« ПредишнаНапред »
tower of St. Mark's stoop down and take up something ! He looked again, and he positively saw the figure take a pinch of snuft! The officer confessed that he was apprehensive he was losing his senses, or that his vision was deranged; when an old woman, observing his consternation, soon explained the seeming miracle, by telling him that one of the figures that struck the hour being out of repair, her nephew Jacopo was engaged as a substitute till the machinery was put in order.
THE FATAL WINDOW.
BY TOBY ALLSPY.
We crack-brained saunterers through life, whose brains are stuffed to overflowing with the odd shreds and patches of tradition, are apt to affix a value to circumstances of locality, trifles of no account in the eyes of sober-minded men, and wholly overlooked by the ordinary observer. Till within the last few months there existed in the Place Vendome, marring the uniformity of its presentments, a single window, whose narrow panes and old-fashioned framing afforded a remarkable contrast to the noble plate-glass so much better propor. tioned to the majestic architecture of the place which filled the windows of the neighbouring houses. Though the chamber to which it admitted light was situated on the first floor, or étage d'honneur, of one of the finest hotels of the square, it had evidently remained untouched from the period of its construction, when even the palaces of the first kingdom of Europe betrayed, in the inadequate quality and size of their window-panes, the imperfect progress of one of the most ancient and beautiful of the arts of invention.
Every other drawing-room of the Place Vendôme was adorned with capacious carreaur, so transparent as to deceive the eye into doubts of any intervening medium between the cozy warmth within, and the chilly atmosphere without. Yet in that one window, (the fatal window, as it was designated by all the old people of the neighbourhood,) there remained the small, green, veiny squares, through which the financier, Law, used to gaze upon the gathering of the multitude below; who first thronged thither to purchase his worthless paper; and finally, with the hope of tearing to pieces the archimpostor by whom that scheme of financial knavery was devised for the ruin of thousands.
It was not, however, during John Law's occupancy of the hotel in question that the event took place which was the cause of affixing to the window in question so startling a designation. The sale of the adventurer's goods and chattels, consequent upon the breaking of the bubble, placed the noble mansion, stigmatized by his temporary occupancy, in the hands of one of the most opulent of that unpopular tribe, the Fermiers Généraux of the kingdom. Monsieur de Raynolle, (whose financial exertions were, not to speak it profanely, strictly within the letter of the law,) was a man to regard with horror the dealings of his predecessors as irregularities, innovations, in
breaks into the routine of financial credit. He considered the post he had purchased as the means of honestly turning his capital to account. It had pleased heaven to make him rich; it pleased himself to make himself richer. Like the greater number of his confraternity, he did not slumber upon his opulence, but enjoyed an all but regal share of the luxuries and transports of life ; purchasing at the highest cost not only the chef-d'æuvres of art or science, but the society of the most eminent among the wits, poets, philosophers, statesmen, and beauties of his time. For such things are purchasable ; not, as the bargain-drivers say, from hand to hand, but by splendid banquets, brilliant entertainments, and all the garlands and frippery suspended by the hand of luxury over the wooden framework of life!
The Duc de Choiseul, and the Comte de Lauraquais, the profligate Richelieu, and the brilliant Soubise, were the frequent guests of Monsieur Raynolle, both in his Place Vendôme hotel, and at his splendid cháteau de Draveil. Nay, even St. Lambert and Marmontel, the Abbe Voismon and Baron Grimm, crowded eagerly to his petits soupers. Nothing could be more recherché than the fare ; nothing more fashionable than the society assembled. It was impossible to outrage moral feeling, or laugh at the notion of a Providence, with a better grace than did the guests of Monsieur Raynolle, the Fermier Général ! One might have fancied that this buyer-up of the good and beautiful things of this world, had also contracted with the great disposer of events for impunity from judgment to come.
And yet the reckless libertine had a wife,----young, beautiful, brilliant, shrewd,-in name, if not in nature, an Englishwoman.
In the course of his mercantile dealings some ten years before, Raynolle had become acquainted with a man, named Darley, the poor, but honest cashier of a house of business, having intimate connection with the English market, and Raynolle, on discovering that the daughter, (for whom, in addition to a couple of grown-up sons, the indigent clerk was indebted to his marriage with a portionless French woman, of indifferent reputation,) was young and beautiful beyond even the renowned beauties whom he was bold enough to consider his own, made no doubt of attaching her name to the catalogue of his household property. Neither Hester Darley nor her mother seemed, indeed, to oppose much obstacle to the supposition. His costly gifts were so well received, his tedious visits were so obsequiously wel. comed during the absence of the poor cashier on his daily duties, that Raynolle was almost pardonable in believing that the time was not far distant when his further visits would become superfluous. In this insolent surmise he was strengthened by the discovery that Hester's elder brother, John Darley, had formed a clandestine mar riage, almost as imprudent as his father's, and that extreme misery might be expected to silence his opposition to the disgrace of his sister.
of the younger brother, Gerard, the Fermier Général knew no thing, for he was with the army in Flanders—a soldier of fortune ; nor was it till on the very eve of the day which Raynolle had marked for the enlèvement of Hester Darley, that the sudden arrival of the impetuous young man, (to whom some considerate neighbour had despatched tidings of what was passing in his father's house,) threw the projects of the Fermier Général into confusion.
I am neither a brawler nor a bully,' said Gerard Darley, on
finding Raynolle, as he had been taught to expect, established as master of the house during his father's absence, and the airs of grandeur you would assume with me, Monsieur le Richard, are wholly thrown away. I fear neither the canes of your footmen nor the staves of the huissiers, with whose aid you are accustomed to make war upon your debtors. Only this I tell you, without rancour or malice,—that you leave this house as the affianced husband of my sister, or you leave it not alive. Hester is your equal, sir,—for you possess riches and consideration, she youth and beauty; and, in point of family, both alike are sprung from the people. But even did there exist a disparity of condition, you should have thought of it before your visits here brought disgrace on an honest family!'
Madame Darley and her daughter listened in consternation to this arrogant address, not conceiving that the unsupported menaces of a youth of Gerard's age could be productive of any other result than that of incensing against them the munificent patron to whom they had so many obligations; and Hester grew pale with rage at the idea of any interruption to an intimacy which had been the means of affording such luxurious indulgences to her vanity, and rendering her an object of envy to their less fortunate neighbours. But her vexation was soon converted into hope of a more favourable issue, on discerning the weakness and terror of poor Raynolle, when he found himself yet more vigorously pressed by the reckless young sergeant of dragoons. With features contracted by rage, he finally yielded to the imperious demands of Gerard Darley. A notary was sent for; a legal signature secured; and when Raynolle, according to his previous intention, bore the beautiful Hester from her obscure home, it was as his lawful wife! One only stipulation did the wily financier make on the occasion,--that not a syllable should be suffered to transpire of the mode in which the marriage had been achieved ; while his sole act of vengeance upon those of whom he conceived himself the dupe, consisted in a decree that not one of the Darley family should ever set foot within his gates.
Meanwhile the admiration excited in society by the charms of the new beauty, (as Madame Raynolle was universally denominated by the gallants of the court,) almost reconciled her vain-glorious hus. band to a connection into which he had been forced at the point of the sword. Of her origin nothing was known ; and the Financier having been artful enough to make a hurried journey to London previous to placing his beautiful bride at the head of his establishment, Madame Raynolle passed among her husband's friends as a belle mi. lady, whom he had brought back with him from the chartered fatherland of fine horses and fine women.
Who now so worshipped as the charming wife of the millionaire Fermier Général? Her portrait was on the easel of every artist; her name imparted distinction to every fashionable invention. To the indignation of Madame de Pompadour, ribands were tied up into bows à la Raynolle; chickens stewed à la Raynolle ; pralines crisped à la Raynolle ; carriages painted in garlands à la Raynolle ; every thing worn, tasted, or displayed at that moment in Paris, was named in honour of the divinity in whose hair flashed a coronet of diamonds surpassing even that of the Queen ; and towards whose box at the opera the eyes and acclamations of the whole assembly were directed. Voltaire addressed to her, under the name of Néæra, one of
his choicest odes; and the prettiest of Marmontel's tales was dedicated to the presiding angel of the Place Vendôme.
The Fermier Général was satisfied. Eclat was all he coveted in this world ; and his handsome young wife excited as much applause as his statues of Daphne and Chloe by Couston, or the frescos of his dining-room, by Boucher. He saw himself an object of envy, and was content. Already, too, he recognised a kindred spirit in the lovely Hester. Vain and ostentatious, her nature was cold and artificial as his own; and he was indebted to his wife for a thousand cogent suggestions for the advancement of their position in society. The purchase of a princely estate in Languedoc, endowed with privileges of ennoblement, converted them into the Marquis and Marquise of Montméry; the purchase of an office in the royal household entitled them to an entrée at court. In consideration of the fair aspirant after the honours of Versailles, Louis XV. made no opposition; and though certain of the more stiff-necked of the Queen's ladies were indignant at seeing a mere bourgeoise raised to their level, they dared not venture any open demonstrations of displeasure. In the grand monde of Paris, as in the laws of England, 'Le Roi le veut !' rendered the rule absolute.
On the nights when the fètes of the new Marquise de Montméry set the windows of her hotel into a blaze, as vast a crowd was col. lected in the Place Vendôme as in the tumultuous days of John Law. Many among them had witnessed the triumphs of that unprincipled adventurer.. 'At that very window he used to stand, and with fiend. ish glee survey the poor dupes below, the last livre of whose earn. ings he was filching they would exclaim, pointing to a window of the first floor, from which now issued a dazzling gleam of light, emitted by the brilliant boudoir of the lovely Marquise. Others, turning from the spot, were heard to whisper, The place is doomed! A curse ought to be upon the window whence John Law numbered his victims !'
Instead of a curse, however, a blessing seemed to be on all belonging to the Marquis and Marquise de Montméry. As their prodigality increased their means became doubled. His speculations were uniformly triumphant; till · lucky as Montméry' became a proverb in the money-market of more than one European city. Fifteen years after the marriage (on the origin of which he no longer suffer. ed a reflection to disturb the harmony of his thoughts,) the Fermier Général was as fast united to his fair Hester by similarity of tastes and pursuits, as he had formerly been by the brilliancy of a complexion, which, sooth to say, was now, like most dazzlingly fair complexions, somewhat on the wane.
The time was now come, indeed, for the Marchioness to experience a similar change in the colour of her fortunes. One evening, about ten years after her marriage, during the absence of her husband, who was inspecting the erection of a splendid conservatory at Draveil, a strange cavalier insisted on forcing his
into her presence with a vehemence not to be withstood by a whole regiment of lacqueys.
Yes, it is I! cried Gerard Darley, flinging down his hat on a table of malachite and gold, on finding himself face to face with his proud sister in her luxurious boudoir. “You are surprised to see me here. You had hoped never to see me again. Ungrateful for the
energy of soul and arm which served to place you in the position you now occupy, you despise your obscure brother; who, trust me, Madam, renders back with interest the contempt of the Marquise de Montméry!'
* You must be aware that the prohibitions of my husband —' Madame de Montméry was beginning.
'I have sedulously respected them,' replied Gerard with a bitter sneer. 'I did not appeal to your opulence when your parents lay dying in misery and neglect. I did not appeal to your affection when your wretched brother, distracted by the loss of his young wife. fell by his own hand, leaving two helpless orphans to my protection. I did not appeal to your pity when one of these poor babes, requiring tenderer aid than could be afforded by its soldier uncle, pined away till it rejoined its parents in the grave. I appeal not to it even now, Madam, though one of the only two on earth in whose veins blood kindred with your own is flowing, stands in urgent need of your protection. But I command it, Hester! I command it in the name of those who gave you life! I command it in the name of that most high God who hath called them to himself. I command it in the name of the world's opinion, more infinential over your mind than either!!
• What is it you require of me? faltered the Marchioness, orer. awed by the resolute sternness of her brother. "
That during my absence in the opening campaign you accord your protection to the orphan daughter of John Darley,' replied Gerard.
The camp is not a fit home for a girl of her years and beauty; and where am I to place her, unless where she has a right to be, in the household of her nearest female relative ?!
"It is well,' replied Madame de Montméry, coldly. During your absence my niece shall be duly cared for.'
“I had rather the words were uttered in a more womanly tone,' remonstrated Gerard; 'nevertheless, I accept the pledge. Hester Darley is now fifteen,-fair and innocent, as was a former Hester Darley at those tender years. Her birth and breeding, though humble, are equal to those of the Marquis de Montméry. She must not be treated as a slave,-she must not be treated as a menial.'
‘She shall be treated as my brother's child,' interrupted Hester, eager to bring the interview to a close.
Nay, more. Unendowed with the means of forming a noble al. liance, I will not have her thrust into the dissolute circles that frequent this house. Let her dwell in seclusion till my return, when I shall require at your hands an account of her welfare You know me-you are aware that Gerard Darley is not to be trifled with. Let the prosperity of my poor charge allow me nothing to complain of.'
However irritated by the arrogance of the trooper's tone, Madame de Montmíry felt that the best method to keep peace with him was to subscribe to his conditions; and within an hour the young girl, as yet a stranger to her, was deposited under her care.
That night young Hester Darley slept under the roof of the Marchioness.
The only comfort to the aunt, on beholding the extraordinary beauty of the girl thus peremptorily committed to her charge, was the injunction of Gerard that she should not figure in the gay society of the Hôtel Montméry. Hester Darley, though presenting an ex traordinary resemblance to her aunt and namesake, was a thousand times lovelier than the Marchioness even in her prime. She pos