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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Crayon Papers - THE TAKING OF THE VEIL
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The Crayon Papers - THE TAKING OF THE VEIL Post by :Laurie_Meade Category :Long Stories Author :Washington Irving Date :April 2012 Read :2422

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The Crayon Papers - THE TAKING OF THE VEIL

One of the most remarkable personages in Parisian society during the last century was Renee Charlotte Victoire de Froulay De Tesse, Marchioness De Crequi. She sprang from the highest and proudest of the old French nobility, and ever maintained the most exalted notions of the purity and antiquity of blood, looking upon all families that could not date back further than three or four hundred years as mere upstarts. When a beautiful girl, fourteen years of age, she was presented to Louis XIV., at Versailles, and the ancient monarch kissed her hand with great gallantry; after an interval of about eighty-five years, when nearly a hundred years old, the same testimonial of respect was paid her at the Tuileries by Bonaparte, then First Consul, who promised her the restitution of the confiscated forests formerly belonging to her family. She was one of the most celebrated women of her time for intellectual grace and superiority, and had the courage to remain at Paris and brave all the horrors of the revolution, which laid waste the aristocratical world around her.

The memoirs she has left behind abound with curious anecdotes and vivid pictures of Parisian life during the latter days of Louis XIV., the regency of the Duke of Orleans, and the residue of the last century; and are highly illustrative of the pride, splendor, and licentiousness of the French nobility on the very eve of their tremendous downfall.

I shall draw forth a few scenes from her memoirs, taken almost at random, and which, though given as actual and well-known circumstances, have quite the air of romance.

All the great world of Paris were invited to be present at a grand ceremonial, to take place in the church of the Abbey Royal of Panthemont. Henrietta de Lenoncour, a young girl, of a noble family, of great beauty, and heiress to immense estates, was to take the black veil. Invitations had been issued in grand form, by her aunt and guardian, the Countess Brigitte de Rupelmonde, canoness of Mauberge. The circumstance caused great talk and wonder in the fashionable circles of Paris; everybody was at a loss to imagine why a young girl, beautiful and rich, in the very springtime of her charms, should renounce a world which she was so eminently qualified to embellish and enjoy.

A lady of high rank, who visited the beautiful novice at the grate of her convent-parlor, got a clew to the mystery. She found her in great agitation; for a time she evidently repressed her feelings, but they at length broke forth in passionate exclamations. "Heaven grant me grace," said she, "some day or other to pardon my cousin Gondrecourt the sorrows he has caused me!"

"What do you mean?--what sorrows, my child?" inquired her visitor. "What has your cousin done to affect you?"

"He is married!" cried she in accents of despair, but endeavoring to repress her sobs.

"Married! I have heard nothing of the kind, my dear. Are you perfectly sure of it?"

"Alas! nothing is more certain; my aunt de Rupelmonde informed me of it."

The lady retired, full of surprise and commiseration. She related the scene in a circle of the highest nobility, in the saloon of the Marshal Prince of Beauvau, where the unaccountable self-sacrifice of the beautiful novice was under discussion.

"Alas!" said she, "the poor girl is crossed in love; she is about to renounce the world in despair, at the marriage of her cousin De Gondrecourt."

"What!" cried a gentleman present, "the Viscount de Gondrecourt married! Never was there a greater falsehood. And 'her aunt told her so'! Oh! I understand the plot. The countess is passionately fond of Gondrecourt, and jealous of her beautiful niece; but her schemes are vain; the viscount holds her in perfect detestation."

There was a mingled expression of ridicule, disgust, and indignation at the thought of such a rivalry. The Countess Rupelmonde was old enough to be the grandmother of the viscount. She was a woman of violent passions, and imperious temper; robust in person, with a masculine voice, a dusky complexion, green eyes, and powerful eyebrows.

"It is impossible," cried one of the company, "that a woman of the countess's age and appearance can be guilty of such folly. No, no; you mistake the aim of this detestable woman. She is managing to get possession of the estate of her lovely niece."

This was admitted to be the most probable; and all concurred in believing the countess to be at the bottom of the intended sacrifice; for although a canoness, a dignitary of a religious order, she was pronounced little better than a devil incarnate.

The Princess de Beauvau, a woman of generous spirit and intrepid zeal, suddenly rose from the chair in which she had been reclining. "My prince," said she, addressing her husband, "if you approve of it, I will go immediately and have a conversation on this subject with the archbishop. There is not a moment to spare. It is now past midnight; the ceremony is to take place in the morning. A few hours and the irrevocable vows will be pronounced."

The prince inclined his head in respectful assent. The princess set about her generous enterprise with a woman's promptness. Within a short time her carriage was at the iron gate of the archiepiscopal palace, and her servants rang for admission. Two Switzers, who had charge of the gate, were fast asleep in the porter's lodge, for it was half-past two in the morning. It was some time before they could be awakened, and longer before they could be made to come forth.

"The Princess de Beauvau is at the gate!"

Such a personage was not to be received in deshabille. Her dignity and the dignity of the archbishop demanded that the gate should be served in full costume. For half an hour, therefore, had the princess to wait, in feverish impatience, until the two dignitaries of the porter's lodge arrayed themselves; and three o'clock sounded from the tower of Notre Dame before they came forth. They were in grand livery, of a buff color, with amaranth galloons, plaited with silver, and fringed sword-belts reaching to their knees, in which were suspended long rapiers. They had small three-cornered hats, surmounted with plumes; and each bore in his hand a halbert. Thus equipped at all points, they planted themselves before the door of the carriage; struck the ends of their halberts on the ground with emphasis; and stood waiting with official importance, but profound respect, to know the pleasure of the princess.

She demanded to speak with the archbishop. A most reverential bow and shrug accompanied the reply, that "His Grandeur was not at home."

Not at home! Where was he to be found? Another bow and shrug: "His Grandeur either was, or ought to be, in retirement in the seminary of St. Magloire; unless he had gone to pass the Fete of St. Bruno with the reverend Carthusian fathers of the Rue d'Enfer; or perhaps he might have gone to repose himself in his castle of Conflans-sur-Seine. Though, on further thought, it was not unlikely he might have gone to sleep at St. Cyr, where the Bishop of Chartres never failed to invite him for the anniversary soiree of Madame de Maintenon."

The princess was in despair at this multiplicity of crossroads pointed out for the chase; the brief interval of time was rapidly elapsing; day already began to dawn; she saw there was no hope of finding the archbishop before the moment of his entrance into the church for the morning's ceremony; so she returned home quite distressed.

At seven o'clock in the morning the princess was in the parlor of the monastery of De Panthemont, and sent in an urgent request for a moment's conversation with the Lady Abbess. The reply brought was, that the abbess could not come to the parlor, being obliged to attend in the choir at the canonical hours. The princess entreated permission to enter the convent, to reveal to the Lady Abbess in two words something of the greatest importance. The abbess sent word in reply, that the thing was impossible, until she had obtained permission from the Archbishop of Paris. The princess retired once more to her carriage, and now, as a forlorn hope, took her station at the door of the church to watch for the arrival of the prelate.

After a while the splendid company invited to this great ceremony began to arrive. The beauty, rank, and wealth of the novice had excited great attention; and, as everybody was expected to be present on the occasion, everybody pressed to secure a place. The street reverberated with the continual roll of gilded carriages and chariots; coaches of princes and dukes, designated by imperials of crimson velvet, and magnificent equipages of six horses, decked out with nodding plumes and sumptuous harnessing. At length the equipages ceased to arrive; empty vehicles filled the street; and, with a noisy and party-colored crowd of lackeys in rich liveries, obstructed all the entrances to De Panthemont.

Eleven o'clock had struck; the last auditor had entered the church; the deep tones of the organ began to swell through the sacred pile, yet still the archbishop came not! The heart of the princess beat quicker and quicker with vague apprehension; when a valet, dressed in cloth of silver, trimmed with crimson velvet, approached her carriage precipitately. "Madame," said he, "the archbishop is in the church; he entered by the portal of the cloister; he is already in the sanctuary; the ceremony is about to commence!"

What was to be done? To speak with the archbishop was now impossible, and yet on the revelation she was to make to him depended the fate of the lovely novice. The princess drew forth her tablets of enameled gold, wrote a few lines therein with a pencil, and ordered her lackey to make way for her through the crowd, and conduct her with all speed to the sacristy.

The description given of the church and the assemblage on this occasion presents an idea of the aristocratical state of the times, and of the high interest awakened by the affecting sacrifice about to take place. The church was hung with superb tapestry, above which extended a band of white damask, fringed with gold, and covered with armorial escutcheons. A large pennon, emblazoned with the arms and alliances of the high-born damsel, was suspended, according to custom, in place of the lamp of the sanctuary. The lusters, girandoles, and candelabras of the king had been furnished in profusion, to decorate the sacred edifice, and the pavements were all covered with rich carpets.

The sanctuary presented a reverend and august assemblage of bishops, canons, and monks of various orders, Benedictines, Bernardines, Raccollets, Capuchins, and others, all in their appropriate robes and dresses. In the midst presided the Archbishop of Paris, Christopher de Beaumont; surrounded by his four arch priests and his vicars-general. He was seated with his back against the altar. When his eyes were cast down, his countenance, pale and severe, is represented as having been somewhat sepulchral and death-like; but the moment he raised his large, dark, sparkling eyes, the whole became animated; beaming with ardor, and expressive of energy, penetration, and firmness.

The audience that crowded the church was no less illustrious. Excepting the royal family, all that was elevated in rank and title was there; never had a ceremonial of the kind attracted an equal concourse of the high aristocracy of Paris.

At length the grated gates of the choir creaked on their hinges, and Madame de Richelieu, the high and noble Abbess of De Panthemont, advanced to resign the novice into the hands of her aunt, the Countess Canoness De Rupelmonde. Every eye was turned with intense curiosity to gain a sight of the beautiful victim. She was sumptuously dressed, but her paleness and languor accorded but little with her brilliant attire. The Canoness De Rupelmonde conducted her niece to her praying-desk, where, as soon as the poor girl knelt down, she sank as if exhausted. Just then a sort of murmur was heard at the lower end of the church, where the servants in livery were gathered. A young man was borne forth, struggling in convulsions. He was in the uniform of an officer of the guards of King Stanislaus, Duke of Lorraine. A whisper circulated that it was the young Viscount de Gondrecourt, and that he was a lover of the novice. Almost all the young nobles present hurried forth to proffer him sympathy and assistance.

The Archbishop of Paris remained all this time seated before the altar; his eyes cast down, his pallid countenance giving no signs of interest or participation in the scene around him. It was noticed that in one of his hands, which was covered with a violet glove, he grasped firmly a pair of tablets, of enameled gold.

The Canoness de Rupelmonde conducted her niece to the prelate, to make her profession of self-devotion, and to utter the irrevocable vow. As the lovely novice knelt at his feet, the archbishop fixed on her his dark, beaming eyes, with a kind but earnest expression. "Sister!" said he, in the softest and most benevolent tone of voice, "What is your age?"

"Nineteen years, monseigneur," eagerly interposed the Countess de Rupelmonde.

"_You will reply to me by-and-by, madame," said the archbishop, dryly. He then repeated his question to the novice, who replied in a faltering voice, "Seventeen years."

"In what diocese did you take the white veil?"

"In the diocese of Toul."

"How!" exclaimed the archbishop, vehemently. "In the diocese of Toul? The chair of Toul is vacant! The bishop of Toul died fifteen months since; and those who officiate in the chapter are not authorized to receive novices. Your novitiate, mademoiselle, is null and void, and we cannot receive your profession."

The archbishop rose from his chair, resumed his miter, and took the crozier from the hands of an attendant.

"My dear brethren," said he, addressing the assembly, "there is no necessity for our examining and interrogating Mademoiselle de Lenoncour on the sincerity of her religious vocation. There is a canonical impediment to her professing for the present; and, as to the future, we reserve to ourselves the consideration of the matter; interdicting to all other ecclesiastical persons the power of accepting her vows, under penalty of interdiction, of suspension, and of nullification; all which is in virtue of our metropolitan rights, contained in the terms of the bull _cum proximis_:" "_Adjutorium nostrum in nomine Domini!_" pursued he, chanting in a grave and solemn voice, and turning toward the altar to give the benediction of the holy sacrament.

The noble auditory had that habitude of reserve, that empire, or rather tyranny, over all outward manifestations of internal emotions, which belongs to high aristocratical breeding. The declaration of the archbishop, therefore, was received as one of the most natural and ordinary things in the world, and all knelt down and received the pontifical benediction with perfect decorum. As soon, however, as they were released from the self-restraint imposed by etiquette, they amply indemnified themselves; and nothing was talked of for a month, in the fashionable saloons of Paris, but the loves of the handsome Viscount and the charming Henrietta; the wickedness of the canoness; the active benevolence and admirable address of the Princess de Beauvau; and the great wisdom of the archbishop, who was particularly extolled for his delicacy in defeating this maneuver without any scandal to the aristocracy, or public stigma on the name of De Rupelmonde, and without any departure from pastoral gentleness, by adroitly seizing upon an informality, and turning it to beneficial account, with as much authority as charitable circumspection.

As to the Canoness de Rupelmonde, she was defeated at all points in her wicked plans against her beautiful niece. In consequence of the caveat of the archbishop, her superior ecclesiastic, the Abbess de Panthemont, formally forbade Mademoiselle de Lenoncour to resume the white veil and the dress of a novitiate, and instead of a novice's cell established her in a beautiful apartment as a boarder. The next morning the Canoness de Rupelmonde called at the convent to take away her niece; but, to her confusion, the abbess produced a lettre-de-cachet, which she had just received, and which forbade mademoiselle to leave the convent with any other person save the Prince de Beauvau.

Under the auspices and the vigilant attention of the prince, the whole affair was wound up in the most technical and circumstantial manner. The Countess de Rupelmonde, by a decree of the Grand Council, was divested of the guardianship of her niece. All the arrears of revenues accumulated during Mademoiselle de Lenoncour's minority were rigorously collected, the accounts scrutinized and adjusted, and her noble fortune placed safely and entirely in her hands.

In a little while the noble personages who had been invited to the ceremony of taking the veil received another invitation, on the part of the Countess dowager de Gondrecourt, and the Marshal Prince de Beauvau, to attend the marriage of Adrien de Gondrecourt, Viscount of Jean-sur-Moselle, and Henrietta de Lenoncour, Countess de Hevouwal, etc., which duly took place in the chapel of the archiepiscopal palace at Paris.

So much for the beautiful Henrietta de Lenoncour. We will now draw forth a companion picture of a handsome young cavalier, who figured in the gay world of Paris about the same time, and concerning whom the ancient marchioness writes with the lingering feeling of youthful romance.


THE CHARMING LETORIERES

"A good face is a letter of recommendation," says an old proverb; and it was never more verified than in the case of the Chevalier Letorieres. He was a young gentleman of good family, but who, according to the Spanish phrase, had nothing but his cloak and sword (capa y espada), that is to say, his gentle blood and gallant bearing, to help him forward in the world. Through the interest of an uncle, who was an abbe, he received a gratuitous education at a fashionable college, but finding the terms of study too long, and the vacations too short, for his gay and indolent temper, he left college without saying a word, and launched himself upon Paris, with a light heart and still lighter pocket. Here he led a life to his humor. It is true he had to make scanty meals, and to lodge in a garret; but what of that? He was his own master; free from all task or restraint. When cold or hungry, he sallied forth, like others of the chameleon order, and banqueted on pure air and warm sunshine in the public walks and gardens; drove off the thoughts of a dinner by amusing himself with the gay and grotesque throngs of the metropolis; and if one of the poorest, was one of the merriest gentlemen upon town. Wherever he went his good looks and frank, graceful demeanor, had an instant and magical effect in securing favor. There was but one word to express his fascinating powers--he was "charming."

Instances are given of the effect of his winning qualities upon minds of coarse, ordinary mold. He had once taken shelter from a heavy shower under a gateway. A hackney coachman, who was passing by, pulled up, and asked him if he wished a cast in his carriage. Letorieres declined, with a melancholy and dubious shake of the head. The coachman regarded him wistfully, repeared his solicitations, and wished to know what place he was going to "To the Palace of Justice, to walk in the galleries; but I will wait here until the rain is over."

"And why so?" inquired the coachman, pertinaciously.

"Because I've no money; do let me be quiet."

The coachman jumped down, and, opening the door of his carriage, "It shall never be said," cried he, "that I left so charming a young gentleman to weary himself, and catch cold, merely for the sake of twenty-four sous."

Arrived at the Palace of Justice, he stopped before the saloon of a famous restaurateur, opened the door of the carriage, and taking off his hat very respectfully, begged the youth to accept of a Louis-d'or. "You will meet with some young gentlemen within," said he, "with whom you may wish to take a hand at cards. The number of my coach is 144. You can find me out, and repay me whenever you please."

The worthy Jehu was some years afterward made coachman to the Princess Sophia, of France, through the recommendation of the handsome youth he had so generously obliged.

Another instance in point is given with respect to his tailor, to whom he owed four hundred livres. The tailor had repeatedly dunned him, but was always put off with the best grace in the world. The wife of the tailor urged her husband to assume a harsher tone. He replied that he could not find it in his heart to speak roughly to so charming a young gentleman.

"I've no patience with such want of spirit!" cried the wife; "you have not the courage to show your teeth: but I'm going out to get change for this note of a hundred crowns; before I come home, I'll seek this 'charming' youth myself, and see whether he has the power to charm me. I'll warrant he won't be able to put _me off with fine looks and fine speeches."

With these and many more vaunts, the good dame sallied forth. When she returned home, however, she wore quite a different aspect.

"Well," said her husband, "how much have you received from the 'charming' young man?"

"Let me alone," replied the wife; "I found him playing on the guitar, and he looked so handsome, and was so amiable and genteel, that I had not the heart to trouble him."

"And the change for the hundred-crown note?" said the tailor.

The wife hesitated a moment: "Faith," cried she, "you'll have to add the amount to your next bill against him. The poor young gentleman had such a melancholy air that--I know not how it was, but--I left the hundred crowns on his mantel-piece in spite of him!"

The captivating looks and manners of Letorieres made his way with equal facility in the great world. His high connections entitled him to presentation at court, but some questions arose about the sufficiency of his proofs of nobility; whereupon the king, who had seen him walking in the gardens of Versailles, and had been charmed with his appearance, put an end to all demurs of etiquette by making him a viscount.

The same kind of fascination is said to have attended him throughout his career. He succeeded in various difficult family suits on questions of honors and privileges; he had merely to appear in court to dispose the judges in his favor. He at length became so popular that on one occasion, when he appeared at the theater on recovering from a wound received in a duel, the audience applauded him on his entrance. Nothing, it is said, could have been in more perfect good taste and high breeding than his conduct on this occasion. When he heard the applause, he rose in his box, stepped forward, and surveyed both sides of the house, as if he could not believe that it was himself they were treating like a favorite actor, or a prince of the blood.

His success with the fair sex may easily be presumed; but he had too much honor and sensibility to render his intercourse with them a series of cold gallantries and heartless triumphs. In the course of his attendance upon court, where he held a post of honor about the king, he fell deeply in love with the beautiful Princess Julia, of Savoy Carignan. She was young, tender, and simple-hearted, and returned his love with equal fervor. Her family took the alarm at this attachment, and procured an order that she should inhabit the Abbey of Montmartre, where she was treated with all befitting delicacy and distinction, but not permitted to go beyond the convent walls. The lovers found means to correspond. One of their letters was intercepted, and it is even hinted that a plan of elopement was discovered. A duel was the consequence, with one of the fiery relations of the princess. Letorieres received two sword-thrusts in his right side. His wounds were serious, yet after two or three days' confinement he could not resist his impatience to see the princess. He succeeded in scaling the walls of the abbey, and obtaining an interview in an arcade leading to the cloister of the cemetery. The interview of the lovers was long and tender. They exchanged vows of eternal fidelity, and flattered themselves with hopes of future happiness, which they were never to realize. After repeated farewells, the princess re-entered the convent, never again to behold the charming Letorieres. On the following morning his corpse was found stiff and cold on the pavement of the cloister!

It would seem that the wounds of the unfortunate youth had been reopened by his efforts to get over the wall; that he had refrained from calling assistance, lest he should expose the princess, and that he had bled to death, without any one to aid him, or to close his dying eyes.

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