A LUNCHEON IN THE PLACE VENDOME
There were scarcely more than a score of persons that morning in the Nabob’s dining-room, a dining-room in carved oak, supplied the previous evening as it were by some great upholsterer, who at the same stroke had furnished these suites of four drawing-rooms of which you caught sight through an open doorway, the hangings on the ceiling, the objects of art, the chandeliers, even the very plate on the sideboards and the servants who were in attendance. It was obviously the kind of interior improvised the moment he was out of the railway-train by a gigantic parvenu in haste to enjoy. Although around the table there was no trace of any feminine presence, no bright frock to enliven it, its aspect was yet not monotonous, thanks to the dissimilarity, the oddness of the guests, people belonging to every section of society, specimens of humanity detached from all races, in France, in Europe, in the entire globe, from the top to the bottom of the social ladder. To begin with, the master of the house—a kind of giant, tanned, burned by the sun, saffron-coloured, with head in his shoulders. His nose, which was short and lost in the puffiness of his face, his woolly hair massed like a cap of astrakhan above a low and obstinate forehead, and his bristly eyebrows with eyes like those of an ambushed chapard gave him the ferocious aspect of a Kalmuck, of some frontier savage living by war and rapine. Fortunately the lower part of the face, the fleshy and strong lip which was lightened now and then by a smile adorable in its kindness, quite redeemed, by an expression like that of a St. Vincent de Paul, this fierce ugliness, this physiognomy so original that it was no longer vulgar. An inferior extraction, however, betrayed itself yet again by the voice, the voice of a Rhone waterman, raucous and thick, in which the southern accent became rather uncouth than hard, and by two broad and short hands, hairy at the back, square and nailless fingers which, laid on the whiteness of the table-cloth, spoke of their past with an embarrassing eloquence. Opposite him, on the other side of the table at which he was one of the habitual guests, was seated the Marquis de Monpavon, but a Monpavon presenting no resemblance to the painted spectre of whom we had a glimpse in the last chapter. He was now a haughty man of no particular age, fine majestic nose, a lordly bearing, displaying a large shirt-front of immaculate linen crackling beneath the continual effort of the chest to throw itself forward, and bulging itself out each time with a noise like that made by a white turkey when it struts in anger, or by a peacock when he spreads his tail. His name of Monpavon suited him well.