THE FRENCH GOVERNESS’S STORY
“Well, Monsieur Guillaume, what is the news this evening?”
“None that I know of, Monsieur Justin, except that Mademoiselle Rose is to be married to-morrow.”
“Much obliged, my respectable old friend, for so interesting and unexpected a reply to my question. Considering that I am the valet of Monsieur Danville, who plays the distinguished part of bridegroom in the little wedding comedy to which you refer, I think I may assure you, without offense, that your news is, so far as I am concerned, of the stalest possible kind. Take a pinch of snuff, Monsieur Guillaume, and excuse me if I inform you that my question referred to public news, and not to the private affairs of the two families whose household interests we have the pleasure of promoting.”
“I don’t understand what you mean by such a phrase as promoting household interests, Monsieur Justin. I am the servant of Monsieur Louis Trudaine, who lives here with his sister, Mademoiselle Rose. You are the servant of Monsieur Danville, whose excellent mother has made up the match for him with my young lady. As servants, both of us, the pleasantest news we can have any concern with is news that is connected with the happiness of our masters. I have nothing to do with public affairs; and, being one of the old school, I make it my main object in life to mind my own business. If our homely domestic politics have no interests for you, allow me to express my regret, and to wish you a very good-evening.”
“Pardon me, my dear sir, I have not the slightest respect for the old school, or the least sympathy with people who only mind their own business. However, I accept your expressions of regret; I reciprocate your ‘Good-evening’; and I trust to find you improved in temper, dress, manners, and appearance the next time I have the honor of meeting you. Adieu, Monsieur Guillaume, and! Vive la bagatelle!"
These scraps of dialogue were interchanged on a lovely summer evening in the year seventeen hundred and eighty-nine, before the back door of a small house which stood on the banks of the Seine, about three miles westward of the city of Rouen. The one speaker was lean, old, crabbed and slovenly; the other was plump, young, oily-mannered and dressed in the most gorgeous livery costume of the period. The last days of genuine dandyism were then rapidly approaching all over the civilized world; and Monsieur Justin was, in his own way, dressed to perfection, as a living illustration of the expiring glories of his epoch.