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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Lion's Share - Chapter 16. Robes
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The Lion's Share - Chapter 16. Robes Post by :Sona695 Category :Long Stories Author :Arnold Bennett Date :May 2012 Read :1071

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The Lion's Share - Chapter 16. Robes


On the second following Friday evening, Audrey's suite of rooms at the Hotel du Danube glowed in every corner with pink-shaded electricity. According to what Audrey had everywhere observed to be the French custom, there was in this flat the minimum of corridor and the maximum of doors. Each room communicated directly with all the other rooms. The doors were open, and three women continually in a feverish elation passed to and fro. Empire chairs and sofas were covered with rich garments of every colour and form and material, from the transparent blue silk _matinee to the dark heavy cloak of velvet ornamented with fur. The place was in fact very like the showrooms of a cosmopolitan dressmaker after a vast trying-on. Sundry cosmopolitan dressmakers had contributed to the rich confusion. None had hesitated for an instant to execute Audrey's commands. They had all been waiting, apparently since the beginning of time, to serve her. All that district of Paris had been thus waiting. The flat had been waiting, the automobile had been waiting, the chauffeur had been waiting, and purveyors of every sort. A word from her seemed to have released them from an enchantment. For the most part they were strange people, these magical attendants, never mentioning money, but rather deprecating the sound of it, and content to supply nothing but the finest productions of their unquestionable genius. Still, Audrey reckoned that she owed about twenty-five thousand francs to Paris.

The third woman was the maid, Elise. The hotel had invented and delivered Elise, and thereafter seemed easier in its mind. Elise was thirty years of age and not repellent of aspect. On a black dress she wore the smallest white muslin apron that either Audrey or Miss Ingate had ever seen. She kept pins in her mouth, but in other respects showed few eccentricities beyond an extreme excitability. When at eight o'clock Mademoiselle's new gown, promised for seven, had not arrived, Elise begged permission to use Madame's salts. When the bell rang at eight-thirty, and a lackey brought in an oval-shaped box with a long loop to it of leathern strap, she only just managed not to kiss the lackey. The rapid movement of Mademoiselle and Elise with the contents of the box from the drawing-room into Mademoiselle's bedroom was the last rushing and swishing that preceded a considerable peace.

Madame was absolutely ready, in her bedroom. In the large mirror of the dark wardrobe she surveyed her victoriously young face, the magnificent grey dress, the coiffure, the jewels, the spangled shoes, the fan; and the ensemble satisfied her. She was intensely and calmly happy. No thought of the past nor of the future, nor of what was going on in other parts of the earth's surface could in the slightest degree impair her happiness. She had done nothing herself, she had neither earned money nor created any of the objects which adorned her; nor was she capable of doing the one or the other. Yet she felt proud as well as happy, because she was young and superbly healthy, and not unattractive. These were her high virtues. And her attitude was so right that nobody would have disagreed with her.

Her left ear was listening for the sound, through the unlatched window, of the arrival of the automobile with Musa and his fiddle inside it.

Then the door leading from Mademoiselle's bedroom opened sharply, and Mademoiselle appeared, with her grey hair, her pale shining forehead, her sardonic grin, and the new dress of those Empire colours, magenta and green. Elise stood behind, trembling with satisfaction.

"Well----" Audrey began. But she heard the automobile, and told Elise to run and be ready to open the front door of the flat.

"Rather showy, isn't it? Rather daring?" said Miss Ingate, advancing self-consciously and self-deprecating.

"Winnie," answered Audrey. "It's a nice question between you and the Queen of Sheba."

Suddenly Miss Ingate beheld in the mirror the masterpiece of an illustrious male dressmaker-a masterpiece in which no touch of the last fashion was abated-and little Essex Winnie grinning from within it.

She screamed. And forthwith putting her hands behind her neck she began to unhook the corsage.

"What are you doing, Winnie?"

"I'm taking it off."

"But why?"

"Because I'm not going to wear it."

"But you've nothing else to wear."

"I can't help that."

"But you can't come. What on earth shall you do?"

"I dare say I shall go to bed. Or I might shoot myself. But if you think that I'm going outside this room in this dress, you're a perfect simpleton, Audrey. I don't mind being a fool, but I won't look one."

Audrey heard Musa enter the drawing-room.

She pulled the door to, keeping her hand on the knob.

"Very well, Winnie," she said coldly, and swept into the drawing-room.

As she and Musa left the pink rose-shaded flat, she heard a burst of tears from Elise in the bedroom.

"21 Rue d'Aumale," she curtly ordered the chauffeur, who sat like a god obscurely in front of the illuminated interior of the carriage. Musa's violin case lay amid the cushions therein.

The chauffeur approvingly touched his hat. The Rue d'Aumale was a good street.

"I wonder what his surname is?" Audrey thought curiously. "And whether he's in love or married, and has children." She knew nothing of him save that his Christian name was Michel.

She was taciturn and severe with Musa.

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