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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesDevereux - Book 4 - Chapter 7. Reflections.--A Soiree...
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Devereux - Book 4 - Chapter 7. Reflections.--A Soiree... Post by :Gregrey Category :Long Stories Author :Edward Bulwer-lytton Date :May 2012 Read :2609

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Devereux - Book 4 - Chapter 7. Reflections.--A Soiree...

BOOK IV CHAPTER VII. REFLECTIONS.--A SOIREE.--THE APPEARANCE OF ONE IMPORTANT IN THE HISTORY.--A CONVERSATION WITH MADAME DE BALZAC HIGHLY SATISFACTORY AND CHEERING.--A RENCONTRE WITH A CURIOUS OLD SOLDIER.--THE EXTINCTION OF A ONCE GREAT LUMINARY.


I HAD now been several weeks at Paris; I had neither eagerly sought nor sedulously avoided its gayeties. It is not that one violent sorrow leaves us without power of enjoyment; it only lessens the power, and deadens the enjoyment: it does not take away from us the objects of life; it only forestalls the more indifferent calmness of age. The blood no longer flows in an irregular but delicious course of vivid and wild emotion; the step no longer spurns the earth; nor does the ambition wander, insatiable, yet undefined, over the million paths of existence: but we lose not our old capacities; they are quieted, not extinct. The heart can never utterly and long be dormant: trifles may not charm it any more, nor levities delight; but its pulse has not yet ceased to beat. We survey the scene that moves around, with a gaze no longer distracted by every hope that flutters by; and it is therefore that we find ourselves more calculated than before for the graver occupations of our race. The overflowing temperament is checked to its proper level, the ambition bounded to its prudent and lawful goal. The earth is no longer so green, nor the heaven so blue, nor the fancy that stirs within us so rich in its creations; but we look more narrowly on the living crowd, and more rationally on the aims of men. The misfortune which has changed us has only adapted us the better to a climate in which misfortune is a portion of the air. The grief that has thralled our spirit to a more narrow and dark cell has also been a change that has linked us to mankind with a strength of which we dreamed not in the day of a wilder freedom and more luxuriant aspirings. In later life, a new spirit, partaking of that which was our earliest, returns to us. The solitude which delighted us in youth, but which, when the thoughts that make solitude a fairy land are darkened by affliction, becomes a fearful and sombre void, resumes its old spell, as the more morbid and urgent memory of that affliction crumbles away by time. Content is a hermit; but so also is Apathy. Youth loves the solitary couch, which it surrounds with dreams. Age, or Experience (which is the mind's age), loves the same couch for the rest which it affords; but the wide interval between is that of exertion, of labour, and of labour among men. The woe which makes our _hearts less social, often makes our _habits more so. The thoughts, which in calm would have shunned the world, are driven upon it by the tempest, even as the birds which forsake the habitable land can, so long as the wind sleeps and the thunder rests within its cloud, become the constant and solitary brooders over the waste sea: but the moment the storm awakes and the blast pursues them, they fly, by an overpowering instinct, to some wandering bark, some vestige of human and social life; and exchange, even for danger from the hands of men, the desert of an angry Heaven and the solitude of a storm.

I heard no more either of Madame de Maintenon or the King. Meanwhile, my flight and friendship with Lord Bolingbroke had given me a consequence in the eyes of the exiled Prince which I should not otherwise have enjoyed; and I was honoured by very flattering overtures to enter actively into his service. I have before said that I felt no enthusiasm in his cause, and I was far from feeling it for his person. My ambition rather directed its hope towards a career in the service of France. France was the country of my birth, and the country of my father's fame. There no withering remembrances awaited me; no private regrets were associated with its scenes, and no public penalties with its political institutions. And although I had not yet received any token of Louis's remembrance, in the ordinary routine of court favours expectation as yet would have been premature; besides, his royal fidelity to his word was proverbial; and, sooner or later, I indulged the hope to profit by the sort of promise he had insinuated to me. I declined, therefore, with all due respect, the offers of the Chevalier, and continued to live the life of idleness and expectation, until Lord Bolingbroke returned to Paris, and accepted the office of secretary of state in the service of the Chevalier. As he has publicly declared his reasons in this step, I do not mean to favour the world with his private conversations on the same subject.

A day or two after his return, I went with him to a party given by a member of the royal family. The first person by whom we were accosted--and I rejoiced at it, for we could not have been accosted by a more amusing one--was Count Anthony Hamilton.

"Ah! my Lord Bolingbroke," said he, sauntering up to us; "how are you?--delighted to see you again. Do look at Madame la Duchesse d'Orleans! Saw you ever such a creature? Whither are you moving, my Lord? Ah! see him, Count, see him, gliding off to that pretty duchess, of course; well, he has a beautiful bow, it must be owned; why, you are not going too?--what would the world say if Count Anthony Hamilton were seen left to himself? No, no, come and sit down by Madame de Cornuel: she longs to be introduced to you, and is one of the wittiest women in Europe."

"With all my heart! provided she employs her wit ill-naturedly, and uses it in ridiculing other people, not praising herself."

"Oh! nobody can be more satirical; indeed, what difference is there between wit and satire? Come, Count!"

And Hamilton introduced me forthwith to Madame de Cornuel. She received me very politely; and, turning to two or three people who formed the circle round her, said, with the greatest composure, "Messieurs, oblige me by seeking some other object of attraction; I wish to have a private conference with my new friend."

"I may stay?" said Hamilton.

"Ah! certainly; you are never in the way."

"In that respect, Madame," said Hamilton, taking snuff, and bowing very low, "in that respect, I must strongly remind you of your excellent husband."

"Fie!" cried Madame de Cornuel; then, turning to me, she said, "Ah! Monsieur, if you _could have come to Paris some years ago, you would have been enchanted with us: we are sadly changed. Imagine the fine old King thinking it wicked not to hear plays, but to hear _players act them, and so making the royal family a company of comedians. _Mon Dieu! how villanously they perform! but do you know why I wished to be introduced to you?"

"Yes! in order to have a new listener: old listeners must be almost as tedious as old news."

"Very shrewdly said, and not far from the truth. The fact is, that I wanted to talk about all these fine people present to some one for whose ear my anecdotes would have the charm of novelty. Let us begin with Louis Armand, Prince of Conti; you see him."

"What, that short-sighted, stout, and rather handsome man, with a cast of countenance somewhat like the pictures of Henri Quatre, who is laughing so merrily?"

"_O Ciel_! how droll! No! that handsome man is no less a person than the Duc d'Orleans. You see a little ugly thing like an anatomized ape,--there, see,--he has just thrown down a chair, and, in stooping to pick it up, has almost fallen over the Dutch ambassadress,--that is Louis Armand, Prince of Conti. Do you know what the Duc d'Orleans said to him the other day? '_Mon bon ami_,' he said, pointing to the prince's limbs (did you ever see such limbs out of a menagerie, by the by?) '_mon bon ami_, it is a fine thing for you that the Psalmist has assured us "that the Lord delighteth not in any man's legs."' Nay, don't laugh, it is quite true!"

It was now for Count Hamilton to take up the ball of satire; he was not a whit more merciful than the kind Madame de Cornuel. "The Prince," said he, "has so exquisite an awkwardness that, whenever the King hears a noise, and inquires the cause, the invariable answer is that 'the Prince of Conti has just tumbled down'! But, tell me, what do you think of Madame d'Aumont? She is in the English headdress, and looks _triste a la mort_."

"She is rather pretty, to my taste."

"Yes," cried Madame de Cornuel, interrupting the gentle Antoine (it did one's heart good to see how strenuously each of them tried to talk more scandal than the other), "yes, she is thought very pretty; but I think her very like a _fricandeau_,--white, soft, and insipid. She is always in tears," added the good-natured Cornuel, "after her prayers, both at morning and evening. I asked why; and she answered, pretty simpleton, that she was always forced to pray to be made good, and she feared Heaven would take her at her word! However, she has many worshippers, and they call her the evening star."

"They should rather call her the Hyades!" said Hamilton, "if it be true that she sheds tears every morning and night, and her rising and setting are thus always attended by rain."

"Bravo, Count Antoine! she shall be so called in future," said Madame de Cornuel. "But now, Monsieur Devereux, turn your eyes to that hideous old woman."

"What! the Duchesse d'Orleans?"

"The same. She is in full dress to-night; but in the daytime you generally see her in a riding habit and a man's wig; she is--"

"Hist!" interrupted Hamilton; "do you not tremble to think what she would do if she overheard you? she is such a terrible creature at fighting! You have no conception, Count, what an arm she has. She knows her ugliness, and laughs at it, as all the rest of the world does. The King took her hand one day, and said smiling, 'What could Nature have meant when she gave this hand to a German princess instead of a Dutch peasant?' 'Sire,' said the Duchesse, very gravely, 'Nature gave this hand to a German princess for the purpose of boxing the ears of her ladies in waiting!'"

"Ha! ha! ha!" said Madame de Cornuel, laughing; "one is never at a loss for jokes upon a woman who eats _salade au lard_, and declares that, whenever she is unhappy, her only consolation is ham and sausages! Her son treats her with the greatest respect, and consults her in all his amours, for which she professes the greatest horror, and which she retails to her correspondents all over the world, in letters as long as her pedigree. But you are looking at her son, is he not of a good mien?"

"Yes, pretty well; but does not exhibit to advantage by the side of Lord Bolingbroke, with whom he is now talking. Pray, who is the third personage that has just joined them?"

"Oh, the wretch! it is the Abbe Dubois; a living proof of the folly of the French proverb, which says that Mercuries should _not be made _du bois_. Never was there a Mercury equal to the Abbe,--but, do look at that old man to the left,--he is one of the most remarkable persons of the age."

"What! he with the small features, and comely countenance, considering his years?"

"The same," said Hamilton; "it is the notorious Choisi. You know that he is the modern Tiresias, and has been a woman as well as man."

"How do you mean?"

"Ah, you may well ask!" cried Madame de Cornuel. "Why, he lived for many years in the disguise of a woman, and had all sorts of curious adventures."

"_Mort Diable_!" cried Hamilton; "it was entering your ranks, Madame, as a spy. I hear he makes but a sorry report of what he saw there."

"Come, Count Antoine," cried the lively de Cornuel, "we must not turn our weapons against each other; and when you attack a woman's sex you attack her individually. But what makes you look so intently, Count Devereux, at that ugly priest?"

The person thus flatteringly designated was Montreuil; he had just caught my eye, among a group of men who were conversing eagerly.

"Hush! Madame," said I, "spare me for a moment;" and I rose, and mingled with the Abbe's companions.

"So, you have only arrived to-day," I heard one of them say to him.

"No, I could not despatch my business before."

"And how are matters in England?"

"Ripe! if the life of his Majesty (of France) be spared a year longer, we will send the Elector of Hanover back to his principality."

"Hist!" said the companion, and looked towards me. Montreuil ceased abruptly: our eyes met; his fell. I affected to look among the group as if I had expected to find there some one I knew, and then, turning away, I seated myself alone and apart. There, unobserved, I kept my looks on Montreuil. I remarked that, from time to time, his keen dark eye glanced towards me, with a look rather expressive of vigilance than anything else. Soon afterwards his little knot dispersed; I saw him converse for a few moments with Dubois, who received him I thought distantly; and then he was engaged in a long conference with the Bishop of Frejus, whom, till then, I had not perceived among the crowd.

As I was loitering on the staircase, where I saw Montreuil depart with the Bishop, in the carriage of the latter, Hamilton, accosting me, insisted on my accompanying him to Chaulieu's, where a late supper awaited the sons of wine and wit. However, to the good Count's great astonishment, I preferred solitude and reflection, for that night, to anything else.

Montreuil's visit to the French capital boded me no good. He possessed great influence with Fleuri, and was in high esteem with Madame de Maintenon, and, in effect, very shortly after his return to Paris, the Bishop of Frejus looked upon me with a most cool sort of benignancy; and Madame de Maintenon told her friend, the Duchesse de St. Simon, that it was a great pity a young nobleman of my birth and prepossessing appearance (ay! my prepossessing appearance would never have occurred to the devotee, if I had not seemed so sensible of her own) should not only be addicted to the wildest dissipation, but, worse still, to Jansenistical tenets. After this there was no hope for me save in the King's word, which his increasing infirmities, naturally engrossing his attention, prevented my hoping too sanguinely would dwell very acutely on his remembrance. I believe, however, so religiously scrupulous was Louis upon a point of honour that, had he lived, I should have had nothing to complain of. As it was--but I anticipate! Montreuil disappeared from Paris, almost as suddenly as he had appeared there. And, as drowning men catch at a straw, so, finding my affairs at a very low ebb, I thought I would take advice, even from Madame de Balzac.

I accordingly repaired to her hotel. She was at home, and, fortunately, alone.

"You are welcome, _mon fils_," said she; "suffer me to give you that title: you are welcome; it is some days since I saw you."

"I have numbered them, I assure you, Madame," said I, "and they have crept with a dull pace; but you know that business has claims as well as pleasure!"

"True!" said Madame de Balzac, pompously: "I myself find the weight of politics a little insupportable, though so used to it; to your young brain I can readily imagine how irksome it must be!"

"Would, Madame, that I could obtain your experience by contagion; as it is, I fear that I have profited little by my visit to his Majesty. Madame de Maintenon will not see me, and the Bishop of Frejus (excellent man!) has been seized with a sudden paralysis of memory whenever I present myself in his way."

"That party will never do,--I thought not," said Madame de Balzae, who was a wonderful imitator of the fly on the wheel; "_my celebrity, and the knowledge that _I loved you for your father's sake, were, I fear, sufficient to destroy your interest with the Jesuits and their tools. Well, well, we must repair the mischief we have occasioned you. What place would suit you best?"

"Why, anything diplomatic. I would rather travel, at my age, than remain in luxury and indolence even at Paris!"

"Ah, nothing like diplomacy!" said Madame de Balzac, with the air of a Richelieu, and emptying her snuff-box at a pinch; "but have you, my son, the requisite qualities for that science, as well as the tastes? Are you capable of intrigue? Can you say one thing and mean another? Are you aware of the immense consequence of a look or a bow? Can you live like a spider, in the centre of an inexplicable net--inexplicable as well as dangerous--to all but the weaver? That, my son, is the art of politics; that is to be a diplomatist!"

"Perhaps, to one less penetrating than Madame de Balzac," answered I, "I might, upon trial, not appear utterly ignorant of the noble art of state duplicity which she has so eloquently depicted."

"Possibly!" said the good lady; "it must indeed be a profound dissimulator to deceive _me_."

"But what would you advise me to do in the present crisis? What party to adopt, what individual to flatter?"

Nothing, I already discovered and have already observed, did the inestimable Madame de Balzac dislike more than a downright question: she never answered it.

"Why, really," said she, preparing herself for a long speech, "I am quite glad you consult me, and I will give you the best advice in my power. _Ecoutez donc_; you have seen the Duc de Maine?"

"Certainly!"

"Hum! ha! it would be wise to follow him; but--you take me--you understand. Then, you know, my son, there is the Duc d'Orleans, fond of pleasure, full of talent; but you know--there is a little--what do you call it? you understand. As for the Duc de Bourbon, 'tis quite a simpleton; nevertheless we must consider: nothing like consideration; believe me, no diplomatist ever hurries. As for Madame de Maintenon, you know, and I know too, that the Duchesse d'Orleans calls her an old hag; but then--a word to the wise--eh?--what shall we say to Madame the Duchess herself?--what a fat woman she is, but excessively clever,--such a letter writer!--Well--you see, my dear young friend, that it is a very difficult matter to decide upon,--but you must already be fully aware what plan I should advise."

"Already, Madame?"

"To be sure! What have I been saying to you all this time?--did you not hear me? Shall I repeat my advice?"

"Oh, no! I perfectly comprehend you now; you would advise me--in short--to--to--do--as well as I can."

"You have said it, my son. I thought you would understand me on a little reflection."

"To be sure,--to be sure," said I.

And three ladies being announced, my conference with Madame de Balzac ended.

I now resolved to wait a little till the tides of power seemed somewhat more settled, and I could ascertain in what quarter to point my bark of enterprise. I gave myself rather more eagerly to society, in proportion as my political schemes were suffered to remain torpid. My mind could not remain quiet, without preying on itself; and no evil appeared to me so great as tranquillity. Thus the spring and earlier summer passed on, till, in August, the riots preceding the Rebellion broke out in Scotland. At this time I saw but little of Lord Bolingbroke in private; though, with his characteristic affectation, he took care that the load of business with which he was really oppressed should not prevent his enjoyment of all gayeties in public. And my indifference to the cause of the Chevalier, in which he was so warmly engaged, threw a natural restraint upon our conversation, and produced an involuntary coldness in our intercourse: so impossible is it for men to be private friends who differ on a public matter.

One evening I was engaged to meet a large party at a country-house about forty miles from Paris. I went, and stayed some days. My horses had accompanied me; and, when I left the chateau, I resolved to make the journey to Paris on horseback. Accordingly, I ordered my carriage to follow me, and attended by a single groom, commenced my expedition. It was a beautiful still morning,--the first day of the first month of autumn. I had proceeded about ten miles, when I fell in with an old French officer. I remember,--though I never saw him but that once,--I remember his face as if I had encountered it yesterday. It was thin and long, and yellow enough to have served as a caricature rather than a portrait of Don Quixote. He had a hook nose, and a long sharp chin; and all the lines, wrinkles, curves, and furrows of which the human visage is capable seemed to have met in his cheeks. Nevertheless, his eye was bright and keen, his look alert, and his whole bearing firm, gallant, and soldier-like. He was attired in a sort of military undress; wore a mustachio, which, though thin and gray, was carefully curled; and at the summit of a very respectable wig was perched a small cocked hat, adorned with a black feather. He rode very upright in his saddle; and his horse, a steady, stalwart quadruped of the Norman breed, with a terribly long tail and a prodigious breadth of chest, put one stately leg before another in a kind of trot, which, though it seemed, from its height of action and the proud look of the steed, a pretension to motion more than ordinarily brisk, was in fact a little slower than a common walk.

This noble cavalier seemed sufficiently an object of curiosity to my horse to induce the animal to testify his surprise by shying, very jealously and very vehemently, in passing him. This ill breeding on his part was indignantly returned on the part of the Norman charger, who, uttering a sort of squeak and shaking his long mane and head, commenced a series of curvets and capers which cost the old Frenchman no little trouble to appease. In the midst of these equine freaks, the horse came so near me as to splash my nether garment with a liberality as little ornamental as it was pleasurable.

The old Frenchman seeing this, took off his cocked hat very politely and apologized for the accident. I replied with equal courtesy; and, as our horses slid into quiet, their riders slid into conversation. It was begun and chiefly sustained by my new comrade; for I am little addicted to commence unnecessary socialities myself, though I should think very meanly of my pretensions to the name of a gentleman and a courtier, if I did not return them when offered, even by a beggar.

"It is a fine horse of yours, Monsieur," said the old Frenchman; "but I cannot believe--pardon me for saying so--that your slight English steeds are so well adapted to the purposes of war as our strong chargers,--such as mine for example."

"It is very possible, Monsieur," said I. "Has the horse you now ride done service in the field as well as on the road?"

"Ah! _le pauvre petit mignon_,--no!" (_petit_, indeed! this little darling was seventeen hands high at the very least) "no, Monsieur: it is but a young creature this; his grandfather served me well!"

"I need not ask you, Monsieur, if you have borne arms: the soldier is stamped upon you!"

"Sir, you flatter me highly!" said the old gentleman, blushing to the very tip of his long lean ears, and bowing as low as if I had called him a Conde. "I have followed the profession of arms for more than fifty years."

"Fifty years! 'tis a long time."

"A long time," rejoined my companion, "a long time to look back upon with regret."

"Regret! by Heaven, I should think the remembrance of fifty years' excitement and glory would be a remembrance of triumph."

The old man turned round on his saddle, and looked at me for some moments very wistfully. "You are young, Sir," he said, "and at your years I should have thought with you; but--" (then abruptly changing his voice, he continued)--"Triumph, did you say? Sir, I have had three sons: they are dead; they died in battle; I did not weep; I did not shed a tear, Sir,--not a tear! But I will tell you when I did weep. I came back, an old man, to the home I had left as a young one. I saw the country a desert. I saw that the _noblesse had become tyrants; the peasants had become slaves,--such slaves,--savage from despair,--even when they were most gay, most fearfully gay, from constitution. Sir, I saw the priest rack and grind, and the seigneur exact and pillage, and the tax-gatherer squeeze out the little the other oppressors had left; anger, discontent, wretchedness, famine, a terrible separation between one order of people and another; an incredible indifference to the miseries their despotism caused on the part of the aristocracy; a sullen and vindictive hatred for the perpetration of those miseries on the part of the people; all places sold--even all honours priced--at the court, which was become a public market, a province of peasants, of living men bartered for a few livres, and literally passed from one hand to another, to be squeezed and drained anew by each new possessor: in a word, Sir, an abandoned court; an unredeemed _noblesse_,--unredeemed, Sir, by a single benefit which, in other countries, even the most feudal, the vassal obtains from the master; a peasantry famished; a nation loaded with debt which it sought to pay by tears,--these are what I saw,--these are the consequences of that heartless and miserable vanity from which arose wars neither useful nor honourable,--these are the real components of that _triumph_, as you term it, which you wonder that I regret."

Now, although it was impossible to live at the court of Louis XIV. in his latter days, and not feel, from the general discontent that prevailed even there, what a dark truth the old soldier's speech contained, yet I was somewhat surprised by an enthusiasm so little military in a person whose bearing and air were so conspicuously martial.

"You draw a melancholy picture," said I; "and the wretched state of culture which the lands that we now pass through exhibit is a witness how little exaggeration there is in your colouring. However, these are but the ordinary evils of war; and, if your country endures them, do not forget that she has also inflicted them. Remember what France did to Holland, and own that it is but a retribution that France should now find that the injury we do to others is (among nations as well as individuals) injury to ourselves."

My old Frenchman curled his mustaches with the finger and thumb of his left hand: this was rather too subtile a distinction for him.

"That may be true enough, Monsieur," said he; "but, _morbleu_! those _maudits Dutchmen deserved what they sustained at our hands. No, Sir, no: I am not so base as to forget the glory my country acquired, though I weep for her wounds."

"I do not quite understand you, Sir," said I; "did you not just now confess that the wars you had witnessed were neither honourable nor useful? What glory, then, was to be acquired in a war of that character, even though it was so delightfully animated by cutting the throats of those _maudits Dutchmen?"

"Sir," answered the Frenchman, drawing himself up, "you did _not understand me. When we punished Holland, we did rightly. We _conquered_."

"Whether you conquered or not (for the good folk of Holland are not so sure of the fact)," answered I, "that war was the most unjust in which your king was ever engaged; but pray, tell me, Sir, what war it is that you lament?"

The Frenchman frowned, whistled, put out his under lip, in a sort of angry embarrassment, and then, spurring his great horse into a curvet, said,--

"That last war with the English!"

"Faith," said I, "that was the justest of all."

"Just!" cried the Frenchman, halting abruptly and darting at me a glance of fire, "just! no more, Sir! no more! I was at Blenheim and at Ramilies!"

As the old warrior said the last words, his voice faltered; and though I could not help inly smiling at the confusion of ideas by which wars were just or unjust, according as they were fortunate or not, yet I respected his feelings enough to turn away my face and remain silent.

"Yes," renewed my comrade, colouring with evident shame and drawing his cocked hat over his brows, "yes, I received my last wound at Ramilies. _Then my eyes were opened to the horrors of war; _then I saw and cursed the evils of ambition; _then I resolved to retire from the armies of a king who had lost forever his name, his glory, and his country."

Was there ever a better type of the French nation than this old soldier? As long as fortune smiles on them, it is "Marchons au diable!" and "Vive la gloire!" Directly they get beaten, it is "Ma pauvre patrie!" and "Les calamites affreuses de la guerre!"

"However," said I, "the old King is drawing near the end of his days, and is said to express his repentance at the evils his ambition has occasioned."

The old soldier shoved back his hat, and offered me his snuff-box. I judged by this that he was a little mollified.

"Ah!" he renewed, after a pause, "ah! times are sadly changed since the year 1667; when the young King--he was young then--took the field in Flanders, under the great Turenne. _Sacristie_! What a hero he looked upon his white war-horse! I would have gone--ay, and the meanest and backwardest soldier in the camp would have gone--into the very mouth of the cannon for a look from that magnificent countenance, or a word from that mouth which knew so well what words were! Sir, there was in the war of '72, when we were at peace with Great Britain, an English gentleman, then in the army, afterwards a marshal of France: I remember, as if it were yesterday, how gallantly he behaved. The King sent to compliment him after some signal proof of courage and conduct, and asked what reward he would have. 'Sire,' answered the Englishman, 'give me the white plume you wore this day.' From that moment the Englishman's fortune was made."

"The flattery went further than the valour!" said I, smiling, as I recognized in the anecdote the first great step which my father had made in the ascent of fortune.

"_Sacristie_!" cried the Frenchman, "it was no flattery then. We so idolized the King that mere truth would have seemed disloyalty; and we no more thought that praise, however extravagant, was adulation, when directed to him, than we should have thought there was adulation in the praise we would have given to our first mistress. But it is all changed now! Who now cares for the old priest-ridden monarch?"

And upon this the veteran, having conquered the momentary enthusiasm which the remembrance of the King's earlier glories had excited, transferred all his genius of description to the opposite side of the question, and declaimed, with great energy, upon the royal vices and errors, which were so charming in prosperity, and were now so detestable in adversity.

While we were thus conversing we approached Versailles. We thought the vicinity of the town seemed unusually deserted. We entered the main street: crowds were assembled; a universal murmur was heard; excitement sat on every countenance. Here an old crone was endeavouring to explain something, evidently beyond his comprehension, to a child of three years old, who, with open mouth and fixed eyes, seemed to make up in wonder for the want of intelligence; there a group of old disbanded soldiers occupied the way, and seemed, from their muttered conversations, to vent a sneer and a jest at a priest who, with downward countenance and melancholy air, was hurrying along.

One young fellow was calling out, "At least, it is a holy-day, and I shall go to Paris!" and, as a contrast to him, an old withered artisan, leaning on a gold-headed cane, with sharp avarice eloquent in every line of his face, muttered out to a fellow-miser, "No business to-day, no money, John; no money!" One knot of women, of all ages, close by which my horse passed, was entirely occupied with a single topic, and that so vehemently that I heard the leading words of the discussion. "Mourning--becoming--what fashion?--how long?--_O Ciel_!" Thus do follies weave themselves round the bier of death!

"What is the news, gentlemen?" said I.

"News! what, you have not heard it?--the King is dead!"

"Louis dead! Louis the Great, dead!" cried my companion.

"Louis the Great?" said a sullen-looking man,--"Louis the persecutor!"

"Ah, he's a Huguenot!" cried another with haggard cheeks and hollow eyes, scowling at the last speaker. "Never mind what he says: the King was right when he refused protection to the heretics; but was he right when he levied such taxes on the Catholics?"

"Hush!" said a third--"hush: it may be unsafe to speak; there are spies about; for my part, I think it was all the fault of the _noblesse_."

"And the Favourites!" cried a soldier, fiercely.

"And the Harlots!" cried a hag of eighty.

"And the Priests!" muttered the Huguenot.

"And the Tax-gatherers!" added the lean Catholic.

We rode slowly on. My comrade was evidently and powerfully affected.

"So, he is dead!" said he. "Dead!--well, well, peace be with him! He conquered in Holland; he humbled Genoa; he dictated to Spain; he commanded Conde and Turenne; he--Bah! What is all this!--" then, turning abruptly to me, my companion cried, "I did not speak against the King, did I, Sir?"

"Not much."

"I am glad of that,--yes, very glad!" And the old man glared fiercely round on a troop of boys who were audibly abusing the dead lion.

"I would have bit out my tongue rather than it had joined in the base joy of these yelping curs. Heavens! when I think what shouts I have heard when the name of that man, then deemed little less than a god, was but breathed!--and now--why do you look at me, Sir? My eyes are moist; I know it, Sir,--I know it. The old battered broken soldier, who made his first campaigns when that which is now dust was the idol of France and the pupil of Turenne,--the old soldier's eyes shall not be dry, though there is not another tear shed in the whole of this great empire."

"Your three sons?" said I; "you did not weep for them?"

"No, Sir: I loved them when I was old; but I loved Louis _when I was young_!"

"Your oppressed and pillaged country?" said I, "think of that."

"No, Sir, I will not think of it!" cried the old warrior in a passion. "I will not think of it--to-day, at least."

"You are right, my brave friend: in the grave let us bury even public wrongs; but let us not bury their remembrance. May the joy we read in every face that we pass--joy at the death of one whom idolatry once almost seemed to deem immortal--be a lesson to future kings!"

My comrade did not immediately answer; but, after a pause and we had turned our backs upon the town, he said, "Joy, Sir,--you spoke of joy! Yes, we are Frenchmen: we forgive our rulers easily for private vices and petty faults; but we never forgive them if they commit the greatest of faults, and suffer a stain to rest upon--"

"What?" I asked, as my comrade broke off.

"The national glory, Monsieur!" said he.

"You have hit it," said I, smiling at the turgid sentiment which was so really and deeply felt. "And had you written folios upon the character of your countrymen, you could not have expressed it better."

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