Time: Paris, 1890
Mme. de Sallus in her drawing-room, seated in a corner by the fireplace. Enter Jacques de RANDOL noiselessly; glances to see that no one is looking, and kisses Mme. de Sallus quickly upon her hair. She starts; utters a faint cry, and turns upon him.
Oh! How imprudent you are!
Don't be afraid; no one saw me.
But the servants!
Oh, they are in the outer hall.
How is that? No one announced you
No, they simply opened the door for me.
But what will they think?
Well, they will doubtless think that I don't count.
But I will not permit it. I must have you announced in future. It does not look well.
JACQUES DE RANDOL [laughs]
Perhaps they will even go so far as to announce your husband—
Jacques, this jesting is out of place.
Forgive me. [Sits.] Are you waiting for anybody?
Yes—probably. You know that I always receive when I am at home.
I know that I always have the pleasure of seeing you for about five minutes—just enough time to ask you how you feel, and then some one else comes in—some one in love with you, of course,—who impatiently awaits my departure.
MME. DE SALLUS [smiles]
Well, what can I do? I am not your wife, so how can it be otherwise?
Ah! If you only were my wife!
If I were your wife?
I would snatch you away for five or six months, far from this horrible town, and keep you all to myself.
You would soon have enough of me.
Do you know that it is absolute torture to love a woman like you?
MME. DE SALLUS [bridles]
Because I covet you as the starving covet the food they see behind the glassy barriers of a restaurant.
I tell you it is true! A woman of the world belongs to the world; that is to say, to everyone except the man to whom she gives herself. He can see her with open doors for a quarter of an hour every three days—not oftener, because of servants. In exceptional cases, with a thousand precautions, with a thousand fears, with a thousand subterfuges, she visits him once or twice a month, perhaps, in a furnished room. Then she has just a quarter of an hour to give him, because she has just left Madame X in order to visit Madame Z, where she has told her coachman to take her. If he complains, she will not come again, because it is impossible for her to get rid of her coachman. So, you see, the coachman, and the footman, and Madame Z, and Madame X, and all the others, who visit her house as they would a museum,—a museum that never closes,—all the he's and all the she's who eat up her leisure minute by minute and second by second, to whom she owes her time as an employee owes his time to the State, simply because she belongs to the world—all these persons are like the transparent and impassable glass: they keep you from my love.
MME. DE SALLUS [dryly]
You seem upset to-day.
No, no, but I hunger to be alone with you. You are mine, are you not? Or, I should say, I am yours. Isn't it true? I spend my life in looking for opportunities to meet you. Our love is made up of chance meetings, of casual bows, of stolen looks, of slight touches—nothing more. We meet on the avenue in the morning—a bow; we meet at your house, or at that of some other acquaintance—twenty words; we dine somewhere at the same table, too far from each other to talk, and I dare not even look at you because of hostile eyes. Is that love? We are simply acquaintances.
Then you would like to carry me off?
Unhappily, I cannot.
I do not know. I only know this life is wearing me out.
It is just because there are so many obstacles in the way of your love that it does not fade.
Oh! Madeline, can you say that?
MME. DE SALLUS [softening]
Believe me, dear, if your love has to endure these hardships, it is because it is not lawful love.
Well, I never met a woman as positive as you. Then you think that if chance made me your husband, I should cease to love you?
Not all at once, perhaps, but—eventually.
What you say is revolting to me.
Nevertheless, it is quite true. You know that when a confectioner hires a greedy saleswoman he says to her, "Eat all the sweets you wish, my dear." She stuffs herself for eight days, and then she is satisfied for the rest of her life.
Ah! Indeed! But why do you include me in that class?
Really, I do not know—perhaps as a joke!
Please do not mock me.
I say to myself, here is a man who is very much in love with me. So far as I am concerned, I am perfectly free, morally, since for two years past I have altogether ceased to please my husband. Now, since this man loves me, why should I not love him?
You are philosophic—and cruel.
On the contrary, I have not been cruel. Of what do you complain?
Stop! you anger me with this continual raillery. Ever since I began to love you, you have tortured me in this manner, and now I do not even know whether you have the slightest affection for me.
Well, you must admit that I have always been—good-natured.
Oh, you have played a queer little game! From the day I first met you I felt that you were coquetting with me, coquetting mysteriously, obscurely, coquetting as only you can without showing it to others. Little by little you conquered me with looks, with smiles, with pressures of the hand, without compromising yourself, without pledging yourself, without revealing yourself. You have been horribly upright—and seductive. I have loved you with all my soul, yes, sincerely and loyally, and to-day I do not know what feeling you have in the depths of your heart, what thoughts you have hidden in your brain; in fact, I know-I know nothing. I look at you, and I see a woman who seems to have chosen me, and seems also to have forgotten that she has chosen me. Does she love me, or is she tired of me? Has she simply made an experiment—taken a lover in order to see, to know, to taste,—without desire, hunger, or thirst? There are days when I ask myself if among those who love you and who tell you so unceasingly there is not one whom you really love.
Good heavens! Really, there are some things into which it is not necessary to inquire.
Oh, how hard you are! Your tone tells me that you do not love me.
Now, what are you complaining about? Of things I do not say?—because—I do not think you have anything else to reproach me with.
Forgive me, I am jealous.
I do not know. I am jealous of everything that I do not know about you.
Yes, and without my knowing anything about these things, too.
Forgive me, I love you too much—so much that everything disturbs me.
Are you jealous of my husband?
JACQUES DE RANDOL [amazed]
What an idea!
MME. DE SALLUS [dryly]
Well, you are wrong.
Always this raillery!
MME. DE SALLUS No, I want to speak to you seriously about him, and to ask your advice.
About your husband?
MME. DE SALLUS [seriously]
Yes, I am not laughing, or rather I do not laugh any more. [In lighter tone.] Then you are not jealous of my husband? And yet you know he is the only man who has authority over me.
It is just because he has authority that I am not jealous. A woman's heart gives nothing to the man who has authority.
My dear, a husband's right is a positive thing; it is a title-deed that he can lock up—just as my husband has for more than two years—but it is also one that he can use at any given moment, as lately he has seemed inclined to do.
JACQUES DE RANDOL [astonished]
You tell me that your husband—
MME. DE SALLUS [bridles]
And why impossible?
Because your husband has—has—other occupations.
Well, it pleases him to vary them, it seems.
Jesting apart, Madeline, what has happened?
Ah! Ah! Then you are becoming jealous of him.
Madeline, I implore you; tell me, are you mocking me, or are you speaking seriously?
I am speaking seriously, indeed, very seriously.
Then what has happened?
Well, you know my position, although I have never told you all my past life. It is all very simple and very brief. At the age of nineteen I married the Count de Sallus, who fell in love with me after he had seen me at the Opéra-Comique. He already knew my father's lawyer. He was very nice to me in those early days; yes, very nice, and I really believed he loved me. As for myself, I was very circumspect in my behavior toward him, very circumspect indeed, so that he could never cast a shadow of reproach on my name.
Well, did you love him?
Good gracious! Why ask such questions?
Then you did love him?
Yes and no. If I loved him, it was the love of a little fool; but I certainly never told him, for positively I do not know how to show love.
I can vouch for that!
Well, it is possible that I cared for him sometimes, idiotically, like a timid, restless, trembling, awkward, little girl, always in fear of that disturbing thing—the love of a man—that disturbing thing that is sometimes so sweet! As for him,—you know him. He was a sweetheart, a society sweetheart, who are always the worst of all. Such men really have a lasting affection only for those girls who are fitting companions for clubmen—girls who have a habit of telling doubtful stories and bestowing depraved kisses. It seems to me that to attract and to hold such people, the nude and obscene are necessary both in word and in body—unless—unless—it is true that men are incapable of loving any woman for a length of time.
However, I soon became aware that he was indifferent to me, for he used to kiss me as a matter of course and look at me without realizing my presence; and in his manners, in his actions, in his conversation, he showed that I attracted him no longer. As soon as he came into the room he would throw himself upon the sofa, take up the newspaper, read it, shrug his shoulders, and when he read anything he did not agree with, he would express his annoyance audibly. Finally, one day, he yawned and stretched his arms in my face. On that day I understood that I was no longer loved. Keenly mortified I certainly was. But it hurt me so much that I did not realize it was necessary to coquet with him in order to retain his affection. I soon learned that he had a mistress, a woman of the world. Since then we have lived separate lives—after a very stormy explanation.
What do you mean? What sort of explanation?
Yes and no. I find it difficult to express myself. To avoid my suspicions he found himself obliged, doubtless, to dissimulate from time to time, although rarely, and to feign a certain affection for his legitimate wife, the woman who had the right to his affection. I told him that he might abstain in future from such a mockery of love.
How did you tell him that?
I don't remember.
It must have been amusing.
No, he appeared very much surprised at first. Then I formulated a nice little speech and learned it by heart, in which I asked him to carry such intermittent fancies elsewhere. He understood me, saluted me very courteously, and—did as I asked him.
Did he never come back?
JACQUES DE RANDOL [interrupts]
Has he never again tried to tell you of his love?
No, never, until—
JACQUES DE RANDOL [interrupts]
Have you regretted it?
That is of small importance. What is of importance, though, is that he has had innumerable mistresses whom he entertains, whom he supports, whom he takes out. It is this that has irritated and humiliated me—in fact, cut me to the quick. But then I took heart of grace, and too late, two years too late, I took a lover—you!
JACQUES DE RANDOL [kisses her hand]
And I, Madeline, I love you with my whole soul.
Well, all this is not at all proper.
What do you mean by "all this"?
Life in general—my husband—his mistresses—myself—and you.
Your words—prove beyond a doubt that you do not love me.
You dare to say of love that it is not proper? If you loved me, it might be divine, but a loving woman would abhor a phrase which should contain such an idea. What! True love not proper?
Possibly. It all depends upon the point of view. For myself, I see too much.
What do you see?
I see too well, too far, too clearly.
You do not love me?
If I did not love you—a little—I should have had no excuse for giving myself to you.
A little—just sufficient to warrant that excuse!
But I do not excuse myself: I accuse myself.
Then you did love me a little—and then—now—you love me no more!
Do not let us argue.
You do nothing else.
No, I only judge the present by the past; the only just ideas and sane notions of life one can form are those concerning that which is past.
And do you regret—
And what about to-morrow?
I do not know.
Is it nothing to you to have one who is yours, body and soul? MME. DE
SALLUS [shrugs her shoulders]
Yes, mine to-day.
JACQUES DE RANDOL [vehemently]
MME. DE SALLUS [shrugs her shoulders again]
Yes, the to-morrow that follows to-night, but not the to-morrow of a year hence.
JACQUES DE RANDOL [emphatically]
You shall see. But how about your husband?
Does he annoy you?
JACQUES DE RANDOL By heaven—
Hush! [Archly.] My husband has fallen in love with me again.
Is it possible?
MME. DE SALLUS [indignantly]
What do you mean by such an insolent question, and why should it not be possible?
A man falls in love with his wife before he marries her, but after marriage he never commits the same mistake.
But perhaps he has never really been in love with me until now.
It is absolutely impossible that he could have lived with you—even in his curt, cavalier fashion—without loving you.
MME. DE SALLUS [indifferently]
It is of little importance. He has either loved me in the past, or is now beginning to love me.
Truly, I do not understand you. Tell me all about it.
But I have nothing to tell. He declares his love for me, takes me in his arms, and threatens me with his conjugal rights. This upsets me, torments me, and annoys me.
Madeline you torture me.
MME. DE SALLUS [quickly]
And what about me? Do you think that I do not suffer? I know that I am not exactly a faithful woman since I received your addresses, but I have, and shall retain, a single heart. It is either you or he. It will never be you and he. For me that would be infamy—the greatest infamy of a guilty woman, the sharing of her heart—a thing that debases her. One may fall, perhaps, because there are ditches along the wayside and it is not always easy to follow the right path. But if one falls, that is no reason to throw oneself in the abyss.
JACQUES DE RANDOL [takes her in his arms and kisses her]
I simply adore you!
MME. DE SALLUS [melts]
And I, too, love you dearly, Jacques, and that is the reason why I fear.
But, tell me, Madeline how long has it been since your husband reformed?
Possibly fifteen days or three weeks.
I will explain the mystery. The fact of the matter is this, your husband has simply become a widower.
What do you say?
I mean that your husband is unattached just now, and seeks to spend his leisure time with his wife.
But I tell you that he is in love with me.
Yes—yes—and no. He is in love with you—and also with another. Tell me, his temper is usually bad, isn't it?
Well, then, here is a man in love with you who shows his wonderful return of tenderness by moods that are simply unsupportable—for they are unsupportable, aren't they?
If he wooed you with tenderness you would not feel fear. You would say to yourself, "My turn has come at last," and then he would inspire you with a little pity for him, for a woman has always a sneaking sort of compassion for the man who loves her, even though that man be her husband.
Perhaps that is true.
Is he nervous, preoccupied?
And he is abrupt with you, not to say brutal? He demands his right without even praying for it?
My darling, for the moment you are simply a substitute.
Oh! no, no!
My dearest girl, your husband's latest mistress was Madame de Bardane, whom he left very abruptly about two months ago to run after the Santelli.
What, the singer?
Yes, a capricious, saucy, cunning, venal little woman. A woman not at all uncommon upon the stage, or in the world either, for that matter.
Then that is why he haunts the Opéra.
JACQUES DE RANDOL [laughs]
Without a doubt.
MME. DE SALLUS [dreamily]
No, no, you are deceiving yourself.
JACQUES DE RANDOL [emphatically]
The Santelli resists him and repulses him; then, burdened with a heart full of longing that has no outlet, he deigns to offer you a portion.
My dear, you are dreaming. If he were in love with the Santelli, he would not tell me that he loves me. If he were so entirely preoccupied with this creature, he would not woo me. If he coveted her, he would not desire me at the same time.
How little you understand certain kinds of men! Men like your husband, once inoculated with the poison of love,—which in them is nothing but brutal desire,—men like him, I say, when a woman they desire escapes or resists them, become raging beasts. They behave like madmen, like men possessed, with arms outstretched and lips wide open. They must love some one, no matter whom just as a mad dog with open jaws bites anything and everybody. The Santelli has unchained this raging brute, and you find yourself face to face with his dripping jaws. Take care! You call that love! It is nothing but animal passion.
MME. DE SALLUS [sarcastically]
Really, you are very unfair to him. I am afraid jealousy is blinding you.
Oh, no, I am not deceiving myself, you may be sure.
Yes, I think you are. Formerly my husband neglected and abandoned me, doubtless finding me very insipid; but now he finds me much improved, and has returned to me. It is very easy to understand, and moreover, it is the worse for him, for he must believe that I have been a faithful wife to him all my life.
Does a girl cease to be a faithful wife, if, when deserted by the man who has assumed charge of her existence, and her happiness, and her love, and her ideals, she refuses to resign herself—young, beautiful, and full of hope—to eternal isolation and everlasting solitude?
I think I have already told you that there are certain things which it is not necessary to discuss, and this is one of them. [The front door bell sounds twice.] Here is my husband. Please be silent. He is in a gloomy mood just now.
JACQUES DE RANDOL [rises]
I think I shall go. I am not in love with your husband any more, for many reasons, and it is difficult for me to be polite to him when I despise him, and when I know that he ought to despise me, and would despise me when I shake hands with him, did he know all.
MME. DE SALLUS [annoyed]
How many times must I tell you that all this is entirely out of place?
(The same, including M. de Sallus.)
Enter M. de Sallus, evidently in a bad temper. He looks for a moment at Mme. de Sallus and at Jacques de Randol, who is taking his leave; then comes forward.
How are you, Randol? Surely you are not going because I came.
No, but my time is up. I have an appointment at the club at midnight, and now it is half after eleven. [They shake hands.] Have you come from the first performance of "Mahomet"?
Oh! Of course.
People say that it should be a great success.
It doubtless will be.
JACQUES DE RANDOL [shakes hands again with De SALLUS and Madame de
Well, till I see you again.
Till then, my dear fellow.
Adieu, Monsieur de Randol. [Exit Randol.]
(M. de Sallus and Mme. de Sallus.)
M. DE SALLUS [sinks into an armchair]
Was Randol here any length of time?
No, possibly half an hour.
M. DE SALLUS [meditatively]
Half an hour plus a whole hour makes an hour and a half, does it not?
Time seems to fly when you are with him.
What do you mean by an hour and a half?
Just what I say. When I saw the carriage waiting at the door, I asked the footman, who was within. He told me that it was M. Jacques de Randol. "Has he been here long?" I asked. "He has been here since ten," said the footman. Admitting that the man might have been mistaken, we will say, in the matter of a quarter of an hour, that would make an hour and a quarter, at the least.
Oh, ho! What is this new attitude of yours? Have I not a right to receive whom I like now?
Oh, my dear, I deny you nothing, nothing, nothing. The only thing that astonishes me is that you do not know the difference between half an hour and an hour and a half.
Are you looking for a scene? If you wish a quarrel, say so. I shall know how to answer you. You are simply in a bad temper. Go to bed and sleep, if you can.
I am not looking for a quarrel, neither am I in bad humor. I only state that time flies with you when you pass it in the company of Jacques de Randol.
Yes, it does go quickly; far more quickly than when I am with you.
He is a very charming fellow, and I know you like him; and, moreover, he must like you very much, since he comes here every day.
These insinuations are distasteful to me. Please speak plainly and say what you mean. Are you assuming the rôle of a jealous husband?
God forbid! I have too much confidence in you, and far too much esteem for you, to reproach you with anything, for I know that you have too much tact ever to give rise to calumny or scandal.
Do not play with words. You think that M. Jacques de Randol comes too often to this house—to your house?
I do not find any fault with you for that.
Thank you. You simply have not the right. However, since you adopt this attitude, let us settle this question once for all, for I loathe misunderstandings. It seems to me that you have an exceedingly short memory. Let me come to your aid. Be frank with me. Through some occurrence, the nature of which I do not know, your attitude is different today from that of the past two years. Cast your memory over the past, to the time when you began to neglect me in a manner that was plain to all. I became very uneasy. Then I knew—I was told, and I saw—that you were in love with Madame de Servières. I told you how hurt I was, how grieved I was. What did you reply? Just what every man replies when he no longer loves the woman who reproaches him. You shrugged your shoulders, smiled impatiently, told me I was mad, and then expounded to me—I must admit, in a most skillful manner—those grand principles of freedom in love that are adopted by every husband who deceives his wife and thinks she will not deceive him. You gave me to understand that marriage is not a bond, but simply an association of mutual interests, a social rather than a moral alliance; that it does not demand friendship or affection between married couples, provided there be no scandal. You did not absolutely confess the existence of your mistresses, but you pleaded extenuating circumstances. You were very sarcastic upon the subject of those poor, silly women who object to their husbands being gallant toward other women, since, according to you, such gallantry is one of the laws of the polished society to which you belong. You laughed at the foolish man who does not dare to pay compliments to a woman in the presence of his own wife, and ridiculed the gloomy look of a wife whose eyes follow her husband into every corner, imagining that because the poor man disappears into an adjoining room he is at the feet of a rival. All this was very airy, funny, and disagreeable, wrapped up in compliments and spiced with cynicism—sweet and bitter at the same time, and calculated to banish from the heart all love for a smooth, false, and well-bred man who could talk in such a manner. I understood, I wept, I suffered, and then I shut my door upon you. You made no objection; you judged me better than you thought; and since then we have lived completely separate lives. Such has been the case for the past two years, two long years and more, which certainly have not seemed more than six months to you. We go into society as usual, we return from society as usual, and we each enter our own temple of life. The situation was established by you in consequence of your first infidelity, an infidelity which has been followed by many others. I have said nothing; I have resigned myself to the situation; and I have banished you from my heart. Now that I have finished, what do you wish?
My dear, I am not asking for anything. I do not even wish to answer the very aggressive speech you have done me the honor to make. I only wish to give you advice—the advice of a friend—upon a situation that may possibly endanger your reputation. You are beautiful, always in the public eye, and much envied. Scandal could have easy birth.
Pardon me. If we are to speak of scandal, I must have leave to balance my account with you.
Come, do not let us joke over this thing. I speak to you as a friend—seriously, as a friend. As to what you have said about me, it is all extremely exaggerated.
Not at all. You have never tried to conceal, in fact, you have actually proclaimed to all the world your infidelities—a fact which gives me the right to go and do likewise, and, my friend, believe what I say—
Let me finish. According to you, I am beautiful, I am young, and yet condemned by my husband to live, and watch him live, as if I were a widow. Look at me [rises], is it just to consign me to play the rôle of an abandoned Ariadne, while my husband runs from this woman to that woman, and this girl to that girl? [Grows excited.] A faithful wife! I cry you mercy! Is a faithful wife compelled to sacrifice all her life, all her happiness, all her affections, everything, in fact, every privilege, every expectation, every claim, which is hers by birth and for which she has been born? Look at me! Am I made for a nunnery? The fact that I married you should answer that question. And yet, you, you, who took me from my father's house, neglect me to run after others. And what others? I am not in their circle, neither am I one of those who would share your life with others. So much the worse for you—for I am free, and you have no right to give me advice since I am free.
My dear girl, be calm. You misunderstand me completely. I have never suspected you. Indeed, I have the most profound esteem and friendship for you—a loving friendship which grows greater every day. I have no wish to comment upon that past with which you reproach me so cruelly. Perhaps I am a little too—too—what shall I say?
Oh! Say that you belong to the period of the Regency. I know that method of excusing all male weaknesses and follies. Oh! yes; that eighteenth century, that dainty century, so full of elegance, so full of delicious fantasies and adorable whims! Alas! my dear, that is ancient history.
No, no, you misunderstand me again. Believe me, I am and have been above everything too—too—much of a Parisian, too much accustomed to turning night into day, for the sedate life of marriage. I have been too much accustomed to go behind the scenes of theaters, to various clubs, to a thousand other forms of dissipation; and you know a man cannot change all at once,—it takes time. Marriage seeks to change us all too suddenly. It ought to give us time to get accustomed to it, little by little. You would practically take away from me the joy of life were I to behave as you seem to desire.
I am so grateful; and now, perhaps, you wish to offer me a new proof—a new proof—
Oh, as you please. Really, when a man who has lived as I have marries, he can hardly help looking upon his wife as a new mistress—I mean to say a faithful mistress—and it is only when it is too late that he understands more clearly,—comes to his senses and repents.
Well, my friend, it is too late. As I have already told you, I mean to have my innings. I have taken nearly three years to think it over. You may think that is long, but I need some amusement as well as you. The fact that I have taken nearly three years to think it over is a compliment to you, but you fail to see it.
Madeline, this jesting is altogether out of place.
Oh! no, because I am compelled to think that every one of your mistresses was far more attractive than I, since you have preferred them to me.
What sort of mood are you in?
In the same mood that I always am. It is you who have changed.
True, I have changed.
And that is to say—
That I have been an idiot.
I am sane once more.
That I am again in love with my wife.
You must have returned to your youth.
What do you say?
I say that you must have returned to your youth.
What do you mean?
Let me illustrate. When you are young you are always hungry, and when a youth is hungry he often eats things that he would not eat at another time. Well, I am the dish,—the dish that you have neglected in your days of plenty, the dish to which you return in the days of scarcity—[slowly] for which I thank you!
I have never looked upon you as you think. You pain me as well as astonish me.
So much the worse for both of us. If I astonish you, you repel me. Learn now, once for all, that I am not made for the rôle of a substitute.
M. DE SALLUS [approaches her, takes her hand and presses a long kiss upon it]
Madeline, I swear to you that I love you, in truth, devotedly, now and forever.
MME. DE SALLUS [ironically]
You must really believe it! [Suddenly.] But who is the woman that attracts—and repels you—just now?
Madeline, I swear—
Oh, a truce to your swearing! I know that you have just broken with one of your mistresses; you need another and you cannot find one, so you come to me. For nearly three years you have forgotten all about me, so that now you find I am somewhat of a novelty. It is not your wife you are seeking now, but a woman with whom you have formerly had a rupture, and with whom you now desire to make up. To speak the truth you are simply playing the game of a libertine.
I do not ask you whether you be my wife or not my wife. You are the woman I love, the woman who possesses my heart. You are the woman of whom I dream, whose image follows me everywhere, whom I continually desire. It happens that you are my wife. So much the worse, or so much the better. What matters it?
Truly, it is a distinguished part that you offer me. After Mademoiselle Zozo, after Mademoiselle Lilie, Mademoiselle Tata, you have the audacity to offer to your wife—to Madame de Sallus—the place left vacant, asking her to become her husband's mistress for a short space of time.
No; now, and—forever.
Pardon me. You ask that I should re-become your wife forever? That is out of the question; I have already ceased to entertain the idea. The reason may be obscure, but nevertheless it is real; and after all, the idea of making me your legitimate mistress seems to be far more entertaining to you than assuming the rôle of a faithful husband.
M. DE SALLUS [laughs]
Well, why should not the wife become the husband's mistress? You are right in what you say; you are absolutely free and I own my faults. Yet, I am in love with you-for the second time, if you will-and I say to you, here and now, Madeline, since you confess that your heart is empty, have pity upon me, for I tell you that I love you.
And you ask me to give you a husband's right?
And you acknowledge that I am free, absolutely free?
And you really wish me to become your mistress?
You understand what I mean—your mistress?
MME. DE SALLUS [sarcastically]
Well, well! I think I would rather accept another offer that I have, but since you are good enough to ask me to give you the preference, I may give it to you—for a fair sum.
What do you mean?
Just what I say. Listen! Do you consider me as attractive as any of your mistresses? Now, be frank with me.
A thousand times more!
I swear it!
What, better than the best?
A thousand times!
Well, tell me, now, truly, how much has the one you liked best among all your numerous mistresses cost you, let us say—in three months?
I cannot tell.
Listen to me. I repeat the question. How much has the most charming of your numerous mistresses cost you in the space of three months—not only in money, but in gifts of jewelry, in dainty little suppers, in ceremonious dinners, in theater boxes,—in everything?
How can I tell?
You should be able to. Come, let us make an estimate. Did you give her a round sum, or did you pay for everything separately? However, I know you are not a man to bother over details, so I conclude that you gave her a round sum.
Madeline, you are absolutely unbearable.
Follow me closely. When you began to neglect me, you took away three horses from our stables—one of them was mine and the other two were yours. Then you took away a coachman and a footman; you then found it necessary to make me economize at home in order that you might be extravagant abroad.
That is not true.
Oh! yes, it is. I have every date; do not deny it, for I shall confound you if you do. You also stopped giving me jewels, for, of course, you had other ears, other fingers, other wrists, and other necks to adorn. You also deprived me of one of my nights at the Opéra, and I do not know how many other things less important. And all this, according to my idea, should mean about five thousand francs a month. Am I not right?
You may be, but you are mad.
No, no, confess; did the most expensive one of your mistresses cost you about five thousand francs a month?
You are crazy.
If you are going to answer me thus, I bid you good evening. [She rises as if to retire, but M. de Sallus interposes.]
Come now, Madeline, a truce to this jesting.
MME. DE SALLUS [in a determined manner]
Five thousand francs? Tell me, did she cost you five thousand francs?
M. DE SALLUS [shrugs his shoulders]
Oh, yes, thereabouts.
MME. DE SALLUS [looks him straight in the face]
Ah, ah! Well, listen. If you will give me immediately five thousand francs, you may be my husband for a month—but only a month.
You have lost your head!
Well, farewell, good night!
What a farce! Stop, Madeline, let us talk seriously.
Of—of—hang it—of my love for you.
MME. DE SALLUS [archly]
But that's not a serious question at all.
I swear it is!
Hypocrite! You make me thirsty with so much talk. [Goes to a chiffonier, where there is a decanter and various liqueurs, and pours herself out a glass of water. At the instant she begins to drink, M. de Sallus steals up and kisses her on the back of the neck. She turns with a start and throws the glass of water in his face.]
I suppose you think that funny.
It may or may not be. Certainly what you have done, or tried to do, was ridiculous.
Madeline, I ask—
But that would be idiotic.
Ask me why a husband should pay his wife—his lawful wife—when he has the right?
Oh, no, no. You may have the strength, but I can have my revenge.
I should be an object of ridicule forever if I were to pay my wife—yes—not only an object of ridicule, but an idiot, an imbecile.
Well, don't you think it is still more imbecile, when you have such a wife as I, to—to go outside and—pay mistresses?
Madeline, I confess it; but now—we are husband and wife, and it is not necessary to ruin me, is it?
Allow me. When you took your wealth—the wealth which was also partly mine by marriage—to pay for your folly, you committed an action that was more than doubtful. In fact, it was criminal, for you ruined me at the same time you ruined yourself. I use your own language. I have refrained from asking you more about the folly that is in question; moreover, the five thousand francs that you must give me will be spent upon your own house. You must admit that is practical economy. But I know you; I know that you are never in love with anything that is lawful and right; so in paying dearly—very dearly, because I shall probably seek an increase—for what you have the right to take, you will find our—liaison—far more to your taste. [Smiles.] Good night, I am going to bed.
M. DE SALLUS [angrily]
Will you take it in cash, or have a cheque?
MME. DE SALLUS [haughtily]
I prefer cash.
M. DE SALLUS [opening a pocketbook]
I have only three bank-notes. I will give you the rest in a cheque. [Writes a cheque and hands it to Mme. de Sallus.]
MME. DE SALLUS [takes the cheque, looks at M. de Sallus with disgust, and Speaks in harsh tones]
You are just the kind of man I took you to be. After paying your numerous mistresses, you actually consent to pay me as if I were like them—without any feeling of disgust or realizing the difference in our situation. You have said that I asked too much, you have pleaded the fear of ridicule, but you could not understand that you were consenting to buy me—me—your wife! You wished to possess me for a little, as a sort of variation to your usual list, although your heart must have told you that it was degrading to me to be placed on such a plane. You did not recoil from such an idea, but pursued it, just as you pursue them, and the more eagerly, because I was more expensive. But you have deceived yourself, not me. Not thus will you ever regain possession of your wife. Adieu, Monsieur! [Throws the money in his face, and makes a haughty exit.]