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El Dorado

9. What Love Can Do
"Yesterday you were unkind and ungallant. How could I smile when you seemed
so stern?"
"Yesterday I was not alone with you. How could I say what lay next my heart,
when indifferent ears could catch the words that were meant only for you?"
"Ah, monsieur, do they teach you in England how to make pretty speeches?"
"No, mademoiselle, that is an instinct that comes into birth by the fire of a
woman's eyes."
Mademoiselle Lange was sitting upon a small sofa of antique design, with
cushions covered in faded silks heaped round her pretty head. Armand thought
that she looked like that carved cameo which his sister Marguerite possessed.
He himself sat on a low chair at some distance from her. He had brought her a
large bunch of early violets, for he knew that she was fond of flowers, and these
lay upon her lap, against the opalescent grey of her gown.
She seemed a little nervous and agitated, his obvious admiration bringing a
ready blush to her cheeks.
The room itself appeared to Armand to be a perfect frame for the charming
picture which she presented. The furniture in it was small and old; tiny tables of
antique Vernis-Martin, softly faded tapestries, a pale-toned Aubusson carpet.
Everything mellow and in a measure pathetic. Mademoiselle Lange, who was an
orphan, lived alone under the duennaship of a middle-aged relative, a penniless
hanger-on of the successful young actress, who acted as her chaperone,
housekeeper, and maid, and kept unseemly or over-bold gallants at bay.
She told Armand all about her early life, her childhood in the backshop of Maitre
Meziere, the jeweller, who was a relative of her mother's; of her desire for an
artistic career, her struggles with the middle-class prejudices of her relations, her
bold defiance of them, and final independence.
She made no secret of her humble origin, her want of education in those days;
on the contrary, she was proud of what she had accomplished for herself. She
was only twenty years of age, and already held a leading place in the artistic
world of Paris.
Armand listened to her chatter, interested in everything she said, questioning her
with sympathy and discretion. She asked him a good deal about himself, and
about his beautiful sister Marguerite, who, of course, had been the most brilliant
star in that most brilliant constellation, the Comedie Francaise. She had never
seen Marguerite St. Just act, but, of course, Paris still rang with her praises, and
all art-lovers regretted that she should have married and left them to mourn for
her.
Thus the conversation drifted naturally back to England. Mademoiselle professed
a vast interest in the citizen's country of adoption.
"I had always," she said, "thought it an ugly country, with the noise and bustle of
industrial life going on everywhere, and smoke and fog to cover the landscape
and to stunt the trees."
 
 
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