Obrazy na stronie
PDF
ePub
[blocks in formation]

amusing he is! No, the gentleman I mean wears no moustache.”

“Oh, the tall Englishman with the bright eyes and high forehead,” said the French minister.

“ He is just arrived from the East, I believe."

“ It is a striking countenance,” said Madame de St. Ventadour; there is something chivalrous in the turn of the head. Without doubt, Lord Taunton, he is.

noble.'"

66

66

“ He is what you call 'noble,' replied Lord Taunton; "that is, what we call a 'gentleman;' his name is Maltravers—Mr. Maltravers. He lately came of age, and has, I believe, rather a good property."..

“Monsieur Maltravers, only monsieur !” repeated Madame de St. Ventadour.

Why,” said the French minister, you understand that the English gentilhomme does not require a De or a title to distinguish him from the roturier."

“ I know that; but he has an air above a simple gentilhomme. There is something great in his look--but it is not, I must own, the conventional greatness of rank -perhaps he would have looked the same had he been born a peasant.”

6. You don't think him handsome ?" said Lord Taunton, almost angrily (for he was one of the beauty-men, and beauty-nien are sometimes jealous).

“ Handsome! I did not say that,” replied Madame de St. Ventadour, smiling; “it is rather a fine head than a handsome face. Is he clever, I wonder-but all you English, milord, are well educated.”

" Yes, profound-profound, we are profound, not superficial," replied Lord Taunton, drawing down his wristbands.

Will Madame de St. Ventadour allow me to present to her one of my countrymen ?" said the English minister, approaching—“Mr. Maltravers.”

Madame de St. Ventadour half smiled and half blushed as she looked up, and saw bent admiringly upon her the proud and earnest countenance she had remarked.

The introduction was made-a few monosyllables exchanged. The French diplomatist rose and walked away with the English one. Maltravers succeeded to the vacant chair.

ERNEST ON FRENCH MEMOIRS.

83

"Have you been long abroad ?" asked Madame de St. Ventadour.

“Only four years ; yet long enough to ask whether I should not be most abroad in England.”

“ You have been in the East-I envy you. And Greece, and Egypt-all the associations! you have travelled back into the past you have escaped, as Madame d'Epinay wished, out of civilization and into romance."

“Yet Madame d'Epinay passed her own life in making pretty romances out of a very agreeable civilization," said Maltravers, smiling.

“You know her memoirs, then,” said Madame de St. Ventadour, slightly colouring. " In the current of a more exciting literature, few have had time for the second-rate writings of a past century."

Are not those second-rate performances often the most charming,” said Maltravers, “when the mediocrity of the intellect seems almost as if it were the effect of a touching, though too feeble delicacy of sentiment ? Madame d'Epinay's memoirs are of this character. She was not a virtuous woman, but she felt virtue, and loved it: she was not a woman of genius, but she was tremblingly alive to all the influences of genius. Some people seem born with the temperament and the tastes of genius without its creative powerthey have its nervous system, but something is wanting in the intellectual. They feel acutely, yet express tamely. These persons always have in their character an unspeakable kind of pathos; a court civilization produces many of them; and the French memoirs of the last century are particularly fraught with such examples. This is interesting-this struggle of sensitive minds against the lethargy of a society, dull, yet brilliant, that glares them, as it were, to sleep. It comes home to us; for,” added Maltravers, with a slight change of voice, “how many of us fancy we see our own image in the mirror !"

And where was the German baron ?-dirting at the other end of the room. And the English lord ?-dropping monosyllables to dandies by the doorway. And the minor satellites ? -- dancing, whispering, making love, or sipping lemonade. And Madame de St. Ventadour was alone with the young stranger in a crowd 84 THE BEAUTY'S HUSBAND. of eight hundred persons; and their lips spoke of senti. ment, and their eyes involuntarily applied it!

While they were thus conversing, Maltravers was suddenly startled by hearing, close behind him, a sharp, significant voice, saying in French, “ Hein, hein! I've my suspicions—I've my suspicions."

Madame de St. Ventadour looked round with a smile -“It is only my husband,” said she, quietly—“let me introduce him to you."

Maltravers rose and bowed to a little thin man, most elaborately dressed, with an immense pair of spectacles upon a long sharp nose.

“Charmed to make your acquaintance, sir!" said Monsieur de St. Ventadour. “Have you been long in Naples ? Beautiful weather-won't last long-hein, hein, I've my suspicions! No news as to your parliament-be dissolved soon! Bad opera in London this year; hein, hein, I've my suspicions.”

This rapid monologue was delivered with appropriate gesture. Each new sentence Monsieur de St. Ventadour began with a sort of bow, and when it dropped in the almost invariable conclusion affirmative of his shrewdness and incredulity, he made a mystical sign with his fore finger by passing it upward in a parallel line with hịs nose, which at the same time performed its own part in the ceremony by three convulsive twitches, which seemed to shake the bridge to its base.

Maltravers looked with mute surprise upon the connubial partner of the graceful creature by his side-and Monsieur de St. Ventadour, who had said as much as he thought necessary, wound up his eloquence by expressing the rapture it would give him to see Monsieur Maltravers at his hotel. Then, turning to his wife, he began assuring her of the lateness of the hour and the expediency of departure. Maltravers glided away, and as he gained the door he was seized by our old friend, Lumley Ferrers. “Come, my dear fellow,” said the latter, “I have been waiting for you this half hour. Allons. But, perhaps, as I am dying to go to bed, you have made up your mind to stay supper. Some people have no regard for other people's feelings."

“No, Ferrers, I'm at your service," and the young men descended the stairs and passed along the Chiaja towards their hotel. As they gained the broad and open space on which it stood, with the lovely sea lefore

LUMLEY AND ERNEST.

85

them, sleeping in the arms of the curving shore, Maltravers, who had hitherto listened in silence to the volubility of his companion, paused abruptly.

“Look at that sea, Ferrers. What a scene! what deli. cious air! How soft this moonlight! Can you not fancy the old Greek adventurers when they first colonized this divine Parthenope—the darling of the ocean--gazing along those waves, and pining no more for Greece ?"

“I cannot fancy anything of the sort,” said Ferrers. “And, depend upon it, the said gentlemen, at this hour of the night, unless they were on some piratical excursion, for they were cursed ruffians, those old Greek col. onists, were fast asleep in their beds."

“ Did you ever write poetry, Ferrers ?"

"To be sure; all clever men have written poetry once in their lives-smallpox and poetry--they are our two diseases.”

“ And did you ever feel poetry ?" “ Feel it !"

“Yes; if you put the moon into your verses, did you first feel it shining into your heart ?"

" My dear Maltravers, if I put the moon into my verses, in all probability it was to rhyme to noon. •The night was at her noon' is a capital ending for the first hexameter-and the moon is booked for the next stage. Come in."

“No, I shall stay out." " Don't be nonsensical.” • By moonlight there is no nonsense like common

66

sense.

“What, we who have climbed the pyramids, and sailed up the Nile, and seen magic at Cairo, and been nearly murdered, bagged, and Bosphorized at Constantinople, because you insisted on our following an old woman"

“Ah, don't talk of that my beautiful Georgian !"

“Well, I say, is it for us, who have gone through so many adventures, looked on so many scenes, and crowded into four years events that would have satisfied the appetite of a cormorant in romance, if it had lived to the age of a phenix; is it for us to be doing the pretty and sighing to the moon, like a black-haired apprentice without a neckcloth on board the Margate hoy? Nonsense, I say—we have lived too much not to have lived away our green sickness of sentiment.”

Vol. 1.-H

86 ERNEST VISITS MAD. DE ST. VENTADOUR.

"Perhaps you are right, Ferrers," said Maltravers, smiling. * But I can still enjoy a beautiful night."

“Oh, if you like flies in your soup, as the man said to his guest when he carefully replaced those entomological blackamores in the tureen after helping himself, if you like flies in your soup, well and good-buona

notte."

Ferrers certainly was right in his theory, that when we have known real adventures, we grow less morbidly sentimental. Life is a sleep in which we dream most at the commencement and the close-the middle part absorbs us too much for dreams. But still, as Maltravers said, we can enjoy a fine night, especially on the shores of Naples.

Maltravers paced musingly to and fro for some time. His heart was softened-old rhymes rang in his earold memories passed through his brain. But the soft dark eyes of Madame de St. Ventadour shone forth through every shadow of the past. Delicious intoxication-the draught of the rose-coloured vial—which is fancy, but seems love!

CHAPTER II.

“Then 'gan the Palmer thus— Most wretched man
That to affections dost the bridle lend :
In their beginning they are weak and wan,
But soon, through suffrance, growe to fearfull end;
While they are weak, betimes with them contend."

SPENSER.

MALTRAVERS went frequently to the house of Madame de St. Ventadour-it was open twice a week to the world, and thrice a week to friends. Maltravers was soon of the latter class. Madame de St. Ventadour had been in England in her childhood, for her parents had been émigrés. She spoke English well and fluently, and this pleased Maltravers; for though the French language was sufficiently familiar to him, he was like most who are more vain of their mind than their person, and proudly averse to hazarding his best thoughts in the domino of a foreign language. We don't care how

« PoprzedniaDalej »