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- Petty Troubles of Married Life - 3/18 -
managed to escape from this first dangerous pass in conjugal life.
"We are going this evening to Madame Deschars', where they never know what to do to amuse themselves; they play all sorts of forfeit games on account of a troop of young women and girls there; you shall see!" she says.
You are so happy at this turn of affairs, that you hum airs and carelessly chew bits of straw and thread, while still in your shirt and drawers. You are like a hare frisking on a flowering dew-perfumed meadow. You leave off your morning gown till the last extremity, when breakfast is on the table. During the day, if you meet a friend and he happens to speak of women, you defend them; you consider women charming, delicious, there is something divine about them.
How often are our opinions dictated to us by the unknown events of our life!
You take your wife to Madame Deschars'. Madame Deschars is a mother and is exceedingly devout. You never see any newspapers at her house: she keeps watch over her daughters by three different husbands, and keeps them all the more closely from the fact that she herself has, it is said, some little things to reproach herself with during the career of her two former lords. At her house, no one dares risk a jest. Everything there is white and pink and perfumed with sanctity, as at the houses of widows who are approaching the confines of their third youth. It seems as if every day were Sunday there.
You, a young husband, join the juvenile society of young women and girls, misses and young people, in the chamber of Madame Deschars. The serious people, politicians, whist-players, and tea-drinkers, are in the parlor.
In Madame Deschars' room they are playing a game which consists in hitting upon words with several meanings, to fit the answers that each player is to make to the following questions:
How do you like it?
What do you do with it?
Where do you put it?
Your turn comes to guess the word, you go into the parlor, take part in a discussion, and return at the call of a smiling young lady. They have selected a word that may be applied to the most enigmatical replies. Everybody knows that, in order to puzzle the strongest heads, the best way is to choose a very ordinary word, and to invent phrases that will send the parlor Oedipus a thousand leagues from each of his previous thoughts.
This game is a poor substitute for lansquenet or dice, but it is not very expensive.
The word MAL has been made the Sphinx of this particular occasion. Every one has determined to put you off the scent. The word, among other acceptations, has that of /mal/ [evil], a substantive that signifies, in aesthetics, the opposite of good; of /mal/ [pain, disease, complaint], a substantive that enters into a thousand pathological expressions; then /malle/ [a mail-bag], and finally /malle/ [a trunk], that box of various forms, covered with all kinds of skin, made of every sort of leather, with handles, that journeys rapidly, for it serves to carry travelling effects in, as a man of Delille's school would say.
For you, a man of some sharpness, the Sphinx displays his wiles; he spreads his wings and folds them up again; he shows you his lion's paws, his woman's neck, his horse's loins, and his intellectual head; he shakes his sacred fillets, he strikes an attitude and runs away, he comes and goes, and sweeps the place with his terrible equine tail; he shows his shining claws, and draws them in; he smiles, frisks, and murmurs. He puts on the looks of a joyous child and those of a matron; he is, above all, there to make fun of you.
You ask the group collectively, "How do you like it?"
"I like it for love's sake," says one.
"I like it regular," says another.
"I like it with a long mane."
"I like it with a spring lock."
"I like it unmasked."
"I like it on horseback."
"I like it as coming from God," says Madame Deschars.
"How do you like it?" you say to your wife.
"I like it legitimate."
This response of your wife is not understood, and sends you a journey into the constellated fields of the infinite, where the mind, dazzled by the multitude of creations, finds it impossible to make a choice.
"Where do you put it?"
"In a carriage."
"In a garret."
"In a steamboat."
"In the closet."
"On a cart."
"In the ears."
"In a shop."
Your wife says to you last of all: "In bed."
You were on the point of guessing it, but you know no word that fits this answer, Madame Deschars not being likely to have allowed anything improper.
"What do you do with it?"
"I make it my sole happiness," says your wife, after the answers of all the rest, who have sent you spinning through a whole world of linguistic suppositions.
This response strikes everybody, and you especially; so you persist in seeking the meaning of it. You think of the bottle of hot water that your wife has put to her feet when it is cold,--of the warming pan, above all! Now of her night-cap,--of her handkerchief,--of her curling paper,--of the hem of her chemise,--of her embroidery,--of her flannel jacket,--of your bandanna,--of the pillow.
In short, as the greatest pleasure of the respondents is to see their Oedipus mystified, as each word guessed by you throws them into fits of laughter, superior men, perceiving no word that will fit all the explanations, will sooner give it up than make three unsuccessful attempts. According to the law of this innocent game you are condemned to return to the parlor after leaving a forfeit; but you are so exceedingly puzzled by your wife's answers, that you ask what the word was.
"Mal," exclaims a young miss.
You comprehend everything but your wife's replies: she has not played the game. Neither Madame Deschars, nor any one of the young women understand. She has cheated. You revolt, there is an insurrection among the girls and young women. They seek and are puzzled. You want an explanation, and every one participates in your desire.
"In what sense did you understand the word, my dear?" you say to Caroline.
"Why, /male/!" [male.]
Madame Deschars bites her lips and manifests the greatest displeasure; the young women blush and drop their eyes; the little girls open theirs, nudge each other and prick up their ears. Your feet are glued to the carpet, and you have so much salt in your throat that you believe in a repetition of the event which delivered Lot from his wife.
You see an infernal life before you; society is out of the question.
To remain at home with this triumphant stupidity is equivalent to condemnation to the state's prison.
Axiom.--Moral tortures exceed physical sufferings by all the difference which exists between the soul and the body.
THE ATTENTIONS OF A WIFE.
Among the keenest pleasures of bachelor life, every man reckons the independence of his getting up. The fancies of the morning compensate for the glooms of evening. A bachelor turns over and over in his bed: he is free to gape loud enough to justify apprehensions of murder, and to scream at a pitch authorizing the suspicion of joys untold. He can forget his oaths of the day before, let the fire burn upon the hearth and the candle sink to its socket,--in short, go to sleep again in spite of pressing work. He can curse the expectant boots which stand holding their black mouths open at him and pricking up their ears. He can pretend not to see the steel hooks which glitter in a sunbeam which has stolen through the curtains, can disregard the sonorous summons of the obstinate clock, can bury himself in a soft place, saying: "Yes, I was in a hurry, yesterday, but am so no longer to-day. Yesterday was a dotard. To-day is a sage: between them stands the night which brings wisdom, the night which gives light. I ought to go, I ought to do it, I promised I would--I am weak, I know. But how can I resist the downy creases of my bed? My feet feel flaccid, I think I must be sick, I am too happy just here. I long to see the ethereal horizon of my dreams again, those women without claws, those winged beings and their obliging ways. In short, I have found the grain of salt to put upon the tail of that bird that was always flying away: the coquette's feet are caught in the line. I have her now--"
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