La Maréchale d’Aubemer, Nouvelle du XVIIIème Siècle, or The Widow of Field Marshal d’Aubemer: A Novella of the 18th Century, posthumously published in 1867, is a novel by the author and memoirist Madame de Boigne, born Adélaïde d’Osmond (1781-1866). Mine is the first English translation, available here for the first time anywhere.
In Chapter 6, the shortest of all the chapters, Henri d’Estouteville becomes a regular visitor to Mme d’Aubemer’s salon.
THE WIDOW OF FIELD MARSHAL D’AUBEMER: A NOVELLA OF THE 18TH CENTURY
Regrets and Hopes
“When are we leaving, Lionel?” said Mme de Saveuse before finishing her letter to her mother.
“I can’t really say. My affairs are well in hand…but they require my presence.”
He smiled indulgently to himself at the fatuity of his words. Mme de Saveuse sighed and finished her letter without naming the date1 that she wished for with all her might.
In the account she had given the Maréchale of the previous night’s ball, she had not omitted to speak of the goodness with which M d’Estouteville had come to her aid in the moment of her greatest isolation and shared out the expressions of her gratitude between him and Mme de Rieux. Though less struck by Henri’s generosity in looking after such a lovely person, Mme d’Aubemer was grateful to him for his conduct towards her favourite at a moment when he had evidently been useful, and when he appeared at her evening party, she welcomed him benevolently and reproached him for having neglected her. He hadn’t known, he said, that her door was open to the vulgar herd. Mme d’Aubemer joked about that expression being applied to the marvellous Henri d’Estouteville; he defended himself wittily, and the conversation was gay and animated when Mme de Saveuse entered. She thanked M d’Estouteville simply and openly for the assistance he had given her. He seemed a little embarrassed by this frankness and withdrew almost immediately.
Two days later he came back at an hour when the Maréchale was usually alone, not wishing to fall back into the category of the vulgar herd from which she had deigned to pluck him. This time, too, his visit was not long, but the following one was longer. The interruption of worldly pleasures occasioned by Lent served as a pretext for him to be able to spare his time, and three weeks had hardly elapsed when the Maréchale and her entourage came to await the Comte d’Estouteville’s arrival as a stimulant to the agreeableness of their discussions. He was very learned, knew the literature of several languages, had seen much, and knew how to talk sense as well as talk wildly or keep quiet as the occasion required. Tired of the futile company in which the Princesse Simon’s routine kept him, his mind was nourished by the more solid fare furnished by Mme d’Aubemer’s salon and it was no effort for him to show a taste for it. He sometimes participated in the discussions, and always well, because to the natural elegance of his speech he joined the habit of taking care to speak only of what he knew. More often, he asked questions with discernment, listened with deference, and absorbed knowledge with interest. There was always much to be learned among the distinguished people of all kinds who gathered at the Maréchale’s, and M d’Estouteville seemed so convinced of it that no other motive for his assiduous attendance was suspected by any of the regular attendees.
By far the youngest admitted to this daily gathering, Mme de Saveuse and Henri were not slow to recognize their common dissent to certain assertions advanced there as received wisdom, but that were at variance with opinions circulating in the new world that was dawning. A sort of freemasonry on the subject was established between them, for no matter how one is brought up, each generation has its own ideas. They had breached the keep of the Chateau de Saveuse as they had the gilded walls of the Hôtel d’Estouteville, invaded the prosecutor’s office, and penetrated even the poor man’s thatched cottage — in a very modified form, to be sure, but bearing the stamp of the times. Our young people understood each other, then, without explaining themselves, resulting in a little intellectual secret between them that cemented their bond, which charmed d’Estouteville and did not frighten Mme de Saveuse. Often their eyes sought each other out and a mutual smile proved to them that they had understood each other. Henri would have liked these occasions to be more frequent, but he was resigned to waiting for them.
- i.e. the date for Comte and Comtesse Lionel’s return to the Chateau de Saveuse.