Reference > Fiction > Nonfiction > Warner, et al., eds. > The Library

C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
An Armed Truce
By Alexandre Dumas, Jr. (1824–1895)
From ‘A Friend of the Sex’: Translation of Edward Irenæus Prime-Stevenson
  [The following conversation in the first act of the play takes place in the pleasant morning-room of a country-house near Paris, the home of M. and Madame Leverdet. M. Leverdet is asleep in his chair. The speakers are Madame Leverdet, a coquettish, sprightly lady approaching middle age, and young M. De Ryons, a friend and neighbor. Madame Leverdet is determined to marry off De Ryons advantageously, and as soon as possible. Unfortunately he is a confirmed bachelor, not to say woman-hater, whose cynicism is the result of severely disappointing experiences. Under that cynicism there is however genuine respect and even chivalry as to the right sort of woman,—the superior and sincere type, which he does not happen often to encounter.]

MADAME LEVERDET—Let us come to serious topics while we are alone, my friend.  1
  De Ryons—And apropos of them?  2
  Madame Leverdet—Are you willing to be married off yet?  3
  De Ryons  [with a start of terror]—Pardon me, my dear lady! At what hour can I take the first train for Paris?  4
  Madame Leverdet—Now listen to me, at least.  5
  De Ryons—What! Here it is two years since I have called on you; I come to make you a little visit of a morning, in all good friendship, with the thermometer forty, centigrade; I am totally unsuspecting; all I ask is to have a little lively chat with a clever woman—and see how you receive me.  6
  Madame Leverdet  [continuing]—A simple, charming young girl—  7
  De Ryons  [interrupting her, and in the same tone]—  —musical, speaks English, draws nicely, sings agreeably, a society woman, a domestic woman,—all at the choice of the applicant.  8
  Madame Leverdet  [laughing]—Yes, and pretty and graceful and rich; and, by-the-by, one who finds you a charming fellow.  9
  De Ryons—She is quite right there. I shall make a charming husband—I shall; I know it. Only thirty-two years old; all my teeth, all my hair (no such very common detail, the way young men are nowadays); lively, sixty thousand livres income as a landed proprietor—oh, I am an excellent match: only unfortunately I am not a marrying man.  10
  Madame Leverdet—And why not, if you please?  11
  De Ryons  [smiling]—It would interfere severely with my studies.  12
  Madame Leverdet—What sort of studies?  13
  De Ryons—My studies of—woman.  14
  Madame Leverdet—Really! I don’t understand you.  15
  De Ryons—What! Do you not know that I am making women my particular, my incessant study, and that I am reckoning on leaving some new and very interesting documents dealing with that branch of natural history?—a branch very little understood just at present, in spite of all that has been written on the topic. My friend, I cannot sacrifice the species to the individual; I belong to science. It is quite impossible for me to give myself wholly and completely—as one certainly should do when he marries—to one of those charming and terrible little carnivora for whose sake men dishonor themselves, ruin themselves, kill themselves; whose sole preoccupation, in the midst of the universal carnage that they make, is to dress themselves now like umbrellas and now like table bells.  16
  Madame Leverdet  [scornfully]—So you really think you understand women, do you?  17
  De Ryons—I rather think I do. Why, just as you see me this instant, at the end of five minutes’ study or conversation I can tell you to what class a woman belongs,—whether to the middle class, to women of rank, artists, or whatever you please; what are her tastes, her characteristics, her antecedents, the state of her heart,—in a word, everything that concerns my special science.  18
  Madame Leverdet—Really! Will you have a glass of water?  19
  De Ryons—Not yet, thank you.  20
  Madame Leverdet—I suppose, then, you are under the impression that you know me too.  21
  De Ryons—As if I did not!  22
  Madame Leverdet—Well, and I am—what?  23
  De Ryons—Oh, you are a clever woman. It is for that reason that I call on you  [aside: every two years].  24
  Madame Leverdet—Will you kindly give me the sum of your observations in general? You can tell me so much, since I am a clever woman.  25
  De Ryons—The true, the true, the true sum?  26
  Madame Leverdet—Yes.  27
  De Ryons—Simply that woman of our day is an illogical, subordinate, and mischief-making creature.  [In saying this De Ryons draws back and crouches down as if expecting to be struck.]  28
  Madame Leverdet—So then, you detest women?  29
  De Ryons—I? I detest women? On the contrary, I adore them; but I hold myself in such a position toward them that they cannot bite me. I keep on the outside of the cage.  30
  Madame Leverdet—Meaning by that—what?  31
  De Ryons—Meaning by that, that I am a friend of the sex; for I have long perceived that just as truly as women are dangerous in love, just so much are they adorable in friendship, with men;—that is to say, with no obligations, and therefore no treasons; no rights, and in consequence no tyrannies. One assists, too, as a spectator, often as a collaborator, in the comedy of love. A man under such conditions sees before his nose the stage tricks, the machinery, the changes of scenes, all that stage mounting so dazzling at a distance and so simple when one is near by. As a friend of the sex and on a basis of friendship, one estimates the causes, the contradictions, the incoherences, of that phantasmagoric changeableness that belongs to the heart of a woman. So you have something that is interesting and instructive. Under such circumstances a man is the consoler, and gives his advice; he wipes away tears; he brings quarrelsome lovers together; he asks for the letters that must be returned; he hands back the photographs (for you know that in love affairs photographs are taken only in order to be returned, and it is nearly always the same photograph that serves as many times as may be necessary. I know one photograph that I have had handed back by three different men, and it ended its usefulness by being given for good and all to a fourth one, who was—not single)…. In short, you see, my dear madam, I am above all the friend of those women—who have known what it is to be in love. And moreover inasmuch, just as Rochefoucauld says, as women do not think a great deal of their first experience,—why, one fine day or another—  32
  Madame Leverdet—You prove to be the second one.  33
  De Ryons—No, no; I have no number, I! A well-brought-up woman never goes from one experience of the heart to another one, without a decent interval of time, more or less long. Two railroad accidents never come together on the same railway. During the intervals a woman really needs a friend, a good confidant; and it is then that I turn up. I let her tell me all the melancholy affairs in question; I see the unhappy victim in tears after the traitor has called; I lament with her, I weep with her, I make her laugh with me: and little by little I replace the delinquent without her seeing that I am doing so. But then I know very well that I am without importance, that I am a mere politician of the moment, a cabinet minister without a portfolio, a sentimental distraction without any consequences; and some fine day, after having been the confidential friend as to past events, I become the confidential friend as to future ones,—for the lady falls in love for the second time with somebody who knows nothing of the first experience, who will never know anything about it, and who of course must be made to suppose he represents the first one. Then I go away for a little time and leave them to themselves, and then I come back like a new friend to the family. By-and-by, when the dear creature is reckoning up the balance-sheet of her past, when her conscience pours into her ear the names that she would rather not remember, and my name comes with the others, she reflects an instant,—and then she says resolutely and sincerely to herself, “Oh, he does not count!” My friend, I am always the one that does not count, and I like it extremely.  34
  Madame Leverdet  [indignantly]—You are simply a monster!  35
  De Ryons—Oh no, oh no, oh no, I am not!  36
  Madame Leverdet—According to your own account, you have no faith in women…. Wretch! Ungrateful creature! And yet it is woman who inspires all the great things in this life.  37
  De Ryons—But somehow forbids us to accomplish them.  38
  Madame Leverdet—Go out from here, my dear De Ryons, and never let me see you again.  39
  De Ryons  [rising promptly and making a mocking bow]—My dear lady—  40
  Madame Leverdet—No, I will not shake hands with you.  41
  De Ryons—Then I shall die of chagrin—that’s all about it.  42
  Madame Leverdet—Do you know how you will end, you incorrigible creature? When you are fifty years old you will have rheumatism.  43
  De Ryons—Yes, or sciatica. But I shall find some one who will embroider me warm slippers.  44
  Madame Leverdet—Indeed you will not! You will marry your cook.  45
  De Ryons—That depends on how well she cooks. Again farewell, dear madam.  46
  Madame Leverdet—No, stay one moment.  47
  De Ryons—It is you who are keeping me; so look out.  48
  Madame Leverdet—Let me have really your last word on the whole matter.  49
  De Ryons—It is very easily given. There are just two kinds of women: those who are good women, and those who are not.  50
  Madame Leverdet—Without fine distinctions?  51
  De Ryons—Without fine distinctions.  52
  Madame Leverdet—What is one to do in the case of those who are not—good women?  53
  De Ryons—They must be consoled.  54
  Madame Leverdet—And those who are?  55
  De Ryons—They must be guaranteed against being anything else; and as to that process of guarantee I have taken a patent.  56
  Madame Leverdet—Come now, if you are playing in parlor theatricals, say so. What are you trying to be,—Lovelace or Don Quixote?  57
  De Ryons—I am neither the one nor the other. I am a man who, having nothing else to do, took to studying women just as another man studies beetles and minerals, only I am under the impression that my scientific study is more interesting and more useful than that of the other savant—because we meet your sex everywhere. We meet the mother, the sister, the daughter, the wife, the woman who is in love; and it is important to be well informed upon such an eternal associate in our lives. Now I am a man of my time, exercised over one theory or another, hardly knowing what he must believe, good or bad, but inclined to believe in good when occasion presents itself. I respect women who respect themselves…. It is not I who created the world; I take it as I find it…. And as to marriage, the day when I shall find a young girl with the four qualities of goodness of heart, sound health, thorough self-respect, and cheerfulness,—the squaring of the conjugal hypothenuse,—then I count for nothing all my long term of waiting; like the great Doctor Faust, I become young again, and such as I am, I give myself to her. My friend, if this same young girl of whom you have been speaking (and by the way, I know her just as well as you do) really unites these conditions,—I do not believe she does so, though I shall see very soon,—why then, I will marry her to-morrow—I will marry her to-night. But in the mean time, as I have positively nothing to do,—if you happen to know a self-respecting woman who needs to be kept from a bit of folly … why, I am wholly at your service.  58

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