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The World’s Wit and Humor: An Encyclopedia in 15 Volumes. 1906.

Théophile Gautier (1811–1872)

The Duke’s Perversion

From “Her Ladyship’s Lap-Dog”

Dialogue between ÉLIANTE and the DUKE ALCINDOR.

Alc.Incomparable Éliante, you behold before you the humblest of your subjects, whom the great desire to lay his homage at the foot of your throne has driven to the point of importunity.

Éli.Duke, I would have you know that I am lying down, and not sitting on a throne, and at the same time would ask your pardon for not receiving you standing.

Alc.Is not the couch the throne of beautiful women? And will you not permit me to consider it a favor that you do not receive me standing?

Éli.Ah, now that I think of it, I forbid you to regard your reception in my boudoir as a favor. You are so exact that one must take one’s precautions where you are concerned.

Alc.How unjust you are, and yet Heaven knows that I have always entertained the purest flame of love for you. How charming you look in that white dressing-gown.

Éli.On the contrary, I am frightfully ugly to-day.

Alc.I must beg a thousand pardons for accusing you of a falsehood, but what you say cannot be called anything else. Nor could I retract that statement if I had to die for it.

Éli.But my face must be full of wrinkles; I have not slept all night.

Alc.You are as fresh as a flower; your eyes are as luminous as stars. But were you at the baroness’s little party last night? I am told that everything there was most exquisite and enjoyable. Ah, you were there! I should have divined that and have gone.

Éli.The marquise came there with a little lap-dog which I had not seen before, a little dog of the rarest breed. I have never seen its equal. Oh, such a love of a little dog! Duke, what made you desire so much to see me?

Alc.Is not the desire to see you an excellent motive in itself?

Éli.So far, so good. But have you not something more important to tell me?

Alc.By Heaven, yes! I desire to make my formal declaration of love, and to establish myself more firmly as an aspirant at the foot of your perfections.

Éli.Do not rave, Duke. You know as well as I that you are not a bit in love with me.

Alc.Ah, beautiful Éliante, you do not know how you have pierced my heart! Permit me to turn round, and you will see love’s arrow sticking out.

Éli.Oh, what an interesting face he has! What long hair of purest silk, what delicate little paws! Oh, I shall go mad if I cannot have a little dog exactly like him! But, alas, there is only that one.

Alc.I love you sincerely.

Éli.What an adorable tail!

Alc.I worship you!

Éli.What exquisite ears!

Alc.Divine woman!

Éli.Delightful little beast! The abbé says that he knows Hebrew. Oh, how unhappy I am, and how well he dances! I detest that marquise; she is an intriguing woman, and wears a wig.

Alc.What can I do to console you? Shall I cross the sea, or jump from the top of Notre Dame? Whatever you command will be easy!

Éli.I want nothing but Fanfreluche. This is the single violent desire that I have had in my whole life, and I cannot satisfy it. I believe I shall fall ill. My nerves are in tatters already. Duke, give me my drops! There, that little bottle on the table. Oh, how weak I am getting!

Alc.How admirable the line of your neck is, and that Brussels lace against it——

Éli.Hush, Alcindor! You irritate me dreadfully. Oh, I would gladly kiss the devil, or even my own husband, if he came to me with Fanfreluche under his arm!

Alc.And if it were I, would I be treated worse than the devil or your husband?

Éli.No—perhaps better. That is my last word. Ring for my maid. I wish to dress.

Alc.I will obey. The die is cast; I will turn dog-snatcher. Forgive me, oh, my ancestors! Jupiter changed himself into a goose and a bull, which was even more undignified. Love reduces the noblest hearts to these base extremities. Farewell, I go in search of your Golden Fleece.

Éli.Farewell! May the god of love and the god of thieves be propitious to you. Be careful not to return without Fanfreluche, for if you do I shall receive you, like a Hyrcanian tigress, with bare teeth and claws. Here comes my maid. Good-by, Duke.