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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
 
Mr. and Mrs. Clarkson
By Alexandre Dumas, Jr. (1824–1895)
 
        
From ‘L’Étrangère’: Translation of Edward Irenæus Prime-Stevenson
  
  [These scenes, the final ones of the drama, occur in the private drawing-room of Catherine, the young Duchess of Septmonts. Mr. Clarkson, a wealthy American man of business, a Californian, has just received a note from the Duke of Septmonts, a blasé young roué of high family, requesting him to call at once. He has come, in some bewilderment, to find the duke. Mr. Clarkson has only a formal acquaintance with the duke, but Mrs. Clarkson, who resides much of the time in Paris, acting as Mr. Clarkson’s business representative, knows the duke confidentially. The Duchess of Septmonts receives Clarkson.]

MR. CLARKSON—I beg your pardon, madam, for having insisted on making my way in here; but a few moments ago I found on returning to my house, a letter from your husband. It asked me for a rendezvous as soon as possible, without giving me a reason for it. I find M. de Septmonts not at home. May I ask you if you know how I can be of service to him?  1
  Catherine—I was under the impression that in his letter, M. de Septmonts explained to you the matter in which he wishes your assistance.  2
  Clarkson—No.  3
  Catherine—Did not his letter contain another letter, sealed, which he purposed leaving in your hands?  4
  Clarkson—No.  5
  Catherine—Are you really telling me the truth?  6
  Clarkson—I never lie, madam: I have too much business on my hands; it would mix me up quite too much in my affairs.  7
  Catherine—Then perhaps it is to Mrs. Clarkson that my husband has intrusted that letter.  8
  Clarkson—No. She would have mentioned it; for I told her that I had received a line from the Duke, and was on my way to this house.  9
  Catherine—Perhaps your wife did not tell you—all.  10
  Clarkson—She has no earthly reason to conceal anything from me!  11
  Catherine—True! I know very well that she is your wife only in name; she told me as much when I was at her house yesterday.  12
  Clarkson—Really! She must be very much pleased with you, for she does not talk readily about her personal affairs.  13
  Catherine—Unfortunately, it is quite otherwise as far as I am concerned; she has not hidden from me the fact that she detests me, and that she will do me all the injury she possibly can.  14
  Clarkson—You? Injury? For what reason? Pray, what have you done to her?  15
  Catherine—Nothing! I have known her only two days. Nevertheless—  16
  Clarkson—Nevertheless—  17
  Catherine—What I was going to say is not my secret, sir, it is hers, and she alone has the right to tell it to you. But as to this letter that my husband has told my father he has sent to you—it is I who wrote that letter. You may as well know, too, that it was abstracted from my possession; and moreover, that with that letter any one can indeed do me all the mischief with which your wife, Mrs. Clarkson, has threatened me.  18
  Clarkson  [very gravely]—Then we must know at once if my wife has that letter. I will write her to come here immediately and join us—that I have something very important to communicate to her—here. Are you willing to have her come?  [He writes while he speaks.]  19
  Catherine—Certainly.  20
  Clarkson—Then we can have a general explanation. You may be sure, madam, that I shall never lend my hand to anything that means harm to you, or to any woman: I come from the country where we respect women.  21
  Catherine  [rings the bell, and says to a servant who answers it]—See that this letter is sent immediately. Be careful that it does not go astray. It is not my letter. This gentleman has written it.  [Exit servant.]  22
  Clarkson—And now, madam, do you know why M. de Septmonts wishes to have an interview with me?  23
  Catherine—Yes, I can guess. It concerns me, perhaps; but I have no right to discuss the matter. It is something which belongs to the Duke, and he alone has the right to impart it to you. All I can do is to beg of you to have all details thoroughly explained to you, and to look into them very carefully.  24
A Servant enters.
  Servant—M. le Duc has come in; he will be glad to have Mr. Clarkson come to him.
  25
  Clarkson—Very good.  [Going.]  I bid you good evening, madam.  26
  Catherine  [to the servant]—Wait a moment.  [Going to Clarkson and speaking in a low voice.]  Suppose I were to ask you a very great service.  27
  Clarkson—Ask it, madam.  28
  Catherine—Suppose I were to ask you to say to my husband that you are waiting for him here in this drawing-room—that you will be glad to speak with him here.  29
  Clarkson—Nothing but that? With great pleasure.  [To the servant.]  Say to M. de Septmonts that I shall be obliged if he will join me—here.  [Servant goes out.]  30
  Catherine—I shall leave you; for if I know what is going to be discussed in this interview, I neither could nor should take part in it; but whatever may come of it, I shall never forget that you have done everything that you could do as a courtesy to me,—and that you are a gentleman.  [Exit Catherine.]  31
  Clarkson  [alone]—Charming! She is charming, that little woman; but may I be hanged if I understand one word of what is going on here.  32
The Duke of Septmonts comes in hastily, and advances to Clarkson.
  Septmonts—I have just come from your house, Mr. Clarkson. Mrs. Clarkson told me you were here. I returned at once. Pardon me for troubling you. If when I came in I asked you to come to my own drawing-room, and have thus troubled you once more, it is because I was told you were expecting me here, with the duchess. This is her private parlor; and as what we have to say is a matter for men—
  33
  Clarkson—Therefore the duchess went to her own room when your return here was announced.  34
  Septmonts—Mr. Clarkson, did she tell the servant that you would prefer to hold our conversation here?  35
  Clarkson—No, I told him.  36
[Septmonts goes to the door of the room by which Catherine went out, and closes the portière.]
  Clarkson  [in a scornful aside]—What an amount of mystery and precaution!
  37
  Septmonts—The matter is this, Mr. Clarkson. I must fight a duel to-morrow morning. This duel can terminate only in the death of one or other of the contestants. I am the insulted one, therefore I have the choice of weapons. I choose the sword.  38
  Clarkson—Do you fence well?  39
  Septmonts—I believe I am one of the best fencers in Paris. But another friend on whom I could count is one of those men of the world who discuss all the details of an affair, and with whom the preliminaries of such a meeting might last several days. I want to get through with the matter at once.  40
  Clarkson—Ah! The fact is, you do give an importance and a solemnity to such things in France that we don’t understand, we Americans, who settle the question in five minutes on the first corner of the street, in the sight of everybody.  41
  Septmonts—That is just the reason that I allowed myself to apply to you, Mr. Clarkson. Now, are you disposed to be present as my second?  42
  Clarkson—Bless me, with all my heart! Besides, when I mentioned your letter to Mrs. Clarkson she told me to do all I could to serve you. Have you and my wife known each other long?  43
  Septmonts—About four years; and I owe your wife a great deal, morally speaking. I have no desire to conceal the fact. I was not yet married when I met Mrs. Clarkson. One day I had lost a large sum at play,—a hundred and fifty thousand francs,—which I did not have, and tried in vain to procure; for at that time I was completely ruined. Mrs. Clarkson very generously lent me the sum, and I repaid it, with interest equivalent to the capital.  44
  Clarkson—But as you were ruined, duke, how could you pay this large capital and this large interest? Did your father or mother die? In France the death of parents is a great resource, I know.  45
  Septmonts—No. I was an orphan, and I had no expectations. I married.  46
  Clarkson—Ah, true! You French people make much of marriages for money! It’s a great advantage over us Americans, who only marry for love. Now with us, in such a case as yours, a man goes into some business or other; he goes to mining; he works. But every country has its own customs. I beg your pardon for interrupting you. After all, it doesn’t concern me. Come back to our duel.  47
  Septmonts—I have a letter here in my hands—  48
  Clarkson—Ah! You have a letter in your hands—  49
  Septmonts—A letter which compromises my wife—  50
  Clarkson—Ah! I am completely at your service. I belong to the sort of men who do not admit any compromises in matters of that kind.  51
  Septmonts—I may be killed—one has to look ahead. If I lose my life, I lose it by having been so injured by my wife that I intend to be revenged on her.  52
  Clarkson—And how?  53
  Septmonts—I wish that the contents of this letter, which I have in my possession, shall become public property if I am killed.  54
  Clarkson  [coldly]—Ah! And how can I serve you as to that?  55
  Septmonts—I will intrust this sealed letter to you.  [He takes the letter from his pocket.]  Here it is.  56
  Clarkson  [still more coldly]—Very well.  57
  Septmonts—Now, if I survive, you will restore it to me as it is. If not, then in the trial which will follow, you will read it in a court. I wish the letters to become public. Then it will be known that I avenged my honor under a feigned pretext; and M. Gérard and the duchess will be so situated that they will never be able to see each other again.  58
  Clarkson—Nonsense! Once dead, what does it matter to you?  59
  Septmonts—I am firm there. Will you kindly accept the commission?  60
  Clarkson  [in a formal tone]—Surely.  61
  Septmonts—Here is the letter.  62
  Clarkson  [takes it and holds it as he speaks]—But, duke, now that I think about it, when this trial occurs it is probable, even certain, that I shall not be in France. I was expecting to leave Paris on business to-morrow morning at the latest. I can wait until to-morrow evening to please you, and to help you with this duel of yours; but that is really all the time I can spare.  63
  Septmonts—Very well; then you will have the goodness to give this letter to Mrs. Clarkson with the instructions I have just given you, and it will be in equally good hands.  64
  Clarkson  [looking at the letter]—All right. A blank envelope. What is there to indicate that this letter was addressed to M. Gérard?  65
  Septmonts—The envelope with his name on it is inside.  66
  Clarkson—You found this letter?  67
  Septmonts—I found it—before it was mailed.  68
  Clarkson—And as you had your suspicions you—opened it?  69
  Septmonts—Yes.  70
  Clarkson—I beg your pardon for questioning you so, but you yourself did me the honor to say that you wished me to be fully informed. Do you know whether the sentiments between M. Gérard and the duchess were of long standing?  71
  Septmonts—They date from before my marriage.  72
  Clarkson  [looking toward the apartment of the duchess]—Oh, I see. That is serious!  73
  Septmonts—They loved each other, they wanted to marry each other, but my wife’s father would not consent.  74
  Clarkson  [reflectively]—M. Gérard wanted to marry her, did he?  75
  Septmonts—Yes; but when he learned that Mademoiselle Mauriceau was a millionaire, as he had nothing and had no title other than his plain name Gérard, he withdrew his pretensions.  76
  Clarkson—That was a very proper thing for the young man to do. It doesn’t surprise me!  77
  Septmonts—Yes; but now, Mr. Clarkson, this young gentleman has come back—  78
  Clarkson—And is too intimate a friend to your wife?  79
  Septmonts—Ah, I do not say that!  80
  Clarkson—What do you say, then?  81
  Septmonts—That as the letter in question gives that impression, the situation amounts to the same thing as far as a legal process is concerned.  82
  Clarkson  [thoughtfully and coldly]—Oh-h-h!  83
  Septmonts—Don’t you agree with me, Mr. Clarkson?  84
  Clarkson—No, not at all. I can understand revenge on those who have injured us, but not on those who haven’t done so. And I don’t like vengeance on a woman anyway, even when she is guilty; and certainly not when she is innocent; and you owe your wife a great deal—between ourselves, you owe your wife a great deal, duke. I understand now why, for once, your father-in-law M. Mauriceau sides with his daughter and M. Gérard against you. He is sure they both are innocent. By-the-by, does M. Mauriceau also know of this letter?  85
  Septmonts—Yes. He even tried to take it from me by force.  86
  Clarkson—Why did he not take it?  87
  Septmonts—Ah, because you see, I had the presence of mind to tell him that I did not have it any longer—that I had sent it to you!  88
  Clarkson  [ironically]—That was very clever!  89
  Septmonts—And then when M. Gérard had challenged me, M. Mauriceau thought he would make an impression by saying to him before me, “I will be your second.”  90
  Clarkson—Well, is that the whole story?  91
  Septmonts—Yes.  92
  Clarkson—Very well, my dear sir: to speak frankly, all those people whom you characterize so slightingly seem to me the right kind of people—excellent people. Your little wife seems to be the victim of prejudices, of morals, and of combinations about which we mere American savages don’t know anything at all. In our American society, which of course I can’t compare with yours, as we only date from yesterday,—if Mademoiselle Mauriceau had loved a fine young fellow like M. Gérard, her father would have given her to the man she loved; or if he had refused that, why she would have gone quite simply and been married before the justice of the peace! Perhaps her father wouldn’t have portioned her; but then the husband would have worked, gone into business, and the two young people would have been happy all the same. As to your M. Gérard here, he is an honest man and a clever one. We like people who work, we Americans, and to whatever country they belong, we hold them as compatriots—because we are such savages, I suppose. So you understand that I don’t at all share your opinion of this question.  93
  Septmonts—And so speaking, you mean—?  94
  Clarkson—That if I give you this explanation, it is because I think I understand that in paying me the honor of choosing me as a second, you thought that the men of my country were less clear-sighted, less scrupulous than the men of yours. In short, duke, you thought I would lend my hand to all these social pettinesses, these little vilenesses which you have just recounted with a candor that honors you.  95
  Septmonts—Do you happen to remember, Mr. Clarkson, that you are talking to me—in this way?  96
  Clarkson—To you. Because there are only two of us here! But if you like, we will call in other people to listen.  97
  Septmonts—Then, sir, you tell me to my face—  98
  Clarkson—I tell you to your face that to squander your inheritance—to have gambled away money you did not have—to borrow it from a woman without knowing when or how you could return it—to marry in order to pay your debts and continue your dissipations—to revenge yourself now on an innocent woman—to steal letters—to misapply your skill in arms by killing a brave man—why, I tell you to your face that all that is the work of a rascal, and that therefore a rascal you are. Oh, what astonishes me is that fifty people haven’t told you so already, and that I have had to travel three thousand leagues to inform you on the subject! For you don’t seem to have ever suspected it, and you don’t look thoroughly convinced even now.  99
  Septmonts  [controlling himself with the greatest difficulty]—Mr. Clarkson, you know that I cannot call you to account until I have settled with your friend M. Gérard. You take a strange advantage of the fact, sir. But we shall meet again. Please return me the paper you have had from me.  100
  Clarkson—Your wife’s letter? Never in the world! As it was addressed to M. Gérard, it belongs to M. Gérard. I intend to give it to M. Gérard. If he wants to return it to you, I won’t stand in the way; but I doubt whether he will return it.  101
  Septmonts—You will fight me, then, you mean?  102
  Clarkson—Oh! as for that; yes, fight as much as you like.  103
  Septmonts—Very well; when I have finished with the other, you and I will have our business together.  104
  Clarkson—Say the day after to-morrow, then?  105
  Septmonts—The day after to-morrow.  106
  Clarkson—Stop; I must start off by to-morrow night, at the latest.  107
  Septmonts—You can wait. And while waiting, leave me!  108
  Clarkson—Duke, do I look like a man to whom to say “leave” in that tone, and who goes? Now look at me; it isn’t hard to see what I have decided. I don’t mean you to fight with Gérard before you have fought with me. If Gérard kills you, I shan’t have the pleasure of crossing swords with “one of the first fencers in Paris,” which it will amuse me to do. If you kill him, you cause irreparable misfortunes. If you think I’m going to let you kill a man who has saved me twenty-five per cent. in the cost of washing gold, you are mistaken! Come, prove you are brave, even when you aren’t sure of being the stronger! Go and get a good pair of swords from your room (since the sword is your favorite weapon—mine, too, for the matter of that), and follow me to those great bare grounds back of your house. On my way here I was wondering why in goodness’s name they were not utilized. In the heart of the city they must be worth a good deal! We will prove it. As for seconds, umpires of the point of honor, we’ll have the people who pass by in the street—if any do pass.  109
[Septmonts rushes in a fury toward the door, but when there stretches his hand toward the bell.  Clarkson throws himself between him and the bell.]
  Clarkson—Ah! no ringing, please! Don’t play the Louis XV. gentleman, and order your servants to cudgel a poor beggar! or as sure as my name is Clarkson, I’ll slap your face, sir, before all your lackeys!
  110
  Septmonts—Very well, so be it! I will begin with you.  [Angrily hastens from the room for the weapons.]  111
  Clarkson—Quite right!  [Looking coolly at his watch.]  Let me see; why, perhaps I can get away from Paris this evening after all.  [He goes calmly out at the back toward the darkened garden.]  112
[The Duchess of Septmonts has pulled aside the portière and looks toward the door by which her husband and Mr. Clarkson have gone out.  She is very much agitated, and can hardly walk.  She rings the bell, and then makes an effort to appear calm.  The servant comes in.]
  Catherine  [tremulously, to the servant]—Ask my father to come here, immediately.  [The servant goes out.  Catherine looks toward the window and makes a movement to go to it.]  No, I will not look out! I will not know anything! I do not know anything; I have heard nothing; the minutes that that hand marks upon the clock, no one knows what they say to me. One of them will decide my life! Even if I had heard nothing, things would take the turn that they have, and I should merely be amazed in knowing of them. Instead of knowing nothing, I have merely to remember nothing. But no, no,—I am trying in vain to smother the voice of my own conscience! What I am doing is wicked. From the moment that I have known anything about this, I am an accomplice; and if one of these two men is killed he has been killed with my consent. No, I cannot and I will not.  [She runs toward the door.  As she does so Mrs. Clarkson enters hastily.]  You, you, madam!
  113
  Mrs. Clarkson—Were you not really expecting me to-day, madam? My husband sends me a note to say that you—and he—wish to speak to me immediately.  114
  Catherine—Madam, since Mr. Clarkson has written you, there has occurred a thing which neither your husband, nor I, nor you yourself could foresee.  115
  Mrs. Clarkson—What do you mean?  116
  Catherine—While my husband the duke has been explaining to Mr. Clarkson the reasons of the duel,—which you, you, madam, have provoked,—your husband, who did not find these reasons either sufficient or honorable, has undertaken to defend us—Gérard, yes, Gérard, and me,—and so very forcibly, that at this instant—  117
  Mrs. Clarkson—They are fighting?  118
  Catherine—Yes, yes, only a few steps away from here!  119
  Mrs. Clarkson—Ah! That sounds like Clarkson!  [She takes a step toward the door.]  120
  Catherine—Madam, that duel must not go on.  121
  Mrs. Clarkson—Why not?  122
  Catherine—I will not permit these two men to lose their lives on my account.  123
  Mrs. Clarkson—You? What difference does it make to you? They are not doing anything but what they chose to do. “Hands off,” as the officials at the gaming-tables say when the ball has stopped rolling. You have wished to be free, haven’t you? and you are perfectly right; you never said so to anybody, but you begged it all the same of One who can do anything. He has heard your prayer, and he has made use of me to save you; of me, who have been anxious to destroy you! That is justice; and do you think that I object—I who am to be the loser? In the game that I play with Destiny, every time I make up my mind that God is against me, I bow my head and throw up the game. I don’t fear any one except God. He is on your side. Let us talk no more about it.  124
[Just as she is speaking the last words, Clarkson comes in.  He is very grave.]
  Mrs. Clarkson—See there. You are a widow.
  125
  Clarkson  [to Mrs. Clarkson]—My dear Noémi, will you be so kind as to hand that paper to our friend the duchess. She will perhaps feel some embarrassment in taking it directly from my hand—and it is a thing that must be returned to her. Such was the last wish of her husband; he really did not have time to tell me as much, but I fancy that I guess it right.  126
[Mrs. Clarkson calmly takes the letter and goes to Catherine.]
  Mrs. Clarkson—I once said to your friend M. Rémonin that if I lost my game I would lose like one who plays fair. Madam, it was through me that your marriage came to pass; and now it is through me that your marriage—is dissolved.  [Turning to Clarkson.]  And now, Clarkson, my dear, let us get out of this. You are a good and a brave fellow. I will go anywhere with you. I have had enough of Europe—things here are too small. Do you know, I really believe I am going to find myself in love with you! Come, let us go! I am positively smothering.
  127
  Clarkson—Yes, let us go.  128
[At the moment that Mr. and Mrs. Clarkson are going out, servants and police officials, accompanied by a commissioner of the police service, appear in the door.  Clarkson is pointed out.]
  Commissioner—I beg your pardon, monsieur,—there seems to have been—a murder here.
  129
  Clarkson—Oh no, monsieur, not at all a murder—only a duel.  130
  Commissioner—And am I to understand, monsieur, that it is you who—  131
  Clarkson—Oh yes, monsieur, it is I. You have come to take me into custody?  132
  Commissioner—Yes, monsieur.  133
  Clarkson—What a ridiculous country! I am ready to follow you, monsieur. But I am an American citizen. I shall give you bail—but of course, the law before anything….  134
  Mrs. Clarkson—Reckon on me, Clarkson. I shall take charge of this matter.  135
  Clarkson—How are you going to do that?  136
  Mrs. Clarkson—Oh, that’s my affair.  137
[Mrs. Clarkson crosses the stage and whispers a word to the commissioner.  The commissioner bows very respectfully.  Mrs. Clarkson goes out.]
  Commissioner  [to Dr. Rémonin]—You are a doctor, monsieur?
  138
  Rémonin—Yes, monsieur.  139
  Commissioner—Will you have the goodness to give a certificate of death?  140
  Rémonin  [significantly]—With great pleasure!  141
 
 
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