To his dying day Mr. Calvert never forgot the fascination, the open frankness of Monsieur de Talleyrand’s manner on that occasion, nor the look of sadness and suffering in his eyes. When he heard him in after years accused of shameless veniality, of trickery, lying, duplicity, even murder, he always remembered that impulsive revelation—never repeated—of a warped, unhappy childhood, of a perverted destiny.
Mr. Morris came to him later as he stood leaning against the wall behind the chair of Madame de Chastellux.
“How goes it, Ned?” he asked, half-laughing and stifling a yawn. “As for myself, I am getting confoundedly bored. I can’t think of any more verses, so the ladies find me insipid, and they are beginning to talk politics, of which they know nothing, so I find them ridiculous. They are already deep in the discussion of the Abbe Sieyes’s brochure, ‘Qu’est-ce que le Tiers Etat,’ and Madame de Flahaut declares that his writings and opinions will form a new epoch in politics as those of Newton in physics! Can fatuity go farther? And yet she is the cleverest woman I have met in France. The men are as ignorant as the women, except that scoundrel of a bishop, who, like myself, is bored by the incessant talk of politics and has just assured me that no one has an idea of the charm of life who has not lived before this year of 1789. I can easily believe it. But perhaps he told you the same thing—I saw you two talking together at supper.”
“Yes,” said Calvert, “we were talking, but not of politics or the charm of life. He was very interesting and unexpectedly friendly,” he added, with some emotion, for he was still under Monsieur de Talleyrand’s spell.
“I would have thought him the last man to interest you, my young Bayard,” returned Mr. Morris, with some surprise. “He appears to me to be a sly, cunning, ambitious man. I know not why conclusions so disadvantageous to him are formed in my mind, but so it is. I cannot help it.”
Mr. Calvert could not repress a smile, for it occurred to him that it was more than possible that Monsieur de Talleyrand’s well-known devotion to Madame de Flahaut (whom it was evident Mr. Morris admired greatly, though he so stoutly denied it) might have prejudiced his opinion of the Bishop. Mr. Morris was quick to note the smile and to divine its cause.
“No, no, my dear Ned,” he said, laughing, “’tis not Monsieur de Talleyrand’s connection with Madame de Flahaut which makes me speak of him after this fashion. Indeed, there is but a Platonic friendship between the fair lady and myself,” and, still laughing, Mr. Morris turned away from Calvert and stumped his way back to the side of the lady of his Platonic affections, where he remained until the company broke up.
As for Mr. Calvert, in spite of Mr. Morris’s predilections, he was of the opinion that of the two—the unchurchly bishop and the pretty intrigante—Monsieur de Talleyrand was the more admirable character. Indeed, he had disliked and distrusted Madame de Flahaut from the first time of meeting her, and, to do the lady justice, she had disliked Mr. Calvert just as heartily and could never be got to believe that he was anything but a most unintelligent and uninteresting young man, convinced that his taciturnity and unruffled serenity before her charms were the signs of crass stupidity.