|The Return of Tannhäuser
to the Venusberg
Of the Stabat Mater, Spiridion and de la Pine
When he woke up from his day-dream, he noticed that the carriage
was on its way back to the palace. They stopped at the Casino first,
and stepped out to join the players at petits chevaux. Tannhäuser
preferred to watch the game rather than play himself, and stood
behind Venus, who slipped into a vacant chair and cast gold pieces
upon lucky numbers. The first thing that Tannhäuser noticed
was the grace and charm, the gaiety and beauty of the croupiers.
They were quite adorable even when they raked in ones little
losings. Dressed in black silk, and wearing white kid gloves, loose
yellow wigs and feathered toques, with faces oval and young, bodies
lithe and quick, voices silvery and affectionate, they made amends
for all the hate- ful arrogance, disgusting aplomb, and shameful
ugliness of the rest of their kind.
The dear fellow who proclaimed the winner
was really quite delightful. He took a passionate interest in the
horses, and had licked all the paint off their petits couillons!
You will ask me, no doubt, Is that all he did? I will
answer, Not quiteas the merest glance at their
jolis derrières would prove.
In the afternoon light that came through
the great silken-blinded windows of the Casino, all the gilded decorations,
all the chandeliers, the mirrors, the polished floor, the painted
ceiling, the horses galloping round their green meadow, the fat
rouleaux of gold and silver, the ivory rakes, the fanned and strange-frocked
crowd of dandy gamesters looked magnificently rich and warm. Tea
was being served. It was so pretty to see some plush little lady
sipping nervously, and keeping her eyes over the cups edge
intently upon the slackening horses.
The more indifferent left the tables and
took their tea in parties here and there.
Tannhäuser found a great deal to amuse
him at the Casino. Ponchon was the manager, and a person of extraordinary
invention. Never a day but he was ready for a new showa novel
attraction. A glance through the old Casino programmes would give
you a very considerable idea of his talent. What countless ballets,
comedies, comedy-ballets, concerts, masques, charades, proverbs,
pantomimes, tableaux magiques, and peep-shows excentriques; what
troupes of marionettes, what burlesques!
Ponchon had an astonishing flair for new
talent, and many of the principal comedians and singers at the Queens
Theatre and Opera House had made their first appearance and reputation
at the Casino.
This afternoon the pièce de résistance
was a performance of Rossinis Stabat Mater, an adorable masterpiece.
It was given in the beautiful Salle des Printemps Parfumés.
Ah! what a stunning rendering of the delicious démodée
pièce de décadence. There is a subtle quality about
the music, like the unhealthy bloom upon wax fruit, that both orchestra
and singer contrived to emphasise with consummate delicacy.
The Virgin was sung by Spiridion, that
soft, incomparable alto. A miraculous virgin, too, he made of her.
To begin with, he dressed the rôle most effectively. His plump
legs up to the feminine hips of him were in very white stockings,
clocked with a false pink. He wore brown kid boots, buttoned to
mid-calf, and his whorish thighs had thin scarlet garters round
them. His jacket was cut like a jockeys, only the sleeves
ended in manifold frills, and round the neck, and just upon the
shoulders there was a black cape. His hair, dyed green, was curled
into ringlets, such as the smooth Madonnas of Morales are made lovely
with, and fell over his high egg-shaped creamy forehead, and about
his ears and cheeks and back.
The altos face was fearful and wonderful
a dream face. The eyes were full and black, with puffy blue-rimmed
hemispheres beneath them, the cheeks, inclining to fatness, were
powdered and dimpled, the mouth was purple and curved painfully,
the chin tiny, and exquisitely modelled, the expression cruel and
womanish. Heavens! how splendid he looked and sounded.
An exquisite piece of phrasing was accompanied
with some curly gesture of the hand, some delightful undulation
of the stomach, some nervous movement of the thigh, or glorious
rising of the bosom.
The performance provoked enthusiasm
thunders of applause. Claude and Clair pelted the thing with roses,
and carried him off in triumph to the tables. His costume was declared
ravishing. The men almost pulled him to bits, and mouthed at his
great quivering bottom! The little horses were quite forgotten for
Sup, the penetrating, burst through his
silk fleshings, and thrust in bravely up to the hilt, whilst the
altos legs were feasted upon by Pudex, Cyril, Anquetin, and
some others. Ballice, Corvo, Quadra, Senillé, Mellefont,
Théodore, Le Vit and Matta, all of the egoistic cult, stood
and crouched round, saturating the lovers with warm douches.
Later in the afternoon, Venus and Tannhäuser
paid a little visit to De La Pines studio, as the Chevalier
was very anxious to have his portrait painted. De La Pines
glory as a painter was hugely increased by his reputation as a fouteur,
for ladies that had pleasant memories of him looked with a biased
eye upon his fêtes galantes merveilleuses, portraits and folies
Yes, he was a bawdy creature, and his workshop
a regular brothel. However, his great talent stood in no need of
such meretricious and phallic support, and he was every whit as
strong and facile with his brush as with his tool.
When Venus and the Chevalier entered his
studio, he was standing amid a group of friends and connoisseurs
who were liking his latest picture. It was a small canvas, one of
his delightful morning pieces. Upon an Italian balcony stood a lady
in a white frock, reading a letter. She wore brown stockings, straw-coloured
petticoats, white shoes and a Leghorn hat. Her hair was red and
in a chignon. At her feet lay a tiny Japanese dog, painted from
the Queens favourite Fanny, and upon the balustrade
stood an open empty bird cage. The back-ground was a stretch of
Gallic country, clusters of trees cresting the ridges of low hills,
a bit of river, a château, and the morning sky.
De La Pine hastened to kiss the moist and
scented hand of Venus. Tannhäuser bowed profoundly and begged
to have some pictures shown him. The gracious painter took him round
Cosmé was one of the party, for
De La Pine just then was painting his portraita portrait,
by the way, which promised to be a veritable chef duvre.
Cosmé was loved and admired by everybody. To begin with,
he was pastmaster in his art, that fine, relevant art of coiffing;
then he was really modest and obliging, and was only seen and heard
when he was wanted. He was useful; he was decorative in his white
apron, black mask and silver suit; he was discreet.
The painter was giving Venus and Tannhäuser
a little dinner that evening, and he insisted on Cosmé joining
them. The barber vowed he would be de trop, and required a world
of pressing before he would accept the invitation. Venus added her
voice, and he consented.
Ah! what a delightful little partie carrée
it turned out. The painter was in purple and full dress, all tassels
and grand folds. His hair magnificently curled, his heavy eyelids
painted, his gestures large and romantic, he reminded one a little
of Maurel playing Wolfram in the second act of the Opera of Wagner.
Venus was in a ravishing toilet and confection
of Camilles, and looked like K. Tannhäuser
was dressed as a woman and looked like a Goddess. Cosmé sparkled
with gold, bristled with ruffs, glittered with bright buttons, was
painted, powdered, gorgeously bewigged, and looked like a marquis
in a comic opera.
The salle à manger at De La Pines
was quite the prettiest that ever was.
Here the manuscript ends