lived only to work, struggle, sweat, eat cold veal and supplicate applause. They saturated themselves with Patchouli or Bouquet de la Reine, wore holy medals round their necks, crossed themselves before dancing, darned their own tights and mended their own shoes.
They all hoped to become coryphées one day. Further than that their ambition seemed unable to carry them, and when Lina assured them that one day she meant to become a prima ballerina assoluta they screamed with laughter. Yet, every night, they watched a great star, Elssler, with an almost abnormal attention. A great star, already waning. Elssler, not yet forty, prematurely battered by the frightful strain of her American tours, tired, nervous, irritable, magnificent. From afar Lina worshiped her, as a goddess. Elssler, "the Spaniard from the North," the secretly hated Austrian, dancing in a nest, a stronghold, of Italian patriots.
And then one night came a crisis. Like a storm cloud, dark, mutinous, threatening, Elssler's nervous temper had long been seething against the Opera-House of Milan, against its people, its politics, its pötins, its patriotism. And when the storm at last broke in a veritable crash of thunder it was precipitated by nothing more momentous than the mild gesture of a recently created Pope, who, benevolently disposed toward a famous national institution, presented on the first night of Faust a medal struck in his image to every member of the ballet.
Elssler left the stage after her first dance trembling with ill-concealed fury.
"I am Austrian—I have been insulted. Unless those girls take off their medals I shall not dance again to-night. Do you hear? You can send at once for my understudy!"
"But, Madame, you are being unreasonable!"
"Do you hear? Those medals! I shall not dance until they are thrown away!"