The first time I saw Mrs. Ramsay she was sitting alone outside the Cafe de la Paix, sipping an aperitif and blinking, lizard like, at the new spring sun.

Richard Talbot pointed her out to me. `Careful, Bill`, he said, `here`s that Ramsay woman. Don`t let her see you looking, though. We`ll go somewhere else, shall we?` I`d been warned about her, of course, but I`d never been the man to take good advice. `I`d like to her`, I said.

- You would? Money to burn?

- Don`t be absurd. How can she sell THE GIRL IN THE BLUE DRESS me something if I don`t want to buy?

- All the same, we`d better go somewhere else.

But already Mrs. Ramsay had caught sight of us and was making vigorous signs to Richard. He turned and made for her table.

- Have it your own way, he said softly over his shoulder. But I tell you – she`d sell anyone anything.

Then we were at her side, she was flashing her big teeth at us as Richard introduced me.

- Won`t you two join me? She said.

We begged a couple of chairs from neighbouring tables and sat down beside her THE GIRL IN THE BLUE DRESS.

Mrs. Ramsay had been living in Paris for twenty years. Her husband, a diplomat, had died when she was about thirty-five, but she had stayed on in France, making a living by selling things to her friends. Antiques were her speciality, but when it came to the push she would peddle anything from a villa on the Riviera to a poodle pup. After the stories I`d heard about her I`d always been amazed that she still had friends to sell things to, but I found now that there was undoubtedly a kind of fascination about her.

She THE GIRL IN THE BLUE DRESS flattered blatantly. In a sweet, hoarse voice she began at once to tell me all the things I most wanted to believe about myself. I knew it was nonsense, and I struggled at first, making feeble sounds of depreciation and denial. But it was impossible not to be swept away on the tide of her vitality. In her distorting glass I saw myself – handsome, scholarly, a little sensitive. I sank into a coma of complacency. It was at this first moment that Mrs. Ramsay struck her first blow.

- Mr. Maine, she said, - they say, your flat is one THE GIRL IN THE BLUE DRESS of the most charming in Paris.

- It`s not very large, you know.

- But it`s arranged in the most exquisite taste, I`ve heard. You`ve been making changes, haven`t you?

- I`ve just had it redecorated, I hedged.

- Well… new-old, really. I`ve furnished it in Louis-Quatorze.

Mrs. Ramsay nodded. `Ah – yes – how right you are! I know the proportions of those rooms. You couldn`t have chosen better. But then, you`re a genius for these things`. She paused. `And have you completed the refurnishing? No, of course, you`ll be doing it THE GIRL IN THE BLUE DRESS the connoisseur`s way, and collecting real treasures as you come across them`.

Richard`s warning glance provoked me.

I looked at Mrs. Ramsay.

- It`s finished, I said firmly. What`s more, I believe it`s quite perfect in its own small way. Why don`t you come down and have a look round? I`d like you to see it.

I think she caught the note of challenge in my voice, and she began to smile wolfishly.

- I`d love to. When shall we make it?

- I suppose you couldn`t have lunch with me tomorrow?

- Well THE GIRL IN THE BLUE DRESS, let me see – Mrs. Ramsay fluttered the pages of a little note-book. – Tomorrow. Yes, I believe I could. About one o`clock, shall we say?

- Splendid!

Mrs. Ramsay rose, pulling on her gloves. `I`d better be on my way now. See you tomorrow, Mr. Maine`.

Mrs. Ramsay, Richard and I lunched a trois the next day.

It was about a quarter past one when Mrs. Ramsay arrived. We watched from the window as she paid off the taxi, and I saw with foreboding that she was carrying something.

I went out into the hall to greet her THE GIRL IN THE BLUE DRESS.

- I`m afraid I`m rather late, she said, it`s been such a rush! She looked down at the untidy brown paper parcel in her arms. `I do hope you`ll excuse my bringing this with me, but I came straight on from a sale. I`ll just leave it here for the moment, shall I?`

She set the parcel down on the table. The inadequate scrap of wrapping paper fell back from a pair of gilt-Louis-Quatorze candle-sticks. They were exquisite. There was a moment`s frozen stillness and then, without a word, Mrs. Ramsay THE GIRL IN THE BLUE DRESS tucked the paper round them again.

- Those candle-sticks, I began. Mrs. Ramsay`s head turned sharply, like a bird of prey. – They`re – I pulled myself together, - they`re very fine specimens. You were lucky to pick them up.

- I did not pursue the subject.

I kept her well under observation during the next hour or two, hoping to get a clue as to what her next line of attack might be. But although her alert, predatory eyes seemed to observe and assess every inch of my apartment, her expression never changed.

It was as she was about THE GIRL IN THE BLUE DRESS to leave that she gave her verdict.

- I must congratulate you, she said. Your flat is even more charming than I`d imagined. It really is almost perfect … She brooded. – Yes, very nearly.

But …

In spite of the menace of the gilt candlesticks lurking in the hall, it was impossible not to say: `But what? Do you tell me, Mrs. Ramsay, what is it you think is lacking?`

She laughed, squinting at me curiously through the smoke of her cigarette. `It`s hardly definable`, she said. `It`s just that the atmosphere is so masculine. But then it`s almost THE GIRL IN THE BLUE DRESS inevitable in a bachelor establishment, isn`t it?`

- Careful, said Richard. – If you talk like that he`ll be getting married just to perfect his precious flat.

- Not much fear of that, I answered, laughing.

It was about three weeks later that I found a note from Mrs. Ramsay waiting on my door-mat. It was an invitation to a fancy-dress party the following Friday. I suppose it was chiefly curiosity that made me accept it.

I was pretty busy at the time, and it wasn`t until the day of the party itself that THE GIRL IN THE BLUE DRESS i was able to give a thought to the question of what to wear. Getting oneself fitted out at short notice is not so easy. By the time I finally arrived at Mrs. Ramsay`s house it was pretty late. Everyone was very merry and I had to do some quick drinking to catch up. It was certainly a good party. Perhaps a little too good, i thought next morning, my eyes flinching away from the sunlight that streamed in through the window.

Then I remembered …

Somewhere or other I`d picked up some rather hazy and romantic ideas THE GIRL IN THE BLUE DRESS about how a woman should be, and I`d never even seen anyone who was likely to fulfil them. Until the previous evening. I`d only seen this woman momentarily, hadn`t even spoken to her. And yet, now, I was haunted by the memory of the lovely, listening face, the composed smile, the hint of challenge in the shadowy eyes. The trouble was I couldn`t really remember much about that party. The first half-hour was clear enough, but I had only a rather vague, surrealistic impression of what had happened after that. No doubt I made a fool THE GIRL IN THE BLUE DRESS of myself in front of the girl, I thought gloomily, remembering the overcheerful, noisy group I`d been with. Still, I was quite determined to meet her again. I had no idea what her name was, but it would be easy enough to find out.

I lay for a while, thinking, then pulled myself together and got up. After a bath and a shave I felt better. After a cup of coffee at the cafe on the corner I felt fine. I strolled along the Madeleine to Richard`s office. I thought perhaps he could help me, but he knew THE GIRL IN THE BLUE DRESS nobody who answered my description.

- I suppose you`d better ring Mrs. Ramsay and ask her, he said.

I`d much rather not, but there`s nothing else for it. Richard pushed the telephone across his desk towards me. `Go ahead`.

So I rang Mrs. Ramsay. When I`d explained what I wanted to know, she was silent for a moment. Then she said: `What kind of dress did you say she was wearing?`

- It was blue, with a full skirt. It left her shoulders bare, I noticed it particularly because I recognized it as Louis THE GIRL IN THE BLUE DRESS-Quatorze court-dress.

- Louis-Quatorze?

- Yes, I began to feel annoyed. – She was quite outstandingly beautiful. You must know who I mean.

Mrs. Ramsay was silent. `Listen, she said at last, I think you`d better come round and talk things over. Can you come now?`

- I`ll come straight round, I said, and hung up.

Mrs. Ramsay received me on the sunlit veranda that ran along the front of her house. `Well, well, Mr. Maine. So nice to see you again. Do sit down and have something to drink. Now, what can I do for you?`

- I think you know what THE GIRL IN THE BLUE DRESS I want, I said.

- It`s this question of the beautiful girl in blue, I take it?

- Yes, I nodded. It`s a purely personal matter.

- Of course, said Mrs. Ramsay. Her tone irritated me.

She stared at me speculatively for a moment or two, then she got up. – I think you`d better come inside.

- Please, don`t bother, I said impatiently. I just want to know how to get in touch with her. That`s all that is necessary.

But Mrs. Ramsay was already in the lofty drawing-room. `Do come in`, she said, her voice was THE GIRL IN THE BLUE DRESS drifting out of the open French windows. I stepped across the threshold and stood, paralyzed.

There was the girl in blue, smiling down from a faded gilt frame. Beneath the portrait was a tiny golden plaque. I bent to pick out the faded letters. `Jeanette de Fienne`, I read. `Born 1660 – Died 1685`.

- You see, said Mrs. Ramsay.

I turned to leave. In the doorway I paused and looked back at the picture. Jeanette de Fienne smiled at me serenely. Her eyes challenged mine. Mrs. Ramsay waited.

- How much? I said.

Paraphrase the following sentences:

a) Richard Talbot pointed her THE GIRL IN THE BLUE DRESS out to me.

b) I`d been warned about her.

c) Already Mrs. Ramsay had caught sight of us.

d) He turned and made for her table.

e) Have it your own way.

f) We were at her side.

g) I sank into a coma of complacency.

h) I made a fool of myself.

Explain in English what is meant by:

a) making a living

b) to be swept away

c) exquisite taste

d) foreboding

e) to be haunted

f) to feel annoyed

g) to pull oneself together

h) to be about to leave

i) to get in touch with smb.

Reproduce the dialogues between:

a THE GIRL IN THE BLUE DRESS) Bill and Richard

b) Bill and Mrs. Ramsay (at Bill`s home)

Answer the questions:

a) What kind of woman was Mrs. Ramsay? Describe her.

b) What do you think of the situation described in the text? Is it funny, foolish or … ?

c) Why do you think Bill fell in love with an unknown woman?

d) What do you think Bill thought about modern women and a real lady? What phrases confirm your opinion?

Retell the text if you were Mrs. Ramsay.

XV. Reading comprehension (3). Read the text and do the tasks after it.