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   Chapter 9 HUSBAND AND WIFE MY DEAR SISTERS

Monsieur, Madame, and Bebe -- C By Gustave Droz Characters: 16283

Updated: 2017-11-29 00:02


Marriage, as it is now understood, is not exactly conducive to love. In this I do not think that I am stating an anomaly. Love in marriage is, as a rule, too much at his ease; he stretches himself with too great listlessness in armchairs too well cushioned. He assumes the unconstrained habits of dressing-gown and slippers; his digestion goes wrong, his appetite fails and of an evening, in the too-relaxing warmth of a nest, made for him, he yawns over his newspaper, goes to sleep, snores, and pines away. It is all very well, my sisters, to say, "But not at all-but how can it be, Father Z.?-you know nothing about it, reverend father."

I maintain that things are as I have stated, and that at heart you are absolutely of my opinion. Yes, your poor heart has suffered very often; there are nights during which you have wept, poor angel, vainly awaiting the dream of the evening before.

"Alas!" you say, "is it then all over? One summer's day, then thirty years of autumn, to me, who am so fond of sunshine." That is what you have thought.

But you say nothing, not knowing what you should say. Lacking self-confidence and ignorant of yourself, you have made it a virtue to keep silence and not wake your husband while he sleeps; you have got into the habit of walking on the tips of your toes so as not to disturb the household, and your husband, in the midst of this refreshing half-sleep, has begun to yawn luxuriously; then he has gone out to his club, where he has been received like the prodigal son, while you, poor poet without pen or ink, have consoled yourself by watching your sisters follow the same road as yourself.

You have, all of you, ladies, your pockets full of manuscripts, charming poems, delightful romances; it is a reader who is lacking to you, and your husband takes up his hat and stick at the very sight of your handwriting; he firmly believes that there are no more romances except those already in print. From having read so many, he considers that no more can be written.

This state of things I regard as absolutely detestable. I look upon you, my dear sisters, as poor victims, and if you will permit I will give you my opinion on the subject.

Esteem and friendship between husband and wife are like our daily bread, very pleasant and respectable; but a little jam would not spoil that, you will admit! If, therefore, one of your friends complains of the freedom that reigns in this little book, let her talk on and be sure beforehand that this friend eats dry bread. We have described marriage as we think it should be-depicting smiling spouses, delighted to be together.

Is it because love is rare as between husband and wife that it is considered unbecoming to relate its joys? Is it regret, or envy, that renders you fastidious on the subject, sisters? Reserve your blushes for the pictures of that society of courtesans where love is an article of commerce, where kisses are paid for in advance. Regard the relation of these coarse pleasures as immodest and revolting, be indignant, scold your brethren-I will admit that you are in the right beforehand; but for Heaven's sake do not be offended if we undertake your defence, when we try to render married life pleasant and attractive, and advise husbands to love their wives, wives to love their husbands.

You must understand that there is a truly moral side to all this. To prove that you are adorable; that there are pleasures, joys, happiness, to be found outside the society of those young women-such is our object; and since we are about to describe it, we venture to hope that after reflecting for a few minutes you will consider our intentions praiseworthy, and encourage us to persevere in them.

I do not know why mankind has chosen to call marriage a man-trap, and all sorts of frightful things; to stick up all round it boards on which one reads: "Beware of the sacred ties of marriage;" "Do not jest with the sacred duties of a husband;" "Meditate on the sacred obligation of a father of a family;" "Remember that the serious side of life is beginning;" "No weakness; henceforth you are bound to find yourself face to face with stern reality," etc., etc.

I will not say that it is imprudent to set forth all those fine things; but when done it should be done with less affectation. To warn people that there are thorns in the path is all very well; but, hang it! there is something else in married life, something that renders these duties delightful, else this sacred position and these ties would soon be nothing more than insupportable burdens. One would really think that to take to one's self a pretty little wife, fresh in heart and pure in mind, and to condemn one's self to saw wood for the rest of one's days, were one and the same thing.

Well, my dear sisters, have you any knowledge of those who have painted the picture in these gloomy colors and described as a punishment that which should be a reward? They are the husbands with a past and having rheumatism. Being weary and-how shall I put it?-men of the world, they choose to represent marriage as an asylum, of which you are to be the angels. No doubt to be an angel is very nice, but, believe me, it is either too much or too little. Do not seek to soar so high all at once, but, instead, enter on a short apprenticeship. It will be time enough to don the crown of glory when you have no longer hair enough to dress in any other fashion.

But, O husbands with a past! do you really believe that your own angelic quietude and the studied austerity of your principles are taken for anything else than what they really mean-exhaustion?

You wish to rest; well and good; but it is wrong in you to wish everybody else about you to rest too; to ask for withered trees and faded grass in May, the lamps turned down and the lamp-shades doubled; to require one to put water in the soup and to refuse one's self a glass of claret; to look for virtuous wives to be highly respectable and somewhat wearisome beings; dressing neatly, but having had neither poetry, youth, gayety, nor vague desires; ignorant of everything, undesirous of learning anything; helpless, thanks to the weighty virtues with which you have crammed them; above all, to ask of these poor creatures to bless your wisdom, caress your bald forehead, and blush with shame at the echo of a kiss.

The deuce! but that is a pretty state of things for marriage to come to.

Delightful institution! How far are your sons, who are now five-and-twenty years of age, in the right in being afraid of it! Have they not a right to say to you, twirling their moustaches:

"But, my dear father, wait a bit; I am not quite ripe for it!"

"Yes; but it is a splendid match, and the young lady is charming."

"No doubt, but I feel that I should not make her happy. I am not old enough-indeed, I am not."

And when the young man is seasoned for it, how happy she will be, poor little thing!-a ripe husband, ready to fall from the tree, fit to be put away in the apple-loft! What happiness! a good husband, who the day after his marriage will piously place his wife in a niche and light a taper in front of her; then take his hat and go off to spend elsewhere a scrap of youth left by chance at the bottom of his pocket.

Ah! my good little sisters who are so very much shocked and cry "Shame!" follow our reasoning a little further. It is all very well that you should be treated like saints, but do not let it be forgotten that you are women, and, listen to me, do not forget it yourselves.

A husband, majestic and slightly bald, is a good thing; a young husband who loves you and eats off the same plate is better. If he rumples your dress a little, and imprints a kiss, in passing, on the back of your neck, let him. When, on coming home from a ball, he tears out the pins, tangles the strings, and laughs like a madman, trying to see whether you are ticklish, let him. Do not cry "Murder!" if his moustache pricks you, but think that it is all because at heart he loves you well. He worships your virtues; is it surprising hence that he should cherish their outward coverings? N

o doubt you have a noble soul; but your body is not therefore to be despised; and when one loves fervently, one loves everything at the same time. Do not be alarmed if in the evening, when the fire is burning brightly and you are chatting gayly beside it, he should take off one of your shoes and stockings, put your foot on his lap, and in a moment of forgetfulness carry irreverence so far as to kiss it; if he likes to pass your large tortoise-shell comb through your hair, if he selects your perfumes, arranges your plaits, and suddenly exclaims, striking his forehead: "Sit down there, darling; I have an idea how to arrange a new coiffure."

If he turns up his sleeves and by chance tangles your curls, where really is the harm? Thank Heaven if in the marriage which you have hit upon you find a laughing, joyous side; if in your husband you find the loved reader of the pretty romance you have in your pocket; if, while wearing cashmere shawls and costly jewels in your ears, you find the joys of a real intimacy-that is delicious! In short, reckon yourself happy if in your husband you find a lover.

But before accepting my theories, ladies, although in your heart and conscience you find them perfect, you will have several little prejudices to overcome; above all, you will have to struggle against your education, which is deplorable, as I have already said, but that is no great matter. Remember that under the pretext of education you have been stuffed, my dear sisters. You have been varnished too soon, like those pictures painted for sales, which crack all over six months after purchase. Your disposition has not been properly directed; you are not cultivated; you have been stifled, pruned; you have been shaped like those yew-trees at Versailles which represent goblets and birds. Still, you are women at the bottom, though you no longer look it.

You are handed over to us men swaddled, distorted, stuffed with prejudices and principles, heavy as paving-stones; all of which are the more difficult to dislodge since you look upon them as sacred; you are started on the matrimonial journey with so much luggage reckoned as indispensable; and at the first station your husband, who is not an angel, loses his temper amidst all these encumbrances, sends it all to the devil under some pretext or other, lets you go on alone, and gets into another carriage. I do not require, mark me, that you should be allowed to grow up uncared for, that good or evil instincts should be suffered to spring up in you anyhow: but it were better that they should not treat your poor mind like the foot of a well-born Chinese girl-that they should not enclose it in a porcelain slipper.

A marriageable young lady is a product of maternal industry, which takes ten years to fructify, and needs from five to six more years of study on the part of the husband to purify, strip, and restore to its real shape. In other words, it takes ten years to make a bride and six years at least to turn this bride into a woman again. Admit frankly that this is time lost as regards happiness, but try to make it up if your husband will permit you to do so.

The sole guaranty of fidelity between husband and wife is love. One remains side by side with a fellow-traveller only so long as one experiences pleasure and happiness in his company. Laws, decrees, oaths, may prevent faithlessness, or at least punish it, but they can neither hinder nor punish intention. But as regards love, intention and deed are the same.

Is it not true, my dear sisters, that you are of this opinion? Do not you thoroughly understand that if love is absent from marriage it should, on the contrary, be its real pivot? To make one's self lovable is the main thing. Believe my white hairs that it is so, and let me give you some more advice.

Yes, I favor marriage-I do not conceal it-the happy marriage in which we cast into the common lot our ideas and our sorrows, as well as our good-humor and our affections. Suppress, by all means, in this partnership, gravity and affectation, yet add a sprinkling of gallantry and good-fellowship. Preserve even in your intimacy that coquetry you so readily assume in society. Seek to please your husband. Be amiable. Consider that your husband is an audience, whose sympathy you must conquer.

In your manner of loving mark those shades, those feminine delicacies, which double the price of things. Do not be miserly, but remember that the manner in which one gives adds to the value of the gift; or rather do not give-make yourself sought after. Think of those precious jewels that are arranged with such art in their satin-lined jewel-case; never forget the case. Let your nest be soft, let your presence be felt in all its thousand trifles. Put a little of yourself into the ordering of everything. Be artistic, delicate, and refined-you can do so without effort-and let your husband perceive in everything that surrounds him, from the lace on the curtains to the perfume that you use, a wish on your part to please him.

Do not say to him, "I love you"; that phrase may perhaps recall to him a recollection or two. But lead him on to say to you, "You do love me, then?" and answer "No," but with a little kiss which means "Yes." Make him feel beside you the present to be so pleasant that the past will fade from his memory; and to this end let nothing about you recall that past, for, despite himself, he would never forgive it in you. Do not imitate the women whom he may have known, nor their head-dresses or toilettes; that would tend to make him believe he has not changed his manner of life. You have in yourself another kind of grace, another wit, another coquetry, and above all that rejuvenescence of heart and mind which those women have never had. You have an eagerness in life, a need of expansion, a freshness of impression which are-though perhaps you may not imagine it-irresistible charms. Be yourselves throughout, and you will be for this loved spouse a novelty, a thousand times more charming in his eyes than all the bygones possible. Conceal from him neither your inclinations nor your inexperience, your childish joys or your childish fears; but be as coquettish with all these as you are of the features of your face, of your fine, black eyes and your long, fair hair.

Nothing is more easily acquired than a little adroitness; do not throw yourself at his head, and always have confidence in yourself.

Usually, a man marries when he thinks himself ruined; when he feels in his waistcoat pocket-not a louis-he is then seasoned; he goes at once before the registrar. But let me tell you, sisters, he is still rich. He has another pocket of which he knows nothing, the fool! and which is full of gold. It is for you to act so that he shall find it out and be grateful to you for the happiness he has had in finding a fortune.

I will sum up, at once, as time is flying and I should not like you to be late for dinner. For Heaven's sake, ladies, tear from the clutches of the women, whose toilettes you do very wrong in imitating, your husbands' affections. Are you not more refined, more sprightly, than they? Do for him whom you love that which these women do for all the world; do not content yourselves with being virtuous-be attractive, perfume your hair, nurture illusion as a rare plant in a golden vase. Cultivate a little folly when practicable; put away your marriage-contract and look at it only once in ten years; love one another as if you had not sworn to do so; forget that there are bonds, contracts, pledges; banish from your mind the recollection of the Mayor and his scarf. Sometimes when you are alone fancy that you are only sweethearts; sister, is not that what you eagerly desire?

Ah! let candor and youth flourish. Let us love and laugh while spring blossoms. Let us love our babies, the little dears, and kiss our wives. Yes, that is moral and healthy; the world is not a shivering convent, marriage is not a tomb. Shame on those who find in it only sadness, boredom, and sleep.

My sisters, my sisters, strive to be real; that is the blessing I wish you.

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