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.
The False Lover
By Alfred de Musset (1810–1857)
From ‘No Trifling with Love.’ From ‘Selections from the Prose and Poetry of Alfred de Musset’
  [Perdican, the youthful and fascinating hero of the play, has been refused by his cousin Camille, who feels so strong a vocation for the cloister that she will not trust herself to secular life and to its possible disappointments. In pique, Perdican cruelly makes love to a simple and credulous village girl, Rosette, and decides to play the lover before the very eyes of Camille, as a spur to her jealousy and hoping to change her decision.]

Scene: The spring in the wood.  Enter Camille and the Peasant.

PEASANT—I was taking a letter up to the house for you, miss: shall I give it to you, or carry it to the kitchen, as Lord Perdican told me?  1
  Camille—Give it to me.  2
  Peasant—If you would rather I’d take it to the house, I’ll carry it there without more ado.  3
  Camille—Give it to me, I tell you.  4
  Peasant—Just as you like.  [Gives her the letter.]  5
  Camille—There, that’s for your trouble.  6
  Peasant—Thank you kindly: I suppose I may go now.  7
  Camille—If you will be so good.  8
  Peasant—I’m going, I’m going.  [Exit.]  9
  Camille  [reading]—Perdican begs me to meet him at the little spring, where I told him to come yesterday to bid me good-by before I go. What can he have to say? Here’s the spring, and I am greatly minded to wait. Ought I to give him this second meeting? Ah! here comes Perdican with my foster-sister, Rosette.  [She hides behind a tree.]  I suppose he will send her away; I’m glad not to seem to be here before him.  [Enter Perdican and Rosette; Camille remains hidden.]  What does this mean? He makes her sit down beside him. Did he ask me to meet him here that he might come and make love to somebody else? I should like to know what he is saying.  10
  Perdican  [loud enough to be heard by Camille]—I love you, Rosette! You are the one person in the world who has not forgotten the dear old times; you alone remember the past. Share the future with me, dear child; give me your heart: take this as a token of our love.  [Clasps his chain around her neck.]  11
  Rosette—Do you give me your gold chain?  12
  Perdican—See this ring. Stand up and come to the edge of the spring. Do you see us both reflected in the water, leaning upon one another? Look at your bright eyes near mine, your hand in mine; now see it all disappear!  [Drops the ring into the water.]  See how the image has vanished: now watch it come back by degrees; the ruffled water is growing smooth again, but it trembles still, and great circles are spreading over the surface: have patience and we shall see ourselves again; I can make out your arm linked in mine, already; in another minute there will not be a wrinkle on your pretty face,—see there! It was a ring Camille gave me.  13
  Camille—He has thrown my ring into the water!  14
  Perdican—Do you know what love is, Rosette? Listen: the wind is hushed, the morning’s shower is rolling in great diamonds off the leaves, which are reviving in the sunshine. I love you! You love me too, do you not? Your youth has not been dried up; nobody has infused the dregs of their veins into your rosy life current. You don’t want to be a nun; here you are, fresh and lovely, with a young man’s arm around you! O Rosette, do you know what love is?  15
  Rosette—Alas, your Lordship is very learned; but I will love you as well as I know how!  16
  Perdican—Yes, as well as you know how; and learned as I am, and rustic as you are, you will love me better than one of those pale statues manufactured by the nuns, with a head instead of a heart, who issue from their cloisters to poison the vital air with the damp reek of their cells. You don’t know anything; you can’t read the prayer your mother taught you, which she learned from her mother before her; you don’t even understand the words you repeat as you kneel at your bedside: but you understand that you are praying, and that is all God requires.  17
  Rosette—How your Lordship talks!  18
  Perdican—You don’t know how to read; but you know the language of these woods and meadows, these warm banks, yon fair harvest-fields, and of all this glorious young Nature! You know them for your thousand brothers, and me for one of them. Come, let us go; you shall be my wife, and we will strike root into the genial heart of omnipotent creation.  [Exit with Rosette.]  19
Scene: Camille’s apartment.  Enter Camille and Dame Pluche.

  Camille—You say he took my letter?
  Dame Pluche—Yes, dear, he said he would post it.  21
  Camille—Be good enough to go to the drawing-room, Dame Pluche, and tell Perdican that I wish to speak to him here.  [Exit Dame Pluche.]  He has undoubtedly read my letter; that scene in the wood was revenge, and so is all his love-making to Rosette. He wished to convince me that he loved somebody else, and to hide his mortification under a show of indifference. Does he love me after all, I wonder?  [She raises the tapestry.]  Is that you, Rosette?  22
  Rosette  [as she enters]—Yes: may I come in?  23
  Camille—Listen to me, my dear: has not Lord Perdican been making love to you?  24
  Rosette—Alas, yes!  25
  Camille—What do you think of what he said this morning?  26
  Rosette—This morning? Why, where?  27
  Camille—Don’t be a hypocrite. This morning at the spring in the wood.  28
  Rosette—Then you saw me!  29
  Camille—Poor little innocent! No, I did not see you. He made all sorts of fine speeches, didn’t he? I would wager he promised to marry you.  30
  Rosette—Why, how do you know?  31
  Camille—Never mind: do you believe his promises, Rosette?  32
  Rosette—How can I help it? He wouldn’t deceive me. Why should he?  33
  Camille—Perdican does not mean to marry you, my child.  34
  Rosette—Alas, perhaps not!  35
  Camille—You love him, you poor girl. He does not mean to marry you, and I will give you the proof: hide behind this curtain; you have nothing to do but to listen, and come when I call you.
[Exit Rosette.]
  Camille—I thought to do an act of vengeance, but may it not be one of humanity? The poor child has lost her heart.  [Enter Perdican.]  Good morning, cousin; sit down.  37
  Perdican—How beautifully you are dressed, Camille! On whom have you designs?  38
  Camille—On you, perhaps. I am very sorry that I could not meet you as you asked: had you anything to say?  39
  Perdican  [aside]—Upon my word, that’s rather a big fib for a spotless lamb! I saw her under the trees.  [Aloud.]  I had nothing to say but good-by, Camille,—I thought you were going; but your horse is in the stable, and you do not seem to be dressed for traveling.  40
  Camille—I am fond of discussion, and I am not sure that I did not wish for another quarrel with you.  41
  Perdican—What object can there be in quarreling when there is no possibility of making up? The pleasure of disputes is in making peace.  42
  Camille—Are you so sure I wouldn’t make peace?  43
  Perdican—Don’t jest: I am not equal to answering you.  44
  Camille—I want to be made love to! I don’t know whether it is because I have on a new gown, but I wish to be amused. You proposed our going to the village: well, I am ready. Let us row; I should like to dine on the grass, or to ramble in the forest. Will it be moonlight this evening? How odd! you have not on the ring I gave you.  45
  Perdican—I lost it.  46
  Camille—So I found it: here it is, Perdican.  47
  Perdican—Is it possible! Where did you find it?  48
  Camille—You are looking to see whether my hands are wet? To tell the truth, I spoiled my convent dress in getting this trinket out of the spring. That is why I put another on, and I tell you it has changed me; so put that ring upon your finger.  49
  Perdican—You got this out of the water at the risk of falling in, Camille? Am I dreaming? Here it is again, and you put it on my finger. O Camille, why do you give me back this sad relic of my lost happiness? Tell me, you foolish and fickle girl, why you go away? Why do you stay? Why do you change every hour like this stone in each new light?  50
  Camille—Do you know woman’s heart, Perdican? Are you convinced of her inconstancy, and that she really changes her mind whenever she changes her mood? Some say not. Undoubtedly we are often forced to play a part, even to tell lies—I am frank, you see; but are you sure that everything in a woman lies when her tongue lies? Have you ever reflected on the nature of this weak and undisciplined creature, and on the severity with which she is judged, and the part that she is compelled to play? Who knows whether, constrained by the world to continual deceit, the head of this brainless being may not finally learn to take a certain pleasure in it; may she not tell lies for amusement sometimes, as she is so often forced to tell them for necessity?  51
  Perdican—I understand none of this; I never lie; I love you, Camille, and that is all I know.  52
  Camille—You say you love me, and that you never lie?  53
  Perdican—Never!  54
  Camille—Yet here’s somebody who says that accident befalls you occasionally.  [She raises the tapestry, and shows Rosette fainting in a chair.]  What will you say to this child, Perdican, when she asks you to account for your words? If you never lie, why has she fainted on hearing you say that you love me? I leave her with you: try and bring her to life.  [Is about to go.]  55
  Perdican—One moment, Camille! Hear me!  56
  Camille—What have you to say to me? It is to Rosette you must answer. I do not love you; I did not seek this hapless child in her cottage to use her as a toy, a foil; I did not recklessly repeat to her the burning words I had addressed to others; I did not feign to cast to the winds the tokens of a cherished attachment, for her sake; I did not put my chain round her neck; I did not promise to marry her!  57
  Perdican—Listen to me! listen to me!  58
  Camille—I saw you smile just now when I said I had not been able to go to the fountain. Yes, I was there and heard it all; but God is my witness that I would not have done as you did. What will you do with that girl now, when, with your kisses still burning on her lips, she weeps and points to the wound you have dealt her? You wished to revenge yourself upon me, did you not, for a letter I wrote to my convent? You were bent on piercing my soul at any cost, not caring whether your poisoned dart wounded this child, if it but struck me through her. I had boasted of having made you love me, and of causing you regret. Did that wound your noble pride? Well then, hear me say it,—you love me, but you will marry that girl or you are a poor creature.  59
  Perdican—Yes, I will marry her.  60
  Camille—You will do well.  61
  Perdican—Very well, and much better than if I married you. What excites you to such a degree, Camille? The child has fainted; we can easily bring her to,—we only need a smelling-bottle. You wish to convict me of having lied once in my life, and you have done so; but I think you are rather self-confident in deciding when. Come, help me to restore Rosette.  [Exeunt.]  62
Scene: An oratory.  Enter Camille, and throws herself at the foot of the altar.

  Camille—O my God, hast thou abandoned me? Thou knowest that I came hither faithful to thee; when I refused to take another spouse, thou knowest that I spoke in all sincerity before thee and my own soul; thou knowest it, O Father! and wilt thou no longer accept me? Oh, wherefore hast thou made truth itself to lie? Why am I so weak? Ah, wretched girl! I cannot even pray.
Enter Perdican
  Perdican—Pride, most fatal of all the counselors of humanity, why have you come between me and this girl? See her, pale and distraught, pressing her face and breast against these senseless stones. She could have loved me, and we were born for one another. O pride! what brought you to our lips when our hands were ready to be joined?
  Camille—Who has followed me? Whose voice do I hear beneath this vault? Is it you, Perdican?  65
  Perdican—Fools that we are! We love each other! What have you been dreaming, Camille? What futile speech, what wretched folly has swept between us like a blast from the tombs? Which of us tried to deceive the other? Alas, when life itself is such a painful dream, why seek to fill it with worse ones of our own? O God! happiness is a pearl so rarely found in this stormy sea! Thou hadst given it to us, thou hadst rescued this treasure from the abyss for us; and like spoiled children as we are, we treated it as a plaything. The green path which led us toward each other sloped so gently, and was so strewn with flowers, it vanished in such a calm horizon—needs was that words, and vanity, and anger should hurl their shapeless crags across this celestial path, which would have led us to thee in an embrace! Needs was that we should wrong and wound each other, for we are human! O fools! and we love each other!  [He clasps her in his arms.]  66
  Camille—Yes, Perdican, we love each other! Let me feel it on your heart. The God who sees us will not be angry: he wills that I should love you; he has known it these fifteen years.  67
  Perdican—Dearest being, you are mine!  [He kisses her; a shriek is heard from behind the altar.]  68
  Camille—My foster-sister’s voice!  69
  Perdican—How came she here? I left her on the staircase when you sent for me. She must have followed me without my knowledge.  70
  Camille—Come this way: the cry came from here.  71
  Perdican—What do I fear? my hands seem bathed in blood.  72
  Camille—The poor child must have overheard us, and she has fainted again: come and help her! Ah, it is all too cruel!  73
  Perdican—No, I cannot go,—I am numb with mortal terror. Go, Camille, and try to help her.  [Exit Camille.]  O God, I beseech thee, make me not a murderer! Thou seest our hearts: we are two senseless children who have been playing with life and death. God of justice, do not let Rosette die! I will find her a husband, I will repair the evil I have done;—she is young, she shall be rich and happy. Oh, do not refuse me this, my God! thou canst bless four of thy children!  [Re-enter Camille.]  Well, Camille?  74
  Camille—She is dead. Farewell, Perdican.  75

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