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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesDevereux - Book 4 - Chapter 9. A Prince, An Audience, And A Secret Embassy
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Devereux - Book 4 - Chapter 9. A Prince, An Audience, And A Secret Embassy Post by :Easyhome Category :Long Stories Author :Edward Bulwer-lytton Date :May 2012 Read :2343

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Devereux - Book 4 - Chapter 9. A Prince, An Audience, And A Secret Embassy


THE Regent remained silent for a moment: he then said in an altered and grave voice, "_C'est bien, Monsieur_! I thank you for the distinction you have made. It were not amiss" (he added, turning to his comrade) "that _you would now and then deign, henceforward, to make the same distinction. But this is neither time, nor place for parlance. On, gentlemen!" We left the house, passed into the street, and moved on rapidly, and in silence, till the constitutional gayety of the Duke recovering its ordinary tone, he said with a laugh,--

"Well, now, it is a little hard that a man who has been toiling all day for the public good should feel ashamed of indulging for an hour or two at night in his private amusements; but so it is. 'Once grave, always grave!' is the maxim of the world; eh, Chatran?"

The companion bowed. "'Tis a very good saying, please your Royal Highness, and is intended to warn us from the sin of _ever being grave!"

"Ha! ha! you have a great turn for morality, my good Chatran!" cried the Duke, "and would draw a rule for conduct out of the wickedest _bon mot of Dubois. Monsieur, pardon me, but I have seen you before: you are the Count--"

"Devereux, Monseigneur."

"True, true! I have heard much of you: you are intimate with Milord Bolingbroke. Would that I had fifty friends like _him_."

"Monseigneur would have little trouble in his regency if his wish were realized," said Chatran.

"_Tant mieux_, so long as I had little odium, as well as little trouble,--a happiness which, thanks to you and Dubois, I am not likely to enjoy,--but there is the carriage!"

And the Duke pointed to a dark, plain carriage, which we had suddenly come upon.

"Count Devereux," said the merry Regent, "you will enter; my duty requires that, at this seductive hour, I should see a young gentleman of your dangerous age safely lodged at his hotel!"

We entered, Chatran gave the orders, and we drove off rapidly.

The Regent hummed a tune, and his two companions listened to it in respectful silence.

"Well, well, Messieurs," said he, bursting out at last into open voice, "I will ever believe, in future, that the gods _do look benignantly on us worshippers of the Alma Venus! Do you know much of Tibullus, Monsieur Devereux? And can you assist my memory with the continuation of the line--

"'Quisquis amore tenetur, eat--'"

"'tutusque sacerque
Qualibet, insidias non timuisse decet,'"*

answered I.

* "Whosoever is possessed by Love may go safe and holy withersoever he likes. It becomes not him to fear snares."

"_Bon_!" cried the Duke. "I love a gentleman, from my very soul, when he can both fight well and read Latin! I hate a man who is merely a winebibber and blade-drawer. By Saint Louis, though it is an excellent thing to fill the stomach, especially with Tokay, yet there is no reason in the world why we should not fill the head too. But here we are. Adieu, Monsieur Devereux: we shall see you at the Palace."

I expressed my thanks briefly at the Regent's condescension, descended from the carriage (which instantly drove off with renewed celerity), and once more entered my hotel.

Two or three days after my adventure with the Regent, I thought it expedient to favour that eccentric prince with a visit. During the early part of his regency, it is well known how successfully he combated with his natural indolence, and how devotedly his mornings were surrendered to the toils of his new office; but when pleasure has grown habit, it requires a stronger mind than that of Philippe le Debonnaire to give it a permanent successor in business. Pleasure is, indeed, like the genius of the fable, the most useful of slaves, while you subdue it; the most intolerable of tyrants the moment your negligence suffers it to subdue you.

The hours in which the Prince gave audience to the comrades of his lighter rather than graver occupations were those immediately before and after his _levee_. I thought that this would be the best season for me to present myself. Accordingly, one morning after the _levee_, I repaired to his palace.

The ante-chamber was already crowded. I sat myself quietly down in one corner of the room, and looked upon the motley groups around. I smiled inly as they reminded me of the scenes my own anteroom, in my younger days of folly and fortune, was wont to exhibit; the same heterogeneous assemblage (only upon a grander scale) of the ministers to the physical appetites and the mental tastes. There was the fretting and impudent mountebank, side by side with the gentle and patient scholar; the harlot's envoy and the priest's messenger; the agent of the police and the licensed breaker of its laws; there--but what boots a more prolix description? What is the anteroom of a great man, who has many wants and many tastes, but a panorama of the blended disparities of this compounded world?

While I was moralizing, a gentleman suddenly thrust his head out of a door, and appeared to reconnoitre us. Instantly the crowd swept up to him. I thought I might as well follow the general example, and pushing aside some of my fellow-loiterers, I presented myself and my name to the gentleman, with the most ingratiating air I could command.

The gentleman, who was tolerably civil for a great man's great man, promised that my visit should be immediately announced to the Prince; and then, with the politest bow imaginable, slapped the door in my face. After I had waited about seven or eight minutes longer, the gentleman reappeared, singled me from the crowd, and desired me to follow him; I passed through another room, and was presently in the Regent's presence.

I was rather startled when I saw, by the morning light, and in deshabille, the person of that royal martyr to dissipation. His countenance was red, but bloated, and a weakness in his eyes added considerably to the jaded and haggard expression of his features. A proportion of stomach rather inclined to corpulency seemed to betray the taste for the pleasures of the table, which the most radically coarse, and yet (strange to say) the most generally accomplished and really good-natured of royal profligates, combined with his other qualifications. He was yawning very elaborately over a great heap of papers when I entered. He finished his yawn (as if it were too brief and too precious a recreation to lose), and then said, "Good morning, Monsieur Devereux; I am glad that you have found me out _at last_."

"I was afraid, Monseigneur, of appearing an intruder on your presence, by offering my homage to you before."

"So like my good fortune," said the Regent, turning to a man seated at another table at some distance, whose wily, astute countenance, piercing eye, and licentious expression of lip and brow, indicated at once the ability and vice which composed his character. "So like my good fortune, is it not, Dubois? If ever I meet with a tolerably pleasant fellow, who does not disgrace me by his birth or reputation, he is always so terribly afraid of intruding! and whenever I pick up a respectable personage without wit, or a wit without respectability, he attaches himself to me like a burr, and can't live a day without inquiring after my health."

Dubois smiled, bowed, but did not answer, and I saw that his look was bent darkly and keenly upon me.

"Well," said the Prince, "what think you of our opera, Count Devereux? It beats your English one--eh?"

"Ah, certainly, Monseigneur; ours is but a reflection of yours."

"So says your friend, Milord Bolingbroke, a person who knows about operas almost as much as I do, which, vanity apart, is saying a great deal. I should like very well to visit England; what should I learn best there? In Spain (I shall always love Spain) I learned to cook."

"Monseigneur, I fear," answered I, smiling, "could obtain but little additional knowledge in that art in our barbarous country. A few rude and imperfect inventions have, indeed, of late years, astonished the cultivators of the science; but the night of ignorance rests still upon its main principles and leading truths. Perhaps, what Monseigneur would find best worth studying in England would be--the women."

"Ah, the women all over the world!" cried the Duke, laughing; "but I hear your _belles Anglaises are sentimental, and love _a l'Arcadienne_."

"It is true at present; but who shall say how far Monseigneur's example might enlighten them in a train of thought so erroneous?"

"True. Nothing like example, eh, Dubois? What would Philip of Orleans have been but for thee?"

"'L'exemple souvent n'est qu'un miroir trompeur;
Quelquefois l'un se brise ou l'autre s'est sauve,
Et par ou l'un perit, un autre est conserve,'"*

answered Dubois, out of "Cinna."

* "Example is often but a deceitful mirror, where sometimes one destroys himself, while another comes off safe; and where one perishes, another is preserved."

"Corneille is right," rejoined the Regent. "After all, to do thee justice, _mon petit Abbe_, example has little to do with corrupting us. Nature pleads the cause of pleasure as Hyperides pleaded that of Phryne. She has no need of eloquence: she unveils the bosom of her client, and the client is acquitted."

"Monseigneur shows at least that he has learned to profit by my humble instructions in the classics," said Dubois.

The Duke did not answer. I turned my eyes to some drawings on the table; I expressed my admiration of them. "They are mine," said the Regent. "Ah! I should have been much more accomplished as a private gentleman than I fear I ever shall be as a public man of toil and business. Business--bah! But Necessity is the only real sovereign in the world, the only despot for whom there is no law. What! are you going already, Count Devereux?"

"Monseigneur's anteroom is crowded with less fortunate persons than myself, whose sins of envy and covetousness I am now answerable for."

"Ah--well! I must hear the poor devils; the only pleasure I have is in seeing how easily I can make them happy. Would to Heaven, Dubois, that one could govern a great kingdom only by fair words! Count Devereux, you have seen me to-day as my acquaintance; see me again as my petitioner. _Bon jour, Monsieur_."

And I retired, very well pleased with my reception; from that time, indeed, during the rest of my short stay at Paris, the Prince honoured me with his especial favour. But I have dwelt too long on my sojourn at the French court. The persons whom I have described, and who alone made that sojourn memorable, must be my apology.

One day I was honoured by a visit from the Abbe Dubois. After a short conversation upon indifferent things, he accosted me thus:--

"You are aware, Count Devereux, of the partiality which the Regent has conceived towards you. Fortunate would it be for the Prince" (here Dubois elevated his brows with an ironical and arch expression), "so good by disposition, so injured by example, if his partiality had been more frequently testified towards gentlemen of your merit. A mission of considerable importance, and one demanding great personal address, gives his Royal Highness an opportunity of testifying his esteem for you. He honoured me with a conference on the subject yesterday, and has now commissioned me to explain to you the technical objects of this mission, and to offer to you the honour of undertaking it. Should you accept the proposals, you will wait upon his Highness before his _levee to-morrow."

Dubois then proceeded, in the clear, rapid manner peculiar to him, to comment on the state of Europe. "For France," said he, in concluding his sketch, "peace is absolutely necessary. A drained treasury, an exhausted country, require it. You see, from what I have said, that Spain and England are the principal quarters from which we are to dread hostilities. Spain we must guard against; England we must propitiate: the latter object is easy in England in any case, whether James or George be uppermost. For whoever is king in England will have quite enough to do at home to make him agree willingly enough to peace abroad. The former requires a less simple and a more enlarged policy. I fear the ambition of the Queen of Spain and the turbulent genius of her minion Alberoni. We must fortify ourselves by new forms of alliance, at various courts, which shall at once defend us and intimidate our enemies. We wish to employ some nobleman of ability and address, on a secret mission to Russia: will you be that person? Your absence from Paris will be but short; you will see a very droll country, and a very droll sovereign; you will return hither, doubly the rage, and with a just claim to more important employment hereafter. What say you to the proposal?"

"I must hear more," said I, "before I decide."

The Abbe renewed. It is needless to repeat all the particulars of the commission that he enumerated. Suffice it that, after a brief consideration, I accepted the honour proposed to me. The Abbe wished me joy, relapsed into his ordinary strain of coarse levity for a few minutes, and then, reminding me that I was to attend the Regent on the morrow, departed. It was easy to see that in the mind of that subtle and crafty ecclesiastic, with whose manoeuvres private intrigues were always blended with public, this offer of employment veiled a desire to banish me from the immediate vicinity of the good-natured Regent, whose favour the aspiring Abbe wished at that exact moment exclusively to monopolize. Mere men of pleasure he knew would not interfere with his aims upon the Prince; mere men of business still less: but a man who was thought to combine the capacities of both, and who was moreover distinguished by the Regent, he deemed a more dangerous rival than the inestimable person thus suspected really was.

However, I cared little for the honest man's motives. Adventure to me had always greater charms than dissipation, and it was far more agreeable to the nature of my ambition, to win distinction by any honourable method, than by favouritism at a court so hollow, so unprincipled, and so grossly licentious as that of the Regent. There to be the most successful courtier was to be the most amusing profligate. Alas, when the heart is away from its objects, and the taste revolts at its excess, Pleasure is worse than palling: it is a torture! and the devil in Jonson's play did not perhaps greatly belie the truth when he averred "that the pains in his native country were pastimes to the life of a person of fashion."

The Duke of Orleans received me the next morning with more than his wonted _bonhomie_. What a pity that so good-natured a prince should have been so bad a man! He enlarged more easily and carelessly than his worthy preceptor had done upon the several points to be observed in my mission; then condescendingly told me he was very sorry to lose me from his court, and asked me, at all events, before I left Paris, to be a guest at one of his select suppers. I appreciated this honour at its just value. To these suppers none were asked but the Prince's chums, or _roues_,* as he was pleased to call them. As, _entre nous_, these chums were for the most part the most good-for-nothing people in the kingdom, I could not but feel highly flattered at being deemed, by so deep a judge of character as the Regent, worthy to join them. I need not say that the invitation was eagerly accepted, nor that I left Philippe le Debonnaire impressed with the idea of his being the most admirable person in Europe. What a fool a great man is if he does not study to be affable: weigh a prince's condescension in one scale, and all the cardinal virtues in the other, and the condescension will outweigh them all! The Regent of France ruined his country as much as he well could do, and there was not a dry eye when he died!

* The term _roue_, now so comprehensive, was first given by the Regent to a select number of his friends; according to them, because they would be broken on the wheel for his sake, according to himself, because they deserved to be so broken.--ED.

A day had now effected a change--a great change--in my fate. A new court, a new theatre of action, a new walk of ambition, were suddenly opened to me. Nothing could be more promising than my first employment; nothing could be more pleasing than the anticipation of the change. "I must force myself to be agreeable to-night," said I, as I dressed for the Regent's supper. "I must leave behind me the remembrance of a _bon mot_, or I shall be forgotten."

And I was right. In that whirlpool, the capital of France, everything sinks but wit: _that is always on the surface; and we must cling to it with a firm grasp, if we would not go down to--"the deep oblivion."

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