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this room was magnificent. An ancient and heavy cloister, forming a eool, shady piazza during the summer, and a dry and cheerful retreat in winter, lay immediately without, and through each arch the varied and rich landscape was enframed. The broad expanse of park, with its dark belt of forest beyond, and the little town of Valençay, with the Gothic spire of its church, and the white roofs glittering in the sun, by turns appeared, as I moved on, like the images in a child's magic lantern.
In a short time, the various stragglers began to return from their walks, and I was delighted, when among the very first persons who greeted me, I recognised an old acquaintance, whom I had often seen in society during the prince's embassy in London. Those who have ever felt the delight of tinding an acquaintance in a strange land, and where we had anticipated meeting none but strangers, will readily believe my joy at being greeted in well-remembered accents by C., who became from that moment a valued and precious friend, more so than many whom I had known and loved from childhood, but who were now absent, and could afford me no aid in encountering the mighty leviathan within reach of whose tremendous jaws I seemed thus so thoughtlessly to have wandered.
With the kind assistance of this friend, however, I began in a very short time to regain my confidence, and before the creaking of carriagewheels upon the gravel without, had announced the return of the prince from his evening drive, I had been mis au courant to all the habitudes de la maison, and the station and character of each individual had been so fully laid down to me, that I now felt armed with too much foreknowledge to dread any longer the ignorance and inexperience which had so often been my worst enemies.
The room was wellnigh filled by the time the prince had descended from his carriage, and preceded by old Carlo, barking and yelping, had slowly traversed the wide vestibule. For such is the courtierlike propensity of human nature, that although no warning-bell had summoned the different stragglers homeward, yet by marvellous instinct, they all seemed aware of the very moment of the prince's return to the château, and pressed eagerly to the saloon to receive him.
There was a general advance towards the door when the prince entered, leaning on his gold-headed cane, and then the assembly divided in the midst, to allow him to pass through, to gain his large fauteuil by the fire. This movement gave an effect to his entrée, of indescribable interest. Altogether it was one of the prettiest pieces of small-court ceremony I ever witnessed.
The conversation was carried on for some little time standing, the company separating in small groups; but when lights were brought, and the prince had fairly taken his seat at the whist-table, the salon began, though gradually, to clear. Some of the guests retired to rest, in order to be abroad betimes on the morrow; some withdrew stealthily by a side door, and presently the noise of feet, and the clattering of billiardballs, told plainly the reason of their absence; anon, another group would disappear, and then I was sure that a faint odour of cigars would blow in from the half-closed window.
For me, I bravely resisted every invitation to move from the seat wherein I had so comfortably ensconced myself, being sufficiently oc
cupied, this first evening, in making myself familiar with all the actors in the scene going on around me ; and I was well repaid for my selfdenial, for at that very moment were assembled, in that old courtly saloon, some of the brightest intellectual luminaries of the kingdom.
“ You are fortunate,” exclaimed C., as he kindly came to take his seat beside me, "in being a guest with some of our most remarkable illustrations of the ancient régime-men who remain, few in number, to tell the generation of our day, what is meant by the wits' and beaux esprits of a period which, although not distant, yet seems driven centuries back by the rapidity with which new eras, new societies, and new dynasties have succeeded each other. For instance,” continued he, “there is the Count de N.; I dare not call him the old count, although were age measured by years alone, he would certainly be considered to have well earned the title. He is already past the threescore years and ten fixed by the great psalmist as the term of man's life, and yet here he is more alive, more pungent, more racy than ever. I know of no greater contrast than that which exists tween this man and our princely host.
“ Look at them as they sit opposite to each other, both intent upon the chances of the game; the one so calm and dignified, reflecting almost tediously upon the card he ought to play; then placing it slowly and deliberately upon the table. Watch him for ever so long a time, you will detect no symptom of impatience, no gesture of disappointment, as the tricks are carried from the board by his rival. But seldom, even during a run of decided ill luck, have I seen him bite his pale lip slightly and in silence.
* Now look at the count; see with what bitter merriment he shoves the cards towards his adversary-how the stinging gibe, the acid bon mots fall from his lips, each one sufficient to ensure success to a whole act of a modern vaudeville-how he grasps the cards with impatient glee when they have fallen to his share—his keen eye lighting up, and his tall, thin figure rising in his chair, while he pours a burning torrent of witty pun and quolibet into the ear of his neighbour. There is more life in that man, despite of his years, and the hard existence he has led, than in a dozen of the poor, stunted jeunes Frances who surround him.
“The prince and M., are like two schoolboys, hating, dreading each other, yet each one feeling that the presence of the other is needed to bring out his own value; they are steel and Aint, by turns giving and receiving blows, and sending up sparks which dazzle the listener and hold him entranced. The one, cold and reflective, could crush his tormentor, were he but allowed time and opportunity ; while the other, by his great preser.ce of mind, never at fault, his brilliant and pungent satire will sometimes cause his friend to writhe, even while he bears the same placid countenance and the same calm smile.
“An instance of the count's readiness at repartee,"continued my friend, “occurred this very day at dinner. The prosy old dowager-duchess down yonder, with the lavender satin and the marabout head-gear, had been descanting most lengthily upon her genealogy, during the greater part of the repast. Every body was yawning most mournfully, and There were certain symptoms in the brilliant hawk's-eye of M., which
told to all who knew him that he was waiting with impatience for a pounce. The opportunity was not long in presenting itself. The poor old duchess, by dint of twaddling on undisturbed, had arrived at the period preceding the revolutionary war.
“'At which time,' said she, some of our family emigrated to Canada, where a branch still remains to this very day. I have a cousin there who writes to me sometimes. Her name is Mousseline-a curious name, is it not, count ?' Appealing to M., whose
eyes were fixed upon her with foul intent.
“Not at all,' relurned he, quickly, 'I have a cousin called Batiste, you have one called Mousseline ;-rien de plus simple !
“Of course the whole table was convulsed with laughter. The one object was gained; the prosy old duchess was silenced for the rest of dinner, and M. elated by this triumph, was more brilliant and witty than ever. He has made a bitter enemy; but what cares he so long as the old proser does not inflict her ennuyeux bavardage upon him while she remains. Of this there is no fear, for I overheard her servant mention that her carriage must be ready to depart to-morrow. Life is too short, according to M.'s declaration, to waste it in listening to other people's mauvais peste.
“ The career of the Count M has been, like most of the men of note of his own time, checkered with startling gleams of light, with fearful intervals of darkness; but his ready wit and great tact have made him float to this very hour upon the surface of politics, while many of his contemporaries, with infinitely more talent, and certainly more principle, have sunk to rise no more. The man's very life has been, for years past, even to his most intimate friends, a complete mystery. They only know that he is ruined. He has been beggared more than once even during the time that I have known him, but has always risen again, more brilliant and more sparkling than ever. His fire seems verily unquenchable, for it bursts forth from amid the ashes with which poverty and humiliation would fain seek to smother it, and burns with a brighter glow after each fruitless endeavour that his enemies have made to extinguish it altogether.
«« « Mon pauvre ami !' said one of his roué friends to him, after one of the many tornados to which during his life he had been exposed—an execution in his house, and his horses all sold—'mon pauvre ami—que te reste-t-il?'
“« Moi !' exclaimed the count as he turned away, with light, buoyant step, and smiling countenance. In less than a year he was again remonté, in full credit and full success ; his house, as before, the resort of all that was gay and brilliant in the metropolis, himself again the oracle of a wide and fashionable circle. The answer and the result display the character of the man better than whole pages of written biography could do. His faith lies in his own capacity for turning to account the weakness of others, and never has it been deceived.”
“ Who is the tall, thin adversary of the count?" said I, struck with the appearance of the person, as he turned and spoke in a low confidential tone to the prince.
“Oh, that is the Count de F.," said my friend," the antiquated beau of Parisian high life. He is the same gay philanderer, the same
favoured swain, the object of as many fluttering sighs and tender regrets, as he was thirty years ago, when he was in his prime, or forty years ago, when he was young. Some people have affixed a nearer relationship between him and the prince ihan the latter has ever chosen to avow. Be this as it may, the count, whether from this cause, or from the number of years which he has spent in the friendship and society of the Prince de Talleyrand, has imbibed much of his ready wit and cold sarcastic philosophy, and displays them sometimes at the expense of others, with the same reckless disregard of feelings or amour propre. His victims are numerous, but they too are sometimes fully revenged by the prince, with whom he cannot vie, in spite of the florid wit and forked satire in which he will indulge.
“ The poor count had wellnigh been overwhelmed, sunk for ever, on one occasion, by a witticism of Talleyrand, which spread over Paris in an incredibly short space, and filled the heart of the poor old dandy with gall and bitterness. The prince had always rallied the count most unmercifully, upon his absurd pretensions to youth and gallantry, and yet in spite of this, so great is the infatuating effect of love, that the latter was foolish and unguarded enough to mention with great mystery a new conquest which he had made, and upon which he piqued himself not a little. This time it was a lady of talent, rank, and fashion, and he wished most particularly to keep his conquest, now that he had so fairly won it. It was just at the period of the new year, and étrennes were flying in every direction.
“ • I should like to give the lady of my heart something that would please her,' said the count; •do assist me, prince ; what can I procure that would be most rare-something unique of its kind something that is but seldom seen, and of which the like could not be brought to her from any body else.'
“ The prince appeared to reflect for a moment, and the count awaited impatiently for the answer.
... I have it I have it,' at length exclaimed the prince, joyfully. ««« What? tell me quickly, I will go this moment and procure it.'
“• No need to stir,' returned the prince, drily; give her one of the hairs of your head—if you can ;-it must indeed be a thing unique of its kind, and of which none could bring her the fellow.'
“ This allusion to the baldness of the antiquated Adonis was irresistible; the bon mot was sure to be remembered wherever he appeared, and for a long time it drove him from the society of those who had heard it. It was only when he had proved the reality of his pretensions, by the splendid marriage which he made soon after, that he regained confidence, and once more appeared as you now behold him, more soft and cupid-like, more captivating, and more papillonant than ever.
“ The guest who sits opposite to him, his partner in the game, is the celebrated Royer Collard, perhaps, saving our host, the best specimen of the ancien régime now existing in the country. As Talleyrand may be taken as type of the old French nobleman, so may Royer Collard be admitted as specimen of the ancient French gentleman. It is a pleasure to look upon that man, and behold in his calm, open eye, and his broad expanse of forehead, denoting at once the union of genius and benevolence, a perfect corroboration of all the good which one has heard from all parties concerning bim. Throughout every change and form of government under which he has been called into action, he has been remarkable for his inflexible integrity. No swerving—no deviation-no compromise-but straight forward has he marched, without flinching, in the path which he had chosen. It was he who applied to Guizot the epithet which it is said so diverted the king.
“ • Austère intrigant !' exclaimed he, when he heard that Guizot had again accepted office, after his expressed determination not to act with the then existing government. The mot flew from mouth to mouth, and, whether correct or not, was at least successful, which is every thing in Paris.
"I firmly believe Royer Collard to be a true and disinterested friend of the prince. In Paris they live much together ; scarcely a single day being suffered to pass without his paying his visit at the Hôtel Talleyrand. Perhaps he is the only person, amid the crowd by whom the prince is surrounded, in whom the latter places perfect reliance, because with his keen judgment, and great knowledge of human nature, be knows well enough that he is the only one with whom interest will yield to friendship.
“Of course," proceeded my friend C., "the château is sometimes visited, like every other château in the kingdom, by all the facheux' and the importuns' of the country round, and the prince being in a more elevated position than his neighbours, has also more than their share of hospitality to bestow. Just observe yonder old gentleman with the powdered head, looking over' M.'s cards, with a knowing air. That is a near neighbour of the prince, to whom he is compelled by policy to do the honours of the house. It is impossible to behold a better type, of the • Berrichon' whom their own George Sand has so aptly described as moitié ours, moitié mouton.' His estate joins that of Valençay; part of it can be seen from the windows of the gallery of the château, and on looking thence the other day he exclaimed to the Count de M., who was admiring it,
" Mon Dieu, comte, just think: if I had only had the misfortune to lose my father last year I might have bought all the land right away to the left, and made the place worth having !'
“A whole written volume could not paint the Berrichon character more clearly than this single speech. It is verily believed, that were the thing admitted by law, the Berrichon would throw his own children into the balance, if it were necessary to complete a good bargain in the disposal of his sheep.
"You would be much diverted were you to witness all the intriguing and maneuvring that is going forward among the propriétaires and gentilátres of this part of the country, to gain admission here. This château is looked upon with wonder and awe, and its broad bastions and Moorish towers are fabled through the province to contain more dark secrets and more hidden mysteries than ever were confided to the grim keeping of Bastille or Seven Towers. A short time ago the Mayor of C., a large town of this province, at some little distance from this, was invited by the prince to dine at the château, and as the roads were bad, and the nights without moon, he was courteously asked to delay his return home until the following morning. You may inagine the sudden increase of importance, the sudden puffing of pride, with which the worthy mayor accepted the invitation, and also the parting