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It was upon the following day, at about three o'clock in the afternoon, that an elegant coupe, with four post-horses, postillions in blue and scarlet jackets, laced hats, and bare legs stuffed (according to custom immemorial) in their enormous jack-boots-whips high brandished, and loud cracking in the air—their steeds scampering from side to side in all the wild liberty of long loose rope harness, drove at full gallop up to the great entrance of the silent, dreary chateau de Montalembert.
Two piqueurs, in liveries gay and gaudy, of blue, orange, and silver, fashioned according to the last mode of Parisian taste in these matters, preceded the carriage; one of whom, dismounting with a prodigious air of hurry and importance, applied himself vigorously to the castle bell. The bell, heavy, ponderous, and solemn of tone, awakened with reluctance from the long slumber of years, and rocking uneasily to the sharp and hasty pulls of the jockey, made the old walls ring again with loud and dissonant clangour ; scaring the innocent birds, who had long settled quietly in the caves, from their dwellings; startling the herdsmen even on the distant hills; and terrifying old Paul (who, with little employment in his original vocation of porter, officiated as sweeper and weeder) out of his green retreats in the garden.
Shouldering his everlasting broom, the poor old man rai), as fast as his failing and trembling knees could carry him, to the great entrance; and, opening a little wicket on the side of the greater gate, he presented his small withered face, where still the frosty red lingered-hissnow-white hair confined in a queue-his attenuated figure, and hose "a world too wide," before the gay, gallant footman of the Chaussée d'Antin.
Amazed at the splendour he beheld, the poor old man stood silent for a few seconds, dazzled, as if the sun had been shining in his eyes. Presently, however, he rallied his spirits, and lifting up his shrill treble pipes, inquired,
“Who was there?"
“M. Guibert, on a visit to the Marquis de Montalembert," was the reply of a most magnificent coxcomb, who sat lounging at his ease behind the carriage.
“I do not know whether M. le Marquis be at home," said the old man, his voice quivering with the trembling accents of age that has been long unused to communication with strangers; “but I will go see.”
“You may spare yourself the trouble, my good father,"
said a gentleman within the coupe, now letting down the glass, and putting his head out of the window; “the marquis will be at home to me. So open the gates and let my carriage come in.”
The porter, long accustomed to the etiquettes of his office, submitted in silence to the command he received; and began endeavouring with his feeble hands to lift the rusted bolts which fastened the splendid folds of richly-twisted iron-work, for so many years unclosed-a task far beyond his powers; but the gay piqueurs, giving their horses to the postillions, flew to his assistance, and applied their strength to bar and bolt.
Slow on their creaking hinges swung the ponderous doors. The postillions once more waved and cracked their whips on high; the horses pranced, curvetted, and ran this way and that, and M. Guibert, in his coupe and four, dashed full gallop through the grass-grown and desolate courtyard, and stopped with a flourish before the silent, mournful, weather-stained, yet still magnificent, grand front of the chateau de Montalembert.
The pointed towers, the long large windows, the flanking stables and outhouses, the seigneurial pigeon-house, all still-cold-dreary-and presenting the strongest possible contrast with the gaudy, bustling, flashy appearance of the company-master and servants, horses and postillions, which had, with such sudden eruption, disturbed its tranquillity.
The unusual, almost astounding clang of the great bell, had already summoned M. Champagne to the hall door. Impatiently and anxiously he looked through the side windows, and discerning the extraordinary apparition which had produced this extraordinary summons, he made haste to undo lock, bolt, and bar-to throw open the dark panels of gilded oak, and to present himself at the top of the wide stone steps, to receive these unexpected guests.
He stood in a flutter between terror, surprise, and joy; when now, after, maybe, a dozen or fifteen years of total abstinence, his eyes were once more saluted by the perspective of a genuine Parisian coupe, approaching, as he expressed himself, in a manner tout comme il faut.
There he stood in the calm dignity of head domestic of the household, expecting the usual demand of M. le Marquis, est-il visible ?
But M. Guibert waited for no such ceremony; signing to his servants to open the carriage-door, he descended without further preamble-and, mounting the steps with the agility of a very well set gentleman of fifty-five, prepared to enter the house, saying to M. Champagne, with an air of the most careless indifference, “Tell M. de Montalembert that M. Guibert is come.”
And so saying, he walked straight into the house; and followed Champagne, who, perfectly astounded at this cavalier way of proceeding, made full speed for the apartment of the marquis.
“M. Guibert is come!" cried Champagne, as commanded, in a loud clear voice.
And he flung open the library door.
But not Don Juan, when the statue of the Commander, all palpable in living stone, presented itself in acceptance of his invitation, could feel, or could appear so transfixed with surprise and horror, as did the marquis, when this rather ordinary-looking and very well-dressed French gentleman walked into the room.
He started from his chair, his eyes distended with astonishment, his hair almost erect, his arms stretched out, as if to waive from him some horrible vision.
There he stood, like some fine tragic actor, arrested in the very ecstasy of distress and dismay; while M. Guibert, without appearing to regard, or even to perceive, the passion he had excited, entered the apartment with the utmost sangfroid, and, approaching the marquis, saluted him in a manner rather familiar than cordial, saying,
"I thank you for your warning-it was not thrown away,. you see. ' I quite agree with you—it was high time that I should appear. The peach must be ripe, and it is better plucked. Such things ill bear keeping-I quite agree with you, and so—me voilà !”
The offended pride-the loathing—the detestation which this address appeared to excite in the bosom of the haughty marquis, mocks description. Much of it found expression in his countenance, as, recovering his usual attitude, he drew himself up to receive his guest ; far more was, however, by an evident effort, repressed.
It was evident that Monsieur Guibert, however great a stranger he might be to Champagne, was no stranger to his master; and that, though a most unwelcome, he was not altogether an unexpected, guest. It was evident, too, that, haughty and arrogant as was Montalembert's usual manner to those that he disliked, he did not choose to display this in its full perfection upon this occasion. Cold he looked, and distant he tried to look ; but his usual insulting pride had forsaken him.
For some reason or other, it was evident that the marquis did not care to offend M. Guibert; who, apparently careless whether he pleased or not, and appearing to use towards, and to expect as little ceremony from, Montalembert, as if they had parted but the night before on the most intimate terms , -without waiting for a reply, or, indeed, allowing time for the marquis to make one, while slightly stri.
king the dust from his boots with an elegant cane which he held in his hand, thus continued :
“ No doubt you have duly received those annual letters with which I took the liberty of refreshing your memory."
“ And you may, perhaps, wonder that I have not made my appearance earlier. But security and indifference, in matters belonging to the court of love, or rather of Hymen, are, you know, convertible terms. I believe I relied upon your honour,” with a peculiar emphasis upon the word, « and, in this reliance, thought it well to enjoy life en garçon, while garçon I remained, without plaguing myself with the ten thousand odd ideas to which a visit at your castle might have given rise. My destiny being as irrevocably fixed as that of any prince married in his swaddlingclothes, it was useless to bother myself with the image of my prélendue, which, I confess, it would have annoyed me to find unpleasing-for I have never washed the romance thoroughly out of my composition, and I fear I never shall. Fantastic ideas of domestic happiness,-a perfect dream, I own, in our days,—will at times perplex me. I have spared myself, however, all uneasiness upon that head by preserving a resolute ignorance upon the subject ; and now I am come, as well prepared to jump in blindfold as any welldisciplined aristocrat of you all.”
The marquis had been silent, not so much from indisposition as from absolute incapacity to speak and interrupt this harangue; he was positively choked and rendered speechless by the host of emotions that were struggling within his bosom.
When at length, however, M. Guibert came to an end, he made a violent effort to conceal, if not to conquer, his feelings; and that pride which, whether for evil or for good, never deserted him, coming to his assistance, he was enabled to recover his presence of mind, and the dignity of external politeness at least.
So he began to pay some of those trivial compliments with which one gentleman greets another with whom he is slightly acquainted, endeavouring thus to establish a distance between himself and his audacious guest-but M Guibert did not seem at all inclined to take it so.
“I have travelled,” he continued, in reply to some trifling inquiry of this nature,“ without stopping-for, 'faith, when I saw your notice, I began to suspect that some flies were buzzing about my rose. Now as, among my other good qualities, I pique myself upon being furiously jealous, this did not suit me at all-especially as, according to my above confession, I have indulged in certain romantic dreams of domestic happiness—that is to say, if I prove so fortunate as to find the young lady to my taste.”
“M. Guibert," said the marquis, now pushed beyond his patience, “it is very long since you and I met-I am in your power, sir, I acknowledge it-but this grimalkin way of tore menting my feelings does not suit me.”
“ Your feelings !” said Guibert" Oh! I had forgotten that you had feelings!.... the effect of solitude; bad thing ! shutting yourself up in this absurd manner-nurses feeling-I beg your pardon. This (rising and walking to the window) really might be made a beautiful place of yours if you could persuade yourself to do away with all this French gardening ; the English taste seems to be advancing among us-a good thing, if it bring us down to our estates
but you seem to have buried yourself here till you really know nothing. Bad gardening-bad farming-poor stock --no population-no industry-wooden shoes-miserable roads--fields in wretched order--no alternation of crops... The advances they are making in some parts of the country are really wonderful; but here you are ages behind the rest of the world. Semi-barbarous, if one may judge by the miserable dens called houses which one sees in your dog-holes, misnamed hamlets,-bad-bad-all very bad.”
M. Guibert ran on to himself :-it was well ; Montalembert was again choking with the miserable irritation of feeling which this discourse called up. He sat as if the agonies of ages were concentrated in the present moment, those agonies rendered yet more terrible by the deadly struggle to conceal them.
However, after a few seconds, he seemed once more to have taken his resolution, and, approaching the window, willing at any expense of effort to ward off one subject at least, he said something about the view, or the trees, or the hills, or the state of France, and so at last he got to politics-a good subject, in so far that there seemed not the slightest danger that he and M. Guibert should, on this, ever come to a conclusion; at least to that conclusion which arises from harmony of views
It must be unnecessary to say, that the Marquis de Montalembert was an exaggerated ultra-royalist; and that his opinions, exasperated by solitary musings, went even beyond the prejudices of the most prejudiced of his day.
M. Guibert, on the contrary, professed the utmost liberalism, in every sense in which that word can be used or misused. No latitude of opinion was too wide for him-were it in religion, in politics, in manners, or in morals. He regarded religion with that daring, contemptuous indifference, which it is the disgraceful fashion of his times and country to avow. That marvellous blindness to the vast importance of the subject; its appalling mysteries, its illimitable powers, which, natural as it may appear amid the lively flutter of a profligate court, such as theirs once was-strikes us