1839-1908 Ouida.

In a winter city; a story of the day online

. (page 1 of 18)
Online Library1839-1908 OuidaIn a winter city; a story of the day → online text (page 1 of 18)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook








By " quid a,"








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

rioralia, in her liberties, in her citizens, in her poets
and painters and sculptors, once upon a time had few
rivals, perhaps, indeed, no equals, upon earth.

By what strange irony of fate, by what singular cyn-
ical caprice of accident, has this fairest of cities, with
her time-honored towers lifted to her radiant skies, be-
come the universal hostelry of cosmopolitan fashion
and of fashionable 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 Csesar selling cigars and newspapers ; it is Apelles
drawing for the "Albums pour Hire;" it is Pindar
rhyming the couplets for " Fleur de The ;" it is Prax-
iteles designing costumes for a calico ball ; it is Phid-
ias forming the poses of a ballet!

1* 5



Perha]>s the mighty gliosts of mediaeval Florah'a
do walk, sadly and ashamed, by midnight under the
shadow of its exquisite piles of marble and of stone.
If ihey do, nobody sees them ; the cigarette-smoke ia
too thick.

As for the modern rulers of Floralia, they have
risen elastic and elated to the height of the situation,
and have done their best and uttermost to degrade
their city into due accordance with her present circum-
stances, and have destroyed as much as they dared of
her noble picturesqueness and ancient ways, and have
tacked on to her venerable palaces and graceful towers,
stucco mansions and straight hideous streets, and staring
walls covered with advertisements, and barren boule-
vards 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 Americano."

It is considered very clever to adapt oneself to one's
fortunes; and if so, the rulers of Floralia 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 your nobles and gentry, and
grind down your artisans 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 question.


The Liuly Hilda Vorarlberg had written thus far
wlien she got tired, left off, and looked out of the win-
dow 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 w*^re not her own ideas that she had
written, but only those of a Floralian, the Duca della
Rocca, whom she had met the night before. But then
the ideas of everybody have been somebody else's be-
forehand, — Plato's, or Bion's, or Theophrastus's, or your
favorite newspaper's; and the Lady Hilda, although
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 re-
fined and fastidious taste, and did really know some-
thing about the arts, and such persons suffer very acutely
from what the peculiar mind of your modern munici-
palities calls, in its innocence, "improvements."

The Lady Hilda had been to a reception, too, the
night before, and had gone with the preconceived con-
viction that a certain illustrious Sovereign had not been
far wrong when she had called Floralia the Botany Bay
of modern society; but then the Lady Hilda was easily
bored, and not easily pleased, and liked very few things,
almost none: slie liked her horses, she liked M. Worth,
she liked bric-a-brac, she liked her brother, Lord Clair-
vaux, 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 medisev^al saint out of a picture ; her velvet robe
clung close to lier, 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 fio-ures as well as clotlies,
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,
l)ut, as he could not improve her in that respect, he 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 without 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 artificial as
became her sex, her station, and her century.

She was a very fortunate woman; at least society al-
ways 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 nation-
ality, who had made an enormous fortune upon th^
stock exchanges in ways that were never inquired 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 hand-
somest house in London, the prettiest liotel in Paris,
etc., etc., etc. ; 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 peb-
ble that always will get in the golden sli})per of the
pilgrim of pleasure.

The liady Hilda looked out of the window and
found it raining heavily. When the sky of Floralia
does rain, it does it thoroughly, and gets the disagree-
able duty over, which is much more merciful to man-
kind than the perpetual drizzle and dripping of Scot-
land, 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 color 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 a 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

10 ly A wiATER cirv.

which rioralia 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 criard bit of furniture hurt
her as the grating of a false quantity hurts a scholar.
She knew the value of grays 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 ma-
genta brocade that made her close her eyelids involun-
tarily 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 anything beyond dress and rivalry, she
had in a way studied art of all kind, languidly indeed
and perhaps superficially, but still with some true
understanding of it ; for, although she had done her
best, as became a femme comme il faut, to stifle the
intelligence 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 Rome," she said to herself:


it rained pitilessly, hiding even the bridges on the op-
posite side of the river ; she had a dreadful magenta-
colored 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 flavor it
possessed might have been madeof 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 borrowed 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-ji-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 Mansom'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 trepida-
tion, for do what her servants might they generally din
wrong ; when they obeyed her she had almost invaria-
l>ly 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

On it was written "Dnca della Rocca." 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 say," the great assassin who slays as many
thousands as ever did plague or cholera, drink or war-
fare; "they say," the thief of reputation, 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

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,


lier name was altogether without reproacli ; the only
defect to be found in her in the estimate of many of
her adorers.

Married without any wish of her own being con-
sulted, 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 for-
cibly, 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 des femmes" of Europe.

" Le mieux est I'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 perfectly 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,

"Oh!— h!— h!" said the Lady Hilda, with the most
prolonged delicate and eloquent interjection of amaze<l

Lord Clairvaux felt that he had been as silly and
rustic as if he were a plowboy. He was an affectionate
creature himself, in character very like a Newfoundland
dog, and had none of his sister's talent and temper-
ament ; 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 pathetically 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 uni-
versal recollection of him 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 stagnation.

It never occurred to her what a tower of strength for
her honor was that good-looking, good-tempered, stupid,
big brother of hers, 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 Broomsden ; 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 county people, the salt of the earth in
their own eyes, were infinitesimal as ants in hers. She
detested drives in pony-carriages, humdrum chitchat,
and afternoon tea in the library ; she did not care in
the least who had bagged how many brace; the de-


tails 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 bore-
dom 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 governesses.

She would often buy him a colt out of the Lagrange
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 ex-
pected of her ; it was certainly not necessary that she
should bore herself.

To spend money was an easy undemonstrative man-
ner of acknowledging the ties of nature, which pleased
and suited her. Perhaps she would have been capable
of showing her affection in nobler and more self-sacri-
ficing ways; but then there was nothing in her circum-
stances 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 d. huit ressorts.

For the ten years of her Avomanhood the Lady Hilda
had had the command of immense wealth. Anything
short of that seemed to her abject poverty. She could


theorize about making herself into Greuze or Gains-
borough pictures in serge or dimity; but, in fact, she
could not imagine herself without all the black sables
and silver fox, the velvets and silks, the diamonds and
emeralds, the embroideries and laces, that made her a
thing which Titian would have worshiped.

She could not imagine herself for an instant without
power of limitless command, limitless caprice, ceaseless
indulgence, boundless patronage, and all the gratifica-
tions of whim and will which go with the possession
of a great fortune and the enjoyment of an entire irre-

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 occurred 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 fashionable 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 (unless, indeed, she changed her mind, which
was probable), 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, indeed, who
came at the same time, but she brought no horses ; she
hired her coupe from a livery-stable, and her star, not-
withstanding its royalty, paled in proportion. Besides,


the Grand Duchess was a very little, shabby, insignifi-
cant person, who wore black stuff dresses, and a wig
without any art in it. She was music-mad, and Wag-
ner was her j)rophet. The Club took no account of

There is a club in Floralia, nay, it is the CluD, — all
other clubs being for purposes gymnastic, patriotic,
theatric, or political, and out of societ}'' 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 another 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 indif-
ferent, it pleases itself; by its fiat newly-arrived women
are exalted to the empyrean or perish in obscurity, and
its members are the cream of masbuline Floralia, and
spend all fine afternoons on the steps and the pavement,
blocking up the passage-way in the chief street, and
criticising all equipages 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.
M ost 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 immediately wi the esteem of their fellows.

" Je n'ai jamais rien connu de si epatante," said the
French Due de St. Louis, who belongs to a past genera-
tion, but is much more charming and witty than any-
thing to be found in the i)resent one.

2* B


*' Twelve Imndred and fifty thousand francs a year,"
murmured the Marcliese Sampicrdarcno, with a sigh.
He was married himself.

" Here is your ' affaire,' Paolo," said Don Carlo Ma-
remma to a man ne.Tt him.

The Duca della Ivocra, to Avhom 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 W'as 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."

Tlie Duca della llocca 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 liveries.

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 Rocca.

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. Della Rocca
thought she might have ste})ped down out of a Gior-
gione canvas, and ventured to tell her so. He gave her
the carte du pays of the penal settlement around her,
and talked to her more seriousl ,■ for some considerable

IN A WINTER crrr. 19

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 behind 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 worshiped her, as every year
of his life he worshiped three hundred and sixty-five

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

Nevertheless, the next day, when the rain was fall-
ing 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
up-stairs, and walked into an atmosphere scented with
some three hundred pots of tea-roses, lilies of the val-
ley, and hothouse heliotrope.

" Ah, ah ! you have been to see her. Quite right,"
said the Due de St. Louis, meeting him as he came
down the steps of the hotel in the rain, when it was
half-past five by the clock. " I am going also so soon
as I have seen Salvareo at the Club about the theatri-
cals ; it will not take me a moment. Get in my cab .
you are going there too? How is Miladi? You found
her charming?"


"She was in a very bad humor," replied Delia Rocca,
closing the cab door on himself.

" The more interesting for you to put her in a good

"Would either good or bad last ten minutes? — you
know her : I do not, but I should doubt it."

1 he Due arranged the fur collar of his coat.

"8he is a woman, and rich; too rich, if one can say
so. Of course she has her caprices "

Delia Rocca shrugged his shoulders.

"She is very handsome. But she does not interest


The Due smiled, and glanced at him.

1 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18

Online Library1839-1908 OuidaIn a winter city; a story of the day → online text (page 1 of 18)