Her toilette, which was youthful, yet very carefully adapted to her person, showed that she was by no means as yet “laid on the shelf,” as Raoul Wermant elegantly said of her. She stood up, leaning over a table covered with toys, which it was her duty to sell at the highest price possible, for the place of a meeting so full of emotions for Fred was a charity bazaar.
The moment he arrived in Paris the young officer had been, so to speak, seized by the collar. He had found a great glazed card, bidding him to attend this fair, in a fashionable quarter, and forthwith he had forgotten his resolution of not going near the Nailles for a long time.
“This is not the same thing,” he said to himself. “One must not let one’s self be supposed to be stingy.” So with these thoughts he went to the bazaar, very glad in his secret heart to have an excuse for breaking his resolution.
The fair was for the benefit of sufferers from a fire—somewhere or other. In our day multitudes of people fall victims to all kinds of dreadful disasters, explosions of boilers, explosions of fire-damp, of everything that can explode, for the agents of destruction seem to be in a state of unnatural excitement as well as human beings. Never before, perhaps, have inanimate things seemed so much in accordance with the spirit of the times. Fred found a superb placard, the work of Cheret, a pathetic scene in a mine, banners streaming in the air, with the words ‘Bazar de Charite’ in gold letters on a red ground, and the courtyard of the mansion where the fair was held filled with more carriages than one sees at a fashionable wedding. In the vestibule many footmen were in attendance, the chasseurs of an Austrian ambassador, the great hulking fellows of the English embassy, the gray-liveried servants of old Rozenkranz, with their powdered heads, the negro man belonging to Madame Azucazillo, etc., etc. At each arrival there was a frou-frou of satin and lace, and inside the sales room was a hubbub like the noise in an aviary. Fred, finding himself at once in the full stream of Parisian life, but for the moment not yet part of it, indulged in some of those philosophic reflections to which he had been addicted on shipboard.
Each of the tables showed something of the tastes, the character, the peculiarities of the lady who had it in charge. Madame Sterny, who had the most beautiful hands in the world, had undertaken to sell gloves, being sure that the gentlemen would be eager to buy if she would only consent to try them on; Madame de Louisgrif, the ‘chanoiness’, whose extreme emaciation was not perceived under a sort of ecclesiastical cape, had an assortment of embroideries and objects of devotion, intended only for ladies—and indeed for only the most serious among them; for the table that held umbrellas, parasols and canes suited to all ages and both sexes, a good, upright little lady had been chosen. Her only thought was how