It was at a reunion of this kind, on the last evening in the month of May, 1862, that the salons on the top floor were brilliantly illuminated. A table had been laid for twenty persons, who were to join in a banquet in honor of the winner of the great military steeplechase at La Marche, which had taken place a few days before. The victorious gentleman-rider was, strange to say, an officer of infantry—an unprecedented thing in the annals of this sport.
Heir to a seigneurial estate, which had been elevated to a marquisate in the reign of Louis XII, son of a father who had the strictest notions as to the preservation of pure blood, Henri de Prerolles, early initiated into the practice of the breaking and training of horses, was at eighteen as bold and dashing a rider as he was accomplished in other physical exercises; and although, three years later, at his debut at St. Cyr, he expressed no preference for entering the cavalry service, for which his early training and rare aptitude fitted him, it was because, in the long line of his ancestors—which included a marshal of France and a goodly number of lieutenants-general—all, without exception, from Ravenna to Fontenoy, had won renown as commanders of infantry.
At the outbreak of the French Revolution, Henri’s grandfather, who had distinguished himself in the American War for Independence, left his native land only when he was in the last extremity. As soon as circumstances permitted, he reentered France with his son, upon whom Napoleon conferred a brevet rank, which the recipient accepted of his free will. He began his military experience in Spain, returned safe and well from the retreat from Russia, and fought valiantly at Bautzen and at Dresden. The Restoration—by which time he had become chief of his battalion—could not fail to advance his career; and the line was about to have another lieutenant-general added to its roll, when the events of 1830 decided Field-Marshal the Marquis de Prerolles to sheathe his sword forever, and to withdraw to his own estate, near the forest of l’Ile-d’Adam, where hunting and efforts toward the improvement of the equine race occupied his latter years.
He died in 1860, a widower, leaving two children: Jeanne, recently married to the Duc de Montgeron, and his son Henri, then a pupil in a military school, who found himself, on reaching his majority, in possession of the chateau and domains of Prerolles, the value of which was from fifteen to eighteen hundred thousand francs.
Having been made sub-lieutenant by promotion on the first day of October, 1861, the young Marquis, already the head of his house and a military leader, asked and obtained the favor of being incorporated with a battalion of chasseurs garrisoned at Vincennes.
Exact in the performance of his military duties, and at the same time ardent in the pursuit of pleasure, he was able, thanks to his robust health, to conciliate the exigencies of the one with the fatigues of the other.