Obrazy na stronie
PDF
ePub

Β Ο Ο Κ ΙΙ.

θνητών δόφρα τισ άνθος έχη πολυήρατον ήβης,
Κουφον έχων θυμόν, πολλ' ατέλεστα νοεί.

SIMONIDES in Vit. Hum

“ He, of wide-blooming youth's fair flower possess'd,

Owns the vain thoughts—the heart that cannot resti"

BOOK II.

.

CHAPTER I.

Il y eut certainement quelque chose de singulier dans mes sentimens pour cette charmante femme."-ROUSSEAU.

It was a brilliant ball at the Palazzo of the Austrian embassy at Naples, and a crowd of those loungers, whether young or old, who attach themselves to the reigning beauty, was gathered round Madame de St. Ventadour. Generally speaking, there is more caprice than taste in the election of a beauty to the Italian throne. Nothing disappoints a strạnger more than to see for the first time the woman to whom the world has given the golden apple. Yet he usually falls at last into the popular idolatry, and passes with inconceivable rapidity from indignant 'skepticism into superstitious veneration. In fact, a thousand things besides mere symmetry of feature go to make up the Cytherea of the hour: tact in society-the charm of manner-a nameless and piquant brilliancy. Where the world find the Graces they proclaim the Venus. Few persons attain pre-eminent celebrity for anything, without some adventitious and extraneous circumstances which have nothing to do with the thing celebrated. Some qualities or some circumstances throw a mysterious or personal charm about them. “Is Mr. So-and-So really such a genius?" " Is Mrs. Such-a-One really such a beauty ?" you ask, incredulously. “Oh, yes," is the answer. know all about him or her ? Such a thing is said, or such a thing has happened." The idol is interesting in itself, and therefore its leading and popular attribute is worshipped.

Now Madame de St. Ventadour was at this time the beauty of Naples ; and though fifty women in the room were handsomer, no one would have dared to say so. Even the women confessed her pre-eminence--for she was the most perfect dresser that even France could

• Do you

80

A REIGNING BEAUTY. exhibit. And to no pretensions do ladies ever concede with so little demur, as those which depend upon that feminine art which all study, and in which few excel. Women never allow beauty in a face that has an odd. looking bonnet above it, nor will they readily allow any one to be ugly whose caps are unexceptionable. Madame de St. Ventadour had also the magic that results from intuitive high breeding, polished by habit to the utmost. She looked and moved the grande dame, as if Nature had been employed by Rank to make her so. She was descended from one of the most illustrious houses of France; had married at sixteen a man of equal birth, but old, dull, and pompous—a caricature rather than a portrait of that great French noblesse, now almost, if not wholly extinct. But her virtue was without a blemish--some said from pride, some said from coldness. Her wit was keen and courtlike-lively, yet subdued; for her French high breeding was very differ. ent from the lethargic and taciturn imperturbability of the English. All silent people can seem conventionally elegant. A groom married a rich lady; he dreaded the ridicule of the guests whom his new rank assembled at the tablean Oxford clergyman gave him this piece of advice,“ Wear a black coat and hold your tongue!” The groom took the hint, and is always considered one of the most gentleman-like fellows in the county. Conversation is the touchstone of the true delicacy and subtle grace which make the ideal of the moral mannerism of à court. And there sat Madame St. Ventadour, a little apart from the dancers, with the silent English dandy Lord Taunton, exquisitely dressed and superbly tall, bolt upright behind her chair; and the sentimental German Baron Von Schomberg, covered with orders, whiskered and wigged to the last hair of perfection, sighing at her left hand; and the French minister, shrewd, bland, and eloquent, in the chair at her right; and round alí sides pressed, and bowed, and complimented a crowd of diplomatic secretaries and Italian princes, whose bank is at the gaming-table, whose estates are in their galleries, and who sell a picture, as English gentlemen cut down a wood, whenever the cards grow gloomy. The charming St. Ventadour! she had attraction for them all! smiles for the silent, badinage for the gay, politics for the Frenchman, poetry for the German-the eloquence of loveliness for all! She was looking her best

[blocks in formation]
[ocr errors]

the slightest possible tinge of rouge gave a glow to her transparent complexion, and lighted up those large dark and sparkling eyes (with a latent softness beneath the sparkle), seldom seen but in the French, and widely distinct from the unintellectual languish of the Spaniard, or the full and majestic fierceness of the Italian gaze. Her dress of black velvet, and graceful hat with its princely plume, contrasted the alabaster whiteness of her arms and neck. And what with the eyes, the skin, the rich colouring of the complexion, the rosy lips, and the small ivory teeth, no one would have had the cold hypercriticism to observe that the chin was too pointed, the mouth too wide, and the nose, so beautiful in the front face, was far from perfect in the profile.

“Pray was madame in the Strada Nuova to-day ?" asked the German, with as much sweetness in his voice as if he had been vowing eternal love.

“What else have we to do with our mornings, we women ?" replied Madame de St. Ventadour. life is a lounge from the cradle to the grave, and our afternoons are but the type of our career. A promenade and a crowd, voila tout! We never see the world except in an open carriage.”

• It is the pleasantest way of seeing it,” said the Frenchman, dryly.

J'en doute ; the worst fatigue is that which comes without exercise."

“Will you do me the honour to waltz ?" said the tall English lord, who had a vague idea that Madame de St. Ventadour meant she would rather dance than sit still. The Frenchman smiled.

“Lord Taunton enforces your own philosophy,” said the minister.

Lord Taunton smiled because every one else smiled ; and, besides, he had beautiful teeth ; but he looked anxious for an answer.

“Not to-night, my lord—I seldom dance. Who is that very pretty woman? What lovely complexions the English have ! and who," continued Madame de St. Ventadour, without waiting for an answer to the first question, “who is that gentleman, the young one, I mean, leaning against the door ?''

“ What, with the dark moustache ?" said Lord Taunton; "he is a cousin of mine."

“Oh no, not Colonel Bellfield I know him; how

« PoprzedniaDalej »