The Count's Millions HTML version

Chapter 18.
The woman in the carriage was none other than Madame Lia d'Argeles. She was attired
in one of those startling costumes which are the rage nowadays, and which impart the
same bold and brazen appearance to all who wear them: so much so, that the most
experienced observers are no longer able to distinguish the honest mother of a family
from a notorious character. A Dutchman, named Van Klopen, who was originally a tailor
at Rotterdam, rightfully ascribes the honor of this progress to himself. One can scarcely
explain how it happens that this individual, who calls himself "the dressmaker of the
queens of Europe," has become the arbiter of Parisian elegance; but it is an undeniable
fact that he does reign over fashion. He decrees the colors that shall be worn, decides
whether dresses shall be short or long, whether paniers shall be adopted or discarded,
whether ruches and puffs and flowers shall be allowed, and in what form; and his
subjects, the so-called elegant women of Paris, obey him implicitly.
Madame d'Argeles would personally have preferred less finery, perhaps, but it would not
have done for her to be out of the fashion. She wore an imperceptible hat, balanced on an
immense pyramidal chignon, from which escaped a torrent of wavy hair. "What a
beautiful woman!" exclaimed the dazzled Chupin, and indeed, seen from this distance,
she did not look a day more than thirty-five--an age when beauty possesses all the
alluring charm of the luscious fruit of autumn. She was giving orders for the drive, and
her coachman, with a rose in his buttonhole, listened while he reined in the spirited horse.
"The weather's superb," added Chupin. "She'll no doubt drive round the lakes in the Bois
de Boulogne----"
"Ah, she's off!" interrupted M. Fortunat. "Run, Victor, run! and don't be miserly as
regards carriage hire; all your expenses shall be liberally refunded you."
Chupin was already far away. Madame d'Argeles's horse went swiftly enough, but the
agent's emissary had the limbs and the endurance of a stag, and he kept pace with the
victoria without much difficulty. And as he ran along, his brain was busy. "If I don't take
a cab," he said to himself, "if I follow the woman on foot, I shall have a perfect right to
pocket the forty-five sous an hour--fifty, counting the gratuity--that a cab would cost."
But on reaching the Champ Elysees, he discovered, to his regret, that this plan was
impracticable, for on running down the Avenue de l'Imperatrice after the rapidly driven
carriage, he could not fail to attract attention. Stifling a sigh of regret, and seeing a cab at
a stand near by, he hastily hailed it. "Where do you want to go, sir?" inquired the driver.
"Just follow that blue victoria, in which a handsome lady is seated, my good fellow."
The order did not surprise the cabman, but rather the person who gave it; for in spite of
his fine apparel, Chupin did not seem quite the man for such an adventure. "Excuse me,"
said the Jehu, in a slightly ironical tone, "I----"