In Black & White


Title Page
Under the Hill

The Art of the Hoarding
Letters to his Critics
   Pall Mall Budget
   Daily Chronicle
   St. Paul’s
Table Talk
Lines upon Pictures
   St Rose of Lima

The Three Musicians
The Ballad of a Barber
Ave Atque Vale
The Celestial Lover
The Ivory Piece
Prospectus for Volpone

Appendix : Juvenilia
The Valiant
A Ride in an Omnibus
The Confession Album
The Courts of Love
Dante in Exile
Written in Uncertainty
The Morte Darthur

Enoch Soames

Under the Hill
Under the Hill
The Return of Tannhäuser to the Venusberg
The Return of Tannhäuser to the Venusberg

Chapter X

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 one’s 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 quite”—as 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 cup’s 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 show—a 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 Queen’s Theatre and Opera House had made their first appearance and reputation at the Casino.
     This afternoon the pièce de résistance was a performance of Rossini’s 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 jockey’s, 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 alto’s 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 the moment.
     Sup, the penetrating, burst through his silk fleshings, and thrust in bravely up to the hilt, whilst the alto’s 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 Pine’s studio, as the Chevalier was very anxious to have his portrait painted. De La Pine’s 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 bergères.
     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 Queen’s 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 his studio.
     Cosmé was one of the party, for De La Pine just then was painting his portrait—a portrait, by the way, which promised to be a veritable chef d’œuvre. 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 Camille’s, 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 Pine’s was quite the prettiest that ever was.

Here the manuscript ends