“Of course!” exclaimed Gontran.
“Of course not,” replied Marceline. “He was going to tell you that he was a good little boy, having always loved his little cousin, and that our marriage was a delightful romance of tenderness and sweetness.”
“Why, yes, of course,” repeated Gontran.
“Nonsense! The truth, Aunt Louise, the real truth, in short, is this, never, never should we have been married if on the 17th of May, 1890, between nine and eleven o’clock, he had not lost 34,000 points at bezique at the club, and if all the boxes had not been sold, that same night, at the Bouffes-Parisiens Theatre.”
Gontran began to laugh.
“Oh, you can laugh as much as you please! You know very well that but for this—on what does fate depend?—I should now be married and a duchess, it is true; but Duchess of Courtalin, and not Duchess of Lannilis. Well, perhaps that would have been better! At any rate, I wish to give Aunt Louise the authentic history of our marriage.”
“Tell away, if it amuses you,” said Gontran.
“Yes, sir, it amuses me. You shall know all, Aunt Louise—all, absolutely all; and I beg you to be judge of our quarrel.”
This scene was taking place eight days after Marceline de Lorlauge, at the Church of the Madeleine, before the altar, hidden under a mountain of roses, had answered “yes,” with just the right amount of nervousness and emotion (neither too much nor too little, but exactly right), when she was asked if she was willing to take for husband her cousin, Jean Leopold Mathurin Arbert Gontran, Duke of Lannilis.
This marriage had been the great marriage of the season. There had been an absolute crush under the colonnade and against the railings of the church to see the bride walk down those fearful steps of the Madeleine. What an important feat that is! Merely to be beautiful is not all that is needful; it is necessary besides to know how to be beautiful. There is an art about being pretty which requires certain preparations and study. In society, as in the theatre, success rarely comes at once. Mme. de Lannilis had the good-fortune to make her first appearance with decisive success. She was at once quite easily and boldly at home in her beauty; she had only to appear to triumph. Prince Nerins had not a moment’s hesitation concerning it, and he it is, as every one knows, who, with general consent, has made himself the distributor of the patents of supreme Parisian elegance; so while the new duchess, beneath the fire of a thousand eyes and behind the ringing staffs, was taking her first steps as a young married woman with calm assurance, Nerins, struck with admiration, was giving way, under the colonnade of the Madeleine, to veritable transports of enthusiasm. He went from group to group repeating:
“She is aerial! There is no other expression for her—aerial! She does not walk, she glides! If she had the fantasy, with one little kick of her heel, she could raise herself lightly over the heads of those two tall fellows with spears, cross the Place de la Concorde, and go and place herself on the pediment of the Chamber of Deputies. Look at her well; that is true beauty, radiant beauty, blazing beauty! She is a goddess, a young goddess! she will reign long, gentlemen—as long as possible.”