“A thousand thanks, my very good friend.”
I heard a smothered laugh beyond the amber curtains. Presently she spoke again, yawning, as I fancied, rather contentedly.
“A la bonne heure, Monsieur!”
“A la bonne heure, Madame!”
DEJEUNER A LA FOURCHETTE
Woman is a creature between man
and the angels.
—Honore de Balzac.
A government agent, it seems, may also in part be little more than a man, after all. In these singular surroundings I found myself not wholly tranquil.... At last toward morning, I must have slept. It was some time after daybreak when I felt a hand upon my shoulder as I lay still partly clad. Awakened suddenly, I arose and almost overthrew old Threlka, who stood regarding me with no expression whatever upon her brown and wrinkled countenance. She did no more than point the way to a door, where presently I found a bath-room, and so refreshed myself and made the best toilet possible under the circumstances.
My hostess I found awaiting me in the central room of the apartments. She was clad now in a girdled peignoir of rich rose-color, the sleeves, wide and full, falling hack from her round arms. Her dark hair was coiled and piled high on her head this morning, regardless of current mode, and confined in a heavy twist by a tall golden comb; so that her white neck was left uncovered. She wore no jewelry, and as she stood, simple and free from any trickery of the coquette, I thought that few women ever were more fair. That infinite witchery not given to many women was hers, yet dignity as well. She was, I swear, grande dame, though young and beautiful as a goddess. Her brow was thoughtful now, her air more demure. Faint blue shadows lay beneath her eyes. A certain hauteur, it seemed to me, was visible in her mien, yet she was the soul of graciousness, and, I must admit, as charming a hostess as ever invited one to usual or unusual repast.
The little table in the center of the room was already spread. Madam filled my cup from the steaming urn with not the slightest awkwardness, as she nodded for me to be seated. We looked at each other, and, as I may swear, we both broke into saving laughter.
So we sat, easier now, as I admit, and, with small concern for the affairs of the world outside at the time, discussed the very excellent omelet, which certainly did not allow the reputation of Threlka to suffer; the delicately grilled bones, the crisp toasted rye bread, the firm yellow butter, the pungent early cress, which made up a meal sufficiently dainty even for her who presided over it.
Even that pitiless light of early morning, the merciless cross-light of opposing windows, was gentle with her. Yes, she was young! Moreover, she ate as a person of breeding, and seemed thoroughbred in all ways, if one might use a term so hackneyed. Rank and breeding had been hers; she needed not to claim them, for they told their own story. I wondered what extraordinary history of hers remained untold—what history of hers and mine and of others she might yet assist in making!