The Courtesans Wager (The Courtesan Chronicles Book 3)

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Such a passion hides among a thousand temptations a dart-like hook which is most apt to catch the lofty soul of an artist. These passions, inexplicable to the vulgar, are perfectly accounted for by the thirst for ideal beauty, which is characteristic of a creative mind. For are we not, in some degree, akin to the angels, whose task it is to bring the guilty to a better mind? How delightful it is to harmonize moral with physical beauty! What joy and pride if we succeed! How noble a task is that which has no instrument but love! Such alliances, made famous by the example of Aristotle, Socrates, Plato, Alcibiades, Cethegus, and Pompey, and yet so monstrous in the eyes of the vulgar, are based on the same feeling that prompted Louis XIV.

In short, it is the application of art in the realm of morals. The priest, ashamed of having yielded to this weakness, hastily pushed Esther away, and she sat down quite abashed, for he said:. Esther, like a child who has a single wish in its head, kept her eyes fixed on the spot where the document lay hidden. You must, therefore, be led as if you were a child; you must be completely changed, and I will undertake to make you unrecognizable.

To begin with, you must forget Lucien. Think of the extent to which you pledge yourself. Her long and beautiful light hair waved to the ground, a sort of carpet under the feet of the celestial messenger, whom she saw as gloomy and hard as ever when she lifted herself up and looked at him. Yesterday your love could not give you strength enough so completely to bury the prostitute that she could never reappear; and again to-day she revives in adoration which is due to none but God. If I were to take you straight from hence to the house where you are to be educated, everybody here would tell Lucien that you had gone away to-day, Sunday, with a priest; he might follow in your tracks.

In the course of a week, the portress, not seeing me again, might suppose me to be what I am not. I shall know if you have seen him, and in that event all will be at an end. I shall not even come back. Have you never met in the streets or on the Boulevards a modest and virtuous girl walking with her mother?

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There were snippets of her past here and I'm really i As with her previous novels, Claudia Dain wrote a historical romance set in the Regency era with an entirely different angle, not about reformed rakes finding the love of their lives because of fate, not of instant attraction leading to lust then love, but how women manipulate men to get what they want. Jan Berkley eBook Kindle. To him Lucien was more than a son, more than a woman beloved, more than a family, more than his life; he was his revenge; and as souls cling more closely to a feeling than to existence, he had bound the young man to him by insoluble ties. To view it, click here. I tink it is to grow tin. Warning: If you join Antony, later you must openly defy Cassius and condemn his ideals, what irreversibly destroys the relationship with him. Last evening, at the opera, I was recognized by some young men who have no more feeling than a tiger has pity—for that matter, I could come round the tiger!

The sight of a mother and daughter is one of our most cruel punishments; it arouses the remorse that lurks in the innermost folds of our hearts, and that is consuming us. It was a touching thing to see the priest making this girl repeat Ave Maria and Paternoster in French. Esther took his hand and kissed it. She was no longer the courtesan; she was an angel rising after a fall. In a religious institution, famous for the aristocratic and pious teaching imparted there, one Monday morning in the beginning of March the pupils found their pretty flock increased by a newcomer, whose beauty triumphed without dispute not only over that of her companions, but over the special details of beauty which were found severally in perfection in each one of them.

In France it is extremely rare, not to say impossible, to meet with the thirty points of perfection, described in Persian verse, and engraved, it is said, in the Seraglio, which are needed to make a woman absolutely beautiful. Though in France the whole is seldom seen, we find exquisite parts.

As to that imposing union which sculpture tries to produce, and has produced in a few rare examples like the Diana and the Callipyge, it is the privileged possession of Greece and Asia Minor. Esther came from that cradle of the human race; her mother was a Jewess. The Jews, though so often deteriorated by their contact with other nations, have, among their many races, families in which this sublime type of Asiatic beauty has been preserved. When they are not repulsively hideous, they present the splendid characteristics of Armenian beauty.

Esther would have carried off the prize at the Seraglio; she had the thirty points harmoniously combined. Far from having damaged the finish of her modeling and the freshness of her flesh, her strange life had given her the mysterious charm of womanhood; it is no longer the close, waxy texture of green fruit and not yet the warm glow of maturity; there is still the scent of the flower.

A few days longer spent in dissolute living, and she would have been too fat. This abundant health, this perfection of the animal in a being in whom voluptuousness took the place of thought, must be a remarkable fact in the eyes of physiologists. A circumstance so rare, that it may be called impossible in very young girls, was that her hands, incomparably fine in shape, were as soft, transparent, and white as those of a woman after the birth of her second child. She had exactly the hair and the foot for which the Duchesse de Berri was so famous, hair so thick that no hairdresser could gather it into his hand, and so long that it fell to the ground in rings; for Esther was of that medium height which makes a woman a sort of toy, to be taken up and set down, taken up again and carried without fatigue.

Her skin, as fine as rice-paper, of a warm amber hue showing the purple veins, was satiny without dryness, soft without being clammy. Esther, excessively strong though apparently fragile, arrested attention by one feature that is conspicuous in the faces in which Raphael has shown his most artistic feeling, for Raphael is the painter who has most studied and best rendered Jewish beauty. This remarkable effect was produced by the depth of the eye-socket, under which the eye moved free from its setting; the arch of the brow was so accurate as to resemble the groining of a vault.

When youth lends this beautiful hollow its pure and diaphanous coloring, and edges it with closely-set eyebrows, when the light stealing into the circular cavity beneath lingers there with a rosy hue, there are tender treasures in it to delight a lover, beauties to drive a painter to despair. Those luminous curves, where the shadows have a golden tone, that tissue as firm as a sinew and as mobile as the most delicate membrane, is a crowning achievement of nature.

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The eye at rest within is like a miraculous egg in a nest of silken wings. But as time goes on this marvel acquires a dreadful melancholy, when passions have laid dark smears on those fine forms, when grief had furrowed that network of delicate veins. It was only the extreme tenderness of her expression that could moderate their fire. Only those races that are native to deserts have in the eye the power of fascinating everybody, for any woman can fascinate some one person.

Their eyes preserve, no doubt, something of the infinitude they have gazed on. Has nature, in her foresight, armed their retina with some reflecting background to enable them to endure the mirage of the sand, the torrents of sunshine, and the burning cobalt of the sky? The great solution of this problem of race lies perhaps in the question itself.

Instincts are living facts, and their cause dwells in past necessity. Variety in animals is the result of the exercise of these instincts. To convince ourselves of this long-sought-for truth, it is enough to extend to the herd of mankind the observation recently made on flocks of Spanish and English sheep which, in low meadows where pasture is abundant, feed side by side in close array, but on mountains, where grass is scarce, scatter apart. Take these two kinds of sheep, transfer them to Switzerland or France; the mountain breeds will feed apart even in a lowland meadow of thick grass, the lowland sheep will keep together even on an alp.

Hardly will a succession of generations eliminate acquired and transmitted instincts. Her look had no terrible fascination; it shed a mild warmth, it was pathetic without being startling, and the sternest wills were melted in its flame. Esther had conquered hatred, she had astonished the depraved souls of Paris; in short, that look and the softness of her skin had earned her the terrible nickname which had just led her to the verge of the grave.

Everything about her was in harmony with these characteristics of the Peri of the burning sands. Her forehead was firmly and proudly molded. Her nose, like that of the Arab race, was delicate and narrow, with oval nostrils well set and open at the base. Her mouth, fresh and red, was a rose unblemished by a flaw, dissipation had left no trace there. Her chin, rounded as though some amorous sculptor had polished its fulness, was as white as milk.

One thing only that she had not been able to remedy betrayed the courtesan fallen very low: her broken nails, which needed time to recover their shape, so much had they been spoiled by the vulgarest household tasks. The young boarders began by being jealous of these marvels of beauty, but they ended by admiring them. Before the first week was at an end they were all attached to the artless Jewess, for they were interested in the unknown misfortunes of a girl of eighteen who could neither read nor write, to whom all knowledge and instruction were new, and who was to earn for the Archbishop the triumph of having converted a Jewess to Catholicism and giving the convent a festival in her baptism.

They forgave her beauty, finding themselves her superiors in education. Esther very soon caught the manners, the accent, the carriage and attitudes of these highly-bred girls; in short, her first nature reasserted itself. The change was so complete that on his first visit Herrera was astonished as it would seem—and the Mother Superior congratulated him on his ward. Never in their existence as teachers had these sisters met with a more charming nature, more Christian meekness, true modesty, nor a greater eagerness to learn. When a girl has suffered such misery as had overwhelmed this poor child, and looks forward to such a reward as the Spaniard held out to Esther, it is hard if she does not realize the miracles of the early Church which the Jesuits revived in Paraguay.

In recreation hours Esther would question her companions, but discreetly, as to the simplest matters in fashionable life, which to her were like the first strange ideas of life to a child. When she heard that she was to be dressed in white on the day of her baptism and first Communion, that she should wear a white satin fillet, white bows, white shoes, white gloves, and white rosettes in her hair, she melted into tears, to the amazement of her companions.

It was the reverse of the scene of Jephtha on the mountain. The courtesan was afraid of being understood; she ascribed this dreadful dejection to the joy with which she looked forward to the function. As there is certainly as wide a gulf between the habits she had given up and the habits she was acquiring as there is between the savage state and civilization, she had the grace and simplicity and depth which distinguished the wonderful heroine of the American Puritans. She had too, without knowing it, a love that was eating out her heart—a strange love, a desire more violent in her who knew everything than it can be in a maiden who knows nothing, though the two forms of desire have the same cause, and the same end in view.

During the first few months the novelty of a secluded life, the surprises of learning, the handiworks she was taught, the practices of religion, the fervency of a holy resolve, the gentle affections she called forth, and the exercise of the faculties of her awakened intelligence, all helped to repress her memory, even the effort she made to acquire a new one, for she had as much to unlearn as to learn.

There is more than one form of memory: the body and mind have each their own; home-sickness, for instance, is a malady of the physical memory. Thus, during the third month, the vehemence of this virgin soul, soaring to Paradise on outspread wings, was not indeed quelled, but fettered by a dull rebellion, of which Esther herself did not know the cause. Like the Scottish sheep, she wanted to pasture in solitude, she could not conquer the instincts begotten of debauchery. Was it that the foul ways of the Paris she had abjured were calling her back to them?

Did the chains of the hideous habits she had renounced cling to her by forgotten rivets, and was she feeling them, as old soldiers suffer still, the surgeons tell us, in the limbs they have lost? Had vice and excess so soaked into her marrow that holy waters had not yet exorcised the devil lurking there?

Was the sight of him for whom her angelic efforts were made, necessary to the poor soul, whom God would surely forgive for mingling human and sacred love? One had led to the other. Was there some transposition of the vital force in her involving her in inevitable suffering? Everything is doubtful and obscure in a case which science scorns to study, regarding the subject as too immoral and too compromising, as if the physician and the writer, the priest and the political student, were not above all suspicion. However, a doctor who was stopped by death had the courage to begin an investigation which he left unfinished.

Perhaps the dark depression to which Esther fell a victim, and which cast a gloom over her happy life, was due to all these causes; and perhaps, unable as she was to suspect them herself, she suffered as sick creatures suffer who know nothing of medicine or surgery. The fact is strange. Wholesome and abundant food in the place of bad and inflammatory nourishment did not sustain Esther.

A pure and regular life, divided between recreation and studies intentionally abridged, taking the place of a disorderly existence of which the pleasures and the pains were equally horrible, exhausted the convent-boarder. In fact, virtue and happiness following on evil and misfortune, security in the stead of anxiety, were as fatal to Esther as her past wretchedness would have been to her young companions. Planted in corruption, she had grown up in it. That infernal home still had a hold on her, in spite of the commands of a despotic will.

What she loathed was life to her, what she loved was killing her. Her faith was so ardent that her piety was a delight to those about her.

She loved to pray. She had opened her spirit to the lights of true religion, and received it without an effort or a doubt. The priest who was her director was delighted with her. Still, at every turn her body resisted the spirit. The carp perished. The animals might be sacrificed, but man could never infect them with the leprosy of flattery. A courtier remarked at Versailles on this mute resistance. At times the poor girl was driven to run about the splendid convent gardens; she hurried from tree to tree, she rushed into the darkest nooks—seeking? She did not know, but she fell a prey to the demon; she carried on a flirtation with the trees, she appealed to them in unspoken words.

Sometimes, in the evening, she stole along under the walls, like a snake, without any shawl over her bare shoulders. Often in chapel, during the service, she remained with her eyes fixed on the Crucifix, melted to tears; the others admired her; but she was crying with rage. Instead of the sacred images she hoped to see, those glaring nights when she had led some orgy as Habeneck leads a Beethoven symphony at the Conservatoire—nights of laughter and lasciviousness, with vehement gestures, inextinguishable laughter, rose before her, frenzied, furious, and brutal.

She alone knew the secret of this struggle between the devil and the angel. When the Superior reproved her for having done her hair more fashionably than the rule of the House allowed, she altered it with prompt and beautiful submission; she would have cut her hair off if the Mother had required it of her.

This moral home-sickness was truly pathetic in a girl who would rather have perished than have returned to the depths of impurity. She grew pale and altered and thin. The Superior gave her shorter lessons, and called the interesting creature to her room to question her. But Esther was happy; she enjoyed the society of her companions; she felt no pain in any vital part; still, it was vitality itself that was attacked.

She regretted nothing; she wanted nothing. In this difficulty the Superior appealed to the Abbe Herrera. After this confidential interview, the man of science told the man of faith that the only cure lay in a journey to Italy. In Spain the religious question is supreme, above all political, civil, or vital considerations; so the physician did not answer the Spaniard.

He turned to the Mother Superior, but the terrible Abbe took him by the arm and stopped him. The doctor, though a religious man and a Monarchist, looked at Esther with an expression of tender pity. The girl was as lovely as a lily drooping on its stem. On the very day of this consultation, Esther was taken by her protector to the Rocher de Cancale , a famous restaurant, for his wish to save her had suggested strange expedients to the priest.

He tried the effect of two excesses—an excellent dinner, which might remind the poor child of past orgies; and the opera, which would give her mind some images of worldliness. His despotic authority was needed to tempt the young saint to such profanation. Herrera disguised himself so effectually as a military man, that Esther hardly recognized him; he took care to make his companion wear a veil, and put her in a box where she was hidden from all eyes. This palliative, which had no risks for innocence so sincerely regained, soon lost its effect.

So the moment came when the poor child was no longer upheld by moral force, and the body was about to break down. The priest calculated the time with the hideous practical sagacity formerly shown by executioners in the art of torture. He found his protegee in the garden, sitting on a bench under a trellis on which the April sun fell gently; she seemed to be cold and trying to warm herself; her companions looked with interest at her pallor as of a folded plant, her eyes like those of a dying gazelle, her drooping attitude.

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Esther rose and went to meet the Spaniard with a lassitude that showed how little life there was in her, and, it may be added, how little care to live. This hapless outcast, this wild and wounded swallow, moved Carlos Herrera to compassion for the second time. The gloomy minister, whom God should have employed only to carry out His revenges, received the sick girl with a smile, which expressed, indeed, as much bitterness as sweetness, as much vengeance as charity. Esther, practised in meditation, and used to revulsions of feeling since she had led this almost monastic life, felt on her part, for the second time, distrust of her protector; but, as on the former occasion, his speech reassured her.

I think of him always; and just as you came, I was saying his name to myself. I have done everything to save you; I send you back to your fate. Can I not love Lucien and be virtuous? Am I not ready to die here for virtue, as I should be ready to die for him? Am I not dying for these two fanaticisms—for virtue, which was to make me worthy of him, and for him who flung me into the embrace of virtue? Yes, and ready to die without seeing him or to live by seeing him. God is my Judge. The color had mounted to her face, her whiteness had recovered its amber warmth.

Esther looked beautiful again. The priest was obliged to lift up Esther, whose knees failed her; the poor child dropped as if the ground had slipped from under her feet. The Abbe seated her on a bench; and when she could speak again she asked him:. You are too close to Lucien not to be far from God.

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Conquered by the exquisite artlessness and gestures, Herrera kissed her on the forehead for the first time. This scene, observed from a distance, struck pupils and superiors alike; they fancied they had looked on at a miracle as they compared Esther with herself. She was completely changed; she was alive. She reappeared her natural self, all love, sweet, coquettish, playful, and gay; in short, it was a resurrection. Herrera lived in the Rue Cassette, near Saint-Sulpice, the church to which he was attached. This building, hard and stern in style, suited this Spaniard, whose discipline was that of the Dominicans.

A lost son of Ferdinand VII. Carlos Herrera had thrown himself body and soul into the Camarilla at the moment when the Cortes seemed likely to stand and hold their own. To the world this conduct seemed to proclaim a superior soul. Herrera lived very obscurely, as priests employed on secret missions traditionally live. He fulfilled his religious duties at Saint-Sulpice, never went out but on business, and then after dark, and in a hackney cab.

His day was filled up with a siesta in the Spanish fashion, which arranges for sleep between the two chief meals, and so occupies the hours when Paris is in a busy turmoil. The Spanish cigar also played its part, and consumed time as well as tobacco. Laziness is a mask as gravity is, and that again is laziness. Herrera lived on the second floor in one wing of the house, and Lucien occupied the other wing. The two apartments were separated and joined by a large reception room of antique magnificence, suitable equally to the grave priest and to the young poet.

The courtyard was gloomy; large, thick trees shaded the garden. Silence and reserve are always found in the dwellings chosen by priests. These two, Lucien and Herrera, formed a body politic. This, no doubt, was the secret of their union. Old men in whom the activities of life have been uprooted and transplanted to the sphere of interest, often feel the need of a pleasing instrument, a young and impassioned actor, to carry out their schemes. Richelieu, too late, found a handsome pale face with a young moustache to cast in the way of women whom he wanted to amuse.

Do what we will, always, in the course of an ambitious life, we find a woman in the way just when we least expect such an obstacle. However great a political man may be, he always needs a woman to set against a woman, just as the Dutch use a diamond to cut a diamond.

Rome at the height of its power yielded to this necessity. And observe how immeasurably more imposing was the life of Mazarin, the Italian cardinal, than that of Richelieu, the French cardinal. Richelieu met with opposition from the great nobles, and he applied the axe; he died in the flower of his success, worn out by this duel, for which he had only a Capuchin monk as his second. Madame de Pompadour dead, Choiseul fell! Had Herrera soaked his mind in these high doctrines? Had he judged himself at an earlier age than Richelieu? These questions, asked by those who were able to see anything of this coalition, which was long kept a secret, might have unveiled a horrible mystery which Lucien himself had known but a few days.

He dined out every day. After spending something like forty thousand francs, every folly had brought Lucien back with increased eagerness to La Torpille; he searched for her persistently; and as he could not find her, she became to him what game is to the sportsman. When once this feeling has mounted to the brain of one of these great little men, after firing his heart and absorbing his senses, the poet becomes as far superior to humanity through love as he already is through the power of his imagination. A freak of intellectual heredity has given him the faculty of expressing nature by imagery, to which he gives the stamp both of sentiment and of thought, and he lends his love the wings of his spirit; he feels, and he paints, he acts and meditates, he multiplies his sensations by thought, present felicity becomes threefold through aspiration for the future and memory of the past; and with it he mingles the exquisite delights of the soul, which makes him the prince of artists.

Does not the poet then place his mistress far higher than women crave to sit? Like the sublime Knight of la Mancha, he transfigures a peasant girl to be a princess. He uses for his own behoof the wand with which he touches everything, turning it into a wonder, and thus enhances the pleasure of loving by the glorious glamour of the ideal. Such a love is the very essence of passion. It is extreme in all things, in its hopes, in its despair, in its rage, in its melancholy, in its joy; it flies, it leaps, it crawls; it is not like any of the emotions known to ordinary men; it is to everyday love what the perennial Alpine torrent is to the lowland brook.

But there is another danger! Lucien was at this pass. His poetical temperament, excessive in all things, in good as in evil, had discerned the angel in this girl, who was tainted by corruption rather than corrupt; he always saw her white, winged, pure, and mysterious, as she had made herself for him, understanding that he would have her so. Towards the end of the month of May Lucien had lost all his good spirits; he never went out, dined with Herrera, sat pensive, worked, read volumes of diplomatic treatises, squatted Turkish-fashion on a divan, and smoked three or four hookahs a day.

One fine evening, when Lucien, lounging in an armchair, was mechanically contemplating the hues of the setting sun through the trees in the garden, blowing up the mist of scented smoke in slow, regular clouds, as pensive smokers are wont, he was roused from his reverie by hearing a deep sigh. He turned and saw the Abbe standing by him with folded arms. There is now that between us which ought never to have come between us—a secret.

This secret has subsisted for sixteen months. You are in love. Cannot love and ambition be reconciled? You want to shine; I am guiding you into the paths of power, I kiss very dirty hands to secure your advancement, and you will get on. A little while yet and you will lack nothing of what can charm man or woman. Though effeminate in your caprices, your intellect is manly. I have dreamed all things of you; I forgive you all. You have only to speak to have your ephemeral passions gratified. I have aggrandized your life by introducing into it that which makes it delightful to most people—the stamp of political influence and dominion.

You will be as great as you now are small; but you must not break the machine by which we coin money. I grant you all you will excepting such blunders as will destroy your future prospects. When I can open the drawing-rooms of the Faubourg Saint-Germain to you, I forbid your wallowing in the gutter. Lucien, I mean to be an iron stanchion in your interest; I will endure everything from you, for you. His black wig had fallen off. It was appalling. Lucien sat on his divan, his hands hanging limp, overpowered, and gazing at the Abbe with stupefaction. You took her away the day after the opera ball.

Do you know what the unhappy Torpille had done for three of them? One of them was her lover for two months. She was poor, and picked up a living in the gutter; he had not a sou; like me, when you rescued me, he was very near the river; this fellow would get up at night and go to the cupboard where the girl kept the remains of her dinner and eat it.

At last she discovered the trick; she understood the shameful thing, and took care to leave a great deal; then she was happy. She never told any one but me, that night, coming home from the opera. She passed as his wife and became the mistress of a man in power, who believed her to be the most innocent of good citizens. To one she gave life, to another honor, to the third fortune—what does it all count for to-day? And this is how they reward her! She is being educated. She can, if she may, under the influence of your love, become a Ninon, a Marion Delorme, a du Barry, as the journalist at the opera ball remarked.

You may proclaim her your mistress, or you may retire behind a curtain of your own creating, which will be wiser. By either method you will gain profit and pride, pleasure and advancement; but if you are as great a politician as you are a poet, Esther will be no more to you than any other woman of the town; for, later, perhaps she may help us out of difficulties; she is worth her weight in gold. Drink, but do not get tipsy. Rolling with La Torpille in the slough of misery from which I dragged you.

I bought the place all standing, and she turned out with her clothes. Esther, the angel who aspired to heaven, has alighted there, and is waiting for you. At this moment Lucien heard his horses pawing the ground in the courtyard; he was incapable of expressing his admiration for a devotion which he alone could appreciate; he threw himself into the arms of the man he had insulted, made amends for all by a look and the speechless effusion of his feelings.

The Courtesan's Wager - Courtesan's Chronicles - Book 3

The next day a man, who by his dress might have been mistaken by the passers-by for a gendarme in disguise, was passing the Rue Taitbout, opposite a house, as if he were waiting for some one to come out; he walked with an agitated air. A few minutes later, Esther, in her dressing-gown, came to breathe the air, leaning on Lucien; any one who saw them might have taken them for the originals of some pretty English vignette. Esther was the first to recognize the basilisk eyes of the Spanish priest; and the poor creature, stricken as if she had been shot, gave a cry of horror.

As they went along the corridor from their bedroom to the dining-room, where their breakfast was served, the lovers met Carlos Herrera. Amuse yourselves, be happy—well and good! Happiness at any price is my motto. This is sober prose. Can Esther become Madame de Rubempre? Above all, the world must never know that a certain Mademoiselle Esther loves Lucien, and that Lucien is in love with her.

If you wish to go out—and your health will require it—you must take exercise at night, at hours when you cannot be seen; for your youth and beauty, and the style you have acquired at the Convent, would at once be observed in Paris. I have procured that boy a patent permitting him to bear the name and arms of his maternal ancestors. Still, this is not all; we have not yet recovered the title of Marquis; and to get it, he must marry a girl of good family, in whose favor the King will grant this distinction.

Such an alliance will get Lucien on in the world and at Court. Sooner or later all these angels relapse into being women, and every woman at moments is a mixture of a monkey and a child, two creatures who can kill us for fun. For your cook, you shall have a mulatto woman, which gives style to a house. With Europe and Asie you can live here for a thousand-franc note a month like a queen—a stage queen.

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Europe has been a dressmaker, a milliner, and a stage super; Asie has cooked for an epicure Milord. These two women will serve you like two fairies. Seeing Lucien go completely to the wall before this man, who was guilty at least of sacrilege and forgery, this woman, sanctified by her love, felt an awful fear in the depths of her heart. She made no reply, but dragged Lucien into her room, and asked him:. Esther and Lucien came out, and the poor girl, not daring to look at the mysterious man, said:. And they stopped. The Spaniard rang twice.

The women he had called Europe and Asie came in, and it was at once easy to see the reason of these names. Asie, who looked as if she might have been born in the Island of Java, showed a face to scare the eye, as flat as a board, with the copper complexion peculiar to Malays, with a nose that looked as if it had been driven inwards by some violent pressure.

The Courtesan's Wager

The strange conformation of the maxillary bones gave the lower part of this face a resemblance to that of the larger species of apes. The brow, though sloping, was not deficient in intelligence produced by habits of cunning. Asie seemed afraid lest she might terrify people. Her lips, a dull blue, were parted over prominent teeth of dazzling whiteness, but grown across. The leading expression of this animal countenance was one of meanness. Her black hair, straight and greasy-looking like her skin, lay in two shining bands, forming an edge to a very handsome silk handkerchief.

Her ears were remarkably pretty, and graced with two large dark pearls. Small, short, and squat, Asie bore a likeness to the grotesque figures the Chinese love to paint on screens, or, more exactly, to the Hindoo idols which seem to be imitated from some non-existent type, found, nevertheless, now and again by travelers. Esther shuddered as she looked at this monstrosity, dressed out in a white apron over a stuff gown. Asie looked at the young fairy with an almost distressful expression; but at the same moment a flash, half hidden between her thick, short eyelashes, shot like an incendiary spark at Lucien, who, in a magnificent dressing-gown thrown open over a fine Holland linen shirt and red trousers, with a fez on his head, beneath which his fair hair fell in thick curls, presented a godlike appearance.

Italian genius could invent the tale of Othello; English genius could put it on the stage; but Nature alone reserves the power of throwing into a single glance an expression of jealousy grander and more complete than England and Italy together could imagine. This look, seen by Esther, made her clutch the Spaniard by the arm, setting her nails in it as a cat sets its claws to save itself from falling into a gulf of which it cannot see the bottom.

Boys being what they are in seventh grade, there was hardly much choice. By her ninth grade year, Claudia was spending hours each week in her bedroom writing descriptive essays that heavily featured older boys eleventh grade. She also practiced her kissing technique on a pole lamp next to her bed. It was less than satisfactory, but the writing was fun. She attended the University of Southern California as an English major. She'd mastered kissing by this time and writing, strangely enough, was still fun.

This was as peculiar to her as, well, not enjoying kissing. Clearly, something had to be done.

The idea of combining kissing and writing seemed the obvious course of action. Perhaps there is something else you would like to ask me? Her eyes flickered in surprise, then fixed on him with challenge of her own. Who was he attempting to fool? Women always wanted to know why his skin was so dark, why his hair so dark. She simply was more direct than most and much quicker. You are wondering why the son of a marquess looks like something spawned on a foreign shore.

He paused, unsure of his own motivation. He did want to tell her, though, he decided. He waited. Usually the women with whom he spent the most time found his half-caste looks exotic and appealing but, then, such women were typically interested only in sharing the pleasures of the night with him. Even though they knew he was wealthy. Even though some of those same ladies did not mind sharing his bed. I left when I was ten. He never talked about it, although many who knew his father knew some of it.

Claudia Dain

He told her about the man swallowing the snake and others sleeping on a bed of nails or walking over hot coals. He told her of the music and the singing and dancing, of statues and paintings of gods. He talked of fragrant gardens and cool houses with pillows. He did not tell her about his mother. Or about how his father shared his time between his Indian house and his English one on the other side of the garden.

His insides clenched in a familiar pain. He would never return there, never see those sights again. The waiter brought a flaky confection filled with whipped cream and jam for her and, for him, a selection of cheeses and a loaf of bread still warm from the oven. She nibbled on her pastry. I gather some of the buildings, statues and art were almost lost during the Revolution. We can credit Napoleon for preserving them. His hosts had taken him to places where pleasure was more valued than architecture. Again her face animated. It is the most impressive and beautiful church one could ever see.

The Louvre, as well. It is a beautiful building filled with beautiful art that once graced the houses of the aristocracy before the Revolution. It is now filled with shops and restaurants. She went on to describe these sights in more detail as they finished their meal and drank the last of the coffee and chocolate. He took her hand. Stay with me. Show me the sights you have so wonderfully described. Cecilia glanced into his face. His was a memorable face—as handsome as any woman could wish.

That was not what captivated her, however. Duncan had been handsome. His complexion was darker than one would expect from an Englishman. Knowing he was half-caste explained that. His hair was dark as the night, worn longer than fashionable as if he did not trouble himself to visit the barber overmuch. His eyes were unexpected, though. They were hazel, the kind of eyes that changed color with the hue of his coat. When he fixed his gaze upon her she had the feeling he could see inside her, directly to her thoughts. Perhaps that was why he asked her no questions about herself.

He asked nothing of her, but shared about himself. What other man of her acquaintance would tell of his life before age ten? Duncan certainly had not. What harm could there be in spending the day with him? She had no other obligations for today and he was leaving tomorrow. She liked his foreign looks and she relished the sound of his English accent, so familiar, so reminiscent of home. He was an easy companion, agreeable, unhurried, and undemanding. Her hands started to shake and her knees grew weak, not from his allure, but from her decision. The author has created a romantic novel with characters who were truly meant to be.

This book will warm the heart of readers as the two wounded main character slowly grow to know each other and heal together. The complexity of the characters and the sweet development of their love make this romance one to savor! Although the backgrounds of Cecilia and Oliver are vastly different, both have been treated unfairly and now feel dejected.

I really got a sense of how much the past affected these two, and their journey to possible happiness has lots of obstacles…. The choices Oliver and Cecilia must sometimes make are extremely hard, and it was often nerve-wracking to wait on their decisions because of the effect it would have on their relationship.