While she was going up-stairs at the Palmer’s, she distinctly felt her heart beat like the strokes of a hammer. She was going to play a decisive game. She knew that the Palmers had been going everywhere, saying, “Come on Thursday; we will show you Mme. Derline, the most beautiful woman in Paris.” Curiosity as well as jealousy had been well awakened.
She entered, and from the first minute she had the delicious sensation of her success. Throughout the long gallery of the Palmer’s house it was a true triumphal march. She advanced with firm and precise step, erect, and head well held. She appeared to see nothing, to hear nothing, but how well she saw! how well she felt, the fire of all those eyes on her shoulders! Around her arose a little murmur of admiration, and never had music been sweeter to her.
Yes, decidedly, all went well. She was on a fair way to conquer Paris. And, sure of herself, at each step she became more confident, lighter, and bolder, as she advanced on Palmer’s arm, who, in passing, pointed out the counts, the marquises, and the dukes. And then Palmer suddenly said to her:
“I want to present to you one of your greatest admirers, who, the other night at the opera, spoke of nothing but your beauty; he is the Prince of Nerins.”
She became as red as a cherry. Palmer looked at her and began to laugh.
“Ah, you read the other day in that paper?”
“I read—yes, I read—”
“But where is the prince, where is he? I saw him during the day, and he was to be here early.”
Mme. Derline was not to see the Prince of Nerins that evening. And yet he had intended to go to the Palmers and preside at the deification of his lawyeress. He had dined at the club, and had allowed himself to be dragged off to a first performance at a minor theatre. An operetta of the regulation type was being played. The principal personage was a young queen, who was always escorted by the customary four maids-of-honor.
Three of these young ladies were very well known to first-nighters, as having already figured in the tableaux of operettas and in groups of fairies, but the fourth—Oh, the fourth! She was a new one, a tall brunette of the most striking beauty. The prince made himself remarked more than all others by his enthusiasm. He completely forgot that he was to leave after the first act. The play was over very late, and the prince was still there, having paid no attention to the piece or the music, having seen nothing but the wonderful brunette, having heard nothing but the stanza which she had unworthily massacred in the middle of the second act. And while they were leaving the theatre, the prince was saying to whoever would listen:
“That brunette! oh, that brunette! She hasn’t an equal in any theatre! She is the most beautiful woman in Paris! The most beautiful!”
It was one o’clock in the morning. The prince asked himself if he should go to the Palmers. Poor Mme. Derline; she was of very slight importance beside this new wonder! And then, too, the prince was a methodical man. The hour for whist had arrived; so he departed to play whist.