The Glass-Blowers | Chapter 11 of 39

Author: Daphne du Maurier | Submitted by: Maria Garcia | 2078 Views | Add a Review

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By the time I was twelve or thirteen years old my father Mathurin Busson had control of four glass-houses. He had obtained an extension of his lease of la Pierre and was still associated with la Brûlonnerie and Chérigny, and now he added the glass-house of le Chesne-Bidault, between Montmirail and le Plessis-Dorin. Here, as at la Pierre, the owner, Monsieur Pesant de Bois-Guilbert, simply leased the foundry to my father, having no say in the management, living himself in his château at Montmirail.

The glass-house of le Chesne-Bidault, like la Pierre, was set in mid-forest, though it was a smaller concern, with the master’s house and the farm standing close to the single furnace house, and the long row of workmen’s dwellings opposite.

The grandeur of la Pierre, with the vast château in its fine park, was very different from the rough, somewhat rustic appearance of le Chesne-Bidault; but my mother loved it from the first, and at once set about making the master’s house fit and habitable for Robert, the idea being that he should act as manager for my father, and so gain experience for the future.

Le Chesne-Bidault was not more than an hour’s ride from la Pierre, and it was one of my great delights to go over there with my mother, for two or three days at a time, to see how Robert was progressing.

He had by now grown into a strikingly handsome young man, with great self-assurance and an excellent manner. In fact, my father used to say that his manners were overpolished, and if he was not careful he would be taken for a flunky. This annoyed Robert exceedingly.

“My father is quite out of touch with the manners of today,” he would say to me, after there had been some words on the subject. “Just because he has spent his life dealing with merchants and traders he assumes that I must do the same, and never move out of the glass milieu. What he does not understand is that by mixing in a more refined society I shall obtain many more orders for glass than he ever does.”

When he had been working at la Pierre, and my father was absent, Robert would go as often as he dared to Le Mans, for during the past years the social life of the town had become very gay; there were concerts and balls and plays, and many aristocrats who usually spent all their time at Versailles would now think it fashionable to open up houses and châteaux in the country, and vie with one another as to who would hold the wittiest salon. Freemasonry was all the rage, and whether it was now or later that Robert became a Freemason I am not sure, but certainly, from his talk, he had obtained a foothold in this smart Manceau society and elsewhere, and once away from the immediate jurisdiction of my father, and on his own at le Chesne-Bidault, it was easier for him to slip off and meet his friends. My mother, very naturally, was quite unaware of this. Robert was never absent when we arrived for a visit, and she would at once become absorbed in all the work of the glass-house, from keeping the books to managing the farm and the house, and seeing that the workmen and their wives lacked for nothing. Also, Robert was by now a fine craftsman on his own account, and she was proud of the wares that he dispatched weekly to Paris.

Nothing pleased me more than to be Robert’s confidante, to hear of his amours and his escapades. In return for listening to him, he would give me lessons in history and grammar, for since Edmé and I were girls, and certain to marry within the industry, my father did not think it necessary to teach us anything but the rudiments of education.

“He is quite wrong,” Robert would argue. “Every young woman should know how to comport herself, and how to mix in society.”

“Surely it depends upon the society?” I would reply, despite my anxiety to learn. “Take aunt Anne at Chérigny. Neither she, nor my uncle Viau, can sign their names properly, and they do very well as they are.”

“No doubt,” said Robert, “and they will never move from Chérigny to the end of their days. You wait until I have a glass-house of my own, in Paris, and you come to visit me there. I can’t introduce my sister to society unless she does me credit.”

A glass-house in Paris… What ambition! I wondered what my parents would think of it if they knew.

Meanwhile Robert continued as manager of le Chesne-Bidault without running into trouble, and presently Pierre, who had become a master in his turn, joined him there—chiefly, I think, so that Robert could slip off into what he called “society” when he had the mind, but naturally neither my father nor my mother had any idea of this.

Pierre had his head filled with new ideas also, but of a rather different sort. He had returned from Martinique with great stories of the hardships the natives endured there, and he had begun to read a great deal, forever quoting Rousseau and saying, “Man is born free, but is everywhere in chains,” much to my father’s irritation.

“If you must read philosophy,” he would say, “read someone of merit, not a scoundrel who allowed his illegitimate children to be brought up in an orphanage.”

Pierre would not be dissuaded. Every state, he declared, should be conducted according to the theories of Jean-Jacques, for the good of all, without distinction of persons. Boys should be educated “naturally,” living in the open air, receiving no tuition until they were past fifteen.

“A pity,” my father would reply, “that you did not stay in Martinique and turn native. The life would have suited you better than becoming the indifferent craftsman in the glass trade which you are at present.”

The sarcasm was lost on Pierre. He was forever bubbling over with some new enthusiasm, some new cause, and infecting Michel with his ideas, so that my father, who had been so progressive himself as a young man with his chemical and scientific inventions, could not understand what had come over his sons.

My mother took it more calmly. “They are young,” she said. “The young always have some new fad or other. It will pass.”

One day my brother Robert rode over to la Pierre with the excuse of business between the two foundries, but in reality to swear me to secrecy over a new project, which nobody must know but myself and Pierre.

“I’ve joined the corps d’élite of the Arquebusiers,” he told me, in a state of great excitement. “Only as a temporary officer, of course, but it means doing my turn of service in Paris for three months in the year. Some of my friends at Le Mans persuaded me, and I’ve received the necessary recommendation. The point is, somehow or other my father must be kept from visiting le Chesne-Bidault during my absence.”

I shook my head. “It can never be done,” I said. “He is bound to find out.”

“No,” said Robert. “Pierre is also sworn to secrecy, and the workmen too. If my father should ride over to le Chesne-Bidault, then he will be told I have gone to Le Mans on some necessity. He never stays more than a day.”

During the next few weeks I did everything possible to make myself indispensable to my father. I would accompany him to the foundry in the morning, and be waiting for him when he returned, and I feigned to take a great interest all of a sudden in the day’s work. He was both flattered and surprised, and told me I was growing into a sensible girl, and that one of these days I should make a fine wife for a master of a glass-house.

My plans were so successful, and he enjoyed my company at la Pierre so much, that he never once rode over to le Chesne-Bidault. But towards the end of the period of my brother’s absence he looked across at me, during the evening meal, and said; “How would you like to pay your first visit to Paris?”

I thought immediately that all had been discovered, and this was a stratagem to make me speak out. I glanced quickly at my mother, but she smiled at me encouragingly.

“Yes, why not?” she nodded to my father. “Sophie is quite old enough to be your companion. Besides, I shall be all the easier if she goes with you.” The little pretence that my father might come to no good alone in the capital was a standing joke between my parents.

“Nothing in the world would please me better,” I told them, gaining confidence. At once Edmé clamored to come too, but here my mother was firm. “Your turn will come later,” she said to my sister, “but if you behave yourself we will drive over to see Robert at le Chesne-Bidault while your father and Sophie are away.”

This was the last thing I wanted, but there was nothing to be done about it, and I soon forgot my anxiety two days later when we were seated side by side in the diligence on our way to the capital. Paris… My first visit… And I an ignorant country girl not yet fourteen, who had only seen one city in her life so far, Le Mans. We were twelve hours or more upon the road, having left very early in the morning, and it must have been six or seven in the evening as we approached the capital, and I sat with my face pressed to the window, half sick with excitement and exhaustion.

It was June I remember, and there was a warm haze over the city and a dusty radiance everywhere, with the trees in full leaf, and people thronging the streets, and line upon line of carriages all returning to Versailles from the races. King Louis XVI and his young Queen Marie Antoinette had only been crowned a year, but already, my father said, there had been changes at Court, the old formality was going, the Queen was setting the fashion for balls and operagoing, and the King’s brother, the comte d’Artois, and his cousin the duc de Chartres vied with one another in horse racing, a sport very popular in England. Perhaps, I thought, staring eagerly from the diligence, I too would see some duke or duchess coming away from the races; perhaps those young gallants picking their way across the crowded Place Louis XV in front of the Palais des Tuileries were the King’s brothers? I pointed them out to my father, but he only laughed.

“Lackeys,” he said, “or coiffeurs. They all ape their masters. But you don’t catch a prince of the blood royal on his feet.”

The diligence deposited us at its terminus in the rue Boulay. Here all was jostling and confusion, with no one I could possibly call a gallant, or even a coiffeur. The streets were narrow and evil-smelling, with a broad stream running down the center to carry the sewage, and beggars holding out their hands for alms. I remember my sudden feeling of fright when my father’s back was turned to see to our luggage, and in a moment a woman had thrust her way between us, with two little barefooted children beside her, clamoring for money. When I drew back she shook her fist at me, and cursed. This was not the Paris I had expected, where all was gaiety, laughter, driving to the Opera, and bright lights.

It was my father’s custom to put up at the hotel du Cheval Rouge in the rue St. Denis, close to the church of St. Leu and the great central market of les Halles, and this was where he took me now, and where we stayed during our three days’ visit.

I confess I found myself disenchanted. We hardly moved from this quarter, so crowded, so ill-smelling, among the poorest of the people, and when we did walk out it was only to call at the various warehouses where my father did his business. I thought our charcoal burners at home in the forest of la Pierre were rough, but they were gentle and courteous compared with the people in the streets of Paris, who jostled us without apology, staring rudely all the while. Child as I was, I dared not venture out alone, but was obliged to stay beside my father the whole time, or remain in the bedroom at the Cheval Rouge.

The last evening of our visit my father took me to the Porte St. Martin to see coaches and carriages arriving for the Opera, and here was a change indeed from the poor quarter by our hotel. Glittering ladies, their bare bosoms gleaming with jewels, stepped down from their carriages escorted by gallants as gorgeously dressed as they were themselves. All was color and brilliance and high affected voices—it was as though they spoke a French totally unlike our own—and the very way the ladies moved, and held their skirts, and the gentlemen swaggered by their side, calling out, “Make way there, make way for Madame la marquise,” thrusting the crowds aside before the steps of the Opera, seemed to me like make-believe. A wave of perfume came from these fine folk, a strange exotic scent like flowers no longer fresh, whose petals curl, and this stale richness somehow mingled with the drab dirt of those beside us, pressing forward even as we did, in a dumb desire to see the Queen.

Her coach arrived at last, drawn by four magnificent horses, and the footmen sprang from behind to open the doors, while attendants brandishing staves appeared from nowhere to push back the staring crowds.

The King’s brother, the comte d’Artois, descended first, for the King himself was said to dislike opera, and never went. A plump young man, with a pink and white complexion, his satin coat covered with stars and decorations, he was immediately followed by a young lady all in rose, with a jewel glistening in her powdered hair and a haughty, disdainful expression on her face. We heard afterwards that she was the comtesse de Polignac, the intimate friend of the Queen. Then, for a brief moment, I saw the young Queen herself, the last to descend. Dressed all in white, diamonds about her throat and in her hair, her pale blue eyes sweeping past us in complete indifference as she gave her hand to the comte d’Artois and disappeared from view, she looked as exquisite, and as fragile, as those porcelain figures my father had pointed out to me that morning, reposing side by side in one of the warehouses of a merchant friend.

“There we are,” said my father. “Now are you content?”

Content or not, I could not say. It was a glimpse into another world. Did these folk really eat, I wondered, and undress, and perform the same functions as we did ourselves? It was hardly credible.

We walked the streets the rest of the evening, to “cool off,” as my father expressed himself, and it was when we had stopped in the rue St. Honoré a moment, to chat to one of his business acquaintances, that I saw a familiar figure approaching us, clad in the splendid uniform of an officer in the corps d’Arquebusiers. It was my brother Robert.

He saw us instantly, paused for a moment, then pirouetted swiftly like a ballet dancer, leaping the stream that ran down the center of the rue St. Honoré, and disappeared into the gardens of the Palais des Tuileries. My father, who happened to turn his head at this moment, stared after the retreating figure.

“Did I not know my eldest son to be at the glass-house of le Chesne-Bidault,” he observed drily to his companion, “I would think that I had recognized him in the person of that young officer whom you can see vanishing into the distance there.”

“All young men,” remarked my father’s acquaintance, “look much the same in uniform.”

“Possibly,” replied my father, “and have an equal facility for getting themselves out of a scrape.”

No more was said. We turned and walked back to our hotel in the rue St. Denis, and the following day returned home to the château at la Pierre. My father never again alluded to the incident, but when I asked my mother if she had visited le Chesne-Bidault during our absence she looked me straight in the eye and said, “I am impressed by the manner in which Robert manages the glass-house and succeeds in amusing himself at the same time.”

Playing at soldiers was one thing; dispatching consignments of glassware to Chartres without entering them in the foundry books was another. Anyone who attempted to fool my mother where the merchandise was concerned would be sorry for it.

We were spending our customary two days at le Chesne-Bidault for my mother to check on the orders, and all went smoothly until my mother suddenly announced her intention of counting the empty crates which had returned from Paris the previous week.

“That is quite unnecessary,” said my brother Robert, who this time was not on leave of absence. “The crates are piled one on top of the other in the store until our next batch is ready for the road. Besides, we know the figure is two hundred.”

“It should be two hundred,” replied my mother. “That is what I want to find out.”

My brother continued his protestations. “I cannot vouch for the order in the store,” he continued, glancing at me with warning in his eye. “Blaise has been sick, and the crates were stacked anyhow, as they came in. I can promise you everything will be satisfactory in time for the next batch.”

My mother disregarded him. “I shall need two strong laborers,” she said, “to shift the crates so that I can count them. Perhaps you will see about it now. And I shall want you to come with me.”

She found fifty crates missing, and as ill luck had it, the journeyman-carrier called at the glass-house that afternoon. On being questioned by my mother he explained to her, in all innocence, that the missing crates were at the moment in Chartres with a consignment of very special table-glass for the regiment of the Dragons de Monsieur, which was just then stationed in that city.

My mother thanked the journeyman for his information, and then asked my brother Robert to accompany her back to the master’s house.

“And now,” she said, “I should like your explanation as to why this consignment of ‘special table-glass’ has not been entered in the books?”

It might have helped my eldest brother then had he been cursed with a defect of speech like my youngest brother Michel.

“You must realize,” he said glibly, “that in dealing with noblemen like the colonel of the regiment, the comte de la Châtre—who, as everyone knows, is an intimate friend of Monsieur, the King’s brother—one does not expect payment on the spot. To have the honor of his custom is almost sufficient payment in itself.”

My mother stabbed at the open ledger with her quill.

“Very probably,” she said, “but your father and I have not had the doubtful pleasure to date of doing business with him. All I know of the comte de la Châtre is that his château at Malicorne is famous for every extravagance and intrigue, and he is said to have ruined himself and every tradesman in the district, none of whom can get a sou out of him.”

“Quite untrue,” said my brother, with a disdainful shrug. “I am surprised you should listen to spiteful gossip.”

“I don’t call it spiteful gossip when honest tradesmen, whom your father knows, are obliged to beg for assistance or go hungry,” replied my mother, “because your nobleman friend builds a private theater on his domain.”

“It is very necessary to encourage the arts,” protested my brother.

“It is more imperative to pay one’s debts,” replied my mother. “What was the value of the consignment of glass dispatched to this regiment?”

My brother hesitated. “I am not sure,” he began.

My mother insisted.

“Some fifteen hundred livres,” he admitted.

I was glad not to be in my brother’s shoes. My mother’s blue eyes turned as frozen as a northern lake.

“Then I shall myself write to the comte de la Châtre,” she said, “and if I do not obtain satisfaction from him I had better address myself to Monsieur, the King’s brother. Surely one or the other of them will have the courtesy to reply and honor the debt.”

I could tell by Robert’s face that this extreme measure would not do at all.

“You can spare yourself the pains,” he said. “To be brief—the money has already been spent.”

Here was trouble indeed. I began to tremble for my brother. How in the world could he have disposed of fifteen hundred livres? My mother remained calm. She glanced about her at the plain furnishings of the master’s house, which she and my father had supplied.

“As far as I am aware,” she said, “there has been no expenditure here or in any of the buildings on these premises.”

“You are perfectly right,” replied Robert. “The money was not spent at le Chesne-Bidault.”

“Then where?”

“I refuse to answer.”

My mother closed the ledger, and rising to her feet walked towards the door. “You will account for every sou within three weeks,” she said. “If I have not an explanation by that time I shall tell your father that we are closing down the glass-house here at le Chesne-Bidault because of fraud, and I shall have your name erased from the list of master glass-makers within the trade.”

She left the room. My brother forced a laugh, and, seating himself in the chair she had just relinquished, lounged back with his feet upon the table.

“She would never dare do such a thing,” he said. “It would be my ruin.”

“Don’t be too sure,” I warned him. “The money will have to be found, that’s certain. How did you spend it?”

He shook his head. “I shan’t tell you,” he said, beginning to smile despite his serious situation. “The point is that the money has gone, beyond recovery.”

The truth came out in an unlikely way. About a week later my uncle and aunt Déméré paid us a visit at la Pierre from la Brûlonnerie, and as usual there was much talk of local affairs, besides gossip from Paris, Chartres, Vendôme, and other big cities.

“I am told there was great excitement in Chartres with the masked ball,” began my aunt Déméré. “All the young good-for-nothings in the town were present, with or without their husbands.”

I became all attention at the mention of Chartres, and glanced at my brother Robert, who was also present.

“Is that so?” asked my father. “We heard nothing of any ball. But we are a long way from such frivolities out here in the country.”

My aunt, who disapproved of gaiety on principle, made a moue of disdain.

“All Chartres was discussing it when we were there two weeks ago,” she continued. “It appears there was some sort of wager between the officers of the Dragons de Monsieur and the young blades in the corps d’Arquebusiers as to which regiment could best entertain the ladies of the district.”

My uncle Déméré winked at my father. “The ladies of Chartres are known for their enjoyment of hospitality,” he said. My father bowed in mock understanding.

“It appears they kept it up to all hours in the morning,” went on my aunt, “drinking, dancing, and chasing each other round about the cathedral in a disgraceful manner. They say the officers of the Arquebusiers squandered a fortune providing for the affair.”

“I am not surprised,” said my father, “but as these gentlemen have the fashion set for them by a young Court at Versailles it is only to be expected. Let us hope they can afford it.”

Robert had his eyes fixed upon the ceiling, suggesting he was either plunged in thought or had noticed a patch of worn plaster.

“And the Dragons de Monsieur,” enquired my mother, “what part did they play in the business?”

“We were told they had lost their wager,” replied my uncle. “The dinner they gave was no match for the masked ball. In any event, the Dragons are now quartered elsewhere and the Arquebusiers, who have a short term of service, are presumably resting on their laurels.”

It was to my mother’s credit that not a word of this escapade ever reached my father’s ears, but she left me, young as I was, in charge of the château at la Pierre, while she returned with my brother Robert to the glass-house at le Chesne-Bidault, and remained with him there until he had himself replaced, by his own craftsmanship, the table-glass he had dispatched to the Dragons de Monsieur.

It was now the spring of the year 1777. The long lease of the château and glass-house of la Pierre, which had been our home for so long, had come to an end. The son of Madame le Gras de Luart, who had succeeded to the property, wished to make other arrangements, and with sad hearts we bade goodbye to the beautiful home where both Edmé and I had been born, and where our three brothers had grown from small boys to young men.

It was impossible for Edmé and myself, and certainly for Pierre and Michel, not to look upon le Gras de Luart as an interloper who, just because he was the seigneur and owner of la Pierre, had the right to turn over his property to a new tenant, or live in it himself for a few months in the year. As to the glass-house itself, which my father had developed from a small family affair to one of the foremost houses in the country, this must now be given up into other hands, and perhaps allowed once more to fall into decay or be exploited by outsiders. Our parents were more philosophical than we were. A master glass-maker must accustom himself to moving on. In old days they had always been wanderers, going from one forest to another, settling for a few years only. We had to consider ourselves fortunate to have been brought up at la Pierre, and to have had such happiness there through our childhood years. Luckily the lease of le Chesne-Bidault had many years to run, la Brûlonnerie too, and the family could divide itself up between the two.

My father, mother, Edmé, and I removed ourselves to le Chesne-Bidault, and Robert and Pierre went to la Brûlonnerie. Michel, who was twenty-one this year, had elected to go out of the family altogether for a time to gain experience, and was working as master glass-maker near Bourges, in le Berry. My three brothers, to distinguish themselves in the trade one from the other, had added suffixes to their names: Robert signed himself Busson l’Aîné, Pierre Busson du Charme, and Michel Busson-Challoir. These marks of distinction were, needless to say, Robert’s idea. Le Charme and le Challoir were small farm properties owned by our parents, forming part of their original marriage portion.

The use of these names struck my mother as extravagant. “Your father and his brother,” she said to me, “never thought it necessary to distinguish themselves. They were the Busson brothers, and that was good enough for them. However, now that it pleases Robert to call himself Busson l’Aîné perhaps he will realize his responsibilities at last and settle down. If he can’t pick a wife to keep him in order, I must find one for him.”

I thought she was joking, for Robert at twenty-seven was surely old enough to choose for himself. Nor did I at first see the connection between my mother’s more frequent visits to Paris with my father on business, and her sudden expressed wish to meet the families of some of his trade acquaintances, with the decision on her part that my brother must marry.

It was only when the three of them began to put up at the Cheval Rouge, ostensibly to discuss matters relating to both glass-houses, and my mother mentioned casually on her return that Monsieur Fiat, a well-to-do merchant, had an only daughter, that I began to suspect the motive for her visit.

“What is the daughter like?” I asked.

“Very pretty,” replied my mother, which was strong praise for her, “and seemed very much taken with Robert and he with her. At least, they had plenty to say to each other. I heard him ask permission to call next time he is in Paris, which will be next week.”

This was matchmaking with a vengeance. I felt jealous, for up to the present I had been Robert’s sole confidante.

“He will soon become tired of her,” I ventured.

“Perhaps,” shrugged my mother. “She is the very opposite of Robert, apart from her good humor. Dark, petite, large brown eyes, and a quantity of ringlets. Your father was much impressed.”

“Robert will never marry a tradesman’s daughter,” I pursued, “not even if she is the prettiest girl in the whole of Paris. He would lose face among his fine friends.”

My mother smiled. “What if she brought him a dot of ten thousand livres,” she returned, “and we guaranteed a similar sum, and your father made over to them the lease of la Brûlonnerie?”

This time I had no answer. I went off to my own room to sulk. But such promises, with the addition of pretty, twenty-year-old Catherine Adèle into the bargain, proved too much for my brother Robert to resist.

The agreements were drawn up between the parents of bride and groom, and on the 21st day of July, 1777, the marriage took place at the church of St. Sauveur, Paris, between Robert-Mathurin Busson and Catherine Adèle Fiat.


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Great book, nicely written and thank you BooksVooks for uploading

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