The Bijou

The Bijou;

or Annual of Literature and the Arts

compiled by William Fraser

London: William Pickering,


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Sketch from Life: a Sentimental Story
By Unknown
Qui que tu sois, voici ton maitre,
Il l'est, le fut, ou le doit etre.

"There is no faith in woman!" I exclaimed to myself the other morning, and I repeated it thrice with increasing emphasis.

"There is no faith in woman. — And what woman has taught you to think so?" said a soft voice near me.

I started, for I had most unconsciously been uttering my thoughts aloud, while leaning on the back of my cousin Agatha's couch, with my eyes resting on the sheet of music paper which lay before her. I coloured as her glance met mine.

"Nay — is it not true?" said I.

"Nay," she repeated — "I will not be answered by a nay! — cousin Henry."

"But my dear cousin — my dear Agatha" — cried I, "you are a woman, and a beautiful woman — you can be no judge."

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"And supposing I admit it," said Agatha, smiling, "what has my beauty to do with either my womanhood, or my judgment?"

"There you may answer it yourself — what woman can judge of her sex's failings! — what beautiful woman can deal fairly by a sister beauty?"

"Is this all?" replied she, "Then you have learned to libel us merely from the cant of the day!"

"It is the cant of ages," said I.

"Surely not! — the cant of the careless and the unmeaning — but not where there is a heart and head to think, and to feel — no, my dear cousin, do not repeat it. There is both trust and truth in woman."

"Agatha," said I, "why have you never married?"

"Harry," returned she, "why have you this ill opinion of our sex?"

"Pshaw! But with your beauty, and your wit, and your fortune and consequence" —

"Tell me — why do you quarrel with us?" — "Harry," continued my cousin, interrupting me with more earnestness, "we must not let our own individual disappointments disgust us with the world at large — search well, and we shall discover our injustice — besides, let us be content though we meet but one faithful heart amidst a crowd of treachery."

"And how shall we find it? Where shall we meet with this faithful heart in woman? No, Agatha,"

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cried I, "you mistake the character of woman — you do not know her — you cannot know her — you, who must always be every way above the rest of your sex, and as different as inimitable!"

She was silent, she was even grave for a moment or two, and the shade of thought in the expression of her bland and beautiful countenance seemed almost as if it grew into sadness. She looked at me with a smile, "Cousin," said she, "tell me your history? You have been unfortunate;" and she pointed with her small and snow white hand to the vacant seat beside her on the sofa.

There was a gentleness, a delicacy, and a tenderness in my cousin Agatha's disposition which gave a charm to her slightest action. It was a gracefulness of character which seemed to have inspired the gracefulness of her person and her every motion, her tone of feeling, both in gaiety and sorrow, irresistible. I seated myself beside her on the sofa, and did as she had bid me. "I have been in love," said I, "it is my whole history."

"And what then?" she enquired, "was your mistress unfaithful?"

"I have told you all in one word — woman and infidelity go together!" I paused for some minutes, and when I spoke again I had obtained more self-possession.

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"When I first went abroad," said I, "I spent some time at Florence. The fashionable lounge was the picture-gallery, and there was I a daily visitor but I went thither really to gratify my passion for paintings, and not to gaze, and be gazed at by the company. One morning while I was standing as usual before my favorite study, I was startled by some one tapping me lightly on the shoulder, I suddenly turned round — it was a lady, and one of the most beautiful of earth's creatures; but her look and attitude were even more striking than her countenance and figure. She was, in a manner, stealing a glance into my face, with such a curiosity, and interest, and earnestness, blended with such a fanciful coquetry and intelligence in her expression as amazed me. She enjoyed my surprise and admiration for about half a second, and then with the most natural negligence in the world, pointed gracefully with the hand which still rested on my arm, to the ground. It was her handkerchief that had fallen at my feet, and I instantly stooped, and raised it. She stretched out her hand to receive it, before I had even time to present it to her, nodded her head half with the air of a pleased child, half with the air of a woman of fashion, and then folding her arms in her drapery round her, resumed her contemplation of the painting before us, which this little accident seemed to have disturbed. I stood with my eyes fastened on

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her, wondering who this enthralling creature could be. She had that decided air of fashion which there is no mistaking, and a certain air much superior to it; but there was a something so whimsical in her style of dress, and in her style of appearance altogether, to make me feel uncertain what to think of her.

"Just as I was looking round to enquire her name of some bystander, she turned and addressed me; I forget now what it was she said to me, something about my favourite painting, or my general fondness for pictures; whatever it might be, I was so much a novice in fashion as to feel uncomfortable at her speaking to me. I remember, however, that though her words were select, her manner struck me as common-place; she, moreover, seemed to me a coquette, and I immediately concluded that she must be marked by all the silliness of her class. In appearance she might have been about two or three and twenty, but I suspect she was more, perhaps from my own inexperience, for she struck me as being used to the ways of the world. It was evident that she was aware of the admiration which she had elicited, that she had expected it, and was therefore pleased with it, and meant to excite a little more. No one but a boy, probably no one but such a boy as I, would have been seized with these reflexions at the moment that she was soliciting my attention; but very young men, and young men

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unaccustomed to general society, are naturally more alive to what is real and what is affected in character than those of older and better acquaintance with life, but whose very acquaintance has served to trammel them into its manoeuvres and intricacies.

"She turned away after some minutes, and joined her party a few paces off. My eye followed them as they moved up the gallery; she shone always conspicuous among the throng of gentlemen who gathered as she went, around her, in clustering numbers; while now pausing for a second in a picturesque attitude to examine a painting — now breaking on my ear in tones of exaggerated feeling either of horror or of extasy — now partaking with faint effort in the casual vivacity of her attending bevy, or leading with startling violence a sudden laugh. I believe I had just then a rage for simplicity, for even her charms disgusted me. She was an Englishwoman too, and I had just been commenting, perhaps, with ungrateful sarcasm, on the freedom of Florentine manners. At the upper end of the gallery I lost sight of her, and when I looked around me I found that the crowd had followed her — there was not a creature near me.

"Do you not know her?" said some one whom I had approached on purpose to question. "It is the honourable Mrs. Beaufilliers, the celebrated Mrs. Beaufilliers, she was the greatest beauty of the day

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or of any day, and she never comes here without making a sensation; by the way, she means to have you in her train I fancy, for I saw her cast her eyes on you the moment she entered the room."

"It is incredible how even the turn of a phrase can affect us. These few last words had realized all my own thoughts with regard to Mrs. Beauvilliers.

"What then," said I, "she's a coquette?"

"By no means," cried the other, "only a little addicted to Platonic love and fashionable admirers. She has us all fast here, we all wear her colours. Though, par parenthese, I thought her a little gone by this morning, these beauties never know when to give up, unless we give them up."

"Come," said he, "I'll introduce you."

"Pardon me," answered I, "I know her perfectly already."

"I saw Mrs. Beauvilliers again, it was at a ball that very evening. She had just withdrawn a little out of the circle of waltzers, and was leaning against a pillar changing her white satin slippers. One gentleman stood beside her busied in receiving the discarded pair; another proffered the fresh ones; and the third, her fortunate partner, with one knee on the ground, supported her delicate feet by turns on the other and fastened the sandals.

"How old is she?" asked I, "for I felt quite a curiosity to discover."

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"Lord," answered the person next me, "I have known her culling hearts these fifty years!"

'She could not be fifty, though she had certainly worn better than any person I know; even when near I could not have supposed her past thirty.

"I can scarcely say how much I dislike this description of character. It revolted against all my nations of feminine propriety; that sensitive dignity of woman's peculiar nature! It offended all my most respectable feelings towards the sex, and I remember I stood aloof during the evening from Mrs. Beauvilliers, boyishly abashed at her frivolous familiarity of manners. I left Florence soon after, but I carried some of her impressions along with me. She spoiled me for the next twelvemonth. I had never before been vain of my personal qualifications, but it was not easy to forget that they had not been absolutely unattractive. This was all that dwelt with me, and some years of after life passed on the continent, though they may have habituated me to the looseness of its decorum, have never destroyed my esteem for all that is beautiful in purity!"

I stopped for I felt that I was considerably agitated and my silence was of some duration.

"You will proceed Harry?" said my cousin gently, "for your story is both interesting and instructive."

"Yes," answered I, "but it is somewhat diffi-

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cult!" and I still hesitated. "You should have seen her," I exclaimed at length, abruptly. "You should have known her, though she was scarcely handsome — I will only half name her to you, Agatha, as I have named her to herself in the last days of our acquaintance — Gabriella."

"It is just about three years since we first met; I remember it well, for even then it was to me a circumstance of importance. I was introduced to her in a private concert room just as her carriage was announced — she had been standing near the doorway, and I was the last person she bowed to as she left the room. I remember it was near the end of the season. She was the fashion in London, but I had never admired her. I had heard her talked of as beautiful, but I had never thought her so. She was striking, but it was an air of fashion more than either beauty or grace in her appearance. I liked her reception of me; I had always allowed her to be a fine woman, and I found something extremely agreeable in her countenance when she spoke, and extreme good nature in her general manner. She rather interested me than otherwise, though she had only just stayed to receive my bow, and observe to me "that she was going," as she went out.

"She had quitted town for the country before I could see her again, and not long after I followed her thither. I forget now who it was that invited me; I

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think it was some connexion of the family, whose employment was to furnish the table with guests, and the guests with society. Gabriella's husband was of a rude description of men; he was seldom to be seen in the house but at dinner, and at dinner he liked to have plenty of people to talk to, and to listen to him. If his cold be called society, at table they had his society, but otherwise these general chance kind of guests were but little attended to. I should scarcely have availed myself, however, of this manner of admittance to hospitality, had I not been rather forced into calling on them on my accidentally meeting some of the party in the neighbourhood.

"Agatha," cried I, "I scarcely know why I repeat these details, for it is uneasy for me to recal the memory of our first acquaintance!

"If you had known her you would have pardoned the madness of my love — had you known Gabriella you would have wept for the cruelty of her caprice! Her spirit of coquetry was indeed untamed, untameable. She pursued me her victim with unwearied skill; flung with captivating ingenuity her whole heart into his service; wound her graceful toils around his existence, and urged on with irresistible persuasion the tortures of that grief which she contemplated with remorseless and insatiable ambition. How I tried to leave her, how I tried to escape from the influence of her fascinations, it seems of little pur-

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pose now to tell. I did not leave her, and Gabriella's smiles returned. She could weep too, and at times I have seen a starting tear bedew her cheek. But why should I instruct you in all the arts and all the expedients of her most reprehensible coquetry; it was as restless as extravagant. She had probably never loved her husband, and esteem was what she could bestow on none. She was incapable of friendship; her heart had been framed to sentiment, she had no steadiness in her nature to persevere in her affections. Her husband was little calculated to excite either, and to Gabriella he was peculiarly unsuited. They seldom met, but no appearance of unharmony subsisted between them. I have known her consult him on a matter of duty, and him leave to her the choice of the inscriptions on his dog-collars. He never interfered with her, but he was sometimes glad to have her look well when she sat at the head of his table.

"Her appearance had never been the lure which attracted me; and her appearance was then, in my opinion, by much her least qualification. Yet she possessed a large share of the essentials which constitute beauty: her outline of feature was good, and her complexion must once have been brilliant. At times it was still beautiful, for Gabriella was no longer quite what is called a very young woman when I knew her.

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"She had the address to turn this want of admiration to her person on my part, into her most absolute attraction. Her charm consisted in her undeviating amiability of manner; in her apparent forbearance of disposition; in her constant propriety of temper; in her implicit obedience to the caprices of her admirer, and her seeming readiness of obedience to any exertion of authority, from the man whom she had received as a husband. I love to dwell on this part of her character; I would cling to the thought that she might once have deserved better; that she was not all that she appeared to me when we last met and parted — a heartless, practiced, unblushing and unprincipled coquette!

"We have periods of feeling when it requires but a little to pen our eyes to the real disposition of matters carried on around us; and once awakened, it is astonishing how quickly we grow in wisdom. It must be always impossible in these after moments to trace the many, various, almost imperceptible accidents that may have occurred to bring us acquainted with the delusions practiced on us — perhaps which we have ourselves too readily indulged. To you, it will be difficult to comprehend from how slight a circumstance my impressions of Gabriella's character were first startled into a more sober reflexion on her behaviour.

"I had been staggered by a sentiment, and it seemed to me a profligate sentiment. We were talking on the freedom of Italian manners, more especially that of the women, and she was expatiating on them with considerable eagerness. I remember she used the words, "the luxury of their independence, their perfect want of all control, all form — odious form!" And she threw her eyes up to Heaven as she spoke. She had beautiful eyes, but this time their appeal

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seemed to me out of place. She threw them on me, but they did not move me, and she yielded her opinion as she always did, only with less hesitation than was usual with her, for me to be as usual satisfied with my victory. I was peculiarly sensitive on this one point — the delicacy of a woman's deportment; and Gabriella's manner had sometimes disturbed me. I had sometimes wondered at her self-possession too, only that to me she was never self-possessed. She had often turned off an uncomfortable sentence with a gay laugh, which has covered me with confusion and offence, and I have felt that I should yet have been more at ease had she been less so.

"I was silent for some time after, and thoughtful, and Gabriella tried to woo me into better company. She was seldom unsuccessful, and insensibly we grew into conversation again. One or two of the rest of the company joined us, and we gathered into a little circle round her sofa.

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"The discourse turned on manners, but this time it was on English manners. A gentleman present, and who, by the way, was rather a celebrated traveler, just rising, or risen into fame and fashion, observed that in no country in the world did there exist such perfect domestic and conjugal happiness as in England — such an entire confidence between husband and wife — such a perfect union both of heart and mind —

"Gabriella assented cordially, and applauded the feeling with warmth. I had turned away, and when I looked again I found that her eyes were bent on the traveler.

"Where — in what other country," pursued he, "do we find such an agreeable social intercourse to prevail between an man and his wife. Even in the highest walks of life there is visible such an exquisite and charming familiarity. To take a fanciful view of the subject, for instance, that one little circumstance of calling each other by the mere Christian name abbreviated, as we hear it too, in every possible way, by people of the first fashion, speaks volumes."

"Poor Mama!" exclaimed Gabriella, "I remember Mama always called poor Papa, Beau!"

"Who was your mother?" said I.

"Heavens!" cried she, "Don't you know? The beautiful Mrs. Beauvilliers. 'La bella bellissima,'

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as she was called in Italy! I was in mourning for her when I first saw you. Have you never seen the beautiful miniature of Mama in my room?"

"I have seen the original," answered I, "in the picture gallery at Florence."

"Whether it was the tone of my voice, for I felt that it was altered, or the expression of my countenance, for I was crimsoned to the temples, that struck Gabriella, I know not — but she changed the conversation. For my part I had relapsed into my silence, and I slunk away. Gabriella the daughter of Mrs. Beauvilliers!

"Why have you never told me that you had been at Florence?" said she next morning when we were alone. "How odd! We must have been there together, and we were strangers!"

"I knew your mother," said I.

"Poor Mama! Heavens! How beautiful she must have been. But did you absolutely know her. I thought I had known the whole circle of Mama's admirers."

"But why need I go on. It was, perhaps, fortunate for me that I could never separate the connexion between Mrs. Beauvilliers and Gabriella. The early impression of her mother which had been left so strongly on my mind, could not be effaced by any recurrence to the daughter. I could never think on Gabriella without recalling to my recollection Mrs.

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Beauvilliers in the picture gallery, or in the ballroom at Florence. However disguised might be their manner, their conduct was too similar to bear comparison. From the suddenness with which the veil of my illusion fell from before my eyes almost from that very hour it would seem now as if I had been influenced by prejudice. But no, it was Gabriella's self that cast it from me. True, my knowledge of her mother's character had given me an insight into the character of the daughter. It had made me think, and thought was destruction to Gabriella. Her behaviour could not bear investigation — her character still less so. It was not the shock of Mrs. Beauvilliers as a mother that had disturbed me, it was the dread of Mrs. Beauvilliers as a model for too apt a representation; and what as the folly of a foolish woman would have passed without other reproach, grew criminal in the more gifted intellect of her daughter.

"Gabriella's defence was powerless. The dream which had wrapped my senses gave way gradually but quickly, as the imperfect light that had first dawned on me broke into open day. Her struggles to retain her victim became only the more reprehensible, her real grief at his escape only the greater earnest of the selfish, frivolous vanity which had induced his capture. Her powers of complete self-interest and indifference to all beside were indeed

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wonderful! With a voice, a look, a gesture, still pleading with well feigned motive for delay, she turned without a moment lost to lament her failure, from the resolute departure of the one lover, to play with unabated assiduity the same game over again with another.

"My last glimpse of her, as my chaise rolled rapidly away, showed her turning from the entrance door into the little walk that leads to her flower-garden, leaning on the arm of the traveller.

"But to the end, mistress of her art, she has left me without a doubt of her unworthiness still to regret in bitter hopelessness the peace of mind that she has broken for ever."

I rose as I concluded, and walked to the window, for it was a moment of weakness over which I had no control. But the effort was not sufficient, and I buried my face in my hands.

I was roused by my cousin's gentle voice, and she laid her soft white hand upon my arm. "Harry," said she, "if I may trust this moment's sorrow, your peace of mind — it is not broken for ever."

"Agatha," said I, "it is not to such as you that I should betray the secrets of a weak and miserable passion. It is not with such as you that I should contemplate the frailties of an erring sex; but I cannot forget that such a fair creation has been created to so little good."

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"I regret it with you — but I have seen Gabriella," she continued, "I have known her — she was unworthy of you — yet her troth was plighted to another, she could break none with you."

"Good God! What other!"

"And do you then," said Agatha, gravely, "think so lightly of the duties of a wife. Believe me it is the highest station which the heart, or the ambition of woman should aspire to. She is charged with the dearest interests of one more responsible in life than herself — his most tender dignity is confided to her care, and if she break her trust, if she be wanting but in the smallest portion of this silent bond, she violates the most solemn engagement of her life, and is forsworn before God and man in the vows which she has taken upon her in the presence of both?" She stopped, and coloured at her own eloquence. "Harry," said she, "What do you regret? your peace of mind? Let it return to you — let not the caprices of an ill-guided woman weigh upon you. There are some thanks due for the return to a duty from which you should never have wandered."

"I am grateful," said I, "as grateful as I can be. I feel that it is beneath me to dwell thus on the memory of such a woman. But when you have loved, Agatha, you will forgive a weakness, which, like an early deep-rooted disease, still continues to sting me with poignancy, in utter defiance of the leech's

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utmost skill. Oh, Agatha — dear Agatha — you have never — never loved — "

The expression of her countenance caught my attention just then, but she was silent.

"Have you ever loved," cried I, forgetting at the moment all else but what was belonging to my cousin Agatha. She smiled, but her smile was followed by a sigh.

A strange feeling came over me, and I caught her hand. I scarcely know what I said, but it was not of Gabriella that I spoke or thought. There was a slight flutter visible in her countenance when I began, but she listened to me with mildness; then with a gentle shake of her head she extricated her hand, and glided from the window.

from The Bijou, 1828, pp. 242-260
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