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Chapter 7

  • FROM LEON VERDIER, IN PARIS, TO PROSPER GOBAIN, AT LILLE.
  • September 28th.
  • My Dear Prosper—It is a long time since I have given you of my news, and _on't know what puts it into my head to-night to recall myself to you_ffectionate memory. I suppose it is that when we are happy the mind revert_nstinctively to those with whom formerly we shared our exaltations an_epressions, and je t'eu ai trop dit, dans le bon temps, mon gros Prosper, an_ou always listened to me too imperturbably, with your pipe in your mouth,
  • your waistcoat unbuttoned, for me not to feel that I can count upon you_ympathy to-day. Nous en sommes nous flanquees des confidences—in those happ_ays when my first thought in seeing an adventure poindre a l'horizon was o_he pleasure I should have in relating it to the great Prosper. As I tel_hee, I am happy; decidedly, I am happy, and from this affirmation I fancy yo_an construct the rest. Shall I help thee a little? Take three adorable girls
  • … three, my good Prosper—the mystic number—neither more nor less. Take the_nd place thy insatiable little Leon in the midst of them! Is the situatio_ufficiently indicated, and do you apprehend the motives of my felicity?
  • You expected, perhaps, I was going to tell you that I had made my fortune, o_hat the Uncle Blondeau had at last decided to return into the breast o_ature, after having constituted me his universal legatee. But I needn'_emind you that women are always for something in the happiness of him wh_rites to thee—for something in his happiness, and for a good deal more in hi_isery. But don't let me talk of misery now; time enough when it comes; ce_emoiselles have gone to join the serried ranks of their amiable predecessors.
  • Excuse me—I comprehend your impatience. I will tell you of whom ce_emoiselles consist.
  • You have heard me speak of my cousine de Maisonrouge, that grande belle femme,
  • who, after having married, en secondes noces—there had been, to tell th_ruth, some irregularity about her first union—a venerable relic of the ol_oblesse of Poitou, was left, by the death of her husband, complicated by th_ndulgence of expensive tastes on an income of 17,000 francs, on the pavemen_f Paris, with two little demons of daughters to bring up in the path o_irtue. She managed to bring them up; my little cousins are rigidly virtuous.
  • If you ask me how she managed it, I can't tell you; it's no business of mine,
  • and, a fortiori none of yours. She is now fifty years old (she confesses t_hirty-seven), and her daughters, whom she has never been able to marry, ar_espectively twenty-seven and twenty-three (they confess to twenty and t_eventeen). Three years ago she had the thrice-blessed idea of opening a sor_f pension for the entertainment and instruction of the blundering barbarian_ho come to Paris in the hope of picking up a few stray particles of th_anguage of Voltaire—or of Zola. The idea lui a porte bonheur; the shop does _ery good business. Until within a few months ago it was carried on by m_ousins alone; but lately the need of a few extensions and embellishments ha_aused itself to he felt. My cousin has undertaken them, regardless o_xpense; she has asked me to come and stay with her—board and lodgin_ratis—and keep an eye on the grammatical eccentricities of her pensionnaires.
  • I am the extension, my good Prosper; I am the embellishment! I live fo_othing, and I straighten up the accent of the prettiest English lips. Th_nglish lips are not all pretty, heaven knows, but enough of them are so t_ake it a gaining bargain for me.
  • Just now, as I told you, I am in daily conversation with three separate pairs.
  • The owner of one of them has private lessons; she pays extra. My cousi_oesn't give me a sou of the money; but I make bold, nevertheless, to say tha_y trouble is remunerated. But I am well, very well, with the proprietors o_he two other pairs. One of them is a little Anglaise, of about twenty—_ittle figure de keepsake; the most adorable miss that you ever, or at leas_hat I ever beheld. She is decorated all over with beads and bracelets an_mbroidered dandelions; but her principal decoration consists of the softes_ittle gray eyes in the world, which rest upon you with a profundity o_onfidence—a confidence that I really feel some compunction in betraying. Sh_as a tint as white as this sheet of paper, except just in the middle of eac_heek, where it passes into the purest and most transparent, most liquid,
  • carmine. Occasionally this rosy fluid overflows into the rest of her face—b_hich I mean that she blushes—as softly as the mark of your breath on th_indow- pane.
  • Like every Anglaise, she is rather pinched and prim in public; but it is ver_asy to see that when no one is looking elle ne demande qu'a se laisser aller!
  • Whenever she wants it I am always there, and I have given her to understan_hat she can count upon me. I have reason to believe that she appreciates th_ssurance, though I am bound in honesty to confess that with her the situatio_s a little less advanced than with the others. Que voulez-vous? The Englis_re heavy, and the Anglaises move slowly, that's all. The movement, however,
  • is perceptible, and once this fact is established I can let the pottag_immer. I can give her time to arrive, for I am over- well occupied with he_oncurrentes. Celles-ci don't keep me waiting, par exemple!
  • These young ladies are Americans, and you know that it is the nationa_haracter to move fast. "All right—go ahead!" (I am learning a great deal o_nglish, or, rather, a great deal of American.) They go ahead at a rate tha_ometimes makes it difficult for me to keep up. One of them is prettier tha_he other; but this hatter (the one that takes the private lessons) is reall_ne file prodigieuse. Ah, par exemple, elle brule ses vais-seux cella-la! Sh_hrew herself into my arms the very first day, and I almost owed her a grudg_or having deprived me of that pleasure of gradation, of carrying th_efences, one by one, which is almost as great as that of entering the place.
  • Would you believe that at the end of exactly twelve minutes she gave me _endezvous? It is true it was in the Galerie d'Apollon, at the Louvre; bu_hat was respectable for a beginning, and since then we have had them by th_ozen; I have ceased to keep the account. Non, c'est une file qui me depasse.
  • The little one (she has a mother somewhere, out of sight, shut up in a close_r a trunk) is a good deal prettier, and, perhaps, on that account elle y me_lus de facons. She doesn't knock about Paris with me by the hour; sh_ontents herself with long interviews in the petit salon, with the curtain_alf-drawn, beginning at about three o'clock, when every one is a l_romenade. She is admirable, this little one; a little too thin, the bone_ather accentuated, but the detail, on the whole, most satisfactory. And yo_an say anything to her. She takes the trouble to appear not to understand,
  • but her conduct, half an hour afterwards, reassures you completely—oh,
  • completely!
  • However, it is the tall one, the one of the private lessons, that is the mos_emarkable. These private lessons, my good Prosper, are the most brillian_nvention of the age, and a real stroke of genius on the part of Miss Miranda!
  • They also take place in the petit salon, but with the doors tightly closed,
  • and with explicit directions to every one in the house that we are not to b_isturbed. And we are not, my good Prosper; we are not! Not a sound, not _hadow, interrupts our felicity. My cousine is really admirable; the sho_eserves to succeed. Miss Miranda is tall and rather flat; she is too pale;
  • she hasn't the adorable rougeurs of the little Anglaise. But she has bright,
  • keen, inquisitive eyes, superb teeth, a nose modelled by a sculptor, and a wa_f holding up her head and looking every one in the face, which is the mos_inished piece of impertinence I ever beheld. She is making the tour du mond_ntirely alone, without even a soubrette to carry the ensign, for the purpos_f seeing for herself a quoi s'en tenir sur les hommes et les choses- -on le_ommes particularly. Dis donc, Prosper, it must be a drole de pays over there,
  • where young persons animated by this ardent curiosity are manufactured! If w_hould turn the tables, some day, thou and I, and go over and see it fo_urselves. It is as well that we should go and find them chez elles, as tha_hey should come out here after us. Dis donc, mon gras Prosper …