Ball of Fat 28
The women drew together; they lowered their voices, and the discussion became
general, each giving his or her opinion. But the conversation was not in the
least coarse. The ladies, in particular, were adepts at delicate phrases and
charming subtleties of expression to describe the most improper things. A
stranger would have understood none of their allusions, so guarded was the
language they employed. But, seeing that the thin veneer of modesty with which
every woman of the world is furnished goes but a very little way below the
surface, they began rather to enjoy this unedifying episode, and at bottom were
hugely delighted —feeling themselves in their element, furthering the schemes of
lawless love with the gusto of a gourmand cook who prepares supper for another.
Their gaiety returned of itself, so amusing at last did the whole business seem to them. The count uttered several rather risky witticisms, but so tactfully were they said that his audience could not help smiling. Loiseau in turn made some considerably broader jokes, but no one took offence; and the thought expressed with such brutal directness by his wife was uppermost in the minds of all: "Since it's the girl's trade, why should she refuse this man more than another?" Dainty Madame Carre-Lamadon seemed to think even that in Ball of Fat's place she would be less inclined to refuse him than another.
The blockade was as carefully arranged as if they were investing a fortress. Each agreed on the role which he or she was to play, the arguments to be used, the maneuvers to be executed. They decided on the plan of campaign, the stratagems they were to employ, and the surprise attacks which were to reduce this human citadel and force it to receive the enemy within its walls.
But Cornudet remained apart from the rest, taking no share in the plot.
So absorbed was the attention of all that Ball of Fat's entrance was almost unnoticed. But the count whispered a gentle "Hush!" which made the others look up. She was there. They suddenly stopped talking, and a vague embarrassment prevented them for a few moments from addressing her. But the countess, more practiced than the others in the wiles of the drawing-room, asked her:
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