« AnteriorContinuar »
possible to attend the opening of the hunting season, on which occasion the Marquis de Montrevel had written to me, about the middle of July, a most amiable and pressing letter, reminding me of what he pleased to call my desertion, and saying, moreover, that he depended upon my arrival on the 31st of August; adding that, except in case of my sudden death, he would accept no refusal. Two of my friends -MM. de Clermont and de Mandelot--and one of my neighboursthe Count de Rully-had also received invitations; and we all agreed to meet on the road, to be ready to continue the remainder of our journey together, at the Hotel des Trois Faisans, at Châlons-surSaône. We were all as punctual as possible. As it struck nine by the clock of Saint Vincent, four post-chaises rattled over the pave ment of the main street in Mâcon. The two first that arrived contained the two masters; in the two which followed were their four valets-de-chambre. Our hunters had all been sent on the day before, with our grooms. As soon as we had alighted at the hotel, the maitre-de-poste came to tell us, with a most piteous air, that he had not a single horse left in his stable; for, since the evening before, he had taken no less than twenty carriages to the Château de Châlet. We began to be rather in despair at this misfortune, which threatened to hinder our arrival in time for supper, when we suddenly perceived coming, in the distance, an outrider in the livery of Montrevel. He was followed by five postillions, and ten horses belonging to the noble Marquis, who had foreseen our dilemma, and had provided for it, with his habitual kindness. The postillions were neat, light fellows, with clear, rosy countenances: the horses were all black stallions, prancing and neighing all the way they went; they resembled wild boars in their impetuosity. In the twinkling of an eye, the horses were put-to; the outriders started off at a grand trot, and the carriagehorses at a hand-gallop, as we passed over the bridge of Mâcon, in the midst of a crowd of people, who saluted us with cheers. We were regular lions, in their estimation; for we were going to the château of Monsieur le Gouverneur, and we were attended by his servants and horses. We performed the distance of six good leagues within the two hours, along roads far different from those of the present day; and we arrived at Châles just at the edge of night.
The day had been very hot, and the evening was one of extreme mildness. All the windows of the château were thrown open, and as we proceeded rapidly along the road through the park, it had a most charming effect to see throughout the whole suite of rooms, already lighted up and full of company, the different groups passing and repassing, the pretty profiles of the women upon the transparent window-curtains, and the mysterious conversations carried on upon two or three balconies, which would give you the idea that they had been expressly contrived for the discreet purposes of a tête-à-tête. At the sound of our postillions' whips, all the windows became immediately peopled as if by enchantment, and each of us searched amongst the groups for a souvenir or a hope.
We were received in the hall by the Marquis himself, who did not consider it in any way degrading to his character as governor, nor in the least mul-apropos for a man of his age to come down and welcome
his four visitors, so much younger than himself. I presented to him the Comte de Rully, who had now arrived at Châles for the first time; and our amiable host immediately conducted us to the apartments which had been destined for us. An hour after, we were shaved, dressed, powdered, and perfumed; our travelling surtouts having been exchanged for elegant coats of rich braided silk; and, with our swords by our sides, and our hats under our arms, we made our entré into the drawing-room. Here were assembled every man who was agreeable and distingué, and every woman who was charming that could be found within fifty miles of the place. There was le Comte de Thiard, a perfect model of a grand seigneur at the end of the eighteenth century— that is to say, as polished and brilliant as the Duc de Lauzun-Biron, whose intimate friend he was; moreover, he was as great a thinker as Vauvenargues himself. Then there was the Marquis de Galiffet, a gentleman of the old school, and a sworn enemy to all new ideas which were beginning to undermine the old French society; besides le Comte de la Guiche, le Marquis and le Comte de Fussey, two of the most undeniable chasseurs of their day, and whose active existence was one continued hallali! We had also le Comte Edme de Foudras Couranay, my cousin ; the Viscomte de Sassenay, who was witty as Rivarol, and as great a stickler in politics as Lauragnais; besides Monseigneur du Chilloux, Bishop of Châlons-sur-Saône, a fashionable prelate of the Des Jarente and Des Bernis schools; and my excellent friend the Curé de Chapaize, who was talking at a little distance with General de Balathier. The ladies were Mesdames de Mandelot, de la Guiche, de Montagnard, de Sénozan, de Messey, de la Rodde, d'Apchier, the two nieces of the Bishop of Châlons, ravishing creatures, who led gaily a voluntary celibacy; also the élite of the chapter-house of Neuville-les-Dames, composed of four canonesses, of whom one alone was sufficient to set the world on fire, as Madame de Sévigné said of her grand-daughter, la Marquise de Simiane. So much gracefulness, wit, and beauty and coquetry was to be discovered amongst all these lovely women, that it would suffice to indemnify all the fools and frights in the world. They dreamt of nothing but pleasing, and, sure to succeed, they appeared open to no petty jealousies. nor susceptible to the least chagrin which could possibly arise from wounded vanity. Life for them was as bright as one of the plumes of their head-dress, and as brilliant as one of the diamonds in their necklaces. At nine o'clock precisely the drawingroom doors were thrown open, and the Maître d'Hotel, with his sword by his side, came to announce that supper was served. The gentlemen immediately offered their hands to the ladies, and we all marched immediately into the "salle-à-manger.
As soon as the company had risen from table, the sound of the postillions' whips was again heard echoing through the avenne of the château, and in a little time the arrival of a new guest was announced to the Marquis de Montrevel. The Marquis immediately descended to receive him. When he had returned to the drawing-room, his countenance, habitually serene, had assumed a visible expression of displeasure. I was one of the first to perceive it, and begged of him to tell me what had annoyed him. "for
"I feel exceedingly disgusted, my dear cousin," he said to me; a complete Mar-joy has arrived."
"It is not that disagreeable Irishman who was here last year, is it?" "It really is. I had taken great pains not to have him invited, but he seems to have an instinctive knowledge of the regularity of the epoque of our réunions, and he has arrived from the very farthest part of Italy to join us.
"How will he manage with Clermont ?"
"Ma foi! I hardly know; but I feel perfectly annoyed about it. However, we have got rid of him for this evening, for I have luckily persuaded him to go to bed."
This Irishman, who is still living, and who for that reason I will designate under the title of Lord James, had arrived at Châles the year before, and he had made himself perfectly insupportable to every one by his affectation, his susceptibility, and his vulgar pretensions. He had fancied himself in love with the charming Comtesse de Sénozan, who could not endure him, and he had imbibed the most bitter hatred for le Comte de Clermont, who was her lover. Clermont, who was thoroughly a man of the world, had kept his temper in such good command that these two rivals had been prevented from assuming a warlike attitude; but he had sworn, by his passion, that if Lord James had the effrontery to return the following year, he would just try to teach him his proper standing; and this was what had caused so much uneasiness to our worthy host.
"Gentlemen," said the Marquis to us, "I wish you would come down stairs with me, and arrange about the hunting to-morrow, whilst the ladies decide how the evening is to be finished."
As it was an established custom, we replied to the Marquis's request by immediately all following him into the hall. Here we found the "chef d'equipage" and the four piqueurs belonging to the Marquis, all five in their hunting costume and cap in hand.
"Well, Renaud," said the Marquis to his "chef d'equipage," "shall we have a good day to-morrow?"
"I think we shall, Monsieur le Marquis," respectfully answered the old servant; 66 for the weather seems to be much cooler than it has been to-day."
"What discoveries have you made in the wood to-day?"
"I have found a great many deer, both stags and hinds, in the underwood of Cézériat, and we can depend upon harbouring one of them alone, which will afford us a run. La Brisée has remis two companies of wildboars, which have been for the last fortnight near the ponds of Pontbriand. L'Epine still says that the wolf is in the Terre Rouge,' and La Plaine has seen a fine old brocart, which it appears has not been disturbed from the brushwood of La Charmée."
Monsieur Renaud having thus made his report, with a clearness and laconism worthy of a staff-officer, waited the decision of his master. "Make your own choice, gentlemen," said the Marquis," as he turned towards us, and recognised our satisfaction at this brilliant bill of fare.
"I think we should by all means commence with a stag," observed the Comte de Fussey, with whom, when he was about to give his advice on any matter relative to the chase, it was precisely the same thing as it was when the old Duc de Richelieu had decided that a woman was pretty all the fashionable world cried Amen.
It was then decided that the piqueurs should go in the morning, pour faire le bois in the underwood of Cézériat, and orders were given in
Nothing spreads so fast as bad news-excepting, perhaps, any secret -consequently when we were all once more assembled in the drawingroom, we found the women all in a perfect consternation at the arrival of Lord James. United like a herd of deer in one group, they communicated their grievances in low voices, so as not to distress their excellent host; and when I approached them, they immediately received me into their confidence.
"We shall be no longer able to laugh in the presence of that impudent-looking face," said la Comtesse de Mandelot, as she showed thirtytwo of the prettiest teeth in the kingdom.
"And I am quite sure that it will be impossible to perform in comedy before so slanderous a spectator," added Madame de Montagnard, who had just spent a fortnight in Paris expressly to study the rôle of Célemène.
"My dear Comtesse," said Madame de la Guiche to Madame Sénozan, "you really ought to devote yourself to the cause, by flirting a little with him: you will quite intoxicate him, and then he will become as agreeable and amiable as the rest of the world."
"I tried last year," answered the Comtesse, "and you see what a happy result I have obtained."
"It is horribly annoying; it is truly desolating. I wish we could get rid of him," uttered all the ladies in chorus, but still in perfect whispers.
"Do you wish to know how to get rid of him," I inquired, in my turn. "Well, I will tell you."
"You?" "You ?" "You?" they all cried at once. tell how."
"That is my secret," I exclaimed, with an affectedly mysterious look. "It will be enough for you all to know that he will not sleep here to-morrow night; and as to spending the day, you will only be annoyed by his presence during breakfast. One thing alone is necessary for my plan to succeed, and that is that Madame la Comtesse de Sénozan will consent to follow the chase."
"That was my intention," answered la Comtesse, with astonishment. "And moreover, that she will condescend to ride the mare belonging to my piqueur Denis."
"I will ride her," said la Comtesse, resolutely, who was one of the best horsewomen in France.
"Now, ladies, I am sure of my game. And you shall be free from your tormentor," I added, in a tone of profound satisfaction.
That promise brought back the wonted smiles which radiated their lovely countenances, and the evening passed away with undiminished gaiety. It was not, however, from the full conviction that my plan would absolutely succeed, but there was a certain mystery in my project; and when there is a mystery conjured up in the imaginations of women, you are invariably certain to please them, and to occupy their thoughts agreeably.
When every one had retired for the night, I went to look for Clermont in his bedroom, and I told him in confidence my plan, because it
was necessary to gain his acquiescence. He came into my views immediately upon the subject, and he also hinted that it would be as well to obtain the consent as well of Monsieur de Sénozan, excellent man! who invariably went out fishing when his lady went hunting. The next morning, when the clock of the château struck nine, we all met in the "salle-à-manger." The ladies who were going to join us in the chase were habited en Amazone; all the men, with the exception of the Curé de Chapaize, wore the costume adopted at the réunions of Châles, viz., a coat of skyblue, braided all over, breeches made of white doeskin, casimir waistcoat, bottes-à-chaudron, and chapeau-à-lampion, trimmed with silver lace like the coat, with couteau-de-chasse in a red velvet scabbard, with an ebony handle, carved, and inlaid with silver.
The presence of Lord James was highly disagreeable to all the party; nevertheless, when he entered the salle-à-manger, each of us received him with politeness. According to his usual custom, he responded coldly to our proffered kindness, as he searched along the row of visitors for the recognition of Madame de Sénozan, who was already seated at table between Clermont and me. She gave Lord James a graceful smile, and he had the audacity and bad taste to seat himself exactly opposite to her.
"My Lord," said the Marquis, "I have given orders to have four horses from my stable at your command to-day."
"I am exceedingly obliged, Monsieur le Marquis," responded the Irishman, "but I would rather not be mounted on French horses, as they can neither gallop nor jump; besides, I have sent for four of mine own from Ireland: I believe they have arrived upon yesterday, By the way, Monsieur le Marquis, our country is famous for good hunters; and if you feel inclined to be a purchaser, I will sell the whole of them to you a bargain."
The whole party looked with surprise at each other, and seemed to wonder whether it was usual in good society in England to admit amongst them men who were no better than common horse-dealers, however well allied they might pretend to be.
"Will Madame la Comtesse allow me to attach myself to her suite this morning?" demanded Lord James of Madame de Sénozan.
"I shall be charmed," replied la Comtesse, with whom Clermont and I had some little conversation before breakfast.
"My Lord," I said, in my turn, "Madame de Sénozan has done me the honour to say she will ride one of my horses, a poor little mare, that could walk under the body of one of your hunters: I hope you will have some pity on her."
"I have no intention to ride before her," returned the Irishman, with some appearance of rather bad humour; "therefore it is to her, and not to me, that you ought to appeal for the indulgence towards your beast."
Thus matters rested. We now rose from table, and proceeded to the great court, where the reunion was to take place, before setting out for the day's amusement. The tableaux which the steps before the house and the court below offered to our view were magnificent, and I cannot resist the pleasure of giving you a short description of it. The court was in form of a horse-shoe, and enclosed by a very handsome iron gate, beyond which lay a lawn surrounded by a grove