FROM LEON VERDIER, IN PARIS, TO PROSPER GOBAIN, AT LILLE.
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,
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 …