It is not very long ago that an Hungarian Prince, who was in an Austrian cavalry regiment, was quartered in a wealthy Austrian garrison town. The ladies of the local aristocracy naturally did everything they could to allure the new comer, who was young, good-looking, animated and amusing, into their nets, and at last one of the ripe beauties, who was now resting there on her amorous laurels, after innumerable victories on the hot floors of Viennese society, succeeded in taking him in her toils, but only for a short time, for she had very nearly reached that limit in age where, on the man’s side, love ceases and esteem begins. But she had more sense than most women, and she recognized the fact in good time, and as she did not wish to give up the principal character which she played in society there so easily, she reflected as to what means she could employ to bind him to her in another manner. It is well known that the notorious Marchioness de Pompadour, who was one of the mistresses of Louis XV. of France, when her own charms did not suffice to fetter that changeable monarch, conceived the idea of securing the chief power in the State and in society for herself, by having a pavilion in the deer park, which belonged to her, and where Louis XV. was in the habit of hunting, fitted up with every accommodation of a harem, where she brought beautiful women and girls of all ranks of life to the arms of her royal lover.
Inspired by that historical example, the baroness began to arrange evening parties, balls, and private theatricals in the winter, and in the summer excursions into the country, and thus she gave the Prince, who at that time was still, so to say, at her feet, the opportunity of plucking fresh flowers. But even this clever expedient did not avail in the long run, for beautiful women were scarce in that provincial town, and the few which the local aristocracy could produce were not able to offer the Prince any fresh attractions, when he had made their closer acquaintance. At last, therefore, he turned his back on the highly-born Messalinas, and began to bestow marked attention on the pretty women and girls of the middle classes, either in the streets or when he was in his box at the theater.
There was one girl in particular, the daughter of a well-to-do merchant, who was supposed to be the most beautiful girl in the capital, on to whom his opera glass was constantly leveled, and whom he even followed occasionally without being noticed. But Baroness Pompadour soon got wind of this unprincely taste, and determined to do everything in her power to keep her lover and the whole nobility, which was threatened, from such an unheard-of disgrace, as an intrigue of a Prince with a girl of the middle classes, would have been in her eyes. “It is really sad,” the outraged baroness once said to me, “that in these days princes and monarchs choose their mistresses only from the stage, or even from the scum of the people. But it is the fault of our ladies themselves. They mistake their vocation! Ah! Where are those delightful times when the daughters of the first families looked upon it as an honor to become their princes’ mistresses?”
Consequently, the horror of the blue-blooded, aristocratic lady was intense when the Prince, in his usual, amiable, careless manner, suggested to her to people her deer park with girls of the lower orders.
“It is a ridiculous prejudice,” the Prince said on that occasion, “which obliges us to shut ourselves off from the other ranks, and to confine ourselves altogether to our own circle, for monotony and boredom are the inevitable consequences of it. How many honorable men of sense and education, and especially how many charming women and girls there are, who do not belong to the aristocracy, who would infuse fresh life and a new charm into our dull, listless society! I very much wish that a lady like you would make a beginning, and would give up this exclusiveness, which cannot be maintained in these days, and would enrich our circle with the charming daughters of middle class families.”
A wish of the Prince’s was as good as a command; so the baroness made a wry face, but she accommodated herself to the circumstances, and promised to invite some of the prettiest girls of the plebs to a ball in a few days. She really issued a number of invitations, and even condescended to drive to the house of each of them in person. “But I must ask one thing of you,” she said to each of the pretty girls, “and that is to come dressed as simply as possible; washing muslins will be best. The Prince dislikes all finery and ostentation and he would be very vexed with me if I were the cause of any extravagance on your part.”
The great day arrived; it was quite an event for the little town, and all classes of society were in a state of the greatest excitement. The pretty, plebeian girls, with her whom the Prince had first noticed at their head, appeared in all their innocence, in plain, washing dresses, according to the Prince’s orders, with their hair plainly dressed, and without any ornaments, except their own fresh, buxom charms. When they were all captives in the den of the proud, aristocratic lioness, the poor little mice were very much terrified when suddenly the aristocratic ladies came into the ball-room, rustling in whole oceans of silks and lace, with their haughty heads changed into so many hanging gardens of Semiramis, loaded with all the treasures of India, and radiant as the sun.
At first the poor girls looked down in shame and confusion, and Baroness Pompadour’s eyes glistened with all the joy of triumph, but her ill-natured pleasure did not last long, for the intrigue, on which the Prince’s ignoble passions were to make shipwreck, recoiled on the highly-born lady patroness of the deer park.
It was not the aristocratic ladies in their magnificent toilettes that threw the girls from the middle classes into the shade, but, on the contrary, those pretty girls in their washing dresses, and with the plain but splendid ornament of their abundant hair looked far more charming than they would have done in silk dresses with long trains, and with flowers in their hair, and the novelty and unwontedness of their appearance there allured not only the Prince, but all the other gentlemen and officers, so that the proud grand-daughters of the lions, griffins, and eagles, were quite neglected by the gentlemen, who danced almost exclusively with the pretty girls of the middle classes.
The faded lips of the baronesses and countesses uttered many a “For Shame!” but all in vain, neither was it any good for the Baroness to make up her mind that she would never again put a social medley before the Prince in her drawing-room, for he had seen through her intrigue, and gave her up altogether. Sic transit gloria mundi!
She, however, consoled herself as best she could.
Last updated Saturday, January 23, 2016 at 13:40