Page images

of Mercury and Venus transferred his allegiance to Mars. Obtaining a commission in the gendarmerie d'élite, which was of la petite maison du roi, then stationed at Lunéville, he served in that select corps with various flits of fortune for a couple of years, his only military exploit being a compendious duel of twelve gendarmes with twelve officers of the régiment du roi, in which Pigault-Lebrun was left on the field with three sword-thrusts. On his recovery he found his regiment disbanded (1774) on account of that very duel, and quitted Lunéville for his native town, intending to try again a commercial life.

This second attempt soon ended very much like the first; he ran away from Calais with a Mdlle. de Salens, and, a pursuit being set about by his vigilant sire, he was overtaken in a village where the lovers had hoped to conceal their amorous escapade. The captive Lothario was brought back before his father, who committed the overprecocious youth a second time to prison, with the declaration of his firm resolve there to keep him until a reformation had been made manifest of his practices of loving not wisely but too well. Malle. de Salens was allowed to go her own ways unfettered.

The chafing victim of this second lettre de cachet showed no signs of repentance or moral improvement. Then, as now, few gaols could be properly deemed reformatories; they sometimes turn out quite the reverse.

The irrepressible lover ingratiated himself into the favour of the gaoler's daughter, enlisted her assistance, and attempted to break gaol. The attempt failed, and the foiled runaway was afterwards subjected to closer confinement. This aggravated form of punishment only served to whet his love of liberty ; bending his energies and imagination to his escape from undeserved bondage, he contrived, after two years, to evade the vigilance of his keeper, and, effecting his original purpose, fled over to Flanders in pursuit of his unforgotten Malle. de Salens.

Naturally the hot-hearted youth misused his newly-found freedom. With what little money he had contrived to carry away from Calais he ran riot at Lille for a few days, when, finding himself with an empty purse in a strange town, he joined a players' company—that universal refugium peccatorum, which many will consider preferable to even a butcher's shop. In due time he made his début as a comedian on the Lille stage, with but scanty success, to speak the truth, yet with some certainty of a crust of bread and a straw pallet, the modicum which was then the utmost bourne of his ambition.

Inferior actor though he was, he followed up his strolling experiences at Douai, Arras, and other places, until he went over to Holland; where he joined his long. divided innamorata.

The flame of his love had been fanned up by absence and trials ; his misfortunes had taught him caution; so his father's consent to their union was submissively asked; but none came. A second application was not more successful. Whether Pigault-Lebrun considered his silence as an equivalent to consent, and accordingly proceeded to a regular marriage ceremony, or whether he was deterred or debarred for want of this permission from entering into legal wedlock, is & moot-point. + The artistic couple continued their scenic career for several years, visiting many towns and cities in Flanders, meeting with adventures worthy of Scarron's 'Roman Comique,' and passing through varied fortunes which lovers of Picaroon literature well know; but these are beyond the scope of this short summary.

In course of time the comic actor, Pigault-Lebrun, who betrayed strong propensities for practical joking, and was by no means & respecter of persons, repeatedly fell into difficulties with the police and censure of that epicene power, the Prince-Bishop of Liège, during his sojourn there in 1786. For some unusually outrageous breach of etiquette, civil or ecclesiastical, he was ultimately ordered to leave the principality. This expulsion drove him back to French territory a penniless, friendless outcast.

Like many prodigal sons before him, he tramped his way to his father's house, that bourne of all prodigals, that haven of all adventurers wrecked in purse or heart. But when he arrived at Calais no fatted calf awaited slaughter to do him honour; no kindly welcome greeted his return. He was denied admittance to what he deemed his home; he was confronted with an official declaration of his own death, and could obtain, strive as he might, no recognition from father, relatives, friends, or any one.

In fact, after his escape from gaol, his father had cut him off as a dead, rotten branch of the family tree ; a very Brutus, he had registered, signed, and sealed the death of his own son at the Town Registry—a somewhat illegal proceeding on the part of such a strict magistrate and pure upholder of the law-and from that date his son was held as dead to him and all his.

So, on claiming his name and status, young Pigault-Lebrun was treated as a pretender and designing impostor who attempted to palm a false son upon a bereaved father.

Utterly failing of obtaining evidence of his identity among his own kin and fellow-citizens, what could he do? Though he had been absent from Calais barely eight years (1778–1786), and strayed from home to no greater distance than the Hague and Liège, it seemed as though every avenue was closed against him in his attempt to prove that he was actually himself, and not a nameless stranger. Life was too strong within him to submit to such summary extinction, to utter annihilation.

He first tried submissively amicable means, offering to leave the town and rid his family of his unwelcome presence, on condition that he should be reinstated into his own name and bare identity. Blank refusal of this mild compromise dashed his hopes of a friendly conclusion of his novel trouble. He petitioned the tribunal that it should be pleased to cancel the affidavit and declaration by which his father had procured the registration of his death in the town's official record. The old proverb, Wolf does not eat wolf, was once more justified in his case, when the Calais court rejected his suit.

Only one resource was now left him in a requête to the Parlement de Paris. There again family interest, esprit de corps among magistrates, and abundant means unscrupulously employed, were plied against the poor solitary petitioner, who fought single-handed against many powerful antagonists. Time wore on through the law's delays; his unfriended suit dragged its slow length along; after nearly two years' struggle his high spirits were beginning to droop, though still cheered by the partner of his joys and sorrows; he was, indeed, contemplating and preparing for the probability of being served with a third lettre de cachet, when the storming of the Bastille opened before his anxious mind unexpected prospects of better fortune. He was doomed to disappointment; in fact, a judgment was rendered averse to his claim; his appeal was rejected, and himself cast in costs.

So the eve of the Revolution of 1789 found Pigault-Lebrun still a nameless nobody.

The mournful experiences of the past three years, the dilatoriness of justice, the uncertainty of its judgment, the rapacity of its agents, intrigue supplanting right, honourable men swearing to a forgery, self-identification become an utter impossibility-these, and many more episodes of his eventful life, impressed themselves upon the teeming mind of the struggling seeker after a name. He cuined his own heart into a play, and cast his adventures in search of his legal identity into a five act comedy, which he offered to the manager of the Théâtre Français. Thalia at length smiled on him who had so long known only the frowns of Themis ; stage success gave a name, and superadded fame to one who had been denied, disowned, and cast out by his own father, by his own kindred, and by the highest court of justice in the land.

His autobiographical drama of Charles et Caroline,' the first in a long series of plays, struck the chord of public sympathy for the witty, buoyant, irrepressible playwright and actor; and in the universal confusion which ere long overwhelmed petty private questions and interests, no one further heeded that family quarrel about a bare name: so the claimant henceforth continued as PigaultLebrun by user and nem, con.

How his after life until its close, five years after Louis Philippe had been proclaimed king, was compounded of scenes no less varied than those of his Bohemian youth-how he became actor, stagemanager, and playwright to the Théâtre Français - how he patriotically enlisted in 1792, and fought his way from the ranks up to the dignity of an Adjutant-General —how he resigned his military honours to follow literary pursuits; and, exchanging his sword for a pen, wrote dramas, comic operas, farces, and novels far too numerous for record here-how he obtained an appointment of inspector of salt fish under the Directory (no doubt in recognition of the large amount of salt, not Attic though, with which he dashed his merry, rattling compositions)—how he was appointed in the Empire librarian to King Jérome at Cassel and Wilhelmshöhe, which did afterwards harbour the Sedan prisoner-how he was once more cast adrift about the world by the Restauration for his scoffing Voltairianism, and his services, whatever these were, to the Corsican family-how he retired to Valence, which he only left for La Celle Saint-Cloud, near Paris, and there lived in his family circle, still writing, up to the patriarchal age of ninety-two-are not these so many more chapters in the motley life of the cheery, witty, volatile old man ?

But all these episodes are clearly beyond the purpose of this sketch, which has no other purpose but that of airing a cause célebre in more points than one bearing a great proportion of forcible resemblance to the notorious Tichborne case. No partisan spirit has led to the researches, the substance of which is here put down; it is only a literary and a legal curiosity, at most a mere lever de rideau to the more solemn performance about to be enacted. Every reflection and inference have, therefore, carefully been left out, and it will be for the reader's best judgment to trace whatever points of likeness or discrepancy may exist in the case of the French and the English claimants.

The Wooing O't.


CHAPTER XXVII. The next morning all the world seemed absorbed in Mr. Trafford's departure, which Maggie viewed from a safe window, half hidden by a friendly curtain. She had thanked God he was going, and now he was gone! Well, it was worderful how much seemed to have gone with him. She felt disappointed, too, that Miss Grantham had not sought her for sympathy and comfort. It seemed that the burst of warmth and affection which had so delighted her, was to bear no further fruits. However Maggie determined to arm herself with the twin giants—faith and patience.

Luncheon was hardly over when the Southam carriage drove up, and to the evident surprise of Miss Grantham, " Lady Brockhurst and Madame de Beaumanoir,” were announced to be in the drawingroom. "Be sure you come in,” said Miss Grantham to Maggie. “I am so glad there is a chance for you to see her.” They were almost the first words she had spoken since she sat down, and Maggie was quite rejoiced to be addressed even in a semi-confidential manner. To the spoilt heiress it was nearly impossible to disguise her feelings, or assume that which she did not feel, and every one could discern that she was depressed and ill at ease.

This condition of things being attributed by the remaining gentlemen to the departure of “that fellow Trafford,” they were proportionably discontented, so a general gloom infected the company, and every one was relieved by the arrival of visitors.

When Maggie reached the drawing-room, Miss Grantham was speaking to Madame de Beaumanoir, who stood near the fire, and Lady Brockhurst had nestled herself into a low chair close to Lady Dormer.

As Maggie entered Miss Grantham half turned, and said, “Miss Grey. Lady Brockhurst. Madame de Beaumanoir."

Both ladies looked at her, and Maggie felt abashed under their scrutiny; there was, she fancied, something peculiar in the glance which the French lady flashed upon her, as though she knew and hated her; it was but instantaneous, and she was bland as ever.

“ Madame de Beaumanoir was going to leave us to-day, but the weather was so fine she said she would like to drive over and bid you good-bye,” said Lady Brockhurst to Miss Grantham.

« PreviousContinue »