Dinner was drawing to a close.
Princess Outcharewska had gathered that evening the last late winterers in the Riviera. There were Charles Haymeri, Pierre Duteuil, Robert Stouza and the novelist Paul Sourdière. There was frail and pale M me of Nymeuse, restraint in Nice by an incurable neurasthenia, so weak that she dared not face other climates; there was the Irish consul, the old Colonel de Brignolle, and two doctors and their young wives. One of these couples was to leave the next day for Neris; Colonel de Brignolle left Nice at the end of the week for the inevitable Vichy; Robert stouza[Pg 57] was meditating a runaway in the Oberland, tormented, he said, by the need to see glaciers after so many ocher summits, and Charles Haymeri, a little grumpy, foresaw that he was going to be recalled to Paris by the feasts of the king of ‘Italy. He was waiting for a letter from the Revue, in which he wrote his copy every month; the whole company was swarming, it was indeed the last dinner of the season. Nice half desert was going to be quite empty; it was blowing over the city like a departure wind.
Princess Outcharewska, looking like a macabre doll with her face enamelled with a porcelain gleam under curls of a greenish blond, waved her arms of a thinness both plaster and diaphanous in clouds of bluish tulle , all sparkling with mother-of-pearl sequins. As if sprinkled with frost in this coruscant toilet, the princess aggravated her ambiguity by the rhythmic, one would have said mechanical beats of an immense fan. The most beautiful pearls shone on her[Pg 58] flat chest. Through the wide open windows, palm trees and bamboos, latan trees and tree ferns stood out sprayed with moonlight; and, on the table, the massive silverware, the fruits piled up in Persian glassware, the champagne struck in the Venetian washrooms and the points of Flanders on the tablecloth told of the millions already affirmed by the exoticism of the park.
A smell of magnolia lingered heavily in the night; an imperceptible quivering of silk denounced the vicinity of the sea.
And of course we were talking about Miss Eva Waston’s marriage. It was the inevitable subject of all talks. His thirty million Americans, falling into the pocket of a small Corsican second lieutenant on the strength of his good physique and his nationality, preoccupied the whole Riviera. Paul Sourdière had believed he had to reestablish the truth and repair the evil, thoughtlessly caused by him, by recounting all out of the blue the approach of Miss Eva Waston, the visit of the young girl.[Pg 59] at his villa, like the loyalty and the unforeseen of their conversation.
Miss Liliane Foxland’s adventure with the Ajaccio coachmen had greatly entertained the audience; Miss Eva Waston’s display of knowledge in manly aesthetics was no less interesting. Everyone had said their word, the women underlining with a smile and the men with a reflection.
“Poor Miss Foxland,” a distant, broken voice suddenly quavered, coming from who knows where, almost a ventriloquist’s voice, “it doesn’t surprise me that she had this boredom with coachmen. She has always been obsessed with the siege and the whip. ”
We looked at each other in amazement. It was the princess speaking. Her guests might have known her. Whenever old Utcharewska spoke, there was always a moment of painful silence in the audience. There was both the hiement of the pulley and the cry of the weather vane in the rusty, squeaky voice of Princess Utcharewska.
“It’s a choking voice,” Grand Duke Boris had said of her, “it must have been hanged somewhere, in some county of Scotland or some district of India. This old Outcharewska has had so many misfortunes. ”
And the legendary disrespect of the Grand Duke told many others about the lady of Villa Nera.
-How? ‘Or’ What! Miss Flossie Foxland was obsessed with coachmen?
It was the frail M me of Nymeuse that, shaking his languid consumptive risked dying intonation with a nice gesture.
“Tell us about that, princess.
-Oh! I have nothing to tell, replied the incredible voice of the Englishwoman. This Flossie Foxland was above all very badly brought up; I have known his mother a lot; and Lady Foxland was sorry. But Flossie was so sick. Lovely, by the way. I have never seen anything more delightfully childish and, so oddly cutthroat with fever. Oh! the pink of Flossie’s cheekbones,[Pg 61] Bengal petals in milk! I was living in Cannes at the time and I often saw the mother and the daughter. Flossie was mortally bored with the old lady, who couldn’t take it upon herself to hide her grief.
“Mom, please don’t wear my mourning first,” the cruel child mocked.
And, when I came to see them in their villa at La Croizette, the little one, who loved me enough, always took me back to the garden. There was just a car station in front of their gate.
“Do you know, princess, what I would like to be,” she would often say to me, fixing me with her large, flower-like eyes? I would like to be a man to be one of those coachmen; yes, one of those cab drivers.
“You Flossie, but you’re crazy! These men are dirty, badly kept, disgusting.
“No, there are very good ones; but it is not to resemble them that I would like to be in their place, but to hear what they hear.[Pg 62] Think how fun it must be. They walk tourists, Cooks, very stupid people. They bring back lovers, scavengers and surely criminals. Do we know, so close to Mont-Carlo? All nationalities, they saw them on their cushions and all the moods. Think, princess, the gentleman who is going to commit suicide and the one who broke the bank, and the return of the viveurs with the casseroles, the grand dukes when they are having fun and the princesses with the croupiers, and the newlyweds therefore! I forgot the honeymoon, the Germans all come to this country to do it! and what they see and what they hear! because we can see very well with the back. You know, princess, me, I always see what is going on behind me and what people say above all! I never hear better than when no one believes me there. Oh! no, they shouldn’t be bored, Cannes coachmen!
“You’re a little strange, Flossie. Now you have to go back to your mother.
“Yes, I have to and it bothers me. She only talks to me about my health and the Bible; however, I have no health. What is the use of telling me about it, it makes me needlessly sad, and the Bible I read is redacted. Oh! without this! I’m sure the coachmen don’t hear things as extraordinary as those in the Old Testament!
“If you had been a papist, you would have been excommunicated. How well you have been a Protestant. Come on, run away, Flossie.
“Farewell, I love you, princess.
And it was all of Flossie herself, a delicious child.
In Cannes, it was considered very poorly on the very innocent reflection, however, she was at a party at M me Eggers, during the presentation of The Prince of Faraman Tour.
“He’s ugly, but exciting.
The word ruffled the dowagers; the future of this child was sternly predicted. Alas! she was to die at nineteen. I really liked Flossie Foxland. ”
The princess had spoken in religious silence.
“And Miss Eva Waston, what do you think, Princess?
It was Charles Haymeri who asked the question.
-Oh! Miss Eva Waston, that’s quite another thing. I know the aunt very well, Mrs. Migefride. Miss Waston, she is reflection itself. Everything is willed and premeditated in his conduct. A great independence of gait and character lends an appearance of caprice to his firmer decisions; I am not at all surprised by his marriage. Miss Waston is her father’s real daughter; she has the highest idea of herself, and no one in the United States is aware of her worth more than she is. She is a practical girl, who has the respect of all forces. She only values health, youth and money; but, as she received a strong moral education from Sir Waston, she places above all character and loyalty.[Pg 65] people, and I can understand very well the choice of his little Corsican second lieutenant, because of a physique which pleases him first of all, and then of a race to which one lends some pride in the feelings.
Miss Waston is a sensual. You only have to look at his jaw. She is also a volunteer, and she is too intelligent and at the same time too knowledgeable not to wish to be dominated in love, she, the woman of all dominions.
“What psychology, princess! said Paul Sourdière.
What does the bluish tulle dress do:
-Hey! Hey! I am almost sixty years old.
“We forgot fifteen of them in the locker room,” whispered Robert Stouza in the ear of one of the young doctors’ wives.
“So you approve of this marriage?” inquired Charles Haymeri.
‘You are all children,’ interrupted the princess, ‘for all of them, and you first, sir[Pg 66] Mute, you do not know the real reason for the Waston-Olivari marriage. Miss Waston told you what she wanted to tell you, my dear Monsieur Sourdière. I have a few details from Mrs. Migefride about the Halte des Alpins in Estérais. They stayed there just twenty-four hours, and those twenty-four hours decided Miss Eva’s life. ”
All heads bowed attentively. The princess was enjoying its effect.
“If I gave you the motive which weighed the heaviest upon Miss Waston’s decision and utterly urged her to conclude this marriage, you would all cry improbable; and yet nothing is more true.
-Oh! say so, princess!
-What’s the point? When I tell you, you won’t understand. Women perhaps; but men, no.
“Is it really monstrous?” Sourdière ventured.
-No. It’s very simple, it’s very woman[Pg 67] mostly. Besides, I’ll do it; these ladies will judge. Eva Waston marries Mr. Gennaro Olivari because she surprised him kissing her maid Mariette full on the lips.
“But then the story of the fair trial is true; and this confirms M. Sourdière’s version.
“Ah! how far off you are! If the handsome Corsican sub-lieutenant pressed Mariette so hard to his breast and gave her the farewell kiss so ardently, it was because he had some rights over the pretty girl. Recruited as he was by thirty-three kilometers of walk the day before, he had nevertheless courted the cameraman very closely; and Mariette, sensitive to the officer’s sharp eyes, had generously hospitalized him all night. Leander was leaving Hero; they were classic farewells.
“And it was those surprised farewells that decided Miss Eva Waston?” exclaimed Robert Stouza. I admit, princess, that I no longer understand.
“Because you are all children, and, like all Latins, too simple or too complex. Have you ever looked attentively at Mariette, Miss Waston’s maid? Have you ever been to Beaulieu, to Villa Wellingtonia? Who among you has been received by these ladies? No one. Perfectly. You cannot understand. Yes, sorry, Colonel, you are going to see Mrs. Migefride, and you too, consul. But you only look at the women dressed at Doucet’s and hated by Lewis. So you don’t know Mariette. So let it be enough for you to know that this maid is the double of his mistress.
Mariette, whose real name is Annie Stephenson, recalls exactly our wealthy Eva. They are the same agate-gray eyes, the same planting of hair (Miss Waston is more blonde), above all the same jaw and the same radiance of complexion; and Miss Eva is very pretty; she is almost a professional[Pg 69] beauty of the American colony; and Mariette is only passable. It’s a beautiful bit of a girl, and that’s all. This model abounds in all oyster’s bars in London … and this quite simply because only the habit of luxury and great comfort develops beauty. Miss Eva, who is intelligent, knows how much her fifty louis tea-gowns and small twenty-five second hand, with a Morgan pearl or a translucent Lalique enamel, have in the reputation of prettiness that has been given to her. made. She has no more illusions about the sincerity of the homage than about the quality of the incense lavished under her feet, and she knows what goal and what prey also pursued within her the pack of her suitors this winter!
So do not think for a minute that Mariette’s presence with her is an effect of pure chance. This presence was wanted by Miss Eva herself; the choice of Annie Stephenson as cameraman was the fruit of long reflections. It is also the most unforeseen[Pg 70] circumstance which put her in Miss Waston’s path. Annie Stephenson had never been in good shape. Before joining Eva’s service, she was an extra at the Aquarium; and, if she was withdrawn from the battalion of marchers to be attached to the person of Miss Waston at a very high salary, it is precisely because of this resemblance. Do you get it now?
“But it is quite a novel that you are telling us there, princess!”
“Yes, indeed, and it is very late to linger in a novel.”
And, burning politeness to her hosts, the old Princess Utcharewska rose from the table and gave the signal to go to the drawing-room.
It was a general disappointment.
The princess had taken Colonel de Brignolle’s arm.
-The continuation to the next issue, she said with a mischievous smile of her painted lips, those of you, gentlemen, who wish to know[Pg 71] the end of the story, will find me at home tomorrow at five o’clock. I’ll offer them tea. You have to occupy your days well; they are long in this Nice summer. But who among you will dare to climb Mont-Boron in this heat? I will thus know the friends of the Truth. And now, gentlemen, isn’t it, a little poker.