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       The Maid of Honour: A Tale of the Dark Days of France. Vol. 1 (of 3), p.1
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         Part #1 of The Maid of Honour: A Tale of the Dark Days of France series by Lewis Wingfield
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The Maid of Honour: A Tale of the Dark Days of France. Vol. 1 (of 3)

  Produced by Charles Bowen, from page scans provided by Google Books

  Transcriber's Notes:

  1. Page scan source:

  2. The diphthong oe is represented by [oe].



  A Tale of the Dark Days of France







  LONDON RICHARD BENTLEY AND SON Publishers in Ordinary to Her Majesty the Queen.


  [_All Rights Reserved_]







  On The Volcano, 1789


  Husband And Wife.




  The Chateau Of Lorge.


  The Half-brothers.




  A Terrible Discovery.


  A New Arrival.


  Thunder Clouds.


  The Magic Tub.




  Although there was no cash in silken fob or broidered pocket, theElect denied themselves no luxury. Bejewelled Fashion was sumptuouslyclad: my ladies quarrelled and intrigued, danced and gambled--my lordsslept off the fumes of wine, and mopped the wounds begot of midnightbrawl; then drank and fought again.

  Money? No credit even. Trade was at a standstill, yet the court wasuproariously gay.

  Money and credit--sinews of pleasure as well as business--havingflitted from lively Paris, you might suppose that the wheels ofSociety would cease to turn--that the flower-decked car of gildedJuggernaut would come creeping to a standstill. Not yet. Impelled bythe impulse of its own velocity, it continued to crush on awhile.Those who knew were numbed by the chill shadow of the inevitable, orrendered callous by the knowledge of their helplessness. Those whowere deaf and blind groped blissfully on in their lightheartedignorance. Selfish all, depraved most, the blue-blooded sang in merrychorus, "Let us eat and drink that the worms may grow fat on us." Notso the gaunt crowds whose blood was but mud and water. As theirlong-suffering ancestors had monotonously done, they groaned inunison, crying to God for death, as the only release from misery.

  What if whole villages were decimated by famine? What if plague andstarvation stalked through the towns? My lords and my ladies carednot, for they were poised too high to see. Were the grovellingcreatures slaves or insects? Slaves, for they delved patiently, withmoans that were vain bleatings as of sheep; whereas outraged insectsfor the most part sting.

  We all know that the first duty of serfs is to labour for theirbetters: their second, when the worn machinery is out of gear, toretire underground with promptitude. How unseemly--nay, revolting,therefore, is their conduct when, weary of groaning and ofteeth-gnashing, they belabour with fists instead!

  The scene we look upon is a tranquil and a pretty one, despite certainvague and ominous rumours which, intangible, permeate the air. Thefavourite saloon of Her Majesty, Marie Antoinette, in the Palace ofthe Tuileries, is a small, square chamber decorated with raisedgarlands, flutes, and tambourines in carved wood, painted a deadwhite, mellowed now by the glimmer of many candles, shaded. Curtainsand furniture are yellow, embroidered with gold; the bare floor iswaxed and polished, reflecting the costly and varied rainbow garb ofsome forty assembled guests. Through open casements--it is a warmevening in July--we mark the majestic outline of the venerable Louvrecut black against the blue--a calm unclouded blue, loftily obliviousof angry curls of darkling smoke which two days since uprose from theruins of the stormed Bastile. Doors as well as windows are spread wideto woo the air; a bevy of ladies, glittering with gems, are fanningthemselves languidly. Through the portals on the right you obtain aglimpse of the remains of supper: a dainty repast, fit for fastidiousfairies; such an ideal cosy feast as the queen loved to conjure forher familiars. Through the left door we may perceive an array of greentables with gilt legs, at which gentlemen clad in satins of delicatehue are squabbling over the devil's books. Their voices from time totime grow angry, their talk unduly loud. But for the adjacent presenceof the queen, swords might be drawn and blood spilt. Young Monsieur deCastellane, officer in the Swiss Guard, has just lost his paternalacres to the Marquis de Gange, a fact which, in the latter, seems toevoke no sign of interest. With the usual luck of players who arequite indifferent, Fortune had befriended the marquis, and yet, asthings were, the prize was an empty bauble--a mere meaningless arrayof lands with high-sounding names which looked vastly well--on paper.

  The Marquis de Gange was an absentminded person, given to reverie andthe contemplation of the infinite, and it is somewhat annoying to loseeven paper property to one so utterly unappreciative.

  Roused by the congratulations of the surrounding group of butterflies,the marquis descended for a moment to earth, and laughed lightly.

  "A profitable stake to win, in sooth," he observed, with a yawn."Castellane! I hereby resign your empty title-deeds, having quiteenough such foolish lumber of my own. Your part of the country is acaldron, mine is a furnace. Thank heaven, my wife's estates are in aland of peace, or, like many more, we should be beggars."

  "It is not given to everyone to mate with a great heiress," remarkedrueful Castellane, feeling in his empty pocket.

  "You should look out for one," said the marquis, serenely smiling,"for you know that since the Third Estate has raised its ugly head,you don't dare to show your nose at Castellane. The tenants wouldgrowl of rights of man, and prod your silk stockings with theirpitchforks."

  "That's true enough," sighed the young scapegrace, with a puzzled air."Though they deserve the galleys for their temerity, they are pattedon the back by our too lenient sovereign--a mob of insolentragamuffins! Last time I travelled south, I was worried tofiddle-strings by deputations whom I declined to see--a parcel ofunpractical idiots, who, when I demanded rents, babbled of redress ofgrievances. Really, de Gauge, you may keep the title-deeds, for, sinceno one will lend a louis on them, they are no better than a mustymockery."

  The butterflies enjoyed the jest and laughed in chorus. There wassomething delightfully whimsical about the fact that the acres forwhich heroes had bled, and which had been enjoyed i
n majestic fashionby a long line of noble ancestors, should--as in the fairy tale--betransmuted into heaps of dead and mouldy leaves.

  After the laugh came silence, for were they not all in the samebattered boat? No matter. Whate'er betide, they must sink or swimtogether.

  "Awkward customers, the Third Estate," some one remarked presently."That untoward matter of the Bastile may prove an evil precedent."

  "Pooh!" yawned a stout old gentleman, whose weatherbeaten visage wasround and of a bluish red. "A flash in the pan--a paltry riot--a pieceof low impertinence which ministers, if they were not hopelesslyidiotic, should have foreseen and smothered. Stick to the title-deeds,son-in-law. If you live long enough, they will be useful some day."

  "No," replied de Gange, carelessly. "Thanks to you, marechal, mynest's well feathered. Gabrielle has enough for both."

  The wealthy old Marechal de Breze looked pleased. When you have hit ona suitable match for your heiress during an epidemic of impecuniosity,it is well to be assured that the fortunate spouse is not a greedygold-seeker. "Clovis!" he cried heartily, "give me your hand. You arequeer and dreamy, beyond my poor comprehension; but I believe--yes, Ido!--that you are an upright and honest man!"

  "Treason, marechal! High treason! How dare you say rude things ofministers? Come and join the ladies. We affect learning, remember,nowadays, and can bandy wisdom with the best of you!"

  It was the magical voice of Marie herself, whose silver tones hadfluttered so many hearts to their undoing; whose radiant beauty andlight spirits had given rise to such dark intrigues. The gentlemen,obeying the merry summons, streamed into the saloon, and were soonbowing, with bent spines and squared elbows, over the tiny cups ofcoffee, which, as her wont was, she distributed with her own hands.The king was not present, for he abhorred gambling and late hours, andon the _soirees intimes_ of his consort invariably sought refuge inhis study.

  "Louise de Savoye," commanded the queen in mock tragic tones, "handround the cakes. Perform your office of mistress of the household.From your fair fingers they will taste all the sweeter."

  "Promise, then, not to talk of the horrid _tiers etat_," replied thelady addressed, with a little shudder. "Those who saw the dreadfulwomen dancing and shouting like fiends as they marched in triumph fromthe Bastile, will not forget the spectacle."

  "Madame la Princesse de Lamballe was always nervous," laughed M. deCastellane.

  "Yes," replied the princess, simply. "I don't know why, but I amdesperately afraid of a mob."

  "We were all a little frightened at first," observed the queen; "forwhen we heard the booming of artillery which sounded so terriblyclose, and beheld the infatuated madcaps carrying away their dead, wecould not comprehend the freak. 'Tis a pity it was crowned withsuccess, for it will put foolish ideas into ignorant minds. But itwill lead to nothing, I am assured, and all's well that ends well.When the king announced this morning that he was going to theAssembly, without guards or escort, I thought he must have lost hiswits; but events showed that he was wise, as he always is. Hisconfidence in the loyalty of the deputies combined with his simple andtouching address, excited the keenest enthusiasm. The shouting throngescorted him on foot all the way hither to the palace. I am notashamed to say that as from a balcony Lamballe and I contemplated theaffecting scene of warm devotion, we clasped each other and wept."

  "For every precious tear," murmured de Castellane, "we'll have thelife-drops of the canaille!"

  "God forbid!" ejaculated the queen, with sudden pallor. "I wish themno ill if they would spare his majesty their vagaries. Love them Icannot, for I am not Christian enough to love my enemies. I wonder--Iwonder----"

  "What, dear mistress?" inquired a tall young lady plainly dressed inwhite, who was the most beautiful member even of that favoured circle."What causes our queen to wonder?"

  "I wonder what will be the end--that's all, dear Gabrielle," laughedthe volatile Marie, recovering her spirits. "What will happen to me;to our precious Lamballe; to you; to your shocking pedant of a husbandthere, who as usual is in cloudland?"

  The beautiful lady whom she called Gabrielle, glanced at theabstracted Marquis de Gange, who was her husband, and shivered. Therewas an odd look upon his face sometimes which she had not the wit todecipher. What was he doing in cloudland so far removed from her?Then, when he dropped down to earth again, he would smile vaguely butpleasantly enough, and the strange impression would fade from hermind. Her wistful eyes were more often fixed on him than his on hers,which is curious, considering her beauty.

  "The veil which hides the future is a precious boon," reflected thequeen, "and yet we all burn to pierce it."

  "That is because we should not," observed Madame de Lamballe, withconviction, "on the principle of Eve and the apple, you know. Afortune-teller once took my hand to read my fortune, and what she readon my palm was so appalling that she fainted. I have had thediscretion never to inquire further."

  "Pooh, I am not so prudent," mused her majesty. "Three times have Isought to pierce the veil, with the same result--repentance."

  "I pray you in pity--hush!" implored the Marquise de Gange. "Myhusband dragged me once to see a horrible old hag who lived like asavage in a den somewhere--I know not where. She performedincantations and drew my horoscope. It makes my flesh creep to thinkof it!"

  "Was it so ghastly?" inquired Marie Antoinette in a low tone of awe."So was mine. Horoscopes are nightmares. And so it seems was that ofour beloved Louise. I wonder--how I wonder what will be the end ofit?"

  She glanced around at the company, and all looked sympatheticallyglum. If the gipsies had with one accord been so audaciously rude tothe three beauties as to hint at unpleasant things in the future, whatwas to be done? Was a crusade to be preached, for the annihilation ofthe peccant race? Fat old de Breze might pay expenses, and, like Peterthe Hermit, rally the avenging force. Old de Breze was a soldier whohad won his spurs, yet instead of sounding a clarion and callingsquires to arm him _cap-a-pie_, he only shuffled in his chair andsnuffled uneasily while de Castellane snorted with ardour. Clearly thecrusade was not likely to answer; it was a trifle out of date; and yetthe fact remained that the fiat of the Fates had gone forth againstthe lovely trio. The Marquis de Gange was a mystic, well acquaintedwith the tortuous ways and spiteful tricks of the fatal three. Perhapshe would kindly elucidate the situation? No. His wife gazed wistfullyat him. He looked furtively at her, then, smiling, lowered his eyes,and again sank into his accustomed reverie. The marquise sigheddeeply, and concealed her face behind her fan.

  The April visage of the queen was sombre; then the cloud cleared.

  "Are we not silly," she exclaimed, "to sit trembling before a bogey? Afig for the gipsies! Despite their lugubrious hints here am I, afterover fifteen years of prosperous wedded life, queen of the land mostfavoured by nature in the world, adored by my husband and my children.What can woman desire more than complete domestic bliss? What say you,Gabrielle?"

  The Marquise de Gange, target for a circle of inquiring eyes, blushedcrimson and turned away.

  "This is too good!" cried the queen in glee, drawing her friendtowards her to imprint a kiss upon her brow. "You naughty, waywardgirl! You are wicked and tempt Providence. A blush and something likea tear--ay, and a sigh, from the bosom of Gabrielle, Marquise deGange--the only woman in the country who has any money--the mostbeautiful girl in France, whose wonderful complexion has gained forher the sobriquet of 'the Lily.' Yes, you are, and I admit it withoutenvy. Blessed with a passable husband and two lovely babes, and anadmirable mother and a doting father! Fie! You are ungrateful, but wemust not see you punished."

  Marie Antoinette's enjoyment increased as she poured forth herraillery, and marked the confusion of the marquise.

  "Monsieur de Gange. Descend to earth and come into court!" she cried."Confess! What have you done to Gabrielle? Have you lost heavily atcards? No? You are jealous that her name should be the toast on everylip? No? You are put out because she understands nothing of thephilosopher's stone? Not even th
at? I give it up. Fortune has spoiledyou, child. As Figaro says, '_Qu'avez vous fait pour tants de biens?Vous vous etes donnee la peine de naitre--rien de plus!_'"

  The marquis made a low bow and contemplated his fair wife with amoonlit kind of satisfaction, but answered nothing.

  "He disdains to plead!" laughed Madame de Lamballe.

  "Guilty or not guilty--say!" cried Marie Antoinette. "Dumb? Marechalde Breze! we surrender to you the prisoner that you may investigateand do your duty. We have respectful confidence in that strangephenomenon, a rich man, at a time when all others are paupers. Lookafter Gabrielle, Mr. Money-bag! Shield her from a designing husbandwho, I begin to believe, conceals the raffish vices of a rake underthe mask of recondite erudition."

  The Marquise de Gange was unnecessarily perturbed by the lively sally,and tapped her wooden heel upon the floor.

  "Alack, madam!" declared the marquis, compelled to speak, "I regret tobe so unmodish as to have few of the fashionable vices. Instead ofpleading in my own behalf, I would, if I dared, take up the cudgelsfor another. Doctor Mesmer----"

  "The arch charlatan!" exclaimed the queen, raising both hands inprotest.

  "Not so. Others have aped his ways; have draped themselves in tawdryfrippery which bore some semblance to his robes. In spite of calumny,and persecution, and fraudulent imitation and roguish arts, the masterremains the master still, although he be unjustly banished by thosewhom he has benefited."

  "The statue has come to life!" tittered Madame de Lamballe."Cagliostro was unmasked as a cheat, so the one who went before wiselyshook off his dust at him. Let us all agree to be convinced thatMesmer is a persecuted saint. We have the marquis's word for it. Letus have Mesmer back at once from banishment. Perchance he will employhis occult essences to calm the Parisian mob!"

  "The king will not permit him to return to France," the queen saiddoubtfully; "yet as an empiric he was fascinating."

  "When your majesty deigns to say I am in cloudland," remarked themarquis, with a high-bred courtesy, in which was a tinge of scorn,"you will understand that my spirit is on earth--at Spa--the refuge inexile of the master."

  "I see it all!" said Madame de Lamballe, flourishing her fan. "It isGabrielle who is jealous--and of Mesmer! What singular complicationsare produced by mystical alliances. A husband has a lovely wife, forwhom everyone else is sighing, and is no whit jealous of _her_ becausehe is an absorbed neophyte at the fount of wisdom. The prophet usurpshis soul and his will. Where is the poor wife then?"

  "What cruel things are said in jest!" Gabrielle cried hotly, breakingher silence at last. "I am not unhappy; and if I were, it would be noone's concern but mine. I care no sou for Mesmer or Cagliostro, or anyof the conjuring rout. Jealous of such creatures--faugh!"

  A shrunken dame who had been slumbering in a corner awoke with astart, and guiltily conscious of a nap, became garrulous in a weakpiping treble like the irresponsible murmur of a rivulet.

  "Your majesty is misinformed," she babbled plaintively. "People willsay such things, and go to mass o' Sundays. Our daughter Gabrielle ishappy as the day is long--why not? Clovis isn't jealous one bit, andquite right too. He lets her do as she likes, go where she likes,doesn't care where she goes. Perfect trust is a fine thing, but Ioften tell him that it is rash to throw so fair a creature intotemptation, for who knows what they'll do until they are tempted?Gabrielle, I must admit, though quite a saint, can be as provoking assaints often were. And they, the saints, were so dreadfully frailsometimes, and so easily forgiven, and then held up to us as patterns.I can't quite make it out. If I had ever dreamed of doing half theshocking things that the canonized saints did, I should---- Eh?--oh!"

  With that the rivulet ceased to flow as abruptly as it had begun, andthe queen, who had with difficulty curbed her merriment, looked roundfor the cause of interruption. She beheld a little stout gentleman,with a round, blue-red face, in a state of imminent explosion. He whomshe had declared to command the respect due to wealth, showed signs ofchoking from exasperation. His features had swelled till his bead-likeeyes were scarcely visible; his finger nails were clenched into hispalms. It was some seconds ere he could splutter out his spleen. Thenwith a deprecating look at her majesty, he gasped out--

  "Majeste, pardon her. A fool! Always and for ever a fool--and my wifetoo."

  Then, forgetting the presence in which he sat, he continued in whiteheat--

  "I'll dash your stupid head against the wall when we get home. To dareto make your own daughter ridiculous before this company! To make yourown flesh and blood absurd, through your incorrigible idiocy! Not thatyou can do it, for she's an angel straight from heaven. Provoking,forsooth! My darling--the idol of my heart! The Marquis de Gange knowsbetter than to ill-treat his wife. If he did--well; old batteredsoldier though I am, I'd be even with him in a way he'd not forget."

  "Oh--so harsh--always so harsh!" whimpered the rivulet in chokinggasps. "Quite like dear M. Montgolfier's fire-balloon! I did notmean----"

  "Hold your tongue!" snorted the marechal in a menacing whisper--"andwait till we get home."

  The situation, like many born of jesting, grew embarrassing. Oldsoldiers, especially when rich, may be allowed a certain freedom. Butthe ways of the barrack-yard may not be introduced into palaces. MarieAntoinette was not averse to a certain licence, which should banishfor the time being the buckramed etiquette that she so loathed. But afamily skeleton suddenly popping out of ambush to shake all its jointsand grin with all its teeth! How uncomely a spectacle at theTuileries! The assembled company, too, evidently enjoyed the fun, andwould surely spread the story all over Paris on the morrow as thestyle of repartee that obtained at the queen's gatherings. If theepisode, harmless in itself, were to reach the king's ears, he wouldbe annoyed, and justly in such times as these, when everybody's handwas beginning to clutch his neighbour's throat. How many an innocentjest of Marie Antoinette's had already been built by malice into theproportions of a mountain? Unwittingly, she had, as it appeared, setfire to a mine. Gabrielle looked sorely distressed; her husbandsullen, in that his pleading had failed, and that he could do nothingon behalf of the _savant_ whom he worshipped. Her mother hazilyperceived that it would be well to cork down the ebullienteffervescence of her prattle, while the beady eyes of the marechal,moving from the husband to the wife and back again, seemed to havedetected the trace of something that was new, the discovery of whichwas disconcerting.

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