On his return to France he began his garrison life at Valence, where he showed some of the finer qualities of his character. It is not merely that he was handsome and accomplished and that he had the gift of winning the affections of those about him. Unlike Nash and Brummel, he was a gentleman in every sense, and his courtesy was of the highest kind. At the balls given by his regiment, although he was more courted than any other officer, he always sought out the plainest girls and showed them the most flattering attentions. No “wallflowers” were left neglected when D’Orsay was present.
It is strange how completely human beings are in the hands of fate. Here was a young French officer quartered in a provincial town in the valley of the Rhone. Who would have supposed that he was destined to become not only a Londoner, but a favorite at the British court, a model of fashion, a dictator of etiquette, widely known for his accomplishments, the patron of literary men and of distinguished artists? But all these things were to come to pass by a mere accident of fortune.
During his firsts visit to London, which has already been mentioned, Count d’Orsay was invited once or twice to receptions given by the Earl and Countess of Blessington, where he was well received, though this was only an incident of his English sojourn. Before the story proceeds any further it is necessary to give an account of the Earl and of Lady Blessington, since both of their careers had been, to say the least, unusual.
Lord Blessington was an Irish peer for whom an ancient title had been revived. He was remotely descended from the Stuarts of Scotland, and therefore had royal blood to boast of. He had been well educated, and in many ways was a man of pleasing manner. On the other hand, he had early inherited a very large property which yielded him an income of about thirty thousand pounds a year. He had estates in Ireland, and he owned nearly the whole of a fashionable street in London, with the buildings erected on it.
This fortune and the absence of any one who could control him had made him wilful and extravagant and had wrought in him a curious love of personal display. Even as a child he would clamor to be dressed in the most gorgeous uniforms; and when he got possession of his property his love of display became almost a monomania. He built a theater as an adjunct to his country house in Ireland and imported players from London and elsewhere to act in it. He loved to mingle with the mummers, to try on their various costumes, and to parade up and down, now as an oriental prince and now as a Roman emperor.
In London he hung about the green-rooms, and was a well-known figure wherever actors or actresses were collected. Such was his love of the stage that he sought to marry into the profession and set his heart on a girl named Mary Campbell Browne, who was very beautiful to look at, but who was not conspicuous either for her mind or for her morals. When Lord Blessington proposed marriage to her she was obliged to tell him that she already had one husband still alive, but she was perfectly willing to live with him and dispense with the marriage ceremony. So for several years she did live with him and bore him two children.