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Title: Mademoiselle Olympe Zabriski
Author: Aldrich, Thomas Bailey
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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MADEMOISELLE OLYMPE ZABRISKI

By Thomas Bailey Aldrich

Boston And New York Houghton Mifflin Company

Copyright, 1873, 1885, and 1901



I.

We are accustomed to speak with a certain light irony of the tendency
which women have to gossip, as if the sin itself, if it is a sin, were
of the gentler sex, and could by no chance be a masculine peccadillo.
So far as my observation goes, men are as much given to small talk as
women, and it is undeniable that we have produced the highest type of
gossiper extant. Where will you find, in or out of literature, such
another droll, delightful, chatty busybody as Samuel Pepys, Esq.,
Secretary to the Admiralty in the reigns of those fortunate gentlemen
Charles II. and James II. of England? He is the king of tattlers as
Shakespeare is the king of poets.

If it came to a matter of pure gossip, I would back Our Club against
the Sorosis or any women’s club in existence. Whenever you see in our
drawing-room four or five young fellows lounging in easy-chairs, cigar
in hand, and now and then bringing their heads together over the small
round Japanese table which is always the pivot of these social circles,
you may be sure that they are discussing Tom’s engagement, or Dick’s
extravagance, or Harry’s hopeless passion for the younger Miss
Fleurdelys. It is here old Tippleton gets execrated for that everlasting
_bon mot_ of his which was quite a success at dinner-parties forty years
ago; it is here the belle of the season passes under the scalpels of
merciless young surgeons; it is here B’s financial condition is handled
in a way that would make B’s hair stand on end; it is here, in short,
that everything is canvassed--everything that happens in our set, I
mean, much that never happens, and a great deal that could not possibly
happen. It was at Our Club that I learned the particulars of the Van
Twiller affair.

It was great entertainment to Our Club, the Van Twiller affair, though
it was rather a joyless thing, I fancy, for Van Twiller. To understand
the case fully, it should be understood that Ralph Van Twiller is one of
the proudest and most sensitive men living. He is a lineal descendant
of Wouter Van Twiller, the famous old Dutch governor of New York--Nieuw
Amsterdam, as it was then; his ancestors have always been burgomasters
or admirals or generals, and his mother is the Mrs. Vanrensselaer
Van-zandt Van Twiller whose magnificent place will be pointed out to
you on the right bank of the Hudson, as you pass up the historic river
towards Idlewild. Ralph is about twenty-five years old. Birth made him
a gentleman, and the rise of real estate--some of it in the family since
the old governor’s time--made him a millionaire. It was a kindly fairy
that stepped in and made him a good fellow also. Fortune, I take it, was
in her most jocund mood when she heaped her gifts in this fashion on
Van Twiller, who was, and will be again, when this cloud blows over, the
flower of Our Club.

About a year ago there came a whisper--if the word “whisper” is not
too harsh a term to apply to what seemed a mere breath floating gently
through the atmosphere of the billiard-room--imparting the intelligence
that Van Twiller was in some kind of trouble. Just as everybody suddenly
takes to wearing square-toed boots, or to drawing his neckscarf through
a ring, so it became all at once the fashion, without any preconcerted
agreement, for everybody to speak of Van Twilier as a man in some way
under a cloud. But what the cloud was, and how he got under it, and why
he did not get away from it, were points that lifted themselves into
the realm of pure conjecture. There was no man in the club with strong
enough wing to his imagination to soar to the supposition that Van
Twiller was embarrassed in money matters. Was he in love? That appeared
nearly as improbable; for if he had been in love all the world--that
is, perhaps a hundred first families--would have known all about it
instantly.

“He has the symptoms,” said Delaney, laughing. “I remember once when
Jack Hemming “--

“Ned!” cried Hemming, “I protest against any allusion to that business.”

This was one night when Van Twiller had wandered into the club, turned
over the magazines absently in the reading-room, and wandered out again
without speaking ten words. The most careless eye would have remarked
the great change that had come over Van Twiller. Now and then he would
play a game of billiards with De Peyster or Haseltine, or stop to chat a
moment in the vestibule with old Duane; but he was an altered man.
When at the club, he was usually to be found in the small smoking-room
up-stairs, seated on a fauteuil fast asleep, with the last number of
The Nation in his hand. Once, if you went to two or three places of an
evening, you were certain to meet Van Twiller at them all. You seldom
met him in society now.

By and by came whisper number two--a whisper more emphatic than number
one, but still untraceable to any tangible mouthpiece. This time the
whisper said that Van Twiller _was_ in love. But with whom? The list of
possible Mrs. Van Twillers was carefully examined by experienced hands,
and a check placed against a fine old Knickerbocker name here and there,
but nothing satisfactory arrived at. Then that same still small voice
of rumor, but now with an easily detected staccato sharpness to it, said
that Van Twiller was in love--with an actress! Van Twiller, whom it had
taken all these years and all this waste of raw material in the way of
ancestors to bring to perfection--Ralph Van Twiller, the net result
and flower of his race, the descendant of Wouter, the son of Mrs.
Van-rensselaer Vanzandt Van Twiller--in love with an actress! That was
too ridiculous to be believed--and so everybody believed it. Six
or seven members of the club abruptly discovered in themselves an
unsuspected latent passion for the histrionic art. In squads of two
or three they stormed successively all the theatres in town--Booth’s,
Wallack’s, Daly’s Fifth Avenue (not burnt down then), and the Grand
Opera House. Even the shabby homes of the drama over in the Bowery,
where the Germanic Thespis has not taken out his naturalization papers,
underwent rigid exploration. But no clue was found to Van Twiller’s
mysterious attachment. The _opéra bouffe_, which promised the widest
field for investigation, produced absolutely nothing, not even a crop
of suspicions. One night, after several weeks of this, Delaney and I
fancied that we caught sight of Van Twiller in the private box of an
up-town theatre, where some thrilling trapeze performance was going on,
which we did not care to sit through; but we concluded afterwards that
it was only somebody who looked like him. Delaney, by the way, was
unusually active in this search. I dare say he never quite forgave Van
Twiller for calling him Muslin Delaney. Ned is fond of ladies’ society,
and that’s a fact.

The Cimmerian darkness which surrounded Van Twiller’s inamorata left
us free to indulge in the wildest conjectures. Whether she was
black-tressed Melpomene, with bowl and dagger, or Thalia, with the fair
hair and the laughing face, was only to be guessed at. It was popularly
conceded, however, that Van Twiller was on the point of forming a
dreadful _mésalliance_.

Up to this period he had visited the club regularly. Suddenly he ceased
to appear. He was not to be seen on Fifth Avenue, or in the Central
Park, or at the houses he generally frequented. His chambers--and mighty
comfortable chambers they were--on Thirty-fourth Street were deserted.
He had dropped out of the world, shot like a bright particular star from
his orbit in the heaven of the best society.

The following conversation took place one night in the smoking-room:--

“Where’s Van Twiller?”

“Who’s seen Van Twiller?”

“What has become of Van Twiller?”

Delaney picked up the Evening Post, and read--with a solemnity that
betrayed young Firkins into exclaiming, “By Jove, now!”--

“Married, on the 10th instant, by the Rev. Friar Laurence, at the
residence of the bride’s uncle, Montague Capulet, Esq., Miss Adrienne Le
Couvreur to Mr. Ralph Van Twiller, both of this city. No cards.”

“Free List suspended,” murmured De Peyster.

“It strikes me,” said Frank Livingstone, who had been ruffling the
leaves of a magazine at the other end of the table, “that you fellows
are in a great fever about Van Twiller.”

“So we are.”

“Well, he has simply gone out of town.”

“Where?”

“Up to the old homestead on the Hudson.”

“It’s an odd time of year for a fellow to go into the country.”

“He has gone to visit his mother,” said Livingstone.

“In February?”

“I did n’t know, Delaney, that there was any statute in force
prohibiting a man from visiting his mother in February if he wants to.”

Delaney made some light remark about the pleasure of communing with
Nature with a cold in her head, and the topic was dropped.

Livingstone was hand in glove with Van Twilier, and if any man shared
his confidence it was Livingstone. He was aware of the gossip and
speculation that had been rife in the club, but he either was not at
liberty or did not think it worth while to relieve our curiosity. In the
course of a week or two it was reported that Van Twiller was going to
Europe; and go he did. A dozen of us went down to the Scythia to see him
off. It was refreshing to have something as positive as the fact that
Van Twiller had sailed.



II.

Shortly after Van Twiller’s departure the whole thing came out.
Whether Livingstone found the secret too heavy a burden, or whether it
transpired through some indiscretion on the part of Mrs. Vanrensselaer
Vanzandt Van Twiller, I cannot say; but one evening the entire story was
in the possession of the club.

Van Twiller had actually been very deeply interested--not in an actress,
for the legitimate drama was not her humble walk in life, but--in
Mademoiselle Olympe Zabriski, whose really perilous feats on the trapeze
had astonished New York the year before, though they had failed to
attract Delaney and me the night we wandered into the up-town theatre on
the trail of Van Twiller’s mystery.

That a man like Van Twiller should be fascinated even for an instant by
a common circus-girl seems incredible; but it is always the incredible
thing that happens. Besides, Mademoiselle Olympe was not a common
circus-girl; she was a most daring and startling gymnaste, with a beauty
and a grace of movement that gave to her audacious performance almost
an air of prudery. Watching her wondrous dexterity and pliant strength,
both exercised without apparent effort, it seemed the most natural
proceeding in the world that she should do those unpardonable things.
She had a way of melting from one graceful posture into another, like
the dissolving figures thrown from a stereopticon. She was a lithe,
radiant shape out of the Grecian mythology, now poised up there above
the gaslights, and now gleaming through the air like a slender gilt
arrow.

I am describing Mademoiselle Olympe as she appeared to Van Twiller
on the first occasion when he strolled into the theatre where she was
performing. To me she was a girl of eighteen or twenty years of age
(maybe she was much older, for pearl-powder and distance keep these
people perpetually young), slightly but exquisitely built, with sinews
of silver wire; rather pretty, perhaps, after a manner, but showing
plainly the effects of the exhaustive drafts she was making on her
physical vitality. Now, Van Twiller was an enthusiast on the subject of
calisthenics. “If I had a daughter,” Van Twiller used to say, “I would
n’t send her to a boarding-school, or a nunnery; I ‘d send her to a
gymnasium for the first five years. Our American women have no physique.
They are lilies, pallid, pretty--and perishable. You marry an American
woman, and what do you marry? A headache. Look at English girls. They
are at least roses, and last the season through.” Walking home from the
theatre that first night, it flitted through Van Twiller’s mind that if
he could give this girl’s set of nerves and muscles to any one of the
two hundred high-bred women he knew, he would marry her on the spot and
worship her forever.

The following evening he went to see Mademoiselle Olympe again. “Olympe
Zabriski,” he soliloquized, as he sauntered through the lobby--“what a
queer name! Olympe is French, and Zabriski is Polish. It is her _nom de
guerre_, of course; her real name is probably Sarah Jones. What kind of
creature can she be in private life, I wonder? I wonder if she wears
that costume all the time, and if she springs to her meals from a
horizontal bar. Of course she rocks the baby to sleep on the trapeze.”
 And Van Twiller went on making comical domestic tableaux of Mademoiselle
Zabriski, like the clever, satirical dog he was, until the curtain rose.

This was on a Friday. There was a matinée the next day, and he attended
that, though he had secured a seat for the usual evening entertainment.
Then it became a habit of Van Twiller’s to drop into the theatre for
half an hour or so every night, to assist at the interlude, in which
she appeared. He cared only for her part of the programme, and timed his
visits accordingly. It was a surprise to himself when he reflected, one
morning, that he had not missed a single performance of Mademoiselle
Olympe for nearly two weeks.

“This will never do,” said Van Twiller. “Olympe”--he called her
Olympe, as if she were an old acquaintance, and so she might have been
considered by that time--“is a wonderful creature; but this will never
do. Van, my boy, you must reform this altogether.”

But half past nine that night saw him in his accustomed orchestra
chair, and so on for another week. A habit leads a man so gently in the
beginning that he does not perceive he is led--with what silken threads
and down what pleasant avenues it leads him! By and by the soft silk
threads become iron chains, and the pleasant avenues Avernus!

Quite a new element had lately entered into Van Twiller’s enjoyment of
Mademoiselle Olympe’s ingenious feats--a vaguely born apprehension
that she might slip from that swinging bar; that one of the thin cords
supporting it might snap, and let her go headlong from the dizzy height.
Now and then, for a terrible instant, he would imagine her lying a
glittering, palpitating heap at the foot-lights, with no color in her
lips! Sometimes it seemed as if the girl were tempting this kind of
fate. It was a hard, bitter life, and nothing but poverty and sordid
misery at home could have driven her to it. What if she should end it
all some night, by just unclasping that little hand? It looked so small
and white from where Van Twiller sat!

This frightful idea fascinated while it chilled him, and helped to
make it nearly impossible for him to keep away from the theatre. In the
beginning his attendance had not interfered with his social duties or
pleasures; but now he came to find it distasteful after dinner to do
anything but read, or walk the streets aimlessly, until it was time to
go to the play. When that was over, he was in no mood to go anywhere but
to his rooms. So he dropped away by insensible degrees from his habitual
haunts, was missed, and began to be talked about at the club. Catching
some intimation of this, he ventured no more in the orchestra stalls,
but shrouded himself behind the draperies of the private box in which
Delaney and I thought we saw him on one occasion.

Now, I find it very perplexing to explain what Van Twiller was wholly
unable to explain to himself. He was not in love with Mademoiselle
Olympe. He had no wish to speak to her, or to hear her speak. Nothing
could have been easier, and nothing further from his desire, than
to know her personally. A Van Twiller personally acquainted with a
strolling female acrobat! Good heavens I That was something possible
only with the discovery of perpetual motion. Taken from her theatrical
setting, from her lofty perch, so to say, on the trapeze-bar, Olympe
Zabriski would have shocked every aristocratic fibre in Van Twiller’s
body. He was simply fascinated by her marvellous grace and _élan_, and
the magnetic recklessness of the girl. It was very young in him and very
weak, and no member of the Sorosis, or all the Sorosisters together,
could have been more severe on Van Twiller than he was on himself. To be
weak, and to know it, is something of a punishment for a proud man. Van
Twiller took his punishment, and went to the theatre, regularly.

“When her engagement comes to an end,” he meditated, “that will finish
the business.”

Mademoiselle Olympe’s engagement finally did come to an end, and
she departed. But her engagement had been highly beneficial to the
treasury-chest of the up-town theatre, and before Van Twiller could get
over missing her she had returned from a short Western tour, and her
immediate reappearance was underlined on the play-bills.

On a dead-wall opposite the windows of Van Twiller’s sleeping-room there
appeared, as if by necromancy, an aggressive poster with Mademoiselle
Olympe Zabriski on it in letters at least a foot high. This thing stared
him in the face when he woke up, one morning. It gave him a sensation as
if she had called on him overnight, and left her card.

From time to time through the day he regarded that poster with a
sardonic eye. He had pitilessly resolved not to repeat the folly of the
previous month. To say that this moral victory cost him nothing would
be to deprive it of merit. It cost him many internal struggles. It is
a fine thing to see a man seizing his temptation by the throat, and
wrestling with it, and trampling it under foot like St. Anthony. This
was the spectacle Van Twiller was exhibiting to the angels.

The evening Mademoiselle Olympe was to make her reappearance, Van
Twiller, having dined at the club, and feeling more like himself than
he had felt for weeks, returned to his chamber, and, putting on
dressing-gown and slippers, piled up the greater portion of his library
about him, and fell to reading assiduously. There is nothing like a
quiet evening at home with some slight intellectual occupation, after
one’s feathers have been stroked the wrong way.

When the lively French clock on the mantel-piece--a base of malachite
surmounted by a flying bronze Mercury with its arms spread gracefully on
the air, and not remotely suggestive of Mademoiselle Olympe in the
act of executing her grand flight from the trapeze--when the clock,
I repeat, struck nine, Van Twilier paid no attention to it. That was
certainly a triumph. I am anxious to render Van Twiller all the justice
I can, at this point of the narrative, inasmuch as when the half hour
sounded musically, like a crystal ball dropping into a silver bowl,
he rose from the chair automatically, thrust his feet into his
walking-shoes, threw his overcoat across his arm, and strode out of the
room.

To be weak and to scorn your weakness, and not to be able to conquer
it, is, as has been said, a hard thing; and I suspect it was not with
unalloyed satisfaction that Van Twiller found himself taking his seat
in the back part of the private box night after night during the second
engagement of Mademoiselle Olympe. It was so easy not to stay away!

In this second edition of Van Twiller’s fatuity, his case was even
worse than before. He not only thought of Olympo quite a number of
times between breakfast and dinner, he not only attended the interlude
regularly, but he began, in spite of himself, to occupy his leisure
hours at night by dreaming of her. This was too much of a good thing,
and Van Twiller regarded it so. Besides, the dream was always the
same--a harrowing dream, a dream singularly adapted to shattering the
nerves of a man like Van Twiller. He would imagine himself seated at the
theatre (with all the members of Our Club in the parquette), watching
Mademoiselle Olympe as usual, when suddenly that young lady would launch
herself desperately from the trapeze, and come flying through the air
like a firebrand hurled at his private box. Then the unfortunate man
would wake up with cold drops standing on his forehead.

There is one redeeming feature in this infatuation of Van Twiller’s
which the sober moralist will love to look upon--the serene
unconsciousness of the person who caused it. She went through her _rôle_
with admirable aplomb, drew her salary, it may be assumed, punctually,
and appears from first to last to have been ignorant that there was
a miserable slave wearing her chains nightly in the left-hand
proscenium-box.

That Van Twiller, haunting the theatre with the persistency of an
ex-actor, conducted himself so discreetly as not to draw the fire of
Mademoiselle Olympe’s blue eyes shows that Van Twiller, however deeply
under a spell, was not in love. I say this, though I think if Van
Twiller had not been Van Twiller, if he had been a man of no family and
no position and no money, if New York had been Paris and Thirty-fourth
Street a street in the Latin Quarter--but it is useless to speculate on
what might have happened. What did happen is sufficient.

It happened, then, in the second week of Queen Olympe’s second
unconscious reign, that an appalling Whisper floated up the Hudson,
effected a landing at a point between Spuyten Duyvel Creek and Cold
Spring, and sought out a stately mansion of Dutch architecture standing
on the bank of the river. The Whisper straightway informed the lady
dwelling in this mansion that all was not well with the last of the Van
Twillers; that he was gradually estranging himself from his peers, and
wasting his nights in a play-house watching a misguided young woman
turning unmaidenly somersaults on a piece of wood attached to two ropes.

Mrs. Vanrensselaer Vanzandt Van Twiller came down to town by the next
train to look into this little matter.

She found the flower of the family taking an early breakfast, at 11 a.m.,
in his cosey apartments on Thirty-fourth Street. With the least
possible circumlocution she confronted him with what rumor had reported
of his pursuits, and was pleased, but not too much pleased, when he
gave her an exact account of his relations with Mademoiselle Zabriski,
neither concealing nor qualifying anything. As a confession, it was
unique, and might have been a great deal less entertaining. Two or three
times in the course of the narrative, the matron had some difficulty
in preserving the gravity of her countenance. After meditating a few
minutes, she tapped Van Twiller softly on the arm with the tip of her
parasol, and invited him to return with her the next day up the Hudson
and make a brief visit at the home of his ancestors. He accepted the
invitation with outward alacrity and inward disgust.

When this was settled, and the worthy lady had withdrawn, Van Twiller
went directly to the establishment of Messrs Ball, Black, and Company,
and selected, with unerring taste, the finest diamond bracelet
procurable. For his mother? Dear me, no! She had the family jewels.

I would not like to state the enormous sum Van Twiller paid for this
bracelet. It was such a clasp of diamonds as would have hastened
the pulsation of a patrician wrist. It was such a bracelet as Prince
Camaralzaman might have sent to the Princess Badoura, and the Princess
Badoura--might have been very glad to get.

In the fragrant Levant morocco case, where these happy jewels lived when
they were at home, Van Twiller thoughtfully placed his card, on the back
of which he had written a line begging Mademoiselle Olympe Zabriski to
accept the accompanying trifle from one who had witnessed her
graceful performances with interest and pleasure. This was not done
inconsiderately. “Of course I must enclose my card, as I would to any
lady,” Van Twiller had said to himself. “A Van Twiller can neither write
an anonymous letter nor make an anonymous present.” Blood entails its
duties as well As its privileges.

The casket despatched to its destination, Van Twiller felt easier in his
mind. He was under obligations to the girl for many an agreeable hour
that might otherwise have passed heavily. He had paid the debt, and he
had paid it _en prince_, as became a Van Twiller. He spent the rest of
the day in looking at some pictures at Goupil’s, and at the club, and in
making a few purchases for his trip up the Hudson. A consciousness
that this trip up the Hudson was a disorderly retreat came over him
unpleasantly at intervals.

When he returned to his rooms late at night, he found a note lying
on the writing-table. He started as his eye caught the words “------
Theatre” stamped in carmine letters on one corner of the envelope. Van
Twiller broke the seal with trembling fingers.

Now, this note some time afterwards fell into the hands of Livingstone,
who showed it to Stuyvesant, who showed it to Delaney, who showed it to
me, and I copied it as a literary curiosity. The note ran as follows:--

     Mr. Van Twiller,

     Dear SiR--i am verry greatfull to you for that Bracelett. it
     come just in the nic of time for me. The Mademoiselle
     Zabriski dodg is about Plaid out. my beard is getting to
     much for me. i shall have to grow a mustash and take to some
     other line of busyness, I dont no what now, but will let you
     no. You wont feel bad if i sell that Bracelett. i have seen
     Abrahams Moss and he says he will do the square thing. Pleas
     accep my thanks for youre Beautifull and Unexpected present.

     Youre respectfull servent,

     Charles Montmorenci Walters.

The next day Van Twiller neither expressed nor felt any unwillingness to
spend a few weeks with his mother at the old homestead.

And then he went abroad.





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