A Tragic Idyl


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Synopsis That night (toward the end of February, 188—) a vast crowd was thronging the halls of the Casino at Monte Carlo. It was one of the momentary occasions, well known to all who have passed the winter season on the Corniche, when a sudden and prodigious afflux of composite humanity transfigures that place, ordinarily so vulgar with the brutal luxury of the people whom it satisfies. The gay madness that breaks out at Nice during the Carnival attracts to this little point of the Riviera the moving army of pleasure hunters and adventurers, while the beauty of the climate allures thousands of invalids and people weary of living, the victims of disease and of ill fortune; and on certain nights, like that on which this narrative begins, when the countless representatives of the various classes, scattered ordinarily along the coast, suddenly rush together into the gaming-house, their fantastic variety of character appears in all its startling incongruities, with the aspect of a cosmopolitan pandemonium, dazzling and sinister, deafening and tragical, ridiculous and painful, strewn with all the wrecks of luxury and vice of every country and of every class, the victims of every misfortune and disaster. In this stifling atmosphere, amid the glitter of insolent and ignoble wealth, the ancient monarchies were represented by three princes of the house of Bourbon, and the modern by two grand-nephews of Bonaparte, all five recognizable by their profiles, which were reproduced on hundreds of the gold and silver coins rolling before them on the green tables. Neither these princes nor their neighbors noticed the presence at one of the tables of a man who had borne the title of King in one of the states improvised on the Balkan Peninsula. Men had fought for this man, men had died for him, but his royal interests seemed now to be restricted to the pasteboard monarchs on the table of trente-et-quarante. And king and princes, grand-nephews and cousins of emperors, in the promiscuity of this international resort, elbowed noblemen whose ancestors had served or betrayed their own; and these lords elbowed the sons of tradesmen, dressed like them, nourished like them, amused like them; and these bourgeois brushed against celebrated artists—here the most famous of our portrait painters, there a well-known singer, there an illustrious writer—while fashionable women mingled with this crowd in toilets which rivalled in splendor those of the demi-monde. And other men poured in continually, and other women, and especially others of the demi-monde. Through the door they streamed in endlessly, of all categories, from the creature with hungry eyes and the face of a criminal, in search of some fortunate gambler whose substance she might absorb as a spider does that of a fly, to the insolent and triumphant devourer of fortunes, who stakes twenty-five louis on every turn of the roulette and wears in her ears diamonds worth 30,000f. These contrasts formed here and there a picture even more striking and significant; for example, between two of these venders of love, their complexion painted with ceruse and with rouge, their eyes depraved by luxury and greed, a young woman, almost a child, recently married and passing through Monte Carlo on her wedding journey, stretched forth her fresh, pretty face with a smile of innocence and roguish curiosity.

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