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They had acquired more wants and more wishes from the increasing luxuriousness of the day; had heard with wonder, and not perhaps without some longing, of the splendours and the marvels and the gaieties of the court of Louis XIV. A good number of them had become wealthy, and all of them indeed were well off in the station of life in which they were placed.
The artisan was rich for an artisan, as well as the burgess for a burgess; but they were all simple in their habits, not without their little pride, or without their luxuries on a holyday; but frugal and thoughtful as they were industrious. Such was the town of Morseiul and its inhabitants in the year It seemed to have been built by detached impulses, and upon no general plan, though, to admit nothing but the truth, the construction was attributable all to one person.
Then came two or three square masses of stone-work on either side of the hall, with the gables projecting to the front, no two of them of the same height and size; and many of them separated either by a tall round tower, with loopholes all the way up, like button-holes in the front of a waistcoat, or broken towards the roof by a turret stuck on and projecting from the rest of the building.
The mansion was completed by the stables and offices for the servants and retainers, and the whole was pitched in the centre of a platform, which had formerly been one of the bastions of the town. In front was a tolerably wide esplanade, extending to the edge of the bastion, and from the edge of the terrace descended a flight of steps to the slope below, on which had been laid out a flower-garden, separated from the rest of the ground by a stone wall, surmounted by flower-pots in the shape of vases. The remaining portion of the space enclosed was planted, according to the taste of that day, with straight rows of trees, on the beauties of which it is unnecessary to dwell.
The interior of the castle was fitted up in the taste of the reign of Henry IV. Some of the rooms, indeed, contained the furniture of the older castle formerly inhabited by the counts, which furniture was of a much more remote age, and had been condemned, by scornful posterity, to the dusty oblivion which we so fondly pile upon our ancestors. It was a large oblong room, with a vaulted roof: not dome-shaped, indeed, for it was flat at the top; but from the walls towards the centre, it sloped for a considerable way before it received the flattened form which we mention.
It was indeed a four-sided vault, with the top of the arches cut off. On two sides were windows, or perhaps we should call them casements, with the glass set in leaden frames, and opening only in part. The hearth and chimney were of enormous dimensions, with a seat on either side of the fire-place, which was a sort of raised platform of brick-work, ornamented with two large andirons grinning with lions' heads, for the reception of the fuel. Above this marble, far blacker than the dark oak panelling which supported it, hung an immense ebony frame, carved with a thousand curious figures, and containing a large round mirror of polished metal, reflecting, though in a different size, all the objects that the room contained.
On the two sides of the chamber were one or two fine portraits by Rubens and Vandyke, also in ebony frames, but cursed with an internal border of gold. A multitude of high-backed chairs, only fitted for men in armour, and ladies with whalebone bodices; four cabinets of ebony, chequered with small lines of inlaid ivory, with immense locks, marked out by heavy, but not inelegant, silver shields; and two or three round tables, much too small for the size of the room, made up the rest of the furniture of the apartment, if we except some curious specimens of porcelain, and one or two curiosities brought by different members of the family from foreign lands.
There was also a lute upon one of the tables, and ten long glasses, with a vein of gold in their taper stalks, ranged in battle array upon the mantelpiece. The moment at which we shall begin our tale was about the hour of dinner in the province, at that period a very different hour from that at which we dine in the present day. The windows were all open, the bright sunshine was pouring in and throwing the small square panes into lozenges upon the flooring; and from that room, which was high up in the castle, might be seen as wide spread and beautiful a landscape as ever the eye rested upon, a world of verdure, streams, and woods, and hills, with the bright sky above.
Such was the chamber and its aspect at the period that we speak of; and we must now turn to those who inhabited it, and, in the first place, must depict them to the reader's eye, before we enter into any remarks or detailed account of their several characters, which, perhaps, we may be inclined to give in this instance, even while we admit that in general it is far better to suffer our personages to develope themselves and tell their own tale to the reader.
In all, there were some seven persons in that room; but there were only two upon whom we shall at present pause. They were seated at a table in the midst, on which were spread forth various viands in abundance, upon plates of silver of a rich and handsome form; while a profusion of the same metal in the shape of cups, forks, spoons, and lavers appeared upon another table near, which had been converted into a temporary sort of buffet.
Ranged on the same buffet was also a multitude of green glass bottles, containing apparently, by their dusty aspect and well-worn corks, several kinds of old and choice wine; and five servants in plain but rich liveries, according to the fashion of that day, bustled about to serve the two superior persons at the table.
Those two persons were apparently very nearly of the same age, about the same height; and in corporeal powers they seemed also evenly matched; but in every other respect they were as different as can well be conceived. The one who sat at the side of the table farthest from the door was a man of about six or seven and twenty years of age, with a dark brown complexion, clear and healthy though not florid, and with large, full, deep-coloured gray eyes, fringed with long black lashes.
His hair and mustaches were jet black; and the character of his countenance, for the moment at least, was serious and thoughtful. He was evidently a very powerful and vigorous man, deep-chested, long in the arm; and though, at first look, his form seemed somewhat spare, yet every motion displayed the swelling of strong muscles called into action; and few there were in that day who could have stood unmoved a buffet from his hand.
The Huguenot: A Tale of the French Protestants I-III - E book - G.P.R. James - Storytel
Opposite to him sat a friend and comrade, who had gone through many a campaign with him, who had shared watchings, and dangers, and toils, had stood side by side with him in the imminent deadly breach, and who was very much beloved by the Count, although the other often contrived to tease and annoy him, and sometimes to give him pain, by a certain idle and careless levity which had arisen amongst the young nobles of France some twenty years before, and had not yet been put out by that great extinguisher, the courtly form and ceremony which Louis XIV.
The friend was, as we have said, very different from his host. Although not more than a year younger than the count, he had a less manly look, which might perhaps be owing to the difference of colouring; for he was of that fair complexion which the pictures of Vandyk have shown us can be combined with great vigour and character of expression. His features were marked and fine, his hazel eye piercing and quick, and his well-cut lip, varying indeed with every changing feeling or momentary emotion, still gave, by the peculiar bend in which it was fashioned when in repose, a peculiar tone of scornful playfulness to every expression his countenance assumed.
In form, he appeared at first sight more powerful, perhaps, than the count; but a second glance was sufficient to show that such was not the case; and, though there was indeed little difference, if any thing, it was not in his favour. We must pause for an instant to notice the dress of the two friends; not indeed to describe pourpoints or paint rich lace, but speak of their garments, as the taste thereof might be supposed to betoken some points in the character of each.
The dress of the Count de Morseiul was in taste of the day; which was certainly as bad a taste, as far as it affected the habiliments of the male part of the human race, as could be devised; but he had contrived, by the exercise of his own judgment in the colouring, to deprive it of a part of its frightfulness. The hues were all deep-toned, but rich and harmonious; and though there was no want of fine lace, the ribands, which were then the reigning mode of the day, were reduced to as few in number as any Parisian tailor would consent to withhold from the garb of a high nobleman.
His friend, however, the Chevalier d'Evran, having opinions of his own to which he adhered with a wilful pertinacity, did not fully give in to the fashion of the times; and retained, as far as possible, without making himself a spectacle, the costume of an earlier period. If we may coin a word for the occasion, there was a good deal of Vandykism still about it. All the colours, too, were light and sunshiny; philomot and blue, and pink and gold; and jewels were not wanting, nor rich lace where they could be worn with taste; for though the liking was for splendour, and for a shining and glittering appearance, yet in all the arrangements there was a fine taste visibly predominant.
Such, then, was the general appearance of the two friends; and after partaking of the good things which both the table and the buffet displayed,--for during the meal itself the conversation was brief and limited to a few questions and answers,--the Chevalier turned his chair somewhat more towards the window, and gazing out over the prospect which was spread forth before his eyes, he said, Even so, Louis, replied the Count, even so. This is Morseiul; and I know not whether it be from that inherent love of the place in which some of our happiest days have been spent, or whether the country round us be in reality more lovely than any other that I have seen since I left it, yet just when you spoke I was thinking of asking you whether you were or were not satisfied with my boasted Morseiul.
It may well be lovelier than any you have seen since you left it, replied the Chevalier; for, as far as I know aught of your history, and I think I could account for every day of your life since last you were here, you have seen nothing since but the flat prettiness of the Beauvoisis, the green spinage plate of the Cambresis, or the interminable flats of Flanders, where plains are varied by canals, and the only eminence to be seen for forty miles round one is the top of a windmill. Well may Morseiul be prettier than that, and no great compliment to Morseiul either; but I will tell you something more, Albert.
I have seen Morseiul long ago. Ay, and sat in these halls, and drank of that wine, and looked out of that window, and thought then as I think now, that it is, indeed, as fair a land as ever I should wish to cast my eyes on. Indeed, Louis! Why it has happened from two causes, replied the Chevalier, and perhaps from three.
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In the first place, did you never discover that I have the gift of secrecy in a very high degree? Why I have certainly discovered, replied the Count with a smile, that you are fond of a mystery; and sometimes, Louis, when there's no great need of one. Most cuttingly and ungenerously answered, replied the Chevalier, with a laugh; but granting the fact, as a man does when he denies it strenuously in his mind all the timebut granting the fact, was not that one good and sufficient cause for my not saying a word about it?
And in the next place, Albert, if I had told you I had been here, and knew it very nearly as well as you do yourself, it would have deprived you of the whole pleasure of relating the wonders and the marvels of Morseiul, which would have been most ungenerous of me, seeing and knowing the delight you took therein; and perhaps there might be another cause, he added in a graver tone.
The Huguenot: A Tale of the French Protestants I-III
Perhaps I might hesitate to talk to you, Albert,--to you, with whom filial affection is not the evanescent thing that weeps like an April shower for half an hour over the loss of those we love, and then is wafted away in sparkling and in light--I might have hesitated, I say, to speak with you of times when one whom you have loved and lost sat in these halls and commanded in these lands.
I thank you, Louis, replied the Count; I thank you from my heart; but you might have spoken of him. My memory of my dead father is something different from such things in general. It is the memory of him, Louis, and not of my own loss; and, therefore, as every thought of him is pleasing, satisfying, ennobling to my heart: as I can call up every circumstance in which I have seen him placed, every word which I have heard him speak, every action which I have seen him perform, with pride, and pleasure, and advantage, I love to let my thoughts rest upon the memories of his life; and though I can behold him no more living, yet I may thus enable myself to dwell with him in the past.
We may be sure, Louis, that those who try to banish the loved and the departed from their thoughts, and from their conversation, have more selfishness in their love, have more selfishness in their sorrow, than real affection or than real esteem.