Ludovic Halévy ~ The Most Beautiful Woman in Paris

On Friday, April 19th, Prince Agénor was really distracted at the opera during the second act of “Sigurd.” The prince kept going from box to box, and his enthusiasm increased as he went.

“That blonde! Oh, that blonde! She is ideal! Look at that blonde! Do you know that blonde?”

It was from the front part of Mme. de Marizy’s large first tier box that all these exclamations were coming at that moment.

“Which blonde?” asked Mme. de Marizy.

“Which blonde! Why, there is but one this evening in the house. Opposite to you, over there, in the first box, the Sainte Mesme’s box. Look, baroness, look straight over there—”

“Yes I am looking at her. She is atrociously got up, but pretty—”

“Pretty! She is a wonder! Simply a wonder! Got up? Yes, agreed—some country relative. The Sainte Mesmes have cousins in Périgord. But what a smile! How well her neck is set on! And the slope of the shoulders! Ah, especially the shoulders!”

“Come, either keep still or go away. Let me listen to Mme. Caron—”

The prince went away, as no one knew that incomparable blonde. Yet she had often been to the opera, but in an unpretentious way—in the second tier of boxes. And to Prince Agénor above the first tier of boxes there was nothing, absolutely nothing. There was emptiness—space. The prince had never been in a second-tier box, so the second-tier boxes did not exist.

While Mme. Caron was marvellously singing the marvellous phrase of Reyer, “Ô mon sauveur silencieux la Valkyrie est ta conquête,” the prince strolled along the passages of the opera. Who was that blonde? He wanted to know, and he would know.

And suddenly he remembered that good Mme. Picard was the box-opener of the Sainte Mesmes, and that he, Prince of Nérins, had had the honor of being for a long time a friend of that good Mme. Picard. It was she who in the last years of the Second Empire had taught him bezique in all its varieties—Japanese, Chinese, etc. He was then twenty, Mme. Picard was forty. She was not then box-opener of the National Academy of Music; she had in those times as office—and it was not a sinecure—the position of aunt to a nice young person who showed a very pretty face and a very pretty pair of legs in the chorus of the revues of the Variétée. And the prince, while quite young, at the beginning of his life, had, for three or four years, led a peaceful, almost domestic life, with the aunt and niece. Then they went off one way and he another.

One evening at the opera, ten years later, in handing his overcoat to a venerable-looking old dame, Agénor heard himself saluted by the following little speech:

“Ah, how happy I am to see you again, prince! And not changed—not at all changed. Still the same, absolutely the same—still twenty.”

It was Mme. Picard, who had been raised to the dignity of box-opener. They chatted, talked of old times, and after that evening the prince never passed Mme. Picard without greeting her. She responded with a little deferential courtesy. She was one of those people, becoming rarer and rarer nowadays, who have the exact feeling for distances and conventions. There was, however, a little remnant of familiarity, almost of affection, in the way in which she said “prince.” This did not displease Agénor; he had a very good recollection of Mme. Picard.

“Ah, prince,” said Mme. Picard on seeing Agénor, “there is no one for you to-night in my boxes. Mme. de Simiane is not here, and Mme. de Sainte Mesme has rented her box.”

“That’s precisely it. Don’t you know the people in Mme. de Sainte Mesme’s box?”

“Not at all, prince. It’s the first time I have seen them in the marquise’s box—”

“Then you have no idea—”

“None, prince. Only to me they don’t appear to be people of—”

She was going to say of our set. A box-opener of the first tier of boxes at the opera, having generally only to do with absolutely high-born people, considers herself as being a little of their set, and shows extreme disdain for unimportant people; it displeases her to receive these unimportant people in her boxes. Mme. Picard, however, had tact which rarely forsook her, and so stopped herself in time to say:

“People of your set. They belong to the middle class, to the wealthy middle class; but still the middle class. That doesn’t satisfy you; you wish to know more on account of the blonde. Is it not so, prince?”

Those last words were spoken with rare delicacy; they were murmured more than spoken—box-opener to a prince! It would have been unacceptable without that perfect reserve in accent and tone; yes, it was a box-opener who spoke, but a box-opener who was a little bit the aunt of former times, the aunt à la mode de Cythère. Mme. Picard continued:

“Ah, she is a beauty! She came with a little dark man—her husband, I’m sure; for while she was taking off her cloak—it always takes some time—he didn’t say a word to her. No eagerness, no little attentions. Yes, he could only be a husband. I examined the cloak. People one doesn’t know puzzle me and my colleague. Mme. Flachet and I always amuse ourselves by trying to guess from appearances. Well, the cloak comes from a good dress-maker, but not from a great one. It is fine and well-made, but it has no style. I think they are middle-class people, prince. But how stupid I am! You know M. Palmer—well, a little while ago he came to see the beautiful blonde!”

“M. Palmer?”

“Yes, and he can tell you.”

“Thanks, Mme. Picard, thanks—”

“Good-bye, prince, good-bye,” and Mme. Picard went back to her stool, near her colleague, Mme. Flachet, and said to her:

“Ah, my dear, what a charming man the prince is! True gentlefolks, there is nothing like them! But they are dying out, they are dying out; there are many less than formerly.”

Prince Agénor was willing to do Palmer—big Palmer, rich Palmer, vain Palmer—the honor of being one of his friends; he deigned, and very frequently, to confide to Palmer his financial difficulties, and the banker was delighted to come to his aid. The prince had been obliged to resign himself to becoming a member of two boards of directors presided over by Palmer, who was much pleased at having under obligations to him the representative of one of the noblest families in France. Besides, the prince proved himself to be a good prince, and publicly acknowledged Palmer, showing himself in his box, taking charge of his entertainments, and occupying himself with his racing-stable. He had even pushed his gratitude to the point of compromising Mme. Palmer in the most showy way.

“I am removing her from the middle class,” he said; “I owe it to Palmer, who is one of the best fellows in the world.”

The prince found the banker alone in a lower box.

“What is the name—the name of that blonde in the Sainte Mesme’s box?”

“Mme. Derline.”

“Is there a M. Derline?”

“Certainly, a lawyer—my lawyer; the Sainte Mesme’s lawyer. And if you want to see Mme. Derline close to, come to my ball next Thursday. She will be there—”

The wife of a lawyer!. She was only the wife of a lawyer! The prince sat down in the front of the box, opposite Mme. Derline, and while looking at that lawyeress he was thinking. “Have I,” he said to himself, “sufficient credit, sufficient power, to make of Mme. Derline the most beautiful woman in Paris?”

For there was always a most beautiful woman in Paris, and it was he, Prince Agénor, who flattered himself that he could discover, proclaim, crown, and consecrate that most beautiful woman in Paris. Launch Mme. Derline in society! Why not? He had never launched any one from the middle class. The enterprise would be new, amusing, and bold. He looked at Mme. Derline through his opera-glass, and discovered thousands of beauties and perfections in her delightful face.

After the opera, the prince, during the exit, placed himself at the bottom of the great staircase. He had enlisted two of his friends. “Come,” he had said to them, “I will show you the most beautiful woman in Paris.” While he was speaking, two steps away from the prince was an alert young man who was attached to a morning paper, a very widely-read paper. The young man had sharp ears, he caught on the fly the phrase of the Prince Agénor, whose high social position he knew; he succeeded in keeping close to the prince, and when Mme. Derline passed, the young reporter had the gift of hearing the conversation, without losing a word, of the three brilliant noblemen. A quarter of an hour later he arrived at the office of the paper.

“Is there time,” he asked, “to write a dozen lines in the Society Note-book?”

“Yes, but hurry.”

The young man was a quick writer; the fifteen lines were done in the twinkling of an eye. They brought seven francs fifty to the reporter, but cost M. Derline a little more than that.

During this time Prince Agénor, seated in the club at the whist-table, was saying, while shuffling the cards:

“This evening at the opera there was a marvellous woman, a certain Mme. Derline. She is the most beautiful woman in Paris!”

The following morning, in the gossip-corner of the Bois, in the spring sunshine, the prince, surrounded by a little group of respectful disciples, was solemnly delivering from the back of his roan mare the following opinion:

“Listen well to what I say. The most beautiful woman in Paris is a certain Mme. Derline. This star will be visible Thursday evening at the Palmer’s. Go, and don’t forget the name—Mme. Derline.”

The disciples dispersed, and went abroad spreading the great news.

Mme. Derline had been admirably brought up by an irreproachable mother; she had been taught that she ought to get up in the morning, keep a strict account of her expenses, not go to a great dress-maker, believe in God, love her husband, visit the poor, and never spend but half her income in order to prepare dowries for her daughters. Mme. Derline performed all these duties. She led a peaceful and serene life in the old house (in the Rue Dragon) which had sheltered, since 1825, three generations of Derlines; the husbands had all three been lawyers, the wives had all three been virtuous. The three generations had passed there a happy and moderate life, never having any great pleasures, but, also, never being very bored.

The next day at eight o’clock in the morning Mme. Derline awoke with an uneasy feeling. She had passed a troubled night—she, who usually slept like a child. The evening before at the opera, in the box, Mme. Derline had vaguely felt that something was going on around her. And during the entire last act an opera-glass, obstinately fixed on her—the prince’s opera-glass—had thrown her into a certain agitation, not disagreeable, however. She wore a low dress—too much so, in her mother’s opinion—and two or three times, under the fixity of that opera-glass, she had raised the shoulder-straps of her dress.

So, after opening her eyes, Mme. Derline reclosed them lazily, indolently, with thoughts floating between dreamland and reality. She again saw the opera-house, and a hundred, two hundred, five hundred opera-glasses obstinately fixed on her—on her alone.

The maid entered, placed a tray on a little table, made up a big fire in the fire-place, and went away. There was a cup of chocolate and the morning paper on the tray, the same as every morning. Then Mme. Derline courageously got up, slipped her little bare feet into fur slippers, wrapped herself in a white cashmere dressing-gown, and crouched shivering in an arm-chair by the fire. She sipped the chocolate, and slightly burned herself; she must wait a little while. She put down the cup, took up the paper, unfolded it, and rapidly ran her eye over the six columns of the front page. At the bottom, quite at the bottom of the sixth column, were the following lines:

Last evening at the opera there was a very brilliant performance of “Sigurd.” Society was well represented there; the beautiful Duchess of Montaiglon, the pretty Countess Verdinière of Lardac, the marvellous Marquise of Muriel, the lively Baroness of

To read the name of the baroness it was necessary to turn the page. Mme. Derline did not turn it; she was thinking, reflecting. The evening before she had amused herself by having Palmer point out to her the social leaders in the house, and it so happened that the banker had pointed out to her the marvellous marquise. And Mme. Derline—who was twenty-two—raised herself a little to look in the glass. She exchanged a slight smile with a young blonde, who was very pink and white.

“Ah,” she said to herself, “if I were a marquise the man who wrote this would perhaps have paid some attention to me, and my name would perhaps be there. I wonder if it’s fun to see one’s name printed in a paper?”

And while addressing this question to herself, she turned the page, and continued reading:

the lively Baroness of Myrvoix, etc. We have to announce the appearance of a new star which has abruptly burst forth in the Parisian constellation. The house was in ecstasy over a strange and disturbing blonde, whose dark steel eyes, and whose shoulders—ah, what shoulders! The shoulders were the event of the evening. From all quarters one heard asked, “Who is she?” “Who is she?” “To whom do those divine shoulders belong?” “To whom?” We know, and our readers will doubtless thank us for telling them the name of this ideal wonder. It is Mme. Derline.

Her name! She had read her name! She was dazzled. Her eyes clouded. All the letters in the alphabet began to dance wildly on the paper. Then they calmed down, stopped, and regained their places. She was able to find her name, and continue reading;

It is Mme. Derline, the wife of one of the most agreeable and richest lawyers in Paris. The Prince of Nérins, whose word has so much weight in such matters, said yesterday evening to every one who would listen, “She is the most beautiful woman in Paris.” We are absolutely of that opinion.

A single paragraph, and that was all. It was enough, it was too much! Mme Derline was seized with a feeling of undefinable confusion. It was a combination of fear and pleasure, of joy and trouble, of satisfied vanity and wounded modesty. Her dressing-gown was a little open; she folded it over with a sort of violence, and crossed it upon, her feet, abruptly drawn back towards the arm-chair. She had a feeling of nudity. It seemed to her that all Paris was there, in her room, and that the Prince de Nérins was in front saying to all Paris, “Look, look! She is the most beautiful woman in Paris.”

The Prince of Nérins! She knew the name well, for she read with keen interest in the papers all the articles entitled “Parisian Life,” “High Life,” “Society Echoes,” etc.; and all the society columns signed “Mousseline,” “Fanfreluche,” “Brimborion,” “Véloutine“; all the accounts of great marriages, great balls, of great comings out, and of great charity sales. The name of the prince often figured in these articles, and he was always quoted as supreme arbiter of Parisian elegances.

And it was he who had declared—ah!—decidedly pleasure got the better of fear. Still trembling with emotion, Mme. Derline went and placed herself before a long looking-glass, an old cheval-glass from Jacob’s, which never till now had reflected other than good middle-class women married to good lawyers. In that glass she looked at herself, examined herself, studied herself, long, curiously, and eagerly. Of course she knew she was pretty, but oh, the power of print! She found herself absolutely delightful. She was no longer Mme. Derline—she was the most beautiful woman in Paris! Her feet, her little feet—their bareness no longer troubled her—left the ground. She raised herself gently towards the heavens, towards the clouds, and felt herself become a goddess.

But suddenly an anxiety seized her. “Edward! What would Edward say?” Edward was her husband. There had been but one man’s surname in her life—her husband’s. The lawyer was well loved! And almost at the same moment when she was asking herself what Edward would say, Edward abruptly opened the door.

He was a little out of breath. He had run up-stairs two at a time. He was peacefully rummaging among old papers in his study on the ground-floor when one of his brother-lawyers, with forced congratulations, however, had made him read the famous article. He had soon got rid of his brother-lawyer, and he had come, much irritated, to his room. At first there was simply a torrent of words.

“Why do these journalists meddle? It’s an outrage! Your name—look, there is your name in this paper!”

“Yes, I know, I’ve seen—”

“Ah, you know, you have seen—and you think it quite natural!”

“But, dear—”

“What times do we live in? It’s your fault, too.”

“My fault!”

“Yes, your fault!”

“And how?”

“Your dress last night was too low, much too low. Besides, your mother told you so—”

“Oh, mamma—”

“You needn’t say ‘Oh, mamma!’ Your mother was right. There, read: ‘And whose shoulders—ah, what shoulders!’ And it is of your shoulders they are speaking. And that prince who dares to award you a prize for beauty!”

The good man had plebeian, Gothical ideas—the ideas of a lawyer of old times, of a lawyer of the Rue Dragon; the lawyers of the Boulevard Malesherbes are no longer like that.

Mme. Derline very gently, very quietly, brought the rebel back to reason. Of course there was charm and eloquence in her speech, but how much more charm and eloquence in the tenderness of her glance and smile.

Why this great rage and despair? He was accused of being the husband of the most beautiful woman in Paris. Was that such a horrible thing, such a terrible misfortune? And who was the brother-lawyer, the good brother-lawyer, who had taken pleasure in coming to show him the hateful article?

“M. Renaud.”

“Oh, it was M. Renaud—dear M. Renaud!”

Thereupon Mme. Derline was seized with a hearty fit of laughter; so much so that the blond hair, which had been loosely done up, came down and framed the pretty face from which gleamed the dark eyes which could also, when they gave themselves the trouble, look very gentle, very caressing, very loving.

“Oh, it was M. Renaud, the husband of that delightful Mme. Renaud! Well, do you know what you will do immediately, without losing a minute? Go to the president of the Tribunal and ask for a divorce. You will say to him: ‘M. Aubépin, deliver me from my wife. Her crime is being pretty, very pretty, too pretty. I wish another one who is ugly, very ugly, who has Mme. Renaud’s large nose, colossal foot, pointed chin, skinny shoulders, and eternal pimples.’ That’s what you want, isn’t it? Come, you big stupid, kiss your poor wife, and forgive her for not being a monster.”

As rather lively gestures had illustrated this little speech, the white cashmere dressing-gown had slipped—slipped a good deal, and had opened, very much opened; the criminal shoulders were within reach of M. Derline’s lips—he succumbed. Besides, he too felt the abominable influence of the press. His wife had never seemed so pretty to him, and, brought back to subjection, M. Derline returned to his study in order to make money for the most beautiful woman in Paris.

A very wise and opportune occupation; for scarcely was Mme. Derline left alone when an idea flashed through her head which was to call forth a very pretty collection of bank-notes from the cash-box of the lawyer of the Rue Dragon. Mme. Derline had intended wearing to the Palmer’s ball a dress which had already been much seen. Mme. Derline had kept the dress-maker of her wedding-dress, her mother’s dress-maker, a dress-maker of the Left Bank. It seemed to her that her new position imposed new duties on her. She could not appear at the Palmer’s without a dress which had not been seen, and stamped with a well-known name. She ordered the carriage in the afternoon, and resolutely gave her coachman the address of one of the most illustrious dress-makers in Paris. She arrived a little agitated, and to reach the great artist was obliged to pass through a veritable crowd of footmen, who were in the antechamber chatting and laughing, used to meeting there and making long stops. Nearly all the footmen were those of society, the highest society; they had spent the previous evening together at the English Embassy, and were to be that evening at the Duchess of Grémoille.

Mme. Derline entered a sumptuous parlor; it was very sumptuous, too sumptuous. Twenty great customers were there—society women and actresses, all agitated, anxious, feverish—looking at the beautiful tall saleswomen come and go before them, wearing the last creations of the master of the house. The great artist had a diplomatic bearing: buttoned-up black frock-coat, long cravat with pin (a present from a royal highness who paid her bills slowly), and a many-colored rosette in his button-hole (the gift of a small reigning prince who paid slower yet the bills of an opera-dancer). He came and went—precise, calm, and cool—in the midst of the solicitations and supplications of his customers. “M. Arthur! M. Arthur!” One heard nothing but that phrase. He was M. Arthur. He went from one to the other—respectful, without too much humility, to the duchesses, and easy, without too much familiarity, to the actresses. There was an extraordinary liveliness, and a confusion of marvellous velvets, satins, and embroidered, brocaded, and gold or silver threaded stuffs, all thrown here and there, as though by accident—but what science in that accident—on arm-chairs, tables, and divans.

In the first place Mme. Derline ran against a shop-girl who was bearing with outstretched arms a white dress, and was almost hidden beneath a light mountain of muslins and laces. The only thing visible was the shop-girl’s mussed black hair and sly suburban expression. Mme. Derline backed away, wishing to place herself against the, wall; but a tryer-on was there, a large energetic brunette, who spoke authoritatively in a high staccato. “At once,” she was saying—”bring me at once the princess’s dress!”

Frightened and dazed, Mme. Derline stood in a corner and watched an opportunity to seize a saleswoman on the fly. She even thought of giving up the game. Never, certainly, should she dare to address directly that terrible M. Arthur, who had just given her a rapid glance in which she believed to have read, “Who is she? She isn’t properly dressed! She doesn’t go to a fashionable dress-maker!” At last Mme. Derline succeeded in getting hold of a disengaged saleswoman, and there was the same slightly disdainful glance—a glance which was accompanied by the phrase:

“Madame is not a regular customer of the house?”

“No, I am not a customer—”

“And you wish?”

“A dress, a ball-dress—and I want the dress for next Thursday evening—”

“Thursday next!”

“Yes, Thursday next.”

“Oh! madame, it is not to be thought of. Even for a customer of the house it would be impossible.”

“But I wished it so much—”

“Go and see M. Arthur. He alone can—”

“And where is M. Arthur?”

“In his office. He has just gone into his office. Over there, madame, opposite.”

Mme. Derline, through a half-open door, saw a sombre and severe but luxurious room—an ambassador’s office. On the walls the great European powers were represented by photographs—the Empress Eugénie, the Princess of Wales, a grand-duchess of Russia, and an archduchess of Austria. M. Arthur was there taking a few moments’ rest, seated in a large arm-chair, with an air of lassitude and exhaustion, and with a newspaper spread out over his knees. He arose on seeing Mme. Derline enter. In a trembling voice she repeated her wish.

“Oh, madame, a ball-dress—a beautiful ball-dress—for Thursday! I couldn’t make such a promise—I couldn’t keep it. There are responsibilities to which I never expose myself.”

He spoke slowly, gravely, as a man conscious of his high position.

“Oh, I am so disappointed. It was a particular occasion and I was told that you alone could—”

Two tears, two little tears, glittered on her eye-lashes. M. Arthur was moved. A woman, a pretty woman, crying there, before him! Never had such homage been paid to his genius.

“Well, madame, I am willing to make an attempt. A very simple dress—”

“Oh no, not simple. Very brilliant, on the contrary—everything that is most brilliant. Two of my friends are customers of yours (she named them), and I am Mme. Derline—”

“Mme. Derline! You are Mme. Derline?”

The two Mme. Derlines were followed by a glance and a smile—the glance was at the newspaper and the smile was at Mme. Derline; but it was a discreet, self-contained smile—the smile of a perfectly gallant man. This is what the glance and smile said with admirable clearness:

“Ah I you are Mme. Derline—that already celebrated Mme. Derline—who yesterday at the opera—I understand, I understand—I was reading just now in this paper—words are no longer necessary—you should have told your name at once—yes, you need me; yes, you shall have your dress; yes, I want to divide your success with you.”

M. Arthur called:

“Mademoiselle Blanche, come here at once! Mademoiselle Blanche!”

And turning towards Mme. Derline, he said:

“She has great talent, but I shall myself superintend it; so be easy—yes, I myself.”

Mme. Derline was a little confused, a little embarrassed by her glory, but happy nevertheless. Mademoiselle Blanche came forward.

“Conduct madame,” said M. Arthur, “and take the necessary measures for a ball-dress, very low, and with absolutely bare arms. During that time, madame, I am going to think seriously of what I can do for you. It must be something entirely new—ah! before going, permit me—”

He walked very slowly around Mme. Derline, and examined her with profound attention; then he walked away, and considered her from a little distance. His face was serious, thoughtful, and anxious. A great thinker wrestling with a great problem. He passed his hand over his forehead, raised his eyes to the sky, getting inspiration by a painful delivery; but suddenly his face lit up—the spirit from above had answered.

“Go, madame,” he said, “go. Your dress is thought out. When you come back, mademoiselle, bring me that piece of pink satin; you know, the one that I was keeping for some great occasion.”

Thus Mme. Derline found herself with Mademoiselle Blanche in a trying-on room, which was a sort of little cabin lined with mirrors. A quarter of an hour later, when the measures had been taken, Mme. Derline came back and discovered M. Arthur in the midst of pieces of satin of all colors, of crêpes, of tulles, of laces, and of brocaded stuffs.

“No, no, not the pink satin,” he said to Mademoiselle Blanche, who was bringing the asked-for piece; “no, I have found something better. Listen to me. This is what I wish: I have given up the pink, and I have decided on this, this peach-colored satin. A classic robe, outlining all the fine lines and showing the suppleness of the body. This robe must be very clinging—hardly any underskirts. It must be of surah. Madame must be melted into it—do you thoroughly understand?—absolutely melted into the robe. We will drop over the dress this crêpe—yes, that one, but in small, light pleats. The crêpe will be as a cloud thrown over the dress—a transparent, vapory, impalpable cloud. The arms are to be absolutely bare, as I already told you. On each shoulder there must be a simple knot, showing the upper part of the arm. Of what is the knot to be? I’m still undecided—I need to think it over—till to-morrow, madame, till to-morrow.”

Mme. Derline came back the next day, and the next, and every day till the day before the famous Thursday; and each time that she came back, while awaiting her turn to try on, she ordered dresses, very simple ones, but yet costing from seven to eight hundred francs each.

And that was not all. On the day of her first visit to M. Arthur, when Mme. Derline came out of the great house, she was broken-hearted—positively broken-hearted—at the sight of her brougham; it really did make a pitiful appearance among all the stylish carriages which were waiting in three rows and taking up half the street. It was the brougham of her late mother-in-law, and it still rolled through the streets of Paris after fifteen years’ service. Mme. Derline got into the woe-begone brougham to drive straight to a very well-known carriage-maker, and that evening, cleverly seizing the psychological moment, she explained to M. Derline that she had seen a certain little black coupé lined with blue satin that would frame delightfully her new dresses.

The coupé was bought the next day by M. Derline, who also was beginning fully to realize the extent of his new duties. But the next day it was discovered that it was impossible to harness to that jewel of a coupé the old horse who had pulled the old carriage, and no less impossible to put on the box the old coachman who drove the old horse.

This is how on Thursday, April 25th, at half-past ten in the evening, a very pretty chestnut mare, driven by a very correct English coachman, took M. and Mme. Derline to the Palmer’s. They still lacked something—a little groom to sit beside the English coachman. But a certain amount of discretion had to be employed. The most beautiful woman in Paris intended to wait ten days before asking for the little groom.

While she was going up-stairs at the Palmer’s, she distinctly felt her heart beat like the strokes of a hammer. She was going to play a decisive game. She knew that the Palmers had been going everywhere, saying, “Come on Thursday; we will show you Mme. Derline, the most beautiful woman in Paris.” Curiosity as well as jealousy had been well awakened.

She entered, and from the first minute she had the delicious sensation of her success. Throughout the long gallery of the Palmer’s house it was a true triumphal march. She advanced with firm and precise step, erect, and head well held. She appeared to see nothing, to hear nothing, but how well she saw! how well she felt, the fire of all those eyes on her shoulders! Around her arose a little murmur of admiration, and never had music been sweeter to her.

Yes, decidedly, all went well. She was on a fair way to conquer Paris. And, sure of herself, at each step she became more confident, lighter, and bolder, as she advanced on Palmer’s arm, who, in passing, pointed out the counts, the marquises, and the dukes. And then Palmer suddenly said to her:

“I want to present to you one of your greatest admirers, who, the other night at the opera, spoke of nothing but your beauty; he is the Prince of Nérins.”

She became as red as a cherry. Palmer looked at her and began to laugh.

“Ah, you read the other day in that paper?”

“I read—yes, I read—”

“But where is the prince, where is he? I saw him during the day, and he was to be here early.”

Mme. Derline was not to see the Prince of Nérins that evening. And yet he had intended to go to the Palmers and preside at the deification of his lawyeress. He had dined at the club, and had allowed himself to be dragged off to a first performance at a minor theatre. An operetta of the regulation type was being played. The principal personage was a young queen, who was always escorted by the customary four maids-of-honor.

Three of these young ladies were very well known to first-nighters, as having already figured in the tableaux of operettas and in groups of fairies, but the fourth—Oh, the fourth! She was a new one, a tall brunette of the most striking beauty. The prince made himself remarked more than all others by his enthusiasm. He completely forgot that he was to leave after the first act. The play was over very late, and the prince was still there, having paid no attention to the piece or the music, having seen nothing but the wonderful brunette, having heard nothing but the stanza which she had unworthily massacred in the middle of the second act. And while they were leaving the theatre, the prince was saying to whoever would listen:

“That brunette! oh, that brunette! She hasn’t an equal in any theatre! She is the most beautiful woman in Paris! The most beautiful!”

It was one o’clock in the morning. The prince asked himself if he should go to the Palmers. Poor Mme. Derline; she was of very slight importance beside this new wonder! And then, too, the prince was a methodical man. The hour for whist had arrived; so he departed to play whist.

The following morning Mme. Derline found ten lines on the Palmer’s ball in the “society column.” There was mention of the marquises, the countesses, and the duchesses who were there, but about Mme. Derline there was not a word—not a word.

On the other hand, the writer of theatrical gossip celebrated in enthusiastic terms the beauty of that ideal maid-of-honor, and said, “Besides, the Prince of Nérins declared that Mademoiselle Miranda was indisputedly the most beautiful woman in Paris!

Mme. Derline threw the paper in the fire. She did not wish her husband to know that she was already not the most beautiful woman in Paris.

She has, however, kept the great dress-maker and the English coachman, but she never dared to ask for the little groom.

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