Concerning the Colour of Men's Hair
It was a maxim of my Uncle Williams that no man should pass through Paris without spending four-and- twenty hours there. My uncle spoke out of a ripe experience of the world, and I honoured his advice by putting up for a day and a night at The Continental on my way tothe Tyrol. I called on George Featherly at the Embassy, and we had a bit of dinner together at Durands, and afterwards dropped in to the Opera; and after that we had a little supper, and after that we called on Bertram Bertrand, a versifier of some repute and Paris correspondent to The Critic. He had a very comfortable suite of rooms, and we found some pleasant fellows smoking and talking. It struck me, however, that Bertram himself was absent and in low spirits, and when everybody except ourselves had gone, I rallied him on his moping preoccupation. He fenced with me for a while, but at last, flinging himself on a sofa, he exclaimed:
Very well; have it your own way. I am in loveinfernally in love!
Oh, youll write the better poetry, said I, by way of consolation.
He ruffled his hair with his hand and smoked furiously. George Featherly, standing with his back to the mantelpiece, smiled unkindly.
If its the old affair, said he, you may as well throw it up, Bert. Shes leaving Paris tomorrow.
I know that, snapped Bertram.
Not that it would make any difference if she stayed, pursued the relentless George. She flies higher than the paper trade, my boy!
Hang her! said Bertram.
It would make it more interesting for me, I ventured to observe, if I knew who you were talking about.
Antoinette Mauban, said George.
De Mauban, growled Bertram.
Oho! said I, passing by the question of the de. You dont mean to say, Bert?
Cant you let me alone?
Wheres she going to? I asked, for the lady was something of a celebrity.
George jingled his money, smiled cruelly at poor Bertram, and answered pleasantly:
Nobody knows. By the way, Bert, I met a great man at her house the other nightat least, about a month ago. Did you ever meet himthe Duke of Strelsau?
Yes, I did, growled Bertram.
An extremely accomplished man, I thought him.
It was not hard to see that Georges references to the duke were intended to aggravate poor Bertrams sufferings, so that I drew the inference that the duke had distinguished Madame de Mauban by his attentions. She was a widow, rich, handsome, and, according to repute, ambitious. It was quite possible that she, as George put it, was flying as high as a personage who was everything he could be, short of enjoying strictly royal rank: for the duke was the son of the late King of Ruritania by a second and morganatic marriage, and half-brother to the new King. He had been his fathers favourite, and it had occasioned some unfavourable comment when he had been created a duke, with a title derived from no less a city than the capital itself. His mother had been of good, but not exalted, birth.
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