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the Unknown

she displays no gaudy colors, no open-worked stockings, no over-elaborate waist-buckle, no embroidered frills to her drawers fussing round her ankles. you will see that she is shod with prunella shoes, with sandals crossed over extremely fine cotton stockings, or plain gray silk stockings; or perhaps she wears boots of the most exquisite simplicity. you notice that her gown is made of a neat and inexpensive material, but made in a way that surprises more than one woman of the middle class; it is almost always a long pelisse, with bows to fasten it, and neatly bound with fine cord or an imperceptible braid. the Unknown has a way of her own in wrapping herself in her shawl or mantilla; she knows how to draw it round her from her hips to her neck, outlining a carapace, as it were, which would make an ordinary woman look like a turtle, but which in her sets off the most beautiful forms while concealing them. how does she do it? this secret she keeps, though unguarded by any patent.

as she walks she gives herself a little concentric and harmonious twist, which makes her supple or dangerous slenderness writhe under the stuff, as a snake does under the green gauze of trembling grass. is it to an angel or a devil that she owes the graceful undulation which plays under her long black silk cape, stirs its lace frill, sheds an airy balm, and what i should like to call the breeze of a parisienne? you may recognize over her arms, round her waist, about her throat, a science of drapery recalling the antique mnemosyne.

oh! how thoroughly she understands the cut of her gait — forgive the expression. study the way she puts her foot forward moulding her skirt with such a decent preciseness that the passer-by is filled with admiration, mingled with desire, but subdued by deep respect.

our Unknown jostles no one. if she wants to pass, she waits with proud humility till some one makes way. the distinction peculiar to a well-bred woman betrays itself, especially in the way she holds her shawl or cloak crossed over her bosom. even as she walks she has a little air of serene dignity, like raphael’s madonnas in their frames. her aspect, at once quiet and disdainful, makes the most insolent dandy step aside for her.

her bonnet, remarkable for its simplicity, is trimmed with crisp ribbons; feathers demand a carriage; flowers are too showy. beneath it you see the fresh unworn face of a woman who, without conceit, is sure of herself; who looks at nothing, and sees everything; whose vanity, satiated by being constantly gratified, stamps her face with an indifference which piques your curiosity. she knows that she is looked at, she knows that everybody, even women, turn round to see her again. and she threads her way through the city like a gossamer, spotless and pure. the women you will see later, looking a little like her, are would-be ladies; while the fair Unknown, your beatrice of a day, is a ‘perfect lady.’

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