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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Lion's Share - Chapter 19. The Boudoir
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The Lion's Share - Chapter 19. The Boudoir Post by :herasinc Category :Long Stories Author :Arnold Bennett Date :May 2012 Read :2039

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The Lion's Share - Chapter 19. The Boudoir


In the setting of her own boudoir Madame Piriac equalled, and in some ways surpassed, the finest pictures which Audrey had imagined of her. Her evening dress made Audrey doubt whether after all her own was the genuine triumph which she had supposed; in Madame Piriac's boudoir, and close by Madame Piriac, it had disconcertingly the air of being an ingenious but unconvincing imitation of the real thing.

But Madame Piriac's dress had the advantage of being worn with the highest skill and assurance; Madame Piriac knew what the least fold of her dress was doing, in the way of effect, on the floor behind her back. And Madame Piriac was mistress, not only of her dress, but of herself and all her faculties. A handsome woman, rather more than slim, but not plump, she had an expression of confidence, of knowing exactly what she was about, of foreseeing all her effects, which Audrey envied more than she had ever envied anything.

As soon as Audrey came into the room she had said to herself: "I will have a boudoir like this." It was an interior in which every piece of furniture was loaded with objects personal to its owner. So many signed photographs, so much remarkable bric-a-brac, so many intimate contrivances of ornamental comfort, Audrey had never before seen within four walls. The chandelier, comprising ten thousand crystals, sparkled down upon a complex aggregate of richness overwhelming to everybody except Madame Piriac, who subdued it, understood it, and had the key to it. Audrey wondered how many servants took how many hours to dust the room. She was sure, however, that whatever the number of servants required, Madame Piriac managed them all to perfection. She longed violently to be as old as Madame Piriac, whom she assessed at twenty-nine and a half, and to be French, and to know all about everything in life as Madame Piriac did. Yet at the same time she was extremely determined to be Audrey, and not to be intimidated by Madame Piriac or by anyone.

Just as they were beginning to suck iced lemonade up straws--a delightful caprice of Madame Piriac's, well suited to catch Audrey's taste--the door opened softly, and a tall, very dark, bearded man, appreciably older than Madame Piriac, entered with a kind of soft energy, and Mr. Gilman followed him.

"Ah! My friend!" murmured Madame Piriac. "You give me pleasure. This is Madame Moncreiff, of whom I have spoken to you. Madame--my husband. We have just come from the Foas."

Monsieur Piriac bent over Audrey's hand, and smiled with vivacity, and they talked a little of the evening, carelessly, as though time existed not. And then Monsieur Piriac said to his wife:

"Dear friend. I have to work with this old Gilman. We shall therefore ask you to excuse us. Till to-morrow, then. Good night."

"Good night, my friend. Do not do harm to yourself. Good night, my oncle."

Monsieur Piriac saluted with formality but with sincerity.

"Oh!" thought Audrey, as the men went away. "I should want to marry exactly him if I did want to marry. He doesn't interfere; he isn't curious; he doesn't want to know. He leaves her alone. She leaves him alone. How clever they are!"

"My husband is now chief of the Cabinet of the Foreign Minister," said Madame Piriac with modest pride. "They kill themselves, you know, in that office--especially in these times. But I watch. And I tell Monsieur Gilman to watch.... How nice you are when you sit in a chair like that! Only Englishwomen know how to use an easy chair.... To say nothing of the frock."

"Madame Piriac," Audrey brusquely demanded with an expression of ingenuous curiosity. "Why did you bring me here?" It was the cry of an animal at once rash and rather desperate, determined to unmask all the secret dangers that might be threatening.

"I much desired to see you," Madame Piriac answered very smoothly, "in order to apologise to you for my indiscreet question on the night when we first met. Your fairy tale about your late husband was a very proper reply to the attitude of Madame Rosamund--as you all call her. It was very clever--so clever that I myself did not appreciate it until after I had spoken. Ever since that moment I have wanted to explain, to know you more. Also your pretence of going to sleep in the automobile showed what in a woman I call distinguished talent."

"But, Madame, I assure you that I really was asleep."

"So much the better. The fact proves that your instinct for the right thing is quite exceptional. It is not that I would criticise Madame Rosamund, who has genius. Nevertheless her genius causes her to commit errors of which others would be incapable.... So she has captured you, too."

"Captured me!" Audrey protested--and she was made stronger by the flattering reference to her distinguished talent. "I've never seen her from that day to this!"

"No. But she has captured you. You are going."

"Going where?"

"To London, to take part in these riots."

"I shan't have anything to do with riots."

"Within a month you will have been in a riot, Madame ... and I shall regret it."

"And even if I am, Madame! You are a friend of Rosamund's. You must be in sympathy."

"In sympathy with what?"

"With--with all this suffragism, feminism. I am anyway!" Audrey sat up straight. "It's horrible that women don't have the Vote. And it's horrible the things they have to suffer in order to get it. But they _will get it!"

"Why do you say 'they'?"

"I mean 'we.'"

"Supposing you meant 'they,' after all? And you did, Madame. Let me tell you. You ask me if I sympathise with suffragism. You might as well ask me if I sympathise with a storm or with an earthquake, or with a river running to the sea. Perhaps I do. But perhaps I do not. That has no importance. Feminism is a natural phenomenon; it was unavoidable. You Englishwomen will get your vote. Even we in France will get it one day. It cannot be denied.... Sympathy is not required. But let us suppose that all women joined the struggle. What would happen to women? What would happen to the world? Just as nunneries were a necessity of other ages, so even in this age women must meditate. Far more than men they need to understand themselves. Until they understand themselves how can they understand men? The function of women is to understand. Their function is also to preserve. All the beautiful and luxurious things in the world are in the custody of women. Men would never of themselves keep a tradition. If there is anything on earth worth keeping, women must keep it. And the tradition will be lost if every woman listens to Madame Rosamund. That is what she cannot see. Her genius blinds her. You say I am a friend of Madame Rosamund. I am. Madame Rosamund was educated in Paris, at the same school as my aunt and myself. But I have never helped her in her mission. And I never will. My vocation is elsewhere. When she fled over here from the English police, she came to me. I received her. She asked me to drive her to certain addresses. I did so. She was my guest. I surrounded her with all that she had abandoned, all that her genius had forced her to abandon. But I never spoke to her of her work, nor she to me of it. Still, I dare to think that I was of some value to the woman in Madame Rosamund."

Audrey felt very young and awkward and defiant. She felt defiant because Madame Piriac had impressed her, and she was determined not to be impressed.

"So you wanted to tell me all this," said she, putting down her glass, with the straws in it, on a small round table laden with tiny figures in silver. "Why did you want to tell me, Madame?"

"I wanted to tell you because I want you to do nothing that you will regret. You greatly interested me the moment I saw you. And when I saw you in that studio, in that Quarter, I feared for you."

"Feared what?"

"I feared that you might mistake your vocation--that vocation which is so clearly written on your face. I saw a woman young and free and rich, and I was afraid that she might waste everything."

"But do you know anything about me?"

Madame Piriac paused before replying.

"Nothing but what I see. But I see that you are in a high degree what all women are to a greater extent than men--an individualist. You know the feeling that comes over a woman in hours of complete intimacy with a man? You know what I mean?"

"Oh, yes!" Audrey agreed, blushing.

"In those moments we perceive that only the individual counts with us. And with you, above all, the individual should count. Unless you use your youth and your freedom and your money for some individual, you will never be content; you will eternally regret. All that is in your face."

Audrey blushed more, thinking of certain plans formed in that head of hers. She said nothing. She was both very pleased and very exasperated.

"I have a relative in England, a young girl," Madame Piriac proceeded, "in some unpronounceable county. We write to each other. She is excessively English."

Audrey was scarlet. Several times during the sojourn in Paris she had sent letters (to Madame Piriac) to be posted in Essex by Mr. Foulger. These letters were full of quaint inventions about winter life in Essex, and other matters.

Madame Piriac, looking reflectively at the red embers of wood in the grate, went on:

"She says she may come to Paris soon. I have often asked her to come, but she has refused. Perhaps next month I shall go to England to fetch her. I should like her to know you--very much. She is younger than you are, but only a little, I think."

"I shall be delighted, if I am here," Audrey stammered, and she rose. "You are a very kind woman. Very, very amiable. You do not know how much I admire you. I wish I was like you. But I am not. You have seen only one side of me. You should see the inside. It is very strange. I must go to London. I am forced to go to London. I should be a coward if I did not go to London. Tell me, is my dress really good? Or is it a deception?"

Madame Piriac smiled, and kissed her on both cheeks.

"It is good," said Madame Piriac. "But your maid is not all that she ought to be. However, it is good."

"If you had simply praised it, and only that, I should not have been content," said Audrey, and kissed Madame Piriac in the English way, the youthful and direct way.

Not another word about the male sex, the female sex, tradition or individualism, passed between them.

Mr. Gilman was summoned to take Audrey across the river to the right bank. They went in a taxi. He was protective and very silent. But just as the cab was turning out of the Rue de Rivoli into the Rue Castiglione he said:

"I shall obey you absolutely, Mrs. Moncreiff. It is a great pleasure for an old, lonely man to keep a secret for a young and charming woman. A greater pleasure than you can possibly imagine. You may count on me. I am not a talker, but you have put me under an obligation, and I am very grateful."

She took care that her thanks should reward him.

"Winnie," she burst out in the rose-coloured secrecy of the bedroom, "has Elise gone to bed? ... All right. Well, I'm lost. Madame Piniac is going to England to fetch me."

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