Madame de Sallus alone in her drawing-room, as in Act I. She is writing; she stops and looks at the clock. A servant announces Monsieur Jacques de Randol.
JACQUES DE RANDOL [after kissing Mme. de Sallus's hand]
I trust you are well, Madame.
Oh, yes, thank you.
What is it all about? Your letter has completely upset me. I thought some accident had occurred, and I came immediately.
MME. DE SALLUS [looks at him steadfastly]
My dear Jacques, we must decide upon some course of action immediately.
The important hour has come.
JACQUES DE RANDOL [surprised]
What do you mean?
For two days I have undergone all the anguish that a woman's heart can endure.
JACQUES DE RANDOL [still more surprised]
What has happened?
I am about to tell you, but I wish to do so with calmness and moderation lest you think me mad. That is the reason why I sent for you.
You know that I am yours entirely. Tell me what I must do.
I cannot live near him any longer. It is absolutely impossible. It is an hourly crucifixion.
Near your husband?
Yes, my husband.
What has he done?
It is necessary to revert to the other evening, after you took your leave. When we were alone he tried to make a jealous scene, with you as the subject.
With me as the subject?
Yes, a scene which proved to me that he had been watching us.
He had been questioning a servant.
Nothing more than that?
No. That in itself, however, is not of much importance, for I believe he really likes you. But, after that, he told me of his love for me. Perhaps I was a little too insolent, too disdainful. I do not know exactly how far I went; but I found myself in such a perplexing, such a painful, such an extraordinary situation, that I dared everything to escape it.
What did you do?
I sought to wound him so deeply that he would leave me forever.
Apparently you have not succeeded.
Of course not; that method never does succeed. On the contrary, it often brings about a reconciliation.
The next day, during luncheon, he was sulky, irritable, and gloomy. Then, as he was rising from the table, he said, "I have not forgotten your behavior of yesterday, and shall not let you forget it. You wish for war, let it be war; but I warn you that I shall conquer you, because I am your master." I answered him, "Be it so; but if you drive me to extremity, take care,—it is not always safe to make a woman desperate."
Especially when that woman is his wife. And what did he reply?
He did not reply in words; but he treated me brutally.
Did he strike you?
Yes and no. He jostled me, he squeezed me, he suffocated me. I have bruises all along my arms, but he did not strike me.
Then what did he do?
He hugged and embraced me, trying to overcome my resistance.
Is that all?
What do you mean by saying, "Is that all?" Don't you think that is enough?
You do not understand me. I only wish to know whether he struck you.
Oh, no. I am not afraid of that from him; but luckily I was able to ring the bell.
You rang the bell?
What a thing to do! [Smiles.] And when the servant came, did you ask him to show your husband out?
MME. DE SALLUS [pouts]
You seem to find this very funny.
Oh, no, my dear Madame; it is all exceedingly painful to me, but I cannot help realizing the grotesqueness of the situation. Pardon me,—and what then?
I ordered my carriage. And then, as soon as Joseph had gone out, my husband said, with that arrogant air which you know so well in him, "Today, or to-morrow—it matters not which."
And that is almost all.
Yes, because since then I have locked myself in my room as soon as I heard him coming in.
Haven't you seen him since?
Oh, yes, several times, but only for a few minutes each time.
What has he said to you?
Little or nothing. He either sneers or insolently asks whether I am less savage to-day. Last night at the table he brought out a little book, which he read during dinner. As I did not wish to appear embarrassed or anxious, and desired to maintain my dignity, I said: "Your manners toward me are certainly exceedingly courteous." He smiled and replied: "What did you say?" "It is strange that, for reading, you should choose the time that we are together," I said. He answered: "Great heavens! It is all your fault, since you do not care to be amiable. Besides, this little book is very interesting. It is the Civil Code. Perhaps you would like to become acquainted with some clauses in it. They would certainly interest you." Then he read me the law concerning marriage; the duties of a wife and the rights of a husband. Then he looked me full in the face, and asked me whether I understood. I answered in the same tone that I understood too much,—especially did I understand the kind of man I had married. Then I went out and I have not seen him since.
Haven't you seen him to-day?
No. He lunched alone. As for myself, I have thought over the situation, and have decided not to meet him tête-à-tête any more.
But are you quite sure that at bottom his attitude is not induced by anger, by wounded vanity, by disappointment, and perhaps by a little bravado? Possibly he will behave himself better in future. To-night he is at the Opéra. The Santelli has scored a great success in "Mahomet," and I think she has invited him to supper after the performance. Now, if the supper is very much to his taste, he will probably be in good humor when he comes home.
Oh! How provoking you are. Can't you understand that I am in the power of this man, that I belong to him even more than his valet or his dog, because he has those abominable legal rights over me? The Code, your barbarous Code, puts me entirely in his power without any possible defense on my part; save actually killing me, he can do everything. Can't you understand that? Can't you realize the horror of my situation? Imagine, save actual murder, he can do anything to me, and he has the strength—not only physical but legal—to obtain anything from me. And I, I have not a single avenue of escape from a man whom I despise and hate. And that is the law made by you men! He took me, married me, deserted me. On my part, I have an absolutely moral right to leave him. And yet, despite this righteous hatred, this overpowering disgust, this loathing which creeps through me in the presence of the man who has scorned me, deceived me, and who has fluttered, right under my eyes, from girl to girl—this man, I say, has the right to demand from me a shameful and infamous concession. I have no right to hide myself; I have no right even to a key to my own door. Everything belongs to him—the key, the door, and even the woman who hates him. It is monstrous! Can you imagine such a horrible situation? That a woman should not be mistress of herself, should not even have the sacred right of preserving her person from a loathsome stain? And all this is the consequence of the infamous law which you men have made!
JACQUES DE RANDOL [appealingly]
My darling! I fully understand what you must be suffering; but how can I help it? No magistrate can protect you; no statute can preserve you.
I know it. But when you have neither mother nor father to protect you, when the law is against you, and when you shrink from complicity in those degrading transactions to which many women yield themselves, there is always one means of escape.
You mean to say—
With me! Are you dreaming?
No; so much the better. The scandal of it will prevent him from taking me back. I have gained courage now. Since he forces me to dishonor, I shall see that that dishonor is complete and overwhelming—even though it be the worse for him and for me.
Oh! Beware, beware, my darling! You are in one of those moments of exaltation and nervous excitement in which a woman sometimes commits a folly that is irreparable.
Well, I would rather commit such a folly and ruin myself—if that be ruin—than expose myself to the infamous struggle with which each day I am threatened.
Madeline, hear me. You are in a terrible situation, but for God's sake do not throw yourself into one that is irretrievable. Be calm, I implore you.
Well, what do you advise?
I do not know; we shall see. But I do not, I cannot, advise you to venture on a scandal which will put you outside the pale of society.
Well, yes, there is another law, an unwritten law which permits one to have lovers, even though it be shameful, because [sarcastically] it does not outrage society.
That is not the question. The thing is to avoid taking up a wrong position in your quarrel with your husband. Have you decided to leave him?
Finally and forever?
Do you mean for all time?
For all time.
Well, now, be cautious; be careful and cunning; guard your reputation and your name. Make neither commotion nor scandal, and await your opportunity.
MME. DE SALLUS [ironically]
And must I continue to be very charming when he returns to me, and be ready for all his fancies?
Oh, Madeline, I speak to you in the truest friendship.
MME. DE SALLUS [bitterly]
In the truest friendship!
Yea, as a friend who loves you far too dearly to advise you to commit any folly.
And loves me just enough to advise me to be complaisant to a man I despise.
I! Never, never. My most ardent desire is to be with you forever. Get a divorce, and then if you still love me, let us wed.
Oh, yes, yes—two years from now. Certainly, you are a patient lover!
But supposing I were to carry you off, he would take you back to-morrow; would shut you up in his house, and would never get a divorce lest you should become my wife.
Well, do you mean to say I could fly nowhere but to your house, that I could not hide myself in such fashion that he would never find me?
Yes, you could hide yourself, but it would be necessary for you to live abroad under another name, or buried in the country, till death. That is the curse of our love. In three months you would hate me. I never will let you commit such a folly.
I thought you loved me enough to fly with me, but it seems that I am mistaken. Adieu!
Madeline, listen to me for God's—
MME. DE SALLUS Jacques, take me, or leave me—answer!
Madeline, I implore you!
Never! Adieu! [Rises and goes to the door.]
Once more I implore you, Madeline, listen to me.
Oh, no, no; adieu! [De Randol takes her by the arms; she frees herself angrily.] Unhand me! Let me go, or I shall call for help!
Call if you will, but listen to me. I would not that you should ever be able to reproach me for the madness that you meditate. God forbid that you should hate me, but, bound to me by this flight that you propose, you would carry with you forever a keen and unavailing regret that I allowed you to do it.
Let me go! I despise you! Let me go!
Well, if you wish to fly, why, let us fly.
Oh, no, not now. I know you now. It is too late. Let me go.
I have done exactly what I ought to have done; I have said exactly what I ought to have said; consequently, I am no longer responsible for you, and you have no right to reproach me with the consequences. So let us fly.
Oh, no, it is too late, and I do not care to accept sacrifices.
There is no more any question of sacrifice. To fly with you is my most ardent desire.
MME. DE SALLUS [astonished]
You are mad.
Well, suppose I am mad. That is only natural, since I love you.
What do you mean?
I mean what I say. I love you; I have nothing else to say. Let us fly.
Ah, you were altogether too cautious just now to become so brave all at once.
Will you ever understand me? Listen to me. When I first realized that I adored you, I made a solemn vow concerning what might happen between you and me. The man who falls in love with a woman such as you, a woman married yet deserted; a slave in fact yet morally free, institutes between her and himself a bond which only she can break. The woman risks everything. Ay, it is just because she does this, because she gives everything—her heart, her body, her soul, her honor, her life, because she has foreseen all the miseries, all the dangers, all the misfortunes that can happen, because she dares to take so bold, and fearless a step, and because she is ready and determined to hazard everything—a husband who could kill her, and a world that would scorn her—it is for all this and for the heroism of her conjugal infidelity, that her lover, in taking her, ought to foresee all, to guard her against every ill that can possibly happen. I have nothing more to say. I spoke at first as a calm and foreseeing man who wished to protect you against everything—now I am simply and only the man who loves you. Order me as you please.
That is all very prettily said; but is it true?
I swear it!
You wish to fly with me?
From the bottom of your heart?
From the bottom of my heart.
Yes, and whenever you please.
It is now a quarter to eight. My husband will be coming in directly, for we dine at eight. I shall be free at half past nine or ten o'clock.
Where shall I wait for you?
At the end of the street in a coupé. [The bell rings.] There he is, and for the last time, thank God!
(The same characters, and M. de Sallus.)
M. DE SALLUS [enters. To Jacques de Randol, who has risen to take his leave]
Well, you are not going again, are you? Why, it seems that I need only come in to make you take your leave.
No, no, my dear fellow; you don't make me go, but I must.
That is just what I say. You always go the very moment I come in. Of course, I understand that a husband is less attractive than a wife. But, at least, let me believe that I am not objectionable to you. [Laughs.]
On the contrary, my dear fellow, you know I like you. And if you would acquire the habit of coming into your own house without ringing the bell, you would never find me taking my leave when you come.
How is that? Is it not natural to ring the door bell?
Oh, yes; but a ring of the bell always makes me feel that I must go, and surely, coming into your own house, you can dispense with that habit.
I don't understand you.
Why, it is very simple. When I visit people whom I like, such as Madame de Sallus and yourself, I do not expect to meet the Paris that flutters from house to house in the evening, gossiping and scandalizing. I have had my experience of gossip and tittle-tattle. It needs only one of these talkative dames or men to take away all the pleasure there is for me in visiting the lady on whom I happen to have called. Sometimes when I am anchored perforce upon my seat, I feel lost; I do not know how to get away. I have to take part in the whirlpool of foolish chatter. I know all the set questions and answers better than I do the catechism itself, and it bores me to have to remain until the very end and hear the very last opinion of some fool upon the comedy, or the book, or the divorce, or the marriage, or the death that is being discussed. Now, do you understand why I always get up and go at the sound of a bell?
M. DE SALLUS [laughs]
What you say is very true. Drawing-rooms now are not habitable from four o'clock to seven, and our wives have no right to complain if we leave them to go to the club.
MME. DE SALLUS [sarcastically]
Nevertheless, I do not see my way to receiving ballet girls, or chorus girls, or actresses, or so-called painters, poets, musicians, and others—in order to keep you near me.
I do not ask so much as that. All I desire is a few witty fellows, some charming women, and by no means a crowd.
You talk nonsense; you cannot pick and choose.
No, truly, you cannot sift and strain the flow of idiocy that you meet in the drawing-rooms of to-day.
Simply because it is as it is—to-day.
What a pity! How I should love the intimacy of a small and carefully selected circle of men and women.
Yes, why not?
MME. DE SALLUS [laughs]
Ha, ha, ha! What a charming little intimate circle you would bring to me! Ha, ha, ha! The fascinating men, and the fashionable women that you would invite! My dear sir, it is I who would leave the house then.
My dear girl, I only asked for three or four women like yourself.
Pray repeat that.
Three or four such women as you.
If you need four, I can understand how you found your house lonesome.
You understand very well what I wish to say, and it is not necessary for me to explain myself. And you know that you need only be alone to please me better than I could possibly be pleased elsewhere.
Really, I do not recognize you. I am afraid you must be ill—very ill.
You are not going to die, are you?
Oh, chaff me as much as you like, you won't worry me.
And is this mood of yours going to last?
Men often change.
M. DE SALLUS [turns to Jacques de Randol]
My dear Randol, will you give us the pleasure of your company at dinner to-night? You may help me to turn aside the epigrams that my wife seems to have barbed and ready for me.
A thousand thanks, my dear Sallus! You are very, very good, but unfortunately, I am not free.
But, my dear fellow, send your excuses.
Are you dining in town?
Yes, well—not altogether. I have an appointment at nine o'clock.
Is it very important?
With a lady?
My dear fellow, what a question!
Oh, I am discreet! But that need not prevent you from dining with us.
Thank you, my dear fellow, I cannot.
You know you can go away when you wish.
But I am not in evening dress.
I can easily send for your things.
No, truly, thank you; I cannot.
M. DE SALLUS [to Mme. de Sallus]
My dear girl, won't you keep Randol?
Why ask me? You know that I have no influence over him.
You are charming enough to influence the world this evening, so why can't you make him stay?
Good gracious! I cannot make my friends stay in order to please you, and keep them in your house against their wish. Bring your friends.
Well, I shall remain at home this evening in any case, and we shall then be tête-à-tête.
You will be at home all the evening?
All the evening.
MME. DE SALLUS [sarcastically]
Good gracious! How you surprise me—and how you honor me!
No, it is a pleasure to be with you.
What a charming mood you are in to-night!
Now ask Randol to remain.
My dear sir, Monsieur de Randol will do as he pleases. He knows that I am always glad to see him. [Rises, and after reflecting for a second.] Will you dine with us, Monsieur de Randol? You know you can go directly after dinner.
With the greatest pleasure, Madame.
Excuse my absence for a minute. It is eight o'clock, and I must give some new directions for dinner.
[Exit Mme. de Sallus.]
(M. de Sallus and M. Jacques de Randol.)
My dear fellow, you will do me the greatest service if you will pass the whole evening here.
But I have told you that I cannot.
Is it altogether—absolutely—impossible?
I most earnestly ask you to remain.
For the best of reasons—because—because I want to make peace with my wife.
Peace? Is there a rupture between you?
Not a very great one, but you know what you have seen this evening.
Is it your fault or hers?
Oh, mine, I suppose.
I have had annoyances outside, serious annoyances, and they have made me bad-tempered, so much so that I have been unpleasant and aggressive in my behavior toward her.
But I don't see how a third party can contribute toward peace between you.
My dear fellow, you will enable me to make her understand in an indirect manner, while avoiding all indelicate and wounding explanations, that my ideas concerning life have altogether changed.
Then you wish to be—to be—reconciled to her altogether?
Oh, no, no, no—on the contrary—
Pardon me, I do not understand you.
Listen: I wish to establish and maintain a status quo of a pacific neutrality—a sort of Platonic peace. [Laughs.] But I am going into details that cannot interest you.
Pardon me again. From the moment that you ask me to play a part in this very interesting affair, I must know exactly what part I am to play.
Why, just a conciliatory rôle.
Then you wish to conclude a peace without restrictions for yourself?
Now you have it.
That is to say, that, after the disappointments and annoyances of which you have just told me, and which I presume are ended, you wish to have peace at home and yet be free to enjoy any happiness that you may acquire outside.
Let me go farther. My dear fellow, the present situation between my wife and myself is very much strained, and I never care to find myself alone with her altogether, because my position is a false one.
Oh, in that case, my dear fellow, I will remain.
All the evening?
All the evening.
My dear De Randol, you are indeed a friend! I shall never forget it.
Oh, never mind that. [A short silence.] Were you at the Opéra last night?
So it is a good performance?
The Santelli scored a great success, didn't she?
Not only a success, but a veritable triumph. She was recalled six times.
She is good, isn't she?
More than admirable. She never sang better. In the first act she has a long recitative: "O God of all believers, hear my prayer," which made the body of the house rise to their feet. And in the third act, after that phrase, "Bright heaven of beauty," I never saw such enthusiasm.
She was pleased?
Pleased? She was enchanted.
You know her well, don't you?
Oh, yes, for some time back. I had supper with her and some of her friends after the performance.
Were there many of you?
No, about a dozen. You know she is rather particular.
It is pleasant to be intimate with her, is it not?
Exquisite! And then, you know, she is a woman in a million. I do not know whether you agree with me, but I find there are so few women that are really women.
JACQUES DE RANDOL [laughs]
I have found that out.
Yes, and you have found out that there are women who have a feminine air, but who are not women.
Good gracious! Our society women, with very rare exceptions, are simply pictures; they are pretty; they are distinguished; but they charm you only in their drawing-rooms. The part they play consists entirely in making men admire their dress, their dainty ways, all of which are assumed.
Men love them, nevertheless.
Oh, very rarely, my dear fellow.
Oh, yes, dreamers do. But men—real men—men who are passionate, men who are positive, men who are tender, do not love the society woman of to-day, since she is incapable of love. My dear fellow, look around you. You see intrigues—everyone sees them; but can you lay your finger upon a single real love affair—a love that is disinterested, such a love as there used to be—inspired by a single woman of our acquaintance? Don't I speak the truth? It flatters a man to have a mistress—it flatters him, it amuses him, and then it tires him. But turn to the other picture and look at the woman of the stage. There is not one who has not at least five or six love affairs on the carpet; idiotic follies, causing bankruptcy, scandal, and suicides. Men love them; yes, they love these women because these women know how to inspire love, and because they are loving women. Yes, indeed, they know how to conquer men; they understand the seduction of a smile; they know how to attract, seize, and wrap us up in their hearts, how to enslave us with a look, and they need not be beautiful at that. They have a conquering power that we never find in our wives.
And the Santelli is a seductress of this kind?
She is first among the first! Ah, the cunning little coquette! She knows how to make men run after her.
Does she do only that?
A woman of that sort does not give herself the trouble of making men run after her unless she has some further object in view.
The devil! You make me believe you attend two first nights in the same evening.
My dear boy, don't imagine such a thing.
Great heavens! you have such a satisfied and triumphant air—an air so desirous of calm at home. If I am deceived I am sorry—for your sake.
Well, we will assume that you are deceived and—
(The same, and Mme. de Sallus.)
M. DE SALLUS [gaily]
Well, my dear, Jacques remains. He has consented for my sake.
I congratulate you. And how did you achieve that miracle?
Oh, easily enough, in the course of conversation.
And of what have you been talking?
Of the happiness that comes to a man who remains quietly at home.
That sort of happiness has but little attraction for me. I like the excitement of travel.
There is a time for everything; and travel is very often inopportune and very inconvenient.
But how about that important appointment of yours at nine o'clock? Have you given it up altogether, Monsieur de Randol?
I have, Madame.
You are very changeable.
No, no, I am simply adapting myself to circumstances.
Will you pardon me if I write a note? [Sits at desk at the other end of the drawing-room.]
MME. DE SALLUS [to Jacques de Randol]
What has happened?
Oh, nothing; everything is all right.
When do we go?
Not at all.
Are you mad? Why?
Please don't ask me now about it.
I am sure that he is laying a trap for us.
Not at all. He is very quiet, very contented, and has absolutely no suspicion.
Then what does it all mean?
Now, be calm. He is happy, I tell you.
That is not true.
I tell you it is. He has made me the confidant of all his happiness.
It is just a trick; he wishes to watch us.
Oh, no; he is confiding and conciliatory. The only fear he has is of you.
Yes; in the same way that you are, all the time, afraid of him.
Great heavens! You have lost your head. You are talking at random.
Listen—I am sure that he intends to go out this evening.
Well, in that case, let us go out too.
No, no,—I tell you there is nothing more for us to fear.
What nonsense! You will end by maddening me with your blindness.
M. DE SALLUS [from the other end of the drawing-room]
My dear, I have some good news for you. I have been able to get another night at the Opera for you every week.
Really, it is very good of you to afford me the opportunity of applauding Madame Santelli so often.
M. DE SALLUS [from the same place]
Well, she is very clever.
And everybody says she is charming.
MME. DE SALLUS [irritably]
Yes; it is only such women who please men.
You are unjust.
Oh, my dear Randol; it is only for such women that men commit follies, and [sarcastically], understand me, the measure of a man's folly is often the measure of his love.
M. DE SALLUS [from the same place]
Oh, no, my dear girl,—men do not marry them, and marriage is the only real folly that a man can commit with a woman.
A beautiful idea, truly, when a woman has to endure all man's caprices.
Oh, no, not having anything to lose, they have nothing to risk.
Ah, men are sad creatures! They marry a young girl because she is demure and self-contained, and they leave her on the morrow to dangle after a girl who is not young and who certainly is not demure, her chief attraction being that all the rich and well-known men about town have at one time been in her favor. The more danglers she has after her, the more she is esteemed, the more she is sought after, and the more she is respected; that is to say, with that kind of Parisian respect which accrues to a woman in the degree of her notoriety—a notoriety due either to the scandal she creates, or the scandal men create about her. Ah, yes, you men are so nice in these things!
M. DE SALLUS [laughs gently]
Take care! One would think you were jealous.
I? Jealous? For whom do you take me? [The butler announces.] Madame is served. [Hands a letter to M. de Sallus.]
MME. DE SALLUS [to Jacques de Randol]
Your arm, M. Jacques de Randol.
JACQUES DE RANDOL [in a low tone]
How I love you!
MME. DE SALLUS [indifferently]
Just a little, I suppose.
Ah, no; with all my soul!
M. DE SALLUS [after reading his letter]
Come along, then, let us go to dinner. I have to go out this evening.