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- The Physiology of Marriage (Part 2) - 6/23 -
Appealing to the imagination of his wife, he told her how he pitied her for her attachment to a man who was indeed deeply in love with her, but was now without fortune; he tore his hair, and his wife was compelled in honor to be deeply moved; then in this first excitement of their conjugal disturbance he took her off to his estate. Then followed scarifications, mustard plaster upon mustard plaster, and the tails of fresh dogs were cut: he caused a Gothic wing to be built to the chateau; madame altered the park ten time over in order to have fountains and lakes and variations in the grounds; finally, the husband in the midst of her labors did not forget his own, which consisted in providing her with interesting reading, and launching upon her delicate attentions, etc. Notice, he never informed his wife of the trick he had played on her; and if his fortune was recuperated, it was directly after the building of the wing, and the expenditure of enormous sums in making water-courses; but he assured her that the lake provided a water-power by which mills might be run, etc.
Now, there was a conjugal blister well conceived, for this husband neither neglected to rear his family nor to invite to his house neighbors who were tiresome, stupid or old; and if he spent the winter in Paris, he flung his wife into the vortex of balls and races, so that she had not a minute to give to lovers, who are usually the fruit of a vacant life.
Journeys to Italy, Switzerland or Greece, sudden complaints which require a visit to the waters, and the most distant waters, are pretty good blisters. In fact, a man of sense should know how to manufacture a thousand of them.
Let us continue our examination of such personal methods.
And here we would have you observe that we are reasoning upon a hypothesis, without which this book will be unintelligible to you; namely, we suppose that your honeymoon has lasted for a respectable time and that the lady that you married was not a widow, but a maid; on the opposite supposition, it is at least in accordance with French manners to think that your wife married you merely for the purpose of becoming inconsistent.
From the moment when the struggle between virtue and inconsistency begins in your home, the whole question rests upon the constant and involuntary comparison which your wife is instituting between you and her lover.
And here you may find still another mode of defence, entirely personal, seldom employed by husbands, but the men of superiority will not fear to attempt it. It is to belittle the lover without letting your wife suspect your intention. You ought to be able to bring it about so that she will say to herself some evening while she is putting her hair in curl-papers, "My husband is superior to him."
In order to succeed, and you ought to be able to succeed, since you have the immense advantage over the lover in knowing the character of your wife, and how she is most easily wounded, you should, with all the tact of a diplomat, lead this lover to do silly things and cause him to annoy her, without his being aware of it.
In the first place, this lover, as usual, will seek your friendship, or you will have friends in common; then, either through the instrumentality of these friends or by insinuations adroitly but treacherously made, you will lead him astray on essential points; and, with a little cleverness, you will succeed in finding your wife ready to deny herself to her lover when he calls, without either she or he being able to tell the reason. Thus you will have created in the bosom of your home a comedy in five acts, in which you play, to your profit, the brilliant role of Figaro or Almaviva; and for some months you will amuse yourself so much the more, because your /amour-propre/, your vanity, your all, were at stake.
I had the good fortune in my youth to win the confidence of an old /emigre/ who gave me those rudiments of education which are generally obtained by young people from women. This friend, whose memory will always be dear to me, taught me by his example to put into practice those diplomatic stratagems which require tact as well as grace.
The Comte de Noce had returned from Coblenz at a time when it was dangerous for the nobility to be found in France. No one had such courage and such kindness, such craft and such recklessness as this aristocrat. Although he was sixty years old he had married a woman of twenty-five, being compelled to this act of folly by soft-heartedness; for he thus delivered this poor child from the despotism of a capricious mother. "Would you like to be my widow?" this amiable old gentleman had said to Mademoiselle de Pontivy, but his heart was too affectionate not to become more attached to his wife than a sensible man ought to be. As in his youth he had been under the influence of several among the cleverest women in the court of Louis XV, he thought he would have no difficulty in keeping his wife from any entanglement. What man excepting him have I ever seen, who could put into successful practice the teachings which I am endeavoring to give to husbands! What charm could he impart to life by his delightful manners and fascinating conversation!--His wife never knew until after his death what she then learned from me, namely, that he had the gout. He had wisely retired to a home in the hollow of a valley, close to a forest. God only knows what rambles he used to take with his wife!--His good star decreed that Mademoiselle de Pontivy should possess an excellent heart and should manifest in a high degree that exquisite refinement, that sensitive modesty which renders beautiful the plainest girl in the world. All of a sudden, one of his nephews, a good-looking military man, who had escaped from the disasters of Moscow, returned to his uncle's house, as much for the sake of learning how far he had to fear his cousins, as heirs, as in the hope of laying siege to his aunt. His black hair, his moustache, the easy small-talk of the staff officer, a certain freedom which was elegant as well as trifling, his bright eyes, contrasted favorably with the faded graces of his uncle. I arrived at the precise moment when the young countess was teaching her newly found relation to play backgammon. The proverb says that "women never learn this game excepting from their lovers, and vice versa." Now, during a certain game, M. de Noce had surprised his wife and the viscount in the act of exchanging one of those looks which are full of mingled innocence, fear, and desire. In the evening he proposed to us a hunting-party, and we agreed. I never saw him so gay and so eager as he appeared on the following morning, in spite of the twinges of gout which heralded an approaching attack. The devil himself could not have been better able to keep up a conversation on trifling subjects than he was. He had formerly been a musketeer in the Grays and had known Sophie Arnoud. This explains all. The conversation after a time became so exceedingly free among us three, that I hope God may forgive me for it!
"I would never have believed that my uncle was such a dashing blade?" said the nephew.
We made a halt, and while we were sitting on the edge of a green forest clearing, the count led us on to discourse about women just as Brantome and Aloysia might have done.
"You fellows are very happy under the present government!--the women of the time are well mannered" (in order to appreciate the exclamation of the old gentleman, the reader should have heard the atrocious stories which the captain had been relating). "And this," he went on, "is one of the advantages resulting from the Revolution. The present system gives very much more charm and mystery to passion. In former times women were easy; ah! indeed, you would not believe what skill it required, what daring, to wake up those worn-out hearts; we were always on the /qui vive/. But yet in those days a man became celebrated for a broad joke, well put, or for a lucky piece of insolence. That is what women love, and it will always be the best method of succeeding with them!"
These last words were uttered in a tone of profound contempt; he stopped, and began to play with the hammer of his gun as if to disguise his deep feeling.
"But nonsense," he went on, "my day is over! A man ought to have the body as well as the imagination young. Why did I marry? What is most treacherous in girls educated by mothers who lived in that brilliant era of gallantry, is that they put on an air of frankness, of reserve; they look as if butter would not melt in their mouths, and those who know them well feel that they would swallow anything!"
He rose, lifted his gun with a gesture of rage, and dashing it to the ground thrust it far up the butt in the moist sod.
"It would seem as if my dear aunt were fond of a little fun," said the officer to me in a low voice.
"Or of denouements that do not come off!" I added.
The nephew tightened his cravat, adjusted his collar and gave a jump like a Calabrian goat. We returned to the chateau at about two in the afternoon. The count kept me with him until dinner-time, under the pretext of looking for some medals, of which he had spoken during our return home. The dinner was dull. The countess treated her nephew with stiff and cold politeness. When we entered the drawing-room the count said to his wife:
"Are you going to play backgammon?--We will leave you."
The young countess made no reply. She gazed at the fire, as if she had not heard. Her husband took some steps towards the door, inviting me by the wave of his hand to follow him. At the sound of his footsteps, his wife quickly turned her head.
"Why do you leave us?" said she, "you will have all tomorrow to show your friend the reverse of the medals."
The count remained. Without paying any attention to the awkwardness which had succeeded the former military aplomb of his nephew, the count exercised during the whole evening his full powers as a charming conversationalist. I had never before seen him so brilliant or so gracious. We spoke a great deal about women. The witticisms of our host were marked by the most exquisite refinement. He made me forget that his hair was white, for he showed the brilliancy which belonged to a youthful heart, a gaiety which effaces the wrinkles from the cheek and melts the snow of wintry age.
The next day the nephew went away. Even after the death of M. de Noce, I tried to profit by the intimacy of those familiar conversations in which women are sometimes caught off their guard to sound her, but I could never learn what impertinence the viscount had exhibited towards his aunt. His insolence must have been excessive, for since that time Madame de Noce has refused to see her nephew, and up to the present moment never hears him named without a slight movement of her eyebrows. I did not at once guess the end at which the Comte de Noce aimed, in inviting us to go shooting; but I discovered later that he had played a pretty bold game.
Nevertheless, if you happen at last, like M. de Noce, to carry off a decisive victory, do not forget to put into practice at once the system of blisters; and do not for a moment imagine that such /tours
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