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The Eternal Feminine
by [?]

He wore a curious costume, representing the devil carrying off his corpse; but I recognised him at once as the lesser lion of a London evening party last season. Then he had just returned from a Polar expedition, and wore the glacier of civilisation on his breast. To-night he was among the maddest of the mad, dancing savagely with the Bacchantes of the Latin Quarter at the art students’ ball, and some of his fellow-Americans told me that he was the best marine painter in the atelier which he had joined. More they did not pause to tell me, for they were anxious to celebrate this night of nights, when, in that fine spirit of equality born of belonging to two Republics, the artist lowers himself to the level of his model.

The young Arctic explorer, so entirely at home in this more tropical clime, had relapsed into respectability when I spoke to him. He was sitting at a supper-table smoking a cigarette, and gazing somewhat sadly–it seemed to me–at the pandemoniac phantasmagoria of screaming dancers, the glittering cosmopolitan chaos that multiplied itself riotously in the mirrored walls of the great flaring ball-room, where under-dressed women, waving many-coloured paper lanterns, rode on the shoulders of grotesquely clad men prancing to joyous music. For some time he had been trying hard to get some one to take the money for his supper; but the frenzied waiters suspected he was clamouring for something to eat, and would not be cajoled into attention.

Moved by an impulse of mischief, I went up to him and clapped him on his corpse, which he wore behind.

There was a death-mask of papier-mache on the back of his head with appropriate funereal drapings down the body.

“I’ll take your money,” I said.

He started, and turned his devil upon me. The face was made Mephistophelian, and the front half of him wore scarlet.

“Thanks,” he said, laughing roguishly, when he recognised me. “It’s darned queer that Paris should be the place where they refuse to take the devil’s money.”

I suggested smilingly that it was the corpse they fought shy of.

“I guess not,” he retorted. “It’s dead men’s money that keeps this place lively. I wish I’d had the chance of some anyhow; but a rolling stone gathers no moss, they say–not even from graveyards, I suppose.”

He spoke disconsolately, in a tone more befitting the back than the front of him, and quite out of accord with the reckless revelry around him.

“Oh! you’ll make lots of money with your pictures,” I said heartily.

He shook his head. “That’s the chap who’s going to scoop in the dollars,” he said, indicating a brawny Frenchman attired in a blanket that girdled his loins, and black feathers that decorated his hair. “That fellow’s got the touch of Velasquez. You should see the portrait he’s doing for the Salon.”

“Well, I don’t see much art in his costume, anyhow,” I retorted. “Yours is an inspiration of genius.”

“Yes; so prophetic, don’t you know,” he replied modestly. “But you are not the only one who has complimented me. To it I owe the proudest moment of my life–when I shook hands with a European prince.” And he laughed with returning merriment.

“Indeed!” I exclaimed. “With which?”

“Ah! I see your admiration for my rig is mounting. No; it wasn’t with the Prince of Wales–confess your admiration is going down already. Come, you shall guess. Je vous le donne en trois.”

After teasing me a little he told me it was the Kronprinds of Denmark. “At the Kunstner Karneval in Copenhagen,” he explained briefly. His front face had grown sad again.

“Did you study art in Copenhagen?” I inquired.

“Yes, before I joined that expedition,” he said. “It was from there I started.”

“Yes, of course,” I replied. “I remember now. It was a Danish expedition. But what made you chuck up your studies so suddenly?”

“Oh! I don’t know. I guess I was just about sick of most things. My stars! Look at that little gypsy-girl dancing the can-can; isn’t she fresh? Isn’t she wonderful? How awful to think she’ll be used up in a year or two!”