“What! You do not know Desiree! Impossible!” she exclaimed.
“My dear,” said I, “you must remember that for the past year and a half I have been buried in the land of pork and gold. The gossip there is neither of the poet nor the court. I am ignorant of everything.”
“You would not have been so much longer,” said my friend, “for Desiree is soon going to America. Who is she? No one knows. What is she? Well, she is all things to some men, and some things to all men. She is a courtesan among queens and a queen among courtesans.
“She dances and loves, and, I presume, eats and sleeps. For the past two years she has bewitched him”—she pointed down the drive to where the royal coach was disappearing in the distance—“and he has given her everything.
“It was for her that the Duke of Bellarmine built the magnificent chalet of which I was telling you on Lake Lucerne. You remember that Prince Dolansky shot himself ‘for political reasons’ in his Parisian palace? But for Desiree he would be alive to-day. She is a witch and a she-devil, and the most completely fascinating woman in the world.”
“What a reputation! And you say she is going to America?”
“Yes. It is to be supposed that she has heard that every American is a king, and it is no wonder if she is tired of only one royal lover at a time. And listen, Paul—”
“You—you must not meet her. Oh, but you do not know her power!”
I laughed and pressed her hand, assuring her that I had no intention of allowing myself to be bewitched by a she-devil; but as our carriage turned and started back down the long drive toward the hotel I found myself haunted by the white face and staring eyes of the young man in the royal coach.
I stayed two weeks longer in Madrid. At the end of that time, finding myself completely bored (for no woman can possibly be amusing for more than a month at a time), I bade my friend au revoir and departed for the East. But I found myself just too late for an archeological expedition into the heart of Egypt, and after a tiresome week or so in Cairo and Constantinople I again turned my face toward the west.
At Rome I met an old friend, one Pierre Janvour, in the French diplomatic service, and since I had nothing better to do I accepted his urgent invitation to join him on a vacation trip to Paris.
But the joys of Paris are absurd to a man of thirty-two who has seen the world and tasted it and judged it. Still I found some amusement; Janvour had a pretty wife and a daughter eight years old, daintily beautiful, and I allowed myself to become soaked in domestic sentiment.
I really found myself on the point of envying him; Mme. Janvour was a most excellent housekeeper and manager. Little Eugenie and I would often walk together in the public gardens, and now and then her mother would join us; and, as I say, I found myself on the point of envying my friend Janvour.