“And you are all there, it’s admirable! said old Princess Utcharewska, counting her guests. Her gold face-to-face enriched with rubies, held at a safe distance from her cleverly glued and glossy badger hair eyelashes, she stared in turn, naming them by name Charles Haymeri, Jacques Duteuil, Robert Stoudza and Paul Mute. You braved the heat and the twenty minute climb. Do you have to be on! The colonel has not come: he has not yet entered his corset. It is too early. As for the consul, he dries up. His favorites are never finished and well done only for dinner. You have to reckon with the dyes. ”
And nothing was more comical than the sarcasm of this old mummy painted and repainted, enamelled and glazed, addressed to the little coquetries of her old friends.
“She cannot be seen,” whispered Jacques Monard.
“Shades and poisons,” laughed Paul Sourdière. She has the poisonous rack.
“Here, Madame de Nymeuse, that dear child,” said the princess, trying to soften the bitterness of her rusty voice.
And she sketched a movement towards the newcomer, but she was careful not to move. She would have compromised the clever combination of her attitude and a long straw surah robe, carefully propped up, posture and robe, on a pile of cushions.
“There you are, too! Take care, I will believe that you are having a flirtation.
“But that would be necrophy,” sighed the pretty consumptive; see, I can’t stand.
—By thirty degrees in the shade necrophyly[Pg 74] good, retorted the old Englishwoman. The first Christians loved each other in the catacombs, among the bones of their martyrs. ”
And, this irony became funereal in this ancestral mouth. With a gaunt hand, a veritable set of bones surrounded by gold and precious stones, the princess supported the acute triangle of her narrow chin. Madame de Nymeuse, quite white beside her in the waves of white linen, had the elegance of a young skeleton.
“They are quite summer women,” Jacques Monard thought to himself.
“It’s the drought that keeps them. Elsewhere they would decay, chuckled Paul Sourdière under his mustache.
“What a spectacle of a necropolis!
—Nice, summer, the last grave where people talk, the last city where they still smell.
“But they’re cool to watch.
The two skinny ones, the young and the old, were making an assault on simperations.
“Harry! serve the boiling tea, said the[Pg 75] princess with a footman in short breeches, entered on the tips of her felted soles, the doctors’ wives will not come, they must change their children’s diapers. So help me serve the tea, darling. ”
And the old mummy coaxed the young skeleton. It was as funny as it was terrifying. But the vast proportions of the salon, parquet floored with lemon trees and implacably white, commanded respect, at the same time as they allayed all fear. The frozen undulation of marvelous Japanese fish, the twisted tail and the vibrating fin like a wing, enlivened the monotony of the white panels with bronze frolics; their groups of three or four stood on lacquer consoles, impressive with life and movement. It was the grace of the mosaics of Pompeii allied to the realism of the Far East. At twenty-five thousand francs the group, there was some for two hundred thousand, a trifle: this underwater luxury was reflected endlessly in a row of tall mirrors.
-I make you languish, gentlemen, said the princess, enticing the men who are crushing lemon slices in their cups, I do so, you will know why Miss Eva Waston has fallen in love with M. Olivari. . For having seen him kiss the lips of his cameraman with full mouth. It’s very American, I warn you. You will also know why this disconcerting heiress had a music-hall extra for her maid; but I will take it from above.
It was two years ago, in London. Miss Eva Waston had just, to the great scandal of the whole peerage, refused the hand of the Duke of Folkembrige. The Duke of Folkembrige, the only heir to the name, still owns a castle in Scotland. All his heritage, he royally sowed it on the racetracks and the baccarat tables; there he acquired a reputation as the first coach of the three kingdoms and an unperturbed player. The death of his uncle, the Earl of Rosenbrocke, will open the House of Lords and that of Peers to him.
It is one of the finest parties in England; and the daughter of a king of the trusts, like Miss Eva should have considered herself too happy to be sought by him. It was a court of nearly two months that this whimsical and resolute Miss Waston had just put an end to. At the end of a ball, at the Embassy of the United States, a ball given almost in his honor, since there was no noise in London except his marriage, at the last bars of a waltz that the young duke had mostly spoken, expounding with complacency on the delights of life on a large yacht and praising to the bride of his choice the advantages of a common existence led in the parity of the same tastes.
“What if we waltz,” the courted heiress had asked in a short voice.
And, with a sudden folding of the fan, she had cut the interview short.
This way of welcoming the projects of a duke and peer and this end of refusal of a Yankee practice, which does not send it to say, had revolutionized[Pg 78] a little the courtyard and the city enormously. The Duke of Folkembrige had taken it for granted. We must believe that the brilliance had stirred public opinion, because Master Réginald Waston himself had blamed his daughter for it.
A few days later, Edwards Domerset, Miss Waston’s first cousin, who is as rude as a Frenchman, stormed into his dear Eva.
“Ah! cousin, what a secretive you are, he said in the most serious way. You didn’t tell me you were at the Aquarium every night. This is what will deliver you once and for all from your suitors. However millionaire a woman in the theater may be, we are not yet marrying extras. There are French marquises and Italian princes for that. You had a brilliant idea there, cousin, but perhaps a little audacious , as Lady Forgett would say. But it is admirable and I recognize you there.
“Explain yourself, Edwards,” the young woman smiled.[Pg 79] girl amused by her cousin’s chatter. It’s a challenge, isn’t it, because I don’t understand it?
“No, it’s not a challenge, but the exact truth. There is at the moment at the Aquarium, in the ballet of Beauty and the Beast , who is a stupid marvel, an extra, not even a walker, who looks like you to make suspect the principles of my uncle Réginald. It is the second from the third row from the left, in the Animated Flowers table and the first from the second row from the right in the Garden Grotto act., Peony of China in its first exhibition and Stalactite in the second. She is a girl of admirable form; she has legs and hips as I wish you, cousin, because I completely ignore that part of you. It is true that you generously offer the rest to the admiration of the crowds. This girl has, moreover, the healthiest shoulders and very beautiful arms.
“You are a sassy one, Edwards. The[Pg 80] my legs and hips are equal to my arms and shoulders; but it is not customary to show them at the ball. At the first costume party, I will therefore put myself in Peony of China. And what is the name of this girl who looks like me so much?
-Oh! it doesn’t matter. Maud, Liliane or Antonia. His name is not even on the program.
“And she’s royally maintained, I suppose?”
-No. I don’t know him as a lover. After the theater she has to go to oyster bars and nightlife restaurants like her equals. It is a creature that we must have for two or three pounds, by mutual agreement, and much less expensive with the matchmakers.
-And she looks like me?
“And she looks like you, Eva.
-It’s to cry.
And with sudden gaiety:
“But here is the Duke of Folkembrige consoled.[Pg 81] We’ll have to tell him about Miss Sosie. He will be able to get over his whim and his sorrow.
“You are cruel, cousin. The Aquarium girl doesn’t have thirty million.
-Alas! that’s what sickens me and indignant me. She is starving, perhaps, and none of my lovers have thought of putting a spell on her. I want to see this extra, Edwards. What night do you want to take me to the Aquarium?
“But tonight, if you like.
“This evening, impossible, we have twenty-five covers at the house; but tomorrow if you are free.
“But I’m always free to be at your service.
“See you tomorrow, Edwards.
“See you tomorrow, Eva.
The next day Miss Waston was going to the Aquarium. She would go back there two days later. He was noticed there eight consecutive evenings. Beauty and the Beast interested him passionately. Talks had started between her and the extras by[Pg 82] through Domerset; an interview concluded with the two women, and a month later Annie Stephenson entered the service of Miss Eva Waston under the name of Mariette Eymard. The extra left the theater there, the stench of the wings and the chances of low gallantry, for the toilet and the bedroom of the Yankee millionaire. What was his service, and at what salary? Mystery. Some high-flying suitor he declared himself near Miss Waston, the cameraman was instructed to be as often as possible on the path of the future groom; the presence of Mariette seemed to hover over all flirtations. What did Miss Eva Waston hope to get out of it? You can easily guess, gentlemen. The false chambermaid was the touchstone of the passions displayed for the heiress of Master Réginald;Merchant of Venice from our[Pg 83] immortal Shakespeare; it pleased Miss Waston to play Portia.
Poor suitors! They were all so keen on the beautiful eyes of the tape that they saw neither the resemblance nor the glances of Annie Stephenson, a love model posted there to test the sincerity of their desire. And the dukes succeeded the princes, the marquises to the German barons, the magnates to the nephews of cardinals and the heirs in exile of kingdoms usurped from the largest landowners of the two islands. At each rejected suitor Miss Eva Waston had a mysterious smile.
“In truth, it’s a spell. I am like the princess Carbuncle in fairy tales: I dazzle them so much that they go blind and see nothing. Their fiery sensuality does not even detect Mariette’s prettiness.
“Of course, no matter how much poor Mrs. Migefride objected, there is no room for two feelings in the heart of a man in love.
“But where do you see them in love, aunt?” They are hypnotized and like hens by a silver spoon.
“What a comparison, my niece!
“It’s correct. I am not desired, I am coveted like an exhibition necklace in a jeweler’s window. Even if the eyes staring at me were the lubricated eyes of lovers of precious stones or of coquettish women, half moaning with a frenzy of finery and pride! But no, the fabulous necklace of thirty million, which I am for these gentlemen, only lights the eyes of burglars in them. They only want its value; they estimate me at the fairest price as the escarps of the game, considering the profit of the dismantled part and the loose stones.
I am a value for loan sharks, money stirrers, business launchers, as such a necklace from Chaumet or from Vever is a boon for concealers. And it’s a little irritating, in the long run, not to be this[Pg 85] that I am only by the millions of my father. Auntie, see the rate of my plastic during gallantry. There was an extra at the Aquarium, an Annie Stephenson, who looked indecently like me (she’s in France now!) Well this girl was earning a hundred and fifty francs a month at the Aquarium and did not eat every supper. evenings.
Here is which documents you terribly on the panmuffism of the men and the sincerity of my suitors. ”
And Miss Eva Waston was not getting married; the consciousness of his market value poisoned his life.
“But also what imprudence! exclaimed Paul Sourdière; to learn exactly about one’s physical and moral dimension is the school of despair. The only reason we have to go on living is the untouched, though still used, dose of our illusions.
“Illusions, phoenix birds. They are reborn from their ashes! laughed Pierre Duteuil.
“You never completely lose the ones you have on yourself.
—The vital lie, Henrik Ibsen’s theory.
“We have read The Wild Duck ,” interrupted the princess. Also judge with what grateful emotion this too perceptive Miss Eva listened to her faithful Mariette tell her, the very morning of the departure of the two Alpine companies, the convincing episodes of the night.
“Ah! princess, tell us and especially details!
-Well, that morning, Miss Waston saw Annie, or rather Mariette, enter her house, her eyes shining and beaten, pale with that pallor which befits so well with women, and with men too, if we are to believe them. verse from Richepin:
The shared pleasure makes the flesh very much alive.
and, to his question: What is it?
-There’s … that’s it, retorted the maid, one of Mademoiselle’s guests[Pg 87] lack of respect. I was treated like a taken city, but it’s not a suitor.
“What do you know, Mariette? Any man who sits at our table is at least an … aspirant.
-Not this one. He was far too eager for it; he didn’t give me time to say: Phew! He was working hard.
-And that happened?
“At home, in his room. He had left the door ajar, and when I walked through the hall …
“Why, Annie, were you crossing the hall?
“Because the lieutenant asked me to come and take orders at half past ten.”
“What about his prescription?
“He was sleeping, poor man!
“Annie, you have, I believe, acted on your own behalf?”
-I do not believe.
-How? ‘Or’ What! You do not believe?
“And I have my reasons. All night long Mr. Olivari called me Eva.
-He called you Eva?
“And he relit the candle three times to admire what he called your likeness. “How you look like him!” he kept repeating, but it was his eyes, his mouth, his hair. Do you know?”
“He said that, this Mr. Oli … vari?” Olivari, you say? Which room does he occupy?
“Room eighteen, mademoiselle.
“The eighteenth! Why didn’t you say it earlier!
Miss Waston, too, remembered.
“Miss noticed it? He’s a pretty boy.
“He’s a Corsican.
-Yes, I know. And he called you Eva?
-All the time.
-Strange! At the table, he did not look at me.
“He was doing it underneath.”
“Do you think he’s shy?
-Oh! especially sneaky.
-Oh! that, surely. And Mademoiselle is too rich. How could a little Alpine second lieutenant face so many millions!
The American was drinking milk. It evoked in itself the scene of the tub and the brown and muscular nudity of the handsome second lieutenant.
“Haven’t you exaggerated yourself, Annie, in your desire to please me?
“Miss doubts me?” May Mademoiselle deign to come up to my room a little while ago, around half-past four or five, and hide there, M. Olivari must come and bid me farewell.
“The stirrup blow, Annie. I will go, yes, I will definitely go. ”
These Americans are so practical! They need supporting evidence. That same evening, Miss Eva declared to her aunt that she would only marry Mr. Gennaro Olivari. Admit, Monsieur Sourdière (and Princess Outcharewska was turning[Pg 90] towards the novelist), that my version is well worth yours, and my version is the true one.
“Not to mention that, in truth, the climate of Nice and the loneliness have nothing to do with it,” Stouza stressed, hostile.
What does the writer do:
“Do you think so? My opinion, to me, is that women, girls and virtues are like apples. They do not fall until they are ripe.