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The Beautiful Lady   By: (1869-1946)

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By Booth Tarkington

Chapter One

Nothing could have been more painful to my sensitiveness than to occupy myself, confused with blushes, at the center of the whole world as a living advertisement of the least amusing ballet in Paris.

To be the day's sensation of the boulevards one must possess an eccentricity of appearance conceived by nothing short of genius; and my misfortunes had reduced me to present such to all eyes seeking mirth. It was not that I was one of those people in uniform who carry placards and strange figures upon their backs, nor that my coat was of rags; on the contrary, my whole costume was delicately rich and well chosen, of soft grey and fine linen (such as you see worn by a marquis in the pe'sage at Auteuil) according well with my usual air and countenance, sometimes esteemed to resemble my father's, which were not wanting in distinction.

To add to this my duties were not exhausting to the body. I was required only to sit without a hat from ten of the morning to midday, and from four until seven in the afternoon, at one of the small tables under the awning of the Cafe' de la Paix at the corner of the Place de l'Opera that is to say, the centre of the inhabited world. In the morning I drank my coffee, hot in the cup; in the afternoon I sipped it cold in the glass. I spoke to no one; not a glance or a gesture of mine passed to attract notice.

Yet I was the centre of that centre of the world. All day the crowds surrounded me, laughing loudly; all the voyous making those jokes for which I found no repartee. The pavement was sometimes blocked; the passing coachmen stood up in their boxes to look over at me, small infants were elevated on shoulders to behold me; not the gravest or most sorrowful came by without stopping to gaze at me and go away with rejoicing faces. The boulevards rang to their laughter all Paris laughed!

For seven days I sat there at the appointed times, meeting the eye of nobody, and lifting my coffee with fingers which trembled with embarrassment at this too great conspicuosity! Those mournful hours passed, one by the year, while the idling bourgeois and the travellers made ridicule; and the rabble exhausted all effort to draw plays of wit from me.

I have told you that I carried no placard, that my costume was elegant, my demeanour modest in all degree.

"How, then, this excitement?" would be your disposition to inquire. "Why this sensation?"

It is very simple. My hair had been shaved off, all over my ears, leaving only a little above the back of the neck, to give an appearance of far reaching baldness, and on my head was painted, in ah! so brilliant letters of distinctness:


Folie Rouge




Tous les Soirs

Such was the necessity to which I was at that time reduced! One has heard that the North Americans invent the most singular advertising, but I will not believe they surpass the Parisian. Myself, I say I cannot express my sufferings under the notation of the crowds that moved about the Cafe' de la Paix! The French are a terrible people when they laugh sincerely. It is not so much the amusing things which cause them amusement; it is often the strange, those contrasts which contain something horrible, and when they laugh there is too frequently some person who is uncomfortable or wicked. I am glad that I was born not a Frenchman; I should regret to be native to a country where they invent such things as I was doing in the Place de l'Opera; for, as I tell you, the idea was not mine.

As I sat with my eyes drooping before the gaze of my terrible and applauding audiences, how I mentally formed cursing words against the day when my misfortunes led me to apply at the Theatre Folie Rouge for work! I had expected an audition and a role of comedy in the Revue; for, perhaps lacking any experience of the stage, I am a Neapolitan by birth, though a resident of the Continent at large since the age of fifteen... Continue reading book >>

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