M. and Mme Dovrigny were people of honor. Their ancestry consisted of magistrates and officers. It cited high ranks, but no illustrious names, no great personages. In their families, duty and legality had been cultivated conscientiously, without heroism, – as elsewhere the land is cultivated.
M. Dovrigny, director of insurance in Paris, had a fortune; the spouses lived according to the best worldly order; the average convention determined their artistic and recreational tastes. Beauty, in all fields, was for them a thing of due measure, confined within strict limits.
They were only excessive in their adoration for their son Adolphe who was reaching the age of marriage and for whom they had ambitious dreams.
Adolphe, twenty four years old, not athletic, not very vigorous, was however taller than his father and his mother. His physiognomy also had more character than theirs. Blond, with light eyes, he had a regular, elongated, contemplative face, of an aristocratic type.
According to a law of nature, the race changed in its person. He was a serious boy, very serious; but, under the influence of the time, it deviated from the family tradition so regulatory. For example, instead of having only learned tastes, he felt in him the hint of personal tastes. In music, in literature, he considered, with the desire to understand them, works that his parents ignored and refused to know.
When his studies were completed, – the baccalaureate and two license registrations, for the qualification of law student that they entailed, – his father had given him a privileged position in the Company he was managing.
Adolphe Dovrigny had fallen in love with a simple office worker, Mathilde Anriquet, whom the reasons for service made him approach daily!
Oh! the race was evolving: he had not consulted his parents before entering into tender talks.
And one fine day, without preamble, he had announced to them that he considered himself engaged. He had only taken account of their pathetic representations by sulking and bored airs.
The parents were sorry. Adolphe was a spoiled child who had never been upset; they were afraid of causing him grief, they could not and did not want to expressly oppose the marriage of love which he was planning and which was for them an “adventure” marriage.
They tried with all their heart, with all their sincerity, with all their passion as people of honor, to turn him away.
They invoked above all the rank – the social low water, which depended, (apart from the origin, the education, and the situation of fortune), of a correct, legal worldly aspect, – of an aspect of discipline, of decorum, which exactly had to be possessed.
– This young girl, to whom you were able to address your homage without formal formalities and who accepted them independently, is not morally high enough, tall enough, beautiful enough for you.
This was the leit-motiv of their affectionate speeches.
They were not lacking in other reviews:
– She is small, brown in skin; his youth has only the Parisian pleasure; with his shining and mobile eyes, we find him a little childish face. Childish candor, at a certain age, is called ignorance and stupidity.
“You admit yourself that your Mathilde is not a beauty. You claim to prefer her to the young girls whom you have known until now, because she is better in heart, intelligence, conscience.
“But by what, how is she better than the others? You could not specify it. Of this, you only have the impression, the foreboding.
“Well, my child, the truth is beyond doubt: you are influenced, deceived, blinded by an awakening of nature, by a mirage that comes from yourself.
“You are old enough to have a wife, you attribute a chimerical superiority to that which chance has placed closest to you.
Adolphe did not remain without answering. Mathilde had, among other things, the merit of being a model employee, of working to earn a living, and even of putting help to her family before legitimate coquetry. She was thrifty to the point of refusing herself the bouquet of violets with which her colleagues adorned their worktables.
The parents cried out:
– We recognize that this young girl has qualities, but quite ordinary, – but not the exceptional qualities which the wife of a man like you must have.
“Doesn’t its extreme simplicity come from a defect in taste? In any case, this denial of the luxury of a flower, this petty wisdom is of no interest to you, our only heir.
“The only quality of our class, the only worldly or bourgeois quality of Mlle Mathilde would be that she shows herself perfectly reserved in public; in the offices themselves, she behaves quite differently from her colleagues. When she’s outside, she doesn’t throw her looks around, she doesn’t talk or laugh out loud, like these young ladies do. We feel that she is incapable, not only of showing off, but of manifesting in the spontaneous way of people, by exclamations and gestures, even on admissible occasions, even in front of a stupefying, frightening or comic street spectacle.
“Very well: she retains, in all cases, the restraint, the correction. But this correction, however laudable it may be, is not enough on its own to classify a person.
“If you wanted to believe us, instead of persisting in your bias, – you would agree to open your eyes, to judge, to criticize, to compare. You carefully considered some of the young women around us – something you have never done – for example, you would look seriously, you would observe, you would study Emilienne de Bégalit.
Indeed, the disappointment of M. and Mme Dovrigny was all the more cruel as they themselves had sought the realization of their ambitious dreams, – and they had cherished the delicious hope of giving, themselves, a wife to their dear child.
Just when Adolphe had told them about Mathilde Anriquet, they had just made their choice on Émilienne de Bégalit and in the most delightful conditions: the parents of the noble heiress found Adolphe worthy of their daughter and she herself was not without hinting at a charming disturbance when the conversation turned to this “accomplished” young man.
This party responded in every respect to the ideal of M. and Mme Dovrigny.
Emilienne was a “beautiful woman” to perfection, a blonde goddess, sculptural to the point of appearing a little cold – but let’s wait for love, marital happiness and its miracles. She was cultivated according to the best worldly schedule; his taste in any kind was copied from the classic good. She repudiated, without a personal idea, anything that did not conform to traditions, opinions or decent habits. She was well brought up to the point of not knowing how to envisage any kind of daring.
And so his parents! They were similar to those of Adolphe, but more austere – their code of honor was more active, more intractable than that of M. and Mme Dovrigny. In particular, they loved their daughter with less weakness than the latter showed towards their son.
Thus, they were told the situation with loyalty: Adolphe, before anyone thought of Emilienne for him, had fallen in love with Mathilde, oh slightly, – but he was so delicate that the incident took on importance. exaggerated.
Well, Emilienne’s parents were of the opinion that the Dovrignys had only to use their authority and impose an immediate break-up.
However, they accepted, shrugging their shoulders, that Adolphe be given time to come back on his own to an acceptable choice. For they did not doubt for a moment that their daughter would win out over Mademoiselle Mathilde; they did not even admit that Emilienne was weighed down. They understood that Adolphe feared an unsightly scene if he broke too abruptly.
Alas, Adolphe remained unshakeable in his resolution to marry Mathilde and he insisted on presenting her to his parents. They only knew her because they went secretly to examine her in her office, at a wicket open to the public. Torn apart, inclined both to yield and to refuse, they limited their resistance to the administrative means of procrastination, in which they excelled by atavism.
On the day they received Mathilde, would they not recognize their son’s engagement as possible as a result?
Finally, after a few weeks gained by means of pretexts, diversions, more or less well disguised counter-proposals, Mr. and Mrs. Dovrigny had to resign themselves.
But, tenacious to the end, they specified very strongly that this first visit from Mademoiselle Mathilde Anriquet was still only a test.
They clung to this last imagination: that the young employee would commit some impropriety, reveal some inferiority which would shock Adolphe himself and justify a new opposition on their part.
It has often been seen, it is with good reason exploited in the theater: a person placed by deceptive appearances in a high rank, – and that a swear word, that a trivial gesture makes tumble down to the low level which is his true .
The fatal Sunday has arrived.
A program has been decided in advance.
This afternoon, Miss Mathilde Anriquet will not be accompanied by either her father or her mother who, out of a sense of distance, prefer modestly to remain in the shadows, – (Mr. Anriquet is a railway controller), – she will come all the way. alone at five o’clock.
Adolphe, also alone, first of all, will receive her, introduce her into the living room, – then he will go find his parents and make a formal presentation – without at any time being asked or examined the question of marriage. .
From the beginning of the afternoon, Adolphe and his parents were moved for different causes, but to a similar degree. In spite of themselves, they look at the clock, they anxiously calculate the time.
Four hours. We ring. What could this visit be like?
Surprise: it is M. de Bégalit who not only does not know where things stand, but remains convinced that Adolphe will be his son-in-law, sooner or later, depending on the circumstances and he closely monitors them.
Emilienne’s father is more ceremonious than usual – he is even serious, with a solemnity under which one can imagine triumphant satisfaction.
– My dear friends, this is Miss Mathilde. Providence, you know, wants my domicile to be near the office of this young person and that I find myself, by force, placed at an observation post. Chance has often made me go out at the same time as her, and have to follow the same path as her. It is through me that you have been frankly informed about his outward decency.
“Today, I have a considerable fact to communicate to you. This fact relates to the Belinois trial which ended yesterday.
Imagine the dismay of Adolphe, and of M. and Mme Dovrigny: Mme Bélinois, a woman of ordinary origin, had killed, with a revolver shot, her husband, a potentate of finance, – out of self-defense, she claimed, – out of greedy premeditation, the public prosecutor claimed, demanding the death penalty.
The trial had excited public opinion: some wishing for acquittal, others for conviction.
Mme Bélinois was a strange figure: a beginner actress, but a remarkable student at the Conservatory, she had been married for her beauty, for her charm, for her vocation in love .
To hear the defense, she deserved the royal wedding she had made: all the poetry and all the devotion and, note well, all the virtue of love dwelt in her heart.
But her married life had been a real martyrdom: a brutal, sadistic husband – a jealous man, avaricious, selfish with ferocity, – who imputed to crime even charity initiatives, even charity expenses.
She had suffered insults and abuse; the state of dependence in which the woman is put by law had become the worst slavery, the worst torture.
There was no cupidity in her murderous explosion: the clauses of the marriage contract left her as poor, a widow, as she was, a young girl.
Well. But to hear the accusation, if Mme Bélinois remained poor, it was by surprise, as a result of a false calculation, – and none of his allegations were proven: the husband had not exceeded his rights, – he had reacted legitimately against an abuse of independence which was the great evil of the present time.
“Some women were insurgents, anarchists in rebellion against the duties rightly imposed on their sex.
The trial had, in places, taken on the scale of an indictment against feminism, against love itself.
The eight hearings had heightened the public’s emotion, but had left them almost as divided as during the trial.
The opposing efforts of the defense and the prosecution had only made the mystery impenetrable.
In truth, one could only pronounce a personal judgment by intuition of the heart.
The accused had supported her role well: tragic attitudes and words, thrilling cries, protests, impressive oaths. But wasn’t she an actress by profession?
Tears of pain and despair had not disarmed all prejudices – no more than the physical misery of this unhappy woman, exhausted, consumed with fever, tortured by interrogations – but who retained, for some eyes, a sort of majesty. indefinable.
Now back to our characters.
After a pause so as not to cut off the dismay of his listeners, M. de Bégalit continues:
– We knew the trial would end yesterday Saturday. Thanks to the leisure of the English week, a crowd, immediately after lunch, gathered on the Place Dauphine, in front of the Assize Court, to await the verdict.
“At four o’clock, the news of the acquittal spread throughout Paris. The heroine of the trial to be released immediately, part of the crowd wanted to see her come out.
“Indeed, a certain door opened and the acquitted murderess appeared, terribly pale, supported like a dying woman, Parbleu! she felt marked with indelible blood, she felt that she was outlawed among the other women.
“It is indeed that a frightening rumbling greeted her. The crowd gathered there was the hostile party who wanted to launch, and perhaps execute, their personal verdict.
“There was a critical moment. As the wretch passed, the boos increased, fists advanced threateningly. Examples abound of the suddenly unleashed populace as terrible as a storm, as a hurricane.
“But then, a counter-demonstration – just one. Warning!
“Before the threatened woman could take refuge in a taxi, a young girl rushed to her aid, offering flowers in her hand.
“Such was the gesture, such was the expression, such also the fluid, that the crowd was immobilized by astonishment, enough time for the flight.
“Huh? You can imagine the inconceivable daring of the demonstrator, isolated, detached, standing in solidarity with the criminal against an entire crowd – in defiance of all shame, at the risk of a bad party.
“Because she too had to run away – the respite did not last. The taxi driver had the presence of mind to seize her, to carry her in his seat like a piece of luggage, to deposit her out of the vengeful attacks.
“Well, watch out! a degree is added to the inconceivable!
“This demonstrator of solidarity, this intrepid forgiver and protector of the woman who had killed her husband, was a young girl in the process of being engaged! Prepare yourself: it was Miss Mathilde Anriquet.
“Goodbye my friends, I would have a qualm to insist. I realize that you need solitude, I leave you to your thoughts. ”
M. de Begalit gone, Adolphe and his parents look at each other with wide, empty eyes: they do not know, they are distraught.
They should obviously share the quivering reprobation of Emilienne’s father, who finds abominable, monstrous, that a young girl desiring to marry displays, as with an irresistible impulse, his feeling for the criminal who murdered her husband.
Mr. and Mrs. Dovrigny especially should see there, without hesitation, the expected twist, the revelation which, at the last moment, demonetizes a sympathetic character by mistake.
But the excessive dose prevents a deadly poison to kill instantly. But the excessive dose of monstrous stops the intellectual mechanism.
Mathilde’s act is so unexpected that we do not understand – and incomprehension means that we remain without words, without decision.
Ah! my God, we ring, we rang! It’s time! What to do? we do not know.
The seated son and parents do not move. They forget the premeditated ceremony – they let the servant introduce the visitor.
In the doorway, appears the young girl, – the one we have just spoken of, – the one from yesterday: her gloved hands offered the flowers, her forehead, her eyes, her mouth expressed solidarity, – in his chest, his heart commanded the inconceivable impulse.
Now Mathilde’s entrance produces on the three seated figures the effect of an irruption of light.
They get up, they come forward instinctively, out of curious spontaneity, as if to see up close, as if to touch.
It is indeed an irruption of light: Mathilde is dressed in light, a dress without artifice which does not modify any of its natural proportions, a beret hairstyle which does not shade the physiognomy. She presents herself very upright, any face offered, all transparent of consciousness: here is my person and here is my soul.
We extend our hand to it by a sort of contagious necessity, by the impossibility of composing attitudes, with only in the eyes, in the thought, this certainty: it is the same today as yesterday, it does not have two faces. , it does not have two aspects.
– Hello miss.
– Come in, Mademoiselle.
The hosts are influenced, embarrassed, as in front of a personality not yet met; it seems that Mathilde brings with her a foreign atmosphere.
She smiles, moved, paling, blushing:
– Thank you, madam, thank you, sir, for welcoming me.
We move the seats to find capacity:
– Sit down, Miss.
– Did you come on foot?
But Mr. and Mrs. Dovrigny suddenly worry terribly. Adolphe greeted, presented: Miss Mathilde Anriquet… my parents… Then he went to close the door behind Mathilde, but thanks to that he disappeared!
Ah! my God, he’s slipping away, he no longer wants to marry Mathilde, he no longer wants to see her. M. de Bégalit’s indictment won him over in favor of Emilienne, the heiress in possession of the most regular moral beauty.
– Adolphe? asks Madame Dovrigny in spite of herself.
– Adolphe must have left something in his room, the father replies.
What’s going to happen?
The best thing is not to get Mlle Anriquet to guess at the hint of Adolphe’s “change”.
M. Dovrigny begins:
– Miss, you found us gathered in the living room because we had just had a visit. The visit of a close friend, aware of our projects, and of course also aware of our opinions. But luck would have it that this friend lives …
Here, an exclamation from Mme Dovrigny.
Here is Adolphe. It was in fact determined by the indictment of M. de Bégalit.
He jumped upstairs, then ran to a nearby store. And here he is rushing forward, flowers in his hand:
– Miss Mathilde, each in turn. We saw you yesterday!
– Yes! Mathilde says, her eyes marveled. And you today …
– And me today, with the same heart as you …
According to eternal law, Mr. and Mrs. Dovrigny have always found that Adolphe was the most beautiful boy in the world. But, at this moment, by her gesture, her attitude, her smile – they see a beauty in her that they did not know her, a beauty as vaporous, which seizes, which makes you want to cry. Yes! them, in adoration for twenty-five years in front of their son, they had not yet seen him well.
Truly this is new to them: he has a broad forehead in which the light is played, his eyes soften with a shimmering radiance, determined kindness shudders under his thin mustache. How can closed lips, barely stepping forward, express so much action and goodness?
They feel that Adolphe, after Mathilde’s condemnation by M. De Bégalit, has also obeyed the impetus that nothing can stop – and that there, in this inconceivable , is great beauty.
They feel through their adored son.
Adolphe materializes, makes perceptible for them the sublime, the good which cannot be defined, which has no measure, which can only be seen through the eyes of the heart.
And now they love, to tears too, Mathilde, the little Parisian, the modest girl without any appanage, – but the personification of a very high feminine species.
A woman was in danger, threatened by the screaming and stoning crowd. Mathilde had thrown herself in front of the wounded woman whom they wanted to finish off. – What an eternal emblem! Mathilde had kept blind barbarism at bay by brandishing flowers!
How did he beat that pitying heart for having thus conquered ruthless hearts?
Ah! my friends, how much has the sense of beauty entered in the Dovrignys, in their house, in their conception, in their existence, in their quivering substance!
Now they have this faculty of expressing, with a glance, what is most delicate in nuance and sensitivity; now they ask, with a glance, which of the two, out of justice, they should kiss first: Adolphe or Mathilde?
For at last Adolphe guessed Mathilde; he knew before she even what bravery she was capable of – he announced from the start that she was better at heart than any of them.
Let’s go! equality! embrace them together: Mme Dovrigny, Mathilde; M. Dovrigny, Adolphe, – and then let’s do the exchange. You shouldn’t be jealous when you have two children.