I am not going to entertain my readers with an account of my professional career as a gamester, any more than I did with anecdotes of my life as a military man. I might fill volumes with tales of this kind were I so minded; but at this rate, my recital would not be brought to a conclusion for years, and who knows how soon I may be called upon to stop? I have gout, rheumatism, gravel, and a disordered liver. I have two or three wounds in my body, which break out every now and then, and give me intolerable pain, and a hundred more signs of breaking up. Such are the effects of time, illness, and free-living, upon one of the strongest constitutions and finest forms the world ever saw. Ah! I suffered from none of these ills in the year ‘66, when there was no man in Europe more gay in spirits, more splendid in personal accomplishments, than young Redmond Barry.
Before the treachery of the scoundrel Pippi, I had visited many of the best Courts of Europe; especially the smaller ones, where play was patronised, and the professors of that science always welcome. Among the ecclesiastical principalities of the Rhine we were particularly well received. I never knew finer or gayer Courts than those of the Electors of Treves and Cologne, where there was more splendour and gaiety than at Vienna; far more than in the wretched barrack-court of Berlin. The Court of the Archduchess-Governess of the Netherlands was, likewise, a royal place for us knights of the dice-box and gallant votaries of fortune; whereas in the stingy Dutch or the beggarly Swiss republics, it was impossible for a gentleman to gain a livelihood unmolested.
After our mishap at Mannheim, my uncle and I made for the Duchy of X——. The reader may find out the place easily enough; but I do not choose to print at full the names of some illustrious persons in whose society I then fell, and among whom I was made the sharer in a very strange and tragical adventure.
There was no Court in Europe at which strangers were more welcome than at that of the noble Duke of X——; none where pleasure was more eagerly sought after, and more splendidly enjoyed. The Prince did not inhabit his capital of S— — but, imitating in every respect the ceremonial of the Court of Versailles, built himself a magnificent palace at a few leagues from his chief city, and round about his palace a superb aristocratic town, inhabited entirely by his nobles, and the officers of his sumptuous Court. The people were rather hardly pressed, to be sure, in order to keep up this splendour; for his Highness’s dominions were small, and so he wisely lived in a sort of awful retirement from them, seldom showing his face in his capital, or seeing any countenances but those of his faithful domestics and officers. His palace and gardens of Ludwigslust were exactly on the French model. Twice a week there were Court receptions, and grand Court galas twice a month. There was the finest opera out of France, and a ballet unrivalled in splendour; on which his Highness, a great lover of music and dancing, expended prodigious sums. It may be because I was then young, but I think I never saw such an assemblage of brilliant beauty as used to figure there on the stage of the Court theatre, in the grand mythological ballets which were then the mode, and in which you saw Mars in red-heeled pumps and a periwig, and Venus in patches and a hoop. They say the costume was incorrect, and have changed it since; but for my part, I have never seen a Venus more lovely than the Coralie, who was the chief dancer, and found no fault with the attendant nymphs, in their trains, and lappets, and powder. These operas used to take place twice a week, after which some great officer of the Court would have his evening, and his brilliant supper, and the dice-box rattled everywhere, and all the world played. I have seen seventy play-tables set out in the grand gallery of Ludwigslust, besides the faro-bank; where the Duke himself would graciously come and play, and win or lose with a truly royal splendour.
It was hither we came after the Mannheim misfortune. The nobility of the Court were pleased to say our reputation had preceded us, and the two Irish gentleman were made welcome. The very first night at Court we lost 740 of our 800 louis; the next evening, at the Court Marshal’s table, I won them back, with 1300 more. You may be sure we allowed no one to know how near we were to ruin on the first evening; but, on the contrary, I endeared every one to me by my gay manner of losing, and the Finance Minister himself cashed a note for 400 ducats, drawn by me upon my steward of Ballybarry Castle in the kingdom of Ireland; which very note I won from his Excellency the next day, along with a considerable sum in ready cash. In that noble Court everybody was a gambler. You would see the lacqueys in the ducal ante-rooms at work with their dirty packs of cards; the coach and chair men playing in the court, while their masters were punting in the saloons above; the very cook-maids and scullions, I was told, had a bank, where one of them, an Italian confectioner, made a handsome fortune: he purchased afterwards a Roman marquisate, and his son has figured as one of the most fashionable of the illustrious foreigners in London. The poor devils of soldiers played away their pay when they got it, which was seldom; and I don’t believe there was an officer in any one of the guard regiments but had his cards in his pouch, and no more forgot his dice than his sword-knot. Among such fellows it was diamond cut diamond. What you call fair play would have been a folly. The gentlemen of Ballybarry would have been fools indeed to appear as pigeons in such a hawk’s nest. None but men of courage and genius could live and prosper in a society where every one was bold and clever; and here my uncle and I held our own: ay, and more than our own.
His Highness the Duke was a widower, or rather, since the death of the reigning Duchess, had contracted a morganatic marriage with a lady whom he had ennobled, and who considered it a compliment (such was the morality of those days) to be called the Northern Dubarry. He had been married very young, and his son, the Hereditary Prince, may be said to have been the political sovereign of the State: for the reigning Duke was fonder of pleasure than of politics, and loved to talk a great deal more with his grand huntsman, or the director of his opera, than with ministers and ambassadors.
The Hereditary Prince, whom I shall call Prince Victor, was of a very different character from his august father. He had made the Wars of the Succession and Seven Years with great credit in the Empress’s service, was of a stern character, seldom appeared at Court, except when ceremony called him, but lived almost alone in his wing of the palace, where he devoted himself to the severest studies, being a great astronomer and chemist. He shared in the rage then common throughout Europe, of hunting for the philosopher’s stone; and my uncle often regretted that he had no smattering of chemistry, like Balsamo (who called himself Cagliostro), St. Germain, and other individuals, who had obtained very great sums from Duke Victor by aiding him in his search after the great secret. His amusements were hunting and reviewing the troops; but for him, and if his good-natured father had not had his aid, the army would have been playing at cards all day, and so it was well that the prudent prince was left to govern.
Duke Victor was fifty years of age, and his princess, the Princess Olivia, was scarce three-and-twenty. They had been married seven years, and in the first years of their union the Princess had borne him a son and a daughter. The stern morals and manners, the dark and ungainly appearance, of the husband, were little likely to please the brilliant and fascinating young woman, who had been educated in the south (she was connected with the ducal house of S——), who had passed two years at Paris under the guardianship of Mesdames the daughters of His Most Christian Majesty, and who was the life and soul of the Court of X— — the gayest of the gay, the idol of her august father-inlaw, and, indeed, of the whole Court. She was not beautiful, but charming; not witty, but charming, too, in her conversation as in her person. She was extravagant beyond all measure; so false, that you could not trust her; but her very weaknesses were more winning than the virtues of other women, her selfishness more delightful than others’ generosity. I never knew a woman whose faults made her so attractive. She used to ruin people, and yet they all loved her. My old uncle has seen her cheating at ombre, and let her win 400 louis without resisting in the least. Her caprices with the officers and ladies of her household were ceaseless: but they adored her. She was the only one of the reigning family whom the people worshipped. She never went abroad but they followed her carriage with shouts of acclamation: and, to be generous to them, she would borrow the last penny from one of her poor maids of honour, whom she would never pay. In the early days her husband was as much fascinated by her as all the rest of the world was; but her caprices had caused frightful outbreaks of temper on his part, and an estrangement which, though interrupted by almost mad returns of love, was still general. I speak of her Royal Highness with perfect candour and admiration, although I might be pardoned for judging her more severely, considering her opinion of myself. She said the elder Monsieur de Balibari was a finished old gentleman, and the younger one had the manners of a courier. The world has given a different opinion, and I can afford to chronicle this almost single sentence against me. Besides, she had a reason for her dislike to me, which you shall hear.
Five years in the army, long experience of the world, had ere now dispelled any of those romantic notions regarding love with which I commenced life; and I had determined, as is proper with gentlemen (it is only your low people who marry for mere affection), to consolidate my fortunes by marriage. In the course of our peregrinations, my uncle and I had made several attempts to carry this object into effect; but numerous disappointments had occurred which are not worth mentioning here, and had prevented me hitherto from making such a match as I thought was worthy of a man of my birth, abilities, and personal appearance. Ladies are not in the habit of running away on the Continent, as is the custom in England (a custom whereby many honourable gentlemen of my country have much benefited!); guardians, and ceremonies, and difficulties of all kinds intervene; true love is not allowed to have its course, and poor women cannot give away their honest hearts to the gallant fellows who have won them. Now it was settlements that were asked for; now it was my pedigree and title-deeds that were not satisfactory: though I had a plan and rent-roll of the Ballybarry estates, and the genealogy of the family up to King Brian Boru, or Barry, most handsomely designed on paper; now it was a young lady who was whisked off to a convent just as she was ready to fall into my arms; on another occasion, when a rich widow of the Low Countries was about to make me lord of a noble estate in Flanders, comes an order of the police which drives me out of Brussels at an hour’s notice, and consigns my mourner to her chateau. But at X—— I had an opportunity of playing a great game: and had won it too, but for the dreadful catastrophe which upset my fortune.
In the household of the Hereditary Princess there was a lady nineteen years of age, and possessor of the greatest fortune in the whole duchy. The Countess Ida, such was her name, was daughter of a late Minister and favourite of his Highness the Duke of X—— and his Duchess, who had done her the honour to be her sponsors at birth, and who, at the father’s death, had taken her under their august guardianship and protection. At sixteen she was brought from her castle, where, up to that period, she had been permitted to reside, and had been placed with the Princess Olivia, as one of her Highness’s maids of honour.
The aunt of the Countess Ida, who presided over her house during her minority, had foolishly allowed her to contract an attachment for her cousin-german, a penniless sub-lieutenant in one of the Duke’s foot regiments, who had flattered himself to be able to carry off this rich prize; and if he had not been a blundering silly idiot indeed, with the advantage of seeing her constantly, of having no rival near him, and the intimacy attendant upon close kinsmanship, might easily, by a private marriage, have secured the young Countess and her possessions. But he managed matters so foolishly, that he allowed her to leave her retirement, to come to Court for a year, and take her place in the Princess Olivia’s household; and then what does my young gentleman do, but appear at the Duke’s levee one day, in his tarnished epaulet and threadbare coat, and make an application in due form to his Highness, as the young lady’s guardian, for the hand of the richest heiress in his dominions!
The weakness of the good-natured Prince was such that, as the Countess Ida herself was quite as eager for the match as her silly cousin, his Highness might have been induced to allow the match, had not the Princess Olivia been induced to interpose, and to procure from the Duke a peremptory veto to the hopes of the young man. The cause of this refusal was as yet unknown; no other suitor for the young lady’s hand was mentioned, and the lovers continued to correspond, hoping that time might effect a change in his Highness’s resolutions; when, of a sudden, the lieutenant was drafted into one of the regiments which the Prince was in the habit of selling to the great powers then at war (this military commerce was a principal part of his Highness’s and other princes’ revenues in those days), and their connection was thus abruptly broken off.
It was strange that the Princess Olivia should have taken this part against a young lady who had been her favourite; for, at first, with those romantic and sentimental notions which almost every woman has, she had somewhat encouraged the Countess Ida and her penniless lover, but now suddenly turned against them; and, from loving the Countess, as she previously had done, pursued her with every manner of hatred which a woman knows how to inflict: there was no end to the ingenuity of her tortures, the venom of her tongue, the bitterness of her sarcasm and scorn. When I first came to Court at X — the young fellows there had nicknamed the young lady the Dumme Grafinn, the stupid Countess. She was generally silent, handsome, but pale, stolid-looking, and awkward; taking no interest in the amusements of the place, and appearing in the midst of the feasts as glum as the death’s-head which, they say, the Romans used to have at their tables.
It was rumoured that a young gentleman of French extraction, the Chevalier de Magny, equerry to the Hereditary Prince, and present at Paris when the Princess Olivia was married to him by proxy there, was the intended of the rich Countess Ida; but no official declaration of the kind was yet made, and there were whispers of a dark intrigue: which, subsequently, received frightful confirmation.
This Chevalier de Magny was the grandson of an old general officer in the Duke’s service, the Baron de Magny. The Baron’s father had quitted France at the expulsion of Protestants after the revocation of the edict of Nantes, and taken service in X — where he died. The son succeeded him, and, quite unlike most French gentlemen of birth whom I have known, was a stern and cold Calvinist, rigid in the performance of his duty, retiring in his manners, mingling little with the Court, and a close friend and favourite of Duke Victor; whom he resembled in disposition.
The Chevalier his grandson was a true Frenchman; he had been born in France, where his father held a diplomatic appointment in the Duke’s service. He had mingled in the gay society of the most brilliant Court in the world, and had endless stories to tell us of the pleasures of the petites maisons, of the secrets of the Parc aux Cerfs, and of the wild gaieties of Richelieu and his companions. He had been almost ruined at play, as his father had been before him; for, out of the reach of the stern old Baron in Germany, both son and grandson had led the most reckless of lives. He came back from Paris soon after the embassy which had been despatched thither on the occasion of the marriage of the Princess, was received sternly by his old grandfather; who, however, paid his debts once more, and procured him the post in the Duke’s household. The Chevalier de Magny rendered himself a great favourite of his august master; he brought with him the modes and the gaieties of Paris; he was the deviser of all the masquerades and balls, the recruiter of the ballet-dancers, and by far the most brilliant and splendid young gentleman of the Court.
After we had been a few weeks at Ludwigslust, the old Baron de Magny endeavoured to have us dismissed from the duchy; but his voice was not strong enough to overcome that of the general public, and the Chevalier de Magny especially stood our friend with his Highness when the question was debated before him. The Chevalier’s love of play had not deserted him. He was a regular frequenter of our bank, where he played for some time with pretty good luck; and where, when he began to lose, he paid with a regularity surprising to all those who knew the smallness of his means, and the splendour of his appearance.
Her Highness the Princess Olivia was also very fond of play. On half-a-dozen occasions when we held a bank at Court, I could see her passion for the game. I could see — that is, my cool-headed old uncle could see — much more. There was an intelligence between Monsieur de Magny and this illustrious lady. ‘If her Highness be not in love with the little Frenchman,’ my uncle said to me one night after play, ‘may I lose the sight of my last eye!’
‘And what then, sir?’ said I.
‘What then?’ said my uncle, looking me hard in the face. ‘Are you so green as not to know what then? Your fortune is to be made, if you choose to back it now; and we may have back the Barry estates in two years, my boy.’
‘How is that?’ asked I, still at a loss.
My uncle drily said, ‘Get Magny to play; never mind his paying: take his notes of hand. The more he owes the better; but, above all, make him play.’
‘He can’t pay a shilling,’ answered I. ‘The Jews will not discount his notes at cent. per cent.’
‘So much the better. You shall see we will make use of them,’ answered the old gentleman. And I must confess that the plan he laid was a gallant, clever, and fair one.
I was to make Magny play; in this there was no great difficulty. We had an intimacy together, for he was a good sportsman as well as myself, and we came to have a pretty considerable friendship for one another; if he saw a dice-box it was impossible to prevent him from handling it; but he took to it as natural as a child does to sweetmeats.
At first he won of me; then he began to lose; then I played him money against some jewels that he brought: family trinkets, he said, and indeed of considerable value. He begged me, however, not to dispose of them in the duchy, and I gave and kept my word to him to this effect. From jewels he got to playing upon promissory notes; and as they would not allow him to play at the Court tables and in public upon credit, he was very glad to have an opportunity of indulging his favourite passion in private. I have had him for hours at my pavilion (which I had fitted up in the Eastern manner, very splendid) rattling the dice till it became time to go to his service at Court, and we would spend day after day in this manner. He brought me more jewels — a pearl necklace, an antique emerald breast ornament, and other trinkets, as a set-off against these losses: for I need not say that I should not have played with him all this time had he been winning; but, after about a week, the luck set in against him, and he became my debtor in a prodigious sum. I do not care to mention the extent of it; it was such as I never thought the young man could pay.
Why, then, did I play for it? Why waste days in private play with a mere bankrupt, when business seemingly much more profitable was to be done elsewhere? My reason I boldly confess. I wanted to win from Monsieur de Magny, not his money, but his intended wife, the Countess Ida. Who can say that I had not a right to use ANY stratagem in this matter of love? Or, why say love? I wanted the wealth of the lady: I loved her quite as much as Magny did; I loved her quite as much as yonder blushing virgin of seventeen does who marries an old lord of seventy. I followed the practice of the world in this; having resolved that marriage should achieve my fortune.
I used to make Magny, after his losses, give me a friendly letter of acknowledgment to some such effect as this —
‘MY DEAR MONSIEUR DE BALIBARI — I acknowledge to have lost to you this day at lansquenet [or picquet, or hazard, as the case may be: I was master of him at any game that is played] the sum of three hundred ducats, and shall hold it as a great kindness on your part if you will allow the debt to stand over until a future day, when you shall receive payment from your very grateful humble servant.’
With the jewels he brought me I also took the precaution (but this was my uncle’s idea, and a very good one) to have a sort of invoice, and a letter begging me to receive the trinkets as so much part payment of a sum of money he owed me.
When I had put him in such a position as I deemed favourable to my intentions, I spoke to him candidly, and without any reserve, as one man of the world should speak to another. ‘I will not, my dear fellow,’ said I, ‘pay you so bad a compliment as to suppose that you expect we are to go on playing at this rate much longer, and that there is any satisfaction to me in possessing more or less sheets of paper bearing your signature, and a series of notes of hand which I know you never can pay. Don’t look fierce or angry, for you know Redmond Barry is your master at the sword; besides, I would not be such a fool as to fight a man who owes me so much money; but hear calmly what I have to propose.
‘You have been very confidential to me during our intimacy of the last month; and I know all your personal affairs completely. You have given your word of honour to your grandfather never to play upon parole, and you know how you have kept it, and that he will disinherit you if he hears the truth. Nay, suppose he dies tomorrow, his estate is not sufficient to pay the sum in which you are indebted to me; and, were you to yield me up all, you would be a beggar, and a bankrupt too.
‘Her Highness the Princess Olivia denies you nothing. I shall not ask why; but give me leave to say, I was aware of the fact when we began to play together.’
‘Will you be made baron-chamberlain, with the grand cordon of the order?’ gasped the poor fellow. ‘The Princess can do anything with the Duke.’
‘I shall have no objection,’ said I, ‘to the yellow riband and the gold key; though a gentleman of the house of Ballybarry cares little for the titles of the German nobility. But this is not what I want. My good Chevalier, you have hid no secrets from me. You have told me with what difficulty you have induced the Princess Olivia to consent to the project of your union with the Grafinn Ida, whom you don’t love. I know whom you love very well.’
‘Monsieur de Balibari!’ said the discomfited Chevalier; he could get out no more. The truth began to dawn upon him.
‘You begin to understand,’ continued I. ‘Her Highness the Princess’ (I said this in a sarcastic way) ‘will not be very angry, believe me, if you break off your connection with the stupid Countess. I am no more an admirer of that lady than you are; but I want her estate. I played you for that estate, and have won it; and I will give you your bills and five thousand ducats on the day I am married to it.’
‘The day I am married to the Countess,’ answered the Chevalier, thinking to have me, ‘I will be able to raise money to pay your claim ten times over’ (this was true, for the Countess’s property may have been valued at near half a million of our money); ‘and then I will discharge my obligations to you. Meanwhile, if you annoy me by threats, or insult me again as you have done, I will use that influence, which, as you say, I possess, and have you turned out of the duchy, as you were out of the Netherlands last year.’
I rang the bell quite quietly. ‘Zamor,’ said I to a tall negro fellow habited like a Turk, that used to wait upon me, ‘when you hear the bell ring a second time, you will take this packet to the Marshal of the Court, this to his Excellency the General de Magny, and this you will place in the hands of one of the equerries of his Highness the Hereditary Prince. Wait in the ante-room, and do not go with the parcels until I ring again.’
The black fellow having retired, I turned to Monsieur de Magny and said, ‘Chevalier, the first packet contains a letter from you to me, declaring your solvency, and solemnly promising payment of the sums you owe me; it is accompanied by a document from myself (for I expected some resistance on your part), stating that my honour has been called in question, and begging that the paper may be laid before your august master his Highness. The second packet is for your grandfather, enclosing the letter from you in which you state yourself to be his heir, and begging for a confirmation of the fact. The last parcel, for his Highness the Hereditary Duke,’ added I, looking most sternly, ‘contains the Gustavus Adolphus emerald, which he gave to his princess, and which you pledged to me as a family jewel of your own. Your influence with her Highness must be great indeed,’ I concluded, ‘when you could extort from her such a jewel as that, and when you could make her, in order to pay your play-debts, give up a secret upon which both your heads depend.’
‘Villain!’ said the Frenchman, quite aghast with fury and terror, ‘would you implicate the Princess?’
‘Monsieur de Magny,’ I answered, with a sneer, ‘no: I will say YOU STOLE the jewel.’ It was my belief he did, and that the unhappy and infatuated Princess was never privy to the theft until long after it had been committed. How we came to know the history of the emerald is simple enough. As we wanted money (for my occupation with Magny caused our bank to be much neglected), my uncle had carried Magny’s trinkets to Mannheim to pawn. The Jew who lent upon them knew the history of the stone in question; and when he asked how her Highness came to part with it, my uncle very cleverly took up the story where he found it, said that the Princess was very fond of play, that it was not always convenient to her to pay, and hence the emerald had come into our hands. He brought it wisely back with him to S—; and, as regards the other jewels which the Chevalier pawned to us, they were of no particular mark: no inquiries have ever been made about them to this day; and I did not only not know then that they came from her Highness, but have only my conjectures upon the matter now.
The unfortunate young gentleman must have had a cowardly spirit, when I charged him with the theft, not to make use of my two pistols that were lying by chance before him, and to send out of the world his accuser and his own ruined self. With such imprudence and miserable recklessness on his part and that of the unhappy lady who had forgotten herself for this poor villain, he must have known that discovery was inevitable. But it was written that this dreadful destiny should be accomplished: instead of ending like a man, he now cowered before me quite spirit-broken, and, flinging himself down on the sofa, burst into tears, calling wildly upon all the saints to help him: as if they could be interested in the fate of such a wretch as he!
I saw that I had nothing to fear from him; and, calling back Zamor my black, said I would myself carry the parcels, which I returned to my escritoire; and, my point being thus gained, I acted, as I always do, generously towards him. I said that, for security’s sake, I should send the emerald out of the country, but that I pledged my honour to restore it to the Duchess, without any pecuniary consideration, on the day when she should procure the sovereign’s consent to my union with the Countess Ida.
This will explain pretty clearly, I flatter myself, the game I was playing; and, though some rigid moralist may object to its propriety, I say that anything is fair in love, and that men so poor as myself can’t afford to be squeamish about their means of getting on in life. The great and rich are welcomed, smiling, up the grand staircase of the world; the poor but aspiring must clamber up the wall, or push and struggle up the back stair, or, PARDI, crawl through any of the conduits of the house, never mind how foul and narrow, that lead to the top. The unambitious sluggard pretends that the eminence is not worth attaining, declines altogether the struggle, and calls himself a philosopher. I say he is a poor-spirited coward. What is life good for but for honour? and that is so indispensable, that we should attain it anyhow.
The manner to be adopted for Magny’s retreat was proposed by myself, and was arranged so as to consult the feelings of delicacy of both parties. I made Magny take the Countess Ida aside, and say to her, ‘Madam, though I have never declared myself your admirer, you and the Court have had sufficient proof of my regard for you; and my demand would, I know, have been backed by his Highness, your august guardian. I know the Duke’s gracious wish is, that my attentions should be received favourably; but, as time has not appeared to alter your attachment elsewhere, and as I have too much spirit to force a lady of your name and rank to be united to me against your will, the best plan is, that I should make you, for form’s sake, a proposal UNauthorised by his Highness: that you should reply, as I am sorry to think your heart dictates to you, in the negative: on which I also will formally withdraw from my pursuit of you, stating that, after a refusal, nothing, not even the Duke’s desire, should induce me to persist in my suit.’
The Countess Ida almost wept at hearing these words from Monsieur de Magny, and tears came into her eyes, he said, as she took his hand for the first time, and thanked him for the delicacy of the proposal. She little knew that the Frenchman was incapable of that sort of delicacy, and that the graceful manner in which he withdrew his addresses was of my invention.
As soon as he withdrew, it became my business to step forward; but cautiously and gently, so as not to alarm the lady, and yet firmly, so as to convince her of the hopelessness of her design of uniting herself with her shabby lover, the sub-lieutenant. The Princess Olivia was good enough to perform this necessary part of the plan in my favour, and solemnly to warn the Countess Ida, that, though Monsieur de Magny had retired from paying his addresses, his Highness her guardian would still marry her as he thought fit, and that she must for ever forget her out-at-elbowed adorer. In fact, I can’t conceive how such a shabby rogue as that could ever have had the audacity to propose for her: his birth was certainly good; but what other qualifications had he?
When the Chevalier de Magny withdrew, numbers of other suitors, you may be sure, presented themselves; and amongst these your very humble servant, the cadet of Ballybarry. There was a carrousel, or tournament, held at this period, in imitation of the antique meetings of chivalry, in which the chevaliers tilted at each other, or at the ring; and on this occasion I was habited in a splendid Roman dress (viz., a silver helmet, a flowing periwig, a cuirass of gilt leather richly embroidered, a light blue velvet mantle, and crimson morocco half-boots): and in this habit I rode my bay horse Brian, carried off three rings, and won the prize over all the Duke’s gentry, and the nobility of surrounding countries who had come to the show. A wreath of gilded laurel was to be the prize of the victor, and it was to be awarded by the lady he selected. So I rode up to the gallery where the Countess Ida was seated behind the Hereditary Princess, and, calling her name loudly, yet gracefully, begged to be allowed to be crowned by her, and thus proclaimed myself to the face of all Germany, as it were, her suitor. She turned very pale, and the Princess red, I observed; but the Countess Ida ended by crowning me: after which, putting spurs into my horse, I galloped round the ring, saluting his Highness the Duke at the opposite end, and performing the most wonderful exercises with my bay.
My success did not, as you may imagine, increase my popularity with the young gentry. They called me adventurer, bully, dice-loader, impostor, and a hundred pretty names; but I had a way of silencing these gentry. I took the Count de Schmetterling, the richest and bravest of the young men who seemed to have a hankering for the Countess Ida, and publicly insulted him at the ridotto; flinging my cards into his face. The next day I rode thirty-five miles into the territory of the Elector of B— — and met Monsieur de Schmetterling, and passed my sword twice through his body; then rode back with my second, the Chevalier de Magny, and presented myself at the Duchess’s whist that evening. Magny was very unwilling to accompany me at first; but I insisted upon his support, and that he should countenance my quarrel. Directly after paying my homage to her Highness, I went up to the Countess Ida, and made her a marked and low obeisance, gazing at her steadily in the face until she grew crimson red; and then staring round at every man who formed her circle, until, MA FOI, I stared them all away. I instructed Magny to say, everywhere, that the Countess was madly in love with me; which commission, along with many others of mine, the poor devil was obliged to perform. He made rather a SOTTE FIGURE, as the French say, acting the pioneer for me, praising me everywhere, accompanying me always! he who had been the pink of the MODE until my arrival; he who thought his pedigree of beggarly Barons of Magny was superior to the race of great Irish kings from which I descended; who had sneered at me a hundred times as a spadassin, a deserter, and had called me a vulgar Irish upstart. Now I had my revenge of the gentleman, and took it too.
I used to call him, in the choicest societies, by his Christian name of Maxime. I would say, ‘Bon jour, Maxime; comment vas-TU?’ in the Princess’s hearing, and could see him bite his lips for fury and vexation. But I had him under my thumb, and her Highness too — I, poor private of Bulow’s regiment. And this is a proof of what genius and perseverance can do, and should act as a warning to great people never to have SECRETS— if they can help it.
I knew the Princess hated me; but what did I care? She knew I knew all: and indeed, I believe, so strong was her prejudice against me, that she thought I was an indelicate villain, capable of betraying a lady, which I would scorn to do; so that she trembled before me as a child before its schoolmaster. She would, in her woman’s way, too, make all sorts of jokes and sneers at me on reception days; ask about my palace in Ireland, and the kings my ancestors, and whether, when I was a private in Bulow’s foot, my royal relatives had interposed to rescue me, and whether the cane was smartly administered there — anything to mortify me. But, Heaven bless you! I can make allowances for people, and used to laugh in her face. Whilst her jibes and jeers were continuing, it was my pleasure to look at poor Magny and see how HE bore them. The poor devil was trembling lest I should break out under the Princess’s sarcasm and tell all; but my revenge was, when the Princess attacked me, to say something bitter to HIM — to pass it on, as boys do at school. And THAT was the thing which used to make her Highness feel. She would wince just as much when I attacked Magny as if I had been saying anything rude to herself. And, though she hated me, she used to beg my pardon in private; and though her pride would often get the better of her, yet her prudence obliged this magnificent princess to humble herself to the poor penniless Irish boy.
As soon as Magny had formally withdrawn from the Countess Ida, the Princess took the young lady into favour again, and pretended to be very fond of her. To do them justice, I don’t know which of the two disliked me most — the Princess, who was all eagerness, and fire, and coquetry; or the Countess, who was all state and splendour. The latter, especially, pretended to be disgusted by me: and yet, after all, I have pleased her betters; was once one of the handsomest men in Europe, and would defy any heyduc of the Court to measure a chest or a leg with me: but I did not care for any of her silly prejudices, and determined to win her and wear her in spite of herself. Was it on account of her personal charms or qualities? No. She was quite white, thin, short-sighted, tall, and awkward, and my taste is quite the contrary; and as for her mind, no wonder that a poor creature who had a hankering after a wretched ragged ensign could never appreciate ME. It was her estate I made love to; as for herself, it would be a reflection on my taste as a man of fashion to own that I liked her.
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:00