“CORBLEU! What a lovely creature that was in the Fitzbattleaxe box to-night,” said one of a group of young dandies who were leaning over the velvet-cushioned balconies of the “Coventry Club,” smoking their full-flavored Cubas (from Hudson’s) after the opera.
Everybody stared at such an exclamation of enthusiasm from the lips of the young Earl of Bagnigge, who was never heard to admire anything except a coulis de dindonneau a la St. Menehould, or a supreme de cochon en torticolis a la Piffarde; such as Champollion, the chef of the “Traveller’s,” only knows how to dress; or the bouquet of a flask of Medoc, of Carbonell’s best quality; or a goutte of Marasquin, from the cellars of Briggs and Hobson.
Alured de Pentonville, eighteenth Earl of Bagnigge, Viscount Paon of Islington, Baron Pancras, Kingscross, and a Baronet, was, like too many of our young men of ton, utterly blase, although only in his twenty-fourth year. Blest, luckily, with a mother of excellent principles (who had imbued his young mind with that Morality which is so superior to all the vain pomps of the world!) it had not been always the young earl’s lot to wear the coronet for which he now in sooth cared so little. His father, a captain of Britain’s navy, struck down by the side of the gallant Collingwood in the Bay of Fundy, left little but his sword and spotless name to his young, lovely, and inconsolable widow, who passed the first years of her mourning in educating her child in an elegant though small cottage in one of the romantic marine villages of beautiful Devonshire. Her child! What a gush of consolation filled the widow’s heart as she pressed him to it! How faithfully did she instil into his young bosom those principles which had been the pole-star of the existence of his gallant father!
In this secluded retreat, rank and wealth almost boundless found the widow and her boy. The seventeenth Earl — gallant and ardent, and in the prime of youth — went forth one day from the Eternal City to a steeple-chase in the Campagna. A mutilated corpse was brought back to his hotel in the Piazza di Spagna. Death, alas! is no respecter of the Nobility. That shattered form was all that remained of the fiery, the haughty, the wild, but the generous Altamont de Pentonville! Such, such is fate!
The admirable Emily de Pentonville trembled with all a mother’s solicitude at the distinctions and honors which thus suddenly descended on her boy. She engaged an excellent clergyman of the Church of England to superintend his studies; to accompany him on foreign travel when the proper season arrived; to ward from him those dangers which dissipation always throws in the way of the noble, the idle, and the wealthy. But the Reverend Cyril Delaval died of the measles at Naples, and henceforth the young Earl of Bagnigge was without a guardian.
What was the consequence? That, at three-and-twenty, he was a cynic and an epicure. He had drained the cup of pleasure till it had palled in his unnerved hand. He had looked at the Pyramids without awe, at the Alps without reverence. He was unmoved by the sandy solitudes of the Desert as by the placid depths of Mediterranean’s sea of blue. Bitter, bitter tears did Emily de Pentonville weep, when, on Alured’s return from the Continent, she beheld the awful change that dissipation had wrought in her beautiful, her blue-eyed, her perverted, her still beloved boy!
“Corpo di Bacco,” he said, pitching the end of his cigar on to the red nose of the Countess of Delawaddymore’s coachman — who, having deposited her fat ladyship at No. 236 Piccadilly, was driving the carriage to the stables, before commencing his evening at the “Fortune of War” public-house —“what a lovely creature that was! What eyes! what hair! Who knows her? Do you, mon cher prince?”
“E bellissima, certamente,” said the Duca de Montepulciano, and stroked down his jetty moustache.
“Ein gar schones Madchen,” said the Hereditary Grand Duke of Eulenschreckenstein, and turned up his carroty one.
“Elle n’est pas mal, ma foi!” said the Prince de Borodino, with a scowl on his darkling brows. “Mon Dieu, que ces cigarres sont mauvais!” he added as he too cast away his Cuba.
“Try one of my Pickwicks,” said Franklin Fox, with a sneer, offering his gold etui to the young Frenchman; “they are some of Pontet’s best, Prince. What, do you bear malice? Come, let us be friends,” said the gay and careless young patrician; but a scowl on the part of the Frenchman was the only reply.
“Want to know who she is? Borodino knows who she is, Bagnigge,” the wag went on.
Everybody crowded around Monsieur de Borodino thus apostrophized. The Marquis of Alicompayne, young De Boots of the Lifeguards, Tom Protocol of the Foreign Office; the gay young Peers, Farintosh, Poldoody, and the rest; and Bagnigge, for a wonder, not less eager than any one present.
“No, he will tell you nothing about her. Don’t you see he has gone off in a fury!” Franklin Fox continued. “He has his reasons, ce cher prince: he will tell you nothing; but I will. You know that I am au mieux with the dear old duchess.”
“They say Frank and she are engaged after the duke’s death,” cried Poldoody.
“I always thought Fwank was the duke’s illicit gweatgwandson,” drawled out De Boots.
“I heard that he doctored her Blenheim, and used to bring her wigs from Paris,” cried that malicious Tom Protocol, whose mots are known in every diplomatic salon from Petersburg to Palermo.
“Burn her wigs and hang her poodle!” said Bagnigge. “Tell me about this girl, Franklin Fox.”
“In the first place, she has five hundred thousand acres, in a ring fence in Norfolk; a county in Scotland, a castle in Wales, a villa at Richmond, a corner house in Belgrave Square, and eighty thousand a year in the three-per-cents.”
“Apres?” said Bagnigge, still yawning.
“Secondly, Borodino lui fait la cour. They are cousins, her mother was an Armagnac of the emigration; the old Marshal, his father, married another sister. I believe he was footman in the family, before Napoleon princified him.”
“No, no, he was second coachman,” Tom Protocol good-naturedly interposed —“a cavalry officer, Frank, not an infantry man.”
“‘Faith you should have seen his fury (the young one’s, I mean) when he found me in the duchess’s room this evening, tete-a-tete with the heiress, who deigned to receive a bouquet from this hand.”
“It cost me three guineas,” poor Frank said, with a shrug and a sigh, “and that Covent Garden scoundrel gives no credit: but she took the flowers; — eh, Bagnigge?”
“And flung them to Alboni,” the Peer replied, with a haughty sneer. And poor little Franklin Fox was compelled to own that she had.
The maitre d’hotel here announced that supper was served. It was remarked that even the coulis de dindonneau made no impression on Bagnigge that night.
The sensation produced by the debut of Amethyst Pimlico at the court of the sovereign, and in the salons of the beau-monde, was such as has seldom been created by the appearance of any other beauty. The men were raving with love, and the women with jealousy. Her eyes, her beauty, her wit, her grace, her ton, caused a perfect fureur of admiration or envy.
Introduced by the Duchess of Fitzbattleaxe, along with her Grace’s daughters, the Ladies Gwendoline and Gwinever Portcullis, the heiress’s regal beauty quite flung her cousins’ simple charms into the shade, and blazed with a splendor which caused all “minor lights” to twinkle faintly. Before a day the beau-monde, before a week even the vulgarians of the rest of the town, rang with the fame of her charms; and while the dandies and the beauties were raving about her, or tearing her to pieces in May Fair, even Mrs. Dobbs (who had been to the pit of the “Hoperer” in a green turban and a crumpled yellow satin) talked about the great HAIRESS to her D. in Bloomsbury Square.
Crowds went to Squab and Lynch’s, in Long Acre, to examine the carriages building for her, so faultless, so splendid, so quiet, so odiously unostentatious and provokingly simple! Besides the ancestral services of argenterie and vaisselle plate, contained in a hundred and seventy-six plate-chests at Messrs. Childs’, Rumble and Briggs prepared a gold service, and Garraway, of the Haymarket, a service of the Benvenuto Cellini pattern, which were the admiration of all London. Before a month it is a fact that the wretched haberdashers in the city exhibited the blue stocks, called “Heiress-killers, very chaste, two-and-six:” long before that, the monde had rushed to Madame Crinoline’s, or sent couriers to Madame Marabou, at Paris, so as to have copies of her dresses; but, as the Mantuan bard observes, “Non cuivis contigit,”— every foot cannot accommodate itself to the chaussure of Cinderella.
With all this splendor, this worship, this beauty; with these cheers following her, and these crowds at her feet, was Amethyst happy? Ah, no! It is not under the necklace the most brilliant that Briggs and Rumble can supply, it is not in Lynch’s best cushioned chariot that the heart is most at ease. “Que je me ruinerai,” says Fronsac in a letter to Bossuet, “si je savais ou acheter le bonheur!”
With all her riches, with all her splendor, Amethyst was wretched — wretched, because lonely; wretched, because her loving heart had nothing to cling to. Her splendid mansion was a convent; no male person even entered it, except Franklin Fox, (who counted for nothing,) and the duchess’s family, her kinsman old Lord Humpington, his friend old Sir John Fogey, and her cousin, the odious, odious Borodino.
The Prince de Borodino declared openly that Amethyst was engaged to him. Crible de dettes, it is no wonder that he should choose such an opportunity to refaire sa fortune. He gave out that he would kill any man who should cast an eye on the heiress, and the monster kept his word. Major Grigg, of the Lifeguards, had already fallen by his hand at Ostend. The O’Toole, who had met her on the Rhine, had received a ball in his shoulder at Coblentz, and did not care to resume so dangerous a courtship. Borodino could snuff a bougie at a hundred and fifty yards. He could beat Bertrand or Alexander Dumas himself with the small-sword: he was the dragon that watched this pomme d’or, and very few persons were now inclined to face a champion si redoutable.
Over a salmi d’escargot at the “Coventry,” the dandies whom we introduced in our last volume were assembled, there talking of the heiress; and her story was told by Franklin Fox to Lord Bagnigge, who, for a wonder, was interested in the tale. Borodino’s pretensions were discussed, and the way in which the fair Amethyst was confined. Fitzbattleaxe House, in Belgrave Square, is — as everybody knows — the next mansion to that occupied by Amethyst. A communication was made between the two houses. She never went out except accompanied by the duchess’s guard, which it was impossible to overcome.
“Impossible! Nothing’s impossible,” said Lord Bagnigge.
“I bet you what you like you don’t get in,” said the young Marquis of Martingale.
“I bet you a thousand ponies I stop a week in the heiress’s house before the season’s over,” Lord Bagnigge replied with a yawn; and the bet was registered with shouts of applause.
But it seemed as if the Fates had determined against Lord Bagnigge, for the very next day, riding in the Park, his horse fell with him; he was carried home to his house with a fractured limb and a dislocated shoulder; and the doctor’s bulletins pronounced him to be in the most dangerous state.
Martingale was a married man, and there was no danger of HIS riding by the Fitzbattleaxe carriage. A fortnight after the above events, his lordship was prancing by her Grace’s great family coach, and chattering with Lady Gwinever about the strange wager.
“Do you know what a pony is, Lady Gwinever?” he asked. Her ladyship said yes: she had a cream-colored one at Castle Barbican; and stared when Lord Martingale announced that he should soon have a thousand ponies, worth five-and-twenty pounds each, which were all now kept at Coutts’s. Then he explained the circumstances of the bet with Bagnigge. Parliament was to adjourn in ten days; the season would be over! Bagnigge was lying ill chez lui; and the five-and-twenty thousand were irrecoverably his. And he vowed he would buy Lord Binnacle’s yacht — crew, captain, guns and all.
On returning home that night from Lady Polkimore’s, Martingale found among the many billets upon the gold plateau in his antichambre, the following brief one, which made him start —
“DEAR MARTINGALE. — Don’t be too sure of Binnacle’s yacht. There are still ten days before the season is over; and my ponies may lie at Coutts’s for some time to come.
“P. S. — I write with my left hand; for my right is still splintered up from that confounded fall.”
The tall footman, number four, who had come in the place of John, cashiered, (for want of proper mollets, and because his hair did not take powder well,) had given great satisfaction to the under-butler, who reported well of him to his chief, who had mentioned his name with praise to the house-steward. He was so good-looking and well-spoken a young man, that the ladies in the housekeeper’s room deigned to notice him more than once; nor was his popularity diminished on account of a quarrel in which he engaged with Monsieur Anatole, the enormous Walloon chasseur, who was one day found embracing Miss Flouncy, who waited on Amethyst’s own maid. The very instant Miss Flouncy saw Mr. Jeames entering the Servants’ Hall, where Monsieur Anatole was engaged in “aggravating” her, Miss Flouncy screamed: at the next moment the Belgian giant lay sprawling upon the carpet; and Jeames, standing over him, assumed so terrible a look, that the chasseur declined any further combat. The victory was made known to the house-steward himself, who, being a little partial to Miss Flouncy herself, complimented Jeames on his valor, and poured out a glass of Madeira in his own room.
Who was Jeames? He had come recommended by the Bagnigge people. He had lived, he said, in that family two years. “But where there was no ladies,” he said, “a gentleman’s hand was spiled for service;” and Jeames’s was a very delicate hand; Miss Flouncy admired it very much, and of course he did not defile it by menial service: he had in a young man who called him sir, and did all the coarse work; and Jeames read the morning paper to the ladies; not spellingly and with hesitation, as many gentlemen do, but easily and elegantly, speaking off the longest words without a moment’s difficulty. He could speak French, too, Miss Flouncy found, who was studying it under Mademoiselle Grande fille-de-chambre de confiance; for when she said to him, “Polly voo Fransy, Munseer Jeames?” he replied readily, “We, Mademaselle, j’ay passay boco de tong a Parry. Commong voo potty voo?” How Miss Flouncy admired him as he stood before her, the day after he had saved Miss Amethyst when the horses had run away with her in the Park!
Poor Flouncy, poor Flouncy! Jeames had been but a week in Amethyst’s service, and already the gentle heart of the washing-girl was irrecoverably gone! Poor Flouncy! Poor Flouncy! he thought not of thee.
It happened thus. Miss Amethyst being engaged to drive with her cousin the prince in his phaeton, her own carriage was sent into the Park simply with her companion, who had charge of her little Fido, the dearest little spaniel in the world. Jeames and Frederick were behind the carriage with their long sticks and neat dark liveries; the horses were worth a thousand guineas each, the coachman a late lieutenant-colonel of cavalry: the whole ring could not boast a more elegant turn-out.
The prince drove his curricle, and had charge of his belle cousine. It may have been the red fezzes in the carriage of the Turkish ambassador which frightened the prince’s grays, or Mrs. Champignon’s new yellow liveries, which were flaunting in the Park, or hideous Lady Gorgon’s preternatural ugliness, who passed in a low pony-carriage at the time, or the prince’s own want of skill, finally; but certain it is that the horses took fright, dashed wildly along the mile, scattered equipages, pietons, dandies’ cabs, and snobs’ pheaytons. Amethyst was screaming; and the prince, deadly pale, had lost all presence of mind, as the curricle came rushing by the spot where Miss Amethyst’s carriage stood.
“I’m blest,” Frederick exclaimed to his companion, “if it ain’t the prince a-drivin our missis! They’ll be in the Serpingtine, or dashed to pieces, if they don’t mind.” And the runaway steeds at this instant came upon them as a whirlwind.
But if those steeds ran at a whirlwind pace, Jeames was swifter. To jump from behind, to bound after the rocking, reeling curricle, to jump into it, aided by the long stick which he carried and used as a leaping-pole, and to seize the reins out of the hands of the miserable Borodino, who shrieked piteously as the dauntless valet leapt on his toes and into his seat, was the work of an instant. In a few minutes the mad, swaying rush of the horses was reduced to a swift but steady gallop; presently into a canter, then a trot; until finally they pulled up smoking and trembling, but quite quiet, by the side of Amethyst’s carriage, which came up at a rapid pace.
“Give me the reins, malappris! tu m’ecrases le corps, manant!” yelled the frantic nobleman, writhing underneath the intrepid charioteer.
“Tant pis pour toi, nigaud,” was the reply. The lovely Amethyst of course had fainted; but she recovered as she was placed in her carriage, and rewarded her preserver with a celestial smile.
The rage, the fury, the maledictions of Borodino, as he saw the latter — a liveried menial — stoop gracefully forward and kiss Amethyst’s hand, may be imagined rather than described. But Jeames heeded not his curses. Having placed his adored mistress in the carriage, he calmly resumed his station behind. Passion or danger seemed to have no impression upon that pale marble face.
Borodino went home furious; nor was his rage diminished, when, on coming to dinner that day, a recherche banquet served in the Frangipane best style, and requesting a supply of a puree a la bisque aux ecrevisses, the clumsy attendant who served him let fall the assiette of vermeille cisele, with its scalding contents, over the prince’s chin, his Mechlin jabot, and the grand cordon of the Legion of honor which he wore.
“Infame,” howled Borodino, “tu l’as fait expres!”
“Oui, je l’ai fait expres,” said the man, with the most perfect Parisian accent. It was Jeames.
Such insolence of course could not be passed unnoticed even after the morning’s service, and he was chassed on the spot. He had been but a week in the house.
The next month the newspapers contained a paragraph which may possibly elucidate the above mystery, and to the following effect:—
“Singular Wager. — One night, at the end of last season, the young and eccentric Earl of B-gn-gge laid a wager of twenty-five thousand pounds with a broken sporting patrician, the dashing Marquis of M-rt-ng-le, that he would pass a week under the roof of a celebrated and lovely young heiress, who lives not a hundred miles from B-lgr-ve Squ-re. The bet having been made, the earl pretended an illness, and having taken lessons from one of his lordship’s own footmen (Mr. James Plush, whose name he also borrowed) in ‘the MYSTERIES of the PROFESSION,’ actually succeeded in making an entry into Miss P-ml-co’s mansion, where he stopped one week exactly; having time to win his bet, and to save the life of the lady, whom we hear he is about to lead to the altar. He disarmed the Prince of Borodino in a duel fought on Calais sands — and, it is said, appeared at the C—— club wearing his PLUSH COSTUME under a cloak, and displaying it as a proof that he had won his wager.”
Such, indeed, were the circumstances. The young couple have not more than nine hundred thousand a year, but they live cheerfully, and manage to do good; and Emily de Pentonville, who adores her daughter-inlaw and her little grandchildren, is blest in seeing her darling son enfin un homme range.
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:00