Four Short Stories
The countess Sabine, as it had become customary to call Mme Muffat de Beuville in
order to distinguish her from the count's mother, who had died the year before, was wont
to receive every Tuesday in her house in the Rue Miromesnil at the corner of the Rue de
Pentievre. It was a great square building, and the Muffats had lived in it for a hundred
years or more. On the side of the street its frontage seemed to slumber, so lofty was it and
dark, so sad and convent-like, with its great outer shutters, which were nearly always
closed. And at the back in a little dark garden some trees had grown up and were
straining toward the sunlight with such long slender branches that their tips were visible
above the roof.
This particular Tuesday, toward ten o'clock in the evening, there were scarcely a dozen
people in the drawing room. When she was only expecting intimate friends the countess
opened neither the little drawing room nor the dining room. One felt more at home on
such occasions and chatted round the fire. The drawing room was very large and very
lofty; its four windows looked out upon the garden, from which, on this rainy evening of
the close of April, issued a sensation of damp despite the great logs burning on the hearth.
The sun never shone down into the room; in the daytime it was dimly lit up by a faint
greenish light, but at night, when the lamps and the chandelier were burning, it looked
merely a serious old chamber with its massive mahogany First Empire furniture, its
hangings and chair coverings of yellow velvet, stamped with a large design. Entering it,
one was in an atmosphere of cold dignity, of ancient manners, of a vanished age, the air
of which seemed devotional.
Opposite the armchair, however, in which the count's mother had died—a square
armchair of formal design and inhospitable padding, which stood by the hearthside—the
Countess Sabine was seated in a deep and cozy lounge, the red silk upholsteries of which
were soft as eider down. It was the only piece of modern furniture there, a fanciful item
introduced amid the prevailing severity and clashing with it.
"So we shall have the shah of Persia," the young woman was saying.
They were talking of the crowned heads who were coming to Paris for the exhibition.
Several ladies had formed a circle round the hearth, and Mme du Joncquoy, whose
brother, a diplomat, had just fulfilled a mission in the East, was giving some details about
the court of Nazr-ed-Din.
"Are you out of sorts, my dear?" asked Mme Chantereau, the wife of an ironmaster,
seeing the countess shivering slightly and growing pale as she did so.
"Oh no, not at all," replied the latter, smiling. "I felt a little cold. This drawing room takes
so long to warm."