Page:Once a Week Volume V.djvu/494

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Oct. 26, 1861.]
487
THE LAST OF THE CONDÉS.

her prospects. The Princes de Rohan, the next heirs of the Duke de Bourbon, already looked with jealous eyes on the rapid encroachments which this ambitious woman was making on their vested rights. Little by little the inheritance of the Condés was being shorn of some its most lucrative dependencies, and bid fair to be despoiled of its most valuable features. The opposition of these expectant heirs to the validity of the legacies in her favour was too apparent in intention to escape the notice of the Baroness. Forewarned, she was forearmed: a coquette, with wit and an established position and still unwasted charms, she was not easily to be driven from the field by opponents whose rights were all contingent, and whose resources were only in expectancy. She set about devising means for her permanent security, with what success we shall presently see.

Between the Duke de Bourbon and the Duke of Orleans (afterwards Louis Philippe, King of the French) there existed little sympathy or friendship. A formal intercourse only was maintained between the two families. As to Madame de Feuchères, she was not so much as received at the Palais Royal, then the residence of the Orleans family. Scrupulous in the practice of domestic virtues, the irreproachable Duke regarded as a scandal her unconcealed ascendancy at the little court of St. Leu, and had refused to admit her into the correct and punctilious circles of which he was the centre. But of what avail are the rules of a conventional morality against considerations of absorbing interest? This same Madame de Feuchères, frowned on and repulsed in 1822, excluded from the salons of the Palais Royal and the less restrained familiarities of Neuilly, became in 1829 the friend and confidante of the exemplary Duke, and the correspondent of the pious Duchess of Orleans.[1] The paths that seemed so widely separated before, suddenly united, and the formidable differences of rank were merged in a common ambition. The explanation of this riddle is easy. Alarmed by the apprehensions alluded to, and anxious to ensure her doubtful expectations, and provide against fatal emergencies, no safer or wiser plan could be devised than that to which Madame de Feuchères had recourse. It was this: To secure the favour of the most influential family in France and their strong support of her interests in the nature of an active gratitude for benefits conferred. Her scheme was soon matured, and its development furnishes the solution of many difficulties, the reooncilement of many conflicting facts in this strange history. With the consent and active co-operation of the Duke of Orleans, and the assurances of a firm regard, and the gratitude of a mother on the part of the Duchess,: Madame de Feuchères, in a letter at once artful, imperious, and tender, pressed upon her aged lover a strange and unanticipated step—no other than the adoption of an heir to his title and estates, and that heir the young Duke d’Aumale,; the third son of Louis Philippe. This proposal was most obnoxious to the Duke de Bourbon. The advantage that the artful Baroness would gain he may not have fully discerned, or he might have been indifferent to; but to leave the inheritance of the Condés to a family which had been conspicuous amongst the enemies of the crown and the nobility, seemed to him “a forfeiture, and almost an impiety.” Little accustomed, however, to resist the solicitations, or contradict the plans, of Madame de Feuchères, he found himself, in spite of his repugnance and better judgment, and the claim of his rightful heirs, gradually drawn into the desired acquiescence. Finally, as a last resource, he overcame the restraints of etiquette, and with a despairing candour threw himself upon the generosity of the Duke of Orleans, in the hope of extricating himself from the consequences of a promise extorted almost by compulsion. With this view he wrote a letter in which he characterised the proposed arrangement as infinitely painful to him (infiniment pénible); confessed that it was concluded by Madame de Feuchères, without his consent, and with premature haste, and appealed to the generosity, friendship, and delicacy of feeling of his kinsman to extricate him from an affair so tormenting and harassing, and to obtain from the Baroness what he himself was unable to gain—a promise of freedom from further importunity on a subject which threatened him with misery for the rest of his days. As the result of this appeal, and ostensibly to plead the cause of the Prince, the Duke of Orleans, soon after the receipt of this letter, had an interview with the Baroness at the Palais Royal, in presence of a witness. The father of the proposed heir, with a magnanimous and disinterested modesty, declined the offered inheritance, and implored the benefactress of his son to cease her efforts in his behalf. But the inflexible Baroness was deaf to his entreaties, and Louis Philippe resigned himself so far to the fortunate destiny that was thus thrust upon his family as to direct his homme d’affaires (M. Dupin ainé) to prepare, but in the most private manner, the draught of a last will and testament in favour of the Duke d’Aumale, to receive the signature of Condé. Thus the last hope of the Prince was cut off. At his next interview with Madame de Feuchères a terrible scene occurred, such as only a sense of confidence betrayed and affection repaid by ingratitude and treachery can provoke. At last the old man yielded—the chains were rivetted too strongly—he resigned himself to their inexorable clasp, and On the following day (the 30th of August, 1829) he executed in due form a testament in which the Duke d’Aumale was created his universal heir, and a legacy at the same time assured to Madame de Feuchères—a sum of 2,000,000 francs. Such was the state of affairs when the Revolution of July occurred; such, in part, is the explanation of the doubtful and unhappy position of the Prince of Condé, and such was the connection of mutual interest and expectation between the adventurous Baroness and the new dynasty.

The neutrality of the Duke de Bourbon secured him from the attack of either party. His person and property were respected, and the whirlwind passed on its destructive way without disturbing the outward calm of his existence. But the
  1. “It must have been,” says Louis Blanc, “a sore trial for a woman like the Duchess of Orleans to associate her maternal hopes with such unequivocal advocacy.”