Paul de Kock.

Novels by Paul de Kock (Volume 19) online

. (page 14 of 27)
Online LibraryPaul de KockNovels by Paul de Kock (Volume 19) → online text (page 14 of 27)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

figure in company."

" Foolish ! " cried Gerondif ; " that is impossible ! You
forget that you are my pupil; you are not equal to me
in Horace and Virgil, but you know some passages you
must repeat them when you are talking with men. With
the ladies, it is different ; employ those figures of speech,
those metaphors, which embellish discourse; compare


them to Venus, Diana, Juno, Hebe, and you will cer-
tainly win a surprising triumph. But, if you wish me to
go with you, I will stand behind you and prompt you."

Cherubin did not consider it necessary to be attended
in company by his tutor; he believed that Monfreville
would keep his promise and would not leave him.

Monfreville called for his young friend at the hour
appointed. He was dressed in the most perfect taste;
his slender and shapely figure was encased in an ex-
quisitely fitting coat, which he wore with much grace.
His youthful bearing, his beautiful dark hair and his
still charming face made him seem barely thirty years
old, although he was near forty.

Cherubin, who was dressed in the latest style, still re-
tained a trace of the awkwardness characteristic of vil-
lage youths; but as he was well-built and had a most
attractive face, the awkwardness of his carriage some-
times resembled the innocent coquetry of a schoolboy.

They entered the carriage, and Monfreville said:

" I am taking you into fashionable society, but, in
order to dispel any feeling of shyness, that may injure
your prospects, say to yourself first of all that you are
of as good family as any of the people you will see there ;
say to yourself in the second place, that, thanks to your
fortune and your rank, you need no support. When a
person can say that to himself, my dear Cherubin, he
should be perfectly self-possessed in society; indeed,
some people are too much so. In default of the advan-
tages which you have, and which everybody cannot have,
a philosopher would say : ' Why should I allow myself
to be awed by this man's title, or by that man's fortune ?
Are they not men like myself, after all? Imagine all
these vain, proud people in the costume of our first
parents in the Garden of Eden; strip them of these


decorations, these jewels, these costly clothes, in which
their whole merit often consists, will they be so imposing
to me then? No, indeed; it is probable that they will
make me laugh, and that is all.' My dear fellow, a few
such reflections are enough to put one entirely at his ease
in the most exalted company."

" You encourage me," said Cherubin ; " I shall talk
Latin with the men, and with the ladies I shall talk about
Venus, Diana and Phoebe. Monsieur Gerondif advised

" If you want to make people laugh at you, that would
be the best of all ways. I suspected that your tutor was
a fool, now I am sure of it."

" Mon Dieu ! what shall I say then, if anyone speaks
to me?"

" Reply to what they say."

" But suppose I don't know what to reply suppose
I can't think of anything to say ? "

" Keep silent then. A person is never stupid in so-
ciety when he knows how to keep silent; indeed there
are people who owe their reputation for wit to their

" But suppose I see any lovely -.vomen, who take my

" Tell them so with your eyes ; they will understand
you perfectly."

" But if I want to make their acquaintance, to pay court
to them?"

" Say whatever comes into your head ; but above all
things don't try to be bright, for you would make your-
self a terrible bore."

" But suppose nothing comes into my head ? "

" You still have the resource of silence and eloquent
glances; there are many people who stop there."


" But this lady to whose house you are taking me ? "
" True, I must tell you something about her. Madame
Celival must be about thirty-six, but she is very good-
looking; she is an alluring brunette; her eyes are most
expressive, she has a lovely figure and graceful outlines ;
there is something fascinating, something voluptuous in
her whole aspect, which seduces all the men. Madame
Celival is a coquette, too, and is not supposed to be too
cruel to those who sigh for her; but that is whispered
only. She is her own mistress, however; she is the
widow of a general, yes, a real general, who actually
lived and left her a handsome fortune and no children.
You may judge that the lovely widow does not lack
adorers. But, attention; here we are."




In an elegant, brilliantly-lighted apartment on Rue
Saint-Lazare, a fashionable company, already quite nu-
merous, was engaged in conversation that was rarely of
a private nature, but often piquant and satirical. At in-
tervals, some witty person interjected a word or two,
while the undaunted chatterers, who never had anything
clever to say, persisted in holding the floor.

Madame Celival was just as Monfreville had described
her: lovely, amiable, coquettish, glancing at a mirror
from time to time, to be sure of the effect of her gown ;
paying due attention to all her guests, with the talent of a
woman accustomed to society, but reserving softer and
tenderer smiles for the men who were paying court to her.

Near the couch on which the mistress of the house had
just taken her seat sat a young and pretty blonde, dressed
in muslin and crepe, and entangled in veils and scarfs that
almost concealed her charming features ; it was all pink
and white and formed so becoming a frame for this lady
that at a distance she resembled one of those engravings
of a woman's face surrounded by clouds.

Madame Celival thanked the pretty blonde for con-
senting to come to her reception, despite the torture
caused by her nerves. A few steps away was a tall
gentleman wearing a decoration; he was very thin and



very ugly ; his chin was surrounded by a sparse necklace
of jet-black beard; moustaches no less glossy, and care-
fully waxed and twisted at the ends, made his face re-
semble a cat's in some measure. He was addressed as

A young man whose hair was parted and curled with
as much care as a woman could possibly take, and whose
regular, but somewhat harsh features recalled the faces
which our historical painters love to give to the heroes of
ancient Rome, was standing by the fireplace; he rarely
removed his eyes from the ladies who were talking on
the divan, but he seemed not to be observing either of
them more particularly than the other.

Near the piano, for there was necessarily a piano in
the salon, several young persons were assembled, turning
over the leaves of albums, or looking at the music ; they
were not all good-looking, but they were all dressed
with so much taste, there was so much reserved grace
in their manners, that even those who were not pretty
were not without charm.

In another part of the room the mammas were chatting
together; some were dressed with a coquetry which
seemed to indicate a purpose to outshine their daughters ;
others displayed a simple but tasteful elegance, suited to
their age, which made them the more attractive when
they were still young enough to attract.

Some young men were fluttering about the younger
ladies, while others contented themselves with standing
very straight and stiff in order to call attention to the
finished elegance of their clothes and the good taste with
which their hair was arranged. Some had assumed a
smile which remained as if stereotyped on their faces
throughout the evening. Then there were men of un-
certain age standing and talking in the middle of the


room; among them a gentleman, whose gray hair, very
scanty over his forehead, curled luxuriantly about his
temples. He possessed a distinguished and intellectual
face, but there was an over-curious, over-inquisitive ex-
pression in his little eyes, which gleamed with the vivacity
of youth, although his face indicated that he was in the
neighborhood of sixty. This gentleman talked inces-
santly, with much energy, and while carrying on a con-
versation in one part of the salon, managed to hear
what was said elsewhere, and thus took part in most of
the other conversations, sustaining his share of the dis-
cussion on several different subjects at the same time,
with the same facility with which Caesar dictated several
letters at once in different languages.

Another salon, smaller than that where the ladies were
sitting, and reached by passing through a lovely little
room furnished with the most delicious luxury, was set
aside for those of the guests who wished to play cards.
Whist and bouillotte tables were prepared, but there were
as yet no players.

Monsieur de Monfreville and the Marquis Cherubin
de Grandvilain were announced. All eyes were turned
toward the door. The names Cherubin and Grandvilain
formed such a strange contrast that everybody was
curious to see the person who bore them.

" Monsieur de Grandvilain ! " said one ; " Gad ! how
ugly he must be ! He must be an elderly man."

" But the footman said Cherubin too ; that's a very
pretty name."

" They can't belong to the same man."

" Probably there's a father and a son."

While the guests indulged in these reflections, Ma-
dame Celival said to those who were nearest her, but
speaking loud enough to be overheard by everybody:


" Monsieur de Monfreville did ask my permission to
introduce a young man who has never been out at all ;
and I granted it the more willingly because this young
man, who is the last of a noble family, deserves, so it is
said, all the interest that Monsieur de Monfreville takes in

" Ah ! very well done ! " murmured the gray-haired
gentleman ; " a little announcement preceding the intro-

At that moment Cherubin entered the salon with Mon-
freville. Despite all that his mentor had said to him,
he was far from self-possessed, and the deep flush that
covered his cheeks sufficiently betrayed his embarrass-
ment. But his eyes were so lovely and soft, his features
so refined, his face so interesting, that a flattering mur-
mur greeted his entrance into the salon, and everyone
felt prepossessed in his favor at once. The young men
who were standing stiffly erect to display their fine points
were the only ones who did not seem to share the gen-
eral feeling.

" He has a very awkward manner," said one.

" He carries himself badly," said another.

" He looks like a woman in man's clothes," murmured
a young dandy, bristling with beard, moustache and side-

And Monsieur Trichet, the gray-haired gentleman,
smiled maliciously and said :

" Cherubin ! a most appropriate name. He is Comte
Almaviva's little page to the life ! He still lacks the gal-
lantry and self-assurance of his namesake; but those
will soon come. The ladies will ask nothing better than
to train him."

Madame Celival greeted the young man with a charm-
ing smile when Monfreville presented him. She made


several of those complimentary remarks which captivate
instantly the person to whom they are addressed. Cheru-
bin tried to reply to her compliments, but he went astray
and tangled himself up in a sentence which he was un-
able to finish. Luckily Monfreville was at hand and in-
terposed to relieve his embarrassment, and Madame
Celival was too well-bred not to do her best to put him
at his ease. So that, after a few moments, Cherubin
began to venture to look about him.

" What a lot of pretty women there are here ! " he
whispered to his sponsor. " I say, my friend, do you
mean to say that one can love them all ? "

" You are perfectly at liberty to love them all, but I
cannot promise that they will all love you."

" The mistress of the house is very beautiful ; she has
eyes that I don't dare to say it."

" Say on."

" That dazzle one, intoxicate one excuse me, but I
can't think of the right word."

" Intoxicate isn't at all bad ; in fact, you have unwit-
tingly hit upon the most apt expression; for if wine
deprives us of our reason, a pretty woman's eyes pro-
duce precisely the same effect. I am tempted to tell
Madame Celival what you just said about her eyes; she
will be flattered by it, I'll wager."

" Oh ! my dear fellow, don't do that I shouldn't dare
to look at her again. But the lady opposite is very pretty
too ! That blonde almost hidden by pink and white mus-

" That is Madame la Comtesse Emma de Valdieri ; she
is a fascinating creature, in very truth; she has some-
thing of the sylph about her, something of a daughter of
the air. She is perfectly proportioned : small feet, small
hands, small mouth, small ears; only her eyes are large.


She is the perfect type of tiny women. But she is exceed-
ingly nervous and flighty, and, above all, capricious;
to-day she will greet you with a tender glance, to-morrow
she will act as if she did not know you; adulation has
spoiled her. Comtesse Emma is French, but her husband
is a Corsican. He is that stout gentleman with whiskers,
who is singing at the piano. He has a superb bass voice,
so that he is always anxious to sing; and, although he's
a Corsican, he seems to be very little disturbed by the
homage paid to his wife."

Monsieur Trichet, who was at some distance from
Monfreville, succeeded none the less in overhearing what
he said to Cherubin ; and he approached the two friends,
saying in a sarcastic tone:

" True, true. Valdieri, the handsome singer, is not at
all jealous; but it isn't safe to trust him! With these
Corsicans, there is always the vendetta to guard against.
Is your health good, Monsieur de Monfreville ? "

" Very good, monsieur, I thank you."

" It is some time since you have shown yourself in so-

" I have been obliged to pay a long visit to my estate
near Fontainebleau."

" Oh, yes ! So you are introducing monsieur in so-
ciety ? He could not find a better guide."

Cherubin bowed and attempted to say a few words in
reply ; but after a vain effort, he deemed it more pru-
dent to hold his peace. Monsieur Trichet was about to
continue the conversation, when he saw, at the other
end of the room, three gentlemen talking with great
earnestness; he instantly ran toward them, crying:

" That isn't so you're wrong ! I know the story
better than you do, and I'll tell it to you."

Monfreville smiled at Cherubin and said:


" I need not tell you that that gentleman, whose name
is Trichet, is the most inquisitive and loquacious mortal
whom it is possible to meet. He can't see two people
talking together without joining their conversation, which
is not always agreeable. However, as Monsieur Trichet
is a very wealthy old bachelor, who gives very hand-
some fetes, and as, aside from his curiosity, he doesn't
lack wit and tells a good story, he is made welcome every-
where, in salons and at the theatres."

Cherubin was still engaged in looking about at the as-
sembled company, when the door opened and the footman
announced :

" Monsieur, Madame and Mademoiselle de Noirmont."

A lady above middle height, but of dignified and re-
fined bearing, entered first, with a girl of some fourteen
or fifteen years. The lady, whose dress, although rich,
was almost severe in its simplicity, seemed to be rather
more than thirty years of age ; her features were beauti-
ful, but grave ; her large dark eyes, surmounted by heavy
eyebrows, wore a vague and thoughtful expression which
might lead one to think that her thoughts were often busy
with something different from what she was saying;
her lips, somewhat too tightly closed, hardly ever parted
in a smile. That cold and haughty face was framed by
beautiful tresses of black hair, which fell very low.

The young lady had the winning charm of her age;
although she was not very pretty, her features attracted
one by their fascinating expression of playfulness and
mischief, which was often moderated by her mother's
stern glances.

Monsieur de Noirmont, who came after them, was a
man of fifty; he was very tall and stooped a little; his
temples were shadowed by a few dark hairs, but the top
of his head was entirely bald. His appearance was stern,


supercilious and far from attractive ; his regular features
had probably been handsome, but his steely glance, his
sharp voice and his shortness of speech inspired neither
affection nor confidence.

The arrival of these three persons seemed to cause
Monfreville profound emotion; his brow became wrin-
kled, his eyebrows drew together, and a veil of melan-
choly covered his eyes. But in a moment, surmounting
his sensations, he succeeded in resuming the amiable and
unruffled air which he wore on his arrival; indeed one
would have said that he made it a point to seem more
cheerful than before.

Monsieur Trichet, who had returned to Cherubin's side,
did not fail to comment on the new arrivals:

" That's the Noirmont family ; they have left their
estate in Normandie, and they live in Paris now. They
must have found it very dull in the country. They are
not a very hilarious family. That De Noirmont is stiff
and sour and overbearing! Just because he was once
in the magistracy, you would think that he was always
sitting in judgment on you. However, he's a man of
the strictest probity; he deserves his reputation, but he's
not an agreeable companion. As for his wife, she is a
worthy mate to her husband she talks very little and
never smiles. I don't know whether she has any wit,
but at all events she never compromises it. As for her
virtue oh ! that is intact, as far beyond reproach as her
husband's probity. And yet Madame de Noirmont, who
is very handsome still, although she may be thirty-three
or thirty-four years old yes, she must be quite that
must have been an enchanting creature at eighteen, as-
suming that she deigned to smile occasionally then. Their
daughter, young Ernestine, is a mere child still. She is
a nice little thing, merry and playful which proves that


she takes after neither father nor mother. But that is
often seen. Stay, colonel, I knew the person you are
talking about, and I will explain the matter under dis-

At that, Monsieur Trichet joined the tall gentleman
with the waxed moustache, who was talking with two
ladies; and Cherubin, turning his head, saw that Mon-
freville was no longer by his side.

Finding himself alone, in the midst of that numerous
assemblage, the young man felt sorely perturbed and
lost the assurance which he derived from his friend's
neighborhood. As he preferred not to stand there, awk-
ward and embarrassed, by the fireplace, where he was ex-
posed to every eye, he succeeded in extricating himself
from the circle by slipping behind an easy-chair, and
thence made his way to a window recess, where he was
prevented from going farther by several persons who
were seated there. He tried to retrace his steps, but
Madame de Noirmont and her daughter had seated
themselves in front of him and closed the way by which
he had come; so that he was blockaded in a very con-
fined space, which he could not leave except by com-
pelling the ladies in front of him to rise. As he was in-
capable of such an audacious act, he decided to remain in
the corner where he was, until it should please chance,
or Monfreville, to release him from his prison.

The ladies who were seated in front of the recess in
which Cherubin stood had no suspicion that there was
anybody behind them. The conversation continued in
the salon ; the guests walked hither and thither, laughing
and chatting. Cherubin alone could not stir, and he was
at a loss what to do in his little corner. Several times
Madame Celival passed the people who were blockading
him, but she did not see him. He congratulated himself


that she did not, for he would not have known what reply
to make, if she had asked him what he was doing there.
Monfreville too had reappeared in the salon, but he did
not see the suppliant glances which his young friend cast
at him, and, instead of approaching him, he seemed to
avoid that part of the room in which Madame de Noir-
mont had seated herself.

Nearly an hour passed thus. Poor Cherubin was ter-
ribly fatigued by standing so long, and terribly bored in
his little nook. He could hear what Madame de Noir-
mont said to her daughter; but that lady did not enter
into any sustained conversation; she simply replied in
few words to Ernestine's questions.

" Mamma," said the latter, after a young lady had
sung a ballad, " don't you want me to sing? "

" No, my child, you are too young to put yourself
forward ; besides, unless your father insists upon it, you
will never sing in company."

"Why not, mamma?"

" Because I prefer in a young lady the modesty which
keeps itself concealed, to the vanity which makes itself

" But in that case, mamma, why did you give me a
music teacher?"

" Such accomplishments are more useful in solitude
than in society."

" Oh ! But, mamma "

" That is enough, my child."

A glance from Madame de Noirmont imposed silence
on the girl; but, after a few moments, she returned to
the charge.

" Don't they dance here, mamma ? "

" Of course not. Did I tell you that we were going
to a ball?"


" Oh, no ! but sometimes they dance at receptions ; it's
much better fun then."

" You think of nothing but pleasure and dancing ! "

" Oh ! I am so fond of it ! Father told me that he
would give a great ball next winter."

" A great ball ! Oh ! I hope that he will change his

" Why don't you want to give one, mamma ? "

"No matter; hush!"

The girl held her peace, but indulged in a pretty little
pout ; whereupon her mother seized her hand and pressed
it, and said in a gentler tone and with an expression of
the deepest melancholy:

" I distress you, Ernestine ; you don't love your

The girl replied by putting her mother's hand to her
lips and murmuring: '

" Oh ! you know that I do ! "

Suddenly, happening to turn her head, Mademoiselle
de Noirmont caught sight of Cherubin, who did not know
which leg to stand on. When she saw that young man
standing behind her and cutting such an amusing figure,
young Ernestine only half restrained her longing to laugh.

" What is the matter ? " her mother asked her ; " what
has happened to you? You should not laugh so in
company it is not proper."

The girl replied by nudging her mother gently and
whispering :

" Look behind us there's a young gentleman."

Madame de Noirmont turned and saw Cherubin, who,
having no idea which way to turn, bowed low to her.
Amazed to see the young man in hiding in a window
recess, Madame de Noirmont was about to move so that
he might pass ; but at that moment, Monfreville, having


just discovered his young friend, for whom he had been
searching the salons in vain, drew near to assist him in
escaping from his prison.

When she saw Monfreville coming straight toward her,
Madame de Noirmont seemed to experience a nervous
convulsion; but her face changed very slightly.

" Pardon me, madame," said Monfreville, " and permit
me to release a young man who, I am sure, has stood here
a long while, afraid to stir because he was unwilling to
disturb you."

Madame de Noirmont's only reply was to motion to
her daughter to rise, which she instantly did. Cherubin
thereupon took advantage of the path thus opened, apol-
ogizing profusely to young Ernestine; then he walked
quickly away with Monfreville, not remarking the ex-
treme pallor that covered Madame de Noirmont's face,
and his friend's forced gayety.

" I have been there for more than an hour," whispered
Cherubin to his mentor. " Oh ! I was awfully uncom-
fortable ! such torture ! "

" Well, my dear fellow, why do you creep into little
nooks like that? Did did Madame de Noirmont speak
to you ? "

" That lady in front of me, who looked so stern ? No,
indeed ; she had only just discovered me. Oh ! I should
never fall in love with her, although she is very hand-
some! I don't think she looks at all agreeable. How
different from Comtesse Valdieri, and Madame Celival,
and that one, and that one."

While Cherubin turned his amorous glances upon those
ladies who attracted him, Monsieur de Noirmont, who
was talking with Monsieur Trichet, left that gentleman
and walked to meet the young marquis, to whom he made
a solemn and ceremonious bow, saying:

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 14 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27

Online LibraryPaul de KockNovels by Paul de Kock (Volume 19) → online text (page 14 of 27)