Prosper was dumb with astonishment. What! would M. Verduret think of appearing at a ball given by the wealthiest and most fashionable bankers in Paris? This accounted for his sending to the costumer.
“Then you are invited to this ball?”
The expressive eyes of M. Verduret danced with amusement.
“Not yet,” he said, “but I shall be.”
Oh, the inconsistency of the human mind! Prosper was tormented by the most serious preoccupations. He looked sadly around his chamber, and, as he thought of M. Verduret’s projected pleasure at the ball, exclaimed:
“Ah, how fortunate he is! To-morrow he will have the privilege of seeing Madeleine.”
The Rue St. Lazare was adorned by the palatial residences of the Jandidier brothers, two celebrated financiers, who, if deprived of the prestige of immense wealth, would still be looked up to as remarkable men. Why cannot the same be said of all men?
These two mansions, which were thought marvels at the time they were built, were entirely distinct from each other, but so planned that they could be turned into one immense house when so desired.
When mm. Jandidier gave parties, they always had the movable partitions taken away, and thus obtained the most superb salon in Paris.
Princely magnificence, lavish hospitality, and an elegant, graceful manner of receiving their guests, made these entertainments eagerly sought after by the fashionable circles of the capital.
On Saturday, the Rue St. Lazare was blocked up by a file of carriages, whose fair occupants were impatiently awaiting their turn to drive up to the door, through which they could catch the tantalizing strains of a waltz.
It was a fancy ball; and nearly all of the costumes were superb, though some were more original than elegant.
Among the latter was a clown. Everything was in perfect keeping: the insolent eye, coarse lips, high cheek-bones, and a beard so red that it seemed to emit flames in the reflection of the dazzling lights.
He wore top-boots, a dilapidated hat on the back of his head, and a shirt-ruffle trimmed with torn lace.
He carried in his left hand a canvas banner, upon which were painted six or eight pictures, coarsely designed like those found in strolling fairs. In his right he waved a little switch, with which he would every now and then strike his banner, like a quack retailing his wares.
Quite a crowd surrounded this clown, hoping to hear some witty speeches and puns; but he kept near the door, and remained silent.
About half-past ten he quitted his post.
M. and Mme. Fauvel, followed by their niece Madeleine, had just entered.
A compact group immediately formed near the door.
During the last ten days, the affair of the Rue de Provence had been the universal topic of conversation; and friends and enemies were alike glad to seize this opportunity of approaching the banker, some to tender their sympathy, and others to offer equivocal condolence, which of all things is the most exasperating and insulting.