Chapter IV.

From this time, the charming Adrienne frequently visited the bleaching grounds, always accompanied by her grandmother. The presence of Georges was an excuse, but to watch the improvement in our appearance was the reason. Never before had Adrienne seen a fabric as beautiful as our own, and, as I afterwards discovered, she was laying by a few francs with the intention of purchasing the piece, and of working and ornamenting the handkerchiefs, in order to present them to her benefactress, the dauphine. Mad. de la Rocheaimard was pleased with this project; it was becoming in a de la Rocheaimard; and they soon began to speak of it openly in their visits. Fifteen or twenty napoleons might do it, and the remains of the recovered trousseau would still produce that sum. It is probable this intention would have been carried out, but for a severe illness that attacked the dear girl, during which her life was even despaired of. I had the happiness of hearing of her gradual recovery, however, before we commenced our journey, though no more was said of the purchase. Perhaps it was as well. as it was; for, by this time, such a feeling existed in our extreme coté gauche, that it may be questioned if the handkerchiefs of that end of the piece would have behaved themselves in the wardrobe of the dauphine with the discretion and prudence that are expected from every thing around the person of a princess of her exalted rank and excellent character. It is true, none of us understood the questions at issue; but that only made the matter worse; the violence of all dissensions being very generally in proportion to the ignorance and consequent confidence of the disputants.

{napoleon = French gold coin worth twenty francs}

I could not but remember Adrienne, as the commissionaire laid us down before the eyes of the wife of the head of the firm, in the rue de — — . We were carefully examined, and pronounced “parfaits;” still it was not in the sweet tones, and with the sweeter smiles of the polished and gentle girl we had left in Picardie. There was a sentiment in her admiration that touched all our hearts, even to the most exaggerated republican among us, for she seemed to go deeper in her examination of merits than the mere texture and price. She saw her offering in our beauty, the benevolence of the dauphine in our softness, her own gratitude in our exquisite fineness, and princely munificence in our delicacy. In a word, she could enter into the sentiment of a pocket-handkerchief. Alas! how different was the estimation in which we were held by Desirée and her employers. With them, it was purely a question of francs, and we had not been in the magazin five minutes, when there was a lively dispute whether we were to be put at a certain number of napoleons, or one napoleon more. A good deal was said about Mad. la Duchesse, and I found that it was expected that a certain lady of that rank, one who had enjoyed the extraordinary luck of retaining her fortune, being of an old and historical family, and who was at the head of fashion in the faubourg, would become the purchaser. At all events, it was determined no one should see us until this lady returned to town, she being at the moment at Rosny, with madame, whence she was expected to accompany that princess to Dieppe, to come back to her hotel, in the rue de Bourbon, about the last of October. Here, then, were we doomed to three months of total seclusion in the heart of the gayest capital of Europe. It was useless to repine, and we determined among ourselves to exercise patience in the best manner we could.

{faubourg = neighborhood ; Rosny = Château of Rosny, country estate of the Dukes of Berry at Rosny-sur-Seine; Madame = title of Princess Marie Thérèse Charlotte, wife of the Dauphin Louis Antoine, heir to Charles X}

Accordingly, we were safely deposited in a particular drawer, along with a few other favorite articles, that, like our family, were reserved for the eyes of certain distinguished but absent customers. These specialités in trade are of frequent occurrence in Paris, and form a pleasant bond of union between the buyer and seller, which gives a particular zest to this sort of commerce, and not unfrequently a particular value to goods. To see that which no one else has seen, and to own that which no one else can own, are equally agreeable, and delightfully exclusive. All minds that do not possess the natural sources of exclusion, are fond of creating them by means of a subordinate and more artificial character.

{ specialités = specialties}

On the whole, I think we enjoyed our new situation, rather than otherwise. The drawer was never opened, it is true, but that next it was in constant use, and certain crevices beneath the counter enabled us to see a little, and to hear more, of what passed in the magazin. We were in a part of the shop most frequented by ladies, and we overheard a few tête-à-têtes that were not without amusement. These generally related to cancans. Paris is a town in which cancans do not usually flourish, their proper theatre being provincial and trading places, beyond a question; still there are cancans at Paris; for all sorts of persons frequent that centre of civilization. The only difference is, that in the social pictures offered by what are called cities, the cancans are in the strongest light, and in the most conspicuous of the grouping, whereas in Paris they are kept in shadow, and in the background. Still there are cancans at Paris; and cancans we overheard, and precisely in the manner I have related. Did pretty ladies remember that pocket-handkerchiefs have ears, they might possibly have more reserve in the indulgence of this extraordinary propensity.

{ cancans = scandals (French slang)}

We had been near a month in the drawer, when I recognized a female voice near us, that I had often heard of late, speaking in a confident and decided tone, and making allusions that showed she belonged to the court. I presume her position there was not of the most exalted kind, yet it was sufficiently so to qualify her, in her own estimation, to talk politics. “Les ordonnances“ were in her mouth constantly, and it was easy to perceive that she attached the greatest importance to these ordinances, whatever they were, and fancied a political millennium was near. The shop was frequented less than usual that day; the next it was worse still, in the way of business, and the clerks began to talk loud, also, about les ordonnances. The following morning neither windows nor doors were opened, and we passed a gloomy time of uncertainty and conjecture. There were ominous sounds in the streets. Some of us thought we heard the roar of distant artillery. At length the master and mistress appeared by themselves in the shop; money and papers were secured, and the female was just retiring to an inner room, when she suddenly came back to the counter, opened our drawer, seized us with no very reverent hands, and, the next thing we knew, the whole twelve of us were thrust into a trunk upstairs, and buried in Egyptian darkness. From that moment all traces of what was occurring in the streets of Paris were lost to us. After all, it is not so very disagreeable to be only a pocket-handkerchief in a revolution.

{ Les ordonnances = four decrees establishing absolute rule, issued by King Charles X on July 25, 1830, which touched off the July Revolution, leading to his abdication on July 31, and the installation of the Duke of Orleans as Louis Philippe I, King of the French — Cooper was living in Paris during this period, though he returned there from Italy and Germany a few days after the July Revolution itself, and he was a close friend of the Marquis de Lafayette who played a major part in the Revolution and its aftermath; for Cooper and many others, the ultimate results of the Revolution were a serious disappointment, since the new King seemed rapidly to become almost as conservative as the old}

Our imprisonment lasted until the following December. As our feelings had become excited on the questions of the day, as well as those of other irrational beings around us, we might have passed a most uncomfortable time in the trunk, but for one circumstance. So great had been the hurry of our mistress in thus shutting us up, that we had been crammed in in a way to leave it impossible to say which was the coté droit, and which the coté gauche. Thus completely deranged as parties, we took to discussing philosophical matters in general; an occupation well adapted to a situation that required so great an exercise of discretion.

One day, when we least expected so great a change, our mistress came in person, searched several chests, trunks and drawers, and finally discovered us where she had laid us, with her own hands, near four months before. It seems that, in her hurry and fright, she had actually forgotten in what nook we had been concealed. We were smoothed with care, our political order reestablished, and then we were taken below and restored to the dignity of the select circle in the drawer already mentioned. This was like removing to a fashionable square, or living in a beau quartier of a capital. It was even better than removing from East Broadway into bonâ fide, real, unequaled, league-long, eighty feet wide, Broadway!

{ beau quartier = swanky neighborhood ; Broadway = in New York City, of course}

We now had an opportunity of learning some of the great events that had recently occurred in France, and which still troubled Europe. The Bourbons were again dethroned, as it was termed, and another Bourbon seated in their place. It would seem il y a Bourbon et Bourbon. The result has since shown that “what is bred in the bone will break out in the flesh.” Commerce was at a standstill; our master passed half his time under arms, as a national guard, in order to keep the revolutionists from revolutionizing the revolution. The great families had laid aside their liveries; some of them their coaches; most of them their arms. Pocket-handkerchiefs of our calibre would be thought decidedly aristocratic; and aristocracy in Paris, just at that moment, was almost in as bad odor as it is in America, where it ranks as an eighth deadly sin, though no one seems to know precisely what it means. In the latter country, an honest development of democracy is certain to be stigmatized as tainted with this crime. No governor would dare to pardon it.

{ il y a Bourbon et Bourbon = there are Bourbons and Bourbons (i.e., they’re all the same); “What is bred in the bone. ... ” = a possibly deliberate misquotation of “It will not out of the flesh that is bred in the bone” from John Heywood, “Proverbes”, Part II, Chapter VIII (1546)}

The groans over the state of trade were loud and deep among those who lived by its innocent arts. Still, the holidays were near, and hope revived. If revolutionized Paris would not buy as the jour de l’an approached, Paris must have a new dynasty. The police foresaw this, and it ceased to agitate, in order to bring the republicans into discredit; men must eat, and trade was permitted to revive a little. Alas! how little do they who vote, know why they vote, or they who dye their hands in the blood of their kind, why the deed has been done!

{ jour de l’an = New Years Day}

The duchesse had not returned to Paris, neither had she emigrated. Like most of the high nobility, who rightly enough believed that primogeniture and birth were of the last importance to them, she preferred to show her distaste for the present order of things, by which the youngest prince of a numerous family had been put upon the throne of the oldest, by remaining at her château. All expectations of selling us to her were abandoned, and we were thrown fairly into the market, on the great principle of liberty and equality. This was as became a republican reign.

Our prospects were varied daily. The dauphine, madame, and all the de Rochefoucaulds, de la Tremouilles, de Grammonts, de Rohans, de Crillons, &c. &c., were out of the question. The royal family were in England, the Orleans branch excepted, and the high nobility were very generally on their “high ropes,” or, à bouder. As for the bankers, their reign had not yet fairly commenced. Previously to July, 1830, this estimable class of citizens had not dared to indulge their native tastes for extravagance and parade, the grave dignity and high breeding of a very ancient but impoverished nobility holding them in some restraint; and, then, their fortunes were still uncertain; the funds were not firm, and even the honorable and worthy Jacques Lafitte, a man to ennoble any calling, was shaking in credit. Had we been brought into the market a twelvemonth later, there is no question that we should have been caught up within a week, by the wife or daughter of some of the operatives at the Bourse.

{de Rochefoucaulds, etc. = various French noble families; à bouder = silent; Jacques Lafitte = French financier (1767-1844) who supported the 1830 July Revolution; Bourse = stock exchange}

As it was, however, we enjoyed ample leisure for observation and thought. Again and again were we shown to those who, it was thought, could not fail to yield to our beauty, but no one would purchase. All appeared to eschew aristocracy, even in their pocket-handkerchiefs. The day the fleurs de lys were cut out of the medallions of the treasury, and the king laid down his arms, I thought our mistress would have had the hysterics on our account. Little did she understand human nature, for the nouveaux riches, who are as certain to succeed an old and displaced class of superiors, as hungry flies to follow flies with full bellies, would have been much more apt to run into extravagance and folly, than persons always accustomed to money, and who did not depend on its exhibition for their importance. A day of deliverance, notwithstanding, was at hand, which to me seemed like the bridal of a girl dying to rush into the dissipations of society.

{fleurs de lys = symbol of the Bourbon monarchs}