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THE SON OF MALHERBE.
FROM THE FRENCH OF FRÉDÉRIC THOMAS.
About five leagues from Rochelle, and nearly half way between that town and Niort, on the road to Paris, is a small town called Surgères. This town had the honour of being head-quarters to King Louis XIII., on the occasion of the siege of Rochelle, before his majesty transferred his court to Aytré, which was barely a league from the trenches.
At that epoch there was in the suburb, which led towards the French camp, an inn of recent date, which had for sign“ A la Digue Royale.” This was homage paid by the innkeeper-Eustache Coquelinotte,to the genius of Cardinal de Richelieu, who, in imitation of Alexander when besieging Tyre, constructed a famous dyke in order to close the port of Rochelle to the English, and this by shutting out the sea for a distance of seven hundred and forty-seven fathoms, from Fort Louis to the fort of Coreilles.
Coquelinotte had undertaken to represent the great work of the great Richelieu on his signboard, but the artist failing to produce the reality, he had fallen back upon his more intimate associations. His dyke resembled a fricandeau à l'oseille, the fricandeau being the dyke, and the sorrel the ocean in anger; but no one would have guessed these facts, had it not been that, to prevent such equivocal surmises, mine host had painted in red letters beneath : “A la Digue Royale, Coquelinotte loge a pied et à cheval.”
Now, at the epoch of the memorable siege in question, upon one of the last days of April, a horseman, covered with dust, stopped at the hostelry of the Digue, and having consulted a paper which he drew from his pocket, and glanced at the signboard, he said, " It is here!" Coquelinotte was busy at that moment, his apron tucked up into his waistband, spitting a leg of mutton, which did not prevent his having an eye to the road.
The worthy host no sooner perceived the traveller, than, quitting his joint, he called the waiters, but as these did not make their appearance, he cast his apron on a chair and issued forth in propriâ personâ. In as far as horsemen were concerned, Coquelinotte was in the habit of receiving generally troopers, guests of doubtful repute, from whom he obtained very little, when he did not lose all. But this time he himself waited upon
the horseman, who was no soldier-adventurer. His black stuffed garment indicated, on the contrary, a lawyer or a financier.
Our host helped to disembarrass his guest of a mantle which enveloped him in its ample folds, held the stirrup while he dismounted, and then, throwing the reins into the hands of a stable-boy, who had at length made his appearance, gave him his arm to the porch of the hostelry.
Coquelinotte's guest was an old man, of tall stature and imposing appearance ; he had an expressive head, shaded with white locks, for the fashion had not then come in of substituting wigs for the natural hair. Reflection seemed to have furrowed deep lines on his brow, and the imagination of a mind green with youth and ardent with enthusiasm, still glittered in his grey eye. We know, besides, the exact age of this man;
but his seventy-three years weighed more lightly than fifty with many others; he carried them with a martial air and soldier-like bearing, which was not uncommon at an epoch when every one was more or less military.
As soon as the old man had dismounted, he inquired : “Sir, are you Eustache Coquelinotte ?"
“At your service, gentleman.”
“ You have only to raise your head,” replied Coquelinotte, pointing to the sign; "a person must be blind not to recognise the famous dyke. Some people, indeed, after having seen my dyke, do not care to see the
“ I can easily fancy so," observed the old man, with a satirical smile, which seemed to say, “ Your sign must have disgusted them with the cardinal's dyke.”
But Coquelinotte took it as a compliment, and began to expatiate upon the beauties of his work, when he was abruptly interrupted by his guest.
“What do I care for your dyke and your sign,” said the old man. “ Listen to me.
I expect a captain at your house, the commandant of the company
of Effiat.' “Oh! I know him, sir; my son is sutler in that very company. The captain's name is M. Honorat du Bueil.”
“ Otherwise called the Chevalier de Racan," added the traveller. “ As soon as he comes, show him into the room which you are about to give me.”
“ Your room has been taken beforehand for you, sir," replied the host, as he led the old man to the staircase which ascended to the first floor. “ It is the best room in the inn- looks out upon the street and the sign. M. de Racan has been here and ordered it to be made ready for you.'
“ Ah! he was kind enough to do that?" observed the traveller. “ Yes, and further, he ordered dinner for two."
“ For two!” exclaimed the old man, with the horror of a miser, to whom the perspective of an unanticipated expense is suddenly presented,
“ A dinner for two, which he paid for beforehand.”
“ Ah!" said the traveller, evidently relieved, “he paid in advance? That is marvellous. These captains go ahead; they have money to play ducks and drakes with.”
Thus conversing, the old man reached his room upon the first floor, where the cloth was laid for two.
“ M. de Racan is gone into the town, but, as soon as he returns, I will send him up to monsieur."
“ Yes,” said the old man, taking a seat; “and my valet also, when it shall please him to arrive. That rascal Soudrille, what can he be doing "
The old man, closing the window carefully, took his place near the fire. Seated there, he began to take off a pair of black stockings, which he placed upon a chair; then he drew off a second pair, a third, and so on, and nothing indicated when he would come to an end, for they were all black, only that to each pair a bit of ribbon of different colour was
Aug.-VOL. CXXXIV. NO. DXXXVI.
attached. He was interrupted by a noise at the door, and the captain made his appearance. It was, indeed, the Chevalier de Racan. The poet of pastorals had not attained his fortieth year: and his fine open countenance at once interested in his favour. The cavalier air which is imparted by a uniform, was tempered in the person of the captain by that courtesy of manners which is not always upheld in camps. But the society of ladies, and the cultivation of the muses, had made a courtier of the soldier, and M. de Racan was one of the most accomplished servants of his Majesty the King of France.
“Oh, Monsieur de Malherbe ! oh, my master !” exclaimed the officer, as he threw himself into the old man's arms.
This cordial embrace over, Malherbe went on with his work, and, showing his stockings to Racan, he said :
" I had got, my friend, as far as the F."
And as the officer opened his great eyes in ignorance of his meaning, he continued : “ You have lost your memory.
It was you who taught me this method. There was a time when I was always making mistakes. I had sometimes eight stockings on one leg and twelve on the other, 50 that one foot was in Siberia and the other in Senegal, till you taught me the alphabet of colours. To the first pair I fasten ribbons the colour of which begins with A, as amaranthe, the colour of the second pair is blue, of the third crimson, and so on.”
“Ah! I understand you," said the captain, laughing. “I remember now. But if you go to F, that makes six pairs, and that in the month of April is pretty well
. I see you are always chilly, my dear master.” “ You should have seen me this winter; I went as far as the letter M. But sit down, and tell me, first of all, how my son Mark Anthony is."
“Marvellously well, master. He is always attached as a cadet to my company. Oh! I have many things to tell you in reference to him. In the first place—"
“ That will suffice,” interrupted the old man. “ We will come back to my son. The important fact is that he is well.” And then, as if this first information obtained, he was most anxious upon another point. “ And my ode, has it been presented to the king?” he inquired.
But Racan, instead of answering Malherbe's question, continued upon the first topic.
“ Anthony, thank Heaven, is very well. I should have brought him with me, had you not been here incognito.”
“Ah! yes, incognito,” repeated the old man, in a peevish manner. “I want to know, before all, if my ode has been presented to the king."
Racan could no longer elude the question, so, treating it lightly:
“Do not make yourself anxious, my master," he said. “ We will talk that over at dinner, for you must be hungry, and the first thing is to dine.” And then, without waiting for objections, he added : “I will give orders that dinner be served up. In the mean time, read this passage in a letter from M. de Voiture to Chapelain ; Marshal Bassompierre, your friend and protector, communicated it to me this very day.”
This said, Racan presented Malherbe with the letter, going at the
same time to the top of the staircase to order dinner, but keeping his eye upon the old man. This is what was said in the passage alluded to:
“ I will tell you, then, frankly, that the verses of M. de Balzac have not yet been seen by Cardinal Richelieu. “Just Heaven ! claim, 'is that the way in which they treat the children of Jupiter ?' You are in the right, but you would not believe how many other things they have to think of during the siege. And if Apollo, whom you are so intimate with, had come himself to La Rochelle, I say that, with all his rays,
he would only have been received in his quality of surgeon.” The thrust was made, and the captain saw that it went home. Malherbe frowned, and raised his eyes and hands to heaven.
“Oh, I understand,” he said, stepping towards his disciple, on whom he concentrated his anger, “ they have treated me as they did Balzac—I, who have been surnamed prince of poets. It is frightful! Even Ronsard, the detestable rhymer, met with greater deference from Charles IX. In what times do we live! Great God! I forbid you to call yourself my friend. You are a traitor. What! his majesty has not seen my verses !”
“Well then, no!” replied the captain, “the king has not yet read your ode. It was better to wait until he was in the humour, or when the progress of the siege had predisposed him to literary relaxation. Besides, it was monseigneur the cardinal who thus ruled it, for our first minister knows your verses well, and finds that they are excellent, especially when they concern himself.”
This outburst, spoken in a tone anything but conciliatory, had the effect of cooling the revolted egotism of the poet. The gruntings did not cease, but the brow was less corrugated and the eye less vindictive.
“My muse, then," persisted Malherbe, with the haughtiness of offended vanity, “must wait in the ante-chamber till Rochelle shall be taken?"
No, it will not wait so long," quickly intervened the captain ; “ the cardinal will present your ode to his majesty this very evening, and tomorrow morning I am to be introduced by Marshal de Bassompierre. Naturally, his majesty will praise your ode, and before the impression wears off, we will come and fetch you from this hostelry, where no one can suspect your presence, and conduct you to court, where your unexpected appearance will produce the effect of a real triumph.” Yes, yes,
I understand,” grumbled the old man; “it is not badly arranged.
In the mean time, dinner had been served, and the two poets sat down to table. The sight of the repast helped to dissipate the old man's annoyance.
“ We are not here," observed the captain, “as in Paris, at Cormier's, at the Pine-Apple, so much extolled by Regnier, or even at the famous Gillot's, or at Laplante’s, where Saint-Amant and his friend Faret meet, but only at Eustache Coquelinotte's, who has done his best.”
Certainly,” replied Malherbe, as he tasted a potage à la reine, whilst he cast his glance at a pâté d'Angoulême, “ I prefer this to the dinner which I once gave to you and five other friends." " I must admit that to-day's dinner is more varied than yours.
You had a boiled capon served up for each.”
“ Telling you at the same time: Gentlemen, I love you all equally, that is why I wish to treat you alike.' Now, my dear disciple, tell me of my son Anthony."
““ Willingly, master. As I have already told you, your son Anthony is very amiable, and I am not the only one who finds him such: it appears that there is a young widow who is precisely of the same opinion upon that point, and who wishes well to the
cadet." "Ah! how do you know this ?”
" Your son himself confided the fact to me. The lady, it appears, is equally favoured in respect to talent, fortune, and beauty. Why, parbleu, I believe, Heaven forgive me! that she lives in this very town.
What, does she really live in Surgères ? What is her name ?" “Ah! there, master, you ask me more than I know. That your son did not tell me. Indeed, it was only last night that I first heard of the affair, and it was by a mere chance. The lady's christian name escaped him, however. It was Arabelle. Let us then say Arabelle. Now, I must tell you that your son Mark Anthony is deeply enamoured with Madame Arabelle."
“ Poor boy, I understand that. He is enamoured as I was myself with Madeleine Coriolis, his mother. She was also a widow when I married her. I loved my wife so dearly, that I, who people declare to have no religion, made a vow to go bareheaded to Sainte-Baume from Ais, when my wife was ill.” “Well
, then," continued Racan, "your son entertains the most devoted affection for Madame Arabelle; but the young widow is much sought for, on the other hand, by a lieutenant in my company, M. de Pilles by name, a gentleman of Provence, who has the misfortune to be a Jew." " A Jew! he must have money,
then?” “Oh, plenty, and it is precisely for that also that he holds by the widow. M. de Pilles would only be a rival like another, but he has also the support of a brother-in-law of Madame Arabelle, and who, as your son tells me, exercises great influence over the young lady; to such an extent, indeed, that he keeps her confined to a room in the house in which they both dwell. Anthony believes, further, that M. de Pilles aud the brother-in-law have entered into a compact, by which, if the Jew weds the widow through the interest of the brother-in-law, he agrees to divide the lady’s fortune with him. Now you know the state of things, I will tell you what has occurred.” Saying this, Racan emptied his glass, and then resumed. “ You know, master, that the English hold the sea. Their fleet has so perfectly invested the island of Ré, that M. de Thoiras, governor of the port Saint-Martin, made known to the king that he received no provisions, and that hence he should not be able to hold out much longer. Then the king determined to send a body of men to the island with provisions in light flat-bottomed boats which could keep close in to shore. Your son and M. de Pilles were attached to the expedition. The flotilla put to sea very early in the morning of yesterday, under the orders of Marshal Schomberg, and as the wind was favourable, the boats succeeded in reaching the island in the face of the fire-ships, cannon-balls, and other missiles sent after them by the enemy, and in the face of five