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The Young Chevalier
Prologue--The Wine-Seller's Wife
There was a wine-seller's shop, as you went down to the river in the city of the
Anti-popes. There a man was served with good wine of the country and plain
country fare; and the place being clean and quiet, with a prospect on the river,
certain gentlemen who dwelt in that city in attendance on a great personage
made it a practice (when they had any silver in their purses) to come and eat
there and be private.
They called the wine-seller Paradou. He was built more like a bullock than a
man, huge in bone and brawn, high in colour, and with a hand like a baby for
size. Marie-Madeleine was the name of his wife; she was of Marseilles, a city of
entrancing women, nor was any fairer than herself. She was tall, being almost of
a height with Paradou; full-girdled, point-device in every form, with an exquisite
delicacy in the face; her nose and nostrils a delight to look at from the fineness of
the sculpture, her eyes inclined a hair's-breadth inward, her colour between dark
and fair, and laid on even like a flower's. A faint rose dwelt in it, as though she
had been found unawares bathing, and had blushed from head to foot. She was
of a grave countenance, rarely smiling; yet it seemed to be written upon every
part of her that she rejoiced in life. Her husband loved the heels of her feet and
the knuckles of her fingers; he loved her like a glutton and a brute; his love hung
about her like an atmosphere; one that came by chance into the wine-shop was
aware of that passion; and it might be said that by the strength of it the woman
had been drugged or spell-bound. She knew not if she loved or loathed him; he
was always in her eyes like something monstrous--monstrous in his love,
monstrous in his person, horrific but imposing in his violence; and her sentiment
swung back and forward from desire to sickness. But the mean, where it dwelt
chiefly, was an apathetic fascination, partly of horror; as of Europa in mid ocean
with her bull.
On the 10th November 1749 there sat two of the foreign gentlemen in the wine-
seller's shop. They were both handsome men of a good presence, richly dressed.
The first was swarthy and long and lean, with an alert, black look, and a mole
upon his cheek. The other was more fair. He seemed very easy and sedate, and
a little melancholy for so young a man, but his smile was charming. In his grey
eyes there was much abstraction, as of one recalling fondly that which was past
and lost. Yet there was strength and swiftness in his limbs; and his mouth set
straight across his face, the under lip a thought upon side, like that of a man
accustomed to resolve. These two talked together in a rude outlandish speech
that no frequenter of that wine-shop understood. The swarthy man answered to
the name of Ballantrae; he of the dreamy eyes was sometimes called Balmile,
and sometimes MY LORD, or MY LORD GLADSMUIR; but when the title was
given him, he seemed to put it by as if in jesting, not without bitterness.