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A History of the French Novel, Vol. 1

Ariste is evidently gaining fatally on her affections


After

this, Ariste, in an alley alone, to digest his dinner and walk off his wine, persuades himself that Clarice has fallen in love with him, and that, to secure her face and her fortune, he has only got to go on playing the misanthrope and give her a chance of "taming the bear." The company, perfectly well knowing his thoughts, determine to play up to them--not for his greater glory; and Clarice, not quite willingly, agrees to take the principal part. In a long _tete-a-tete_ he makes his clumsy court, airs his cheap philosophy, and lets by no means the mere suggestion of a cloven foot appear, on the subject of virtue and vice. However, she stands it, though rather disgusted, and confesses to him that people are suggesting a certain Cleon, a member of the party, as her second husband; whereon he decries marriage, but proposes himself as a lover. She reports progress, and is applauded; but the Presidente de Ponval, another widow, fat, fifty, fond of good fare, possessed of a fine fortune, but very far from foolish, vows that _she_ will make the greatest fool of Ariste. Cleon, however, accepts his part; and appears to be much disturbed at Clarice's attentions to Ariste, who, being shown to his room, declaims against its luxuries, but avails himself of them very cheerfully. In the morning he, though rather doubtfully, accepts a bath; but on his appearance in company Clarice makes remonstrances on his dress, etc., and actually prevails on him to let a valet curl his hair. This is an improvement;
but she does not like his brown coat.[396] He must write to Paris and order a suit of _gris-de-lin clair_, and after some wrangling he consents. But now the Presidente takes up the running. After expressing the extremest admiration for his coiffure, she makes a dead set at him, tells him she wants a second husband whom she can love for himself, and goes off with a passionate glance, the company letting him casually know that she has ten thousand crowns a year. He affects to despise this, which is duly reported to her next morning. She vows vengeance; but he dreams of her (and the crowns) meanwhile, and with that morning the new suit arrives. He is admiring himself in it when Cleon comes in, and throws himself on his mercy. He adores Clarice; Ariste is evidently gaining fatally on her affections; will he not be generous and abstain from using his advantages? But if _he_ is really in love Cleon will give her up.

The hook is, of course, more than singly baited and barbed. Ariste can at once play the magnanimous man, and be rewarded by the Presidente's ten thousand a year. He will be off with Clarice and on with Mme. de Ponval, whom he visits in his new splendour. She admires it hugely, but is alarmed at seeing him in Clarice's favourite colour. An admirable conversation follows, in which she constantly draws her ill-bred, ill-blooded, and self-besotted suitor into addressing her with insults, under the guise of compliments, and affects to enjoy them. He next visits Clarice, with whom he finds Cleon, in the depths of despair. She begins to admire the coat, and to pride herself on her choice, when he interrupts her, and solemnly resigns her to Cleon. Doris and Lucinde come in, and everybody is astounded at Ariste's generosity as he takes Clarice's hand and places it in that of his rival. Then he goes to the Presidente, and tells her what he has done. She expresses her delight, and he falls at her feet. Thereupon she throws round his neck a rose-coloured ribbon (_her_ colours), calls him "her Charming man,"[397] and insists on showing him to the public as her conquest and captive. He has no time to refuse, for the door opens and they all appear. "Le voila," says she, "cet homme si fier qui soupire a mes genoux pour les beaux yeux de ma cassette! Je vous le livre. Mon role est joue." So Ariste, tearing his curled hair, and the _gris-de-lin clair_ coat, and, doubtless, the Presidente's "red rose chain," cursing also terribly, goes off to write a book against the age, and to prove that nobody is wise but himself.


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