"One ought, every day at least, to hear a little song, read a good poem, see a fine picture
and, if possible, speak a few reasonable words." ~Goethe

~ also, if possible, to dwell in "a house where all's accustomed, ceremonious." ~Yeats

Thursday, February 28, 2013

Raoul & Marguerite


Masqueraders, 1875–78
by Raimundo de Madrazo y Garreta, 1841–1920

This darling little story by French humorist, Alphonse Allais is not always easy to locate, so I thought I'd take a minute this morning to type it up and pass it on to you here on my blog. It is perfect for Mardi Gras, Valentine's Day, or Purim, so I want to post it quick, before all the Fleeting February Feast Days slip away!

by Alphonse Allais (1854 - 1905)
translated by Fredric Jameson

Chapter I
In which we meet a Lady and a Gentleman who might have known happiness, had it not been for their constant misunderstandings.

At the time when this story begins, Raoul and Marguerite (splendid names for lovers) have been married for approximately five months.
Naturally, they married for love.
One fine night Raoul, while listening to Marguerite singing Colonel Henry d'Erville's lovely ballad:

L'averse, chere a la grenouille,
Parfume le bois rajeuni.
…Le bois, il est comme Nini.
Y sent bon quand y s'debarbouille.

Raoul, as I was saying, swore to himself that the divine Marguerite (diva Margarita) would never belong to any man but himself.
They would have been the happiest of all couples, except for their awful personalities.
At the slightest provocation, pow! a broken plate, a slap, a kick in the ass.
At such sounds, Love fled in tears, to await, in the neighborhood of a great park, the always imminent hour of reconciliation.
O then, kisses without number, infinite caresses, tender and knowing, ardors as burning as hell itself.
You would have thought the two of them had fights only so they could make up again.

Chapter II
A short episode which, without directly relating to the action, gives the clientele some notions of our heroes' way of life.

One day, however, it was worse than usual.
Or, rather, one night.
They were at the Theatre d'Application, where, among other things, a play by M. Porto-Riche, The Faithless Wife, was being given.
"Let me know," snarled Raoul, "when you're through looking at Grosclaude."
"And as for you," hissed Marguerite, "pass me the opera glasses when you've got Mademoiselle Moreno down pat."
Begun on this note, the conversation could end only in the most unfortunate reciprocal insults.
In the hansom cab that took them home, Marguerite delighted in plucking at Raoul's vanity as at an old, broken-down mandolin.
So it was that no sooner back home than the belligerents took up their respective positions.
Hand raised to strike, with a remorseless gaze, and a moustache bristling like that of a rabid cat, Raoul bore down on Marguerite, who quickly stopped showing off.
The poor thing fled, as hasty and furtive as the doe in the north woods.
Raoul was on the point of laying hands on her.
It was at that moment that the brilliant invention of the greatest anxieties flashed within her little brain.
Turning suddenly about, she threw herself into the arms of Raoul, crying, "Help, my darling Raoul, save me!"

Chapter III
In which our friends are reconciled as I would wish you also to be frequently reconciled.

[ellipses in original]

Chapter IV
As to how people who get involved in things that are none of their affair would do better to mind their own business.

One morning Raoul received the following message:

"If you would like just once to see your wife in a good mood,
go on Thursday to the Bal des Incoherents at the Moulin-Rouge.
She will be there, with a mask and disguised as a Congolese Dugout.
A word to the wise is sufficient! -- A FRIEND."

The same morning, Marguerite received the following message:

"If you would like just once to see your husband in a good mood,
go on Thursday to the Bal des Incoherents at the Moulin-Rouge.
He will be there, with a mask and disguised as a fin-de-siecle Knight Templar.
A word to the wise is sufficient! -- A FRIEND."

These missives did not fall on deaf ears.
With their intentions admirable dissimulated, when the fatal day arrived:

"My dear," Raoul said with his innocent look, "I shall be forced to leave you until tomorrow. Business of the greatest urgency summons me to Dunkirk."

"Why that's perfect," said Marguerite with delightful candor. "I've just received a telegram from Aunt Aspasia, who, desperately ill, bids me to her bedside."

Chapter V
In which today's wild youth is observed in the whirl of the most illusory and transitory pleasures, instead of thinking on eternity.

The social column of the Diable boiteux was unanimous in proclaiming this year's Bal des Incoherents as having unaccustomed brilliance.
Lots of shoulders, no few legs, not to mention accessories.
Two of those present seemed not to take part in the general madness: a fin-de-siecle Knight Templar and a Congolese Dugout, both hermetically masked.
At the stroke of three a.m. exactly, the Knight Templar approached the Dugout and invited her to dine with him.
In reply the Dugout placed a tiny hand on the robust arm of the Templar, and the couple went off.

Chapter VI
In which the plot thickens.
"Leave us for a moment," said the Templar to the waiter, "we will make our choice and call you."
The waiter withdrew, and the Templar locked the door to the private room with care.
Then, with a sudden gesture, having set his own helmet aside, he snatched away the Dugout's mask.
Both at the same instant cried out in astonishment, neither one recognizing the other.
He was not Raoul.
She was not Marguerite.
They apologized to each other and were not long in making acquaintance on the occasion of an excellent supper, need I say more.

Chapter VII
Happy ending for everyone, except the others.

This little mesaventure was a lesson to Raoul and Marguerite.
From that moment on, they no longer quarreled and were utterly happy.
They don't have lots of children yet, but they will.


CODA, by Anon.

In which Raoul and Marguerite and Scheherazade attend Whose Party and depart after an evening of fun, or so it seemed.

As the door shut behind them, Raoul muttered crudely and jealously, "He likes your ass."

Before Marguerite could formulate a response of any kind, Scheherazade announced brightly: "Who doesn't?"

See, that's what makes Scheherazade a storyteller. Because in one inspired, well-timed, and heart-felt remark, she rendered Marguerite innocent of any implied wrong-doing and established Raoul's remark as foolish and churlish. Simultaneously, raising the interpretation of Whose behavior from leering to admiration, and establishing her loyalty to Marguerite.

A good friend and a good storyteller -- Scheherazade was both!*

Harmony in Flesh Colour and Red, 1869
by James Abbott McNeill Whistler, 1834 - 1903
[embellished by Yours Truly]

*"It is not often that
someone comes along
who is a true friend
and a good writer.
Charlotte was both."

from Charlotte's Web
by E. B. White


Next Fortnightly Post
Thursday, March 14th

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my shorter, almost daily blog posts

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