Ormond, by Maria Edgeworth

Chapter 28.

It was during the latter years of the life of Louis the Fifteenth, and during the reign of Madame du Barry, that Ormond was at Paris. The court of Versailles was at this time in all its splendour, if not in all its glory. At the souper du roi, Ormond beheld, in all the magnificence of dress and jewels, the nobility, wealth, fashion, and beauty of France. Well might the brilliancy dazzle the eyes of a youth fresh from Ireland, when it amazed even old ambassadors, accustomed to the ordinary grandeur of courts. When he recovered from his first astonishment, when his eyes were a little better used to the light, and he looked round and considered all these magnificently decorated personages, assembled for the purpose of standing at a certain distance to see one man eat his supper, it did appear to him an extraordinary spectacle; and the very great solemnity and devotion of the assistants, so unsuited to the French countenance, inclined him to smile. It was well for him, however, that he kept his Irish risible muscles in order, and that no courtier could guess his thoughts — a smile would have lost him his reputation. Nothing in the world appeared to Frenchmen, formerly, of more importance than their court etiquette, though there were some who began about this time to suspect that the court order of things might not be co-existent with the order of nature — though there were some philosophers and statesmen who began to be aware, that the daily routine of the courtier’s etiquette was not as necessary as the motions of the sun, moon, and planets. Nor could it have been possible to convince half at least of the crowd, who assisted at the king’s supper this night, that all the French national eagerness about the health, the looks, the words, of le roi, all the attachment, le dévouement, professed habitually — perhaps felt habitually — for the reigning monarch, whoever or whatever he might be, by whatever name — notre bon roi, or simply notre roi de France — should in a few years pass away, and be no more seen.

Ormond had no concern with the affairs of the nation, nor with the future fate of any thing he beheld: he was only a spectator, a foreigner; and his business was, according to Mademoiselle’s maxim, to enjoy to-day and to reflect to-morrow. His enjoyment of this day was complete: he not only admired, but was admired. In the vast crowd he was distinguished: some nobleman of note asked who he was — another observed l’air noble— another exclaimed, “Le bel Anglois!” and his fortune was made at Paris; especially as a friend of Madame du Barry’s asked where he bought his embroidery.

He went afterwards, at least in Connal’s society, by the name of “Le bel Anglois.” Half in a tone of raillery, yet with a look that showed she felt it to be just, Madame de Connal first adopted the appellation, and then changed the term to “mon bel Irlandois.” Invitations upon invitations poured upon Ormond — all were eager to have him at their parties — he was every where — attending Madame de Connal — and she, how proud to be attended by Ormond! He dreaded lest his principles should not withstand the strong temptation. He could not leave her, but he determined to see her only in crowds; accordingly, he avoided every select party: l’amie intime could never for the first three weeks get him to one petit comité, though Madame de Connal assured him that her friend’s petit soupers “were charming, worth all the crowded assemblies in Paris.” Still he pursued his plan, and sought for safety in a course of dissipation.

“I give you joy,” said Connal to him one day, “you are fairly launched! you are no distressed vessel to be taken in tow, nor a petty bark to sail in any man’s wake. You have a gale, and are likely to have a triumph of your own.” Connal was, upon all occasions, careful to impress upon Ormond’s mind, that he left him wholly to himself, for he was aware, that in former days, he had offended his independent spirit by airs of protection. He managed better now — he never even invited him to play, though it was his main object to draw him to his faro-table. He made use of some of his friends or confederates, who played for him: Connal occasionally coming to the table as an unconcerned spectator. Ormond played with so much freedom, and seemed to have so gentlemanlike an indifference whether he lost or won, that he was considered as an easy dupe. Time only was necessary, M. de Connal thought, to lead him on gradually and without alarm, to let him warm to the passion for play. Meanwhile Madame de Connal felt as fully persuaded that Ormond’s passion for her would increase. It was her object to fix him at Paris; but she should be content, perfectly happy with his friendship, his society, his sentiments: her own sentiment for him, as she confessed to Madame de Clairville, was absolutely invincible; but it should never lead her beyond the bounds of virtue. It was involuntary, but it should never be a crime.

Madame de Clairville, who understood her business, and spoke with all the fashionable cant of sensibility, asked how it was possible that an involuntary sentiment could ever be a crime?

As certainly as the novice among a band of sharpers is taught, by the technical language of the gang, to conquer his horror of crime, so certainly does the cant of sentiment operate upon the female novice, and vanquish her fear of shame and moral horror of vice.

The allusion is coarse — so much the better: strength, not elegance, is necessary on some occasions to make an impression. The truth will strike the good sense and good feelings of our countrywomen, and unadorned, they will prefer it to German or French sophistry. By such sophistry, however, was Dora insensibly led on.

But Ormond did not yet advance in learning the language of sentiment — he was amusing himself in the world — and Dora imagined that the dissipation in which he lived prevented him from having time to think of his passion: she began to hate the dissipation.

Connal one day, when Dora was present, observed that Ormond seemed to be quite in his natural element in this sea of pleasure.

“Who would have thought it?” said Dora: “I thought Mr. Ormond’s taste was more for domestic happiness and retirement.”

“Retirement at Paris!” said Ormond.

“Domestic happiness at Paris!” said Connal.

Madame de Connal sighed — No, it was Dora that sighed.

“Where do you go to-night?” said her husband.

“Nowhere — I shall stay at home. And you?” said she, looking up at Harry Ormond.

“To Madame de la Tour’s.”

“That’s the affair of half an hour — only to appear —”

“Afterwards to the opera,” said Ormond.

“And after the opera — can’t you sup here?” said Madame de Connal.

“With the utmost pleasure — but that I am engaged to Madame de la Brie’s ball.”

“That’s true,” cried Madame de Connal, starting up —“I had forgot it — so am I this fortnight — I may as well go to the opera, too, and I can carry you to Madame de la Tour’s — I owe her a five minutes’ sitting — though she is un peu precieuse. And what can you find in that little cold Madame de la Brie — do you like ice?”

“He like to break de ice, I suppose,” said Mademoiselle. “Ma foi, you must then take a hatchet there!”

“No occasion; I had rather slide upon the ice than break it. My business at Paris is merely, you know, to amuse myself,” said he, looking at Connal — “Glissez, mortels, n’appuyez pas.”

“But if de ice should melt of itself,” said Mademoiselle, “what would you do den? What would become of him, den, do you think, my dear niece?”

It was a case which she did not like to consider — Dora blushed — no creature was so blind as Mademoiselle, with all her boasted quickness and penetration.

From this time forward no more was heard of Madame de Connal’s taste for domestic life and retirement — she seemed quite convinced, either by her husband, or by Mr. Ormond, or both, that no such thing was practicable at Paris. She had always liked le grand monde — she liked it better now than ever, when she found Ormond in every crowded assembly, every place of public amusement — a continual round of breakfasts, dinners, balls — court balls — bal masqué— bal de l’opera — plays — grand entertainments — petits soupers — fêtes at Versailles — pleasure in every possible form and variety of luxury and extravagance succeeded day after day, and night after night — and Ormond, le bel Irlandois, once in fashion, was every where, and every where admired; flattered by the women, who wished to draw him in to be their partners at play — still more flattered by those who wished to engage him as a lover — most of all flattered by Dora. he felt his danger. Improved in coquetry by Parisian practice and power, Dora tried her utmost skill — she played off with great dexterity her various admirers to excite his jealousy: the Marquis de Beaulieu, the witty marquis, and the Count de Belle Chasse, the irresistible count, were dangerous rivals. She succeeded in exciting Ormond’s jealousy; but in his noble mind there were strong opposing principles to withstand his selfish gratification. It was surprising with what politeness to each other, with how little love, all the suitors carried on this game of gallantry and competition of vanity.

Till Ormond appeared, it had been the general opinion that before the end of the winter or the spring, the Count de Belle Chasse would be triumphant. Why Ormond did not enter the lists, when there appeared to all the judges such a chance of his winning the prize, seemed incomprehensible to the spectators, and still more to the rival candidates. Some settled it with the exclamation “Inouï!” Others pronounced that it was English bizarrerie. Every thing seemed to smooth the slippery path of temptation — the indifference of her husband — the imprudence — of her aunt, and the sophistry of Madame de Clairville — the general customs of French society — the peculiar profligacy of the society into which he happened to be thrown — the opinion which he saw prevailed, that if he withdrew from the competition a rival would immediately profit by his forbearance, conspired to weaken his resolution.

Many accidental circumstances concurred to increase the danger. At these balls, to which he went originally to avoid Dora in smaller parties, Madame de Connal, though she constantly appeared, seldom danced. She did not dance well enough to bear comparison with French dancers; Ormond was in the same situation. The dancing which was very well in England would not do in Paris — no late lessons could, by any art, bring them to an equality with French nature.

“Ah, il ne danse pas! — He dances like an Englishman.” At the first ball this comforted the suitors, and most the Comte de Belle Chasse; but this very circumstance drew Ormond and Dora closer together — she pretended headaches, and languor, and lassitude, and, in short, sat still.

But it was not to be expected that the Comte de Belle Chasse could give up dancing: the Comte de Belle Chasse danced like le dieu de la danse, another Vestris; he danced every night, and Ormond sat and talked to Dora, for it was his duty to attend Madame when the little Abbé was out of the way.

The spring was now appearing, and the spring is delightful in Paris, and the promenades in the Champs Elysées, and in the Bois de Boulogne, and the promenade in Long–Champ, commenced. Riding was just coming into high fashion with the French ladies; and, instead of riding in men’s clothes, and like a man, it was now the ambition de monter à cheval à l’Angloise: to ride on a side-saddle and in an English riding habit was now the ambition. Now Dora, though she could not dance as well, could ride better than any French woman; and she was ambitious to show herself and her horsemanship in the Bois de Boulogne: but she had no horse that she liked. Le Comte de Belle Chasse offered to get one broke for her at the king’s riding-house — this she refused: but fortunately Ormond, as was the custom with the English at that time, had, after his arrival, some English horses brought over to him at Paris. Among these was the horse he had once broke for Dora.

For this an English side-saddle was procured — she was properly equipped and mounted.

And the two friends, le bel Irlandois, as they persisted in calling Ormond, and la belle Irlandoise, and their horses, and their horsemanship, were the admiration of the promenade.

The Comte de Belle Chasse sent to London for an English horse at any price. He was out of humour — and Ormond in the finest humour imaginable. Dora was grateful; her horse was a beautiful, gentle-spirited creature: it was called Harry — it was frequently patted and caressed, and told how much it was valued and loved.

Ormond was now in great danger, because he felt himself secure that he was only a friend —l’ami de la maison.


Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:54