This particular specimen of it was the daughter of an immensely rich Belgian who was engaged in the coral trade at Tunis, and in whose business Jansoulet, after his arrival in the country, had been employed for some months. Mlle. Afchin, in those days a delicious little doll of twelve years old, with radiant complexion, hair, and health, used often to come to fetch her father from the counting-house in the great chariot with its yoke of mules which carried them to their fine villa at La Marsu, in the vicinity of Tunis. This mischievous child with splendid bare shoulders, had dazzled the adventurer as he caught glimpses of her amid her luxurious surroundings, and, years afterward, when, having become rich and the favourite of the Bey, he began to think of settling down, it was to her that his thoughts went. The child had grown into a fat young woman, heavy and white. Her intelligence, dull in the first instance, had become still more obscured through the inertia of a dormouse’s existence, the carelessness of a father given over to business, the use of opium-saturated tobacco and of preserves made from rose-leaves, the torpor of her Flemish blood, re-enforced by Oriental indolence. Furthermore, she was ill-bred, gluttonous, sensual, arrogant, a Levantine jewel in perfection.
But Jansoulet saw nothing of all this.
For him she was, and remained, up to the time of her arrival in Paris, a superior creature, a lady of the most exalted rank, a Demoiselle Afchin. He addressed her with respect, in her presence maintained an attitude which was a little constrained and timid, gave her money without counting, satisfied her most costly fantasies, her wildest caprices, all the strange desires of a Levantine’s brain disordered through boredom and idleness. One word alone excused everything. She was a Demoiselle Afchin. Beyond this, no intercourse between them; he always at the Kasbah or the Bardo, courting the favour of the Bey, or else in his counting-houses; she passing her days in bed, wearing in her hair a diadem of pearls worth three hundred thousand francs which she never took off, befuddling her brain with smoking, living as in a harem, admiring herself in the glass, adorning herself, in company with a few other Levantines, whose supreme distraction consisted in measuring with their necklaces arms and legs which rivalled each other in plumpness, and bearing children about whom she never gave herself the least trouble, whom she never used to see, who had not even cost her a pang, for she gave birth to them under chloroform. A lump of white flesh perfumed with musk. And, as Jansoulet used to say with pride: “I married a Demoiselle Afchin!”