" What a swell you are nowadays ! " the poor boy would say, forcing a smile.
And Frisonnette would scoff. " A swell ? This rag !" as she recalled with longing the gorgeous toilettes that graced her in the show-room.
One treasure there she coveted with all her soul. It was an ermine cloak, so beautiful that simply to stroke it thrilled her with ecstasy. Only once had she had an opportunity of luxuriating in its folds; under its seductive caress she had promenaded, on the Aubusson carpet, for the allurement of an américaine, who, after all, had chosen something else. The mannequin used to think that she who possessed it should be the proudest woman in the world, and twice the painter had been wakened to hear her murmuring rhapsodies of it in her sleep.
" If I could sell my ' Ariadne ' and carry her away to some romantic cottage among the meadows !" he would say to himself disconsolately. " Then she would see no more of the fangles and folderols that have divided us—she would be my sweetheart, just as she used to be".
But the best that he could do was to sell his pot-boilers; and a romantic cottage among the meadows looked no nearer to his purse than a corner mansion in the avenue Van-Dyck.
That the fangles and folderols had indeed divided them was more apparent still as time went on— so much so that frequently he passed the evening at a café, to avoid the heartache of watching her repine. But it was really waste of coppers, for he thought of the change in her all the while; and when he lagged up the high staircase, on his return, he was remembering, at every step, the Frisonnette who formerly had run to greet him at the top.
" You are a devoted companion," she would remark bitterly, as he entered. " What do you imagine I do with myself, in this hole, all the evening, while you stay carousing outside ? "
" I imagine you sit turning up your nose at everything, as you do when I am with you," he would answer, hiding his pain.
Then Frisonnette would cry that he was a bear; and Floromond would retort that her own temper had not improved, which was certainly true. And after she had exclaimed that it was false, and stamped her foot furiously to prove it, she would burst into tears, and wonder why she remained with a man who, not content with forsaking her for cafés, came home and calumniated her nose, and her temper besides.
Meanwhile Finot had been contemplating her performances on the Aubusson carpet with rising respect. His versatile mind was now projecting the winter advertisements, and he determined to entrust to his best blonde one of those duties which, from time to time, rendered the luckiest of his mannequins objects of unspeakable envy to all the rest. Finot's advertisements were conducted on a scale becoming to a firm whose annual profits ran into millions of francs.
" Mon enfant," he said to her, " you have been a very good girl. And though you may think you are rewarded royally already, as indeed you are " —and here followed an irritating dissertation upon the softness of her job, to which she listened with impatience—" I am preparing a treat for you of the first order. How would it please you to travel, for a couple of months or so, a little later on? "
" To travel, I? " she stammered.
" You and one of the other young ladies. Monte Carlo, Vienna, Rome? "
"Rome?" ejaculated Frisonnette, who had never dreamed of reaching any other " Rome " than the one on the Métropolitain Railway.
" Mademoiselle Piganne would contrast most effectively with your tints, I think? " He screwed up his eyes. " Y-e-s, we could hardly evolve a colour scheme more delicious than you and mademoiselle Piganne ! Whatever capitals we may decide on, you will stay at the hotels of the highest standing ; all matters like that you will do best to leave to the judgment of the chaperon in attendance on you both, otherwise you might have the unfortunate experience to find yourself in an hotel not exclusively patronised by the cream of Society. Your personal wardrobe, for which you will be supplied with from twelve to fourteen trunks, will consist of those creations of my art which best express my soul, and your affair will be to attract sensational attention to them, while preserving an attitude of the severest propriety. That is imperative, remember ! No English or American mother, with her daughters beside her, must for a single instant doubt that you are morally deserving of her closest stare. An open carriage in the park, where the climate permits—a stage box at the opera, when the audience is most brilliant, will, of course, suggest themselves to your mind. But, again, the duenna and the man-servant will organise the programme as skilfully as they will look the parts. All that will be required of you is a display, brilliant and untiring; the rest will be done by others. Every woman everywhere will instruct her maid to find out all about you, and your own maid—an employee of the firm in a humble capacity—will have orders to whisper that you are a princess, travelling incognito, and that your dresses come from Me".
Frisonnette could do no more than pant, " i will speak about it at home, monsieur, at once ! " And because she foresaw with resentment that Floromond's approval would be far from warm, she broached the subject to him very diffidently.
At the back of the little head that Finot's finery had turned, she knew well that if her " bear " betook himself too often to cafes, it was mortified love that drove him to them; so she made haste to tell him : "It might be the best thing for you, to get rid of me for a couple of months—I should return in a much better humour and you would find me quite nice again".
" You think so, Frisonnette? " said Floromond, with a sad smile.
" What do you mean? " she asked, paling.
" I mean," he sighed, " that after the ' brilliant display,' it is not our ménage under the tiles that would seem to you idyllic repose. Heaven knows it goes against the grain to beg a sacrifice, but if you accept such luxury, I feel that you would never bear our straits together again. Do not deceive yourself, little one; you would be leaving me, not for two months, but for ever ! "