A young and charming lady, who was a member of the Viennese aristocracy, went last summer, like young and charming ladies usually do, to a fashionable Austrian watering place, Carlsbad, which is much frequented by foreigners, without her husband.
As is usually the case in their rank of life, she had married from family considerations and for money; and the short spell of Love after Marriage was not sufficient to take deep root, and after she had satisfied family traditions and her husband’s wishes by giving birth to a son and heir, they both went their way; the young, handsome and fascinating man to his clubs, the race-course, and behind the scenes at the theaters, and his charming, coquettish wife to her box at the opera, to the ice in winter, and to some fashionable watering place in the summer.
On the present occasion she brought a young, very highly-connected Pole with her from one of the latter resorts, who enjoyed all the rights and the liberty of an avowed favorite, and who had to perform all the duties of a slave.
As is usual in such cases, the lady rented a small house in one of the suburbs of Vienna, had it beautifully furnished and received her lover there. She was always dressed very attractively, sometimes as La Belle Hélène in Offenbach’s Opera, only rather more after the ancient Greek fashion; another time as an Odalisque in the Sultan’s harem, and another time as a lighthearted Suabian girl, and so forth. In winter, however, she grew tired of such meetings, and she wanted to have matters more comfortable, so she took it into her head to receive her lover in her own house. But how was it to be done? That, however, gave her no particular difficulty, as is the case with every woman, when once she has made up her mind to a thing, and after thinking it over for a day or two she went to the next rendez-vous, with a fully prepared plan of war.
The Pole was one of those types of handsome men which are rare; he was almost womanly in his delicate features, of the middle height, slim and well-made, and he resembled a youthful Bacchus who might very easily be made to pass for a Venus by the help of false locks; the more so as there was not even the slightest down on his lips. The lady, therefore, who was very fertile in resources, suggested to the handsome Pole that he might just as well transform himself into a handsome Polish lady, so that he might, under the cover of the ever feminine, be able to visit her undisturbed, and as it was winter, the thick, heavy, capacious dress assisted the metamorphosis.
The lady, accordingly, bought a number of very beautiful costumes for her lover, and in the course of a few days she told her husband that a charming young Polish lady, whose acquaintance she had made in the summer at Carlsbad, was going to spend the winter in Vienna, and would very frequently come and see her. Her husband listened to her with the greatest indifference, for it was one of his fundamental rules never to make love to any of his wife’s female friends, and he went to his club as usual at night, and the next day had forgotten all about the Polish lady.
And now, half an hour after the husband had left the house, a cab drove up and a tall, slim, heavily veiled lady got out and went up the thickly carpeted stairs, only to be metamorphosed into the most ardent lover in the young woman’s boudoir. The young Pole grew accustomed to his female attire so quickly that he even ventured to appear in the streets in it, and when he began to make conquests, and aristocratic gentlemen and successful speculators on the Stock Exchange looked at him significantly, and even followed him, he took a real pleasure in the part he was playing, and began to understand the pleasure a coquette feels in tormenting men.
The young Pole became more and more daring, until at last one evening he went to a private box at the opera, wrapped in an ermine cloak, on to which his dark, false curls fell in heavy waves.
A handsome young man in a box opposite to him ogled him incessantly from the first moment, and the young Pole responded in a manner which made the other bolder every minute. At the end of the third act, the box opener brought the fictitious Venus a small bouquet with a card concealed in it, on which was written in pencil: “You are the most lovely woman in the world, and I implore you on my knees to grant me an interview.” The young Pole read the name of the man who had been captivated so quickly, and, with a peculiar smile, wrote on a card on which nothing but the name “Valeska” was printed: “After the theater,” and sent Cupid’s messenger back with it.
When the spurious Venus was about to enter her carriage after the performance, thickly veiled and wrapped in her ermine cloak, the handsome young man was standing by it with his hat off, and he opened the door for her. She was kind enough to allow him to get in with her and during their drive she talked to him in the most charming manner, but she was cruel enough to dismiss him without pity before they reached her house, and this she did every time. For she went to the theater each night now, and every evening she received an ardent note, and every evening she allowed the amorous swain to accompany her as far as her house, and men were beginning to envy him on account of his brilliant conquest, when a catastrophe happened which was very surprising for all concerned.
The husband of the lady in whose eyes the Pole had found favor, surprised the loving couple one day under circumstances which made any justification impossible. But while he, trembling with rage and jealousy, was drawing a small Circassian dagger which hung against the wall from its sheath, and as his wife threw herself, half-fainting, on to a couch, the young Pole had hastily put the false curls on to his head, and had slipped into the silk dress and the sable cloak which he had been wearing when he came into his mistress’s boudoir. “What does this mean,” the husband stammered, “Valeska?” — “Yes, sir,” the young Pole replied; “Valeska, who has come here to show your wife a few love letters, which.” . . . “No, no,” the deceived, but nevertheless guilty, husband said in imploring accents; “no, that is quite unnecessary.” And at the same time he put the dagger back into its sheath. “Very well then, there is a truce between us,” the Pole observed coolly, “but do not forget what weapons I possess, and which I mean to retain against all contingencies.”
Then the gentlemen bowed politely to each other, and the unexpected meeting came to an end.
From that time forward, the terms on which the young married couple lived together assumed the character of that everlasting peace, which President Grant once promised to the whole world in his message to all nations. The young woman did not find it necessary to make her lover put on petticoats, and the husband constantly accompanied the real Valeska a good deal further than he did the false one on that memorable occasion.
Last updated Monday, December 22, 2014 at 10:53