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The Duc de L'Omelette


And stepped at once into a cooler clime.-- Cowper

KEATS fell by a criticism. Who was it died of "The Andromache"? {*1}
Ignoble souls! -- De L'Omelette perished of an ortolan. L'histoire en
est breve. Assist me, Spirit of Apicius!

A golden cage bore the little winged wanderer, enamored, melting,
indolent, to the Chaussee D'Antin, from its home in far Peru. From
its queenly possessor La Bellissima, to the Duc De L'Omelette, six
peers of the empire conveyed the happy bird.

That night the Duc was to sup alone. In the privacy of his bureau he
reclined languidly on that ottoman for which he sacrificed his
loyalty in outbidding his king -- the notorious ottoman of Cadet.

He buries his face in the pillow. The clock strikes! Unable to
restrain his feelings, his Grace swallows an olive. At this moment
the door gently opens to the sound of soft music, and lo! the most
delicate of birds is before the most enamored of men! But what
inexpressible dismay now overshadows the countenance of the Duc? --
"Horreur! -- chien! -- Baptiste! -- l'oiseau! ah, bon Dieu! cet
oiseau modeste que tu as deshabille de ses plumes, et que tu as servi
sans papier!" It is superfluous to say more: -- the Duc expired in a
paroxysm of disgust.

"Ha! ha! ha!" said his Grace on the third day after his decease.

"He! he! he!" replied the Devil faintly, drawing himself up with an
air of hauteur.

"Why, surely you are not serious," retorted De L'Omelette. "I have
sinned -- c'est vrai -- but, my good sir, consider! -- you have no
actual intention of putting such -- such barbarous threats into
execution."

"No what?" said his majesty -- "come, sir, strip!"

"Strip, indeed! very pretty i' faith! no, sir, I shall not strip. Who
are you, pray, that I, Duc De L'Omelette, Prince de Foie-Gras, just
come of age, author of the 'Mazurkiad,' and Member of the Academy,
should divest myself at your bidding of the sweetest pantaloons ever
made by Bourdon, the daintiest robe-de-chambre ever put together by
Rombert -- to say nothing of the taking my hair out of paper -- not
to mention the trouble I should have in drawing off my gloves?"

"Who am I? -- ah, true! I am Baal-Zebub, Prince of the Fly. I took
thee, just now, from a rose-wood coffin inlaid with ivory. Thou wast
curiously scented, and labelled as per invoice. Belial sent thee, --
my Inspector of Cemeteries. The pantaloons, which thou sayest were
made by Bourdon, are an excellent pair of linen drawers, and thy
robe-de-chambre is a shroud of no scanty dimensions."

"Sir!" replied the Duc, "I am not to be insulted with impunity!- Sir!
I shall take the earliest opportunity of avenging this insult!- Sir!
you shall hear from me! in the meantime au revoir!" -- and the Duc
was bowing himself out of the Satanic presence, when he was
interrupted and brought back by a gentleman in waiting. Hereupon his
Grace rubbed his eyes, yawned, shrugged his shoulders, reflected.
Having become satisfied of his identity, he took a bird's eye view of
his whereabouts.

The apartment was superb. Even De L'Omelette pronounced it bien comme
il faut. It was not its length nor its breadth, -- but its height --
ah, that was appalling! -- There was no ceiling -- certainly none-
but a dense whirling mass of fiery-colored clouds. His Grace's brain
reeled as he glanced upward. From above, hung a chain of an unknown
blood-red metal -- its upper end lost, like the city of Boston, parmi
les nues. From its nether extremity swung a large cresset. The Duc
knew it to be a ruby; but from it there poured a light so intense, so
still, so terrible, Persia never worshipped such -- Gheber never
imagined such -- Mussulman never dreamed of such when, drugged with
opium, he has tottered to a bed of poppies, his back to the flowers,
and his face to the God Apollo. The Duc muttered a slight oath,
decidedly approbatory.

The corners of the room were rounded into niches. Three of these were
filled with statues of gigantic proportions. Their beauty was
Grecian, their deformity Egyptian, their tout ensemble French. In the
fourth niche the statue was veiled; it was not colossal. But then
there was a taper ankle, a sandalled foot. De L'Omelette pressed his
hand upon his heart, closed his eyes, raised them, and caught his
Satanic Majesty -- in a blush.

But the paintings! -- Kupris! Astarte! Astoreth! -- a thousand and
the same! And Rafaelle has beheld them! Yes, Rafaelle has been here,
for did he not paint the ---? and was he not consequently damned? The
paintings -- the paintings! O luxury! O love! -- who, gazing on those
forbidden beauties, shall have eyes for the dainty devices of the
golden frames that besprinkled, like stars, the hyacinth and the
porphyry walls?

But the Duc's heart is fainting within him. He is not, however, as
you suppose, dizzy with magnificence, nor drunk with the ecstatic
breath of those innumerable censers. C'est vrai que de toutes ces
choses il a pense beaucoup -- mais! The Duc De L'Omelette is
terror-stricken; for, through the lurid vista which a single
uncurtained window is affording, lo! gleams the most ghastly of all
fires!

Le pauvre Duc! He could not help imagining that the glorious, the
voluptuous, the never-dying melodies which pervaded that hall, as
they passed filtered and transmuted through the alchemy of the
enchanted window-panes, were the wailings and the howlings of the
hopeless and the damned! And there, too! -- there! -- upon the
ottoman! -- who could he be? -- he, the petitmaitre -- no, the Deity
-- who sat as if carved in marble, et qui sourit, with his pale
countenance, si amerement?

Mais il faut agir -- that is to say, a Frenchman never faints
outright. Besides, his Grace hated a scene -- De L'Omelette is
himself again. There were some foils upon a table -- some points
also. The Duc s'echapper. He measures two points, and, with a grace
inimitable, offers his Majesty the choice. Horreur! his Majesty does
not fence!

Mais il joue! -- how happy a thought! -- but his Grace had always an
excellent memory. He had dipped in the "Diable" of Abbe Gualtier.
Therein it is said "que le Diable n'ose pas refuser un jeu d'ecarte."

But the chances -- the chances! True -- desperate: but scarcely more
desperate than the Duc. Besides, was he not in the secret? -- had he
not skimmed over Pere Le Brun? -- was he not a member of the Club
Vingt-un? "Si je perds," said he, "je serai deux fois perdu -- I
shall be doubly dammed -- voila tout! (Here his Grace shrugged his
shoulders.) Si je gagne, je reviendrai a mes ortolans -- que les
cartes soient preparees!"

His Grace was all care, all attention -- his Majesty all confidence.
A spectator would have thought of Francis and Charles. His Grace
thought of his game. His Majesty did not think; he shuffled. The Duc
cut.

The cards were dealt. The trump is turned -- it is -- it is -- the
king! No -- it was the queen. His Majesty cursed her masculine
habiliments. De L'Omelette placed his hand upon his heart.

They play. The Duc counts. The hand is out. His Majesty counts
heavily, smiles, and is taking wine. The Duc slips a card.

"C'est a vous a faire," said his Majesty, cutting. His Grace bowed,
dealt, and arose from the table en presentant le Roi.

His Majesty looked chagrined.

Had Alexander not been Alexander, he would have been Diogenes; and
the Duc assured his antagonist in taking leave, "que s'il n'eut ete
De L'Omelette il n'aurait point d'objection d'etre le Diable."


Edgar Allan Poe