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- Petty Troubles of Married Life - 10/18 -
"Yes, a four hundred franc dress! It's the very finest quality of velvet."
"Four hundred francs!" cries Adolphe, striking the attitude of the apostle Thomas.
"But then there are two extra breadths and enough for a high waist!"
"Monsieur Deschars does things on a grand scale," replies Adolphe, taking refuge in a jest.
"All men don't pay such attentions to their wives," says Caroline, curtly.
"Why, Adolphe, thinking of extra breadths and of a waist to make the dress good again, when it is no longer fit to be worn low in the neck."
Adolphe says to himself, "Caroline wants a dress."
Some time afterward, Monsieur Deschars furnishes his wife's chamber anew. Then he has his wife's diamonds set in the prevailing fashion. Monsieur Deschars never goes out without his wife, and never allows his wife to go out without offering her his arm.
If you bring Caroline anything, no matter what, it is never equal to what Monsieur Deschars has done. If you allow yourself the slightest gesture or expression a little livelier than usual, if you speak a little bit loud, you hear the hissing and viper-like remark:
"You wouldn't see Monsieur Deschars behaving like this! Why don't you take Monsieur Deschars for a model?"
In short, this idiotic Monsieur Deschars is forever looming up in your household on every conceivable occasion.
The expression--"Do you suppose Monsieur Deschars ever allows himself" --is a sword of Damocles, or what is worse, a Damocles pin: and your self-love is the cushion into which your wife is constantly sticking it, pulling it out, and sticking it in again, under a variety of unforeseen pretexts, at the same time employing the most winning terms of endearment, and with the most agreeable little ways.
Adolphe, stung till he finds himself tattooed, finally does what is done by police authorities, by officers of government, by military tacticians. He casts his eye on Madame de Fischtaminel, who is still young, elegant and a little bit coquettish, and places her (this had been the rascal's intention for some time) like a blister upon Caroline's extremely ticklish skin.
O you, who often exclaim, "I don't know what is the matter with my wife!" you will kiss this page of transcendent philosophy, for you will find in it /the key to every woman's character/! But as to knowing women as well as I know them, it will not be knowing them much; they don't know themselves! In fact, as you well know, God was Himself mistaken in the only one that He attempted to manage and to whose manufacture He had given personal attention.
Caroline is very willing to sting Adolphe at all hours, but this privilege of letting a wasp off now and then upon one's consort (the legal term), is exclusively reserved to the wife. Adolphe is a monster if he starts off a single fly at Caroline. On her part, it is a delicious joke, a new jest to enliven their married life, and one dictated by the purest intentions; while on Adolphe's part, it is a piece of cruelty worthy a Carib, a disregard of his wife's heart, and a deliberate plan to give her pain. But that is nothing.
"So you are really in love with Madame de Fischtaminel?" Caroline asks. "What is there so seductive in the mind or the manners of the spider?"
"Oh, don't undertake to deny your eccentric taste," she returns, checking a negation on Adolphe's lips. "I have long seen that you prefer that Maypole [Madame de Fischtaminel is thin] to me. Very well! go on; you will soon see the difference."
Do you understand? You cannot suspect Caroline of the slightest inclination for Monsieur Deschars, a low, fat, red-faced man, formerly a notary, while you are in love with Madame de Fischtaminel! Then Caroline, the Caroline whose simplicity caused you such agony, Caroline who has become familiar with society, Caroline becomes acute and witty: you have two gadflies instead of one.
The next day she asks you, with a charming air of interest, "How are you coming on with Madame de Fischtaminel?"
When you go out, she says: "Go and drink something calming, my dear." For, in their anger with a rival, all women, duchesses even, will use invectives, and even venture into the domain of Billingsgate; they make an offensive weapon of anything and everything.
To try to convince Caroline that she is mistaken and that you are indifferent to Madame de Fischtaminel, would cost you dear. This is a blunder that no sensible man commits; he would lose his power and spike his own guns.
Oh! Adolphe, you have arrived unfortunately at that season so ingeniously called the /Indian Summer of Marriage/.
You must now--pleasing task!--win your wife, your Caroline, over again, seize her by the waist again, and become the best of husbands by trying to guess at things to please her, so as to act according to her whims instead of according to your will. This is the whole question henceforth.
Let us admit this, which, in our opinion, is a truism made as good as new:
Axiom.--Most men have some of the wit required by a difficult position, when they have not the whole of it.
As for those husbands who are not up to their situation, it is impossible to consider their case here: without any struggle whatever they simply enter the numerous class of the /Resigned/.
Adolphe says to himself: "Women are children: offer them a lump of sugar, and you will easily get them to dance all the dances that greedy children dance; but you must always have a sugar plum in hand, hold it up pretty high, and--take care that their fancy for sweetmeats does not leave them. Parisian women--and Caroline is one--are very vain, and as for their voracity--don't speak of it. Now you cannot govern men and make friends of them, unless you work upon them through their vices, and flatter their passions: my wife is mine!"
Some days afterward, during which Adolphe has been unusually attentive to his wife, he discourses to her as follows:
"Caroline, dear, suppose we have a bit of fun: you'll put on your new gown--the one like Madame Deschars!--and we'll go to see a farce at the Varieties."
This kind of proposition always puts a wife in the best possible humor. So away you go! Adolphe has ordered a dainty little dinner for two, at Borrel's /Rocher de Cancale/.
"As we are going to the Varieties, suppose we dine at the tavern," exclaims Adolphe, on the boulevard, with the air of a man suddenly struck by a generous idea.
Caroline, delighted with this appearance of good fortune, enters a little parlor where she finds the cloth laid and that neat little service set, which Borrel places at the disposal of those who are rich enough to pay for the quarters intended for the great ones of the earth, who make themselves small for an hour.
Women eat little at a formal dinner: their concealed harness hampers them, they are laced tightly, and they are in the presence of women whose eyes and whose tongues are equally to be dreaded. They prefer fancy eating to good eating, then: they will suck a lobster's claw, swallow a quail or two, punish a woodcock's wing, beginning with a bit of fresh fish, flavored by one of those sauces which are the glory of French cooking. France is everywhere sovereign in matters of taste: in painting, fashions, and the like. Gravy is the triumph of taste, in cookery. So that grisettes, shopkeepers' wives and duchesses are delighted with a tasty little dinner washed down with the choicest wines, of which, however, they drink but little, the whole concluded by fruit such as can only be had at Paris; and especially delighted when they go to the theatre to digest the little dinner, and listen, in a comfortable box, to the nonsense uttered upon the stage, and to that whispered in their ears to explain it. But then the bill of the restaurant is one hundred francs, the box costs thirty, the carriage, dress, gloves, bouquet, as much more. This gallantry amounts to the sum of one hundred and sixty francs, which is hard upon four thousand francs a month, if you go often to the Comic, the Italian, or the Grand, Opera. Four thousand francs a month is the interest of a capital of two millions. But then the honor of being a husband is fully worth the price!
Caroline tells her friends things which she thinks exceedingly flattering, but which cause a sagacious husband to make a wry face.
"Adolphe has been delightful for some time past. I don't know what I have done to deserve so much attention, but he overpowers me. He gives value to everything by those delicate ways which have such an effect upon us women. After taking me Monday to the /Rocher de Cancale/ to dine, he declared that Very was as good a cook as Borrel, and he gave me the little party of pleasure that I told you of all over again, presenting me at dessert with a ticket for the opera. They sang 'William Tell,' which, you know, is my craze."
"You are lucky indeed," returns Madame Deschars with evident jealousy.
"Still, a wife who discharges all her duties, deserves such luck, it seems to me."
When this terrible sentiment falls from the lips of a married woman, it is clear that she /does her duty/, after the manner of school-boys, for the reward she expects. At school, a prize is the object: in
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