Burlesques

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Author: William Makepeace Thackeray

Chapter XXIV.

They entered a moderate-sized apartment—indeed, Holywell Street is not above a hundred yards long, and this chamber was not more than half that length—it was fitted up with the simple taste of its owner.

The carpet was of white velvet—(laid over several webs of Aubusson, Ispahan, and Axminster, so that your foot gave no more sound as it trod upon the yielding plain than the shadow did which followed you)—of white velvet, painted with flowers, arabesques, and classic figures, by Sir William Ross, J. M. W. Turner, R. A., Mrs. Mee, and Paul Delaroche. The edges were wrought with seed-pearls, and fringed with Valenciennes lace and bullion. The walls were hung with cloth of silver, embroidered with gold figures, over which were worked pomegranates, polyanthuses, and passion-flowers, in ruby, amethyst, and smaragd. The drops of dew which the artificer had sprinkled on the flowers were diamonds. The hangings were overhung by pictures yet more costly. Giorgione the gorgeous, Titian the golden, Rubens the ruddy and pulpy (the Pan of Painting), some of Murillo’s beatified shepherdesses, who smile on you out of darkness like a star, a few score first-class Leonardos, and fifty of the master-pieces of the patron of Julius and Leo, the Imperial genius of Urbino, covered the walls of the little chamber. Divans of carved amber covered with ermine went round the room, and in the midst was a fountain, pattering and babbling with jets of double-distilled otto of roses.

"Pipes, Goliath!" Rafael said gayly to a little negro with a silver collar (he spoke to him in his native tongue of Dongola); and welcome to our snuggery, my Codlingsby. We are quieter here than in the front of the house, and I wanted to show you a picture. I’m proud of my pictures. That Leonardo came from Genoa, and was a gift to our father from my cousin, Marshal Manasseh: that Murillo was pawned to my uncle by Marie Antoinette before the flight to Varennes—the poor lady could not redeem the pledge, you know, and the picture remains with us. As for the Rafael, I suppose you are aware that he was one of our people. But what are you gazing at? Oh! my sister—I forgot. Miriam! this is the Lord Codlingsby."

She had been seated at an ivory pianoforte on a mother-of-pearl music-stool, trying a sonata of Herz. She rose when thus apostrophized. Miriam de Mendoza rose and greeted the stranger.

The Talmud relates that Adam had two wives—Zillah the dark beauty; Eva the fair one. The ringlets of Zillah were black; those of Eva were golden. The eyes of Zillah were night; those of Eva were morning. Codlingsby was fair—of the fair Saxon race of Hengist and Horsa—they called him Miss Codlingsby at school; but how much fairer was Miriam the Hebrew!

Her hair had that deep glowing tinge in it which has been the delight of all painters, and which, therefore, the vulgar sneer at. It was of burning auburn. Meandering over her fairest shoulders in twenty thousand minute ringlets, it hung to her waist and below it. A light blue velvet fillet clasped with a diamond aigrette (valued at two hundred thousand tomauns, and bought from Lieutenant Vicovich, who had received it from Dost Mahomed), with a simple bird of paradise, formed her head-gear. A sea-green cymar with short sleeves, displayed her exquisitely moulded arms to perfection, and was fastened by a girdle of emeralds over a yellow satin frock. Pink gauze trousers spangled with silver, and slippers of the same color as the band which clasped her ringlets (but so covered with pearls that the original hue of the charming little papoosh disappeared entirely) completed her costume. She had three necklaces on, each of which would have dowered a Princess—her fingers glistened with rings to their rosy tips, and priceless bracelets, bangles, and armlets wound round an arm that was whiter than the ivory grand piano on which it leaned.

As Miriam de Mendoza greeted the stranger, turning upon him the solemn welcome of her eyes, Codlingsby swooned almost in the brightness of her beauty. It was well she spoke; the sweet kind voice restored him to consciousness. Muttering a few words of incoherent recognition, he sank upon a sandalwood settee, as Goliath, the little slave, brought aromatic coffee in cups of opal, and alabaster spittoons, and pipes of the fragrant Gibelly.

"My lord’s pipe is out," said Miriam with a smile, remarking the bewilderment of her guest—who in truth forgot to smoke—and taking up a thousand pound note from a bundle on the piano, she lighted it at the taper and proceeded to re-illumine the extinguished chibouk of Lord Codlingsby.

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Chicago: William Makepeace Thackeray, "Chapter XXIV.," Burlesques, ed. Macaulay, G. C. (George Campbell), 1852-1915 and trans. Curtin, Jeremiah, 1835-1906 in Burlesques (Boston: John W. Luce and Company, 1911), Original Sources, accessed March 1, 2024, http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=8UBYI16VQMWT4I8.

MLA: Thackeray, William Makepeace. "Chapter XXIV." Burlesques, edited by Macaulay, G. C. (George Campbell), 1852-1915, and translated by Curtin, Jeremiah, 1835-1906, in Burlesques, Boston, John W. Luce and Company, 1911, Original Sources. 1 Mar. 2024. http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=8UBYI16VQMWT4I8.

Harvard: Thackeray, WM, 'Chapter XXIV.' in Burlesques, ed. and trans. . cited in 1911, Burlesques, John W. Luce and Company, Boston. Original Sources, retrieved 1 March 2024, from http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=8UBYI16VQMWT4I8.