“Ah, very well, then. And what is the news?” She sank into her arm-chair, pulled her little card-table closer, and began shuffling the cards upon it for her game of solitaire. “I never hear any news, you know. She [nodding toward me] goes out, but she never learns anything. She is as stupid tonight as an empty bottle.”
After a few passes her hands, which were slightly tremulous, regained some of their wonted steadiness and brilliancy of movement, and the cards dropped rapidly on the table. Mr. Horace, as he had got into the habit of doing, watched her mechanically, rather absent-mindedly retailing what he imagined would interest her, from his week’s observation and hearsay. And madame’s little world revolved, complete for her, in time, place, and personality.
It was an old-fashioned square room with long ceiling, and broad, low windows heavily curtained with stiff silk brocade, faded by time into mellowness. The tall white-painted mantel carried its obligation of ornaments well: a gilt clock which under a glass case related some brilliant poetical idyl, and told the hours only in an insignificant aside, according to the delicate politeness of bygone French taste; flanked by duplicate continuations of the same idyl in companion candelabra, also under glass; Sevres, or imitation Sevres vases, and a crowd of smaller objects to which age and rarity were slowly contributing an artistic value. An oval mirror behind threw replicas of them into another mirror, receiving in exchange the reflected portrait of madame in her youth, and in the partial nudity in which innocence was limned in madame’s youth. There were besides mirrors on the other three walls of the room, all hung with such careful intent for the exercise of their vocation that the apartment, in spots, extended indefinitely; the brilliant chandelier was thereby quadrupled, and the furniture and ornaments multiplied everywhere and most unexpectedly into twins and triplets, producing such sociabilities among them, and forcing such correspondences between inanimate objects with such hospitable insistence, that the effect was full of gaiety and life, although the interchange in reality was the mere repetition of one original, a kind of phonographic echo.
The portrait of monsieur, madame’s handsome young husband, hung out of the circle of radiance, in the isolation that, wherever they hang, always seems to surround the portraits of the dead.
Old as the parlors appeared, madame antedated them by the sixteen years she had lived before her marriage, which had been the occasion of their furnishment. She had traveled a considerable distance over the sands of time since the epoch commemorated by the portrait. Indeed, it would require almost documentary evidence to prove that she, who now was arriving at eighty, was the same Atalanta that had started out so buoyantly at sixteen.
Instead of a cap, she wore black lace over her head, pinned with gold brooches. Her white hair curled naturally over a low forehead. Her complexion showed care—and powder. Her eyes were still bright, not with the effete intelligence of old age, but with actual potency. She wore a loose black sack flowered in purple, and over that a black lace mantle, fastened with more gold brooches.