At supper in Princess Mathilde Bonapartes house on the rue de Courcelles, Ella drank too much champagne and ate too many oysters. The room was filled with Russians, Poles, Italians and filled with the noise of silver knives and forks striking china plates, the noise of glasses clinking and being refilled, and of everyone talking too loudly and at once in different languages. The room too, with its velvet drapes, heavy crystal chandelier and arrangement of sweet-smelling lilies, felt airless and hot. Next to Ella, Jules de Goncourt was repeating the latest Paris gossip and Ella only half listened as names floated by herthe Countess of Castiglione, the Count Cavour, Monsieur Viollet-le-Duc, the Duchess of Alba, Monsieur Balzac, Monsieur Mérimée. On her other side, Adolphe de Custine was repeating to her what the Emperor had told the Count of Morny when he saw the painting of the Alps. But Adolphe de Custine was easy and charming and Ella could not help think it was a pity that he preferred young boys. Mostly during the meal, Ella kept glancing toward the dining room door. Earlier Dimitri had sworn that he would come and join her for supper but he never did. By the time she was ready to go home, Ella had both a headache and a stomachache.
"Ma chère, are you not feeling well?" Princess Mathilde had asked her as she kissed Ella good night.
With his unlimited bank account, Franco bought whatever took his fancysnuffboxes, ormolu clocks and silver candlesticks, fine clothes and silk slippers, thoroughbred horses, carriages, and, more important, he bought arms and munitions (already, in England, he had negotiated a long-term contract with the Blyth Brothers, Londons leading arms merchant, for the construction of an arsenal in Asunción). Also, Franco bribed officials, shopkeepers, theater attendants. When a week went by and Franco still had not heard from Ella, he went again to her house on rue du Bac. This time, he gave Pierre, the valet de chambre, ten francs to make sure that Ella received his card.
From The News From Paraguay by Lily Tuck. HarperCollins Publishers. Used by permission.
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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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