But it is like this every year. The studio stripped of her recent work, her glorious name once again thrown to the unexpected caprice of the public, Felicia’s thoughts, now without a visible object, stray in the emptiness of her heart and in the hollowness of her life—that of the woman who leaves the quiet groove—until she be engrossed in some new work. She shuts herself up and will see no one, as though she mistrusted herself. Jenkins is the only person who can help her during these attacks. He seems even to court them, as though he expected something therefrom. She is not pleasant with him, all the same, goodness knows. Yesterday, even, he stayed for hours beside this wearied beauty without her speaking to him once. If that be the welcome she is keeping for the great personage who is doing them the honour of dining with them—Here the good Crenmitz, who is quietly turning over all these thoughts as she gazes at the bows on the pointed toes of her slippers, remembers that she has promised to make a dish of Viennese cakes for the dinner of the personage in question, and goes out of the studio, silently, on the tips of her little feet.
The rain falls, the mud deepens; the beautiful sphinx lies still, her eyes lost in the dull horizon. What is she thinking of? What does she see coming there, over those filthy roads, in the falling night, that her lip should take that curve of disgust and her brow that frown? Is she waiting for her fate? A sad fate, that sets forth in such weather, fearless of the darkness and the dirt.
Some one comes into the studio with a heavier tread than the mouse-like step of Constance—the little servant, doubtless; and, without looking round, Felicia says roughly, “Go away! I don’t want any one in.”
“I should have liked to speak to you very much, all the same,” says a friendly voice.
She starts, sits up. Mollified and almost smiling at this unexpected visitor, she says:
“What—you, young Minerva! How did you get in?”
“Very easily. All the doors are open.”
“I am not surprised. Constance is crazy, since this morning, over her dinner.”
“Yes, I saw. The anteroom is full of flowers. Who is coming?”
“Oh! a stupid dinner—an official dinner. I don’t know how I could—Sit down here, near me. I am so glad to see you.”
Paul sat down, a little disturbed. She had never seemed to him so beautiful. In the dusk of the studio, amid the shadowy brilliance of the works of art, bronzes, and tapestries, her pallor was like a soft light, her eyes shone like precious stones, and her long, close-fitting gown revealed the unrestraint of her goddess-like body. Then, she spoke so affectionately, she seemed so happy because he had come. Why had he stayed away so long? It was almost a month since they had seen him. Were they no longer friends? He excused himself as best he could—business, a journey. Besides, if he hadn’t been there, he had often spoken of her—oh, very often, almost every day.