Nonfiction > Lionel Strachey, et al., eds. > The World’s Wit and Humor > French
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The World’s Wit and Humor: An Encyclopedia in 15 Volumes.  1906.
Vols. X–XI: French
 
Théophile’s Mother-in-Law
By Charles Paul de Kock (1793–1871)
 
From “A Much-Worried Gentleman”

“SON-IN-LAW, you will offer me your arm; your wife will take her cousin’s.”
  1
  “Yes, mother-in-law.”  2
  “Furthermore, when we get to the caterer’s for dinner, you must not whisper to your wife. People might suspect something unrefined.”  3
  “Yes, mother-in-law.”  4
  “Neither must you kiss her.”  5
  “Why, you object to my kissing my wife?”  6
  “Before people, yes. It’s very bad form. Haven’t you time enough for it at home?”  7
  “True.”  8
  “At table you will not sit next to your wife, but next to me.”  9
  “That’s agreed.”  10
  “During the meal you will take care that no comic songs on your marriage are sung. Those who write them usually permit themselves indelicate jokes, so that the ladies are put out. That is the worst taste possible.”  11
  “I’ll see that none are sung.”  12
  “You will dance only once with your wife during the evening. Understand me—only once.”  13
  “But why, why?”  14
  “Because it is proper to let the bride accept the invitations of relatives, friends, and strangers.”  15
  “But I didn’t marry in order that my wife should dance with everybody except myself!”  16
  “Do you wish to insinuate, son-in-law, that you can instruct me concerning the usages of polite society? You are beginning well.”  17
  “I assure you, mother-in-law, that I had no intention——”  18
  “That will do. I accept your excuses. We now come to a more delicate matter, to—but, of course, you must understand me.”  19
  “I confess that I do not at all.”  20
  “Listen, son-in-law. Some newly married young men, on their wedding-night, when the ball is at its gayest, take the liberty of carrying off their wives, and disappearing with them about twelve o’clock.”  21
  “And you object to that?”  22
  “Fie, sir, fie! If you were to be guilty of such a thing, I would make your wife sue for a divorce the day after your marriage.”  23
  “Be easy, then; I will not disappear. But when may I go away with my wife?”  24
  “I shall take my daughter with me, and arrange an opportune time when the decencies of the situation may be observed.”  25
  “And who will take me?”  26
  “You will go alone, but you will not go, understand me well, until there isn’t a cat left at the ball.”  27
  “I shall be getting to bed very late, then. Some of the people will want square dances and country dances, and——”  28
  “You will get to bed soon enough, son-in-law.”  29
  “But why all this, mother-in-law?”  30
  “That will do, M. Tamponnet! It is not becoming that this conversation be prolonged.”  31
  After the interview we have just recorded between the young husband and his mother-in-law, it is easily conceivable that Théophile’s marriage-feast was only moderately merry. Whenever one of the guests ventured on a jest, Mme. Durmond trod on the toes of her son-in-law, who trod on the toes of his neighbor, who trod on the toes of her neighbor, and so on; so that by a good deal of treading the message was at last conveyed to the person in question, who understood that he must stop his impertinences.  32
  But Théophile looked lovingly at his wife, who sat staring sadly at her plate. He reflected thus: I am sure that Euphémie dare not turn her eyes my way because her mother has forbidden it. Fortunately we shall not always be under my mother-in-law’s nose. And, after all, Euphémie is my wife, my property; I am her husband, and if this mother-in-law grows too tiresome, I’ll just pack her off….  33
  The wedding was over. The honeymoon followed, and many other moons not quite so honeyed for Théophile, since his mother-in-law was continually at his house. She assumed habits of command. He dared not go out with his wife without giving his other arm to his mother-in-law. They went to no entertainment that bored the mother-in-law; they accepted no invitation to dine in town, if the people in question had been impolite enough not to invite the mother-in-law too; a certain person was not received at their house because he had once, on entering the drawing-room, failed to bow to the mother-in-law first; an excellent housemaid was sent away because she had offended Mme. Durmond by “answering back,” and a wretched cook was kept because she had remarked that the mother-in-law was a “fine woman.”  34
  There was no end to the precautions necessary to keep from putting the mother-in-law out of humor. From time to time Théophile resolved to make his will felt, to show that he was master, but as soon as he saw his mother-in-law’s grayish-green, hard eyes fixed on him, all his good resolutions vanished, and he became as docile as a sheep.  35
  However, the marriage bore fruit. Euphémie became stouter day by day, and Théophile was enchanted. He was proud of his wife, and took paces before the glass with the air of one who is very well pleased with himself. When his acquaintances came to visit him, he rubbed his hands and smiled with a roguish air; and once he was even bold enough to say, pointing to Euphémie:  36
  “We have not wasted our time, you see.”  37
  But that remark had drawn down upon him a scene with his mother-in-law. She had whispered in his ear:  38
  “Fie! Are you not ashamed to say such things?”  39
  “But, mother-in-law, when one is married, these things are permissible. Had I failed to fulfil my duties as a husband, I imagine my wife——”  40
  “Silence. I beg of you not to add another word. I have not even a fan to put up.”  41
  Théophile was very vexed, but held his peace. And when he saw his friend Badinet, he was very careful to conceal the tribulations which his mother-in-law caused him….  42
  Euphémie gave birth to a boy. Théophile, delighted at having a son, immediately set out to find a wet-nurse; but the mother-in-law declared that the child should be brought up by hand, and the nurse was sent off.  43
  Théophile feared that the health of his son would not be as good with the bottle as with the breast. He proposed that his wife should herself nurse their child; but the mother-in-law forbade her daughter incurring duties which might make it necessary for her to bare her person to profane eyes.  44
  Théophile objected in vain:  45
  “There is nothing more worthy of respect than a woman nursing her child. Never, at least, so far as I know, has the sight been known to awaken indelicate ideas even in the most abandoned.”  46
  Mme. Durmond replied haughtily:  47
  “Sir, bottles were invented in order that women should not be obliged to uncover their necks. No other invention shows the beautiful progress of civilization to more advantage. As for wet-nurses, they should be abolished. I am firmly convinced that before long wet-nurses will cease to exist.”  48
  Théophile was silent through fear of vexing his wife, and the little boy was brought up by hand. His father was easily consoled, for this method made it possible for him to have his child with him, and to see it at all hours of the day. He even accustomed himself easily to the cries, tears, sighs, and groans common to infants in their swaddling-clothes.  49
  But Euphémie, who was exceedingly nervous, could not bear, as easily as her husband did, the almost continual crying of the child. When the little boy became too noisy, she would put on her hat and shawl, and say to her mother:  50
  “Let us go out, Mama, please let us go out! I can’t bear to hear that child cry any longer. It is well enough for you to say that he is teething; it wears me out and irritates my nerves none the less.”  51
  “Very well, Daughter, let us go. Son-in-law, take good care of the child; don’t leave him alone. You have the bottle there, which, as you know, often quiets him. Use it—but in moderation.”  52
  And so the ladies went away, leaving Théophile seated near the child’s cradle, putting the milk in the bottle, tasting it to see whether it was sweet enough, and finally putting it into the little one’s mouth, murmuring:  53
  “Drink, Hippolyte; drink, my boy. Some day you will come to know that your father was your nurse. I hardly know whether you’ll love me any the better for that reason. You ought to, for it almost seems as if I were both father and mother to you! I exercise functions which are not usually performed by a man. Drink, little one. If you are clever, if, some day, you get to be a hero or a famous artist, I shall be able to say: I nursed him with my milk! People will think I’m talking nonsense, but it will be the truth. If Badinet were to see me giving the child its bottle, he would immediately say, ‘Well, those ladies are staying out long enough.’ Oh, Hippolyte, if only this is as good for you as regular nursing! But I doubt it, for all that my mother-in-law says.”  54
  The little boy, who unquestionably had a strong constitution, got on very well, and it was not long before he wanted something besides the bottle. Then came the period of pap.  55
  But, as Master Hippolyte did not develop a good character, and cried just as much as he grew, Euphémie, in order to avoid crises in her nervous condition, continued to go out with her mother, and Théophile was left with the charge of giving the child its pap. He consoled himself with saying:  56
  “I like burnt food well enough, and I’ll eat that. I don’t object to the pap, and that is a good thing, for, whether I liked it or not, I’d have to taste it all the same.”  57
  But if, at times, tired of pap and burnt food, Théophile permitted himself to make some remark, if he showed signs of not playing the good fellow any longer, his mother-in-law would pin him down with an indignant glare, exclaiming:  58
  “So you want my daughter to become ill, to have heart disease! You know how the child’s cries harrow her tender soul, and you would have her take your place near him. Oh, sir, you are a brute, a barbarian, a savage, a household tyrant!”  59
  Poor Théophile would venture no reply, but would take his place again with little Hippolyte, who turned out as mischievous as a red donkey.  60
  But one day the mother-in-law worked herself up into such a rage over a servant’s spilling some soup on her dress, and stormed so furiously, that she broke a blood-vessel and died after a few hours.  61
  And that blackguard of a Théophile had not even the decency to regret her.  62
 
 
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