The three men were finishing their dinner on the posada’s boom terrace. A breeze from the sea gently stirred the ticking of the tent and, in the air at last refreshed, the luminous globes, scattered along the beach, seemed to arder louder. On the Antibes side, the moon, softly appearing in the indentation of a cloud of eider-trees, meshed with quicksilver a whole corner of the Mediterranean. It was good, imperceptibly lifted by the waves, the famous nacre and frost net of the moon fishermen of Lunel , the lovely variation of the reception speech of M. Edmond Rostand.
Gypsies, wrecks of some Reserve today[Pg 20] closed, indolently scratching habaneras waves and, without the mosquitoes buzzing around the lampshades, the evening would have been quite delicious, but, from time to time, cooking with a sting in the ankle or in the leg, l he sneak attack by a zanzara through the stitches of the sock or underwear made diners curse the climate of Nice and reminded them that the enemy did not disarm.
“And they don’t bite the natives!” said Charles Haymeri, awkwardly lighting a cigar, it is war declared on the forestieri .
-Bah! they have the same ones in Armenonville and they don’t have that breeze.
“They even have cars on top of that.
And the minutes of the M Greek dance myself Madeleine Lemaire, was Stouza.
“We don’t appreciate enough our happiness to be far away.”
And the three Parisians congratulated themselves on having lingered in this summer Nice, so terrible seen from afar, so delicious lived up close.
And each according to his temperament praised the charm of the Deserted River.
What pleased Pierre Duteuil was the abandonment of the silent and empty streets, their rare passers-by, the edging of clear blue shadow flush with the houses and, in the little squares shaded by plane trees, the liquid chirping of the fountains. Nice, abandoned by fashion and returned to itself, returned violently to the cradle of the race; and it was indeed in an Italian town that he loved himself, prowling, by day, along the sunny and deserted quays, soaked with sweat and vivified with the breeze, in front of the shimmering tin of the gulfs, the sea rubbed with garlic , as the fishermen call it.
Charles Haymeri was full of praise for the enchantment of roses in his garden. Every morning, they were born by the thousands to peel off the leaves, in the evening, in an odor mingled with sap and rot; the distaffed cypress trees of his orchard made him look like an oriental cemetery, and, when he wandered under his olive trees garlanded with wisteria and roses, he[Pg 22] rose from the gardens of the neighboring villas, all abandoned under their closed shutters, with such fragrances of jasmine and tuberose that he sometimes fainted. He was then forced to lean against the trunk of a tree, his hand on his moist flesh to suppress the beating of his heart. This country, sunny and sad under the oppression of too much rising sap, and all this desiring and swooning nature put on his lips a taste of heat and death. “A garden by d’Annunzio … you abuse it my dear, we know this verse, you even wrote it somewhere, do we have to recite it to you … oh the walks of the calinières in the breeze of the evening, along the blocks of the moles, and the Virgilian dream of the lunar olive trees, at night, in the orchards… You forgot the fireflies and as a final chord, here, I retained the sentence: the French Riviera gray with too many bruised flowers, lethargic and swooning in the taste of death … Man of letters, go.” What Haymeri impatient.
“You have too much memory, Robert. This is what prevented me from doing literature, I would in good faith have committed too much plagiarism, but, like you, I am not going to look for noon to two o’clock and my reasons in metaphors.
I love this country because it is beautiful, because it is cool, because it smells good, there are no more cars and the roads are deserted. We no longer see Englishmen, old women in make-up, married croupiers and millionaire gamblers. Finally, I like it because the sidewalks do not stink with horse dung and on the condition that I do not go out after eight in the morning, and do not venture outside until after six in the evening, I do not want to go out. do not know a place where you breathe better and where you live more quietly.
“Amen,” Charles Haymeri said.
“Don’t sing victory too soon,” said a fourth thief whom the three diners had not seen coming; a tall man’s stature suddenly appeared behind them.
“Here, Paul Sourdière,” exclaimed Stouza, “where did you get this way of walking? we didn’t hear you.
“I have my tennis shoes, rubber soles, soles, moreover, adopted today by all burglars.
“Our compliments, and what do you mean, ominous bird: Don’t sing victory too soon .
—I mean (and Paul Sourdière was ordering a coffee) that you could wait until the end of the summer before congratulating yourself so high on the benefits of the climate. It is because it is terribly treacherous, this summer sky of Nice, whose charm and gentleness you praise, treacherous like waves and like Italy. You haven’t done anything stupid yet, but wait for the heat wave, when your nerves, untied by the softness of this country, will become exasperated and stretch like an arc in the ardent dryness of its mistral.
Wait for the first sirocco that will come to us from Africa and, after eight days of squall and[Pg 25] of dust in the harshness of a Sahara, when you fall back into the feverish sweetness of these waves without ebb and flow, in this too much perfume and this too much heat and caress scattered here, in the unanimous consent of the beings and things to love, beware of you, gentlemen, because everything in this complicit nature irritates the will by exacerbating the senses. The first temptation, the most stupid, the most banal, the one for which you would blush for others, will find you defenseless and the culprit, it will not be you, but this scorching sun which pumps and breaks the brain, this too much ardor outside and this too much freshness in the homes.
You will see, as I have, the harmful influence of this climate, but too late. We cannot escape fate.
“And all this to teach us.
“Miss Eva Waston’s wedding.
“Eva Waston! our pretty waltzer this winter.
– Herself, Miss Eva Waston, the rich[Pg 26] heir to Master Réginald Waston, the billionaire thrower of Beaulieu.
“How she gets married! She had a way of cutting off the most tender flirtations. The most famous dowry hunters had given up on peacemaking around her. Ah if I had ever been told that this one would get married!
“And she marries an Archduke?” “A crown prince?” “A Field Marshal of Industry? What age-old crown of Magnate of Hungary or of Emperor of Bysance could have unearthed for him the amiable Dowagers who, from Cannes to Piccadilly, take care of channeling the billions of trusts in the Peerage and the noble suburb?
“Oh, you’re far from it …. Miss Eva Waston, our pretty turquoise blue moire clowness from the last vegetione. (You remember the curb chain she wore on her left ankle, three hundred thousand francs in brilliants, a dowry) Miss Eva Waston. thirty million in cash, marry a little second lieutenant [Pg 27]27 th hunters Alpine Menton.
“A lieutenant of Alpine chasseurs from Menton!”
“As I have the honor to tell you.
“But his name?
“Ah, but! it is that this name constitutes almost an impropriety, given the motive of the marriage. The invitation letter will tell you that.
-You are silly, Sourdiere, I know all the officers of the 27 th hunters. You can walk.
“Well, it’s Gennaro Olivari.
-Yes, I know it! He’s a Corsican. He’s got nothing for him, this boy.
“That’s not Miss Waston’s opinion.
“This mute is stupid! you make us languish.
“Not more than the bride. Here, I am a good prince, this is the story. You will see that it is good. How this insufferable Miss Waston (because we are all on this point of the same opinion, aren’t we, insufferable and by her aplomb and[Pg 28] her impertinence and her authority as a pretty woman and child spoiled by so many millions?) could she consent to give up, this year, the exhibitions at Auteuil, the floral dinners at the Ritz, the picnics at the Armenonville, at the Greek ball of M me Lemaire, at the garden parties of the dear count and at the green theater of the Scola Cantorumto spend his summer in the Riviera? mystery! It has nonetheless been installed since the end of May in an old half-castel and half-farm estate, lost in the mountains, between Peïra-Cava and Turini, where larches and firs are so beautiful. The horizon is worth those of the most famous sites in Switzerland, but Miss Eva Waston, who spent three winters in Cairo, one in the Engadine and two summers in the Tyrol, is a little jaded by the magnificence of the horizons. She is nonetheless installed with her aunt, Mrs. Elena Migefride, her father’s respectable sister, in a rickety ruin, the improvised comfort of modern-style furniture of which does not alleviate carelessness; and this summer Miss Eva Waston will not be going to Cowes at the[Pg 29] at the time of the regattas, neither in Trouville during the big week, nor in Luchon at the end of August, nor in Biarritz in September, nor in Saint-Sébastien for the bull races.
“And all this for a little alpine hunter, for a Gennero Olivari?”
“Yes and no, because life is a little more complex, however. You know that Miss Waston had a rather bad fever this winter, after the Carnival, that her best friends claimed to be typhoid …. In the Riviera as everywhere else, these perfidious assertions immediately create a vacuum around a patient. They even weave the safest convalescence out of boredom. Miss Eva Waston got up emaciated, pale, embellished, the doctors assured, in reality very changed and even a little disfigured by the loss of her magnificent blond hair. They had to be cut short. The compliments of those around her on her good looks and the clarity of her complexion, the day when misses and ladies were introduced to her, left no mark on this point.[Pg 30] no doubt to the young girl. To have been, for two years, the professional beauty of London and New York, to have revolutionized Piccadilly and Seventeenth Avenue, and to be congratulated by small pécores, who have barely five million dowry, on the prettiness of everything quite peculiar to a cropped skull! Miss Eva Waston understood and took it for granted.
And courageously the young girl went into exile. She put the Nice and Cannes agencies on the campaign trail; they pointed out to him the old Estérais estate. The loneliness of the ruin and the savagery of six valleys, seen as the crow flies from the top of the terraces, decided his choice. Miss Eva Waston would spend the summer in Estérais. His aunt, Mrs. Elena Migefride, consented to keep her niece company; the doubled wages caused the livery to be given up on the beaches and the spa towns.
The American had counted without boredom.
Around the tenth of June, the maneuver operations of the regiments garrisoned on the Riviera arrived in time to enliven the Alpilles a little.[Pg 31] Master Réginald’s daughter languished there. Every spring, towards the end of May, alpine artillerymen and chasseurs leave Nice, Menton, Villefranche and Antibes for the heights, Fontan, Breil, Lagay and Turini; a simulacrum of a petty war echoes groups of uniforms, movements of artillery pieces and ascending lines of mules in the hollows of ravines and on the slope of the summits; a whole marching army swarms its regiments, its battalions and its batteries as much in the dark greenery of the fir trees as among the foam of the torrents, Miss Eva Waston welcomed, the binoculars in hand, this change in her horizons.
It accommodated even better the first battery of artillery which came, preceded by a quartermaster, to request accommodation in Estérais. The drawing-room made a feast for the officers, the kitchens acclaimed the men; the two exiled women came back to life as they listened to these gentlemen recount their stages. The tan of the faces and the[Pg 32] curved berets enlivened the monotony of their existence. Miss Eva Waston, who drank nothing but water, went back to champagne. The first company, which came there, at random along the road, had been lodged and fed a little bit by bit as the lodge was fortunate. There were henceforth rooms and a menu for the officers; the girl herself took care of it. Wireless telegraphy is not what a vain people thinks, the Estérais soon became legendary in the army corps encamped between Puget-Théniers and Fontan. We arranged to stop there.
One evening, where two companies of Alpini (27 th of Menton) had come to seek shelter to Estérais, broken officers such fatigue when mounted in their rooms, Miss Eva Waston, who had remained in the living room with her Elena aunt and, leaning over the billiard table, distractedly trying out a pile-up, suddenly quitting her game and standing in front of the old lady.
-My aunt, she said, what’s the name of[Pg 33] the officer you put in room eighteen?
-But I do not know. I have the list up there at my house, I’ll tell you tomorrow. It doesn’t matter, does it?
“Sorry, that matters a lot, because I like this officer, and I will only marry this man.
-Good God! what’s going on with you and what will your father say?
-Dad! He won’t say anything. I am rich enough to marry the man of my choice.
“A new madness! but whatever his name. These gentlemen are not leaving until tomorrow evening, you will see him again.
“I don’t know his face.
-How? ‘Or’ What! and you want to marry her!
“Aunt, listen to me (and the young girl was sitting opposite the old lady). You know I’m a very practical girl.
“Your father’s real daughter.
“You know which parties I refused.
—I intend to be a very honest woman, that is to say to love exclusively and very ardently a man who will love me … and who will be able to love me.
“We understand each other, aunt. Well earlier, when these gentlemen arrived and went up to their rooms to change and wash, I wanted to make sure myself if the staff had carried out the orders, and I was prowling the corridors. The door to room eighteen was ajar, I thought his host was absent and, wanting to see if John had made the necessary arrangements, I pushed open that door and entered. I could hardly remember a cry. A tub filled with water was on the ground, a man standing changing his shirt. I only saw her legs and knees, the shirt hiding her face. The stranger turned his back, turned around at my cry, and I saw the man, brown and muscular like a real antique bronze. Aunt, I will only marry this gentleman.
“But it’s terrible.
“No, it will be very wise, because I am sure I am very happy with this husband. Now, my aunt, give me her name.
“Let’s go upstairs, you will come into my house.
-Oh my god! said the old lady, after leafing through her notebook, look, it’s inevitable. I put two officers in this room, it has two beds. Mr. Gennaro Olivari and Albert Maxence, both second lieutenants. Here we are!
“You are very light, my aunt, well, that concerns me.”
-How? ‘Or’ What?
“Oh, have no fear, you know I’m a very honest girl.”
The next day, at lunch, the eight officers flirting around the two women, Mistress Elena Migefride did not take her eyes off the two second lieutenants, who flanked her niece’s right and left. The young girl, very animated, shared her favors between the two men, all[Pg 36] two tanned by the fresh mountain air, stocky and mustache, with clear eyes under short hair. M. Albert Maxence, fair and a little taller than his comrade, seemed more distinguished to the aunt; Mr. Olivari, almost Saracen in type and skin, his profile was so abrupt and his eyes sharp and black, disconcerted Mistress Eléna a little. At half past one we passed into the drawing-room and, the young girl having served coffee to her guests, retired to her apartments. We had to let these gentlemen take a nap before the big evening stage. The two companies left at six o’clock. The officers took leave of the two women and Miss Eva Waston, left alone with her aunt, gently put an arm around the waist of the old American and in a persuasive and firm voice: “It is Mr. Gennaro Olivari that I”
“Yes, Corsica. It is indeed him that I saw yesterday.
“But how do you know?
—Oh it’s him and not the other, Mariette is a very devoted girl. She went to the end of the experiment.
“How Mariette, your maid! under my roof! I don’t want this girl one more minute in this house.
“She’s leaving tonight. I recognized her twenty thousand francs, she is endowed and has nothing more to do near us. ” At which the stunned old lady: “My niece, you deserved to be born a man.”
“No, but I deserve to be happy because I am marrying the husband of my choice.”
Now, concluded Paul Sourdière, do you believe that Miss Eva Waston would have distinguished her Corsican lieutenant, if she had not had two months of alpine solitude on her shoulders and in her veins six months of the Riviera climate.