AN ADVENTURE IN PARIS

Is there any stronger feeling than curiosity in a woman? Oh! Fancy seeing, knowing, touching what one has dreamt about! What would a woman not do for that? When once a woman’s eager curiosity is aroused, she will be guilty of any folly, commit any imprudence, venture upon anything, and recoil from nothing. I am speaking of women who are really women, who are endowed with that triple-bottomed disposition, which appears to be reasonable and cold on the surface, but whose three secret compartments are filled. The first, with female uneasiness, which is always in a state of flutter; the next, with sly tricks which are colored in imitation of good faith, with those sophistical and formidable tricks of apparently devout women; and the last, with all those charming, improper acts, with that delightful deceit, exquisite perfidy, and all those wayward qualities, which drive lovers who are stupidly credulous, to suicide; but which delight others. The woman whose adventure I am about to relate, was a little person from the provinces, who had been insipidly chaste till then. Her life, which was apparently so calm, was spent at home, with a busy husband and two children, whom she brought up like an irreproachable woman. But her heart beat with unsatisfied curiosity, and some unknown longing. She was continually thinking of Paris, and read the fashionable papers eagerly. The accounts of parties, of the dresses and various entertainments, excited her longing; but, above all, she was strangely agitated by those paragraphs which were full of double meaning, by those veils which were half raised by clever phrases, and which gave her a glimpse of culpable and ravishing delights, and from her country home, she saw Paris in an apotheosis of magnificent and corrupt luxury. And during the long nights, when she dreamt, lulled by the regular snores of her husband, who was sleeping on his back by her side, with a silk handkerchief tied round his head, she saw in her sleep those well-known men whose names appeared on the first page of the newspapers as great stars in the dark skies; and she pictured to herself their life of continual excitement, of constant debauches, of orgies such as they indulged in in ancient Rome, which were horridly voluptuous, with refinements of sensuality which were so complicated that she could not even picture them to herself. The boulevards seemed to her to be a kind of abyss of human passions, and there could be no doubt that the houses there concealed mysteries of prodigious love. But she felt that she was growing old, and this, without having

which strike the eye on account of their color. in a voice like a trumpet. But nothing put her on the track of those orgies of actors and actresses. found a pretext. or rather for two nights. when chance came to her aid. . like some winter fruit in a closed cupboard. got some relations to invite her. They were both equally ugly. By dint of much perseverance. as she told him that she had met some friends who lived a little way out of town. on the value of an enormous. a summons to love. Her relations. nothing revealed to her those temples of debauchery which she imagined opened at some magic word. like the cave in the Arabian Nights . and as soon as she arrived. and as her husband could not go with her. Monsieur Varin. who was looking admiringly at the china figure. gave a swift and furtive. Every moment. which was a celebrated one. could not introduce her to any of those well-known men with whose names her head was full. she went alone.known life. She was still pretty. She was looking at the little ivory buffoons. and in despair she was thinking of returning. just once into that flood of Parisian voluptuousness. She went up and down the boulevards. which was quite unique. and have special prices for them. where the mysteries of a persecuted religion were secretly celebrated. intoxicating joys. with many bows. The other customers. which constitute the happiness of the home. which every morning seemed to her like a tocsin. to a little. everyday occupations. One day. the shop-keeper repeated his customer’s name. She looked into the large cafés . She used to ask herself whether she should die without having experienced any of those damning. And then she set out on a voyage of discovery. she paved the way for a journey to Paris. comical figure. and the curious bronzes. but I think a great deal of literary and artistic customers. she stopped to look into a shop full of those colored Japanese knick-knacks. as she was going along the Rue de la Chaussee d’Antin . when she heard the shop-keeper dilating. except in those regular. potbellied. for she was well preserved in her tranquil existence. he said. without having plunged once. but she was agitated and devoured by her secret ardor. and read the Agony Column of the Figaro. without seeing anything except roving and numbered vice. horridly monotonous. baldheaded. she invented a reason for remaining for two days. young women and well-dressed gentlemen. or those catacombs in Rome. I should ask anybody else fifteen hundred. gray-bearded man. and that is exactly what it cost me. but respectful glance at the celebrated writer. if necessary. the tall vases of flaming enamel. as ugly as two brothers who had sprung from the same mother. who were quite middle-class people. “I will let you have it for a thousand francs.

Jean Varin. antique goblet of me. a woman who gives fifteen hundred francs for a knick-knack is not to be met with every day. and the other day I sold two candelabra like this (is it not handsome?) to Monsieur Alexander Dumas. But she was overcome by a feeling of delightful delicacy. in surprise. you change your mind. replied: “Fifteen hundred francs. Monsieur. Then she told him how she admired him. and turning to him. is it not beautiful?” And then everyone looked round. if it is worth a son. and became quite eloquent as she quoted his works. If Monsieur Zola were to see that Japanese figure. observantly. from the other end of the shop: “Just look at this. continued: “Well. Yesterday. “No. Monsieur Varin. It was Jean Varin himself. I had. as a connoisseur. who had not even noticed her till that moment.They all come to me. but the price was above him. “Oh! Monsieur Varin. And then. After a long struggle. elegant or young. no doubt I have been rather hasty. and fixed his bright eyes upon her. . turned round suddenly.” He. suddenly animated by that flame which had hitherto been dormant in her. and painful hesitation. she said in a trembling voice: “Excuse me. Madame. as perhaps you had not finally made up your mind. or at any other time. with half-closed eyes. called out. as he wanted to have the figure. I only bought it because you seemed to like it.” he said. and while they were talking he rested his arms on a table. came forward and said: “What shall you charge me for the figure?” The shop-keeper. he looked at her from head to foot.” And thereupon.” But the man of letters replied sadly.” He was visibly flattered. Monsieur Varin. Madame. But the shop-keeper. he put the figure down onto the table. only bowed. and said: “Indeed.” “I will take it. seized by a kind of mad audacity. he would buy it immediately. too dear? It is worth two thousand francs. Monsieur Varin. and smiled. “I should much like to find out how you know who I am?” he said. still looking at the figure with the enameled eyes: “I do not say it is not. but it is too dear for me. The shop-keeper’s eloquence redoubled. with her eyes fixed shamelessly upon him. you can have this Japanese figure.” And she. it is too dear. She came in trembling. filled with emotion. She was charming. and he thought no more about her looking at him than if he had been alone in the desert.” The writer. who was pleased to have that living puff of his goods.” The author hesitated in perplexity. if either today. and then he took in the details. Monsieur. trying to make out who and what she really was. Monsieur Busnach bought a large. and she almost trembled with pleasure at being seen talking so intimately with such a well-known man. she. however. and she did not even ask herself whether he were good-looking.

and she persisted. intoxicated. in a resolute voice. “Monsieur. as a keepsake from a woman who admires you passionately. “let us go and have some absinthe. and she suggested that they should go and dine. Monsieur. as it were.” she said. and then tumbled onto the bottom of the cab as it started.” . she stated her conditions. however. and she said: “Very well. and they started. and sat down by her side. then. “if you will promise to do all I want today. but that only made her more obstinate. pure or impure. who is going to give the order for an assault. after dinner. and when it was getting dusk. and she kept saying to herself: “At last! At last!” But time went on. He reached her just as she was jumping into the vehicle. then. she showed herself intractable. and whom you have seen for ten minutes. with every detail about them. a very great pleasure? Allow me to offer you this funny Japanese figure. let us go to the theater. as he did not wish to accept a present for which he could not possibly account. He picked himself up. she grew bold. He was obliged to tell her the names of all the well-known women. their habits. sometimes I go to the theater.” “Very well. and after hesitating for a few moments. and where he met some of his colleagues. feeling very much annoyed. It was no good for him to insist and to beg her. “What do you generally do at this time?” she asked him.” she went on. The writer went after her. whom he introduced to her. but still he resisted her offer.” Of course he refused. we will go to the Bois de Boulogne !” she said.” “Very well. and when she had paid for her purchase.” she said. then. their life. She was half mad with pleasure. and at which he laughed heartily. with a laugh. I shall take it to your house immediately. When they left Bignon’s . but she got it from the shop-keeper. “Very well.” he replied. he replied: “I generally go for a walk. he almost fell onto her. by her feelings. Monsieur. at which he was much amused. he replied: “That depends.” They went into a large café on the boulevard which he frequented. Where do you live?” He refused to give her his address. and she observed that she supposed it must be about his dinner time. like a general does. she ran out to take a cab. and getting in after her. “will you do me a great. she wanted to know what he did in the evening. seriously. and looking at her fixedly. “I will undertake not to leave this with you. and their vices. their private affairs.At last. then. however. and when they got to the door. she said to him: “What do you do every day at this time?” “I have some absinthe.” And the whole affair seemed so funny to him that he agreed.

. blushing like as if she had been a virgin.. and the silence was only disturbed by the tick-tack of the clock. a little tremulous laugh.. Monsieur . in the balcony stalls. . well. and the night passed. with a wax match in his hand..” But she interrupted him: “What do you do at this time. and said: “I wanted to know . whose round stomach raised up the bed-clothes like a balloon filled with gas.. and then she waited for him. and a small stream of saliva was running out of one corner of his half-open mouth. but with a fixed determination. why .. and . she looked. and he woke up and rubbed his eyes. from head to foot... and said: “It only remains for me to thank you for this delightful day. I go home.. At last the daylight appeared through the drawn blinds. and retired without saying a word.. thought of her conjugal nights. in my turn. whose bareness they were trying to cover. what vice . and inclined to run away. let us go to your rooms. the whole house saw her sitting by his side. and he was more exacting than a pascha with three tails. He was some moments before he quite came to himself.. and tell me why you did it all. well . and she. and said: “Look here. as if they were tired of having been fastened for so long to that pate. for upon my word I cannot understand it in the least.. nearly heart-broken. She shivered occasionally. after all. and by the light of the Chinese lantern.” And as she did not reply. At last. what ... to see it out to the end. he gallantly kissed her hand. however. His few hairs profited by his sleep. I have something to ask you. in a hesitating voice: “Yes. But she was as simple as it was possible for a provincial lawyer’s wife to be. thanks to him. and then. every night?” “Why . to her great pride. lying motionless. of course. really was.. feeling inclined to stay.. he said: “What! Are you going already?” She remained standing. cowering against the wall.. it is morning. As soon as they were in the room. He snored with the noise of a wheezy organ pipe. “Very well.” Then he sat up. when she made the lock creak.” .. and then she said.. he went on: “You have surprised me most confoundedly since yesterday. and so they did not at all understand each other. When the play was over. and she had already half opened the door. it is not at all funny. Be open. and he came up behind her. she undressed herself quickly. he went to sleep. at the little fat man lying on his back. with prolonged snorts and comic chokings.. and. when he remembered all that had happened.” They did not say anything more.They went to the Vaudeville with an order.. in some confusion..” She went close up to him.. so she got up and dressed herself without making any noise. She was so excited that she had to hold onto the baluster as she went upstairs. to stand up in a very strange way.” She began to laugh.

. the roadway. as if her over-excited dreams had been pushed into the gutter. like dancing puppets. and so she went home. And it seemed to her as if something had been swept out of her. brushing the pavements. walking automatically with their swaying motion.And she ran out of the room. out of breath. and sweeping everything on one side. they pushed the mud in front of them in a semi-circle. and very cold. the motion of mowers in a meadow. and she met them in every street. A number of sweepers were busy in the streets. or into the drain. she threw herself onto her bed and cried. and all that she could remember was the sensation of the motion of those brooms sweeping the streets of Paris in the early morning. With the same regular motion. As soon as she got into her room. and downstairs into the street.

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