The Newcomes, by William Makepeace Thackeray

CHAPTER XXXIV

The End of the Congress of Baden

Mention has been made of an elderly young person from Ireland, engaged by Madame la Duchesse d’Ivry, as companion and teacher of English for her little daughter. When Miss O’Grady, as she did some time afterwards, quitted Madame d’Ivry’s family, she spoke with great freedom regarding the behaviour of that duchess, and recounted horrors which she, the latter, had committed. A number of the most terrific anecdotes issued from the lips of the indignant Miss, whose volubility Lord Kew was obliged to check, not choosing that his countess, with whom he was paying a bridal visit to Paris, should hear such dreadful legends. It was there that Miss O’Grady, finding herself in misfortune, and reading of Lord Kew’s arrival at the Hotel Bristol, waited upon his lordship and the Countess of Kew, begging them to take tickets in a raffle for an invaluable ivory writing-desk, sole relic of her former prosperity, which she proposed to give her friends the chance of acquiring: in fact, Miss O’Grady lived for some years on the produce of repeated raffles for this beautiful desk: many religious ladies of the Faubourg St. Germain taking an interest in her misfortunes, and alleviating them by the simple lottery system. Protestants as well as Catholics were permitted to take shares in Miss O’Grady’s raffles; and Lord Kew, good-natured then as always, purchased so many tickets, that the contrite O’Grady informed him of a transaction which had nearly affected his happiness, and in which she took a not very creditable share. “Had I known your lordship’s real character,” Miss O’G was pleased to say, “no tortures would have induced me to do an act for which I have undergone penance. It was that black-hearted woman, my lord, who maligned your lordship to me: that woman whom I called friend once, but who is the most false, depraved, and dangerous of her sex.” In this way do ladies’ companions sometimes speak of ladies when quarrels separate them, when confidential attendants are dismissed, bearing away family secrets in their minds, and revenge in their hearts.

The day after Miss Ethel’s feats at the assembly, old Lady Kew went over to advise her granddaughter, and to give her a little timely warning about the impropriety of flirtations; above all, with such men as are to be found at watering-places, persons who are never seen elsewhere in society. “Remark the peculiarities of Kew’s temper, who never flies into a passion like you and me, my dear,” said the old lady (being determined to be particularly gracious and cautious); “when once angry he remains so, and is so obstinate that it is almost impossible to coax him into good-humour. It is much better, my love, to be like us,” continued the old lady, “to fly out in a rage and have it over; but que voulez-vous? such is Frank’s temper, and we must manage him.” So she went on, backing her advice by a crowd of examples drawn from the family history; showing how Kew was like his grandfather, her own poor husband; still more like his late father, Lord Walham; between whom and his mother there had been differences, chiefly brought on by my Lady Walham, of course, which had ended in the almost total estrangement of mother and son. Lady Kew then administered her advice, and told her stories with Ethel alone for a listener; and in a most edifying manner, she besought Miss Newcome to menager Lord Kew’s susceptibilities, as she valued her own future comfort in life, as well as the happiness of a most amiable man, of whom, if properly managed, Ethel might make what she pleased. We have said Lady Kew managed everybody, and that most of the members of her family allowed themselves to be managed by her ladyship.

Ethel, who had permitted her grandmother to continue her sententious advice, while she herself sat tapping her feet on the floor, and performing the most rapid variations of that air which is called the Devil’s Tattoo, burst out, at length, to the elder lady’s surprise, with an outbreak of indignation, a flushing face, and a voice quivering with anger.

“This most amiable man,” she cried out, “that you design for me, I know everything about this most amiable man, and thank you and my family for the present you make me! For the past year, what have you been doing? Every one of you! my father, my brother, and you yourself, have been filling my ears wit cruel reports against a poor boy, whom you chose to depict as everything that was dissolute and wicked, when there was nothing against him; nothing, but that he was poor. Yes, you yourself, grandmamma, have told me many and many a time, that Clive Newcome was not a fit companion for us; warned me against his bad courses, and painted him as extravagant, unprincipled, I don’t know how bad. How bad! I know how good he is; how upright, generous, and truth-telling: though there was not a day until lately, that Barnes did not make some wicked story against him — Barnes, who, I believe, is bad himself, like — like other young men. Yes, I am sure there was something about Barnes in that newspaper which my father took away from me. And you come, and you lift up your hands, and shake your head, because I dance with one gentleman or another. You tell me I am wrong; mamma has told me so this morning. Barnes, of course, has told me so, and you bring me Frank as a pattern, and tell me to love and honour and obey him! Look here,” and she drew out a paper and put it into Lady Kew’s hands. “Here is Kew’s history, and I believe it is true; yes, I am sure it is true.”

The old dowager lifted her eyeglass to her black eyebrow, and read a paper written in English, and bearing no signature, in which many circumstances of Lord Kew’s life were narrated for poor Ethel’s benefit. It was not a worse life than that of a thousand young men of pleasure, but there were Kew’s many misdeeds set down in order: such a catalogue as we laugh at when Leporello trolls it, and sings his master’s victories in France, Italy, and Spain. Madame d’Ivry’s name was not mentioned in this list, and Lady Kew felt sure that the outrage came from her.

With real ardour Lady Kew sought to defend her grandson from some of the attacks here made against him; and showed Ethel that the person who could use such means of calumniating him, would not scruple to resort to falsehood in order to effect her purpose.

“Her purpose!” cries Ethel. “How do you know it is a woman?” Lady Kew lapsed into generalities. She thought the handwriting was a woman’s — at least it was not likely that a man should think of addressing an anonymous letter to a young lady, and so wreaking his hatred upon Lord Kew. “Besides, Frank has had no rivals — except — except one young gentleman who has carried his paint-boxes to Italy,” says Lady Kew. “You don’t think your dear Colonel’s son would leave such a piece of mischief behind him? You must act, my dear,” continued her ladyship, “as if this letter had never been written at all; the person who wrote it no doubt will watch you. Of course we are too proud to allow him to see that we are wounded; and pray, pray do not think of letting poor Frank know a word about this horrid transaction.”

“Then the letter is true?” burst out Ethel. “You know it is true, grandmamma, and that is why you would have me keep it a secret from my cousin; besides,” she added, with a little hesitation, “your caution comes too late, Lord Kew has seen the letter.”

“You fool!” screamed the old lady, “you were not so mad as to show it to him?”

“I am sure the letter is true,” Ethel said, rising up very haughtily. “It is not by calling me bad names that your ladyship will disprove it. Keep them, if you please, for my Aunt Julia; she is sick and weak, and can’t defend herself. I do not choose to bear abuse from you, or lectures from Lord Kew. He happened to be here a short while since, when the letter arrived. He had been good enough to come to preach me a sermon on his own account. He to find fault with my actions!” cried Miss Ethel, quivering with wrath and clenching the luckless paper in her hand. “He to accuse me of levity, and to warn me against making improper acquaintances! He began his lectures too soon. I am not a lawful slave yet, and prefer to remain unmolested, at least as long as I am free.”

“And you told Frank all this, Miss Newcome, and you showed him that letter?” said the old lady.

“The letter was actually brought to me whilst his lordship was in the midst of his sermon,” Ethel replied. “I read it as he was making his speech,” she continued, gathering anger and scorn as she recalled the circumstances of the interview. “He was perfectly polite in his language. He did not call me a fool or use a single other bad name. He was good enough to advise me and to make such virtuous pretty speeches, that if he had been a bishop he could not have spoken better; and as I thought the letter was a nice commentary on his lordship’s sermon, I gave it to him. I gave it to him,” cried the young woman, “and much good may it do him. I don’t think my Lord Kew will preach to me again for some time.”

“I don’t think he will indeed,” said Lady Kew, in a hard dry voice. “You don’t know what you may have done. Will you be pleased to ring the bell and order my carriage? I congratulate you on having performed a most charming morning’s work.”

Ethel made her grandmother a very stately curtsey. I pity Lady Julia’s condition when her mother reached home.

All who know Lord Kew may be pretty sure that in that unlucky interview with Ethel, to which the young lady has alluded, he just said no single word to her that was not kind, and just, and gentle. Considering the relation between them, he thought himself justified in remonstrating with her as to the conduct which she chose to pursue, and in warning her against acquaintances of whom his own experience had taught him the dangerous character. He knew Madame d’Ivry and her friends so well that he would not have his wife-elect a member of their circle. He could not tell Ethel what he knew of those women and their history. She chose not to understand his hints — did not, very likely, comprehend them. She was quite young, and the stories of such lives as theirs had never been told before her. She was indignant at the surveillance which Lord Kew exerted over her, and the authority which he began to assume. At another moment and in a better frame of mind she would have been thankful for his care, and very soon and ever after she did justice to his many admirable qualities — his frankness, honesty, and sweet temper. Only her high spirit was in perpetual revolt at this time against the bondage in which her family strove to keep her. The very worldly advantages of the position which they offered her served but to chafe her the more. Had her proposed husband been a young prince with a crown to lay at her feet, she had been yet more indignant very likely, and more rebellious. Had Kew’s younger brother been her suitor, or Kew in his place, she had been not unwilling to follow her parents’ wishes. Hence the revolt in which she was engaged — the wayward freaks and outbreaks her haughty temper indulged in. No doubt she saw the justice of Lord Kew’s reproofs. That self-consciousness was not likely to add to her good-humour. No doubt she was sorry for having shown Lord Kew the letter the moment after she had done that act, of which the poor young lady could not calculate the consequences that were now to ensue.

Lord Kew, on glancing over the letter, at once divined the quarter whence it came. The portrait drawn of him was not unlike, as our characters described by those who hate us are not unlike. He had passed a reckless youth; indeed he was sad and ashamed of that past life, longed like the poor prodigal to return to better courses, and had embraced eagerly the chance afforded him of a union with a woman young, virtuous, and beautiful, against whom and against heaven he hoped to sin no more. If we have told or hinted at more of his story than will please the ear of modern conventionalism, I beseech the reader to believe that the writer’s purpose at least is not dishonest, nor unkindly. The young gentleman hung his head with sorrow over that sad detail of his life and its follies. What would he have given to be able to say to Ethel, “This is not true”

His reproaches to Miss Newcome of course were at once stopped by this terrible assault on himself. The letter had been put in the Baden post-box, and so had come to its destination. It was in a disguised handwriting. Lord Kew could form no idea even of the sex of the scribe. He put the envelope in his pocket, when Ethel’s back was turned. He examined the paper when he left her. He could make little of the superscription or of the wafer which had served to close the note. He did not choose to caution Ethel as to whether she should burn the letter or divulge it to her friends. He took his share of the pain, as a boy at school takes his flogging, stoutly and in silence.

When he saw Ethel again, which he did in an hour’s time, the generous young gentleman held his hand out to her. “My dear,” he said, “if you had loved me you never would have shown me that letter.” It was his only reproof. After that he never again reproved or advised her.

Ethel blushed. “You are very brave and generous, Frank,” said, bending her head, “and I am captious and wicked.” He felt the hot tear blotting on his hand from his cousin’s downcast eyes.

He kissed her little hand. Lady Anne, who was in the room with her children when these few words passed between the two in a very low tone, thought it was a reconciliation. Ethel knew it was a renunciation on Kew’s part — she never liked him so much as at that moment. The young man was too modest and simple to guess himself what the girl’s feelings were. Could he have told them, his fate and hers might have been changed.

“You must not allow our kind letter-writing friend,” Lord Kew continued, “to fancy we are hurt. We must walk out this afternoon, and we must appear very good friends.”

“Yes, always, Kew,” said Ethel, holding out her hand again. The next minute her cousin was at the table carving roast-fowls, and distributing the portions to the hungry children.

The assembly of the previous evening had been one of those which the fermier des jeux at Baden beneficently provides for the frequenters of the place, and now was to come off a much more brilliant entertainment, in which poor Clive, who is far into Switzerland by this time, was to have taken a share. The Bachelors had agreed to give a ball, one of the last entertainments of the season: a dozen or more of them had subscribed the funds, and we may be sure Lord Kew’s name was at the head of the list, as it was of any list, of any scheme, whether of charity or fun. The English were invited, and the Russians were invited; the Spaniards and Italians, Poles, Prussians, and Hebrews; all the motley frequenters of the place, and the warriors in the Duke of Baden’s army. Unlimited supper was set in the restaurant. The dancing-room glittered with extra lights, and a profusion of cut-paper flowers decorated the festive scene. Everybody was present, those crowds with whom our story has nothing to do, and those two or three groups of persons who enact minor or greater parts in it. Madame d’Ivry came in a dress of stupendous splendour, even more brilliant than that in which Miss Ethel had figured at the last assembly. If the Duchess intended to ecraser Miss Newcome by the superior magnificence of her toilet, she was disappointed. Miss Newcome wore a plain white frock on the occasion, and resumed, Madame d’Ivry said, her role of ingenue for that night.

During the brief season in which gentlemen enjoyed the favour of Mary Queen of Scots, that wandering sovereign led them through all the paces and vagaries of a regular passion. As in a fair, where time is short and pleasures numerous, the master of the theatrical booth shows you a tragedy, a farce, and a pantomime, all in a quarter of an hour, having a dozen new audiences to witness his entertainments in the course of the forenoon; so this lady with her platonic lovers went through the complete dramatic course — tragedies of jealousy, pantomimes of rapture, and farces of parting. There were billets on one side and the other; hints of a fatal destiny, and a ruthless, lynx-eyed tyrant, who held a demoniac grasp over the Duchess by means of certain secrets which he knew: there were regrets that we had not known each other sooner: why were we brought out of our convent and sacrificed to Monsieur le Duc? There were frolic interchanges of fancy and poesy: pretty bouderies; sweet reconciliations; yawns finally — and separation. Adolphe went out and Alphonse came in. It was the new audience; for which the bell rang, the band played, and the curtain rose; and the tragedy, comedy, and farce were repeated.

Those Greenwich performers who appear in the theatrical pieces above-mentioned, make a great deal more noise than your stationary tragedians; and if they have to denounce a villain, to declare a passion, or to threaten an enemy, they roar, stamp, shake their fists, and brandish their sabres, so that every man who sees the play has surely a full pennyworth for his penny. Thus Madame la Duchesse d’Ivry perhaps a little exaggerated her heroines’ parts liking to strike her audiences quickly, and also to change them often. Like good performers, she flung herself heart and soul into the business of the stage, and was what she acted. She was Phedre, and if in the first part of the play she was uncommonly tender to Hippolyte, in the second she hated him furiously. She was Medea, and if Jason was volage, woe to Creusa! Perhaps our poor Lord Kew had taken the first character in a performance with Madame d’Ivry; for his behaviour in which part it was difficult enough to forgive him; but when he appeared at Baden the affianced husband of one of the most beautiful young creatures in Europe — when his relatives scorned Madame d’Ivry — no wonder she was maddened and enraged, and would have recourse to revenge, steel, poison.

There was in the Duchess’s court a young fellow from the South of France, whose friends had sent him to faire son droit at Paris, where he had gone through the usual course of pleasure and studies of the young inhabitants of the Latin Quarter. He had at one time exalted republican opinions, and had fired his shot with distinction at St. Meri. He was a poet of some little note — a book of his lyrics, Les Rales d’un Asphyxie, having made a sensation at the time of their appearance. He drank great quantities of absinthe of a morning; smoked incessantly; played roulette whenever he could get a few pieces; contributed to a small journal, and was especially great in his hatred of l’infame Angleterre. Delenda est Carthago was tattooed beneath his shirt-sleeves. Fifine and Clarisse, young milliners of the students’ district, had punctured this terrible motto on his manly right arm. Le leopard, emblem of England, was his aversion; he shook his fist at the caged monster in the Garden of Plants. He desired to have “Here lies an enemy of England” engraved upon his early tomb. He was skilled at billiards and dominoes, adroit in the use of arms, of unquestionable courage and fierceness. Mr. Jones of England was afraid of M. de Castillonnes, and cowered before his scowls and sarcasms. Captain Blackball, the other English aide-de-camp of the Duchesse d’Ivry, a warrior of undoubted courage, who had been “on the ground” more than once, gave him a wide berth, and wondered what the little beggar meant when he used to say, “Since the days of the Prince Noir, monsieur, my family has been at feud with l’Angleterre!” His family were grocers at Bordeaux, and his father’s name was M. Cabasse. He had married a noble in the revolutionary times; and the son at Paris himself himself Victor Cabasse de Castillonnes; then Victor C. de Castillonnes; then M. de Castillonnes. One of the followers of the Black Prince had insulted a lady of the house of Castillonnes, when the English were lords of Guienne; hence our friend’s wrath against the Leopard. He had written, and afterwards dramatised a terrific legend describing the circumstances, and the punishment of the Briton by a knight of the Castillonnes family. A more awful coward never existed in a melodrama than that felon English knight. His blanche-fille, of course, died of hopeless love for the conquering Frenchman, her father’s murderer. The paper in which the feuilleton appeared died at the sixth number of the story. The theatre of the Boulevard refused the drama; so the author’s rage against l’infame Albion was yet unappeased. On beholding Miss Newcome, Victor had fancied a resemblance between her and Agnes de Calverley, the blanche Miss of his novel and drama, and cast an eye of favour upon the young creature. He even composed verses in her honour (for I presume that the “Miss Betti” and the Princess Crimhilde of the poems which he subsequently published, were no other than Miss Newcome, and the Duchess, her rival). He had been one of the lucky gentlemen who had danced with Ethel on the previous evening. On the occasion of the ball, he came to her with a highflown compliment, and a request to be once more allowed to waltz with her — a request to which he expected a favourable answer, thinking, no doubt, that his wit, his powers of conversation, and the amour qui flambait dans son regard, had had their effect upon the charming Meess. Perhaps he had a copy of the very verses in his breast-pocket, with which he intended to complete his work of fascination. For her sake alone, he had been heard to say that he would enter into a truce with England, and forget the hereditary wrongs of his race.

But the blanche Miss on this evening declined to waltz with him. His compliments were not of the least avail. He retired with them and his unuttered verses in his crumpled bosom. Miss Newcome only danced in one quadrille with Lord Kew, and left the party quite early, to the despair of many of the bachelors, who lost the fairest ornament of their ball.

Lord Kew, however, had been seen walking with her in public, and particularly attentive to her during her brief appearance in the ballroom; and the old Dowager, who regularly attended all places of amusement, and was at twenty parties and six dinners the week before she died, thought fit to be particularly gracious to Madame d’Ivry upon this evening, and, far from shunning the Duchesse’s presence or being rude to her, as on former occasions, was entirely smiling and good-humoured. Lady Kew, too, thought there had been a reconciliation between Ethel and her cousin. Lady Anne had given her mother some account of the handshaking. Kew’s walk with Ethel, the quadrille which she had danced with him alone, induced the elder lady to believe that matters had been made up between the young people.

So, by way of showing the Duchesse that her little shot of the morning had failed in its effect, as Frank left the room with his cousin, Lady Kew gaily hinted, “that the young earl was aux petits soins with Miss Ethel; that she was sure her old friend, the Duc d’Ivry, would be glad to hear that his godson was about to range himself. He would settle down on his estates. He would attend to his duties as an English peer and a country gentleman. We shall go home,” says the benevolent Countess, “and kill the veau gras, and you shall see our dear prodigal will become a very quiet gentleman.”

The Duchesse said, “my Lady Kew’s plan was most edifying. She was charmed to hear that Lady Kew loved veal; there were some who thought that meat rather insipid.” A waltzer came to claim her hand at this moment; and as she twirled round the room upon that gentleman’s arm, wafting odours as she moved, her pink silks, pink feathers, pink ribands, making a mighty rustling, the Countess of Kew had the satisfaction of thinking that she had planted an arrow in that shrivelled little waist, which Count Punter’s arms embraced, and had returned the stab which Madame d’Ivry had delivered in the morning.

Mr. Barnes, and his elect bride, had also appeared, danced, and disappeared. Lady Kew soon followed her young ones; and the ball went on very gaily, in spite of the absence of these respectable personages.

Being one of the managers of the entertainment, Lord Kew returned to it after conducting Lady Anne and her daughter to their carriage, and now danced with great vigour, and with his usual kindness, selecting those ladies whom other waltzers rejected because they were too old, or too plain, or too stout, or what not. But he did not ask Madame d’Ivry to dance. He could condescend to dissemble so far as to hide the pain which he felt; but did not care to engage in that more advanced hypocrisy of friendship, which for her part, his old grandmother had not shown the least scruple in assuming.

Amongst other partners, my lord selected that intrepid waltzer, the Graefinn von Gumpelheim, who, in spite of her age, size, and large family, never lost a chance of enjoying her favourite recreation. “Look with what a camel my lord waltzes,” said M. Victor to Madame d’Ivry, whose slim waist he had the honour of embracing to the same music. “What man but an Englishman would ever select such a dromedary?”

“Avant de se marier,” said Madame d’Ivry, “il faut avouer que my lord se permet d’enormes distractions.”

“My lord marries himself! And when and whom?” cried the Duchesse’s partner.

“Miss Newcome. Do not you approve of his choice? I thought the eyes of Stenio” (the Duchess called M. Victor, Stenio) “looked with some favour upon that little person. She is handsome, even very handsome. Is it not so often in life, Stenio? Are not youth and innocence (I give Miss Ethel the compliment of her innocence, now surtout that the little painter is dismissed)— are we not cast into the arms of jaded roues? Tender young flowers, are we not torn from our convent gardens, and flung into a world of which the air poisons our pure life, and withers the sainted buds of hope and love and faith? Faith! The mocking world tramples on it, n’est-ce pas? Love! The brutal world strangles the heaven-born infant at its birth. Hope! It smiled at me in my little convent chamber, played among the flowers which I cherished, warbled with the birds that I loved. But it quitted me at the door of the world, Stenio. It folded its white wings and veiled its radiant face! In return for my young love, they gave me — sixty years, the dregs of a selfish heart, egotism cowering over its fire, and cold for all its mantle of ermine! In place of the sweet flowers of my young years, they gave me these, Stenio!” and she pointed to her feathers and her artificial roses. “Oh, I should like to crush them under my feet!” and she put out the neatest little slipper. The Duchesse was great upon her wrongs, and paraded her blighted innocence to every one who would feel interested by that piteous spectacle. The music here burst out more swiftly and melodiously than before; the pretty little feet forgot their desire to trample upon the world. She shrugged the lean little shoulders —“Eh!” said the Queen of Scots, “dansons et oublions;” and Stenio’s arm once more surrounded her fairy waist (she called herself a fairy; other ladies called her a skeleton); and they whirled away in the waltz again and presently she and Stenio came bumping up against the stalwart Lord Kew and the ponderous Madame de Gumpelheim, as a wherry dashes against the oaken ribs of a steamer.

The little couple did not fall; they were struck on to a neighbouring bench, luckily: but there was a laugh at the expense of Stenio and the Queen of Scots — and Lord Kew, settling his panting partner on to a seat, came up to make excuses for his awkwardness to the lady who had been its victim. At the laugh produced by the catastrophe, the Duchesse’s eyes gleamed with anger.

“M. de Castillonnes,” she said to her partner, “have you had any quarrel with that Englishman?”

“With ce milor? But no,” said Stenio.

“He did it on purpose. There has been no day but his family has insulted me!” hissed out the Duchesse, and at this moment Lord Kew came up to make his apologies. He asked a thousand pardons of Madame la Duchesse for being so maladroit.

“Maladroit! et tres maladroit, monsieur,” says Stenio, curling his moustache; “c’est bien le mot, monsieur!

“Also, I make my excuses to Madame la Duchesse, which I hope she will receive,” said Lord Kew. The Duchesse shrugged her shoulders and sunk her head.

“When one does not know how to dance, one ought not to dance,” continued the Duchesse’s knight.

“Monsieur is very good to give me lessons in dancing,” said Lord Kew.

“Any lessons which you please, milor!” cries Stenio; “and everywhere where you will them.”

Lord Kew looked at the little man with surprise. He could not understand so much anger for so trifling an accident, which happens a dozen times in every crowded ball. He again bowed to the Duchesse, and walked away.

“This is your Englishman — your Kew, whom you vaunt everywhere,” said Stenio to M. de Florac, who was standing by and witnessed the scene. “Is he simply bete, or is he poltron as well? I believe him to be both.”

“Silence, Victor!” cried Florac, seizing his arm, and drawing him away. “You know me, and that I am neither one or the other. Believe my word, that my Lord Kew wants neither courage nor wit!”

“Will you be my witness, Florac?” continues the other.

“To take him your excuses? yes. It is you who have insulted —”

“Yes, parbleu, I have insulted!” says the Gascon.

“— A man who never willingly offended soul alive. A man full of heart: the most frank: the most loyal. I have seen him put to the proof, and believe me he is all I say.”

“Eh! so much the better for me!” cried the Southron. “I shall have the honour of meeting a gallant man: and there will be two on the field.”

“They are making a tool of you, my poor Gascon,” said M. de Florac, who saw Madame d’Ivry’s eyes watching the couple. She presently took the arm of the noble Count de Punter, and went for fresh air into the adjoining apartment, where play was going on as usual; and Lord Kew and his friend Lord Rooster were pacing the room apart from the gamblers.

My Lord Rooster, at something which Kew said, looked puzzled, and said, “Pooh, stuff, damned little Frenchman! Confounded nonsense!”

“I was searching you, milor!” said Madame d’Ivry, in a most winning tone, tripping behind him with her noiseless little feet. “Allow me a little word. Your arm! You used to give it me once, mon filleul! I hope you think nothing of the rudeness of M. de Castillonnes; he is a foolish Gascon: he must have been too often to the buffet this evening.”

Lord Kew said, No, indeed, he thought nothing of de Castillonnes’ rudeness.

“I am so glad! These heroes of the salle-d’armes have not the commonest manners. These Gascons are always flamberge au vent. What would the charming Miss Ethel say, if she heard of the dispute?”

“Indeed there is no reason why she should hear of it,” said Lord Kew, “unless some obliging friend should communicate it to her.”

“Communicate it to her — the poor dear! who would be so cruel as to give her pain?” asked the innocent Duchesse. “Why do you look at me so, Frank?”

“Because I admire you,” said her interlocutor, with a bow. “I have never seen Madame la Duchesse to such advantage as today.”

“You speak in enigmas! Come back with me to the ballroom. Come and dance with me once more. You used to dance with me. Let us have one waltz more, Kew. And then, and then, in a day or two I shall go back to Monsieur le Duc, and tell him that his filleul is going to marry the fairest of all Englishwomen and to turn hermit in the country, and orator in the Chamber of Peers. You have wit! ah si — you have wit!” And she led back Lord Kew, rather amazed himself at what he was doing, into the ballroom; so that the good-natured people who were there, and who beheld them dancing, could not refrain from clapping their hands at the sight of this couple.

The Duchess danced as if she was bitten by that Neapolitan spider which, according to the legend, is such a wonderful dance-incentor. She would have the music quicker and quicker. She sank on Kew’s arm, and clung on his support. She poured out all the light of her languishing eyes into his face. Their glances rather confused than charmed him. But the bystanders were pleased; they thought it so good-hearted of the Duchesse, after the little quarrel, to make a public avowal of reconciliation!

Lord Rooster looking on, at the entrance of the dancing-room, over Monsieur de Florac’s shoulder, said, “It’s all right! She’s a clipper to dance, the little Duchess.”

“The viper!” said Florac, “how she writhes!”

“I suppose that business with the Frenchman is all over,” says Lord Rooster. “Confounded piece of nonsense.”

“You believe it finished? We shall see!” said Florac, who perhaps knew his fair cousin better. When the waltz was over, Kew led his partner to a seat, and bowed to her; but though she made room for him at her side, pointing to it, and gathering up her rustling robes so that he might sit down, he moved away, his face full of gloom. He never wished to be near her again. There was something more odious to him in her friendship than her hatred. He knew hers was the hand that had dealt that stab at him and Ethel in the morning. He went back and talked with his two friends in the doorway. “Couch yourself, my little Kiou,” said Florac. “You are all pale. You were best in bed, mon garcon!”

“She has made me promise to take her in to supper,” Kew said, with a sigh.

“She will poison you,” said the other. “Why have they abolished the roue chez nous? My word of honour they should retabliche it for this woman.”

“There is one in the next room,” said Kew, with a laugh, “Come, Vicomte, let us try our fortune,” and he walked back into the play-room.

That was the last night on which Lord Kew ever played a gambling game. He won constantly. The double zero seemed to obey him; so that the croupiers wondered at his fortune. Florac backed it; saying with the superstition of a gambler, “I am sure something goes to arrive to this boy.” From time to time M. de Florac went back to the dancing-room, leaving his mise under Kew’s charge. He always found his heaps increased; indeed the worthy Vicomte wanted a turn of luck in his favour. On one occasion he returned with a grave face, saying to Lord Rooster, “She has the other one in hand. We are going to see.” “Trente-six encor! et rouge gagne,” cried the croupier with his nasal tone, Monsieur de Florac’s pockets overflowed with double Napoleons, and he stopped his play, luckily, for Kew putting down his winnings, once, twice, thrice, lost them all.

When Lord Kew had left the dancing-room, Madame d’Ivry saw Stenio following him with fierce looks, and called back that bearded bard. “You were going to pursue M. de Kew,” she said: “I knew you were. Sit down here, sir,” and she patted him down on her seat with her fan.

“Do you wish that I should call him back, madame?” said the poet, with the deepest tragic accents.

“I can bring him when I want him, Victor,” said the lady.

“Let us hope others will be equally fortunate,” the Gascon said, with one hand in his breast, the other stroking his moustache.

“Fi, monsieur, que vous sentez le tabac! je vous le defends, entendez-vous, monsieur?”

“Pourtant, I have seen the day when Madame la Duchesse did not disdain a cigar,” said Victor. “If the odour incommodes, permit that I retire.”

“And you also would quit me, Stenio? Do you think I did not mark your eyes towards Miss Newcome? your anger when she refused you to dance? Ah! we see all. A woman does not deceive herself, do you see? You send me beautiful verses, Poet. You can write as well of a statue or a picture, of a rose or a sunset, as of the heart of a woman. You were angry just now because I danced with M. de Kew. Do you think in a woman’s eyes jealousy is unpardonable?”

“You know how to provoke it, madame,” continued the tragedian.

“Monsieur,” replied the lady, with dignity, “am I to render you an account of all my actions, and ask your permission for a walk?”

“In fact, I am but the slave, madame,” groaned the Gascon, “I am not the master.”

“You are a very rebellious slave, monsieur,” continues the lady, with a pretty moue, and a glance of the large eyes artfully brightened by her rouge. “Suppose — suppose I danced with M. de Kew, not for his sake — Heaven knows to dance with him is not a pleasure — but for yours. Suppose I do not want a foolish quarrel to proceed. Suppose I know that he is ni sot ni poltron as you pretend. I overheard you, sir, talking with one of the basest of men, my good cousin, M. de Florac: but it is not of him I speak. Suppose I know the Comte de Kew to be a man, cold and insolent, ill-bred, and grossier, as the men of his nation are — but one who lacks no courage — one who is terrible when roused; might I have no occasion to fear, not for him, but ——”

“But for me! Ah, Marie! Ah, madame! Believe you that a man of my blood will yield a foot to any Englishman? Do you know the story of my race? do you know that since my childhood I have vowed hatred to that nation? Tenez, madame, this M. Jones who frequents your salon, it was but respect for you that has enabled me to keep my patience with this stupid islander. This Captain Blackball, whom you distinguish, who certainly shoots well, who mounts well to horse, I have always thought his manners were those of the marker of a billiard. But I respect him because he has made war with Don Carlos against the English. But this young M. de Kew, his laugh crisps me the nerves; his insolent air makes me bound; in beholding him I said to myself, I hate you; think whether I love him better after having seen him as I did but now, madame!” Also, but this Victor did not say, he thought Kew had laughed at him at the beginning of the evening, when the blanche Miss had refused to dance with him.

“Ah, Victor, it is not him, but you that I would save,” said the Duchess. And the people round about, and the Duchess herself, afterwards said, yes, certainly, she had a good heart. She entreated Lord Kew; she implored M. Victor; she did everything in her power to appease the quarrel between him and the Frenchman.

After the ball came the supper, which was laid at separate little tables, where parties of half a dozen enjoyed themselves. Lord Kew was of the Duchess’s party, where our Gascon friend had not a seat. But being one of the managers of the entertainment, his lordship went about from table to table, seeing that the guests at each lacked nothing. He supposed too that the dispute with the Gascon had possibly come to an end; at any rate, disagreeable as the other’s speech had been, he had resolved to put up with it, not having the least inclination to drink the Frenchman’s blood, or to part with his own on so absurd a quarrel. He asked people in his good-natured way to drink wine with him; and catching M. Victor’s eye scowling at him from a distant table, he sent a waiter with a champagne-bottle to his late opponent, and lifted his glass as a friendly challenge. The waiter carried the message to M. Victor, who, when he heard it, turned up his glass, and folded his arms in a stately manner. “M. de Castillonnes dit qu’il refuse, milor,” said the waiter, rather scared. “He charged me to bring that message to milor.” Florac ran across to the angry Gascon. It was not while at Madame d’Ivry’s table that Lord Kew sent his challenge and received his reply; his duties as steward had carried him away from that pretty early.

Meanwhile the glimmering dawn peered into the windows of the refreshment-room, and behold, the sun broke in and scared all the revellers. The ladies scurried away like so many ghosts at cock-crow, some of them not caring to face that detective luminary. Cigars had been lighted ere this; the men remained smoking them with those sleepless German waiters still bringing fresh supplies of drink. Lord Kew gave the Duchesse d’Ivry his arm, and was leading her out; M. de Castillonnes stood scowling directly in their way, upon which, with rather an abrupt turn of the shoulder, and a “Pardon, monsieur,” Lord Kew pushed by, and conducted the Duchesse to her carriage. She did not in the least see what had happened between the two gentlemen in the passage; she ogled, and nodded, and kissed her hands quite affectionately to Kew as the fly drove away.

Florac in the meanwhile had seized his compatriot, who had drunk champagne copiously with others, if not with Kew, and was in vain endeavouring to make him hear reason. The Gascon was furious; he vowed that Lord Kew had struck him. “By the tomb of my mother,” he bellowed, “I swear I will have his blood!” Lord Rooster was bawling out, “D—— him, carry him to bed, and shut him up;” which remarks Victor did not understand, or two victims would doubtless have been sacrificed on his mamma’s mausoleum.

When Kew came back (as he was only too sure to do), the little Gascon rushed forward with a glove in his hand, and having an audience of smokers round about him, made a furious speech about England, leopards, cowardice, insolent islanders, and Napoleon at St. Helena; and demanded reason for Kew’s conduct during the night. As he spoke, he advanced towards Lord Kew, glove in hand, and lifted it as if he was actually going to strike.

“There is no need for further words,” said Lord Kew, taking his cigar out of his mouth. “If you don’t drop that glove, upon my word I will pitch you out of the window. Ha! — Pick the man up, somebody. You’ll bear witness, gentlemen, I couldn’t help myself. If he wants me in the morning, he knows where to find me.”

“I declare that my Lord Kew has acted with great forbearance, and under the most brutal provocation — the most brutal provocation, entendez-vows, M. Cabasse?” cried out M. de Florac, rushing forward to the Gascon, who had now risen; “monsieur’s conduct has been unworthy of a Frenchman and a gallant homme.”

“D—— it, he has had it on his nob, though,” said Lord Viscount Rooster, laconically.

“Ah, Roosterre! ceci n’est pas pour rire,” Florac cried sadly, as they both walked away with Lord Kew; “I wish that first blood was all that was to be shed in this quarrel”

“Gaw! how he did go down!” cried Rooster, convulsed with laughter.

“I am very sorry for it,” said Kew, quite seriously; “I couldn’t help it. God forgive me.” And he hung down his head. He thought of the past, and its levities, and punishment coming after him pede claudo. It was with all his heart the contrite young man said “God forgive me.” He would take what was to follow as the penalty of what had gone before.

“Pallas te hoc vulnere, Pallas immolat, mon pauvre Kiou,” said his French friend. And Lord Rooster, whose classical education had been much neglected, turned round and said, “Hullo, mate, what ship’s that?”

Viscount Rooster had not been two hours in bed, when the Count de Punter (formerly of the Black Jaegers) waited upon him upon the part of M. de Castillonnes and the Earl of Kew, who had referred him to the Viscount to arrange matters for a meeting between them. As the meeting must take place out of the Baden territory, and they ought to move before the police prevented them, the Count proposed that they should at once make for France; where, as it was an affair of honneur, they would assuredly be let to enter without passports.

Lady Anne and Lady Kew heard that the gentlemen after the ball had all gone out on a hunting-party, and were not alarmed for four-and-twenty hours at least. On the next day none of them returned; and on the day after, the family heard that Lord Kew had met with rather a dangerous accident; but all the town knew he had been shot by M. de Castillonnes on one of the islands on the Rhine, opposite Kehl, where he was now lying.

http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/t/thackeray/william_makepeace/newcomes/chapter34.html

Last updated Tuesday, March 4, 2014 at 19:07