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   Chapter 12 THE HONEYMOON

Monsieur, Madame, and Bebe -- C By Gustave Droz Characters: 13381

Updated: 2017-11-29 00:02


It had been decided that we should pass the first week of our honeymoon at Madame de C.'s chateau. A little suite of apartments had been fitted up for us, upholstered in blue chintz, delightfully cool-looking. The term "cool-looking" may pass here for a kind of bad joke, for in reality it was somewhat damp in this little paradise, owing to the freshly repaired walls.

A room had been specially reserved for me, and it was thither that, after heartily kissing my dear mother-in-law, I flew up the stairs four at a time. On an armchair, drawn in front of the fire, was spread out my maroon velvet dressing-gown and close beside it were my slippers. I could not resist, and I frantically pulled off my boots. Be that as it may, my heart was full of love, and a thousand thoughts were whirling through my head in frightful confusion. I made an effort, and reflected for a moment on my position:

"Captain," said I to myself, "the approaching moment is a solemn one. On the manner in which you cross the threshold of married life depends your future happiness. It is not a small matter to lay the first stone of an edifice. A husband's first kiss"-I felt a thrill run down my back-"a husband's first kiss is like the fundamental axiom that serves as a basis for a whole volume. Be prudent, Captain. She is there beyond that wall, the fair young bride, who is awaiting you; her ear on the alert, her neck outstretched, she is listening to each of your movements. At every creak of the boards she shivers, dear little soul."

As I said this, I took off my coat and my cravat. "Your line of conduct lies before you ready traced out," I added; "be impassioned with due restraint, calm with some warmth, good, kind, tender; but at the same time let her have a glimpse of the vivacities of an ardent affection and the attractive aspect of a robust temperament." Suddenly I put my coat on again. I felt ashamed to enter my wife's room in a dressing-gown and night attire. Was it not equal to saying to her: "My dear, I am at home; see how I make myself so"? It was making a show of rights which I did not yet possess, so I rearranged my dress, and after the thousand details of a careful toilette I approached the door and gave three discreet little taps. Oh! I can assure you that I was all in a tremble, and my heart was beating so violently that I pressed my hand to my chest to restrain its throbs.

She answered nothing, and after a moment of anguish I decided to knock again. I felt tempted to say in an earnest voice, "It is I, dear; may I come in?" But I also felt that it was necessary that this phrase should be delivered in the most perfect fashion, and I was afraid of marring its effect; I remained, therefore, with a smile upon my lips as if she had been able to see me, and I twirled my moustache, which, without affectation, I had slightly perfumed.

I soon heard a faint cough, which seemed to answer me and to grant me admission. Women, you see, possess that exquisite tact, that extreme delicacy, which is wholly lacking to us. Could one say more cleverly, in a more charming manner, "Come, I await you, my love, my spouse"? Saint Peter would not have hit upon it. That cough was heaven opening to me. I turned the handle, the door swept noiselessly over the soft carpet. I was in my wife's room.

A delightful warmth met me face to face, and I breathed a vague perfume of violets and orris-root, or something akin, with which the air of the room was laden. A charming disorder was apparent, the ball dress was spread upon a lounging-chair, two candles were discreetly burning beneath rose-colored shades.

I drew near the bed where Louise was reposing, on the farther side of it, with her face to the wall, and her head buried in the pillows. Motionless and with closed eyes she appeared to be asleep, but her heightened color betrayed her emotion. I must acknowledge that at that moment I felt the most embarrassed of mankind. I resolved humbly to request hospitality. That would be delicate and irreproachable. Oh! you who have gone through these trials, search your memories and recall that ridiculous yet delightful moment, that moment of mingled anguish and joy, when it becomes necessary, without any preliminary rehearsal, to play the most difficult of parts, and to avoid the ridicule which is grinning at you from the folds of the curtains; to be at one and the same time a diplomatist, a barrister, and a man of action, and by skill, tact, and eloquence render the sternest of realities acceptable without banishing the most ideal of dreams.

I bent over the bed, and in the softest notes, the sweetest tones my voice could compass, I murmured, "Well, darling?"

One does what one can at such moments; I could not think of anything better, and yet, Heaven knows, I had tried.

No reply, and yet she was awake. I will admit that my embarrassment was doubled. I had reckoned-I can say as much between ourselves-upon more confidence and greater yielding. I had calculated on a moment of effusiveness, full of modesty and alarm, it is true, but, at any rate, I had counted upon such effusiveness, and I found myself strangely disappointed. The silence chilled me.

"You sleep very soundly, dear. Yet I have a great many things to say; won't you talk a little?"

As I spoke I-touched her shoulder with the tip of my finger, and saw her suddenly shiver.

"Come," said I; "must I kiss you to wake you up altogether?"

She could not help smiling, and I saw that she was blushing.

"Oh! do not be afraid, dear; I will only kiss the tips of your fingers gently, like that," and seeing that she let me do so, I sat down on the bed.

She gave a little cry. I had sat down on her foot, which was straying beneath the bedclothes.

"Please let me go to sleep," she said, with a supplicating air; "I am so tired."

"And how about myself, my dear child? I am ready to drop. See, I am in evening dress, and have not a pillow to rest my head on, not one, except this one." I had her hand in mine, and I squeezed it while kissing it. "Would you be very vexed to lend this pillow to your husband? Come, are you going to refuse me a little bit of room? I am not troublesome, I can assure you."

I thought I noted a smile on her lips, and, impatient to escape from my delicate position, in a moment I rose, and, while continuing to converse, hastelessly and noiselessly undressed. I was burning my ships. When my ships were burned there was absolutely nothing left for me to do but to get into bed.

Louise gave a little cry, then she threw herself toward the wall, and I heard a kind of sob.

I had one foot in bed and the other out, and remained pe

trified, a smile on my lips, and supporting myself wholly on one arm.

"What is the matter-dear; what is the matter? Forgive me if I have offended you."

I brought my head closer to her own, and, while inhaling the perfume of her hair, whispered in her ear:

"I love you, my dear child; I love you, little wife; don't you think that I do?"

She turned toward me her eyes, moistened with tears, and said in a voice broken by emotion and so soft, so low, so tender, that it penetrated to the marrow of my bones:

"I love you, too. But let me sleep!"

"Sleep, my loved angel; sleep fearlessly, my love. I am going away; sleep while I watch over you," I said.

Upon my honor I felt a sob rise to my throat, and yet the idea that my last remark was not badly turned shot through my brain. I pulled the coverings over her again and tucked her up like a child. I can still see her rosy face buried in that big pillow, the curls of fair hair escaping from under the lace of her little nightcap. With her left hand she held the counterpane close up under her chin, and I saw on one of her fingers the new and glittering wedding-ring I had given her that morning. She was charming, a bird nestling in cottonwool, a rosebud fallen amid snow. When she was settled I bent over her and kissed her on the forehead.

"I am repaid," said I to her, laughing; "are you comfortable, Louise?"

She did not answer, but her eyes met mine and I saw in them a smile which seemed to thank me, but a smile so subtle that in any other circumstances I should have seen a shadow of raillery in it.

"Now, Captain, settle yourself in this armchair and goodnight!" I said this to myself, and I made an effort to raise my unfortunate foot which I had forgotten, a heroic effort, but it was impossible to accomplish it. The leg was so benumbed that I could not move it. As well as I could I hoisted myself upon the other leg, and, hobbling, reached my armchair without appearing too lame. The room seemed to me twice as wide to cross as the Champ de Mars, for hardly had I taken a step in its chilly atmosphere-the fire had gone out, it was April, and the chateau overlooked the Loire-when the cold reminded me of the scantiness of my costume. What! to cross the room before that angel, who was doubtless watching me, in the most grotesque of costumes, and with a helpless leg into the bargain! Why had I forgotten my dressing-gown? However, I reached the armchair, into which I sank. I seized my dress-coat which was beside me, threw it over my shoulders, twisted my white cravat round my neck, and, like a soldier bivouacking, I sought a comfortable position.

It would have been all very well without the icy cold that assailed my legs, and I saw nothing in reach to cover me. I said to myself, "Captain, the position is not tenable," when at length I perceived on the couch-One sometimes is childishly ashamed, but I really dared not, and I waited for a long minute struggling between a sense of the ridiculous and the cold which I felt was increasing. At last, when I heard my wife's breathing become more regular and thought that she must be asleep, I stretched out my arm and pulled toward me her wedding-gown which was on the couch-the silk rustled enough to wake the dead-and with the energy which one always finds on an emergency, wrapped it round me savagely like a railway rug. Then yielding to an involuntary fit of sybaritism, I unhooked the bellows and tried to get the fire to burn.

"After all," I said to myself, arranging the blackened embers and working the little instrument with a thousand precautions, "after all, I have behaved like a gentleman. If the General saw me at this moment he would laugh in my face; but no matter, I have acted rightly."

Had I not sworn to be sincere, I do not know whether I should acknowledge to you that I suddenly felt horrible tinglings in the nasal regions. I wished to restrain myself, but the laws of nature are those which one can not escape. My respiration suddenly ceased, I felt a superhuman power contract my facial muscles, my nostrils dilated, my eyes closed, and all at once I sneezed with such violence that the bottle of Eau des Carmes shook again. God forgive me! A little cry came from the bed, and immediately afterward the most silvery frank and ringing outbreak of laughter followed. Then she added in her simple, sweet, musical tones:

"Have you hurt yourself-, Georges?" She had said Georges after a brief silence, and in so low a voice that I scarcely heard it.

"I am very ridiculous, am I not, dear? and you are quite right to laugh at me. What would you have? I am camping out and I am undergoing the consequences."

"You are not ridiculous, but you are catching cold," and she began to laugh again.

"Naughty girl!"

"Cruel one, you ought to say, and you would not be wrong if I were to let you fall ill." She said this with charming grace. There was a mingling of timidity and tenderness, modesty and raillery, which I find it impossible to express, but which stupefied me. She smiled at me, then I saw her move nearer to the wall in order to leave room for me, and, as I hesitated to cross the room.

"Come, forgive me," she said.

I approached the bed; my teeth were chattering.

"How kind you are to me, dear," she said to me after a moment or so; "will you wish me good-night?" and she held out her cheek to me. I approached nearer, but as the candle had just gone out I made a mistake as to the spot, and my lips brushed hers. She quivered, then, after a brief silence, she murmured in a low tone, "You must forgive me; you frightened me so just now."

"I wanted to kiss you, dear."

"Well, kiss me, my husband."

Within the trembling young girl the coquetry of the woman was breaking forth in spite of herself.

I could not help it; she exhaled a delightful perfume which mounted to my brain, and the contact of this dear creature whom I touched, despite myself, swept away all my resolutions.

My lips-I do not know how it was-met hers, and we remained thus for a long moment; I felt against my breast the echo of the beating heart, and her rapid breathing came full into my face.

"You do love me a little, dear?" I whispered in her ear.

I distinguished amid a confused sigh a little "Yes!" that resembled a mere breath.

"I don't frighten you any longer?"

"No," she murmured, very softly.

"You will be my little wife, then, Louise; you will let me teach you to love me as I love you?"

"I do love you," said she, but so softly and so gently that she seemed to be dreaming.

How many times have we not laughed over these recollections, already so remote.

BOOK 2.

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