DANCE OF THE RESTLESS SOUL
By Author Ren’e Fedyna
© 2019 Rene Fedyna All Rights Reserved
The horse-drawn carriage transporting Lola La Fontaine and her chaperone Teresa Cortes stopped outside the sprawling three-story Paris townhouse of Madame Morveaux. They arrived as scheduled for one of Madame’s frequent afternoon parties.
Lola scowled. “Teresa, why must we attend Madame’s party? I am bored already and we have not even entered.”
“You ask this question every day.” Teresa sighed. “You know it is required that everyone of your station attend these afternoon parties. Try to enjoy yourself, but for goodness sake, no more pranks!”
“But I love to watch the expression on Madame Morveaux’s face when I embarrass her.”
Teresa shook her head. “You will soon be sixteen years of age and no longer a child. It is time you acted responsibly. Your father is a government minister. You do not want to cause him embarrassment, do you?”
Her dimpled smile highlighted the mischief in Lola’s sapphire eyes. “Papá does not have to know, does he?”
“Enough stalling! We must go inside. Just try to behave yourself!”
Together they stepped into the rotunda entrance hall that opened to reception rooms. Lola enjoyed the wary look on Madame Morveaux’s face when she greeted her. She knew the Madame expected her to cause trouble and Lola planned not to disappoint her.
When Teresa left the salon to relieve herself, Lola sneaked into the kitchen and seated herself at the massive wooden table to joke with the servants.
Lola wasn’t surprised when Teresa marched in with a frazzled expression. “What are you doing in here?”
She exhaled a puff of cigarette smoke and smiled. “Spending time with my friends.”
“What did you say to Madame Morveaux? I saw her rush red-faced from this direction.”
“Oh, Teresa, you are needlessly upset. We were just having fun with that nosey old woman. She followed me in here and watched me light a cigarette. When she said I should be ashamed of myself, hiding in here blowing smoke with the servants, I said, Madame, I am only blowing cigarette smoke. I hear you blow other things with your servants!” Lola glanced at the servants and giggled. “Then the old boar ran from the kitchen.”
Teresa suppressed a smile when she put out Lola’s cigarette. “You cannot continue this behavior. It is not proper!”
Lola winked at the servants and allowed Teresa to lead her from the kitchen.
In the main salon, Teresa hastened to Madame Morveaux to apologize for Lola’s behavior. Lola circled the room to display her low-cut décolleté, delighting in the attention of the young men who admired her bosom. Lola welcomed the venomous stares of jealous eyes in the arrogant faces of haughty women who whispered to each other behind their fans.
Teresa rushed to Lola. “You have had enough amusement. It is time to leave. You must practice and you do not want to keep your opera coach waiting.”
“Why should I leave when I am having so much fun?”
“You promised to sing at your father’s dinner party. You know he loves your beautiful voice. His chest swells with pride when you sing to his important friends.”
Lola shrugged. “You are right. I am only too happy to escape from these pompous ninnies.”
* * *
Bored with the familiar scenery on their return route along the Boulevard de Grenelle, Lola gazed out of the carriage window and yawned. When she noticed a crowd she wondered, What is going on there? Is he a… She shouted, “Stop! Stop! I want to get out!”
Teresa began to object until she saw the crowd of onlookers surrounding a street entertainer.
Followed by Teresa, Lola jumped from the carriage and pushed her way to the front of the crowd.
“Look, Teresa! How wonderful he is.”
“Oui, ma chérie, he is wonderful.”
Lola watched with eager attention as he sang and danced. She tried to memorize the movements of his feet and how he gestured to his audience. She scrutinized the expressions on the faces in the crowd, striving to understand what caused them to give their best reactions. Lola loved to watch street performers and judged their abilities by the delight on the faces of their audience.
“Hurry, Teresa, I must get back and practice.”
They returned to their two-story Neoclassical style townhouse in the fashionable Faubourg Saint-Germain district, where the oldest and most prestigious families resided.
Lola ran to her bedroom. Although her designated second-floor bedroom was larger, she loved this ground floor room with its French doors that opened onto a splendid garden replete with flowers, statues, fountains and symmetrically designed plant beds connected by paths.
Before Teresa could help her, Lola removed her hat and placed it on a side table next to pretty miniatures and small books in leather bindings. She tossed her cloak onto her Louis XV style bed and stood before the tall, finely carved, giltwood mirror. Lola fluffed the white embroidered ruffles at the square-cut neck of her dress, closed her eyes and imagined she was about to perform before a great audience.
Teresa hung the cloak in the closet among dozens of hand-sewn dresses and then seated herself on the raspberry damask chair near the French doors that looked out onto the garden.
Lola mimicked the street performer repeatedly until she thought her performance resembled his routine, then added gestures she recounted from other entertainers she had seen. She turned to Teresa. “What do you think? Am I ready for the stage?”
Teresa’s dark eyes sparkled with mirth. She applauded and said, “Oh yes, ma petite, you are a fabulous entertainer. But now you must practice with your opera coach.”
Lola dismissed this comment with a wave of her hand. “It is not opera lessons I want. I want to perform on the great stages of Europe and America, like the singer Lillian Russell and the dancer Lola Montez.”
Teresa frowned. “Ma chérie, you know I want that for you too, but it is impossible.”
“Why is it impossible? You say I have the talent.”
“Ma petite, your father would never allow you to become an entertainer. You are the daughter of the Finance Minister of France. You must maintain the dignity of your position.”
“Is it my position to be bored to death? To go to mindless parties?”
“I thought you enjoyed parties and balls. You always seem so delighted.”
“I love to dress and go to parties and balls and to hear the whispered gossip of scandals and love affairs. But these people are so shallow. We are all expected to act in the same boring way. And the social calls we must make every day are the worst. We see the same people and talk about the same things.” In a snotty tone, Lola mimicked them. “I gave my best ball gowns to the pauper’s charity. Oh, but I sent tons of food scraps to the poor orphans. Did you see madame’s new hat? It is so ugly!
These pompous women do nothing but devote their time to frivolous chatter. No one tries to do or say anything unique because they fear they will be scandalized. Why should I care what they think of me? That is if they can think at all!”
The faint lines in Teresa’s face etched deeper as she tried to restrain her exasperation. Lola had seen that look often and knew she was about to get a lecture.
“Lola, you must care what people think of you. Your father would be humiliated should his daughter not be accepted in society. You love him and would not want to hurt him.”
“Why should these people care what I do? It is none of their business! What is wrong with performing before an audience? After all, I perform for Papá and his colleagues—”
“Performing for your father is a private affair. You are performing in a dignified setting amongst your peers. It is a different thing than performing in a music hall.”
“What is the difference?”
“You belong to the top hierarchy of society, which means you have many privileges, but you are also required to conform to the required code of behavior. To do anything else would upset the balance of society. You would be an outcast, someone only to be scoffed at, whispered about and ridiculed.”
Lola stomped her foot and shouted, Why should I care about the arrogant imbeciles who think I must be just like them? Those women, they are empty inside, they have no soul. I have a fire inside me, a fire that drives me. I want to be an entertainer!”
“You know that is impossible! You are betrothed to the Marquis and, when the time is right, you will be his wife.”
“Betrothed! Am I chattel to be sold to the highest bidder? This is 1880, not the Middle Ages! I do not want to be his wife! I am only fifteen—it will be years before I must marry.”
“Lola, it is wonderful to have a dream but you must also understand reality. To do anything but obey your father’s wishes would cause him great pain. He loves you as he loves life itself, as you love him. You do not wish to hurt him, so forget this foolishness and save yourself heartache. Now, your opera coach is waiting. You must get ready for him.”
Lola cursed under her breath. She stormed from her bedroom to meet her opera coach. She never liked Professor Umberto Bellini. He had no sense of humor and he sniffed as if he were smelling something bad. She had little interest in opera, but her singing gave her father great pleasure and so she pursued it. But Lola was bored with her lessons. To alleviate her boredom, she would invent ways of frustrating her professor by repeatedly interjecting phrases of popular music into her warm-up exercises or by purposely singing off-key. However, her performance this evening was important to her father, so she was the perfect student.
Relieved when her lesson had ended, Lola couldn’t wait to bathe and dress for the concert. She perused her closet and disregarded the handsome brocades, lush satins, velvets and soft woolens. Lola selected a new white accordion-pleated chiffon gown custom made by her favorite Rue de la Paix fashion house. She chose it because it emphasized her lustrous black hair, alabaster complexion and narrow waist.
* * *
When Lola stepped into the dome-ceilinged dining hall, her father, Émile, and his guests rose from their silk-embroidered dining chairs. Lola received their lavish compliments with a charismatic smile, but thought, These men, they are such hypocrites. If I sang at the Folies Bergère they would spurn me and treat me like a pauper!
Lola offered a genuine smile to Émile when, with an elegant flair, he took her hand and escorted her to the seat next to his.
Before them, a sumptuous table had been set with lovely gilt-edged silver plates, Venetian goblets and fine crystal. An attentive staff catered to them as they enjoyed the finest wines and dined on an elaborate array of vegetables, roasted meats, grilled fish, fabulous desserts and aperitifs to accompany the extravagant dinner.
After dinner, they withdrew to the music room where chairs were set around the piano. Lola stood by the finely crafted piano designed by the acclaimed artist Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema, adorned with mother-of-pearl inlay and with an exquisitely hand-carved case, top lid and legs.
Seated at the piano, Professor Bellini awaited Lola’s nod to begin.
Lola thought, If it would not embarrass Papá, I would sing a bawdy song just to see the reaction on the faces of these oafs!
Her father sat near her, smartly dressed as always, gallant and distinguished with his close-cropped beard and wavy, brown hair. She smiled at him and he returned her smile. His soft brown eyes were filled with pride and love and made her feel as if she could accomplish anything.
Lola began by singing Rosina’s cavatina, “Una voce poca fa” (“A voice a little while ago”), from her favorite opera Figaro. She identified with Rosina, the young ward of the grumpy, elderly Bartolo, who allowed her little freedom and planned to marry her once she came of age and thus appropriate her dowry. The opera ends happily with a marriage between Rosina and the man she loves.
She had been complimented often for her voice. Her father’s friends called it angelic and rich with a warm timbre. Lola loved how all eyes focused on her as she sang and watched for their pleased reaction when she tilted her head in a particular way or flexed her arms at a certain point in the aria. Lola knew that despite her father’s objections, one day she would be a famous performer.
Each night before bed, Lola sat at her tortoise shell vanity table and enjoyed the way Teresa brushed her long hair with loving care. Above the table hung an oval mirror made of matching finishes. On the table sat perfume bottles of varying shapes and sizes and a sterling silver hand mirror with raised decorations.
Lola regarded Teresa’s image in the mirror. “You always look so serene when you brush my hair.”
“That is because I remember brushing your mother’s hair when we lived in Spain. You look exactly like her, and sometimes I forget you are Lola and not Doña Dolores.”
Lola turned to Teresa. “Tell me about my mother.”
“Come sit with me.” Teresa took Lola’s hand and brought her to the raspberry velvet banquette near the French window framed by the delicate curtains of Leavers gold lace.
A smile, both tender and sad, appeared on Teresa’s aging face. Lola could sense Teresa missed her early life. “Just like you, your mother was beautiful. She had the same lustrous black hair and sapphire blue eyes. And, of course, the same dimples when she smiled. She was vivacious, with a quick wit and charming personality. When she walked into a room, everyone wanted to be near her. When I look at you, I see your mother’s face.”
Lola asked, “So, you have attended my mother as you have always attended me?”
“Yes, it had been my pleasure then, and it is my pleasure now.”
“Was Mamá happy?”
“Oh yes! She had an easy, melodious laugh and a gentle nature. Even though the marriage between your parents had been arranged, they fell in love from the moment your father arrived in Spain. Their wedding was performed at the Cathedral of Saint Mary of the Sea in Seville, one of the most beautiful cathedrals in the world. Your mother was exquisite in her wedding gown.”
“How did they come to live in Paris rather than in Spain?”
“As a Frenchman, your father’s life was here. He brought her to Paris where they enjoyed a wonderful life but were unable to have children for many years. When you came along, I was delighted that your mother arranged for me to care for you.
You were named Dolores after your mother, but since the day you were born, your father called you by the nickname, Lola. Even though he loved you, he said there could be only one Dolores "to fill his heart."
Lola felt tears well in her eyes. “I miss my mother. Do you think it would it be possible to meet my Spanish family?”
“No, ma chérie. They blamed your father for taking your mother from her loved ones. They said she died of a broken heart. Of course, that was not true. When they insisted that you that live with them, your father refused, and so, they disowned him.”
Teresa dried Lola’s tears with a handkerchief and kissed her forehead. “Now it is time for you to go to sleep and dream wonderful dreams.”
Lola awoke and rubbed her eyes to see Teresa engrossed in the newspaper. She sat on the banquette they had shared the previous evening. “Bonjour, Teresa, have you been there all night?”
“Bonjour, ma chérie. I entered your room this morning, expecting you would be wide awake and ready for breakfast. Did you have a good sleep?”
Lola sat up. “I had a fabulous dream! I performed on stage in a beautiful gown that sparkled in the light. All eyes were upon me, enjoying my performance. In the end, everyone stood, applauded and shouted, Lola! Lola! Lola!”
Teresa clapped her hands. “Ah, such a wonderful dream. Now it is time for you to make a performance at the breakfast table. Monsieur Marchand will be here soon to give you your scholastic lessons.”
Lola announced, “I have decided it is time for me to go to a cabaret.”
Teresa laughed. “Very funny. It is time for your breakfast.”
“I want to go to a cabaret!”
Teresa lowered the newspaper and removed her spectacles, “Ma petite, why on earth would you want to go to a cabaret?”
“I want to learn more than what I learn from street entertainers. It is time for me to learn from professional stage performers.”
Teresa narrowed her eyes. “¡Madre de Dios! Surely, you are joking!”
When she exclaimed frustration in her native Spanish, Lola knew that she had upset Teresa. But Lola continued. “What makes you think I am joking?”
“You are much too young to enter a cabaret.”
“Why do you say that?”
“There are some things a young girl should not see.”
“Teresa, you yourself said I am almost an adult, so is it not time for me to learn about adult things?”
“A lady does not need to learn about such things!”
“Oh, but you are wrong! There is much for me to see and learn.”
“Maybe so, but not at a cabaret!”
“Why not? What is so terrible about a cabaret? Is there really anything more scandalous than the stories I hear at these so-called proper parties at the home of Madame Morveaux, or the parties of those other ridiculous old biddies?”
Teresa drew in a breath. “There is no need to be disrespectful! Besides, you know your father would never allow it.”
Lola batted her long black eyelashes and said, “But Papá does not have to know. It can be our little secret.”
“Please, Lola, let us discuss this when you are older.”
“I want to go to the Folies Bergère. I have heard so much about the delights of this famous and fascinating place. I want to see it with my own eyes, and I want to go now!”
Teresa’s jaw tightened. “Ay,¡Caramba! Folies Bergère. Oh no, no, no. That is not a place for you!”
Lola folded her arms across her chest. “Teresa, I insist you take me to the Folies Bergère!”
“Dearest Lola, I cannot take you there. If your Papá should find out, he would never forgive me and might even release me.”
Lola left her bed and sat by Teresa. She put her arm around Teresa’s shoulders and said, “Ma chère mère, besides Papá, I love you more than anyone in the world! For most of my life, you have been my mother, my nurse, my teacher, and my dearest friend. I would never let anyone…even Papá…cause you to be unhappy. You need not have fear of my father. He will not find out, but if by some stroke of bad luck he does, I will tell him I forced you to take me and all the blame will fall upon me.” Lola wrapped her arms around Teresa’s neck and hugged her close. She whispered in her ear, “Please, please, take me to the Folies Bergère, please!”
Teresa sighed. “I love you, and no matter how hard I try, I am powerless to resist you. Oui, chèrie, even though I should not, I will take you.”
Lola hugged Teresa and gave her little girl kisses. “Thank you! Thank you so much!”
On a day when Émile was away for a conference, the conspirators snuck off to the Folies Bergère. When she entered and surveyed the theatre, Lola’s eyes widened. The Folies Bergère had a plush interior under an ochre and gold ceiling of ruffled and tasseled fabric. Seated on rattan divans, they watched a trapeze duo, ballet dancers, a snake charmer, wrestlers (both male, and female), a kangaroo boxing with a man, and an array of other spectacles.
Everywhere Lola turned, her ears filled with a variety of wonderful music blaring over the cries of program hawkers, audience chatter and applause. The air was laden with perfume scents, cigar smoke and beer—and the entertainment was not just confined to the stage.
From the entrance hall, magnificent staircases led to a balcony with private boxes and stalls, behind which was the gallery-lounge known as the promenoir, and its elegant bar. Teresa forbade her to go upstairs, causing Lola to be all the more curious. So up she ran. Teresa called after her, to no avail.
Lola snickered when she saw the mondaines, the prostitutes, who wore too much makeup, too much perfume, and too little clothing, as they strolled the promenoir to attract clients. She thought, Why would anyone want to make a living this way?
Short of breath, Teresa arrived at the top of the stairs. Lola hooked her arm and propelled her to an empty private box. Lola’s body swayed to the musical rhythms of the bawdy songs floating up from the stage. Her eager eyes were wide with delight as she watched the performers dancing around the stage. Oh, how beautiful the ladies are! How wonderful it must be to perform in front of a crowd in a theatre like this! This is the type of performer I was born to be!
* * *
Fascinated by this cabaret life, Lola insisted Teresa take her to other café-concerts like the Bal Mabille and Le Chat Noir. Despite Teresa’s strong objections, they went to the working-class Le Mirliton, which soon became Lola’s favorite. She savored the genuine working-class humor of Aristide Bruant. In his sensational one-man show Bruant stared rudely at the middle and upper-class patrons and called them filthy pigs and salauds, bastards. The more he insulted them, the better the audience liked him.
Lola felt quite pleased that her father had not become aware of her little deceits and continued attending the cabarets.
Lola loved to accompany her father horseback riding in the Bois de Boulogne. Where, in a daily display of high fashion, elegant carriages and horseback riders paraded around the lakes for one or two hours, then returned to their Parisian residences via the prestigious Avenue de l'Impératrice.
She admired the curtains of foliage that draped from thousands of trees, the aroma of countless clusters of flowers, the picturesque lakes and waterfalls, and she delighted in watching children play in the recreation park custom-designed for them. On occasion, her father brought her to enjoy the races at the Hippodrome de Longchamp, the park’s horse race track.
Lola also delighted in the attention of the young men who halted their horses to greet her. With a seductive smile and a twinkle in her eye, her flirting became more deliberate with each passing month.
On this day, when they stopped to let their horses graze, Lola asked, “Why the frown, Papá? Do you have something on your mind?”
Émile straightened his back and said proudly, “Yes, I do have something on my mind. I have been waiting for the right time to tell you of my surprise and now is the time. I have good news for you, ma belle. I have obtained permission for you to marry in the Church Madeleine, the most fashionable in Paris. Not only will le tout Paris attend, but President Grèvy, the most important man in France, has indicated his intentions to attend. You will have the most magnificent wedding, my pussycat.”
Lola rolled her eyes and said, “Oh Papá, do not bother me with such things now. We have plenty of time to talk about marriage.”
“That is not so. It saddens me to lose you, ma chérie, but it is time for you to become a wife.”
“Papá, do not joke about such things! After all, I am only fifteen. I shall not be married for many years yet.”
“Lola, you will soon be sixteen. I married your dear Mamá when she was your age. You are a beautiful young woman, and soon life’s temptations will be too much to resist. You know that you are betrothed to Marquis Bernard Bournazel and have been so since your birth. Now you shall be his wife.”
“How can you expect me to marry that ugly, pimple-faced boy? Do you realize he picks his nose all the time? Every time I see him, his finger is up his nose. You would think he has a treasure buried up there!”
Émile chuckled. “Ah, my dear, try not to be so hard on him. You will grow to love him when he becomes a man. He is only seventeen now, an awkward age for a boy. Marriage will mature him. When he marries you, he will realize he is the most fortunate of men. He will adore you and lay the world at your feet. After all, he will be quite rich and will inherit all of his father’s properties and—”
“I do not care about such things. I do not care if he is the richest man in the world! I will not marry him. I will not marry anyone now. I do not wish to be married, and that is final!”
“Enough!” Émile shouted, “You have no choice in the matter. We will return home and I will not hear another word from you!” Émile slapped Lola’s horse on the rump and they galloped towards the stables.
This had been the first time in Lola’s life her father had raised his voice to her. It would not be the last.