terra-cotta statuettes on slender columns, the groups of old Saxony, and the paintings of Sevres, spoke of past glories. On a pedestal ornamented with precious bronzes, the marble bust of some princess royal disguised as Diana appeared about to fly out of her turbulent drapery, while on the ceiling a figure of Night, powdered like a marquise and surrounded by cupids, sowed flowers. Everything was asleep, and only the crackling of the logs and the light rattle of Therese's pearls could be heard.
Turning from the mirror, she lifted the corner of a curtain and saw through the window, beyond the dark trees of the quay, the Seine spreading its yellow reflections. Weariness of the sky and of the water was reflected in her fine gray eyes. The boat passed, the 'Hirondelle', emerging from an arch of the Alma Bridge, and carrying humble travellers toward Grenelle and Billancourt. She followed it with her eyes, then let the curtain fall, and, seating herself under the flowers, took a book from the table. On the straw-colored linen cover shone the title in gold: 'Yseult la Blonde', by Vivian Bell. It was a collection of French verses composed by an Englishwoman, and printed in London. She read indifferently, waiting for visitors, and thinking less of the poetry than of the poetess, Miss Bell, who was perhaps her most agreeable friend, and whom she almost never saw; who, at every one of their meetings, which were so rare, kissed her, calling her "darling," and babbled; who, plain yet seductive, almost ridiculous, yet wholly exquisite, lived at Fiesole like a philosopher, while England celebrated her as her most beloved poet. Like Vernon Lee and like Mary Robinson, she had fallen in love with the life and art of Tuscany; and, without even finishing her Tristan, the first part of which had inspired in Burne-Jones dreamy aquarelles, she wrote Provencal verses and French poems expressing Italian ideas. She had sent her 'Yseult la Blonde' to "Darling," with a letter inviting her to spend a month with her at Fiesole. She had written: "Come; you will see the most beautiful things in the world, and you will embellish them."
And "darling" was saying to herself that she would not go, that she must remain in Paris. But the idea of seeing Miss Bell in Italy was not indifferent to her. And turning the leaves of the book, she stopped by chance at this line:
Love and gentle heart are one.
And she asked herself, with gentle irony, whether Miss Bell had ever been in love, and what manner of man could be the ideal of Miss Bell. The poetess had at Fiesole an escort, Prince Albertinelli. He was very handsome, but rather coarse and vulgar; too much so to please an aesthete who blended with the desire for love the mysticism of an Annunciation.
"Good-evening, Therese. I am positively worn out."
The Princess Seniavine had entered, supple in her furs, which almost seemed to form a part of her dark beauty. She seated herself brusquely, and, in a voice at once harsh yet caressing, said:
"This morning I walked through the park with General Lariviere. I met him in an alley and made him go with me to the bridge, where he wished to buy from the guardian a learned magpie which performs the manual of arms with a gun. Oh! I am so tired!"
"But why did you drag the General to the bridge?"
"Because he had gout in his toe."
Therese shrugged her shoulders, smiling:
"You squander your wickedness. You spoil things."
"And you wish me, dear, to save my kindness and my wickedness for a serious investment?"
Therese made her drink some Tokay.
Preceded by the sound of his powerful breathing, General Lariviere approached with heavy state and sat between the two women, looking stubborn and self-satisfied, laughing in every wrinkle of his face.
"How is Monsieur Martin-Belleme? Always busy?"
Therese thought he was at the Chamber, and even that he was making a speech there.
Princess Seniavine, who was eating caviare sandwiches, asked Madame Martin why she had not gone to Madame Meillan's the day before. They had played a comedy there.
"A Scandinavian play? Was it a success?"
"Yes—I don't know. I was in the little green room, under the portrait of the Duc d'Orleans. Monsieur Le Menil came to me and did me one of those good turns that one never forgets. He saved me from Monsieur Garain."
The General, who knew the Annual Register, and stored away all useful information, pricked up his ears.
"Garain," he asked, "the minister who was in the Cabinet when the princes were exiled?"
"Himself. I was excessively agreeable to him. He talked to me of the yearnings of his heart and he looked at me with alarming tenderness. And from time to time he gazed, with sighs, at the portrait of the Duc d'Orleans. I said to him: 'Monsieur Garain, you are making a mistake. It is my sister-in-law who is an Orleanist. I am not.' At this moment Monsieur Le Menil came to escort me to the buffet. He paid great compliments—to my horses! He said, also, there was nothing so beautiful as the forest in winter. He talked about wolves. That refreshed me."
The General, who did not like young men, said he had met Le Menil the day before in the forest, galloping, with vast space between himself and his saddle.
He declared that old cavaliers alone retained the traditions of good horsemanship; that people in society now rode like jockeys.
"It is the same with fencing," he added. "Formerly—"
Princess Seniavine interrupted him:
"General, look and see how charming Madame Martin is. She is always charming, but at this moment she is prettier than ever. It is because she is bored. Nothing becomes her better than to be bored. Since we have been here, we have bored her terribly. Look at her: her forehead clouded, her glance vague, her mouth dolorous. Behold a victim!"
She arose, kissed Therese tumultuously, and fled, leaving the General astonished.
Madame Martin-Belleme prayed him not to listen to what the Princess had said.
He collected himself and asked:
"And how are your poets, Madame?"
It was difficult for him to forgive Madame Martin her preference for people who lived by writing and were not of his circle.
"Yes, your poets. What has become of that Monsieur Choulette, who visits you wrapped in a red muffler?"
"My poets? They forget me, they abandon me. One should not rely on
anybody. Men and women—nothing is sure. Life is a continual betrayal.
Only that poor Miss Bell does not forget me. She has written to me from
Florence and sent her book."
"Miss Bell? Isn't she that young person who looks, with her yellow waving hair, like a little lapdog?"
He reflected, and expressed the opinion that she must be at least thirty.
An old lady, wearing with modest dignity her crown of white hair, and a little vivacious man with shrewd eyes, came in suddenly—Madame Marmet and M. Paul Vence. Then, carrying himself very stiffly, with a square monocle in his eye, appeared M. Daniel Salomon, the arbiter of elegance. The General hurried out.
They talked of the novel of the week. Madame Marmet had dined often with the author, a young and very amiable man. Paul Vence thought the book tiresome.
"Oh," sighed Madame Martin, "all books are tiresome. But men are more tiresome than books, and they are more exacting."
Madame Marmet said that her