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Romance of War (or The Highlanders in Spain)
Chapter 60 - Paris, de Mesmai, and the Hotel de Clugny

While riding slowly along the Boulevard de la Madeleine, Ronald saw before him an officer,—a Frenchman, but one with whose figure he imagined he was acquainted. He was a tall and handsome man, and wore the scarlet uniform of Louis XVIII.'s garde-du-corps.

'I'll bet a hundred to one that is De Mesmai,' said Stuart, communing with himself. 'The rogue has changed sides; but I should know him by that inconceivable swagger of his.'

There was no doubt of his being the cuirassier; and, as he presently stopped to speak at the door of a shop in the Rue Royale, Stuart touched him on the shoulder.

'Monsieur de Mesmai,' said he, holding out his hand, 'I hope you are quite well. You have not forgotten me, surely; we had some odd adventures together in Spain. You remember the cura of——'

'Monsieur—monsieur------- Diable! I have quite forgotten your name.'

'Stuart, of the Gordon Highlanders.'

'Stuart? I remember now. A thousand pardons,—and as many welcomes to Paris!' exclaimed the Frenchman, grasping his hand, and breaking into a profusion of bows, every one of which threatened to jerk to the other side of the boulevard the little red cap which surmounted his large curly head.—'You have been very little about Paris, surely, Monsieur Stuart, very little indeed since the------' he paused and smiled bitterly, 'since the allies came to it.'

'I have been for two months in country quarters at the Chateau de Marielle, near Melun.'

'Delightful place; I know it well. Fine horse that of yours; very like my old cuirassier.'

'And so you have changed sides, I see: like Soult and many others.' 'No, by the name of the bomb!' cried the Frenchman, his cheek flushing while he spoke. 'No, faith ! compare me not with Soult! I was one of the last who quitted the great Emperor, and my honour is spotless. But what could I do, Monsieur Stuart? He has been hurried on by his destiny, his evil genius, or some such villainous agent, to wreck the fame and fortune of himself, his soldiers, and of France, by delivering himself up—sacre! to the British. What was I then to do! I had been a soldier from my youth upwards. I had interest to procure a commission as captain in the guard of Louis, who is pleased, sacré nom de—bah! to array us in scarlet; and I've been in Paris ever since Waterloo, where I received a severe wound. I have had hard work to get back from King Louis's ministers the poor remnant that dice, wine, and women have left of mine ancient patrimony, which has descended to my worshipful self through as long a line of respectable ancestors as ever wore bag-wigs, steel doublets, and long swords. I lost my chateau of Quinsay when I went with the Emperor to Elba—that dismal isle, which the devil confound! I gained it again on his happy return to France,—lost it at Waterloo; but regained it when I donned the scarlet in the guards of the most worshipful Louis, our dread lord and sovereign. Peste! After all, I am a lucky dog.'
It may be imagined that Ronald, having once fallen in with this veteran scapegrace, would have found it by no means easy to escape from his society, even had he felt disposed to venture on attempting the feat. So well was the young Highlander acquainted with the probabilities in this particular, that he resolved to leave it unattempted; and having, by especial and all but unhoped-for good luck, managed, though in company with his unhesitating friend, to pass two days and nights without coming to any serious bodily harm, he began to feel it incumbent on him to return thanks for his preservation, and to prepare for his approaching departure from the 'city of delights.'—Before De Mesmai could be induced to allow himself to be persuaded of the necessity of even the last of these proceedings, he insisted on a visit to the Baron de Clappourknuis, who, he averred, had made his peace with the new ministry, kissed the hand of Louis XVIII., burned his commission from Napoleon, and resided quietly at the venerable Hotel de Clugny.

'This cunning old gray-beard and I took different sides in the last uproar,' said the captain, as they walked along. 'He went with Louis to Ghent! while I, as in duty bound, joined------ But I had better say nothing more. We are now in the streets of Paris, where every second man is either a jack-booted gendarme or a villainous government spy. Monsieur le Baron saved his dirty acres by this policy, while I narrowly lost mine and the old house of Quinsay, with its ruined hall, where a colony of rooks, bats, and owls have been comfortably quartered for more than twenty years. Clappourknuis is as little enamoured of campaigning as I am of his crack-jaw name. No, by the bomb ! had he loved the flash of bright steel and the clank of accoutrements, he would have joined the Emperor on his quitting Elba. And yet I once beheld him charge bravely at the head of a regiment of Polish lancers. They were attacking a solid square of the regiment of Segovia; and it was a splendid sight to behold them, as they swept past the flank of the cuirassiers in line. At the first blast of the trumpet, their thousand lances sunk at once to the rest, their bright heads flashing like a shower of falling stars ; and the next moment they were riding into the mass of terrified Spaniards, as one would ride through a river. But he has hung his sabre on the wall, and now reposes in the ancient hotel, basking in the smiles of the fair Diane, and snugly ensconced under the shadow of his laurels, which, by-the-bye, are very likely to grow into other ornaments less agreeable to his martial brow, if he does not look a little sharper after madame.'

'I told you of my adventure with her on the Pyrenees?'

'Yes; you will be a welcome friend, unless the story has roused some unpleasant surmises in the mind of the baron, who is rather inclined to be suspicious, although his pate is so thick that we considered it sabre-proof in the "Devil's Own." I know that he looks upon me with eyes the reverse of friendly. Parbleu! what care I? Madame Diane behaves to me with remarkable attention. Ha! my friend, you see what it is to have a name; all the women of Paris either love or fear me. While Monsieur le Baron sits in a corner, moping and growling over his swaddled and gouty leg, I draw my chair beside madame at the harp, and sit turning over the leaves of her music, exchanging soft glances, and saying things quite as soft between. She is an amazingly fine creature, although she jilted so cruelly poor Victor d'Estouville of the Imperial Guard.'

'If this is the footing on which you visit the Hotel de Clugny, I think I could scarcely have chosen a more unlucky companion for my morning call.'

'Pardieu! Monsieur, this is Paris, where no husband of sense makes himself in the least uneasy about the intrigues of his wife, and I should wish to teach old Clappourknuis a lesson. He was twelve months a prisoner in England, where he picked up some of the strangest notions in the world about conjugal fidelity and other matters, which, in France, we know only by name. He must now pay the penalty of marrying a giddy creature, young enough to be his grand-daughter. We have a proverb among us, mon ami, which says "Beware of women, of fire, of water, and of the regiment de Sault." Now I am ready to demonstrate to you logically, that the first part of that proverb------ But, poh! here is the residence of Monsieur le Baron. Pardieu! a strange old rookery it is ; and yet he admires it, because it is the oldest house in Paris.'

Passing through an archway, they found themselves in an irregular sort of quadrangle, formed by buildings in a very ancient style of architecture, with mullioned windows, Gothic cusps and pinnacles, casements on the roof, two octagon towers projecting into the court, and one circular turret which was built out from the wall, and shot up to a great height above the others. Numerous coats-of-arms and initial letters appeared above the doors and windows, and an antique fountain sparkled and murmured in a corner of the court, with a drooping tree spreading its branches over the stone basin into which the water fell. There was an appearance of picturesque and gloomy grandeur about the place, but there was likewise an air of desolation and decay without, which did not correspond with the rich hangings and furniture that appeared through the open windows; while the bustle which pervaded the court and passages showed that the house was occupied by a large establishment.

'A strange old place, this.'

'Diable! yes; a gloomy old bomb-house, fit only for the bat and the owl. And yet 'tis here the baron keeps Madame Diane, one of the gayest women within the gay and glorious circle of the boulevards. 'Tis the Chateau de Clugny; but for Heaven's sake and our own, do not say anything about it to the baron, who has of late been seized by a fit of anti-quarianism, or we shall probably have the whole history of it rehearsed, from the time of Noah down to the present day.'

The baron was at home, and a servant announced their names.

He was not much changed in appearance since Ronald had seen him in Estremadura; he looked as rough and weather-beaten as ever, and sat in a gilded easy-chair, rolled in a rich brocaded dressing-gown, with one of his legs swaddled up in a multitude of bandages, and resting upon a cushion. A small velvet forage-cap covered his gray hair, and half revealed a deep scar from a sabre-cut across the forehead.

The apartment into which the visitors were shown was a splendid old chamber fitted up as a library; and a softened light, which stole through between the thick mullions and twisted tracery of two large windows, cast the varied tints of the stained glass upon the long shelves of richly-gilt but musty old books, on globes, on antique swords, and fragments of steel armour, on ancient chairs, and deep-red hangings, on spurs and helmets, and on rolls and bundles of papers, heaped and in confusion. The ceiling was covered with stucco fretwork and gilding. Three large portraits were in the room : these were likenesses of the famous Mississippi Law—as he was styled; of Beau Law, shot at the siege of Pondi-cherry, fighting against the British; and the Marquis of Laurieston, in his uniform as a General of the Empire, covered with gold oak-leaves and orders.

The baron, whom they found immersed in the pages of a huge and antique tome, threw it aside on their entrance, and bowed with an air of politeness so constrained, that it was evident Captain De Mesmai was far from being considered a welcome visitor. The consciousness that he had such an introducer made Stuart feel rather uncomfortable, but De Mesmai's consummate effrontery caused him to value the baron's coldness not a rush. A piano, which stood at one end of the room, was closed. The young baroness was not then at home.

'Monsieur le Baron,' said the captain, placing his cap under his arm, and leading forward Stuart, 'allow me to introduce Major Stuart, an officer of a Scots regiment, and a very particular friend of mine, who has come to pay you a visit before marching for Calais to-morrow.'

'Eh bien!' said the baron, extending his hand, and raising his eyebrows. 'I am very happy to see Monsieur Stuart ; his name is one for which I have a very great respect. But,' he added with a smile, 'you give him a bad recommendation in saying he is a "particular friend " of yours. Remember, you are considered the greatest roue and libertine that Paris contains—between the Champ de Mars and La Roquette.'


'In truth, you are a very sad fellow,' continued the baron, while a servant placed chairs for the visitors. 'Your name is on every man's tongue.'

'And woman's, too.'

'Worse still. Ay, Maurice, in Massena's corps we considered you no apostle. But draw your chair nearer to the fire; 'tis cold this morning. And here, you Monsieur Jacques,' addressing the servant, 'bring a couple of logs for the fire, and place the glasses and decanters on the table.

'A smoky wood fire blazed in a large basket or grate of brass and ironwork placed on the hearthstone above it rose the arch of an antique mantelpiece. The square space around the grate was covered with small diamond-shaped pieces of Delft ware, which were neatly joined together, and reflected the light and heat.

'Monsieur le Baron will remember that I have not had the pleasure of seeing him since we were last together in Spanish Estremadura,' said Ronald, 'at Almendralejo, or Villa Franca, I think.'

'Indeed, monsieur !' replied the old man, bowing. 'Ah, misericorde! I was a prisoner then. You must excuse me ; but I have seen so many places and faces, that if I do not exactly remember------'

'I am the officer who shared his ration-biscuit with you one morning at Merida, when the troops were so scant of provisions.'

'What! MonDieu!' cried the old soldier, grasping him energetically by both hands, 'are you that officer?—'I am the same, monsieur.'

'How happy I am to have you here in Paris—in my own house, that I may repay you—at least, as far as hospitality can—for the bestowal of that half-biscuit, wet and mouldy as it was from being carried------'

'A forty miles' march in a wet haversack. I was about to take command of an outlying picket, and the biscuit was my first ration for three consecutive days.'—'Ay, my friends,' said De Mesmai, with unusual gravity, while he filled up the glasses, 'those were stirring times, when one might see true soldiering.'

'I well remember the morning,' continued the baron; 'and very disconsolate fellows your picket seemed, as they marched by the light of the gray dawn along the muddy Plaza, with their muskets slung, and their feathers and greatcoats soaked in water, for the rain was pouring clown like a second deluge. On my honour, monsieur ! I have often thought of the generous Scottish officer and the wet biscuit. I had been famishing for eight-and-forty hours. Ah! 'twas an interesting adventure that.'

'Not so interesting by one half,' said De Mesmai slowly, while a wicked smile lurked on his moustached mouth; 'not so singular by one half as my friend's adventures with the baroness on the Pyrenees, after King Joseph's misfortunes at Vittoria. There is something very unique, quite romantic, in that story.'—' Monsieur, was it you who------'

Stuart began to murmur something about having 'had the pleasure, to be of some service to the baroness------'

'I have heard of it,' said the baron. 'Oh, monsieur, you quite overpower me with your services. How shall we ever repay you?'

'I was merely instrumental. The officer who had the honour to escort the baroness to Gazan's outposts was killed soon afterwards when Soult forced the passes.'

'Twenty devils! I was there,' said the baron, turning up his eyes. 'Bloody work it was, and your mountaineers defended the hills with a valour bordering on madness. Your health, monsieur. 'Tis plain vin ordinaire, this; I am restricted to its use, but the decanter next you contains Lafitte.'

'I will take Lafitte, with your permission.' The baron bowed.

'Vive l' Empereur!' muttered De Mesmai as he raised his glass, while the baron held up one finger warningly, and cast a furtive glance at the door. ' I pray to Heaven,' continued the captain, whom some old recollections had excited, 'that the violet may return to France in the spring.' He drank enthusiastically. The baron emptied his glass in silence, and Ronald did the same, although he knew that the violet meant Napoleon, who was known by that name among his friends and adherents.

'Well, Maurice; I heard you were about to be married to a widow with three streets—old Madame Berthollet, of the Rue de Rivoli,' said the baron. 'Or perhaps you are already married?'

'Diable! monsieur,' said De Mesmai indignantly; 'do I look like a married man?'

'I know not, Maurice; but I imagine that the gay old lady would have little reason to rejoice in her domestic speculation. You are the best man in Paris to make her golden louis and napoleons vanish like frost in the sunshine. And so, monsieur,' addressing Stuart, 'your regiment marches tomorrow?'

'For Calais, via Montfort, where we shall be joined by two other Scottish regiments, which are also under orders for home.'

'A good voyage to the gallant Scots ! as our fashionable song says,' replied the baron, emptying his glass.

'Excellent!' cried De Mesmai, before Stuart could thank the baron: 'and I hope madame will soon return, as I wish very much to hear her perform that piece on the piano. Madame Berthollet------'

'Of the Rue de Rivoli? interrupted the baron.

'Informs me that her style excels the most celebrated masters in Paris.'

'Indeed!' said the baron coldly, but bowing to De Mesmai, whom he heartily wished at the bottom of the sea or any other place than the Chateau de Clugny, where his visit had now extended to twice the usual time of a morning call. 'By the bomb! here comes madame!' said the ci-devant cuirassier, as a carriage drove into the court. 'Monsieur le Baron must allow me the honour------'

He snatched up his cap and vanished from the room, while the features of the invalid assumed a most vinegar aspect of anger and uneasiness, which he attempted to conceal from Ronald by conversing about the weather and other trivial matters. Meanwhile the captain, with all the air of a true French gallant, assisted the baroness to alight, and led her into the house. They were long in ascending the staircase, and the baron's face grew alternately red and white, while he fidgeted strangely in his easy-chair. At last a servant opened the door of the room, and the handsome captain, with his right hand ungloved, led forward madame, who, as she swept in with her long rustling skirt, and with the feathers of her bonnet drooping over a rich shawl, appeared a very dashing figure, quite a woman of ton, and possessing all that indescribable je ne sais quoi of face and figure, which are wholly the attributes of what the Scots call 'gentle blood,' and which never can be attained by the vulgar. Her morning drive on the boulevards, the exercise of ascending the steep old stairs of the hotel, and perhaps a sensation of pleasure at meeting with De Mesmai, had heightened the glow of her cheeks, and a rich bloom suffused them. Her eyes were sparkling with French vivacity, and she looked radiantly beautiful. 'Eh! monsieur, my dear friend!' cried she, springing towards Stuart with the bird-like step of a Parisian lady. 'How happy, oh ! how very happy I am to see you here! I would give you a pretty kiss, if I dared. But pray, monsieur, be seated ; and here, De Mesmai, help me off with my things.'

'How, madame, do you recognise me after so long a lapse of time, and after such a very short interview? One at night,—by a picket fire, too?'

'De Mesmai told me you were here,' said she, as that adroit cavalier removed her bonnet and shawl, and even adjusted her hair, which was braided above her forehead and fastened behind with a pearl-studded comb à la Grec. The soldier laid aside the bonnet, arranged the veil, and folded the collar and shawl with so much the air of a femme de chambre, that Stuart could with difficulty repress a smile ; but to the lady and her husband it appeared nothing unusual.

'The baroness is a fashionable beauty, certainly,' thought the wondering Scot; 'but my wife will not be a Frenchwoman, thank Heaven!'

'That will do, Maurice,' said the lady freely and easily; 'that will do, I thank you. Mon Dieu! I shall never wear that horrid shawl any more; mantelets of satin, laced and furred, are becoming all the rage. Maurice, I know you have quite the eye of a modiste ; tell me, don't you think that a mantelet will become me?'

'Madame would appear superb in anything,' replied the other without hesitation, but bowing low while he spoke.

'Oh, Maurice, you are getting quite commonplace. But I suppose it will become me as well as the venerable Berthollet of the Rue de Rivoli.'

'Doubtless, madame,' replied the guardsman composedly; while, without noticing her roguish look, he handed her a glass of wine.

'And here, this dear naughty husband of mine asks me not a single question about my morning airing,' said madame, as she sprang up and arranged the cushions at the old man's back. 'Maurice, help me to punch these pillows. Monsieur the Baron has been poring over some musty old book till he has been quite overcome with ennui, I suppose. Mon Dieu! what a horrid thing it is to become an antiquary!' she continued, as she turned up her fine eyes, and shrugged her fair shoulders. 'Do you know, Monsieur Stuart, that ever since the baron became a member of the Comité Historique des Arts et Monumens, he has been like a man bewitched!' The attention of his beautiful wife restored the old man's urbanity and good-humour, and when the baroness pressed the visitors to remain to dinner, he seconded her invitation, and they stayed.

Stuart had reason to regret that they did so, for De Mesmai's folly brought about a very disagreeable termination to the visit.

After much commonplace conversation, he requested the baroness to favour them with the fashionable air then so much in vogue, and she at once acceded. The old baron was quite charmed with his wife's performance, and, closing his eyes, beat time with his fingers on a worm-eaten volumn of Pierre de Maimbourg; but his triumph was somewhat soured by the presence of De Mesmai, who seated himself close by Diane for the purpose of turning over the leaves, and he seemed quite in raptures with her. Stuart likewise was much pleased, for the soft tones of her voice were delightful to hear, and his patriotism was roused and his pride flattered by the words of the song,—'A good Voyage to the gallant Scots.' It was a quick and lively air, and had been first adopted by the garde-du-corps and other troops of Louis XVIII., after which it rapidly became popular; the ladies sounded it forth from their harps and pianos, the dandies hummed it on the boulevards, the boys whistled it in the streets, and the grisettes sung it at their work; and, from reveille to tattoo, scarcely any other tune was heard in the camps, barracks, and cantonments.

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