|Portrait of Venus
How Venus and Tannhäuser breakfasted and then
drove through the palace gardens
The breakfasters were scattered over the gardens in
têtes-à-tête and tiny parties. Venus and Tannhäuser
sat together upon the lawn that lay in front of the Casino, and
made havoc of a ravishing déjeuner. The Chevalier was feeling
very happy. Everything around him seemed so white and light and
matinal; the floating frocks of the ladies, the scarce-robed boys
and satyrs stepping hither and thither elegantly, with meats and
wines and fruits; the damask tablecloths, the delicate talk and
laughter that rose everywhere; the flowers colour and the
flowers scent; the shady trees, the winds cool voice,
and the sky above that was as fresh and pastoral as a perfect sixth.
And Venus looked so beautiful. Not at all like the lady in Lempriere.
Youre such a dear! murmured
Tannhäuser, holding her hand.
At the further end of the lawn, and a little
hidden by a rose-tree, a young man was breakfasting alone. He toyed
nervously with his food now and then, but for the most part leant
back in his chair with unemployed hands, and gazed stupidly at Venus.
Thats Felix, said the
Goddess, in answer to an enquiry from the Chevalier; and she went
on to explain his attitude. Felix always attended Venus upon her
little latrinal excursions, holding her, serving her, and making
much of all she did. To undo her things, lift her skirts, to wait
and watch the coming, to dip a lip or finger in the royal output,
to stain himself deliciously with it, to lie beneath her as the
favours fell, to carry off the crumpled, crotted paperthese
were the pleasures of that young mans life.
Truly there never was a queen so beloved
by her subjects as Venus. Everything she wore had its lover. Heavens!
how her handkerchiefs were filched, her stockings stolen! Daily,
what intrigues, what countless ruses to possess her merest frippery!
Every scrap of her body was adored. Never, for Savaral, could her
ear yield sufficient wax! Never, for Pradon, could she spit prodigally
enough! And Saphius found a month an interminable time.
After breakfast was over, and Felixs
fears lest Tannhäuser should have robbed him of his capricious
rights had been dispelled, Venus invited the Chevalier to take a
more extensive view of the gardens, parks, pavilions, and ornamental
waters. The carriage was ordered. It was a delicate, shell-like
affair, with billowy cushions and a light canopy, and was drawn
by ten satyrs, dressed as finely as the coachmen of the Empress
Pauline the First.
The drive proved interesting and various,
and Tannhäuser was quite delighted with almost everything he
And who is not pleased when on either side
of him rich lawns are spread with lovely frocks and white limbs,
and upon flower-beds the dearest ladies are implicated in a glory
of underclothing; when he can see, in the deep cool shadow of the
trees, warm boys entwined, here at the base, there at the branchwhen
in the fountains wave Love holds his court, and the insistent
water burrows in every delicious crease and crevice?
A pretty sight, too, was little Rosalie,
perched like a postilion upon the painted phallus god of all gardens.
Her eyes were closed and she was smiling as the carriage passed.
Round her neck and slender girlish shoulders there was a cloud of
complex dress, over which bulged her wig- like flaxen tresses. Her
legs and feet were bare, and the toes twisted in an amorous style.
At the foot of the statue lay her shoes and stockings and a few
Tannhäuser was singularly moved at
this spectacle, and rose out of all proportion. Venus slipped the
fingers of comfort under the lace flounces of his trousers, saying,
Is it all mine? Is it all mine? and doing fascinating
things. In the end, the carriage was only prevented from being overturned
by the happy intervention of Priapusa, who stepped out from somewhere
or other just in time to preserve its balance.
How the old ladys eye glistened as
Tannhäuser withdrew his panting blade! In her sincere admiration
for fine things, she quite forgot and forgave the shock she had
received from the falling of the gay equipage. Venus and Tannhäuser
were profuse with apology and thanks, and quite a crowd of loving
courtiers gathered round, consoling and congratulating in a breath.
The Chevalier vowed he would never go in
the carriage again, and was really quite upset about it. However,
after he had had a little support from the smelling-salts, he recovered
his self- possession, and consented to drive on further.
The landscape grew rather mysterious. The
park, no longer troubled and adorned with figures, was full of grey
echoes and mysterious sounds; the leaves whispered a little sadly,
and there was a grotto that murmured like a voice haunting the silence
of a deserted oracle. Tannhäuser became a little triste. In
the distance, through the trees, gleamed a still, argent lake
a reticent, romantic water that must have held the subtlest fish
that ever were. Around its marge the trees and flags and fleurs
de luce were unbreakably asleep.
The Chevalier fell into a strange mood,
as he looked at the lake. It seemed to him that the thing would
speak, reveal some curious secret, say some beautiful word, if he
should dare wrinkle its pale face with a pebble.
I should be frightened to do that,
though, he said to himself. Then he wondered what might be
upon the other side; other gardens, other gods? A thousand drowsy
fancies passed through his brain. Sometimes the lake took fantastic
shapes, or grew to twenty times its size, or shrunk into a miniature
of itself, without ever once losing its unruffled calm, its deathly
reserve. When the water increased, the Chevalier was very frightened,
for he thought how huge the frogs must have become. He thought of
their big eyes and monstrous wet feet, but when the water lessened,
he laughed to himself, whilst thinking how tiny the frogs must look
thinner than spiders, and of their dwindled croaking, that
never could be heard. Perhaps the lake was only painted, after all.
He had seen things like it at the theatre. Anyway, it was a wonderful
lake, a beautiful lake, and he would love to bathe in it, but he
was sure he would be drowned if he did.