1839-1908 Ouida.

In a winter city; a sketch online

. (page 1 of 23)
Online Library1839-1908 OuidaIn a winter city; a sketch → online text (page 1 of 23)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook



Crown 8vo cloth extra, 3$. 6d, each ; post 8vo. illustrated
boards, 2^. each.

Held in Bondage.




Cecil Castlematne's Gage.

Under Two Flags.




A Dog of Flanders.



Two Little Wooden Shoes.

In a Winter City.


A Village Commune.
In Maremma.

Princess Napraxine.

Santa Barbara.
Two Offenders.

Wisdom, Wit, and Pathos, selected from the Works

of OUIDA by F. SYDNEY MORRIS. Post 8vo. cloth extra, 5J. CHEAP
EDITION, illustrated boards, as.

London: CHATTO & WINDUS, in St. Martin's Lane, W.C.












FLORALIA was once a city of great fame. It
stands upon an historical river. It is adorned
with all that the Arts can assemble of beauty,
of grace, and of majesty. Its chronicles blaze
with heroical deeds and with the achievements
of genius. Great men have been bred within its
walls ; men so great that the world has never
seen their like again.

Floralia, in her liberties, in her citizens, in he*

and painters and sculptors, once upon a


r 430


time had few rivals, perhaps, indeed, no equals,
upon earth.

By what strange irony of fate, by what
singular cynical caprice of accident, has this
fairest of cities, with her time-honoured towers
lifted to her radiant skies, hecome the universal
hostelry of cosmopolitan fashion and of fashion-
able idleness ? Sad vicissitudes of fallen fortunes !
to such base uses do the greatest come.

It is Belisarius turned croupier to a gaming-
table ; it is Caesar selling cigars and news-
papers ; it is Apelles drawing for the " Albums
pour Eire ; " it is Pindar rhyming the couplets
for " Fleur de The ;" it is Praxiteles designing
costumes for a Calico-ball ; it is Phidias form-
ing the poses of a ballet !

Perhaps the mighty ghosts of mediaeval Flo-
ralia do walk, sadly and ashamed, by midnight
under the shadow of its exquisite piles of marble
and of stone. If they do, nobody sees them :
the cigarette smoke is too thick.

As for the modern rulers of Floralia, they have
risen elastic and elated to the height of the situa-
tion, and have done their best and uttermost to de-


grade their city into due accordance with her pre-
sent circumstances, and have destroyed as much
as they dared of her noble picturesqueness and
ancient ways. They have tacked on to her vent
rable palaces and graceful towers, stucco man-
sions and straight hideous streets, and staring
walls covered with advertisements, and barren
boulevards studded with toy trees that are
cropped as soon as they presume to grow a
leaf, and have striven all they know to fit her
for her fortunes, as her inn-keepers, when
they take an antique palace, hasten to fit up a
smoking-room, and, making a paradise of gas
jets and liqueurs, write over it " II Bar Ameri-

It is considered very clever to adapt oneself
to one's fortunes ; and if so, the rulers of Flo-
ralia are very clever indeed ; only the stucco
and the straight streets and the frightful
boulevards cost money, and Floralia has no
money and a very heavy and terrible debt ; and
whether it be really worth while to deface a
most beautiful and artistic city, and ruin youi
nobles and gentry, and grind down your artizans

B a


and peasants, and make your whole province
impoverished and ill-content for the mere sake
of pleasing some strangers by the stucco and
the hoardings that their eyes are used to at
home ; well, that perhaps may be an open

The Lady Hilda Vorarlberg had written thus
far when she got tired, left off, and looked out
of the window on to the mountain-born and poet-
hymned river of Floralia. She had an idea that
she would write a novel ; she was always going
to do things that she never did do.

After all they were not her own ideas that
she had written ; but only those of a Floralian,
the Duca della Eocca, whom she had met the
night before. But then the ideas of every-
body have been somebody else's beforehand,
Plato's, or Bion's, or Theophrastus's ; or your
favourite newspaper's ; and the Lady Hilda, al-
though she had been but two days in the Winter
City, had already in her first drive shuddered
at the stucco and the hoardings, and shivered
at the boulevards and the little shaven trees.
For she was a person of very refined and fasti-


dious taste, and did really know something about
the arts, and such persons suffer very acutely
from what the peculiar mind of your modern
municipalities calls, in its innocence, " improve-

The Lady Hilda had been to a reception too
the night before, and had gone with the pre-
conceived conviction that a certain illustrious
Sovereign had not been far wrong when she
had called Floralia the Botany Bay of modern
society ; but then the Ludy Hilda was easily
bored, and not easily pleased, and liked very
few things, almost none ; she liked her horses,
she liked M. Worth, she liked bric-a-brac, she
liked her brother, Lord Clairvaux, and when she
came to think of it, well, that was really all.

The Lady Hilda was a beautiful woman, and
knew it ; she was dressed in the height of
fashion, i.e., like a mediaeval saint out of a
picture ; her velvet robe clung close to her, and
her gold belt, with its chains and pouch and
fittings, would not have disgraced Cellini's own
working; her hair was in a cloud in front and
in a club behind ; her figure was perfect : M.


Worth, who is accustomed to furnish figures as
well as clothes, had a great reverence for her;
in her, Nature, of whom generally speaking he
is disposed to think very poorly, did not need
his assistance ; he thought it extraordinary, but
as he could not improve her in that respect, hC
had to be content with draping Perfection,
which he did to perfection of course.

Her face also was left to nature, in a very
blamable degree for a woman of fashion. Her
friends argued to her that any woman, however
fair a skin she might have, must look washed
out without enamel or rouge at the least. But
the Lady Hilda, conscious of her own delicate
bloom, was obdurate on the point.

" I would rather look washed out than caked
over," she would reply: which was cruel but
conclusive. So she went into the world with-
out painting, and made them all look beside her
as if they had come out of a comic opera.

In everything else she was, however, as arti-
ficial as became her sex, her station, and her

She was a very fortunate woman; at least


society always said so. The Clairvaux people
were very terribly poor, though very noble and
mighty. She had been married at sixteen,
immediately on her presentation, to a great
European capitalist of nondescript nationality, who
had made an enormous fortune upon the Stock
Exchanges in ways that were never enquired into,
and this gentleman, whose wealth was as solid as
it sounded fabulous, had had the good taste to die
in the first months of their wedded life, leaving
her fifty thousand a year, and bequeathing the
rest of his money to the Prince Imperial.
Besides her large income she had the biggest
jewels, the choicest horses, the handsomest
house in London, the prettiest hotel in Paris,
&c., &c., &c. ; and she could very well afford to
have a fresh toilette a-day from her friend
Worth if she chose. Very often she did choose.
" What a lucky creature," said every other
woman: and so she was. But she would have
been still more so had she not been quite so
much bored. Boredom is the ill-natured pebble
that always will get in the golden slipper of thft
pilgrim of pleasure.


The Lady Hilda looked out of the window and
found it raining heavily. When the sky of Flo-
ralia does rain, it does it thoroughly, and gets
the disagreeable duty over, which is much more
merciful to mankind than the perpetual drizzle
and dripping of Scotland, Ireland, Wales, or
Middlesex. It was the rain that had made her
almost inclined to think she would write a novel ;
she was so tired of reading them.

She countermanded her carriage ; had some
more wood thrown on the fire ; and felt disposed
to regret that she had decided to winter here. She
missed all her bibelots, and all the wonderful shades
and graces of colour with which her own houses
were made as rich, yet as subdued in tone as any
old cloisonne enamel. She had the finest rooms,
here, in an hotel which had been the old palace of
Murat ; and she had sent for flowers to fill every
nook and corner of them, an order which Floralia
will execute for as many francs as any other city
would ask in napoleons.

But there is always a nakedness and a
gaudiness in the finest suites of any hotel;
and the Lady Hilda, though she had educated


little else, had so educated her eyes and her
taste that a criant bit of furniture hurt her as
the grating of a false quantity hurts a scholar.
She knew the value of greys and creams and
lavenders and olive greens and pale sea blues
and dead gold and oriental blendings. She
had to seat herself now in an arm-chair that was of
a brightness and newness in magenta brocade
that made her close her eyelids involuntarily to
avoid the horror of it, as she took up some letters
from female friends and wondered why they wrote
them, and took up a tale of Zola's and threw
it aside in disgust, and began to think that
she would go to Algeria, since her doctors had
agreed that her lungs would not bear the cold
of Paris this winter.

Only there was no art in Algeria and there
was plenty in Floralia, present and traditional,
and so far as a woman of fashion can demean
herself to think seriously of anj^thing beyond
dress and rivalry, she had in a way studied art
of all kinds, languidly indeed and perhaps super-
ficially, but still with some true understanding
of it; for, although she had done her best, as


became &femme comme ilfaut, to stifle the intel-
ligence she had been created with, she yet had
moments in which M. Worth did not seem
Jehovah, and in which Society scarcely appeared
the Alpha and Omega of human existence, as of
course they did to her when she was in her right
frame of mind.

" I shall go to Algeria or Home," she said to
herself: it rained pitilessly, hiding even the
bridges on the opposite side of the river; she
had a dreadful magenta-coloured chair, and the
window curtains were scarlet ; the letters were
on thin foreign paper and crossed ; the book was
unreadable ; at luncheon they had given her
horrible soup and a vol-au-vent that for all
flavour it possessed might have been made of
acorns, ship-biscuit and shalots ; and she had just
heard that her cousin the Countess de Caviare,
whom she never approved of, and who always bor-
rowed money of her, was coming also to the Hotel
Murat. It was not wonderful that she settled
in her own mind to leave Floralia as soon as she
had come to it.

It was four o'clock.


She thought she would send round to the
bric-a-brac dealers, and tell them to bring her
what china and enamels and things they had in
their shops for her to look at; little that is
worth having ever comes into the market in
these days, save when private collections are
publicly sold ; she knew the Hotel Drouot and
Christie and Hanson's too well not to know that;
still it would be something to do.

Her hand was on the bell when one of her
servants entered. He had a card on a salver.

" Does Madame receive?" he asked, in some
trepidation, for do what her servants might they
generally did wrong ; when they obeyed her she
had almost invariably changed her mind before
her command could be executed, and when they
did not obey her, then the Clairvaux blood,
which was crossed with French and Russian,
and had been Norman to begin with, made
itself felt in her usually tranquil veins.

She glanced at the card. It might be a bric-
a-brac dealer's.

On it was written " Duca della Eocca." She
paused doubtfully some moments'


" It is raining very hard," she thought; then
gave a sign of assent.

Everybody wearied her after ten minutes ; still
when it was raining so hard


" THEY SAT," the great assassin who slays as
many thousands as ever did plague or cholera,
drink or warfare ; " they say," the thief of re-
putation, who steals, with stealthy step and
coward's mask, to filch good names away in the
dead dark of irresponsible calumny ; "they
say,*' a giant murderer, iron-gloved to slay you,
a fleet, elusive, vaporous will-o'-the-wisp, when
you would seize and choke it ; " they say,"
mighty Thug though it be which strangles from
behind the purest victim, had not been ever
known to touch the Lady Hilda.

She seemed very passionless and cold ; and
no one ever whispered that she was not what
she seemed. Possibly she enjoyed so unusual


an immunity, first, because she was so very
rich ; secondly, because she had many male
relations; thirdly, because women, whilst they
envied, were afraid of her. Anyway, her name was
altogether without reproach ; the only defect to
be found in her in the estimate of many of her

Married without any wish of her own being
consulted, and left so soon afterwards mistress
of herself and of very large wealth, she had
remained altogether indifferent and insensible to
all forms of love. Other women fell in love in
all sorts of ways, feebly or forcibly, according
to their natures, but she never.

The passions she excited broke against her
serene contempt, like surf on a rocky shore. She
was the despair of all the " tueurs de femmes "
of Europe.

"Le mieux est 1'ennemi du bien," she said
to her brother once, when she had refused the
hereditary Prince of Deutschland ; "I can do
exactly as I like; I have everything I want;
I can follow all my own whims ; I am per-
fectly happy ; why ever should I alter all this ?


What could any man ever offer me that would
be better?"

Lord Clairvaux was obliged to grumble that
he did not know what any man could.

" Unless you were to care for the man," he
muttered shamefacedly.

"Oh! hi h!" said the Lady Hilda, with
the most prolonged delicate and eloquent inter-
jection of amazed scorn.

Lord Clairvaux felt that he had been as silly
and rustic as if he were a ploughboy. He was an
affectionate creature himself, in character very
like a Newfoundland dog, and had none of his
sister's talent and temperament; he loved her
dearly, but he was always a little afraid of her.

" Hilda don't say much to you, but she just
gives you a look ; and don't you sink into your
shoes ! " he said once to a friend.

He stood six feet three without the shoes, to
whose level her single glance could so patheti-
cally reduce him.

But except before herself, Lord Clairvaux,
in his shoes or out of them, was the bravest
and frankest gentleman that ever walked the


earth; and the universal recollection of hirn
and of his unhesitating habit of " setting things
straight," probably kept so in awe the calumny-
makers, that he produced the miracle of a woman
who actually was blameless getting the credit of
being so. Usually snow is deemed black, and coal
is called swans-down, with that refreshing habit
of contrariety which alone saves society from

It never occurred to her what a tower of
strength for her honour was that good-looking,
good-tempered, stupid, big brother of her's, who
could not spell a trisyllable were it ever so, and
was only learned in racing stock and greyhound
pedigrees ; but she was fond of him in a cool
and careless way, as she might have been of a
big dog, and was prodigal in gifts to him of
great winners and brood mares.

She never went to stay with him at Broomsdon ;
she disliked his wife, her sister-in-law, and she was
always bored to death in English country houses,
where the men were out shooting all day, and
half asleep all the evening. The country people,
the salt of the earth in their own eyes, were in-


fmitesinial as ants in hers. She detested drives
in pony-carriages, humdrum chit chat, and after-
noon tea in the library ; she did not care in the
least who had bagged how many brace ; the
details of fast runs with hounds were as horribly
tiresome to her as the boys home from Eton ;
and she would rather have gone a pilgrimage to
Lourdes than have descended to the ball, where
all sorts of nondescripts had to be asked, and the
dresses positively haunted her like ghosts.

Five years before, at Broomsden, she had
taken up her candlestick after three nights of
unutterable boredom between her sister-in-law
and a fat duchess, and had mentally vowed never
to return there. The vow she had kept, and she
had always seen Clairvaux in Paris, in London,
in Baden anywhere rather than in the home
of their childhood, towards which she had no
tenderness of sentiment, but merely recollections
of the fierce tyrannies of many German

She would often buy him a colt out of the La-
grange or Lafitte stables ; and always send half
Boissier's and Siraudin's shops to his children


at Christmas time. That done, she considered
nothing more could be expected of her : it was
certainly not necessary that she should bore her-

To spend money was an easy undemonstrative
manner of acknowledging the ties of nature,
which pleased and suited her. Perhaps she
would have been capable of showing her affec-
tion in nobler and more self-sacrificing ways ; but
then there was nothing in her circumstances to
call for that kind of thing ; no trouble ever came
nigh her ; and the chariot of her life rolled as
smoothly as her own victoria a huit ressorts.

For the ten years of her womanhood the Lady
Hilda had had the command of immense wealth.
Anything short of that seemed to her abject
poverty. She could theorise about making her-
self into Greuze or Gainsboro' pictures in serge
or dimity; but, in fact, she could not imagine
herself without all the black sables and silver
fox, the velvets arid silks, the diamonds and
emeralds, the embroideries and laces that mad^
her a thing which Titian would have worshipped.

Slie could not imagine herself for an instant


without power of limitless command, limitless
caprice, ceaseless indulgence, boundless patron-
age, and all the gratifications of whim and will
which go with the possession of a great fortune
and the enjoyment of an entire irresponsibility.

She was bored and annoyed very often indeed
because Pleasure is not as inventive a god as
he ought to be, and his catalogue is very soon
run through ; but it never by any chance oc-
curred to her that it might be her money which
bored her.

When, on a very dreary day early in November,
Lady Hilda, known by repute all over Europe as
the proudest, handsomest, coldest woman in the
world, and famous as an elegante in every fashion-
able city, arrived at the Hotel Murat, in the
town of Floralia, and it was known that she had
come to establish herself there for the winter (un-
less, indeed, she changed her mind, which was pro-
bable), the stir in the city was extraordinary. She
brought with her several servants, several carriage
horses, immense jewel cases, and a pug dog. She
was the great arrival of the season.

There was a Grand Duchess of Dresden, in-

c 2


deed, who came at the same time, but she brought
no horses; she hired her coupe from a livery-
stable, and her star, notwithstanding its royalty,
paled in proportion. Besides, the Grand Duchess
was a very little, shabby, insignificant person, who
wore black stuff dresses, and a wig without any
art in it. She was music-mad, and Wagner was
her prophet. The Club took no account of her.

There is a club in Floralia, nay, it is the
Club ; all other clubs being for purposes gymnas-
tic, patriotic, theatric, or political, and out of
society altogether.

The Club is very fond of black-balling, and
gives very odd reasons for doing so, instead of
the simple and true one, that it wants to keep
itself to itself. It has been known to object
to one man because his hair curled, and to an-
other because he was the son of a king, and to
another because his boots were not made in Paris.
Be its reasons, however, good, bad, or indifferent,
it pleases itself; by its fiat newly-arrived women
are exalted to the empyrean, or perish in obscu-
rity, and its members are the cream of masculine
Floralia, and spend all fine afternoons on the


steps and the pavement, blocking up the passage
way in the chief street, and criticising all equi-
pages and their occupants.

When the Lady Hilda's victoria, with the two
blacks, and the white and black liveries, swept
past the Club, there was a great stir in these
philosophers of the stones. Most knew her by
sight very well ; two or three knew her personally,
and these fortunate few, who had the privilege to
raise their hats as that carriage went by, rose im-
mediately in the esteem of their fellows.

" Je n'ai jamais rien connu de si e'patant," said
the French Due de St. Louis, who belongs to a
past generation, but is much more charming and
witty than anything to be found in the present

" Twelve hundred and fifty thousand francs
a-year," murmured the Marchese Sampierdareno,
with a sigh. He was married himself.

" Here is your ' affaire,' Paolo," said Don
Carlo Maremma to a man next him.

The Duca della Bocca, to whom he spoke,
stroked his moustache, and smiled a little.

" She is a very beautiful person," he answered ;


" I have seen her before at the Tuileries and at
Trouville, but I do not know her at all. I was
never presented."

" That will arrange itself easily," said the Due
de St. Louis, who was one of those who had
raised their hats ; " Maremma is perfectly right ;
it is in every way the very thing for you. Moi,
je m'en charge."

The Duca della Rocca shrugged his shoulders
a very little, and lighted a fresh cigar. But his
face grew grave, and he looked thoughtfully
after the black horses, and the white and black

At the English reception that night, which
the Lady Hilda disdainfully likened in her own
mind to a penal settlement, M. de St. Louis,
whom she knew very well, begged to be permitted
to present to her his friend the Duca della

She was dressed like a mediaeval saint of a
morning ; at night she was a mediaeval princess.

She had feuille morte velvet slashed with the
palest of ambers ; a high fraise ; sleeves of the
renaissance; pointed shoes, and a great many


jewels. Delia Rocca thought she might have
stepped down out of a Giorgione canvas, and ven-
tured to tell her so. He gave her the carte du
pays of the penal settlement around her, and
talked to her more seriously for some considerable
time. Himself and the Due de St. Louis were
the only people she deigned to take any notice of;
and she went away in an hour, or rather less,
leaving a kind of flame from her many jewels be-
hind her, and a frozen sense of despair in the
hearts of the women, who had watched her,
appalled yet fascinated.

" Mais quelle femme impossible ! " said Delia
Rocca, as he went out into the night air.

" Impossible ! mais comment done ? " said the
Due de St. Louis, with vivacity and some anger.

The Due de St. Louis worshipped her, as every
year of his life he worshipped three hundred and
sixty-five ladies.

" Impossible ! " echoed Delia Rocca, with a
cigar in his mouth.

Nevertheless, the next day, when the rain was
falling in such torrents that no female creature
was likely to be anywhere but before her fire, he


called at the Hotel Murat, and inquired if
Miladi were visible, and being admitted, as better
than nothing, as she would have admitted the
bric-a-brac man, followed the servant upstairs,
and walked into an atmosphere scented with some
three hundred pots of tea roses, lilies of the val-
ley, and hothouse heliotrope.

1 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23

Online Library1839-1908 OuidaIn a winter city; a sketch → online text (page 1 of 23)