Frédéric Boutet: The Fortuneteller (part one)
Mme Lazzarra, the famous sorceress, the incomparable seer, was that morning at home, quite tranquil. As by habit, she was on the verge of taking her little cup of café au lait. At her side, lapping daintily from a saucer of hot milk, was the pug Guland (it is the name of a demon), called by her Gugu, cherished tenderly, to excess…and fattened on bacon and tidbits his truffling nose discovered.
All was well.
A bell sounded. The servant Gloria (it is the name of a she-demon), whose coppery complexion and great dark eyes allowed her to pass for Bohemian, for all she’d been born at Clichy, went to the door. Conversation ensued, and Gloria came back to explain that it was “a very good gentleman”, who had not come to consult, but insisted on being received. She omitted to say he’d given her one hundred sous, and, as she wore no corset, a pinch at the waist.
Mme Lazzarra, mildly intrigued, received the gentleman after a wait of twenty minutes, which she employed to make herself battle-ready. As he’d claimed he did not come for a consultation, she received him in her dining room, and at once the visitor, a man of thirty-five or thirty-eight, looking both rich and fashionable, began to speak:
“Madame, excuse me for pushing in at your door, but this is the reason for my visit. You are soon to receive for a reading two women who by letter requested an appointment…”
“Professional secrets…” said Madame Lazzarra.
“Of course,” said the gentleman. “It is professional secrecy I invoke and beg you to observe the most perfect discretion, as to the subject I shall relate. For this is also in your own interest. You take, I know, fifty francs per consultation, costly as any celebrated doctor, when you give the full show, those tra-la-la incantations, that conjuring of demons and falling into the highest category of lucid trance…as you will soon be about. Well, I come to make you an offer. Above the fifty you receive from your visitors, I will give you, for each, one hundred francs, on the condition you prophesy just as I direct.”
“Monsieur,” said Mme Lazzarra. “The dignity of the science…”
“But no. Please don’t waste my time. You are a remarkably intelligent woman. One could not create herself a pythoness in the midst of all modernity, of automobiles, airplanes, politics, without being a woman of remarkable intelligence. And you will appreciate… Of the two young women you’re about to receive, one is my wife. The other is her best friend. I wish to seduce my wife’s best friend. Now, you understand me?”
“Why, shame!” cried Mme Lazzarra, her disapproval feigned.
“Not at all. She is pretty as anything. My wife is brunette, beautiful, imposing, cold, reserved. Her best friend—her name is Irene—is blonde, rosy, smiling, impressionable, nervous, timid… Her heart is left untended, and what’s more she is married to a well-to-do man who never sees her, passes his life with his affairs in Paris, in the provinces, abroad… Then, as I know the extraordinary impression produced on women by the trappings of your predictions, and if I give you for these two of mine all the details and information that will allow you to astonish them from the start…
“I want you to tell the best friend everything that will throw her into my arms. You see the idea…the misunderstood little soul abandoned, tenderness unknown, her right to be happy, her need for a restoring love, the irrevocable destiny that pushes her towards passion embodied… She must watch for a heart of fire that will consume her (that is me, the passion and the heart of fire). Insist above all on the irrevocable destiny that brings her to her love…you do not name me, bear in mind. You describe me vaguely, that will do. She’ll see it. I have come near enough to courting her, but without saying never, she hesitates, she searches herself, she has scruples for the sake of Andrée, my wife. Destroy her scruples, reverse her hesitations, pitch to ardor these sentiments enveloping her, and assure her she is conquered already, fated to an all-powerful love that will illuminate the monotony of her life… Agreed?”
Very gravely Mme Lazzarra spoke, for she had taken his part. “The argument you make to me is so extraordinary that I can only regard it as a manifestation of the otherworldly powers that rule human destiny. I will therefore obey. And what shall I say to the brunette?”
“Oh! Anything you like that is calming, restful. Not the least danger of a fling, because I am fiercely jealous. Please her, tell her I adore her, that she has a model husband, a pearl of virtue who loves no one but her, sees no one, thinks of no one, even when his affairs make him a little negligent. That will do very nicely. That will quiet her down. Then I’ll be free, and I need my liberty to have my way with our best friend.”
He took two hundred-franc notes from his billfold, offered them discreetly to Mme Lazzarra, who accepted them even more discreetly. He then tendered the information on the lives of the two young women, won promise from the pythoness of making him a powerful claim, and took his leave, with an, “enchanté”.
Mme Lazzarra, no less enchanted for the notable profit, made her preparations, applying herself first to a comfortable lunch. But a frightful accident—that could have resulted in a fatality—threw havoc into her quietude.
(2020, translation, Stephanie Foster)