OH, woman, woman, woman, weak and deceitful creature! No created thing can fail to betray its instinct, and is it yours to deceive? After having obstinately refused me when I urged her before her mistress; at the very moment when she gave me her word, in the very midst of the ceremony — He laughed while reading, the perfidious wretch, and I stood there like a booby! No, Sir Count, you shall not have her, you shall not! Because you are a great lord, you consider yourself a great genius. Noble birth, a great fortune, high rank and offices — all that tends to make one proud. What have you done to deserve these good things?” You have condescended to be born, that’s all. You are a commonplace fellow enough in all else; while I, upon my faith, lost in a crowd of obscurities, must use more wisdom and forethought for a bare living than it has taken to govern all Spain for a century. And you would oppose me — Some one is coming. It’s she. It’s nobody. The night is black as the devil, and her am I, practising the foolish trade of a husband, although I am but half a one! Could anything be more grotesque than my fate! The son of I know not whom, stolen by bandits, brought up in their ways, I become disgusted with all this, and wish to pursue an honest life, but am rebuffed at every hand! I study chemistry, pharmacy, surgery, and 233 all the needs of a great lord hardly serves to put into my hand the lancet of a horse-doctor! Weary of grieving the poor beasts, and in order to engage upon an entirely different career, I throw myself with might and main on the drama. If I had only tied a stone about my neck! I put together a comedy on the manners of the seraglio. A Spanish author, I think, may jeer at Mohammed without scruple. At the same moment an ambassador, from Heaven knows where, complains that in my verses I offend the Sublime Porte, Persia, half of the Indian peninsula, the whole of Egypt, and the kingdoms of Barca, Tripoli and Tunis, Algeria and Morocco; so there’s my comedy knocked on the head to please these Mohammedan princes, not one of whom, I wager, can read. My cheeks become hollow, my rent falls due; I see a brutal bailiff coming from afar, a pen sticking in his wig. A question arises as to the nature of wealth, and, as it is not necessary to have a thing in order to reason about it, I, having not a farthing, write about the value of money and on its net produce; no sooner done than I see lowered for me the bridge of a strong castle, at whose gate I leave hope and liberty behind. Weary of feeding an obscure lodger, they put me into the street one day; and, as one must needs dine, though out of prison, I sharpen my pen again, and go about asking what is the question of the day. I am told that during my economic retreat there has been established at Madrid a reign of liberty for the sale of all productions, even those of the press; and that, provided only that I speak in my writings neither of the law nor of religion, nor politics, nor morals, nor those in authority, nor the opera or other pubic spectacles, nor of anybody connected with anything, I may print freely under the inspection of two or three censors. To profit by this charming liberty, I announce a periodical, 234 and, in the belief that I am not following any one’s footsteps, I name it The Useless Newspaper. A thousand poor fools rise up against me. I am suppressed, and there I am, again without employment! I am near despair when I am given the hope of a place, but, unfortunately, I am fit for it. An accountant is needed; they take a dancer. What is left but to steal? I become a faro-banker. Then, my dear people, I sup in town, and the fashionable folk courteously open their houses to me, and keep three-quarters of the profit for themselves. I might have risen in the world. I begin even to see that in order to gain riches knowingness is better than knowledge. But as every one about me, though stealing all he can, requires me to be honest, I am on the point of starving again. I want to leave the world at once. I want to put twenty fathoms of water between us, but a kindly deity recalls me to my first vocation. I take my razor-case and my English strop, and, leaving conceit to the fools who feed on it, and shame in the middle of the road, a burden too heavy for one who travels afoot, I go from town to town shaving folk, and live free from care at last. A great lord passes through Seville; he recognizes me, I put him in the way of getting married, and as a reward for my having secured him a wife, he wants to get mine from me! An intrigue arises, a very storm. About to fall into an abyss, at the moment of marrying my mother, my kindred come upon me in confusion. They all debate: it’s you, it’s he, it’s I, it’s we; no, it’s none of us; well, but who, then, who? Oh, what an absurd muddle! How has it all happened to me? And why this and not something else?
Suz. None of the things which you have planned, my friend, and which we are waiting for, have yet come to pass.
Fig. Chance has done better than all of us, little one. The way of the world is this: one works, one plans, one arranges, on this hand; on the other, it is fate that really rules, and, from the greedy conqueror who would like to swallow the earth, down to the harmless blind man led by his dog — all are the playthings of fortune’s caprice. But the blind man with his dog is at times more safely led and less mistaken in his views than the other blind man in the midst of his flatterers. As for that amiable little blind fellow whose name is love ——
Suz. Ah, that’s the only one who interests me!
Fig. Permit me, then, taking service with folly, to be the good dog who leads him to your dear little door, and we shall be provided with lodgings for life.
Suz. Love and you?
Fig. I and love.
Suz. And you will seek no other home?
Fig. If you take me there, may a thousand million gallants ——
Suz. You are going to exaggerate; tell me truthfully ——
Fig. It’s the truth, the real truth.
Suz. Fie, you wretch! Can one speak several kinds of truth?
Fig. Yes, indeed. Since it has been remarked that with time old follies become wisdom, and that very ancient little lies have produced very great truths, there are a thousand 236 kinds. There is the kind of truth that one knows, but dares not tell, for it is not well to tell every truth; and there is the kind one proclaims without having any faith in it, for it is not well to believe every truth; then there are passionate vows, mothers’ threats, the protestations of men in their cups, the promises of high officials, the last word of a haggling merchant — the list is infinite. It is only my love for Suzanne that is a truth beyond doubt.
Suz. I love your gaiety because it is folly, and tells me that you are happy. But let us discuss the meeting with the count.
Fig. Or rather let us not discuss it; it has nearly cost me Suzanne.
Suz. Then you do not wish it to take place?
Fig. If you love me, Suzanne, give me your word of honor on this point; let him shiver alone, and let that be his punishment.
Suz. It cost me so little to give him my word, that I can break it without much trouble. There is no question of the meeting now.
Fig. Is that the real truth?
Suz. I am not like you clever people; for me there is only one kind.
Fig. And you will love me a little?
Fig. That’s hardly anything.
Suz. And why?
Fig. In love, you see, not even too much is enough.
Suz. I do not understand these fine distinctions, but I will love no one save my husband.
Fig. Keep your word, and you will be a good exception to the rule.