A lady, young, fresh, extremely pretty and stylishly though quietly dressed, tripped daintily along a street in the neighbourhood of the Madeleine, in Paris, then disappeared into a respectable house, ran quickly up the stairs to the first floor and nervously pressed the button of the electric bell.
The tinkle had hardly ceased when the door was open by a neat maid who ushered the visitor into a handsome drawing-room in which were assembled sundry other ladies, all young and fashionably dressed, but all wearing the pre-occupied air of persons about to have an interview with, say, their doctor or their solicitor.
Presently, as if awaiting the new-comer, the mistress of the house appeared — tall, slender, exquisitely attired in black silk with a dainty head-dress of the style adopted by many English ladies of a certain age, possibly because of the undoubted air of distinction it confers. She smiled pleasantly at her young visitor as she shook hands with her; then with a murmured apology, she turned towards two of the other ladies and said: 'Your friends have arrived and are awaiting you M — whereupon they rose and retired, smiling their thanks.
Turning again to her young visitor, she said affectionately: — 'My dear, some one is waiting also to see you, a gentleman, one of my best friends. If you are willing to let him make your acquaintance, I shall be happy to introduce him to you.'
This 'good friend' was none other than myself! The house belonged to Madame de Saint-Edme, the most obliging of women and also the most tactful of her sex in the delicate mission of creating and establishing the most intimate of relations between persons of opposite sexes who desired to avail themselves of such services. To pretty women pressed for money or inconvenienced by their sexual appetites and desires, to mistresses 'en titre' seeking to increase or supplement their alimony, and to married women who found their allowances insufficient or their husbands' powers not equal to the marital duties desired from them, Mme. de Saint-Edme's discreet chambers offered the safest and pleasantest of opportunities for the acceptance incognito of financial or other assistance from gentlemen. Similarly she was ready to provide for gentlemen of amorous proclivities satisfactory opportunities of satisfying their carnal desires by the favours of impecunious ladies — thus avoiding on the one side a lengthy pursuit and on the other resistance before surrender.
Further again, those who loved to indulge in Lesbian practices found at her house a convenient rendezvous where they could revel in the enjoyment of their sweet fantasy with the wished-for object of their desire, or (in her absence) they could there without difficulty come across girls who understood and shared their tastes, and who desired nothing better than to either bestow or receive the lingual caresses so dear to tribades, lending themselves adorably to either of the two functions.
To old and trusted habitues (the younger fry being absolutely debarred unless there was not the slightest doubt as to their fidelity and discretion) she allowed the privilege of assisting at Lesbian-Priapus fetes and representations to which were also invited such ladies as wished to be present and whose discretion was assured — the lively feminine contingent knowing they had nothing to fear on such occasions where modesty was conspicuous by its absence.
She for who I was waiting was, according to Mme. de Saint-Edme, a debutante in libertinage who had so far honoured her house once only with her presence. Said Mme. de Saint-Edme to me:
'I wanted you to be first to enjoy her, but you were unfortunately in the country when she finally plucked up her courage to visit me, having disappointed me twice previously. I wished very much that one of my good friends had been then on the spot, but alas, there were none! — And from fear of letting her slip away again, I introduced a casual visitor to her and she let him enjoy her! It was a rare good piece of luck for him, but now, at all events, we have caught our little bird.'
Despite her cynically immoral principles, this excellent woman had the considerate delicacy to let her lady clients have a peep in secret at their respective proposed male companions, to decide whether they were pleased with them. Some fancied dark men, others fair — some admired beards, others preferred the simple moustache. Hot blooded and passionate women sought for muscular strength coupled with distinction; cold blooded ones were more solicitous about the price they would receive for their favours. To these latter, the preliminary peep was only a formality of secondary importance.
It is no use to run counter to tastes — to clash with caprices. The ladies that were satisfied by their preliminary peep were forthwith conducted to the destined chamber and the introduction effected, a similar privilege and opportunity of inspecting his proposed lady companion having been accorded to the male client.
But as a rule these preliminaries were purely formal — thanks to the care that Mme. de Saint-Edme took to bring together suitable partners, — thanks also to the skill with which she described to each in turn the charms of the other. And when the happy man was conducted to the allotted chamber (carefully furnished with every requirement a loving pair could desire) arid introduced to the lady (who invariably made a pretence of doing needlework or reading when he was ushered in) Mme. de Saint-Edme would disappear, the sequel not concerning her.
But when it was a case of a debutante she took care never to be far away! — for it was at the critical moment that the courage of the former failed them. 'No! no! — not now! — not to-day! — 'they would not infrequently exclaim — and run out of the room. Then Mme. de Saint-Edme would intercept them in the corridor, — and by means of her soothing caresses and persuasive words, she would induce them to stay. Then she would take them to another room and induce them to undress, — then whisper soothingly and encouragingly: 'Now dear, you are all right — I will go and bring him myself to you!' — and the episode would terminate with a bout of love made all the more delicious by the ardour imparted to the lover by a resistance that could only indicate that the girl he was about to enjoy was a novice in such matters!
But it must not be supposed that all the debutantes gave this trouble. After their second — and very often on their first visit — the majority of girls would not make any serious resistance to even the most audacious and libertine actions of their male companions. Very often indeed, instead of resorting to airs of startled innocence in order to stimulate their partner's lust, they would endeavour to attain to the same end by arraying themselves in the most provocative and decollete costumes! Among her other virtues, Mme. de Saint-Edme was able to give the best of advice as to the toilette to be adopted towards this end. It was not for nothing that she had been for years in one of the leading Parisian modiste's establishments.
In this situation, she had amassed much by pecuniary gifts from the clientele, both for her suggestions and still more for her services as a 'broker-in-love,' and the friendly relations she thus inspired invariably remained unimpaired.
On this occasion the lady whose favours had been retained for me had simply removed her hat, and I held mine respectfully in my hand while being introduced to her in the following words — 'My dear, let me introduce to you the gentleman and friend regarding whom I have spoken to you!'
She turned to greet me, when — good Heaven! — I recognised a young cousin of mine! In our preliminary peeps we had seen each other but imperfectly, — her face had been in a great measure hidden by her matinee hat while it was no doubt my beard that made her fail to recognise me, for many years had passed since we had seen each other.
'Why? — it is you, Gilberte!'
I was puzzled to know what to do! Would it be advisable straightway to respect her and give up any attempt to induce her to accord to me favours she had evidently come prepared to accord to a stranger? Or should I treat her as if she was of easy morality, and without circumlocution address to her proposals that I would have made to any other woman I met under similar circumstances, and which I was justified in assuming would not be unwelcome to her? But women are so odd, their ideas of morality so extraordinary! — and some who would in occasions submit themselves without hesitation to the grossest lubricity would on other occasions resent the least