABIN

Don't talk about it; it was not my will. It is the good God who does these things. One cannot prevent it.

MME. FLACHE

How simple you are! Now you will probably have a fourth child.

LA BABIN

That's very possible.

MME. FLACHE

Well, what does your lover do? What is his business? Or perhaps you have more than one?

LA BABIN [with indignation]

There has never been more than one. I give you my word, upon my hope of salvation. He is a lemonade-seller at Yvetot.

MME. FLACHE

Is he a handsome fellow?

LA BABIN

I believe you, indeed! He is handsome! [Confidentially.] If I tell you all this, it is only because you are a midwife, and a midwife in such affairs as this is like a priest in the confessional. But you, Madame Flache, you, who have been a dancer at the Opera, you must also have had, surely—little love affairs—little intrigues?

MME. FLACHE [evidently flattered, and in a dreamy tone]

Oh, yes, one or two!

LA BABIN [laughs]

And have you never had—this sort of accident? [Points to the cradle.]

MME. FLACHE

No.

LA BABIN

How did that come?

MME. FLACHE [rises and approaches the mantelpiece]

Probably because I was a midwife.

LA BABIN

Well, I know one in your profession who has had five.

MME. FLACHE [with contempt]

She evidently did not come from Paris.

LA BABIN

That's true; she came from Courbevoie.

MUSOTTE [in a feeble voice] Is no one there?

MME. FLACHE

She is awakening. There, there! [Folds up the screen which hides the long steamer-chair.]

MUSOTTE

Hasn't he come yet?

MME. FLACHE

No.

MUSOTTE

He will arrive too late—my God! My God!

MME. FLACHE

What an idea! He will come.

MUSOTTE

And my little darling—my child?

MME. FLACHE

He is sleeping like an angel.

MUSOTTE [after looking at herself in a hand-mirror]

I must not look like this when he comes. Oh, God! Bring my child—I want to see him.

MME. FLACHE

But if I show him to you he will wake up, and who knows if he will go to sleep again.

MUSOTTE

Bring the cradle here. [A gesture of refusal from Mme Flache.] Yes, yes! I insist, [Mme. Flache and the nurse gently bring the cradle to her.] Nearer, nearer, so that I can see him well—the darling! My child, my child! And I am going to leave him! Soon I shall disappear into the unknown. Oh. God, what agony!

MME. FLACHE

Now don't go worrying yourself like that; you are not as ill as you think. I have seen lots worse than you. Come, come! you are going to recover. Take away the cradle, nurse. [They put the cradle again in its place; then to the nurse.] That will do, that will do. Watch me. You know very well that it is only I who can quiet it. [Sits near the cradle, and sings a lullaby while rocking it.]

"A little gray fowl Came into the barn, To lay a big egg For the good boy that sleeps. Go to sleep, go to sleep, My little chicken! Go to sleep, sleep, my chick!"

LA BABIN [stands near the end of the mantelpiece, drinks the sugared water, and slips loaf sugar into her pocket; aside]

I must not forget the main thing. I have just seen in the kitchen the remains of a leg of mutton, to which I should like to go and say a few words. I am breaking in two with hunger just now.

MME. FLACHE [sings softly]

"A little black fowl Came into the room, To lay a big egg For the good boy that sleeps. Sleep, sleep, my little chicken, Sleep, oh, sleep, my chick!"

MUSOTTE [from the long chair, after moaning several times]

Has he gone to sleep again?

MME. FLACHE [goes toward Musotte]

Yes, Mademoiselle, just as if he were a little Jesus. Do you wish to know what I think about him, this young man lying here? You will lead him to the altar for his marriage. He is a jewel, like yourself, my dear.

MUSOTTE

Do you really think him pretty?

MME. FLACHE

On the honor of a midwife, I have seldom brought into the world one so pretty. It is a pleasure to know that one has brought to the light such a little Cupid as he is.

MUSOTTE

And to think that in a few hours, perhaps, I shall see him no more; look at him no more; love him no more!

MME. FLACHE

Oh, no, no! You are talking unreasonably.

MUSOTTE

Ah, I know it too well! I heard you talking with the nurse. I know that the end is very near; this night, perhaps. Would the doctor have written to Jean to come and see me on this evening—the evening of his marriage—if I were not at the point of death? [The bell rings. Musotte utters a cry.] Ah, there he is! it is he! Quick! quick! Oh, God, how I suffer! [Exit Mme. Flache C. Musotte gazes after her. Enter Dr. Pellerin, in evening clothes.]



SCENE II.

MUSOTTE [despairingly]

Ah! it is not he!

PELLERIN [approaches Musotte]

Has he not come yet?

MUSOTTE

He will not come.

DR. PELLERIN

He will! I am certain of it; I know it.

MUSOTTE

No!

DR. PELLERIN

I swear it! [Turns toward Mme. Flache.] Hasn't he answered the note yet?

MME. FLACHE

No, Doctor.

DR. PELLERIN

Well, he will come. How is my patient?

MME. FLACHE

She has rested a little.

MUSOTTE [in an agitated voice]

All is over! I feel that I shall not rest any more until he comes, or until I depart without having seen him.

DR. PELLERIN

He will come if you will go to sleep immediately and sleep until to-morrow morning.

MUSOTTE

You would not have written to him to come this evening if I had been able to wait until to-morrow morning. [The bell rings.] If that is not he, I am lost—lost! [Mme. Flache runs to open the door. Musotte listens intently, and hears from below a man's voice; then murmurs despairingly.] It is not he!

MME. FLACHE [re-enters with a vial in her hand]

It is the medicine from the chemist.

MUSOTTE [agitated]

Oh, God! how horrible! He is not coming; what have I done? Doctor, show me my child. I will see him once more.

DR. PELLERIN

But he sleeps, my little Musotte.

MUSOTTE

Well, he has plenty of time in the future for sleep.

DR. PELLERIN

Come, come, calm yourself.

MUSOTTE

If Jean does not come, who will take care of my child?—for it is Jean's child, I swear to you. Do you believe me? Oh, how I loved him!

DR. PELLERIN

Yes, my dear little child, we believe you. But please be calm.

MUSOTTE [with increasing agitation]

Tell me, when you went away just now where did you go?

DR. PELLERIN

To see a patient.

MUSOTTE

That is not true. You went to see Jean, and he would not come with you, or he would be here now.

DR. PELLERIN

On my word of honor, no.

MUSOTTE

Yes, I feel it. You have seen him, and you do not dare to tell me for fear it would kill me.

DR. PELLERIN

Ah, the fever is coming back again. This must not go on. I don't wish you to be delirious when he comes. [Turns to Mme. Flache.] We must give her a hypodermic injection. Give me the morphia. [Mme. Flache brings the needle and morphia, from the mantelpiece and gives it to Dr. Pellerin.]

MUSOTTE [uncovers her own arm]

But for this relief, I do not know how I should have borne up during the last few days. [Dr. Pellerin administers the hypodermic.]

DR. PELLERIN

Now, you must go to sleep; I forbid you to speak. I won't answer you, and I tell you of a certainty that in a quarter of an hour Jean will be here. [Musotte stretches herself out obediently upon the couch and goes to sleep.]

LA BABIN [silently replaces the screen which hides Musotte]

How she sleeps! What a benediction that drug is! But I don't want any of it. It scares me; it is a devil's potion. [Sits near the cradle and reads a newspaper.]

MME. FLACHE [in a low voice to Dr. Pellerin]

Oh, the poor girl, what misery!

DR. PELLERIN [in the same tone]

Yes, she is a brave girl. It is some time since I first met her with Jean Martinel, who gave her three years of complete happiness. She has a pure and simple soul.

MME. FLACHE

Well, will this Monsieur Martinel come?

DR. PELLERIN

I think so. He is a man of feeling, but it is a difficult thing for him to leave his wife and his people on such a day as this.

MME. FLACHE

It certainly is a most extraordinary case. A veritable fiasco.

DR. PELLERIN

It is, indeed.

MME. FLACHE [changes her tone]

Where have you been just now? You did not put on evening dress and a white cravat to go and see a patient?

DR. PELLERIN

I went to see the first part of the Montargy ballet danced.

MME. FLACHE [interested, and leaning upon the edge of the table]

And was it good? Tell me.

DR. PELLERIN [sits L. of table]

It was very well danced.

MME. FLACHE

The new directors do things in style, don't they?

DR. PELLERIN

Jeanne Merali and Gabrielle Poivrier are first class.

MME. FLACHE

Poivrier—the little Poivrier—is it possible! As to Merali I am not so much astonished; although she is distinctly ugly, she has her good points. And how about Mauri?

DR. PELLERIN

Oh, a marvel—an absolute marvel, who dances as no one else can. A human bird with limbs for wings. It was absolute perfection.

MME. FLACHE

Are you in love with her?

DR. PELLERIN

Oh, no; merely an admirer. You know how I worship the dance.

MME. FLACHE

And the danseuses also, at times. [Lowering her eyes.] Come, have you forgotten?

DR. PELLERIN

One can never forget artists of your worth, my dear.

MME. FLACHE

You are simply teasing me.

DR. PELLERIN

I only do you justice. You know that formerly, when I was a young doctor, I had for you a very ardent passion which lasted six weeks. Tell me, don't you regret the time of the grand fete?

MME. FLACHE

A little. But reason comes when one is young no longer, and I have nothing to complain of. My business is very prosperous.

DR. PELLERIN

You are making money, then? They tell me that you are giving dainty little dinners.

MME. FLACHE

I believe you, and I have a particularly good chef. Won't you give me the pleasure of entertaining you at dinner one of these days, my dear Doctor?

DR. PELLERIN

Very willingly, my dear.

MME. FLACHE

Shall I have any other physicians, or do you prefer to come alone?

DR. PELLERIN

Alone, if you please. I am not fond of a third party. [The bell rings.]

MUSOTTE [awakens]

Ah, some one rang, run and see. [Exit Mme. Flache. A short silence.]

A VOICE [without]

Madame Henriette Leveque?

MUSOTTE [emitting an anguished cry]

Ah, it is he! There he is! [Makes an effort to rise. Enter Jean Martinel.] Jean! Jean! At last! [Springs up and stretches her arms to him.]



SCENE III.

(The same,—with Jean Martinel.)

JEAN [comes rapidly forward, kneels near the long steamer-chair, and kisses Musotte's hands]

My poor little Musotte! [They begin to weep and dry their eyes; then they remain silent and motionless. At last Jean rises and holds up his hand to Dr. Pellerin.]

PELLERIN

Did I do well?

JEAN

You did indeed, and I thank you.

PELLERIN [introduces them]

Madame Flache, the midwife—the nurse—[indicates the cradle with a grave gesture] and there!

JEAN [approaches the cradle and lifts the little curtain, takes up the child and kisses it on the mouth; then lays it down again]

He is a splendid boy!

DR. PELLERIN

A very pretty child.

MME. FLACHE

A superb morsel—one of my prettiest.

JEAN [in a low voice]

And Musotte, how is she?

MUSOTTE [who has heard him]

I,—I am almost lost. I know surely that all is over. [To Jean.] Take that little chair, dear, and seat yourself near me, and let us talk as long as I am able to speak. I have so many things to say to you, for we shall never be together any more. I am so glad to see you again that nothing else now seems of any importance.

JEAN [approaching her] Don't agitate yourself. Don't get excited.

MUSOTTE

How can I help being agitated at seeing you again?

JEAN [sits on the low chair, takes Musotte's hand]

My poor Musotte, I cannot tell you what a shock it was to me when I learned just now that you were so ill.

MUSOTTE

And on this day of all days! It must have shocked you greatly.

JEAN

What! Do you know of it then?

MUSOTTE

Yes, since I felt so ill, I kept myself informed about you every day, in order that I might not pass away without having seen you and spoken to you again, for I have so much to say to you. [At a sign from Jean, Mme. Flache, Pellerin, and La Babin exit R.]



SCENE IV.

(Musotte and Jean.)

MUSOTTE

Then you received the letter?

JEAN

Yes.

MUSOTTE

And you came immediately?

JEAN

Certainly.

MUSOTTE

Thanks—ah! thanks. I hesitated a long time before warning you—hesitated even this morning, but I heard the midwife talking with the nurse and learned that to-morrow perhaps it might be too late, so I sent Doctor Pellerin to call you immediately.

JEAN

Why didn't you call me sooner?

MUSOTTE

I never thought that my illness would become so serious. I did not wish to trouble your life.

JEAN [points to the cradle]

But that child! How is it that I was not told of this sooner?

MUSOTTE

You would never have known it, if his birth had not killed me. I would have spared you this pain—this cloud upon your life. When you left me, you gave me enough to live upon. Everything was over between us; and besides, at any other moment than this, would you believe me if I said to you: "This is your child?"

JEAN

Yes, I have never doubted you.

MUSOTTE

You are as good as ever, my Jean. No, no, I am not lying to you; he is yours, that little one there. I swear it to you on my deathbed; I swear it to you before God!

JEAN

I have already told you that I believed you. I have always believed you.

MUSOTTE

Listen, this is all that has happened. As soon as you left me, I became very ill. I suffered so much that I thought I was going to die. The doctor ordered a change of air. You remember, it was in the spring. I went to Saint-Malo—to that old relative, of whom I have often talked to you.

JEAN

Yes, yes.

MUSOTTE

It was in Saint-Malo, after some days, that I realized that you had left me a pledge of your affection. My first desire was to tell you everything, for I knew that you were an honest man—that you would have recognized this child, perhaps even have given up your marriage; but I would not have had you do that. All was over; was it not?—and it was better that it should be so. I knew that I could never be your wife [smiles], Musotte, me, Madame Martinel—oh, no!

JEAN

My poor, dear girl. How brutal and hard we men are, without thinking of it and without wishing to be so!

MUSOTTE

Don't say that. I was not made for you. I was only a little model; and you, you were a rising artist, and I never thought that you would belong to me forever. [Jean sheds tears.] No, no, don't cry; you have nothing to reproach yourself with. You have always been so good to me. It is only God who has been cruel to me.

JEAN

Musotte!

MUSOTTE

Let me go on. I remained at Saint-Malo without revealing my condition. Then I came back to Paris, and here some months afterward the little one was born—the child! When I fully understood what had happened to me, I experienced at first such fear; yes, such fear! Then I remembered that he was bone of your bone, and flesh of your flesh; that you had given him life, and that he was a pledge from you. But one is so stupid when one knows nothing. One's ideas change just as one's moods change, and I became contented all at once; contented with the thought that I would bring him up, that he would grow to be a man, that he would call me mother. [Weeps.] Now, he will never call me mother. He will never put his little arms around my neck, because I am going to leave him; because I am going away—I don't know where; but there, where everybody goes. Oh, God! My God!

JEAN

Calm yourself, my little Musotte. Would you be able to speak as you do speak if you were as ill as you think you are?

MUSOTTE

You do not see that the fever is burning within me; that I am losing my head, and don't know longer what I say.

JEAN

No, no; please calm yourself.

MUSOTTE

Pet me; pet me, Jean, and you will calm me.

JEAN [kisses her hair; then resumes]

There, there; don't speak any more for a minute or two. Let us remain quietly here near each other.

MUSOTTE

But I must speak to you; I have so many things to say to you yet, and do not know how to say them. My head is beyond my control. Oh, my God! how shall I do it? [Raises herself, looks around her and sees the cradle.] Ah, yes, I know; I recollect, it is he, my child. Tell me, Jean, what will you do with him? You know that I am an orphan, and when I am gone he will be here all alone—alone in the world! Poor little thing! Listen, Jean, my head is quite clear now. I shall understand very well what you answer me now, and the peace of my closing moments depends upon it. I have no one to leave the little one to but you.

JEAN

I promise you that I will take him, look after him, and bring him up.

MUSOTTE

As a father?

JEAN

As a father.

MUSOTTE

You have already seen him?

JEAN

Yes.

MUSOTTE

Go and look at him again. [Jean goes over to the cradle.]

JEAN

He is pretty, isn't he?

MUSOTTE

Everybody says so. Look at him, the poor little darling, who has enjoyed only a few days of life as yet. He belongs to us. You are his father; I am his mother, but soon he will have a mother no more. [In anguish.] Promise me that he shall always have a father.

JEAN [goes over to her]

I promise it, my darling!

MUSOTTE

A true father, who will always love him well?

JEAN I promise it.

MUSOTTE

You will be good—very good—to him?

JEAN

I swear it to you!

MUSOTTE

And then, there is something else—but I dare not—

JEAN

Tell it to me.

MUSOTTE

Since I came back to Paris, I have sought to see you without being seen by you, and I have seen you three times. Each time you were with her—with your sweetheart, your wife, and with a gentleman—her father, I think. Oh, how I looked at her! I asked myself: "Will she love him as I have loved him? Will she make him happy? Is she good?" Tell me, do you really believe she is very good?

JEAN

Yes, darling, I believe it.

MUSOTTE

You are very certain of it?

JEAN

Yes, indeed.

MUSOTTE

And I thought so, too, simply from seeing her pass by. She is so pretty! I have been a little jealous, and I wept on coming back. But what are you going to do now as between her and your son?

JEAN

I shall do my duty.

MUSOTTE

Your duty? Does that mean by her or by him?

JEAN

By him.

MUSOTTE

Listen, Jean: when I am no more, ask your wife from me, from the mouth of a dead woman, to adopt him, this dear little morsel of humanity-to love him as I would have loved him; to be a mother to him in my stead. If she is tender and kind, she will consent. Tell her how you saw me suffer—that my last prayer, my last supplication on earth was offered up for her. Will you do this?

JEAN

I promise you that I will.

MUSOTTE

Ah! How good you are! Now I fear nothing; my poor little darling is safe, and I am happy and calm. Ah, how calm I am! You didn't know, did you, that I called him Jean, after you? That does not displease you, does it?

JEAN [weeps]

No, no!

MUSOTTE

You weep—so you still love me a little, Jean? Ah, how I thank you for this! But if I only could live; it must be possible. I feel so much better since you came here, and since you have promised me all that I have asked you. Give me your hand. At this moment I can recall all our life together, and I am content—almost gay; in fact, I can laugh—see, I can laugh, though I don't know why. [Laughs.]

JEAN

Oh, calm yourself for my sake, dear little Musotte.

MUSOTTE

If you could only understand how recollections throng upon me. Do you remember that I posed for your "Mendiante," for your "Violet Seller," for your "Guilty Woman," which won for you your first medal? And do you remember the breakfast at Ledoyen's on Varnishing Day? There were more than twenty-five at a table intended for ten. What follies we committed, especially that little, little—what did he call himself—I mean that little comic fellow, who was always making portraits which resembled no one? Oh, yes, Tavernier! And you took me home with you to your studio, where you had two great manikins which frightened me so, and I called to you, and you came in to reassure me. Oh, how heavenly all that was! Do you remember? [Laughs again.] Oh, if that life could only begin over again! [Cries suddenly.] Ah, what pain! [To Jean, who is going for the doctor.] No, stay, stay! [Silence. A sudden change comes over her face.] See, Jean, what glorious weather! If you like, we will take the baby for a sail on a river steamboat; that will be so jolly! I love those little steamboats; they are so pretty. They glide over the water quickly and without noise. Now that I am your wife, I can assert myself—I am armed. Darling, I never thought that you would marry me. And look at our little one—how pretty he is, and how he grows! He is called Jean after you. And I—I have my two little Jeans—mine—altogether mine! You don't know how happy I am. And the little one walks to-day for the first time! [Laughs aloud, with her arms stretched out, pointing to the child which she thinks is before her.]

JEAN [weeps]

Musotte! Musotte! Don't you know me?

MUSOTTE

Indeed I know you! Am I not your wife? Kiss me, darling. Kiss me, my little one.

JEAN [takes her in his arms, weeping and repeating]

Musotte! Musotte! [Musotte rises upon her couch, and with a gesture to Jean points to the cradle, toward which he goes, nodding "Yes, yes," with his head. When Jean reaches the cradle, Musotte, who has raised herself upon her hands, falls lifeless upon the long steamer-chair. Jean, frightened, calls out] Pellerin! Pellerin!



SCENE V.

(The same: Pellerin, Mme. Flache, and La Babin, enter quickly R.)

PELLERIN [who has gone swiftly to Musotte, feels her pulse and listens at the heart]

Her heart is not beating! Give me a mirror, Madame Flache.

JEAN

My God! [Mme. Flache gives a hand-mirror to Pellerin, who holds it before the lips of Musotte, Pause.]

PELLERIN [in a low voice]

She is dead!

JEAN [takes the dead woman's hand and kisses it fondly, his voice choked with emotion]

Farewell, my dear little Musotte! To think that a moment ago you were speaking to me—a moment ago you were looking at me, you saw me, and now—all is over!

PELLERIN [goes to Jean and takes him by the shoulder]

Now, you must go at once. Go! You have nothing more to do here. Your duty is over.

JEAN [rises]

I go. Farewell, poor little Musotte!

PELLERIN

I will take care of everything this evening. But the child, do you wish me to find an asylum for him?

JEAN

Oh, no, I will take him. I have sworn it to that poor, dead darling. Come and join me immediately at my house, and bring him with you. Then I shall have another service to request of you. But how about Musotte, who is going to remain with her?

MME. FLACHE

I, Monsieur. Have no anxiety; I am acquainted with all that must be done.

JEAN

Thank you, Madame. [Approaches the bed; closes Musotte's eyes and kisses her fondly and for a long time upon her forehead.] Farewell, Musotte, forever! [Goes softly to the cradle, removes the veil, kisses the child and speaks to it in a firm voice which at the same time is full of tears.] I shall see you again directly, my little Jean!

[Exit quickly].



ACT III.

SCENE I.

(Same setting as in Act I.)

(Monsieur de Petitpre, Mme. de Ronchard, M. Martinel, and Leon.)

MME. DE RONCHARD [walks about in an agitated manner]

Seven minutes to midnight! It is nearly two hours since Jean left us!

LEON [seated L.]

But, my dear Aunt, just allow a half hour in the carriage for going and a half hour for returning, and there remains just one hour for the business he had to attend to.

MME. DE RONCHARD

Was it so very long, then—the business that called him hence?

LEON

Yes, my dear Aunt; and now, why worry yourself by counting the minutes? Your agitation will change nothing in the end, and will not hasten Jean's return by a single second, or make the hands of the clock move more quickly.

MME. DE RONCHARD

How can you ask me not to worry when my mind is full of anxiety, when my heart is beating, and I feel the tears rising into my eyes?

LEON

But, my dear Aunt, you know very well you do not feel as badly as that.

MME. DE RONCHARD

Oh, you irritate me!

MARTINEL [seated near the table]

Don't torment yourself, Madame. True, the situation is a rather delicate one, but it need not disquiet you or frighten us, if we know how to bring to its consideration at this moment coolness and reason.

LEON

Just so, my dear Aunt, Monsieur Martinel speaks truly.

MME. DE RONCHARD [crosses R.]

You ought to be beaten, you two! You know everything, and won't tell anything. How annoying men are! There is never any means of making them tell a secret.

MARTINEL

Jean will come presently and will tell you everything. Have a little patience.

PETITPRE

Yes; let us be calm. Let us talk of other things, or be silent, if we can.

MME. DE RONCHARD

Be silent! That is about, the most difficult thing—

A SERVANT [enters R.]

A gentleman wishes to see M. Martinel.

MARTINEL [rises.]

Pardon me for a moment. [To the servant.] Very well, I am coming. [Exit R.]



SCENE II.

MME. DE RONCHARD [approaches servant quickly]

Baptiste, Baptiste! Who is asking for M. Martinel?

SERVANT

I do not know, Madame. It was the hall porter who came upstairs.

MME. DE RONCHARD

Well, run now and look without showing yourself, and come back and tell us at once.

PETITPRE [who has risen at the entrance of the servant]

No, I will permit no spying; let us wait. We shall not have to wait long now. [To the servant.] You may go. [Exit servant.]

MME. DE RONCHARD [to Petitpre]

I do not understand you at all. You are absolutely calm. One would think that your daughter's happiness was nothing to you. For myself, I am profoundly agitated.

PETITPRE

That will do no good. [Sits near the table R.] Let us talk—talk reasonably, now that we are a family party and Monsieur Martinel is absent.

MME. DE RONCHARD [Sits R.]

If that man would only go back to Havre!

LEON [Sits L. of table]

That would not change anything even if he could go back to Havre.

PETITPRE

For my part, I think—

MME. DE RONCHARD [interrupts]

Do you wish to hear my opinion? Well, I think that they are preparing us for some unpleasant surprise; that they wish to entrap us, as one might say.

PETITPRE

But why? In whose interest? Jean Martinel is an honest man, and he loves my child. Leon, whose judgment I admire, although he is my son—

LEON

Thank you, father!

PETITPRE

Leon bears Jean as much affection as esteem. As to the uncle—

MME. DE RONCHARD

Don't talk about them, I pray. It is this woman who is seeking to entrap us. She has played some little comedy, and she chooses to-day above all others for its denouement. It is her stage climax; her masterpiece of treachery.

LEON

As in "The Ambigu."

MME. DE RONCHARD

Do not laugh. I know these women. I have suffered enough at their hands.

PETITPRE

Oh, my poor Clarisse; if you really understood them, you would have held your husband better than you did.

MME. DE RONCHARD [rises]

What do you mean by "understanding" them? Pardon me—to live with that roisterer coming in upon me when and whence he pleased—I prefer my broken life and my loneliness—with you!

PETITPRE

No doubt you are right from your point of view of a married woman; but there are other points of view, perhaps less selfish and certainly superior, such as that of family interest.

MME. DE RONCHARD

Of family interest, indeed? Do you mean to say that I was wrong from the point of view of the family interest—you, a magistrate!

PETITPRE

My duties as a magistrate have made me very prudent, for I have seen pass under my eyes many equivocal and terrible situations, which not only agonized my conscience but gave me many cruel hours of indecision. Man is often so little responsible and circumstances are often so powerful. Our impenetrable nature is so capricious, our instincts are so mysterious that we must be tolerant and even indulgent in the presence of faults which are not really crimes, and which exhibit nothing vicious or abandoned in the man himself.

MME. DE RONCHARD

So, then, to deceive one's wife is not deceitful, and you say such a thing before your son? Truly, a pretty state of affairs! [Crosses L.]

LEON

Oh, I have my opinion also about that, my dear Aunt.

PETITPRE [rises]

It is not almost a crime,—it is one. But it is looked upon to-day as so common a thing that one scarcely punishes it at all. It is punished by divorce, which is a house of refuge for most men. The law prefers to separate them with decency—timidly, rather than drag them apart as in former times.

MME. DE RONCHARD

Your learned theories are revolting, and I wish—

LEON [rises]

Ah, here is Monsieur Martinel.



SCENE III.

(The same, and Monsieur Martinel.)

MARTINEL [with great emotion]

I come to fulfill an exceedingly difficult task. Jean, who has gone to his own house, before daring to present himself here, has sent Doctor Pellerin to me. I am commissioned by him to make you acquainted with the sad position in which Jean finds himself,—in which we all find ourselves.

MME. DE RONCHARD

Ah, ha! Now, I am going to learn something!

MARTINEL

By a letter which you will read presently, we have learned this evening, in this house, of a new misfortune. A woman of whose existence you are all aware was at the point of death.

MME. DE RONCHARD

Did I not predict that she would do just this thing?

LEON

Let M. Martinel speak, my dear Aunt.

MME. DE RONCHARD

And now that this woman has seen him, how does she feel—his dying patient? Better, without a doubt?

MARTINEL [quietly]

She died, Madame, died before his eyes.

MME. DE RONCHARD

Died this evening! Impossible!

MARTINEL

Nevertheless, it is so, Madame.

LEON [aside]

Poor little Musotte!

MARTINEL

There is a serious thing to be considered here. This woman left a child, and that child's father is Jean.

MME. DE RONCHARD [stupefied]

A child!

MARTINEL [to Petitpre]

Read the physician's letter, Monsieur. [Hands Petitpre the letter, and Petitpre reads it.]

MME. DE RONCHARD

He had a child and he has never confessed it; has never said anything about it; has hidden it from us! What infamy!

MARTINEL

He would have told you in due time.

MME. DE RONCHARD

He would have told! That is altogether too strong—you are mocking us!

LEON

But, my dear Aunt, let my father answer. I shall go and find Gilberte. She will be dying of anxiety. We have no right to hide the truth from her any longer. I am going to acquaint her with it.

MME. DE RONCHARD [accompanying him to the door]

You have a pleasant task, but you will not succeed in arranging matters.

LEON [at door L.]

In any case I shall not embroil them with each other as you would.

[Exit L.]



SCENE IV.

(Petitpre, Martinel, and Madame de Ronchard.)

PETITPRE [who has finished reading the letter]

Then, Martinel, you say that your nephew was ignorant of the situation of this woman.

MARTINEL

Upon my honor.

MME. DE RONCHARD

It is incredible.

MARTINEL

I will answer you in a word. If my nephew had known of this situation, would he have done what he has this evening?

PETITPRE

Explain yourself more clearly.

MARTINEL

It is very simple. If he had known sooner of the danger this woman was in, do you think that he would have waited until the last moment, and have chosen this very evening—this supreme moment—to say good-bye to this poor, dying woman, and to reveal to you the existence of his illegitimate son? No, men hide these unfortunate children when and how they please. You know that as well as I, Monsieur. To run the risk of throwing us all into such a state of emotion and threatening his own future, as he has done, it would seem that Jean must be a madman, and he is by no means that. Had he known sooner of this situation, do you think that he would not have confided in me, and that I would have been so stupid—yes, I—as not to avert this disaster? Why, I tell you it is as clear as day.

MME. DE RONCHARD [agitated, walks to and fro rapidly L.]

Clear as the day—clear as the day!

MARTINEL

Yes, indeed. If we had not received this piece of news as a bomb which destroys the power of reflection, if we could have taken time to reason the thing out, to make plans, we could have hidden everything from you, and the devil would have been in it before you would have known anything! Our fault has been that of being too sincere and too loyal. Yet, I do not regret it; it is always better to act openly in life.

MME. DE RONCHARD

Permit me, Monsieur—

PETITPRE

Silence, Clarisse. [To Martinel.] Be it so, Monsieur. There is no question of your honor or of your loyalty, which have been absolutely patent in this unfortunate affair. I willingly admit that your nephew knew nothing of the situation, but how about the child? What is there to prove that it is Jean's?

MARTINEL

Jean alone can prove or disprove that. He believes it, and you know that it is not to his interest to believe it. There is nothing very joyful about such a complication—a poor, little foundling thrusting himself upon one like a thunderbolt, without warning, and upon the very evening of one's marriage. But Jean believes that the child is his, and I—and all of us—must we not accept it as he has accepted it, as the child's father has accepted it? Come, now. [A short silence.] You ask me to prove to you that this child belongs to Jean?

MME. DE RONCHARD AND PETITPRE [together]

Yes!

MARTINEL

Then first prove to me that it is not Jean's child.

MME. DE RONCHARD

You ask an impossibility.

MARTINEL

And so do you. The principal judge in the matter, look you, is my nephew himself. We others can do nothing but accept his decision.

MME. DE RONCHARD

But meanwhile—

PETITPRE

Silence, Clarisse. Monsieur Martinel is right.

MME. DE RONCHARD [ironically]

Say that again.

MARTINEL

There can be no better reason, Madame. [To Petitpre.] I was quite sure that you would understand me, Monsieur, for you are a man of sense.

MME. DE RONCHARD

And what am I, then?

MARTINEL

You are a woman of the world, Madame.

MME. DE RONCHARD

And it is exactly as a woman of the world that I protest, Monsieur. You have a very pretty way of putting things, but none the less this is a fact: Jean Martinel brings to his bride, as a nuptial present, on the day of his marriage, an illegitimate child. Well, I ask you, woman of the world or not, can she accept such a thing?

PETITPRE

My sister is in the right this time, Monsieur Martinel.

MME. DE RONCHARD

And by no means too soon.

PETITPRE

It is evident that a situation exists patent and undeniable, which places us in an awkward dilemma. We have wedded our daughter to a man supposedly free from all ties and all complications in life, and then comes—what you know has come. The consequences should be endured by him, not by us. We have been wounded and deceived in our confidence, and the consent that we have given to this marriage we should certainly have refused, had we known the actual circumstances.

MME. DE RONCHARD

We should have refused? I should say so—not only once, but twice. Besides, this child, if Jean brings it into the house, will certainly be a cause of trouble among us all. Consider, Gilberte will probably become a mother in her turn, and then what jealousies, what rivalries, what hatred, perhaps, will arise between this intruder and her own children. This child will be a veritable apple of discord.

MARTINEL

Oh, no, no! he will not be a burden to anyone. Thanks to Jean's liberality, this child's mother will have left him enough to live comfortably, and, later, when he has become a man, he will travel, no doubt. He will do as I have done; as nine-tenths of the human race do.

PETITPRE

Well, until then, who will take care of it?

MARTINEL

I, if it is agreeable. I am a free man, retired from business; and it will give me something to do, something to distract me. I am ready to take him with me at once, the poor little thing—[looks at Mme. de Ronchard] unless Madame, who is so fond of saving lost dogs—

MME. DE RONCHARD

That child! I! Oh, that would be a piece of foolishness.

MARTINEL

Yet, Madame, if you care to have him, I will yield my right most willingly.

MME. DE RONCHARD

But Monsieur, I never said—

MARTINEL

Not as yet, true, but perhaps you will say it before very long, for I am beginning to understand you. You are an assumed man-hater and nothing else. You have been unhappy in your married life and that has embittered you—just as milk may turn upon its surface, but at the bottom of the churn there is butter of fine quality.

MME. DE RONCHARD [frowns]

What a comparison!—milk—butter—pshaw! how vulgar!

PETITPRE

But Clarisse—

MARTINEL

Here is your daughter.



SCENE V.

(The same, and Gilberte and Leon who enter L.)

PETITPRE [approaches Gilberte]

Before seeing your husband again, if you decide to see him, it is necessary that we should decide exactly what you are going to say to him.

GILBERTE [greatly moved, sits L. of table]

I knew it was some great misfortune.

MARTINEL [sits beside her]

Yes, my child; but there are two kinds of misfortune—those that come from the faults of men, and those that spring purely from the hazards of fate; that is to say, destiny. In the first case, the man is guilty; in the second case, he is a victim. Do you understand me?

GILBERTE

Yes, Monsieur.

MARTINEL

A misfortune of which some one person is the victim can also wound another person very cruelly. But will not the heart of this second wounded and altogether innocent, person bestow a pardon upon the involuntary author of her disaster?

GILBERTE [in a sad voice]

That depends upon the suffering which she undergoes.

MARTINEL Meanwhile, you knew that before Jean loved you, before he conceived the idea of marrying you, he had—an intrigue. You accepted the fact as one which had nothing exceptional about it.

GILBERTE

I did accept it.

MARTINEL

And now your brother may tell you the rest.

GILBERTE

Yes, Monsieur.

MARTINEL

What shall I say to Jean?

GILBERTE

I am too much agitated to tell you yet. This woman, of whom I did not think at all, whose very existence was a matter of indifference to me—her death has frightened me. It seems that she has come between Jean and me, and will always remain there. Everything that I have heard of her prophesies this estrangement. But you knew her—this woman did you not, Monsieur?

MARTINEL

Yes, Madame, and I can say nothing but good of her. Your brother and I have always looked upon her as irreproachable in her fidelity to Jean. She loved him with a pure, devoted, absolute, and lasting affection. I speak as a man who has deplored deeply this intrigue, for I look upon myself as a father to Jean, but we must try to be just to everyone.

GILBERTE

And did Jean love her very much, too?

MARTINEL

Oh, yes, certainly he did, but his love began to wane. Between them there was too much of a moral and social distance. He lived with her, however, drawn to her by the knowledge of the deep and tender affection which she bestowed upon him.

GILBERTE [gravely]

And Jean went to see her die?

MARTINEL

He had just time to say farewell to her.

GILBERTE [to herself]

If I could only tell what passed between them at that moment! Ah, this wretched death is worse for me than if she were alive!

MME. DE RONCHARD [rises R. and goes up stage]

I really do not understand you, my dear. The woman has died—so much the better for you. May God deliver you from all such!

GILBERTE

No, my dear Aunt; the feeling I have just now is so painful that I would sooner know her to be far away than to know her dead.

PETITPRE [comes down]

Yes, I admit that is the sentiment of a woman moved by a horrible catastrophe; but there is one grave complication in the matter—that of the child. Whatever may be done with it, he will none the less be the son of my son-in-law and a menace to us all.

Previous Part     1  2  3  4     Next Part
Home - Random Browse