You know good-natured, stout Dupontel, who looks like the type of a happy man, with his fat cheeks that are the color of ripe apples, his small, reddish moustache, turned up over his thick lips, with his prominent eyes, which never know any emotion or sorrow, which remind one of the calm eyes of cows and oxen, and his long back fixed onto two little wriggling, crooked legs, which obtained for him the nickname of corkscrew from some nymph of the ballet.
Dupontel, who had taken the trouble to be born, but not like the grand seigneurs whom Beaumarchais made fun of once upon a time, was ballasted with a respectable number of millions, as is becoming in the sole heir of a house that had sold household utensils and appliances for over a century.
Naturally, like every other upstart who respects himself, he wished to appear something, to play at being a clubman, and also to play to the gallery, because he had been educated at Vangirard and knew a little English; because he had gone through his voluntary service in the army for twelve months1 at Rouen; because he was a tolerable singer, could drive four-inhands, and play lawn-tennis.
1 Although, in France, as in Germany, military service is compulsory, men are allowed to serve in both countries as one-year volunteers; they enjoy certain privileges, find their own uniform, &c., and it, of course, entails considerable expense. — TRANSLATOR.]
Always studiedly well-dressed, too correct in every way, copying his way of speaking, his hats and his trousers from the three or four snobs who set the fashion, reproducing other people’s witticisms, learning anecdotes and jokes by heart, like a lesson, to use them again at small parties, constantly laughing, without knowing why his friends burst into roars of merriment, and was in the habit of keeping pretty girls for the pleasure of his best friends. Of course he was a perfect fool, but after all, a capital fellow, to whom it was only right to extend a good deal of indulgence.
When he had taken his thirty-first mistress, and had made the discovery that in love, money does not create happiness two-thirds of the time, that they had all deceived him, and made him perfectly ridiculous at the end of the week, Charles Dupontel made up his mind to settle down as a respectable married man, and to marry, not from calculation or from reason, but for love.
One autumn afternoon at Auteuil, he noticed in front of the club stand, among the number of pretty women who were standing round the braziers, a girl with such lovely delicate complexion that it looked like an apple blossom; her hair was like threads of gold, and she was so slight and supple that she reminded him of those outlines of saints which one sees in old stained-glass church windows. There was also something enigmatical about her, for she had at the same time the delightfully ingenuous look of a school girl during the holidays, and also of some enlightened young lady, who already knew the how and the why of everything, who is exuberant with youth and life, and who is eagerly waiting for the moment when marriage will at length allow her to say and to do everything that comes into her head, and to amuse herself to satiety.
Then she had such small feet that they would have gone into a woman’s hand, a waist that could have been clasped by a bracelet, turned up eyelashes, which fluttered like the wings of a butterfly, close on an impudent and sensual nose, and a vague, mocking smile that made folds in her lips, like the petals of a rose.
Her father was a member of the Jockey Club, who was generally cleared out, as they call it, in the great races, but who yet defended his position bravely, and continued that, and who kept himself afloat by prodigies of coolness and skill. He belonged to a race which could prove that his ancestors had been at the court of Charlemagne, and not as musicians or cooks, as some people declared.
Her youth and beauty and her father’s pedigree dazzled Dupontel, upset his brain, and altogether turned him upside down, and combined they seemed to him to be a mirage of happiness and of pride of family.
He got introduced to her father, at the end of a game of baccarat, invited him to shoot with him, and a month later, as if it were an affair to be hurried over, he asked for and obtained the hand of Mademoiselle Therése de Montsaigne, and felt as happy as a miner who has discovered a vein of precious metal.
The young woman did not require more than twenty-four hours to discover that her husband was nothing but a ridiculous puppet, and immediately set about to consider how she might best escape from her cage, and befool the poor fellow, who loved her with all his heart.
And she deceived him without the least pity or the slightest scruple; she did it as if it were from instinctive hatred, as if it were a necessity for her not only to make him ridiculous, but also to forget that she ought to sacrifice her virgin dreams to him, to belong to him, and to submit to his hateful caresses without being able to defend himself and to repel him.
She was cruel, as all women are when they do not love, delighted in doing audacious and absurd things, and in visiting everything, and in braving danger. She seemed like a young colt, that is intoxicated with the sun, the air and its liberty, and which gallops wildly across the meadows, jumps hedges and ditches, kicks, and whinnies joyously, and rolls about in the long, sweet grass.
But Dupontel remained quite imperturbable; he had not the slightest suspicion, and was the first to laugh when anybody told him some good story of a husband who had been cuckolded, although his wife repelled him, quarreled with him, and constantly pretended to be out of sorts or tired out, in order to escape from him. She seemed to take a malicious pleasure in checkmating him by her personal remarks, her disenchanting answers, and her apparent listlessness.
They saw a great deal of company, and he called himself Du Pontel now, and he even had thoughts of buying a title from the Pope; he only read certain newspapers, kept up a regular correspondence with the Orleans Princes, was thinking of starting a racing stable, and finished up by believing that he really was a fashionable man, and strutted about, and was puffed out with conceit, as he had probably never read La Fontaine’s fable, in which he tells the story of the ass that is laden with relics which people salute, and so takes their bows to himself.
Suddenly, however, anonymous letters disturbed his quietude, and tore the bandage from his eyes.
At first he tore them up without reading them, and shrugged his shoulders disdainfully; but he received so many of them, and the writer seemed so determined to dot his i’s and cross his t’s and to clear his brain for him, that the unhappy man began to grow disturbed, and to watch and to ferret about. He instituted minute inquiries, and arrived at the conclusion that he no longer had the right to make fun of other husbands, and that he was the perfect counterpart of Sganarelle.2
2 The Cocu Imaginaire (The Imaginary Cuckold), in Molière’s play of that name.]
Furious at having been duped, he set a whole private inquiry agency to work, continually acted a part, and one evening appeared unexpectedly with a commissary of police in the snug little bachelor’s quarters which concealed his wife’s escapades.
Therése, who was terribly frightened, and at her wits’ end at being thus surprised in all the disorder of her lover’s apartments, and pale with shame and terror, hid herself behind the bed curtains, while he, who was an officer of dragoons, very much vexed at being mixed up in such a pinchbeck scandal, and at being caught in a silk shirt by these men who were so correctly dressed in frock coats, frowned angrily, and had to restrain himself so as not to fling his victim out of a window.
The police commissary, who was calmly looking at this little scene with the coolness of an amateur, prepared to verify the fact that they were caught flagrante delicto, and in an ironical voice said to her husband, who had claimed his services:
“I must ask for your name in full, Monsieur?”
“Charles Joseph Edward Dupontel,” was the answer. And as the commissary was writing it down from his dictation, he added suddenly: “Du Pontel in two words, if you please, Monsieur le Commissionaire!”
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:58