MARQUIS OF LETORIERE.
[FROM THE FRENCH.]
NICHOLS & HALL
In 1769 there was in the Rue St. Honoré, not far from the Palais Royal, a small tailor’s shop, having for its sign an enormous pair of gilt scissors, suspended above the door by an iron triangle.
Master Landry, proprietor of The Golden Scissors, a little lean, pale, and apathetic man, offered a striking contrast to his wife Madelaine.
She was a woman of thirty-five or forty years, robust and active, with hard features, and a gait like a man’s, and her quick and imperious voice told that her dominion over her household was absolute.
It was eleven o’clock one dark, rainy day in December. Master Landry, seated on his counter, plied alternately his scissors and needle, in company with Martin Kraft, his apprentice, a big, heavy, phlegmatic German, about twenty years old, whose red and puffed-out cheeks, and long hair, more yellow than blonde, gave him a stupid air.
The tailor’s wife seemed to be in a very bad humor. Landry and his apprentice maintained a prudent silence, until at length Madeleine snapped out at her husband, scornfully:
“I give up; thou hast no blood in thy veins; thou would’st allow thyself to be robbed of thy last customer; imbecile!”
Landry exchanged an elbow-touch and a glance with Martin Kraft, but kept quiet, handling his needle with redoubled dexterity.
Irritated, no doubt, by the meekness of her victim, the housewife resumed, addressing her husband vehemently:
“To whom do I speak, if you please?”
The tailor and the apprentice continued mute.
The exasperated woman administered a vigorous slap to her husband, saying:
“It appears to me that when I speak to a fool, it is thou whom I address, and thou would’st do well to reply—ill-bred as thou art!”
“By St. Genevieve!” cried the tailor, putting his hand to his cheek, and turning to his apprentice,—”how’s that, Kraft?”
The apprentice answered only by a violent stroke of his iron goose, applied to the seams of a coat; but this blow had such an expression of temper, that Dame Landry, with a dexterous hand, inflicted on the phlegmatic German the same correction she had applied to Landry, saying to him:
“I’ll teach you to censure my conduct, you sluggard!”
“How do you find that, Master Landry?” said the apprentice, in his turn, looking towards his master.
The latter, hoping to allay his wife’s irritation, said, very calmly:
“Now, Madelaine, explain yourself tranquilly; we are both sufficiently roused to pay attention to what you would say.”
“That’s lucky; what I have to say will not take long. Idler, good-for-nothing! see now, one of your best customers, the valet-de-chambre of the Member of Parliament, no less a personage, has gone to our neighbor Mathurin.”
“What, we’re losing our custom?” demanded the tailor of his apprentice with an air of indignation, coward-like, designing to turn the wrath of his wife on the unhappy Kraft. “What, Martin, do you give us such customers? Are you not ashamed? ‘Tis not mine who treat us thus. Gracious! mine are as faithful to me as the thread to the needle—as the thimble to the finger—as—”
“Tut, tut, tut,” said Dame Landry, interrupting, “how you chatter, Master Landry! That’s the reason why the clerk of M. Buston, the attorney at Châtelet, who has always been your customer, left you more than a month ago—even he—for that cursed Mathurin!”
“What do you mean, woman? This Mathurin surely must employ some sorcery thus to draw those customers to his shop,” said Landry, sadly; “for I defy any workman of the honorable corporation of tailors to do better or stronger sewing than mine. St. Genevieve, patroness of our good city, knows if I cabbage the thousandth part of a quarter of a yard of the cloths which are intrusted to me. It is the same with the trimmings; and—”
“Heavens! M. Landry, give me rest from the enumeration of your good qualities. Our neighbor Mathurin is a knave, a cheat it may be; but at least he bends his wits to his work, he bestirs himself; he makes good acquaintances; he does not sit all day with his arms crossed as you do.”
“Excuse me, it is his legs, madame, which Master L. keeps crossed all day,” said Kraft, sententiously.
“Hear that animal!” cried the housewife, throwing a meaning look at the apprentice, who lowered his head and began to work furiously with his goose.
“You have no good customers,” said Dame Landry, “none but mechanics, attorneys’ clerks, dry-salters workmen—not a single gentleman.”
“As for gentlemen, Madelaine,” replied the tailor, hazarding a timid reproach, “I have one among my customers, and you prevent me from working for him.”
Madelaine colored with anger, and exclaimed: “Do you dare to talk to me of your Marquis, of your Monsieur le Charmant, of that sharper, who has owed us three hundred livres for more than a year, and from whom you have never got the first red cent?”
“And yet, ma’am, you wish the custom of such gentlemen!”
“I wish the custom of gentlemen who pay, and not of knaves who only walk the streets of Paris, with swords at their sides, and hats cocked awry, to dupe imbeciles like you,—poor trades-people like us.”
The tailor raised his hands towards heaven.
“It is easy to see, Madelaine, that you are no better acquainted with the Marquis than with the Grand Turk. . . . He, a knave; he, a sharper; he—poor young man—so mild, so gentle, so sad, and then so pretty . . . one could spend an hour only in looking at him . . . he is like a wax saint.”
“So pretty—so pretty,” said the housewife, imitating her husband, “. . . and what does that amount to? Did any one ever see such folly? Does he pay us any better because he is pretty? Once more, what good has it done you?”
“This is what it does for me: when I see such a handsome gentleman, poor and unhappy . . . I am heart-broken, and I have not the courage to ask for my money. . . . That is what it does for me. In short, Martin Kraft himself has felt as I do. . . . You sent him to the house of the Marquis to dun him, and what did Martin Kraft tell you when he came back? That instead of demanding the money, he had asked him if he did not need a new coat.”
“That only proves that Martin Kraft is a goose like yourself!”
“The fact is, that this gentleman was so beautiful that one would have said he was a wooden figure painted at Nuremburg,” gravely said the German, who could find no more artistic comparison to express his admiration.
“Well done!” said Dame Landry, contemptuously shrugging her shoulders; then adding, “but patience, patience! this very day I will go and show this charming gentleman that Madelaine Landry does not take her pay in wheedling.”
Just then a carriage stopped before the shop. It was raining in torrents. The housewife put on a more amiable expression, thinking that custom might come from the coach; but, to her great astonishment, the coachman, having descended slowly and clumsily from his seat, looked at the sign and entered the tailor’s shop.
“Master Landry?” he asked, in a loud voice, shaking his great-coat all dripping with rain.
“At least, there is no need of your shaking yourself like a dog coming out of the water in order to ask for Master Landry,” sharply answered Madelaine. “What do you want?”
“My good woman, if I shake myself it is because I am soaked—drowned—as you can see, and I only give you a drop or two.”
“Much obliged for your kindness,” said the housewife.
“As to Master Landry, I wish to speak to him about a young gentleman . . . Zounds! what a charming little gentleman! As true as my name is Jerome Sicard, I never saw such a beauty.—Come now,” said the coachman, interrupting himself, “see how the water is running down my neck,” and he began to shake his hat.
Dame Madelaine was bursting out anew, when the window of the carriage was lowered. A man about fifty years of age, large, coarse, rubicund, powdered, and clothed in black, called to the coachman in the voice of a Stentor. Seeing that his summons was unheeded, he opened the door, got out of the carriage, and entered the shop.
“Will you tell me, you stupid, why you have stopped here instead of carrying me to the Soubise Hotel?”
“Excuse me sir; I had to execute a commission for a fine gentleman.” . . . .
“And what is that to me,—your fine gentleman? I’m in a hurry. Come, get on the box.” . . . .
“One minute, ‘squire; I have promised this gentleman to execute his commission, and do it I will.”
“Ah, you refuse to go! Take care! if you don’t start immediately, you shall hear from the lieutenant of police—I give you warning.”
“All right, I shall have to pass a night in the lock-up, if you choose,—you have the right to put me there; but I will keep my promise to this young gentleman.”
After new entreaties and new threats, seeing that he made no impression on the obstinacy of the coachman, the big man clothed in black, who was the steward of the Princess of Rohan-Soubise, seated himself, growling.
“But,” cried the peevish Madelaine, pulling Sicard by the sleeve, “are you ever going to say what you have to say to my husband?” And she pointed to Landry, who had looked on the whole scene with open mouth.
“This is the story,” said the coachman; “I was passing, an hour ago, through a street in the Faubourg St. Honoré. It rained in torrents. I saw, under the porch of the Hotel Pompadour, a young man who had taken shelter there. He was so lovely . . . one would have taken him for a good angel . . . Although it is the middle of winter, he had on a poor coat of brown cloth trimmed with black lace!!!”
“A coat of brown cloth with black trimmings! That is our coat!” cried Dame Landry; “that is to say, it is Monsieur le Charmant; it is that cursed marquis; he has only that coat which we have made him on credit . . . it is easy enough to recognize him.”
“Yes, faith, if ever any one deserved to wear embroidered coats, it is surely he, for as sure as my name is Jerome Sicard, I never saw any one who looked more like a good angel”. . .
“Bah, go away with your good angel! . . . Has he given you money to bring to us? Where are the three hundred livres that he has owed us for more than a year?”
“Money! Goodness gracious! No, indeed, he has not sent it! Who would have the heart to ask it of him? I took him to the Palais Marchand for nothing.” . . .
“Well, wife”—said the tailor, with a triumphant air.
“Hold your tongue, you fool . . . he has cheated this coachman as he has bewitched and cheated you . . . another proof that he is a rogue.”
“Rogue!” cried the worthy Sicard, stamping his foot angrily . . . . “A cheat! Know, my gossip, that this gentleman cheats no one . . . . If I carried him for nothing it was because it gave me pleasure to do so. Seeing him stopped by the rain, I drew my carriage up to the door and said to him, ‘Get in, sir!’ ‘No, thank you my lad,’ he answered, in a voice sweet as music. ‘But you will be wet to the skin.’ ‘That is very possible; but tell me only, my friend, what time it is.’ ‘Eleven o’clock, sir.’ ‘Eleven o’clock! and I have business at the Palais Marchand at half-past eleven,’ exclaimed he, involuntarily looking sadly at the rain and the gutters, which were running like rivers. ‘Get in, then, sir,’ I repeated; ‘in twenty minutes I will set you down at the Palais Marchand, while on foot it will take you at least until noon to get there!’ ‘I thank you, my lad,’ said he, half-smiling, half-sighing, ‘but I have no money. So don’t lose your time here!’ ‘No money!’ I cried, opening the door, and almost pushing the little gentleman into my carriage, for he was slender as a reed. ‘By Jupiter, it shall not be Jerome Sicard, who, for a franc, leaves a gentleman like you to miss an appointment! Take my number, and you may pay me when you like, sir;’ and without giving him time to answer, I jumped on my seat, and in eighteen minutes I deposited him safely at the Palais Marchand.”
“Well done! he has bewitched everybody, even a hackney-coachman,” cried Dame Landry; “but patience—patience!”
“Shall you soon be done?” cried out the steward of the Princess Soubise.
“In one moment, sir. Arrived at the Palais Marchand, my gentleman said, ‘Give me your number, my lad, I only desire to have the power to recognize your kindness some day, and to pay you as you deserve; for without your help, I could not have been present at an audience very important to my lawsuit; but, as you have been so obliging, do me yet one more favor. I started to go to my tailor to tell him not to fail to bring me the coat which he promised me for to-night. This tailor keeps in St. Honoré, at the sign of The Golden Scissors. If it will not take you too much out of your way to pass this shop and tell the tailor that the Marquis—Let—Les—Létorière—yes, that’s it—of Létorière, will expect this evening the coat he took the measure for a fortnight since.’ ‘Whether it is out of my way or not,’ said I, ‘I will go at any rate.’ Then you hired me by the hour, sir;” and the coachman, turning towards the steward, added: “I have passed through St. Honoré, which has not put you out at all, and I have executed my commission to this worthy knight of the thimble and needle.” Turning to Landry: “Now, tailor, don’t forget the gentleman’s coat, and if you will tell me at what hour it will be ready, I will come and carry it to his house myself, gratis. Zounds!—always gratis—for I am sure that to oblige any one who so much resembles a good angel ought to give one happiness. Now, my master, excuse me”—and he turned towards the steward of Madame Rohan-Soubise—”when you are ready we will start.”
The steward, witness of this singular scene, felt interested in spite of himself; he did not hurry in getting into the coach, especially when he heard Dame Landry cry, in a cross voice, regarding her husband with surprise and astonishment:
“Have you then dared, in spite of my orders, to promise another coat to this person who never pays? But you have not begun it, I hope?”
“But, my dear—”
“There is no but about it,—answer me!”
“I have done more than begin it, my dear; I have finished it,” said the tailor, sadly lowering his head.
“You have made this coat? And with what? And when? Why don’t you answer me? For the last week I have not seen you, you and your worthy apprentice, working on anything but these woollen overcoats and these shaggy jackets.”
Wishing to come to his master’s succor, Master Kraft ventured to say: “It was I, Madame Landry, who bought, with my own savings, five yards of Segovian cloth, of an amaranth color, and in order to make the garment complete, three yards of changeable taffeta, for the trimming of the vest and coat; and we have worked nights, Master Landry and I, in order that we might not lose our work by day.”
“So, while I have been quietly and honestly sleeping, you have been sitting up like criminals to work upon this beautiful masterpiece!” cried the housewife.
“Well, what’ll you have? This poor little gentleman has not troubled either of us, Martin Kraft. By St. Genevieve! it was pitiful to see him, in midwinter, with his miserable brown coat. We could not resist the pleasure of clothing him like a gentleman as he is. Be easy; sooner or later he will pay us. I’ll put my hand in the fire if he isn’t as honest as he is charming.”
Jerome Sicard, a big fellow of thirty years or thereabouts, listened to the tailor’s speech with increasing satisfaction. When it was finished, he offered Master Landry his great hand, saying: “Take it, worthy tailor; send your wife immediately to get a bottle of your best wine, and we will drink together—blast me if we don’t! And you, too, worthy apprentice I you, also, shall share the bottle, for you honor the scissors and the establishment better than any of your respectable corporation.”
“If you don’t drink wine till I bring it to you, you will run no risk of losing the little wits you have left,” said Dame Landry, sharply; “you deserve, indeed, to hob-nob with my fool of a husband, for, like him, you have let yourself be bewitched by the first knave who comes along. But as you do so well the errands of this cheating Marquis, you can go and tell him that the coat shall not go out of this shop until he has paid us the three hundred livres that he owes. You can also inform him, to finish up the matter, that I am going myself to carry his bill, and if the fine gentleman is not at home I will wait for him,—if he does not, at least, give me something on account, I will go and find the commissary, and I’ll let you see that I, a woman, have more spunk than either of you,—you chicken-hearted milk-sops!”
“As to being a sop, I’m sopping wet, that’s true enough,” said Jerome Sicard; “but as to being chicken-hearted,—my good granny, if I had my whip, or only the yard-stick on the counter, and you were my wife, I’d teach you speedily that I am no chicken, but a full-grown cock—fully able to teach you better than to refuse a flask of wine to my friends . . . all this without malice . . . but may the good God grant that this may give you the happy idea of using your yard-stick in training your wife, brave tailor!” said Sicard; then addressing the secretary,—”I am ready, sir.”
“That is well,” said he, though by no means angry at the detention, for the scene had amused him.
The coachman gone, Dame Landry took her large cloak, her black mantle, and a great umbrella, bade her husband bring her the coat of Segovian cloth made for M. Létorière, which she locked up, and then started in a white heat of wrath to go and wait for this Monsieur le Charmant, as she derisively called him.
THE EX-PROFESSOR OF PLESSIS COLLEGE
The dwelling of the Marquis was not very far from his creditor’s shop. M. de Létorière occupied two small rooms on the fifth floor of a house in the Rue St. Florentin.
He shared this poor asylum with Dr. Jean-François Dominique, ex-professor in the College of Plessis.
By an odd freak of fortune, the young Marquis, destined to charm people in so many conditions of life, had first exercised his inconceivable fascinations on this old professor, who was drawn to him with the most tender affection.
Notwithstanding a thousand malicious tricks of the frolicsome child, Dr. Dominique recognized in his pupil so much spirit and heart, as well as nobility of soul, that he became singularly attached to him. Perhaps, also, the rare aptitude of the Marquis, who was one of the most distinguished linguists of the Plessis College, for the study of the dead languages, was another reason for the extraordinary devotion of the old professor to his pupil.
The Abbé of Vighan, an uncle of M. de Létorière, had for six years paid the college expenses of his nephew, a poor orphan. During a journey of the Abbé, the balance of the quarterly account was left in arrears. The Marquis interpreting, in a manner displeasing to his delicacy, some words of the principal on the subject of this tardiness in the payment, resolutely decided to quit the college.
Dominique, acquainted with his project, did his best to dissuade him from its execution; but the Marquis was nineteen years of age, and had a determined will. The poor professor, not being able to prevent him from committing this folly, determined at least to accompany him in his flight, so unwilling was he to leave the young Marquis to encounter alone the temptations of a great city.
Dominique himself made all the plans for the escape; and one dark night the master and scholar scaled the walls of the college, not without danger to the old professor, little used to this kind of exercise.
The principal of the college, satisfied, perhaps, to be rid of a mutinous and turbulent pupil, took no steps to arrest the fugitive. Létorière possessed fifteen louis-d’or; Dominique had a little income of fifty pistoles from the salt tax; these were their only pecuniary resources.
The Marquis’s father had left nothing to his son save two or three interminable lawsuits. The most important of these, which had lasted fifty years, had been instigated against the dukes of Brunswick-Oëls and the princes of Brandebourg-Bareuth, on the subject of the claims of a grand-aunt of M. de Létorière, Mademoiselle d’Olbreuse, who, at the time of the revocation of the Edict of Nantes, had emigrated and married one of the relations of the Duke of Brunswick.
A poor gentleman of Xaintonge, without influential friends and without credit, Létorière despaired of ever carrying on the lawsuit upon which depended the fortune that he could not hope to enjoy; twenty times on the point of enlisting and becoming a soldier, the persuasions of the good Dominique had withheld him.
The ex-professor of Plessis had carefully examined the papers of these lawsuits. For love of his pupil he had become almost a lawyer. The rights of the Marquis appeared to him evident; nothing was needed, he said, but patience, and some day the suits would indubitably be gained.
More and more enthusiastic in his admiration of the Marquis, he boldly compared him to Alcibiades, so seductive was his fascination. Jean François Dominique modestly reserved to himself the austere part of Socrates, and did not cease to predict the most brilliant fortune for his pupil.
“But, my poor Dominique,” the young man would say, “I have only my cloak and my sword,—no protector; but for you I should be alone in the world.”
“But you are charmant, my child; all must love you as soon as they see you; all cherish you as soon as they know you, on account of your good and generous nature; you have talent; you know Latin and Greek as well as I do; you understand German as your native tongue, thanks to your late father, who caused you to be brought up by a German valet; you are a noble gentleman, although you do not trace your lineage back to Euryales, son of Ajax, as did Alcibiades, whom I call my hero, because you resemble him extremely. Have patience, then; your career will perhaps be more brilliant than my hero’s. . . Yes, it will surely be! . . . as true as that Socrates saved the life of his pupil at Potidæa! But I know your heart, and I am sure that when you are on the pinnacle of prosperity you will not forget the old Jean-François Dominique, as Alcibiades forgot the old philosopher!”
However odd and foolish these predictions may have seemed to the young Marquis, they sufficed for a long time to sustain his courage, to give him some hope of gaining one of his lawsuits, and above all, to prevent his enlisting as a private soldier, as he had often threatened to do, to the great alarm of Dominique.
Madelaine Landry soon reached the Rue Florentin. Having mounted the five flights of stairs which led to the apartments of her debtor, she stopped a moment on the landing-place to recover breath, in order that she might give free expression to her wrath.
When she had sufficiently recovered from her rapid ascent, she knocked; the door was opened.
To her profound astonishment, a frightfully ugly man appeared before her.
This was the ex-professor of Plessis. Jean-François Dominique was about fifty years old; he was large and bony; his lean face, pale, and very long, bore traces of the ravages of small-pox; his thin, gray hair was tied at the back of his head with a piece of tape. An old woollen coverlet, in which he had majestically draped himself, served him as a dressing-gown. His countenance wore an expression of pedantic surliness and of self-satisfaction in strange combination.
The aspect of the room which he occupied was forlorn, but everything in it was scrupulously clean. At the end of the alcove was a little bed, composed of a single mattress; a commode, a table, and four walnut chairs, carefully waxed, completed the furniture. The open door of a small adjoining room showed a bed of neatly-woven thongs. Although the weather was extremely cold, there was no trace of fire in the fireplace of this wintry chamber. At the foot of the painted wooden couch were two little pastel portraits, in rich gilt frames. One represented a man of middle age, wearing a wig of the Louis XIV. style, and having the cross of the Order of St. Louis attached to one of the clasps of his breastplate. The other was that of a lady of rare beauty, dressed as Diana the huntress.
There was recognizable in this room an air of proud poverty, which would have softened any female heart but that of Madelaine Landry.
“Does not one M. Létorière live here?” she inquired brusquely of the tall old man, clad with a woollen coverlet as with a Roman toga.
These words, “one M. Létorière,” seemed to affect the ex-professor of Plessis College disagreeably. He answered with caustic dignity: “I only know that the great and powerful Lord Lancelot-Marie-Joseph de Vighan, Seigneur of Marsailles and Marquis of Létorière, lodges in this apartment, my good woman.”
“‘Good woman!’ Don’t ‘good woman’ me!” cried Madelaine, angrily, “I’ll let you know, I will, if I’m a ‘good woman!’ Where is your master, your beautiful Marquis of Sharpers? your high and powerful seigneur of Roguery?”
Jean François Dominique drew himself up erect in his toga, extended his long arm, naked and scrawny, from the side of the door, and said in an imperial voice: “Clear out this instant! The Marquis, my noble pupil, has not come in . . . I do not know when he will return . . . but at any rate I presume it will give him no pleasure to see you, my dear . . . for if anger disfigures the most charming countenances, as says the sage, à fortiori, it makes truly hideous those whom nature has treated like a cruel step-mother! This applies particularly to you. Do me the favor to” . . . and Dominique pointed again to the door with a very significant gesture.
Enraged by this insult, the tailor’s wife threw her umbrella on the ground, seated herself hastily on a chair, crying: “‘Tis well for you, you villanious old owl . . . to speak of the homeliness of others! This fine boy is your pupil, is he? Good gracious, I can readily believe it, for you look like a master in iniquity. You miserable old wretch! As for me, I shall not budge . . . not till I am paid . . . do you hear? paid; or by St. Madelaine, my patron saint, if I go, it will only be to search for a constable . . .”
“Aha! Paid, and for what, if you please?” demanded Dominique.
“I wish to be paid for the coat which your vagabond has on his back . . . I am the wife of Master Landry, the tailor at The Golden Scissors; and if my husband has been fool enough to give you credit until now, I will not be fool enough to imitate him . . . I will have my money . . . I will not go from here without my money . . .”
“How!” cried Dominique, folding his arms with the most disdainful air imaginable; “is it for such a miserable trifle that you come to crack my ears with your frightful chatter,—for this that you come to torment the Marquis? Do you forget that once all the cities of Greece were disputing the honor of offering their services to Alcibiades, that the Ephesians pitched his tents? that the men of Chios fed his horses? that the Lesbians supplied his tables? and all gratis, do you understand, gratis; all, only that they might have the honor of offering something to Alcibiades? And you, you miserable workwoman, for three hundred insignificant livres, not the tenth part of a talent! for a paltry sum owed you by the Marquis, my pupil, who is, or who will be, a very different person from Alcibiades, you come screeching here like an osprey! But, you old fool, you may, on the contrary, bless the day when my pupil deigned to cast his eye on your ignoble workshop! Remember, also, that the shoe-maker of Athens, who had the good luck to work for Alcibiades, made more money in a year than you will gain in your whole miserable life. Do you hear that?”
Madelaine Landry, seeing the rage of this big man wrapped in a coverlet, thought herself in the presence of a lunatic.
“But at any rate you have brought the coat that the Marquis did your husband the honor to order,” resumed Dominique. “Take good care that he redoubles his diligence and dexterity to perfect this garment, for on it depends all his future business prosperity; and if it suits my pupil, your husband’s fortune is made . . . Come, let’s see the coat!” And Dominique advanced gravely towards Madelaine.
She rose hastily from her chair, resolved to jump at the eyes of the maniac, as she thought him.
“Don’t come near me, or I will hit you over the head with my umbrella!” she cried.
“You are a fool, my dear woman . . . Who thinks of hurting you? So you have not brought the coat?” he continued, in a milder tone.
“What! have I brought the coat?—impudence!” said Madelaine, a little gaining courage,—”certainly not; I have not brought it; and it is no fault of mine that your pupil has on his back the one that my fool of a husband sold him, and for which I come to be paid; for, I repeat it, I am not going away until I am paid . . . If I am not paid, there is yet, God be thanked, such a place as the lock-up to put rogues into . . . When one hasn’t the wherewith to pay for fine clothes, Marquis though he may be, he ought to wear coarse clothes, and not steal the time and goods of poor working-people.”
At this moment light steps were heard ascending the stairs.
“That is the Marquis!” said Dominique.
“Ah! now we shall have good sport,” cried Dame Madelaine.
“My dear woman,” said Dominique—this time in a supplicating voice—”spare him; on my word, you shall be paid.”
“Pshaw! Now we shall see him—this smuggling Marquis.”
The door was gently opened, and the Marquis appeared.
“I have not courage enough to witness this scene,” said the trembling Dominique, and he shut himself up in his dark chamber.
At sight of the Marquis, Madelaine drew herself up like a fighting-cock, and cast her eyes, flashing with anger, on the young man.
The Marquis of Létorière was then about twenty years of age. The portraits we have of him, and the unanimous witness of his contemporaries, agree in representing him as the type of the most seductive ideality.
At this age, his proportions of exquisite elegance resembled rather the Grecian god of love than Antinous.
All the treasures of antique statuary did not offer, it is said, anything comparable to the harmonious beauty of his form. Under this charming envelope nature had hidden muscles of steel, the courage of a lion, a brilliant wit, a lofty soul, and a generous heart.
His enchanting countenance was not of a severe and masculine beauty; but one could imagine nothing more pleasing,—and the pleasing was then wonderfully to the purpose. Great size and herculean strength were then out of place, since coats of mail were no longer worn. A dignified and grave air would have been out of date, when the imposing leonine wigs of the age of Louis XIV. were no longer in fashion.
If Létorière wore with such a charming effect rose-powder, laces, ribbons, silk, and precious stones, it was because all his features, all his manners, were endowed with a grace almost feminine, admirably in accordance with the almost effeminate elegance of the costume and ornaments of gentlemen of that period. If he possessed the art of pleasing and seducing in the highest degree, it was because his ravishing countenance could express, by turns, finesse, mockery, haughtiness, audacity, tenderness and melancholy.
According to the witnesses of his time, his expression and the tone of his voice had an especial charm, and an irresistible power, which the partisans of a new science would undoubtedly attribute to magnetic attraction.
But at the epoch of which we speak, he was only a poor young man, and, magnetic or not, his attraction was put to a severe test by the tailor’s wife.
Madelaine Landry felt her choler rising at sight of her debtor.
Létorière was soaked by the rain; his hands were blue with cold, and his forehead almost hidden by the wet curls of his beautiful chestnut hair, which he then wore without powder.
When he saw Madelaine, he could not repress a look of astonishment and chagrin; yet he saluted her politely, and, bending on her his great black eyes, at once so sad and soft, he said, in his brilliant and harmonious voice:
“What do you wish of me, Madame?”
“I wish you to pay me for the coat on your back, for it belongs to me—to me and my husband, Landry, tailor to the Marquis”—replied Madelaine, with a sharp voice, insolently staring at her debtor.
A blush of shame colored the young man’s cheeks, and a movement of bitter impatience contracted his eyebrows; but he repressed his emotion, and replied mildly:
“Unhappily I cannot pay you yet, madame.”
“You cannot pay me! that is easy enough said: but I do not take such money;—when one has nothing to pay for his coats, he should not have them made. . . . I will not go from here until I have my money;” . . . and Madelaine Landry rudely seated herself, while Létorière remained standing.
“Listen to me, madame. . . . In one month from now I have the certainty of being able to pay you; I give you my word as a gentleman. . . . Only have the goodness to grant me a little delay, . . . I pray you.” . . .
These words, I pray you, were pronounced with an inflexion of voice so noble and touching, that Madelaine, already struck by ill-fortune so courageously borne, feared she should give way to pity. She meant to burn her ships, and answered the prayer of her debtor with a gross insult:
“A fine guarantee, your word of a gentleman! What should I do with that?”
“Madame!” cried the Marquis; then restraining himself, he spoke in a sad, yet proud tone: “Madame, it is cruel in you to speak to me thus . . . you are a woman . . . I owe you money . . . I am in my own house . . . what can I answer you? Then do not seek to render more painful my position, which is such as I hope you may never experience.”
“But you will have no more money at the end of a month than now,” said Madelaine, harshly. “It is a fib you are telling me.”
“If within a month my uncle, the Abbé of Vighan, to whom I intend to apply, does not return from Hanover, I will enlist as a soldier, and my bounty-money shall be faithfully remitted to you. . . . You see, madame, that I can give you my word as a gentleman that you shall be paid.”
The Marquis spoke of this desperate resolution with so much dignity, and with an accent so sincere, that Madelaine, moved, repented of having gone so far, and replied:
“I do not wish to force you to enlist; but I must be paid. This has lasted long enough; sell something, . . . then.” . . .
“Sell something here, madame?” and with a sorrowful look he pointed to his poor chamber, cold and bare.
At this gesture, so cruelly significant, Madelaine cast down her eyes: her heart hardened; then she added, stammering, and pointing to the two gilt frames:
“But those two pictures?” . . .
“Those pictures?” said the Marquis, gravely and tenderly, “that is all that remains to me of my father,—of my mother. . . . Madame, those are their portraits, and for the first time they see their son blush for his poverty.” . . .
At these last words, Madelaine compared the interior of her own house, where there was at least comfort, with this cold room, a miserable shelter for a gentleman (for they stall believed in gentlemen at that time); she felt her wrath soften almost to pity, especially when she saw the young Marquis trembling with cold in his wet clothes.
In these violent natures, opposite emotions are near neighbors. Dame Landry, since she left the shop, had been kept in a state of almost frantic irritation; this paroxysm could not last; like all exaggerated feelings, her anger fell flat, so to speak, on the first reflection suggested by her naturally good heart.
The marquis was so handsome, he had met her abuse with a dignity so sad and calm, he appeared to suffer so much with the cold—he who had undoubtedly been reared in the lap of luxury—that the good woman, feeling also the irresistible attraction which this singular personage always exercised, passed almost instantaneously from insult to respect, from harshness to commiseration; she hastily readjusted her head-dress, muttered some unintelligible words, and disappeared, to the great astonishment of the Marquis.
The ex-professor, who had no doubt been waiting the result of this conversation to come out of his den, partly pushed open the door of the little room, and said:
“So this miserable harpy has gone? Pardon me—but I basely fled before the enemy” . . .
“You were there, my good Dominique? . . . Well, you have heard . . . Good Heavens!—what humiliation! To seem to this woman a man of bad faith! Ah, this is horrible . . . Dominique, I am resolved . . . if my uncle does not come, I will enlist . . . I will pay this cursed debt with the price of my enlistment . . . at least I shall no longer have to blush . . .”
“You enlist, and renounce all your hopes!”
“They are all folly! I went again to-day to the palace . . . there is no longer any hope. It would be necessary, in order to carry on the lawsuit against the German princes, or the Superintendent of Xaintonge, to deposit with the solicitor more money than I shall ever have. I renounce it;—but hold, Dominique! I do not feel well, I am cold”—and the Marquis sank trembling on the side of his bed.
“Poor child! I can well believe it”—said the professor, with a mournful sigh—”to be out in this cold rain,—to come in without finding a spark of fire . . . to be received by the insults of that hag, whom I wish I could put into the fireplace in the shape of faggots, for, alas! as for wood . . . God knows if I” . . .
“Enough, my good Dominique,” said Létorière, putting his hand over his friend’s month . . . “Have you not already done too much for me? Have you not abandoned your class, your situation?”
“And Socrates? did not that sage, that great philosopher, abandon everything . . . to follow Alcibiades!!! Only as it is not so cold in Athens as in Paris . . . Socrates had not the pain of seeing his pupil shivering with cold. But, listen to me! You had better lie down . . . take off your wet clothes,—you will be warmer in bed.”
“You are right, Dominique; I do not know,—but I think I am feverish”. . .
“No! not so bad as that! to see you fall sick!” Then, turning with an angry air, Dominique cried, shaking his first at the door by which Madelaine had gone out:
“‘Tis you, you cursed hag, who have brought this new misfortune upon my unhappy pupil, with your indiscreet clamorings! I’m sorry now that I did not put you out neck and heels . . .”
In the midst of this apostrophe the door opened, and Dominique saw, with astonishment, a porter bringing in two enormous faggots, and some packages of kindlings. . . .
“You are mistaken; this wood is not for us, my lad,” said Dominique, with a sigh.
“Isn’t it here that the Marquis of Létorière lives, sir?”
“Well, the wood is to come here. . . . The great woman in a brown cloak said that she was coming with a brazier, and something to make a nice little lunch for the Marquis.”
“The great woman in a brown cloak?” demanded Dominique.
“Yes, sir, and she has paid for the wood.”
“The wood is paid for. Do you hear that, my worthy pupil? Now you shall have some fire,” . . . cried Dominique, joyfully turning towards Létorière, who, seized with a sudden attack of fever, had gone to bed.
Happily Dame Landry soon came, and confusedly explained the enigma. That worthy woman had in one hand a kettle of boiling water, and in the other some lighted charcoal on a shovel.
When the porter had gone, Dame Landry, seeing the paleness of the Marquis, cried out:
“Poor young gentleman! he has a fever, that’s certain . . . the cold has taken hold of him, and I . . . who was not ashamed to stop and gossip while he was shivering. . . . But come, come . . . don’t stand there looking at me like a wax figure, my dear sir. Lay the wood properly in the fireplace; light it, while I prepare something he can eat. Have you a clean cup?” Then approaching the bed, and feeling of the thin cover, . . . “Gracious goodness! . . . he is not warm enough! . . . go and get two or three warm blankets . . . and his head . . . that is too low . . . he needs a pillow . . . go and get one. And some curtains! How is it that this alcove has no curtains? Nor the windows either? You see that daylight is not good for the eyes of the young Marquis. . . . Go and get them,—I can’t do everything myself!”
The honest professor, to whom these conflicting and hurried orders were given, stood astonished before Madelaine, endeavoring to understand the cause of this wonderful change. Suddenly he cried, speaking to himself:
“It is his charm! There is no doubt of it! it is the natural charm with which he is endowed that has begun to work; . . . it has seduced the tailor’s wife as Alcibiades seduced Timea, the wife of Agis, King of Lacedemonia . . . and all that . . . without offending virtue, which is yet more beautiful and meritorious! My dear woman, I must acknowledge to you that we have neither pillow, nor curtains, nor blankets.” . . .
“What a pity!” said Madelaine, in a low voice, and much moved. Then seeing the professor still draped in his toga, she cried: “Well, then, until the bed can be better furnished, give me this coverlet, instead of keeping it round you like a regular carnival dress; at your age, are you not ashamed of such a thing?” and the housewife pulled resolutely at one of the corners of the Dominique’s toga. But he, stoutly clutching his garment, exclaimed:
“My good woman! listen to me . . . let me alone . . . don’t pull so hard . . . it is a question of decency . . . I suppose I must confide in you . . . you are of a respectable age, and moreover the wife of a tailor;” . . . and Dominique added in a low voice: “My breeches, as our fathers called them, being absolutely unfit for service . . . and having no dressing-gown, I am obliged to substitute this kind of Roman mantle for a more suitable garment.”
“Is it possible?” said Madelaine, letting go the corners of the coverlet. . . . “If this is true, I will send Landry to you this evening.” Then she added, in a low voice, stirring the fire into a bright blaze, which threw its cheerful light through the miserable chamber . . . “Is the Marquis asleep? if not, will he drink this?” and she handed him a cup of warm drink.
Dominique approached the bed on tip-toe.
“How do you feel?” said he.
“I am cold . . . my head aches,” replied the Marquis, in a feeble voice. “But what is this? How happens it that we have a fire?”
“We have a fire because you are charming . . . this good and worthy woman has made it; and here is a nice warm drink, very warm, that you must take; she has also prepared that for you. Come, take courage! Your good star is rising in the very respectable countenance of Dame Landry” . . .
The Marquis, suffering with a horrible headache, hardly comprehended a word of what Dominique said, or of what rising star he spoke; nevertheless, he took the cup, drank, and fell into a profound slumber. Then the worthy woman approached the bed, holding her breath; she smoothed the clothes with truly maternal care, and returned to Dominique.
“You must be generous, and pardon me, sir,” said she; “just now I was very rude to the Marquis; but, you see, it was my husband who turned my head; I must say also that I had never seen the young gentleman,—so young! so pretty, and an orphan, too . . . and then for a gentleman like him not to have a fire in midwinter, when work-people like us always have a good warm stove! Come now, my worthy sir, I shall always reproach myself for having dared to speak impudently to the Marquis; but be assured, at least, that as long as Madelaine Landry lives, she will always be his humble servant. . . . Now, sir”—and the good woman cast down her eyes while drawing a little bag from her pocket—”on my way here I changed a bill of three hundred francs; here is the young Marquis confined to his bed, and perhaps he will need something,—a doctor. I should never have dared to offer it to him, but with you I am more bold . . . Come, now, sir, take it, and we will put it on the bill, and forget the vile words I said to you.” . . .
“As to that, we are perfectly equal, my dear woman, for if you called me an owl, I called you an osprey; so we won’t speak of it any more. . . . As to this loan, I ought perhaps to tell you that the return of the Abbé de Vighan, my pupil’s uncle, may be postponed, and that it may perhaps be a long time before we can restore what you so generously offer—and after the scene of this morning, I fear perhaps . . .”
“Don’t speak of that, sir, or I shall die of shame, upon my word. The Marquis can return it whenever he will; God be thanked! we are not dependant on sixty dollars for our living.”
“I will take this debt on myself, my worthy woman; besides, my next half-year’s income from the salt tax will pay you the amount.”
“Ah! well and good! It seems to me that I am more than half pardoned for my insolence. And now, sir, I will go home and get what the Marquis needs; and I will come back every day, if you will allow me, and establish myself as his nurse; for men know nothing about taking care of the sick,—without offence to you, sir.”
And Madelaine left Dominique near his pupil’s bed, in possession of a good fire, an enjoyment the old man had not known for a long time.
The illness of M. de Létorière drew towards its close; he was nearly convalescent, thanks to the assiduous care of Madelaine, her husband, and Martin Kraft, the apprentice. Each had vied with the good Dominique in devotion to him. The Marquis had shown himself so affectionately grateful for all these touching proofs of interest, had appeared so to justify and merit them by his delicacy and the goodness of his heart, that the tailor and his wife became more and more attached to their “dear young gentleman,” as they called him.
Spring approached; one day Dominique, who had gone out to endeavor to persuade an attorney to follow up one of the lawsuits of Létorière, came back with a face at once radiant and astonished; the apprentice Kraft followed him, bringing carefully an immense basket filled with the rarest fruits and flowers. On a little paper attached by a pin to a magnificent pine-apple, were written these words: “To Monsieur the Marquis of Létorière.”
After having admired this charming gift, with almost childish curiosity, and vainly seeking to learn from whom it came, for an unknown man had left the basket with the porter, the Marquis replaced the address with the following:—”To my good friends Landry and his wife,” and told Kraft to carry as his gift the fruit and flowers to Master Landry.
“Tell them I do not know whence this gift comes, but it is the first and only thing I have to offer them, and I send it to them as a proof of my eternal gratitude.”
Some days after, he had another surprise. In a beautiful little writing-desk left at the porter’s by one of the boys of Bordier, the celebrated worker in ebony, the Marquis found this note:
“Your heart tells you truly that some one is interested in you. That is well. Send these two letters as addressed.”
In one compartment of the desk Létorière found two sealed letters. One was addressed:
To Monsieur Landry, tailor, at The Golden Scissors.
The other: To Mons. Buston, attorney to the Castle.
This gentleman, the lawyer engaged in the Marquis’s lawsuit, had hardly been willing to take any steps for fear of not being paid for his services.
Létorière and Dominique looked at each other in amazement.
“What did I tell you?” cried the ex-professor; “will you believe me now? will you defy your destiny? I have always told you that you would have nothing to envy in the son of Clinias!”
Surprised at this incident, whose consequences he could not foresee, the Marquis begged Dominique to deliver the attorney’s letter, and sent Master Landry’s by the porter. An hour after, the tailor, Madelaine, and the apprentice were at the feet of the young gentleman.
“Thanks to you, Monsieur the Marquis, I have the patronage of Monseigneur the Duke of Bourbon!” cried Landry. “It is a clear and net profit of six thousand livres a year! Behold me, in future, a rich man!”
“Thanks to you, Monsieur the Marquis, our neighbor Mathurin, who got from us all our custom, will burst with envy,” said Madelaine.
“Thanks to you, Monsieur the Marquis, Dame Madelaine, angry at seeing our customers leave us, will give me no more cuff’s!” said Martin Kraft.
“My friends,” replied Létorière, “I am extremely pleased at what has happened to you; but I declare to you, that unfortunately I have had nothing to do with it.”
“Ah, Monsieur the Marquis, why will you say that?” said Madelaine, reproachfully; and drawing from her pocket the precious missive, she read: ‘Master Landry is informed that at the express recommendation of the Marquis of Létorière, Monseigneur the Duke of Bourbon deigns to appoint him his personal tailor, as well as that of his household’; you see that, Monsieur the Marquis?” said Madelaine; and, gazing at Létorière with eyes filled with tears of joy, she added: “This custom makes our fortunes forever . . . Ah, well! on the faith of an honest woman, the basket of flowers and the note that the Marquis sent us yesterday, gave us perhaps more pleasure!”
“And you are right, my friends,” said Létorière; “for yesterday it was truly I who sent you the present, not knowing whence it came. But to-day I did not know what the letter contained; it is a mystery that I cannot solve.”
At this moment Dominique entered his countenance completely changed; he had come up the five flights of stairs with so much haste that he could hardly speak; the only words he could utter in a broken voice were: “rich . . . rich . . . the attorney . . . the lawsuit . . . I was right!” . . . And he threw himself on the neck of his pupil with theatrical fervor.
“Be calm, my good Dominique,” said the Marquis. “Tell me something of this happy news which so transports you . . .”
“Oh, yes, by heaven! this is good news!” said the ex-professor, still breathless. “Imagine me going to this Buston’s . . . this bird of prey . . . your solicitor. . . . When the clerks see me enter his office, they begin the umbecoming pleasantries with which they have always greeted me . . . I despise them, after the manner of Socrates, and ask to see Mr. Buston. . . . As usual, these impudent young blackguards answer me in chorus in all tones of voice . . . ‘he is not here! he is not here!’ In the midst of this infernal racket, I approach the first clerk and show him my letter. . . . Ah! if you could have seen his countenance!” cried Dominique, bursting with laughter and slapping his thighs.
“Well! well! finish, then,” said the Marquis.
“Well! the first clerk had already opened his mouth to utter some piece of insolence; but as soon as he recognized the writing on the letter, he became serious as a thrashed donkey, imposed silence on his comrades, and rose, saying to me respectfully: ‘I will have the honor of conducting Mr. Dominique to my master.’ I entered the presence of the solicitor, until then invisible or insolent. Quite another reception! The vulture had become a young turtle-dove, and cooed at me these words, after he had read the letter: ‘I have never for an instant doubted the successful issue of the Marquis’s lawsuit against the Intendant of Xaintonge, touching the forests of Brion. . . . This letter removes the only difficulties which prevented the prosecution of the case, which I will immediately attend to, while waiting for the documents of the great lawsuit against the German princes. I have also so much faith in the validity of the cause of Monsieur the Marquis, that I am willing, sir, to open an account with him to the amount of twenty thousand livres . . . this sum not being the fifth part of that which he will obtain for his claims on the Intendancy of Xaintonge.”
“But it is a dream! a dream!” said the Marquis, putting his hand to his forehead.
“Truly, it seems to me such,” replied Dominique, “and in order to assure myself of its reality, I accepted the offer of Mr. Buston, having your power of attorney.”
“Well,” said Létorière, “go on” . . .
“Yes, well,” said Dominique, handing a portfolio to the Marquis,—”on my simple receipt, he has advanced twenty thousand livres, which behold, in bonds at sight, on the public funds.” . . .
It would be impossible to paint the astonishment and joy of the actors in this scene.
After thanks and benedictions without number, the tailor, his wife, and apprentice, retired.
The Marquis remaining alone with Dominique, exhausted himself with vain conjectures as to the source of this mysterious favor. Bordier, the worker in ebony, could give no information as to the purchaser of the desk. The solicitor, maintained the most obstinate silence as to the contents and author of the letter which had made so great a change in his view of the Marquis’s lawsuit. Later, the private secretary of the Duke of Bourbon answered, that his Highness had himself ordered the appointment of Master Landry to be tailor of his household.
When the health of the Marquis was fully reestablished, he went to occupy, with Dominique, a small apartment in the Faubourg St. Germain. The brave Jerome Sicard, the coachman who was willing to carry Létorière gratis, because he resembled a good angel, was installed there, to his great joy, as valet-de-chambre. This was the only recompense which he solicited, when the Marquis asked him in what manner he should acknowledge his services. It is unnecessary to say that Sicard, Master Landry, and his wife, were also generously and delicately recompensed for their kindness.
Very strangely, none of the noble actions of the Marquis remained unknown to his mysterious protector. A little note arrived by post, containing these words . . .—”It is well . . . continue . . . you are always watched.” . . .
At other times he received suggestions full of wisdom: he was recommended to enjoy the pleasures of the world and of his age, but always to preserve the integrity and loyalty of his character; for on that his future depended.
At still other times, Létorière was advised to accomplish himself in all the exercises of a gentleman. He heeded this counsel, and soon excelled in fencing, riding, and all the games which require agility and dexterity.
Sometimes these letters, which revealed a growing and enduring affection, reached the Marquis by charming and unexpected means; at one time in a beautiful Sèvres vase, filled with flowers, which an unknown person left with the porter; at another, a perfume-bag, wonderfully embroidered with his arms and cypher, would be found in his pocket on his return from a game of tennis.
This singular correspondence had lasted nearly a year, when Létorière gained his lawsuit against the Intendancy of Xaintonge.
The day after judgment was given, a groom, in the livery of the Marquis, brought him two magnificent English horses, which were just then coming into fashion. Their harness and equipments were marvels of richness and elegance. A letter, in these words, accompanied the gift:
“Your lawsuit is gained; you can now live as is becoming a gentleman of your rank. You will go to Chévin, the genealogist; he will arrange your titles to nobility; you will deposit them in the archives, in order to be presented to the king, and to have the entrée to the court. You will undoubtedly have the honor of hunting with his majesty. These horses will serve you. Your conduct is satisfactory.”
To all Létorière’s questions, the groom’s only answer was that an unknown person had bought the horses of Gabart, a famous dealer of that day, adding that he would, in a short time, bring the equipments. As to the unknown man, he was clothed in black, rather stout, and about fifty years old.
Some time after this new surprise, the Marquis received the following note:
“Go this evening to the opera ball; wait near the King’s Corner between twelve and one o’clock; wear a black domino, and attach to it a blue and white ribbon.”
Létorière had never been to an opera ball in his life. Though not leading the life of a recluse, he had hitherto employed his time in his academical studies, in walking with Dominique, in long readings of Greek and Latin poets, and frequent attendance at the Comédie Française.
Although Dominique had no deep insight into the human heart, he was sometimes uneasy at seeing his pupil so calm at an age when the passions often assert themselves so energetically. At one time the worthy man had thought that the mysterious protector of his pupil was a woman; but he had never mentioned his suspicions to Létorière.
When the latter informed Dominique that he was going to the opera ball, the ex-professor conceived the happy idea of accompanying his pupil. Létorière was pleased with the plan, and they set off together.
Once launched into the vortex, the two friends, embarrassed like provincials, had great trouble in finding the King’s Corner, and were at first victims of the raillery of the spectators; the Marquis’s figure was so slender, his manner so elegant, his foot so pretty, and his hands so charming, that he was easily taken for a woman; while Dominique, tall, bony, awkward and clumsy, passed for the husband.
Létorière reddened with anger under his mask, and needed all the authority and persuasion of Dominique to prevent him from bursting out.
Presently two dominoes approached them.
The tallest figure took Dominique’s arm, while the smaller, approaching Létorière, whispered these words in his ear: Continue . . . we are . . . persevere . . . and hope. . . .
The Marquis felt a little box slipped into his hand, and before he could say one word, or make a motion, the domino was lost in the crowd.
Létorière was enchanted. The voice which had whispered in his ear the same words that his unknown protector had so often written, was the voice of a woman, and of infinite sweetness; he thought he saw, shining through the silken mask, two great blue eyes.
Intoxicated with joy, feeling a thousand new emotions rising in his breast, he utterly forgot Dominique, and had the insane idea of finding again his domino, believing he should recognize among a thousand the great blue eyes which were fixed upon his with such a singularly tender expression. Towards five o’clock in the morning he realized the futility of his search, and returned home, impatient to know what the box contained.
He found within, one of those large seal rings then so fashionable: it was surrounded by diamonds, and on the enamelled centre was painted with admirable delicacy in the midst of a cloud, a charming blue eye, whose expression was such, that Létorière recognized at once the sweet and tender look of his domino. On the setting were these words, in microscopic characters: It follows you everywhere.
The letter contained these words: “You are twenty years old, young, handsome, noble, brilliant, and charming; you have enough money to be extravagant. Your future is in your own hands . . . we shall see if the counsels we have given you for a year will continue to bear fruit . . . we shall write to you no more . . . you have free liberty . . . but you be followed everywhere. In four years from this time, whether or not your conduct equals our expectations, you will receive a letter . . . Henceforth, then, hope and persevere . . .”
During a month the Marquis was almost devoured by curiosity. He walked the streets like a crazy person, looking anxiously at all the blue eyes he met, and comparing them with his ring; many beautiful blue eyes timidly fell before his ardent and restless gaze; others responded languidly, others angrily, but he discovered nothing.
He remembered that he had been requested to deposit his titles in the archives, in order that he might be received at court; he fulfilled the necessary formalities, and waited the return of one of his distant relatives, the Count of Appreville, to have the honor of being presented to King Louis XV.
One day, the Marquis was sauntering by the banks of the grand canal, at Versailles, in melancholy meditation, and thinking, sadly, that he had been abandoned by his mysterious protectress. He had come from the riding-school, and his riding costume set off wonderfully the elegance of his figure. It consisted of a green coat trimmed with rich gold lace, scarlet breeches, a vest of the same color, and high boots of shining black morocco, the tops of which hung loosely upon knee-pieces of fine cambric. At a little distance from him, Létorière saw a middle-aged horseman, who was vainly striving to make his beast pass a marble pedestal.
Two persons witnessed this contest; one, a man of fifty to sixty years, dressed in a coat of pearl-gray taffeta and silk small-clothes of the same color, had a countenance at once handsome, noble, and benevolent. He leaned on the arm of an older man, quite small, slightly stooping, superbly dressed in the old fashion of the Regency, and whose pale face was furrowed with deep wrinkles.
The more simply dressed of the two said to the other, pointing to Létorière:
“What a charming face! what a pretty figure! I never saw anything more enchanting. . . . Did you, marshal?”
“Hum . . . hum . . .” said the latter, with a dry cough; “that litt’ gent’l’m’n? he’s well ‘nough . . . but he’s as awkward as a sprinkler of holy water,”—answered the Duke de Richelieu, who had preserved the old vulgar manner of clipping his words, so much in vogue among the roués of the Regency. . .
“He? with his pretty face? he would make a nice sprinkler of holy water to saints of your stamp!” said the other, smiling maliciously.
The horse was still obstinate; the rider, weary of gentle measures, used in turn the whip and spur, but with no results save kicks and fearful plunges.
Gradually, M. de Richelieu and his companion approached the Marquis. Seeing two gentlemen of venerable appearance coming towards him, Létorière respectfully saluted them.
“Well! young man . . . which has the right in this discussion, the man or the horse?” said the friend of M. de Richelieu.
“Faith! I hardly know, sir! the rider reasons with blows of his whip, and the beast replies by kicks. Such a conversation can be carried on for some time.”
This answer, spoken without too much assurance, but with all the confident gayety of youth, made the questioner smile.
“You speak of it very nonchalantly, my young master . . . I should like very well to see you in the place of that horseman . . . you probably do not know that this is a mare of Ukraine. She came from Germany, and is a veritable demon . . . one that La Guérinière himself has not been able to master.”
“If I were in that horseman’s place, sir, I might perhaps be not more able, but more lucky,” resolutely replied the Marquis.
“Truly! Well, will you try? Will you mount Barbara?”
“The mare is so beautiful . . . so proud . . . notwithstanding her viciousness . . . that I accept with all my heart, sir; and besides, the grass is so green that one need not desire a better carpet to fall upon,” answered Létorière joyously.
“I have a horrible fear that he will break his neck,” said the companion of M. de Richelieu in a whisper.
“With such a pretty face, so frolicsome and so captivating, one need fear neither horses, nor men, nor women, and if he should fall . . . one never falls alone . . . I have faith in him . . . he has a very enticing air.” . . .
“Hullo! St. Clair,” said the other, addressing the groom, “don’t stubbornly persevere any longer; get down from the horse. . . . This young gentleman desires a lesson, and you can give it to him,” he added, laughing.
St. Clair obeyed the order, and got off the horse.
Létorière, a little displeased at the last words of the unknown, replied to him with respectful firmness:
“I will always receive with pleasure or with resignation any lesson which I ask for, or which I deserve, sir; but here I do not find myself in either one of these cases.”
The unknown and M. de Richelieu looked at each other, suppressing a great desire to laugh.
“You must take care,” said the Marshal softly, “he looks like a famous fighter!”
“You’ll see that he will challenge me—and before you, the senior of the Marshals of France, the President of the tribunal of honor”—said the other;—and he added, regarding the Marquis with a very serious air:
“You take it with a high hand, my young master!”
“God bless me! I take it as I must, sir,” cried Létorière, resolutely setting his hand on his hip.
At this bravado, M. de Richelieu and the unknown burst out laughing, and the Marquis began to feel very much irritated, when St. Clair, who had not dismounted from the horse without difficulty, approached, hat in hand, and said to the gentleman clothed in gray:
“Sire, nothing can be done with that mare.”
“The King!” cried the Marquis in confusion, and he knelt and bowed his head with a repentant air.
“By St. Louis, my young friend,” said Louis XV., smiling, “I have seen the time when you would remind us that all gentlemen are our peers, and that in the old times a chevalier could cross lances with a king.”
“Ah, Sire! pardon . . . pardon.” . . .
“Come! rise, rise, my gentle knight,” . . . and by a movement full of that majestic grace that this most amiable and most graceful of kings exhibited, in even the most trifling acts, he touched slightly, with the tip of his finger, Létorière’s cheek, who, still on his knee, kissed this beautiful royal hand with profound veneration.
Létorière arose, his forehead suffused with a charming blush, his beautiful black eyes moist with tears, so profoundly was he touched with the ineffable kindness of his sovereign.
This emotion, so pure, so youthful and so naïve, struck Louis XV. delightfully. The most adroit flattery could not have effected this favorable impression.
“What is your name, my child?” he asked, regarding the Marquis with interest.
“Charles-Louis de Vighan, Marquis of Létorière, Sire.”
“You are from Xaintonge,” said the king, who knew wonderfully well the genealogy of his nobility.
“But you have deposited your titles,” added he. “You ought to be presented to me. Why have you not been?”
“Sire, I await the return of M. the Count of Appreville, my relative, to have that honor.” . . .
“Marshal Richelieu, will you act as sponsor?” said the king, addressing the duke, who replied by a respectful gesture.
“That’s right!” said the king. . . . “I do not forget, my child, that you have almost censured St. Clair . . . you must make him some amends. . . . Are you bold enough to encounter Barbara?” And the king pointed to the mare, who, held by the bridle, still kicked and pranced, notwithstanding the threats and caresses of the groom. “Are you not afraid of this fiery beast?”
“I fear but one thing, Sire: it is to show myself unworthy of the eminent grace with which the king deigns to honor me in ordering me to mount a horse in his presence.”
“Is he not charming? He answers with such perfect grace . . . with such exquisite tact,” . . . said the king to M. de Richelieu, while Létorière, his heart palpitating with emotion, approached the redoubtable Barbara.
“The king has told me sometimes that I’m a connoisseur of faces. Yes, yes, I can predict to the king that before six months this young falcon will have taken flight,—and then, beware of him;—there’ll be a great flutter among the doves, I’ll answer for it.”
“Your example will have been of great service to him,” said the king, smiling; then suddenly crying out with fright: “Ah, the unhappy child! he will kill himself. . . . St. Clair has given up the reins, and the cursed mare will not let him approach her. . . . What kicks . . . what plunges. . . . She is a devil to mount . . . St. Clair, why did you not hold her while he mounted?”
“Sire,” said the old groom in a peevish tone, “the gentleman told me that he would manage the affair himself . . .”
“And by Heaven, he does manage it” . . . said the king with astonishment;—”see there, marshal! on my word . . . he has bewitched her! . . . See how he approaches her, and she does not budge. . . . He caresses her, and the beast does not answer him with a bite, or a kick. . . . What do you say to that, St. Clair?”
“Sire, I say . . . I say . . . I say that I don’t understand it at all. . . . Ordinarily she can only be mounted by the aid of the nose-twister, she is so skittish and wild.” . . .
“Now see him in the saddle . . . faith! . . . he is wonderful . . . full of grace and agility. . . . What do you say to it Richelieu? What do you say, St. Clair?” said the king, whose whole face was radiant with pleasure at seeing the prowess of his young protégé.
“Faith! I should say to the king that the boy, young as he is, is an accomplished horseman,—but he must possess some charm to have quieted the villainous kicker,” . . . replied the marshal.
“One cannot say, Sire, that the posture of the gentleman is absolutely bad,” said old St. Clair. “He sits firm; his body and limbs are well poised, and he seems to have a hand at once light and steady”. . .
“And what the devil do you want more?” said the king; “but let us see . . . will she pass before the marble statue which so frightened her before? . . . No . . . no . . . she refuses—what bounds! Ah! poor boy!” . . .
“He seems screwed to her back. She’ll have to give in,” cried the marshal; “and with his little figure. He must be strong as Hercules.”
“Monseigneur well knows that there is no great skill in keeping one’s seat while a horse rears . . . the science is in foreseeing and preventing the rearing,” rejoined St. Clair.
“Even in that case you ought to be satisfied. Look! look, see how she passes the statue . . . as easy, as comfortably as an old hack. Well done! is he a sorcerer?” cried Louis XV., looking with astonishment at the marshal and St. Clair, not less surprised than himself.
Létorière, having made the mare pass and repass several times before, the statue which had at first so much frightened her, approached the king: the Marquis held his hat in his right hand, and with the left he patted Barbara, who tossed her head and champed her bit with a most coquettish air; one would have said she was proud of the light weight she carried. The face of the young gentleman, still animated by the exercise, and the proud joy of having succeeded so well in presence of the king, was resplendent with brightness and beauty.
Seeing his protégé so handsome, so radiant and so young, Louis XV. regarded him with the tender and melancholy interest which men advanced in age, or satiated with pleasure, often feel in contemplating the confident joy, the simple ardor of youth.
This excellent prince felt himself happy in the power, by a generous caprice, open to this youth a future as brilliant as a fairy tale. “It is sometimes good to be a king,” said he to M. de Richelieu, with involuntary emotion.
The old marshal, before answering, appeared to interrogate the expression of the prince, in order to penetrate the sense of this exclamation, which he did not comprehend. All was dead in this heart worn out by a narrow but unbridled ambition, and hardened by a cruel egotism. Incapable of seizing the meaning of the king, the marshal replied by a courtly insipidity:
“If it is sometimes good to be a king, Sire, it is always good to be the subject of your majesty.”
Louis XV. smiled with a polite, frigid air, and replied: “It is pleasant to find one’s self so well understood.” Then addressing Létorière, who awaited his orders: “Well, my child, tell me, how have you conquered so quickly and easily this unconquerable creature?”
“Your majesty told me that this animal came from Germany; knowing that the Germans talk much to their horses, and that they drive them almost as much by the voice as by the hand or the spur, I spoke German to her. Recognizing, undoubtedly, a language to which she was accustomed, she almost immediately became calm.”
“He is right. Nothing is more simple . . . don’t you see, St. Clair?” . . . said the king.
“Yes, Sire,” timidly replied Létorière, throwing a glance on the old St. Clair, who appeared profoundly humiliated; “yes, Sire, nothing is more simple when one speaks German” . . .
This almost bold answer was dictated by a sentiment so delicate and generous, that Louis XV., greatly moved, cried: “Well, very well, my child . . . you are right . . . if my old St. Clair had known how to speak German, he would have done as you did; . . . but as he is too old to learn that now, and as Barbara does not appear to have any taste for the French language, keep this mare . . . Marquis of Létorière, the King gives her to you.”
The Marquis bowed respectfully . . .
“Richelieu, you will present him to me to-morrow, at my first reception, without ceremony,” said the king to the marshal. Then making an affectionate gesture to Létorière, Louis XV. entered the palace.
The next day Létorière was officially presented; a few days after, Louis XV. appointed him master of the horse, and later, he gave him a cornetcy in the Mousquetaires.
From this moment the fortunes of Létorière did nothing but grow, for the king’s affection for him increased every day.
It would take too long to tell how the favorite became the most conspicuous man at court: but this progress was simple and natural. To all his rare advantages of mind, of person, of birth, and of heart, there was soon added an exquisite taste in everything. His horses, his furniture, and his dress became the type of elegance and good taste. In short, at the end of four years the poor scholar of Plessis College had become one of the most brilliant courtiers, and inspired at once admiration, envy, hatred, adoration, as do all people endowed with superior parts.
This narrative will not allow the recital of many brilliant exploits of which the Marquis was the hero, or of which he was supposed to be the hero, for his discretion was rare.
But it was well known that he could never be reproached with baseness or perfidy in love. In two duels he showed himself brave and generous: the only fault with which he could be charged, was great extravagance; but this he could well afford, owing to the gaining of his lawsuit against the Intendancy of Poitou, and also to the munificence and bounties of the king, who successively appointed him Commendatory Abbé of the Trinité de Vendôme, commander of the united orders of St. Lazare and Notre-Dame-du-Mont-Carmel, a colonel of cavalry, counsellor of State, of the sword, and grand seneschal of Aunis.
Such was the prodigious prosperity which Létorière reached during the four years after his fortunate encounter with the king.
Amid all his successes, Létorière had never forgotten the great blue eyes of the Opera Ball, and almost every day he contemplated his ring with sadness.
Notwithstanding this device, it follows you everywhere, written under an eye of such a charming blue, which appeared to regard him with a tenderness full of confidence and serenity, the Marquis feared that he had been completely forgotten by his mysterious protectress. In four years he had received no news from her. Sometimes he trembled lest his reputation as a man of gallantry, by awaking in the breast of the unknown a just jealousy, might forever alienate her from him; sometimes he feared that absence, or sickness, or death even, might have deprived him of this strange friendship.
Moved by a singular and inexplicable sentiment, Létorière had always, in his gallantries, carefully shunned the seductions of blue eyes, however cruel this self-denial had often appeared to him. He had dreaded to profane, perhaps unwittingly, a love which he thought was so little like other loves. The more he prospered in a life which destiny had made so beautiful, and perhaps too easily happy for him, the more idolatrously did he dwell, almost with regret, on that season of calmness and tranquil happiness, when the only emotion of his life was excited by one of the letters in which his unknown had given him counsel so full of wisdom.
He noted, almost with affright, the approach of the fatal limit that had been assigned to him, when he was to receive a last letter which would decide his destiny. This letter he received that very day, four years after the meeting at the Opera Ball. It was as follows:
“For five years I have loved you . . . for five years I have followed you through all the phases of your life, obscure or brilliant, poor or fortunate. You are worthy of the heart which I offer you with confidence. I am an orphan, my hand is free. I offer it to you. . . . No human power can change my resolution to be yours. If you refuse to realize my most cherished projects, withdrawn into a cloister, each day I shall pray Heaven to grant you that happiness I would so willingly have made for you.
“JULIE DE SOISSONS,
“Princess of S . . . C . . .”
MADEMOISELLE DE SOISSONS
Mademoiselle Victoire-Julie de Soissons, Princess of S . . . C . . . , lived with her aunt, the Princess of Rohan-Soubise. Aged about twenty-five years, the princess Julie was rather pretty than beautiful; she was of medium size, and perfectly graceful. Although the use of powder was then in the height of fashion, very rarely did Mlle. de Soissons consent to cover lightly with it her magnificent flaxen hair, which, in a manner peculiar to herself, she rolled off her face with most becoming effect. Her eyes were blue, her lips vermilion, her teeth pearls, her face a pure and delicate oval, her complexion, too brown for a blonde, was nevertheless so pure and brilliant, that one could not desire it to be whiter. The habitual expression of her countenance was melancholy, yet sweet.
Of a nature at once impressible and reserved, the least emotion brought a lovely blush to her cheeks and charming neck.
If she heard a touching or pitiful tale, her eyes would fill with tears. Although a princess of royal blood, no one felt less than she the pride of birth; the requirements of her lofty station weighed upon her. By natural disposition and taste, she preferred a simple and obscure life, to the ostentatious career to which she had been appointed. Very retiring, very proud, with the noble pride of a soul conscious of its own superiority, the princess Julie was esteemed disdainful, when she was, in fact, only delicate and timid.
Vulgar natures, pretentious or egotistic, especially repelled her. The most striking feature of her character was an indomitable will. Her frail bodily envelope concealed a most valiant and resolute heart. No human consideration could influence her decisions when she believed them based on justice and reason. By a singular contrast, notwithstanding her princely birth, the nobility of her heart, her firmness, her mind as lovely as it was cultivated, the princess Julie almost always displayed the most incredible timidity, even among persons who were in nowise her equals.
An orphan, and having lived for seven years with Madame de Rohan-Soubise, Mlle. de Soissons felt no sympathy with her relative. All the secrets of her heart were reserved for Martha, her nurse, a simple, good-hearted creature who had brought her up, and who loved her with the blind tenderness of a mother.
For five years Mlle. de Soissons had persistently refused the most brilliant offers of marriage from persons of suitable birth and fortune; for five years she had loved the Marquis of Létorière.
Her singularly good heart, her rather romantic temperament, her independent spirit, had not remained insensible to the history of misfortunes so courageously borne by that young gentleman.
When Jerome Sicard went to execute Létorière’s commission, after having carried him gratuitously to Palais Marchand, it will be remembered that a man getting out of the carriage had seen Dame Landry in the height of her wrath against the Marquis. Curious to learn the termination of the affair, this man, the steward of Madame Rohan-Soubise, returning several days after to The Golden Scissors, found Dame Landry full of enthusiasm for her debtor. The steward described this singular drama to Dame Martha, Mlle. de Soisson’s nurse, relating all the details. Dame Martha, in turn, communicated them to the princess Julie. Such was the first cause of the lively interest which the latter soon felt for M. de Létorière.
During the illness of the young Marquis, Julie often sent her faithful nurse, well disguised in her long black cloak, to get tidings of Dominique’s pupil.
When Létorière was convalescent, Dame Martha was deputed to convey secretly the basket of flowers and fruit, of which mention has been made, without allowing any one to guess whence the gift came, and afterwards to find out the day on which he would be able to go out; the princess desired very much to see this enchanter who charmed the most pedantic regent of the college, the most rebellious wife of a tailor, and the coarsest of coachmen.
As a woman of her rank could go out neither alone nor on foot, Martha endeavored to ascertain if there were not, in the Rue St. Florentin, some shop where she could lie concealed, to watch this young invalid, under the pretence of making purchases.
She found an obscure milliner, almost opposite Létorière’s house; and knowing the hour in which the Marquis regularly went out, Julie, at the risk of passing for an eccentric, took a carriage with one of the female attendants of her aunt, and went to the milliner’s, ostensibly for the purpose of making purchases.
She soon saw, through the windows, the ex-professor and his pupil. The expression of melancholy on the charming countenance of the young gentleman, and the tender assiduities of Dominique, moved her to tears.
Her errand accomplished, the princess drove to the Tuilleries. Létorière soon arrived there, and took a seat in the sunshine with Dominique.
When Mlle. de Soissons could contemplate, at her ease, the ravishing countenance of this young man, she experienced a profound and new impression; her heart beat violently; she trembled, she blushed . . . she loved.
To the singular character of this princess it was undoubtedly owing, that in her eyes, one of Létorière’s principal attractions was the misfortune which pursued him. For in the generous and elevated soul of this young girl, misfortune always found ready sympathy.
Mistress of a considerable revenue, and sure of the secrecy and fidelity of Brissot, who had faithfully served her father, Mlle. de Soissons employed him to keep her informed of Létorière’s affairs. Fully instructed, the steward wrote to Létorière’s lawyer, who was also his own, to follow up the lawsuit, and to make the necessary advances to the Marquis. It was he, also, who obtained for Landry his appointment, by means of a present made to one of the Duke of Bourbon’s subalterns, who had the charge of all such nominations.
For a long time the princess contented herself with the secret reveries of this chaste and passionate love, watching eagerly for rare opportunities, when she could meet the Marquis, and writing to him from time to time. Then, when, by her secret influence, he had gained his lawsuit, she resolved to leave him free, and see if he would prove worthy of her. She wrote for the last time, gave him the note at the Opera Ball, and waited.
The day on which the Marquis was presented to the king, Mlle. de Soissons accompanied the dauphiness, and was sufficiently near to Louis XV. to hear that prince say, to all approaching him, pointing out his young protégé:
“Admit that he is charming!”
With much joy and pride the princess saw her choice approved, as one may say, by these words of the king, who, as has been already said, soon attached the Marquis to his person.
Mlle. de Soissons, until then very indifferent to court fêtes and excursions to Marly, now sought to join them on all occasions. Louis XV. felt a warm interest in his young equerry, whom he soon promoted to his military staff. At the chase and on the promenade, he marked with complacency the grace and address of Létorière, and quoted his fine and delicate repartees.
By a curious contradiction, the more the princess Julie’s love increased in her heart, the more she shunned all occasions, not only of meeting, but of making the acquaintance of M. de Létorière.
After two years’ connection with the court, the favor and success of the Marquis were at their highest. A thousand gallantries were imputed to him. Strange as it may seem, the jealousy of Mlle. de Soissons was not excited. The chaste and proud passion of this young girl gave her courage to view with pity the ephemeral and foolish loves which were attributed to the Marquis. She felt so sure, so worthy of being passionately adored, of being preferred to all when she revealed herself to him, that she remained for a long time almost heedless of the numerous flirtations of Létorière.
The princess Julie wished to watch him whom she loved, in order to judge if he were worthy of her. . . . She readily perceived that these successes were the natural result of the rare attractions with which he was endowed. But she wished to know if his heart remained noble and generous amid such intoxicating circumstances.
In a question of lofty sentiments no proofs are trifling; the daily walk is in such cases more trustworthy, perhaps, than great bursts of devotion; the former is the habit, the latter the accidents, of life.
Thus three poor and obscure persons had rendered important services to Létorière during his adversity,—Dominique, the tailor, and his wife.
With keen delight, Mlle. de Soissons learned from Martha that the Marquis continued to keep Dominique near him, and that he always treated him with deferential affection.
Very often Létorière recounted, with manifestations of profound gratitude, the obligations he was under to these excellent people. A man of his age, whom the most unbounded prosperity and the most brilliant success did not blind, who remained simple, good, and emphatically grateful to such obscure benefactors, ought to be esteemed a man of noble heart.
The project of Mlle. de Soissons was irrevocably resolved upon. She would freely, boldly, offer her hand to him whom she found so worthy.
No objection of birth or fortune could change her resolution. She was an orphan, and felt herself free to choose a husband. Profoundly indifferent to all the reasons which her aunt daily brought to prove to her that she, a princess of a royal house, ought to make certain alliances, the princess Julie replied distinctly, that though she saw no need of quoting example, Mlle. de Montpensier married M. de Lanzun. . . . As to herself, she would marry an artizan, without scruple, if an artizan seemed to her to deserve her love.
Madame Rohan-Soubise, utterly ignorant of her niece’s secret, treated these ideas as phantasies, foolish reveries, encouraged by the romances of Rousseau. Mlle. de Soissons answered nothing, but secretly followed her plan with incredible pertinacity.
Her love increased, so to speak, in proportion to the successes of him she loved. One would have said that she waited until the Marquis was at the height of his triumphs, in order that she might offer him her love as their supreme consecration.
When she was assured of the nobility and solidity of his character, without remorse, without shame, with all the security of candor, all the serene confidence of an exalted soul, she wrote to M. de Létorière the letter which we have already seen, to offer him her hand.
Happily for him, and for Mlle. de Soissons, Létorière comprehended all the grandeur and all the devotion of such a love. Satiated with too easy successes, he consecrated himself from that time to the adoration of the young girl who so nobly confided to him her future.
He often saw the princess alone, and in Martha’s presence. Mlle. de Soissons desired that he should at once ask her hand of Madame Rohan-Soubise, purely as a matter of form. The young girl held in reserve her rights and her invincible will, awaiting the decision of her aunt.
As a man of honor and good sense, Létorière gave Mlle. de Soissons to understand, that according to the loss or gain of the important lawsuit which was still pending against the dukes of Brunswick-Oëls and the prince of Brandebourg-Bareuth, he should or should not be recognized as of princely blood; and if successful, that he would have a fortune equal to the support of that rank. In his judgment, it would be better to wait the issue of this lawsuit, before applying to Madame Rohan-Soubise.
If it were gained, his position would be so eminent that no reasonable objection could be made to his marriage with the princess Julie; if it were lost, it would then be time to dispense with the consent of Mlle. de Soissons’ family; but there was no need of uselessly and prematurely provoking publicity, which is always mortifying. Such was the opinion of M. de Létorière. The princess Julie took the opposite view; her resolute character could not accommodate itself to such temporizing. The Marquis proposed to leave it to the judgment of the king, who continued to bestow upon him proofs of the most touching goodness.
Mlle. de Soissons accepted this arbitration. Louis XV. approved of Létorière’s delicacy, and promised to write to the French ambassador at Vienna, to push forward his just claims.
A month before, the good Dominique had gone to Vienna, in order to get precise information in regard to the dispositions of the members of the Aulic Council, called to decide, finally, this important lawsuit which had already lasted nearly a century.
One can imagine with how much impatience Létorière awaited the return of the old professor. On the issue of his cause, his marriage with Mlle. de Soissons might almost be said to rest.
At the time of which we write, M. de Létorière occupied a charming detached house, whose garden opened on the ramparts, not far from the Pavilion of Hanover, one of the dependencies of the dwelling of the Marshal Richelieu.
The habitation of the Marquis resembled much more a palacette, as it was then called, than a chateau. Everything therein was elegant, sumptuous, mysterious and retired. In the summer, great trees enclosed the garden with a girdle of verdure impenetrable to the eye; in the winter, an immense curtain of ivy, very artistically disposed on trellises built in the form of trees, rose above the walls, and replaced the foliage of the warmer season.
On the day we speak of, Létorière was in his library awaiting the expected arrival of Dominique from Vienna.
The princes against whom the Marquis was at law, had very great influence in Germany. The Aulic Council was said to be in their interests, and single-handed, Létorière had to wrestle against these formidable adversaries.
The old professor, when he set out, was furnished with a letter from the king to the French Ambassador at Vienna. Louis XV. informed his representative that he took great interest in M. de Létorière’s success in the lawsuit, and ordered him to favor with all his power the secret inquiries of the Marquis’s confidential agent.
Soon the noise of a post-chaise was heard, and immediately after Jean-Francois Dominique entered Létorière’s library.
“Well! Dominique, have we any chance?” said the Marquis, cordially embracing him.
“I doubt it . . . Monsieur the Marquis.” . . .
“Are these Aulic councillors intractable?”
“Alas! I think so, but for the recollection of Alcibiades, who, after all, seduced Tisapherne! . . . But I believe these Germans yet more rebellious, yet more unapproachable than that distrustful satrap!”
“And who are these councillors? Have you gained some information about them?”
“I have enough. . . . I have too much information! That is why I am so grieved. These councillors are three in number: the Baron Henferester, the greatest huntsman and most redoubtable drinker in all Germany; a Nimrod who only quits his forests to sit in the council twice a week. Then there is the Doctor Aloysius Sphex, a learned commentator of Persius, I believe, always bristling with Latin, like a porcupine; and lastly, the Seigneur Flachsinfingen, an ostrich-like gourmand, governed by his wife, the leanest, most peevish, sourest Protestant that ever wore a Bible attached to her side by a silver chain . . .”
“Your portraits are drawn by a masterly hand, Dominique; they are sufficiently unattractive. And these gentlemen of the council are absolutely in the interest of the German princes?”
“Yes, entirely so. In this single case these three councillors, who detest each other cordially, undoubtedly on account of the difference of their tastes, are of one mind,—a rare thing, for generally the support of one would be sufficient to cause the opposition of the others.”
“And the German princes?” . . .
“Have as much hope of gaining, as you have chances of losing; for you pass at Vienna for something worse than a demon.”
“I do! . . . You are joking, Dominique!”
“I wish I were! but it is only too true. . . . Your reputation as a man of gallantry, a voluptuary, a flirt, and a sybarite, has reached even Vienna; in the eyes of these grave Germans, you are a Will’-o’-the-wisp, a sprite, a sylph,—something, in short, as brilliant as subtle, unaccountable and dangerous. Two centuries ago, they would have received you with a power of exorcisms and holy water . . . but in this philosophic and enlightened age, they will content themselves with shutting the door in your face, and saying vade retro, for they would think you are the devil himself; and unhappily your lawsuit will be definitely settled in two weeks by these three judges! . . . Ah! may Pluto . . . have them some day for their comfort!” added Dominique, by way of imprecation.
After a long silence, the Marquis rose, wrote a few words, rang his bell, and gave his letter to a servant, saying:
“Carry this to the house of Madame Rohan-Soubise; ask for Dame Martha, and wait for an answer.”
“This evening I shall start for Vienna,” said Létorière to his professor.
“You mean, then, to go in search of adventures, to seduce your judges? It is true that Alcibiades ate the black broth of the Spartans, made a centaur of himself in Thrace, and crowned himself with violets, while he sang voluptuous songs to the effeminate Ionians.”
“I have no intention of fascinating my judges, my old friend; but in some cases it is better to see with one’s own eyes.”
The conversation between Dominique and his former pupil continued for some time, and turned upon the particular circumstances of the lawsuit.
At the end of half an hour, the lackey returned, bringing a note for Létorière, who cried out in great astonishment:
“What can she be thinking of? But if she wishes, let it be so . . .”
Then he ordered his carriage and went out, praying Dominique to hasten the preparations for his departure that very evening.
THE CHATEAU SOUBISE
Four persons were chatting in a charming little boudoir, inlaid with the red lacker of Coromandel. The furniture of this delightful room, one of the marvels of the Rohan-Soubise Chateau, was covered with brocade of silver ground with large designs in crimson. The curtains of the windows and doors, made of similar material, fell in graceful folds. A Japanese vase of gold, purple and blue, three feet in height, filled with flowers, and placed before the window, resembled an enamelled screen of the most brilliant colors. On étagères of massive silver, delicately chased and inlaid with charming coral medallions, the work of some famous Florentine artist, were to be seen a quantity of Chinese knick-knacks, impossible to describe on account of their oddity.
Near a fireplace of most beautiful red antique marble, whose grate was ornamented with a garland of flowers and fruit, made of precious stones, was a little bed à la duchesse, a perfect miniature, with curtains, canopies, and coverlets, and feathered plumes on the dais; nothing was wanting. A very diminutive black spaniel, marked with tan, whose long silken hair was coquettishly braided with cherry and silver ribbons, slept on the couch, half hidden under the eider-down cover. A saucer of royal old blue Sèvres china, containing macaroons, crumbled into milk of almonds, awaited the delicate Puff on his awaking.
Madame, the Princess of Rohan-Soubise, her niece, Mlle. de Soissons, the Count de Lugeac and the Abbé of Arcueil, were the actors in the following scene:
M. de Lugeac had just come in.
“How much you lost, madame, by not being at the brilliant concert yesterday! you would have witnessed the most extraordinary thing in the world!”
“What was it?” demanded the abbé. “Have Jean Jacques and Arouet embraced each other in public? Or have they sung the praises of the chancellor?”
“Tell us at once of this fine affair,” said Madame Rohan-Soubise.
“Yesterday, at the concert, M. de Létorière was applauded—yes, applauded to the skies” . . . said M. de Lugeac, with an evident feeling of jealousy.
“Applauded? As M. de Létorière is neither a prince of the blood, nor a comedian, at least so far as I know, I do not see what title he has to be applauded,” . . . dryly said Madame Rohan-Soubise, who, without known motive, and undoubtedly by presentiment, cordially detested the Marquis.
Mlle. de Soissons blushed deeply, and broke a thread of her embroidery in an impatient movement which was not perceived by her aunt.
“M. de Létorière was applauded for his coat,” . . . replied the count.
“What a ridiculous dress! . . . This fine Marquis must always have people talking about him,” said the abbé.
“Not ridiculous . . . but in truth so magnificent, and at the same time so elegant, that even I, who will not acknowledge myself a strong friend of the Marquis, will be generous enough to allow, that I never in all my life saw anything more charming than he, dressed as he was. . . . But when one devotes one’s self to such follies, it is at least satisfactory to obtain such success.” . . .
“Tell us about this miraculous toilette,” said Madame Rohan-Soubise; “I will tell you afterwards another story about M. de Létorière, which will furnish a curious contrast to all his present magnificence.”
“And I, also,” . . . said the abbé. “No later than this morning, the Archbishop of Paris told me a hundred tales of this fine Marquis!”
“To finish about this toilette, madame,” said M. de Lugeac. “After the first part of the concert was over, Létorière was seen entering the box of Judge Solar, ambassador of his majesty the King of Sardinia,”—and M. de Lugeac inclined his head towards Mlle. de Soissons, a cousin of this king. “The box was empty; the Marquis remained there a few moments to observe the audience. He wore a coat of plain, straw-colored moiré, with cuffs of changeable gold and sea-green stuff; his shoulder-knot was of gold and green; you see, madame, that so far, nothing could be more simple.” . . .
“The shades are well enough selected, we will allow,” said the abbé.
“But,” continued the count, “what was truly marvellous was the trimming of this coat. First, the Marquis’s Steinkerque order was fastened with a magnificent emerald buckle; then his large and small buttons, and even the mounting of his sword, were in magnificent opals, which threw green, blue and orange rays, almost as brilliant as the diamonds which encircled these superb stones.”
“But ornaments like those must be worth more than twenty thousand crowns!” cried the abbé.
“I can well believe it,” replied M. de Lugeac, “and it is a foolish extravagance; but it is always so whenever the Marquis appears in that box, so magnificently dressed, his hair, lightly snowed like hoar-frost with unbleached powder, falling in his own fashion in waving curls on each side of his temples, he always excites in the public a kind of ecstasy of admiration, succeeded by a murmur more and more approving, until at last almost universal bravos burst forth.”
“But, in truth, this foolish apotheosis of the beauty of a man is but a pagan ovation,” said Madame Rohan-Soubise, with a contemptuous smile. “Besides, what is quite as amusing as the enthusiasm of the Parisians for the charming graces of M. de Létorière, is the profound admiration he has for himself. The vanity of this new Narcissus has been, they say, so ridiculously exalted for some time past, that he has become quite invincible; there are numbers of desperate and weeping beauties, who in vain call with loud cries upon this disdainful Celadon. Undoubtedly no woman now appears to him worthy of his attentions.”
“Or perhaps, madame, he has found one worthy of his love,” said Mlle. de Soissons, raising her noble and beautiful face, radiant with goodness, love and pride, as she listened to this indirect eulogium on the fidelity of the Marquis.
Madame Rohan-Soubise, not perceiving her niece’s emotion, continued:
“But, my dear princess, if this be so, we ought to know this phoenix! For discretion is not the rôle of M. de Létorière. No, no, believe me, if he is fixed, as you say, then his choice is so unworthy of him that he is obliged to conceal it from the world.”
“Perhaps, on the contrary, it is the world who, in M. de Létorière’s eyes, is not worthy of knowing his secret,” replied Mlle. de Soissons.
This second repartee struck her aunt, who answered:
“Truly, my dear Julie, it is easy to see that you are not acquainted with M. de Létorière, since you defend him!”
“We speak now of generalities, madame; but rest assured that if I were obliged to defend any one who interested me, I should do it boldly and without dissembling, when the time came,” said Mlle. de Soissons, with a peculiar accent.
“Oh, I know you are very courageous in that way, my dear child; your friends are truly your friends; but on the contrary, your enemies are also your enemies! You must allow me also to have my preferences and my antipathies. . . . Frankly, M. de Létorière is firmly fixed in the latter; I hate everything which savors of intrigue and concealment. This Marquis had nothing, five years ago, but his cape and sword. I ask myself how it is possible that he can now have ornaments on his coat worth twenty thousand crowns, a handsome establishment, the finest horses in the world, and is enabled to play as deeply as a large landholder?”
“I believe, madame, that those who ask those questions know very well how to answer them,” said Julie, dryly.
“For myself, I declare to you, my dear, that I should find it very difficult,” replied Madame de Rohan-Soubise, with the most natural air; . . . “but if I had the misfortune to be one of the friends of the opulent M. de Létorière, I should desire nothing better for his reputation than to see him burned as a sorcerer, however incredulous I may be about the philosopher’s stone.”
At this last sarcasm Mlle. de Soissons looked at the clock with a kind of eager impatience, but said nothing.
“His magnificence is truly inconceivable,” said M. de Lugeac. “It is true that some say he is fortunate at play; others affirm that the king and Madame Dubarry favor him in every way, and have gained for him two very important lawsuits; besides, it is evident that his Majesty is bewitched with him, as is all the world; and truly it may be said that everything which this Marquis touches is turned to gold. . . . If you will believe it, madame, he has brought into fashion a poor devil of a tailor, who gave him credit in his earlier days; the Marquis does not conceal it, but speaks of it quite freely. This Landry, of The Golden Scissors, whose stores are brilliant, who is now one of the richest artizans of Paris, owes his unlooked-for good fortune only to the influence of these words, repeated by all the city: ‘He is the tailor of the elegant Létorière!'”
“Truly!” said Madame Rohan-Soubise, impatiently, “all these stories resemble the tales of Perrault.”
“They are much more like fairy tales,” replied M. de Lugeac. “And then the description of his bedchamber! they say that his toilet set is entirely of gold chased by Gouttière, and enriched with precious stones.” . . .
“And I,” said the abbé, “I have heard a thousand times repeated by the Archbishop of Paris that M. de Létorière was almost the serpent of the terrestrial paradise. . . . ‘If it were an affair of the government of Paris,’ said this good prelate to me this morning, ‘I would mask him with a cowl, like a black penitent, to hide his eyes, and choke the sound of his voice; for, in a question of precedence which interested one of my relations, this tempter has turned upside down my whole chapter-house, and fascinated my prebendaries so that they speak of nothing but him.'”
At this moment the door of the boudoir was thrown open, and a valet-de-chambre announced with a loud voice: Monsieur the Marquis de Létorière!
“M. de Létorière in my house! I have never received him! What audacity!” cried Madame de Rohan-Soubise, with as much astonishment as anger.
See for these details, and for other biographical particulars of Létorière, the charming Souvenirs de Madame la Marquise de Créquy.
At the announcement of the Marquis, Madame de Rohan-Soubise had risen; the count and the abbé did the same,—and so also did the princess Julie.
The Marquis found these four persons present: Madame Rohan-Soubise, in full dress, arrogant, irritated, haughty; the abbé, by way of reassuring himself, caressed Puff, who, awaking with a start, whined a little; the count, leaning his elbow on the mantle-piece, played carelessly with his watch-chain; Mlle. de Soissons, calm and resolved, supported herself with one hand on her embroidery frame, and looked at Létorière with an air at once tender and grateful.
The Marquis had hardly respectfully saluted Madame Rohan-Soubise, when she turned towards M. de Lugeac, with a gesture of supreme disdain, and asked him, “Who is this gentleman?”
The count, very much embarrassed, hesitated to answer, when the Marquis sharply said, “M. de Létorière absolves M. de Lugeac from being responsible for him to Madame de Rohan-Soubise.”
“It was at my request, madame, that M. the Marquis of Létorière has been kind enough to come here,” said the princess Julie, in a firm and decided voice.
“At your request? . . . yours . . . Julie?” cried Madame Rohan-Soubise, at the height of astonishment. “‘Tis impossible!”
“However unknown I may unhappily be to Madame de Rohan-Soubise, I dare to hope that she will understand that the formal orders of Mlle. de Soissons have been necessary to bring me to the Chateau Soubise—an honor which, until now, I have at least had the modesty or the good taste never to aspire to,” replied the Marquis, in a tone of marked irony.
“Princess Julie . . . explain yourself . . . this has already continued too long!” cried Madame de Rohan-Soubise, imperiously.
The count and the abbé made a movement to retire, but Mlle. de Soissons said to them:
“Have the goodness to remain, gentlemen, that you may be witnesses to what I wish to say to madame.”
The two gentlemen bowed respectfully. Mlle. de Soissons then addressed her aunt: “I have begged M. de Létorière to come here, madame, that I might tell him before you, and you before him, my irrevocable intentions. I am an orphan, and free in all my actions when they are not unworthy of my birth; but you are my relative, madame, and I know what is due to you, and I cannot better prove my respect than in imparting to you a resolution on which depends my destiny.” . . .
With the exception of the Marquis, the actors in this strange scene were lost in astonishment. Madame de Rohan-Soubise, stupefied at the language of the princess Julie, could not believe what she heard.
Mlle. de Soissons continued:
“I have offered my hand to M. de Létorière; he has accepted it.” . . .
“You have offered your hand!!” . . . cried Madame de Rohan-Soubise. “Princess Julie, you have lost your reason . . . or is this all an ill-judged pleasantry?”
“Ah! mademoiselle,” said Létorière, with a reproachful accent, seeing the young girl thus breaking the promise she had made to him, to wait the issue of the lawsuit before making a final decision.
The princess Julie turned towards him:
“You will soon learn why I have acted thus,” said she; and she added, addressing her aunt with a solemn air, “I have not lost my reason; and what I say is serious. . . . Before God, who hears me, before you, madame, before you, Count de Lugeac, and before you, Abbé d’Arcueil, I, Julie Victorie de Soissons, swear to have no other husband but the Marquis of Létorière here before us;” and she tendered him her hand with a gesture of grandeur and simplicity.
The Marquis took the charming hand, which he kissed with the most respectful and lively tenderness.
This scene was so unexpected, so like a thunderbolt, that Madame Rohan-Soubise remained for a moment mute, interrogating with her eyes the count and the abbé, not less astonished.
“And I,” replied the Marquis, “swear to consecrate my life to the noble princess who has honored me with her choice. . . .”
“And I, with all the authority which my relationship gives me,” impetuously cried Madame de Rohan-Soubise, coming out of her stupor, “I declare to you, mademoiselle, that this shameful alliance is impossible, and that it shall never take place!”
“The honor which Mlle. de Soissons deigns to do me, madame, prevents me from answering your outrageous words,” said the Marquis, much moved.
The Princess Julie replied, addressing herself to her aunt:
“With the delicacy which ought to characterize the man to whom I intrust my destiny, M. de Létorière wished to await the issue of his lawsuit, which the Aulic Council of the empire is about to decide, before accepting formally the hand which I have freely offered him; if he gains his lawsuit he will be recognized as of a princely house, and then there will be no difference of rank, as it is called; but if this proposition was noble and delicate, I was a coward to accept it; I pretended to recognize exigencies which I do not admit; I pretended to wait the favorable issue of the lawsuit before making my decision. But that did not suit me; I meant loyally and openly, madame, to declare to you my unalterable resolution, whether the lawsuit be gained or lost. M. de Létorière starts to-night for Vienna. . . . This evening I shall go to the Abbey of Montmartre, and there await his return; you will understand, madame, that it is impossible for me to live any longer in your house.” . . .
“Undoubtedly the Chateau Soubise is disagreeable to you, mademoiselle; yet you must either leave it to make a marriage worthy of your family, or enter a convent forever.” . . .
“At least, madame, his majesty allows me to be free to retire at once to the lady-superior of Montmartre,” said Mlle. de Soissons, handing to Madame Rohan-Soubise a letter which she took from her pocket.
“The hand-writing of the king!” cried Madame Rohan-Soubise.
“Yesterday I wrote to his majesty, who is acquainted with my resolution; read his answer, which is addressed to you, madame”:
“MY COUSIN: For sufficient reasons, I desire that Mlle. de Soissons may enter the Abbey of Montmartre until further orders.
Madame de Rohan-Soubise, astonished beyond expression, read the letter twice.
“Wonderful!” said she, with concentrated spite; “you have prevailed, mademoiselle, but his majesty can reconsider . . . undoubtedly will reconsider, a determination which has been surprised from him. . . . And I shall go immediately to the king.”
“I believe that I am sufficiently acquainted with his majesty’s intentions, madame, to be certain of the futility of your application,” said Mlle. de Soissons. Then she offered her hand to M. de Létorière, saying: “Adieu, my friend; go to Vienna . . . I will wait for you at Montmartre Abbey.”
That very evening M. de Létorière started for Vienna.
THE GOVERNOR OF HENFERESTER
Ten leagues north of Vienna is the vast manor of Henferester—an old pile blackened by time, its walls covered with ivy, its roof with moss; it seemed deserted and abandoned. The main structure, and a great tower which faced the east, were almost in ruins. The only habitable part of the chateau was the western tower; through some hedges of box, pushing in every direction over the esplanade, which, surrounded by lime-trees, extended before the door of the castle, could be seen traces of an ancient parterre overgrown with brambles and parasitic plants.
Autumn was drawing towards its close; the foliage of the great clumps of trees which fringed the horizon had begun to put on their rich purple tints. The sky was gray and rainy; the air damp and cold; night approached. The high and narrow window which gave light to the basement of the tower was suddenly illuminated; the stained glass windows, although somewhat blackened by smoke, shone brilliantly, and the coat-of-arms of the lords of Henferester glittered in the darkness steadily deepening.
The lower floor of the tower formed one immense circular room; it was at once the dining-hall and the kitchen of the Governor of Henferester; the upper stories contained many dilapidated chambers, which were reached by a rough and narrow spiral stone staircase, the ascent of which was aided by a rope attached to the damp wall by rings of rusty iron.
A great fire was burning in the immense kitchen chimney; a copper lamp with three branches suspended from the smoky rafters of the ceiling, lighted the place; on the walls, whose plaster was in patches, were hung deer-horns, which supported guns and hunting-knives, wild boars’ tusks and hoofs, and several wolves’ heads, stuffed.
The floor, trodden hard like the threshing-floor of a barn, was strewn with hatchelled straw, by way of a carpet. In one corner an enormous hogshead of beer, between two beams, was on tap. Above it were two barrels of different sizes. One contained Rhine wine, the other, which was smaller, the kirchenwasser of the Black Forest. On either side of the barrels were ranged pewter mugs of various sizes. Near by were two great firkins set against the wall, one full of salted bacon, the other of sauer-kraut pickled in vinegar. An iron fork and spoon hanging over these two firkins, formed, so to speak, pendants to the pewter mugs ranged above the barrels.
Lastly, a kneading-trough, containing a dozen loaves of bread as big as mill-wheels, completed the list of culinary furniture.
Except a quarter of venison, which was roasting before an enormous fire in the chimney, and a great pot in which the bacon and sauer-kraut were boiling, there was nothing in the room to indicate that it was a kitchen. There were visible neither cooking-stoves, nor moulds, nor saucepans of various forms, so dear to gourmands.
As for utensils, there was only one gridiron hanging before the mouth of the oven, which was wide open, under the mantle-piece, and a great turnspit operated by a dog.
A quarter of venison, like that before the fire, was hanging, all bloody, on an iron hook near the door.
Thanks to the combined odors of the venison, the bacon, the sauer-kraut, the beer, the wine, and the kirchenwasser, the atmosphere of the room was so thick, or perhaps we may say, so nourishing, that a very little of it would have satisfied a delicate stomach.
Without, the rain, mingled with hail, fell violently, pelting the windows.
Two white-haired old Germans, clothed in loose gray coats, fastened at the waist by belts of buffalo hide, were preparing the repast of the lord of Henferester, who had been out hunting since the morning, and had not yet returned.
These preparations were simple. The domestics drew towards the fireplace a long and massive oak table; at the upper end they placed the master’s oaken seat, coarsely sculptured with his coat-of-arms, the back carried up to form a canopy, and to which no cushion gave ease.
Before this seat they placed a plate, or rather a great dish of silver, a piece of bread weighing about two pounds, and three tankards, also of silver, which served at once as glasses and bottles. The first, destined for beer, held two pints; the second, for wine, one pint, the third, for kirchenwasser, half a pint.
These tankards were generally filled a second time during the meal. Table-cloths, napkins, and covers were things merely remembered, and were deemed ridiculous superfluities. Hunters of that day always carried two knives in their belts; one straight and long, for stabbing the beast; the other, thick, curved, and a little larger than an ordinary table-knife, was used for cutting him up. This last they invariably employed for carving their meat at table.
The servants then laid pewter plates and pieces of bread at each side of the table. These inferior places were reserved for the servitors of the baron, according to their rank.
The lord of Henferester, faithful to old and patriarchal traditions, ate with his domestics. On his right was the place of Erhard Trusches, his huntsman; on the left that of Selbitz, his major-domo.
This last-named personage, having set the sauer-kraut to boil, and the venison to roast, aided Link, an old groom, in preparing the table.
As to women, they were never seen in the castle. Every Saturday, old Wilhelmina, the minister’s housekeeper, came to make and bake the bread for the week, while the baron was at the council at Vienna. Wednesday, the other council day, she put in order the linen of the castle, always in the absence of the governor, who regarded the fair sex with profound dislike.
“The master is late to-night,” said the major-domo, sadly looking at the quarter of venison, which was beginning to dry up.
“The night is dark, the rain is falling heavily, Master Selbitz . . . perhaps the chase will have carried the governor into the forest of Harterassen. . . . Master Erhard Trusches sent word this morning by Karl, the dog-keeper, that the baron was to hunt a wild boar; . . . and wild boars always start in the woods of Ferstenfak, gain the plain of Marais, return to their lair in the forest of Harterassen, and then are captured at the pond of the priory. All that would make a run of at least eight leagues, and as many to return, Master Selbitz.” . . .
“And what with the night and the rain, and the bad roads of the forest, that is a long way. . . . But listen, Link,” . . . said the major-domo, putting his hand to his ear; “is not that the sound of the governor’s trumpet?”
“No, Master Selbitz, it is the wind blowing the weathercock.” . . .
“What time is it?” asked the major-domo; for clocks were almost as unknown in the castle as at Otaheite.
“It must be between six and seven, Master Selbitz, for Elphin, the governor’s roan horse, has been calling for his grain for some time. . . . Hark! listen! do you hear him? Patience, patience, old Elphin!” said the groom, coming back from the door. . . . “When your companions, Kol and Lipper, get back, you will have your supper, but not before, you old glutton!”
“This time it surely is the governor’s trumpet,” cried the major-domo. . . . “God be praised! What weather! Come! run and hold the master’s stirrup. Link, while I go and throw some pine cones on the fire, to make a blaze.”
“That is certainly the governor’s trumpet,” said Link, after listening attentively, . . . “but he does not sound a joyful flourish, or the retreat. . . . Ah, Master Selbitz, bad luck, bad luck!”
“The better reason for not keeping him waiting,—go—hurry!”
The groom ran out. . . . Selbitz, having brightened the fire, put on his lord’s silver plate a letter with a great red seal, which an express had brought from Vienna during the day.
At this moment they heard the loud snapping of a whip, and a stentorian and harsh voice, crying: “Go to the black devil! you cursed dogs! Erhard, see if the piebald horse eats well; for the day has been a hard one!”
Then they heard the clatter of great iron-heeled and spurred boots; the door opened, and the lord of Henferester entered in the midst of a dozen dogs, covered with mud and streaming with rain, who rushed into the kitchen, and crowded before the fire to dry themselves.
The baron allowed them this privilege as much for love of the canine race, as for his own interest, knowing that dogs who go into their kennels shivering and cold, often fall sick.
The lord of Henferester, a man of enormous size, and from forty-five to fifty years old, seemed to possess herculean strength. On entering, he threw his old felt hat into the kneading-trough. His bright red hair was cut short; his russet beard, which he shaved only on council days, was so thick that it covered nearly all his face. His features, strongly marked, and tanned by exposure to the open air, were hard, yet not devoid of a certain nobility.
His old green jacket was soaked with rain, and buttoned up to his chin. His deer-skin breeches were black with age, and his great thick boots, covered with mud, reached more than half-way up his thighs; a leather belt held his hunting-knives, with horn handles. He carried across his breast a great trumpet of tarnished copper, and held in his large, hairy hand, a whip and a carbine.
Having given this weapon and the trumpet to his major-domo, who hung them upon the wall, the master approached the fire with a discontented air, distributed several rude kicks among his dogs, to make them move out of his way, and threw himself heavily in his chair, saying to his hounds, sharply:
“Get out, you lazy, clumsy wretches! you are much more worthy to turn the spit than to follow the chase of a noble animal. . . . To give out after a five-hours’ run, and all because the haunt of the wild boar is too brambly! You have, it seems, become very delicate! Hum! and even you, old Ralph!” he added, with a furious look, aiming a kick at the dog thus addressed.
The major-domo, seeing the humor of his master, tried to calm him by recalling his more successful sport.
“I can understand that my lord may be displeased when he has had bad luck, for he is not used to it; but—”
“Well, well,” said the baron, in a harsh tone, “take the venison from the spit, and give me my supper, for I am as hungry as the devil. This boar led us through the forest of Harterassen; then the dogs gave out before a hedge so thick that one should have the hide of a wild boar itself to penetrate it.” . . .
“My lord sees, then, that it is not altogether the fault of his brave dogs. But my lord is wet through; if he would but change his clothes.” . . .
“Change my clothes! and why would you have me change, Master Selbitz the tender-skinned?” cried the governor, wrathfully; “do you take me for a silly woman, for a Frenchman? Do I change my clothes when I return from the chase? Do my dogs change? do my horses change?”
“No, of course not, my lord, but your clothes smoke on your body, like Dame Wilhelmina’s tub when she is making the washing lye.” . . .
“That shows that they are drying, and the dampness is leaving them!”
“But, my lord”. . .
“But, hold your tongue, Master Selbitz the blockhead, Master Selbitz the babbler, and give me a mug of kirchenwasser.”
Then, seeing the letter which was on his plate, the baron asked:
“What is that, Selbitz?”
“A letter which Count Stasfield’s carrier has brought.”
“Oh! let business go to the devil! Tis enough to go to Vienna twice a week,” said the governor, breaking the seal of the letter.
It read thus:
“I wish to inform you, my dear baron, that the French Marquis M. de Létorière will arrive to-day at your house to converse with you on the subject of his lawsuit; I need not remind you of the formal promise you have made me to add your vote to those of your colleagues, in favor of the Duke of Brandenbourg. Believe me, my dear baron, etc.”
“And what the devil is this Frenchman coming here for?” cried the governor, in a passion. “By the Holy Kings of Cologne, am I never to have one moment of repose? Here is this beau of Versailles coming to rouse me like a wild boar from his lair. . . . In my opinion his lawsuit is lost . . . totally lost. . . . What does he want more? Does he believe that I am going to interest myself about him? An impudent little fellow, who embroiders in tambour, and who uses, they say, rouge and patches! One of these men of gallantry, as corrupt as effeminate, always hanging on the skirts of the women! But, by the infernal, I can’t escape from this Marquis! If he comes, I shall be obliged to offer him hospitality; it is fifteen leagues from here to Vienna, and I can’t send him back without seeing him! I wish the devil had all the lawyers and lawsuits! and he’s coming to-night! We must offer him a bed; but where shall he sleep? Everything is dilapidated here, and this beauty will come in a litter, like a woman in labor!”
The baron stamped his foot in anger, and calling his major-domo, said with an air of vexation:
“Perhaps we shall have a Frenchman here to-night—a Marquis—a pleader;—in such weather we cannot let him go back to Vienna. Where can we put him, him and his suite? For this dandy undoubtedly travels with his train of hair-dressers, bathers and perfumers!”
“Faith, my lord,” said the major-domo, scratching his ear, “there is only the rat-chamber, where the rain does not come in.”
“Well then, put him in the rat-chamber.” Then the baron added, with a sort of bitter irony: “In order to convey a brilliant impression of the hospitality bestowed at the castle of Henferester, and especially that this delicate visitor may have all his comforts, don’t forget, major-domo, to cover his bed with the most beautiful silk curtains, to furnish it with eider-down, and the finest linens of Friesland; to beat well the Turkey carpet; to put perfumed candles into the silver-gilt candlesticks, and to warm his bed with charcoal of aloes wood. Do you understand, major-domo?”
“Yes, yes, my lord,” said Martin Selbitz, busily occupying himself with dishing up the quarter of venison, the bacon and the sauer-kraut, and rejoiced at the peasantry of his master; “yes, my lord, be easy; I understand you; the straw of his bed shall be fresh, and well stirred up; the woollen coverlid well beaten, the floor well swept, the curtains and tapestry of cobwebs well shaken, and the shutters set wide open, that the moon may throw a bright light into the chamber of your guest; in short, if he is so delicate and sensitive to cold, his bed shall be warmed,—by the dog of the turnspit.”
The baron could not help laughing at the factiousness of his major-domo, who had so exactly described the rat-chamber, which was very like his own apartment, so indifferent was he to the commonest conveniences of life.
“To supper!” said the governor, drawing up his chair and taking his hunting-knife from his belt.
At this moment was heard the sound of the trumpet, habitually used by German postilions.
“Perhaps it is that confounded Marquis,” cried the baron. “Hullo, Erhard, Selbitz, run to receive him!”
The governor, rising heavily from his seat, went to the door, saying in a growling tone: “He must have a devilish strong body to travel such weather as this. . . . Bah, shut up in his post-chaise, he is much better off than he will be in the castle. Let us see, then, this beautiful darling, this beau, this most effeminate of all the effeminates in the Court of France.”
And the governor went forward to fulfil, in spite of himself, the duties of hospitality towards his guest.
Contrary to the expectation of the baron, Létorière dismounted from a horse, instead of getting out of a chaise, and gave his animal in charge of the postilion.
The master of Henferester understood the duties of his position too well not to accord a polite reception to a gentleman who had come to ask a favor of him. He saw, moreover, that Létorière was much less effeminate than he had been led to believe. A certain amount of energy was necessary to bring him fifteen leagues on a post-horse, in a dark night and frightful weather.
When the Marquis entered, he was nearly suffocated by the substantial atmosphere of which we have spoken, to which was now added the strong odor of the kennel, exhaling from the crowded hounds. At sight of the stranger, they began to bay with marvellous accord.
The Marquis stopped, seemed to listen to their howlings with unspeakable satisfaction, and said in very good German:
“On my faith, baron, I have never heard dogs with better throats than yours. By St. Hubert! here is something to make the true huntsman’s heart beat!” Then, without noticing the governor, he began to examine in detail, with serious interest, the qualities of the dogs who approached him; and exclaimed, in a tone of increasing admiration: “Good dogs! brave dogs! our dogs of Normandy and Poitou are not so good as these; yours have better heads, are better formed about the flanks. See them! They are the most beautiful dogs of their kind I ever saw in my life! Come here, my fine fellow!” And Létorière took a great white dog, marked with black, by his two forepaws, looked at him with the eye of a connoisseur for several minutes, and, with an air of approbation, said to the baron, who stood by astonished: “That’s one of your best dogs, baron; that’s one of your blood-hounds, isn’t it? He has served you a long time; so much the better; years improve blood-hounds.”
Confounded by the assurance and volubility of the Marquis, the governor, a downright huntsman, too proud of his dogs to take offence at any attention which they excited, and, above all, struck by the remarks of Létorière about the blood-hound, answered almost mechanically:
“But who told you that this dog Moick was my blood-hound?”
“How, who told me, baron? First the mark of the collator which is to be seen on his neck, on his worn hair, as clearly as the marks of the breastplate on a draft-horse; and then his deep and hollow voice, which proves also that he never barks. All this is more than enough to indicate a blood-hound to one who is not a novice in the brotherhood of joyous huntsmen. And then what a well-developed nose! and the chase-bone, as salient as a linger! Believe me, baron, in all your life you will never find a finer blood-hound! make the most of him! Ah well! I see there a quarter of venison, which is getting cold; don’t let us wait any longer, I am as hungry as forty devils! You shall see how I’ll play the knife and fork! Give us your hand, baron! By St. Hubert, our common patron, you are a brave old German; I was told so, and now I’m sure of it.”
“Monsieur, may I know to whom I have the honor of speaking?” demanded the baron, more and more astonished at the cavalier manner of the stranger.
“That’s right, baron. My name is Létorière; I have come to speak with you about my lawsuit . . . But as we must see clearly in this chaos, blacker than hell, and as it is now night, we will wait for the day . . . that is to say, to-morrow morning, before talking about it . . . Now, let’s go to table, since I have invited myself without ceremony. Excuse the rudeness of my manner, but I am a child of the forests.”
The governor was stupefied. He had expected to see a little dandy, speaking with the tips of his lips, pretentious, scented, delicate, as ignorant of horses and dogs as a Leipsic shopkeeper; and he found him a jovial, stanch young fellow, who seemed to know all about hunting, and whose dress vied in negligence with his own.
The baron felt most favorably disposed towards Létorière. The admiration which the latter had shown for the dogs, increased the good-will of the governor for his guest, so that he cordially answered: “The castle of Henferester is at your disposal, Monsieur; I only wish I could offer you greater hospitality.”
“You are too particular, baron. If you knew me better, you would see that I could not desire entertainment more in accordance with my tastes. To the table, baron!” and the Marquis approached the fire.
Létorière had undergone a complete moral and physical transformation. He who had been applauded at the theatre for the superlative elegance of his dress, for the grace and charm of his person, now wore an old blue hunting-coat with a velvet collar faded to dusky red; great boots not less rough, not less muddy, not less heavily spurred than those of the German Nimrod. A knot of leather tied his unpowdered hair, disordered by his journey; his beard was half long, and the delicate whiteness of his hands was concealed by a tint of soot, which made them look as tanned as the baron’s. In short, everything was changed in the Marquis, even to the enchanting tone of his voice, now harsh and a little hoarse.
None of these peculiarities escaped the baron.
“Do you know, Erhard,” said he in a low tone to his huntsman, “do you know that this Frenchman immediately recognized old Moick as a blood-hound, and one of our best dogs?”
“Indeed, my lord!” said Erhard, with a doubting air.
“It is so, Erhard; I begin to think they do know something about the chase in France.”
Then addressing his major-domo, while the Marquis was drying himself at the fire, the baron said:
“Remove your plates, Selbitz; Frenchmen are not used to our German manners.”
Selbitz began to execute the order to his own discontent, as well as that of Erhard, when Létorière, fearing to make two enemies so near the governor by a misunderstood fastidiousness, cried:
“What! baron, you wish me, then, to take my horse and return to Vienna without any supper! and why the devil do you remove the plates of those brave men? Am I more of a gentleman than you, that I should be shocked at your domestic habits?”
“It is our old German custom, it is true,” said the baron, “but I thought that in France . . .”
“Baron, we are now in Germany, at the house of one of the most worthy representatives of the old nobility of the Empire. The rule of this house ought to be inviolable; thus, then, my worthy huntsman,” addressing himself to Erhard Trusches, “and you, my brave director of the family tuns, hogsheads and barrels, take your places again, with the consent of the baron, who, I hope, will not refuse me this grace.”
At a sign from the baron, the two servants joyfully replaced their plates at the lower end of the table. The governor pointed to the Marquis’s seat, and all prepared to attack the venison, and the immense dish of sauer-kraut and bacon which smoked on the table.
The baron plunged his knife into the venison to carve it, when Létorière, with a grave and solemn air, putting his hand on the governor’s arm,—
“One moment, baron I devil take me if I ever dine without saying blessing and grace.”
The baron frowned, and answered with impatience and embarrassment:
“Since my chaplain died I have almost forgotten the words; but I give the sense—Well, don’t you know the blessing, Erhard?”
“No, my lord,” said Erhard, in a peevish tone, “I say it once for the year, and yesterday was my day for saying it.”
“And you, Selbitz?”
“I, my lord! my brother, the minister of Blumenthal, says it for me every day.”
“Ah, baron, are you all Turks? So it will fall to me to say grace.”
And the Marquis said in a loud voice, “Great St. Hubert, please to make the venison fat, the wine good, the appetite ravenous, and the thirst unquenchable.” Then he emptied at one draught the tankard which held a pint of Rhine wine, wiped his mustaches with the back of his hand, and, putting the mug on the table, said Amen.
This pleasantry made the worthy governor almost burst with laughter; imitating the prowess of his guest, he drank at one breath his cup of wine, repeated Amen with the voice of a Stentor, and found his solicitor a jolly good fellow.
The two servants, quite as much tickled as their master by the strange blessing of the Marquis, nevertheless moderated the expression of their gayety.
“Selbitz,” said the governor, soon animated by the good cheer and the sallies of Létorière, “go and refill our tankards, and don’t forgot yours and Erhard’s; it is a fête to-day at Henferester, in honor of my guest.”
And the baron affectionately tendered his great hand to the Marquis, whose fingers he rudely squeezed, as much in genuine cordiality as to show his strength.
Létorière, who, under a delicate exterior, concealed great muscular strength, answered his pressure quite as roughly. The baron, who had not expected this proof of his vigor, said, laughing, with an astonished air:
“A rod of steel is often as strong as a great bar of iron, my guest.”
“But unhappily, baron, a great glass will hold more than a little one,” replied the Marquis.
The wine and the beer began to circulate; the baron saw, with a sort of national pride, Létorière, after having eaten five or six slices of venison, bravely attack the sauer-kraut and smoked bacon, of which he praised the appetizing savor, emptying his two tankards two or three times, meanwhile.
While satisfying his furious appetite, Létorière had not remained silent. His lively and natural wit, excited by the good cheer, charmed by a thousand pleasantries; in a word, Selbitz and Erhard saw, to their great astonishment, their master, ordinarily so grave and taciturn, laugh in this one evening more than he had laughed for many years.
The huntsman, recognizing in Létorière an accomplished hunter, listened religiously to his slightest words, when the baron ordered him to carry the dogs back to their kennel, and give them their supper. A second iron pot, destined for the hounds, was taken from the fire.
The major-domo, after removing the dishes, placed upon the table the tankard of kirchenwasser, an earthen jar full of tobacco, and gave the baron an old pipe.
The latter filled it, saying to Létorière, with whom he already felt entirely at ease, “Well! tobacco-smoke won’t offend you, Marquis?”
For answer, the Marquis drew from his pocket an enormous pipe, which bore the marks of long and faithful service, and began to fill it with familiar ease.
“You smoke then, Marquis!” cried the delighted governor, clapping his hands with admiration.
“Do people live without smoking, baron? On returning from the chase, after a good meal, what greater pleasure is there than smoking a pipe with your feet on the andirons, drinking from time to time a swallow of kirchenwasser, this savage offspring of the Black Forest, which is, to my thinking, as much superior to French brandy as a heath-cock is to a barn-yard fowl?” And after this audacious flattery, the Marquis enveloped himself in a thick cloud of smoke.
The governor, animated by his frequent libations, and whose head was not, perhaps, quite so calm and so cool as that of his guest, regarded the Marquis with a sort of ecstasy; he could not understand how a body so frail in appearance, was so vigorous in reality; how a Frenchman could drink and smoke as much as, or more, than he, the widerkom vierge, the subduer of the most redoubtable drinkers of the Empire.
“To the health of your mistress, my guest!” said he gayly to the Marquis.
“My mistress! that’s my gun,” said Létorière, stretching himself out by the fire, and poking it with the toe of his great boot, the soles of which were an inch thick. “Devil take the women! they cannot bear the smell of tobacco, of brandy, or of the kennel, without putting a flask of perfume to their noses. Do you make much account of women, baron?”
“I love better to hear the clatter of spurs than the rustle of petticoats, my guest; but at my age that is wisdom,” said the baron, more and more astonished to find the Marquis sharing his rustic tastes and his antipathies to the ridiculous affectations of the fair sex.
“At all ages it is wisdom, baron; and I would give all the love-sick guitars, all the melancholy lays of the troubadours, for the old trumpet of a forester.”
“Do you know one thing, my guest?” said the baron, striking his mug against that of the Marquis.
“Say on, baron,” replied the Marquis, filling his pipe anew.
“Well! before I saw you, knowing you were coming to interest me about your lawsuit, which unhappily . . .
“Devil take the lawsuit, baron!” cried Létorière; “the one who speaks of it this evening shall be condemned to drink a pint of water!”
“So be it, Marquis! Well, before I saw you it seemed to me that I should much rather go through a bramble bush than to receive you; frankly, I dreaded your arrival. . . . I believed you a dandy and a beau.” . . .
“Thank you, baron! Well, for my part, I believed you to be an Alcindor, a Cytherean shepherd.”
“Now, although I have known you but this evening,” resumed the baron, “I will say to you frankly, that when you quit this poor castle of Henferester I shall have lost the best companion that a man could have for a long evening at the fire-side.”
“And also to pass a hard day of hunting in the depths of the forest. Devil take the coxcomb who prefers balls and gallantry to the bottle, the pipe and hunting. If you wish to prove to me that your dogs are as good as they are handsome, baron, you will see that I am worthy to follow them.”
“That’s right, my guest! To-morrow morning, by daylight, we will be ready for the chase.”
“Let it be as you say, baron; we will speak of the lawsuit day after to-morrow, not before—remember—the pint of water to him who speaks of it before.”
“Bravo, my guest!” said the baron, “but it is late, and you are fatigued; old Selbitz will conduct you to your chamber,—that is to say, a kind of room furnished with a paltry bed, which is all I have to offer you. . . . My chamber is still worse.”
“Ah, well, no ceremony, baron; rather than give you any trouble, I will take one of my boots for a bolster; you will give me an armful of straw, and I shall pass a comfortable night before this fire, which will burn until morning.”
“I have thus passed many nights in the huts of charcoal burners,” said the baron, with a sigh of regret, “when I was hunting in the Black Forest; but in fact, my friend, however bad your bed may be, you will find it more comfortable than this floor, beaten down like a threshing-ground.”
“To-morrow morning, baron, I will myself sound the reveille” said the Marquis; “but before that, let me sound the good-night.” And Létorière, taking from the wall the governor’s trumpet, gave this last flourish with such perfection, with such a bold and free hunting air, that the baron enthusiastically cried:
“In the thirty years I’ve hunted, I never heard so fine a trumpeter.”
“That is easily enough explained, baron; it is because you have never heard yourself sound it. Your trumpet is so true that you cannot help being master of this noble science. But until to-morrow,—baron, good-night, and above all, don’t dream of water, or sour wine, or empty bottles.”
The baron called Selbitz, and ordered him to conduct his guest to the rat-chamber already described, in which a great fire had been lighted.
Létorière, fatigued with his journey, slept soundly enough, and the baron did the same, after having several times remarked to Selbitz and Erhard, in giving them their orders for the next day, that it was a pity that this young man was a Frenchman, for he was quite worthy of having been born in Germany.
The next day, on rising, the baron learned from Selbitz that the Marquis had set out at daylight with Erhard Trusches, for the woods, and had charged the major-domo to make his excuses to the governor.
“Who would have thought, considering the reputation of the Marquis, to find him such a hard huntsman and drinker, Selbitz? For, do you know, he was ahead of me at table, and we valiantly emptied our tankards,” said the baron.
“Yes, my lord, and he went up to the rat-chamber with as firm a step as if he had drunk nothing but a little whey for supper.”
“Well, well,” said the baron, receiving from the hands of his major-domo what was necessary to dress himself for the chase, “well, Selbitz, we must allow that, after all, the Marquis is a brave and worthy gentleman, and besides, is gay enough to rejoice your heart! What good stories he told us. . . . I wish he was going to pass several days at the castle! for, on my faith, he’s a most agreeable companion. Although there is more than twenty years difference in our ages, we seem to be old acquaintances; in short, if he were not an acquaintance of yesterday, I should say—and devil take me if I know why—I should say, Selbitz, that I feel a great friendship for him; faith, I like frank and open characters,—there’s nothing equal to them!”
After hastily eating a slice of cold venison, a porringer of beer-soup, and drinking two pints of Rhine wine, the baron mounted his horse, and soon reached the rendezvous which he had appointed with Erhard Trusches, in one of the cross-ways of the forest.
He found there his huntsman, his servant, and the pack.
Erhard Trusches appeared sad and absorbed; the baron, surprised at not seeing Létorière at the rendezvous, questioned Erhard about him.
After a moment’s silence, Erhard said, with a timid and uneasy air, “Is my lord well acquainted with his guest?”
“What do you mean, Erhard? Where is the Marquis? Did he not come with you this morning to the wood?”
“Yes, my lord, that is why I ask you if you are sure of him. See here, my lord, it will bring me mischief, joking last night at supper about the blessing.”
“Ah! explain yourself!”
“I mean to say, my lord”—and Erhard went on with a low and trembling voice—”I very much fear that your guest is he who appears sometimes in the moonlight, in the solitary recesses of the forest, to offer to desperate huntsmen three balls, one of gold, one of silver, and one of lead, and the whole at the price of their souls!” added Erhard, with a gloomy and frightened air.
“So! you take my guest for the devil, then,” cried the baron, shrugging his shoulders and laughing; “your morning cup has turned your brain, old Erhard!”
The huntsman shook his head, and replied: “My lord, explain to me how it is that he whom you call your guest, and who has never been in this forest before, knows it as well as I do.”
“What do you mean to say?” said the baron, very much astonished.
“This morning at daylight, when I started with the Marquis, ‘Master Erhard,’ said he to me, ‘if you will let me take a hound, we will share the search of the forest. I will go over the enclosures of the priory of the Hermit’s Chapel, of the Thunder-struck Fir-tree, and of the Black Pool.'”
“He said that?” said the baron, stupefied.
“Just as I have told you, my lord, and he added: ‘I have great hope of starting a full-grown buck, for, in the woods about the Hermit’s Chapel, stags are plenty. You, Master Erhard, on your part, seek to start a wild boar. They are always to be found in the forests of Enrichs, the brambles are so thick. Then the baron can have his choice between the foot of the stag or the track of the wild boar.’ ‘But, sir,’ I said, affrighted, ‘you know our forests well, then? you have often hunted them?’ ‘I have never hunted here,’ he answered, ‘but I know it as well as you do. Go ahead! good luck, Master Erhard!’—and then he disappeared in the woods, taking with him poor Moick, our best boar-hound, whom lie will perhaps change into a lynx, or a beast with seven paws, by his diabolical witchcraft.”
The baron was not at all superstitious, but he could not comprehend what Erhard said, and he knew him to be too respectful to joke with his master. Nevertheless, he could not but admit that the Marquis was endowed with such topographical knowledge as the huntsman described.
“And what have you done in the search?” he asked Erhard.
“He whom you call your guest has brought me ill-luck,—I have done nothing.”
“Nothing? how does that happen? This is the first time in two years that you have not had game,—and on a day, too, when we are going to hunt with a stranger!”
“Where the evil spirit can, mere mortals can’t, my lord,” said Erhard, soberly. “He whom you call your guest has only to sound his trumpet, and all the animals of the forest will come to him, as the bird comes to the serpent.”
“Go to the devil, you old fool!” cried the governor, angrily.
“I shall not have to go far for that, my lord,” murmured he, in a low voice, pointing to Létorière, who was coming out of a coppice holding old Moick in leash.
“Long life to you, baron!” cried Létorière; “if you have a mind, you can chase a full-grown buck, and strike him at my trap near the chapel. By the size of his tracks, I would lay a wager that it is one of those great deer with a white forehead and legs; the King of France has a number like them in his forest of Chambord. I should recognize their feet among a thousand. They have a magnificent shape.”
“You have good luck, Marquis,” said the baron; “you are a sorcerer.”
“I am not a sorcerer, but it is your good blood-hound that deserves credit. I owe my stag to him. As to you, my brave Erhard,” added he, turning towards the huntsman, “if you had had him at the end of your leash you would have done what I have done. Come, baron, to horse! to horse! It is a good league from here to my trap, and the November days are short. Here’s your dog, Erhard!” At the same time the Marquis slipped a piece of gold into the huntsman’s hand.
But he, seizing a moment when the Marquis could not see him, threw away the piece as if it had been red-hot, and with the toe of his boot kicked it under the leaves.
“Money of hell!” said he, in a low voice; “if I had put it into my pocket, in a quarter of an hour, instead of a piece of gold, I should have found a red bat or a black frog.” Then the huntsman took the leash of his hound with as much precaution as if the Marquis had had the plague, and looked at the dog with disturbed tenderness, believing him to be already bewitched.
After putting his thick boots over his buckskin splatterdashes, the Marquis mounted old Elphin, and the baron saw with a new pleasure that his guest was an excellent horseman.
“Baron,” cried Létorière, arriving at an enclosure in the forest, “here is my trap; unleash, I am going to enter the hedge with three or four of your oldest dogs in order to attack—”
“One moment,” said the baron, with a serious air; “you pass for a sorcerer in the eyes of Erhard Trusches; he will work badly if he takes you for the devil, for he will think more of his soul than the course of the stag.”
“How? explain yourself, baron!”
“Come here, Erhard,” said the governor.
The huntsman advanced, looking agitated and alarmed.
“Is it not true,” continued the governor, “that you do not understand how my guest, who has never been in this forest, knows it so well. How he knows that the enclosure of the Hermit’s Chapel is the best haunt of the stag, and that relays must be placed at the border of the Priory Plain?”
“‘Tis true,” said Erhard in a low voice; “could not have known it so long—”
“And devil take me if I understand it myself, Marquis,” said the baron.
Shrugging his shoulders and smiling, the Marquis drew from his pocket a little book bound in leather, and advanced towards Erhard: “Look here, you old wild boar, here’s my conjuring-book.”
The huntsman recoiled from it with a look of fright.
The Marquis opened the book, and spread out on his saddle-bow a forest map especially prepared for imperial hunting, and on which all the enclosures, routes, paths, haunts and passes of the animals were minutely indicated and explained.
“The map of the imperial hunting-ground!” cried the baron; “I ought to have guessed it. There is the mystery all explained. But you must have great insight, a rare familiarity with the chase, to be able to make such use of it. Ah, Marquis, Marquis, you have not your equal in Europe. To start a stag the first time that one hunts in a forest,—that is the most skilful thing I ever saw I Do you understand now, you old fool?” said the baron to the huntsman; “you ought to go down on your knees to the Marquis, our master in everything.”
“Yes, yes, my lord, I understand, and God be praised, for it would have been a great misfortune;” saying these words, Erhard took his ramrod and drew his charge.
“What are you doing, Erhard?” said the baron.
The huntsman showed the baron a black ball, on which was traced a cross, and said to him: “At the first enclosure I should nevertheless have sent this charmed ball into the breast of the Marquis, whom I took for the devil; old Ralph said there was nothing like it to lay such evil spirits.”
“Wretch!” cried the baron.
“He is right,” said Létorière, with the greatest sang-froid; “but you have forgotten, Erhard, that it is necessary to make the charm complete, to have three pieces of gold in your left pocket in order that the devil cannot enter into your purse;” and the Marquis threw three louis to Erhard, who, this time, did not bury them under the leaves.
The stag which was started was soon in full career.
It is unnecessary to describe the various incidents of this chase, during which Létorière showed consummate skill. The animal was taken, and the Marquis, arriving first at the death, bravely killed him with one blow of the knife.
The huntsmen arrived at the castle at nightfall. Selbitz had as usual made ready the bacon, the sauer-kraut, the venison, the great, the medium, and the little tankards well filled.
As on the previous night, the baron and the Marquis did honor to this repast; as before, they filled their pipes after supper, and established themselves at the corner of the fireplace, while the major-domo occupied himself with the cares of the household.
Although the baron felt subjugated by the jovial spirit and the open and resolute character of the Marquis, he was a little vexed at meeting in so young a man an unconquered rival either at the chase or table.
Létorière, too adroit not to divine this, contrived a brilliant triumph for him.
The governor, who was truly interested in his guest, wished to resume of his own accord the conversation about the lawsuit.
“To the devil with the lawsuit!” cried the Marquis. “That’s my look-out . . . If I lose my cause I shall have gained a good companion. I would have twenty lawsuits in order to lose them in that way! But my tankard is empty. . . . Hallo, Selbitz, hallo, you old Satan! . . . The kirchenwasser evaporates before my thirst, as the dew before the sun.”
“Poor fellow! he tries to shake it off,” thought the governor. “I ought not to let him drink alone,” and the baron had his mug refilled.
“Baron, a song!” cried Létorière, very gayly. “Do you know The Retreat? They say that the air and the words were composed by one of your old huntsmen.”
“You sing it, Marquis—I will tell you if I know it.”
And Létorière, having again emptied his mug, and preluded by a deep hem—hem—or two, struck up the following song with the voice of a Stentor:
“‘Afar the trumpet peals!
The stag lies on his haunches!
Let the merry hallo sound,
‘Tis a stag of ten branch—'”
“Come! join the chorus, baron. . . . Heavens! ’tis quite apropos to-day.”
“With all my heart, Marquis! I don’t know the air, but, by Jupiter, it is worthy of Mozart!” and the baron repeated the refrain with a voice so powerful, that it shook the windows.
“Listen to the minor strain, baron. . . . It is as melancholy as the last sounds of a distant trumpet in a clear night.”
And the Marquis continued in a softer voice, and in a slower measure:
“‘Now the star of evening
Peers above the hill;
The day hides in the forest,
All is still.
‘Tis the hour of retreat,
Let the dogs be coupled quick;
Huntsmen mount and trumpets sound;
Forward your brave horses prick!
See the brown night
And the moonlight;
We will go back
Home without seeing
The huntsman in black.'”
The voice of the Marquis seemed to lose its strength as he sang these last words, in a rhythm melancholy and almost sorrowful; his countenance lost its joyous and careless expression, and a shade of sadness passed over his brow, which he soon supported with his hand.
Selbitz, who was just at that moment behind his master’s chair, said to him, in a low voice, pointing to the Marquis:
“When the flower is too plentifully watered it bends on its stalk; when the business on hand is drinking, to-day is not always the son of yesterday. Come, come, my lord, you will always be the widerkom vierge! Here’s this Frenchman supporting his forehead with his left hand; the intoxication of the forester-general of Hasbreck always begins in that way; but, to do the latter justice, that is always so from the first day.”
The baron laughed with an air of proud satisfaction, and answered in a low voice:
“What do you mean, Selbitz? He is so young . . . but notwithstanding his youth, he is a hardy combatant. Yesterday he went ahead of me; to contend two days in succession is too much for him. But after myself, I do not know anybody who can equal him.” . . .
“Use him up then, my lord . . . use him up, for the honor of old Germany,” . . . said the traitorous major-domo.
“Well, Marquis,” said the governor, in a loud voice, “is your song already finished? Shall we not drink to your glorious chase to-day?”
“Let’s drink!” said the Marquis, holding out his tankard with an arm that seemed heavy. . . . Then, having drank, he repeated in a low and sad voice the last few lines of his song:
“‘See the brown night
And the moonlight;
We will go back
Home without seeing
The huntsman in black.'”
“He is dull in his liquor,” said the baron to his major-domo.
“He puts me in mind of Count Ralph, who, you know, monsieur, at about the tenth bottle almost always sings the psalm for the dead,” answered Selbitz.
“Come, Marquis, to the first wild boar that we shall take!” said the baron, wishing to strike a last blow at the Marquis’s reason.
“Let’s drink!” said Létorière, who began from that time to show slight symptoms of intoxication, speaking by turns slowly and rapidly, sadly and joyfully. “The chase, baron—’tis good, the chase . . . wine also . . . it stupefies—it transports, gives no time for thought; and then it makes one gay, and at last . . . but, bah! hold on, baron, I must tell you something in confidence.” . . .
“What, confidences so soon?” cried the major-domo. “That’s like the minister at Blumenthal,—but his reverence does not begin before the eighth tankard. You remember, my lord, the good story he told us of the jolly miller’s wife of Val-aux-Primevères?”
“Hold your tongue, and listen!” said the governor; who replied aloud, “speak, speak, Marquis! Come, let’s drink to your confidences.” . . .
“Well, then, baron, imagine that my lawsuit has turned my brain.” . . .
“Truly, Marquis!” said he aloud. “I’m sure of it,” he continued in a low voice . . . “this poor boy wishes to drown his thoughts.” . . .
“True, as that my glass is empty. . . . I wouldn’t tell you this, baron . . . but you are my friend . . . I ought to confide in you. . . . Know that I have made a visit to my judges.” . . .
“Ah, bah!” said the baron, gratified with his guest’s involuntary communicativeness, and very eager to draw from him the secret, perhaps, of his visits. “You have seen your judges, have you?”
“Yes, baron, the first one was named . . . Spectre.” . . .
“You mean to say Sphex, Marquis?”
“Sphex, or Spectre . . . ’tis all the same to me . . . but a thousand guns! baron, I must laugh . . . although it may be at one of your confrères . . . ’tis not my fault . . . I have as great regard for a man learned in us . . . as for a broken glass or a foundered horse.” . . .
“Well said, Marquis! you are not made anymore than myself to breathe the odor of worm-eaten books. . . . We love the air of the forests!”
“Figure to yourself then, baron . . . that this old Spectre—I like best to call him Spectre, because that tells his face as well as his name—had the insolence to ask me, at the end of a conversation of two minutes, if I spoke Latin!”
“You, Marquis, you speak Latin!” said the baron, sharing the indignation of his guest. “I wonder where he had put his spectacles? As if you looked like one who spoke Latin! Did any one ever see such an impudent old thing! What the devil did he take you for?”
“You understand that one cannot hear such things with coolness,—even from his judge. ‘Ah well,’ said I to him, ‘do I look like a rat that gnaws old books? an ink-drinker? a vulgar pedant? To speak Latin! A thousand devils! If I had not come to ask your support in my lawsuit, . . . I would let you see how I treat those who tell me that I speak Latin!'”
“Well said, my guest! I would have given a hundred florins to be present at that scene,” said the baron, shouting with laughter.
“Then the doctor declared to me distinctly, that he had nothing to say about my lawsuit, and I could consider my cause as lost, because I was known! S’death, baron, I was known!!! It was too much. He had already asked me if I spoke Latin; I could contain myself no longer, and so I challenged him at once. . .”
“Sphex! a challenge!” cried the governor, laughing until he lost his breath; . . . “the old ape must have looked funny! but what did he say?”
“He said nothing at all; he raised his hands towards Heaven, and disappeared, as if by enchantment, behind a pile of great books. . . . Then I left, not doubting that the doctor owed me a grudge, but devil take me if I know for what, for two gentlemen can cross swords, and still be friends notwithstanding.”
“He has rare simplicity,” said the governor, aside; “he little knows how he appears.”
Létorière went on. . . . “Then I had to see the councillor Flachsinfingen. I reached his house and asked for him, and was introduced into the presence of an old sorceress, dressed in black, who might have passed for a female savant, so dry and thin was she. She had, into the bargain, a Bible in her hand. ‘I have business with the councillor, and not with his wife,’ said I to the lacquey. ‘Me or the councillor, ’tis all the same,’ said the old witch. ‘Tell me, sir, what you have to say to my husband?’ Then, baron, I, who know how to do such things, devised a way to send off the wife and bring forward the husband.”
“Let’s hear, Marquis,” said the governor; adding, aside: “when he shall become quick and adroit in such matters, I will drink pure water . . . he is rough and knotty as an oak, but pliable as a willow. Ah, well! what was this scheme, Marquis?”
“‘A thousand devils, madam!’ said I to the lady, ‘what I have to say to the councillor is not fit for your chaste ears.’ ‘Never mind; say on, sir!’ Then, baron, I began to recount a tale of the barracks which would have made a Pandour blush.”
At this new jest the baron had a new spasm of laughter, and exclaimed: “A barrack-story to the prudish and devout Flachsinfingen! I would have given—devil take me if I wouldn’t—my old hound Moick, if I could have witnessed that scene; and what did she say?”
“She blushed red as a lobster, called me insolent, and made me a sign to go away.”
“If that is the course you take to interest your judges in your cause, my guest, I wish you joy of it,” said the governor.
“And what the devil should I find to say to a learned man or to a prude? One cannot make himself over again.”
“Certainly not,” murmured the baron; “the poor boy is like me; he would find it difficult to accustom himself to the jargon of a doctor and the babbling of an old woman.”
“Then only you remained to be seen, baron. I have seen you; you are a brave man . . . and I am afraid to bother you with my affairs. . . . But this lawsuit . . . if you knew . . . if I lose it! I seem to be an easy-going fellow; but look at me; if this were . . . if I lose it” . . . said Létorière, with energy, “I will never survive. S’death! I should pray St. Cartridge and my rifle to have mercy on me!”
Having permitted this sinister secret to escape him, Létorière appeared to collect his ideas, passed his hand over his forehead, and looked around him with an air of astonishment.
“Ah, well, where am I? You there, baron? Come, come, your Rhine wine is excellent, but devilish strong. My lord, I’ve been asleep, I think” . . . and the Marquis, in spite of all his efforts, lowered his eyelids, which seemed to be heavy.
“You haven’t slept, but you ought to, I think, and your cup is full.”
“Then empty it for me, baron . . . for . . . the lawsuit . . . the stag . . . to-day . . . All! to the devil with the lawsuit—vive la chase! something to drink . . . to you, baron, . . .” and Létorière feigned to become drowsy, and let his head fall on his arms.
“He refuses to drink, and I am conqueror!” cried the governor. He called Selbitz and Erhard, as much to prove his triumph over the Frenchman, as to order them to help his guest to the rat-chamber.
Létorière, whose head was as calm as the baron’s, received their offered aid, ascended the staircase mechanically, and fell heavily on his mean bed.
The baron felt strangely embarrassed. If he had been profoundly interested in Létorière, especially since the latter had made him believe that he could not survive the loss of his lawsuit; he had also formally promised his vote to the German princes, whose cause he truly believed to be just.
To reconcile his desire of obliging the Marquis with his word already given, the baron had recourse to a singular compromise: “Our votes are secret; from what I know of Sphex and Flachsinfingen, otherwise good partisans of the princes”—said he to himself—”both of them will undoubtedly vote against this poor Létorière, especially after the affront he has offered to the savant and the councillor’s wife. Thus their hostility assures the triumph of the party opposed to the Marquis. Now, provided that the German princes gain, and thus justice be done, what matters it whether it is owing to a unanimous vote, or a majority of two voices against one? I desire only to be able, without being unjust, to send this poor Marquis away with soft words and a proof of my friendship; for I should never have the courage to say No to so brave a huntsman and so jovial a companion.”
This resolution taken, the governor awaited with impatience the waking of his guest, and announced to him, that having reflected all night on his lawsuit, his opinion was modified, and that he would promise to vote for him.
Létorière, having thanked the baron a thousand times, returned to Vienna. Notwithstanding what he had told the governor, he had as yet seen neither the councillor Sphex, nor the wife of the councillor Flachsinfingen.
Doctor Aloysius Sphex lived in a very retired house, at the end of one of the faubourgs of Vienna. Heavy bars protected all the windows; thick plates of iron strengthened a low and narrow door, secured by a strong lock.
One had to pass boldly between two enormous mountain-dogs, chained behind the door, in order to reach a little interior court, where grass was growing, and which led to the kitchen. In this cold and gloomy place the doctor’s old housekeeper was to be seen crouching near two expiring brands.
On the first floor the doctor had a large library, dusty and in disorder, encumbered with large folios, which seemed not to have been opened for a long time. A high window, with small panes of glass set in leaden sashes, and half hidden by a curtain of old tapestry, admitted a doubtful and dingy daylight. A vast chimney, with twisted stone columns and a sculptured mantle-piece, had been transformed into a part of the library; for the doctor never had a fire lighted, for fear of burning his books.
In order to guard himself against the sharp cold of the autumn, the councillor had conceived the idea of shutting himself up in an old sedan-chair, which had been placed in the middle of his study; closing its glasses, he found himself comfortably established to read and write.
Doctor Sphex, a little, thin, stooping old man, with thick eyebrows, piercing eyes, a caustic smile, projecting lower jaw, high-cheek bones and wrinkled skin, had a singularly sardonic and malignant countenance.
When his old inlaid clock struck two, the councillor came out of his sedan-chair, with almost automatic precision.
He wore an old rusty black coat, over which he drew a sort of gray overcoat, placed a hat with a broad brim on his red wig, and, in order to keep his head-dress in place, used a square handkerchief, folded triangularly, the two ends being tied under his chin.
Putting his spectacles into one of his pockets, and into the other a precious Elzevir, a little volume bound in black leather, Doctor Sphex took his cane and prepared to go out.
But, as if struck by a sudden thought, he turned back, recrossed the library and entered another room, closing the door behind him.
His eyes seemed to sparkle with joy. He took a key suspended from his watch-chain, opened a little chest, and drew from it with religious respect a flat and oblong cedar box. It contained a vellum manuscript in quarto. The forms of the written characters were those used in the tenth century; the titles and capital letters were gilt, and ornamented with vignettes.
After contemplating this manuscript with looks as eager, uneasy, and insatiable as those with which a miser gloats over his treasure, Doctor Sphex replaced the box, and carefully closed the chest which contained this precious specimen of caligraphy. Reassured of the safety of his dearest treasure, he went out to take his accustomed walk.
In passing by the housekeeper’s room, he said to her, in an impatient tone:
“If the French Marquis comes to the charge again, whether I am at home or not, always tell him that I am absent.”
“He has been again this morning, sir.”
“That’s good, that’s good! What need have I to see this silly coxcomb, this spark, this beau, who, they say, Non pudet ad morem discincti vivere Nattœ.”
The old man directed his steps to a little valley situated behind the faubourgs, called the Vale of the Lindens.
Even as certain disdainfully exclusive amateurs acknowledge but one school of painting, and admire but one master of that school, so Doctor Sphex was infatuated with the Satires of Persius, and ranked him above all other ancient Latin poets.
Not only did he possess all the editions of this poet, from the most rare, the edition Princeps de Brescia (1470), to the most modern, that of Homs (1770), but he had, at a high price, secured the manuscript of which we have spoken, and which he considered an inestimable treasure.
The councillor had translated and commented upon Persius, and still studied him daily. By dint of penetrating into the mind of this author, he had come to assimilate him so constantly in his thoughts, that he applied, continually, to himself and others, quotations borrowed from that satirical stoic.
This admiration bordered on monomania. Even as by the aid of a microscope the observer discovers unknown worlds in a blade of grass or a drop of water, so the exalted imagination of the doctor found in the most simple words of his cherished author the most profound significances.
The councillor proceeded, then, with slow steps towards the place of his daily walk. Approaching the overthrown tree which generally served him as a seat, he heard some one speaking in a loud voice. . . .
Annoyed by finding his place occupied, he stopped behind a holly-bush.
But what was his surprise, when he heard a young and sweet voice reciting with admirable accentuation and elegant expression, these verses from the first Satire of Persius:
“O curas hominum! O quantum est in rebus inane!” etc.
The councillor held his breath, listened, and when the voice ceased, he quickly advanced to see who was this stranger who appeared to enjoy so much his favorite author.
He saw a young man negligently dressed, with rolls of paper thrust into the pockets of his old black coat; beside him was a voluminous quarto. The exterior of Létorière, for it was he, gave an instant impression of a poor poet; a narrow cravat of coarse linen, an old felt hat, rusty with age, a pale and half-famished countenance; nothing was wanting to this new metamorphosis.
At sight of the old councillor, the Marquis respectfully arose.
“Ah, young man, is not our Persius the king of poets?” cried Sphex, eagerly, striking the palm of his hand on the Elzevir which he drew from his pocket, and approaching Létorière with a radiant air.
“Sir!” said the Marquis abashed, “I did not know” . . .
“I was there, I was there behind the holly-bush; I heard you begin the recital of the first satire of our poet, of our god! for, by Hercules, young man, I see that you appreciate him as I do! Never could a Tuscan pronounce with more purity than you, the inimitable poetry of our common hero; and truly, my old heart is rejoiced at this meeting, as happy as it is unexpected.
“‘Hunc, Macrine, diem numera meliore lapillo!'” cried the old man; and he cordially held out his hand to his new acquaintance, having borrowed this quotation from his favorite author.
“If it were not too presumptuous, sir,” answered Létorière, with humility, “I should dare to answer you:”
“‘Non equidem hoc dubites, amboram fœdere certo
Consentira dies, et ah uno sidere duci.'”
“Bravo! my young friend, it would be impossible to answer with more spirit, or more to the point! You must know my Persius, my inimitable stoic, as well as I do; but what is given to you, and which, alas! I have not, is this beautiful and harmonious pronunciation, so musical that I am transported by it! So,” added the councillor, hesitating, “if I dared, I would ask you, in the name of our common admiration, to repeat to me the first verses of the third satire.”
“With pleasure, sir,” said Létorière, smiling.
“‘Hæc cedo, ut admoveam templis et farre litabo.'”
“Better and better!” cried the savant, clapping his hands. “But apropos to this quotation, what signification do you give to far?” and the doctor fastened an anxious look on the young man, whose knowledge he wished to put to the proof by this question.
“According to my slender experience,” unhesitatingly replied the Marquis, “far signifies the grain of which flour is made; and, contrary to the opinion of Casaubon and Scaliger, I believe that this word applies not only to bread, but to corn, to barley, in a word, to all sorts of grain; for you know, sir, that far was with salt, the most common of offerings; and it is that, I think, that Virgil means by these words, fruges salsae . . . salsa mola . . . it is then as a kind of humble offering to our common divinity, sir, that I will repeat the verses which please you.” Then Létorière kindly recited the whole satire, giving to his harmonious voice an expression by turns so fine, so pointed, and so energetic, that doctor Sphex, delighted, cried out:
“Nothing has escaped him! not a shade! not an idea! he has not stopped on the surface of the words! he scrutinizes them, he examines them, he weighs them, he penetrates through the brilliant exterior, and brings to light the profound and hidden sense. . . . Young man! . . . young man!” . . . added Sphex, rising, . . . “my respects to you. To read thus is to translate! To translate thus is so to assimilate yourself with the mind of the original as to substitute the individuality of the author for your own! Now I declare to you, that a man so happy and so rarely endowed as to individualize himself with Persius, deserves, in my opinion, almost as much respect as Persius himself! Yes, I consider this phenomenon of assimilation as a kind of relation . . . of intellectual parentage! Now then, mark this, young man! . . . Were it not for the immense difference in age which separates us, I should say that we were brothers in intelligence, children of one father.”
Dr. Sphex had spoken with so much vehemence and enthusiasm, that Létorière regarded him with profound astonishment, fearing that he had been deceived, and was talking to a monomaniac instead of the Aulic Councillor, for whom he was waiting.
The savant, differently interpreting his silence, continued: “You see I act like an old fool. . . . I treat you as a brother, and have not thought of asking to what learned Latin scholar I have the honor of speaking.”
“My name is Létorière, sir,” said the Marquis, saluting him.
“Létorière!” cried Sphex, turning away suddenly. “You may perhaps be a relative of the Marquis of that name?”
“I myself am the Marquis of Létorière, sir.”
“You! you!! you!!!” cried the doctor, in three different tones. “Come now, that’s impossible. The Marquis of Létorière is, they say, as ignorant as a carp, and as flighty as a butterfly; he is one of those beautiful triflers incapable of understanding a word of Latin, and who, as to Persius, know only stuffs of that name,” added the councillor, well pleased with this detestable joke.
“I see, with pain, that I have been calumniated, sir,” said the Marquis.
“Are you really, then, M. de Létorière?” said Sphex, stupefied.
“I have the honor to repeat it to you, sir,” said the Marquis.
“But are you here about a lawsuit? Answer, sir, answer, and do not deceive me!”
“Sir!” said the Marquis, as if he were shocked with the indiscretion of the councillor.
“Pardon my vivacity, sir. . . . If I appear to be well acquainted with what concerns you, it is because”—and the doctor hesitated—”it is because I have some relatives in the Aulic Council, and I am informed of all which passes there.”
“Ah, well! it is true, sir, I am here, unhappily, in regard to a lawsuit,” said Létorière, sighing.
“But, my young friend, permit me to tell you that you appear very unmindful of your business! Here you are reciting verses to the zephyrs; . . . admirable verses, it is true, but, between ourselves, hardly the means of gaining your lawsuit. Believe me, young man, if justice is blind she is not deaf, and there are a thousand ways of interesting your judges.”
“Alas! sir, I have seen my judges . . . and it is because I have seen them that I have but little hope. In my grief I ask of literature consolation and information; I especially ask it from my favorite poet. . . . I seek strength to wrestle against adverse fate in reading over these verses. Do you not think, sir, that this energetic, bold and sonorous poetry must reanimate enfeebled souls, as the warlike sound of a clarion reanimates discouraged soldiers?”
The savant was profoundly touched with the expression, at once simple and dignified, with which Létorière pronounced these last words.
“Pardon an old man,” said he, “the interest which he feels in you. But do you not exaggerate the unkindly feelings of your judges? Have you done everything in your power to interest them in your cause before giving up all hope thus?”
“Those of my judges whom I have seen, sir, could have very little sympathy with me, and I ought not otherwise to expect to interest them in it.”
“Why so, my young friend?”
“Our poet could, at a pinch, answer you, sir:”
“‘Velle suum cuique est, nec voto vivitur uno.
* * * *
Hic satur irriguo mavult turgescere somno;
Hic campo indulget!'” . . .
“I understand, I understand,” said the councillor, laughing at the just and malignant application of these verses. “I know it is said in Vienna that the Councillor Flachsinfingen would have figured well enough among the convivial gourmands of the banquet of Trimalchyon, and that the brutal baron of Henferester would have been able to wrestle in the Roman circus among the wild beasts. In fine, you poor student! poor poet! poor nightingale of the sweet song I . . . what relations could you have with this dull paunch of a Flachsinfingen, who dreams only of his table? What could you have said to him if it were not—”
‘Quæ tibi summa boni est? Uncta vixisse patella
Semper? . . .'
“It is the same thing with this gladiator, this brute of Henferester . . . whose great heavy body I cannot see without recalling these words of our divine master:
“‘Hic aliquis de gente hircosa centurionum
Dicat; quod satis est sapio mihi; non ego curo
Esse quod Arcesilas ærumnosique Solones.'”
“Ah well! you will own up then, sir,” said the Marquis, laughing, “that having nothing else to say to my judges, I can hardly hope to interest them. Alas! I am neither a huntsman nor a gourmand. . . . If I had been I might, perhaps, have awakened some sympathy in my judges!”
“But all the councillors are not gladiators, nor sheep led by their wives, my young friend.” . . .
“‘At me nocturnis juvat impallescere chartis.'”
“Ah! sir, my greatest misfortune is not to have judges like you.” . . .
“I have sometimes heard a certain Doctor Sphex spoken of,” said the councillor, casting a piercing look on the Marquis, “an old man, who is not unlettered, who is a judge in the morning, and who devotes himself in the evening to his favorite studies. . . .”
“‘Hic mane edictum, post prandia Callirhoën do!'”
“I have presented myself several times at the door of the Councillor Sphex, sir,” said Létorière, “and, if what you tell me is true, I doubly regret not having met him, for he is perhaps the only one of my judges whom I could hope to inspire with any sentiment of benevolence, or from whom I might be able to claim any interest in the name of our common tastes.”
“By Hercules! young man, don’t doubt it! . . . But all is not yet hopeless. . . . I am slightly acquainted with this original Sphex; if you will accompany me, I will do myself the pleasure to recommend you, and even to present you to him.”
“Ah! sir, how shall I ever be able to recognize and deserve this precious favor?”
“Young man, people like you and the Councillor Sphex are rare; and you both ought to gain by the meeting which I propose. Give me your arm, and let us proceed.”
The old man took a malicious pleasure in the surprise which he had planned for Létorière, who did not fail to enlarge on the strangeness and good luck of destiny, when, arriving at the door of the councillor, the latter discovered to him his identity.
To the great astonishment of old Catherine, the doctor ordered her to place two covers, for the Marquis could not refuse to partake of the councillor’s repast, who, alluding to the frugality of his ménage, quoted:
“‘. . . Positum est algente catino,
Durum olus, et populi cribro decussa farina,'”
which announcement was realized in all points. An anchorite would hardly have been contented with the dishes served in the library by old Catherine.
The councillor, more and more enchanted with his guest, read to him his translations and his commentaries; and, unhoped-for favor! last evidence and proof of confidence! showed him the precious manuscript.
At sight of this Létorière manifested such a passionate and jealous admiration, that the doctor began to regard his guest with uneasiness, and almost regretted his imprudent confidence.
“Do you and your housekeeper live alone in this house?” asked the Marquis suddenly, with a gloomy air, passing between his hands the precious manuscript, as if he wished to appropriate it to himself.
“Can it be that he is so enthusiastic in his admiration of Persius that he means to assassinate me and steal my manuscript?” queried the councillor of himself.
But the Marquis, putting the manuscript back into his hands, exclaimed vehemently:
“For the love of Heaven, sir, hide it, hide it! . . . Pardon a madman!”
And he ran precipitately from the room, covering his eyes with his hands.
The councillor shut up his treasure, and found his guest seated, looking dejected, in the library.
“What’s the matter, young man?” said the savant with interest.
“Alas! sir, pardon me! At the sight of that manuscript an infamous, a monstrous thought took possession of me . . . in spite of the holy law of hospitality.”
“You would then rob me of my treasure?”
Létorière bowed his head in embarrassment.
“Never mind, my young friend. I understand you . . . I understand you only too well,” said the councillor, heaving a sigh. “It is a great compliment you have just rendered to our author; and if you only knew the history of this manuscript,” . . . after a moment’s silence, he added, “you would see that I ought to excuse the terrible temptation which you have just been enabled to overcome.”
Unfortunately, the confidence of the councillor stopped there.
The two friends passed the remainder of the day in a learned analysis of the judgments of Casaubon, of Koenig, and Ruperti, on their favorite poet. They discovered in him hidden beauties which had escaped all the editors.
Létorière, by a happy chance of memory, raised the admiration of Sphex almost to ecstasy, by calling his attention to the fact that this passage in the third satire, “The lessons of the portico in which is depicted the overthrow of the Medes,” relates to Zeno, the chief of the Stoics. In one word, in this long and learned conversation, Létorière, admirably assisted by his memory, by the profound study which he had recently devoted to Persius, at Dominique’s recommendation, and by the surprising flexibility of his intelligence, completely captivated Sphex.
Yet not one word of the lawsuit had been spoken on either side. The Marquis was silent from prudence, the councillor from embarrassment; for, however well-disposed he might be towards Létorière, he reflected regretfully that his voice alone could not win the cause for his young protégé.
“What a pity!” cried the councillor, “that you will leave Vienna so soon. We would have passed long and delightful days in ever-fresh admiration of our god, and we would have said, like him:
“‘Unum opus et requiem pariter disponimus ambo,
Atque verecunda laxamus seria mensa.'”
“I feel this privation as much as you do, sir. Unhappily we must sacrifice our pleasures to our duties.” And Létorière arose.
Struck by the reserve of the Marquis on the subject of his lawsuit, the councillor said, casting on his guest a penetrating look:
“But this lawsuit, we forget that.” . . .
“The idea of thinking, sir, of sad material interests, when we are speaking of the object of our worship to one who shares our admiration!”
“Hum! hum!” said the doctor, shaking his head; and smiling with a caustic air, he recited these verses:
“‘Mens bona, fama, fides! hæc clare, et ut audiat hospes;
Illa sibi introrsum, et sub lingua immurmurat: Oh! si
Ebullit patrui præclarum funus!'”
“Yes . . . yes . . . ‘one says, aloud, I forget my lawsuit; . . . and, in a low tone, devote to the infernal gods the wicked councillor who will not give me a word of hope.’ . . . Isn’t that it?”
“What do you mean, sir?” said the Marquis, smiling, and answering by a quotation from the same book:
“‘Messe tenus propria vive!'”
“And you believe you have reaped indifference, young man?” said the savant, laughing at this apropos quotation. “Well, I will undeceive you. . . . It shall not be said that the voice of old Sphex will not, at least, protest against the judgment of an old tun-belly like Flachsinfingen, or an old he-goat of a centurion, a brutal gladiator like Henferester. In my opinion, your rights and those of the German princes are so perfectly balanced, that a breath only would turn the scale.”
“‘Scis etenim justum gemina suspendere lance
said the Marquis. “Not doubting the integrity of my judge, I have never doubted the success of my cause before him.”
Enchanted with this new quotation, the councillor cried:
“And you have done well, young man; my voice will be solitary; but thus it will protest more forcibly against a judgment that I shall regard as unjust, if it goes against you, as I fear it will. Adieu, then. . . . Day after to-morrow we pronounce on your cause . . . and may the gods be favorable to you! As for me, by Castor! I know what I have to do”—and the doctor brought this conversation to a close by another quotation:
“‘Ast vocat officium; trabe rupta, Bruttia saxa
Prendit amicus inops; remque omnem surdaque vota
Condidit Ionio! . . .'”
Who is not ashamed to live like a Natta.
With what cares is man occupied! Oh, what vanity in life!. . .
Mark this day, Macrinus, with a propitious stone.
Do not doubt, the gods have wished to unite us by certain affinities, and that we should be guided by the same constellation.
Oh that I could bring to the temple this offering, even barley will suffice to make my prayer heard.
Each one his own taste; no one resembles the other; one prefers to grow fat by the pleasures of the table and of sleep; another prefers the hardships of the chase.
What is the sovereign good for you? To junket every day?
But I hear an old he-goat of a centurion reply: “I have as much learning as is needful for me! I do not care to become an Arcesilas or a morose Solon!”
But for me, it is my delight to grow pale over books at night.
To my duties in the morning, to my pleasures in the evening.
The table is spread with a dish of raw vegetables, with bread of coarse barley-flour.
Together would we work and rest, and refresh ourselves after toil with pleasant festivity.
Wisdom, honor, virtue. This said aloud, so that the guest may hear. To himself, and in a low whisper, he murmurs: “Oh, for a magnificent funeral for the father-in-law!”
One must live on what he reaps.
You know, indeed, how to hold the balance of justice with an impartial hand.
But duty calls; a friend has been shipwrecked; he is cast helpless on the Brutian rocks; all his property and his empty vows have gone to the bottom of the sea.
THE COUNCILLOR FLACHSINFINGEN
The next day after Létorière’s visit to Dr. Sphex, there was an extraordinary disturbance in the house of the Aulic Councillor Flachsinfingen. It was eleven o’clock in the morning; Madame Martha Flachsinfingen, a large woman, about forty years of age, lean, pale, and solemn, clothed in a long brown dress, with a starched neckerchief and a kind of loose sack of black velvet, was conversing with her husband, the councillor, a great abdominous, rubicund man, with a jolly and simple look.
Enveloped in a Chinese silk dressing-gown, his head covered with a night-cap bound with a flame-colored ribbon, the councillor seemed to listen to his wife with mingled deference and impatience.
She held in her scraggy hands a note which she was reading for the second time, with profound attention, weighing each word.
This note read thus:
“Monsieur the Marquis of Létorière will have the honor of presenting himself at noon, to-day, to Madame la Conseillère de Flachsinfingen, if she will deign to receive him.”
After reading it, she repeated:
“‘Will present himself to Madame la Conseillère.’ What impudence!”
“But, Martha,” said the councillor, humbly, “I don’t see any impudence in . . .”
“You don’t see! oh! certainly, you are so penetrating! you don’t see that such a letter, from a libertine, from a débauché, from a Nebuchadnezzar like this Marquis of Létorière, is worse than an insult! for it is, so to speak, a premeditation and threat of insult!”
“How so, Martha?”
“Have you forgotten all that we have heard of this abominable man, who leaves behind him, they say, only ruined girls and guilty wives? . . . Don’t you know that he is a Pharaoh, who thinks he can bewitch one with a glance . . . a kind of unbridled Tarquin, who the first time he meets a woman dares to address her in the most wicked language of gallantry?”
“The fact is, he is one of those brisk sparks whom husbands, fathers and mothers send to the devil twenty times a day. Ha, ha, ha!” answered the councillor, with a horse-laugh.
This fit of inopportune laughter was severely punished by the conseillère, who sharply pinched him, crying:
“And are you such a wretch that you can laugh like a fool when you have in your hand the proof that such a dissolute fellow perhaps intends to crown his infernal triumphs by attacking the honor of your wife? . . .”
The councillor looked at his wife wonderingly, clasping his hands:
“Attack your honor; Martha! Ah, good heavens! Who thought of that?”
“Oh! what a man! what a man! Listen, then!”
And the conseillère read the letter for the third time! . . .
“‘Mons. de Létorière will have the honor of presenting himself to-day, at noon, at the house of Madame Flachsinfingen.’
“Do you comprehend that? At Madame’s house. Is not that clear? It is not at the house of the councillor that he will present himself, but at the house of the councillor’s wife. Tis a kind of rendezvous which he asks of me. He does not hide it; he attempts no subterfuge; he avows it without shame; and you,—you do not trouble yourself, you stand there, careless of the affront! Go along! go along, Flachsinfingen! you are not worthy to have an honest wife! To ask a rendezvous of me! The impudent fellow!”
“How, Martha, do you really believe that the Marquis dreamed of it? . . . Come, now, you are foolish and ridiculous!” cried the councillor. “If he asks a rendezvous, it is to speak to you about his lawsuit; nothing is more simple. He, like all the rest of the world, knows that I place entire confidence in you; that is to say, you lead me by the nose. So, in order to influence me, he very naturally wishes to act upon you, Martha.”
“To act upon me!! How to act upon me!! I will prevent it at the peril of my life!” cried the conseillère, in heroic accents.
At this moment they heard a carriage stop at the door.
“Heavens! that is he,” said the conseillère, leaning upon her husband’s chair. “I have not a drop of blood in my veins! Flachsinfingen, do not quit me! In heaven’s name defend me from this audacious fellow!”
But the carriage continued on its way it was a false alarm.
Martha passed her hand over her forehead, saying with emotion:
“My heart failed me, I confess; but a woman cannot always control her fears.”
“Well, if you fear this Marquis, why the devil do you receive him? Why do you face him?” innocently asked the councillor.
“Why? why?” repeated Martha, indignantly—and pointing towards her husband with a gesture of sovereign contempt—”he asks me why! That is the question of a soul shamefully abandoned to gluttony! Why? Why is the warrior who basely flees before his enemy dishonored? Why is gold tried by fire? Why is the just man who has valiantly fought, who has resisted, superior to him who has never struggled? Why does the Scripture”—and Martha pointed to her Bible, opened at the Book of Judges—”why does the Scripture say: ‘Ye who offered yourselves willingly to bless the Lord. Speak ye that ride on white she-asses, ye that sit in judgment, and walk without fear—'”
“But,” cried the councillor, interrupting his wife impatiently, “I tell you again, you are a fool! Who thinks of fighting you on your she-ass? of attacking you? of wrestling with you? of proving you by fire? At your age, you . . . ah, bah! . . . be quiet, then. . . . You will make me say something foolish, Martha!”
“Now add insult to vulgarity; nothing from you will astonish me.”
“Well, once more, do not receive this Marquis,—do not receive him!” cried the councillor, exasperated; “my mind is made up to sustain the rights of the German princes, since you desire it! so whatever you may say to this Nebuchadnezzar, this Pharaoh, this Tarquin, will change nothing. Be quiet! I have no wish that he should attack you, as you say, or that you should resist him in order to prove yourself the most virtuous woman in all Germany. So don’t think of it any more; close your door, and let me go to peep into Lipper’s ovens; my stomach warns me that it is almost noon, and I depend so much on a certain baked pike, with gooseberry jelly sauce, that I have dreamt of it all night.”
Having suffered her husband to speak, Madame Flachsinfingen replied with an air of calm and concentrated contempt: “I know, sir, that you think of nothing but your beastly gormandizing, when the virtue of your wife is in peril. . . . So it devolves on me to defend your honor and my own. A new Judith, I will brave this Holofernes, and like her, I will say:”
‘Give me, oh Lord, courage to scorn him and strength to destroy him.’
“But notwithstanding my resolution,” continued Martha, “as I am, after all, but a weak woman, as this miscreant is capable of going to the most frightful lengths . . . all that I ask of you is, to hold yourself well armed, and ready to succor me, if my own efforts are unhappily vain!”
“But, Martha, reassure yourself . . . reassure yourself; one cannot always judge one’s self aright; and I swear to you that there is something in you . . . a certain air . . . a certain ‘I know not what’ . . . which would deter any impertinent fellow from showing a want of respect to you. . . . So I shall have no need to arm myself in order to . . .”
“Do you not know that if I set out to do a thing, I will do it?” said the conseillère, interrupting her husband, and fixing on him a look which seemed to fascinate him. “Although I am sorry to delay your dinner-hour, you will nevertheless take a blunderbuss, and, concealed under this table, will be present at this interview . . . ready to come to my aid, if need be, when I cry, ‘To me, Flachsinfingen!'”
“I hide myself under this table with a blunderbuss! And what for? Heavens!”
“I tell you, sir, that this will be, and it will be!”
This scene took place in the councillor’s library, where many arms of the middle ages were hung up on the wainscot as objects of curiosity.
The lady selected a blunderbuss and a poniard, which she laid on the table; she examined, also, a light Persian shield and a steel coat of mail, and was on the point of investing herself with these defences in order more surely to resist the expected attack of the Marquis; but, deciding that she was sufficiently guarded by the poniard, she again approached her husband.
“This poniard will do for me; this blunderbuss for you. Deborah was armed with nothing but a nail; Judith, with a sword; Dalilah, with scissors. . . . Martha will have a poniard.”
“But, Martha, take care! this blunderbuss has been loaded ever since the day I intended to try it. . . . Good heavens! what’s the use of all these implements?”
Again a carriage stopped at the gate. Once more, Martha felt a strong emotion of terror, when the servant came to say to her:
“It is a French Marquis who asks for you, madame.” . . .
“Good heavens! ’tis he . . . courage!” . . . said she, in a low voice; and added: “when I ring the bell, Claire, you may introduce this stranger.”
The servant went out; the conseillère solemnly embraced her husband, and said to him in an agitated voice:
“Now, Flachsinfingen, the moment has come . . . take your blunderbuss; and may God save me!” . . .
And she raised the cover, making a gesture to her husband to slip under the table.
“But, my dear wife, I shall stifle under there. . . . How absurd!”
“Do you hear me?” said Martha, imperiously.
“But, ’tis useless . . .”
“Flachsinfingen, did you hear me?” cried the furious woman, seizing her husband by the arm, and accentuating, so to speak, every word with a sharp pinch.
“I must be, by Jupiter! as foolish and weak as you are mad, to lend myself to this nonsense,” said the councillor, rubbing his arm, and painfully crawling under the table.
“Now, when I cry ‘To me, Flachsinfingen!’ come out, and fire without mercy on this Philistine!” said his wife; then she drew down the cloth which stifled the councillor’s last murmurs.
Sure of this concealed auxilliary, Martha made scientific preparations for defence. The table which sheltered the councillor was placed between herself and the dreaded adversary. On her flanks she placed two chairs, with another as a screen; and at her side she had a long Toledo poniard.
Then, with a beating heart, she rang her bell, and murmured in a low voice: “Be ready, Flachsinfingen!” . . .
Some inarticulate sounds escaped from beneath the table-cloth; the door was opened; Létorière entered, and the lady put her hand upon her weapon.
This time, also, the metamorphosis of the Marquis was complete. He seemed to be not more than twenty years of age; his chestnut hair, without powder, parted in the middle over his forehead, framed his charming face, candid and ingenuous. He was clothed in black; he dropped his eyes timidly, twirled his hat in his hands with an embarrassed air, and remained near the door without daring to move a step.
The conseillère, agitated, irritated and threatening, with her hand upon the poniard, expecting to see a bold and brilliant gentleman of audacious mien and free speech, stood stupefied at the appearance of this youth of such rare beauty, who, quite intimidated, seemed to hesitate to approach her.
Hardly believing her eyes, and fearing some mistake, Martha said to him sharply:
“Are you really the Marquis de Létorière!”
“Yes, madame la conseillère,” replied the Marquis, with a trembling voice, not lifting his eyes, and blushing deeply.
“Do you come from France?”
“Yes, madame la conseillère; I arrived here three days ago.” . . .
At the sound of this sweet voice, so pure and youthful in tone, Martha’s astonishment was doubled; she dropped her poniard, leaned towards the Marquis, and said in a milder voice:
“You are, then, the Marquis de Létorière, a party in a lawsuit?”
“Yes, madame la conseillère”. . .
“In a lawsuit against the Dukes of Brunswick and Brandenbourg?”
“Yes, madame la conseillère.”
Hearing these answers, almost childlike in simplicity, and stammered out timidly, Martha, reassured, rose and took two steps towards the door, saying to the Marquis:
“Come nearer, sir!” . . .
Létorière, for the first time, raised his great tender and melancholy eyes, looked earnestly at the lady, and then lowered them under his long eyelashes.
In her whole life Martha had never encountered a look at once so sweet and so seductive; she was moved, and said to the Marquis, with a sort of quick impatience:
“Come nearer, sir! . . . one would say that I frightened you.” . . .
“Oh, no, madame la conseillère; you do not frighten me. . . . ‘For the virtuous woman is an excellent gift, and she shall be given to man for his good deeds,’ says the Scripture.”
“He quotes Scripture!” cried Martha, with admiration, her fears quite dispelled. “But I do really intimidate you?”
“Madame . . . it is because you are so majestic . . . you resemble so much one of the daughters of our king, that my heart beats in spite of myself;” and the Marquis placed his hand upon his heart with a movement full of grace. “Mercy on me, I can hardly speak! Ah! do not wish me to do it, madame. Self-command is impossible in circumstances like these,” said Létorière, casting a look at once timid and imploring upon the lady, who was flattered by the effect she produced, and by her resemblance to one of the daughters of the King of France.
“I don’t know whether I am asleep or awake,” said Martha to herself; “how is it that he has been called shameless? audacious? a pitiless seducer? But perhaps he is playing with me! perhaps this appearance of candor is only an abominable feint of the evil spirit! Perhaps it is only the artifice of the tiger, who approaches his prey with soft steps, the better to seize and devour it!”
As this suspicion took possession of her mind, imitating, to a certain extent, in her retreat, the side-ling and stealthy step of the tiger, she prudently regained her fortress, that is to say, the table, and said softly to her husband:
“Prepare your blunderbuss, Flachsinfingen . . . the moment approaches . . .”
By quick movement under the cover, it was impossible to guess whether the councillor raised his blunderbuss or made an impatient gesture.
Once safely intrenched, with her poniard near at hand, the lady resumed her imperious tone, her repulsive physiognomy, and said, harshly, to Létorière:
“Well! and what do you want, sir? My husband is convinced of the justice of the claims of the German princes, and all your efforts will be useless.”
“Adieu, then, madame, since you will not deign to hear me! I have no longer any hope. . . . Alas! ye Fates, how unhappy I am!”
The Marquis, putting one of his hands before his eyes, turned towards the door in profound dejection.
Noting this movement, which was far from announcing hostile intentions, and hearing this accent of despair, the councillor’s wife forgot all her suspicions, emerged for the second time from her fortress, approached the Marquis, and said to him in a softer voice, but which betrayed a little pettishness:
“Who told you I would not listen to you, young man? Why are you going away? Although the question of your lawsuit may be settled, it is my husband’s duty to listen to your claims. . . . Confide in me, then . . . reassure yourself. Have I such a terrifying look? See, come near me,—don’t be afraid!” And thus speaking, Martha took the Marquis by the hand and led him slowly to a scat, repeating: “Tranquillize yourself; you must not be afraid of me any more, my child.”
At this moment a burst of roaring laughter was heard, the cloth on the table was suddenly thrust aside, and the great fat councillor appeared, blunderbuss in hand, crying with increasing merriment:
“Where is your poniard now? where is your helmet? where is your buckler, Martha? It is you who have to soothe this Pharaoh! this Nebuchadnezzar. . . . Ah, ha! behold Judith calming the emotion of Holofernes!”
All this was utterly incomprehensible to Létorière, who, for the moment, surprised by the sudden apparition of the councillor, could hardly control the desire to laugh which the grotesque figure of Flachsinfingen excited.
But Martha, as much irritated as humiliated by her husband’s raillery at the foolish precautions she had taken, rushed towards him angrily, crying:
“Are you not ashamed to employ such vile means to play the spy upon your wife? Oh, you odious tyrant! Oh, you abominably jealous man! God o’ mercy! have I ever given you cause to doubt my virtue?”
And Martha raised her eyes towards heaven to call God to witness the injustice of the poor councillor’s suspicion, who, astonished, stupefied by such unexpected reproaches, stood with open mouth, the blunderbuss in his hand.
“How then, my wife,” said he; “you? . . .”
“I will hear nothing from you,” said Martha, taking him by the arm . . . “Leave me.” . . .
“But, . . .”
“Go away, sir . . . go away . . . your presence makes me sick!” and Martha rudely pushed her husband towards the door of a closet which opened from the room.
“But . . . my wife!” . . . said the councillor, still expostulating.
“And before this young man, too! Heavens! what will he think of me?” cried Martha.
“But, what the devil! . . . it is you who . . .”
“To lie in ambush there traitorously, with a blunderbuss!” added Martha.
“But really . . . my wife!”—and the councillor, losing ground, was still pushed towards the door.
“A veritable assassin! worthy of an Italian bandit!” continued Martha, with horror.
“Nevertheless, wife, it was you who . . .”
“An Aulic Councillor to play such a part! You disgust me! . . . go out! . . . go out!” . . .
And after a pretty long struggle, Flachsinfingen disappeared in the closet, of which his wife drew the bolts.
“Well done!” said Létorière, laughing inwardly at seeing himself shut up with Martha; “it is no longer she, but myself now, who has need of defence. . . . I don’t like the presence of the man with the blunderbuss,” he added, looking round him with a frightened air.
Martha soon returned, her eyes cast down like an offended prude’s.
“I am so confused at this scene, sir! . . . Alas! my husband is unhappily jealous . . . frightfully jealous! Good gracious! without the least reason! He is, in short, so fanciful, that, knowing I was going to have an interview with you . . . with a young gentleman” . . . and the lady hesitated, “whom they say; . . . in short . . . whose reputation is such; . . . in a word . . . my husband hid himself . . . for . . . my grief! you comprehend the rest!”
“Yes, madame, I have already been told that the councillor was very jealous,” said the Marquis, timidly.
“Ah! . . . you have been told that!”—and Martha simpered.
“Yes, madame, I have been told that the councillor was very jealous of the influence which you exercise over his clients, who always address themselves to you rather than to him. . . . You are known to be so good . . . to possess such a correct judgment . . . and yet your husband ought to bless you every day; for the Scripture says, The husband who has a good wife is happy, and that the number of his years shall be doubled.” This was said with an expression of such virgin innocence, with so gentle and pious an accent, that Martha, stupefied, after taking a long look at the enchanting face, said to herself: “He is a true paschal lamb. . . . Poor innocent! . . . sacred texts always in his mind! . . . how he interests me!” . . . and she added aloud:
“Tell me how it is, that, young as you are, your parents allow you to travel alone? How is it that they confide so important a lawsuit to your inexperience?”
“Alas, madame, I am an orphan. . . . I am poor. . . . I have no one to help me, and my only friend and guide is my old preceptor.”
“But how is it that, pleasing as you are, you have such a reputation?”
“I, madame?” asked Létorière, with angelic simplicity, “what reputation?”
The councillor’s wife was confounded; she could easily understand that stories had been exaggerated; but that a youth of such rare candor, and of such a pious education, could pass for an heartless seducer, was beyond her comprehension.
“Have you no relative of your name at the French court?” she asked, anxiously.
“No, madame.” . . .
“It is plain that the German princes have spread these injurious reports about their adversary,” thought Martha. “But tell me, what steps have you taken hitherto?”
“Alas! most useless ones, madame. . . . I went first to the castle of the Baron of Henferester.” . . .
“Good heavens! poor child, did you venture into the den of that frightful Polyphemus?”
“Yes, madame; oh, he frightened me so! And then . . .”
“Go on, go on! Tell me all; and in order to put you at your ease, I will tell you that my husband and myself both cordially detest the baron.”
“I did not know that, madame; that is why I feared . . . to tell you . . .”
“No, no, tell me all!”
“Well, madame, I went to the castle of Henferester. The baron began to ridicule me because I went in a carriage instead of on horseback.”
“The wicked old centaur! . . . He thinks that everybody is like himself, all iron and steel,” said Martha, contemptuously.
“Then, when I began to speak to him of my lawsuit, he said to me in his loud voice ‘Dinner first, . . . we can talk better glass in hand.'”
“The drunkard! I recognize him there.”
“Not daring to oppose the baron, I went to the table; but at the risk of displeasing him, as he had not said grace, I asked his permission to say it.”
“Poor little martyr! . . . Well done, my child! and the brute let you say it, I hope?”
“Yes, madame, but he afterwards laughed so much that I felt scandalized.” . . .
“I believe it. . . . Unfortunate lamb! . . . where were you straying, God of heaven!”
“As I ate but little, the baron said to me, ‘You have dined, then?’ ‘No sir,’ I answered, ‘but the Scripture says: Be not eager at the feast.'” . . .
“Well answered . . . to this glutton; my child, you might have added as a prediction that sleeplessness, and colic, and pains in the belly, are the inheritance of the intemperate, and that is truly what I wish to him, the wicked brute!”
“Then, madame, he gave me a great glass filled with pure wine, telling me to pledge him. . . . ‘But, sir,’ said I, ‘I never drink clear wine.’ Then, madame, he shouted with laughter, and answered me: ‘That’s no matter . . . drink away’ . . . to your mistress!'”
“To say such things to a child of that age! What abominable corruption!” and the conseillère lifted up her hands to heaven.
“I did not understand what the baron said to me; I touched my lips to the great glass, and put it back on the table without drinking a drop. Then the baron looked me through and through, saying, in a loud voice, ‘You do not drink wine, you eat nothing, you do not talk. Perhaps you would be more communicative between a tankard of kirchenwasser and a pipe well filled with tobacco.'”
“Kirchenwasser! a pipe! oh, the old sinner! to want to impart his odious barrack tastes to this youth, who seems more like a young girl than a young man!”
“But” I answered the baron, ‘I never drink strong liquors, and I have never smoked.’ . . . Then he began to swear—and how he did swear!—till I was ashamed for him, and he said: ‘You don’t smoke, you don’t drink; I see that we shall not come to an understanding, for I interest myself only in people who resemble me! At least you hunt?’ ‘Yes sir, I have shot larks with a mirror.’ Then, madame, he began to laugh, and to swear harder than ever, and said: ‘Young man, excuse my frankness, but the Lord of Henferester would rather never touch wine, a bridle, or a gun again, than to take the part of a shooter of larks. . . I can do nothing for you.’ And so, madame, I quitted the baron, and came away in utter despair.”
“And Doctor Sphex,—have you seen him?” asked Martha, thoughtfully.
“Yes, madame, but he asked me, the first thing, if I was acquainted with profane literature . . . and a certain heathen author named Persius, which I have been told is improper for one of my age to read. I told him no; then he said that my cause was bad, and that my adversaries had the right of the case. . . . So I saw that there was no more hope in that quarter than in the other.”
The conseillère felt profoundly moved.
“Listen, my child!” said she; “you interest me more than I can tell you. . . . I am pained to see the other councillors so opposed to your interests; I can do nothing with them; all that I can do, is to endeavor to secure for you my husband’s vote.” . . .
“Ah! madame, can it be true?” cried Létorière, with an expression of the most lively gratitude. “Ah! the Scripture is right in saying: The virtuous woman is the joy of her husband; she makes him pass all the years of his life in peace. . . . Yes, madame, for I will bless your husband, and he will be proud of having—thanks to you—made the just cause to triumph.”
“Always Scripture! he might truly be called a little clergyman,” said Martha, with enthusiasm. “But,” continued she, “don’t indulge in foolish hopes, nor despair utterly; the baron and the doctor may yet revise their resolutions.” . . . And Martha added to herself: “How much it costs me to deceive him so! He has very little chance, but I have not the heart to undeceive him.”
“Ah, madame!” cried Létorière, throwing himself on his knees, “I feel it,—you will be my good angel. . . . To you I shall owe all the happiness of my future life. . . . Heavens! madame, how good and generous you are! Oh, let me here, at your feet, thank you again and again!”
The lady, very much moved and softened, turned her head, and said gently to the Marquis, giving him her hand to kiss . . .
“Come, come, my child, get up; don’t stay there!” . . .
The Marquis, still on his knees, resolutely took the hand which she offered to him, carried it bravely to his lips, shutting his eyes, and saying, in a grateful and passionate voice:
“Oh, madame, how can I ever be grateful enough for all your kindness!” . . .
“Well, well, little simpleton,” said Martha, softly disengaging her hand, and giving Létorière a slight tap with the other, “are you going to make me repent of my kindness?” . . .
After the Marquis had thrown himself at Martha’s feet, the jolly face of the councillor, still armed with his blunderbuss, had cautiously appeared at an oval window over the door of the closet in which he was shut up.
Seeing his wife so little disposed to use her poniard to repulse this Holofernes, this Tarquin, this Nebuchadnezzar, the councillor, wishing playfully to revenge himself for his incarceration, fired his blunderbuss in the air, exclaiming, “Martha, did you not cry, ‘To me, Flachsinfingen!'”
Then resting his elbows on the window, he began to laugh boisterously.
His wife, provoked by this new outburst of factiousness, fell in feigned convulsions.
Létorière escaped, calling for help, and left Martha in the hands of her women and her husband, who, seeing the unhappy issue of his pleasantry, hastily came out to seek pardon for his impertinence.
Ecclesiasticus, XXI. 20.
On the day of judgment on Létorière’s lawsuit, the three councillor’s met at the palace. Their ballot was to be secret, the votes being deposited in an urn.
Before the session, Henferester, Flachsinfingen, and Sphex exchanged some cool civilities, at the same time scrutinizing each other with some anxiety; once the doctor thought of interesting Flachsinfingen in Létorière’s favor; but he was afraid of compromising his protégé’s cause instead of helping it. The others, feeling a similar fear, concealed their intentions, and chattered about matters remote from the lawsuit.
“This fine young man is surely going to lose his lawsuit; he will be the victim of the unjust partiality of my associates, but my voice at least shall be raised in his favor.”
Such was the private reflection of each judge.
When the merits of the case had been set forth anew by the lawyers, after a long session occupied in listening to, not in discussing the facts, the three councillors arose and solemnly deposited their votes in the urn.
The Baron of Henferester, who on that day presided over the court, ordered the recorder to examine the ballot.
Each councillor had written on a slip of paper the name of the party who, in his opinion, had the right of the cause.
The recorder plunged his hand into the urn, drew out a ballot, and read: The Marquis of Létorière.
“That is my vote,” said each councillor to himself.
At the second ballot the recorder read again: The Marquis of Létorière.
The councillors began to look at each other uneasily.
On the third ballot the recorder again read: The Marquis of Létorière.
The stupefaction of the three magistrates was complete.
The recorder registered the judgment. All the judicial formalities having been fulfilled, the councillors returned to the council-room.
Notwithstanding their joy at the Marquis’s triumph, they were greatly astonished by this strange coincidence of opinion; so they were eager for an explanation.
“How the devil did you ever come to vote for the Marquis?” impetuously cried the baron, addressing Flachsinfingen and Sphex.
“I was going to ask you the same question,” replied Sphex. “How is it that you decided to give him your vote? And you, too, Flachsinfingen?”
“Oh, with me it is very different,” said the baron. “Between ourselves we can speak frankly. You must admit that one founds his preferences on similarity of pursuits; is it not so? Well, it is because my dogs and those of the Marquis hunt together, as the saying is, that I have given my vote to him. In a word, he is a man whose character, manners, and habits please me. I promised him my vote, feeling that his cause was hopeless, knowing well that both of you would be hostile to him. I am delighted that he has gained it; but, may the devil strangle me if I can understand how and why you voted for him!”
“The character and the habits of the Marquis please you?” cried Sphex and Flachsinfingen, with one voice, both astounded.
“Certainly, never a bolder hunter has sounded his trumpet in our forests . . . never a gayer companion, never a freer drinker has emptied his tankard supernaculum, as the French say!”
The two councillors laughed in the baron’s face.
“A bold hunter! . . . A blower of trumpets, he! a poor young Latinist! a poor scholar!” said Sphex, giving way to his hilarity, and shrugging his shoulders with pity.
“A hard drinker! . . . a gay companion! . . . this ingenuous youth who quotes the Bible so apropos! this timid lad who cannot look at my wife without blushing up to his ears!” cried Flachsinfingen, with a laugh not less sardonic.
“The . . . the Marquis! a scholar and a Latinist! . . . The Marquis quoting the Bible and blushing before a woman!” repeated the baron, laughing immoderately. “Ha, ha! my friends, you are fools, or rather you see everything through your own glasses.”
“You are a fool yourself, with your hunting-horns and your tankards,” cried Sphex, angrily. “What can there be in common, I should like to know, between the Marquis and the course amusements of gladiators and drunkards?” added the doctor, with an expression of supreme contempt. “You wouldn’t have fallen into such an error, my dear baron, if you had heard Létorière recite and comment upon the admirable verses of the king of the Latin poets of antiquity!” . . .
“I!”—cried the baron in a rage—”I believe what my eyes have seen, and not the dream of a sickly imagination! In my presence the Marquis has killed a deer with the finest possible stroke of the knife! In my presence he has wound a horn better than the first huntsman of the imperial hounds! In two days he has drank, in my presence, more beer, more Rhine wine and more kirchenwasser than you ever drank in all your life, Dr. Sphex! In my presence he has mounted my old Elphin, which many huntsmen have found difficult! Well, once again I tell you, you and Flachsinfingen both, that Létorière, a rough and bold cavalier, is too well acquainted with the spear, the hunting-horn and the glass, to lose his time in turning pale before old he-goats, or blushing before a woman! Again I tell you, you are two dreamers.”
At this outburst the two other councillors fell foul of one another, and the discussion soon became so violent, that the three judges, all speaking at once, could not make themselves heard.
The presence of an usher of the council was necessary to put a stop to this incomprehensible conversation.
The usher approached Flachsinfingen, and whispered in his ear. . . .
“Gentlemen,” said he, “my wife desires to speak to me; will you listen to her? She will inevitably throw light on this discussion, for she has conversed for two whole hours with M. de Létorière. . . . Listen to her, and you will see that what I have said is the exact truth.”
“Let her come in, if she wishes,” cried the baron. “But in spite of all the petticoats in Germany, I repeat that I have seen Létorière kill a deer with his own hand, and that he can drink as much as I can.”
“And in spite of all the hunters, whippers-in, and drinkers in Germany,” cried Dr. Sphex, “I maintain that I have heard Létorière recite verses of Persius, and comment upon them more learnedly than the most learned professors of our universities could do. And you will never make me believe, baron, that so erudite a man, with such a refined mind, could hunt in the forest like a poacher, or drink like a pandour.”
“And I, in spite of all the professors, all the huntsmen, all the drinkers in the empire, will maintain that I have seen Létorière tremble like a child before my wife, who was obliged to reassure him, and that I heard him quote Scripture as piously as a minister,” cried Flachsinfingen,—exasperated in his turn. “One need only to see the Marquis to be assured there is nothing in his appearance or manner that smacks of the gladiator.”
The conseillère entered in the midst of these contradictory allegations.
“I doubt not, gentlemen,” said Flachsinfingen, “that my wife will be able to bring you into agreement; thus far she has been a stranger to our discussion, and—”
But Martha did not let her husband finish; addressing the doctor and baron with an affable and complimentary air,—
“Nothing is talked of, gentlemen, but the success of the Marquis of Létorière; permit me to congratulate you on this unexpected unanimity of judgment. . . . Thanks to your wise agreement, gentlemen, it may be said that the cause of innocence and religion has triumphed! In my opinion this poor child Létorière represents, in a wonderful degree, innocence and religion in their moral as well as physical aspects, if I may so express myself, for he has the look of an angel.”
“There,—what did I tell you, gentlemen?” cried Flachsinfingen.
“And what devil of an angel and a child are you talking about, if you please, madam?” asked the baron.
The lady replied, rather sharply:
“I speak, sir, of a poor child whom you know as well as I do, for you tried to make him drink, smoke and hunt, the innocent creature! when he went to visit you in order to interest you in his lawsuit. Oh, I know all, Monsieur le Baron; but escaping from your temptations, this angel courageously resisted; he drank water, as pure as his soul, and was not afraid to remind you of your religious duties, which you had forgotten . . .”
“But, zounds, madame!” cried the baron, “you don’t know him.” . . .
“I know all, I know all, I tell you,” replied the lady, volubly; “but I forgive you, seeing by your vote that the might of innocence has been sufficient to overcome your unjust prejudices.”
The baron was confounded, and said to himself: “If this lasts ten minutes longer, I shall have an apoplectic fit, I’m sure of it.” . . .
“But, madame,” cried Dr. Sphex, “you are sadly mistaken . . . and . . .”
“And you, too, sir,” replied the councillor’s wife, “have given him your vote, much to your credit! You have done well; but now tell me, how could you believe that a youth so religiously brought up . . . so religiously nourished on the Scriptures . . . would have stained his chaste mind with all your abominable profane literature! Why make it a crime in him for not knowing the verses of a certain . . . Persius . . . who, they say, is the most shameless of satirists?”
“By Hercules, madame, it was he who . . .”
“Ah, by Hercules! What a frightful pagan oath!” cried the lady, raising her hands towards heaven. “I know all, I tell you . . . but I will say to you as I did to the baron: since you have dismissed your unjust prejudices . . . and have joined my husband in helping the cause of our innocent protégé to triumph . . . all glory and honor to you!”
“My dear baron . . . my nerves are horribly shaken by this scene,” said the doctor, turning pale and seizing the baron’s hands; “I am not well.” . . .
“And I, my poor doctor, I am suffocating . . . I have vertigo . . . my head is splitting! I’m stifling . . . I need air!”
The door opened, and the ushers entered to announce that the Marquis of Létorière begged to have the honor of saluting and thanking the councillors. . . .
“‘Tis God who sends him to us!” cried the conseillère. “Let him come in . . . let him come in! the sweet paschal lamb.” . . .
“Now you will see this lamb-like drinker of pure water!” said the baron, with a sardonic laugh.
“Now you will see this enemy of profane antiquity!” said the doctor in the same tone, joyfully rubbing his hands.
“Now you will see this Nimrod!”. . . said Flachsinfingen.
“Now you will see the pearl of young men!” said Martha, with the most profound and full conviction.
The surprise of the four spectators was at its height; they stood petrified, and looked at each other with astonishment.
The Marquis was dressed with the most remarkable elegance. He wore a coat of sky-blue velvet, embroidered with gold and silver leaves of extreme delicacy; his vest of silver cloth was spangled with gold, as were also his small-clothes, of the same color as his coat; his rose-colored silk stockings were clocked with gold; his shoes had red heels; a sword mounted in gold, covered with ornaments of silver, most beautifully wrought; a shoulder-knot of blue, silver, and gold, and a chapeau, with white plumes, which the Marquis held in his hand, completed this magnificent costume.
This complete metamorphosis had already upset all their conjectures, or rather confounded all the recollections of the councillors and Martha; but what still more excited their astonishment, was the impossibility of finding in Létorière’s face any of the expressions which had struck them individually.
Thus, in this charming gentleman so magnificently dressed, with an air at once spiritual and malicious, with such elegant manners and such perfect grace, although it was a little effeminate, the baron could not recognize his uncouth huntsman, so careless and negligé; . . . the doctor sought in vain his learned grammarian, who looked like a half-starved poet; and Madame Martha as futilely tried to see in the black and brilliant eyes of the Marquis, the timid and downcast look of the youthful quoter of Scripture.
Létorière felt the necessity of putting an end to the amazement of his judges. He saluted them profoundly, and said:
“May I be permitted, gentlemen, here to express to you my profound gratitude, and to declare it to each of you?”
The three Germans looked at each other in dismay, and awaited in silence the termination of this strange scene.
Létorière advanced towards Madame Flachsinfingen. Taking her hand with a movement of the most amiable gallantry, he raised it to his lips, and said to her in a sweet and grave voice: “I knew beforehand, madame, that in order to merit your interest, to reach the level of your noble character, it would be necessary to have, like you, a pure and religious soul . . . in showing myself to you under this exterior, I have not deceived. I did, for a moment, borrow your language, madame; and believe me, it is too noble and too beautiful for me ever to forget it. . . .” And he saluted her respectfully.
“As for you, Monsieur le Baron, in order to prove to you that I am still worthy to take part in the brotherhood of joyful huntsmen, I can do no better way than to beg you to come next year to pass St. Hubert at my castle of Obbreuse. . . . If you will deign to accompany him,” said the Marquis to Dr. Sphex, “we will continue our commentaries on our favorite poet. In short, gentlemen, formerly I liked the chase, reading the ancient poets and the Scripture merely from inclination . . . but now I shall like them from the remembrance of your precious interest.” . . .
Thus speaking, Létorière saluted the three councillors, who remained dumb, and went out.
Radiant with this success, which made his marriage with Mademoiselle de Soissons sure, Létorière went home, where he found a note which the princess had sent to him by a courier:
“The King is dying. . . . My liberty, our future, are threatened. . . . Come! come!” . . .
Sinking from the highest hope to the depths of anguish, the Marquis instantly started for Paris.
The day of his return to Paris, just as he was taking off his boots, getting ready to go to Versailles, in great haste to approach the king, he was called upon by the Baron of Ugeon, a relative of Madame Soubise. Accompanied by two seconds, this gentleman came to demand satisfaction for the discourtesy which the Marquis had shown towards Madame Rohan Soubise at her hotel.
Very much astonished at this revengefulness, for which there was no reason, Monsieur de Létorière, without declining the challenge, declared that having ridden post from Vienna to see the king, his master, for the last time, who was said to be dying, he could consent to fight only after having fulfilled this sacred duty.
The bravery of the Marquis was so well known, that his proposition could not be rejected. It was settled that when he was ready for the meeting, the seconds should inform Monsieur d’Ugeon.
After begging Dominique to go to the Abbey of Montmartre, and carry a letter from him to the princess Julie, the Marquis started for Versailles.
Louis XV. was dying with the confluent small-pox.
This terrible malady, so rapidly contagious, and which left such frightful traces, had caused great alarm in the court. Létorière found the small rooms occupied by the dying king almost deserted. The panic was much greater, as vaccination was not then known. Even the officers on duty were hardly to be found at their posts. Louis XV. had strictly forbidden the dauphin and the other princes and princesses to enter his apartment, for fear of exposing the royal family to the fatal contagion. The Viscount of T***, one of the gentlemen of the bedchamber, then on duty, was in the room next to that of the king, when Létorière arrived, pale and agitated.
The Marquis, forgetting court etiquette in this dreadful moment, was about to raise the curtain of the king’s chamber, when the viscount hurriedly advanced, and said in a low voice, laying his hand upon the Marquis’s arm:
“Stop, sir, you have not the entrée to his majesty’s chamber.”
“It is said, sir, that the king is almost deserted by his attendants; they fear contagion. . . . If it be true that death reigns in this chamber, one can brave all etiquette to enter it,” said Létorière, bitterly, and he made a movement to enter.
“Once more, you cannot go into the presence of his majesty, sir,” replied the Viscount T***. “I am not sure that he will consent to receive you.”
“Go, then, and ask him, sir; the king will not refuse the services of one whom he has always loaded with favors.”
The proposition to enter the king’s chamber seemed to frighten Monsieur T***, who haughtily answered the Marquis, still in a low voice:
“I receive orders only from the first gentleman-in-waiting, sir.”
At that instant a feeble voice, well known to both who heard it, asked:
“Who is there? Who is speaking in whispers?”
“It is the king! . . . He has heard you, sir. You are responsible for the consequences of this,” said Monsieur T***; and he replied aloud: “Will his majesty deign to excuse me if I answer him without entering? but I only execute his formal orders. The person who is here, Sire, is . . .”
“‘Tis Létorière, who supplicates the king to be permitted to approach him,” said the marquis aloud, interrupting M. T***.
“Indeed, . . . is it you, my child? You have returned, then?” cried Louis XV., in a tone of great pleasure. Then reflecting that he should expose the Marquis to the danger of contagion in permitting him to enter his chamber, he added:
“No . . . no . . . the air of this apartment is fatal . . . don’t come in; I forbid it.” . . .
“For the first time in my life I shall dare to disobey an order of the king. . . . But I have a duty to accomplish, and I will accomplish it,” cried Létorière; and raising the curtain, he advanced towards the monarch’s bed.
“Go out . . . go out this instant, ill-fated child!” cried the prince, raising himself to a sitting posture, and extending his hand towards the door with an imperious air.
But Létorière threw himself on the king’s hand; which, despite his majesty’s resistance, he kissed respectfully several times. Then he knelt near the bed, saying:
“May the king pardon my audacity . . . but there is now no longer any reason for forbidding my presence.” . . .
“Go away . . . leave me;” replied Louis XV.
“Four years ago I was happier . . . the king deigned to allow me to kiss his royal hand in the garden of Versailles,” said the Marquis, with an accent of filial veneration.
“But four years ago . . . my hand could not communicate a frightful disease . . . death, perhaps!” said the sovereign, much moved.
The courageous pertinacity of Létorière touched more deeply this excellent prince, because, save by some inside servants, he had been abandoned by nearly all the courtiers.
The high officials of the crown, whose duty it was to remain near his person, had obeyed only too faithfully his orders, which forbade them to stay.
The fine features of the king, disfigured by his disease, already indicated the approach of death. At this supreme moment the unfortunate dissensions, the threatening political agitation which had darkened the latter part of his reign, filled him with new anxieties. Létorière’s noble devotion for a moment diverted his thoughts from these painful themes which saddened his last moments.
“You are a madman, . . . you deserve all my anger for daring to disobey me and expose yourself thus,” . . . cried Louis XV., with an expression rather of grief than of wrath, and casting a tender look on Létorière, who, still kneeling near the bed, kept profound silence.
“Oh, may the king have pity on me! this may perhaps be the last time I can show him my gratitude.”
“Again, I tell you this disease is contagious. . . . Do you not see that they have abandoned me . . . that I am alone . . . that I wish to be alone?” the prince hastened to add with bitterness, as if he wished to disguise from himself his first thought; the devotion of the Marquis made the ingratitude of the courtiers appear yet more shameful to him.
“Brave and noble heart!” added Louis XV., looking at the Marquis tenderly. “That hast no fear; thou art faithful!”
“Then let the king recompense my fidelity by granting me what he grants to no other person . . . the right to serve him, to remain near him!” . . . said Létorière, joining his hands in supplication.
“It must be so . . . now” . . . said Louis XV. Then he added, almost in despair: “But you are young! you are handsome! you are beloved! and all that you risk to come to me! all that you will sacrifice to me, perhaps, poor young man! . . . when so many others”. . . and, after a moment of silence, Louis continued: “There is probably a crowd around the dauphin to salute the King, Louis XVI.”
“Sire, what do you say?”
“That is the fate of kings when they are departing, my child. . . . Ah! if I had only oblivion, only death to dread! But France . . . France . . . what will become of her? And my grandson, what will his future be?” . . .
“Sire, France has named you the Well-beloved; for a long time you have borne that name, and his highness the dauphin will one day merit it.” . . .
“I am not mistaken . . . I am feeble . . . I approach my end,” . . . said the king, shaking his head sadly; “and then, I believe certain deaths are significant; the Marshal of Armantières, the Marquis of Chauvelin, have suddenly died before me . . . in my court. . . . It is a warning from heaven.”
“Do not think of this, Sire. This illness is dangerous, but care . . .”
“Care is powerless,—I feel it; thus it is frightful for me to think that I have, perhaps, uselessly compromised your life . . . but now it is too late. Your imprudence . . . no, no, . . . your generous devotion has rendered all regret vain. . . . But tell me, I have heard with joy of the gaining of your lawsuit. Now, nothing can prevent your marriage with the princess Julie. . . . Oh! I have had to break many lances for you against the Maréchale and against the House of Savoy,” he added, with a kind smile. “I have been obliged to use all my authority to prevent them from shutting up Mademoiselle de Soissons in the convent of Montmartre.”
“Ah! Sire, what goodness! you deign to think . . .”
“It is now or never; to-morrow, perhaps, it will be too late. . . . My only fear is, that when I am gone the princess Julie will not find a friend in my grandson. . . . But if God spares me a few days, I will advise her; it will be sweet to me to leave you as happy as you deserve to be, my dear child.” . . .
* * * * * * *
The illness of the king made rapid and frightful progress. Létorière did not quit him for a moment. It would be impossible to tell with what tender, respectful, and touching cares he surrounded the dying monarch. The sight of the Marquis seemed to calm the pains of Louis XV. Several times he offered him his hand in silence, with a sweet expression of gratitude. Soon all hope of saving the prince vanished, and Létorière stood with fixed and mournful eyes at the moment of death, the end of the sovereign who had shown for him all the affection of a father. . . .
After the death of Louis XV., the Marquis of Létorière quitted Versailles in order to return with all speed to Paris, and to the convent of Montmartre, in order to see the princess Julie. Feeling, on the road, alternate chills and fever, he attributed his indisposition to the painful emotions which had recently agitated him. As soon as he arrived, he questioned Dominique about the princess. The dying Louis XV. had only too clearly foreseen the future. A provost-guard was established in the abbey, by order of Louis XVI., to prevent Mlle. de Soissons from going out or receiving persons who were not furnished with the permission of Madame Soubise. So Dominique had not been able to see the princess, or to deliver to her the Marquis’s letters.
This news fell like a thunderbolt on Létorière. He doubtless trusted much to the firmness of Mlle. de Soissons; but he also knew the immense power of the House of Savoy, and of Madame Soubise’s influence in the new court. He was plunged in the bitterness of these reflections, when the seconds of the Baron of Ugeon came to inquire when it would suit him to appoint a time for the promised encounter. It seemed cruel to the Marquis to run the risk of a duel before seeing the princess Julie; but he had already asked for delay, and he could not beg it a second time. He agreed, therefore, to appear with his seconds at three o’clock the next day, behind the walls of the Mathurins farm-house, then a very isolated spot.
The Marquis had thirty-six hours before him; in this time he hoped to find means to obtain an interview with, or at least to convey a letter to Mlle. de Soissons.
Dame Landry was despatched to the Abbey of Montmartre, disguised as a pedler. She had a complete assortment of linens, cambrics, crapes, ribbons and laces. In order to make friends with the portress, she gave her a beautiful hood. The sister, delighted, promised to allow her to enter the court at the hour of promenade, when the ladies would surely make many purchases. Madelaine inquired who were the ladies of distinction resident in the abbey. The portress named the princess Julie.
“Is Madame Martha, Mlle. de Soisson’s nurse, with her?” asked the tailor’s wife.
“Undoubtedly,” replied the sister, “and you will see her in a moment, for she almost always comes down at this hour in her mistress’s service.”
“I have been recommended to Madame Martha,” said Madelaine, “and I am sure that, under her countenance, I shall sell a great many things to the princess; I have here a piece of lace which would not be unworthy the dress of a queen;” and the tailor’s wife, unfolding a napkin, showed a magnificent pattern to the portress.
“Ah! splendid! How beautiful that is! The archbishop has nothing finer on his surplice when he comes to officiate here.”
“And it is very probable,” said Madelaine, “that the princess may buy this marvel to make a present to his lordship; at least that’s what the person said who recommended me to Dame Martha.”
“Here she comes, now,” said the portress.
Martha entered, looking sad and mournful.
“Here’s a pedler who has been recommended to you, Madame Martha,” said the portress. “She has the most beautiful laces in the world.”
“I have no need of them,” said Martha, impatiently. “But, madame,” . . . said Madelaine, hesitating, and trying to make a signal of intelligence to the nurse, “I have been told that the princess . . . wished to purchase some laces, and . . .”
“You have been deceived, or rather you wish to deceive me, my friend,” sourly replied Dame Martha. “You have the appearance of one of those travelling vendors, who never return to see if people are satisfied with what they have bought.”
“You would not confound me with those miserable creatures, madame,” said Madelaine, redoubling her signals of intelligence, “if you knew who the person is who has recommended me to you.”
“And who is it?”
“The Marquis of Létorière.” . . .
At this name Dame Martha exchanged a rapid and meaning look with Madelaine. The two women understood each other. The portress was ignorant of the name, and even the existence of the Marquis.
Nevertheless the nurse, not wishing to excite her suspicions by recognizing too soon the name, replied roughly:
“Seek other dupes, my friend; I don’t know this Marquis.” . . .
“He is, nevertheless, the nephew of the Abbé de Vighan,” replied Madelaine.
“The nephew of the Abbé de Vighan! . . . that’s very different,” answered the nurse; “why didn’t you tell me that sooner? The nephew of M. de Vighan would recommend none but honest persons. And what have you to sell?”
“This piece of lace.” And Madelaine cast an expressive glance on Martha. “It is very precious and beautiful from one end to the other; the princess may unroll it, and she will not find a defect in it.”
“I will go and show it to her. . . And have you nothing else?”
“I have nothing that is worthy of your mistress.”
“Wait, then; I will come back.”
Inside the package of lace was a letter from the Marquis, inquiring of Julie the means of penetrating to her presence. Mlle. de Soissons answered that she considered herself his wife before God, that she was resolved to flee from the abbey, if she could by any possibility escape the surveillance which was maintained over her. She could go at all hours to pray in the chapel. This chapel was separated from the garden of the cloister by a long subterranean passage. A part of the wall looked out upon the fields; by scaling at it one point which Mlle. de Soissons designated, might be reached in the garden, by the side of a fountain, the door of this subterranean passage. By forcing this door one could gain the chapel. Mlle. de Soissons informed Létorière that every night, at one o’clock, she would wait there, to swear to him at the foot of the altar to be only his, and to concert with him a plan of fleeing to England and escaping the persecutions of her family.
The princess Julie put this hastily-written letter into the roll of lace, and Martha carried it back to Madelaine, telling her that the princess thought it not fine enough.
Informed of Mlle. de Soissons’s determination, the Marquis sent Jerome Sicard to examine the locality. The walls of the cloister were very high, but surrounded by desert marshes. They could easily be scaled. Unhappily, the preparations indispensable to this enterprise would not permit the Marquis to attempt it until the night of the next day.
For the first time he feared death, for he reflected that his duel must precede his interview with Mlle. de Soissons.
He passed a night of painful agitation. His sleep was troubled by strange dreams. When he arose, he felt feeble and depressed. For the first time it occurred to him that perhaps he was a victim to contagion and his devotion to Louis XV. In fact, his physician recognized the alarming symptoms of confluent small-pox; but the disease would not be developed before the next day. Moved by an over-nice sense of honor, and contrary to the advice of his two seconds, the Marquis, notwithstanding his weakness, insisted on fighting with the Baron of Ugeon that very day.
At quarter past three, the meeting took place. The friends of the Marquis, seeing his feverish color and his weakness, believed it their duty, without consulting Létorière, to appeal to the courtesy of M. d’Ugeon, and request him to put off the duel. But a cruel and offensive word from M. d’Ugeon, at the suggestion of this new delay, having rendered an adjustment impossible, the combat began. Létorière fenced with superior force; his bravery was unquestionable; but the rapid approach of disease had weakened him so seriously, that he lost all his advantages, and received a sword-thrust directly in his breast. The seconds carried him home, and left him to the care of poor Dominique.
Eleven o’clock had just struck in the cloisters of the abbey of Montmartre. The night was stormy; the heavens gray and veiled, notwithstanding the brightness of the moon, which peeped out at long intervals beneath dank clouds rent by the wind. In order to reach the chapel, Mlle. de Soissons was obliged, after leaving her apartment, to cross an open gallery, whose arches opened on one of the interior courts of the abbey.
In the midst of this court was the tomb of the Countess of Egmont, the charming and unhappy daughter of Marshal Richelieu. The princess Julie had received, by the aid of her nurse and Dame Landry, a message from Létorière. He announced to her that he should endeavor to introduce himself into the abbey that very night. It was eleven o’clock; Mlle. de Soissons, oppressed by inexplicable presentiments, was praying on the steps of Madame Egmont’s tomb. At any moment the Marquis might arrive by the subterranean passage. The silence was profound, and interrupted only by the groaning of the wind which whirled through the arches. Despite her resolution, despite the noble and religious purpose which dictated her action, and the purity of her soul, the princess Julie was almost frightened at having given a rendezvous to Létorière in the chapel of the abbey. It seemed to her a sacrilege. Little by little her terrors ceased, giving place to anxiety and devouring uneasiness.
A lamp burning in the chapel threw a dim light upon the gloom. Mlle. de Soissons, kneeling near the door which communicated with the subterranean passage of the cloister, listened eagerly on that side. Presently steps were heard, the lock was broken, and Létorière appeared before the princess, who could not repress a cry of surprise and love.
“At last it is you! . . . I see you again . . . my friend!” . . . cried she with delirious joy; and added immediately: “But come into the gallery; let us leave this holy place.”
When the light of the moon permitted the princess to see the Marquis, she was struck by the pallor of his countenance. He was enveloped in a brown cloak, and walked with difficulty. In spite of his wound received that very day, in spite of the progress of the disease, and the tears and supplications of Dominique, the Marquis, accompanied by Jerome Sicard, had succeeded in scaling the walls of the Abbey.
“I see you once again, Julie!” said he, with an accent of inexpressible tenderness. . . .
“Soon nothing shall separate us again, my friend!” said the princess, extending her hand towards the Marquis.
“My hand! . . . no . . . no . . . just heaven! . . .” cried Létorière, withdrawing in affright; and he wrapped himself more closely in his cloak.
Mlle. de Soissons, profoundly astonished, looked at him in silence.
“Julie . . . Julie . . . pardon me . . . if I thus withdraw myself from you . . . but hearing of the illness of the king, and that he was abandoned by all . . . I went to him; I did not quit him for an instant, until his death.” . . .
“Ah! I understand,” cried the princess. “This terrible disease is contagious, and your devotion will perhaps cost you your life . . . will cost us, perhaps, our happiness!”
“No, no, reassure yourself, Julie . . . all hope is not yet lost. . . . Although suffering, I wanted to see you to relieve you of all anxiety, to tell you that my lawsuit is gained . . . and that no obstacle now opposes our happiness.” . . .
“None . . . none but death, perhaps!” exclaimed the princess, in despair. “My God! . . . My God! . . . in what frightful apprehension am I obliged to live!”
“Calm yourself! . . . Madelaine Landry will try every day to bring news of me to Martha. . . . You see . . . I am not seriously sick, although I may become so” . . . said the Marquis, with a feeble voice.
“I cannot live in such anxiety,” replied the princess. “I will flee with you . . . this very night.”
“Julie . . . it is impossible . . . nothing is prepared for such a step. In the name of Heaven, listen! . . . Do not compromise our future by precipitation.” . . .
“But I can see that you are suffering horribly; I will not leave you in such a state . . . it is impossible! Energy and courage will not fail me; where you have passed, I will pass. . . . Once away from here, I will go and put myself under the protection of the Judge of Solar; they will not dare to snatch me openly from the asylum I shall have chosen in the house of the Ambassador of Sardinia. But at least there . . . every day . . . every hour . . . I shall hear news from you.”
“Once again, Julie . . . it is impossible!” said Létorière, hardly able to stand, and leaning against one of the pillars of Madame Egmont’s tomb.
“And you believe,” resumed Mlle. de Soissons, feelingly, “you believe that during five years I could have followed you step by step with all the solicitude of a mother . . . that I could have bravely struggled against the wishes of my family, to abandon you to-day, under I know not what pretext of propriety, suffering, almost dying. . . . No, no, this love is too pure and too holy to fear to show a bold front.”
“Julie . . . pardon me,” murmured Létorière, falling on one of the steps of the tomb. “I have not told you all.”
“Heavenly Father! . . . he is ill!” . . .
“Silence! . . . Julie . . . one last prayer . . . let me feel your lips on my forehead.”
“He is going to die! he is dying! Charles! . . . Charles! Charles!” . . . cried the princess despairingly; and throwing herself on her knees by the Marquis, still so tightly enveloped in his cloak that Mlle. de Soissons sought his hand in vain.
“I have not told you . . . that the Baron of Ugeon challenged me,” murmured Létorière, with a voice growing rapidly weaker.
“A relative of the Maréchale! . . . They have assassinated him! . . . traitorously assassinated him!”
“No. . . . I fought . . . this morning . . . with him . . . it was honorably conducted . . . and I received . . . in the breast . . . a wound . . . Julie . . .” added the Marquis, faintly. “I wanted to see you again. . . . Adieu! . . . This ring . . . you know . . . you will take it again. . . . Your look has followed me everywhere . . . EVEN UNTO DEATH. . . . My God! . . . pardon me! . . . I thought myself strong enough to live until to-morrow. . . . Julie . . . once more . . . Adieu.” . . .
And Létorière died as he uttered this last word.
* * * * * * *
These lines are to be found in the “Souvenirs of Madame la Marquise de Créquy”:
“The princess Julie, poor unhappy child, never again saw her charming friend M. de Létorière. . . . His wounds reopened, and all the blood that remained in his veins flowed out during the night. . . . He expired without aid, and the next morning was found dead on the flag-stones of the cloister.
“Perhaps it was on the stone which covered the tomb of my poor friend Madame d’Egmont. Having been educated at the convent of Montmartre, she had begged to be buried near Madame de Vibraye, her friend from infancy, and Superior of this house.”
They hushed up this horrible affair. The corpse was magnificent; it was wrapped in a winding-sheet. They carried him to his bed, and it was reported that “the Marquis of Létorière had died of small-pox.”
* * * * * * *#ENGLISH