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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesDevereux - Book 4 - Chapter 10. Royal Exertions For The Good Of The People
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Devereux - Book 4 - Chapter 10. Royal Exertions For The Good Of The People Post by :Easyhome Category :Long Stories Author :Edward Bulwer-lytton Date :May 2012 Read :2654

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Devereux - Book 4 - Chapter 10. Royal Exertions For The Good Of The People


WHAT a singular scene was that private supper with the Regent of France and his _roues_! The party consisted of twenty: nine gentlemen of the court besides myself; four men of low rank and character, but admirable buffoons; and six ladies, such ladies as the Duke loved best,--witty, lively, sarcastic, and good for nothing.

De Chatran accosted me.

"Je suis ravi, mon cher Monsieur Devereux," said he, gravely, "to see you in such excellent company: you must be a little surprised to find yourself here!"

"Not at all! every scene is worth one visit. He, my good Monsieur Chatran, who goes to the House of Correction once is a philosopher: he who goes twice is a rogue!"

"Thank you, Count, what am I then? I have been _here twenty times."

"Why, I will answer you with a story. The soul of a Jesuit one night, when its body was asleep, wandered down to the lower regions; Satan caught it, and was about to consign it to some appropriate place; the soul tried hard to excuse itself: you know what a cunning thing a Jesuit's soul is! 'Monsieur Satan,' said the spirit; 'no king should punish a traveller as he would a native. Upon my honour, I am merely here _en voyageur_.' 'Go then,' said Satan, and the soul flew back to its body. But the Jesuit died, and came to the lower regions a second time. He was brought before his Satanic majesty, and made the same excuse. 'No, no,' cried Beelzebub; 'once here is to be only _le diable voyageur_; twice here, and you are _le diable tout de bon_.'"

"Ha! ha! ha!" said Chatran, laughing; "I then am the _diable tout de bon_! 'tis well I _am no worse_; for we reckon the _roues a devilish deal worse than the very worst of the devils,--but see, the Regent approaches us."

And, leaving a very pretty and gay-looking lady, the Regent sauntered towards us. It was in walking, by the by, that he lost all the grace of his mien. I don't know, however, that one wishes a great man to be graceful, so long as he's familiar.

"Aha, Monsieur Devereux!" said he, "we will give you some lessons in cooking to-night; we shall show you how to provide for yourself in that barbarous country which you are about to visit. _Tout voyageur doit tout savoir!_"

"Avery admirable saying; which leads me to understand that Monseigneur has been a great traveller," said I.

"Ay, in all things and _all places_; eh, Count?" answered the Regent, smiling; "but," here he lowered his voice a little, "I have never yet learned how you came so opportunely to our assistance that night. _Dieu me damne_! but it reminds me of the old story of the two sisters meeting at a gallant's house. 'Oh, Sister, how came _you here?' said one, in virtuous amazement. '_Ciel! ma soeur_!' cries the other; 'what brought _you_?'"*

* The reader will remember a better version of this anecdote in one of the most popular of the English comedies.--ED.

"Monseigneur is pleasant," said I, laughing; "but a man does now and then (though I own it is very seldom) do a good action, without having previously resolved to commit a bad one!"

"I like your parenthesis," cried the Regent; "it reminds me of my friend St. Simon, who thinks so ill of mankind that I asked him one day whether it was possible for him to despise anything more than men? 'Yes,' said he, with a low bow, 'women!'"

"His experience," said I, glancing at the female part of the _coterie_, "was, I must own, likely to lead him to that opinion."

"None of your sarcasms, Monsieur," cried the Regent.

"'L'amusement est un des besoins de l'homme,' as I hear young Arouet very pithily said the other day; and we owe gratitude to whomsoever it may be that supplies that want. Now, you will agree with me that none supply it like women therefore we owe them gratitude; therefore we must not hear them abused. Logically proved, I think!"

"Yes, indeed," said I, "it is a pleasure to find they have so able an advocate; and that your Highness can so well apply to yourself _both the assertions in the motto of the great master of fortification, Vauban,--'I destroy, but I defend.'"

"Enough," said the Duke, gayly, "now to _our fortifzeations_;" and he moved away towards the women; I followed the royal example, and soon found myself seated next to a pretty and very small woman. We entered into conversation; and, when once begun, my fair companion took care that it should not cease, without a miracle. By the goddess Facundia, what volumes of words issued from that little mouth! and on all subjects too! church, state, law, politics, play-houses, lampoons, lace, liveries, kings, queens, _roturiers_, beggars, you would have thought, had you heard her, so vast was her confusion of all things, that chaos had come again. Our royal host did not escape her. "You never before supped here _en famille_," said she,--"_mon Dieu_! it will do your heart good to see how much the Regent will eat. He has such an appetite; you know he never eats any dinner, in order to eat the more at supper. You see that little dark woman he is talking to?--well, she is Madame de Parabere: he calls her his little black crow; was there ever such a pet name? Can you guess why he likes her? Nay, never take the trouble of thinking: I will tell you at once; simply because she eats and drinks so much. _Parole d'honneur_, 'tis true. The Regent says he likes sympathy in all things! is it not droll? What a hideous old man is that Noce: his face looks as if it had caught the rainbow. That impudent fellow Dubois scolded him for squeezing so many louis out of the good Regent. The yellow creature attempted to deny the fact. 'Nay,' cried Dubois, 'you cannot contradict me: I see their very ghosts in your face.'"

While my companion was thus amusing herself, Noce, unconscious of her panegyric on his personal attractions, joined us.

"Ah! my dear Noce," said the lady, most affectionately, "how well you are looking! I am delighted to see you."

"I do not doubt it," said Noce "for I have to inform you that your petition is granted; your husband will have the place."

"Oh, how eternally grateful I am to you!" cried the lady, in an ecstasy; "my poor, dear husband will be so rejoiced. I wish I had wings to fly to him!"

The gallant Noce uttered a compliment; I thought myself _de trop_, and moved away. I again encountered Chatran.

"I overheard your conversation with Madame la Marquise," said he, smiling: "she has a bitter tongue; has she not?"

"Very! how she abused the poor rogue Noce!"

"Yes, and yet he is her lover!"

"Her lover!--you astonish me: why, she seemed almost fond of her husband; the tears came in her eyes when she spoke of him."

"She is fond of him!" said Chatran, dryly. "She loves the ground he treads on: it is precisely for that reason she favours Noce; she is never happy but when she is procuring something _pour son cher bon mari_. She goes to spend a week at Noce's country-house, and writes to her husband, with a pen dipped in her blood, saying, 'My _heart is with thee!'"

"Certainly," said I, "France is the land of enigmas; the sphynx must have been a _Parisienne_. And when Jupiter made man, he made two natures utterly distinct from one another. One was _Human nature_, and the other _French nature_!"

At this moment supper was announced. We all adjourned to another apartment, where to my great surprise I observed the cloth laid, the sideboard loaded, the wines ready, but nothing to eat on the table! A Madame de Savori, who was next me, noted my surprise.

"What astonishes you, Monsieur?"

"_Nothing_, Madame," said I; "that is, the absence of _all things."

"What! you expected to see supper?"

"I own my delusion: I did."

"It is not cooked yet!"

"Oh! well, I can wait!"

"And officiate too!" said the lady; "in a word, this is one of the Regent's cooking nights."

Scarcely had I received this explanation, before there was a general adjournment to an inner apartment, where all the necessary articles of cooking were ready to our hand.

"The Regent led the way,
To light us to our prey,"

and, with an irresistible gravity and importance of demeanour, entered upon the duties of _chef_. In a very short time we were all engaged. Nothing could exceed the zest with which every one seemed to enter into the rites of the kitchen. You would have imagined they had been born scullions, they handled the _batterie de cuisine so naturally. As for me, I sought protection with Madame de Savori; and as, fortunately, she was very deeply skilled in the science, she had occasion to employ me in many minor avocations which her experience taught her would not be above my comprehension.

After we had spent a certain time in this dignified occupation, we returned to the _salle a manger_. The attendants placed the dishes on the table, and we all fell to. Whether out of self-love to their own performances, or complaisance to the performances of others, I cannot exactly say, but certain it is that all the guests acquitted themselves _a merveille_: you would not have imagined the Regent the only one who had gone without dinner to eat the more at supper. Even that devoted wife to her _cher bon mari_, who had so severely dwelt upon the good Regent's infirmity, occupied herself with an earnestness that would have seemed almost wolf-like in a famished grenadier.

Very slight indeed was the conversation till the supper was nearly over; then the effects of the wine became more perceptible. The Regent was the first person who evinced that he had eaten sufficiently to be able to talk. Utterly dispensing with the slightest veil of reserve or royalty, he leaned over the table, and poured forth a whole tide of jests. The guests then began to think it was indecorous to stuff themselves any more, and, as well as they were able, they followed their host's example. But the most amusing personages were the buffoons: they mimicked and joked, and lampooned and lied, as if by inspiration. As the bottle circulated, and talk grew louder, the lampooning and the lying were not, however, confined to the buffoons. On the contrary, the best born and best bred people seemed to excel the most in those polite arts. Every person who boasted a fair name or a decent reputation at court was seized, condemned, and mangled in an instant. And how elaborately the good folks slandered! It was no hasty word and flippant repartee which did the business of the absent: there was a precision, a polish, a labour of malice, which showed that each person had brought so many reputations already cut up. The good-natured convivialists differed from all other backbiters that I have ever met, in the same manner as the toads of Surinam differ from all other toads; namely, their venomous offspring were not half formed, misshapen tadpoles of slander, but sprang at once into life,--well shaped and fully developed.

"_Chantons_!" cried the Regent, whose eyes, winking and rolling, gave token of his approaching state which equals the beggar to the king; "let us have a song. Noce, lift up thy voice, and let us hear what the Tokay has put into thy head!"

Noce obeyed, and sang as men half drunk generally do sing.

"_O Ciel_!" whispered the malicious Savori, "what a hideous screech: one would think he had _turned his face into a voice!_"

"_Bravissimo_!" cried the Duke, when his guest had ceased,--"what happy people we are! Our doors are locked; not a soul can disturb us: we have plenty of wine; we are going to get drunk; and we have all Paris to abuse! what were you saying of Marshal Villars, my little Parabere?"

And pounce went the little Parabere upon the unfortunate marshal. At last slander had a respite: nonsense began its reign; the full inspiration descended upon the orgies; the good people lost the use of their faculties. Noise, clamour, uproar, broken bottles, falling chairs, and (I grieve to say) their occupants falling too,--conclude the scene of the royal supper. Let us drop the curtain.

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