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Their return was celebrated in grand style ; the very first families contended for the pleasure of entertaining them. Etienne went everywhere with his wife, who burned to show him and to obtain him honor. He spent quite as much for these provincials as for the finest connoisseurs of Paris. The reputation of a brilliant man, which had preceded him, was confirmed and extended; it was a real triumph. Not content with exciting admiration, he completed his knowledge by the study of a phase of society before unknown. In the drawingrooms, at the theatre, at the club, he noted down a thousand interesting particulars which would have escaped him a year later. Study has its honeymoon as well as marriage; we perceive vividly only that which is new to us. Peculiarities in manner and character we do not remark after the day when they have ceased to surprise us. During a month or two Etienne wrote every evening, sometimes but a few words, oftener whole pages ; but Hortense thought she saw that he was less sprightly at home than in company. Did his self-love require to be tickled before that brain, so rich and fertile, would reveal its treasures? Was it the shadow of the Bersac mansion and its vulgar surroundings, aged and cold, which chilled him? The interior of the mansion, sooth to say, was gloomy. The large apartments hung with flowered paper, the rich and hackney furniture, the portraits of Bersac senior, who seemed to have carried the worship of his ugliness to a great length, the grumbling of the servants hired under the old management, who protested in a low tone against the extravagance of their new master — all this must needs have damped the humor of a Parisian, an artist, and a dandy. Hortense, with that intuition which may be called the genius of loving women, saw the dreariness and poverty of the splendors which had dazzled her on leaving the convent. 'Instantly enlightened, she set to work. Without consulting Etienne, she sent to Célestin's house the pictures of his venerable brother, she discharged the servants one by one under various pretexts, providing for the most meritorious among them, and she chose people less superannuated in their ways and manners. Etienne was surprised and delighted to see his old valet de chambre one morning ; Madame had hunted him up and re-engaged him without haggling about the wages. The livery adopted by Bersac, which apparently had been borrowed from the costume worn by the band at a country fair, was replaced by another, very simple and in the best taste. A small coupé and driver, both bearing the initials of Etienne, arrived from Paris, together with a pair of new horses with English blood in their veins; the landau was repainted for gala rides, it being modern and of good make. All these changes were effected in a twinkling, as in fairy tales.
The difficult part was to decorate and furnish the mansion in a manner to satisfy the taste of a fastidious man.
Ah! if the poor woman could have been able to collect again by magic all the beautiful things which had dazzled him in a certain house on the Chaussée d’Antin, she would have sold the mansion to recover this stock of furniture, and to instal Etienne in a place whose surroundings were due to her ; but the auction had scattered all to the four corners of Europe. One day the poor woman naïvely entered the shop of a
dealer in curiosities, where she bought two chests full of articles and several dozen pieces of crockery-ware. Having had all carried to the dining-room, she waited, her heart beating with suspense, for Etienne's arrival.
“So you have taken the trouble, my love,” he said, “to have this rubbish' brought down stairs? The garret was a good enough place for it."
“But these are antiques, my dear. I bought them, thinking they would give you pleasure, because the house, I well know, is not very cheerful, and -- if we could get back a stock of furniture like that which you possessed —"
He embraced the good creature, begging pardon for his rudeness. “But," added he, “those beautiful days when I collected such trumpery are over. My mania for old and ill-matched furniture was a real malady, from which, like a good many others, I have recovered ; and, connoisseur though I was, it has made me smart. The auction sale returned me the exact price I paid for the articles; but it must be remembered that I bought them very cheap. Hence my eyes really consumed fifteen years' interest, besides which I had no comforts whatever, neither a good bed nor a good chair, being a slave to a pile of angular things. Furniture should be adapted to the wants of the person using it, and a piled-up storehouse like that which I had in Paris is the very opposite of a habitable abode."
Hortense made him talk so much and so well that she finally understood him. She drew from him the name of one of those practical artistes who wed art to comfort in their sensible manner of fitting up houses at Paris, and a few days after this conversation the house was stormed by paper-hangers and painters.
Etienne took a lively pleasure in preparing his abode himself, in discussing with a well-informed, skilful and thorough architect the details of an outfit suited to the convenience of a happy life. He sketched plans, matched colors, designed certain pieces of furniture, the bed among others, which was a perfect masterpiece of its kind. The furniture was made in Paris, but he himself superintended the decorative painters and paper-hangers who worked on the premises from day to day. Until spring the bleak old mansion was the scene of noisy, active and merry disorder. The young couple quartered in a small attic like a mess of students, enjoyed a restless, busy happiness, all the more delightful because cramped.
They went out every day, but with what pleasure did they meet again at home! Never had their been such hearty laughter beneath that large lead and slate roof. Etienne was not able to keep away from the house two hours; he followed the nimble movements of the Parisian workmen like a child: this man, whom the fever for working had sometimes carried to the verge of frenzy, experienced a new sensation in watching with folded arms the work of others.
The report soon spread that Monsieur and Madame Etienne were fitting up a home the like of which had never been seen. Little Célestin became alarmed at this news, and went to satisfy himself with his own eyes that his capital was not being wasted. He was fully reassured. Leather, woollen cloth, and stamped cretonne in
nearly every case replaced the silk fabrics of Lyons ; gold was to be seen only here and there, being judiciously used only to bring some points out in relief; never had luxury displayed simplicity to such advantage. The good man found everything to his taste ; he did not at all cavil at the new projects of Hortense, who spoke of sending the architect and workmen to Bellombre. This graceful submission was rewarded a week after; a deed was remitted to him, witnessing that all the estate of which Hortense had the usufruct was transferred to his name; his inheritance was safe!
The mansion was ready, furnished, and handed over by the end of May, much to the astonishment of the raw country workmen, who usually take half a day to drive a nail. On the sixth of June the house-warming was held: there was a large ball, followed by a fine supper. The whole city admired the beautiful style and exquisite comfort of the entire dwelling, and those invited to the supper, about eighty persons in all, declared with one voice that the dining-room, the lighting arrangements, the china, the crystal-glass, Mademoiselle Madelaine's cookery, and the cellar of the late M. Bersac, formed one indivisible whole, whose perfection might be equalled but not excelled in the palaces of crowned heads. The cellar, well-known in the department, still contained seventeen thousand bottles of choice wines, ten thousand more being at Bellombre. The happy couple slipped away from their memorable success, but not before inviting the prefect and twenty others to participate in the first hunt of the
In the meantime the château was to be regenerated.
(TO BE CONCLUDED IN OUR NEXT.)
ES, the vicar went out just now, and kindly he meant, I am sure ; And his voice is kind, and he thinks that the words he speaks
should allure ; Maybe my heart is sinful, or maybe my reason is slow : The things that he says may be right, but I cannot believe them so.
For life, you see, is a puzzle : the old feel more than the young;
He spoke of God's breaking idols, as if love for the dead and for you
The Judge of the earth will do right, is the simplest and best of the
creeds ; He will not forget our weakness, our trials, our natures, our needs. When He took our burden upon Him, He did not shrink from our race ; And the depths of man at his worst are not so deep as God's grace.
How could I bear to die, dear, and leave you, unless I thought
I shall soon have gone to your father, and Sissy, and Willie, and Jane :
You cannot remember your father, you were so young when he died ;
Yet the cares of the earth fall from me the nearer I draw unto death,
A GROUP OF POETS.
II.-ALFRED DE MUSSET.
ANY years ago there appeared a small volume of poems
whose frequent grace and passion elicited an eloquent critique from the highest literary tribunal of France. This volume contained the poems of ALFRED DE MUSSET. The author, in his Premières Poésies, had given strong evidence of a power to sing no commonplace song.
His mission seemed to be that purest of all missions, simply to give the world the music that was in him, and through delicate whimsicality of fancy, the glow of passion, the beauty of simplicity, the sportiveness of a muse in which grace and tenderness alternately borrowed the girdle of Venus and the ivy-leaf of Dionysos, to make for himself a resting place in the heart and the sympathies of men. It would be rash to say that this graceful yearning has been absolutely accomplished. De Musset was scarcely a poet like Béranger, to speak words so keen and so pregnant that they should never slip from the memory of contemporaries ; nor was his an epic genius, whose lays could be bequeathed from tongue to tongue and become intimately blended, as the lays of the Niebelungen and of Homer have done, with the most familiar life of a long series of generations. But if two or three first-rate poets suffice for our consummation, as has been said, there is no limit to be set to the Poeta Minores, whose tendrils may intertwine with our daily life and form a shelter for the precious fruits that spring up in the intimate seclusion of the heart. The ancients had their Béranger — their poet of wine and love, summer light and tender sadness - in Anacreon, side by side with the sublime old age of the Homeric poems and the Homerids; and it is possible that the grasshoppers of Anacreon, those incarnations of summer joyousness and evanescence, spoke no less tenderly to the Greek mind than the decrepitude that gradually creeps like an ice through the grand limbs of the heroes of the Iliad. At least we are as much moved to-day by the brimming gladness of the Poet of Teos, through which we catch the shimmer of the Ægean and the golden light of early Greece, as by the mighty beakers which Ulysses and his comrades quaff when they sit down to tell their stories. It cannot therefore be amiss in an age which has produced such consummate artists as George Sand and Lamartine — an age chastened by the retrospection of Morris and the mystical perplexities of the Laureate – to note that the age lives and has its minor representatives face to face with the crushing superiority of these famous names. Seldom has an age indeed been so rich in poets not entirely great, having missed the mark by such fine hair-breadths, having failed of attainment with such beautiful monuments to attest the failure. It would be no easy task to decide how poor our world would be without these failures, how thin our soil would show itself without the noble