I WAS much amused in a certain house the other day. There were present women of all ages; one of eighty years, one of sixty, and one of forty; the last had with her a niece of from twenty to twenty-two. Instinct led me to choose the company of the youngest. She whispered to me, What do you think of my aunt? Old as she is, she still tries to pass for a beauty, and wishes to have lovers. She is wrong, said I; such an intention is becoming only in you. A moment after, I found myself beside her aunt, who said to me, What do you think of that woman? Although she is at least sixty years old she has spent hours to-day over her toilet. It was a waste of time, said I, which only such charms as yours could have excused. I crossed over to the unfortunate dame of threescore, and was pitying her in my heart, when she whispered to me, Did you ever see anything so ridiculous? Fancy a woman of eighty wearing flame-colored ribbons! She would like to be young, and she succeeds, for that is childish.
Good Heavens! I exclaimed to myself; must we be forever blind to our own folly? Perhaps, after all, I argued, it is a blessing that we should find consolation in the absurdities of others. However, I was bent on being amused, and I said, still to myself, This is surely high enough; let us descend, beginning at the summit. So, I addressed the lady of fourscore. Madam, I said, you are so wonderfully like that lady, whom I have just left to speak to you, that I am certain you must be sistersI should say about the same age. Indeed sir, she rejoined, when one of us dies, the other will not have long to live; I do not believe there is two days difference between us. Having left my decrepit dame, I went again to her of sixty. Madam, you must decide a bet I have made. I have wagered that you and that lady, indicating her of forty, are of the same age. Well, she said, I believe there is not six months difference. Good, so far; let us get on. Still descending, I returned to the lady of forty. Madam, have the goodness to tell me if you were jesting when you called that young lady at the other table, your niece. You are as young as she; there is even a touch of age in her face, which you certainly have not; and the brilliancy of your complexion Listen, she said; I am her aunt; but her mother was at least twenty-five years older than me. We are not even children of the same marriage; I have heard my departed sister say that her daughter and I were born in the same year? I was right, then, madam, and you cannot blame me for being astonished.
My dear Usbek, women who feel that the loss of their charms is aging them before their time, long ardently to be young again; and why should we blame them for deceiving others, since they take such trouble to deceive themselves, and to dispossess their minds of the most painful of all thoughts?