“Come, either keep still or go away. Let me listen to Mme. Caron—”
The prince went away, as no one knew that incomparable blonde. Yet she had often been to the opera, but in an unpretentious way—in the second tier of boxes. And to Prince Agenor above the first tier of boxes there was nothing, absolutely nothing. There was emptiness—space. The prince had never been in a second-tier box, so the second-tier boxes did not exist.
While Mme. Caron was marvellously singing the marvellous phrase of Reyer, “O mon sauveur silencieux la Valkyrie est ta conquete,” the prince strolled along the passages of the opera. Who was that blonde? He wanted to know, and he would know.
And suddenly he remembered that good Mme. Picard was the box-opener of the Sainte Mesmes, and that he, Prince of Nerins, had had the honor of being for a long time a friend of that good Mme. Picard. It was she who in the last years of the Second Empire had taught him bezique in all its varieties—Japanese, Chinese, etc. He was then twenty, Mme. Picard was forty. She was not then box-opener of the National Academy of Music; she had in those times as office—and it was not a sinecure—the position of aunt to a nice young person who showed a very pretty face and a very pretty pair of legs in the chorus of the revues of the Varietee. And the prince, while quite young, at the beginning of his life, had, for three or four years, led a peaceful, almost domestic life, with the aunt and niece. Then they went off one way and he another.
One evening at the opera, ten years later, in handing his overcoat to a venerable-looking old dame, Agenor heard himself saluted by the following little speech:
“Ah, how happy I am to see you again, prince! And not changed—not at all changed. Still the same, absolutely the same—still twenty.”
It was Mme. Picard, who had been raised to the dignity of box-opener. They chatted, talked of old times, and after that evening the prince never passed Mme. Picard without greeting her. She responded with a little deferential courtesy. She was one of those people, becoming rarer and rarer nowadays, who have the exact feeling for distances and conventions. There was, however, a little remnant of familiarity, almost of affection, in the way in which she said “prince.” This did not displease Agenor; he had a very good recollection of Mme. Picard.
“Ah, prince,” said Mme. Picard on seeing Agenor, “there is no one for you to-night in my boxes. Mme. de Simiane is not here, and Mme. de Sainte Mesme has rented her box.”
“That’s precisely it. Don’t you know the people in Mme. de Sainte Mesme’s box?”
“Not at all, prince. It’s the first time I have seen them in the marquise’s box—”
“Then you have no idea—”
“None, prince. Only to me they don’t appear to be people of—”