GOSSIP AND COUNSEL
My eventful journey was over at last. I sat in my hotel window looking out upon brilliant Paris, which had, in a moment, recovered all its gaiety, and more than its accustomed bustle. Everyone had read of the kind of excitement that followed the catastrophe of Napoleon, and the second restoration of the Bourbons. I need not, therefore, even if, at this distance, I could, recall and describe my experiences and impressions of the peculiar aspect of Paris, in those strange times. It was, to be sure, my first visit. But often as I have seen it since, I don't think I ever saw that delightful capital in a state, pleasurably so excited and exciting.
I had been two days in Paris, and had seen all sorts of sights, and experienced none of that rudeness and insolence of which others complained from the exasperated officers of the defeated French army.
I must say this, also. My romance had taken complete possession of me; and the chance of seeing the object of my dream gave a secret and delightful interest to my rambles and drives in the streets and environs, and my visits to the galleries and other sights of the metropolis.
I had neither seen nor heard of Count or Countess, nor had the Marquis d'Harmonville made any sign. I had quite recovered the strange indisposition under which I had suffered during my night journey.
It was now evening, and I was beginning to fear that my patrician acquaintance had quite forgotten me, when the waiter presented me the card of "Monsieur Droqville"; and, with no small elation and hurry, I desired him to show the gentleman up.
In came the Marquis d'Harmonville, kind and gracious as ever.
"I am a night-bird at present," said he, so soon as we had exchanged the little speeches which are usual. "I keep in the shade during the daytime, and even now I hardly ventured to come in a close carriage. The friends for whom I have undertaken a rather critical service, have so ordained it. They think all is lost if I am known to be in Paris. First, let me present you with these orders for my box. I am so vexed that I cannot command it oftener during the next fortnight; during my absence I had directed my secretary to give it for any night to the first of my friends who might apply, and the result is, that I find next to nothing left at my disposal."
I thanked him very much.
"And now a word in my office of Mentor. You have not come here, of course, without introductions?"
I produced half-a-dozen letters, the addresses of which he looked at.
"Don't mind these letters," he said. "I will introduce you. I will take you myself from house to house. One friend at your side is worth many letters. Make no intimacies, no acquaintances, until then. You young men like best to exhaust the public amusements of a great city, before embarrassing yourselves with the engagements of society. Go to all these. It will occupy you, day and night, for at least three weeks. When this is over, I shall be at liberty, and will myself introduce you to the brilliant but comparatively quiet routine of society. Place yourself in my hands; and in Paris remember, when once in society, you are always there."
I thanked him very much, and promised to follow his counsels implicitly. He seemed pleased, and said: "I shall now tell you some of the places you ought to go to. Take your map, and write letters or numbers upon the points I will indicate, and we will make out a little list. All the places that I shall mention to you are worth seeing."
In this methodical way, and with a great deal of amusing and scandalous anecdote, he furnished me with a catalogue and a guide, which, to a seeker of novelty and pleasure, was invaluable.
"In a fortnight, perhaps in a week," he said, "I shall be at leisure to be of real use to you. In the meantime, be on your guard. You must not play; you will be robbed if you do. Remember, you are surrounded, here, by plausible swindlers and villains of all kinds, who subsist by devouring strangers. Trust no one but those you know."
I thanked him again, and promised to profit by his advice. But my heart was too full of the beautiful lady of the Belle Étoile, to allow our interview to close without an effort to learn something about her. I therefore asked for the Count and Countess de St. Alyre, whom I had had the good fortune to extricate from an extremely unpleasant row in the hall of the inn.
Alas! he had not seen them since. He did not know where they were staying. They had a fine old house only a few leagues from Paris; but he thought it probable that they would remain, for a few days at least, in the city, as preparations would, no doubt, be necessary, after so long an absence, for their reception at home.
"How long have they been away?"
"About eight months, I think."
"They are poor, I think you said?"
"What you would consider poor. But, Monsieur, the Count has an income which affords them the comforts and even the elegancies of life, living as they do, in a very quiet and retired way, in this cheap country."
"Then they are very happy?"
"One would say they ought to be happy."
"And what prevents?"
"He is jealous."
"But his wife—she gives him no cause."
"I am afraid she does."
"I always thought she was a little too—a great deal too—"
"Too what, Monsieur?"
"Too handsome. But although she has remarkable fine eyes, exquisite features, and the most delicate complexion in the world, I believe that she is a woman of probity. You have never seen her?"
"There was a lady, muffled up in a cloak, with a very thick veil on, the other night, in the hall of the Belle Étoile, when I broke that fellow's head who was bullying the old Count. But her veil was so thick I could not see a feature through it!" My answer was diplomatic, you observe. "She may have been the Count's daughter. Do they quarrel?"
"Who, he and his wife?"
Oh! and what do they quarrel about?"
"It is a long story; about the lady's diamonds. They are valuable—they are worth, La Perelleuse says, about a million of francs. The Count wishes them sold and turned into revenue, which he offers to settle as she pleases. The Countess, whose they are, resists, and for a reason which, I rather think, she can't disclose to him."
"And pray what is that?" I asked, my curiosity a good deal piqued.
"She is thinking, I conjecture, how well she will look in them when she marries her second husband."
"Oh?—yes, to be sure. But the Count de St. Alyre is a good man?"
"Admirable, and extremely intelligent."
"I should wish so much to be presented to the Count: you tell me he's so—"
"So agreeably married. But they are living quite out of the world. He takes her now and then to the Opera, or to a public entertainment; but that is all."
"And he must remember so much of the old régime, and so many of the scenes of the revolution!"
"Yes, the very man for a philosopher, like you! And he falls asleep after dinner; and his wife don't. But, seriously, he has retired from the gay and the great world, and has grown apathetic; and so has his wife; and nothing seems to interest her now, not even—her husband!"
The Marquis stood up to take his leave.
"Don't risk your money," said he. "You will soon have an opportunity of laying out some of it to great advantage. Several collections of really good pictures, belonging to persons who have mixed themselves up in this Bonapartist restoration, must come within a few weeks to the hammer. You can do wonders when these sales commence. There will be startling bargains! Reserve yourself for them. I shall let you know all about it. By-the-by," he said, stopping short as he approached the door, "I was so near forgetting. There is to be next week, the very thing you would enjoy so much, because you see so little of it in England—I mean a bal masqué, conducted, it is said, with more than usual splendor. It takes place at Versailles—all the world will be there; there is such a rush for cards! But I think I may promise you one. Good-night! Adieu!"