That little Madame d’Ormonde certainly had the devil in her, but above all, a fantastic, baffling brain, through which the most unheard of caprices passed, in which ideas danced and jostled each other, like those pieces of different colored glass in a kaleidoscope, which form such strange figures when they have been shaken, in which Parisine was fermenting to such an extent — you know, Parisine, the analysis of which Roqueplan lately gave — that the most learned members of The Institute would have wasted his science and his wisdom if he had tried to follow her slips and her subterfuges.
That was, very likely, the reason why she attracted, retained and infatuated even those who had paid their debt to implacable love, who thought that they were strong and free from those passions under the influence of which men lose their heads, and that they were beyond the reach of woman’s perfidious snares. Or, perhaps, it was her small, soft, delicate, white hands, which always smelled of some subtle, delicious perfume, and whose small fingers men kissed almost with devotion, almost with absolute pleasure. Or, was it her silky, golden hair, her large, blue eyes, full of enigmas, of curiosity, of desire, her changeable mouth, which was quite small and infantine at one moment, when she was pouting, and smiling and as open as a rose that is unfolding in the sun, when she opened it in a laugh, and showed her pearly teeth, so that it became a target for kisses? Who will ever be able to explain that kind of magic and sorcery which some Chosen Women exercise over all men, that despotic authority, against which nobody would think of rebelling?
Among the numerous men who had entreated her, who were anxiously waiting for that wonderful moment when her heart would beat, when his mocking companion would grow tired and abandon herself to the pleasure of loving and of being loved, would become intoxicated with the honey of caresses, and would no longer refuse her lips to kisses, like some restive animal that fears the yoke, none had so made up his mind to win the game, and to pursue this deceptive siege, as much as Xavier de Fontrailles. He marched straight for his object with a patient energy and a strength of will which no checks could weaken, and with the ardent fervor of a believer who has started on a long pilgrimage, and who supports all the suffering of the long journey with the fixed and consoling idea that one day he will be able to throw himself on his knees at the shrine where he wishes to worship, and to listen to the divine words which will be a Paradise to him.
He gave way to Madame d’Ormonde’s slightest whims, and did all he could never to bore her, never to hurt her feelings, but really to become a friend whom she could not do without, and of whom, in the end, a woman grows more jealous than she does of her husband, and to whom she confesses everything, her daily worries and her dreams of the future.
She would very likely have suffered and wept, and have felt a great void in her existence if they had separated for ever, if he had disappeared, and she would not have hesitated to defend him, even at the risk of compromising herself, and of passing as his mistress, if any one had attacked him in her presence, and sometimes she used to say with a sudden laughing sadness in her voice:
“If I were really capable of loving for five minutes consecutively, I should love you.”
And when they were walking in the Bois de Boulogne, while the Victoria was waiting near Armenonville, during their afternoon talks when, as he used to say, they were hanging over the abyss until they both grew giddy, and spoke of love madly and ceaselessly — returning to the subject constantly, and impregnating themselves with it — Madame d’Ormonde would occasionally produce one of her favorite theories. Yes, she certainly understood possession of the beloved object, that touch of madness which seizes you from head to foot, which makes your blood hot, and which makes you forget everything else in a man’s embraces, in that supreme pleasure which overwhelms you, and which rivets two beings together for ever, by the heart and by the brain. But only at some unexpected moment, in a strange place, with a touch of something novel about it, which one would remember all one’s life, something amusing and almost maddening, which one had been in search of for a long time, and which imparted a flavor of curry, as it were, into the common-place flavor of immorality.
And Xavier de Fontrailles did all he could to discover such a place, but failed successively in a bachelor’s lodgings with silk tapestry, like a boudoir of the seventeenth century, in a villa hidden like a nest among trees and rose bushes, with a Japanese house furnished in an extraordinary fashion and very expensively, with latticed windows from which one could see the sea, in an old melancholy palace, from which one could see the Grand Canal, in rooms, in hotels, in queer quarters, in private rooms, in restaurants, and in small country houses in the recesses of woods.
Madame d’Ormonde went on her way without turning her head, but Xavier, alas! became more and more amorous, as amorous as an overgrown schoolboy who has never hitherto had any conversation with a woman, and who is amorous enough to pick up the flowers that fall from her bodice, and to be lost and unhappy as soon as he does not see her, or hear her soft, cooing voice, and see her smile. . . .
One evening, however, he had gone with her to the fair at Saint Cloud, and went into three shows, deafened by the noise of the organs, the whistling of the machinery of the round-abouts, and the hubbub of the crowd that came and went among the booths that were illuminated by paraffin lamps. As they were passing in front of a somnambulist’s van, Monsieur de Fontrailles stopped and said to Madame d’Ormonde:
“Would you like to have our fortune told?”
It was a very fine specimen of its kind, and had, no doubt, been far and wide. Placards and portraits, bordered by advertisements, hung above the shaky steps, and the small windows with their closed shutters, were almost hidden by boxes of sweet basil and mignonette, while an old, bald parrot, with her feathers all ruffled, was asleep just outside.
The fortune teller was sitting on a chair, quietly knitting a stocking, and on their approach she got up, went up to Madame d’Ormonde and said in an unctuous voice:
“I reveal the present, the past and the future, and even the name of the future husband or wife, and of deceased relations, as well as my client’s present and future circumstances. I have performed before crowned heads. The Emperor of Brazil came to me, with the illustrious poet, Victor Hugo. . . . My charge is five francs for telling your fortune from the cards or by your hand, and twenty francs for the whole lot. . . . Would you like the lot, Madame?”
Madame d’Ormonde gave vent to a burst of sonorous laughter, like a street girl, who is amusing herself, but they went in and Monsieur de Fontrailles opened the glass door which was covered by a heavy red curtain. When they got in, the young woman uttered an exclamation of surprise. The interior of the van was full of roses, arranged in the most charming manner as if for a lovers’ meeting. On a table covered with a damask cloth, and which was surrounded by piles of cushions, a supper was waiting for chance comers, and at the other end, concealed by heavy hangings, one could see a large, wide bed, one of those beds which give rise to sinister suggestions!
Xavier had shut the door again, and Madame d’Ormonde looked at him in a strange manner, with rather flushed cheeks, palpitating nostrils, and a look in her eyes, such as he had never seen in them before, and in a very low voice, while his heart beat violently, and he whispered into her ear:
“Well, does the decoration please you this time?”
She replied by holding up her lips to him, and then filled two glasses with extra dry champagne, which was as pale as the skin of a fair woman, and said almost as if she had already been rather drunk:
“I am decidedly worth a big stake!”
It was in this fashion that Madame d’Ormonde, for the first and last time, deceived her husband; and it was at the fair at Saint Cloud, in a somnambulist’s van.
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:58