'AH, madame!' exclaimed De
Mesmai, whom experience among his countrywomen had taught that the dose of
flattery could never be too strong for them, 'how much we are indebted to
you! Such brilliancy of instrumental execution, and such a voice ! My
friend, Major Stuart, will allow—or rather will be compelled to admit—that
you far excel any other singer he has ever heard in Paris, Lisbon, or
Although this was not
strictly true, Ronald of course replied in the affirmative. There is no
flattery which can be too pointed for a Parisienne, who can hear, as mere
matters of course, such observations as would bring the red blood rushing
into the fair face of an English lady.
De Mesmai engrossed to
himself nearly the whole conversation of the baroness, and they chatted
away, with amazing volubility and merriment, on such light matters as the
marriages, intrigues, and flirtations of one half of Paris,—the
fashionable part at least,—while the petulant barony after various
ineffectual attempts to interrupt their interesting tete-à-tete, abandoned
the idea of doing so; and, while reconnoitring their position with
watchful eyes, and listening with open ears, he gave Stuart a very long
and very tiresome account of the learned society, to the affairs of which,
since the peace of 1814, he had devoted his whole attention.
De Mesmai and the lady, or,
to speak more correctly, the lady and De Mesmai, were seated on an
opposite sofa, and so close that their dark hair almost mingled
together,—this, too, before the eyes of the baron. They conversed in a low
tone, which every instant swelled out into a laugh; and such glances of
deep and hidden meaning were exchanged, that, had they been observed, they
would have entirely discomposed old Clappourknuis's antiquarian
discussions about ruins, medals, coins, MSS., etc., etc. Stuart thought
his friend a very odd fellow, and certainly the free manners of the
baroness did not heighten his opinion of Parisian wives.
Dinner was served up in
excellent style, but what it consisted of has nothing to do with this
history. There were enough and to spare of wonderful French dishes, which
the Highlander had never seen before, and probably has never heard of
since. Stuart having led the baroness to the dining-room, De Mesmai led
her back again to the library, falling into the rear of the baron, who was
borne thither in his arm-chair by six stout valets, with his gouty leg
projecting like a bowsprit. In this trim, as host, he led the way from the
table. Coffee and wine were awaiting them in the library, which was
lighted up with wax candles placed in antique candelabras. The crimson
curtains were drawn, and a cheerful fire blazed on the hearth and roared
up the wide chimney. The old gilt volumes on the shelves, the steel arms
and armour, the splendid picture-frames, the wine-decanters, the silver
coffee-equipage, and everything else of metal or crystal, glittered in the
ruddy light, and the baron's library appeared the most snug place
Stuart, who had been
accustomed to sit long at the mess-table,— rather a failing with the
valiant ninety-twa,—was unable to adopt the foreign custom of taking
coffee immediately after dinner. He therefore joined the baron in paying
attention to a decanter of light French wine; but De Mesmai sipped the
simple beverage, seated by madame at a side-table, where the coffee was
served up, and his attentions became so very particular and decided, that
in any house in Britain they must have ensured his exit by the window
instead of the door. But the baron, although a very jealous husband, was a
Frenchman, and consequently did not perceive anything very heinous in the
attention paid to his wife by the gay guardsman ; yet he would rather have
seen him lying at full length in the Morgue, than seated at the little
side-table with the baroness.
But Monsieur le Baron,
having dined to his entire satisfaction, was rather inclined to be in a
good humour, and, after a time, he was obliging enough to place the high
stuffed back of his easy-chair between himself and the tete-a-tete which
his gay lady enjoyed with her still gayer cavalier.
Finding that Stuart was
conversant with Père d' Orleans, the Histoire des Croisades of Pierre de
Maimbourg, and other old authors,—thanks to the tawse of his dominie, the
old minister of Lochisla,—the baron resolved to make a victim of him for
the remainder of the evening, and bored him most unmercifully with long
antiquarian and archaeological disquisitions, which were varied only by
still more tedious accounts of his campaigns under Napoleon. He spent an
hour in detailing enthusiastically the services and deeds of the Scots
Guards in France, from the time that Alexander III. sent them to Saint
Lewis for service in the Holy Land, down to the Battle of Pavia, where the
Scottish corps threw themselves into a circle around FrancisI., and he was
not captured by the enemy till only four of that brave band were left
'And we are told in this
book,' continued the prosy baron, laying his hand on a mighty tome of
Philip de Commines,' we are told in this book that the life of Louis XL,
when he was attacked by the rebellious Burgundians at Liege, was saved
solely by the valour of the Scots Guards, who formed a rampart around him
till the Burgundians were defeated.'
'Morbleu! monsieur,' said
De Mesmai, who now joined them, as the baroness had withdrawn, 'the story
of the duel between the Sieur de Vivancourt, of the regiment of Picardie,
and the Scots Royal, is worth all that you will find in Philip—Philip—peste!
I have forgotten his name. But I will wager a hundred napoleons to one
that he does not relate a story by one half so good as that which I have
heard from you, of the unpleasant manner in which the English widow of
Monsieur of France, Louis XII., was surprised in a tete-à-tete with the
Duke of Suffolk, in this very apartment, by the furious Duke de Valois,
who compelled her to marry Suffolk upon the very instant,—ay, pardieu! at
the very drum-head, as the saying is.' Certain associations occurring to
the baron's mind made him colour, as he raised his eyes from his
flannel-cased legs to the tall, erect, and soldier-like figure of De
Mesmai. He glanced furtively at the chair of the baroness, but it was
'Ay, Maurice, 'twas a
strange affair that; but Monsieur of Valois should have given the English
duke a year or two's residence in the Bastile for his presumption. The
stone cages of Louis XI. were then in good condition, and should always
have been tenanted by such blades as Monsieur of Suffolk.'
'You are very savage in
disposition, monsieur, to talk of punishing so slight a faux pas so
severely. But you will allow that a little gallantry is excusable here in
our sunny clime of France.' The old man glanced keenly at the swaggering
guardsman, and saw a strange smile on his face. ' A comfortable place
this, faith!' he continued; 'and if these old walls could speak, they
would tell strange tales of hatred and sorrow, joy and grief. Many a fair
one's scruples have been routed by the coup-de-main of the stout gallants
of the olden time. Monsieur le Baron must know that our friend Stuart
admires this old house of Clugny amazingly. You cannot conceive the
sensations of pleasure with which he viewed that gloomy court.'
These last observations
were made by De Mesmai to serve an end of his own. It was the baron's
hobby to have his house praised, and in return he invariably bored his
visitors with a prolix account of it. Having, as he supposed, set fire to
the train, De Mesmai retired to promenade in the garden with madame, while
her husband plunged at once into the history of the Hotel de Clugny. He
began with the time when its site was occupied by the palace of the Roman
emperors in Gaul, the Palatium Thermarum, erected a.d. 300, from which
date he traced its history down to Clovis, the founder of the French
monarchy, thence to the time of Philip Augustus, who in 1218 bestowed it
on one of his chamberlains. On the site of the Palatium Thermarum the
Abbot of Clugny built the present hotel, which was finished and completed,
as it stands at present, by Jacques d'Amboise in 1505. James V. of
Scotland resided in it for some months after his marriage with the
beautiful and unfortunate Madeline of France. From that period the
indefatigable baron related its vicissitudes, and those of its several
occupants, down to the days of the Revolution. He was just describing a
celebrated conclave of that revolutionary body, the section Marat, who met
in the apartment where they were then conversing, when, on looking round,
he became suddenly aware that the baroness and De Mesmai were both absent.
He changed colour, stopped in his history, and became much disturbed. 'Mon
ami!' said he, 'where is the Captain de Mesmai?'—'I know not,' said
Stuart, looking round with surprise, and missing him for the first time.
'He was here a moment since, and I did not see him leave the room. 'Diable/'
growled the baron, grinding his teeth.
'He is probably in the
garden enjoying a cigar. I observed him take from his pocket the silver
case which he carries.'
'A silver case? Pooh! he
got that from the baroness.' 'A handsome present.'
'Ah! she gained it at some
lottery in the Palais Royal,' said the poor baron, making a desperate
attempt to converse freely, while he rung a small hand-bell. 'Attendez,
Jacques; tell madame we should be glad to have the honour of her company,
because Monsieur Stuart marches tomorrow, and------ Ha! ha! what am I
saying? You understand—be quick, Jacques,' he cried to the valet, who had
appeared at his summons. 'She is either in her own apartment, or in some
of the lower drawing-rooms.' His suspicions were still further aroused.
Jacques returned in three minutes, saying that madame could not be found ;
that she must have left the hotel, or be promenading in the garden.
'Mon Dieu!' roared the
impetuous baron, gnashing his teeth at the astonished valet. 'Leave the
room, rascal! What are you staring at? I am undone ! Hand the case,
monsieur; these pistols—they are loaded. They are together—I knew it—in
the garden. Sacre! I have long expected something of this kind. An
assignation! the base minion! the worthless ribaud! I will have his blood!
I will rip him up with my sabre! Tete Dieu! am I to be disgraced in my own
house? Ha, ha! ho, ho!' and he laughed like a madman.
Stuart rose, feeling all
the confusion and astonishment which a visitor might be supposed to
experience at such a juncture. The baron seemed bursting with rage, and
rolled about among the pillows of his easy-chair, making fruitless efforts
to raise himself upon his gouty limbs ; and he raved and swore in the
meantime like a maniac. At last, in the extremity of his distress, he
implored Ronald to see if they were in the garden.
'How very foolish he is
making himself appear !' thought Ronald, as he descended the lighted
stairs, laughing at the ludicrous aspect of the baron in his cap, gown,
and bandaged legs, and his weather-beaten visage flaming with the fury and
exasperation into which he had lashed himself. Descending a stair in one
of the octagon towers, he found himself in the garden. The night was very
dark, the air was cold, and the trees, shrubbery, and bowers appeared to
be involved in the deepest gloom. The darkness seemed greater, in
consequence of his having just left the brilliantly-illuminated library,
where old Clappourknuis sat growling like a bear with pain and anger. A
curtain was drawn back from one of the windows of the hotel, and a stream
of light falling across a walk of the garden revealed the figure of a
female. It was the baroness, and Stuart advanced to meet her, feeling
considerable reluctance to announce the rage, or hint at the suspicions,
of her husband. His cogitations were cut short by the lady springing
forward, and throwing herself into his arms. 'Maurice, man cher ami! how
long you have kept me waiting!' she exclaimed, in a loud whisper. 'I have
been here on this dreary walk nearly five minutes; and indeed—but one
kiss, dear Maurice! and then —Oh! what is this? You have no moustaches.
Ah, mon Dieu! what have I done?'
She had, when too late,
discovered her mistake. At that moment a window of the library was dashed
open, and the strange figure of the unfortunate archaeologist appeared
with a pistol in each hand, threatening death and destruction to all. The
light which shone into the garden revealed the scene on the walk,—the
baroness hanging on the breast of Stuart, whom, as he was without his
bonnet and plaid, she had mistaken for De Mesmai in the scarlet uniform of
the garde-du-corps. Clappourknuis muttered a tremendous malediction, and
fired both pistols into the walk. Ronald escaped death as narrowly as ever
he did, even on any occasion in Spain, and the lady was in equal peril.
One ball struck from her head the high comb which confined her hair, and
the other whistled within an inch of Stuart's nose; after which it
shattered a gigantic flower-pot close by. Diane uttered a shriek, and fled
like a frightened hare from the garden; and, gaining her own apartment,
shut herself up, and Stuart never beheld her again, 'Morbleu!' said the
incorrigible De Mesmai, whom the destruction of the jar, and the
consequent prostration of an immense American aloe, had revealed,' I was
just looking for the baroness on the other side of the garden. Sacre! 'tis
a most unlucky assignation this, and broken heads must follow! Ha, ha! how
now, my most virtuous Scot, who will not dance with grisettes on Sunday,
and yet make an assignation with a married lady in a garden, and at night!
Where are all your precepts and fine sayings? Ho! ho! ho! Hark! how the
baron storms and blasphemes, like any Cossack or pagan!'
'The fierce old madman!'
exclaimed Ronald, enraged at his narrow escape. 'He was within a hair's
breadth of shooting me through the head!' ' Rather unpleasant, after all
your campaigning, to be shot in this way, like a crow,' replied the other,
who was laughing so heartily that he clung to an apple-tree for support.
How romantic! A touching interview in the dark,—the lady all sighs, and
the gentleman all animation! By the bomb, 'tis superb! What a pity there
was no moon! A silvery moon would have made the whole affair just as it
should have been. But then this unpleasant discharge of small-arms——.'
'Dare you attempt to lay
the blame of this matter on me?' asked Ronald indignantly. 'You are alone
the cause of all this uproar. The baron has mistaken me for you.'
'And the baroness has done
the same. Diable!'. 'What is to be done now?'—'Retreat without beat of
drum, I suppose.'
'That would show but poor
spirit, I think.'
'Eh bien! you are right. I
will show face. The baron is only a man, and a man five feet high by six
round the waist. I will brazen it out, and swear by a caisson of devils
'tis all a mistake. I will, by the bomb ! and could do so in the presence
of his Jolliness the Pope. Vive la joie! Come with me, my friend, and I
will explain all the uproar to this outrageous baron. I am used to
squabbles of this kind, and will soothe his vivacity. Peste! what a
hideous noise he makes!'
The baron had roared
himself hoarse, and Jacques, with five other stout servants, had been
barely able to keep him fast in his arm-chair, where he panted, kicked,
and bellowed, swearing by everything in Heaven and on earth that he would
pistol De Mesmai, slay his wife, and murder them all. He would get a
lettre de cachet,—forgetting that the days of such matters had happily
passed away,—and immure them all in the dungeons of the Bastile. He would
rouse the powers of darkness to revenge him ! At last a terrible fit of
the gout fairly stopped his clamour, and he was borne off to bed,
speechless and in imminent danger. The baroness appeared no more, and De
Mesmai, the cause of the whole disturbance, sat with perfect nonchalance,
with his legs stretched out before the library fire, a glass of wine in
one hand and twirling a moustache with the other, while swearing to Stuart
by the bomb that he had never heard such an outcry before. 'Positively, my
friend,' said he, 'had I carried off the baroness in a chaise and four, en
route for Calais or Brussels, he could not have made a greater noise.
Peste! I believe I am entitled to demand satisfaction for this annoyance.
I shall certainly consult some of ours to-morrow, and hear what ought to
It was evident that they
would see the baroness no more that night, and the domestics of the
establishment eyed them with strange looks ; for though they were
accustomed to the irascible temper of the baron, they were puzzled to
account for such a sudden disturbance.
Stuart urged the
impropriety of remaining longer, and they rose to withdraw. He looked at
his watch: it was verging on midnight, and it •was requisite that he
should return to Clichy forthwith, if he would be with the regiment when
under arms at daylight. On leaving, they walked for some time along one of
the boulevards, talking over the affair of the H6tel de Clugny. De Mesmai
did not attempt to exculpate himself, but laughed without ceremony at
Stuart, who made some animadversions on his conduct. ''Tis all a matter of
opinion,' said he, shrugging his shoulders, 'all; and you must know the
proverb—"L'opinion est la reine du monde." 'Tis very true; so let us say
no more, my friend.'
When near the Place
Victoire, they parted. De Mesmai had lodgings in one of the handsomest
houses of the Place, although his company of the garde-du-corps was always
quartered at the chateau. On taking leave, they shook hands heartily, and
then parted, but without exhibiting much concern, although each knew that
he would never meet the other again. But as soldiers, accustomed for years
to march from town to town, they were used to partings, and so bade each
other adieu with happy sang froid.
Ronald never heard of De
Mesmai again, and I am therefore unable to acquaint the reader how he
settled matters with the baron, or if he married the fashionable widow of
the Rue de Rivoli.
The streets were silent,
and the night was dark. A cold and high wind swept along the desolate
thoroughfares, and had extinguished many of the oil lamps, leaving many
places involved in obscurity and gloom. It is not surprising, therefore,
that Stuart should have mistaken his way. The dawn surprised him somewhere
on the skirts of the town, and he had, consequently, to traverse nearly
the whole of Paris to find the Champs Elysees. There he got his horse from
the batman, in whose charge it had been left, and in three minutes he was
away at full gallop for Clichy. He dashed along the Boulevard de la
Madeleine, the Rue de la Martin, of St. Croix, and Clichy, and soon the
fields were around him, bordering the road, while the spires and the
streets of Paris were far behind, sinking in the distance.