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- A Modern Telemachus - 2/31 -
'Very, very much greater. They call mamma Madame l'Ambassadrice; and she is having three complete new dresses made. See, there are la bonne and Laurent talking. It is English, and if we go near with our cups and balls we shall hear all about it. Laurent always knows, because my uncle tells him.'
'You must call him La Juenesse now he is made mamma's lackey. Is he not beautiful in his new livery?'
'Be still now, brother; I want to hear what they are saying.'
This may sound somewhat sly, but French children, before Rousseau had made them the fashion, were kept in the background, and were reduced to picking up intelligence as best they could without any sense of its being dishonourable to do so; and, indeed, it was more neglect than desire of concealment that left their uninformed.
This was in 1719, four years after the accession of Louis XV., a puny infant, to the French throne, and in the midst of the Regency of the Duke of Orleans. The scene was a broad walk in the Tuileries gardens, beneath a closely-clipped wall of greenery, along which were disposed alternately busts upon pedestals, and stone vases of flowers, while beyond lay formal beds of flowers, the gravel walks between radiating from a fountain, at present quiescent, for it was only ten o'clock in the forenoon, and the gardens were chiefly frequented at that hour by children and their attendants, who, like Estelle and Ulysse de Bourke, were taking an early walk on their way home from mass.
They were a miniature lady and gentleman of the period in costume, with the single exception that, in consideration of their being only nine and seven years old, their hair was free from powder. Estelle's light, almost flaxen locks were brushed back from her forehead, and tied behind with a rose-coloured ribbon, but uncovered, except by a tiny lace cap on the crown of her head; Ulick's darker hair was carefully arranged in great curls on his back and shoulders, as like a full- bottomed wig as nature would permit, and over it he wore a little cocked hat edged with gold lace. He had a rich laced cravat, a double- breasted waistcoat of pale blue satin, and breeches to match, a brown velvet coat with blue embroidery on the pockets, collar, and skirts, silk stockings to match, as well as the knot of the tiny scabbard of the semblance of a sword at his side, shoes with silver buckles, and altogether he might have been a full-grown Comte or Vicomte seen through a diminishing glass. His sister was in a full-hooped dress, with tight long waist, and sleeves reaching to her elbows, the under skirt a pale pink, the upper a deeper rose colour; but stiff as was the attire, she had managed to give it a slight general air of disarrangement, to get her cap a little on one side, a stray curl loose on her forehead, to tear a bit of the dangling lace on her arms, and to splash her robe with a puddle. He was in air, feature, and complexion a perfect little dark Frenchman. The contour of her face, still more its rosy glow, were more in accordance with her surname, and so especially were the large deep blue eyes with the long dark lashes and pencilled brows. And there was a lively restless air about her full of intelligence, as she manoeuvred her brother towards a stone seat, guarded by a couple of cupids reining in sleepy-looking lions in stone, where, under the shade of a lime-tree, her little petticoated brother of two years old was asleep, cradled in the lap of a large, portly, handsome woman, in a dark dress, a white cap and apron, and dark crimson cloak, loosely put back, as it was an August day. Native costumes were then, as now, always worn by French nurses; but this was not the garb of any province of the kingdom, and was as Irish as the brogue in which she was conversing with the tall fine young man who stood at ease beside her. He was in a magnificent green and gold livery suit, his hair powdered, and fastened in a queue, the whiteness contrasting with the dark brows, and the eyes and complexion of that fine Irish type that it is the fashion to call Milesian. He looked proud of his dress, which was viewed in those days as eminently becoming, and did in fact display his well-made figure and limbs to great advantage; but he looked anxiously about, and his first inquiry on coming on the scene in attendance upon the little boy had been -
'The top of the morning to ye, mother! And where is Victorine?'
'Arrah, and what would ye want with Victorine?' demanded the bonne. 'Is not the old mother enough for one while, to feast her eyes on her an' Lanty Callaghan, now he has shed the marmiton's slough, and come out in old Ireland's colours, like a butterfly from a palmer? La Jeunesse, instead of Laurent here, and Laurent there.'
La Pierre and La Jeunesse were the stereotyped names of all pairs of lackeys in French noble houses, and the title was a mark of promotion; but Lanty winced and said, 'Have done with that, mother. You know that never the pot nor the kettle has blacked my fingers since Master Phelim went to the good fathers' school with me to carry his books and insinse him with the larning. 'Tis all one, as his own body-servant that I have been, as was fitting for his own foster-brother, till now, when not one of the servants, barring myself and Maitre Hebert, the steward, will follow Madame la Comtesse beyond the four walls of Paris. "Will you desert us too, Laurent?" says the lady. "And is it me you mane, Madame," says I, "Sorrah a Callaghan ever deserted a Burke!" "Then," says she, "if you will go with us to Sweden, you shall have two lackey's suits, and a couple of louis d'or to cross your pocket with by the year, forbye the fee and bounty of all the visitors to M. le Comte." "Is it M. l'Abbe goes with Madame?" says I. "And why not," says she. "Then," says I, "'tis myself that is mightily obliged to your ladyship, and am ready to put on her colours and do all in reason in her service, so as I am free to attend to Master Phelim, that is M. l'Abbe, whenever he needs me, that am in duty bound as his own foster- brother." "Ah, Laurent," says she, "'tis you that are the faithful domestic. We shall all stand in need of such good offices as we can do to one another, for we shall have a long and troublesome, if not dangerous journey, both before and after we have met M. le Comte."'
Estelle here nodded her head with a certain satisfaction, while the nurse replied -
'And what other answer could the son of your father make--Heavens be his bed--that was shot through the head by the masther's side in the weary wars in Spain? and whom could ye be bound to serve barring Master Phelim, that's lain in the same cradle with yees--'
'Is not Victorine here, mother?' still restlessly demanded Lanty.
'Never you heed Victorine,' replied she. 'Sure she may have a little arrand of her own, and ye might have a word for the old mother that never parted with you before.'
'You not going, mother!' he exclaimed.
''Tis my heart that will go with you and Masther Phelim, my jewel; but Madame la Comtesse will have it that this weeny little darlint'-- caressing the child in her lap--'could never bear the cold of that bare and dissolute place in the north you are bound for, and old Madame la Marquise, her mother, would be mad entirely if all the children left her; but our own lady can't quit the little one without leaving his own nurse Honor with him!'
'That's news to me intirely, mother,' said Lanty; 'bad luck to it!'
Honor laughed that half-proud, half-sad laugh of mothers when their sons outgrow them. 'Fine talking! Much he cares for the old mother if he can see the young girl go with him.'
For Lanty's eyes had brightened at sight of a slight little figure, trim to the last degree, with a jaunty little cap on her dark hair, gay trimmings to the black apron, dainty shoes and stockings that came tripping down the path. His tongue instantly changed to French from what he called English, as in pathetic insinuating modulations he demanded how she could be making him weary his very heart out.
'Who bade you?' she retorted. 'I never asked you to waste your time here!'
'And will ye not give me a glance of the eyes that have made a cinder of my poor heart, when I am going away into the desolate north, among the bears and the savages and the heretics?'
'There will be plenty of eyes there to look at your fine green and gold, for the sake of the Paris cut; though a great lumbering fellow like you does not know how to show it off!'
'And if I bring back a heretic bru to break the heart of the mother, will it not be all the fault of the cruelty of Mademoiselle Victorine?'
Here Estelle, unable to withstand Lanty's piteous intonations, broke in, 'Never mind, Laurent, Victorine goes with us. She went to be measured for a new pair of slices on purpose!'
'Ah! I thought I should disembarrass myself of a great troublesome Irishman!'
'No!' retorted the boy, 'you knew Laurent was going, for Maitre Hebert had just come in to say he must have a lackey's suit!'
'Yes,' said Estelle, 'that was when you took me in your arms and kissed me, and said you would follow Madame la Comtesse to the end of the world.'
The old nurse laughed heartily, but Victorine cried out, 'Does Mademoiselle think I am going to follow naughty little girls who invent follies? It is still free to me to change my mind. Poor Simon Claquette is gnawing his heart out, and he is to be left concierge!'
The clock at the palace chimed eleven, Estelle took her brother's hand, Honor rose with little Jacques in her arms, Victorine paced beside her, and Lanty as La Jeunesse followed, puffing out his breast, and wielding his cane, as they all went home to dejeuner.
Twenty-nine years before the opening of this narrative, just after the battle of Boyne Water had ruined the hopes of the Stewarts in Ireland, Sir Ulick Burke had attended James II. in his flight from Waterford; and his wife had followed him, attended by her two faithful servants, Patrick Callaghan, and his wife Honor, carrying her mistress's child on her bosom, and her own on her back.
Sir Ulick, or Le Chevalier Bourke, as the French called him, had no scruple in taking service in the armies of Louis XIV. Callaghan followed him everywhere, while Honor remained a devoted attendant on her lady, doubly bound to her by exile and sorrow.
Little Ulick Burke's foster-sister died, perhaps because she had always been made second to him through all the hardships and exposure of the journey. Other babes of both lady and nurse had succumbed to the mortality which beset the children of that generation, and the only survivors besides the eldest Burke and one daughter were the two youngest of each mother, and they had arrived so nearly at the same time that Honor Callaghan could again be foster-mother to Phelim Burke, a sickly child, reared with great difficulty.
The family were becoming almost French. Sir Ulick was an intimate
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