« ForrigeFortsæt »
actors in this drama seemed to have passed for ever from the stage. I had grown rich and respected, and was considered at the very head of my profession, when the new opera was opened with great pomp and éclat. Many first-rate singers were engaged, and among the rest, one Madame Michelini was announced to eclipse all others, and great, therefore, was the excitement produced by her arrival from Italy.
"It was on the very day of the anniversary of the death of Paquerette, and I had, as usual, been to perform my little pilgrimage to the Champ du Repos, when, on my return, Babet informed me, that a footman in splendid livery had been sent by the new singer about to appear that night to command a lot of bouquets for the claqueurs to throw upon the stage at the falling of the curtain. Now as this is a stale, a very stale trick, indeed, it excited no astonishment, and I should probably have set about executing the order as I had before done many of the same nature, without notice or comment, had not Babet left part of her message unexecuted, and I was, therefore, compelled to go myself to the lady, to hear her intentions explained more fully. The address was in a fashionable street of the Chaussée d'Antin, and thither I repaired accordingly. The door was opened by a little negro page, in a turban all flaunting with scarlet and gold, who informed me that madame was at her toilet, but that if I would just step into her boudoir, she would be visible with as little delay as possible. I traversed the marble dining-hall, the gorgeous saloon, close at the heels of my nimble conductor, little dreaming of all the painful emotion I was to experience ere I returned through them, and soon found myself stationed in one of those snug retreats where our Parisian belles love to display all the taste which nature may have given them to the best advantage.
"As I entered, a small finikin lady's-maid was passing in haste, bearing on her arm the befeathered and bespangled crape skirt in which her mistress was to appear that night as a Mexican princess. She was followed by a little dog, who was gnawing and nibbling to his heart's content all the smart gold ornaments of the dress, as the careless Abigail let them trail after her upon the ground.
"Presently the door of the inner chamber opened, and Madame Michelini entered. She was a large showy woman, very tall and very stout, but her whole appearance redolent of the neglect and disorderly taste of those of her profession. Her hair was already dressed for the evening's performance with a circlet of gold binding her forehead, an aureole of feathers sticking upright all around her head, and with this she was attired in a large-patterned dirty morning wrapper, open to the waist, and disclosing a rather red and bony neck and bosom. She advanced with a dancing pace, dragging after her the faded red slippers, in which her feet were meant to have been encased, and addressing me as Ma chère,' and expressing her pleasure that I had come myself upon her business, she advanced to the window, and drew aside the heavy curtain which had screened the light, and sank herself backward with a loud 'puff!' into the eider-down cushion of the fauteuil which stood ready to receive her. I stared with surprise as she executed this movement. The light fell full upon her face-I could not be mistaken, those features could not be forgotten, the sight of them gave me such a pang at my heart that I could have sobbed outright. Madame Michelini was no other than Melanie Michel, the daughter of poor old Françoise! the kind friend and protectress of Paquerette de Fontenay! Poor old soul!
even had she lived to see that day she would most certainly have died with joy at sight of her darling Melanie's good fortune. I had command enough, however, over my countenance to suffer none of my surprise to escape, and she proceeded in her explanations and derivations perfectly unconscious that my mind was far away, both from her and her success, and that I had heard not a single sentence of all the instructions she was at so much pains to bestow upon me. She was, however, as in days of yore, endued with the same happy consciousness of her own perfections, and all the time she was talking to me her face was turned towards the large mirror where she had ample food for occupation, in examining if all her feathers bobbed the right way, and in coaxing and patting the accroche cœurs beneath the bandeaux, in order to induce them to keep close to her blooming cheek, which, from their wiry nature, the little rebels seemed but ill disposed to do.
"It appeared that she had raised some difficulty with herself concerning the distribution of her flowers, which, of course, I was unable to solve, never having paid the slightest attention to any thing she had been saying about the matter, when I was aroused to a sense of where I was by her suddenly rising and exclaiming, that as I seemed so much embarrassed, she must consult the general, whose taste none could dispute.' She accordingly opened the door of her apartment, and calling Mon ami!' proceeded to explain, in a loud voice, the cause of her dilemma, to an individual who was seated with his back to the open door, writing letters upon the lady's toilet table.
"Mon ami stuck his pen into a rouge-pot, in order to answer the summons, and seemed to listen with much respect and deference to the exposition of the fair one's difficulties, and when she had ceased speaking, he turned suddenly round and exclaimed
"But what says the good lady who furnishes the bouquets, mon ange? she must be the best judge, methinks.'
"Now I had not trembled nor turned pale, nor felt, in fact, any emotion beyond that of a momentary surprise at the sight of Melanie, but at the sound of those few words, uttered in that deep male voice, a chill crept over my whole frame, a trembling seized upon every limb, and if I had not clung for support to the marble console near which I was standing, I should have fallen to the earth. But my more than human efforts to appear calm were not without a happy result. As I grew more composed, indignation was the only feeling which moved me, and when in answer to the debate, I found myself, at length, compelled to make some observation, I replied, without even knowing the point which they had been disputing together
"Perhaps M. le General will prefer the purple bruyère, or a bunch of the bright scarlet geranium.'
"Mon ami' started from his chair at these words, and after gazing at me for a moment, he wiped his gold spectacles upon his India foulard, and, placing them upon his nose, walked to the door, and indulged in a long deliberate stare. But my glance met his without quailing; I feared not recognition, for the years had been long and sorrow heavy since I had beheld him last, and presently, as I had expected, he desisted. shook his head and resumed his seat, while I could see that he hid his face with both his hands, and that he continued to drum the heel of his boot against the carpet during the whole time that I stood there, but he spoke no more.
"I hastened my departure as much as possible, for I dared not overtax my firmness, and I had already read a tale of weakness and of folly in that short visit which I cared not further to unravel.
"As I passed hastily from the apartment, madame's bell was rung with violence, and presently the finikin maid rushed past me, screaming at the top of her voice for hartshorn and warm water and M. Antonio, the valet-de-chambre, for that M. le General was seized with one of his most violent fits-a dreadful one-worse, in fact, than the one by which he had been attacked on the morning when he had flown into such a rage at poor Batiste, for awakening him out of bed by singing Pauvre Jacques,' while he was blacking the shoes under the bed-room window. And then I thought of my grandmother, and of her prophecy, and of Louis Girardot, the poor and friendless painter, and of her who was mouldering in the grave.
"I saw them no more after this-neither the one nor the other of this worthy pair-and even the memory of this day had almost passed away like a dream, when the year after, being again on my way from visiting the grave of Paquerette, and slowly descending the hill of the cemetery, my course was impeded by the entrance of a magnificently plumed and escutcheoned hearse, with a long train of mourners coming up the acclivity. Iturned aside to let the train pass by just as the roll of the muffled drum burst upon the ear, and I heard one of the bystanders ask whose was the brilliant funeral. The reply struck to my heart. 'Tis that of General Girardot, notre bon general, one more of the emperor's darlings -they are all going one by one now that he is gone--but what have they better to do than to follow him?'
"I could not help turning after this to watch the procession as it slowly passed by the spot where slumbered poor Paquerette de Fontenay. Just then, a bunch of the rich ostrich feathers fell aside from the coffin, and while they paused to arrange it, one of the soldiers, attracted by the beauty of the scarlet blossoms which overshadowed, like a canopy, the head of the tomb, thrust his hand through the iron-grating, and plucked one of its brightest clusters. I was struck with a feeling of awe, for which I dared not stop to inquire the cause, when, a moment afterwards, I saw the self-same bunch of flowers fall from the soldier's hand when he fired into the grave, upon the richly-gilt and chiselled coffin-lid. It was a strange, a startling coincidence. Perhaps the last farewell of pity and forgiveness of that pure and gentle spirit to its first and only love.
"Madame Michelini, whose success upon the Paris boards grew, after some little time, rather doubtful, having inherited the wealth of Mon ami,' the general, married, after all, the trombone player, and retired from the stage, and she is living or rather languishing in her snug little picturesque villa at M—
"My story is concluded," said the bouquetière, endeavouring to resume her cheerful manner. She looked at us with a smile, although the tears were trembling in her eyes, and said archly; "and now, gentlemen, shall I give you another? Come, a merry one, hey-all about—”
"No, no," we both exclaimed in a breath, "not to-night-not to-night -we can endure no gaiety just now."
I coughed; R- blew his nose very loud indeed—and, without saying another word, we quitted the shop arm-in-arm, and took, in silence and in sadness, the road to our hotel.
PHILIP AND HIS POODLE.
WHEN Philip arrived on the following morning at the station of the railroad, and inspected the bill, he was delighted to find that a train about to start in a few minutes would pass through Eccleshall, the residence of his contemplated father-in-law. Rendered cautious by his last misadventure, he looked out for an empty carriage, in which he might immediately ensconce himself, an object, however, in which he could not succeed, but coming to one with only a single passenger, he jumped in, drew up the glass, and shrunk into a corner, so as to escape observation from the people on the platform. In another minute he was in rapid motion, his confidence reviving as he knew that he was whirling further and further from London, and speeding towards a remote and somewhat obscure locality, where there was hardly a possibility of his being recognised. Anxious to gather some information about the town where he was to win his once known, but now totally unrecollected heiress, he inquired of his companion, apparently a decent tradesman, at what hour the train would reach Eccleshall. After stating the time, the stranger added-" What, are you going to Eccleshall? We don't often get visitors to our quiet
"Are you, then, a native of that place ?" inquired Philip, delighted at the thought of better qualifying himself for the part he was about to act by a few searching questions.
"Not a native, but I've lived there, man and boy, going on for fiveand-twenty year."
"Then you doubtless know Mr. Samuel Gibbons."
"Know him! Should think I did: play bowls with him every Saturday at the Magpie."
"I am not acquainted with him myself, and indeed have never seen him. I am merely going down on a matter of business in which he is concerned. Pray, what sort of a person is he?"
"Oh, he's a good little creature as can be, to play bowls or smoke a pipe with, but, poor fellow! as to any thing else, he baint much better than a Tom Noddy, or a born natural. Some call him Silly Sam,' and others, 'Goose Gibbons.' I've heard say he's got a softening of the brain, but, for my part, I shouldn't ha' thought he ever had much brain to soften."
"And Mrs. Gibbons ?"
"Rest her.soul! she ha' been dead this seven or eight year."
"I think I heard there are some children living ?"
"Only one, a girl, that's to say, a young woman now; for Susan must be two, let me see, ay, upwards of two-and-twenty years old, and a kindly, stout-hearted, strait-forward lass she be; that's what she be !" "Is it true, or did I dream it, that she has a handsome fortune of her
"Don't know what you call handsome, but her uncle, old Matt. Ruggles, the miller, lately left her a matter of seven thousand pound, hard money, and that I call something better than handsome."
"Oh! clearly, clearly, I quite agree with you," said Philip, in an absent manner, his thoughts being entirely engrossed by the anticipated possession of the nice, kind-hearted lass and her fortune, the compromising and the silencing of the forgery affair, and his inflexible determination to become thenceforward one of the most honourable men and devoted husbands in all England. There was no hypocrisy in this: his good intentions were always sincere at the moment, but unfortunately he was too weak and vacillating to give them consistency. One all-important point remained to be ascertained, and he now inquired whether Susan's fortune were entirely at her own disposal.
"To be sure it is," was the reply; "what would be the use of leaving it to silly Sam? Bless your heart! he baint fit to be trusted with money. Susan manages every thing and settles every thing, and she's not the girl to be choused and cheated, I promise you."
This latter averment was not quite palatable to his auditor, who ceased not, however, to renew his interrogatories, and to gather such information as might be useful to him until they arrived at Eccleshall, when he left the train, and betook himself to an inn, that he might digest the information he had received, so as to make it support, in the most plausible way, the character he had assumed. The more he considered the difficult and perilous part he was about to play, the more nervous he became, and feeling the want of some support and stimulus, before his début, he called for a plate of sandwiches, and a bottle of champagne, the contents of which he tossed off with a rapidity that soon changed his misgiving mood into one of comparative recklessness. Without being intoxicated he was highly excited, his spirits recovered their habitual buoyancy, his innate love of banter, and hoaxing, and cajolery revived in all its force, and under the confused notion that he was about to act a part in a farce, he proceeded to the house of "Goose Gibbons" with a full determination to have some fun with him in the first instance, whatever might be the ultimate result of their interview.
The door of a neat cottage, on the outskirts of the town, having been opened by a maid, the visitant was ushered through the house into a trim, formal garden, where he found the proprietor, a little vacant-looking bald-headed old man, employed in watering one of the beds, for the more comfortable performance of which duty he had laid aside his coat and hat. On the appearance of the stranger he ceased, and gazing with a bewildered air first on the watering-pot, next on the ground, and then fixing his eyes accusingly on the former, he exclaimed,
Why, I do declare you've gone and watered the radishes instead of the flower-beds. How funny! Only to think! I wonder what Susan will say? What's this? a letter for me, and waiting for an answer: here's doings! Just step into the parlour, sir, and we'll see what it is. I'm sorry Susan's gone to market, for she answers all my letters. Never was such a clever managing girl as my Susan."
To the parlour they accordingly adjourned, when after taking out and deliberately wiping his spectacles, the old man adjusted them to his nose,