The Duke De L’Omelette
And stepped at once into a cooler clime.
Keats fell by a criticism. Who was it died of ‘The Andromache?’ Ignoble souls! De L’Omelette perished of an ortolan. L’histoire en est brieve. Assist me Apicius!
A golden cage bore the luxurious little wanderer, enamoured, 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. It was ‘All for Love.’
That night the Duke 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 buried his face in the pillow. The clock struck. Unable to restrain his feelings, his grace swallowed an olive.
The door opens to the sound of soft music, and the most delicate of birds is before the most enamoured of men! — horror! — dog! — Baptiste! — l’oiseau — cet oiseau modeste que tu as deshabille de ses plumes, et que tu as servi sans papier!
It is superfluous to say more, the Duke 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, and drawing himself up with an air of hauteur.
‘Why, surely you are not serious,’ retorted De l’Omelette — ‘you have no bona fide intentions of — of — putting such — such barbarous threats into execution.’
‘No what? come, sir, strip!’
‘Strip, indeed! very pretty ‘faith! No, sir, I shall not strip. Who are you, pray, that I, Duke de l’Omelette, Prince de Fois-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 Stultz, the daintiest robe de chambre ever put together by Rombert — not to mention the taking my hair out of paper — all to gratify your blood-thirsty propensities!’
‘Who am I? — ah! true! I am Baal-Zebub, Prince of the Fly. I took thee, just now, from an inlaid coffin, curiously scented, and labelled as per invoice. Belial sent thee, my inspector of cemeteries. The pantaloons, which, thou sayest, were made by Stultz, are an excellent pair of linen drawers; and thy robe de chambre is a shroud of no scanty dimensions.’
‘Sir! 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 duke was bowing himself out of the Satanic presence, when he was interrupted, and brought back by a gentleman in waiting.
Upon this his Grace rubbed his eyes — yawned — shrugged his shoulders — reflected: and having become satisfied of his identity, he took a bird’s eye view of his whereabouts.
The apartment was superb. De l’Omelette pronounced it ‘bien comme il faut.’ It was not very long, nor very broad — 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 upwards.
There was a chain of an unknown, blood-red metal — its upper end lost, like Col———e, parmi les nues. From its nether extremity hung a hugh cresset. The duke knew it to be a ruby — but there poured from it 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 earth, and his face to the god Apollo. The duke murmured 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. His grace could not understand them, and said ‘Bah!’ In the fourth niche the statue was veiled. It was not colossal. Then there was a taper ankle — a sandalled foot! De L’Omelette laid 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 lie imbedded, and asleep in those swelling walls of eider-down?
But the lofty, narrow windows of stained flass, and porphyry! — how many! — how magnificent! — And the curtains! — ah! that aerial silk! — the vapour-like floating of that gorgeous drapery!
The Duke’s heart is fainting within him! No — oh, no. He is not, as you suppose, dizzy with magnificence — nor drunk with the extatic breath of those innumerable censers. C’est vrai, que, de toutes ces choses, il a fait un memorandum — mais!
The Duke de l’Omelette is horror-stricken — for through the lurid vista which a single uncurtained window is affording, lo! gleams the most ghastly of all fires!
Le pauvre Duc! Could he have imagined that the glorious, the voluptuous, the never-dying symphonies of that melodious hall, as they passed filtered, and transmuted through the alchemy of that enchanted glass, were the wailings, and the howlings of the hopeless and the damned? And there too — there! on that ottoman! — who could he be? — he! — the petit-maitre — no — the Deity! — who sat as if carved in marble — et qui sourit, with his pale countenance, si amerement?
Mais il faut agir. A Frenchman never faints outright. Besides, his grace hated a scene. De L’Omelette is himself again!
There were some foils on a table — some points also. The Duke had studied under B——. Il avait tue ses six hommes. Now then! — il peut s’echapper! Horreur! His majesty does not fence!
Mais il joue! What a thought! His grace has an excellent memory.
Have you dipped in the ‘Diable’ of Abbe Gualtier. It is said ‘que le diable n’ose pas refuser un jeu d’ Ecarte.’ But the chances! True! desperate. But not more than himself. Besides, was he not in the secret? Had he not skimmed over Pere La Chaise? Was he not a member of the Academy? ‘Si je perds —’ said he — ‘Je serai deux fois perdu — I shall be doubly dammed — voila tout’ (Here the duke shrugged his shoulders) — Eh bein! si Je gagne! — 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. De l’Omelette thought of his game. His majesty did not think — he shuffled. The grace coupa.
The cards are dealt. The trump is turned slowly mais avec un air de fierte. The corner appears — it is — it is — the king! — no it was the queen. His Majesty cursed her masculine habiliments. De l’Omelette laid his hand upon his heart. They play. The Duke counts.
The hand is out. His majesty counts heavily, smiles, and has taken wine. The Duke slips a card.
‘Cest 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 the drunkard not been Alexander, he would have been Diogenes — and the Duke assured his majesty en partant, ‘que sit n’etait pas De l’Omelette il n’aurait point d’objection d’etre le Diable.’
Edgar Allan Poe
Originally Published in 1832