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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesNight And Morning - Book 3 - Chapter 11
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Night And Morning - Book 3 - Chapter 11 Post by :markwar Category :Long Stories Author :Edward Bulwer-lytton Date :May 2012 Read :2287

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Night And Morning - Book 3 - Chapter 11

BOOK III CHAPTER XI

"Gently moved
By the soft wind of whispering silks."--DECKER.


The reader may remember that while Monsieur Favart and Mr. Birnie were holding commune in the lane, the sounds of festivity were heard from a house in the adjoining street. To that house we are now summoned.

At Paris, the gaieties of balls, or soirees, are, I believe, very rare in that period of the year in which they are most frequent in London. The entertainment now given was in honour of a christening; the lady who gave it, a relation of the new-born.

Madame de Merville was a young widow; even before her marriage she had been distinguished in literature; she had written poems of more than common excellence; and being handsome, of good family, and large fortune, her talents made her an object of more interest than they might otherwise have done. Her poetry showed great sensibility and tenderness. If poetry be any index to the heart, you would have thought her one to love truly and deeply. Nevertheless, since she married--as girls in France do--not to please herself, but her parents, she made a mariage de convenance. Monsieur de Merville was a sober, sensible man, past middle age. Not being fond of poetry, and by no means coveting a professional author for his wife, he had during their union, which lasted four years, discouraged his wife's liaison with Apollo. But her mind, active and ardent, did not the less prey upon itself. At the age of four-and-twenty she became a widow, with an income large even in England for a single woman, and at Paris constituting no ordinary fortune. Madame de Merville, however, though a person of elegant taste, was neither ostentatious nor selfish; she had no children, and she lived quietly in apartments, handsome, indeed, but not more than adequate to the small establishment which--where, as on the Continent, the costly convenience of an entire house is not usually incurred--sufficed for her retinue. She devoted at least half her income, which was entirely at her own disposal, partly to the aid of her own relations, who were not rich, and partly to the encouragement of the literature she cultivated. Although she shrank from the ordeal of publication, her poems and sketches of romance were read to her own friends, and possessed an eloquence seldom accompanied with so much modesty. Thus, her reputation, though not blown about the winds, was high in her own circle, and her position in fashion and in fortune made her looked up to by her relations as the head of her family; they regarded her as femme superieure, and her advice with them was equivalent to a command. Eugenie de Merville was a strange mixture of qualities at once feminine and masculine. On the one hand, she had a strong will, independent views, some contempt for the world, and followed her own inclinations without servility to the opinion of others; on the other hand, she was susceptible, romantic, of a sweet, affectionate, kind disposition. Her visit to M. Love, however indiscreet, was not less in accordance with her character than her charity to the mechanic's wife; masculine and careless where an eccentric thing was to be done--curiosity satisfied, or some object in female diplomacy achieved--womanly, delicate, and gentle, the instant her benevolence was appealed to or her heart touched. She had now been three years a widow, and was consequently at the age of twenty-seven. Despite the tenderness of her poetry and her character, her reputation was unblemished. She had never been in love. People who are much occupied do not fall in love easily; besides, Madame de Merville was refining, exacting, and wished to find heroes where she only met handsome dandies or ugly authors. Moreover, Eugenie was both a vain and a proud person--vain of her celebrity and proud of her birth. She was one whose goodness of heart made her always active in promoting the happiness of others. She was not only generous and charitable, but willing to serve people by good offices as well as money. Everybody loved her. The new-born infant, to whose addition to the Christian community the fete of this night was dedicated, was the pledge of a union which Madame de Merville had managed to effect between two young persons, first cousins to each other, and related to herself. There had been scruples of parents to remove--money matters to adjust--Eugenie had smoothed all. The husband and wife, still lovers, looked up to her as the author, under Heaven, of their happiness.

The gala of that night had been, therefore, of a nature more than usually pleasurable, and the mirth did not sound hollow, but wrung from the heart. Yet, as Eugenie from time to time contemplated the young people, whose eyes ever sought each other--so fair, so tender, and so joyous as they seemed--a melancholy shadow darkened her brow, and she sighed involuntarily. Once the young wife, Madame d'Anville, approaching her timidly, said:

"Ah! my sweet cousin, when shall we see you as happy as ourselves? There is such happiness," she added, innocently, and with a blush, "in being a mother!--that little life all one's own--it is something to think of every hour!"

"Perhaps," said Eugenie, smiling, and seeking to turn the conversation from a subject that touched too nearly upon feelings and thoughts her pride did not wish to reveal--"perhaps it is you, then, who have made our cousin, poor Monsieur de Vaudemont, so determined to marry? Pray, be more cautious with him. How difficult I have found it to prevent his bringing into our family some one to make us all ridiculous!"

"True," said Madame d'Anville, laughing. "But then, the Vicomte is so poor, and in debt. He would fall in love, not with the demoiselle, but the dower. A propos of that, how cleverly you took advantage of his boastful confession to break off his liaisons with that bureau de mariage."

"Yes; I congratulate myself on that manoeuvre. Unpleasant as it was to go to such a place (for, of course, I could not send for Monsieur Love here), it would have been still more unpleasant to have received such a Madame de Vaudemont as our cousin would have presented to us. Only think--he was the rival of an epicier! I heard that there was some curious denouement to the farce of that establishment; but I could never get from Vaudemont the particulars. He was ashamed of them, I fancy."

"What droll professions there are in Paris!" said Madame d'Anville. "As if people could not marry without going to an office for a spouse as we go for a servant! And so the establishment is broken up? And you never again saw that dark, wild-looking boy who so struck your fancy that you have taken him as the original for the Murillo sketch of the youth in that charming tale you read to us the other evening? Ah! cousin, I think you were a little taken with him. The bureau de mariage had its allurements for you as well as for our poor cousin!" The young mother said this laughingly and carelessly.

"Pooh!" returned Madame de Merville, laughing also; but a slight blush broke over her natural paleness. "But a propos of the Vicomte. You know how cruelly he has behaved to that poor boy of his by his English wife--never seen him since he was an infant--kept him at some school in England; and all because his vanity does not like the world to know that he has a son of nineteen! Well, I have induced him to recall this poor youth."

"Indeed! and how?"

"Why," said Eugenie, with a smile, "he wanted a loan, poor man, and I could therefore impose conditions by way of interest. But I also managed to conciliate him to the proposition, by representing that, if the young man were good-looking, he might, himself, with our connections, &c., form an advantageous marriage; and that in such a case, if the father treated him now justly and kindly, he would naturally partake with the father whatever benefits the marriage might confer."

"Ah! you are an excellent diplomatist, Eugenie; and you turn people's heads by always acting from your heart. Hush! here comes the Vicomte!"

"A delightful ball," said Monsieur de Vaudemont, approaching the hostess. "Pray, has that young lady yonder, in the pink dress, any fortune? She is pretty--eh? You observe she is looking at me--I mean at us!"

"My dear cousin, what a compliment you pay to marriage! You have had two wives, and you are ever on the qui vive for a third!"

"What would you have me do?--we cannot resist the overtures of your bewitching sex. Hum--what fortune has she?"

"Not a sou; besides, she is engaged."

"Oh! now I look at her, she is not pretty--not at all. I made a mistake. I did not mean her; I meant the young lady in blue."

"Worse and worse--she is married already. Shall I present you?"

"Ah, Monsieur de Vaudemont," said Madame d'Anville; "have you found out a new bureau de mariage?"

The Vicomte pretended not to hear that question. But, turning to Eugenie, took her aside, and said, with an air in which he endeavoured to throw a great deal of sorrow, "You know, my dear cousin, that, to oblige you, I consented to send for my son, though, as I always said, it is very unpleasant for a man like me, in the prime of life, to hawk about a great boy of nineteen or twenty. People soon say, 'Old Vaudemont and younq Vaudemont.' However, a father's feelings are never appealed to in vain." (Here the Vicomte put his handkerchief to his eyes, and after a pause, continued,)--"I sent for him--I even went to your old bonne, Madame Dufour, to make a bargain for her lodgings, and this day--guess my grief--I received a letter sealed with black. My son is dead!--a sudden fever--it is shocking!"

"Horrible! dead!--your own son, whom you hardly ever saw--never since he was an Infant!"

"Yes, that softens the blow very much. And now you see I must marry. If the boy had been good-looking, and like me, and so forth, why, as you observed, he might have made a good match, and allowed me a certain sum, or we could have all lived together."

"And your son is dead, and you come to a ball!"

"Je suis philosophe," said the Vicomte, shrugging his shoulders. "And, as you say, I never saw him. It saves me seven hundred francs a-year. Don't say a word to any one--I sha'n't give out that he is dead, poor fellow! Pray be discreet: you see there are some ill-natured people who might think it odd I do not shut myself up. I can wait till Paris is quite empty. It would be a pity to lose any opportunity at present, for now, you see, I must marry!" And the philosophe sauntered away.

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