20000 Free eBooks
Library for Free Download eBooks and Read Online

Your last book:

You dont read books at this site.

Total books at library:
about 20000

You can read online and download ebooks for free!

Ebooks by authors: A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z 
Chambers, William / Chambers's Edinburgh Journal, No. 447 Volume 18, New Series, July 24, 1852


No. 447. NEW SERIES. SATURDAY, JULY 24, 1852. PRICE 1-1/2_d._


Ever since that unfortunate affair in which the mother of mankind was
so prominently concerned, the female sex might say, with Shylock,
'Sufferance is the badge of all our tribe.' They are, in fact, an
incarnation of the Passive Voice--no mistake about it. 'Ah, gentle
dames, it gars me greet,' as Burns pathetically says, to think on all
the hardships and oppressions which you have undergone throughout the
course of history, political and domestic. It is most wonderful that
you can bear up your heads at all in the world. Most assuredly it
could not be done except under favour of some inherent principle of
fortitude, quite beyond all that your associate, Man, has ever
displayed. For this reason, I propose to fix upon you the honourable
style and title of the Martyr Sex.

As insanity is the more affecting when we observe its victim to be
unconscious of the visitation, so does my heart bleed most
particularly for the Martyr Sex, when I observe them undergoing severe
oppressions without knowing it. So natural is suffering to the sex, or
so accustomed are they to it, that they subject themselves
spontaneously to enormous loads of trouble and torture, which no one
would think of imposing upon them, and which they might easily avoid.
It might almost be said, that suffering has a sort of fascination for
them, drawing them placidly into it, whether they will or not. It
seems in some mysterious way wrought up with their entire destiny.

Hence, at no period of the history of the Sex, do we find them free
from some form of amateur affliction. At one time, it is one part of
their persons, at another time, another, which is subjected to
voluntary distress--but always some part. Not that the shifting is, so
far as can be seen, designed as a measure of relief; it would rather
appear the object simply is--to make every part bear its share in
turn, and allow none to escape. Thus, about a hundred years ago, a
lady went about with shoes that raised her heels three inches above
the floor, and threw her whole person out of its proper balance,
occasioning, of course, a severe strain upon certain muscles, attended
by constant pain. A little later, her feet might have been found
restored to their right level; but, as if to make up for this, and
allow no interval of misery, a tower of hair, pomatum, flour, pins,
and pinners, had been reared on the head, such as an inquisitor might
have considered himself very ingenious in devising, as a means of
undoing the convictions of heretics, or bringing round a Jew to
Christianity. Verily, it was a most portentous enginery for the
affliction of female humanity; but how heroically it was endured! A
whole generation bore it without a sigh! It often cost them their
night's rest merely to get it properly put in order--for, dressing
being in those days very elaborate, the attendants had to prepare some
ladies one day for a party that was to take place the next. They would
sit, however, in a chair all night, in order to preserve the structure
in all its integrity, sleeping only by snatches, and often waking in
terror lest something might be going wrong. Talk of the martyrs of
science--Galileo in prison, Bruno at the stake. These men had
something of importance in view to sustain them in their trials. Give
me the Martyr Sex, who sacrifice ease and convenience, without having
any adventitious principle whatever to compensate for and support them
under their sufferings.

In more recent times, we have seen the entire Sex submitting to
torture in a middle ground--namely, the waist--with an equal degree of
magnanimity. The corsets also formed an engine which would have
perfectly fitted the purposes of the Inquisition; indeed, there were
some ingenious devices of the Holy Office which did not greatly differ
from it. It might almost shake the common-sense of admiration for
martyrial sufferings, to find that every little girl in England was
for some years both able and willing to endure a regular torture,
without apparently having the least idea of making any merit by her
patience. Present pains, possible consequences--such as red noses, bad
breath, permanent ill health, death itself--were made light of. There
being no imaginable good end to be served by it, was nothing to the
point. The corsets were, for a time, a proud symbol of the martyr
power of the Sex. You would see an example set forth in each
milliner's window, carefully disposed under a glass-shade, as
indicating the pride they felt in it as a sort of badge of honour. It
is to be hoped that a few special copies will be preserved in our
antiquarian museums, and, if possible, they should be such as can be
certified to have killed their wearers, in order to shew to future
generations what the women of our age could submit to _in that
particular line_--not _generally_ of course, for it is to be expected
that the women of the future will have equal sufferings in some other
walk to boast of.

It is not always, indeed, that the Sex have a master torment, like
tight stays, to endure; but certainly they are never without some
source of either anguish or inconvenience to keep their martyr power
in exercise. For one thing, they are sadly afflicted with over-large
shoes. Strange to say, though there are artists pretending to be
ladies' shoemakers, the sex never get shoes sufficiently small. Every
now and then, they are receiving some monstrous affront, in the form
of a pair of shoes that might hold sufficient meal for a pudding
besides their feet. From this cause flow certain pains and penalties
in the form of corns and bunions, insuring that they shall never take
a step in life without being reminded of the doom of suffering which
has been passed upon them. To speak of the simple incommodations which
they suffer from dress were endless. At one time, they are all blown
out into sleeve, so that a miscellaneous dinner-party looks like a
series of men and women with feather-beds stuck between each pair. At
another time, the sleeve, while moderate in the region of the upper
arm, is fashioned wide at the bottom, as if to allow of the fair
wearers laughing in it--the joke, however, being all against
themselves, seeing that the pendulous part is a source of continual
trouble and worry, from its trailing through every sauce and tart that
may be at table, till it becomes a kind of geological phenomenon, in
the illustration which it affords of the succession of deposits and
incrustations. Or the swelling falls mainly into a lower part of the
dress, taking the form of a monstrous prolongation of skirts, and
insuring that the fair Martyrs shall act as scavengers upon every
street in which they promenade. I hardly know a more interesting sight
than that of a young lady going to school on a wet day, with books to
carry in one hand, and an umbrella to sustain in the other. To see the
struggles she makes in such circumstances to keep her skirts from
dragging in the mud, or the patience with which she submits to their
unavoidably doing so, and to think of the sad condition of her lower
extremities all the time--to reflect, moreover, that all this trouble
and suffering could be avoided by merely having skirts of a
sufficient, but not over-sufficient length--presents such an affecting
picture of evils voluntarily encountered and heroically sustained, as
but rarely occurs in the course of human life. It is justly held as a
strong proof of patience, that you should calmly submit to be spat
upon, or have mud thrown upon you by some infuriated crowd; but here
is a gentle creature who literally goes out every day to endure the
certain contact of these nuisances, and comes home to dinner not in
much better plight than one who has sat (unpopularly) in the pillory
for an hour. I really must give such martyrdom the meed of my
admiration; and the more so, that I feel myself, under the hardening
effects of worldly common-sense, totally unprepared to go through such
hardships without some useful end to be served by it.

The last example of what may be called the Martyrdom of Inconvenience
which the Sex have shewn, is to be found in a form of bonnet adapted
for summer wear, in which the front comes only to about an inch behind
the forehead, so as to leave the face fully exposed to the attacks of
the sun (when there is one) and the unmitigated gaze of the beaux.
There is something very remarkable in this fashion, for a great number
of ladies find it absolutely indispensable to add to this abbreviation
of a bonnet a sort of supplement of silk called an _ugly_, wherewith
to screen the face from becoming an absolute photograph. A couple of
inches added to the bonnet itself would serve the end; but this would
give a regular and not inelegant protection. It would, therefore,
entirely prevent inconvenience, and so thwart the Sex in their
martyrial propensities. Such a thing is not to be thought of. On the
contrary, either to suffer from sunlight without an _ugly_, or to
suffer from clumsiness with one, enables the unfortunate Sex to
indulge in its favourite passion to the fullest extent possible in
such cases. Admirable portion of creation! what merits are yours, what
praise is called for fully to requite you! But, indeed, it must be
quite impossible ever to make sufficient acknowledgment of that
wonderful power of endurance for its own sake which you shew in the
most trivial, as in the most important phases of life!

I therefore quit the subject with a humiliating sense of my utter
incompetency to do it entire justice. I weep and wonder--my very soul
thrills with the pathos of woman's martyr position on the earth and
her volunteer sufferings above all. But I would vainly attempt to
utter all I feel. I must leave it to each bearded fellow-creature, as
he walks through the wilderness of this world, to behold with a
sympathising eye and spirit an endurance so affecting, and endeavour
to compensate it, to the individual sufferers within his reach, by
every consolation and every reward he may have it in his power to


Which is the youngest British colony? Simple as the question seems, it
may be doubted, considering the remarkable increase of late years in
the number of John Bull's colonial progeny, whether the most
experienced red-tapist of Downing Street could answer it without some
hesitation. At least a dozen infant communities occur at once to the
recollection. There is Port Philip, lately rechristened by the royal
name of Victoria, and now seemingly in a fair way to be smothered in
its cradle by a deluge of gold-dust. There is the Hudson's Bay
Company's little Cinderella of Vancouver's Island, with its neglected
coal-mines, and other mineral riches. Then we have the precocious
'Canterbury' pet, the 'young Virginia' of New Zealand. Nor must we
forget the storm-vexed colony of Labuan, ushered into existence amid
typhoons and parliamentary debates--nor the small castaways, growing
up in secluded islets and corners--in the Falkland Islands, the
Auckland Islands, on the Mosquito Shore, and in the far Eastern Seas.
It is in one of these directions that most persons would probably be
inclined to cast an inquiring glance before attempting to answer the
question with which these remarks are prefaced. It is not likely that
many would at once be able to recall to mind the fact, that an
important British colony, dating its official existence from the 22d
of March 1851, has suddenly sprung up in the interior of Africa--a
colony already possessing an efficient legislature, a handsome
revenue, and several flourishing towns, with churches, schools, a
respectable press, and other adjuncts, of civilisation. A brief
description of this remarkable colony may serve to awaken for it an
interest which its future progress, if at all corresponding with the
past, will probably keep alive.

There is some difficulty in describing the 'Orange River
Sovereignty'--for such is the long and rather awkward name by which
this settlement is now known--so as to convey a correct idea of its
situation without the aid of a map. That the Cape Colony occupies the
southern coast of the African continent, and that the colony of Natal
is on the south-eastern coast, are facts of which few readers will
need to be reminded. Will it, then, be sufficient to say, that the
'sovereignty' in question is situated in the interior, between these
two colonies, having the Cape on the south, and Natal on the east? It
will be necessary to refer briefly to the manner in which it acquired
its rank as a colony, and its peculiar name. Just two hundred years
ago, in the year 1652, the Cape Colony was founded by the Dutch; and
about fifty years ago, it came into the possession of our own
government. During these two centuries, the colony has been constantly
extending itself towards the east and north, just as the British
settlements in North America, which were founded about the same time,
have been ever since extending their borders towards the west and
south, or as the settlements of Eastern Australia have been spreading
to the west, south, and north. It is a natural movement of
colonisation, and there seems to be no means of checking it, even if
any advantage were to be gained by doing so.

As the American backwoodsmen, in their progress westward, reached at
last the boundary-streams--as they were once considered--of the
Mississippi and the Ohio, so the South-African colonists gradually
found their way to the great Orange River, which, flowing nearly
across the continent, from east to west, formed a sort of natural
limit to the old colony. But beyond this boundary, extensive plains
and undulating downs, covered with nutritious herbage like the
American prairies, spread out invitingly towards the distant northern
horizon. The exterminating wars among the native tribes had left these
grassy plains almost wholly unoccupied. You might travel over them for
days without meeting a human being, or any traces of human possession,
except here and there the decaying huts and bleaching skeletons of the
former inhabitants. The feeble remnants of these tribes had sought
refuge in the recesses of the neighbouring mountains, where some of
them, in their dire extremity, sustained a horrid existence by
cannibalism, which revolting custom still further diminished their
numbers, and has only recently been suppressed. The Cape 'boers,' or
farmers, rich as the patriarchs of old in cattle and sheep, and
straitened like them for pasture, gradually found their way over the
river into these fruitful and vacant plains. At first, they crossed
only in small numbers, and with no intention of remaining permanently.
But the abolition of slavery, the mismanaged Caffre wars, and some
unpopular measures of the Cape government, suddenly gave a great
impulse to the emigration.

About fifteen years ago, some thousands of Dutch colonists sold their
farms, packed their household gear in their huge capacious wagons,
and with their wives and children--in all, at least 10,000
souls--accompanied by myriads of cattle, sheep, and horses, crossed
the Orange River, and plunged into the vast wilderness beyond. Some
spread themselves over the rich pastures in the country lying
immediately north of that river, and now forming the infant colony
which is presently to be described. Others penetrated far to the
north, forded the Vaal or Yellow River, and planted corn-fields and
vineyards on the fertile slopes of the Kashan Mountains, where they
still maintain themselves as a self-governed and thriving community.
One small band of bold adventurers found their way to the verdant but
fever-haunted plains about Delagoa Bay, whence the few survivors were
presently driven by the destructive ravages of the pestilence. But the
main column of the emigrants, turning to the right, crossed the lofty
chain of the Drakenberg--the 'Rocky Mountains' of Africa--and
descended into the well-watered valleys and woody lowlands of Natal.
The romantic but melancholy story of the sufferings, the labours, the
triumphs, and the reverses which filled up the subsequent years--how
some of the emigrants were surprised and massacred by the jealous
tribes of the interior, and others were treacherously slaughtered by
their professed ally, the blood-thirsty chief of the Zulus--and how
the exasperated survivors turned upon their assailants, broke their
power, and scattered them; how they planted towns, formed a regular
government, and set up an independent republic; all these, and many
similar events, must be left for the future historians of South Africa
to record. Neither is it necessary to refer here to the policy which
led our government afterwards to extend its authority over the lands
thus conquered and settled by the emigrants, or to the manner in which
this authority, at first resisted, was finally established. Natal was
thus made a British province in 1842. Many of the boors, naturally
enough disliking the new government thus forced upon them, retraced
their course over the Drakenberg, back into the upland plains of the
interior. Here they were left pretty much to themselves, until the
year 1848, when Sir Harry Smith proclaimed the extension of the
Queen's supremacy over the whole of the territory situated between the
Orange and Vaal Rivers; but, as has been already said, it was not
until March of last year that this acquisition was finally sanctioned,
and the new colony established by an act of the imperial government.

The Vaal River--sometimes called the Nu Gariep, and sometimes the
Yellow River--is the principal tributary of the Orange River; indeed,
it is so large an affluent, that some geographers have doubted, as in
the case of the Mississippi and the Missouri, which should properly be
considered the main stream. These rivers, the Orange and the Vaal,
rising near together in the Drakenberg chain, take a wide circuit, the
one to the south-west, the other to the north-west, and flow each a
distance of about 400 miles before their junction. The territory which
they thus enclose is nearly as large as England, comprising between
40,000 and 50,000 square miles. It is inhabited by about 80,000
natives, of various Bechuana, Namaqua, and half-caste tribes, and by
some 15,000 or 20,000 colonists of European origin. Over all these
inhabitants, colonists and natives, the British sovereignty has been
proclaimed. Subject to this supremacy, the native chiefs and tribes
are still left to manage their own affairs, according to their
original laws and customs. But in order to indicate clearly and
decisively the fact, that the royal authority is now paramount in this
region whenever Her Majesty's government chooses to exert it, the name
of the Orange River Sovereignty has been given to the whole territory.

The portion of this territory which is properly a British
settlement--or, in other words, which is inhabited by Dutch and
English colonists, is in extent about two-thirds of the whole. It is
subdivided into four districts, for each of which a stipendiary
magistrate has been appointed. These magistrates, with eight
unofficial members of council--who are all respectable
landowners--form, in conjunction with the 'British resident,' the
legislature of the colony. The title of the Resident is borrowed from
the official system of India, and was originally given to him when
acting as a government commissioner for the protection of the native
tribes; but his office is at present simply that of a colonial

The extensive country which is thus governed, cannot be better
described than in the words of Sir Harry Smith, who, in a dispatch
written in January 1848, gives the following account of the whole
region, which he had just traversed, on his way from the Cape to
Natal. He describes it as 'a country well fitted for the pasturage of
cattle, and covered in every direction with large game. It is,' he
adds, 'strongly undulating; and although badly watered, well adapted
for the construction of dams; and, the soil being generally rich, it
is capable, if irrigated, of producing every species of grain. It is
miserably destitute of trees, frequently even of bush, and is thickly
studded with abrupt and isolated hills, whose height frequently
approaches that of mountains. Over the greater part of this tract of
country, not a single native is to be seen; nor for many years, if
ever, has it been inhabited by one. The gardens of the emigrants
(boers) are in many places very good; their houses miserable, as they
have been deterred from exhausting their little remaining capital by
building on a doubtful and precarious tenure. That objection to the
increase of their comfort, if the word be applicable, will now, I
trust, be happily removed.' The absence of trees, of which Sir Harry
speaks, is believed to have originated from the same cause which
occasions a similar want in the prairies of America--that is, the
native custom of burning down the grass every winter, to fertilise the
soil. Where trees have been planted recently, they have grown well.
The apple, pear, peach, and other fruit-trees of temperate climates,
are found to thrive and produce abundantly. The whole country, it
should be added, is a great plateau, elevated 2000 or 3000 feet above
the level of the sea. The climate is, therefore, cooler than in Natal,
which is situated in the same latitude, but at a lower elevation.

It was not till Sir Harry Smith had thus proclaimed the royal
supremacy, in 1848, that English colonists began to establish
themselves in any considerable numbers in the country. But they then
soon found their way thither, principally as traders, and settled in
the new towns which quickly sprang up in the several districts. Bloem
Fontein, the capital, is now almost wholly an English town. It has its
municipality; its weekly newspaper--printed in English and Dutch; its
English and 'Dutch Reformed' churches, and Wesleyan Chapel; its
government school; its market; and various other appurtenances of a
flourishing town, all of which have come into existence since Sir
Harry Smith made his flying visit to the province in 1848, and
proclaimed it subject to Her Majesty's supremacy. Such magic resides
in a British governor's proclamation!

But the growth of Bloem Fontein, rapid as it has been, is not so
striking as that of another town. There is a well-known story of a
traveller, in a newly-settled part of North America, inquiring his way
at a lonely hut to a 'city' which made a conspicuous figure in some
land-speculator's map, and receiving the startling information, that
he was then standing in the principal square. An adventure of much the
same nature befell a traveller in South Africa, who, in February 1850,
attempted, while on his way from Bloem Fontein to Natal, to discover
the newly-founded town of Harrismith.

'At length,' he writes, 'having reached the eastern side of the
mountain, I halted, and determined to go in search of this new-born
town--a future city in our vast empire. Taking my attendant, Andries,
with me, we proceeded to an elevation, where I felt sure it must come
into view. We were disappointed. Not a spire, nor chimney, nor hut
could be seen; and so we walked on towards another elevation. On our
way, we came to an emigrant settler, busily employed in brick-making;
and from him I learned that we had taken the left-hand road instead of
the right, after we passed the last stream. We were about a mile from
the spot marked out as the town, _but no houses are built, nor are any
persons residing there_; so I did not deem it worth while to proceed
further in that direction.' In May of the same year, 'two or three
houses' are reported to have been built; in 1851, they are springing
up rapidly; and at the latest date, the 9th of last January, we hear
of an actual flourishing little town, with school-house, flour-mill,
and bustling and increasing trade.

The progressing town, however, had its difficulties, both physical and
political, to contend with. The correspondent has to report, that 'the
postal arrangements still continue unsatisfactory and vexatious, no
post having been received from Bloem Fontein for the last two months;
and,' he indignantly adds, 'to make matters worse, the late
magistrate's clerk and postmaster has resigned, owing to grave charges
having been preferred against him by a party faction who would rule
public opinion.' But he consoles himself with the judicious
reflection, that 'time and imported respectable intelligence will
remedy this unhappy state of things, in the changes which small
communities undergo.' It is satisfactory to learn, that in spite of
the machinations of faction, the citizens managed to enjoy themselves
when a suitable occasion offered. 'New-Year's Day,' we are told, 'was
celebrated with more than ordinary spirit. A shooting-match took
place, after which a public supper and quadrille-party came off; which
finished the pleasures of the day. The next day, lovers of the turf
had their enjoyment in the establishment of races.' And then we have,
duly recorded in the well-known _Racing-Calendar_ style, the fortunes
of the competitors, for the 'Untried' Cup, the 'Harrismith Plate,' the
'Ladies' Purse,' and the 'Hack-Race' and it is stated that 'one of the
horses was sold immediately after the races for L.40,' which would
seem to be considered a high figure in that region. It is further
announced, 'that another year will probably see the establishment of a
fair, which will give our interior farmers and friends an opportunity
of rendering a journey to Harrismith both profitable and pleasurable,
as such an occasion will doubtless attract buyers of cattle, horses,
sheep, wool, butter, tallow, grain, &c., from Natal.' And the
correspondent is 'happy to state, that several farmers are settling
upon their farms in the neighbourhood of the town, which will tend to
give confidence, and increase the value of land in its vicinity.'

Thus, in less than two years, a real, bustling, hopeful little town
had sprung into existence, with all the genuine characteristics of an
English community. Education and trade, races and quadrilles, were
already flourishing. The well-known political parties, the Buffs and
the Blues, the foes of corruption and the friends of established
institutions, were already arraying themselves in hostile ranks. In
two years more, we may expect to receive the first numbers of the
_Harrismith Gazette_ and the _Harrismith Independent_, the 'organs' of
the respective parties; and to learn through their valuable columns,
that the 'Harrismith Agricultural and Commercial Bank' has declared
its first annual dividend of 10 per cent., and that the new
'Harrismith Assembly-Rooms' were thrown open, on the auspicious
anniversary of the royal birthday, to a large and select assemblage of
the rank, fashion, and beauty of the city and its neighbourhood.

The writer from whose letter some of the foregoing quotations are
made, strongly recommends that the government should offer 'unstinted
encouragement and liberal assistance' to promote emigration from Great
Britain; and considers that, if this were done, 'thousands of hardy
English and Scotch farmers would avail themselves of the advantages
which the country offers.' This is possible; but at the same time, it
should be known, that the excitement among the native tribes, caused
by the war in Caffreland, had extended across the Orange River into
the sovereignty, and that much confusion, and, unfortunately, some
bloodshed, had ensued. These disorders, it is true, were only local;
but it is evident that the neighbourhood of some 80,000 barbarians
must, for some time to come, be a source of considerable embarrassment
and danger to all settlers in the new colony. In time, no doubt, with
the progress of civilisation, this danger will be removed; and the
natives may become, as in New Zealand, a source of wealth to the
colony, as useful labourers--like the 'skipping Caffres' under the
brickmaker's instructions, or peaceful cultivators of the soil. At
present, however, the peril from this source is so evident and so
serious, that a warning reference to it could not with propriety be
omitted in any description of this otherwise promising settlement.


Jean Baptiste Véron, a native, it was understood, of the south of
France, established himself as a merchant at Havre-de-Grâce in 1788,
being then a widower with one child, a young boy. The new-comer's
place of business was on the south quay, about a hundred yards west of
the custom-house. He had brought letters of high recommendation from
several eminent Paris firms; his capital was ascertained to be large;
and soon, moreover, approving him self to be a man of keen mercantile
discernment, and measured, peremptory, unswerving business habits, it
is not surprising that his commercial transactions speedily took a
wide range, or that, at the end of about fifteen years, M. Véron was
pronounced by general consent to be the wealthiest merchant of the
commercial capital of northern France. He was never, albeit, much of a
favourite with any class of society: his manner was too _brusque_,
decided, unbending--his speech too curt, frequently too bitter, for
that; but he managed to steer his course in very difficult times
quite as safely as those who put themselves to great pains and charges
to obtain popularity. He never expressed--publicly at least--any
preference for Royalism, Republicanism, or Imperialism; for
fleur-de-lis, bonnet-rouge, or tricolore: in short, Jean Baptiste
Véron was a stern, taciturn, self-absorbed man of business; and as
nothing else was universally concluded, till the installation of a
_quasi_ legitimacy by Napoleon Bonaparte, when a circumstance, slight
in itself, gave a clearer significance to the cold, haughty, repellent
expression which played habitually about the merchant's gray, deep-set
eyes, and thin, firmly-compressed lips. His newly-engraved private
card read thus:--'J. B. _de_ Véron, _Mon Séjour_, Ingouville.' Mon
Séjour was a charming suburban domicile, situate upon the Côte, as it
is usually termed-a sloping eminence on the north of Le Havre, which
it commands, and now dotted with similar residences, but at the period
we are writing of, very sparsely built upon. Not long after this
assumption of the aristocratic prefix to his name, it was discovered
that he had insinuated himself into the very narrow and exclusive
circle of the De Mérodes, who were an unquestionable fragment of the
old noblesse, damaged, it is true, almost irretrievably in purse, as
their modest establishment on the Côte too plainly testified; but in
pedigree as untainted and resplendent as in the palmiest days of the
Capets. As the Chevalier de Mérode and his daughter Mademoiselle
Henriette-Delphine-Hortense-Marie-Chasse-Loup de Mérode--described as
a tall, fair, and extremely meagre damsel, of about thirty years of
age--were known to be rigidly uncompromising in all matters having
reference to ancestry, it was concluded that Jean Baptiste do Véron
had been able to satisfy his noble friends, that although _de facto_ a
merchant from the sad necessities of the evil time, he was _de jure_
entitled to take rank and precedence with the illustrious though
decayed nobility of France. It might be, too, as envious gossips
whispered, that any slight flaw or break in the chain of De Véron's
patrician descent, had been concealed or overlooked in the glitter of
his wealth, more especially if it was true, as rumour presently began
to circulate, that the immense sum--in French eyes and ears--of
300,000 francs (L.12,000) was to be settled upon Mademoiselle de
Mérode and her heirs on the day which should see her united in holy
wedlock with Eugène de Véron, by this time a fine-looking young man,
of one or two-and-twenty, and, like ninety-nine in every hundred of
the youth of France, strongly prejudiced _against_ the pretensions of
mere birth and hereditary distinction.

Rumour in this instance was correctly informed. 'Eugène,' said M. de
Véron, addressing his son in his usual cold positive manner, and at
the same time locking his private écritoire, the hand of the clock
being just on the stroke of five, the hour for closing--'I have a
matter of importance to inform you of. All differences between me and
the Chevalier de Mérode relative to your marriage with his daughter,
Mademoiselle de Mérode, are'----

'Hein!' ejaculated Eugène, suddenly whirling round upon his stool, and
confronting his father. 'Hein!'

'All differences, I say,' resumed M. de Véron with unruffled calm and
decision, 'between myself and the chevalier are arranged _à
l'aimable_; and the contract of marriage will be ready, for your and
Mademoiselle de Mérode's signature, on Monday next at two precisely.'

'Mine and Mademoiselle de Mérode's!' repeated the astounded son, who
seemed half doubtful whether he saw or heard aright.

'Yes. No wonder you are surprised. So distinguished a connection could
hardly, under the circumstances, have been hoped for; and it would
have been cruel to have given you any intimation on the subject whilst
there was a chance of the negotiation issuing unfavourably. Your wife
and you will, for the present, at all events, take up your abode at
Mon Séjour; and I must consequently look out at once for a smaller, a
more bachelor-suiting residence.'

'My wife and me!' echoed Véron junior with the same air of stupid
amazement as before--'My wife and me!' Recovering a little, he added:
'Confound it, there must be some mistake here. Do you know, _mon
père_, that this Mademoiselle de Mérode is not at all to my taste? I
would as soon marry'----

'No folly, Eugène, if you please,' interrupted M. de Véron. 'The
affair, as I have told you, is decided. You will marry Mademoiselle de
Mérode; or if not, he added with iron inflexibility of tone and
manner--'Eugène de Véron is likely to benefit very little by his
father's wealth, which the said Eugène will do well to remember is of
a kind not very difficult of transference beyond the range of the law
of inheritance which prevails in France. The leprosy of the
Revolution,' continued M. de Véron as he rose and put on his hat, 'may
indeed be said to have polluted our very hearths, when we find
children setting up their opinions, and likings and dislikings,
forsooth! against their fathers' decision, in a matter so entirely
within the parental jurisdiction as that of a son or daughter's

Eugène did not reply; and after assisting his father--who limped a
little in consequence of having severely sprained his ankle some eight
or ten days previously--to a light one-horse carriage in waiting
outside, he returned to the office, and resumed his seat, still in a
maze of confusion, doubt, and dismay. 'How could,' he incoherently
muttered--'how could my father--how could anybody suppose that----How
could he especially be so blind as not to have long ago
perceived----What a contrast!' added Eugène de Véron jumping up,
breaking into passionate speech, and his eyes sparkling as if he was
actually in presence of the dark-eyed divinity whose image filled his
brain and loosed his tongue--'what a contrast! Adéline, young,
roseate, beautiful as Spring, lustrous as Juno, graceful as Hebe! Oh,
_par exemple_, Mademoiselle de Mérode, you, with your high blood and
skinny bones, must excuse me. And poor, too, poor as Adéline!
Decidedly, the old gentleman must be crazed, and--and let me
see----Ay, to be sure, I must confer with Edouard at once.'

Eugène de Véron had only one flight of stairs to ascend in order to
obtain this conference, Edouard le Blanc, the brother of Adéline,
being a principal clerk in the establishment. Edouard le Blanc readily
and sincerely condoled with his friend upon the sudden obscuration of
his and Adéline's hopes, adding that he had always felt a strong
misgiving upon the subject; and after a lugubrious dialogue, during
which the clerk hinted nervously at a circumstance which, looking at
the unpleasant turn matters were taking, might prove of terrible
import--a nervousness but very partially relieved by Eugène's
assurance, that, come what may, he would take the responsibility in
that particular entirely upon himself, as, indeed, he was bound to
do--the friends left the office, and wended their way to Madame le
Blanc's, Ingouville. There the lover forgot, in Adéline's gay
exhilarating presence and conversation, the recent ominous and
exasperating communication from his father; while Edouard proceeded to
take immediate counsel with his mother upon the altered aspect of
affairs, not only as regarded Adéline and Eugène de Véron, but more
particularly himself, Edouard le Blanc.

Ten minutes had hardly passed by ordinary reckoning--barely one by
Eugène de Véron's--when his interview with the charming Adéline was
rudely broken in upon by Madame le Blanc, a shrewd, prudent woman of
the world, albeit that in this affair she had somewhat lost her
balance, tempted by the glittering prize offered for her daughter's
acceptance, and for a time apparently within her reach. The mother's
tone and manner were stern and peremptory. 'Have the kindness,
Monsieur Eugène de Véron, to bid Adéline adieu at once. I have a
serious matter to talk over with you alone. Come!'

Adéline was extremely startled at hearing her rich lover thus
addressed, and the carnation of her glowing cheeks faded at once to
lily paleness, whilst Eugène's features flushed as quickly to deepest
crimson. He stammered out his willingness to attend madame
immediately, and hastily kissing Adéline's hand, followed the
unwelcome intruder to another room.

'So, Monsieur Eugène,' began Madame le Blanc, 'this ridiculous
wooing--of which, as you know, I never heartily approved--is at an
end. You are, I hear, to marry Mademoiselle de Mérode in the early
part of next week.'

'Madame le Blanc,' exclaimed the young man, 'what is it you are
saying? _I_ marry Mademoiselle de Mérode next or any other week! I
swear to you, by all that is true and sacred, that I will be torn in
pieces by wild horses before I break faith with'----

'Chut! chut!' interrupted Madame Le Blanc; 'you may spare your oaths.
The sentimental bavardage of boys in love will be lost upon me. You
will, as you ought, espouse Mademoiselle de Mérode, who is, I am told,
a very superior and amiable person; and as to Adéline, she will
console herself. A girl with her advantages will always be able to
marry sufficiently well, though not into the family of a millionaire.
But my present business with you, Monsieur Eugène de Véron, relates to
a different and much more important matter. Edouard has just confided
to me a very painful circumstance. You have induced him to commit not
only a weak but a highly criminal act: he has let you have, without
Monsieur de Véron's consent or knowledge, two thousand francs, upon
the assurance that you would either reimburse that sum before his
accounts were balanced, or arrange the matter satisfactorily with your
father.' 'But, Madame le Blanc'----

'Neither of which alternatives,' persisted that lady, 'I very plainly
perceive, you will be able to fulfil, unless you comply with Monsieur
de Véron's wishes; and if you have any real regard for Adéline, you
will signify that acquiescence without delay, for her brother's ruin
would in a moral sense be hers also. Part of the money has, I
understand, been squandered on the presents you have made her: they
shall be returned'----

'Madame le Blanc,' exclaimed the excited young man, 'you will drive me
mad! I cannot, will not give up Adéline; and as for the paltry sum of
money you speak of--_my_ money as it may fairly be considered-_that_
shall be returned to-morrow morning.'

Madame le Blanc did not speak for a few seconds, and then said: 'Very
well, mind you keep your promise. To-morrow is, you are aware, the
Fête Dieu: we have promised Madame Carson of the Grande Rue to pass
the afternoon and evening at her house, where we shall have a good
view of the procession. Do you and Edouard call on us there, as soon
as the affair is arranged.

Pages: | 1 | | 2 | | 3 | | 4 | | Next |

Library mainpage -> Chambers, William -> Chambers's Edinburgh Journal, No. 447 Volume 18, New Series, July 24, 1852