THE MYRTLE AND THE LAUREL.
A marquis and a colonel were living in the country. Old, gouty, and
what is worse, whimsical, they passed their time in visiting one another. In the
evening they came together to play at cards, and to talk over the past incidents
of their lives.
During the day, with the help of their gold-headed canes, they
would take a walk over the country – provided that the gout, the rheumatism, the
catarrh, or the weather, did not prevent. The marquis was fond of walking in the
direction of a certain castle, situated a few gunshots distant from his own. It
belonged to the widow of the late president Z.
The marquis affirmed that the lady president was in the habit of
stationing herself behind the blinds, in order to see him pass. This greatly
excited the colonel’s laughter, especially as the marquis was nearly seventy
years old, and the fair lady president was on the verge of sixty.
“These old veterans,” murmured the marquis, “never know any thing
“These old intriguers,” mumbled the colonel, “will never be
convinced that there must be an end to every thing.”
Upon this subject they indulged in many lively banters, which they
hurled at one another. These petty skirmishes gave animation to their walks, and
added piquancy to their evening game of cards.
This marquis was the Myrtle; this colonel was the Laurel. The
former had always lived at court; the latter had lived only in the camp. They
had come together after a long separation; and although it is said that the
myrtle and laurel are brothers, the marquis and the colonel were perpetually
This evening, the two companions were in a worse humor than usual.
The colonel had just thrown the queen of hearts upon the table, and the marquis
did not reply to his challenge.
There may be inattention that will exhaust the patience even of a
“Well!” exclaimed the colonel, “will you play?”
“Spades,” replied the marquis.
“Do you revoke he hearts?”
“Your pardon; I did not notice my play:” and he took up the card
which he had just dropped.
“Zounds!” of what are you thinking, marquis?” said the colonel
with a sneer. “Have the handsome eyes of the lady president deprived you of your
Without appearing to notice the bantering tone of the Laurel, the
Myrtle exclaimed: —
“My love is deep and tender,
Yet she no pity shows;
Ye gods! like fortune send her,
Till mine shall be her woes.”
“Bravo!” cried the colonel. The marquis resumed:
“Before a lover hard as steel,
In fruitless sorrow may she kneel,
Till she shall sadly learn,
What pangs the loving heart must feel,
That meets with no return!”
When he had finished, the colonel looked at the marquis with an
air of pity.
“Poor fellow!” said he, as though he were talking to himself. “He
fancies he is still at that old court, at the time when they might be said to
live on madrigals and bouquets for Chloris; when stanzas were written on the
death of some petty baroness’s hawk, and tender elegies were made on the lost
parrot of madame, the wife of the superintendent. A pretty way, forsooth, of
On hearing this apostrophe, the marquis could contain himself no
“It becomes you to talk of love,” said he, “you, who never made
love to any but burgher’s dames, in the small towns where you lived in garrison.
You ridicule little attentions and pretty verses, because, old fox, halberdier,
that you are, you never experienced their charms.”
The colonel grew angry.
“A fine woman, like a citadel, should be carried by storm.”
“No: delicate attentions win the favor of the fair.”
“To vanquish the most obstinate, one needs only to show a brow
wreathed with laurel.”
“Not so: it is with a belt of myrtle that we must bind the Loves.”
Had there been a third person to share their conversation, he
might have reconciled the belligerent parties, by showing them that the myrtle
and the laurel agree perfectly; that they cannot dispense with each other’s aid;
and that it is as rare to see a brave man insensible to the power of beauty, as
it is to find a follower of Venus, who is an enemy to Bellona. But the colonel
and the marquis were by themselves. Besides this, for eight days past, the
mercury in the barometer had stood at variable; and rheumatism made the
two adversaries more obstinate than usual. The colonel proposed a duel to the
“Let us go out at once,” he replied.
But neither of them was able to rise from his arm-chair.
Poor Myrtle! Poor Laurel!
There they are, disputing for precedence; and all this time the
world has forgotten them both. The world laughs at their notions. For along
time, indeed, it has had nothing to do with either the myrtle or the laurel.
Gallantry and bravery have gone out of fashion. Ridicule has done
To whom should one be gallant? To women who smoke – who drink grog
– who ride horseback – who fence – and write novels?
Of what use is bravery? There are no wars now-a-days. We do not
even fight duels. A hero now, is a character perfectly ridiculous.
The reign of the myrtle and the laurel is over.
The marquis and colonel had no idea of this. They had retired from
society before the change took place; and they were destined to carry their
illusions to the grave.
However, their existence had not been unhappy.
Upon his first arrival on earth, the Myrtle become incarnated in
the person of a marquis.
He lived at court. Brisk, spruce, witty, and gallant, he was
unequalled in the difficult arts of making acrostics and bouts-rimés.*
* Bouts-rimés, – words or syllables that
rhyme, arranged in a particular order, and given to a poet, with a subject,
on which he must write verses, ending in the same rhymes, and disposed in
the same order. – [Tr.
He would embroider on the tambour – could purfle – and make
He spent the day in writing billet-doux, and love-letters in
His success was without bound.
The Laurel, as was proper, selected a career totally unlike to
that of the Myrtle.
As he was passing over the Pont-Neuf, he fell in with a recruiting
officer, who enlisted him in the service of the king of France.
He served a campaign under the Prince of Soubise, and captured
Port-Mahon to the music of Marshal Richelieu’s violins.
He came home with the commission of colonel.
During the whole of his military career, he was accustomed to make
love with a bold front and a conquering air. Still this did not prevent him from
being quite as successful as his comrade, the Myrtle.
Accordingly, he could not brook the airs of superiority which the
latter, from time to time, assumed, and which were the source of perpetual
quarrels between them.
The dispute which we have just related, had gone too far to stop
where it was. Seated, or rather fastened in their arm-chairs, for a short time
they looked at one another, like to china-dogs, or, as some would say, like two
lions. At length the marquis hemmed, and said:
“Ah, those were delightful times.” He would have said more but a
violent fit of coughing stopped him short.
The colonel took advantage of this little respite, to stuff his
nose with snuff, – showing, at the same time, by certain motions of his head,
that he approved of his comrade’s last remark.
“My dear friend,” said he to the marquis, after a moment’s
silence, “do you know one thing?”
“What do you mean?”
“That we ought now to begin to think of beating a retreat. War and
gallantry have had their day. Youth looks with scorn on the fires of Venus, as
well as on the sports of Mars. It regards you as a butterfly, and me as an old
invalid. It is well to know how to retire in season. The art of retreating is,
of all arts, perhaps the most difficult. Our course on earth will not have been
without its charms, if we can but save ourselves from the ennui of its closing
scenes. Let us return to our good friend, the Flower Fairy.”
“Can you really be thinking of it?”
“Indeed, I think of nothing else,”
“And – the lady president?”
The colonel could not help laughing outright.
“Zounds!” cried the marquis.
“There now, – don’t get into a passion,” replied the colonel,
“You shall give me satisfaction,” said the marquis, displaying his
“Whenever you wish,” fiercely replied the colonel to the challenge
of his antagonist.
We forgot to mention that the arms of the marquis consisted of a
myrtle sprig, held by a cupid, and quartered with a scarf of silk. The colonel’s
escutcheon – for he, too, had his heraldric
bearings, – consisted of a shield, shaded by a branch of laurel, held in a
gauntleted hand. They could swear, at any time, one by his arms, and the other
by his escutcheon.
The Myrtle and Laurel attempted to seize each other by the hair.
But again a violent paroxysm of coughing pinned them to their seats. The catarrh
preserved humanity from witnessing a novel and dreadful tragedy.
The Myrtle first recovered his speech:
“It is very strange that you should pretend to doubt the success
of one who was the flower of marquises in his day.”
“It well becomes you,” replied the Laurel, “to threaten me – who
have been, in my time, a thunderbolt of war.”
“The bolt is extinct.”
“Yes: and the flower is faded.”
More enraged than ever, they made a last, desperate attempt to get
at one another. This violent effort was fatal to them. Probably some
blood-vessel broke in their chest. They expired at the same moment. The Myrtle
maintained to the last, his claims to the reputation of a successful intriguer;
while the laurel died, as he had lived, with his fist clenched.