“You are a thousand times, a thousand times kind. Mme. Jenkins will be so glad, so proud.—Come, let me conduct you!”
And in his haste, in his vainglorious delight, he bore Jansoulet off so quickly that the latter had no time to present his companion, Paul de Gery, to whom he was giving his first entry into society. The young man welcomed this forgetfulness. He slipped away among the crowd of black dress-coats constantly pressed back at each new arrival, buried himself in it, seized by that wild terror which is experienced by every young man from the country at his first introduction to a Paris drawing-room, especially when he is intelligent and refined, and beneath his breastplate of linen does not wear like a coat of mail the imperturbable assurance of a boor.
All you, Parisians of Paris, who from the age of sixteen, in your first dress-coat and with opera-hat against your thigh, have been wont to air your adolescence at receptions of all kinds, you know nothing of that anguish, compounded of vanity, of timidity, of recollections of romantic readings, which keeps a young man from opening his mouth and so makes him awkward and for a whole night pins him down to one spot in a doorway, and converts him into a piece of furniture in a recess, a poor, wandering and wretched being, incapable of manifesting his existence save by an occasional change of place, dying of thirst rather than approach the buffet, and going away without having uttered a word, unless perhaps to stammer out one of those incoherent pieces of foolishness which he remembers for months, and which make him, at night, as he thinks of them, heave an “Ah!” of raging shame, with head buried in the pillow.
Paul de Gery was that martyr. Away yonder in his country home he had always lived a very retired existence with an old, pious, and gloomy aunt, up to the time when the law-student, destined in the first instance to the career in which his father had left an excellent reputation, had found himself introduced to a few judges’ drawing-rooms, ancient, melancholy dwellings with faded pier-glasses, where he used to go to make a fourth at whist with venerable shadows. Jenkins’s evening party was therefore a debut for this provincial, of whom his very ignorance and his southern adaptability made immediately an observer.
From the place where he stood, he watched the curious defile of Jenkins’s guests which had not yet come to an end at midnight; all the clients of the fashionable physician; the fine flower of society; a strong political and financial element, bankers, deputies, a few artists, all the jaded people of Parisian “high life,” wan-faced, with glittering eyes, saturated with arsenic like greedy mice, but with appetite insatiable for poison and for life. The drawing-room being thrown open, the vast antechamber of which the doors had been removed to be seen, laden with flowers at the sides, the principal staircase of the mansion, over which swept, now shaken out to