+ ~ -
Please report pronunciation problems here. Select and sample other voices. Options Pause Play
Report an Error

summer's dayone floral fête—  with a means
of existence that seemed so frail and immaterial
she conveyed an impression of unreality.
She might be likened to a Nymph,
or a Naiad, but for the certain something that
brought you back to the theatre, intoxicating
the senses, at once, with the strange, indescribable
fascinations of hot chandeliers
close and perfumed airfoot-lights, and

Evening after evening I saw the same girl
generally at the same placeand, it may
be readily imagined, became one of the most
constant of her clientelle. I learned, too, as
many facts relating to her as could be learned
where most was mystery. Her peculiar and
persuasive mode of disposing of her flowers
(a mode which has since become worse than
vulgarised by bad imitators) was originally
her own graceful instinctor whim, if you
will. It was something new and natural, and
amused many, while it displeased none. The
sternest of stockbrokers, even, could not
choose but be decorated. Accordingly, this
new Nydia of Thessaly went out with her
basket one day, awoke next morning, and
found herself famous.

Meantime there was much discussion, and
more mystification, as to who this Queen of
Flowers could bewhere she livedand so
forth. Nothing was known of her except her
nameHermance. More than one adventurous
studentyou may guess I am stating
the number within boundstraced her steps
for hour after hour, till night set inin vain.
Her flowers disposed of, she was generally
joined by an old man, respectably clad, whose
arm she took with a certain confidence, that
sufficiently marked him as a parent or protector;
and the two always contrived sooner
or later, in some mysterious manner, to disappear.

After all stratagems have failed, it generally
occurs to people to ask a direct question. But
this in the present case was impossible. Hermance
was never seen except in very public
placesoften in crowdsand to exchange
twenty consecutive words with her, was considered
a most fortunate feat. Notwithstanding,
too, her strange, wild way of gaining her
livelihood, there was a certain dignity in her
manner which sufficed to cool the too curious.

As for the directors of the theatres, they
exhibited a most appropriate amount of madness
on her account; and I believe that at
several of the theatres, Hermance might have
commanded her own terms. But only one of
these miserable men succeeded in making a
tangible proposal, and he was treated with
most glorious contempt. There was, indeed,
something doubly dramatic in the Bouquetière's
disdain of the drama. She who lived a
romance could never descend to act one. She
would rather be Rosalind than Rachel. She
refused the part of Cerito, and chose to be an
Alma on her own account.

It may be supposed that where there was
so much mystery, imagination would not be
idle. To have believed all the conflicting
stories about Hermance, would be to come to
the conclusion that she was the stolen child
of noble parents, brought tip by an ouvrier;
but that somehow her father was a tailor of
dissolute habits, who lived a contented life of
continual drunkenness, on the profits of his
daughter's industry;—that her mother was a
deceased duchessbut, on the other hand, was
alive, and carried on the flourishing business
of a blanchisseuse. As for the private life of
the young lady herself, it was reflected in such
a magic mirror of such contradictory impossibilities,
in the delicate discussion held upon
the subject, that one had no choice but to
disbelieve everything.

One day a new impulse was given to this
gossip by the appearance of the Bouquetière
in a startling hat of some expensive straw, and
of a make bordering on the ostentatious. It
could not be doubted that the profits of her
light labours were sufficient to enable her to
multiply such finery to almost any extent, had
she chosen; but in Paris the adoption of a
bonnet or a hat, in contradistinction to the
little cap of the grisette, is considered an
assumption of a superior grade, and unless
warranted by the " position " of the wearer, is
resented as an impertinence. In Paris, indeed,
there are only two classes of womenthose
with bonnets, and those without; and these
stand in the same relation to one another, as
the two great classes into which the world
may be dividedthe powers that be, and the
powers that want to be. Under these circumstances,
it may be supposed that the surmises
were many and marvellous. The little Bouquetière
was becoming proudbecoming a
lady;—but how? why? and above allwhere?
Curiosity was never more rampant, and scandal
never more inventive.

For my part, I saw nothing in any of these
appearances worthy, in themselves, of a second
thought; nothing could have destroyed the
strong and strange interest which I had taken
in the girl; and it would have required something
more potent than a straw hathowever
coquettish in crown, and audacious in brim
to have shaken my belief in her truth and
goodness. Her presence, for the accustomed
few minutes, in the afternoon or evening, became
to meI will not say a necessity, but
certainly a habit;—and a habit is sufficiently
despotic when
    " A fair face and a tender voice have made me "—

I will not say "mad and blind," as the remainder
of the line would insinuatebut
most deliciously in my senses, and most luxuriously
wide awake!
       But to come to the catastrophe
     " One morn we missed her in the accustomed spot"—

Not only, indeed, from " accustomed " and
probable spots, but from unaccustomed, improbable,
and even impossible spotsall of