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When he overstepped the limits of decorum, no notice was taken of it, or the youug courtiers contented themselves with replying, “ There, there, Father Marcel ! Will your majesty deign to forgive us ?" and that ended all.
One unlucky day, evil chance would have it that the young Duke de Caraman, one of the most brilliant noblemen of the court, took it into his head to go and make his bow to Marcel. He set out from his petite maison in the Fauxbourg du Ternple, with the Chevalier d'Origny, the Marquis d'Escar, and two of the mousquetaires, whose names are not recorded. Their morning had been passed in much hilarity; and although the fumes of champagne were somewhat dissipated by the fresh air, there still remained that degree of excitement which the young nobles of that day held to be a point of bon ton. We do not get drunk now-a-days; we only stupify ourselves with cigirs. Every generation has some anomaly, which it elevates into good man.
The young gentlemen burst into the ante-room simultaneously, and walked into the saloon without announcing themselves : to the great scandal of Marcel's noble visitors, who had always hitherto scrupu. lously observed the programme of the ceremony established by him. When Marcel saw them thus abruptly intrude into his sanctuary, he rose hastily from his arm-chair, filled with indignation, like a high priest of Isis when the mysteries are troubled by profane or uninitiated footsteps. Addressing himself to the duke, who was in advance of his noisy comrades, he said,
" Monsieur le Duc, you are not ignorant that it is the usage not to enter this apartment without being previously announced. I have the greatest respect for your rank, but wlthout withholding any. thing which is your due, I conceive myself entitled to remind you that I have frequently princes waiting their turn in my ante-chamber, and that the reign of equality is recognised in the temple of the arts.”
“Do not be angry, father Jupiter," responded the duke, slapping him familiarly on the shoulder : "what you have said is superbly true. I am conscious that I am obnoxious to the severity of your indignation ; but your sacred majesty must learn that I do not come here to make my lowest reverence ; and the urgency of the occasion has impelled me to omit the ceremonial of usage. The Princess de Guémenée gives a grand ball this evening, at which my friends here and myself are to be present: you have invented some new minuet steps, which are said to be requisite, and we are come to intreat you to oblige us with a short lesson.”
“ This is not the proper time and place, Monsieur le Duc," rejoined Marcel. " You must have perceived that there are several ladies and gentlemen in the next room ; and"
“ The ladies and gentlemen can wait,” interrupted the duke : " it will not occasion two minutes' delay. Besides if you like, they can be invited in with us ; they will be amused, and bear their detention with more good humour."
“ Not so, Monsieur le Duc; I do not desire them to be witnesses of
“ Then let us begin, for we are extremely hurried.”
Marcel considered for a moment; then with perfect calmness, but with a determined accent, he replied,
“ I am anxious to meet your wishes, Monsieur le Duc; but the thing is altogether impossible.
“How, impossible !-You forget whom you are speaking to."
“ That's right,” remarked one of the mousquetaires, as he drew a small pocket-violin, a child's toy, from beneath his cioak, and commenced tuning it with all the gravity imaginable. “ It is indubitably correct that we can't get on without a violin: and lo and be. hold here is one. You see, kind and gracious master, that we have provided for everything. I am not a virtuoso, I admit
, and you will perhaps soon find out that I have not the delicacy of Bordien's touch, nor the strength of Prevot; but we shall get on very well by ear, and by your assistance. If you don't approve of my violin, we can easily procure a trumpet, on which I play indifferently well. Come, Caraman, give your hand to Monsieur Marcel ; D'Origny you must act as cavalier to D’Escar. We will dance a minuet of two couples, so that the lesson will do for all. Take your places; sirs, to your places !”
Marcel was wild with rage; but what could he do? He perceived, by the rapid and vehement utterance and heightened colour of his visitors, that they were not in a condition to listen to reason. He thought besides, that he owed it to his own dignity not to compromise himself with hot-headed young men, who were restrained by no considerations of self-respect, and that the only means of preventing the unpleasant results of such an adventure would be to smooth it over as quietly as possible. In consequence, he yielded; but while he prepared to comply with their demand, he heaved a deep sigh, and raised his eyes as if to call heaven to witness the unworthy violence of which he was a victim.
The Duke de Caraman offered him his hand with unexceptionable elegance, and the lesson began.
We ought here to remark that the duke's figure was anything but a fine one, although he was colonel of a regiment d'élite, in which not one of the privates was less than six feet high. His legs were thin and weak, and when he was closely examined, a slight protiiberance might be perceived between his shoulders, which caused his head to portrude a little. The ladies of the court, by whom he was well received, spoke of his person as charming and distingué; while those to whom he had given offence called him a hump-back. With this excep. tion, he was decidedly a handsome cavalier, witty, brilliant, and very brave, but vain, and exceedingly captious about any allusion to his fig. ure, which he held in the highest esteem, or the antiquity of his family, for which he had the most religious veneration. Thus much premised we will proceed with our narration.
Marcel began his forced lesson with a good grace, although it was easy to perceive, by his knit brow and the convulsive motion of his lips, that he was under the most rigid self-constraint. In his eyes it was an unheard of atrocity, a sort of martyrdom, that he, Marcel the god of the minuet, should be compelled to submit to the caprices of young coxcombs, who had no other merits than that of being born in such a position as to be thenceforward called dukes and marquises !
The soul of the accomplished artist was agonized by the deepest mortification, and nothing but the consciousness of his utter helplessness prevented his breaking into open resistance, and energetically speaking
his sentiments. But it was out of the power of human nature to bear beyond a certain point. The discordant sounds of the vile fiddle, on which the mousquetaire scraped most outrageously, pierced through his ears to his heart; so that after a minute or two, he called out impatiently :
" It is impossible to dance, sir, to such an awful charivari !”
“For all that,” replied the mousquetaire, “I have taken lessons of Grosbois.”
“ And of little Mademoiselle Garsin of the opera,” added the Marquis d'Escar, “who charged him a thousand francs each time.”
“ He paid dearly then," observed Marcel with a cynical smile, for what every one else
gets for nothing. But could not you contrive to play something like a minuet?
“ Why, what else am I doing ?” asked the performer.
“ What are you doing? Mon Dieu! you are crucifying La belle Bourbonnaise."
“ That's true !" they all exclaimed.
“Oh! oh! oh!” screamed one, " I thought it was the saraband of the Nocos de Thetis et Pelée."
“ And I,” roared out another, took it for a Rameau's Danse des Sauvages.
Here they all laughed so that they could scarcely stand. The other mousquetaire then took the violin from his comrade, and handed it to Marcel.
“ You are drunk,” said he ; “let Marcel play."
“What do you mean, sir ?" asked Marcel. “Do you take me for a country dancing.master? Have the goodness to remember that Mar. cel has never touched a violin."
** He is right !” exclaimed the Chevalier d'Origny; "you insult him. It is just as if you should order a mousquetaire to mount a donkey. Monsieur Marcel, compose yourself; I will put all to rights. I flatter myself I have a good voice. I will sing your favourite minuet step, while these gentlemen go through the figure with
Again Marcel did violence to his feelings, impatient as he was to put an end to so scandalous a scene; but it was in vain that he ex• hibited all those demonstrations which were generally listened to with so much deference and respect. It was easy to perceive by the ai. fected awkwardness and smothered laughter of the gentlemen that they had only come to amuse themselves. The old blood of the artist burned in his veins, and soon forgetting the prudence he had hitherto exercised, he gave way to the impetuosity of his wrath, which on this occasion had something of burlesque in it; but it was all thrown away: His exasperated features, and the compar sons he adduced, which were frequently rude and gross enough, only in. creased the hilarity of his pupils, who seemed determined to take it all in good part.
The Duke de Caraman was the one who tried his patience the most severely. For upwards of five minutes Marcel had been doing his best, but without success, to make him hold his hat in a proper manner.
“ Who ever before held a hat in that way?" asked Marcel. “You look as if you were asking for charity, and were ashamed of what you were doing. Turn out the great toe of your right foot, and
stretch your leg forward that is right; it would be better if there were some calf to it. Keep yourself upright now—more, more. chest out, and your head well up.
So saying, he pushed up the duke's head, and pressed his shoulders forward. The duke, who did not like this rough tuition, called out ;
" That 's enough, Monsieur Marcel; that will do. You will dislo. cate my neck !"
“I am only making you straight,” answered Marcel.
“ You will never succeed in that,” observed the Chevalier d'Origny, laughing heartily at the martyrdom of the little duke.
“ You are right, Monsicur le Chevalier,” added Marcel ; “I quite forgot-no one can straighten a hump—"
He did not finish his sentence, or rather its conclusion was drowned in a loud burst of laughter from the duke's friends, who were delighted with the coarse pleasantry which seemed to have petrified their friend and leader.
In fact, the duke had been hit in his most vulnerable spot. He would willingly have borne any raillery upon the other members of his body, as he had too good an opinion of their beauty to dread any criticism thereupon; but to be attacked in his hump!-and before his friends too !—who would instantly go and circulate the remark through every saloon in Paris ! This was too much for his pride and self-love. Trembling with rage, he put his hand to his sword; but a fresh shout of laughter made him pause, while it served to augment his indignation. He struck his sword's hilt violently, as he returned it half-drawn into its sheath, and taking off one of his gloves, he said to Marcel, who was looking at him steadily and seriously;
“ If you were a gentleman, I would answer you with this sword; but as you are only a low conceited fellow, this is the only notice I can take of you."
So saying, he struck each of his cheeks with his glove, which he then threw in his face.
This action, which passed with the rapidity of lightning, instantly put an end to the merriment of his friends. They admired Marcel as an accomplished artist, while they respected him as an excellent man, and they were hurt when they saw him treated in this manner.
“ You have done wrong," said the Marquis d'Escar to the duke. “ A joke should not be retorted by so cruel an insult, particularly to an old man."
“ I have only chastised impertinence. If any one is displeased at it, he has only to say so, and I will give him immediate explanation.”
“ Then it must be to me,” exclaimed each of his friends advancing upon him, while his rage was only increased by the disapprobation of his companions.
While this was passing, Marcel stood motionless, his eyes fixed, his lips pale, as if he had been stricken by a thunderbolt. His features underwent an entire change, and his silence indicated an inward grief that no language had power to express. Two large tears at length ran down his cheeks, and his head fell upon his breast.
The young noblemen came to him, and took him by the hand. They said everything they could imagine to heal the wound his pride had suffered, and to soothe his feelings. But Marcel heard not a word ; his bosom swelled as if with spasms, and his knees shook under him. They led him to his arm.chair, into which he fell exhausted, and
worn out with emotion. His distress was so vehement, that even the duke was softened by it. He saw that he had gone too far, and stepping towards Marcel with a mingled feeling of shame and regret, he tried to repair his wrong by confessing it.
“ No, Monsieur le Duc," replied Marcel, in answer to his apologies, “ the fault is with me alone in forgetting the immense distance which separates a man of your rank from a miserable creature like me. You have killed Marcel-but he has deserved his fate.”
He remained a few minutes without making any reply to the kind and anxious observations of the youths who thronged around him ; then rising with the air and manner of a person who has just come to an irrevocable decision, he stepped firmly to the folding-doors of his saloon, which he flung open, and invited all the company in the outer room to enter, and then ordered his musician to be sent for. When the latter made his appearance, Marcel bowed gracefully and respectfully to the youngest and handsomest lady of the circle, and requested she would do him the honour of dancing with him.
This unexpected proposition was received with a gratified murmur of applause ; for it was a long time since any one had seen Marcel dance, and no one could guess the cause of this sudden caprice. The musician, by his direction, played the first bars of Rameau's famous minuet in Les Indes Galantes ; Marcel made the grand salute to his partner with that grace which was peculiar to him alone, and the minuet commenced.
Never before had this celebrated dancer displayed such talent ; never had the elegance of his attitudes and the elasticity of his move. ment excited such sincere admiration. His feet traced the most beau. tiful figures on the floor ; the spectators held their breath, while their eyes devoured his steps, which were followed by a slight buzz of sur. prise and pleasure; for they feared to interrupt their enjoyment by giving utterance to it. It was not till the conclusion, when Marcel had made his last salute, that the hall rung with the most enthusiastic and heartfelt plaudits ; they crowded round him, and almost suffocated him with the warmth of their congratulations. The great Condé, after the battle of Rocroy, was not surrounded with more homage.
“ Ladies and gentlemen,” said Marcel, when the first burst of en. thusiasm had somewhat subsided, “ glory is a sweet sensation, and I wished to taste it once again. I was too happy, and too proud of my art ; but my
has been tarnished by disgrace—my career is now over. Adieu, ladies! gentlemen, adieu! Marcel has danced his last minuet!"
A week after this scene Marcel was no more !