Five o’clock in the afternoon. Rain since morning and a gray sky low enough to be reached with an umbrella; the close weather which sticks. Mess, mud, nothing but mud, in heavy puddles, in shining trails in the gutters, vainly chased by the street-scrapers and the scavengers, heaved into enormous carts which carry it slowly towards Montreuil—promenading it in triumph through the streets, always moving, and always springing up again, growing through the pavements, splashing the panels of the carriages, the breasts of the horses, the clothes of the passers-by, spattering the windows, the door-steps, the shop-fronts, till one feared that the whole of Paris would sink and disappear under this sorrowful, miry soil where everything dissolves and is lost in mud. And it moves one to pity to see the invasion of this dirt on the whiteness of the new houses, on the parapets of the quays, and on the colonnades of the stone balconies. There is some one, however, who rejoices at the sight, a poor, sick, weary being, lying all her length on a silk-embroidered divan, her chin on her clinched fists. She is looking out gladly through the dripping windows and delighting in all the ugliness.
“Look, my fairy! this is indeed the weather I wanted to-day. See them draggling along! Aren’t they hideous? Aren’t they dirty? What mire! It is everywhere—in the streets, on the quays, right down to the Seine, right up to the heavens. I tell you, mud is good when one is sad. I would like to play in it, to make sculpture with it—a statue a hundred feet high, that should be called ‘My weariness.’”
“But why are you so miserable, dearest?” said the old dancer gently, amiable and pink, and sitting straight in her seat for fear of disarranging her hair, which was even more carefully dressed than usual. “Haven’t you everything to make you happy?” And for the hundredth time she enumerated in her tranquil voice the reasons for her happiness: her glory, her genius, her beauty, all the men at her feet, the handsomest, the greatest—oh! yes, the very greatest, as this very day—But a terrible howl, like the heart-rending cry of the jackal exasperated by the monotony of his desert, suddenly made all the studio windows shake, and frightened the old and startled little chrysalis back into her cocoon.
A week ago, Felicia’s group was finished and sent to the exhibition, leaving her in a state of nervous prostration, moral sickness, and distressful exasperation. It needs all the tireless patience of the fairy, all the magic of her memories constantly evoked, to make life supportable beside this restlessness, this wicked anger, which growls beneath the girl’s long silences and suddenly bursts out in a bitter word or in an “Ugh!” of disgust at everything. All the critics are asses. The public? An immense goitre with three rows of chains. And yet, the other Sunday, when the Duc de Mora came with the superintendent of the art section to see her exhibits in the studio, she was so happy, so proud of the praise they gave her, so fully delighted with her own work, which she admired from the outside, as though the work of some one else, now that her tools no longer created between her and her work that bond which makes impartial judgment so hard for the artist.