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The Cake
by [?]

Let us say that her name was Madame Anserre so as not to reveal her real name.

She was one of those Parisian comets which leave, as it were, a trail of fire behind them. She wrote verses and novels; she had a poetic heart, and was rarely beautiful. She opened her doors to very few–only to exceptional people, those who are commonly described as princes of something or other. To be a visitor at her house constituted a claim, a genuine claim to intellect: at least this was the estimate set on her invitations. Her husband played the part of an obscure satellite. To be the husband of a comet is not an easy thing. This husband had, however, an original idea, that of creating a State within a State, of possessing a merit of his own, a merit of the second order, it is true; but he did, in fact, in this fashion, on the days when his wife held receptions, hold receptions also on his own account. He had his special set who appreciated him, listened to him, and bestowed on him more attention than they did on his brilliant partner.

He had devoted himself to agriculture–to agriculture in the Chamber. There are in the same way generals in the Chamber–those who are born, who live, and who die, on the round leather chairs of the War Office, are all of this sort, are they not? Sailors in the Chamber,–viz., in the Admiralty,–colonizers in the Chamber, etc., etc. So he had studied agriculture, had studied it deeply, indeed, in its relations to the other sciences, to political economy, to the Fine Arts–we dress up the Fine Arts with every kind of science, and we even call the horrible railway bridges “works of art.” At length he reached the point when it was said of him: “He is a man of ability.” He was quoted in the technical reviews; his wife had succeeded in getting him appointed a member of a committee at the Ministry of Agriculture.

This latest glory was quite sufficient for him.

Under the pretext of diminishing the expenses, he sent out invitations to his friends for the day when his wife received hers, so that they associated together, or rather did not–they formed two distinct groups. Madame, with her escort of artists, academicians, and ministers, occupied a kind of gallery, furnished and decorated in the style of the Empire. Monsieur generally withdrew with his agriculturists into a smaller portion of the house used as a smoking-room and ironically described by Madame Anserre as the Salon of Agriculture.

The two camps were clearly separate. Monsieur, without jealousy, moreover, sometimes penetrated into the Academy, and cordial hand-shakings were exchanged; but the Academy entertained infinite contempt for the Salon of Agriculture, and it was rarely that one of the princes of science, of thought, or of anything else, mingled with the agriculturists.

These receptions occasioned little expense–a cup of tea, a cake, that was all. Monsieur, at an earlier period, had claimed two cakes, one for the Academy, and one for the agriculturists, but Madame having rightly suggested that this way of acting seemed to indicate two camps, two receptions, two parties, Monsieur did not press the matter, so that they used only one cake, of which Madame Anserre did the honors at the Academy, and which then passed into the Salon de Agriculture.

Now, this cake was soon, for the Academy, a subject of observation well calculated to arouse curiosity. Madame Anserre never cut it herself. That function always fell to the lot of one or other of the illustrious guests. The particular duty, which was supposed to carry with it honorable distinction, was performed by each person for a pretty long period, in one case for three months, scarcely ever for more; and it was noticed that the privilege of “cutting the cake” carried with it a heap of other marks of superiority–a sort of royalty, or rather very accentuated viceroyalty.