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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesJack - Chapter 5. A Dinner With Ida
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Jack - Chapter 5. A Dinner With Ida Post by :iwzone Category :Long Stories Author :Alphonse Daudet Date :May 2012 Read :1740

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Jack - Chapter 5. A Dinner With Ida


The next day the Moronvals received from Madame de Barancy an invitation for the following Monday; at the bottom of the note was a postscript, expressing the pleasure she should have in receiving also M. d'Argenton.

"I shall not go," said the poet, dryly, when Moron-val handed him the coquettish perfumed note. Then the principal grew very angry, as he saw his plans frustrated. "Why would not D'Argenton accept the invitation?"

"Because," was the answer, "I never visit such women."

"You make a great mistake," said Moronval; "Madame de Barancy is not the kind of person you imagine. Besides, to serve a friend, you should lay aside your scruples. You see that I need the countess, that she is disposed to look favorably on my Colonial Review, and you should do all that lies in your power to favor my views. Come, now, think better of it."

D'Argenton, after being properly entreated, finished by accepting the invitation.

On the following Monday, therefore, Moronval and his wife left the academy under the supervision of Dr. Hirsch, and presented themselves in the Boulevard Haussmann, where the poet was to join them.

Dinner was at seven; D'Argenton did not arrive until half an hour past the time. Ida was in a state of great anxiety. "Do you think he will come?" she asked; "perhaps he is ill. He looks very delicate."

At last he appeared with the air of a conquering hero, making some indifferent excuse for his lack of punctuality. His manner, however, was less disdainful than usual, for the hotel had impressed him. Its luxury, the flowers, and thick carpets; the little boudoir with its bouquets of white lilacs; the commonplace salon, like a dentist's waiting-room, a blue ceiling and gilded mouldings, the ebony furniture, cushioned with gold color, and the balcony exposed to the dust of the boulevard,--all charmed the attache of the Moronval Academy, and gave him a favorable impression of wealth and high life.

The table equipage, the imposing effect produced by Augustin, in short, all the luxurious details of the house, appealed to his senses, and D'Argenton, without flattering the countess as openly as did Moronval; yet succeeded in doing so in a more subtile manner, by thawing under her influence to a very marked extent.

He was an interminable talker, and submitted with a very bad grace to any interruption. He was arbitrary and egotistical, and rang the changes on the _I and the _my for a whole evening, without allowing any one else to speak.

Unhappily, to be a good listener is a quality far above natures like that of the countess; and the dinner was characterized by some unfortunate incidents. D'Argenton was particularly fond of repeating the replies he had made to the various editors and theatrical managers who had declined his articles, and refused to print his prose or his verse. His mots on these occasions had been clever and caustic; but with Madame de Barancy he was never able to reach that point, preceded as it must necessarily be with lengthy explanations. At the critical moment Ida would invariably interrupt him,--always, to be sure, with some thought for his comfort.

"A little more of this ice, M. d'Argenton, I beg of you."

"Not any, madame," the poet would answer with a frown, and continue, "Then I said to him--"

"I am afraid you do not like it," urged the lady.

"It is excellent, madame,--and I said these cruel words--"

Another interruption from Ida; who, later, when she saw her poet in a fit of the sulks, wondered what she had done to displease him. Two or three times during dinner she was quite ready to weep, but did her best to hide her feelings by urging all the delicacies of her table upon M. and Madame Moronval. Dinner over, and the guests established in the well warmed and lighted salon, the principal fancied he saw his way clear, and said suddenly, in a half indifferent tone, to the countess,--

"I have thought much of our little matter of business. It will cost less than I fancied."

"Indeed!" she answered absently,

"If, madame, you would accord to me a few moments of your attention--"

But madame was occupied in looking at her poet, who was walking up and down the salon silent and preoccupied.

"Of what can he be thinking?" she said to herself.

Of his digestion only, dear reader. Suffering somewhat from dyspepsia, and always anxious in regard to his health, he never failed, on leaving the table, to walk for half an hour, no matter where he might chance to be.

Ida watched him silently. For the first time in her life she loved, really and passionately, and felt her heart beat as it had never beat before. Foolish and ignorant, while at the same time credulous and romantic; very near that fatal age--thirty years--which is almost certain to create in woman a great transformation; she now, aided by the memory of every romance she had ever read, created for herself an ideal who resembled D'Argenton. The expression of her face so changed in looking at him, her laughing eyes assumed so tender an expression, that her passion soon ceased to be a mystery to any one.

Moron val, who looked on, shrugged his shoulders, with a glance at his wife. "She is simply crazy," he said to himself.

She certainly was crazed in a degree; and, after dinner, she tormented herself to find some way of returning to the good graces of D'Argenton, and, as he approached her in his walk, she said,--

"If M. d'Argenton wished to be very amiable, he would recite to us that beautiful poem which created such a sensation the other evening. I have thought of it all the week. There is one verse that haunts me, especially the final line:

'And I believe in love,
As I believe in a good God above.'"

"As I believe in God above," said the poet, making as horrible a grimace as if his finger had been caught in a vice.

The countess, who had but a vague idea of prosody, understood simply that she had again incurred the displeasure of D'Argenton. The fact is that he had begun to affect her in a manner quite beyond her own control, and which, in its unreasoning terror, was somewhat like the timid worship offered by the Japanese to their hideous idols.

Under the influence of his presence she was more foolish by far than nature had made her; her piquancy forsook her, and the versatility that rendered her so charmingly absurd was quite gone. But D'Argenton relented, and suspended his hygienic exercise for a moment.

"I shall be most happy to recite anything, madame, at your command; but what?"

Here Moronval interposed. "Recite the 'Credo,' my dear fellow," he said.

"Very well, then; I am satisfied to obey you."

The poem commenced gently enough with the words,--

"Madame, your toilette is charming."

Then irony deepened to bitterness, bitterness to fury, and concluded in these terrific words:

"Good Lord, deliver me from this woman so terrible,
Who drains from my heart its life-blood."

As if these extraordinary words had aroused in his memory most painful recollections, D'Argenton relapsed into silence, and said not another word the whole evening. Poor Ida was also thoughtful, haunted by vague fears of the noble ladies who had so warped the gentle spirit of her poet, so drained his heart that there was not a drop left for her.

"You know, my dear fellow," said Moronval, as they strolled through the empty boulevards, arm-inarm, that night, little Madame Moronval pattering on in front of them,--"you know if I can succeed in the establishment of my Review, that I shall make you editor-in-chief!"

Moronval threw the half of his cargo overboard in order to save his ship, for he saw that unless the poet was enlisted, the countess would take no interest in the scheme. D'Argenton made no reply, for he was absorbed in thoughts of Ida.

No man can play the part of a lyric poet, a martyr to love, without being conscious of, and touched by, that silent adoration which appeals to his vanity, both as a man of letters and a man of the world. Since he had seen Ida in her luxurious home, about which there was the same suspicion of vulgarity that clung about herself, the rigidity of his principles had amazingly softened.

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