A woman with wrinkles is always hopeful.
A strange medley of persons visited this house, each seeking in her own peculiar way the elixir of life, which is beauty, or the potion of love, which is beauty’s handmaiden. There were remedies plus remedies; the same skin-food was warranted to create double-chins or destroy them; the same tonic killed superfluous hair or made it grow on bald spots. A freckle to eradicate, a wrinkle to remove, a moth-patch to bleach, a grey hair to dye; nothing was impossible here, not even credulity. It was but meet that the mistress should steal past the servant, that the servant should dodge the mistress. Every woman craves beauty, but she does not want the public to know that her beauty is of the kind in which nature has no hand. No man is a hero to his valet; no woman is a beauty to her maid. In and out, to and fro; the social leader, the shop-girl, the maid, the woman of the town, the actress, the thin old spinster and the fat matron, here might they be found.
At rare intervals a man was seen to ring the bell, but he was either a bill-collector or a husband in search of his wife.
The proprietress knew everybody intimately—by sight. She was squat, dyed, rouged and penciled, badly, too. She was written down in the city directory as Madame de Chevreuse, but she was emphatically not of French extraction. In her alphabet there were generally but twenty-five letters; there were frequent times when she had no idea that there existed such a letter as “g.” How she came to appropriate so distinguished a name as De Chevreuse was a puzzle. Her husband —for she had a husband—was always reading French history in English, and doubtless this name appealed to his imagination and romance. Nobody knew what Madame’s real name was, nor that of her husband, for he was always called “Monseer.”
The reception-room was decorated after the prevailing fashion. There was gilt and pretense. There were numerous glass cases, filled with lotions and skin-foods and other articles of toilet; there were faceless heads adorned with all shades of hair, scalps, pompadours, and wigs. A few false-faces grinned or scowled or smirked from frames or corners where they were piled. There were tawdry masquerade costumes, too, and theatrical make-up. Curtains divided the several shampooing booths, and a screen cut off the general view of the operation of beauty. However, there were chinks large enough for the inquisitive, and everybody was inquisitive who patronized Madame de Chevreuse, pronounced Chevroose.
And always and ever there prevailed without regeneration the odor of cheap perfumes and scented soaps.
Mrs. Franklyn-Haldene left her carriage at the door, perfectly willing that the neighborhood should see her alight. She climbed the steps, stately and imposing. She was one of the few women who could overawe the homely girl in the hallway.
“Is Madame at liberty?”