Nephew of M. Martinel, a painter; not yet thirty years of age, but already well known and the recipient of various honors.
Brother to Gilberts Martinel, a young lawyer about thirty years of age.
An old gunmaker of Havre, aged fifty-five.
An old magistrate, officer of the Legion of Honor. Aged sixty.
A fashionable physician of about thirty-five.
Sister to M. de Petitpré, about fifty-five years of age.
Nicknamed Musotte; a little model, formerly Jean Martinel's mistress.
Twenty-two years of age.
A midwife. Formerly a ballet-dancer at the Opera. About thirty-five years of age.
Daughter of M. and Mme. de Petitpré, married in the morning to Jean
Martinel. About twenty years old.
A nurse, about twenty-six.
Time: Paris of to-day. The first and third acts take place in M. de Petitpré's _drawing-room.
The second act takes place in_ Musotte's bedchamber.
(A richly yet classically furnished drawing-room in M. de Petitpré's house. A table, C.; sofas, R.; chairs and armchairs, L. Wide doors, C., opening upon a terrace or gallery. Doors R. and L. of C. Lighted lamps.)
Enter from R. M. de Petitpré, Monsieur Martinel, Madame de Ronchard, Léon de Petitpré, Jean and Gilberte. Gilberte is in her bridal attire, but without wreath and veil.
MME. DE RONCHARD [after bowing to M. Martinel, whose arm she relinquishes, seats herself R.]
GILBERTE [leaves Jean's arm]
What is it, Auntie?
The coffee, my dear child.
GILBERTE [goes to the table]
I will give you some, Auntie.
Don't soil your gown.
LÉON [comes up]
No, no, not to-day shall my sister serve coffee. The day of her marriage! No, indeed, I will take care of that. [To Mme. de Ronchard.] You know that I am a lawyer, my dear Aunt, and therefore can do everything.
Oh, I know your abilities, Léon, and I appreciate them—
LÉON [smiles, and gives his Aunt a cup of coffee]
You are too good.
MME. DE RONCHARD [taking cup, dryly]
For what they are worth.
LÉON [aside, turns to the table]
There she goes again—another little slap at me! That is never wanting. [offers a cup to Martinel.] You will take a small cup, won't you, M. Martinel, and a nip of old brandy with it? I know your tastes. We will take good care of you.
Thank you, Léon.
LÉON [to Petitpré]
Will you have a cup, father?
I will, my son.
LÉON [to the newly married couple, seated L. and talking aside]
And you, you bridal pair there? [The couple, absorbed in each other, do not answer.] Oh, I suppose we must not bother you. [He sets cup down on the table].
PETITPRÉ [to Martinel]
You don't smoke, I believe?
Never, thank you.
You astonish me! My brother and Léon would not miss smoking each day for anything in the world. But what an abomination a cigar is!
A delicious abomination, Clarisse.
LÉON [turns to Mme. de Ronchard]
Almost all abominations are delicious, Auntie; in fact many of them, to my personal knowledge, are exquisite.
You naughty fellow!
PETITPRÉ [takes Léon's arm]
Come and smoke in the billiard-room, since your aunt objects to it here.
LÉON [to Petitpré]
The day when she will love anything except her spaniels—
Hold your tongue and come along. [Exit C.]
MARTINEL [to Mme. de Ronchard]
This is the sort of marriage that I like—a marriage that, in this Paris of yours, you don't have very often. After the wedding breakfast, which takes place directly after you come from the church, all the guests go home, even the maids of honor and the ushers. The married couple remain at home and dine with their parents or relatives. In the evening they play billiards or cards, just as on an ordinary night; the newly married couple entertain each other. [Gilberte and Jean rise, and hand in hand slowly retire C.] Then, before midnight, good night!
MME. DE RONCHARD [aside]
Which is altogether very bourgeois!
MARTINEL [sits R. upon the sofa beside Mme. de Ronchard]
As to newly married couples—instead of going on that absurd and traditional thing you call a honeymoon, it is far better for them to go at once to the apartment or house prepared for them. I dare say you will think my plan lacking in fashion and display, but I cannot help that. For myself, I must say that I like absence of all ostentation.
Your plan is not according to the customs of polite society, Monsieur.
Polite society, indeed! Why, there are thirty-six different kinds of polite society. For instance, take Havre.
MME. DE RONCHARD [interrupts]
I know only ours. [Corrects herself.] That is, I mean to say, mine, which is the correct one.
Oh, naturally, naturally! Nevertheless, simple as it may be, this marriage is an acknowledged fact, and I hope that you have taken into your good books my dear nephew, who, until now—
I can hardly help doing so since he is my brother's son-in-law, and my niece's husband.
Well, that is not the only thing, is it? I am very happy that the affair is over—although my life has been spent in the midst of difficulties.
What! Your life?
I mean commercial difficulties, not matrimonial.
What commercial difficulties can you have—you, a Croesus who has just given five hundred thousand francs in dowry to his nephew. [With a sigh.] Five hundred thousand francs! Just what my late husband squandered.
Oh! Yes, I know that, Madame de Ronchard.
MME. DE RONCHARD [sighs again]
I was ruined and deserted after just one year of married life, Monsieur—one year. I just had time to realize how happy I could be, for the scoundrel, the wretch, knew how to make me love him.
Then he was a scoundrel?
Oh! Monsieur, he was a man of fashion.
Well, that did not prevent him from—
Oh, don't let us talk any more about my misfortunes. It would be too long and too sad, and everybody else is so happy here just now.
And I am happier than anybody else, I assure you. My nephew is such a good fellow. I love him as I would a son. Now, as for myself, I made my fortune in trade—
MME. DE RONCHARD [aside]
That is very evident.
In the sea-going trade. But my nephew will gain fame for our name by his renown as an artist; the only difference between us is that he makes his fortune with his brushes, and I have made mine with ships. Art, to-day, Madame, may be as important as trade, but it is less profitable. Take my nephew. Although he has made a very early success, it is I who have enabled him to. When my poor brother died, his wife following him almost immediately, I found myself, while quite a young man, left alone with this baby. Well, I made him learn everything that I could. He studied chemistry, music, and literature, but he had a leaning toward art more than to the other things. I assure you that I encouraged him in it, and you see how he has succeeded. He is only just thirty, is well known, and has just been decorated.
MME. DE RONCHARD [dryly]
Thirty years old, and only just decorated; that is slow for an artist.
Pshaw! He will make up for lost time. [Rises] But I am afraid I am getting boastful. You must pardon me, I am a plain man, and just now a little exhilarated by dining. It is all Petitpré's fault. His Burgundy is excellent. It is a wine that you may say is a friend to wisdom. And we are accustomed to drink a good deal at Havre. [Takes up his glass of brandy and finishes it.]
MME. DE RONCHARD [aside]
Surely that is enough about Havre.
MARTINEL [turns to Mme. de Ronchard]
Well, there is a treaty between us—a treaty which will last—which no foolishness can break, such as that which has failed to break this marriage.
MME. DE RONCHARD [rises and crosses L.]
Foolishness! You speak very lightly about it. But now that the marriage is a thing accomplished, it is all right. I had destined my niece for another sphere than a painter's world. However, when you can't get a thrush, eat a blackbird, as the proverb says.
But a white blackbird, Madame, for your niece is a pearl. Let me tell you, the happiness of these children will be the happiness of my declining years.
I wish that it may be, Monsieur, without daring to hope for it.
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.
They are the only two things worth knowing in life.
(The same characters and Petitpré who enters C, with Léon.)
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?
Most certainly, I am very fond of billiards.
LÉON [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.
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.
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?
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.
Of a truth; he would.
Pardon me, I should give it up at the end of a week.
You speak sensibly.
Come along, my dear fellow.
Shall we play fifty up?
Fifty up will do.
MARTINEL [turns to Mme. de Ronchard]
We shall see you again shortly, Madame.
Well, I have had enough of Havre for the present.
[Exit Martinel and Petitpré C.]
(Leon and Mme. de Ronchard.)
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.
How about yourself, Aunt?
What do you mean?
LÉON [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.
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 Salammbô—
What, you, the Carthaginian princess?
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—
LÉON [sits near Mme. de Ronchard]
Oh, no dates! for goodness sake, no dates!
It is not necessary to be sarcastic.
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!
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—
LÉON [finishes the sentence for her]
You love toy dogs.
As much as I hate men.
You mean to say one man. Well, I could hardly blame you for hating him.
And you know for what kind of girl he abandoned and ruined me. You never saw her, did you?
Pardon me, I did see her once in the Champs-Elysées. 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!"
And what were you doing?
I?—I was looking at him.
MME. DE RONCHARD [rises]
And you thought her horrible, didn't you?
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.
LÉON [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!
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.
MME. DE RONCHARD [stands R. of table and drums on it with her fingers]
Why, this marriage! You brought it about.
LÉON [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.
LÉON [still tapping]
Well, what kind of man do you think Gilberte ought to have married?
A man of position, a public official, or an eminent physician, or—an engineer.
Do you mean a theatrical engineer?
There are other kinds of engineers. Then, above all, she should not have married a handsome man.
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.
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.
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.
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
The painter of battle scenes!
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 Léon is silent.] I said models, Léon.
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—
You mean to tell me a man can love such women?
Every woman can be loved, my dear Aunt; and this woman certainly deserved to be loved more than most women.
A great thing, truly, for a model to be pretty! That is the essential thing, I should think.
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.
Well, then, why did he leave her?
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.
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.
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—
Musotte, Auntie; little Musotte.
Musette! Pshaw, that's a very common name. It reminds me of the Latin quarter and of Bohemian life. [With disgust.] Musette!
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-siècle Musotte, which is still worse. Musotte is not a name.
My dear Aunt, it is only a nickname. The nick-name of a model. Her true name is Henriette Lévêque.
MME. DE RONCHARD [puzzled]
Yes, Lévêque. What does this questioning mean? It is just as I told you, or else I know nothing about it. Now, Henriette Lévêque, 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.
And has Jean never seen her since?
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.
It is just as incredible at the twentieth time as at the first.
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.
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.
Well, how could we help that?
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.
The poor little darlings! I, abandon them! Don't you know that I love them as a mother loves her children?
Oh, yes; you can become an aunt to them, then, because you will have to become a mother to your little nephew.
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?
Monsieur and Madame may rest assured that everything has been done.
[Exit servant L.]
LÉON [to Mme. de Ronchard]
Look at them; aren't they a bonny couple?
(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.
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.
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!
LÉON [whispers to Jean]
You diplomat, you!
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.
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.
LÉON [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.
Oh, don't talk like that, it makes me shudder; it is horrible!
JEAN [turns to Gilberte]
LÉON [after a pause, in light tone]
Perhaps so, but they are good eating.
You are pitiless.
LÉON [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?
LÉON [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.
And what are you going to do?
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—
LÉON [with mock modesty]
Oh, Auntie. My clients, at least, don't unrobe—alas! [Exit Léon R., giving a mock benediction to the lovers.] Children, receive my benediction!
[Exit Madame de Ronchard C.]
(Jean and Gilberte seated on the sofa at right.)
At last, you are my wife, Mademoiselle.
Forgive me. I hardly know how to address you.
Call me Gilberte. There is nothing shocking about that, is there?
Gilberte, at last, at last, at last, you are my wife!
And truly, not without a good deal of trouble.
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.
But it is only because I trusted you, and that is all.
And have you only trust for me?
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.
Call me Jean, just as I have called you Gilberte.
But that is not altogether the same thing. It seems to me—that—that—I cannot do it. [Rises and crosses L.]
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.
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.
GILBERTE [sits on stool near the table]
Tell me it over again.
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?
Oh, yes, very well. My brother brought you to dinner, and I believe that you did not wish to come.
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?
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.
You looked far too long and too steadfastly for a first introduction.
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?
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.
Nevertheless, we quickly knew how to understand each other, did we not?
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 Léon loves you.
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?
I remember it well.
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 Léon. What a glorious spring night! But how coldly you treated me!
I was so embarrassed!
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.
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?
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.
Yes, that is what you said.
You have forgotten nothing!
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.]
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.
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 Léon?
No, are you looking for him?
No, no, I have just a word to say to him concerning an engagement of small importance.
JEAN [perceives Léon]
Wait a moment. Here he comes.
[Enter Léon R. Exit Jean. C.]
(Martinel and Léon.)
MARTINEL [goes quickly up to Léon]
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.
Quick! What is it?
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.
Tell me, what is it?
I am responsible for my own actions, M. Léon, 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.
Tell me quickly, and do not doubt my faith.
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 Léon, who holds it close to his eyes.]
"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 Lévêque, 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,
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.
I should say so. You must give the letter to Jean.
Well, what will he do?
He alone is the judge of his own actions. We have no right to hide anything from him.
Supposing he consults me?
He will not do it. In such situations a man consults only his conscience.
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?
Just what you would do yourself in like case.
My impulse would be to go to the woman. What would be yours?
I should go.
But how about your sister?
LÉON [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.
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.
What will Gilberte do?
She worships Jean—but you know how proud she is.
Will she accept the situation? Will she forgive it?
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.]
Well, how would you like me to tell him?
LÉON Simply give him the letter. [Exit Léon C.]
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.
(Re-enter Léon with Jean)
JEAN [walks briskly to C. of stage]
What is it all about?
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. Léon 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 Léon.] 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 Léon.] To you I owe the love your sister has bestowed upon me. Help me now to preserve it.
[Exit quickly R.]
(Martinel and Léon.)
MARTINEL [seated R.]
What shall we do now? What are we going to say? What explanations can we give?
Let me manage it. It is only right that I should do it since I brought about this marriage.
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!
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.
Where is Jean?
Do not be disturbed, he will be back directly.
GILBERTE [in astonishment]
Has he gone out?
Gone out? And on this evening, above all others!
A sudden and grave circumstance compelled him to go out for an hour.
What is going on? What is it that you are hiding from me? Your story is impossible. Some awful misfortune must have happened.
LÉON AND MARTINEL [together]
Oh, no, no!
Then, what is it? Tell me! Speak!
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.
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!
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.
And you, too, are upset. It must be a catastrophe.
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 Léon]
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.
My dear little sister, won't you trust in me?
Yes, you ought to know all.
Will you trust me absolutely?
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 Léon straight in the eyes]
I believe you, Léon, 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.]
(The same, with M. de Petitpré and Mme. de Ronchard, who enters quickly C.)
What is this I hear? Jean Martinel gone out?
He is coming back very soon, sir.
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.
And without a word of explanation to the family! That is indeed a lack of courtesy.
PETITPRÉ [to Martinel]
And why has he acted in this way, sir?
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.
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.
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 Petitpré], and asked his advice with the intention of following it.
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.
PETITPRÉ [turns to Léon]
It is I who should have been consulted, not you. If Jean's action is indeed excusable, his want of courtesy is absolutely unpardonable.
It is scandalous!
LÉON [to M. Petitpré]
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?
Oh, I can tell you that. It came from a physician.
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 Léon.] This is the kind of people you stand up for! Yes, you!
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.
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 Petitpré. Short silence.]
MME. DE RONCHARD [turns to Léon]
Well, Léon, do you always win? You see what charming fellows these husbands are—every one of them!