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QUITE ALONE.

BOOK THE FIRST: CHILDHOOD.
CHAPTER XII.—THE WILD ANIMAL.

MONSIEUR CONSTANT, giving one low but
authoritative tap at the door of the front drawing-
room, turned the handle and found himself in a
moment in the presence of the "wild animal."

She was not lying on straw. There were no
bars before her. She was not grovelling  à quatre
pattes. The wild animal was merely a very
beautiful young woman in a black satin dress
and with a great diamond necklace round her
neck, and great diamond bracelets on her arms.
Neck and arms were bare.

"I put on these for him. I dressed for
supper," she cried in a fury, so soon as she saw
the valet, "and the traitor sends me word that
he cannot come! Sends me word by a vile little
jockeya lacquey. He has the soul of one," she
continued, paraphrasing, perhaps unconsciously,
Ruy Blas. "I will poison him. I will trample
upon him. My next guest shall be that brute
of a German ambassador, who eats onions and
drinks stout."

The countess was a Frenchwoman, pur sang.

"Tut, tut, tut," quoth Monsieur Constant, in
French. "What a disturbance you raise, to be
sure. You should have devoted yourself to
melodrama, madame, and not to the manège.
What a pity that you should now have nothing
better to say in public than 'Haoup! hup là!'
and that to a horse too!"

"Coquin!" screamed the lady. "Are you
come to insult me?"

"Do you want to wake Mademoiselle Rataplan,
who sleeps the sleep of the just? She does not
ask milords to sup with her. Nor would you
were you wisethe wife of an English gentleman,
un fashionable, un lion, quoi!"

A deep crimson veila blush, not of shame,
but of ragefell, like a gauze in a scene in a
spectacle, over the woman's white neck and arms.
She set her teeth for a moment and ground them,
and then, starting up, began with the passionate
volubility of her nation:

"The wife of an English gentleman! The
wife of a swindler, un escroc! a gambler, a
rascal! He was to have millions, forsooth. I
was to have a carriage. I was to have horses,
parks, châteaux."

"Well; you have four horses as it is."

"Yes. My beautiful husband allows me to
become a horse-rider in a circus. I am the
Honourable Lady Blunt."

"Not a bit of it. Your husband is not in the
least a titled personage. He is an English
gentleman, nothing more."

"He is a swindler, a gambler, a rascal!" the
lady repeated, with concentrated bitterness.
"Enfin, I am the wedded wife of Monsieur
François Blunt. Monsieur je suis votre très
devouée! Oh! he is an angel, my husband!"

    "Mon père m'a donné pour mari,
     Mon dieu, quel homme, quel homme petit."

Thus softly whistled between his teeth Monsieur
Constant.

"Say, rather, un homme lâche— a prodigy of
baseness. He married me by subterfuge and
fraud."

"He did," Constant echoed, agreeing with the
wild animal for once; "subterfuge and fraud are
the words. Après."

"His millions turned out to be all in protested
bills, long overdue, and for which he was
responsible. He was criblé de dettes. He made
me dance and sing at his infamous supper
parties for the amusement of his vagabond
aristocrat friends. It was I who paid the
champagne à ces beaux festins. Monsieur was
not too proud to draw my salary month after
month. Monsieur was unfaithful to me."

"Vous lui avez donné la réplique, ma belle."

"He insulted me, neglected me," the lady
went on, seeming not to have heard the valet's
scornful remark. "He beat me. Beat ME, on
whom no parent or governess ever dared to lay
a finger."

"Don't you remember the Beugleuse. You
tried to strangle Blunt twice, to stab him once.
You would have put something in his coffee had
you dared."

"Only when the marks of his hands were on
my face. There are women who like to be
beaten. He should have married one of them.
I tell you he is un lâche."

'I know it was not a happy ménage. Love
flew out of the window soon after the honeymoon,
and the furniture flew after it. You used to
smash a great deal of crockery-ware between
you. Well; you would have your own way.
It has brought you to the Hôtel Rataplan."

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