Page images

was not yet in existence. What additional energy might it have given to his remark, had he known that the tea table was the chapel of ease to the council-room, and gossip a new power in the state. Despotic governments are always curious about public opinion : they dread while affecting to despise it. They, however, make a far greater mistake than this, for they imagine its true exponent to be the society of the highest in rank and station.

It is not necessary to insist upon an error so palpable, and yet it is one of which nearly every Capital of Lu rope affords example, and the same council chamber that would treat a popular movement with disdain, would tremble at the epigram launched by some “ elegant" of society. The theory is, that the masses act, but never think : the higher ranks think, and set the rest in motion. Whether well or ill-founded, one consequence of the system is to inundate the world with a number of persons, who, no matter what their station or pretensions, are no other than spies. If it be observed that, generally speaking, there is nothing worth recording--that society, too much engaged with its own vicissitudes, troubles itself little with those of the state ; let it be remembered that the governments which employ these agencies are in a position to judge of the value of what they receive ; and as they persevere in maintaining them, they are, doubtless, in some degree remunerated.

To hold this high detective employ, a variety of conditions are essential. The individual must have birth and breeding to gain access to the highest circles; conciliating manners and ample means. If a lady, she is usu ally young, and a beauty, or has the fame of having once been such. The strangest part of all is, that her position is thoroughly appreciated. She is recognized everywhere for what she is ; and yet her presence never seems to impose a restraint or suggest a caution. She becomes in reality less a discoverer than a depositary of secrets. Many have something to communicate, and are only at a loss as to the channel. They have found out a political puzzle, hit a state blot, or unravelled a cabinet mystery. Others are in possession of

some personal knowledge of royalty. They have marked the displeasure of the Queen Dowager, or seen the anger of the Crown Prince. Profitable as such facts are, they are nothing without a market. Thus it is that these characters exercise a wider sphere of influence than might be naturally ascribed to thein, and possess besides a terrorizing power over society, the chief members of which are at their mercy.

It is, doubtless, not a little humiliating that such should be the instruments of a government, and that royalty should avail itself of such agencies ; but the fact is so, and perhaps an inquiry into the secret working of democratic institutions, might not make one a whit more proud of Popular Sovereignty.

Amongst the proficients in the great science we speak of, the Princess held the first place. Mysterious stories ran of her acquaintance with affairs the most momentous: there were narratives of her complicity in even darker events. Her name was quoted by Savary in his secret report of the Emperor Paul's death-an allusion to her was made by one of tho assassins of Murat-and a gloomy record of a celebrated incident in Louis Philippe's life ascribed to her a share in a terrible tragedy. Whether believed or not, they added to the prestige that attended her, and she was virtually a puissance in European politics.

To all the intriguists in state affairs her arrival was actually a boon. She could and would give them out of her vast capital, enough to establish them successfully in trade. To the minister of police she brought accurate descriptions of suspected characters -- the “ signalements” of Carbonari that were threatening half the thrones of Europe. To the foreign secretary she brought tidings of the favour in which a great Enperor held him, and a shadowy vision of the grand cross he was ono day to have. She had forbidden books for the cardinal confessor, anıl a case of smuggled cigars for the minister of finance. The picturesque language of a Journal de Modes could alone convey the rare and curious details of dress which she imported for the benefit of the court ladies. In i word, she had something to secure

her a welcome in every quarter--and all done with a tact and a delicacy that the most susceptible could not have resisted.

If the tone and manner of good society present little suitable to description, they are yet subjects of great interest to him who would study men in their moods of highest subtlety and astuteness. To mere passing careless observation, the reception of the Princess was a crowded gathering of a number of welldressed people, in which the men were in far larger proportion than the other sex. There was abundance of courtesy ; not a little of that half flattering compliment which is the small change of intercourse : somenot much-scandal, and a fair share of animated small talk. It was late when Sir Horace Upton entered, and, advancing to where the Princess stood, kissed her gloved hand with all the submissive deference of a courtier. The most lynx-eyed observer could not have detected either in his manner or in hers that any intimacy existed between them, much less friendship ; least of all, anything still closer. His bearing was a most studied and respectful homage-hers a haughty, but condescending acceptance of it; and yet, with all this, there was that in those around that seemed to say- This man is more master here than any of us. He did not speak long with the Princess, but respectfully yielding his place to a later arrival, fell back into the crowd, and soon after took a seat beside one of the very few ladies who graced the reception. In all they were very few, we are bound to acknowledge ; for although La Sabloukoff was received at court and all the embassies, they who felt, or affected to feel any strictness on the score of morals, avoided rather than sought her intimacy.

She covered over what might have seemed this disparagement of her conduct, by always seeking the society of men, as though their hardy and vigorous intellects were more in unison with her own than the graceful attributes of the softer sex; and in this tone did the few lady-friends she possessed appear also to concur. It was their pride to discuss matters of state and politics ; and whenever they condescended to more trifling themes,

they treated them with a degree of candour, and in a spirit that allowed men to speak as unreservedly as though no ladies were present.

Let us be forgiven for prolixity, since we are speaking less of indivi. duals than of a school-a school, too, on the increase, and one whose results will be more widely felt than many are disposed to believe.

As the evening wore on, the guests bartered the news and the bons mots

scraps of letters from royal hands were read- epigrams from illustrious characters repeated-racy bits of courtly scandal were related, and smart explanations hazarded as to how this was to turn out, and that was to end. It was a very strange language they talked so much seemed left for inference—so much seemed left to surmise. There was a shadowy indistinctness as it were over all, and yet their manner showed a perfect and thorough appreciation of whatever went forward. Through all this treatment of great questions, one striking feature pre-eminently displayed itself-a keen appreciation of how much the individual characters, the passions, the prejudices, the very caprices of men in power modified the acts of their governments; and thus you constantly heard such remarks as “ If the Duke of Wellington disliked the Emperor less-or, so long as Metternich has such an attachment to the Queen Dowagerwhen we get over Camery's dread of the Archduchess or if we could only reconcile the Prince to a visit from Nesselrode”-showing that private personal feelings were swaying the minds of those whose contemplation might have seemed raised to a far loftier level. And then what a mass of very small gossip abounded-incidents so slight and insignificant that they only were lifted into importance by the actors in them being kings and kaisers ! By what accidents great events were determined-on what mere trifles vast interests depended, it were, doubtless, no novelty to record : still it would startle many to be told that a casual pique, a passing word launched at hazard, some petty observance omitted or forgotten, have changed the destinies of whole nations.

It is in such circles as these that incidents of this kind are recounted.

Each has some anecdote, trivial and unimportant it may be, but still illustrating the life of those who live under the shadow of Royalty. The Princess herself was inexhaustible in these stores of secret biography; there was not a dynastic ambition to be consolidated by a marriage-not a Coburg alliance to patch up a family compact, that she was not well versed in. She detected in the vaguest movements plans and intentions, and could read the signs of a policy in indications that others would have passed without remark.

One by one the company retired, and at length Sir Horace found himself the last guest of the evening. Scarcely had the door closed on the last departure, when, drawing his arm-chair to the side of the fire opposite to that where the Princess sat, he took out his cigar case, and selecting a "weed,” deliberately lighted and commenced to smoke it.

“I thought they'd never go,” said she, with a sigh, “but I know why they remained; they all thought the Prince of Istria was coming. They saw his carriage stop here this evening, and heard he had sent up to know if I received. I wrote on a card, 'to-morrow at dinner, at eight;' so be sure you are here to meet him.”

Sir Horace bowed and smiled his acceptance.

“And your journey, dear Princess," said he between the puffs of his smoke, “ was it pleasant ?"

“It might have been well enough, but I was obliged to make a great detour. The Duchess detained me at Parma for some letters, and then sent me across the mountains of Pontremoli, a frightful road, on a secret mission to Massa."

“To Massa! of all earthly places."

“Even so. They had sent down there, some eight or nine months ago, the young Count Wahnsdorf, the Archduchess Sophia's son, who having got into all manner of dissipation at Vienna, and lost largely at play, it was judged expedient to exile him for a season ; and as the Duke of Modena offered his aid to their plans, he was named to a troop in a dragoon regiment, and appointed aid-de-camp to his Royal Highness. Are you at tending? or has your Excellency lost the clue of my story ?"

“I am all ears ; only waiting anxiously to hear—who is she ?"

“Oh, then, you suspect a woman in the case.”

“I'm sure of it, dear Princess. The very accents of your voice prepared me for a bit of romance.”

“Yes, you are right; he has fallen in love ; so desperately in love that he is incessant in his appeals to the Duchess to intercede with his family, and grant him leave to marry.

“To marry whom ?" asked Sir Horace.

“That's the very question which he cannot answer himself; and when pressed for information, can only reply that she is an angel. Now angels are not always of good family ; they have sometimes very humble parents and very small fortunes.”

“Helas !" sighed the diplomatist, pitifully. * “ This angel, it would seem, is untraceable ; she arrived with her mother, or what is supposed to be her mother, from Corsica ; they landed at Spezzia, with an English passport calling them Madame and Mademoiselle Harley. On arriving at Massa, they took a villa close to the town, and established themselves with all the circumstance of people well off as to means. They however neither received visits nor made acquaintance with any one. They even so far withdrew themselves from public view, that they rarely left their own grounds, and usually took their carriage-airing at night. You are not attending, I see.”

“On the contrary, I am an eager listener; only it is a story one has heard so often. I never heard of any one preserving the incognito except where disclosure would have revealed a shame."

“Your Excellency mistakes,” replied she, “the incognito is sometimes like a feigned despatch in diplomacy, a means of awakening curiosity."

“Ces ruses ne se font plus, Princess, they were the fashion in Tallyrand's time ; now we are satisfied to mystify by no meaning."

"If the weapons of the old school are not employed, there is another reason, perhaps," said she, with a dubious smile.

“That modern arms are too feeble to wield them, you mean,” said he,

bowing courteously. “Ah! it is but wickedness. He told me too, how he too true, Princess," and he sighed made the acquaintance of these what might mean regret over the strangers. They were crossing the fact, or devotion to herself-perhaps Mazza with their carriage on a raft, both. At all events his submission when the cable snapped and they served as a treaty of peace, and she were all carried down the torrent. resumed.

He happened to be a passenger at the “ And now, revenons a nos mou- time, and did something very heroic, tons,'” said she, “or at least to our I've no doubt, but I cannot exactly lambs. This Wahnsdorf is quite remember what; but it amounted to capable of contracting a marriage either being, or being supposed to be, without any permission, if they ap- their deliverer. He thus obtained pear inclined to thwart him ; and leave to pay his respects at the villa ; the question is, what can be done? but even this gratitude was very The Duke would send these people measured: they only admitted him away out of his territory, only that at rare intervals, and for a very brief if they be English, as their passports visit. In fact, it was plain he had to imply, he knows that there will be deal with consummate tacticians, who no end of trouble with your amiable turned the mystery of their seclusion government, who is never paternal and the honour vouchsafed him to an till some one corrects one of her ample profit." children. If Wahnsdorf be sent away, "He told them his name and his where are they to send him? besides, rank ?" in all these cases, the creature carries “Yes; and he owned that they did his malady with him, and is sure to not seem at all impressed by the marry the first who sympathizes revelation. He describes them as with him. In a word, there were very haughty, very condescending in difficulties on all sides, and the manner, tres grandes dames,' in fact, Duchess sent me over, in observation, but unquestionably born to the class as they say, rather thau with any they represent. They never dropped direct plan of extrication.”

a hint of whence they had come, or “And you went."

any circumstance of their past lives; Yes ; I passed twenty-four hours. but seemed entirely engrossed by the I couldn't stay longer, for I promised present, which they spend principally the Cardinal Caraffa to be in Rome in cultivating the arts; they both on the 18th, about those Polish drew admirably, and the young lady nunneries. As to Massa, I gathered had become a most skilful modellist in little more than I had heard before- clay, her whole day being passed in a hand. I saw their villa ; I even studio which they had just built. I penetrated as far as the orangery in urged him strongly to try and obtain my capacity of traveller- the whole permission for me to see it, but he a perfect Paradise. I'm not sure I assured me it was hopeless—the redid not get a peep at Eve herself; ata quest might even endanger his own distance, however. I made great position with them. efforts to obtain an interview, but all “I could perceive that though very unsuccessfully. The police authorities much in love, Wahnsdorf was equally managed to summon two of the taken by the romance of this advenservants to the Podesta, on pretence ture. He had never been a hero to of some irregularity in their papers, himself before, and he was perfectly but we obtained nothing out of them; enchanted by the novelty of the and what is more, I saw clearly that sensation. He never affected to say nothing could be effected by a coup that he had made the least impression de main. The place requires a long on the young lady's heart; but he siege, and I have not time for that." gave me to understand that the “Did you see Wahnsdorf ?

nephew of an Emperor need not “Yes ; I had him to dinner with trouble his head much on that score. me alone at the Hotel, for, to avoid He is a very good-looking, weilall observation, I only went to the mannered, weak boy, who, if he only Palace after nightfall. He confessed reach the age of thirty without some all his sins to me, and, like every great blunder, will pass for a very other scape-grace, thought marriage dignified Prince for the rest of his life.” was a grand absolution for past “Did you give him any hopes ?"

“Of course, if he only promised to follow my counsels; and as these same counsels are yet in the oven, he must needs wait for them. In a word, he is to write to me everything, and I to him, and so we parted.”

“I should like to see these people," said Upton, languidly.

“I'in sure of it," rejoined she, “but it is perhaps unnecessary," and there was that in the tone which made the words very significant.

"Chelmsford, he's now Secretary at Turin, might perhaps trace them," said he," he always knows everything of those people who are secrets to the rest of the world.”

“For the present I am disposed to think it were better not to direct attention towards them,” replied she, “What we do here must be done adroitly, and in such a way as that

it can be disavowed if necessary, or abandoned if unsuccessful.”

“Said with all your own tact, Princess," said Sir Horace, smiling; “I can perceive, however, that you have a plan in your head already. Is it not so ?"

“No,” said she with a faint sigh, “I took wonderfully little interest in the affair. It was one of these games where the combinations are so few you don't condescend to learn it. Are you aware of the hour ?"

“Actually three o'clock," said he, standing up. “Really, Princess, I am quite shocked.”

“And so am I," said she smiling, ".On se compromette si facilement dans cet bas monde. Good night," and she courtseyed, and withdrew beforo he had time to take his hat and retire,

[ocr errors][merged small]

WHOEVER has stood on a bridge over a shallow river, and watched a shoal of minnows or other small fish, may have observed them lying near the bottom until something light and showy has fallen on the surface of the water, or floated down the stream over them ; immediately there is a commotion, they rise from the bot tom, and first look at the floating object ; then the bolder will approach and touch it, suddenly their silver sides flash in the sun, and with a stroke of fin and tail they dart away again; others succeed and the same course is repeated, till, all having tried it, they leave it there, and sinking to the bottom again wait there for something fresh. If, however, it should chance to be edible, they do not so abandon it ; some at least will return and try it more than once; nor do they finally leave it until it be consumed. Very similar is the case with Human minnows : subject after subject, light and showy, floats down the stream, each in its turn excites their attention, and while one is speedily abandoned, another continues to retain its attraction. Electrobiology, Table-turning, Spirit-rapping have

had their turn ; Photography is now in high favor, and we have little doubt will maintain its place-for there is something edible in it; but we mention it here not so much on this account, as because it has been the occasion of drawing our attention to a subject which, but for it, we should probably not have considered, and to which we now proceed.

Everybody has heard of the philosopher who while gazing on the stars fell into the ditch, and it is a trite remark that while examining distant objects we often overlook what lies immediately at our feet. This tendency is in many ways advantageous; it no doubt carries us over difficulties to which but for it we should probably have succumbed: but it has disadvantages also ; it often causes us to overlook what might assist us in the attainment of our ends, and still oftener prevents our removing obstacles which may hereafter retard our course, but might casily have been levelled, had heed been taken in due time.

There are many habits and tendencies of our nature which are so familiar to us that they are generally

« PreviousContinue »