A Wife by Wager

ON a sunny afternoon in the middle of August, 1756, a gayly-dressed young gentleman of evident rank and wealth, apparently about twenty-three years old, sat in the doorway of the Café de la Régence, languidly surveying the passers-by, and occasionally vouchsafing a nod of recognition to some noble cavalier, or graciously waving from his perfumed handkerchief a sentimental salutation to some lively beauty of high estate or doubtful fame. So very inert and imperturbable was this gayly-dressed young gentleman, that it seemed that nothing could disturb his dainty suavity ; but suddenly, and without apparent cause, his eyes were lighted with a feeble expression of vexation, and, by a petulant movement, he thrust back his chair as if anxious to avoid observation.

The object that kindled this momentary spark of animation was a tall, broad-chested man, whose appearance, as he sauntered along the promenade, casting glances of contempt, which might or might not be sincerely felt, at the fashionable vanities which surrounded him, presented a striking contrast to that of the majority of strollers on that summer afternoon. His dress, though neat, was simple, and almost sombre, being destitute of any species of decoration. His step was bold and vigorous, and, in his indifference to the gay panorama which glided past him, he held his chin so high in the air that the listless young gentleman hoped he might, in his loftiness, overlook him with the rest.

But possibly the new-comer’s unconsciousness may not have been so absolute as he endeavored to make it appear ; or possibly his attention may have been particularly attracted by the sounds of mirth issuing from the famous Café. At any rate, as he approached it, he turned his head, and, gazing a moment at the first-named gentleman, exclaimed, “Ah, my little Fronsacquin, is it really you ?” The “little Fronsacquin” rose with a vapid smile, from which every trace of annoyance had vanished. To be associated, even by a title of questionable compliment, with that social hero, the Duc de Fronsac, whose nimble caperings had been the admiration of Young France for nearly half a century, was sufficient to banish from his mind any other thoughts than those of proud complacency and self-content. He welcomed his interrogator with all the ardor of which he was capable. That is to say, he lifted his hat with one effort, inclined his body with a second, and motioned to a vacant chair beside him with a third, after which he sank backexhausted.

Rallying presently, he said, “You are soon back again, M. de Montalvan.”

“Yes, M. de Berniers, our part of the fighting is over for the present.”

“Then why not leave off your fighting dress ?” said M. de Berniers. “You look as if you knew nothing of the age we are living in.”

“My friend, we live in an age when nobody occupies himself with anything but the pleasures of life. One of the pleasures of my life is to wear a soldier’s dress; and you very well know the reason why.”

“Don’t snarl, M. de Montalvan. Yes, I remember the reason now. Never mind. Some wine ; and tell me about the great Duke. Is he really as gallant in the field as in the boudoir?”

“Hum. The great Duc de Richelieu looked on with remarkable bravery while we took St. Philippe. Yes, now that the salons refuse him for a hero, I suppose we must make a place for him in the camp.”

“Ah! I have heard why you begrudge the Maréchal his fame. But it matters very little ; even Madame de Pompadour has given him her acclamations at last.”

“She knows when to hide her hatreds and how to cherish them. But that’s a dull subject, M. de Berniers ; give me news of home. The Queen ?”

“More virtuous than ever.”

“And the King ?”


“Impossible !”

“Quite true.”

“Some more wine, then. And the Pompadour ?”

“Cold, but still powerful.”

“I have heard,” said M. de Montalvan, lowering his voice, “strange tales about the Parliament,−that it holds secret meetings, and that the court should keep itself prepared for some unexpected action.”

“Bah !” said M. de Berniers, with a laugh, or rather a gentle inarticulate murmur of mockery; “put aside those notions, my dear M. de Montalvan. There is no power on earth can move the court of France.”

“Good ! And the theatres ?”

“Intolerable. La Clairon has done something in a play by M. de Voltaire, −a play stolen from a Chinese tragedy, ‘The Orphan of Tchao.’ He calls it ‘The Orphan of China.’ It is drearystuff. I wonder if our well-beloved king could not be induced to keep M. de Voltaire’s plays in exile, as well as M. de Voltaire himself.”

“Precisely,” said M. de Montalvan. “Some more wine.”

“And yet,” said M. de Berniers, whose usually pale face was flushed by the repeated draughts of Burgundy with which he had found it necessary to stimulate himself to the effort of conversation, “and yet Mlle, de Terville, they say, will hear of nothing but M. dc Voltaire. We shall quarrel finely about that, for one thing,"−and his eves gleamed with what would have been amusement if they had been capable of so definite an expression.

“Mlle, de Terville !” said M. de Montalvan in some surprise, which, however, the other did not observe; “do you know her ?”


“Is it possible ?”

“All about her.”

“Tell me. how does she look ?”

“Ah, nowyou ask too much. I have never seen her.”

“But you say−”

“That I know all about her. Yes, I am to wed her in six weeks.”

“The Devil and St. Philippe !”

“I don't wonder you are astonished, my dear De Montalvan. It’s quite throwing myself away to marry any woman at my time of life. Think how many adventures I shall lose. I never intended to be married until I had risen to something like the glory of Richelieu. Imagine having two beauties fight a duel for you, for example ! Richelieu was only twentytwo when Mesdames de Nesle and de Polignac fought for his favor. I am twenty-three, and no woman ever fought for me. At least, not that I am aware of.”

“Courage, De Berniers ; if you had lived in Richelieu’s day you would have had forty duels upon your account instead of one.”

“Quite likely. The age has degenerated. Some wine, De Montalvan. Yes, the affair was arranged by our relatives. Contiguous estates ; enormous dot. I know very little about it myself, except that I am the victim. Apropos,” added M. de Berniers, as energetically as was consistent with his sense of what a disciple of Fronsac owed himself, “you are at leisure. The contract is to be signed early in September. Come to Brittany, and help me through. They say Brittany is a fine country. I have never seen it, though I have a chateau there. Will you come ?”

De Montalvan looked keenly at his companion, as if endeavoring to detect some hidden meaning in these last words, drank some more wine, and remained silent.

“Come, De Montalvan, an answer.”

M. de Montalvan scowled, and drank again. He appeared to be considering in what manner he could most readily make himself offensive to M. de Berniers. Presently he remarked, in a tone which was intended to be deeply satirical, but which his frequent imbibitions rendered merely malicious, “Have you made any wagers of late, my little friend ?”

M. de Berniers’s countenance fell into the same expression of discontent as that which it had displayed on his companion’s first appearanceHe essayed a frown,−a feat it would have been difficult for him to execute at any time, but which was now simply impossible. He was not equal even to a distortion. But he answered spitefully : “To the Devil with you and your wagers ! But I will make it even yet. Perhaps another time you will not dare to compete so readily.”

“Dare, Monsieur !” said De Montalvan, hastily. Then, checking himself, he added, more composedly: “But why should I quarrel with Fronsacquin ? It is clear he knows nothing. If I must ease my mind by quarrelling, there are plenty hereabout,” and he glared around quite savagely. His eye lighted upon a brouette, one of the small hand-carriages then in vogue, in which a large and heavily built young man was reclining, while the owner of the vehicle, a slender lad, toiled with difficulty before him. “Dare, is it, De Berniers ? Do you see that sluggard, wasting this beautiful day in a lazy brouette ? Ten louis that I have him out, and walking, as he ought, in less than five minutes.”

“You are mad, M. de Montalvan.”

“You decline ?”

“No, I accept!” and De Berniers, who was not so tipsy but that he could plainly see De Montalvan was more so, wore upon his face what by one who was acquainted with him would have been understood as an air of triumph, but to a casual observer would convey no direct idea of any kind.

M. de Montalvan rose and advanced, hat in hand. “Pardon me, Monsieur,” he began, “I have a few observations to address to you. It is a singular spectacle to behold a man of your health and vigor, and especially of your size, compelling a poor wretch like this to drag you through the streets in the midsummer heat.”

“It is more singular, Monsieur, that you should venture to address me in this manner,” said the stranger, and he directed his attendant to move forward.

“No, Monsieur,” said De Montalvan, placing himself in the way, “ that is out of the question. I feel it my duty to object to your making use of a brouette on such a day as this.”

“Ah, you object ! ”

“Most decidedly. In fact I will not allow it.”

The stranger sprang with alacrity upon the sidewalk, and, drawing his sword, advanced upon his persecutor. “We shall see,” he said, grimly.

“As you please, Monsieur,” said De Montalvan, putting himself on guard.

But, as may be supposed, the soldier’s hand was unsteady, and his eye uncertain. After a few rapid passes, he let fall his right arm, which had been sharply punctured above the elbow. M. de Berniers absolutely cackled with delight.

“Now, Monsieur,” said the stout stranger, “you will probably suffer me to traverse the streets in the manner that best suits me.”

“Pardon me again,” responded De Montalvan ; you have fairly wounded me, but I am sure you are too gallant a gentleman to deprive a bleeding adversary of the most convenient means of reaching his home ” ; − with which he quietly stepped into the brouette and was wheeled away, while the stranger gazed after him in stupefaction.

De Berniers would have gnashed his teeth, but that he had not yet recovered from the exertion of his previous cackle. For a week thenceforth he was the sport of Paris, and, to complete his disgust, the adventure was circulated by the celebrated raconteur, M. de Lugeac, in the salons of the Dauphine and elsewhere, with embellishments by no means favorable to his reputation as a bel esprit.

Raoul de Montalvan was a young gentleman of moderate fortune, who, at the age of twenty, sold his small estates in Avignon in order to equip a company and join the Chevalier de Modène in the campaign of 1745, under the Maréchal Saxe. At Fontenoy he was acknowledged to have distinguished himself; but his recollections of that battle were embittered by the fact that the Comte de Lally had robbed him of the honor which he most coveted,−that of having detected, by a bold reconnoissance, the weak point in the enemy’s front, by piercing which the field was ultimately won.1 Nevertheless, he had been praised ; and praise, at that period, was his best reward. With a light heart and high hopes he started for Paris, in further pursuit of fortune. In company with his patron, M. de Modène, he presented himself at court. The sentinel on duty curiously eyed their uniforms, and refused to admit them. The King, fatigued with war’s alarms, and anxious to banish from court all memories of carnage and confusion, had ordered that no military dresses should appear in his salons. In vain the young soldiers represented that they had parted with all their possessions to serve their monarch, and that they had surrendered the last means of otherwise arraying themselves ; in vain they insisted that the noblest decorations in the eyes of his Majesty should be the dust and blood of the field of Fontenoy. They were repulsed. De Modène revenged himself by the famous epigram which caused an order of arrest, and compelled his flight. De Montalvan, taking the insult more to heart, swore furiously that, excepting as a soldier and in soldier’s dress, he would never enter the French court, and from that time had steadfastly persisted in the rigorous costume which excited M. de Berniers’s criticism. There were, indeed, some who declared that he claimed as a virtue of obstinacy that which was only a necessity of poverty; but for such aspersions he cared little.

Asa further mark of his disgust, he quitted France altogether, and, in his twenty-first year, joined the expedition of the Pretender ; but as his fortunes were not materially improved by this enterprise, he next year became loyal, and assisted M. de Belle-Isle in the extirpation of the Austrians from Dauphiny. In 1748 he again followed his old leader, M. de Saxe, to victory, after which, the war in France having ceased, he turned his attention to foreign fields of glory and profit. He served two years in India, with Dupleix, where he found that, although the glory was free to any man’s clutch, the profit was sacred to a few. After Dupleix’s fall, he joined the French troops in America, where, with his comrades, he assisted in the defeat of LieutenantColonel Washington in the action which followed the massacre of M. de Jumonville. Finally, after ten years of military hardship and heroism, he returned to Paris, bringing with him as the result of his career a high repute for skill and courage, a well-worn sword, and a dozen deep scars.

It may be imagined that these ten years had not softened the asperity with which M. de Montalvan regarded the court and society. His manners were bizarre, his language was cynical, and his wiltul deviations from the strict etiquette of the day could never have been tolerated excepting for the brilliant notoriety he had gained as a daring adventurer. He permitted himself to mingle in fashionable circles, that he might the better ridicule them, which he did audaciously. The edict against military dress was no longer in force, so that he was enabled to hover upon the outskirts of the court without sacrifice of dignity. But nothing in that effeminate world seemed to satisfy his turbulent instincts. Homo erat,—yet everything human, in that sphere, was foreign to him. At one ot the court balls, however, an incident occurred which momentarily turned him from the course of his ill-humor.

Mlle. Virginie de Terville, a noble Nantaise, whose life, though not one of seclusion, had been judiciously kept apart from the corrupting influences of the capital, was at Paris for the first time, with her uncle, an ex-officer of the king’s household. To the fair neophyte the scene was one of rare enchantment; and although her keen instincts enabled her to conform with aptitude to the usages of the lively world around her, there was a freshness and a naïveté in her manner which contrasted charmingly with the effete and ceremonious forms of the experienced. M. de Montalvan met her at a masked ball, and was captivated with becoming rapidity. Although poor beyond description, his family was among the best, and he found no difficulty in making M. de Terville’s acquaintance, and in due season that of his niece. For once he abandoned his acerbity, and returned to the character which had been natural to him ten years before. None could be more winning than M. de Montalvan if the impulse prompted him ; and his graceful conversation, overflowing with anecdote and illustration which the homely wits of the home-keeping youth of Paris could not rival, made a vivid impression upon Virginie’s imagination. They met only twice ; for, just as M. de Montalvan was beginning to take serious thought of where this would lead him, he received an appointment from M. de Richelieu to the command of a company in the Minorca expedition, and was obliged to sail for Port Mahon without even the opportunity of a hasty adieu. Partly by good luck, partly by hard fighting, and partlyowing to the blunders of Admiral Byng, the island was captured in a few months, and it was not long after his return from victory−as full of honors and as empty in purse as ever −that De Montalvan encountered his “little Fronsacquin” on the threshold of the Café de la Regence.

Louis de Berniers was the incarnation of aristocratic niaiserie. He was young, titled, not ill-looking, and had vast wealth at his command. But for this latter possession he might possibly have distinguished himself otherwise than by his follies ; for he was not without one or two good qualities, —for example, generosity. But with him generosity took the form of a reckless prodigality, which caused him to be surrounded by a swarm of flatterers and parasites, male and female, who so fed and pampered his raging vanity that he believed himself a Crichton at eighteen. His ambition soared only to the height of emulating the boudoir exploits of M. de Richelieu, and he fancied himself a master of all the social ceremonies of the capital. So far as his languid nature would allow him, he sought notoriety in every quarter. “No man’s pie was free from his ambitious finger.” He had acted with Madame de Pompadour’s company of amateurs at Versailles, and, though surrounded by clever gentlemen like D'Entragues and De Maillebois, firmly believed himself the only worthy supporter of Madame d’Etioles. On the strength of his supposed supremacy, he had from time to time graciously volunteered his aid to Lekain and Mlle. Clairon in the preparation of their most difficult rôles. He had supplied the poet Beauverset with now and then a topic, and imagined himself to be the true source whence that incendiary rhymer drew his choicest inspirations. After the success of Rousseau’s Devin du Village, he had driven the composer wild by his offers to assist him in the purification of his melodies. Nothing in the way of notoriety was too high or too low for him. He had laid out a plan for the replanting of the Trianon gardens, and was disgusted because Richard, the king’s gardener, politely declined to adopt it; and he had been heard to say that in the composition of sauces and ragoûts he could easily rival his Majesty himself, and would prove his superiority, but for the fear of losing favor at court.

M. de Berniers and M. de Montalvan had met a short time before the attack upon Minorca. The gallant soldier was no flatterer, but the conceited little Parisian amused him sufficiently to occupy a good share of his leisure. He satirized De Berniers mercilessly from morning till night, to the latter’s great astonishment, he having up to that time received only adulation and deference from his companions. But the name of "Fronsacquin,” which De Montalvan had jestingly applied, so gratified his puerile vanity, that for a tew days he looked upon the warlike adventurer almost with affection. Their intimacy had, however, been broken off a few days betore De Montalvan s departure, in consequence of De Berniers’s chagrin at losing a wager he had boastingly made. He had declared himself capable of securing the attention of any lady, however distinguished in appearance and however reserved in manner, that his friends might indicate, at a certain masked ball, and of bringing her openly to sup with them. De Montalvan defied him, and, selecting a fresh-faced lad from the opera, trained him to a perfect illustration of feminine modesty and simplicity, and set De Berniers upon him. Of course the farce was easily carried through. After the requisite preliminaries of shy evasion and coy resistance, the supposed fair one was led triumphantly to the supper-table,−the mask was removed, the secret exposed, and for ten humiliating days De Berniers was the laugh of the town.

It may be supposed that his peevishness was not diminished by the loss of a second public wager; but his opponent had been wounded, and that afforded him some comfort. Besides, he was still confident of winning his revenge, so he stifled his angry feelings, and renewed the request that De Montalvan would accompany him to Nantes. De Montalvan was moody, and swore he would go and join Montcalm in Canada. But his own recollection of the charms of Mademoiselle de Terville, added to the solicitations of De Berniers.−who was all unconscious that they had ever known one another,−induced him to change his resolution, and he half graciously consented. Virginie de Terville, as has been said, was a different being, not only in the freshness and bloom of her beauty, but also by virtue of her domestic education, from the artificial goddesses of the Parisian sphere with whom she had been thrown into temporary contact. But her visit had not been long enough to reveal to her what lay beneath the glittering exterior of life at court. Her cautious uncle had cut short their sojourn at what he deemed a judicious period, and brought his ward back to the tranquil old chateau near Nantes, not entirely, it must be admitted, to her satisfaction. The splendors of the capital had just begun to fascinate her, and, what was more, she had been loath to think that that last brief interview with the handsome and eccentric captain, who had seen so much and told what he had seen so well, might never be repeated. Not that she cared to hear anything beyond his strange tales of adventure. Indeed no. He had lightly touched upon one or two other topics, during that same last interview, and she was sorry she had not checked him. Yet she did wonder what ever had become of him, and really would have been glad to know the result of his long journey through the tropical Indian forests with that beautiful Rajah’s daughter of whom he had begun to tell her.

But these ideas did not occur to Virginie until after she had left Paris. While there, the constant succession of gayeties left no room for other than merry thoughts. She was a belle of high distinction,−;an heiress, and a lovely one. For a month she was a leader of fashionable revels, and a very princess of masquerade. If it were known that at a particular ball she would appear as a heathen goddess, the salons were thronged with illustrations of mythology. When she wore the quaint dress of a Brittany peasant, all classes affected a rural simplicity. She had only to personate Joan of Arc, and a martial spirit fired the assembly ; and when she crowned her triumphs by enacting a dashing young cavalier of the period, women as well as men yielded their admiration and contended for her smiles. After so brilliant a career, what could she care for the applause which her dexterous disguises excited in the drowsy masquerades of Nantes, it served only to recall to her the vanished glories of the capital.

M. de Berniers, as chance would have it, was ignorant of the peculiar sensation which Virginie had created in the beau monde. During her month at Paris he had been hunting upon the estates of a noble friend in the East of France, and when he returned to his accustomed haunts, some time after, the fickle heart of society was fixed upon some new object of adoration, and cherished no recollection of the past. So he arrived at Terville with little knowledge of his intended fiancee, except that she was young, reputed goodlooking, and the possessor of great riches. Leaving M. de Montalvan at the village inn, he rode over to the chateau the first morning after their arrival, to present himself in due form.

The fresh country atmosphere and the picturesque surroundings of the journey had done more to cheer M. de Montalvan’s spirits than a college of physicians could have accomplished. The wound which he had received in his ridiculous duel was nearly healed, and he seemed more a man of the world than at any previous period in ten years, −always excepting the brief term of his acquaintance with Virginie. In spite of his natural hardihood, he was somewhat uneasy at the thought of again meeting that young lady, for whom he entertained, to say the least, a feeling of profound admiration ; but curiosity was powerful within him, and he waited anxiously for the expected summons to the chateau. Any other sentiment than that of curiosity it would have been absurd for him to acknowledge. He was poor, and therefore unavailable in a matrimonial way. He had no domains adjoining the Terville estates, nor indeed anywhere else. He had nothing but his sword and his renown ; and these would not serve him in such a case. So, if ever the flame of hope had for a moment lighted his mind, he had summarily extinguished it, and flung aside, as it were, the tinder-box of every inflammable recollection.

The day before M. de Berniers’s arrival, M. de Terville had been suddenly called to the South in consequence of the dangerous illness of a relative. The ceremony of welcome rested therefore with Mlle. Virginie. That young lady was far better acquainted with the habits and character of her proposed bridegroom than he imagined. She had heard much of him in Paris, and, since the project of an alliance had been submitted, contrived to learn more. Being a girl of spirit and intelligence, the information which she gained was not agreeable to her. She regretted not having met M. de Berniers in Paris, and longed for the opportunity of encountering him at least once or twice under other circumstances than those which now seemed inevitable. Upon the departure of her uncle, she set her wit to work ; and as of wit she had no lack, there presently arose from the depths of her consciousness a scheme which promised to be successful.

“Mariotte,” she said, summoning her waiting-maid, “bring me my cavalier’s dress,−wig, buckles, stockings, everything.”

“Yes, Ma’m’selle. Would Ma’m’selle wish to put them on ?”

“Most certainly.”

“But Monsieur de Berniers is expected this morning.”


“And Ma’m’selle will hardly have time−”

“I shall receive him en cavalier.”

“Seigneur Dieu du ciel !” said Mariotte, astounded, “but that is impossible.”

“Be reasonable, Mariotte,” said Virginie, “and listen to me. M. de Berniers proposes to do me the honor of espousing me. I have never seen M. de Berniers, but I know something of him and I wish to know more. My uncle earnestly desires this marriage, and it is my duty to oblige him. But he will not urge it against my inclination. If M. de Berniers, on arriving here, finds only the delicate and decorous young lady to whom he offers his hand, he will assume his best manner, conceal his faults, affect a hundred good qualities, and present nothing but a virtuously colored portrait of himself, which, I may afterward find out, bears little resemblance to the actual man. If, on the other hand,−do you see ? ”

“Not exactly.”

“Mariotte, your stupidity pains me. You know that in my cavalier’s dress nobody can distinguish me from a young gentleman of the court.”

“A very young gentleman, Ma’m’selle.”

“They are all mature at seventeen, now. At Paris I was taken for a man of fashion by half the ladles at the court ball, and even found myself with many a pretty quarrel on my hands. Well, M. de Berniers arrives; finds not me, but my cousin Charles, do you understand, who remains at the château to receive him in the temporary absence of M. and Mlle, de Terville. With one of his own sex he will have no concealments, and we shall soon know, my good Mariotte, what sort of gentleman we have to deal with.”

“Then you will be −”

“My cousin Charles.”

“O, impossible, Ma’m’selle! Think of the Count, your uncle.”

“Mariotte, think of me. It is I who am to be married, not the Count, my uncle. Consider, it is for my happiness.”

“One would almost think, Ma’m’selle, that you wished to detect some excuse for ridding yourself of M. de Berniers,”


“Ah, ah ! then there is a reason.”


“And that reason is −”

“Tall, brave, and handsome. Mariotte, do me justice; do you think it was for nothing that I used to dress with such double, triple care for the last few court balls at Paris ? ”

“ Ma’m’selle, say no more ; I consent.”

“A thousand thanks, Mariotte.”

“But it is dreadful to so deceive one’s husband before marriage.”

“Much better than to deceive him after, Mariotte.”

This swept aside all Mariotte’s hesitation, and the plot was carried out accordingly. M. de Berniers was received in due form, by the fictitious cousin Charles, whose disguise a keener observer could not easily have penetrated. According to her expectation, the conceited Parisian soon became free and confidential.

“A neat little figure,” said De Berniers, patronizingly. “Come to court a year hence, and I will point you the way to any victory you please.”

“Ah, M. de Berniers, it is easy to point the way; but there are few who can follow it so triumphantly as you. I am not so young but that I have heard of your conquests.”

“True,” said De Berniers, affecting indifference ; “a few countesses here and there, and once in a way a duchess or two. But of course Mlle, de Terville suspects nothing of that sort.”

“I suspect she knows it all as well as I.”

“Fancy this adventure,” began De Berniers, languidly. “Only eight or ten nights ago−”

“Pardon, Monsieur,” interrupted Virginie, who began to think she had opened a questionable game, “let me order some refreshment.”

“No, I breakfasted at the inn. As I was saying, only eight or ten nights ago−”

“At least, take some wine,” broke in Virginie again; and she rose and summoned Mariotte, who had been listening, and who entered not without perturbation.

“Thanks,” said De Berniers. “Eight or ten nights ago—”

But the impending peril was averted by Mariotte, who dexterously spilled a glass of wine over M. de Berniers’s wig, causing him to rage after an impotent fashion, and to drawl an oath.

Virginie was greatly confused at the unexpected and awkward prospect which this attempt at conversation opened to her; but her thoughts were presently diverted by the startling intelligence that Raoul de Montalvan had accompanied her suitor, and was in attendance at the inn. Her first sensation was one of pleasure,−unaccountable pleasure, she thought; for why should the mere knowledge that the handsome captain was near her occasion any particular joy ? Ah ! she knew ; she could now have the end of that mysterious and interesting story of the Rajah’s daughter, with whom De Montalvan had travelled through the tropical forests.

But her next feeling was one of deep embarrassment. How could she meet M. de Montalvan in that dress ? In the first place, he might have seen her wear it in Paris, and in that case would at once detect her; perhaps he would detect her under any circumstances, not being a vain, blind fool like De Berniers. But, beyond that, she could not bear the idea of such a masquerade with him. Of course she did not know why, but there was the fact, fixed and unblinkable.

She was relieved in the way she would least have expected, and by M. de Berniers himself. That gentleman, who was not fecund in ideas, and who, even after becoming conscious of the existence of one within him, was obliged to struggle with more violence than suited his temper in order to give it birth, had, immediately after mentioning De Montalvan’s name, sunk into a profound revery. He gazed through his eye-glass from head to foot at Virginie, until she began to fear he had discovered her secret. At last his brow cleared, and, with a smile of self-congratulation, he said, “I have it now ! I have it now !”

Then he confided, not without a pang of wounded amour-propre, the fact that, in the merry conflicts of wit at the capital, he had sometimes−not often, like the others−suffered defeat. He related the anecdote of the masquerade wager which he had lost to De Montalvan, and exhorted his new friend to assist him in an appropriate revenge.

You are young,” he said ; "not too tall; your complexion is as delicate as need be; you can easily borrow one of your cousin’s dresses, and, without the slightest difficulty, could transform yourself into one of the most charming young ladies in the world.”

“But, Monsieur,” hesitated Virginie.

“Say no more,” added De Berniers ; "I count upon your friendship. Aha! M. de Montalvan, now we shall see. O, it is easily done, my little friend. I will ride over for De Montalvan myself. You shall be ready when we return. Of course I will first see you alone, and give you a few suggestions. The principal thing, you understand, is to fascinate him to the last extremity.”

Virginie smiled, possibly with an inward conviction that she had already learned the way to do that.

“By all means fascinate him. Spare no methods. He is a rough soldier, and will suspect nothing. Make him declare his passion, if you can ; and perhaps we may bring him to the point−who knows ? ha ! ha !−of offering marriage.

Virginie fluttered a little at this comprehensive announcement of her guest’s design, but she was amused at the unexpected turn the affair was taking, and, without much delay, consented to array herself in feminine apparel.

M. de Berniers returned to the inn, with exultation in his heart. While riding with De Montalvan to the castle, he said, carelessly, “These rosy-cheeked peasants are delightful, my friend. Are you on the watch for adventure ?”

“Not especially,” said De Montalvan.

“Listen,” said De Berniers. “Who knows but that in the country I might have better fortune than at Paris. Change of scene may bring me change of luck.”

“In what respect ?”

“De Montalvan, I have a fancy to renew some of our old wagers. If I fail here, nobody will know it.”

“And if you succeed, you will send an express to Paris to publish the news.”

“I don't say no ; but I am willing tp undertake to ensnare you as you deluded me last year at the court ball. And that during our visit here, or at any rate before we go back to the world.”

“As you please,” said De Montalvan, indifferently.

“Is it a wager, then?” asked De Berniers, half trembling with impatience.


“For ten louis ?”

“Very well.”

On arriving at the chateau, M. de Berniers sought his fellow-conspirator alone, and, finding her duly attired, proceeded to criticise.

“Hum, another patch on the left cheek, I should say. But no matter. Pray be careful of your voice. Nothing is so difficult to disguise as the voice. I always detect a man instantly by his voice ; though, to be sure, De Montalvan is not experienced, like me, and there will be no trouble in deceiving him. Now let me see you walk.”

Virginie took a few steps to and fro.

“My dear friend, don’t stride like that,” said De Berniers; “short steps, in this manner, if you please” ; −and he mincingly illustrated, to Virginie’s intense gratification.

“Now, a salutation,” he added.

Virginie courtesied.

“Bad, bad,” said De Berniers ; “it is clear you are not used to this sort of thing. Try this” ; − and he executed a profound feminine obeisance.

“That ’s better,” he remarked, approvingly, as she affected to imitate him ; “and now these shoulders. Ah, but these shoulders are very bad. You should curve them forward, thus,” − with which he seized Virginie’s shoulders, and endeavored to press them into what he conceived to be the proper position.

“Take your hands away, Monsieur,” screamed the young lady, springing from him with great precipitation.

“Ticklish, I see,” he quietly remarked. “And now there is one thing more. Whatever else you do, speak low, and do not swear. I have known many a comedy of this sort to be ruined by an inadvertent oath.”

“I will try, Monsieur.”

Then De Montalvan was brought, and was in proper form presented. At sight of him, Virginie faintly blushed, which circumstance enchanted De Berniers. “The rascal does better than I could have expected,”he thought. After a short conversation, he contrived an excuse to leave them alone together, − his accomplice and his dupe.

“At last, Mademoiselle,” said De Montalvan, dismissing the pretence of reserve which he had maintained during his friend’s presence, − “at last we meet again ; but how unexpectedly, and under what strange circumstances !”

“Indeed, Monsieur, I am hardly less surprised at seeing you again, than I was at your mysterious disappearance from Paris, some months ago.”

“But were you not aware −”

“Of what ?”

“That I was ordered to accompany M. de Richelieu to Port Mahon ? ”

“The orders of M. de Richelieu must be very imperative.”

“To a soldier they are, Mademoiselle. But at present I am not a soldier. The expedition is gloriously ended, and I submit myself to your orders, and to yours only.”

During the few days that intervened before M. de Terville’s return, De Berniers labored heart and soul−that is to say, with as much of either as was in him − to still further entangle his misguided and infatuated friend. It was clear to him that De Montalvan was hopelessly in love, and, since he had so well succeeded in the beginning of his enterprise, he saw no reason why he might not conduct it to a more triumphant conclusion than he had at first thought possible. He took counsel with Virginie, and besought the supposed cousin to send a messenger to M. de Terville, explaining the case, and asking his co-operation. He even stimulated De Montalvan’s passion by privately declaring that the prospect of marriage was irksome to him, suggesting that he should transfer his claims, and offering to intercede with Mlle, de Terville’s uncle, if De Montalvan could assure himself of the young lady’s favor.

While this bungling disciple of Mephistopheles was digging his own pitfall, Virginia was in some perplexity. She did not reveal to her admirer that De Berniers was hoping to entrap him; for that, she said to herself, there was no immediate necessity ; and the days were passing so agreeably that she shrunk from making any explanation that might disturb their tranquillity. De Berniers, pursuing his scheme, kept himself resolutely in retirement. From the treasures of his varied experience, De Montalvan exhumed volumes of adventurous history for the young girl’s amusement. “ The dangers he had passed ” endeared him to her, and, though his apparel was still sombre, there fortunately was no black face to interfere with the pleasant growth of her regard ; for the ladies of Louis the Fifteenth’s time were not generally so indifferent to personal appearance as the fair Venetian was said to be. And then she had obtained the sequel of the story of the Rajah’s daughter, whom Raoul had protected in the Indian forests ; and it was satisfactory to know that his guardianship over her, though gallant and chivalrous, had not been prompted by too ardent an emotion. Her only apprehension was in regard to what might occur upon her uncle’s return. That he would not urge her to espouse a man whom she thoroughly detested, she very well knew ; but whether he would sanction, her betrothal to a poor soldier of fortune, was a question which she hardly dared to ask herself. Not knowing what to do, she did nothing, and, with considerable anxiety, waited for events to work their own solution.

M. de Terville did not appear until the day fixed for the signing of the contract, when he arrived in great haste, accompanied by a notary, and expressed his wish that the ceremony should not be delayed, as he was obliged to return at once to the South of France. As soon as it was known that he was within the chateau, De Berniers sought irginie, and inquired whether her uncle had received due warning ; to which she answered that he knew all that was necessary. She then prepared to surrender herself to destiny; for, though a spirited girl, she had not courage enough even now to take the control of affairs into her own hands, and could only indulge a vague hope that some beneficent interposition of fortune might smoothly shape the course of her true love.

The two young gentlemen joined M. de Terville and the notary in the library, where the blank contract and writing-materials were conspicuously displayed. De Berniers wore an air of almost supernatural intelligence, at which the noble Count marvelled, though he was too hurried to seek an explanation. On greeting M. de Montalvan, he expressed regret at not having immediately recognized him. De Berniers, fully convinced that the Count was in the plot, took this as a piece of by-play, not, however, thoroughly understanding its purport. De Montalvan was wretchedly ill at ease, but gathered a little reassurance from De Berniers’s declaration that he would voluntarily renounce his pretensions, and abdicate in favor of his friend.

“ Now, Monsieur, if you please, as follows,” said M. de Terville to the notary − “ between Monsieur Louis de Berniers and − ”

“ Excuse me,” interrupted De Berniers, making singular and inexplicable signs to the Count, “ Monsieur Raoul de Montalvan, if you please.”

“How, Monsieur,” exclaimed the Count, with hauteur.

“ But surely you understand,” whispered De Berniers, hastily ; “ of course you must understand.”

“ Explain your observation,” said the Count, aloud.

“Most extraordinary!” thought De Berniers. “ He will spoil everything.” Then again, in an undertone, “You know he is supposed to take my place.”

Monsieur,” said the Count, more stiffly than ever, “ I do not understand this enigma.”

How stupid I am ! ” said De Berniers suddenly to himself. “To be sure, it is necessary for him to affect surprise and indignation. The fact is, he acted it too well ; for a moment he almost deceived me.” Then turning to Raoul, he exclaimed: “ M. de Montalvan, the Count shall know all. Learn, M. de Terville, that, finding a total absence of sympathy between myself and your charming niece, and feeling that I could in no way insure her happiness,

I have determined to ask you to receive, instead of my own, the addresses of my noble friend, M, Raoul de Montalvan.”

“The proposition, Monsieur, is scandalous. I refuse to entertain it. My niece would never listen to it.”

“ You are wrong, Monsieur; Mile, de Terville joins us in this request.”

“ Impossible. Am I to understand, Monsieur,” said the Count, addressing De Montalvan, “ that my niece has indicated a preference for you over this gentleman ? ”

“ I hardly dare to avow it, Monsieur, but − ”

“ Enough ! ” interposed the Count, turning with rage upon De Berniers. “ And as for you, Monsieur, your conduct is nothing better than an insult to me.”

“ Saperlotte ! ” said De Berniers to himself, “ but he acts better than Cousin Charles.”

“ I will deal with you presently, Monsieur,” continued the Count. “ M. de Montalvan, you love my niece ? ”

“ Devotedly,” said De Montalvan.

“ O, frantically ! ” cried De Berniers.

The Count cast a withering glance upon the unfortunate plotter. “It is sufficient,” he said ; “the contract shall be drawn as you desire, if only to punish this imbecile. But I have no disposition to control my niece’s wishes. She shall have perfect liberty to sign, or not, as she chooses.”

“ That is all we ask,” said De Berniers, essaying a comical grimace, which tempted M. de Terville to order his ejection by the domestics. In fact, he suddenly "did summon a servant, but, after a moment’s reflection, merely directed him to notify Mlle. Virginie that her attendance was requested.

Three persons awaited her appearance with vivid emotions. Raoul’s hope was higher than his expectation, and, notwithstanding his ten years of exposure to every kind of mortal peril, he now felt for the first time the physical panic of fear. M. de Terville was not less curious than angry ; and he was by no means indisposed to see his niece complete De Berniers’s humiliation by accepting the new rival. As for De Berniers himself, he was revelling in all the ecstasies of satisfied revenge, and could hardly restrain his exultation long enough to witness the coup de grâce.

Of course, Virginie signed without hesitation. The fate to which she trusted had been as kind as she could wish. As her pen left the parchment, a remarkable scene ensued. De Berniers actually laughed aloud, seized the Count affectionately by the hand, and so far forgot the laws of decorum as to slap the notary upon the shoulder. He would next have embraced Virginie with effusion, had not De Montalvan interposed.

“ You shall answer for this, Monsieur,” cried M. de Terville, furiously. “Another such offence, and I will have you expelled by the lackeys.

“ My dear Count,” said De Berniers, “ the comedy is finished, and we can all drop our rôles, except M. de Montalvan, who, I imagine, will coatinue to hold his longer than he desires. And now, where is Mlle. Virginie ? ”

“ Is he mad ? ” said De Terville.

“ Mlle. Virginie is here, at your seivice,” said the lady, coolly.

“ That’s verv well, replied De Berniers, “but I tell you the curtain has fallen. Poor M. de Montalvan is puzzled enough already. Let us send for Mlle. Virginie, and show him his error.”

“No more of this senseless jesting,”said the Count; “Mlle. Virginie is here ; say what you desire, respectfully, and allow us to wish you good day and a comfortable journey.”

De Berniers’s head began to swim. “ But this is her cousin, not herself,” he exclaimed.

My niece has no cousin,” said the Count.

“ The fact is,” said Virginie, “ that my cousin Charles and I are one ; and my reason for the little masquerade was − ”

But De Berniers heard no more. He rushed frantically from the library, straight to the stables, mounted his horse, and galloped wildly away to the inn, whence he departed for Paris within an hour.

M. de Terville was as much mystified as he was outraged by De Berniers’s behavior ; but Virginie, although she at once confided the secret to De Montalvan. thought it prudent to conceal it for a while from her uncle, who remained unacquainted with all the details until after the marriage, which was not long deferred.

It is a lamentable fact, that M. de Berniers never paid this wager. He even contemplated sending M. de Montalvan, instead of the ten louis, an invitation to mortal combat; but the friends whom he consulted convinced him that he had no just cause of complaint against the captain. The only person by whom he had really been aggrieved was Mlle, de Terville ; M. de Montalvan could not in decency be held responsible for the non-success of a conspiracy of which he was to have been the victim. So M. de Berniers had to accept all the ridicule of the position, without the consolation of directing his vengeance against anybody. He did not pay the ten louis, but it was never said that M. de Montalvan felt dissatisfied with the result of his third wager.

  1. The Lieutenant-General Due de Richelieu enjoyed the fame and received the reward of this important discovery, due really to an unknown adventurer. Even the claim of De Lally was set aside in favor of the illustrious impostor.