The Frau v. Crestow was a cousin of Clotilde’s by marriage, sentimental, but strict in her reading of the proprieties. She saw nothing wrong in undertaking to conduct Clotilde to one of those famous gatherings of the finer souls of the city and the race; and her husband agreed to join them after the sitting of the Chamber upon a military-budget vote. The whole plan was nicely arranged and went well. Clotilde dressed carefully, letting her gold-locks cloud her fine forehead carelessly, with finishing touches to the negligence, for she might be challenged to take part in disputations on serious themes, and a handsome young woman who has to sustain an argument against a man does wisely when she forearms her beauties for a reserve, to carry out flanking movements if required. The object is to beat him.
Her hostess met her at the entrance of the rooms, murmuring that Alvan was present, and was there: a direction of a nod that any quick-witted damsel must pretend to think sufficient, so Clotilde slipped from her companion and gazed into the recess of a doorless inner room, where three gentlemen stood, backed by book cases, conversing in blue vapours of tobacco. They were indistinct; she could see that one of them was of good stature. One she knew; he was the master of the house, mildly Jewish. The third was distressingly branded with the slum and gutter signs of the Ahasuerus race. Three hats on his head could not have done it more effectively. The vindictive caricatures of the God Pan, executed by priests of the later religion burning to hunt him out of worship in the semblance of the hairy, hoofy, snouty Evil One, were not more loathsome. She sank on a sofa. That the man? Oh! Jew, and fifty times over Jew! nothing but Jew!
The three stepped into the long saloon, and she saw how veritably magnificent was the first whom she had noticed.
She sat at her lamb’s-wool work in the little ivory frame, feeding on the contrast. This man’s face was the born orator’s, with the light-giving eyes, the forward nose, the animated mouth, all stamped for speechfulness and enterprise, of Cicero’s rival in the forum before he took the headship of armies and marched to empire.
The gifts of speech, enterprise, decision, were marked on his features and his bearing, but with a fine air of lordly mildness. Alas, he could not be other than Christian, so glorious was he in build! One could vision an eagle swooping to his helm by divine election. So vigorously rich was his blood that the swift emotion running with the theme as he talked pictured itself in passing and was like the play of sheet lightning on the variations of the uninterrupted and many-glancing outpour. Looking on him was listening. Yes, the looking on him sufficed. Here was an image of the beauty of a new order of godlike men, that drained an Indian Bacchus of his thin seductions at a breath-reduced him to the state of nursery plaything, spangles and wax, in the contemplation of a girl suddenly plunged on the deeps of her womanhood. She shrank to smaller and smaller as she looked.