B. But isn't that rather sacrilegious?
A. No; it appears so to be, but he gives his reasons for his behaviour to the pope, and the pope is satisfied, and not only gives him his blessing, but shows him the greatest respect.
B. They must have been very weighty reasons.
A. And therefore they are not divulged.
B. That is to say, not until the end of the work.
A. They are never divulged at all; I leave a great deal to the reader's imagination—people are fond of conjecture. All they know is, that he boldly appears, and demands an audience. He is conducted in, the interview is private, after a sign made by our hero, and at which the pope almost leaps off his chair. After an hour he comes out again, and the pope bows him to the very door. Every one is astonished, and, of course, almost canonise him.
B That's going it rather strong in a Catholic country. But tell me, Ansard, what is your plot?
A. Plot! I have none.
B. No plot!
A. No plot, and all plot. I puzzle the reader with certain materials. I have castles and dungeons, corridors and creaking doors, good villains and bad villains. Chain armour and clank of armour, daggers for gentlemen, and stilettos for ladies. Dark forests and brushwood, drinking scenes, eating scenes, and sleeping scenes—robbers and friars, purses of gold and instruments of torture, an incarnate devil of a Jesuit, a handsome hero, and a lovely heroine. I jumble them all together, sometimes above, and sometimes underground, and I explain nothing at all.
B. Have you nothing supernatural?
A. O yes! I've a dog whose instinct is really supernatural, and I have two or three visions, which may be considered so, as they tell what never else could have been known. I decorate my caverns and dungeons with sweltering toads and slimy vipers, a constant dropping of water, with chains too ponderous to lift, but which the parties upon whom they are riveted, clang together as they walk up and down in their cells, and soliloquise. So much for my underground scenery. Above, I people the halls with pages and ostrich feathers, and knights in bright armour, a constant supply of generous wine, and goblets too heavy to lift, which the knights toss off at a draught, as they sit and listen to the minstrel's music.
B. Bravo, Ansard, bravo. It appears to me that you do not want assistance in this romance.
A. No, when I do I have always a holy and compassionate friar, who pulls a wonderful restorative or healing balm, out of his bosom. The puffs of Solomon's Balm of Gilead are a fool to the real merits of my pharmacopoeia contained in a small vial.
B. And pray what may be the title of this book of yours, for I have known it take more time to fix upon a title than to write the three volumes.
A. I call it The Undiscovered Secret, and very properly so too, for it never is explained. But if you please, I will read you some passages from it. I think you will approve of them. For instance, now let us take this, in the second volume. You must know, that Angelicanarinella (for that is the name of my heroine) is thrown into a dungeon not more than four feet square, but more than six hundred feet below the surface of the earth. The ways are so intricate, and the subterranean so vast, and the dungeons so numerous that the base Ethiop, who has obeyed his master's orders in confining her, has himself been lost in the labyrinth, and has not been able to discover what dungeon he put her in. For three days he has been looking for it, during which our heroine has been without food, and he is still searching and scratching his woolly head in despair, as he is to die by slow torture, if he does not reproduce her—for you observe, the chief who has thrown her into this dungeon is most desperately in love with her.
B. That of course; and that is the way to prove romantic love—you ill-treat—but still she is certainly in a dilemma, as well as the Ethiop.
A. Granted; but she talks like the heroine of a romance. Listen. (Ansard reads.) "The beauteous and divinely-moulded form of the angelic Angelicanarinella pressed the dank and rotten straw, which had been thrown down by the scowling, thick-lipped Ethiop for her repose—she, for whom attendant maidens had smoothed the Sybaritic sheet of finest texture, under the elaborately carved and sumptuously gilt canopy, the silken curtains, and the tassels of the purest dust of gold."
B. Tassels of dust of gold! only figuratively, I suppose.
A. Nothing more. "Each particular straw of this dank, damp bed was elastic with delight, at bearing such angelic pressure; and, as our heroine cast her ineffably beaming eyes about the dark void, lighting up with their effulgent rays each little portion of the dungeon, as she glanced them from one part to another, she perceived that the many reptiles enclosed with her in this narrow tomb, were nestling to her side, their eyes fixed upon her in mute expressions of love and admiration. Her eclipsed orbs were each, for a moment, suffused with a bright and heavenly tear, and from the suffusion threw out a more brilliant light upon the feeling reptiles who paid this tribute to her undeserved sufferings. She put forth her beauteous hand, whose 'faint tracery,'—(I stole that from Cooper,)—whose faint tracery had so often given to others the idea that it was ethereal, and not corporeal, and lifting with all the soft and tender handling of first love a venerable toad, which smiled upon her, she placed the interesting animal so that it could crawl up and nestle in her bosom. 'Poor child of dank, of darkness, and of dripping,' exclaimed she, in her flute-like notes, 'who sheltereth thyself under the wet and mouldering wall, so neglected in thy form by thy mother Nature, repose awhile in peace where princes and nobles would envy thee, if they knew thy present lot. But that shall never be; these lips shall never breathe a tale which might endanger thy existence; fear not, therefore, their enmity, and as thou slowly creepest away thy little round of circumscribed existence, forget me not, but shed an occasional pearly tear to the memory of the persecuted, the innocent Angelicanarinella!'" What d'ye think of that?
B. Umph! a very warm picture certainly; however, it is natural. You know, a person of her consequence could never exist without a little toadyism.
A. I have a good many subterraneous soliloquies, which would have been lost forever, if I did not bring them up.
B. That one you have just read is enough to make everybody else bring up.
A. I rather plume myself upon it.
B. Yes, it is a feather in your cap, and will act as a feather in the throat of your readers.
A. Now I'll turn over the second volume, and read you another morceau, in which I assume the more playful vein. I have imitated one of our modern writers, who must be correct in her language, as she knows all about heroes and heroines. I must confess that I've cribbed a little.
B. Let's hear.
A. The lovely Angelicanarinella pottered for some time about this fairy chamber, then 'wrote journal.' At last, she threw herself down on the floor, pulled out the miniature, gulped when she looked at it, and then cried herself to sleep.
B. Pottered and gulped! What language do you call that?
A. It's all right, my dear fellow. I understand that it is the refined slang of the modern boudoir, and only known to the initiated.
B. They had better keep it entirely to their boudoirs. I should advise you to leave it all out.
A. Well, I thought that one who was so very particular, must have been the standard of perfection herself.
B. That does not at all follow.
A. But what I wish to read to you is the way in which I have managed that my secret shall never be divulged. It is known only to four.
B. A secret known to four people! You must be quick then.
A. So I am, as you shall hear; they all meet in a dark gallery, but do not expect to meet any one but the hero, whom they intend to murder, each one having, unknown to the others, made an appointment with him for that purpose, on the pretence of telling him the great secret. Altogether the scene is well described, but it is long, so I'll come at once to the denouement.
B. Pray do.
A. "Absenpresentini felt his way by the slimy wall, when the breath of another human being caught his ear: he paused, and held his own breath. 'No, no,' muttered the other, 'the secret of blood and gold shall remain with me alone. Let him come, and he shall find death.' In a second, the dagger of Absenpresentini was in the mutterer's bosom:—he fell without a groan. 'To me alone the secret of blood and gold, and with me it remains,' exclaimed Absenpresentini. 'It does remain with you,' cried Phosphorini, driving his dagger into his back:—Absenpresentini fell without a groan, and Phosphorini, withdrawing his dagger, exclaimed, 'Who is now to tell the secret but me?' 'Not you,' cried Vortiskini, raising up his sword and striking at where the voice proceeded. The trusty steel cleft the head of the abandoned Phosphorini, who fell without a groan. 'Now will I retain the secret of blood and gold,' said Vortiskini, as he sheathed his sword. 'Thou shalt,' exclaimed the wily Jesuit, as he struck his stiletto to the heart of the robber, who fell without a groan. 'With me only does the secret now rest, by which our order might be disgraced; with me it dies,' and the Jesuit raised his hand. 'Thus to the glory and the honour of his society does Manfredini sacrifice his life.' He struck the keen-pointed instrument into his heart, and died without a groan. 'Stop,' cried our hero."
B. And I agree with your hero: stop, Ansard, or you'll kill me too—but not without a groan.
A. Don't you think it would act well?
B. Quite as well as it reads; pray is it all like this?
A. You shall judge for yourself. I have half killed myself with writing it, for I chew opium every night to obtain ideas. Now again——
B. Spare me, Ansard, spare me; my nerves are rather delicate; for the remainder I will take your word.
A. I wish my duns would do the same, even if it were only my washerwoman; but there's no more tick for me here, except this old watch of my father's, which serves to remind me of what I cannot obtain from others—time; but, however, there is a time for all things, and when the time comes that my romance is ready, my creditors will obtain the ready.
B. Your only excuse, Ansard.
A. I beg your pardon. The public require strong writing now-a-days. We have thousands who write well, and the public are nauseated with what is called good writing.
B. And so they want something bad, eh? Well, Ansard, you certainly can supply them.
A. My dear Barnstaple, you must not disparage this style of writing—it is not bad—there is a great art in it. It may be termed writing intellectual and ethereal. You observe, that it never allows probabilities or even possibilities to stand in its way. The dross of humanity is rejected: all the common wants and grosser feelings of our natures are disallowed. It is a novel which is all mind and passion. Corporeal attributes and necessities are thrown on one side, as they would destroy the charm of perfectability. Nothing can soil, or defile, or destroy my heroine; suffering adds lustre to her beauty, as pure gold is tried by fire: nothing can kill her, because she is all mind. As for my men, you will observe when you read my work——
B. When I do!
A. Which, of course, you will—that they also have their appetites in abeyance; they never want to eat, or drink, or sleep—are always at hand when required, without regard to time or space. Now there is a great beauty in this description of writing. The women adore it because they find their sex divested of those human necessities, without which they would indeed be angels! the mirror is held up to them, and they find themselves perfect—no wonder they are pleased. The other sex are also very glad to dwell upon female perfectability, which they can only find in a romance, although they have often dreamt of it in their younger days.
B. There is some truth in these remarks. Every milliner's girl, who devours your pages in bed by the half-hour's light of tallow stolen for the purpose, imagines a strong similarity between herself and your Angelicanarinella, and every shop-boy measuring tape or weighing yellow soap will find out attributes common to himself and to your hero.
A. Exactly. As long as you draw perfection in both sexes, you are certain to be read, because by so doing you flatter human nature and self-love, and transfer it to the individual who reads. Now a picture of real life——
B. Is like some of Wouvermans' best pictures, which will not be purchased by many, because his dogs in the fore-ground are doing exactly what all dogs will naturally do when they first are let out of their kennels.
A. Wouvermans should have known better, and made his dogs better mannered if he expected his pictures to be hung up in the parlour of refinement.
B. Very true.
A. Perhaps you would like to have another passage or two.
B. Excuse me: I will imagine it all. I only hope, Ansard, this employment will not interfere with your legal practice.
A. My dear Barnstaple, it certainly will not, because my legal practice cannot be interfered with. I have been called to the bar, but find no employment in my calling. I have been sitting in my gown and wig for one year, and may probably sit a dozen more, before I have to rise to address their lordships. I have not yet had a guinea brief. My only chance is, to be sent out as judge to Sierra Leone, or perhaps to be made a commissioner of the Court of Requests.
B. You are indeed humble in your aspirations. I recollect the time, Ansard, when you dreamt of golden fame, and aspired to the wool-sack—when your ambition prompted you to midnight labour, and you showed an energy——
A. (putting his hands up to his forehead, with his elbows on the table.) What can I do, Barnstaple? If I trust to briefs, my existence will be but brief—we all must live.
B. I will not reply as Richelieu did to a brother author, "Je ne vois pas la necessite," but this I do say, that if you are in future to live by supplying the public with such nonsense, the shorter your existence the better.
S.W. and by W. 3/4 W.
Jack Littlebrain was, physically considered, as fine grown, and moreover as handsome a boy as ever was seen, but it must be acknowledged that he was not very clever. Nature is, in most instances, very impartial; she has given plumage to the peacock, but, as everyone knows, not the slightest ear for music. Throughout the feathered race it is almost invariably the same; the homeliest clad are the finest songsters. Among animals the elephant is certainly the most intelligent, but, at the same time, he cannot be considered as a beauty. Acting upon this well ascertained principle, nature imagined, that she had done quite enough for Jack when she endowed him with such personal perfection; and did not consider it was at all necessary that he should be very clever; indeed, it must be admitted not only that he was not very clever, but (as the truth must be told) remarkably dull and stupid. However, the Littlebrains have been for a long while a well-known, numerous, and influential family, so that, if it were possible that Jack could have been taught anything, the means were forthcoming: he was sent to every school in the country; but it was in vain; at every following vacation, he was handed over from the one pedagogue to the other, of those whose names were renowned for the Busbian system of teaching by stimulating both ends: he was horsed every day and still remained an ass, and at the end of six months, if he did not run away before that period was over, he was invariably sent back to his parents as incorrigible and unteachable. What was to be done with him? The Littlebrains had always got on in the world, somehow or another, by their interest and connections; but here was one who might be said to have no brains at all. After many pros and cons, and after a variety of consulting letters had passed between the various members of his family, it was decided, that as his maternal uncle, Sir Theophilus Blazers, G.C.B., was at that time the second in command in the Mediterranean, he should be sent to sea under his command; the Admiral, having in reply to a letter on the subject, answered that it was hard indeed if he did not lick him into some shape or another; and that, at all events, he'd warrant that Jack should be able to box the compass before he had been three months nibbling the ship's biscuit; further, that it was very easy to get over the examination necessary to qualify him for lieutenant, as a turkey and a dozen of brown stout sent in the boat with him on the passing day, as a present to each of the passing captains, would pass him, even if he were as incompetent as a camel (or, as they say at sea, a cable,) to pass through the eye of a needle; that having once passed, he would soon have him in command of a fine frigate, with a good nursing first lieutenant; and that if he did not behave himself properly, he would make his signal to come on board of the flag-ship, take him into the cabin, and give him a sound horsewhipping, as other admirals have been known to inflict upon their own sons under similar circumstances. The reader must be aware that, from the tenour of Sir Theophilus's letter, the circumstances which we are narrating must have occurred some fifty years ago.
When Jack was informed that he was to be a midshipman, he looked up in the most innocent way in the world (and innocent he was, sure enough), turned on his heels, and whistled as he went for want of thought. For the last three months he had been at home, and his chief employment was kissing and romping with the maids, who declared him to be the handsomest Littlebrain that the country had ever produced. Our hero viewed the preparations made for his departure with perfect indifference, and wished everybody good-bye with the utmost composure. He was a happy, good-tempered fellow who never calculated, because he could not; never decided, for he had not wit enough to choose; never foresaw, although he could look straight before him; and never remembered, because he had no memory. The line, "If ignorance is bliss, 'tis folly to be wise," was certainly made especially for Jack: nevertheless he was not totally deficient: he knew what was good to eat or drink, for his taste was perfect, his eyes were very sharp, and he could discover in a moment if a peach was ripe on the wall; his hearing was quick, for he was the first in the school to detect the footsteps of his pedagogue; and he could smell anything savoury nearly a mile off, if the wind lay the right way. Moreover, he knew that if he put his fingers in the fire that he would burn himself; that knives cut severely; that birch tickled, and several other little axioms of this sort which are generally ascertained by children at an early age, but which Jack's capacity had not received until at a much later date. Such as he was, our hero went to sea; his stock in his sea-chest being very abundant, while his stock of ideas was proportionally small.
We will pass over all the trans-shipments of Jack until he was eventually shipped on board of the Mendacious, then lying at Malta with the flag of Sir Theophilus Blazers at the fore—a splendid ship, carrying 120 guns, and nearly 120 midshipmen of different calibres. (I pass over captain, lieutenant, and ship's company, having made mention of her most valuable qualifications.) Jack was received with a hearty welcome by his uncle, for he came in pudding-time, and was invited to dinner; and the Admiral made the important discovery, that if his nephew was a fool in other points, he was certainly no fool at his knife and fork. In a short time his messmates found out that he was no fool at his fists, and his knock-down arguments ended much disputation. Indeed, as the French would say, Jack was perfection in the physique, although so very deficient in the morale.
But if Pandora's box proved a plague to the whole world, Jack had his individual portion of it, when he was summoned to box the compass by his worthy uncle Sir Theophilus Blazers; who in the course of six months discovered that he could not make his nephew box it in the three, which he had warranted in his letter; every day our hero's ears were boxed, but the compass never. It required all the cardinal virtues to teach him the cardinal points during the forenoon, and he made a point of forgetting them before the sun went down. Whenever they attempted it (and various were the teachers employed to drive the compass into Jack's head) his head drove round the compass; and try all he could, Jack never could compass it. It appeared, as some people are said only to have one idea, as if Jack could only have one point in his head at a time, and to that point he would stand like a well-broken pointer. With him the wind never changed until the next day. His uncle pronounced him to be a fool, but that did not hurt his nephew's feelings; he had been told so too often already.
I have said that Jack had a great respect for good eating and drinking, and, moreover, was blessed with a good appetite: every person has his peculiar fancies, and if there was anything which more titillated the palate and olfactory nerves of our hero, it was a roast goose with sage and onions. Now it so happened, that having been about seven months on board of the Mendacious, Jack had one day received a summons to dine with the Admiral, for the steward had ordered a roast goose for dinner, and knew not only that Jack was partial to it, but also that Jack was the Admiral's nephew, which always goes for something on board of a flag-ship. Just before they were sitting down to table, the Admiral wishing to know how the wind was, and having been not a little vexed with the slow progress of his nephew's nautical acquirements, said, "Now, Mr Littlebrain, go up, and bring me down word how the wind is; and mark me, as, when you are sent, nine times out of ten you make a mistake, I shall now bet you five guineas against your dinner, that you make a mistake this time: so now be off and we will soon ascertain whether you lose your dinner or I lose my money. Sit down, gentlemen; we will not wait for Mr Littlebrain."
Jack did not much admire this bet on the part of his uncle, but still less did he like the want of good manners in not waiting for him. He had just time to see the covers removed, to scent a whiff of the goose, and was off.
"The Admiral wants to know how the wind is, sir," said Jack to the officer of the watch.
The officer of the watch went to the binnacle, and setting the wind as nearly as he could, replied, "Tell Sir Theophilus that it is S.W. and by W. 3/4 W."
"That's one of those confounded long points that I never can remember," cried Jack, in despair.
"Then you'll 'get goose,' as the saying is," observed one of the midshipmen.
"No; I'm afraid that I sha'n't get any," replied Jack, despondingly. "What did he say, S.W. and by N. 3/4 E.?"
"Not exactly," replied his messmate, who was a good-natured lad, and laughed heartily at Jack's version. "S.W. and by W. 3/4 W."
"I never can remember it," cried Jack. "I'm to have five guineas if I do, and no dinner if I don't; and if I stay here much longer, I shall get no dinner at all events, for they are all terribly peckish, and there will be none left."
"Well, if you'll give me one of the guineas, I'll show you how to manage it," said the midshipman.
"I'll give you two, if you'll only be quick and the goose a'n't all gone," replied Jack.
The midshipman wrote down the point from which the wind blew, at full length, upon a bit of paper, and pinned it to the rim of Jack's hat. "Now," said he, "when you go into the cabin, you can hold your hat so as to read it, without their perceiving you."
"Well, so I can; I never should have thought of that," said Jack.
"You hav'n't wit enough," replied the midshipman.
"Well, I see no wit in the compass," replied Jack.
"Nevertheless, it's full of point," replied the midshipman; "now be quick."
Our hero's eyes served him well, if his memory was treacherous; and as he entered the cabin door he bowed over his hat very politely, and said, as he read it off, "S.W. and by W. 3/4 W.," and then he added, without reading at all, "if you please, Sir Theophilus."
"Steward," said the Admiral, "tell the officer of the watch to step down."
"How's the wind, Mr Growler?"
"S.W. and by W. 3/4 W.," replied the officer.
"Then, Mr Littlebrain, you have won your five guineas, and may now sit down and enjoy your dinner."
Our hero was not slow in obeying the order, and ventured, upon the strength of his success, to send his plate twice for goose. Having eaten their dinner, drunk their wine, and taken their coffee, the officers, at the same time, took the hint which invariably accompanies the latter beverage, made their bows and retreated. As Jack was following his seniors out of the cabin, the Admiral put the sum which he had staked into his hands, observing, that "it was an ill wind that blew nobody good."
So thought Jack, who, having faithfully paid the midshipman the two guineas for his assistance, was now on the poop keeping his watch, as midshipmen usually do; that is, stretched out on the signal lockers, and composing himself to sleep after the most approved fashion, answering the winks of the stars by blinks of his eyes, until at last he shut them to keep them warm. But, before he had quite composed himself, he thought of the goose and the five guineas. The wind was from the same quarter, blowing soft and mild; Jack lay in a sort of reverie, as it fanned his cheek, for the weather was close and sultry.
"Well," muttered Jack to himself, "I do love that point of the compass, at all events, and I think that I never shall forget S.W. and by W. 3/4 W. No I never—never liked one before, though——"
"Is that true?" whispered a gentle voice in his ear; "do you love 'S.W. and by W. 3/4 W.,' and will you, as you say, never forget her?"
"Why, what's that?" said Jack, opening his eyes, and turning half round on his side.
"It's me—'S.W. and by W. 3/4 W.,' that you say you love."
Littlebrain raised himself and looked round;—there was no one on the poop except himself and two or three of the after-guard, who were lying down between the guns. "Why, who was it that spoke?" said Jack, much astonished.
"It was the wind you love, and who has long loved you," replied the same voice; "do you wish to see me?"
"See you,—see the wind?—I've been already sent on that message by the midshipmen," thought Jack.
"Do you love me as you say, and as I love you?" continued the voice.
"Well, I like you better than any other point of the compass, and I'm sure I never thought I should like one of them," replied Jack.
"That will not do for me; will you love only me?"
"I'm not likely to love the others," replied Jack, shutting his eyes again; "I hate them all."
"And love me?"
"Well, I do love you, that's a fact," replied Jack, as he thought of the goose and the five guineas.
"Then look round, and you shall see me," said the soft voice.
Jack, who hardly knew whether he was asleep or awake, did at this summons once more take the trouble to open his eyes, and beheld a fairy female figure, pellucid as water, yet apparently possessing substance; her features were beautifully soft and mild, and her outline trembled and shifted as it were, waving gently to and fro. It smiled sweetly, hung over him, played with his chestnut curls, softly touched his lips with her own, passed her trembling fingers over his cheeks, and its warm breath appeared as if it melted into his. Then it grew more bold,—embraced his person, searched into his neck and collar, as if curious to examine him.
Jack felt a pleasure and gratification which he could not well comprehend: once more the charmer's lips trembled upon his own, now remaining for a moment, now withdrawing, again returning to kiss and kiss again, and once more did the soft voice put the question—
"Do you love me?"
"Better than goose," replied Jack.
"I don't know who goose may be," replied the fairy form, as she tossed about Jack's waving locks; "you must love only me, promise me that before I am relieved."
"What, have you got the first watch, as well as me?" replied Jack.
"I am on duty just now, but I shall not be so long. We southerly winds are never kept long in one place; some of my sisters will probably be sent here soon."
"I don't understand what you talk about," replied Jack. "Suppose you tell me who you are, and what you are, and I'll do all I can to keep awake; I don't know how it is, but I've felt more inclined to go to sleep since you have been fanning me about, than I did before."
"Then I will remain by your side while you listen to me. I am, as I told you, a wind——"
"That's puzzling," said Jack, interrupting her.
"My name is 'S.W. and by W. 3/4 W.'"
"Yes, and a very long name it is. If you wish me to remember you, you should have had a shorter one."
This ruffled the wind a little, and she blew rather sharp into the corner of Jack's eye,—however, she proceeded—
"You are a sailor, and of course you know all the winds on the compass by name."
"I wish I did; but I don't," replied Littlebrain, "I can recollect you, and not one other."
Again the wind trembled with delight on his lips, and she proceeded:—"You know that there are thirty-two points on the compass, and these points are divided into quarters; so that there are, in fact, 128 different winds."
"There are more than I could ever remember; I know that," said Jack.
"Well, we are in all 128. All the winds which have northerly in them, are coarse and ugly; all the southern winds are pretty."
"You don't say so?" replied our hero.
"We are summoned to blow, as required, but the hardest duty generally falls to the northerly winds, as it should do, for they are the strongest; although we southerly winds can blow hard enough when we choose. Our characters are somewhat different. The most unhappy in disposition, and I may say, the most malevolent, are the north and easterly winds; the N.W. winds are powerful, but not unkind; the S.E. winds vary, but, at all events, we of the S.W. are considered the mildest and most beneficent. Do you understand me?"
"Not altogether. You're going right round the compass, and I never could make it out, that's a fact. I hear what you say, but I cannot promise to recollect it; I can only recollect S.W. and by W. 3/4 W."
"I care only for your recollecting me; if you do that, you may forget all the rest. Now you see we South Wests are summer winds, and are seldom required but in this season; I have often blown over your ship these last three months, and I always have lingered near you, for I loved you."
"Thank you—now go on, for seven bells have struck some time, and I shall be going to turn in. Is your watch out?"
"No, I shall blow for some hours longer. Why will you leave me—why wo'n't you stay on deck with me?"
"What, stay on deck after my watch is out! No, if I do, blow me! We midshipmen never do that—but I say, why can't you come down with me, and turn in my hammock; it's close to the hatchway, and you can easily do it."
"Well, I will, upon one promise. You say that you love me, now I'm very jealous, for we winds are always supplanting one another. Promise me that you will never mention any other wind in the compass but me, for if you do, they may come to you, and if I hear of it I'll blow the masts out of your ship, that I will."
"You don't say so?" replied Jack, surveying her fragile, trembling form.
"Yes, I will, and on a lee shore too; so that the ship shall go to pieces on the rocks, and the Admiral and every soul on board her be drowned."
"No, you wouldn't, would you?" said our hero, astonished.
"Not if you promise me. Then I'll come to you and pour down your windsails, and dry your washed clothes as they hang on the rigging, and just ripple the waves as you glide along, and hang upon the lips of my dear love, and press him in my arms. Promise me, then, on no account ever to recollect or mention any other wind but me."
"Well, I think I may promise that," replied Jack, "for I'm very clever at forgetting; and then you'll come to my hammock, wo'n't you, and sleep with me? you'll be a nice cool bedfellow these warm nights."
"I can't sleep on my watch as midshipmen do; but I'll watch you while you sleep, and I'll fan your cheeks, and keep you cool and comfortable, till I'm relieved."
"And when you go, when will you come again?"
"That I cannot tell—when I'm summoned; and I shall wait with impatience, that you may be sure of."
"There's eight bells," said Jack, starting up; "I must go down and call the officer of the middle watch; but I'll soon turn in, for my relief is not so big as myself, and I can thrash him."
Littlebrain was as good as his word; he cut down his relief, and then thrashed him for venturing to expostulate. The consequence was, that in ten minutes he was in his hammock, and "S.W. and by W. 3/4 W." came gently down the hatchway, and rested in his arms. Jack soon fell fast asleep, and when he was wakened up the next morning by the quarter-master, his bedfellow was no longer there. A mate inquiring how the wind was, was answered by the quarter-master that they had a fresh breeze from the N.N.W., by which Jack understood that his sweetheart was no longer on duty.
Our hero had passed such a happy night with his soft and kind companion, that he could think of nothing else; he longed for her to come again, and, to the surprise of everybody, was now perpetually making inquiries as to the wind which blew. He thought of her continually; and in fact was as much in love with "S.W. and by W. 3/4 W." as he possibly could be. She came again—once more did he enjoy her delightful company; again she slept with him in his hammock, and then, after a short stay, she was relieved by another.
We do not intend to accuse the wind of inconstancy, as that was not her fault; nor of treachery, for she loved dearly; nor of violence, for she was all softness and mildness; but we do say, that "S.W. and by W. 3/4 W." was the occasion of Jack being very often in a scrape, for our hero kept his word; he forgot all other wind, and, with him, there was not other except his dear "S.W. and by W. 3/4 W." It must be admitted of Jack, that, at all events, he showed great perseverance, for he stuck to his point.
Our hero would argue with his messmates, for it is not those who are most capable of arguing who are most fond of it; and, like all arguers not very brilliant, he would flounder and diverge away right and left, just as the flaws of ideas came into his head.
"What nonsense it is your talking that way," would his opponent say, "Why don't you come to the point?"
"And so I do," cried Jack.
"Well then, what is your point?"
"S.W. and by W. 3/4 W.," replied our hero.
Who could reply to this? But in every instance, and through every difficulty, our hero kept his promise, until his uncle Sir Theophilus was very undecided, whether he should send him home to be locked up in a Lunatic Asylum, or bring him on in the service to the rank of post-captain. Upon mature consideration, however, as a man in Bedlam is a very useless member of society, and a tee-total non-productive, whereas a captain in the navy is a responsible agent, the Admiral came to the conclusion, that Littlebrain must follow up his destiny.
At last, Jack was set down as the greatest fool in the ship, and was pointed out as such. The ladies observed, that such might possibly be the case, but at all events he was the handsomest young man in the Mediterranean fleet. We believe that both parties were correct in their assertions.
Time flies—even a midshipman's time, which does not fly quite so fast as his money—and the time came for Mr Littlebrain's examination. Sir Theophilus, who now commanded the whole fleet, was almost in despair. How was it possible that a man could navigate a ship, with only one quarter point of the compass in his head?
Sir Theophilus scratched his wig; and the disposition of the Mediterranean fleet, so important to the country, was altered according to the dispositions of the captains who commanded the ships. In those days, there were martinets in the service; officers who never overlooked an offence, or permitted the least deviation from strict duty; who were generally hated, but at the same time were most valuable to the service. As for his nephew passing his examination before any of those of the first, or second, or even of the third degree, the Admiral knew that it was impossible. The consequence was, that one was sent away on a mission to Genoa, about nothing; another to watch for vessels never expected, off Sardinia; two more to cruise after a French frigate which had never been built: and thus, by degrees, did the Admiral arrange, so as to obtain a set of officers sufficiently pliant to allow his nephew to creep under the gate which barred his promotion, and which he never could have vaulted over. So the signal was made—our hero went on board—his uncle had not forgotten the propriety of a little douceur on the occasion; and, as the turkeys were all gone, three couple of geese were sent in the same boat, as a present to each of the three passing captains. Littlebrain's heart failed him as he pulled to the ship; even the geese hissed at him, as much as to say, "If you were not such a stupid ass, we might have been left alive in our coops." There was a great deal of truth in that remark, if they did say so.
Nothing could have been made more easy for Littlebrain than his examination. The questions had all been arranged beforehand; and some kind friend had given him all the answers written down. The passing captains apparently suffered from the heat of the weather, and each had his hand on his brow, looking down on the table at the time that Littlebrain gave his answers, so that of course they did not observe that he was reading them off. As soon as Littlebrain had given his answer, and had had sufficient time to drop his paper under the table, the captains felt better and looked up again.
There were but eight questions for our hero to answer. Seven had been satisfactorily got through; then came the eighth, a very simple one:—"What is your course and distance from Ushant to the Start?" This question having been duly put, the captains were again in deep meditation, shrouding their eyes with the palms of their hands.
Littlebrain had his answer—he looked at the paper. What could be more simple than to reply?—and then the captains would have all risen up, shaken him by the hand, complimented him upon the talent he had displayed, sent their compliments to the commander-in-chief, and their thanks for the geese. Jack was just answering, "North——"
"Recollect your promise!" cried a soft voice, which Jack well recollected.
Jack stammered—the captains were mute—and waited patiently.
"I must say it," muttered Jack.
"You shan't," replied the little Wind.
"Indeed I must," said Jack, "or I shall be turned back."
The captains, surprised at this delay and the muttering of Jack, looked up, and one of them gently inquired if Mr Littlebrain had not dropped his handkerchief or something under the table? and then they again fixed their eyes upon the green cloth.
"If you dare, I'll never see you again," cried "S.W. and by W. 3/4 W.,"—"never come to your hammock,—but I'll blow the ship on shore, every soul shall be lost, Admiral and all; recollect your promise!"
"Then I shall never pass," replied Jack.
"Do you think that any other point in the compass shall pass you except me?—never! I'm too jealous for that; come now, dearest," and the Wind again deliriously trembled upon the lips of our hero, who could no longer resist.
"S.W. and by W. 3/4 W.," exclaimed Jack firmly.
"You have made a slight mistake, Mr Littlebrain," said one of the captains. "Look again—I meant to say, think again."
"S.W. and by W. 3/4 W.," again repeated Jack.
"Dearest! how I love you!" whispered the soft Wind.
"Why, Mr Littlebrain," said one of the captains, for Jack had actually laid the paper down on the table, "what's in the wind now?"
"She's obstinate," replied Jack.
"You appear to be so, at all events," replied the captain. "Pray try once more."
"I have it!" thought Jack, who tore off the last answer from his paper. "I gained five guineas by that plan once before." He then handed the bit of paper to the passing captain: "I believe that's right, sir," said our hero.
"Yes, that is right; but could you not have said it instead of writing it, Mr Littlebrain?"
Jack made no reply; his little sweetheart pouted a little, but said nothing; it was an evasion which she did not like. A few seconds of consultation then took place, as a matter of form. Each captain asked of the other if he was perfectly satisfied as to Mr Littlebrain's capabilities, and the reply was in the affirmative; and they were perfectly satisfied, that he was either a fool or a madman. However, as we have had both in the service by way of precedent, Jack was added to the list, and the next day was appointed lieutenant.
Our hero did his duty as lieutenant of the forecastle; and as all the duty of that officer is, when hailed from the quarter-deck, to answer "Ay, ay, sir," he got on without making many mistakes. And now he was very happy; no one dared to call him a fool except his uncle; he had his own cabin, and many was the time that his dear little "S.W. and by W. 3/4 W." would come in by the scuttle, and nestle by his side.
"You wo'n't see so much of me soon, dearest," said she, one morning, gravely.
"Why not, my soft one?" replied Jack.
"Don't you recollect that the winter months are coming on?"
"So they are," replied Jack. "Well, I shall long for you back."
And Jack did long, and long very much, for he loved his dear wind, and the fine weather which accompanied her. Winter came on, and heavy gales and rain, and thunder and lightning; nothing but double-reefed topsails, and wearing in succession; and our hero walked the forecastle, and thought of his favourite wind. The N.E. winds came down furiously, and the weather was bitter cold. The officers shook the rain and spray off their garments when their watch was over, and called for grog.
"Steward, a glass of grog," cried one, "and let it be strong."
"The same for me," said Jack; "only I'll mix it myself."
Jack poured out the rum till the tumbler was half full.
"Why, Littlebrain," said his messmate, "that is a dose, that's what we call a regular Nor-wester."
"Is it?" replied Jack. "Well then, Nor-westers suit me exactly, and I shall stick to them like cobbler's wax."
And during the whole of the winter months our hero showed a great predilection for Nor-westers.
It was in the latter end of February that there was a heavy gale; it had blown furiously from the northward for three days, and then it paused and panted as if out of breath—no wonder; and then the wind shifted, and shifted again, with squalls and heavy rain, until it blew from every quarter of the compass.
Our hero's watch was over, and he came down and called for a "Nor-wester" as usual.
"How is the wind, now?" asked the first lieutenant to the master, who came down dripping wet.
"S.S.W., but drawing now fast to the Westward," said old Spunyarn.
And so it was; and it veered round until "S.W. and by W. 3/4 W.," with an angry gust, came down the sky-light, and blowing strongly into our hero's ear, cried—
"Oh! you false one!!"
"False!" exclaimed Jack. "What! you here, and so angry too?—what's the matter?"
"What's the matter!—do you think I don't know? What have you been doing ever since I was away, comforting yourself during my absence with Nor-westers?"
"Why, you an't jealous of a Nor-wester, are you?" replied Littlebrain. "I confess, I'm rather partial to them."
"What!—this to my face!—I'll never come again,—without you promise me that you will have nothing to do with them, and never call for one again. Be quick—I cannot stay more than two minutes, for it is hard work now, and we relieve quick—say the word."
"Well, then," replied Littlebrain, "you've no objection to half-and-half?"
"None in the world; that's quite another thing, and has nothing to do with the wind."
"It has, though," thought Jack, "for it gets a man in the wind; but I wo'n't tell her so; and," continued he, "you don't mind a raw nip, do you?"
"No—I care for nothing except a Nor-wester."
"I'll never call for one again," replied Jack; "it is but making my grog a little stronger; in future it shall be half-and-half."
"That's a dear!—now I'm off, don't forget me;" and away went the wind in a great hurry.
It was about three months after this short visit, the fleet being off Corsica, that our hero was walking the deck, thinking that he soon should see the object of his affections, when a privateer brig was discovered at anchor a few miles from Bastia. The signal was made for the boats of the fleet to cut her out, and the Admiral, wishing that his nephew should distinguish himself somehow, gave him the command of one of the finest boats. Now Jack was as brave as brave could be; he did not know what danger was; he hadn't wit enough to perceive it, and there was no doubt but he would distinguish himself. The boats went on the service. Jack was the very first on board, cheering his men as he darted into the closed ranks of his opponents. Whether it was that he did not think that his head was worth defending, or that he was too busy in breaking the heads of others to look after his own; this is certain, that a tomahawk descended upon it with such force as to bury itself in his skull (and his was a thick skull, too). The privateer's men were overpowered by numbers, and then our hero was discovered, under a pile of bodies, still breathing heavily. He was hoisted on board, and taken into his uncle's cabin: the surgeon shook his head when he had examined that of our hero.
"It must have been a most tremendous blow," said he to the Admiral, "to have penetrated——"
"It must have been, indeed," replied the Admiral, as the tears rolled down his cheeks; for he loved his nephew.
The surgeon having done all that his art would enable him, left the cabin to attend to the others who were hurt; the Admiral also went on the quarter-deck, walking to and fro for an hour in a melancholy mood. He returned to the cabin, and bent over his nephew; Jack opened his eyes.
"My dear fellow," said the Admiral, "how's your head now?"
"S.W. and by W. 3/4 W.," faintly exclaimed our hero, constant in death, as he turned a little on one side and expired.
It was three days afterwards, as the fleet were on a wind, making for Malta, that the bell of the ship tolled, and a body, sewed up in a hammock and covered with the Union Jack, was carried to the gangway by the Admiral's bargemen. It had been a dull cloudy day, with little wind; the hands were turned up, the officers and men stood uncovered; the Admiral in advance with his arms folded, as the chaplain read the funeral service over the body of our hero,—and as the service proceeded, the sails flapped, for the wind had shifted a little; a motion was made, by the hand of the officer of the watch, to the man at the helm to let the ship go off the wind, that the service might not be disturbed, and a mizzling soft rain descended. The wind had shifted to our hero's much loved point, his fond mistress had come to mourn over the loss of her dearest, and the rain that descended were the tears which she shed at the death of her handsome but not over-gifted lover.
The Sky-blue Domino
It was a fine autumnal evening; I had been walking with a friend until dusk on the Piazza Grande, or principal square in the town of Lucca. We had been conversing of England, our own country, from which I had then banished myself for nearly four years, having taken up my residence in Italy to fortify a weak constitution, and having remained there long after it was requisite for my health from an attachment to its pure sky, and the dolce far niente which so wins upon you in that luxurious climate. We had communicated to each other the contents of our respective letters arrived by the last mail; had talked over politics, great men, acquaintances, friends, and kindred; and, tired of conversation, had both sank into a pleasing reverie as we watched the stars twinkling above us, when my friend rose hastily and bid me good-night.
"Where are you going, Alfred?" inquired I.
"I had nearly forgetten I had an appointment this evening. I promised to meet somebody at the Marquesa di Cesto's masquerade."
"Pshaw! are you not tired of these things?" replied I; "that eternal round of black masks and dominos of all colours; heavy harlequins, fools and clowns by nature wearing their proper dresses there, and only in masquerade when out of it; nuns who have no holiness in their ideas, friars without a spice of religion, ugly Venuses, Dianas without chastity, and Hebes as old as your grandmother."
"All very true, Herbert, and life itself is masquerade enough; but the fact is, that I have made an appointment: it is of importance, and I must not fail."
"Well, I wish you more amusement than I have generally extracted from these burlesque meetings," replied I. "Adieu, and may you be successful!" And Albert hastened away.
I remained another half hour reclining on the bench, and then returned to my lodgings. My servant Antonio lighted the candle and withdrew. On the table lay a note; it was an invitation from the Marquesa. I threw it on one side and took up a book, one that required reflection and deep examination; but the rattling of the wheels of the carriages as they whirled along past my window would not permit me to command my attention. I threw down the book; and taking a chair at the window, watched the carriages full of masks as they rolled past, apparently so eager in the pursuit of pleasure. I was in a cynical humour. What fools, thought I, and yet what numbers will be there; there will be an immense crowd; and what can be the assignation which Albert said was of such consequence? Such was my reflection for the next ten minutes, during which at least fifty carriages and other vehicles had passed in review before me.
And then I thought of the princely fortune of the Marquesa, the splendid palazzo at which the masquerade was given, and the brilliant scene which would take place.
"The Grand Duke is to be there, and everybody of distinction in Lucca. I have a great mind to go myself."
A few minutes more elapsed. I felt that I was lonely, and I made up my mind that I would go. I turned from the window and rang the bell.
"Antonio, see if you can procure me a domino, a dark-coloured one if possible; and tell Carlo to bring the carriage round as soon as he can."
Antonio departed, and was away so long that the carriage was at the door previous to his return.
"Signor, I am sorry, very, very sorry; but I have run to every shop in Lucca, and there is nothing left but a sky-blue domino, which I have brought with me."
"Sky-blue! why, there will not be two sky-blue dominos in the whole masquerade; I might as well tell my name at once, I shall be so conspicuous."
"You are as well hidden under a sky-blue domino as a black one, Signor, if you choose to keep your own secrets," observed Antonio.
"Very true," replied I; "give me my mask."
Enshrouding myself in the sky-blue domino, I went down the stairs, threw myself into the carriage, and directed Carlo to drive to the Palazzo of the Marquesa.
In half an hour we arrived at the entrance gates of the Marquesa's superb country seat. From these gates to the palazzo, a sweep of several hundred yards, the avenue through which the driver passed was loaded with variegated lamps, hanging in graceful festoons from branch to branch; and the notes of music from the vast entrance-hall of the palazzo floated through the still air. When I arrived at the area in front of the flight of marble steps which formed the entrance of the palazzo, I was astonished at the magnificence, the good taste, and the total disregard of expense which were exhibited. The palazzo itself appeared like the fabric built of diamonds and precious stones by the genii who obeyed the ring and lamp of Aladdin, so completely was its marble front hidden with a mass of many-coloured lamps, the reflection from whose galaxy of light rendered it bright as day for nearly one hundred yards around; various mottoes and transparencies were arranged in the walks nearest to the palazzo; and then all was dark, rendered still darker from the contrast with the flood of light which poured to a certain distance from the scene of festivity. Groups of characters and dominos were walking to and fro in every direction; most of them retracing their steps when they arrived at the sombre walks and alleys, some few pairs only continuing their route where no listeners were to be expected.
This is an animating scene, thought I, as the carriage stopped, and I am not sorry that I have made one of the party. As soon as I had descended, I walked up the flight of marble steps which led to the spacious hall in which the major part of the company were collected. The music had, for a moment, ceased to play; and finding that the perfume of the exotics which decorated the hall was too powerful, I was again descending the steps, when my hand was seized and warmly pressed by one in a violet-coloured domino.
"I am so glad that you are come; we were afraid that you would not. I will see you again directly," said the domino; and it then fell back into the crowd and disappeared.
It immediately occurred to me that it was my friend Albert who spoke to me. "Very odd," thought I, "that he should have found me out!" And again I fell into the absurdity of imagining that because I had put on a conspicuous domino, I was sure to be recognised. "What can he want with me? He must be in some difficulty, some unexpected one, that is certain." Such were my reflections as I slowly descended the steps, occasionally pausing for a moment on one, as I was lost in conjecture, when I was again arrested by a slight slap on the shoulder. I looked around: it was a female; and although she wore her half-mask, it was evident that she was young, and I felt convinced that she was beautiful.
"Not a word," whispered she, putting her finger to her lip; "follow me." Of course I followed: who could resist such a challenge?
"You are late," said the incognito, when we had walked so far away from the palazzo as to be out of hearing of the crowd.
"I did not make up my mind to come until an hour ago," replied I.
"I was so afraid that you would not come. Albert was sure that you would. He was right. He told me just now that he had spoken to you."
"What! was that Albert in the rose-coloured domino?"
"Yes; but I dare not stay now,—my father will be looking for me. Albert is keeping him in conversation. In half an hour he will speak to you again. Has he explained to you what has occurred?"
"Not one word."
"If he has not had time—and I doubt if he will have, as he must attend to the preparations—I will write a few lines, if I can, and explain, or at least tell you what to do; but I am so harassed, so frightened! We do indeed require your assistance. Adieu!" So saying the fair unknown tripped hastily away.
"What the deuce is all this?" muttered I, as I watched her retreating figure. "Albert said that he had an appointment, but he did not make me his confidant. It appears that something which has occurred this night occasions him to require my assistance. Well, I will not fail him."
For about half an hour I sauntered up and down between the lines of orange-trees which were dressed up with variegated lamps, and shed their powerful fragrance in the air: I ruminated upon what might be my friend's intentions, and what might be the result of an intrigue carried on in a country where the stiletto follows Love so close through all the mazes of his labyrinth, when I was again accosted by the violet-coloured domino.
"Hist!" whispered he, looking carefully round as he thrust a paper into my hand; "read this after I leave you. In one hour from this be you on this spot. Are you armed?"
"No," replied I; "but Albert——"
"You may not need it; but nevertheless take this,—I cannot wait." So saying he put a stiletto into my hand, and again made a hasty retreat.
It had been my intention to have asked Albert what was his plan, and further why he did not speak English instead of Italian, as he would have been less liable to be understood if overheard by eavesdroppers; but a little reflection told me that he was right in speaking Italian, as the English language overheard would have betrayed him, or at least have identified him as a foreigner.
"A very mysterious affair this!" thought I; "but, however, this paper will, I presume, explain the business. That there is a danger in it is evident, or he would not have given me this weapon;" and I turned the stiletto once or twice to the light of the lamp next to me, examining its blade, when, looking up, I perceived a black domino standing before me.
"It is sharp enough, I warrant," said the domino; "you have but to strike home. I have been waiting for you in the next walk, which I thought was to be our rendezvous. Here is a paper which you will fasten to his dress. I will contrive that he shall be here in an hour hence by a pretended message. After his death you will put this packet into his bosom;—you understand. Fail not: remember the one thousand sequins; and here is my ring, which I will redeem as soon as your work is done. The others will soon be here. The pass-word is 'Milano.' But I must not be seen here. Why a sky-blue domino? it is too conspicuous for escape;" and as I received from him the packet and ring, the black domino retreated through the orange grove which encircled us.
I was lost in amazement: there I stood with my hands full—two papers, a packet, a stiletto, and a diamond ring! "Well," thought I, "this time I am most assuredly taken for somebody else—for a bravo I am not. There is some foul work going on, which, perhaps, I may prevent." "But why a sky-blue domino?" said he. I may well ask the same question. "Why the deuce did I come here in a sky-blue domino, or any domino at all?" I put the ring on my finger, the stiletto and packet in my bosom, and then hastened away to the garden on the other side of the palazzo, that I might read the mysterious communication put into my hands by my friend Albert; and as I walked on, my love for admiration led me away so as to find myself pleased with the mystery and danger attending upon the affair; and feeling secure, now that I had a stiletto in my bosom for my defence, I resolved that I would go right through it until the whole affair should be unravelled.
I walked on till I had gained the last lamp on the other side of the palazzo. I held up to its light the mysterious paper: it was in Italian, and in a woman's handwriting.
"We have determined upon flight, as we cannot hope for safety here, surrounded as we are by stilettoes on every side. We feel sure of pardon as soon as the papers which Albert received by this day's mail, and which he will entrust to you when you meet again, are placed in my father's hands. We must have your assistance in removing our treasure. Our horses are all ready, and a few hours will put us in safety; but we must look to you for following us in your carriage, and conveying for me what would prove so great an incumbrance to our necessary speed. When Albert sees you again, he will be able to tell you where it is deposited. Follow us quick, and you will always have the gratitude of
"P.S. I write in great haste, as I cannot leave my father's side for a moment without his seeking for me."
"What can all this mean? Albert told me of no papers by this day's mail. Viola! I never heard him mention such a name. He said to me, 'Read this, and all will be explained.' I'll be hanged if I am not as much in the dark as ever!—Follow them in my carriage with the treasure—never says where! I presume he is about to run off with some rich heiress. Confound this sky-blue domino! Here I am with two papers, a packet, a stiletto, and a ring; I am to receive another packet, and am to convey treasure. Well, it must solve itself—I will back to my post; but first let me see what is in this paper which I am to affix upon the man's dress after I have killed him." I held it up to the light, and read, in capital letters, "The reward of a traitor!" "Short and pithy," muttered I, as I replaced it in my pocket: "now I'll back to the spot of assignation, for the hour must be nearly expired."
As I retraced my steps, I again reverted to the communication of Viola—"'Surrounded as we are by stilettoes on every side!' Why, surely Albert cannot be the person that I am required by the black domino to despatch; and yet it may be so—and others are to join me here before the hour is passed." A thought struck me: whoever the party might be whose life was to be taken, whether Albert or another, I could save him.
My reverie was again broken by a tap on the shoulder.
"Am I right? What is the pass-word?"
"Milano!" replied I, in a whisper.
"All's right, then—Giacomo and Tomaso are close by—I will fetch them."
The man turned away, and in a minute re-appeared with two others, bending as they forced their way under the orange-trees.
"Here we all are, Felippo," whispered the first. "He is to be here in a few minutes."
"Hush!" replied I, in a whisper, and holding up to them the brilliant ring which sparkled on my finger.
"Ah, Signor, I cry your mercy," replied the man, in a low voice; "I thought it was Felippo."
"Not so loud," replied I, still in a whisper. "All is discovered, and Felippo is arrested. You must away immediately. You shall hear from me to-morrow."
"Corpo di Bacco! Where, Signor? at the old place?"
"Yes—now away, and save yourselves."
In a few seconds the desperate men disappeared among the trees, and I was left alone.
"Slaves of the Ring, you have done my bidding at all events, this time," thought I, and I looked at the ring more attentively. It was a splendid solitaire diamond, worth many hundred crowns. "Will you ever find your way back to your lawful owner?" was the question in my mind when Albert made his appearance in his violet-coloured domino.
"'Twas imprudent of you to send me the paper by the black domino," said he, hastily. "Did I not tell you that I would be here in an hour? We have not a moment to spare. Follow me quickly, and be silent."
I followed—the paper which Albert referred to needed no explanation; it was, indeed, the only part of the whole affair which I comprehended. He led the way to about three hundred yards of the path through the wood.
"There," said he, "in that narrow avenue, you will find my faithful negro with his charge. He will not deliver it up without you show him this ring." And Albert put a ring upon my finger.
"But, Albert,"—my mind misgave me—Albert never had a faithful negro to my knowledge; it must be some other person who had mistaken me for his friend,—"I am afraid,"—continued I——
"Afraid!—let me not hear you say that. You never yet knew fear," said he, interrupting me. "What have you to fear between this and Pisa? Your own horses will take you there in three hours. But here's the packet, which you must deliver yourself. Now that you know where the negro is, return to the palazzo, deliver it into his own hands, requesting his immediate perusal. After that do not wait a moment, but hasten here to your charge. While the Grand Duke is reading it I will escape with Viola."
"I really cannot understand all this," said I, taking the packet.
"All will be explained when we meet at Pisa. Away, now, to the Grand Duke—I will go to the negro and prepare him for your coming."
"But allow me——"
"Not a word more if you love me," replied the violet-coloured domino, who, I was now convinced, was not Albert; it was not his voice—there was a mystery and a mistake; but I had become so implicated that I felt I could not retreat without sacrificing the parties, whoever they might be.
"Well," said I, as I turned back to the palazzo, "I must go on now; for, as a gentleman and man of honour, I cannot refuse. I will give the packet to the Grand Duke, and I will also convey his treasure to Pisa. Confound this sky-blue domino!"
As I returned to the palazzo, I was accosted by the black domino.
"Milano!" replied I.
"Is all right, Felippo?" said he, in a whisper.
"All is right, Signor," was my answer.
"Where is he?"
I pointed with my finger to a clump of orange-trees.
"And the paper and packet?"
I nodded my head.
"Then you had better away—I will see you to-morrow."
"At the old place, Signor?"
"Yes," replied the black domino, cutting into a cross-path, and disappearing.
I arrived at the palazzo, mounted the steps, forced my way through the crowd, and perceived the Grand Duke in an inner saloon, the lady who had accosted me leaning on his arm. It then occurred to me that the Grand Duke had an only daughter, whose name was Viola. I entered the saloon, which was not crowded, and walking boldly up to the Grand Duke, presented the packet, requesting that his Highness would give it his immediate attention. I then bowed, and hastened away, once more passed through the thronged hall, and gained the marble steps of the palazzo.
"Have you given it?" said a low voice close to me.
"I have," replied I; "but, Signor——"
"Not a word, Carlo: hasten to the wood, if you love me." And the violet-coloured domino forced his way into the crowd which filled the hall.
"Now for my journey to Pisa," said I. "Here I am, implicated in high treason, perhaps, in consequence of my putting on a sky-blue domino. Well, there's no help for it."
In a few minutes I had gained the narrow avenue, and having pursued it about fifty yards, perceived the glaring eyes of the crouched negro. By the starlight, I could just distinguish that he had a basket, or something like one, before him.
"What do you come for, Signor?" said the negro, rising on his feet.
"For what has been placed under your charge; here is the ring of your master."
The negro put his fingers to the ring and felt it, that he might recognise it by its size and shape.
"Here it is, Signor," said he, lifting up the basket gently, and putting it into my arms. It was not heavy, although somewhat cumbrous from its size.
"Hark! Signor, there is confusion in the palazzo. You must be quick, and I must not be seen with you." And away darted the negro like lightning through the bushes.
I also hastened away with the basket (contents unknown), for it appeared to me that affairs were coming to a crisis. I heard people running different ways, and voices approaching me. When I emerged from the narrow avenue, I perceived several figures coming down the dark walk at a rapid pace, and, seized with a sort of panic, I took to my heels. I soon found that they were in pursuit, and I increased my speed. In the gloom of the night, I unfortunately tripped over a stone, and fell with the basket to the ground; and then the screams from within informed me that the treasure intrusted to my safe keeping was a child. Fearful that it was hurt, and forgetting, for the time, the danger of being captured, I opened the lid, and examined its limbs, while I tried to pacify it; and while I was sitting down in my sky-blue domino, thus occupied in hushing a baby, I was seized by both shoulders, and found myself a prisoner.
"What is the meaning of this rudeness, Signors?" said I, hardly knowing what to say.
"You are arrested by order of the Grand Duke," was the reply.
"I am arrested!—why?—I am an Englishman!"
"That makes no difference; the orders are to arrest all found in the garden in sky-blue dominos."
"Confound the sky-blue domino!" thought I, for the twentieth time at least. "Well, Signors, I will attend you; but first let me try to pacify this poor frightened infant."
"Strange that he should be found running away with a child at the same time that the Lady Viola has disappeared!" observed one of my captors.
"You are right, Signors," replied I; "it is very strange; and what is more strange is, that I can no more explain it than you can. I am now ready to accompany you. Oblige me by one of you carrying the basket while I take care of the infant."
In a few minutes we had arrived at the palazzo. I had retained my mask, and I was conducted through the crowd into the saloon into which I had previously entered when I delivered the packet to the Grand Duke.
"There he is! there he is!" was buzzed through the crowd in the hall. "Holy Virgin! he has a child in his arms! Bambino Bellissimo!" Such were the exclamations of wonder and surprise as they made a lane for my passage, and I was in the presence of the Grand Duke, who appeared to be in a state of great excitement.
"It is the same person!" exclaimed the Duke. "Confess! are you not the party who put a packet into my hands about a quarter of an hour since?"
"I am the person, your Highness," replied I, as I patted and soothed the frightened child.
"Who gave it to you?"
"May it please your Highness, I do not know."
"What child is that?"
"May it please your Highness, I do not know."
"Where did you get it?"
"Out of that basket, your Highness."
"Who gave you the basket?"
"May it please your Highness, I do not know."
"You are trifling with me. Let him be searched."
"May it please your Highness, I will save them that trouble if one of the ladies will take the infant. I have received a great many presents this evening, all of which I will have the honour of displaying before your Highness."
One of the ladies held out her arms to the infant, who immediately bent from mine toward her, naturally clinging to the other sex as its friend in distress.
"In the first place, your Highness, I have this evening received this ring," taking off my finger the one given by the party in a violet-coloured domino, and presenting it to him.
"And from whom?" said his Highness, instantly recognising the ring.
"May it please your Highness, I do not know. I have also received another ring, your Highness," continued I, taking off the ring given me by the black domino.
"And who gave you this?" interrogated the Duke, again evidently recognising it.
"May it please your Highness, I do not know. Also, this stiletto, but from whom, I must again repeat, I do not know. Also, this packet, with directions to put it into a dead man's bosom."
"And you are, I presume, equally ignorant of the party who gave it to you?"
"Equally so, your Highness; as ignorant as I am of the party who desired me to present you with the other packet which I delivered. Here is also a paper I was desired to pin upon a man's clothes after I had assassinated him."
"Indeed!—and to this, also, you plead total ignorance?"
"I have but one answer to give to all, your Highness, which is, I do not know."
"Perhaps, sir, you do not know your own name or profession," observed his Highness, with a sneer.
"Yes, your Highness," replied I, taking off my mask, "that I do know. I am an Englishman, and, I trust, a gentleman, and a man of honour. My name is Herbert; and I have more than once had the honour to be a guest at your Highness's entertainments."
"Signor, I recognise you," replied the Grand Duke. "Let the room be cleared—I must speak with this gentleman alone."
When the company had quitted the saloon, I entered into a minute detail of the events of the evening, to which his Highness paid the greatest attention; and when I had finished, the whole mystery was unravelled to me by him, and with which I will now satisfy the curiosity of my readers.
The Grand Duke had one daughter, by name Viola, whom he had wished to marry to Rodolph, Count of Istria; but Viola had met with Albert, Marquis of Salerno, and a mutual attachment had ensued. Although the Grand Duke would not force his daughter's wishes and oblige her to marry Count Rodolph, at the same time he would not consent to her espousals with the Marquis Albert. Count Rodolph had discovered the intimacy between Viola and the Marquis of Salerno, and had made more than one unsuccessful attempt to get rid of his rival by assassination. After some time, a private marriage with the marquis had been consented to by Viola; and a year afterwards the Lady Viola retired to the country, and without the knowledge, or even suspicions, of her father, had given birth to a male child, which had been passed off as the offspring of one of the ladies of the court who was married, and to whom the secret had been confided.
At this period the secret societies, especially the Carbonari, had become formidable in Italy, and all the crowned heads and reigning princes were using every exertion to suppress them. Count Rodolph was at the head of these societies, having joined them to increase his power, and to have at his disposal the means of getting rid of his rival. Of this the Marquis of Salerno had received intimation, and for some time had been trying to obtain proof against the count; for he knew that if once it was proved, Count Rodolph would never be again permitted to appear in the state of Lucca. On the other hand, Count Rodolph had been making every arrangement to get rid of his rival, and had determined that it should be effected at this masquerade.
The Marquis of Salerno had notice given him of this intention, and also had on that morning obtained the proof against Count Rodolph, which he was now determined to forward to the Grand Duke; but, aware that his assassination by the Carbonari was to be attempted, and also that the wrath of the Grand Duke would be excessive when he was informed of their private marriage, he resolved to fly with his wife to Pisa, trusting that the proofs of Count Rodolph being connected with the Carbonari, and a little time, would soften down the Grand Duke's anger. The marquis had arranged that he should escape from the Duke's dominions on the night of the masquerade, as it would be much easier for his wife to accompany him from thence than from the Grand Duke's palace, which was well guarded; but it was necessary that they should travel on horseback, and they could not take their child with them. Viola would not consent that it should be left behind; and on this emergency he had written to his friend, the Count d'Ossore, to come to their assistance at the masquerade, and, that they might recognise him, to wear a sky-blue domino, a colour but seldom put on. The Count d'Ossore had that morning left his town mansion on a hunting excursion, and did not receive the letter, of which the marquis and Viola were ignorant. Such was the state of affairs at the time that I put on the sky-blue domino to go to the masquerade.
My first meeting with the marquis in his violet-coloured domino is easily understood: being in a sky-blue domino I was mistaken for the Count d'Ossore. I was myself led into the mistake by the Marquis Albert having the same Christian name as my English friend. The second meeting with the Count Rodolph, in the black domino, was accidental. The next walk had been appointed as the place of meeting with the Carbonari Felippo and his companions; but Count Rodolph, perceiving me examining my stiletto by the light of the lamp, presumed that I was Felippo, and that I had mistaken the one path for the other which had been agreed upon. The papers given to me by Count Rodolph were Carbonari papers, which were to be hid in the marquis's bosom after he had been assassinated, to make it appear that he had belonged to that society, and by the paper affixed to his clothes, that he had been murdered by the agents of the society for having betrayed them. The papers which the marquis had requested me to give to the Grand Duke were the proofs of Count Rodolph's belonging to the secret society; and with those papers was enclosed a letter to the Grand Duke, in which they acknowledged their secret union. And now, I believe, the reader will comprehend the whole of this mysterious affair.
After all had been explained, I ventured to ask his Highness if he would permit me to fulfil my promise of taking the child to its mother, as I considered it a point of honour that I should keep my engagement, the more so, as the delay would occasion the greatest distress to his daughter; and I ventured to add, that I trusted his Highness would pardon what could not now be remedied, and that I should have the satisfaction of being the bearer of such pleasing intelligence to his daughter and the marquis.
The Grand Duke paced the room for a minute, and then replied, "Signor Herbert, I feel so disgusted with the treachery and baseness of Count Rodolph, that I hardly need observe, if my daughter were free he never should espouse her; indeed, he will have immediate orders to quit the state. You have been instrumental in preserving the life of the Marquis of Salerno, who is my son-in-law, and as matters now stand, I am indebted to you. Your dismissal of the bravos, by means of the count's ring, was a masterly stroke. You shall have the pleasure of taking my forgiveness to my daughter and her husband; but as for the child, it may as well remain here. Tell Viola I retain it as a hostage for the quick return of its mother."
I took my leave of his Highness, and hastened to Pisa, where I soon found out the retreat of the marquis and his wife. I sent up my name, requesting immediate admittance, as having a message from the Grand Duke. I found them in great distress. The Count d'Ossore had returned late on the night of the masquerade, found the letter, hastened to the Marquesa de Cesto's, and had arrived just after the elopement had been discovered. He immediately followed them to Pisa, when an explanation took place, and they discovered that they had been communicating with some unknown person, by whom they had, in all probability, been betrayed.
It would be difficult to portray their astonishment and joy when I entered into a detail of what had occurred, and wound up with the message from the Grand Duke; and I hardly need add, now that I wind up my story, that the proofs of gratitude I received from the marquis and his wife, during my subsequent residence in Italy, left me no occasion to repent that I had gone to the masquerade of the Marquesa de Cesto, in a SKY-BLUE DOMINO.
Modern Town Houses
I have often thought, when you consider the difference of comfort between houses built from sixty to a hundred years back, in comparison with the modern edifices, that the cry of the magician in "Aladdin," had he called out "new houses," instead of "new lamps," for old ones, would not have appeared so very absurd. It was my good fortune, for the major part of my life, to occupy an ancient house, built, I believe, in the reign of Queen Elizabeth. My father lived in it before I was in existence: I was born in it, and it was bequeathed to me. It has since been my misfortune to have lived three years in one of the modern-built houses; and although I have had my share of the ills to which we all are heir, I must date my real unhappiness from the first month after I took possession. With your permission, I will enter into my history, as it may prove a warning to others, who will not remember the old proverb of "Let well alone."
I am a married man, with six children; my three eldest are daughters, and have now quitted a school, near Portman-square, to which my wife insisted upon my sending them, as it was renowned for finishing young ladies. Until their return to domiciliate themselves under my roof, I never heard a complaint of my house, which was situated at Brompton. It was large, airy, and comfortable, with excellent shrubberies, and a few acres of land; and I possessed every comfort and even luxury which could be rationally required, my wife and daughters having their carriage, and in every respect my establishment being that of a gentleman.
I had not, however, taken my daughters from school more than two months, before I was told that we were "living out of the world," although not a mile and a half from Hyde Park Corner; and, to my surprise, my wife joined in the cry; it was always from morn to night, "We might do this but, we cannot do this, because we are here quite out of the world." It was too far to dine out in town; too far for people to come and dine with us; too far to go to the play, or the opera; too far to drive in the park; too far even to walk in Kensington Gardens. I remonstrated, that we had managed to dine out, to receive visitors, and to enjoy all other amusements very well for a considerable number of years, and that it did not appear to me that Brompton had walked away from London, on the contrary, that London was making rapid advances towards Brompton; but it would not do,—all day the phrase rang in my ears, "out of the world," until I almost began to wish that I was out too. But it is no use having the best of an argument when opposed to women. I had my choice, either to give up my house, and take another in London, or to give up my peace. With an unwilling sigh, I at last consented to leave a place dear to me, from long association and many reminiscences; and it was arranged that Brompton Hall was to be let, or sold, and that we were to look out immediately for a house in some of the squares in the metropolis. If my wife and daughters found that the distance from London was too far for other purposes, at all events it was not too far for house-hunting. They were at it incessantly week after week; and, at last, they fixed upon one in the neighbourhood of Belgrave-square, which, as they repeated, possessed all the cheerfulness and fresh air of the country, with all the advantages of a town residence. The next day I was to be dragged to see it, and give my opinion; at the same time, from the commendations bestowed upon it previous to my going, I felt assured that I was expected to give their opinion, and not my own.
The next day, accordingly, we repaired thither, setting off immediately after breakfast, to meet the surveyor and builder, who was to be on the spot. The house in question was one of a row just building, or built, whitened outside, in imitation of stone. It was No. 2. No. 1 was finished; but the windows still stained with the drippings of the whitewash and colouring. No. 2, the one in question, was complete; and, as the builder asserted, ready for immediate occupation. No. 3 was not so far advanced. As for the others, they were at present nothing but carcases, without even the front steps built to them; and you entered them by a drawbridge of planks.
The builder stood at the front door, and bowed most respectfully. "Why," observed I, looking at the piles of mortar, lime, and bricks, standing about in all directions, "we shall be smothered with dust and lime for the next two years."
"Don't be alarmed, sir," replied the builder; "every house in the row will be finished before the winter. We really cannot attend to the applications for them."
We entered the house.
"Is not the entrance handsome?" observed my wife; "so neat and clean."
To this I had not a reply to make; it certainly did look neat and clean.
We went into the dining-room. "What a nice room!" exclaimed my eldest daughter. "How many can we dine in this room?"
"Um!" replied I; "about twelve, I suppose, comfortably."
"Dear me!" observed the builder; "you have no notion of the size of the house; rooms are so deceiving, unfurnished. You may sit down twenty with ease; I'll appeal to the lady. Don't you think so, ma'am?"
"Yes, I do," replied my wife.
After that we went over the drawing-rooms, bedrooms, and attics.
Every bedroom was apportioned by my wife and daughters, and the others were allotted to the servants; and that in the presence of the builder, who took good note of all that passed.
The kitchen was admired; so were the pantry, scullery, coal-hole, dust-hole, &c.; all so nice and clean; so compact; and, as the builder observed, not a nail to drive anywhere.
"Well, my dear, what do you think now? isn't it a charming house?" said my wife, as we re-ascended into the dining-parlour.
"It's a very nice house, my dear; but still it requires a little consideration," replied I.
"Consideration, my dear!" replied my wife; "what! now that you have gone over it?"
"I am afraid that I cannot give you very long, sir," observed the builder; "there are two other parties after the house, and I am to give them an answer by two o'clock."
"Mr Smithers told me the same yesterday," whispered my wife.
"What did you say the rent was, Mr Smithers?"
"Only L200 per annum."
"Only L27, 10s."
"And the taxes?"
"Oh, they will be a mere trifle."
"The rent appears to me to be very high."
"High, my dear sir! consider the situation, the advantages. We can't build them fast enough at that price. But of course, sir, you best know," replied he, carelessly walking towards the window.
"Take it, my dear," said my wife.
"You must take it, papa."
"Pray take it, papa."
"Mr Whats-your-name, I beg your pardon——"
"Smithers, sir," said the builder, turning round.
"Pray, Mr Smithers, what term of lease do you let at?"
"Seven, fourteen, or twenty-one, at the option of either party, sir."
"I should have no objection to take it for three years."
"Three years, my dear sir!—that would be doing yourself an injustice. You would lose half the value of your fixtures provided you left—and then the furniture. Depend upon it, sir, if you once get into it, you will never wish to leave it."
"That may or not be," replied I; "but I will not take it for more than three years. The town-air may not agree with me; and if, as you say, people are so anxious to take the houses, of course it can make no difference to you."
"I'm afraid, sir, that for so short a time——"
"I will not take it for longer," replied I, rising up, glad of an excuse to be off.
"My dear Mr B——"
"On that point," replied I, "I will not be overruled. I will not take a lease for more than three years, with the right of continuing if I please."
The builder perceived that I was in earnest.
"Well, sir," replied he, "I hardly know what to say; but rather than disappoint the ladies, I will accept you as a tenant for three years certain."
Confound the fellow, thought I; but I was pinned, and there was an end of the matter. Mr Smithers pulled out paper and ink; two letters of agreement were written upon a small deal table, covered with blotches of various-coloured paints; and the affair was thus concluded.
We got into the carriage and drove home, my wife and daughters in ecstasies, and I obliged to appear very well satisfied, that I might not damp their spirits; yet I must say that although the house appeared a very nice house, I had my forebodings.