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- Stray Pearls - 6/67 -
nose and all, instantly become the colour of a clove gillyflower. It had so become every afternoon on the journey, and I knew I was growing redder and redder every moment, and that I should put him, my own dear Viscount, to shame before his aunt.
'Oh! my friend,' I sighed, 'pardon me, I cannot help it.'
'Why should I pardon thee?' he answered tenderly. 'Because thou hast so great and loving a heart?'
'Ah! but what will thine aunt think of me?'
'Let her think,' he said. 'Thou art mine, not Madame's.'
I know not whether those words made me less red, but they gave me such joyous courage that I could have confronted all the dragoons, had I been of the colour of a boiled lobster, and when he himself sprinkled me for the last time with essences, I felt ready to defy the censure of all the marchionesses in France.
My husband took me by the hand and led me to the great chamber, where in an alcove stood the state bed, with green damask hangings fringed with gold, and in the midst of pillows trimmed with point-lace sat up Madam la Marquis, her little sallow face, like a bit of old parchment, in the midst of the snowy linen, and not--to my eyes-- wearing a very friendly aspect.
She had perhaps been hearing of my wilfulness and insubordination, for she was very grand and formal with me, solemnly calling me Madame la Vicomtesse, and never her niece, and I thought all the time that I detected a sneer. If I had wished for my husband's sake to accompany him, I wished it ten thousand times more when I fully beheld the alternative.
Ah! I am writing treason. Had I been a well-trained French young girl I should have accepted my lot naturally, and no doubt all the family infinitely regretted that their choice has fallen on one so impracticable.
I was happier as the supper-table, to which we were soon summoned, for I had become accustomed to M. de Nidemerle, who was always kind to me. Poor old man, I think he had hoped to have something young and lively in his house; but I never thought of that, and of course my husband was my only idea.
M. de Solivet set by me, and asked many questions about my mother and the rest of the family, treating me more as a woman than anyone else had done. Nor was it long before I caught slight resemblances both to my mother and to my brother Berenger, which made me feel as home with him. He was a widower, and his two daughters were being educated in a convent, where he promised to take me to visit them, that I might describe them to their grandmother.
Poor little things! I thought them very stiff and formal, and pitied them when I saw them; but I believed they were really full of fun and folic among their companions.
M. de Solivet was consulted on this wild scheme of mine, and the Marchioness desired him to show me its absurdity. He began by arguing that it was never when to act in the face of custom, and that he had only known of two ladies who had followed their husbands to the wars, and both them only belonged to the petite noblesse, and were no precedent for me! One of them had actually joined her husband when wounded and made prisoner, and it was said that her care had saved his life!
Such a confession on his part rendered me the more determined, and we reminded M. de Nidemerle of his promise to consult Madame de Rambouillet, though I would not engage even then to abide by any decision except my father's, which I daily expected. I overheard people saying how much M. de Bellaise was improved by his marriage, and how much more manly and less embarrassed he had become, and I felt that my resolution made him happy, so that I became the more determined.
Children, you who have laughed at Les Precieuses can have little idea what the Hotel de Rambouillet was when, three nights after arrival, I went thither with my husband and his uncle and aunt.
The large salon, hung and draped with blue velvet, divided by lines of gold, was full of people ranged in a circle, listening eagerly to the recital of poem by the author, an Abbe, who stood in the midst, declaiming each couplet with emphasis, and keeping time with his foot, while he made gestures with his uplifted hand. Indeed, I thought at first he was in a furious passion and was going to knock someone down, till I saw calmly everyone sat; and then again I fancied we had come to a theatre by mistake; but happily I did not speak, and, without interrupting the declamation, chairs were given us, and exchanging a mute salutation with a lady of a noble cast of beauty, who guided us to seats, we quietly took our places. She was Julie d'Argennes, the daughter of Madame de Rambouillet. A gentlemen followed her closely, the Duke of Montausier, who adored her, but whom she could not yet decide on accepting.
I found it difficult to fit from laughing as the gestures of the Abbe, especially when I thought of my brother and how they would mock them; but I knew that this would be unpardonable bad taste, and as I had come in too late to have the clue to the discourse, I amused myself with looking about me.
Perhaps the most striking figure was that of the hostess, with her stately figure, and face, not only full of intellect, but of something that went far beyond it, and came out of some other higher world, to which she was trying to raise this one.
Next I observed a lady, no longer in her first youth, but still wonderfully fair and graceful. She was enthroned in a large arm- chair, and on a stool beside her sat her daughter, a girl of my own age, the most lovely creature I had ever seen, with a profusion of light flaxen hair, and deep blue eyes, and one moment full of grave thought, at another of merry mischief. A young sat by, whose cast of features reminded me of the Prince of Wales, but his nose was more aquiline, his dark blue eyes far more intensely bright and flashing, and whereas Prince Charles would have made fun of all the flourishes of our poet, they seemed to inspire in this youth an ardour he could barely restrain, and when there was something vehement about Mon epee et ma patrie he laid his hand on his sword, and his eyes lit up, so that he reminded me of a young eagle.
This was the Princess of Conde, who in the pride of her youthful beauty had been the last flame of Henri IV., who had almost begun a war on her account; this was her lovely daughter, Mademoiselle de Bourbon, and her sons, the brave Duke of Enghien, with his deformed brother, the Prince of Conti.
When the recital was over, there was a general outburst of applause, in which M. de Nidemerle joined heartily. Madame de Rambouillet gave her meed of approbation, but her daughter, Mademoiselle d' Argennes, took exception at the use of the word chevaucher, for to ride, both as being obsolete, and being formed from the name of a single animal, instead of regularly derived from a Latin verb.
The Abbe defended his word, and for fully twenty minutes there was an eager argument, people citing passages and derivations, and defining shades of meaning with immense animation and brilliant wit, as I now understand, though then it seemed to me a wearisome imbroglio about a trifle. I did not know what real benefit was done by these discussions in purifying the language from much that was coarse and unrefined. Yes, and far more than the language, for Madame de Rambouillet, using her great gifts as a holy trust for the good of her neighbour, conferred no small benefit on her generation, nor is that good even yet entirely vanished. Ah! If there were more women like her, France and society would be very different.
When the discussion was subsiding, Mademoiselle d' Argennes came to take me by the hand, and to present us to the queen of the salon.
'Here, my mother, are our Odoardo and Gildippe,' she said.
You remember, my children, that Odoardo and Gildippe are the names bestowed by Tasso on the English married pair who went together on the first crusade, and Gildippe continued to be my name in that circle, my nom de Parnasse, as it was called--nay, Madame de Montausieur still gives it to me.
The allusion was a fortunate one; it established a precedent, and, besides, English people have always been supposed to be eccentric. I am, however, doing the noble lady injustice. Arthenice, as she was called by an anagram of her baptismal name of Catherine, was no blind slave to the conventional. She had originality enough to have been able to purify the whole sphere in which she moved, and to raise the commonplace into the ideal. 'Excuse me,' she said to her friends, and she led my husband apart into a deep window, and there, as he told me, seemed to look him through and through. And verily he was one who needed not to fear such an inspection, any more than the clearest crystal.
Then, in like manner, she called for me, and made me understand that I was condemning myself to a life of much isolation, and that I must be most circumspect in my conduct, whole, after all, I might see very little of my husband; I must take good care that my presence was a help and refreshment, not a burden and perplexity to him, or he would neglect me and repent my coming. 'It may seem strange,' she said, 'but I think my young friend will understand me, that I have always found that, next of course to those supplied by our holy religion, the best mode of rendering our life and its inconveniences endurable is to give them a colouring of romance.' I did not understand her then, but I have often since thought of her words, when the recollection of the poetical aspect of the situation has aided my courage and my good temper. Madame de Rambouillet looked into my eyes as she spoke, then said: 'Pardon an old woman, my dear;' and kissed my brow, saying: 'You will not do what I have only dreamt of.'
Finally she led us forward to our great-uncle, saying: 'Madame le Marquis, I have conversed with these children. They love one another, and so long as that love lasts they will be better guardians to one another than ten governors or twenty dames de compagnie.'
In England we should certainly not have done all this in public, and my husband and I were terribly put to the blush; indeed, I felt my whole head and neck burning, and caught a glimpse of myself in a dreadful mirror, my white bridal dress and flaxen hair making my fiery face look, my brothers would have said, 'as if I had been skinned.'
And then, to make it all worse, a comical little crooked lady, with a keen lively face, came hopping up with hands outspread, crying: 'Ah, let me see her! Where is the fair Gildippe, the true heroine, who is about to confront the arrows of the Lydians for the sake of the lord of her heart?'
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