How many the curious observations which that evening again I was able to make; how many the pleasant sallies, the high-toned jests exchanged among the servants upon all that world as it passed by! Not with the vine-dressers of Montbars in any case should I have heard such drolleries. I should remark that the worthy M. Barreau, to begin with, had caused to be served to us all in his pantry, filled to the ceiling with iced drinks and provisions, a solid lunch well washed down, which put each of us in a good humour that was maintained during the evening by the glasses of punch and champagne pilfered from the trays when dessert was served.
The masters, indeed, seemed in less joyous mood than we. So early as nine o’clock, when I arrived at my post, I was struck by the uneasy nervousness apparent on the face of the Nabob, whom I saw walking with M. de Gery through the lighted and empty drawing-rooms, talking quickly and making large gestures.
“I will kill him!” he said; “I will kill him!”
The other endeavoured to soothe him; then madame came in, and the subject of their conversation was changed.
A mighty fine woman, this Levantine, twice as stout as I am, dazzling to look at with her tiara of diamonds, the jewels with which her huge white shoulders were laden, her back as round as her bosom, her waist compressed within a cuirass of green gold, which was continued in long braids down the whole length of her stiff skirt. I have never seen anything so imposing, so rich. She suggested one of those beautiful white elephants that carry towers on their backs, of which we read in books of travel. When she walked, supporting herself with difficulty by means of clinging to the furniture, her whole body quivered, her ornaments clattered like a lot of old iron. Added to this, a small, very piercing voice, and a fine red face which a little negro boy kept cooling for her all the time with a white feather fan as big as a peacock’s tail.
It was the first time that this indolent and retiring person had showed herself to Parisian society, and M. Jansoulet seemed very happy and proud that she had been willing to preside over his party; which undertaking, for that matter, did not cost the lady much trouble, for, leaving her husband to receive the guests in the first drawing-room, she went and lay down on the divan of the small Japanese room, wedged between two piles of cushions, motionless, so that you could see her from a distance right in the background, looking like an idol, beneath the great fan which her negro waved regularly like a piece of clockwork. These foreign women possess an assurance!
All the same, the Nabob’s irritation had struck me, and seeing the valet de chambre go by, descending the staircase four steps at a time, I caught him on the wing and whispered in his ear:
“What’s the matter, then, with your governor, M. Noel?”
“It is the article in the Messenger,” was his reply, and I had to give up the idea of learning anything further for the moment, the loud ringing of a bell announcing that the first carriage had arrived, followed soon by a crowd of others.