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Chapter 41

It was spring in London and even in this tired and dusty city the air seemed fresh with the scent of the lilac that was soon to bloom. There was sun, and there were sparrows chirping from the eaves of buildings, and costers selling dafïodils and bluebells from barrows in the street. Punch and Judy jigged vivaciously in their tiny toy theater, Italian pedlers wandered the pavements with trays of piaster images, the Park was thronged with stately carriages, and already sheep grazed in flocks upon the green slopes of Kensington Gardens.

Across the Channel the guns, that had thundered so relentlessly, were still, for the siege of Paris was almost forgotten, after five long years; Sedan was seldom talked of; the Emperor of the French was dead; and his Empire, the playground of so many strange and bizarre figures, had crumbled like so much dust, so that these people, with all their noise and color and theatrical exuberance, existed only as a memory, thrust for ever from the limelight of their epoch, dead, forgotten, ruined, banished.

The only vivid figure of the period to survive was that of Varsovina the dancer.

She, who had coquetted with Morny, who had smoked cigarettes with the Emperor himself, who had kissed Eugénie's jeweled hand, fondled the baby Prince Imperial, she who had supped with Offenbach, who had so often entertained other, less reputable figures of the era,—Cora Pearl, Margot la Rigoleuse, Thérèse of the Alcazar,—she who had danced in theaters all blue and silver with the dazzling uniform of the Cent Gardes, now found herself, after the black disaster of the Franco-