Francezka. 2022 EDITION

Illustrator: Harrison Fisher

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CHAPTER I

IN THE HEART OF PARIS

I maintain that my master, Maurice, Count of Saxe, Marshal-general of France, Duke of Courland and Semigallia, Knight of the Most Noble Order of Merit, Knight of the Most Noble Order of the White Eagle, Knight of St. Louis, Knight of St. Stanislaus, and of many other noble Orders—I maintain him, I say, to be the greatest man, the bravest man, the finest man, the handsomest man, the man most dreaded by his foes, the most loved by his friends, the most incomparable with the ladies, the first soldier of all time—in short, the most superb, the most terrible and the most admirable man who ever lived—and I can prove it.

There are fractious men everywhere who dispute the plainest facts. With these unfortunates I am willing to argue for a time, but if they grow impudent about Alexander the Great, or Julius Cæsar, or any of those men who have made a noise in the world, I bring against them one invincible argument—my sword. I am no great lover of the pistol. My sword is enough, and it never misses fire. I am the most peaceable creature 

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alive, and never but twice did I lose my temper over the matter of Count Saxe’s greatness. Once was when a bragging rascal of a pseudo-nobleman from the marches of Brandenburg dared to call this greatness into question, and with offensive words. I gave him his choice of taking a hundred kicks in the stomach or having his ears cut off. He chose the latter, and I sliced one of them off; he begged so hard for the other one that I let it stay on his head.

The second time was with young Gaston Cheverny, who afterward became a devoted adherent of my master—and whose strange story will be told in these pages. I will say, however, it is pretty generally understood when Babache, captain of Count Saxe’s body-guard of Uhlans, sometimes known as the Clear-the-way-boys, or the Storm-alongs, and also as the Devil’s Own, is in the neighborhood, that Count Saxe is the greatest man that ever lived.

I am supposed to be a Tatar prince, by birth, that is; but in truth the only claim I have to either the race or the title is, that I am very ugly. God could have made an uglier man than I am, because He is omnipotent, but I am sure He never did. I accept my ugliness. I can say as the actor at the Théâtre Français said, when the audience hissed him on account of his ugliness—it will be a great deal easier for people to get used to my face than for me to change it.

As to my birthplace, I was born in the Marais, in the cursed town of Paris, and my father was a notary in a small way. So was the father of Monsieur François Marie Arouet, who now calls himself Voltaire—and Count Saxe always swore I could write tragedies and national 

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epics as well as Arouet had I but tried. Especially, as I ever wrote, with the greatest readiness imaginable, a much better hand than Arouet, or Voltaire, or whatever his name is—we knew the fellow well in Paris. But I never laid claim to more than what the English call mother-wit, the Spanish call freckled grammar, and the French call, being born with one’s shirt on. It was, however, my readiness with the pen that first won for me the highest fortune that could befall a man—the patronage, the friendship and the affection of Maurice, Count of Saxe.

I did not turn my hand to writing for money, and paying my court to the great, as Arouet did; but being left penniless and an orphan at fourteen, and his Majesty’s recruiting officers coming after me, I went to serve as a foot soldier in Flanders. I carried a musket for twelve years. Of those years I like neither to speak nor to think. At the end of that time came what I supposed would be the end of Babache: standing up before a file of soldiers, to be shot down and to die like a dog, for theft. I was innocent—that I swore on the holy Gospels, and call God to witness—but the money, two crowns, was found on me; and I could not tell how it got there, except that I had been carousing in bad company. Count Saxe being very strict against marauding, I was tried and condemned to be shot.

The whole business, trial and all, was over in a day, and on a summer morning I was led out to be shot on a bastion of the walls of Mons. It was a very beautiful morning, I remember, and also that the buglers, playing the dirge, played horribly out of time, as they always do at military executions. As I was on my way 

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to die, Count Saxe, with a half dozen officers galloping after him, met the procession. I raised my dull eyes and looked him in the face—a thing I would not have done, except that a man who has but a quarter of an hour to live need not be bashful about anything. Count Saxe asked about my case, and the officer in charge said I was to die for stealing two crowns—and that I had been a good soldier. Count Saxe rode up close to me.

“What a fool you were to risk your life for a couple of crowns,” he said.

“I risk it every day,” I replied, “for a couple of sous. But I am innocent.”

“Give him his life,” said Count Saxe.

The buglers changed their tune from a dirge to a lively marching air; the drummer beat a couple of ruffles on his drum, and we faced about—I think the honest soldiers who were going to shoot me felt almost as glad as I. Men have to be driven and threatened with punishment to keep them from shirking when it is necessary to shoot a comrade, and there would certainly be a mutiny every time, except that a certain number of muskets have no ball cartridges in them—and every fellow thinks that he has got an empty cartridge.

That same day I wrote a letter to Count Saxe, expressing, as well as I knew how, my thanks for my life. I took it myself to his quarters—and as good luck would have it, while I was begging a pert young aide to give the letter to Count Saxe, the count himself came out of his tent. He read the letter—asked me if I wrote it—and not believing me, told me to come into his tent, 

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sit down at his table, and write at his dictation. I did so, and I have written every line to which his name is signed since, except his love letters. Writing is, in itself, no great accomplishment. Monsieur Voltaire himself has said that a man may have a great deal of esprit and yet write like a cat. Still less important is spelling.

My master would not in his youth give attention to writing and spelling, having more important things to learn, and he had an early quarrel with grammar, which was never made up. Nevertheless, he has written the best book about war yet published—that is to say, he dictated it to me. And the French Academy elected him a member; but he made merry at the expense of the Academicians, saying as he knew not how to spell, much less to write, a seat in the Academy would become him about as well as a ring would become a cat. Also, that if the Academy elected him, it should also elect Marshal Villars, who could neither read nor write; but that I, Babache, was better fitted for an Academician than either.

It is certain, however, that no lady ever refused to accept a love letter from Count Saxe because it was ill spelled and ill written—for that part of his correspondence he attended to strictly himself. I know that certain things concerning the ladies have been urged against him. I know he has been described as “a glorious devil, loving beauty only”—but all I know concerning Count Saxe and the ladies is, the women mobbed him and sent him thousands of love letters. It may be said that I know more than I will admit. Not so. And it may also be said that I could have known all if I had wished. Well, 

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so might I have known astronomy, if I had possessed a taste for the science. But I never liked it. I ever felt small enough anyhow without considering those myriads of suns and worlds which make one feel considerably less than nothing.

One thing I do know about Count Saxe and one lady, in particular; if he had been willing to marry that ugly Duchess of Courland, Anna Iwanowna, now Czarina of Russia, he would have been Duke of Courland de facto as well as de jure; he would have become “cousin” to the Kings of France and Spain; he would have been “most Illustrious” to the Emperor, and “most Illustrious, most Mighty,” to the King of Poland, and what is more, he would have had the right of coining money.

But Count Saxe never put any compulsion on himself in affairs of the heart. And I say this; that with the only two ladies concerning whose relations with him I was familiar—for he was as secretive with me as I could wish about such things—I never knew a man more blameless. And these two ladies were both of them singularly beautiful and charming. One of them was an actress—Mademoiselle Adrienne Lecouvreur, and the other one was Mademoiselle Francezka Capello—that star-like creature whose beauty, whose riches, whose airy high spirit, whose strange, brilliant story, laid her open to peculiar dangers. Yet, toward Mademoiselle Capello, Count Saxe behaved with the most delicate chivalry during the whole of her eventful life. And he forwarded the love of Mademoiselle Capello and Gaston Cheverny with the noblest disinterestedness.

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Count Saxe had a taste not common among soldiers. He liked to hear sermons read—good sermons, that is, by the great guns of the pulpit, like Bossuet. I often read them to him, and have been compelled to chastise several persons who thought this matter food for mirth.

It seems to me sometimes as if I had never known but one man and one woman in my life—Count Saxe and Francezka Capello; they alone reached the ideal heights, in my mind—for a Tatar prince and the son of a poor notary has his ideals, just the same as a duke and the son of a duke—and the fact that I was a private soldier before I became a Tatar prince and a captain of Uhlans has nothing to do with the matter. It may be that Mademoiselle Capello, who had a combination of Scotch and Spanish pride, won me with the most delicate flattery in the world by honoring me with her regard—and Babache, the Tatar, was often smiled on, when dukes and marquises were scowled at, terribly. Of course, I knew that the very difference in our rank made this possible; and I had a cross eye which stood as a sentinel in my face, to warn Love away.

Only in my dreams, did I breathe of love to Mademoiselle Capello; and in those soft and splendid visions in the mysterious night and under the earnest stars which seemed then so near and so kind, Francezka often smiled upon me—nay, even kissed me.

But it was only a dream. At all times, though, I was hers, soul and body, with a doglike devotion—and in the end, I was given to her, in a singular manner, by Count Saxe. She lavished upon me, from the beginning, many kind and familiar speeches and acts; and I would have died rather than throw away, by so 

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much as one word of folly, the treasure of her confidence and friendship. I took with thankfulness what she gave me—and was not such a fool as to ask for more.

The very first time I saw Mademoiselle Capello was unforgettable for more reasons than one. It was the first and most serious of those adventures into which her spirit, her talents and her beauty were perpetually leading her—and it might have been her destruction.

One afternoon about six o’clock in the first days of May, 1726, I was passing along the tangle of streets back of the Quai des Theatines, when I noticed in the walled garden of the great Hôtel Kirkpatrick one of those cheap, open-air theaters of which the Parisians of the humbler classes are so fond. The place itself was retired enough, and only accessible from the maze of back streets of which I spoke. There was a wide, grassy space in the garden where the theater was set, with its rude appliances. On one side, quite screening it from the formal gardens of the hôtel, was an ancient lilac hedge, a forest of bloom and perfume, in those first days of May. There were great clumps of guelder-roses on each side, and syringas, which had grown to be trees, and looked like fountains of white blossoms.

It was so very sweet and peaceful—it being quite deserted at the time—that I stood, looking through the open grille of the huge gateway, and felt the scent of the lilacs and syringas getting into my blood, as the earth scents and earth sights will; for we are all the children of Nature, the mighty mother, whether we be born with only the tiles between us and the stars, or whether our cradle be the ground itself, and in our mother’s bosom shall we sleep at last; so that is why 

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the green earth is never strange to us, nor any of its sweetness unfamiliar.

No one would have thought that this old garden—this rich, wild, fair, virginal place—was in the heart of Paris. The sun was well in the west, and the shadows on the velvet grass were long. As I meditated I began to wonder how such a thing as a cheap theater should be set up in the grounds of the chatelaine of this splendid hôtel—who was the renowned, the redoubtable and the indomitable Madame Margarita Riano del Valdozo y Kirkpatrick, Countess of Riano, with many other titles, but who was commonly called Scotch Peg, or Peggy Kirkpatrick, and was as well-known in Paris as the statue of Henri Quatre on the Pont Neuf.

Her history was familiar to all Paris. She was the daughter of a poor Scotch Jacobite, as proud as Lucifer and all hell besides. She had married Count Riano, a Spanish nobleman, five times a grandee of Spain, three times a grandee of Portugal, and God knows what else, with more money than any or all of the Kirkpatricks had ever seen in their lives. He was the meekest, the mildest, the least haughty man on earth, having no more pride in him than the kitchen knife. It was known in every street in Paris that from the day the good man married Peggy Kirkpatrick she never allowed him to forget the enormous honor that a daughter of the penniless, bare-legged clan of Kirkpatrick had done him and the kingdom of Spain, in marrying him. The poor man has long been with the saints in heaven, and few of them deserved the martyr’s crown more than he.

Yet Peggy Kirkpatrick was not a bad woman. On 

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the contrary, she was incapable of a mean action, generous with a Spanish, rather than a Scotch, generosity, and although she undoubtedly hastened Count Riano’s death by harping upon the glories of the Kirkpatrick family, she paid him great attention in his last illness. As for his funeral, never was there anything so grand.

In Madrid, whither she carried him, events are still dated from the Count Riano’s funeral. Madame Riano wished to borrow the catafalque under which Louis le Grand had lain, and was mightily offended when it was refused her. The funeral lasted six weeks from Paris to Madrid. The Spanish Court paid the widow much honor, but not giving due space to the Kirkpatricks in some formal letter of condolence, or matter of that kind, Scotch Peg shook the dust of Spain from her feet and returned to Paris to remain, as she said, until Charles Edward Stuart, the English prince, was restored to the throne of his ancestors.

She was a great, tall woman, as red as a cow, but not unhandsome. She had a stride like an ostrich, and always carried her nose to the wind like a cavalry charger. At her side, in place of a sword, hung a huge fan, which she flourished around very much as if it were the claymore of the Kirkpatricks. Princes of the blood fled before Scotch Peg. Marshals of France turned tail and ran. Cardinals and archbishops quailed at her onslaught. When everybody else in Paris was calling Cardinal Dubois “the devil’s cardinal” behind his back, Peggy Kirkpatrick called him so to his face—and she was of the same religion, too. It was she who stalked up to Count Saxe at the king’s levee at Fontainebleau, and bawled at him:

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“So you are going on a marauding expedition after the crown of Courland!”

“Madame,” replied my master, turning red with rage, “I am a candidate for election to the crown of Courland. If elected by that august body, the Diet of Courland, I shall accept, and I shall defend my right.”

“August fiddlestick!” cried Peggy. “All of those elective crowns, like that of your father, the King of Poland, are nothing but prey for the strongest highwaymen, and you are not as strong as you think. I predict you will be running back like a drenched hen from Courland before the year is out. However, I will say this of you, Maurice of Saxe, that you are about as good as any of the crown snatchers, or the august Diet, either—and if you would but stop running after the petticoats, you would be a considerable man!”

Count Maurice of Saxe running back from Courland like a drenched hen! And would be a considerable man! Maurice of Saxe!

It must be acknowledged, however, that in spite of Scotch Peg being Scotch Peg, the best company in Paris attended her saloons; she had a natural aptitude for affairs which always provided her with more money than those who laughed at her, and she was never known to desert a friend in distress. She was the aunt and guardian of Mademoiselle Francezka Capello.

Francezka’s father, a handsome, penniless Scotchman, went to Spain with the Duke of Berwick’s army. There, the only daughter of the Marquis Capello fell in love with the Scotch captain. The old marquis fought hard against the marriage, but the Duke of Berwick 

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carried it through. One stipulation was made by the Capellos: that Captain Kirkpatrick should take the name of Capello instead of Kirkpatrick. This he did, much to Scotch Peg’s indignation, but he was rewarded with a splendid fortune. With true Scotch thrift, he increased this fortune, and when his only child, Francezka, was doubly orphaned in her first years, she became one of the greatest heiresses in France and the Low Countries—in both of which she had large possessions.

Her father’s will, making her sole heiress, gave her complete control of her estates when she was eighteen, and likewise counseled her not to marry until she was at least two years beyond her majority. These facts were well known in Paris, and although, in 1726, Mademoiselle Francezka Capello was only in her fourteenth year, the fortune-hunters were already congregating about her. But her aunt, Madame Riano, was as fierce as a dragon when her niece’s marriage was mentioned—although it will be seen, hereafter, that by no means kept she a dragon watch over the young lady.

All these things being of common repute, they naturally came to my mind as I stood, watching the shadows lengthen on the grass of the old garden in the golden afternoon. Presently, from a private entrance, some children and some older persons appeared. The theater was for child actors only, and one of them—a floury baker’s boy,—came to the iron gate, and acted as gate-keeper. To him I paid the few copper coins asked for admittance, and entered.

Others followed me, chiefly working people and serving-men and women, but there were some of a class not 

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often seen at these cheap, open-air performances. One man I recognized—Lafarge, an actor of the Comédie Française, and, I think, the poorest actor who ever played in the House of Molière. Something, I know not what, excited suspicion of this man in my mind—I could but wonder what he was doing there. He had a hang-dog countenance, and was almost as ugly as I.

Presently, whom should I see bustling about, and evidently the manager of the enterprise, but Jacques Haret! I own I was astonished to find him doing anything but eating and drinking and riding at somebody else’s expense—but there he was, actually at work, and that, too, in a very intelligent manner. There was no doubt about his intelligence, although he was known as a scamp of the first water. His intelligence had not kept him from gambling away a fine patrimony in the Low Countries, where his family had once been great.

He was the handsomest dog imaginable, in spite of all the cardinal sins looking out of his eyes—and he retained certain outward and visible signs of inward and spiritual graces which he had never had since I knew him. I will say of him though, that he was not a coward, nor did I ever hear him utter one word of railing against fate—but what a rascal he was!

As soon as his eye fell upon me he came across the grass and greeted me by clapping me on the back. He wore a shabby old laced coat, woolen stockings, broken shoes, and a splendid velvet hat and feathers; this last probably picked up at random—which some people call stealing. Now, I have never known a specimen of rascal-gentleman like Jacques Haret who could not always 

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stand and sit at ease with all men. I, Babache, an honest fellow, often feel abashed in the presence of the great. I am thinking, if I am too friendly they will remember my origin and think me impudent—and if I be not friendly enough, I fear I am thought to forget whence I sprang. But Jacques Haret and men like him are at their ease with kings and beggars alike. There is certainly something in being born to ride in a coach, even if the coach be gambled away or drunk up.

Jacques Haret greeted me cordially, as I say, but with good-natured condescension. He began to tell me that he had the finest child actress in his troupe he had ever seen. “So tragic, so moving, so graceful, so droll, so natural; she could, in two years more, wrest the laurels from the brow of Mademoiselle Lecouvreur herself!” So he declared, again whacking me on the back.

I was not much interested in his child actress, but bluntly asked him how he got the use of Madame Riano’s garden.

“The easiest thing in the world,” he said, laughing. “I went to her—proved that in 1456 one Jacques Haret, my ancestor, had married into the noble family of Kirkpatrick, and on the strength of that relationship asked to set up my theater here. She agreed promptly, only stipulating that she should see and hear nothing of it. I told her she could not see without looking, nor hear without listening, and she screeched out laughing and told me to go my ways and try to be respectable.”

“I hope you have taken Madame Riano’s advice,” I said dryly.

“In truth I have been obliged to. There are too 

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many fellows like me in Paris now. I can no longer get clothes and food and wine by telling a merry tale and singing a ribald song. And, besides, I got a hint from Cardinal Fleury, that old busybody, who manages a good deal more than the king’s conscience.”

“What do you call a hint?” I asked.

“Oh, well, old Fleury sent me word if I did not find some respectable employment he would have me cool my heels a while in the prison of the Châtelet—not the Bastille, mind you, where Voltaire and all the wits and dandies are sent—but to the Châtelet, the prison of the common malefactors. The cardinal’s message is what I call a delicate hint. However, I may make my fortune yet. The Duc de Lauzun was a mere provincial like me, and was often in straits—yet he married the king’s niece, and made her pull his boots off for him.”

I looked at the fellow in admiration. His evil life had not dimmed his eye or his smile, his courage or his impudence.

The crowd was still increasing, and there must have been a hundred persons present by that time. Lafarge, the bad actor from the Comédie Française was hanging about, and I was the more convinced he was bent on mischief. Jacques Haret had gone off—the performance was about beginning. A white cloth, fastened to two poles was let down upon the stage, just as they do with those songs which the actors at the theaters are forbidden to sing; the orchestra plays the air, and the audience sings the verses which are painted upon these white cloths. In this case, though, the inscription in huge red letters was this:

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“The part of Mariamne, in Madame Mariamne and Monsieur Herod, will be played by

Mademoiselle Adrienne,

the most wonderful child actress in the world, who will one day continue the glory of the name of Adrienne!”

The people shouted with delight at this. Mademoiselle Adrienne Lecouvreur was then the idol of the Parisians, and she was moving all Paris to tears in Monsieur Arouet’s—or Voltaire’s, for I continually forget—tragedy of Mariamne. The present performance, I then knew, was to be a burlesque on the play of the notary’s son.

GENRE
Romance
RELEASED
2022
February 1
LANGUAGE
EN
English
LENGTH
243
Pages
PUBLISHER
Rectory Print
SELLER
Babafemi Titilayo Olowe
SIZE
16.8
MB

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