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   Chapter 19 A LITTLE CHAT

Monsieur, Madame, and Bebe -- C By Gustave Droz Characters: 12610

Updated: 2017-11-29 00:02


MADAME F---MADAME H---

(These ladies are seated at needlework as they talk.)

Madame F-For myself, you know, my dear, I fulfil my duties tolerably, still I am not what would be called a devotee. By no means. Pass me your scissors. Thanks.

Madame H-You are quite welcome, dear. What a time those little squares of lace must take. I am like yourself in respect of religion; in the first place, I think that nothing should be overdone. Have you ever-I have never spoken to any one on the subject, but I see your ideas are so in accordance with my own that-

Madame F-Come, speak out, dear; you trust me a little, I hope.

Madame H-Well, then, have you-tell me truly-ever had any doubts?

Madame F-(after reflecting for a moment)-Doubts! No. And you?

Madame H-I have had doubts, which has been a real grief to me. Heavens! how I have wept.

Madame F-I should think so, my poor dear. For my own part, my faith is very strong. These doubts must have made you very unhappy.

Madame H-Terribly so. You know, it seems as if everything failed you; there is a vacancy all about you-I have never spoken about it to my husband, of course-Leon is a jewel of a man, but he will not listen to anything of that kind. I can still see him, the day after our marriage; I was smoothing my hair-broad bands were then worn, you know.

Madame F-Yes, yes; they were charming. You will see that we shall go back to them.

Madame H-I should not be surprised; fashion is a wheel that turns. Leon, then, said to me the day after our wedding: "My dear child, I shall not hinder you going to church, but I beg you, for mercy's sake, never to say a word to me about it."

Madame F-Really, Monsieur H. said that to you?

Madame H-Upon my honor. Oh! my husband is all that is most-or, if you prefer it, all that is least-

Madame F-Yes, yes, I understand. That is a grief, you know. Mine is only indifferent. From time to time he says some disagreeable things to me on the question, but I am sure he could be very easily brought back to the right. At the first illness he has, you shall see. When he has only a cold in the head, I notice the change. You have not seen my thimble?

Madame H-Here it is. Do not be too sure of that, dear; men are not to be brought back by going "chk, chk" to them, like little chickens. And then, though I certainly greatly admire the men who observe religious practices, you know me well enough not to doubt that-I think, as I told you, that nothing should be exaggerated. And yourself, pet, should you like to see your husband walking before the banner with a great wax taper in his right hand and a bouquet of flowers in his left?

Madame F-Oh! no, indeed. Why not ask me at once whether I should like to see Leon in a black silk skull cap, with cotton in his ears and a holy water sprinkler in his hand? One has no need to go whining about a church with one's nose buried in a book to be a pious person; there is a more elevated form of religion, which is that of-of refined people, you know.

Madame H-Ah! when you speak like that, I am of your opinion. I think, for instance, that there is nothing looks finer than a man while the host is being elevated. Arms crossed, no book, head slightly bowed, grave look, frock coat buttoned up. Have you seen Monsieur de P. at mass? How well he looks!

Madame F-He is such a fine man, and, then, he dresses so well. Have you seen him on horseback? Ah! so you have doubts; but tell me what they are, seeing we are indulging in confidences.

Madame H-I can hardly tell you. Doubts, in short; about hell, for instance, I have had horrible doubts. Oh! but do not let us speak about that; I believe it is wrong even to think of it.

Madame F-I have very broad views on that point; I never think about it. Besides, my late confessor helped me. "Do not seek too much," he always said to me, "do not try to understand that which is unfathomable." You did not know Father Gideon? He was a jewel of a confessor; I was extremely pleased with him. Not too tedious, always discreet, and, above all, well-bred. He turned monk from a romantic cause-a penitent was madly in love with him.

Madame H-Impossible!

Madame F-Yes, really. What! did you not know about it? The success of the monastery was due to that accident. Before the coming of Father Gideon it vegetated, but on his coming the ladies soon flocked there in crowds. They organized a little guild, entitled "The Ladies of the Agony." They prayed for the Chinese who had died without confession, and wore little death's heads in aluminum as sleeve-links. It became very fashionable, as you are aware, and the good fathers organized, in turn, a registry for men servants; and the result is that, from one thing leading to another, the community has become extremely wealthy. I have even heard that one of the most important railway stations in Paris is shortly to be moved, so that the size of their garden can be increased, which is rather restricted at present.

Madame H-As to that, it is natural enough that men should want a place to walk in at home; but what I do not understand is that a woman, however pious she may be, should fall in love with a priest. It is all very well, but that is no longer piety; it is-fanaticism. I venerate priests, I can say so truly, but after all I can not imagine myself-you will laugh at me-ha, ha, ha!

Madame F-Not at all. Ha, ha, ha! what a child you are!

Madame H-(working with great briskness)-Well, I can not imagine that they are men-like the others.

Madame F-(resuming work with equal ardor)-And yet, my dear, people say they are.

Madame H-There are so many false reports set afloat. (A long silence.)

Madame F-(in a discreet tone of voice)-After all, there are priests who have beards-the Capuchins, for instance.

Madame H-Madame de V. has a beard right up to her eyes, so that counts for nothing, dear.

Madame F-That counts for nothing. I do not think so. In the first place, Madame de V.'s beard is not a perennial beard; her niece told me that she sheds her moustaches every autumn. What can a beard be that can not stand the winter? A mere trifle.

Madame H-A mere trifle that is horribly ugly, my dear.

Madame F-Oh! if Madame de V. had only moustaches to frighten away people, one might st

ill look upon her without sorrow, but-

Madame H-I grant all that. Let us allow that the Countess's moustache and imperial are a nameless species of growth. I do not attach much importance to the point, you understand. She has a chin of heartbreaking fertility, that is all.

Madame F-To return to what we were saying, how is it that the men who are strongest, most courageous, most manly-soldiers, in fact-are precisely those who have most beard?

Madame H-That is nonsense, for then the pioneers would be braver than the Generals; and, in any case, there is not in France, I am sure, a General with as much beard as a Capuchin. You have never looked at a Capuchin then?

Madame F-Oh, yes! I have looked at one quite close. It is a rather funny story. Fancy Clementine's cook having a brother a Capuchin-an ex-jeweller, a very decent man. In consequence of misfortunes in business-it was in 1848, business was at a stand-still-in short, he lost his senses-no, he did not lose his senses, but he threw himself into the arms of Heaven.

Madame H-Oh! I never knew that! When? Clementine-

Madame F-I was like you, I would not believe it, but one day Clementine said to me: "Since you will not believe in my Capuchin, come and see me tomorrow about three o'clock; he will be paying a visit to his sister. Don't have lunch first; we will lunch together." Very good. I went the next day with Louise, who absolutely insisted upon accompanying me, and I found at Clementine's five or six ladies installed in the drawing-room and laughing like madcaps. They had all come to see the Capuchin. "Well," said I, as I went in, when they all began to make signs to me and whisper, "Hush, hush!" He was in the kitchen.

Madame H-And what was he like?

Madame F-Oh! very nice, except his feet; you know how it always gives one a chill to look at their feet; but, in short, he was very amiable. He was sent for into the drawing-room, but he would not take anything except a little biscuit and a glass of water, which took away our appetites. He was very lively; told us that we were coquettes with our little bonnets and our full skirts. He was very funny, always a little bit of the jeweller at the bottom, but with plenty of good nature and frankness. He imitated the buzzing of a fly for us; it was wonderful. He also wanted to show us a little conjuring trick, but he needed two corks for it, and unfortunately his sister could only find one.

Madame H-No matter, I can not understand Clementine engaging a servant like that.

Madame F-Why? The brother is a guarantee.

Madame H-Of morality, I don't say no; but it seems to me that a girl like that can not be very discreet in her ways.

Madame F-How do you make that out?

Madame H-I don't know, I can not reason the matter out, but it seems to me that it must be so, that is all,... besides, I should not like to see a monk in my kitchen, close to the soup. Oh, mercy! no!

Madame F-What a child you are!

Madame H-That has nothing to do with religious feelings, my dear; I do not attack any dogma. Ah! if I were to say, for instance-come now, if I were to say, what now?

Madame F-In point of fact, what really is dogma?

Madame H-Well, it is what can not be attacked. Thus, for instance, a thing that is evident, you understand me, is unassailable,... or else it should be assailed,... in short, it can not be attacked. That is why it is monstrous to allow the Jewish religion and the Protestant religion in France, because these religions can be assailed, for they have no dogma. I give you this briefly, but in your prayer-book you will find the list of dogmas. I am a rod of iron as regards dogmas. My husband, who, as I said, has succeeded in inspiring me with doubts on many matters-without imagining it, for he has never required anything of me; I must do him that justice-but who, at any rate, has succeeded in making me neglect many things belonging to religion, such as fasting, vespers, sermons,... confession.

Madame F-Confession! Oh! my dear, I should never have believed that.

Madame H-It is in confidence, dear pet, that I tell you this. You will swear never to speak of it?

Madame F-Confession! Oh! yes, I swear it. Come here, and let me kiss you.

Madame H-You pity me, do you not?

Madame F-I can not pity you too much, for I am absolutely in the same position.

Madame H-You, too! Good heavens! how I love you. What can one do, eh? Must one not introduce some plan of conciliation into the household, sacrifice one's belief a little to that of one's husband?

Madame F-No doubt. For instance, how would you have me go to high mass, which is celebrated at my parish church at eleven o'clock exactly? That is just our breakfast time. Can I let my husband breakfast alone? He would never hinder me from going to high mass, he has said so a thousand times, only he has always added, "When you want to go to mass during breakfast time, I only ask one thing-it is to give me notice the day before, so that I may invite some friends to keep me company."

Madame H-But only fancy, pet, our two husbands could not be more alike if they were brothers. Leon has always said, "My dear little chicken-"

Madame F-Ha! ha! ha!

Madame H-Yes, that is his name for me; you know how lively he is. He has always said to me, then, "My dear little chicken, I am not a man to do violence to your opinions, but in return give way to me as regards some of your pious practices." I only give you the mere gist of it; it was said with a thousand delicacies, which I suppress. And I have agreed by degrees,... so that, while only paying very little attention to the outward observances of religion, I have remained, as I told you, a bar of iron as regards dogmas. Oh! as to that, I would not give way an inch, a hair-breadth, and Leon is the first to tell me that I am right. After all, dogma is everything; practice, well, what would you? If I could bring Leon round, it would be quite another thing. How glad I am to have spoken to you about all this.

Madame F-Have we not been chattering? But it is half-past five, and I must go and take my cinchona bark. Thirty minutes before meals, it is a sacred duty. Will you come, pet?

Madame H-Stop a moment, I have lost my thimble again and must find it.

BOOK 3.

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