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   Chapter 11 A WEDDING NIGHT

Monsieur, Madame, and Bebe -- C By Gustave Droz Characters: 8283

Updated: 2017-11-29 00:02


Thanks to country manners and the solemnity of the occasion, the guests had left fairly early. Almost every one had shaken hands with me, some with a cunning smile and others with a foolish one, some with an officious gravity that suggested condolence, and others with a stupid cordiality verging on indiscretion.

General de S. and the prefect, two old friends of the family, were lingering over a game of ecarte, and frankly, in spite of all the good-will I bore toward them, I should have liked to see them at the devil, so irritable did I feel that evening.

All this took place, I had forgotten to tell you, the very day of my marriage, and I was really rather tired. Since morning I had been overwhelmed by an average of about two hundred people, all actuated by the best intentions, but as oppressive as the atmosphere before a storm. Since morning I had kept up a perpetual smile for all, and then the good village priest who had married us had thought it his duty, in a very neat sermon so far as the rest of it went, to compare me to Saint Joseph, and that sort of thing is annoying when one is Captain in a lancer regiment. The Mayor, who had been good enough to bring his register to the chateau, had for his part not been able, on catching sight of the prefect, to resist the pleasure of crying, "Long live the Emperor!" On quitting the church they had fired off guns close to my ears and presented me with an immense bouquet. Finally-I tell you this between ourselves-since eight o'clock in the morning I had had on a pair of boots rather too tight for me, and at the moment this narrative begins it was about half an hour after midnight.

I had spoken to every one except my dear little wife, whom they seemed to take pleasure in keeping away from me. Once, however, on ascending the steps, I had squeezed her hand on the sly. Even then this rash act had cost me a look, half sharp and half sour, from my mother-in-law, which had recalled me to a true sense of the situation. If, Monsieur, you happen to have gone through a similar day of violent effusion and general expansion, you will agree with me that during no other moment of your life were you more inclined to irritability.

What can you say to the cousins who kiss you, to the aunts who cling round your neck and weep into your waistcoat, to all these smiling faces ranged one beyond the other before you, to all those eyes which have been staring at you for twelve hours past, to all those outbursts of affection which you have not sought, but which claim a word from the heart in reply?

At the end of such a day one's very heart is foundered. You say to yourself: "Come, is it all over? Is there yet a tear to wipe away, a compliment to receive, an agitated hand to clasp? Is every one satisfied? Have they seen enough of the bridegroom? Does any one want any more of him? Can I at length give a thought to my own happiness, think of my dear little wife who is waiting for me with her head buried in the folds of her pillow? Who is waiting for me!" That flashes through your mind all at once like a train of powder. You had not thought of it. During the whole of the day this luminous side of the question had remained veiled, but the hour approaches, at this very moment the silken laces of her bodice are swishing as they are unloosed; she is blushing, agitated, and dare not look at herself in the glass for fear of noting her own confusion. Her aunt and her mother, her cousin and her bosom friend, surround and smile at her, and it is a question of who shall unhook her dress, remove the orange-blossoms from her hair, and have the last kiss.

Good! now come the tears; they are wiped away and followed by kisses. The mother whispers something in her ear about a sacrifice, the future, necessity, obedience, and finds means to mingle with these simple but carefully prepared words the hope of celestial benedictions and of the intercession of a dove or two hidden among the curtains.

The poor child does not understand anything about it, except it be that something unheard-of is about to take place, that the young man-she dare not call him an

ything else in her thoughts-is about to appear as a conqueror and address her in wondrous phrases, the very anticipation of which makes her quiver with impatience and alarm. The child says not a word-she trembles, she weeps, she quivers like a partridge in a furrow. The last words of her mother, the last farewells of her family, ring confusedly in her ears, but it is in vain that she strives to seize on their meaning; her mind-where is that poor mind of hers? She really does not know, but it is no longer under her control.

"Ah! Captain," I said to myself, "what joys are hidden beneath these alarms, for she loves you. Do you remember that kiss which she let you snatch coming out of church that evening when the Abbe What's-his-name preached so well, and those hand-squeezings and those softened glances, and-happy Captain, floods of love will inundate you; she is awaiting you!"

Here I gnawed my moustache, I tore my gloves off and then put them on again, I walked up and down the little drawing-room, I shifted the clock, which stood on the mantel-shelf; I could not keep still. I had already experienced such sensations on the morning of the assault on the Malakoff. Suddenly the General, who was still going on with his eternal game at ecarte with the prefect, turned round.

"What a noise you are making, Georges!" said he. "Cards, if you please, Prefect."

"But, General, the fact is that I feel, I will not conceal from you, a certain degree of emotion and-"

"The king-one-and four trumps. My dear friend, you are not in luck," said he to the prefect, and pulling up with an effort the white waistcoat covering his stomach, he slipped some louis which were on the table L931 into his fob; then bethinking himself, he added: "In fact, my poor fellow, you think yourself bound to keep us company. It is late and we have three leagues to cover from here to B. Every one has left, too."

At last he departed. I can still see his thick neck, the back of which formed a roll of fat over his ribbon of the Legion of Honor. I heard him get into his carriage; he was still laughing at intervals. I could have thrashed him.

"At last!" I said to myself; "at last!" I mechanically glanced at myself in the glass. I was crimson, and my boots, I am ashamed to say, were horribly uncomfortable. I was furious that such a grotesque detail as tight boots should at such a moment have power to attract my attention; but I promised to be sincere, and I am telling you the whole truth.

Just then the clock struck one, and my mother-in-law made her appearance. Her eyes were red, and her ungloved hand was crumpling up a handkerchief visibly moistened.

At the sight of her my first movement was one of impatience. I said to myself, "I am in for a quarter of an hour of it at least."

Indeed, Madame de C. sank down on a couch, took my hand, and burst into tears. Amid her sobs she ejaculated, "Georges-my dear boy-Georges-my son."

I felt that I could not rise to the occasion. "Come, Captain," I said to myself, "a tear; squeeze forth a tear. You can not get out of this becomingly without a tear, or it will be, 'My son-in-law, it is all off.'"

When this stupid phrase, derived from I do not know where-a Palais Royal farce, I believe-had once got into my head, it was impossible for me to get rid of it, and I felt bursts of wild merriment welling up to my lips.

"Calm yourself, Madame; calm yourself."

"How can I, Georges? Forgive me, my dear boy."

"Can you doubt me, Madame?"

I felt that "Madame" was somewhat cold, but I was afraid of making Madame de C. seem old by calling her "mother." I knew her to be somewhat of a coquette.

"Oh, I do not doubt your affection; go, my dear boy, go and make her happy; yes, oh, yes! Fear nothing on my account; I am strong."

Nothing is more unbearable than emotion when one does not share it. I murmured "Mother!" feeling that after all she must appreciate such an outburst; then approaching, I kissed her, and made a face in spite of myself-such a salt and disagreeable flavor had been imparted to my mother-in-law's countenance by the tears she had shed.

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