« ZurückWeiter »
injunctions of madame son épouse, to bring back the long history to her and her daughters, of all the wondrous deeds which were going forward inside those aristocratic walls—a sealed mystery which, from their own experience, they knew that they could never hope to solve.
" It so happened that on the very morning of the day so rife with expectation to the poor mayor, Comte Molé had arrived at Valençay. Nothing could be more propitious, and the worthy official rubbed his hands with glee, at the thought of the immense information he should gain, by listening to the conversation of two such distinguished politicians-of the awful importance of his position with regard to his colleagues at the conseil at home-of the delight and pride of his ambitious wife, while she listened to the detail of all her husband had heard concerning the secret affairs of the nation; in short, the honest bourgeois felt, from the very moment of his arrival, that tremulous uncertain kind of emotion (one hardly knows whether to call it pain or pleasure), which precedes in most minds the realization of some dream which has long been nursed and fostered with great care.
“Dinner passed away; the honest functionary, all eyes and ears to what was going forward, listening intently on every side to catch the least significant observation which should fall, either from the lips of his host or of the illustrious guest. But it was in vain he strained his hearing, listening so intently, that his neighbour was once or twice compelled to remind him of the dish before him; not a word of politics was breathed during the whole repast; and when once, during a short silence which occurred, he ventured, in a timid voice, to ask the prince if be thought the Belgian monarchy would be of long duration, he was merely answered by a request to take more champagne, and the conversation once more resumed its light and frivolous tone. Wit there was in abundance; sparkling showers, and bold satire, and learning too; but the maire de son endroit cared not for all the good things which were flying past him from one end of the table to the other, and convulsing every listener with bursts of hearty laughter; he smiled not, poor man, but rather sat lost in painful wonder, that the great ones of the earth should thus lose the precious hours in idle bantering and unseemly mirth. But he hoped that once in the salon, the conversation might at length fall into a more serious and profitable vein, and he had already taken his place close to the prince, determined to catch each syllable that fell from his lips when Count Molé approached.
** This he felt sure would happen ; of course it could not chance otherwise. At length Count Molé approached, and leant over the back of the prince's chair. He spoke, in the very ear of the prince, a confidential whisper, which the mayor heard, however, distinctly, so close had he drawn to the illustrious friends.
“« • Prince,' said the count, have you forgotten old times, and all our fierce encounters ? Come and renew our skill at billiards in the next room; it will make us both all the younger by twenty years !
“ Billiards ! the Prince de Talleyrand play at billiards ! it could not be ; he should have imagined that his lameness would have saved him from that. Yet so it was ; the Prince de Talleyrand did play at billiards; and in spite of his lameness, was considered one of the most expert players of his day; and so the poor mayor sat the long evening through, discomfited and unhappy, with nothing to tell his wife, and nothing to report to the Town Council when next it should meet. The disappointment was almost too bitter to be borne.
“ Hope, however, did not desert him. He well knew that the prince and his noble guest could not play at billiards the whole night, so he sat a while waiting with patience, until they should grow tired of the game, and return to the fireside. And they did return as he had foreseen, and they did seat themselves comfortably, one on each side of the chimney.
“• Now will they discuss their latest protocols !' thought the little mayor, as he rubbed his hands in glee." No; the prince was in high spirits, for he had won at billiards. The count was in high spirits too, for he declared he had let him win ; and the whole conversation was engrossed by the discussion-eternal thrust and parry-attack and repartee—which had so worried the mayor at dinner, and of which he could not at all see the wit—not he.
“ At last he was growing quite beside himself, when the prince arose ; which action was signal that the soirée was concluded, and that the different guests were free to retire. Yet he had not heard one single word of politics! What would he have to say at the conseil ? What could he tell his wife ? She would greet him with reproaches on his return home, and would say that it was of little use such introductions to the great, unless he knew better how to profit by them ; for he felt that were he to talk till doomsday, he never should be able to persuade her that he had heard not one word of politics. She would accuse him of having napped, as he always did, and always would do, despite of her admonition.
“ Well; the guests all withdrew, our excellent mayor among the number; but, as he passed the screen down yonder at the door, upon turning back to take a wistful glance at the blazing hearth, he perceived the count reseat himself in the great arm-chair he had quitted but for an instant, and the prince ensconced once more in the one he had occupied all the evening; he saw the latter draw forward a little gueridon which stood near, place upon it a roll of papers which he took from his pocket, and pointing to them, he heard him say to the count,
“«You see we have besogne enough before us. I hope you are not sleepy ?
“The curiosity, the ambition, the amour propre of the poor mayor were all aroused, and forgetting the risk he was about to incur-in short, forgetting all but the opportunity of retrieving lost time-he slid himself into a chair which stood most invitingly near the door, in the shadow of the screen, and prepared to listen with due attention.
“There was a pause however, during which the prince rose slightly in his chair, to reach down one of the flambeaux from the mantelpiece. The mayor stretched forward eagerly, when his horror may be guessed; for instead of unrolling the mysterious budget, the prince turned to the count, and said,
“. Before we begin upon this business, let us conclude the affair we were speaking of before dinner. I am sorry that you have reason to suspect the disaffection of the municipal council of our town; if so, I think your are quite right to have it remodelled. Whom did you say you would like to replace, the mayor ?'
"The functionary started, and uttered a deep groan, which no doubt prevented him from hearing the count's answer; but the prince again
spoke, and asked his friend what he thought of the present one. Of course the answer was most humiliating for the poor victim, telling of apparent inaptitude for the office, of his impertinent familiarity, and of his eager inconvenient curiosity-until the unfortunate actually writhed with the pain each word inflicted.
“When the unwelcome harangue was concluded, the prince arose to take a caraffe of water from the console. The poor mayor was in an awful fright, for the action brought the prince immediately opposite to where he sat trembling and perspiring from head to foot. The prince poured the water into a tumbler and drank it off, and was about retiring to his seat, when his eye fell upon the figure of the poor little mayor, who would gladly at that moment have been a hundred feet below the earth.
“ • Ah! Monsieur L. !' exclaimed he, 'why in the name of heaven have you been thus neglected ? Ring, M. de Molé, here is our worthy friend L. actually freezing behind the screen, while waiting for some one to conduct him to his chamber. Mille pardons, Monsieur L., fo: this extraordinary neglect on the part of the servants.'
“ The valet-de-chambre appeared.
“ • Conduct Monsieur L., immediately to his chamber,' said the prince, significantly, and see that the like forgetfulness never happens again with any of the visiters to this house. Bon soir, M. le Maire, bonne nuit, et dormez bien."
“ The trembling culprit hurried off without uttering a word, so great was his confusion, and departed the next morning at daybreak for his own home.
“ It is needless to say that the story of his removal from office was a hoax. The prince, in rising to reach the light from the chimney, had descried, in the looking-glass, the shadow of a figure on the opposite wall. His quick perceptions enabled him at once to guess to whom it belonged, from remembrance of the mayor's uneasy curiosity, and indiscreet listening to all that passed during dinner, and he felt determined to punish in his own coin the mean and cowardly listener. A wink at the count was sufficient; he was not one to refuse a hint, and together they thus fooled the victim to their heart's content.
“ The story got abroad, and created great laughter throughout the whole country, and, as might be expected, the little Mayor of C., was ere long caricatured, pamphleted, and paragraphed into resigning, and it was only then that he was allowed to live in peace, and to forget his fatal visit to Valençay.”.
As my friend concluded his story the whist-table broke up, and the prince arising, moved towards the fire, where we were seated, and took the arm-chair which was always reserved for him. I must confess that at that identical moment I could enter into the feelings of the worthy mayor of C., for I too longed for the moment when he would expand, and share with us some of the varied riches of anecdote with which his mind was stored.
It needed but a single spark to fire the train : the prince was en verve that evening, and I verily believe a whole volume might be filled with the bare leaves and cuttings of the “ Flowers of Rhetoric," with which he charmed us. If he did not possess, like the antique poet of Dante's vision, the power of carrying us into the nether regions, his charm was greater still, for at his beck he conjured up the shadows he wished us to behold, and made them pass in long array before us.
One or two of the anecdotes I will relate for the benefit of my readers, but they must not expect to find one jot of the manner of the narrator—the piquancy, the verve, the irresistible charm which made the Prince de Talleyrand avowedly the first story-teller of his day. If I can give but a faint idea of the style of conversation which enlivened the long evenings of autumn beneath the princely domes of Valençay, it will be as much as I can hope to accomplish, for the very warmth and vivacity of the prince's manner of relating renders it impossible to repeat his words, and memory fails to retrace the fairy chain by which imagination was so sportively held captive and inthralled.
The conversation had turned upon bonnie Scotland, and the prince, amid many regrets at his inability to visit the land where dwelt so many of his best friends, expressed much curiosity respecting divers usages and customs of the Scotch, some of which are so unlike those of any other nation on the face of the globe.
Anong other things, he said he had ever felt an eager desire to witness an example of second sight, and asked me many questions concerning this extraordinary gift; to which I was happily enabled to answer in a satisfactory manner, from having heard in my own family of many illustrations of this peculiarity, all witnessed and backed by the evidence of sundry old nurses and attendants, who had been for ages in the family, and of course believed without inquiry.
My poor anecdotes, rough and uncouth as they were, seemed to interest the company—this kind of superstition being a thing unknown among the French, who, if they are gifted with the most florid wit, have certainly the driest imaginations of any people in Europe.
"Somnambulism and the waking sleep might account for the origin of such a wild belief,” said one of the company.
“ Or the faculty of fixing the mind with straining energy on one point,” said another.
“ Or, perhaps the sudden light-the quick vivid flash, which reveals to some strong and powerful minds the Possible, the True,” said the prince.
“I remember,” continued he,“ upon one occasion having been gifted for one single instant with this unknown and nameless power. I know not to this moment whence it came; it has never once returned ; and yet upon that one occasion it saved my life; without that sudden and mysterious inspiration, I should not now be here to tell the tale. I had freighted a ship together with my friend Beaumetz. He was a good fellow, Beaumetz, with whom I had ever lived on the most intimate terms; and in those stormy times, when it needed not only friendsbip to bind men together, but almost godlike courage to dare to show that friendship, I could not but prize most highly all his bold and loyal demonstrations of kindness and attachment to me. I had not a single reason to doubt his friendship; on the contrary, he had given me on several occasions most positive proofs of his sincere devotion io my interests and wellbeing. We had fled from France together, we had arrived at New York together, and together we had lived in perfect harmony during our stay there. So, after having resolved upon improving the little money that was left us by speculation, it was still in partnership and together, that we freighted a small vessel for India, trusting all to the goodly chance which had befriended us in our escape from danger and from death, to venture once more together to brave the storms and perils of a yet longer and more adventurous voyage.
“ Every thing was embarked for our departure; bills were all paid and farewells all taken, and we were waiting for a fair wind with most eager expectation--being prepared to embark at any hour of the day or night, in obedience to the warning of the captain.
“ This state of uncertainty seemed to irritate the temper of poor Beaumetz to an extraordinary degree, and unable to remain quietly at home, he hurried to and fro the city, with an eager, restless activity which at times excited my astonishment, for he had ever been remarkable for great calmness and placidity of temper.
“One day he entered our lodging, evidently labouring under great excitement, although commanding himself to appear calm. I was engaged at the moment writing letters to Europe, and looking over my shoulder, he said with forced gaiety,
"What need to waste time in penning those letters ? they will never reach their destination. Come with me, and let us take a turn on the Battery; perhaps the wind may be chopping round; we may be nearer our departure than we imagine.'
“ The day was very fine, although the wind was blowing hard, and I suffered myself to be persuaded. Beaumetz, I remembered afterwards displayed an unusual officiousness in aiding me to close my desk and put away my papers, handing me, with hurried eagerness, my hat and cane, and doing other little services to quicken my departure, which at the time I attributed to the restless desire for change, the love of activity with which he seemed to have been devoured during the whole period of our delay.
“ We walked through the crowded streets to the Battery. He had seized my arm, and hurried me along, seemingly in eager haste to advance. When we had arrived on the broad esplanade, the glory then as now of the city of New York, Beaumetz quickened his step yet more, until we arrived close to the water's edge. He talked loud and quickly, admiring in energetic terms the beauty of the scenery, the Brooklyn Heights, the shady groves of the island, the ships riding at anchor, and the busy scene on the peopled wharf; when suddenly he paused in his mad incoherent discourse, for I had freed my arm from his grasp, and stood immovable before him. Staying his wild and rapid steps, I fixed my eyes upon his face. He turned aside, cowed and dismayed.
Beaumetz,' I shouted "you mean to murder me—you intend 10 throw me from the height into the sea below. Deny it, monster, if you can !
“ The maniac stared at me for a moment, but I took especial care not to avert my gaze from his countenance, and he quailed beneath it. He stammered a few incoherent words, and strove to pass me, but I barred his passage with extended arms. He looked vacantly right and left, and then flung himself upon my neck and burst into tears.
“ • 'Tis true'tis true, my friend. The thought has haunted me day and night, like a flash from the lurid fire of hell. It was for this Í