“Come! Come!” Pierre Dufaille said, shrugging his shoulders. “What are you talking about, when you say that there are no more adventures? Say that there are no more adventurous men, and you will be right! Yes, nobody ventures to trust to chance, in these days, for as soon as there is any slight mystery, or a spice of danger, they draw back. If, however, a man is willing to go into them blindly, and to run the risk of anything that may happen, he can still meet with adventures, and even I, who never look for them, met with one in my life, and a very startling one; let me tell you.
“I was staying in Florence, and was living very quietly, and all I indulged in, in the way of adventures, was to listen occasionally to the immoral proposals with which every stranger is beset at night on the Piazzo de la Signoria, by some worthy Pandarus or other, with a head like that of a venerable priest. These excellent fellows generally introduce you to their families, where debauchery is carried on in a very simple, and almost patriarchal fashion, and where one does not run the slightest risk.
“One day as I was admiring Benvenuto Cellini’s wonderful Perseus, in front of the Loggia del Lanzi, I suddenly felt my sleeve pulled somewhat roughly, and on turning round, I found myself face to face with a woman of about fifty, who said to me with a strong German accent: ‘You are French, Monsieur, are you not?’ ‘Certainly, I am,’ I replied. ‘And would you like to go home with a very pretty woman?’
“‘Most certainly I should,’ I replied, with a laugh.
“Nothing could have been funnier than the looks and the serious air of the procuress, or than the strangeness of the proposal, made to broad daylight, and in very bad French, but it was even worse when she added: ‘Do you know everything they do in Paris?’ ‘What do you mean, my good woman?’ I asked her, rather startled. ‘What is done in Paris, that is not done everywhere else?’
“However, when she explained her meaning, I replied that I certainly could not, and as I was not quite so immodest as the lady, I blushed a little. But not for long, for almost immediately afterwards I grew pale, when she said: ‘I want to assure myself of it, personally.’ And she said this in the same phlegmatic manner, which did not seem so funny to me now, but, on the contrary, rather frightened me. ‘What!’ I said. ‘Personally! You! Explain yourself!’
“If I had been rather surprised before, I was altogether astonished at her explanation. It was indeed an adventure, and was almost like a romance. I could scarcely believe my ears, but this is what she told me.
“She was the confidential attendant on a lady moving in high society, who wished to be initiated into the most secret refinements of Parisian high life, and who had done me the honor of choosing me for her companion. But then, this preliminary test! ‘By Jove!’ I said to myself, ‘this old German hag is not so stupid as she looks!’ And I laughed in my sleeve, as I listened inattentively to what she was saying to persuade me.
“‘My mistress is the prettiest woman you can dream of; a real beauty; springtime! A flower!’ ‘You must excuse me, but if your mistress is really like springtime and a flower, you (pray excuse me for being so blunt) are not exactly that, and perhaps I should not exactly be in a mood to humor you, my dear lady, in the same way that I might her.’
“She jumped back, astonished in turn: ‘Why, I only want to satisfy myself with my own eyes; not by injuring you.’ And she finished her explanation, which had been incomplete before. All she had to do was to go with me to Mother Patata’s well-known establishment, and there to be present while I conversed with one of its fair and frail inhabitants.
“‘Oh!’ I said to myself, ‘I was mistaken in her tastes. She is, of course, an old, shriveled up woman, as I guessed, but she is a specialist. This is interesting, upon my word! I never met with such a one before!’
“Here, gentlemen, I must beg you to allow me to hide my face for a moment. What I said was evidently not strictly correct, and I am rather ashamed of it; my excuse must be that I was young, that Patata’s was a celebrated place, of which I had heard wonderful things said, but the entry to which was barred me, on account of my small means. Five napoleons was the price! Fancy! I could not treat myself to it, and so I accepted the good lady’s offer. I do not say that it was not disagreeable, but what was I to do? And then, the old woman was a German, and so her five napoleons were a slight return for our five milliards, which we paid them as our war indemnity.
“Well, Patata’s boarder was charming, the old woman was not too troublesome, and your humble servant did his best to sustain the ancient glory of Frenchmen.
“Let me drink my disgrace to the dregs! On the next day but one after, I was waiting at the statue of Perseus. It was shameful, I confess, but I enjoyed the partial restitution of the five milliards, and it is surprising how a Frenchman loses his dignity, when he is traveling.
“The good lady made her appearance at the appointed time. It was quite dark, and I followed her without a word, for, after all, I was not very proud of the part I was playing. But if you only knew how fair that little girl at Patata’s was! As I went along, I thought only of her, and did not pay any attention to where we were going, and I was only roused from my reverie by hearing the old woman say: ‘Here we are. Try and be as entertaining as you were the day before yesterday.’
“We were not outside Patata’s house, but in a narrow street running by the side of a palace with high walls, and in front of us was a small door, which the old woman opened gently.
“For a moment I felt inclined to draw back. Apparently the old hag was also ardent on her own account! She had me in a trap! No doubt she wanted in her turn to make use of my small talents! But, no! That was impossible!
“‘Go in! Go in!’ she said. ‘What are you afraid of? My mistress is so pretty, so pretty, much prettier than the little girl of the other day.’ So it was really true, this story out of The Arabian Nights? Why not? And after all, what was I risking? The good woman would certainly not injure me, and so I went in, though somewhat nervously.
“Oh! My friend, what an hour I spent then! Paradise! and it would be useless, impossible to describe it to you! Apartments fit for a princess, and one of those princesses out of fairy tales, a fairy herself. An exquisite German woman, exquisite as German women can be, when they try. An Undine of Heinrich Heine’s, with hair like the Virgin Mary’s, innocent blue eyes, and a skin like strawberries and cream.
“Suddenly, however, my Undine got up, and her face convulsed with fury and pride. Then, she rushed behind some hangings, where she began to give vent to a flood of German words, which I did not understand, while I remained standing, dumbfounded. But just then, the old woman came in, and said, shaking with fear: ‘Quick, quick; dress yourself and go, if you do not wish to be killed.’
“I asked no questions, for what was the good of trying to understand? Besides, the old woman, who grew more and more terrified, could not find any French words, and chattered wildly. I jumped up and got into my shoes and overcoat and ran down the stairs, and in the street.
“Ten minutes later, I recovered my breath and my senses, without knowing what streets I had been through, nor where I had come from, and I stole furtively into my hotel, as if I had been a malefactor.
“In the cafés the next morning, nothing was talked of except a crime that had been committed during the night. A German baron had killed his wife with a revolver, but he had been liberated on bail, as he had appealed to his counsel, to whom he had given the following explanation, to the truth of which the lady companion of the baroness had certified.
“She had been married to her husband almost by force, and detested him, and she had some particular reasons (which were not specified) for her hatred of him. In order to have her revenge on him, she had had him seized, bound and gagged by four hired ruffians, who had been caught, and who had confessed everything. Thus, reduced to immobility, and unable to help himself, the baron had been obliged to witness a degrading scene, where his wife caressed a Frenchman, and thus outraged conjugal fidelity and German honor at the same time. As soon as he was set at liberty, the baron had punished his faithless wife, and was now seeking her accomplice.”
“And what did you do?” someone asked Pierre Dufaille.
“The only thing I could do, by George!” he replied. “I put myself at the poor devil’s disposal; it was his right, and so we fought a duel. Alas! It was with swords, and he ran me right through the body. That was also his right, but he exceeded his right when he called me her ponce. Then I gave him his chance, and as I fell, I called out with all the strength that remained to me: ‘A Frenchman! A Frenchman! Long live France!’”
Last updated Monday, December 22, 2014 at 10:53