19th Century

The Baroness: A Novel (Part II) | G.W.M. Reynolds

By George W.M. Reynolds

Originally reprinted in The Monthly Magazine, then incorporated into Master Timothy’s Bookcase. Read Part I.

Chapter Three: The Notary

The breakfast was at length concluded. The priest retired to his study; the two young ladies, attended by the count, sought the garden; and the baroness remained alone in the apartment where the morning’s repast had been served.[1] Two footmen in gorgeous liveries entered to clear away the various meats and dainties that had been scarcely touched; and when the table was disencumbered of the china, the plate, and the food under which it had ere now groaned, the baroness desired one of the domestics to tell the steward he might enter into her presence.

A pampered menial, with corpulent person, winning smile, and respectful bow, slid into the room upon his tip-toes, and stood at the distance of a few paces from his mistress’s arm-chair, in which she sate like a royal queen.

“You may approach, Germain,” said the baroness, waving her withered hand to the steward, for it was he who sought her presence thus humbly, “and pray despatch with thy business, for M. de Moirot is expected from Paris. He was to have left by the mail last night, according to a letter I received from him yesterday morning.”

“Your ladyship shall be obeyed,” returned the steward, and he proceeded to lay a quantity of documents upon the table before the baroness, who put on a large pair of gold spectacles, and hastened to examine the accounts, for such they were.

“Your ladyship will observe,” continued the steward, “that Jacques Devot, who was once the most exact of all your ladyship’s tenants, has not yet been able to discharge the arrears of rent that accumulated during the winter. I called upon him a few days ago, and found him in the greatest distress. He is now a most unprofitable tenant, your ladyship.”

“What can be the cause of so sudden a change, Germain?” inquired the venerable dame.

“His daughter has married against his will, my lady,” was the respectful reply; “and her husband is a worthless fellow, who lives upon the poor father, and will not work.”

“To-morrow we will either send a receipt in full to Jacques Devot,” returned her ladyship, “or else he shall be distrained for the arrears that are due to us.”

“Send a receipt or a bailiff, your ladyship!” cried Germain, in unfeigned astonishment, and at a loss to account for the motives of such extraordinary alternatives.

“One or the other,” observed the baroness drily.

“And there is Michel Dubois, your ladyship,” continued the steward; scarcely recovered from the astonishment into which the strange behaviour of his venerable mistress had thrown him.

“What of Michel Dubois, Germain?”

“He pleads the badness of the crops, your ladyship, and cannot fulfil his engagements more satisfactorily than the other.”

“We will adopt the same line of conduct with regard to him as we shall do towards Devot,” said the lady of Grandmanoir, mildly but firmly.

“And Henri Labat, the miller, your ladyship, has sent me the amount of his rent this very morning: it was due the fifteenth of last month; but he requested me to inform your ladyship that if you would allow me to return him the moiety, and accord him a delay of six weeks, he—”

“I cannot decide till to-morrow morning, Germain,” interrupted the baroness: “but I fancy the accounts are correct, save the instances you mentioned?”

Germain replied in the affirmative.

“You may make your usual report, then, Germain,” added the high-born dame.

“Nothing of material consequence has ensued during the last week, your ladyship,” began the steward. “The small canal has overflowed its banks, and damaged the railings of the park on the northern side; and the grape-vines are almost cut to pieces by the winds that blew with such severity a few days ago. Farther than that, your ladyship,” added the favoured domestic, “I have nothing to report.”

“You may retire, Germain,” said the baroness of Grandmanoir; and the steward withdrew on tip-toes, as he had entered. The butler, the cellarer, the housekeeper, and one or two farmers, solicited and obtained each a consecutive audience, after which the baroness cast her eyes over the Moniteur newspaper, and then inspected her letters that were shortly brought in.

We have merely detailed the conversation that took place between the venerable baroness and her steward, to give the reader an idea of the excellent lady’s character, and of the regularity with which her household and domestic economy was arranged, as well as to exemplify the feudal pomp and aristocracy that reigned in all her actions and governed all her remarks. But on this occasion, Germain —the sedate, steady, tranquil Germain—was more than astonished at the indecisive responses the baroness had returned to his representations concerning her tenantry. Hitherto she had immediately ordered the measures necessary to be adopted in such cases; now she was uncertain, and had expressed herself unable to decide. The worthy steward could not fancy how her ladyship possibly balanced between the extremes of generosity and rigour in the cases of Devot and Dubois: she was not wont to renounce a just debt without taking security for future payment, nor was she ever guilty of proceeding to the utmost extent allowed her by the law. Wherefore she should procrastinate to the next day that decision which her energetic mind had hitherto invariably dictated at the moment, not only astounded but also grieved the faithful steward, for his imagination did not fail to entertain presentiments of evil, or to fancy that the mental faculties of his mistress were prone to a speedy decay.

At length M. de Moirot made his appearance, and was immediately ushered to the reception room of the chateau. Thither did the old lady also hasten, and exchanged hasty civilities with the notary, who maintained a certain air of fawning politeness and obsequiousness which the baroness well knew was assumed and forced. They seated themselves at the table—the baroness prepared to listen—M. de Moirot to speak. The man of the law first drew a portfolio from his pocket, thence extracted a parcel of deeds, which he placed upon the table near him, and hemmed two or three times ere he dared to break a disagreeable silence.

“Your ladyship is aware that this is the 14th of August, 1822, I believe,” said the notary after a long hesitation, and with an embarrassment in his manner.

“You need not remind me of the date, M. de Moirot,” answered the baroness, in a firm tone of voice.

“And you are also aware, my lady, that—according to the terms of our agreement—or rather the agreement with my late father—”

“Proceed—I listen, and understand you.”

“Which agreement, your ladyship, bears the date of 1776; and the terms of it declare that its conditions shall be put in force—in case of certain default—within one month after the I4th of August, 1822, on which day notice must be given, as I now give it, of the determination of my deceased father’s heirs or executors to—to—”

“You need not name such resolution, Monsieur,” interrupted the baroness haughtily, “I understand it too well.”

Mille pardons, madame,” said the notary, with a peculiar affectation of mildness; “I would not willingly repeat unpleasant truths, nor recall to your memory scenes disagreeable to dwell upon. I have, however—and your ladyship is aware of it—a wife and family to provide for, and the bulk of my father’s property was vested in the transaction, the arrangement and condition of which have now brought me hither. You must moreover recollect, Madame,” continued the notary, recovering his courage as he spoke, “that during the ensuing month, you remain but ostensibly the Mistress of this domain, if such were my will; but I could not—would not—heap such insults upon your head. Continue to sway, Madam, the lands of Grandmanoir, and on the 14th of September next I shall again do myself the pleasure—I shall again call upon you, definitively to settle the affairs which have to-day occasioned my visit to Amiens.”

“Of you, M. de Moirot, I ask no delay—no mercy,” exclaimed the baroness, “I have amassed enough to secure a competency to my dear grand-children—and that even you cannot take from me. Had your younger brother come forward when he attained the age of one and twenty—”

“Then the lands of Grandmanoir would have passed away from me and my heirs for ever, you would say, Madam,” interrupted de Moirot, with a fiendish smile of triumph, “Such was my father’s will, as your deceased husband well knew. But Alfred de Moirot is not in existence; and to me must your ladyship account for the fulfilment of the conditions of the treaty.”

“Our business is now concluded, I fancy, M. de Moiret,” said the baroness, after a moment’s pause, and rising as she uttered these words in a haughty tone of voice. “If you will give yourself the trouble to walk to the oaken-parlour, you may haply find wherewith to refresh yourself. I now offer you that which in another month you will perhaps have a right to command.”

“It is not my intention to reside on the estate,” said de Moirot carelessly; then, in a tone of exceeding politeness, he added, “and if Madame la baronne will continue to occupy a suite of apartments—”

“What!” exclaimed the venerable dame, fire flashing from her eyes, and all her frame trembling with rage and indignation, “what! inhabit on sufferance—as a tenant—the ancient halls of my husband’s forefathers! dwell in this mansion as a tolerated guest, when for years almost all that I could survey from its highest windows has been mine! exist as an emblem of the very ruins of the finest family of the north! Oh no! de Moirot—your offer is as base as the advantage you take of a treaty forced upon my unfortunate husband by your selfish father!—Pass on, Sir, and say no more!”

There was something so awful, at the same time so venerable and commanding, in the language and attitude of the ancient baroness, that de Moirot shrank into nothing before her frown, and, without hazarding a word of reply, was glad to make his escape from the salle de conference.

Chapter Four: Sans-géne.

In the meantime the mail continued its even pace, and at about two o’clock, p, m., Sans-géne arrived safely at Boulogne-sur-Mer. No sooner did the wheels of the massive vehicle rattle over the stones of that beautiful sea-port, than Sans-géne hastily passed his fingers through his hair, drew down his coat-sleeves to their utmost extent, wiped his trousers with his dirty pocket handkerchief, and assumed a certain air of importance which he intended should astonish the worthy Boulonnais, while his left hand rattled a few two-sous pieces in his waistcoat-pocket.

The moment the mail stopped at the post-office, Sans-géne sprung from the interior; and having desired the courier to be very careful how he disengaged his baggage from the surrounding boxes, trunks, and portmanteaus, he addressed himself to a shabby-genteel-looking gentleman, who rejoiced in the lucrative post of commissionaire, or touter to an hotel, and requested to be informed “which was the best inn Boulogne could boast of, and the one that was most fitted to receive a person of consequence and rank.”

The touter could scarcely suppress a smile, as his visual rays encountered the person of the unabashed and unblushing Sans-géne; and, with a perfect indifference to all the laws of politeness and decorum, he laughed outright, when the courier carefully consigned into the hands of his late passenger a small bundle, whose extent had been compressed to such a compass that a red cotton pocket hand- kerchief circumvented the whole of that portable wardrobe. “And pray what do you find so mighty singular to laugh at, coquin?” cried Sans-géne, casting a look of ineffable disdain on the touter. “Because a noble—I mean a gentleman, chooses to travel incog. for a wager, is his assumed poverty to be made a laughingstock? Dieu merci! we have coin about us,” added Sans-géne triumphantly, as he rattled his keys and copper coins together in his pocket.

So long as the touter was convinced that this strange character had anything representative, or in the shape of, money, he was perfectly indifferent as to his titles, motives for travelling, wardrobe, &c. He accordingly volunteered his services to carry the gentleman’s baggage, and to conduct him to the Hotel de ——, situate near the harbour.

During the walk, Sans-géne whiled away the time in putting various interrogations to his communicative guide, and in enlightening that distinguished personage with regard to certain points not less remarkable for veracity than interest.

“Pray, is Boulogne very gay at this moment?” enquired Sans- géne.

“Tolerably gay, Monsieur,” was the reply; “but we require two or three dashing young gentlemen like yourself to enliven us.”

“If understand your compliment, my friend, and assure you in return that you are not far wrong. In a few days, my cousin, Count Polliawiski, an eminent Pole, will join me; and as I expect the Marquis de Poche-pleine from England, in the course of next week, we shall form a pleasant little party. Is there good stabling at your hotel?”

“Excellent! Does Monsieur expect his stud as well as his friends the count and the marquis?”

“Certainly; but one could not bring a dozen thorough-bred horses in the government mail. Had it not been for a cursed wager—”

“Ah! it was a wager that brought Monsieur hither,” interrupted the touter with affected obsequiousness.

“Fool that I am!” exclaimed Sans-géne; “I invariably expose myself through an excessive communicativeness! But are there many foreigners—those vulgar, fat, plum-pudding-eating English, you know—at Boulogne?”

“Oh! yes, Monsieur,” was the answer; “and instead of being very rich, as we fancied all Englishmen to be, they are dreadfully poor.”

“Poor!” exclaimed Sans-géne, “of course they are poor, or they would have stuck to their white cliffs and roast beef forever. But,” he added, forgetting for a moment his own assumed importance, “is there any disgrace in being poor? Homer was poor, Plato was poor, and Pliny was so very poor that he could not afford to buy oil for his lamp, but was obliged to write at night by the lustre that came from the eyes of his cat.”

“Were those gentlemen also acquaintances of Monsieur?” asked the touter, with an ill-suppressed smile at the novel substitute for candles, of which he now heard for the first time; “and does Monsieur expect them to join him at Boulogne?”

Posterity will for ever remain unacquainted with the probable answer Sans-gene would have given to these queries, for while a reply was about to issue from his lips, the commissionaire hastily turned into a magnificent porte-cochere, and led the way to a spacious court-yard, around which parallelogram rose a vast and splendid hotel. Sans-géne could not avoid casting a single glance at his shabby coat-sleeves, and suffering his mouth to form a slight grimace or contortion, when he had surveyed the handsome pile of buildings, the carriages standing in the court, the well-dressed servants running backwards and forwards, and the air of expenditure, wealth, and luxury that seemed to reign throughout.

“Will Monsieur have private apartments, or will he use the coffee-room?” enquired the touter, as he threw open the door of the latter chamber, and ushered in the new guest.

“Private apartments, to be sure,” answered Sans-géne; “and, hark ye, my worthy friend, I tell you in confidence only, for I would not have my secret exposed to all the world, I am a person of rank in disguise,—let that suffice.”

The touter bowed, and led the way to a superb parlour, adjoining which was an equally handsome bed-chamber, and having received Sans-géne’s orders to prepare a hasty dejeuner a la fourchette, retired to inform his master and mistress “that the strangest gentleman in the world had just arrived at the hotel,—that he was immensely rich, that Messieurs Homer, Plato, and de Poche-pleine were his intimate friends, and that he was travelling in apparent poverty and in disguise for a considerable wager.”

No sooner was Sans-géne alone, than he began capering about the room, then surveying himself with peculiar satisfaction in the Psyche, then rubbing a white thread off his seedy coat with his wet thumb, and then resuming his dance to the extreme and imminent danger of the furniture profusely strewed about the apartment. Unfortunately his fandango continued for a considerable time; and, more unfortunately still, his pas de seul led him towards the door at the very moment the waiter entered with a well-laden tray in his hand. One kick from the foot of the immortal Sans-géne scattered the divers viands, soups, and dainties, intended for his luncheon, over the person of the astonished waiter, and in the passage behind that discomfited individual. Sans-géne saw the ruins he had caused, and recollecting that among the two-sous pieces there lurked a double crown of six francs, to which he justly laid claim as proprietor, he instantly consigned it to the hands of the waiter, and ordered another breakfast to be immediately served up. This petite ruse de guerre produced the desired effect; and the obsequious garçon smiled amidst soups and gravies, and retired to execute the fresh orders of the strange guest.

Having made vast inroads on the copious repast which was shortly placed upon his table, and having thought it expedient to wash down the same with a couple of bottles of old Chambertin, Sans-géne not only felt himself considerably refreshed, but also made a point of communicating that important fact to the waiter, whose toilet he had so materially disarranged a short time before. He then wrote a very short note, in a very unsteady hand, to a certain quarter, which missive was immediately despatched, and the following reply was returned:—

Dear Sir,—I am exceeding happy to hear of your safe arrival in this town. Your business is so nearly brought to a conclusion, that your presence alone is all that is now required to terminate the affair. May I request the pleasure of your company to breakfast to-morrow morning at ten o’clock, if convenient, after which you may sign a release and receive the monies due to you from the estate of your late father, according to the terms of his will. I have the honour to remain, with the most perfect consideration,[2]

Your obedient servant,

DeLeux, Solicitor.

Boulogne, August 14th, 1822.

“Tres bien!” exclaimed Sans-géne, extending himself on the sofa, sipping his last glass of Chambertin, and throwing the welcome note across the table to the waiter, in order to convince that individual of his solvency.

“A few hundred thousands of francs, garcon, nothing more—a mere trifle—but still acceptable—eh?”

“Monsieur a raison,” said the waiter.

“Garçon!” cried Sans-géne, as the person thus addressed was about to leave the apartment, “who occupies the suite of rooms next to mine? I thought I heard voices there just now.”

“An old gentleman of sixty,” was the reply; “and if you heard voices in his room, they must have been those of himself and another waiter. He has just finished his dinner.”

“What is his name?” enquired Sans-géne.

“Delville—M. Delville,” was the reply. “Is he fat or thin—and what is his height ?”

“Rather fat—no, thin, and about the height of Monsieur,” answered the waiter, astonished at these queries.

“That will do,” cried Sans-géne. “Garcon, present my compliments to the gentleman—M. Delville, you say; take two more bottles of this same wine to his room, and say that a Parisian nobleman in disguise will presently call upon him, and help to drink the Chambertin.”


“Disappear! I must be obeyed!” cried Sans-oéne, with astounding emphasis on the word must.

When his orders were obeyed, Sans-géne presented himself at the door of M. Delville’s room, and, having made a slight bow, entered the apartment with as much freedom as if it had been his own and seated himself quietly at the table. The old gentleman, whose appearance answered the description given of him by the waiter, and who evidently enjoyed a joke, was far from offended at the non-chalance of his strange guest; and in a few minutes they were on excellent terms with each other. M. Delville laughed heartily at Sans-géne’s peculiarities; anecdote followed quickly upon anecdote; good humour prevailed; and when the old gentleman perceived that the two bottles of Chambertin were empty, he insisted upon “standing his quantum,” whereupon the waiter was again summoned, and the necessary beverage was procured. This reinforcement was succeeded by coffee and liqueurs; and then, as the evening was particularly fine, and it was not more than half-past nine o’clock, Sans-géne—the seediness of whose coat could stand the test of dusk and lamp-light—suggested a walk, M. Delville acceded to the proposition, and the two gentlemen sallied forth, considerably the worse— or the better, which shall we say?—for their frequent libations.

As they sauntered down the Rue de l’Ecu, they met several young ladies returning from their evening walks; and Sans-géne did not fail to bow to some, and to address a few words of unheeded compliment to others.

“I thought you were a perfect stranger at Boulogne,” said M. Delville, with an inquiring tone of voice, as he leant upon his companion’s arm.

“Oh! yes; but the freemasonry of love, my dear Sir, is understood every where,” answered Sans-géne; and at that moment the brother of one of the young ladies whom Sans-géne’s offensive adulation had annoyed, applied such a vigorous blow to the cranium of the masonic admirer of the fair sex, that he rolled upon the pavement, dragging the unfortunate M. Delville with him. The punishment thus inflicted was quite satisfactory to the attacking party; and Sans-géne hastily rose from the pavement, lifted up his prostrate companion, and ran with all his might down the street, followed by M. Delville, who kept close at his heels. The sounds of a violin— or rather fiddle, a flute, and a harp, soon met the ears of the fugitives, and they were happy to take refuge in the parlour of a large auberge or public house, where various young apprentices, tradesmen’s sons, &c., were dancing with as many grisettes, all dressed in their gayest garb for the occasion.

“Be not astonished, gentles and fair dames,” cried Sans-géne, in order to allay the confusion his precipitate entrance had occasioned, “a love-adventure—a flight—a duel—and an escape from the police, are the leading features of our adventure; and if you do not permit us to conceal ourselves amongst you, we are irretrievably lost.”

The apprentices and the grisettes appeared delighted with this explanation, and the two new visitors were received with the utmost cordiality. Punch was handed round—the dancing recommenced— Sans-géne capered about like a madman—and M. Delville chatted with those young ladies who happened not to be engaged in that quadrille.

But Sans-géne, whose blood was inflamed by frequent potations, could not altogether restrain himself to the conventional forms of the dance; and in a moment of Quixotic passion, he imprinted a delicate kiss on the lips of his partner, who only thought of resisting when it was too late. Thereupon the young lady’s lover interfered, and several of his male companions aided him in an attack upon Sans-géne and Delville, which latter gentleman was doomed to be implicated in the quarrels produced by the extravagances of his companion. Sans-géne had a most humane and amiable dislike to anything in the shape of a combat; and in order to avoid a pugilistic display on the present occasion, he seized M. Delville by the arm, and dragged him into the street, up which they again commenced a rapid flight, and only halted when they were convinced there was no one in pursuit.

“Where are we?” enquired M. Delville, now opening his lips for the first time since the precipitate exit from the auberge: “I see neither houses nor lights.”

“We must be on the Paris road,” returned Sans-géne in a tone of confidence which he did not actually feel.

“Are you sure? I never know my way in the dark, and methinks that I walk unsteadily,” observed Delville, on whom the wine and punch had worked their effects.

“Take hold of my hand, I never lost myself in my life,” cried Sans-géne, totally uncertain which direction to pursue.

“ But it is pitch dark!”

“Oh! that is nothing—keep firm hold of my hand.”

“Yes—but where the devil are you dragging me?”

“Back to the hotel, to be sure,” answered Sans-géne.

“I am up to my knees in mud,” exclaimed M. Delville.

“Never mind, your trowsers will speedily dry.”

“Shall we soon be at home, do you think ?”

“We must get somewhere presently,” was the consolatory reply.

“I fancy we are already in the street.”

“How infamously it is lighted, and not a soul to tell us our way.”

“What! do you really imagine no one to be passing? The darkness alone deceives you; we are already half-way down the street, and crowds are traversing it on either side.”

“Thank God! But—oh!” exclaimed M. Delville, as he and Sans-géne rolled into a ditch. Sans-géne vented his wrath in imprecations; and his unfortunate companion, having contrived to extricate himself from his bed of filth, sank down by the side of the ditch, in the muddy road, literally exhausted.

Sacrebleu! this is unfortunate—devilish unfortunate !” cried Sans-géne, in a miserable soliloquy: “I, who wanted his clothes to cut a respectable appearance before my lawyer to-morrow morning! But never mind, the fortune of my lamented father will speedily refit me, and any excuse may serve to account for the seediness of my attire, when I have money to receive.”

At that moment the heavy wheels of a diligence were heard, and in another instant a coach, which had left Paris the day before for Calais, was hailed by Sans-géne. Without giving himself the trouble to inquire whither it was going, he caused his companion—now fast asleep from fatigue and intoxication—to be lifted into the rotonde; and having ascertained that if he retraced his steps, half an hour’s walk would enable him to reach his hotel, he pushed manfully on towards that desirable destination, totally reckless of the fate of the unfortunate Delville.

To be continued…

[1] Original citation: G.W.M. Reynolds, ‘The Baroness: A Novel’, The Monthly Magazine, September 1837, pp. 266–74.

[2] The usual way of concluding letters in France.

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