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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
 
A Proposal of Marriage
By Eugène Brieux (1858–1932)
 
From ‘The Three Daughters of Monsieur Dupont’: Translation of St. John Emile Clavering Hankin (1869–1909)

MME. DUPONT—Well, what is it?  1
  Dupont  [with an air of importance]—M. and Madame Mairaut will be here in an hour, at six o’clock.  2
  Mme. Dupont—Yes?  3
  Dupont  [craftily]—And do you know why they are coming?  4
  Mme. Dupont—No.  5
  Dupont—To ask for Julie’s hand in marriage. That’s all!  6
  Mme. Dupont—For their son?  7
  Dupont—Well, my dear, it’s not for the Sultan of Turkey.  8
  Mme. Dupont—M. Mairaut, the banker.  9
  Dupont—M. Mairaut, head of the Banque de l’Univers, 14 Rue des Trois-Chapeaux, second floor.  10
  Mme. Dupont—Yes; but——  11
  Dupont—Now, now, don’t excite yourself. Don’t lose your head. The thing isn’t done yet. Listen. For the last fortnight, at the Merchants’ Club, Mairaut has been taking me aside and talking about Julie—asking me this, that, and the other. As you may suppose, I let him run on. To-day we were talking together about the difficulty of marrying one’s children. “I know something of that,” said he. “So do I,” I said. Then he grinned at me and said: “Supposing Madame Mairaut and I were to come in one of these days to discuss the question with you and Madame Dupont?” You may imagine my delight. I simply let myself go. But no, when I say I let myself go, I do myself an injustice. I kept a hand over myself all the time. “One of these days? Next week, perhaps?” I said, carelessly, just like that. “Why not to-day?” said he. “As you please,” said I. “Six o’clock?” “Six o’clock.” What do you think of that?  12
  Mme. Dupont—But M. Mairaut—the son, I mean—Monsieur—what is his Christian name?  13
  Dupont—Antonin, Antonin Mairaut.  14
  Mme. Dupont—Antonin, of course. I was wondering. Is M. Antonin Mairaut quite the husband we should choose for Julie?  15
  Dupont—I know what you mean. His life isn’t all that it should be. There’s that woman——  16
  Mme. Dupont—So people say.  17
  Dupont—But we needn’t bother about that. There’s another matter, however, that is worth considering—though, of course, you haven’t thought of it. Women never do think of the really important things.  18
  Mme. Dupont—You mean money? The Mairauts haven’t any. They only keep a couple of clerks altogether in their bank. They may have to put up the shutters any day.  19
  Dupont—Yes: but there’s someone else who may put his shutters up first. Antonin’s uncle. The old buffer may die. And he has two hundred thousand francs, and never spends a penny.  20
  Mme. Dupont—True. But——  21
  Dupont—But—But—There you go. You’re determined never to see anything that is more than an inch before your nose. I don’t blame you for it. Women are like that.  22
  Mme. Dupont—But suppose he disinherits Antonin?  23
  Dupont—You forget I shall be there. I flatter myself I shall know how to prevent Uncle Maréchal from disinheriting his nephew. Besides, what is Uncle Maréchal?  24
  Mme. Dupont—Antonin’s uncle.  25
  Dupont—You don’t understand. I ask you what he is. What is his position, I mean?  26
  Mme. Dupont—He’s head clerk at the Préfecture.  27
  Dupont—Exactly. And he could get me the contract for all the printing work at his office. Thirty thousand francs a year! How much profit does that mean?  28
  Mme. Dupont—Five thousand francs.  29
  Dupont—Five thousand? Ten thousand! If one is only to make the ordinary trade profit, what’s the good of Government contracts?  30
  Mme. Dupont—I’m afraid young M. Mairaut’s character——  31
  Dupont—His character! We know nothing about his character. He has one virtue which nothing can take away from him: he is his uncle’s nephew. And his uncle can get me work that will bring in ten thousand francs a year, besides being as rich as Crœsus.  32
  Mme. Dupont—Still, are you sure that he is the right sort of husband for Julie?  33
  Dupont—He is the right sort of husband for Julie, and the right sort of son-in-law for me.  34
  Mme. Dupont  [dubiously]—Well, you know more of these things than I do.  35
  Dupont  [looks at his watch]—Ten minutes past five. Now listen to me. We have very little time, but I feel the ideas surging through my brain with extraordinary clearness. It’s only in moments of emergency that I feel myself master of all my faculties, though I flatter myself I’m not altogether a fool at the worst of times.  [He sits upon a chair, his hands leaning upon the back of it.]  I will explain everything to you, so that you may make as few blunders as possible. We must get old Mairaut to agree that all the money, Julie’s and Antonin’s, shall be the joint property of them both.  36
  Mme. Dupont—But there will be Julie’s dot.  37
  Dupont  [pettishly]—If you keep interrupting we shall never be done. The joint property of them both, on account of Uncle Maréchal’s money. Do you understand?  38
  Mme. Dupont—Yes.  39
  Dupont—That’s a blessing. Well, then we shall ask for——  40
  Mme. Dupont—No settlements. I understand.  41
  Dupont—On the contrary, we shall ask for the strictest settlements on both sides.  42
  Mme. Dupont—But——  43
  Dupont—You are out of your depth. Better simply listen without trying to understand.  [He rises, replaces his chair, and taps her knowingly on the shoulder.]  In these cases one should never ask for the thing one wants. One must know how to get the other side to offer it, and be quite pleased to get it accepted. Well, then, I am giving Julie fifty thousand francs as her dot.  44
  Mme. Dupont—Fifty thousand! But Julie has only twenty-five thousand.  45
  Dupont—That is so. I shall give her twenty-five thousand down and promise the rest for next year.  46
  Mme. Dupont—You can’t mean that. You will never be able to keep such a promise.  [She rises.]  47
  Dupont—Who knows? If I get the contract from the Préfecture.  48
  Mme. Dupont—We ought to ask Julie what she thinks of this marriage.  49
  Dupont—We haven’t much time, then. Still, call her; and take off these covers  [pointing to the chairs].  50
  Mme. Dupont  [she goes towards the door on the right; then returns]—But have you thought——  51
  Dupont—I have thought of everything.  52
  Mme. Dupont—Of everything? What about Angèle and her story?  53
  Dupont  [pompously]—Angèle is no longer my daughter.  54
  Mme. Dupont—Still, we shall have to tell them.  55
  Dupont—Naturally. Since they know it already.  56
  Mme. Dupont—I am nearly sure it was she I met last time I was in Paris.  57
  Dupont—You were mistaken.  58
  Mme. Dupont—I don’t think so.  59
  Dupont—In any case, in acting as I did I was doing my duty. I can hold my head up and fear nothing. Call Julie. She will help you to put the room tidy.  [Madame Dupont goes out.]  60
  Dupont  [rubbing his hands]—I think I’ve managed things pretty well this time! I think so!
[Julie and Madame Dupont come in.]
  61
  Julie—Father, is it someone who wants to marry me?  62
  Dupont—It is.  [To Madame Dupont, pointing to the chairs.]  Take off those covers.  [To Julie.]  You know young M. Mairaut—M. Antonin Mairaut?  [He sits down.]  You have danced together several times.  63
  Julie—Yes.  64
  Dupont—What do you think of him?  65
  Julie—As a husband?  66
  Dupont—As a husband. Don’t answer in a hurry. Take off that cover from the chair you are sitting on and give it to your mother.  67
  Julie  [obeying]—Have his parents formally proposed for him?  68
  Mme. Dupont—No. But if they should do so your father and I wish to know——  69
  Dupont  [to Madame Dupont, giving her the last chair cover, which he has taken off himself].—Take all these away.  [Madame Dupont goes out.]  The formal offer has not been made, but it will be soon, in less than an hour.  70
  Julie—Is that why you are taking all this trouble?  [She points to the chairs.]  71
  Dupont—Precisely. We mustn’t appear to be paupers or people without social position.  [He seizes a bowl in which there are some visiting cards.]  Very old, these cards. Very yellow. And the names, too, common rather. I must put that right.  [To his wife, who returns.]  Go down to the printing office and ask Courthezon to give you some printed specimens of our new visiting cards at three francs—no, three francs fifty. And then put that Wagner opera on the piano which someone left to be bound.  [Madame Dupont goes. To Julie.]  I have no desire to influence you, my dear.  72
  Julie—Still——  73
  Dupont  [going to the mantelpiece].  Still what? Wait until I light the lamp.  [He strikes a match.]  74
  Julie—Why, it’s still quite light.  75
  Dupont—When one receives visitors one doesn’t wait till it is dark before—  You are old enough to know—what the deuce is the matter with the oil?—old enough to know what you are about. Damn the lamps! When they are never lighted it is the devil’s own job to make them burn. Yes, as I was saying, it is for you to weigh the pros and the cons. Marriage—There!  [He looks round him.]  Is there anything else to be done to make things look better? What is that over there? That great stupid Caroline’s hat!  76
  Mme. Dupont  [coming in and bringing visiting cards and a piano score of an opera]—Here are the cards and the music book.  77
  Dupont—Thanks.  [He gives Caroline’s hat to Madame Dupont.]  Take this thing away. And these stockings. Hide them somewhere. You don’t want to appear to do your own darning, confound it! It’s extraordinary you shouldn’t have thought of that.  [Madame Dupont goes out, returning in a moment.  Dupont continues mechanically to Julie.]  It is for you to weigh the pros and cons. This is better. Vicomte de Liverolles; M. L’Abbé Candar, Honorary Canon; Ange Nitron, Ex-Municipal Councillor. That will look well enough. The Wagner score on the piano, open, of course. That’s right. There’s something else I want, though. Julie, the box of cigars which M. Gueroult sent me when he was elected to the Chamber.  78
  Julie  [bringing a box]—Here it is.  79
  Dupont—Give it me.  80
  Julie—You haven’t begun it yet.  81
  Dupont—Wait.  [He rummages in his pocket and takes out a knife, which he opens.]  We must show them that other people besides deputies smoke cigars at five sous.  [He opens the box.]  Without being proud, one has one’s dignity to keep up. There!  [He takes a handful of cigars and gives them to his daughter.]  Put those in the drawer so that the box mayn’t seem to have been opened on purpose for them.  [He arranges the box on the table.]  A fashion paper? Excellent! And for myself  [to Mme. Dupont],  Léontine, give me a fresh ribbon of my Order of Christ. This one is faded.  [To his daughter.]  He is twenty-eight. He is good looking and distinguished. He passed his law examination at Bordeaux.  [He puts a fresh ribbon in his coat, and looks at himself for a considerable time in the glass.]  In a town where I was not known this would be as good as the Legion of Honor.  [He turns round.]  Well? Have you made up your mind?  82
  Julie—I should like more time to think it over.  83
  Dupont—You have still a quarter of an hour.  84
  Mme. Dupont—She would like a few days, perhaps.  85
  Dupont—That’s it. Shilly shally! We are to have the story of that great stupid Caroline over again, are we? No! Your sister, whom you see now an old maid, who will never be married, unless her Aunt in Calcutta leaves her some money—your sister, too, had her chance one day. She hum’d and ha’d; she wanted to think it over. And you see the result. That’s what thinking it over leads to. Here she is, still on my hands!  86
  Mme. Dupont—You mustn’t say that. She earns her own living.  87
  Dupont—She earns her own living, perhaps; but she remains on my hands all the same. By the way, we had better not say anything to the Mairauts about Caroline’s working for money.  88
  Mme. Dupont—They are sure to know.  89
  Dupont—Not they. What was I saying? Oh, yes. She remains on my hands all the same. And one old maid is quite enough in the family. Two would be intolerable. Remember, my child, you have no dot—at least, none worth mentioning. And as things go nowadays, when one has no dot, one mustn’t be too particular.  90
  Julie—To marry nowadays, then, a girl has to buy her husband?  91
  Dupont  [shrugs]—Well——  92
  Julie—And there’s nothing but misery for girls who have no money.  93
  Dupont—It’s not quite as bad as that. But obviously there is a better choice for those who have a good fortune.  94
  Julie  [bitterly]—And the others must be content with damaged goods, much reduced in price!  95
  Dupont—There are exceptions, of course. But, as a rule, husbands are like anything else. If you want a good article, you must be prepared to pay for it.  96
 
 
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