Memoirs of Count de Grammont


"THIS," said Matta, "smells strongly of romance, except that it should have been your Squire's part to tell your adventures." "True," said the Chevalier; "however, I may acquaint you with my first exploits without offending my modesty; besides, my Squire's style borders too much upon the burlesque for an heroic narrative.

"You must know, then, that upon my arrival at Lyons" -- "Is it thus you begin?" said Matta, "pray give us your history a little farther back, the most minute particulars of a life like yours are worthy of relation; but above all, the manner in which you first paid your respects to Cardinal Richlieu: I have often laughed at it. However, you may pass over the unlucky pranks of your infancy, your genealogy, name and quality of your ancestors, for that is a subject with which you must be utterly unacquainted."

"Poh!" said the Chevalier, "you believe that all the world is as ignorant as yourself;-- you think that I am a stranger to the Mendores and the Corisandes. So, perhaps I don't know, that it was my father's own fault that he was not the son of Henry IV. The king would by all means have acknowledged him for his son, but the traitor would never consent to it. See what the Grammonts would have been now, but for this cross-grained fellow! They would have had precedence of the Caesars de Vendôme. You may laugh, if you like, yet it is as true as the gospel: but let us come to the point.

"I was sent to the college of Pau, with the intention of being brought up to the church; but as I had quite different views, I made no manner of improvement: gaming was so much in my head, that both my tutor and the master lost their labour in endeavouring to teach me Latin. Old Brinon, who served me both as valet-de-chambre and governor, in vain threatened to acquaint my mother. I only studied when I pleased, that is to say, seldom or never: however, they treated me as is customary with scholars of my quality; I was raised to all the dignities of the forms, without having merited them, and left college nearly in the same state in which I entered it; nevertheless I was thought to have more knowledge than was requisite for the abbacy, which my brother had solicited for me. He had just married the niece of a minister, to whom every one cringed: he was desirous to present me to him. I felt but little regret to quit the country, and great impatience to see Paris. My brother having kept me some time with him, in order to polish me, let me loose upon the town to shake off my rustic air, and learn the manners of the world. I so thoroughly gained them, that I could not be persuaded to lay them aside when I was introduced at court in the character of an Abbé. You know what kind of dress was then the fashion. All that they could obtain of me was to put a cassock over my other clothes, and my brother, ready to die with laughing at my ecclesiastical habit, made others laugh too. I had the finest head of hair in the world, well curled and powdered, above my cassock, and below were white buskins and gilt spurs. The Cardinal, who had a quick discernment, could not help laughing. This elevation of sentiment gave him umbrage; and he foresaw what might be expected from a genius that already laughed at the shaven crown and cowl.

"When my brother had taken me home; 'Well, my little parson,' said he, 'you have acted your part to admiration, and your party-coloured dress of the ecclesiastic and soldier has greatly diverted the court; but this is not all; you must now choose, my little knight. Consider then, whether, by sticking to the church, you will possess great revenues, and have nothing to do; or with a small portion, you will risk the loss of a leg or arm, and be the fructus belli of an insensible court, to arrive in your old age at the dignity of a major-general, with a glass eye and a wooden leg.' 'I know,' said I, 'that there is no comparison between these two situations, with regard to the conveniences of life; but, as a man ought to secure his future state in preference to all other considerations, I am resolved to renounce the church for the salvation of my soul, upon condition, however, that I keep my abbacy.' Neither the remonstrances nor authority of my brother could induce me to change my resolution; and he was forced to agree to this last article in order to keep me at the academy. You know that I am the most adroit man in France, so that I soon learned all that is taught at such places, and, at the same time, I also learnt that which gives the finishing stroke to a young fellow's education, and makes him a gentleman, viz., all sorts of games, both at cards and dice; but the truth is, I thought, at first, that I had more skill in them than I really had, as experience proved. When my mother knew the choice I had made, she was inconsolable; for she reckoned, that had I been a clergyman I should have been a saint; but now she was certain that I should either be a devil in the world, or be killed in the wars. And indeed I burned with impatience to be a soldier; but being yet too young, I was forced to make a campaign at Bidache before I made one in the army. When I returned to my mother's house, I had so much the air of a courtier, and a man of the world, that she began to respect me, instead of chiding me for my infatuation towards the army. I became her favourite, and finding me inflexible, she only thought of keeping me with her as long as she could, while my little equipage was preparing. The faithful Brinon, who was to attend me as valet-de-chambre, was likewise to discharge the office of governor and equerry, being, perhaps, the only Gascon who was ever possessed of so much gravity and ill-temper. He passed his word for my good behaviour and morality, and promised my mother that he would give a good account of my person in the dangers of the war; but I hope he will keep his word better as to this last article, than he has done to the former.

"My equipage was sent away a week before me. This was so much time gained by my mother to give me a good advice. At length, after having solemnly enjoined me to have the fear of God before my eyes, and to love my neighbour as myself, she suffered me to depart, under the protection of the Lord and the sage Brinon. At the second stage we quarrelled. He had received four hundred louis d'ors for the expenses of the campaign: I wished to have the keeping of them myself, which he strenuously opposed. 'Thou old scoundrel,' said I, 'is the money thine, or was it given thee for me? You suppose I must have a treasurer, and receive no money without his order.' I know not whether it was from a presentiment of what afterwards happened, that he grew melancholy; however, it was with the greatest reluctance, and the most poignant anguish, that he found himself obliged to yield. One would have thought that I had wrested his very soul from him. I found myself more light and merry after I had eased him of his trust; he, on the contrary, appeared so overwhelmed with grief, that it seemed as if I had laid four hundred pounds of lead upon his back, instead of taking away these four hundred louis. He went on so heavily, that I was forced to whip his horse myself, and turning to me, now and then, 'Ah! Sir,' said he, 'my lady did not think it would be so.' His reflections and sorrows were renewed at every stage; for, instead of giving a shilling to the post-boy, I gave him half-a-crown.

"Having, at last, reached Lyons, two soldiers stopped us at the gate of the city, to carry us before the governor. I took one of them to conduct me to the best inn, and delivered Brinon into the hands of the other, to acquaint the commandant with the particulars of my journey, and my future intentions.

"There are as good taverns at Lyons as at Paris; but my Soldier, according to custom, carried me to a friend of his own, whose house he extolled, as having the best accommodations, and the greatest resort of good company in the whole town. The master of this hotel was as big as a hogshead, his name Cerise; a Swiss by birth, a poisoner by profession, and a thief by custom. He shewed me into a tolerably neat room, and desired to know, whether I pleased to sup by myself or at the ordinary. I chose the latter, on account of the beaumonde which the soldier had boasted of.

"Brinon, who was quite out of temper at the many questions which the governor had asked him, returned more surly than an old ape; and seeing that I was dressing my hair, in order to go down stairs: 'What are you about now, Sir?' said he; 'are you going to tramp about the town? No, no: have we not had tramping enough ever since the morning? Eat a bit of supper, and go to bed betimes, that you may get on horseback by daybreak.' 'Mr. Comptroller,' said I, 'I shall neither tramp about the town, nor eat alone, nor go to bed early. I intend to sup with the company below.' 'At the ordinary!' cried he, 'I beseech you, Sir, do not think of it! Devil take me, if there be not a dozen brawling fellows playing at cards and dice, who make noise enough to drown the loudest thunder!'

"I was grown insolent since I had seized the money; and being desirous to shake off the yoke of a governor, 'Do you know, Mr. Brinon,' said I, 'that I don't like a blockhead to set up for a reasoner? do you go to supper, if you please, but take care that I have post-horses ready before daybreak.' The moment he mentioned cards and dice, I felt the money burn in my pocket. I was somewhat surprised, however, to find the room where the ordinary was served filled with odd-looking creatures. My host, after presenting me to the company, assured me, that there were but eighteen or twenty of those gentlemen who would have the honour to sup with me. I approached one of the tables where they were playing, and thought I should have died with laughing: I expected to have seen good company and deep play; but I only met with two Germans playing at backgammon. Never did two country loobies play like them; but their figures beggared all description. The fellow near whom I stood was short, thick, and fat, and as round as a ball, with a ruff, and a prodigious high-crowned hat. Any one, at a moderate distance, would have taken him for the dome of a church, with the steeple on the top of it. I inquired of the host, who he was. 'A merchant from Basle,' said he, 'who comes hither to sell horses; but from the method he pursues, I think he will not dispose of many; for he does nothing but play.' 'Does he play deep?' said I. 'Not now,' said he; 'they are only playing for their reckoning, while supper is getting ready; but he has no objection to play as deep as any one.' 'Has he money?' said I. 'As for that,' replied the treacherous Cerise, 'would to God you had won a thousand pistoles of him, and I went your halves; we should not be long without our money.' I wanted no farther encouragement to meditate the ruin of the high-crowned hat. I went nearer him, in order to take a closer survey; never was such a bungler, he made blots upon blots; God knows, I began to feel some remorse at winning of such an ignoramus, who knew so little of the game. He lost his reckoning; supper was served up; and I desired him to sit next me. It was a long table, and there were at least five-and-twenty in company, notwithstanding the landlord's promise. The most execrable repast that ever was begun being finished, all the crowd insensibly dispersed, except the little Swiss, who still kept near me, and the landlord, who placed himself on the other side of me. They both smoked like dragons; and the Swiss was continually saying in bad French, 'I ask your pardon, Sir, for my great freedom;' at the same time blowing such whiffs of tobacco in my face as almost suffocated me. Mr. Cerise, on the other hand, desired he might take the liberty of asking me, whether I had ever been in his country; and seemed surprised I had so genteel an air, without having travelled in Switzerland.

"The little chub I had to encounter was full as inquisitive as the other. He desired to know whether I came from the army in Piedmont; and having told him I was going thither, he asked me, whether I had a mind to buy any horses? that he had about two hundred to dispose of, and that he would sell them cheap. I began to be smoked like a gammon of bacon; and being quite wearied out, both with their tobacco and their questions, I asked my companion, if he would play for a single pistole at backgammon, while our men were supping; it was not without great ceremony that he consented, at the same time asking my pardon for his great freedom.

"I won the game; I gave him his revenge, and won again. We then played double or quit; I won that too, and all in the twinkling of an eye; for he grew vexed, and suffered himself to be taken in, so that I began to bless my stars for my good fortune. Brinon came in about the end of the third game, to put me to bed. He made a great sign of the cross, but paid no attention to the signs I made him to retire. I was forced to rise to give him that order in private. He began to reprimand me for disgracing myself by keeping company with such a low-bred wretch It was in vain that I told him, he was a great merchant, that he had a great deal of money, and that he played like a child. 'He a merchant!' cried Brinon. 'Do not believe that, Sir. May the devil take me, if he is not some conjurer.' 'Hold your tongue, old fool,' said I; 'he is no more a conjurer than you are, and that is decisive; and, to prove it to you, I am resolved to win four or five hundred pistoles of him before I go to bed.' With these words I turned him out, strictly enjoining him not to return, or in any manner to disturb us.

"The game being done, the little Swiss unbuttoned his pockets, to pull out a new four-pistole piece, and presenting it to me, he asked my pardon for his great freedom, and seemed as if he wished to retire. This was not what I wanted. I told him we only played for amusement; that I had no design upon his money; and that, if he pleased, I would play him a single game for his four pistoles. He raised some objections; but consented at last, and won back his money. I was piqued at it. I played another game; fortune changed sides; the dice ran for him, he made no more blots. I lost the game; another game, and double or quit; we doubled the stake, and played double or quit again. -- I was vexed; he, like a true gamester, took every bet I offered, and won all before him, without my getting more than six points in eight or ten games. I asked him to play a single game for one hundred pistoles; but as he saw I did not stake, he told me it was late; that he must go and look after his horses; and went away, still asking my pardon for his great freedom. The cool manner of his refusal, and the politeness with which he took his leave, provoked me to such a degree, that I almost could hare killed him. I was so confounded at losing my money so fast, even to the last pistole, that I did not immediately consider the miserable situation to which I was reduced.

"I durst not go up to my chamber for fear of Brinon. By good luck, however, he was tired with waiting for me, and had gone to bed. This was some consolation, though but of short continuance. As soon as I was laid down, all the fatal consequences of my adventure presented themselves to my imagination. I could not sleep. I saw all the horrors of my misfortune, without being able to find any remedy; in vain did I rack my brain; it supplied me with no expedient. I feared nothing so much as daybreak: however, it did come, and the cruel Brinon along with it. He was booted up to the middle, and cracking a cursed whip, which he held in his hand: 'Up, Monsieur le Chevalier,' cried, he, opening the curtains, 'the horses are at the door, and you are still asleep. We ought by this time to have rid two stages; give me money to pay the reckoning.' 'Brinon,' said I, in a dejected tone, 'draw the curtains.' 'What!' cried he, 'draw the curtains! Do you intend then to make your campaign at Lyons? You seem to have taken a liking to the place. And for the great merchant, you have stripped him, I suppose. No, no, Monsieur le Chevalier, this money will never do you any good. This wretch has, perhaps, a family; and it is his children's bread that he has been playing with, and that you have won. Was this an object to sit up all night for? What would my lady say, if she knew what a life you lead?' 'Mr. Brinon,' said I, 'pray draw the curtains.' But instead of obeying me, one would have thought that the devil had prompted him to use the most pointed and galling terms to a person under such misfortunes. 'And how much have you won?' said he: 'five hundred pistoles? what must the poor man do? Recollect, Monsieur le Chevalier, what I have said: this money will never thrive with you. It is, perhaps, but four hundred? three? two? Well, if it be but one hundred louis d'ors,' continued he, seeing that I shook my head at every sum which he had named, 'there is no great mischief done; one hundred pistoles will not ruin him, provided you have won them fairly.' 'Friend Brinon,' said I, fetching a deep sigh, 'draw the curtains; I am unworthy to see daylight.' Brinon was much affected at these melancholy words: but I thought he would have fainted, when I told him the whole adventure. He tore his hair, made grievous lamentations, the burden of which still was, 'What will my lady say?' And, after having exhausted his unprofitable complaints, 'What will become of you now. Monsieur le Chevalier?' said he, 'what do you intend to do?' 'Nothing,' said I, 'for I am fit for nothing.' After this, being somewhat eased after making him my confession, I thought upon several projects, to none of which could I gain his approbation. I would have had him post after my equipage, to have sold some of my clothes. I was for proposing to the horse-dealer, to buy some horses of him at a high price on credit, to sell again cheap. Brinon laughed at all these schemes, and after having had the cruelty of keeping me upon the rack for a long time, he at last extricated me. Parents are always stingy towards their poor children; my mother intended to have given me five hundred louis d'ors, but she had kept back fifty, as well for some little repairs in the abbey, as to pay for praying for me. Brinon had the charge of the other fifty, with strict injunctions not to speak of them, unless upon some urgent necessity. -- And this, you see, soon happened."

'Thus you have a brief account of my first adventure. Play has hitherto favoured me; for, since my arrival, I have had, at one time, after paying all my expenses, fifteen hundred louis d'ors. Fortune is now again become unfavourable: we must mend her. Our cash runs low; we must, therefore, endeavour to recruit."

"Nothing is more easy," said Matta; "it is only to find out such another dupe as the horse-dealer at Lyons; but now I think on it, has not the faithful Brinon some reserve for the last extremity? Faith, the time is now come, and we cannot do better than to make use of it."

"Your raillery would be very seasonable," said the Chevalier, "if you knew how to extricate us out of this difficulty. You must certainly have an overflow of wit, to be throwing it away upon every occasion as at present. What the devil! will you always be bantering, without considering what a serious situation we are reduced to? Mind what I say, I will go to-morrow to the head-quarters, I will dine with the Count de Cameran, and I will invite him to supper." "Where?" said Matta. "Here," said the Chevalier. "You are mad, my poor friend," replied Matta. "This is some such project as you formed at Lyons: you know we have neither money nor credit; and, to re-establish our circumstances, you intend to give a supper."

"Stupid fellow!" said the Chevalier, "is it possible that, so long as we have been acquainted, you should have learned no more invention? The Count de Cameran plays at quinze, and so do I; we want money; he has more than he knows what to do with; I will bespeak a splendid supper, he shall pay for it. Send your maître d'hôtel to me, and trouble yourself no farther, except in some precautions, which it is necessary to take on such an occasion." "What are they? said Matta. "I will tell you," said the Chevalier; "for I find one must explain to you things that are as clear as noonday.

"You command the guards that are here, don't you? As soon as night comes on, you shall order fifteen or twenty men under the command of your serjeant La Place, to be under arms, and to lay themselves flat on the ground, between this place and the head-quarters." "What the devil!" cried Matta, "an ambuscade? God forgive me, I believe you intend to rob the poor Savoyard. If that be your intention, I declare I will have nothing to say to it." "Poor devil!" said the Chevalier, "the matter is this; it is very likely that we shall win his money. The Piedmontese, though otherwise good fellows, are apt to be suspicious and distrustful. He commands the horse; you know you cannot hold your tongue, and are very likely to let slip some jest or other that may vex him. Should he take it into his head that he is cheated, and resent it, who knows what the consequences might be; for he is commonly attended by eight or ten horsemen. Therefore, however he may be provoked at his loss, it is proper to be in such a situation as not to dread his resentment."

"Embrace me, my dear Chevalier," said Matta, holding his sides and laughing, "embrace me, for thou art not to be matched. What a fool was I to think, when yon talked to me of taking precautions, that nothing more was necessary than to prepare a table and cards, or perhaps to provide some false dice! I should never have thought of supporting a man who plays at quinze by a detachment of foot: I must, indeed, confess that you are already a great soldier."

The next day every thing happened as the Chevalier Grammont had planned it; the unfortunate Cameran fell into the snare. They supped in the most agreeable manner possible: Matta drank five or six bumpers to drown a few scruples, which made him somewhat uneasy. The Chevalier de Grammont shone as usual, and almost made his guest die with laughing, whom he was soon after to make very serious; and the good-natured Cameran eat like a man whose affections were divided between good cheer and a love of play; that is to say, he hurried down his victuals, that he might not lose any of the precious time which he had devoted to quinze.

Supper being done, the serjeant La Place posted his ambuscade, and the Chevalier de Grammont engaged his man. The perfidy of Cerise, and the high-crowned hat, were still fresh in remembrance, and enabled him to get the better of a few grains of remorse, and conquer some scruples which arose in his mind. Matta, unwilling to be a spectator of violated hospitality, sat down in an easy chair, in order to fall asleep, while the Chevalier was stripping the poor Count of his money.

They only staked three or four pistoles at first, just for amusement; but Cameran having lost three or four times, he staked high, and the game became serious. He still lost, and became outrageous; the cards flew about the room, and the exclamations awoke Matta.

As his head was heavy with sleep, and hot with wine, he began to laugh at the passion of the Piedmontese, instead of consoling him. "Faith, my poor Count," said he, "if I was in your place, I would play no more." "Why so?" said the other. "I don't know," said he, "but my heart tells me thai your ill-luck will continue." "I will try that," said Cameran, calling for fresh cards. "Do so," said Matta, and fell asleep again: it was but for a short time. All cards were equally unfortunate for the loser. He held none but tens or court cards; and if by chance he had quinze, he was sure to be the younger hand, and therefore lost it. Again he stormed. "Did not I tell you so?" said Matta, starting out of his sleep: "all your storming is in vain; as long as you play you will lose. Believe me, the shortest follies are the best. Leave off, for the devil take me, if it is possible for you to win." "Why?" said Cameran, who began to be impatient. "Do you wish to know?" said Matta; "why, faith, it is, because we are cheating you."

The Chevalier de Grammont, provoked at so ill-timed a jest, more especially as it carried along with it some appearance of truth; "Mr. Matta," said he, "do you think it can be very agreeable for a man, who plays with such ill-luck as the Count, to be pestered with your insipid jests? For my part, I am so weary of the game, that I would desist immediately, if he was not so great a loser." Nothing is more dreaded by a losing gamester, than such a threat; and the Count, in a softened tone, told the Chevalier, that Mr. Matta might say what he pleased, if he did not offend him; that, as to himself, it did not give him the smallest uneasiness.

The Chevalier de Grammont gave the Count far better treatment than he himself had experienced from the Swiss at Lyons; for he played upon credit as long as he pleased; which Cameran took so kindly, that he lost fifteen hundred pistoles, and paid them the next morning. As for Matta, he was severely reprimanded for the intemperance of his tongue. All the reason he gave for his conduct was, that he made it a point of conscience, not to suffer the poor Savoyard to be cheated, without informing him of it; "Besides," said he, "it would have given me pleasure to have seen my infantry engaged with his horse, if he had been inclined to mischief."

This adventure having recruited their finances, fortune favoured them the remainder of the campaign, and the Chevalier de Grammont, to prove that he had only seized upon the Count's effects by way of reprisal, and to indemnify himself for the losses he had sustained at Lyons, began from this time to make the same use of his money, that he has been known to do since upon all occasions. He found out the distressed, in order to relieve them; officers, who had lost their equipage in the war, or their money at play; soldiers, who were disabled in the trenches; in short, every one felt the influence of his benevolence: but his manner of conferring a favour exceeded even the favour itself.

Every man, possessed of such amiable qualities, must meet with success in all his undertakings. The soldiers knew his person, and adored him. The generals were sure to meet him in every scene of action, and sought his company at other times. As soon as fortune declared for him, his first care was to make restitution, by desiring Cameran to go his halves in all parties where the odds were in his favour.

An inexhaustible fund of vivacity and good-humour gave a certain air of novelty to whatever he either said or did. I know not on what occasion it was that Monsieur de Turenne, towards the end of the siege, commanded a separate body. The Chevalier de Grammont went to visit him at his new quarters, where he found fifteen or twenty officers. M. de Turenne was naturally fond of merriment, and the Chevalier's presence was sure to inspire it. He was much pleased with this visit, and by way of acknowledgment, would have engaged him to play. The Chevalier de Grammont, in returning him thanks, said, that he had learned from his tutor, that when a man went to see his friends, it was neither prudent to leave his own money behind him, nor civil to carry off theirs. "Truly," said Monsieur de Tureune, "you will find neither deep play, nor much money among us; but, that it may not be said that we suffered you to depart without playing, let us stake every one a horse."

The Chevalier de Grammont agreed. Fortune, who had followed him to a place where he did not think he should have any need of her, made him win fifteen or sixteen horses, by way of joke; but, seeing some countenances disconcerted at the loss, "Gentlemen," said he, "I should be sorry to see you return on foot from your general's quarters; it will be enough for me if you send me your horses to-morrow, except one, which I give for the cards."

The valet-de-chambre thought he was bantering. "I speak seriously," said the Chevalier, "I give you a horse for the cards; and what is more, take whichever you please, except my own." "Truly," said Monsieur de Turenne, "I am vastly pleased with the novelty of the thing; for I don't believe that a horse was ever before given for the cards."

Trino surrendered at last. The Baron de Batteville, who had defended it valiantly, and for a long time, obtained a capitulation worthy of such a resistance. I do not know whether the Chevalier de Grammont had any share in the capture of this place; but I know very well, that during a more glorious reign, and with armies ever victorious, his intrepidity and address have been the cause of taking others since, even under the eye of his master, as we shall see in the sequel of these memoirs.

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Memoirs of Count Grammont