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everybody makes a wry face, and would rather be excused 'em; but it's the custom to call 'em good things, and so men bolt 'em in complaisance, and while they hate the salt-water flavour, descant on the delicious rose taste!"
Conran smiled. "Quite true, Little Grand! but one takes olives to enhance the wine; and so, perhaps, other men's sermons make one enjoy one's racier roman, and other men's wives make one appreciate one's liberty still better. Don't abuse olives; you'll want 'em figuratively and literally before you've done either drinking or living. You're a young colt at present, fresh to the road, and impatient to be off, but when you come to be an old stager
"Swathed in flannel, and propped up on a gout-stool, Anacreon condemned to water-gruel instead of Falernian, and nightcaps instead of myrtle wreaths, sitting still to see other people go in and win! Oh! confound it, Conran," cried Little Grand, "I do hope and trust a spent ball may have the kindness to double me up and finish me off before then."
"You're not philosophic, my boy."
"Thank Heaven, no!" ejaculated Little Grand, piously. uncle, a very great philosopher, beats all the sages hollow, from Bion to Buckle, and writes in the Metaphysical Quarterly, but I'll be shot if he don't spend so much time in trying to puzzle out what life is, that all his has slipped away without his having lived one bit. When I was staying with him one Christmas, he began boring me with a frightful theory on the non-existence of matter. I couldn't stand that, so I cut him short, and set him down to the dinner-table; and while he was full swing with a Strasbourg pâté and Comet hock, I stopped him and asked him if, with them in his mouth, he believed in matter or not? He was shut up, of course; bless your soul, those theorists always are, if you're down upon 'em with a little fact!"
"Such as a Strasbourg pâté, that is an unanswerable argument with most men, I believe," said Conran, who liked to hear the boy chatter. "What are you going to do with yourself to-night, Grand?"
"I am going to-ar-hum-to a friend of mine," said Little Grand, less glibly than usual.
Conran smiled. 66 Very well; I only asked, because I would have taken you to Mrs. Fortescue's with me; they're having some acting proverbs (horrible exertion in this oven of a place, with the thermometer at a hundred and twenty degrees); but if you've better sport it's no matter. Take care what friends you make, though, Grand; you'll find some Maltese acquaintances very costly."
"Thank you. I should say I can take care of myself," replied Little Grand, with immeasurable scorn and dignity.
Conran laughed, struck him across the shoulders with his whip, stroked his own moustaches, and went out again, whistling one of Verdi's airs. "I don't want him bothering, you know," explained Little Grand; "she's such a deuced magnificent creature!"
She was a magnificent creature, Eudoxia Adelaida, Marchioness St. Julian; and proud enough Little Grand and I felt when we had that soft, jewelled hand held out to us, and that bewitching smile beamed upon us, and that joyous presence dazzling in our eyes, as we sat in the May-VOL. CXIX. NO. CCCCLXXIII.
drawing-room of that Casa di Fiori. She was about thirty, I should say (boys always worship those who might have been schoolfellows of their mothers), tall and stately, and imposing, with the most beautiful pink and white skin, with as fine a set of teeth as any at Richard's, raven hair, and eyes tinted most exquisitely. Oh! she was magnificent, our Marchioness St. Julian! Into what unutterable insignificance, what miserable, washed-out shadows sank Stars and Garters' lady, and the Mitchell girls, and Lucy and Emmy Maberly, and all the belles of La Valetta, whom we hadn't thought so very bad-looking before.
There was a pretty girl sitting a little out of the radiance of light, reading; but we had no eyes for anybody except the Marchioness St. Julian. We were in such high society, too; there was her brother, Lord Adolphus, and his bosom Pylades, the Baron Guatamara; and there was a big fellow, with hooked nose and very curly hair, who was introduced to us as the Prince of Orangia Magnolia; and a little wiry creature, with bits of red and blue ribbon, and a star or two in his button-hole, who was M. le Duc de Saint-Jeu. We were quite dazzled with the coruscations of so much aristocracy, especially when they talked across to each other-so familiarly, too—of Johnnie (that was Lord John Russell), and Pam, and "old Buck" (my godfather Buckingham, Lord Adolphus explained to us), and Montpensier and old Joinville; and chatted of when they dined at the Tuileries, and stayed at Chambord, and hunted at Belvoir, and spent Christmas at Holcombe or Longleat. We were in such high society! How contemptible appeared Mrs. Maberly's and the Fortescue soirée; how infinitesimally small grew Charlie Ruthven, and Harry Villiers, and Grey and Albany, and all the other young fellows who thought it such great guns to be au mieux with little Graziella, or invited to Sir George Dashaway's. We were a cut above those things now— rather!
That splendid Marchioness! There was a head for a coronet, if you like! And how benign she was! Grand sat on the couch beside her, and I on an ottoman on her left, and she leaned back in her magnificent toilette, flirting her fan like a Castilian, and flashing upon us her superb eyes from behind it; not speaking very much, but showing her white teeth in scores of heavenly smiles, till Little Grand, the blasé man of seventeen, and I the raw Moses of private tutelage, both felt that we had never come across anything like this; never, in fact, seen a woman worth a glance before. She listened to us-or rather to him, I was too awestruck to advance much beyond monosyllables-and laughed at him, and smiled encouragingly on my gaucherie (and when a boy is gauche, how ready he is to worship such a helping hand!), and beamed upon us both with an effulgence compared with which the radiance of Helen, Galatea, Enone, Messalina, Laïs, and all the legendary beauties one reads about, must have been what the railway night-lamps that never burn are to the prismatic luminaries of Cremorne. They were all uncommonly pleasant, all except the girl who was reading, whom they introduced as the Signorina da Guari, a Tuscan, and daughter to Orangia Magnolia, with fair hair, and soft, liquid, dark eyes, who never lifted her head scarcely, though Guatamara and Saint-Jeu did their best to make her. But all the others were wonderfully agreeable, and quite fêted Little Grand and
me, at which, they being more than double our age, and seemingly bien reçus alike in Belgravia and Newmarket, the Faubourg and the Pytchley, we seemed to grow at least a foot each in the aroma of this Casa di Fiori.
"This is rather stupid, Doxie," began Lord Adolphus, addressing his sister; "not much entertainment for our guests. What do you say to a game of vingt-et-un, eh, Mr. Grandison ?"
Little Grand fixed his blue eyes on the Marchioness, and said he should be very happy, but, as for entertainment-he wanted no other.
"No compliments, petit ami," laughed the Marchioness, with a dainty blow of her fan. "Yes, Dolph, have vingt-et-un, or music, or anything you like. Sing us something, Lucrezia."
The Italian girl thus addressed looked up with a passionate, haughty flush of her soft eyes, and answered, with wonderfully little courtesy I considered, "I shall not sing to-night."
"Etes-vous enrhumée, ma belle ?" asked the Duc de Saint-Jeu, bending his little wiry figure over her.
She shrank away from him, and drew back, a hot colour in her cheeks.
"Monsieur, je ne vous parlais pas."
The Marchioness looked angry, if those divine eyes could look anything so mortal. However, she shrugged her shoulders.
'Well, my dear Lucrezia, we can't make you sing, of course, if you won't. I, for my part, always do any little thing I can to amuse anybody; if I fail, I fail; I have done my best, and my friends will appreciate the effort, if not the result. No, my dear Prince, do not teaze her," said the Marchioness to Orangia Magnolia, who was arguing, I thought somewhat imperatively for such a well-bred and courtly man, with Lucrezia ; 66 we will have vingt-et-un, and Lucrezia will give us the delight of her voice some other evening, I dare say.'
We had vingt-et-un; the Marchioness would not play, but she sat on her rose velvet fauteuil, just behind Little Grand, putting in pretty little speeches, and questions, and bagatelles, and calling attention to the gambols of her darling greyhound Cupidon, and tapping Little Grand with her fan, till, I believe, he neither knew how the game went, nor what money he lost; and I, gazing at her, and cursing him for his facile tongue, never noticed my naturels, couldn't have said what the maximum was if you had paid me for it, and might, for anything I knew to the contrary, have been seeing my life slip away with each card as with the Peau de Chagrin. Then we had sherbet, and wine, and cognac for those who preferred it; and the Marchioness gave us permission to smoke, and took a dainty hookah with an amber mouthpiece for her own use (divine she did look, too, leaning in her rose fauteuil, with that hookah between her ruby lips!); and the smoke, and the cognac, and the smiles, unloosed our tongues, and we spake like very great donkeys, I dare say, but I'm sure with not a tenth part the wisdom that Balaam's ass developed in his brief and pithy conversation. However great the bosh we talked, though, we found very lenient auditors. Fitzhervey and Guatamara laughed at all our witticisms; the Prince of Orangia Magnolia joined in with a "Per Baccho!" and a "Bravo!" and little Saint-Jeu wheezed, and gave
a faint echo of "Mon Dieu!" and "Très bien, très bien, vraiment!" and the Marchioness St. Julian laughed too, and joined in our nonsense, and, what was much more, bent a willing ear to our compliments, no matter how florid; and Saint-Jeu told us a story or two, more amusing than comme il faut, at which the Marchioness tried to look grave, and did look shocked, but laughed for all that behind her fan; and Lucrezia da Guari sat in shadow, as still and as silent as the Parian Euphrosyne on the console, though her passionate eyes and expressive face looked the very antipodes of silence and statuetteism, as she flashed half-shy, halfscornful looks upon us.
If the first part of the evening had been delightful, this was something like Paradise! It was such high society! and with just dash enough of Mabille and coulisses laisser-aller to give it piquancy. How different was the pleasantry and freedom of these real aristos, after the humdrum dinners and horrid bores of dances that those snobs of Maberlys, and Fortescues, and Mitchells, made believe to call Society!
What with the wine, and the smoke, and the smiles, I wasn't quite clear as to whether I saw twenty horses' heads or one when I was fairly into saddle, and riding back to the town, just as the first dawn was rising, Aphrodite-like, from the far blue waves of the Mediterranean. Little Grand was better seasoned, but even he was dizzy with the parting words of the Marchioness, which (among other things) had softly breathed the delicious passport, "Come to-morrow."
"By Jupiter!" swore Little Grand, obliged to give relief to his feelings" by Jupiter, Simon! did you ever see such a glorious, enchanting, divine, delicious, adorable creature? Faugh! who could look at those Mitchell girls after her? Such eyes! such a smile! such a figure! Talk of a coronet! no imperial crown would be half good enough for her! And how pleasant those fellows are! I like that little chaffy chap, the Duke; what a slap-up story that was about the bal de l'Opera. And Fitzhervey, too; there's something uncommonly thorough-bred about him, ain't there? And Guatamara's an immensely jolly fellow. Ah, my boy! that's 's something like society; all the ease and freedom of real rank; no nonsense about them, as there is about snobs. I say, what wouldn't the other fellows give to be in our luck? I think even Conran would warm up about her. But I say, Simon, she's deucedly taken with me-she is, upon my word; and she knows how to show it you, too! By George! one could die for a woman like that-eh?"
"Die!" I echoed, while my horse stumbled along up the hilly road, and I swayed forward, pretty nearly over his head, while poetry rushed to my lips, and electric sparks danced before my eyes:
"To die for those we love! oh, there is power
In the true heart, and pride, and joy, for this.
"But I'll be shot if it shall be vanished light," returned Little Grand; "it don't look much like it yet. The light's only just lit, 'tisn't likely it's going out again directly; but, by Jove! she is a stunner! and
"A stunner!" I shouted; "she's much more than that-she's an angel, and I'll be much obliged to you to call her by her right name, sir.
She's a beautiful, noble, loving woman; the most perfect of all Nature's masterworks. She is divine, sir, and you and I are not worthy merely to kiss the hem of her garment."
"Ain't we, though? I don't care much about kissing her dress; it's silk, and I don't know that I should derive much pleasure from pressing my lips on its texture; but her cheek
“Her cheek is like the Catherine pear,
The side that's next the sun!"
I shouted, as my horse went down in a rut. "She's like Venus rising from the sea-shell; she's like Aurora, when she came down on the first ray of the dawn to Tithonus; she's like Briseis, when she tortured and subdued Achilles; she's like Medea
"Bother classics! she's like herself, and beats 'em all hollow. She's the finest creature ever seen on earth, and I should like to see the man who'd dare to say she wasn't. And-I say, Simon-how much did you lose to-night?"
From sublimest heights I tumbled straight to bathos. The cold water of Grand's query quenched my poetry, extinguished my electric lights, and sobered me like a douche bath.
"I don't know," I answered, with a sense of awe and horror stealing over me; "but I had a pony in my waistcoat-pocket that the governor had just sent me, Guatamara changed it for me, and I've only sixpence left!"
THERE is a romantic, as well as a prosaic, side to the subject of the following remarks; but we may state at the outset, that it is not intended to take in this article the romantic view, to enliven the page with anecdotes, or to derive-as perhaps we may on a future occasion derivefrom the cases arising out of life assurance contracts that have come before our courts of law, the additional chapters which some of them afford to what has been called the "Romance of the Forum." Our remarks are now occasioned by a pamphlet recently published, which is of a very practical and matter-of-fact nature certainly, but which contains so readable and popular an exposition of life assurance as a plea for its more general adoption, that we think the City men and companies should not have it all to themselves.
It is very satisfactory to see that the assurance of lives is now generally appreciated as one of the most beneficial institutions of our age and country; and that this mode of providing for a surviving family is recognised
* An Essay on Life Assurance, &c. By H. W. Porter, B.A., Fellow of the Institute of Actuaries and of the Statistical Society. Second edition. London: C. and E. Layton. 1860.