Alice, or the Mysteries — Book 06

Produced by Dagny; and by David Widger

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  ”I will bring fire to thee—I reek not of the place.”

       —EURIPIDES: Andromache, 214.


  . . . THIS ancient city,

  How wanton sits she amidst Nature’s smiles!

  . . . Various nations meet,

  As in the sea, yet not confined in space,

  But streaming freely through the spacious streets.—YOUNG.

  . . . His teeth he still did grind,

  And grimly gnash, threatening revenge in vain.—SPENSER.

“PARIS is a delightful place,—that is allowed by all. It is delightful
to the young, to the gay, to the idle; to the literary lion, who likes to
be petted; to the wiser epicure, who indulges a more justifiable
appetite. It is delightful to ladies, who wish to live at their ease,
and buy beautiful caps; delightful to philanthropists, who wish for
listeners to schemes of colonizing the moon; delightful to the haunters
of balls and ballets, and little theatres and superb cafes, where men
with beards of all sizes and shapes scowl at the English, and involve
their intellects in the fascinating game of dominos. For these, and for
many others, Paris is delightful. I say nothing against it. But, for my
own part, I would rather live in a garret in London than in a palace in
the Chaussee d’Antin.—’Chacun a son mauvais gout.’

“I don’t like the streets, in which I cannot walk but in the kennel; I
don’t like the shops, that contain nothing except what’s at the window; I
don’t like the houses, like prisons which look upon a courtyard; I don’t
like the beaux jardins, which grow no plants save a Cupid in plaster; I
don’t like the wood fires, which demand as many petits soins as the
women, and which warm no part of one but one’s eyelids, I don’t like the
language, with its strong phrases about nothing, and vibrating like a
pendulum between ‘rapture’ and ‘desolation;’ I don’t like the accent,
which one cannot get, without speaking through one’s nose; I don’t like
the eternal fuss and jabber about books without nature, and revolutions
without fruit; I have no sympathy with tales that turn on a dead jackass,
nor with constitutions that give the ballot to the representatives, and
withhold the suffrage from the people; neither have I much faith in that
enthusiasm for the beaux arts, which shows its produce in execrable
music, detestable pictures, abominable sculpture, and a droll something
that I believe the French call POETRY. Dancing and cookery,—these are
the arts the French excel in, I grant it; and excellent things they are;
but oh, England! oh, Germany! you need not be jealous of your rival!”

These are not the author’s remarks,—he disowns them; they were Mr.
Cleveland’s. He was a prejudiced man; Maltravers was more liberal, but
then Maltravers did not pretend to be a wit.

Maltravers had been several weeks in the city of cities, and now he had
his apartments in the gloomy but interesting Faubourg St. Germain, all to
himself. For Cleveland, having attended eight days at a sale, and having
moreover ransacked all the curiosity shops, and shipped off bronzes and
cabinets, and Genoese silks and objets de vertu, enough to have half
furnished Fonthill, had fulfilled his mission, and returned to his villa.
Before the old gentleman went, he flattered himself that change of air
and scene had already been serviceable to his friend; and that time would
work a complete cure upon that commonest of all maladies,—an unrequited
passion, or an ill-placed caprice.

Maltravers, indeed, in the habit of conquering, as well as of concealing
emotion, vigorously and earnestly strove to dethrone the image that had
usurped his heart. Still vain of his self-command, and still worshipping
his favourite virtue of Fortitude and his delusive philosophy of the calm
Golden Mean, he would not weakly indulge the passion, while he so sternly
fled from its object.

But yet the image of Evelyn pursued,—it haunted him; it came on him
unawares, in solitude, in crowds. That smile so cheering, yet so soft,
that ever had power to chase away the shadow from his soul; that youthful
and luxurious bloom of pure and eloquent thoughts, which was as the
blossom of genius before its fruit, bitter as well as sweet, is born;
that rare union of quick feeling and serene temper, which forms the very
ideal of what we dream of in the mistress, and exact from the wife,—all,
even more, far more, than the exquisite form and the delicate graces of
the less durable beauty, returned to him, after every struggle with
himself; and time only seemed to grave, in deeper if more latent folds of
his heart, the ineradicable impression.

Maltravers renewed his acquaintance with some persons not unfamiliar to
the reader.

Valerie de Ventadour—how many recollections of the fairer days of life
were connected with that name! Precisely as she had never reached to his
love, but only excited his fancy (the fancy of twenty-two), had her image
always retained a pleasant and grateful hue; it was blended with no deep
sorrow, no stern regret, no dark remorse, no haunting shame.

They met again. Madame de Ventadour was still beautiful, and still
admired,—perhaps more admired than ever; for to the great, fashion and
celebrity bring a second and yet more popular youth. But Maltravers, if
rejoiced to see how gently Time had dealt with the fair Frenchwoman, was
yet more pleased to read in her fine features a more serene and contented
expression than they had formerly worn. Valerie de Ventadour had
preceded her younger admirer through the “MYSTERIES of LIFE;” she had
learned the real objects of being; she distinguished between the Actual
and the Visionary, the Shadow and the Substance; she had acquired content
for the present, and looked with quiet hope towards the future. Her
character was still spotless; or rather, every year of temptation and
trial had given it a fairer lustre. Love, that might have ruined, being
once subdued, preserved her from all after danger. The first meeting
between Maltravers and Valerie was, it is true, one of some embarrassment
and reserve: not so the second. They did but once, and that slightly,
recur to the past, and from that moment, as by a tacit understanding,
true friendship between them dated. Neither felt mortified to see that
an illusion had passed away,—they were no longer the same in each
other’s eyes. Both might be improved, and were so; but the Valerie and
the Ernest of Naples were as things dead and gone! Perhaps Valerie’s
heart was even more reconciled to the cure of its soft and luxurious
malady by the renewal of their acquaintance. The mature and experienced
reasoner, in whom enthusiasm had undergone its usual change, with the
calm brow and commanding aspect of sober manhood, was a being so
different from the romantic boy, new to the actual world of civilized
toils and pleasures, fresh from the adventures of Eastern wanderings, and
full of golden dreams of poetry before it settles into authorship or
action! She missed the brilliant errors, the daring aspirations,—even
the animated gestures and eager eloquence,—that had interested and
enamoured her in the loiterer by the shores of Baiae, or amidst the
tomb-like chambers of Pompeii. For the Maltravers now before her—wiser,
better, nobler, even handsomer than of yore (for he was one whom manhood
became better than youth)—the Frenchwoman could at any period have felt
friendship without danger. It seemed to her, not as it really was, the
natural development, but the very contrast, of the ardent, variable,
imaginative boy, by whose side she had gazed at night on the moonlit
waters and rosy skies of the soft Parthenope! How does time, after long
absence, bring to us such contrasts between the one we remember and the
one we see! And what a melancholy mockery does it seem of our own vain
hearts, dreaming of impressions never to be changed, and affections that
never can grow cool!

And now, as they conversed with all the ease of cordial and guileless
friendship, how did Valerie rejoice in secret that upon that friendship
there rested no blot of shame! and that she had not forfeited those
consolations for a home without love, which had at last settled into
cheerful nor unhallowed resignation,—consolations only to be found in
the conscience and the pride!

M. de Ventadour had not altered, except that his nose was longer, and
that he now wore a peruque in full curl instead of his own straight hair.
But somehow or other—perhaps by the mere charm of custom—he had grown
more pleasing in Valerie’s eyes; habit had reconciled her to his foibles,
deficiencies, and faults; and, by comparison with others, she could
better appreciate his good qualities, such as they were,—generosity,
good-temper, good-nature, and unbounded indulgence to herself. Husband
and wife have so many interests in common, that when they have jogged on
through the ups and downs of life a sufficient time, the leash which at
first galled often grows easy and familiar; and unless the temper, or
rather the disposition and the heart, of either be insufferable, what was
once a grievous yoke becomes but a companionable tie. And for the rest,
Valerie, now that sentiment and fancy were sobered down, could take
pleasure in a thousand things which her pining affections once, as it
were, overlooked and overshot. She could feel grateful for all the
advantages her station and wealth procured her; she could cull the roses
in her reach, without sighing for the amaranths of Elysium.

If the great have more temptations than those of middle life, and if
their senses of enjoyment become more easily pampered into a sickly
apathy, so at least (if they can once outlive satiety) they have many
more resources at their command. There is a great deal of justice in the
old line, displeasing though it be to those who think of love in a
cottage, “‘Tis best repenting in a coach and six!” If among the
Eupatrids, the Well Born, there is less love in wedlock, less quiet
happiness at home, still they are less chained each to each,—they have
more independence, both the woman and the man, and occupations and the
solace without can be so easily obtained! Madame de Ventadour, in
retiring from the mere frivolities of society—from crowded rooms, and
the inane talk and hollow smiles of mere acquaintanceship—became more
sensible of the pleasures that her refined and elegant intellect could
derive from art and talent, and the communion of friendship. She drew
around her the most cultivated minds of her time and country. Her
abilities, her wit, and her conversational graces enabled her not only to
mix on equal terms with the most eminent, but to amalgamate and blend the
varieties of talent into harmony. The same persons, when met elsewhere,
seemed to have lost their charm; under Valerie’s roof every one breathed
a congenial atmosphere. And music and letters, and all that can refine
and embellish civilized life, contributed their resources to this gifted
and beautiful woman. And thus she found that the mind has excitement
and occupation, as well as the heart; and, unlike the latter, the culture
we bestow upon the first ever yields us its return. We talk of education
for the poor, but we forget how much it is needed by the rich. Valerie
was a living instance of the advantages to women of knowledge and
intellectual resources. By them she had purified her fancy, by them she
had conquered discontent, by them she had grown reconciled to life and to
her lot! When the heavy heart weighed down the one scale, it was the
mind that restored the balance.

The spells of Madame de Ventadour drew Maltravers into this charmed
circle of all that was highest, purest, and most gifted in the society of
Paris. There he did not meet, as were met in the times of the old
regime, sparkling abbes intent upon intrigues; or amorous old dowagers,
eloquent on Rousseau; or powdered courtiers, uttering epigrams against
kings and religions,—straws that foretold the whirlwind. Paul Courier
was right! Frenchmen are Frenchmen still; they are full of fine phrases,
and their thoughts smell of the theatre; they mistake foil for diamonds,
the Grotesque for the Natural, the Exaggerated for the Sublime: but still
I say, Paul Courier was right,—there is more honesty now in a single
salon in Paris than there was in all France in the days of Voltaire.
Vast interests and solemn causes are no longer tossed about like
shuttlecocks on the battledores of empty tongues. In the
bouleversement of Revolutions the French have fallen on their feet!

Meeting men of all parties and all classes, Maltravers was struck with
the heightened tone of public morals, the earnest sincerity of feeling
which generally pervaded all, as compared with his first recollections of
the Parisians. He saw that true elements for national wisdom were at
work, though he saw also that there was no country in which their
operations would be more liable to disorder, more slow and irregular in
their results. The French are like the Israelites in the Wilderness,
when, according to a Hebrew tradition, every morning they seemed on the
verge of Pisgah, and every evening they were as far from it as ever. But
still time rolls on, the pilgrimage draws to its close, and the Canaan
must come at last!

At Valerie’s house, Maltravers once more met the De Montaignes. It was a
painful meeting, for they thought of Cesarini when they met.

It is now time to return to that unhappy man. Cesarini had been removed
from England when Maltravers quitted it after Lady Florence’s death; and
Maltravers had thought it best to acquaint De Montaigne with all the
circumstances that had led to his affliction. The pride and the honour
of the high-spirited Frenchman were deeply shocked by the tale of fraud
and guilt, softened as it was; but the sight of the criminal, his awful
punishment, merged every other feeling in compassion. Placed under the
care of the most skilful practitioners in Paris, great hopes of
Cesarini’s recovery had been at first entertained. Nor was it long,
indeed, before he appeared entirely restored, so far as the external and
superficial tokens of sanity could indicate a cure. He testified
complete consciousness of the kindness of his relations, and clear
remembrance of the past: but to the incoherent ravings of delirium, an
intense melancholy, still more deplorable, succeeded. In this state,
however, he became once more the inmate of his brother-in-law’s house;
and though avoiding all society, except that of Teresa, whose
affectionate nature never wearied of its cares, he resumed many of his
old occupations. Again he appeared to take delight in desultory and
unprofitable studies, and in the cultivation of that luxury of solitary
men, “the thankless muse.” By shunning all topics connected with the
gloomy cause of his affliction, and talking rather of the sweet
recollections of Italy and childhood than of more recent events, his
sister was enabled to soothe the dark hour, and preserve some kind of
influence over the ill-fated man. One day, however, there fell into his
hands an English newspaper, which was full of the praises of Lord
Vargrave; and the article in lauding the peer referred to his services as
the commoner Lumley Ferrers.

This incident, slight as it appeared, and perfectly untraceable by his

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