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.
Reforming a Father
By Alexandre Dumas, Jr. (1824–1895)
From ‘The Prodigal Father’: Translation of Edward Irenæus Prime-Stevenson
  [The ensuing dialogue occurs in the first act of the play. The Count de Ravonnières and his son André reside together in their comfortable bachelor’s establishment in Paris, and are devotedly attached to one another. The count, unfortunately, has only grown more careless of money, more a gay man of the world, as he has grown older; and blessed with a youthfulness of physique and temperament that nothing impairs, he is as thriftless as he is fascinating. His son, accordingly, has had to be the economist of their resources, which are at a dangerous ebb. As the scene opens, the count is preparing to take luncheon, with Joseph, the confidential servant of the house, in attendance.]

JOSEPH—Monsieur is served.  1
  Count de Ravonnières—Very well. You will please go to my florist Lemoine, the Opera florist,—you know who I mean,—and tell him to send, to-day, with my card,—he has a lot of cards of mine in advance,—to Mademoiselle Albertine de la Borde, 26 or 28 Rue de la Paix—I don’t exactly remember the number that the lady gave me—  2
  Joseph—No. 26.  3
  Count—Ah! You know her address, do you?  4
  Joseph—Yes, sir.  5
  Count—To send her a bouquet of white lilacs and roses. And I don’t need you any more: go at once.  [Joseph bows, and hands the Count a large envelope.]  What’s all this?  6
  Joseph—Some law papers that have come in your absence, sir, which I did not think ought to be forwarded to Dieppe.  7
  Count  [without taking the papers]—Quite right. Has my son seen them?  8
  Joseph—No, sir.  9
  Count—Very well; don’t let him see them. Put them away with the others.  10
  Joseph—May I beg monsieur to say a good word for me to his son?  11
  Count—As to what, Joseph?  12
  Joseph—Your son, sir, has just told me to look out for another situation; and I am so attached to the family—  13
  Count—Oh, I will straighten all that out; if my son sends you away I will take you into our service again. Come now, get off to my florist; be quick about it.  14
As Joseph goes out, André enters. He does not at first perceive his father, but on turning toward the table discovers him.
  André—Ah! you are here, are you?
  Count—Yes, I have been here during an hour; and moreover, a very agreeable person has been doing the honors of your establishment on my behalf.  16
  André—It is a fine time to talk about agreeable persons! You are a very agreeable person—  17
  Count—What in the world is the matter with you?  18
  André—I am perfectly furious.  19
  Count—Against whom?  20
  André—Against you.  21
  Count—Why? What have I been doing?  22
  André—You have drawn on me at sight this draft here.  23
  Count—Oh yes, I know very well what that means. It comes from London; it is to pay for the boat, you know.  24
  André—Oh yes, it comes from London, and it is to pay for the boat! That is no excuse for it. And what about the boat, if you please?  25
  Count—But my dear fellow, they had no business to present it until the 15th.  26
  André—Well?  27
  Count—Why, to-day is the 15th!  28
  André—You ought to know it.  29
  Count—I thought that to-day was only the 14th! Have you paid it?  30
  André—Of course.  31
  Count—Ah! then I owe you six thousand francs. That’s all there is to the matter.  32
  André—Yes, that’s all! But you never said a word to me about it; I had no money in the house: I had to send to our man of business. May I beg of you in the future to be so good as to—  33
  Count—Poor boy! poor boy! Really, between ourselves, you would have done a great deal better (as it is a month since you have seen me, and since you are really very fond of me) to embrace me in meeting me again, rather than to say all these things to me that you have been saying!  34
  André  [embracing his father heartily]—Oh, of course they make no difference, when it comes to that!  35
  Count—Your second impulse is a very good one; but you ought to have begun with it. All the same, I do not in the less ask pardon for the inconvenience that I have caused you, my boy.  [Takes some bank-notes from his pocket.]  Here are your six thousand francs, and  [holding out the remainder of the notes to André]  since you need money, help yourself.  36
  André—Where in the world does that money come from?  37
  Count—Oh, it is some money that I have received.  38
  André—There was none coming to you from anywhere!  39
  Count—There is always something to come to one, if he looks around carefully. And now let us speak of serious things.  40
  André—Yes, by all means. Father, are you not disposed to settle down?  41
  Count—What do you mean by “settle down”?  42
  André—To save money, for one thing.  43
  Count—Save money! I should be charmed to do so; but I really do not see how we can do it. We certainly live as modestly as possible. This house belongs to us; we have only four saddle horses, four carriage horses, a couple of extra horses for evening service (we could not get along with less), two coachmen, two valets, two grooms, one cook. Why, we haven’t even a housekeeper.  44
  André—No, we only want that!  45
  Count—We never receive any except masculine society; we certainly are not extravagant as to the table. Look at me here: I am breakfasting this minute on two eggs and a glass of water. It seems to me that with our fortune—  46
  André—Our fortune? Would you like to know in what condition our fortune is?  47
  Count—You ought to know better than I, since it is you who have had the running of affairs since your majority.  48
  André—Well then, I do know the expenses; and let me tell you that you have counted up only those that are part of our life in Paris, and you have not said a syllable of those that belong to our country one.  49
  Count—Those that belong to our country one! Those are all just so much economy.  50
  André—So then the place at Vilsac is just so much economy?  51
  Count—Of course. We get everything from it, from eggs up to oxen.  52
  André—Yes, and even to wild boars, when it suits you to shoot one. Now be so good as to consider the place at Vilsac, which you call a matter of economy. First of all, it brings us in absolutely nothing.  53
  Count—It never has brought us in anything.  54
  André—It is mortgaged for two hundred thousand francs.  55
  Count—That happened when I was young.  56
  André—Are you under the impression that there comes a time when mortgages wear themselves out? I wish they did. But I am afraid that you deceive yourself; and in the mean time, you are paying every year a mortgagor’s interest. Furthermore, at Vilsac—  57
  Count—Where, remember, we spend September, October, November, all of which is positively an economy—  58
  André—Furthermore, as to Vilsac, this summer place where we pass September, October, and November,—all of which is positively an economy,—the proof of its being an economy is that here we are in the middle of September, and we are just setting out for Dieppe.  59
  Count—For one time only, by chance! And moreover, we will have to go down to Vilsac by the end of the month, for I have asked those fellows to come down there for the shooting.  60
  André—Yes, in this economical country place, where you have asked all those gentlemen to come down for the shooting, at the end of the month—  61
  Count—Really, one would be bored to death without that!  62
  André—In this same economical establishment, I say, you have twelve keepers.  63
  Count—Quite true; but it is one of the best preserves in France, and really, there are so many poachers—  64
  André—You have two masters of hounds, you have ten horses,—in short, a whole hunting equipage; and I don’t speak of the indemnities that you pay year by year, if only for the rabbits that you kill.  65
  Count—The fact is, there are thousands of rabbits; but shooting rabbits is such fun!  66
  André—Add to that the entertainments that it occurs to you to give every now and then, with fireworks and so on, during the evening.  67
  Count—Oh, yes, but that pleases all the peasants of the neighborhood, who adore me; between ourselves it is rather—Oh, my dear boy! if I had only been rich, what fine things I would have done! In France, people do not know how to spend money. In Russia it is quite another matter! Now, there you have people who understand how to give an entertainment. But then what can anybody do with two hundred thousand livres for an income?  68
  André—Father, one can do exactly what you have done,—one can ruin himself.  69
  Count—What! ruin himself?  70
  André—Yes. When my mother died your personal fortune brought you, as you say, an income of two hundred thousand livres; and the money which my mother left to me, of which you have had the use until I came of age, amounted to a hundred and twenty thousand livres.  71
  Count—I certainly have made an accounting to you in the matter.  72
  André—A perfectly exact one, only—  73
  Count—Only—?  74
  André—Only in doing so you have seriously impaired your own capital.  75
  Count—Why did you not say that to me at the time?  76
  André—Because I too—I was thinking of nothing but spending money.  77
  Count—You ought to have warned me about this before now.  78
  André—But I—I was doing then just what I see you doing; I was taking life exactly as you had taught me to take it.  79
  Count—André, I hope that is not a reproach.  80
  André—God bless me, no. I am only saying to you why I have not looked after your interests better than you have ever done so yourself.  81
  Count—Very good. Then I am going to explain to you why I brought you up—  82
  André—Not worth while, my dear father. There is no good in going back to that, and I know quite well—  83
  Count—On the contrary, you know nothing at all about the matter, and you will please allow me to speak. It will be a consolation. You are perfectly right as to things that have no common-sense in them; and if I have brought you up after a certain manner, it is just because I myself suffer from a different kind of education. I was brought up very severely; at twenty-two years I knew nothing of life. I was born, I was kept hanging on at Vilsac, with my father and my mother, who were saints on earth, with my great-uncle, who had the gout, and with my tutor, who was an abbé. I was born with a constitution like iron. I went hunting day by day for whole months, on foot or on horseback. I ate my meals like an ogre. I rode every sort of a horse, and I was a swordsman like St. George himself. As for other things, my dear fellow, there was no use dreaming about them: I had not a crown in my pocket. The other sex—well, I had heard it said that there was a world of women somewhere, but I certainly did not know where it was. One day my father asked me if I was willing to marry, and I cried out, “Oh yes, yes!” with such an explosion that my father himself could not help laughing—he who never laughed. I was presented to a young girl, virtuous and beautiful; and I fell in love with her with a passion which at first fairly frightened the delicate and timid creature. Such was your mother, my dear André, and to her I owe the two happiest years of my life; it is true that I owe to her also my greatest grief, for at the end of those two years she died. But it must be said, either to the blame or to the praise of nature, that organizations such as mine are proof against the severest shocks. At twenty-four years I found myself rich, a widower, free to do what I pleased, and thrown—with a child a year old—into the midst of this world called Paris, of which I knew nothing whatever. Ought I to have condemned you to this sort of life that I had led at Vilsac, and which had been for me so often an intolerable bore? No, I obeyed my real nature. I gave you my qualities and my shortcomings, without reckoning closely in the matter; I have sought in your case your affection rather than your obedience or your respect. I have never taught you economy, it is true, but then I did not know anything about that myself; and besides, I had not a business and a business name to leave you. To have everything in common between us, one heart and one purse, to be able to give each other everything and say everything to each other,—that has been our motto. The puritans will think that they have a right to blame this intimacy as too close: let them say so if they choose. We have lost, it seems, some hundreds of thousands of francs; but we have gained this,—that we can always count upon each other, you upon me and I upon you. Either of us will be ready at any moment to kill himself for the other, and that is the most important matter between a father and a son; all the rest is not worth the trouble that one takes to reason about it. Don’t you think I am right?  84
  André—All that is true, my dear father! and I am just as much attached to you as you are to me. Far be it from me to reproach you; but now in my turn I want to make a confession to you. You are an exception in our society; your fettered youth, your precocious widowerhood, are your excuses, if you need any. You were born at a time when all France was in a fever, and when the individual, as well as the great mass of people, seemed to be striving to spend by every possible means a superabundance of vitality. Urged toward active life by nature, by curiosity, by temperament, you have cared for things that were worth caring for,—for them only; for entertaining yourself, for hunting, for fine horses, for the artist world, for people of rank and distinction. In such an environment as this you have paid your tribute to your country, you have paid the debt of your rank in life and of your name. But I, on the other hand, like almost all my generation, brought in contact with a fashionable world from the time that I began life,—I, born in an epoch of lassitude and transition,—I led for a while this life by mere imitation in laziness…. It is a kind of existence that no longer amuses me; and moreover, I can tell you that it never did amuse me. To sit up all night turning over cards; to get up at two o’clock in the afternoon, to have horses put to the carriage and go for the drive around the Lake, or to ride horseback; to live by day with idlers and to pass my evenings with such parasites as your friend M. De Tournas—all that seems to me the height of foolishness. And at the bottom of your own thoughts you think just as I do. So now, now that you really have got to a serious explanation of affairs, let us reach a real irrevocable determination of them. Are you willing to let me arrange your life for you in the future exactly as I would wish to arrange my own life? Are you willing to have confidence in me, and after having brought me up in your way, are you willing that in turn, while there is still time for it, I should—bring you up in mine?  85
  Count—Yes, go on.  86
  André—Very well,—to severe diseases strong remedies. You think a great deal of our Vilsac estate?  87
  Count—I was born there. I should not be sorry to end my days there.  88
  André—Very well. We will keep Vilsac for you, and find money in some other way to pay off the mortgage.  89
  Count—How?  90
  André—That’s my business; only you must send away the two piqueurs, and six of the keepers.  91
  Count—Poor fellows!  92
  André—And only four horses are to be kept. No more entertainments are to be given, no more fireworks. You will entertain only two or three intimate friends now and then,—if we find as many friends as that among all those that are about us nowadays here,—and you will stay at Vilsac seven or eight months of the year.  93
  Count—Alone?  94
  André—Wait a little. I have not finished yet. This house where we are must be sold. We must put out of doors these servants, who are just so many thieves; and we will keep at Paris only a very modest stopping-place.  95
  Count—Will you kindly allow me to get my breath?  96
  André—Don’t stir, or my surgical operation will not be successful. Now that your debts are paid there will be left to you—  97
  Count—There will be left to me—  98
  André—Forty thousand livres income, and as much for me,—no more; and with all that, during three or four years you will not have the capital at your disposition.  99
  Count—Heavens, what a smash!  100
  André—Are you willing to accept my scheme?  101
  Count—I must.  102
  André—Very well, then: sign these papers!  103
  Count—What are they?  104
  André—They are papers which I have just got from the notary, and which I have been expecting to make you sign while at Dieppe and send to me; but since you are here—  105
  Count  [signs]—Since I am here, I may as well sign at once: you are quite right,—there you are.  106
  André—Very well; now as, according to my notions, just as much as you are left to yourself you will slip back into the same errors as in the past—  107
  Count—What are you going to do further?  108
  André—Guess.  109
  Count—You are going to forbid—  110
  André—Are you out of your senses? I am going to marry you off.  111
  Count—Marry me off!  112
  André—Without permission.  113
  Count—And how about yourself?  114
  André—I am going to marry myself off—afterwards. You must begin as an example.  115
  Count—André, do you know something?  116
  André—What?  117
  Count—Some one has told you the very thing I have had in mind.  118
  André—Nobody has told me anything.  119
  Count—Your word on it?  120
  André—My word on it.  121
  Count—Explain yourself. You, all by yourself, have had this idea of marriage?  122
  André—I myself.  123
  Count—Deny now the sympathy between us!  124
  André—Well?  125
  Count—It exists  [putting his arms around his son].  There, embrace me!  126
  André—And you accept?  127
  Count—As if I would do anything else!  128

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