The New "Beauty and the Beast" by Unknown

Marshal Mont-Jean was as respectable a soldier as good king Francis had in his army. It was currently reported in his troop that he had once been young, although his hair was now grey, and that he had once been alert, although the wounds from sword, lance, and bullet, which cicatrised his body all over, had rendered him fit only for garrison duty. He was entrusted with an important fortress on the frontiers of Piedmont, for his royal master knew that his stiff and shrivelled body would as little think of budging from before an enemy as the stone and lime he was set to guard.

Marshal Mont-Jean had a young wife—a lineal descendant of the noble family of Chateaubriant—a girl in her seventeenth year, of a clear car-nated complexion, through which the eloquent blood shone forth at every word she spoke, with dark eyes at once penetrating and winning, and with an elastic, buoyant, coquettish sort of a gait. Owing to family politics, she had been married to the marshal before she very well knew what marriage was. Naturally of an affectionate disposition, she loved the tough old soldier—who, imperative and stern to all others, was gentle to her—as a daughter might have done. Her little thoughts ran more upon her gowns, headtires, and feathers, than any thing else. She would have had no objections, had it lain in her power, to have displayed these objects of her affections before the eyes of young French gallants, but unluckily there were none such within reach. The soldiers of the garrison were old and grizzled as their commander, or the walls they tenanted. The Marquis of Saluzzo visited the marshal sometimes, to be sure; but although not exactly old, he was ugly. His features were irregular, his eyes dull and bleared, his complexion a yellowish black: he had a big belly and a round back, and was heavy and lumpish in all his motions. So the pretty lady had no one to please by her dresses but herself, her handmaidens, and her venerable husband. And yet she was daily dressed like the first princess of the land. It had been a fair sight to see the delicate ape attired like unto some stately queen, and striving to give to her petite figure, mincing steps, and laughing looks, an air of solemn and stately reserve.

Every thing has an end, at least the life of Marshal Mont-Jean had. His little widow was sincerely sorry, but her grief was not exactly heartbreaking. She had respected him, but love was out of the question; and with all her esteem for the man, and resignation to her fate, there was something unnatural in the union of persons so widely differing in age. But had she been ever so inclined to lament him, she would not have had time. She was under the necessity of transporting herself immediately, with all her own and her late husband's retainers, to her estates in France, and she had not a single sol left in her possession. Her estates were large, but even had there been time to await the arrival of money from them, the times were too unsafe to hazard its transmission. The country around her was too mountainous, and its air too pure and keen to nourish usurers. Her dresses were of immense value, but there was no one near who cared for such frippery, or could or would advance money upon its pledge. The little lady was at her wit's end.

She felt no great alleviation of her troubles, when one day—after wondering for a quarter of an hour what was the meaning of the tan tara of trumpets before the gate, and the clattering of horses' hoofs in the court-yard—the Marquis of Saluzzo was ushered into her presence. He was gaily apparelled in a tunic and hose of white silk, laced with silver, and a hat of the same materials, with bushy white plumes waving over his head. This costume communicated to his countenance—which rivalled in colour the feet of a duck that has all day been wading in the mud—a yet more repulsive expression. The young widow thought—when she saw the portly belly come swagging into the hall before its owner, and the worshipful marquis panting after it, with a multitude of ungainly bows—that she had never seen any thing half so hideous.

Her visitor came at once to the point, for he was none of those who are troubled with a fastidious delicacy. He had learned the situation of embarrassment in which the marshal had left his lady, and came to inform her that he was himself on the road to Paris, whither, if she would favour him with her company, and join her train of attendants with his, he would defray her expenses. He urged her acceptance of his proffered aid with garrulous and indelicate importunity, fixing his gooseberry eyes upon her, with an attempt to look languishing. Nay, in the pride of his heart, he let her know that already many suitors were mustering to urge their claims to the hand of the wealthy widow of Mont-Jean, the heiress apparent of the noble house of Chateaubriant, and that he was not without hopes of insinuating himself into her good graces during their journey. In our days, it would be thought indelicate for a woman in the lady's situation to accept an essential service from so blunt a knight; but in those days the fair sex were not so particular. There was danger even then of being inveigled; but Marie was young, lighthearted, undaunted, and fond of a joke. She knew not enough of the world to be aware of the use an artful man might take of such a journey, to render appearances against her, should she finally repulse his advances. Lastly, there was no choice left her, the new commandant was daily expected, and she could not raise a maravedi.

The marquis and his fair companion were, by their style of travelling, and the want of other company, kept close together during great part of the journey. He was constantly by her bridle on the road, he was ready with the proffer of his services whenever she dismounted, he sat by her at the board—most frequently spread under the shadow of some branchy tree. Marie gradually got reconciled to his appearance; and although she could not respect a man, who in his incessant prattling gave tokens only of a proud, foolish, and selfish mind, she learned to take pleasure in the unconscious manner in which he displayed his character. His attempts to express his love, too, were endless as ludicrous, and Marie was not the person to shrink from a little coquetry, more particularly when the object afforded her at the same time matter for a hearty laugh. She had a natural talent for coquetting, and the restraint laid upon her of late by her situation only heightened her desire to exercise it now.

Before the party reached Lyons, however, she was made painfully sensible of her error. She remarked that the marquis took care to blazon immediately to the whole train, every encouragement she gave him. In private, he assumed a dictatorial tone, arranging who of her domestics it were most advisable to retain or dismiss—assuming that their future union was an event which must undoubtedly happen. His attendants affected to look upon her with a peculiarly intelligent expression, and used every artifice to draw from her speeches which might favour their master's hopes. "Ah, senora," said the steward, one day, as she was rallying him about some trifle, "these sharp words require a sweetener."

"Depend upon it, good Jaques," she replied, "you shall have as heavy a gold chain as the steward of the best marquis in the land, the day of my marriage." She could have bit her tongue for vexation, when she saw the old thief scuttle up to his master, and tell him the story, with a profusion of "nods and becks, and wreathed smiles."

She learned, about the same time, from her female attendants, that they had been prevented from forwarding any intelligence to their friends in France; that her own messengers had been detained, and dispatches addressed to her intercepted. She saw now that the wily Italian was closing his meshes around her. She had looked upon him as a fool, a creature out of whom she could extract amusement and advantage, and shake him off—as lightly as the flower the refreshing dewdrop, when the western breeze begins to blow. She found that the lowest order of minds possess most practical cunning. She was fretted and anxious. His train outnumbered hers, which consisted, moreover, chiefly of her female attendants. She was, however, of too gay and confident a disposition to remain long uneasy. They were now approaching Lyons, and in the city he would not dare to detain her person by force. Her few men-at-arms were hardy soldiers, and implicitly to be relied upon.

Arrived in the hostelrie, she made an excuse for retiring early. The window of her apartment opened upon the Rhone. She sat, her head buried in her hands, striving, but in vain, to determine upon some line of conduct. The door opened, and her favourite tirewoman introduced a young gentleman, richly but not gaudily equipped, of martial bearing. "A messenger, my lady, from your cousin, Vieilleville." The messenger bore a letter, in which the Sieur de Vieilleville informed her that it was currently reported in Paris she had promised her hand to the Marquis of Saluzzo, and that the king, for political considerations, was intent upon the match; that he, however, could not for a moment believe her so inconsiderate, and that he was at hand with a body of sixty gens-d'armes to free her.

The lady recognised at once the rude craft of Saluzzo in the reports to which her cousin alluded. She trembled at the thought of the king seconding the wishes of her unknightly suitor, but she rejoiced that the full extent of her danger had only been laid open to her at the moment that certain aid presented itself. Vieilleville was one of those straightforward daring persons, who, having neither fear nor dishonesty in their character, always pursue the direct road to their object. It was well known that he had often opposed the king in his darling projects, yet without losing his favour; for Francis knew that thoughts of self never stained Vieilleville. The proudest nobles of France, the princes of the blood, did not disdain to seek his countenance and protection, although he was yet but a lieutenant of gendarmerie and a simple knight—not even a member of the order.

With tumultuous joy, Marie addressed to her cousin a warm letter of thanks for his confidence in the propriety of her conduct. Love for a man of Saluzzo's character was out of the question. As for the king's deep-laid schemes, she had been sacrificed when a child to political considerations, but now, a woman and her own mistress, she would submit to such treatment from no one. She threw herself unreservedly upon her cousin's protection. As, however, the marquis and she were next day to cross the hills to Rouanne, there to embark on the Loire, and sail down to Briare, whence they were to proceed by land through Essonne to Paris, she ventured to suggest what seemed the quietest mode of getting her out of the marquis's hands. She proposed that Vieilleville should advance with his troop to Corbeil, taking care to arrive the same evening that she reached Essonne. Next day he was to direct his course towards Juvizy, and entering it at the same time, her steward should so arrange matters that her attendants could in a moment separate themselves from the cortège of the marquis, and attach themselves to that of Vieilleville. With such a knight opposed to him, and in the broad eye of day, Saluzzo would yield without resistance.

Marie, as she next day rode across the mountains, was wild with joy. The fresh breezes of the uplands, and the rapturous thought of approaching freedom, filled her with transport. She teased her steed to perform a thousand gambols, she sung in emulation of the birds by the way-side, she squandered a thousand malicious kind looks upon the lout by her side, she had a good word and a gift for every menial in the train, Her delicate figure, flashing eyes, and graceful wildness, kept all eyes fixed upon her with love and wonder.

Next day the party embarked upon the Loire, but the first intoxication of joy was over. The equable motion of the boat, the gentle rippling of the waves, the heat of the day, the deep shades beneath which they occasionally passed, relaxed her frame. A band of music which the marquis had engaged at Lyons, aided, by its soft plaintive melodies, to give a melancholy character to her reflections. She thought of her indiscretion, of the toils from which she was not yet free, of the slanders and calumnies to which she might be exposed. The careless innocence of a young woman may lead her into conduct, to look upon which impresses her with a tormenting consciousness of sullied purity, although not one criminal thought has ruffled her white mind. It was thus with Marie. Lost in self-reproach, she bowed her head over the gunwale of the boat, and played in the water with her fingers, while a big tear gathered beneath each jetty eyelash. Her ugly companion sat beside her, gazing upon the fair mourner with a nauseous expression of affection and confidence. The change of her mood since yesterday, was too palpable to escape even his gross apprehension. But he attributed it with great complacency to the waywardness of love, believing himself to be the object. His attachment to Marie was a strange mixture of avarice, gratified vanity, and admiration of her beauty.

Let us hasten to the close of our story. It was mid-day, and the crowds which had thronged the market-place of Juvizy were dispersing, when a knight, armed at all points, his vizor up, rode into the great square, followed by eighty men-at-arms. He sat on his strong black horse like an upright pillar of iron. His look was sedate, but frank and careless, as of one whose blood flowed as calmly, and whose thoughts were as clear amid the thunder of the fight as in the retirement of his own chamber. There was a universal expression of love and reverence, for every peasant knew Vieilleville. His troop drew up in a wide street which abutted on the market-place, at one end of the town-house.

They had not waited many minutes when the sound of approaching horses was heard, and soon after, a large company, in which were a number of females, the men, though more numerous, neither so well equipped nor skilfully arranged as those of Vieilleville, entered the square. A knight and a lady rode foremost. The eye of the latter glanced bright as it fell upon Vieilleville and his attendants. They advanced towards the town-house, the greater proportion of their followers edging off towards a street at the other end of the building from that occupied by Vieilleville. The women, and a few soldiers, turned their horses towards the troop which had arrived before them. Saluzzo (for it was he), espying this, called after them that they had mistaken their way.

"With your pardon, fair Sir," said Marie, checking her steed, "they are quite right. Your lodgings are at the hostelrie of the Bear; mine at that of St. Denis. My cousin Vieilleville is here to relieve you of the charge I have so unwillingly imposed upon you; and you know how indecorous it would be to prefer the protection of a stranger to so near a relation. My steward will reckon with yours at Paris for any expense you may have incurred on my account. The debt of gratitude I owe you I never can hope to pay." And here the innate devil of coquetry resumed its sway as her spirits rose. "I leave my heart in your keeping, fair Sir. Take good care of it." Saluzzo was too well aware of his own powers to dream of coping with Vieilleville. He saw his fairy visions melting away, and he wept for spite and sorrow. With a cowed look he took her proffered hand, and pressed it to his lips. In the very wantonness of malice, she gently pressed his paw, smiled, and cast one of her most winning glances at him; then, turning suddenly, as if to hide a blush, she cantered smiling towards her cousin. The crest-fallen marquis retired in a super-eminently savage mood to his den.

On reaching the hostelrie, Vieilleville presented to Marie a young knight, whom she recognised as the bearer of his letter. "The Prince of Roche-sur-Yonne, fair cousin—the playmate of your childhood, the admirer of your womanly beauties, and one who, as you well know, lately undertook a service of some danger and difficulty for your sake." The prince was certainly an amiable and handsome young man, his late service gave him some claim to a kind reception, and in the course of a few hours' conversation, so many childish hours of happiness had been re-awakened in Marie's memory, that she felt as if her youthful playmate and she, although separated, had never been disjoined—she persuaded herself that some invisible bond had held them together, although herself had remained unaware of it until circumstances drew the noose tighter. The prince secured his footing by a thousand delicate and unpretending attentions. On the eve of the third day, just before they entered Paris, Vieilleville reminded his cousin of the danger she incurred from the king's anxiety to see her married to Saluzzo, and urged a speedy private marriage to the prince. Marie saw the propriety of the advice; her own inclinations were not adverse; the good marshal dwelt in her memory rather as a revered parent than as a beloved husband—in short, she consented.

This arrangement was kept of course a profound secret from Saluzzo. On recovering from his dumps, the malicious pressure of his hand, and the rosy smile which accompanied it, broke like morning on his memory. It is strange what a power of self-deception the mind possesses. When a lover has long wished to gain his mistress's affections, picturing to himself the possible awakening of love in her breast, and all the nes of his future happiness, the images of his fancy grow so vivid, that he cannot persuade himself they are unreal. The slightest indication is eagerly caught at as a proof of their reality. A thousand proofs of dislike are effaced from recollection by one kind look. This holds true even with such questionable passions as that of Saluzzo. He paid a daily visit to Marie Mont-Jean, still trusting that although one visit afforded no room for hope, the next might. In vain: the Prince of Roche-sur-Yonne was always there before him, managed to remain longer, and engrossed all the conversation and kind looks of the lady.

At last Saluzzo resolved to change his tactics. He summoned the lady before the parliament, to be adjudged to implement a promise of marriage, which he alleged she had made to him during their journey. Vieilleville, the prince, and Marie, held a council of war, and it was agreed that their measures should be directed by the first mentioned.

The president and counsellors were assembled in full chamber, after receiving a brief but pithy hint from the king, to take care how they crossed his wishes. The clerk of the court was mending his pen with the most assiduous gravity. Saluzzo approached the bar, attended by a lean, sallow notary, and some creatures of the court. At the same moment, Marie de Montespedon, relict of the late Marshal Mont-Jean, entered the hall, leaning on the arm of the redoubted Monsieur de Vieilleville, attended by a gallant train of ladies, lords, and gentlemen.

The preliminary forms having been observed the president directed the lady to take the oath of verity with bared and uplifted hands. The first interrogatory put to her was. "Did you ever promise marriage to the noble gentleman, the Marquis of Saluzzo, now in presence?" The blood rushed into the cheeks of the lady; she turned her eyes resolutely upon the marquis, who looked upon the ground, his colour growing blacker and yet more bloodless. She replied in a low whisper, which was heard through the whole hall, "No, by the virtue of mine oath." The president opened his mouth as if to put another question, and the clerk sharpened his ears, and brought his pen in contact with the paper, but the lady interrupted them, her face glowing crimson, in hurried but distinct words: "Gentlemen! I am not accustomed to such exhibitions. I fear my woman's wit may be entangled amid your forms and subtleties. I will cut this matter short. Before this noble company I declare as I shall answer to King Francis with my broad lands, and to God with my soul, as I live and regard my honour, I never gave troth, nor faith, nor promise of marriage, to that lying caitiff, nor ever dreamed of such a folly. And if any one call in question this my declaration, here"—she continued, taking Vieilleville by the hand—"here stands my champion, whom I present to maintain my words, which he knows to be true, and from the mouth of a lady of honour, if ever one existed. I place my trust, under God and my good cause, in his valour."

"That alters the case," said the president, smiling with secret satisfaction at being freed from the necessity of displeasing the king. "Clerk, you may remove your books—there is no more need of writing. The lady has preferred a form of process much more summary than ours. And you, Sir Marquis! What is your pleasure?" Saluzzo had too sincere a respect for his ungainly body to hazard it against Vieilleville. "I will marry no woman by constraint," he muttered, "If she do not affect me, I can do without her." As Vieilleville passed through the antechamber, one of the judges accosted him in a low voice. "You have saved yourself a six months' work, worse than the corvée, by this wager of battle. The marquis had a list of forty interrogations for the lady, in which every word she ever spoke to himself or servants, every pressure of his hand, was enumerated."

"Well," said he "it is only a French woman who has outwitted a hundred Italians."

"No," pursued his informant, "it is your valour which has extricated her from an ugly scrape. Away, and celebrate the wedding; for I much misinterpret the looks of the prince and lady if that be not what you are driving at."