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Each window had its occupant posted against the glass, vainly endeavouring to catch one bit of blue, amid the dreary waste of cloud. A little group, sulky and silent, were gathered around the weather-glass ; a literary inquirer sat down to con over the predictions of the almanac;—but you might as well have looked for sociability among the inhabitants of a private madhouse as here. The weather was cursed in every language from Cherokee to Sanscrit ; all agreed that no country had such an abominable climate. The Yankee praised the summers of America, the Dane upheld his own, and I took a patriotic turn, and vowed I had never seen such rain in Ireland! The master of the house could scarcely show amid this torrent of abusive criticism, and when he did by chance appear, looked as much ashamed as though he himself had pulled out the spigot, and deluged the whole land with water.
Meanwhile, none of those I looked for appeared. Neither the colonel's daughter nor the baronne came down; the abbé too did not descend to the breakfast-room, and I was considerably puzzled and put out by the disappointment.
After then enduring a good hour's boredom from the old colonel on the subject of my late lamented parent, Mark O'Leary; after submitting to a severe cross-examination from the Yankee gentleman as to the reason of my coming abroad, what property and expectations I had, my age, and birth-place, what my mother died of, and whether I did not feel very miserable from the abject slavery of submitting to an English governmentI escaped into the library, a fine comfortable old room, which I rightly conjectured I should find unoccupied.
Šelecting a quaint-looking quarto with some curious illuminated pages for my companion, I drew a great deep leather chair into a recess of one window, and hugged myself in my solitude. While I listlessly turned over the leaves of my book, or sat sunk in reflection, time crept over, and I heard the great clock of the chateau strike three, at the same moment a hand fell lightly on my shoulder ; I turned about-it was the abbé.
“ I half suspected I should find you here,” said he. “Do I disturb you, or may I keep your company ?"
“ But too happy," I replied, “if you'll do me the favour.”
“I thought,” said he, as he drew a chair opposite to me—“ I thought you'd scarcely play dominoes all day, or turn over the Livre des Modes, or discuss waistcoats.”
“ In truth, I was scarcely better employed—this old volume here which I took down for its plates —"
“Ma foi, a most interesting one; it is Guchardi's History of Mary of Burgundy. Those quaint old processions, those venerable councils are admirably depicted. What rich stores for a romance writer lie in the details of these old books ;—their accuracy as to costume, the little traits of every-day life so naively told ; every little domestic incident is so full of its characteristic era. I wonder when the springs are so accessible, men do not draw more frequently from them, and more purely also.”
“ You forget Scott."
“ No; far from it. He is the great exception; and from his intimate acquaintance with this class of reading, is he so immeasurably superior to all other writers of his style. Not merely tinctured, but deeply imbued with the habits of the feudal period; the traits by which others attempt to paint the time, with him were mere accessories in the picture ; costume and architecture he used, to heighten, not to convey his impressions; and while no one knew better every minute particular of dress, or arm, that etokened a period or a class, none more sparingly used such aid. He It the same delicacy certain ancient artists did as to the introduction of pure white into their pictures, deeming that such was an unfair exercise of skill-But why venture to speak of your countryman to_you, save that genius is above nationality, and Scott's novels at least are European."
After chatting for some time longer, and feeling struck with the extent and variety of the abbé's attainments, I half dropped a hint expressive of my surprise that one so cultivated as he was, could apparently so readily comply with the monotonous routine of a chateau life, and the little prospect it afforded of his meeting congenial associates.
Far from feeling offended at the liberty of my remark, he replied at once with a smile
“ You are wrong there, and the error is a common one, but when you have seen more of life, you will learn that a man's own resources are the only real gratifications he can count upon. Society, like a field-day, may offer the occasion to display your troops and put them through their manæuvres, but, believe me, it is a rare and a lucky day when you go back richer by one recruit, and the chance is, that even he is a cripple and must be sent about his business. People too will tell you much of the advantage to be derived from associating with men of distinguished and gifted minds : I have seen something of such in my time, and give little credit to the theory. You might as well hope to obtain credit for a thousand pounds, because you took off your hat to a banker.”
The abbé paused after this and seemed to be occupied with his own thoughts ; then raising his head suddenly, he said
“As to happiness, believe me, it lives only in the extremes of perfect vacuity, or true genius. Your clever fellow, with a vivid fancy and glowing inagination, strong feeling, and strong power of expression, has no chance of it. The excitement he lives in, is alone a bar to the tranquil character of thought necessary to happiness, and however cold a man may feel he should never warın himself through a burning glass.”
There seemed through all he said something like a retrospective tone, as though he were rather giving the fruit of past personal experiences, than merely speculating on the future, and I could not help throwing out a hint to this purport.
“Perhaps you are right," said he ; then after a long silence he added “ It is a fortunate thing after all, when the faults of a man's temperament are the source of some disappointment in early life; because then they rarely endanger his subsequent career. Let him only escape the just punishment, whatever it be, and the chances are, they embitter every hour of his after life ; his ole care and study being not correction, but concealment, he lives a life of daily duplicity; the fear of detection is over him at every step he takes, and he plays a part so constantly that he loses all real character at last in the frequency of dissimulation. Shall I tell you a little incident with which I became acquainted in early life?
“ Without tiring you with any irrelevant details of the family and relatives of my hero, if I dare call him such, I may mention that he was the second son of an old Belgian family of some rank and wealth, and that in accordance with the habits of his house, he was educated for the career of diplomacy; for this purpose a life of travel was deemed the best preparation-foreign languages being the chief requisite, with such insight into history, national law, and national usages as any young man with moderate capacity and assiduity, can master in three or four years.
• The chief of the Dutch mission at Frankfort was an old diplomate of some distinction, but who, had it not been from causes purely personal towards the king, would not have quitted the Hague for any embassy whatever. He was a widower with an only daughter, one of those true types of Dutch beauty which Terburg was so fond of painting. There are people who can see nothing but vulgarity in the class of features I speak of, and yet nothing in reality is farther from it. Hers was a mild, placid face, a wide, candid-looking forehead, down either side of which two braids of sunny brown hair fell; her skin, fair as alabaster, had the least tinge of colour, but her lips were full and of a violet lue, that gave a character of brilliancy to the whole countenance; her figure, inclined to embonpoint, was exquisitely moulded, and in her walk there appeared the composed and resolute carriage of one whose temperament, however mild and unruffled, was still based on principles too strong to be shaken. She was indeed a perfect specimen of her nation, embodying in her character the thrift, the propriety, the high sense of honour, the rigid habits of order, so eminently Dutch ; but withal there ran through her nature the golden thread of romance, and beneath that mild eyebrow there were the thoughts and hopes of a highly imaginative mind.
“ The mission consisted of an old secretary of embassy, Van Dohein, a veteran diplomate of some sixty years, and Edward Norvins, the youth I speak of. Such was the family party, for you are aware that they all lived in the same house and dined together every day; the attachés of the mission being specially entrusted to the care and attention of the head of the mission, as if they were his own children. Norvins soon fell in love with the pretty Marguerite—how could it be otherwise ; they were constantly together; he was her companion at home, her attendant at every ball; they rode out together, walked, read, drew, and sang together, and in fact very soon became inseparable. In all this there was nothing which gave rise to remark. The intimate habits of a mission permitted such, and as her father, deeply immersed in affairs of diplomacy, had no time to busy himself about them, no one else did. The secretary had followed the same course at every mission for the first ten years of his career, and only deemed it the ordinary routine of an attaché's life.
“Such then was the pleasant current of their lives, when an event occurred which was to disturb its even flow, ay, and alter the channel for ever. A despatch arrived one morning at the mission, informing them that a certain Monsieur van Halsdt, a son of one of the ministers, who had lately committed some breach of discipline in a cavalry regiment, and was broke in consequence, was about to be attached to the mission. Never was such a shock as this gave Marguerite and her lover. To her the idea of associating with a wild, unruly character like this was insupportable: to him it was misery; he saw at once all his daily intimacy with her interrupted; he perceived how their former habits could no longer be followed, that with his arrival must cease the companionship that made him the i.appiest of men. Even the baron himself was indigpant at the arrangement to saddle him with a vaurien to be reclaimed but then he was the minister's son: the king himself had signed the appointment, and there was no help for it.
“ It was indeed with any thing but feelings of welcome they awaited the coming of the new guest. Even in the short interval between his appointment and his coming, a hundred rumours reached them of his numerous scrapes and adventures, his duels, his debts, his gambling, and his love exploits. All of course duly magnified. Poor Marguerite felt as though an imp of Satan was about to pay them a visit, and Norvins dreaded him with a fear that partook of a presentiment.
“ The day came, and the dinner hour, in respect for the son of the great man, was delayed twenty minutes in expectation of his coming, and they went to table at last without him, silent and sad. The baron, annoyed at the loss of dignity he should sustain by a piece of politeness exercised without result; the secretary fretting over the entrées that were burned; Marguerite and Edward mourning over happiness never to return-suddenly a caleche drove into the court at full gallop, the steps rattled, and a figure, wrapped in a cloak, sprang out: before the first surprise permitted them to speak, the door of the salle opened, and he appeared.
“ It would, I confess, have been a difficult matter to bave fixed on that precise character of looks and appearances which might have pleased all the party. Whatever were the sentiments of others I know not, but Norvins' wishes would have inclined to see him short and ill-looking, rude in speech and gesture—in a word, as repulsive as possible. It is indeed a strange thing-you must have remarked it I'm certain : the disappointment we feel at finding people we desire to like, inferior to our own conceptions of them, is not one half so great, as is our chagrin at discovering those we are determined to dislike, very different from our preconceived notions, with few or none of the features we were prepared to find fault with, and in fact altogether unlike the bugbear we had created for ourselves. One would suppose that such a revulsion in feeling would be pleasurable rather than otherwise. Not so however, a sense of our own injustice adds poignancy to our previous prejudice, and we dislike the object only the more for lowering us in our own esteem.
“Van Halsdt was well calculated to illustrate my theory. He was tall and well made; his face, dark as a Spaniard's—his mother was descended from a Catalonian family-was manly-looking and frank, at once indicating openness of temperament, and a dash of heroic daring, that would like danger for itself alone; his carriage had the easy freedom of a soldier, without any thing bordering on coarseness or effrontery. Advancing with a quiet bow, he tendered his apologies for being late, rather as a matter he owed to himself to excuse his want of punctuality, than from any sense of inconvenience to others, and ascribed the delay to the difficulty of finding post-horses—While waiting therefore,' said he, I resolved to economise time, and so dressed for dinner at the last stage.'
“ This apology at least showed a desire on his part to be in time, and at once disposed the secretary in his favour. The baron himself spoke little, and as for Marguerite she never opened her lips to him the whole time of dinner, and Norvins could barely get out the few common-places of table, and sat eyeing him from time to time with an increasing dislike.
“ Van Halsdt could not help feeling that his reception was of the coldest ; yet either perfectly indifferent to the fact, or resolved to overcome their impressions against him, he talked away unceasingly of every thing he could think of—the dinners at court, the theatres, the diplomatic soireés, the news from foreign countries—all of which he spoke of with knowledge and intimacy. Yet nothing could he extract in return. The old baron retired, as was his wont, immediately after dinner ; the secretary dropped off soon after ; Marguerite went to take her evening drive on the Boulevards; and Norvins was left alone with his new comrade. At first he was going to pretend an engagement, then the awkwardness of the moment came forcibly before him, and he sat still, silent and confused.
“« Any wine in that decanter ? said Van Halsdt, with a short abrupt tone, as he pointed to the bottle beside him. “Pray pass it over here. I have only drank three glasses. I shall be better aware to-morrow how soon your party breaks up here.'
«« Yes,' said Edward timidly, and not well knowing what to say. The baron retires to his study every evening at seven.'
“With all my heart, said he gaily; at six if he prefer it, and he may even take the old secretary with him. But the mademoiselle, shall we see any more of her during the evening—is there no salon? Eh, what do you do after dinner?'
“« Why sometimes we drive, or we walk out on the Boulevards ; the other ministers receive once or twice a week, and then there's the opera.'
“Devilishly slow you must find all this,' said Van Halsdt, filling a bumper, and taking it off at a draught. "Are you long here ?'
Only three months.' « • And well sick of it, I'll be sworn.' “« No, I feel very happy-I like the quiet."
« « Oh dear! oh dear!' said he, with a long groan, 'what is to become of me?'
“Norvins heartily wished he could have replied to the question in the way he would have liked, but said nothing.
« It's past eight,' said he, as he perceived him stealing a look at his watch. • Never mind me, if you've any appointment—I'll soon learn to make myself at home here. Perhaps you'd better ring for some more claret however before you go-they don't know me yet.'
“ Edward almost started from his chair at this speech-such a liberty had never before been heard of as to call for more wine ; indeed their ordinary habits did not consume half that was placed on the table, but so taken by surprise was he, that he actually rose and rang the bell as he was desired.
« Some claret, Johann,' said he with a gulph, as the old butler entered. “ The man started back, and fixed his eyes on the empty decanter.
“And I say, ancient,' said Yan) Halsdt, don't decant it-you shook the last bottle confoundedly. It's old wine, and won't bear that kind of usage.'
« The old man moved away with a deep sigh, and returned in about ten minutes with a bottle from the cellar.
“ Didn't Providence bless you with two hands, friend?' said Van Halsdt.-Go down for another.'
««Go, Johann,' said Norvins, as he saw him hesitate, and not knowing what his refusal might call forth ; and then without waiting for further varley, he arose and withdrew.
“Well, thought he, when he was once more alone, if he is a goodlooking fellow, and there is no denying that, one comfort is, he is a confirmed drunkard. Marguerite will never be able to endure him ; for such, in his secret heart, was the reason of his premature dislike and dread of his new companion ; and as he strolled along he meditated on the many ways he should be able to contrast his own acquirements with the other's deficiencies, for such he set them down at once, and gradually reasoned himself into the conviction that the fear of all rivalry from him was mere folly; and that whatever success his handsome face and figure might have elsewhere, that Marguerite was not the girl to be caught by such attractions, when coupled with an unruly temper and an uneducated mind.
“And he was right. Great as his own repugnance was towards him, hers was far greater. She not only avoided him on every occasion, but took pleasure, as it seemed, in marking the cold distance of her manner to him, and contrasting it with her behaviour to others. It is true he appeared to care little for this; and only replied to it by a half impertinent style of familiarity—a kind of jocular intimacy most insulting to a woman, and horribly tantalizing for those to witness, who are attached to her.
“I don't wish to make my story a long one ; nor could I without entering into the details of every-day life, which now became so completely altered. Marguerite and Norvins only met at rare intervals, and then less