SCENE I.——CLÉANTE, LA FLÈCHE.
Cle. How now, you rascal! where have you been hiding? Did I not give you orders to…?
La Fl. Yes, Sir, and I came here resolved to wait for you without stirring, but your father, that most ungracious of men, drove me into the street in spite of myself, and I well nigh got a good drubbing into the bargain.
Cle. How is our affair progressing? Things are worse than ever for us, and since I left you, I have discovered that my own father is my rival.
La Fl. Your father in love?
Cle. It seems so; and I found it very difficult to hide from him what I felt at such a discovery.
La Fl. He meddling with love! What the deuce is he thinking of? Does he mean to set everybody at defiance? And is love made for people of his build?
Cle. It is to punish me for my sins that this passion has entered his head.
La Fl. But why do you hide your love from him?
Cle. That he may not suspect anything, and to make it more easy for me to fall back, if need be, upon some device to prevent this marriage. What answer did you receive?
La Fl. Indeed, Sir, those who borrow are much to be pitied, and we must put up with strange things when, like you, we are forced to pass through the hands of the usurers.
Cle. Then the affair won't come off?
La Fl. Excuse me; Mr. Simon, the broker who was recommended to us, is a very active and zealous fellow, and says he has left no stone unturned to help you. He assures me that your looks alone have won his heart.
Cle. Shall I have the fifteen thousand francs which I want?
La Fl. Yes, but under certain trifling conditions, which you must accept if you wish the bargain to be concluded.
Cle. Did you speak to the man who is to lend the money?
La Fl. Oh! dear no. Things are not done in that way. He is still more anxious than you to remain unknown. These things are greater mysteries than you think. His name is not by any means to be divulged, and he is to be introduced to you to-day at a house provided by him, so that he may hear from yourself all about your position and your family; and I have not the least doubt that the mere name of your father will be sufficient to accomplish what you wish.
Cle. Particularly as my mother is dead, and they cannot deprive me of what I inherit from her.
La Fl. Well, here are some of the conditions which he has himself dictated to our go-between for you to take cognisance of, before anything is begun.
"Supposing that the lender is satisfied with all his securities, and that the borrower is of age and of a family whose property is ample, solid, secure, and free from all incumbrances, there shall be drawn up a good and correct bond before as honest a notary as it is possible to find, and who for this purpose shall be chosen by the lender, because he is the more concerned of the two that the bond should be rightly executed."
Cle. There is nothing to say against that.
LA FA. "The lender, not to burden his conscience with the least scruple, does not wish to lend his money at more than five and a half per cent."
Cle. Five and a half per cent? By Jove, that's honest! We have nothing to complain of.
La Fl. That's true.
"But as the said lender has not in hand the sum required, and as, in order to oblige the borrower, he is himself obliged to borrow from another at the rate of twenty per cent., it is but right that the said first borrower shall pay this interest, without detriment to the rest; since it is only to oblige him that the said lender is himself forced to borrow."
Cle. The deuce! What a Jew! what a Turk we have here! That is more than twenty-five per cent.
La Fl. That's true; and it is the remark I made. It is for you to consider the matter before you act.
Cle. How can I consider? I want the money, and I must therefore accept everything.
La Fl. That is exactly what I answered.
Cle. Is there anything else?
La Fl. Only a small item.
"Of the fifteen thousand francs which are demanded, the lender will only be able to count down twelve thousand in hard cash; instead of the remaining three thousand, the borrower will have to take the chattels, clothing, and jewels, contained in the following catalogue, and which the said lender has put in all good faith at the lowest possible figure."
Cle. What is the meaning of all that?
La Fl. I'll go through the catalogue:—
"Firstly:—A fourpost bedstead, with hangings of Hungary lace very elegantly trimmed with olive-coloured cloth, and six chairs and a counterpane to match; the whole in very good condition, and lined with soft red and blue shot-silk. Item:—the tester of good pale pink Aumale serge, with the small and the large fringes of silk."
Cle. What does he want me to do with all this?
La Fl. Wait.
"Item:—Tapestry hangings representing the loves of Gombaud and Macée.1 Item:—A large walnut table with twelve columns or turned legs, which draws out at both ends, and is provided beneath with six stools."
Cle. Hang it all! What am I to do with all this?
La Fl. Have patience.
"Item:—Three large matchlocks inlaid with mother-of-pearl, with rests to correspond. Item:—A brick furnace with two retorts and three receivers, very useful to those who have any taste for distilling."
Cle. You will drive me crazy.
La Fl. Gently!
"Item:—A Bologna lute with all its strings, or nearly all. Item:—A pigeon-hole table and a draught-board, and a game of mother goose, restored from the Greeks, most useful to pass the time when one has nothing to do. Item:—A lizard's skin, three feet and a half in length, stuffed with hay, a pleasing curiosity to hang on the ceiling of a room. The whole of the above-mentioned articles are really worth more than four thousand five hundred francs, and are reduced to the value of a thousand crowns through the considerateness of the lender."
Cle. Let the plague choke him with his considerateness, the wretch, the cut-throat that he is! Did ever anyone hear of such usury? Is he not satisfied with the outrageous interest he asks that he must force me to take, instead of the three thousand francs, all the old rubbish which he picks up. I shan't get two hundred crowns for all that, and yet I must bring myself to yield to all his wishes; for he is in a position to force me to accept everything, and he has me, the villain, with a knife at my throat.
La Fl. I see you, Sir, if you'll forgive my saying so, on the high-road followed by Panurge2 to ruin himself—taking money in advance, buying dear, selling cheap, and cutting your corn while it is still grass.
Cle. What would you have me do? It is to this that young men are reduced by the accursed avarice of their fathers; and people are astonished after that, that sons long for their death.
La Fl. No one can deny that yours would excite against his meanness the most quiet of men. I have not, thank God, any inclination gallows- ward, and among my colleagues whom I see dabbling in various doubtful affairs, I know well enough how to keep myself out of hot water, and how to keep clear of all those things which savour ever so little of the ladder; but to tell you the truth, he almost gives me, by his ways of going on, the desire of robbing him, and I should think that in doing so I was doing a meritorious action.
Cle. Give me that memorandum that I may have another look at it.
SCENE II.——HARPAGON, MR. SIMON (CLÉANTE and LA FLÈCHE at the back of the stage).
Sim. Yes, Sir; it is a young man who is greatly in want of money; his affairs force him to find some at any cost, and he will submit to all your conditions.
Har. But are you sure, Mr. Simon, that there is no risk to run in this case? and do you know the name, the property, and the family of him for whom you speak?
Sim. No; I cannot tell you anything for certain, as it was by mere chance that I was made acquainted with him; but he will tell you everything himself, and his servant has assured me that you will be quite satisfied when you know who he is. All I can tell you is that his family is said to be very wealthy, that he has already lost his mother, and that he will pledge you his word, if you insist upon it, that his father will die before eight months are passed.
Har. That is something. Charity, Mr. Simon, demands of us to gratify people whenever we have it in our power.
La Fl. (aside to Cléante, on recognising Mr. Simon). What does this mean? Mr. Simon talking with your father!
Cle. (aside to La Flèche). Has he been told who I am, and would you be capable of betraying me?
Sim. (to Cléante and La Flèche). Ah! you are in good time! But who told you to come here? (To Harpagon) It was certainly not I who told them your name and address; but I am of opinion that there is no great harm done; they are people who can be trusted, and you can come to some understanding together.
Sim. (showing Cléante). This is the gentleman who wants to borrow the fifteen thousand francs of which I have spoken to you.
Har. What! miscreant! is it you who abandon yourself to such excesses?
Cle. What! father! is it you who stoop to such shameful deeds?
(M. Simon runs away, and La Flèche hides himself.)
SCENE III.——HARPAGON, CLÉANTE.
Har. It is you who are ruining yourself by loans so greatly to be condemned!
Cle. So it is you who seek to enrich yourself by such criminal usury!
Har. And you dare, after that, to show yourself before me?
Cle. And you dare, after that, to show yourself to the world?
Har. Are you not ashamed, tell me, to descend to these wild excesses, to rush headlong into frightful expenses, and disgracefully to dissipate the wealth which your parents have amassed with so much toil.
Cle. Are you not ashamed of dishonouring your station by such dealings, of sacrificing honour and reputation to the insatiable desire of heaping crown upon crown, and of outdoing the most infamous devices that have ever been invented by the most notorious usurers?
Har. Get out of my sight, you reprobate; get out of my sight!
Cle. Who is the more criminal in your opinion: he who buys the money of which he stands in need, or he who obtains, by unfair means, money for which he has no use?
Har. Begone, I say, and do not provoke me to anger. (Alone) After all, I am not very much vexed at this adventure; it will be a lesson to me to keep a better watch over all his doings.
SCENE IV.——FROSINE, HARPAGON.
Har. Wait a moment, I will come back and speak to you. (Aside) I had better go and see a little after my money.
SCENE V.——LA FLÈCHE, FROSINE.
La Fl. (without seeing Frosine). The adventure is most comical. Hidden somewhere he must have a large store of goods of all kinds, for the list did not contain one single article which either of us recognised.
Fro. Hallo! is it you, my poor La Flèche? How is it we meet here?
La Fl. Ah! ah! it is you, Frosine; and what have you come to do here?
Fro. What have I come to do? Why! what I do everywhere else, busy myself about other people's affairs, make myself useful to the community in general, and profit as much as I possibly can by the small talent I possess. Must we not live by our wits in this world? and what other resources have people like me but intrigue and cunning?
La Fl. Have you, then, any business with the master of this house?
Fro. Yes. I am transacting for him a certain small matter for which he is pretty sure to give me a reward.
La Fl. He give you a reward! Ah! ah! Upon my word, you will be 'cute if you ever get one, and I warn you that ready money is very scarce hereabouts.
Fro. That may be, but there are certain services which wonderfully touch our feelings.
La Fl. Your humble servant; but as yet you don't know Harpagon. Harpagon is the human being of all human beings the least humane, the mortal of all mortals the hardest and closest. There is no service great enough to induce him to open his purse. If, indeed, you want praise, esteem, kindness, and friendship, you are welcome to any amount; but money, that's a different affair. There is nothing more dry, more barren, than his favour and his good grace, and "give" is a word for which he has such a strong dislike that he never says I give, but I lend, you a good morning.
Fro. That's all very well; but I know the art of fleecing men. I have a secret of touching their affections by flattering their hearts, and of finding out their weak points.
La Fl. All useless here. I defy you to soften, as far as money is concerned, the man we are speaking of. He is a Turk on that point, of a Turkishness to drive anyone to despair, and we might starve in his presence and never a peg would he stir. In short, he loves money better than reputation, honour, and virtue, and the mere sight of anyone making demands upon his purse sends him into convulsions; it is like striking him in a vital place, it is piercing him to the heart, it is like tearing out his very bowels! And if … But here he comes again; I leave you.
SCENE VI.——HARPAGON, FROSINE.
Har. (aside). All is as it should be. (To Frosine) Well, what is it, Frosine?
Fro. Bless me, how well you look! You are the very picture of health.
Har. Who? I?
Fro. Never have I seen you looking more rosy, more hearty.
Har. Are you in earnest?
Fro. Why! you have never been so young in your life; and I know many a man of twenty-five who looks much older than you do.
Har. And yet, Frosine, I have passed threescore.
Fro. Threescore! Well, and what then? You don't mean to make a trouble of that, do you? It's the very flower of manhood, the threshold of the prime of life.
Har. True; but twenty years less would do me no harm, I think.
Fro. Nonsense! You've no need of that, and you are of a build to last out a hundred.
Har. Do you really think so?
Fro. Decidedly. You have all the appearance of it. Hold yourself up a little. Ah! what a sign of long life is that line there straight between your two eyes!
Har. You know all about that, do you?
Fro. I should think I do. Show me your hand.3 Dear me, what a line of life there is there!
Fro. Don't you see how far this line goes?
Har. Well, and what does it mean?
Fro. What does it mean? There … I said a hundred years; but no, it is one hundred and twenty I ought to have said.
Har. Is it possible?
Fro. I tell you they will have to kill you, and you will bury your children and your children's children.
Har. So much the better! And what news of our affair?
Fro. Is there any need to ask? Did ever anyone see me begin anything and not succeed in it? I have, especially for matchmaking, the most wonderful talent. There are no two persons in the world I could not couple together; and I believe that, if I took it into my head, I could make the Grand Turk marry the Republic of Venice.4 But we had, to be sure, no such difficult thing to achieve in this matter. As I know the ladies very well, I told them every particular about you; and I acquainted the mother with your intentions towards Marianne since you saw her pass in the street and enjoy the fresh air out of her window.
Har. What did she answer…?
Fro. She received your proposal with great joy; and when I told her that you wished very much that her daughter should come to-night to assist at the marriage contract which is to be signed for your own daughter, she assented at once, and entrusted her to me for the purpose.
Har. You see, Frosine, I am obliged to give some supper to Mr. Anselme, and I should like her to have a share in the feast.
Fro. You are quite right. She is to come after dinner to pay a visit to your daughter; then she means to go from here to the fair, and return to your house just in time for supper.
Har. That will do very well; they shall go together in my carriage, which I will lend them.
Fro. That will suit her perfectly.
Har. But I say, Frosine, have you spoken to the mother about the dowry she can give her daughter? Did you make her understand that under such circumstances she ought to do her utmost and to make a great sacrifice? For, after all, one does not marry a girl without her bringing something with her.
Fro. How something! She is a girl who will bring you a clear twelve thousand francs a year?
Har. Twelve thousand francs a year?
Fro. Yes! To begin with, she has been nursed and brought up with the strictest notions of frugality. She is a girl accustomed to live upon salad, milk, cheese, and apples, and who consequently will require neither a well served up table, nor any rich broth, nor your everlasting peeled barley; none, in short, of all those delicacies that another woman would want. This is no small matter, and may well amount to three thousand francs yearly. Besides this, she only cares for simplicity and neatness; she will have none of those splendid dresses and rich jewels, none of that sumptuous furniture in which girls like her indulge so extravagantly; and this item is worth more than four thousand francs per annum. Lastly, she has the deepest aversion to gambling; and this is not very common nowadays among women. Why, I know of one in our neighbourhood who lost at least twenty thousand francs this year. But let us reckon only a fourth of that sum. Five thousand francs a year at play and four thousand in clothes and jewels make nine thousand; and three thousand francs which we count for food, does it not make your twelve thousand francs?
Har. Yes, that's not bad; but, after all, that calculation has nothing real in it.
Fro. Excuse me; is it nothing real to bring you in marriage a great sobriety, to inherit a great love for simplicity in dress, and the acquired property of a great hatred for gambling?
Har. It is a farce to pretend to make up a dowry with all the expenses she will not run into. I could not give a receipt for what I do not receive; and I must decidedly get something.
Fro. Bless me! you will get enough; and they have spoken to me of a certain country where they have some property, of which you will be master.
Har. We shall have to see to that. But, Frosine, there is one more thing that makes me uneasy. The girl is young, you know; and young people generally like those who are young like themselves, and only care for the society of the young. I am afraid that a man of my age may not exactly suit her taste, and that this may occasion in my family certain complications that would in nowise be pleasant to me.
Fro. Oh, how badly you judge her! This is one more peculiarity of which I had to speak to you. She has the greatest detestation to all young men, and only likes old people.
Har. Does she?
Fro. I should like you to hear her talk on that subject; she cannot bear at all the sight of a young man, and nothing delights her more than to see a fine old man with a venerable beard. The oldest are to her the most charming, and I warn you beforehand not to go and make yourself any younger than you really are. She wishes for one sixty years old at least; and it is not more than six months ago that on the very eve of being married she suddenly broke off the match on learning that her lover was only fifty-six years of age, and did not put on spectacles to sign the contract.
Har. Only for that?
Fro. Yes; she says there is no pleasure with a man of fifty-six; and she has a decided affection for those who wear spectacles.
Har. Well, this is quite new to me.
Fro. No one can imagine how far she carries this. She has in her room a few pictures and engravings, and what do you imagine they are? An Adonis, a Cephalus, a Paris, an Apollo? Not a bit of it! Fine portraits of Saturn, of King Priam, of old Nestor, and of good father Anchises on his son's shoulders.
Har. That's admirable. I should never have guessed such a thing; and I am very pleased to hear that she has such taste as this. Indeed had I been a woman, I should never have loved young fellows.
Fro. I should think not. Fine trumpery indeed, these young men, for any one to fall in love with. Fine jackanapes and puppies for a woman to hanker after. I should like to know what relish anyone can find in them?
Har. Truly; I don't understand it myself, and I cannot make out how it is that some women dote so on them.
Fro. They must be downright idiots. Can any one be in his senses who thinks youth amiable? Can those curly-pated coxcombs be men, and can one really get attached to such animals?
Har. Exactly what I say every day! With their effeminate voices, their three little bits of a beard turned up like cat's whiskers, their tow wigs, their flowing breeches and open breasts!
Fro. Yes; they are famous guys compared with yourself. In you we see something like a man. There is enough to satisfy the eye. It is thus that one should be made and dressed to inspire love.
Har. Then you think I am pretty well?
Fro. Pretty well! I should think so; you are charming, and your face would make a beautiful picture. Turn round a little, if you please. You could not find anything better anywhere. Let me see you walk. You have a well-shaped body, free and easy, as it should be, and one which gives no sign of infirmity.
Har. I have nothing the matter to speak of, I am thankful to say. It is only my cough, which returns from time to time.5
Fro. That is nothing, and coughing becomes you exceedingly well.
Har. Tell me, Frosine, has Marianne seen me yet? Has she not noticed me when I passed by?
Fro. No; but we have had many conversations about you. I gave her an exact description of your person, and I did not fail to make the most of your merit, and to show her what an advantage it would be to have a husband like you.
Har. You did right, and I thank you very much for it.
Fro. I have, Sir, a small request to make to you. I am in danger of losing a lawsuit for want of a little money (Harpagon looks grave), and you can easily help me with it, if you have pity upon me. You cannot imagine how happy she will be to see you. (Harpagon looks joyful.) Oh! how sure you are to please her, and how sure that antique ruff of yours is to produce a wonderful effect on her mind. But, above all, she will be delighted with your breeches fastened to your doublet with tags; that will make her mad after you, and a lover who wears tags will be most welcome to her.
Har. You send me into raptures, Frosine, by saying that.
Fro. I tell you the truth, Sir; this lawsuit is of the utmost importance for me. (Harpagon looks serious again.) If I lose it, I am for ever ruined; but a very small sum will save me. I should like you to have seen the happiness she felt when I spoke of you to her. (Harpagon looks pleased again.) Joy sparkled in her eyes while I told her of all your good qualities; and I succeeded, in short, in making her look forward with the greatest impatience to the conclusion of the match.
Har. You have given me great pleasure, Frosine, and I assure you I …
Fro. I beg of you, Sir, to grant me the little assistance I ask of you. (Harpagon again looks grave.) It will put me on my feet again, and I shall feel grateful to you for ever.
Har. Good-bye; I must go and finish my correspondence.
Fro. I assure you, Sir, that you could not help me in a more pressing necessity.
Har. I will see that my carriage is ready to take you to the fair.
Fro. I would not importune you so if I were not compelled by necessity.
Har. And I will see that we have supper early, so that nobody may be ill.
Fro. Do not refuse me the service; I beg of you. You can hardly believe, Sir, the pleasure that …
Har. I must go; somebody is calling me. We shall see each other again by and by.
Fro. (alone). May the fever seize you, you stingy cur, and send you to the devil and his angels! The miser has held out against all my attacks; but I must not drop the negotiation; for I have the other side, and there, at all events, I am sure of a good reward.