THE WORLD'S GREATEST BOOKS
ARTHUR MEE Editor and Founder of the Book of Knowledge
J.A. HAMMERTON Editor of Harmsworth's Universal Encyclopaedia
VOL. VI FICTION
* * * * *
Table of Contents
LE FANU, SHERIDAN Uncle Silas
LESAGE, RENE Gil Blas
LEVER, CHARLES Charles O'Malley Tom Burke of Ours
LEWIS, M.G. Ambrosio, or the Monk
LINTON, MRS. LYNN Joshua Davidson
LOVER, SAMUEL Handy Andy
LYTTON, EDWARD BULWER Eugene Aram Last Days of Pompeii The Last of the Barons
MACKENZIE, HENRY Man of Feeling
MAISTRE, COUNT XAVIER DE A Journey Round my Room
MALORY, SIR THOMAS Morte d'Arthur
MANNING, ANNE Household of Sir Thomas More
MANZONI, ALESSANDRO The Betrothed
MARRYAT, CAPT Mr. Midshipman Easy Peter Simple
MATURIN, CHARLES Melmoth the Wanderer
MENDOZA, DIEGO DE Lazarillo de Tonnes
MEREJOWSKI, DMITRI Death of the Gods
MERIMEE, PROSPER Carmen
MITFORD, MARY RUSSELL Our Village
MOIR, DAVID Mansie Wauch
MORIER, JAMES Hajji Baba
MURRAY, DAVID CHRISTIE Way of the World
NORRIS, FRANK The Pit
OHNET, GEORGES The Ironmaster
OUIDA Under Two Flags
PAYN, JAMES Lost Sir Massingberd
A Complete Index of THE WORLD'S GREATEST BOOKS will be found at the end of Volume XX.
* * * * *
Acknowledgment and thanks for permission to use the following selections are herewith tendered to G.P. Putnam's Sons, New York, for "The Death of the Gods," by Dmitri Merejkowski; and to Doubleday, Page & Company, New York, for "The Pit," by Frank Norris.
* * * * *
SHERIDAN LE FANU
Joseph Sheridan le Fanu, Irish novelist, poet, and journalist, was born at Dublin on August 28, 1814. His grandmother was a sister of Richard Brinsley Sheridan, his father a dean. Educated at Trinity College, Dublin, Le Fanu became a contributor to the "Dublin University Magazine," afterwards its editor, and finally its proprietor. He also owned and edited a Dublin evening paper. Le Fanu first came into prominence in 1837 as the author of the two brilliant Irish ballads, "Phaudhrig Croohore" and "Shamus O'Brien." His novels, which number more than a dozen, were first published in most cases in his magazine. His power of producing a feeling of weird mystery ranks him with Edgar Allan Poe. It may be questioned whether any Irish novelist has written with more power. The most representative of his stories is "Uncle Silas, a Tale of Bartram-Haugh," which appeared in 1864. Le Fanu died on February 7, 1873.
I.—Death, the Intruder
It was winter, and great gusts were rattling at the windows; a very dark night, and a very cheerful fire, blazing in a genuine old fire-place in a sombre old room. A girl of a little more than seventeen, slight and rather tall, with a countenance rather sensitive and melancholy, was sitting at the tea-table in a reverie. I was that girl.
The only other person in the room was my father, Mr. Ruthyn, of Knowl. Rather late in life he had married, and his beautiful young wife had died, leaving me to his care. This bereavement changed him—made him more odd and taciturn than ever. There was also some disgrace about his younger brother, my Uncle Silas, which he felt bitterly, and he had given himself up to the secluded life of a student.
He was pacing the floor. I remember the start with which, not suspecting he was close by me, I lifted my eyes, and saw him stand looking fixedly on me from less than a yard away.
"She won't understand," he whispered, "no, she won't. Will she? They are easily frightened—ay, they are. I'd better do it another way, and she'll not suspect—she'll not suppose. See, child?" he said, after a second or two. "Remember this key."
It was oddly shaped, and unlike others.
"It opens that." And he tapped sharply on the door of a cabinet. "You will tell nobody what I have said, under pain of my displeasure."
"Oh, no, sir!"
"Good child! Except under one contingency. That is, in case I should be absent and Dr. Bryerly—you recollect the thin gentleman in spectacles and a black wig, who spent three days here last month?—should come and enquire for the key, you understand, in my absence."
"But you will then be absent, sir," I said. "How am I to find the key?"
"True, child. I am glad you are so wise. That, you will find, I have provided for. I have a very sure friend—a friend whom I once misunderstood, but now appreciate."
I wondered silently whether it would be Uncle Silas.
"He'll make me a call some day soon, and I must make a little journey with him. He's not to be denied; I have no choice. But on the whole I rather like it. Remember, I say, I rather like it."
I think it was about a fortnight after this conversation that I was one night sitting in the great drawing-room window, when on a sudden, on the grass before me stood an odd figure—a very tall woman in grey draperies, courtesying rather fantastically, smiling very unpleasantly on me, and gabbling and cackling shrilly—I could not distinctly hear what—and gesticulating oddly with her long arms and hands. This was Madame de la Rougierre, my new governess.
I think all the servants hated her. She was by no means a pleasant gouvernante for a nervous girl of my years. She was always making excuses to consult my father about my contumacy and temper. She tormented me by ghost stories to cover her nocturnal ramblings, and she betrayed a terrifying curiosity about his health and his will. My cousin Monica, Lady Knollys, who visited us about this time, was shocked at her presence in the house; it was the cause of a rupture between my father and her. But not even a frustrated attempt to abduct me during one of our walks—which I am sure madame connived at—could shake my father's confidence in her, though he was perfectly transported with fury on hearing what had happened. It was not until I found her examining his cabinet by means of a false key that he dismissed her; but madame had contrived to leave her glamour over me, and now and then the memory of her parting menaces would return with an unexpected pang of fear.
My father never alluded again to Madame de la Rougierre, but, whether connected with her exposure and dismissal or not, there appeared to be some new trouble at work in his mind.
"I am anxious about you, Maud," he said. "You are more interested than I can be in vindicating his character."
"Whose character, sir?" I ventured to inquire during the pause that followed.
"Whose? Your Uncle Silas's. In course of nature he must survive me. He will then represent the family name. Would you make some sacrifice to clear that name, Maud?"
I answered briefly; but my face, I believe, showed my enthusiasm.
"I can tell you, Maud, if my life could have done it, it should not have been undone. But I had almost made up my mind to leave all to time to illuminate, or consume. But I think little Maud would like to contribute to the restitution of her family name. It may cost you something. Are you willing to buy it at a sacrifice? Your Uncle Silas," he said, speaking suddenly in loud and fierce tones that sounded almost terrible, "lies under an intolerable slander. He troubles himself little about it; he is selfishly sunk in futurity—a feeble visionary. I am not so. The character and influence of an ancient family are a peculiar heritage—sacred, but destructible. You and I, we'll leave one proof on record which, fairly read, will go far to convince the world."
That night my father bade me good-night early. I had fallen into a doze when I was roused by a dreadful crash and a piercing scream from Mrs. Rusk. Scream followed scream, pealing one after the other unabated, wilder and more terror-stricken. Then came a strange lull, and the dull sounds of some heavy body being moved.
What was that dreadful sound? Who had entered my father's chamber? It was the visitor whom he had so long expected, with whom he was to make the unknown journey, leaving me alone. The intruder was Death!
II.—The Sorceries of Bartram-Haugh
One of those fearful aneurisms that lie close to the heart had given way in a moment. He had fallen, with the dreadful crash I had heard, dead upon the floor. He fell across the door, which caused a difficulty in opening it. Mrs. Rusk could not force it open. No wonder she had given way to terror. I think I should have lost my reason.
I do not know how those awful days, and still more awful nights, passed over. Lady Knollys came, and was very kind. She was odd, but her eccentricity was leavened with strong commonsense; and I have often thought since with gratitude of the tact with which she managed my grief.
I did not know where to write to Dr. Bryerly, to whom I had promised the key, but in accordance with my father's written directions, his death was forthwith published in the principal London papers. He came at midnight, accordingly, and on the morrow the will was read. Except for a legacy of L10,000 to his only brother, Silas Ruthyn, and a few minor legacies to relations and servants, my father had left his whole estate to me, appointing my Uncle Silas my sole guardian, with full parental authority over me until I should have reached the age of twenty-one, up to which time I was to reside under his care at Bartram-Haugh, with the sum of L2,000 paid yearly to him for my suitable maintenance and education.
I was startled by the expression of cousin Monica's face. She looked ghastly and angry.
"To whom," she asked, with an effort, "will the property belong in case—in case my cousin should die before she comes of age?"
"To the next heir, her uncle, Mr. Silas Ruthyn. He's both heir-at-law and next-of-kin," replied the attorney.
She was anxious to persuade my uncle to relinquish his guardianship to her; but the evening of the funeral a black-bordered letter came from him, bidding me remain at Knowl until he could arrange for my journey to him. There was a postscript, which made my cheek tingle.
"Pray present my respects to Lady Knollys, who, I understand, is sojourning at Knowl. I would observe that a lady who cherishes, I have reason to fear, unfriendly feelings against your uncle is not the most desirable companion for his ward. But, upon the express condition that I am not made the subject of your discussions, I do not interpose to bring your intercourse to an immediate close."
"Did I ever hear! Well, if this isn't impertinent!" exclaimed Lady Knollys. "I did not intend to talk about him, but now I will." And so it was that I heard the story of that enigmatical person—martyr, angel, demon—Uncle Silas, with whom my fate was now so strangely linked.
It was twenty years ago. He was not a reformed rake, but a ruined one then. My father had helped him again and again, until his marriage with a barmaid. After that he allowed him five hundred a year, and the use of his estate of Bartram-Haugh. Then Mr. Charke, a gentleman of the turf, who was staying with my uncle for Doncaster Races, was found dead in his room—he had committed suicide by cutting his throat. And Uncle Silas was suspected of having killed him.
This wretched Mr. Charke had won heavy wagers at the races from Uncle Silas, and at night they had played very deep at cards. Next morning his servant could not enter his room; it was locked on the inside, the window was fastened by a screw, and the chimney was barred with iron. It seemed that he had hermetically sealed himself in, and then killed himself. But he had been in boisterous spirits. Also, though his own razor was found near his right hand, the fingers of his left hand were cut to the bone. Then the memorandum-book in which his bets were noted was nowhere to be found. Besides, he had written two letters to a friend, saying how profitable he had found his visit to Bartram-Haugh, and that he held Uncle Silas's I O U's for a frightful sum; and although my uncle stoutly alleged he did not owe him a guinea, there had scarcely been time in one evening for him to win back so much money. In a moment the storm was up, and although my uncle met it bravely, he failed to overcome it, and became a social outcast, in spite of all my father's efforts.
And now I was to rehabilitate him before the world, and accordingly all preparations were made for my departure from Knowl; and at last the morning came—a day of partings, a day of novelty, and regrets.
I remember we passed a gypsy bivouac on our journey, with fires alight, on the edge of a great, heathy moor. I had my fortune told, and I am ashamed to confess I paid the gypsy a pound for a brass pin with a round bead for a head—a charmed pin, which would keep away rat, and cat, and snake, a malevolent spirit, or "a cove to cut my throat," from hurting me. The purchase was partly an indication of the trepidations of that period Of my life. At all events, I had her pin and she my pound, and I venture to say I was the gladder of the two.
It was moonlight when we reached Bartram-Haugh. It had a forlorn character of desertion and decay, contrasting almost awfully with the grandeur of its proportions and richness of its architecture. A shabby little old man, a young plump, but very pretty female figure in unusually short petticoats, and a dowdy old charwoman, all stood in the door among a riot of dogs. I sat shyly back, peeping at the picture before me.
"Will you tell me—yes or no—is my cousin in the coach?" screamed the young lady. She received me with a hug and a hearty "buss," as she called that salutation, and was evidently glad to see me. Then, after leading me to my bed-room to make a hurried toilet, she conducted me to a handsome wainscotted room, where my Uncle Silas awaited me.
A singular looking old man—a face like marble, with a fearful monumental look—an apparition, drawn, as it seemed, in black and white, venerable, bloodless, fiery-eyed, with its strange look of power and an expression so bewildering. Was it derision, or anguish, or cruelty, or patience?
He said something in his clear, gentle, but cold voice, and, taking both my hands, led me affectionately to a chair near his own. He was a miserable invalid, he told me, after speaking a little eulogy of his brother and examining me closely, respecting his illness and its symptoms. At last, remarking that I must be fatigued, he rose and kissed me with a solemn tenderness, and, placing his hand on a large Bible, bade me "Remember that book; in it lives my only hope. Consult it, my beloved niece, day and night as the only oracle."
"I'm awful afraid of the governor, I am," said Cousin Milly, when we had left him. "I was in a qualm. When he spies me a-napping maybe he don't fetch me a prod with his pencil-case over the head."
But Milly was a pretty and a clever creature in spite of her uncouth dialect, and I liked her very much. We spent much time taking long country rambles and exploring the old house, many of whose rooms were closed and shuttered. Of my uncle we saw little. He was "queerish," Milly said, and I learnt afterwards he took much laudanum.
My other cousin, Dudley, I did not meet till later. To my horror, I beheld in him one of the party of ruffians who had terrified me so much the day of the attempted abduction at Knowl; but he stoutly denied ever having been there with an air so confident that I began to think I must be the dupe of a chance resemblance. My uncle viewed him with a strange, paternal affection. But dear Cousin Monica had written asking Milly and me to go to her, and we had some of the pleasantest and happiest days of our lives at her house of Elverston, for there Milly met her good little curate, the Rev. Sprigge Biddlepen, and Lord Ilbury.
Uncle Silas was terribly ill when we returned to Bartram-Haugh, the result of an overdose of opium; but for the doctor's aid he would have died. Remembering how desperate Lady Knollys had told me his monetary position was, a new and dreadful suspicion began to haunt me.
"Had he attempted to poison himself?"
I remember I was left alone with him while his attendant fetched a fresh candle. A small thick Bible lay on the mantle-shelf. I turned over its leaves, and lighted on two or three odd-looking papers—promissory notes, I believe—when Uncle Silas, dressed in a long white morning-gown, slid over the end of the bed and stood behind me with a deathlike scowl and simper. Diving over my shoulder, with his long, thin hand he snatched the Bible from me, and whispered over my head, "The serpent beguiled her, and she did eat."
It seemed an hour before Wyat came back. You may be sure I did not prolong my watch. I had a long, hysterical fit of weeping when I got to my room: the sorceries of Bartram-Haugh were enveloping.
About this time Dudley began to persecute me with his odious attentions. I was obliged to complain of him to my uncle. He was disposed to think well of the match; but I could not consent, and it was arranged that my cousin should go abroad. And then that night I had the key to some of the mysterious doings at Bartram-Haugh—the comings and goings in the darkness which had so often startled me—the face of Madame de la Rougierre peeped into the room.
III.—A Night of Terror
Shortly afterwards I lost Milly, who was sent to a French school, where I was to follow her in three months. I bade her farewell at the end of Windmill Wood, and was sitting on the trunk of a tree when Meg Hawkes, a girl to whom I had once been kind, passed by.
"Don't ye speak, nor look; fayther spies us," she said quickly. "Don't ye be alone wi' Master Dudley nowhere, for the world's sake!"
The injunction was so startling that I had many an hour of anxious conjecture, and many a horrible vigil by night. But ten days later I was summoned to my uncle's room. He implored me once more to wed Dudley—to listen to the appeal of an old and broken-hearted man.
"You see my suspense—my miserable and frightful suspense," he said. "I'm very miserable, nearly desperate. I stand before you in the attitude of a suppliant."
"Oh, I must—I must—I must say no!" I cried. "Don't question me, don't press me. I could not—I could not do what you ask!"
"I yield, Maud—I yield, my dear. I will not press you. I have spoken to you frankly, perhaps too frankly; but agony and despair will speak out and plead, even with the most obdurate and cruel!"
He shut the door, not violently, but with a resolute hand, and I thought I heard a cry.
The discovery that Dudley was already married spared me further importunity. I was anxious to relieve my uncle's necessities, which, I knew were pressing; and the attorney from Feltram was up with him all night, trying in vain to devise some means by which I might do so. The morning after, I was told I must write to Lady Knollys to ask if I might go to her, as there was shortly to be an execution in the house.
I met Dudley on my way through the hall. He spoke oddly about his father, and made a very strange proposal to me—that I should give him my written promise for twenty thousand pounds, and he would "take me cleverly out o' Bartram-Haugh and put me wi' my cousin Knollys!"
I refused indignantly, but he caught me by the wrist.
"Don't ye be a-flyin' out," he said peremptorily. "Take it or leave it—on or off! Can't ye speak wi' common sense for once? I'll take ye out o' all this, if you'll gi'e me what I say."
He looked black when I refused again. I judged it best to tell my uncle of his offer. He was startled, but made what excuse he could, smiling askance, a pale, peaked smile that haunted me. And then, once more, entering an unfrequented room, I came upon the great bony figure of Madame de la Rougierre. She was to be my companion for a week or two, I was told, and shortly after her coming I found my walks curtailed. I wrote again to my Cousin Knollys, imploring her to take me away. This letter my uncle intercepted, and when she came in reply to my former letter, I had but the sight of her carriage driving swiftly away.
The morning after I was informed madame was to take me to join Milly in France. As Uncle Silas had directed, I wrote to Cousin Monica from London. I know madame asked me what I would do for her if she took me to Lady Knollys. I was inwardly startled, but refused, seeing before me only a tempter and betrayer; and together we ended our journey, driving from the station through the dark and starless night to find ourselves at last in Mr. Charke's room at Bartram-Haugh.
There were bailiffs in the house, I was told. I was locked in. I entreated madame wildly, piteously, to save me; but she mocked me in my agony. I escaped for a brief moment, and sought my uncle. I can never forget the look he fixed on me.
"What is the meaning of this? Why is she here?" he asked, in a stern, icy tone. "You were always odd, niece. I begin to believe you are insane. There's no evil intended you, by—, there is none! Go to your room, and don't vex me, there's a good girl!"
I went upstairs with madame, like a somnambulist. She was to leave me to sleep alone that night. I had lost the talismanic pin I always stuck in the bolster of my bed. Uncle Silas sent up spiced claret in a little silver flagon. Madame abstractedly drank it off, and threw herself on my bed. I believed she was feigning sleep only, and really watching me; but now I think the claret was drugged.
About an hour afterwards I heard them digging in the courtyard. Like a thunder-bolt it smote my brain. "They are making my grave!"
After the first dreadful stun, I grew wild, running up and down wringing my hands, and gasping prayers to heaven. Then a dreadful calm stole over me.
IV.—The Open Door
It was a very still night. A peculiar sound startled me and I saw a man descend by a rope, and take his stand on the windowsill. In a moment more, window, bars and all, swung noiselessly open, and Dudley Ruthyn stepped into the room.
He stole, in a groping way, to the bed, and stooped over it. Nearly at the same moment there came a scrunching blow; an unnatural shriek, accompanied by a convulsive sound, as of the motion of running, and the arms drumming on the bed, and then another blow—and silence. The diabolical surgery was over. There came a little tapping at the door.
"Who's that?" whispered Dudley hoarsely.
"A friend," answered a sweet voice, and Uncle Silas entered.
Coolness was given me in that dreadful moment. I knew that all depended on my being prompt and resolute. With a mental prayer for help, I glided from the room and descended the stairs. I tried the outer door. To my wild surprise it was open. In a moment I was in the free air—and as instantaneously was seized by Tom Brice, Meg's sweetheart, who was waiting to drive the guilty father and son away.
"They shan't hurt ye, miss. Get ye in; I don't care a d——!" he said in a wild, fierce whisper. To me it was the voice of an angel. He drove over the grass so that our passage was noiseless; then, on reaching the highway, at a gallop. At length we entered Elverston. I think I was half wild. I could not speak, but ran, with a loud, long scream, into Cousin Monica's arms. I forget a great deal after that.
* * * * *
It was not till two years afterwards that I learnt that Uncle Silas was found next morning dead of an overdose of laudanum, and that Dudley had disappeared.
Milly married her good little clergyman. I am Lady Ilbury now, happy in the affection of a beloved and noble-hearted husband. A tiny voice is calling "Mamma;" the shy, useless girl you have known is now a mother, thinking, and trembling while she smiles, how strong is love, how frail is life.
* * * * *
RENE LE SAGE
Except that he was born at Sarzeau, in Brittany, on May 8, 1668, and that he was the son of the novelist Claude le Sage, little is known of the youth of Alain Rene le Sage. Until he was eighteen he was educated with the Jesuits at Vannes, when, it is conjectured he went to Paris to continue his studies for the Bar. An early marriage drove him to seek a livelihood by means of literature, and shortly afterwards he found a valuable and sympathetic friend and patron in the Abbe de Lyonne, who not only bestowed upon him a pension of about L125, but also gave him the use of his library. The first results of this favour were adaptations of two plays from Rojas and Lope de Vega, which appeared some time during the first two or three years of the eighteenth century. Le Sage's reputation as a playwright and as a novelist rests, oddly enough, in each case on one work. As the author of "Tuscaret," produced in 1709, he contributed to the stage one of the best comedies in the French language; as author of "The Adventures of Gil Blas of Santillana" he stands for all time in the front rank of the world's novelists. Here he brought the art of story-writing to the highest level of artistic truth. The first and second parts of the work appeared in 1715, the third in 1724, and the fourth in 1735. Le Sage died at Boulogne on November 17, 1747.
I.—I Start on my Travels
My uncle, Canon Perez, was a worthy priest. To live well was, in his opinion, the chief duty of man. He lived very well. He kept the best table in the town of Oviedo. I was very glad of this, as I lived with him, my parents being too poor to keep me.
My uncle gave me an excellent education. He even learned to read so as to be able to teach me himself. There were few ecclesiastics of his rank in Spain in the early part of the seventeenth century who could read a breviary as well as he could when I left him, at the age of seventeen, to continue my duties at the University of Salamanca.
"Here are forty ducats, Gil Blas," he said to me when we parted. "And you can take my old mule and sell it when you reach Salamanca. Then you will be able to live comfortable until you obtain a good position."
It is, I suppose, about two hundred miles from Oviedo to Salamanca. Not very far, you will say, but it took me two years to cover the distance. When one travels along a high road at the age of seventeen, master of one's actions, of an old mule, and forty ducats, one is bound to meet with adventures on the way. I was out to see the world, and I meant to see it; my self-confidence was equalled only by my utter inexperience. Out of my first misadventure came an extraordinary piece of good luck. I fell into the hands of some brigands, and lost my mule and my money. Among my fellow prisoners was a wealthy lady, Dona Mencia, of Burgos. I helped her to escape and got away myself, and when I came to Zurgos she rewarded me very handsomely with a diamond ring and a thousand ducats. This changed my plan of life completely. Why should I go and study at Salamanca? Did I want to become a priest or a pedant? I was now sure that I didn't.
"Gil Blas," I said, "you are a good-looking lad, clever, well-educated, and ambitious. Why not go to Madrid and try to get some place at the court of King Philip the Third?"
I spent sixty ducats in dressing myself out gaily in the manner of a rich cavalier, and I engaged a man of about thirty years of age to come with me as my servant.
Lamela, as he was called, was quite different from the other valets who applied for the position. He did not demand any sum as wages.
"Only let me come with you, sir," he said. "I shall be content with whatever you give me."
It seemed to me that I had got a very good servant We slept at Duengas the first night, and on the second day we arrived at Valladolid. As I was sitting in my inn, a charming lady entered and asked to see me.
"My dear Gil Blas," she exclaimed "Lamela has just told me of your arrival. I am a cousin of Dona Mencia, and I received a letter from her this morning. How brave it was of you to rescue her from those wicked brigands! I can't leave you in this inn. You must come at once to my house. My brother, Don Raphael, will be delighted to see you when he returns in an hour or two from our country castle."
Dona Camilla, as the lady was called, led me to a great house in the best part of the town, and at the door we met Don Raphael. "What a handsome young cavalier you are, my dear Gil Blas!" he said. "You must make up your mind to stay with us for some weeks."
The supper was a pleasant affair. Dona Camilla and her brother found something to admire in everything I said, and I began to fancy myself as a wit. It was very late when Lamela led me to my bed-room and helped me to undress. And it was very late when I awoke next day. I called to Lamela, but he did not come, so I arose and dressed myself and went downstairs. To my surprise there was nobody in the house, and all my baggage had disappeared. I looked at my hand—the diamond ring had gone. Then I understood why Lamela had been willing to come with me without troubling about wages. I had fallen for a second time into the hands of thieves. They had hired the furnished house for a week, and had trapped me in it. It was clear that I had boasted too much at Burgos about the thousand ducats which Dona Mencia gave me. Now I found myself at Valladolid quite penniless.
As I walked along the street in a very despondent mood, not knowing how to get a meal, someone tapped me on the shoulder, and said, "Good gracious, Gil Blas, I hardly knew you! What a princely dress you've got on. A fine sword, silk stockings, a velvet mantle and doublet with silver lacings! Have you come into a fortune?"
I turned around, and found it was Fabrice, an old schoolfellow, the son of a barber at Oviedo. I told him of my adventure.
"Pride comes before a fall, you see," he said with a laugh. "But I can get you a place if you care to take it. One of the principal physicians of the town, Dr. Sang-Tado, is looking for a secretary. I know you write a very good hand. Sell your fine raiment and buy some plain clothes, and I will take you to the doctor."
I am glad to say that I obtained the post, but I wasn't altogether satisfied with it. Dr. Sangrado believed in vegetarianism, and he gave me only peas and beans and baked apples to eat, and not much of those. At the end of a fortnight I resolved to go as a servant in some house: where meat and wine were to be had.
"Don't be foolish," said Sangrado. "Your fortune is made if you only stay with me. I am getting old and I require someone to help me in my practice. You can do it. You need not waste your time in studying all the nonsense written by other doctors. You have only to follow my method. Never give a patient medicine. Bleed him well, and tell him to drink a pint of hot water every half hour. If that doesn't cure him—well, it's time he died."
So I donned one of Sangrado's gowns, which gave me a very original appearance, as it was much too long and ample for me, and then I began to attend his patients. A few of them, I believe, managed to recover. One day a woman stopped me and took me into her house to look at her niece. I recognised the girl as soon as I saw her. It was the pretty adventuress, Camilla, who had decoyed me and helped to rob me of my thousand ducats. When I took her hand to feel her pulse I perceived that she was wearing my diamond ring. Happily, she was too ill to know me. After ordering her to be bled and given a pint of warm water every half hour, I went out and talked the matter over with Fabrice. We resolved not to call in the police, as they would certainly keep whatever money of mine they recovered. The ways of the law in Spain in the seventeenth century are very strange and intricate.
Nevertheless, I returned late at night to the house accompanied by a sergeant of the police and five of his men, all well armed. I then awoke Camilla, and told her to dress herself and attend before the magistrate.
"Oh, Gil Blas," she cried, "have pity on me. Lamela and Raphael have run off with the money, and left me alone here on a bed of sickness."
I knew this was true, as I had made inquiries; but I also knew that Camilla had had a share of the spoil, and had bought some valuable jewelry with it. So I said, "Very well, I won't be hard on you. But you must give me back the diamond ring which you are wearing, and you must satisfy these officers of the police."
Poor Camilla understood what I meant. It is a costly matter to satisfy the Spanish police. She gave me the ring, and then, with a sigh, she opened a casket and handed the sergeant everything it contained—a necklace of beautiful pearls, a pair of fine earrings, and some other jewels.
"Isn't this better than calling in the police?" said the sergeant when we had left the house. "There are the jewels. Two hundred ducats' worth, I'll be bound!"
No doubt, dear reader, you have seen through this little plot. The supposed sergeant was my old friend, Fabrice, and his five men were five young barbers of his acquaintance. They quickly changed their clothes, and we all went to an inn and spent a merry evening together.
II.—In Male Attire
A few days afterwards I took up the plan which I had formed at Burgos, and bravely set out for Madrid in the hope of making my fortune there. But my money did not last long, for on reaching the capital I fell in with a wild company of fashionable actors and actresses.
As my purse grew lighter my conscience became tenderer, and at length I humbly accepted the position of lackey in the house of a rich old nobleman, Don Vincent de Guzman. He was a widower, with an only child, Aurora—a lovely, gay, and accomplished girl of twenty-six years of age.
I had hardly been with him a month when he died, leaving his daughter mistress of all his wealth, and free to do what she liked with it. To my surprise, Aurora then began to distinguish me from all the other servants. I could see by the way she looked at me that there was something about me that attracted her. Great ladies, I knew, sometimes fall in love with their lackeys, and one evening my hopes were raised to the highest pitch; for Aurora's maid then whispered to me that somebody would like to talk to me alone at midnight in the garden. Full of wild impatience, I arrived at the spot two hours before the time. Oh, those two hours! They seemed two eternities.
At midnight Aurora appeared, and I threw myself at her feet, exclaiming, "Oh, my dear lady! Even in my wildest dreams of love I never thought of such happiness as this!"
"Don't talk so loud!" said Aurora, stepping back and laughing. "You will rouse all the household. So you thought I was in love with you? My dear boy, I am in love with somebody else. Knowing how clever and ingenious you are, I want you to come at once with me to Salamanca and help me to win my love."
Naturally, I was much disconcerted by this strange turn of affairs. However, I managed to recover myself and listen to my mistress. She had fallen in love with a gallant young nobleman, Don Luis Pacheco, who was unaware of the passion he inspired. He was going the next day to Salamanca to study at the university, and Aurora had resolved to go there also, dressed as a young nobleman, and make his acquaintance. She had fallen in love with him at sight, and had never found an opportunity to speak to him.
"I shall get two sets of rooms in different parts of the town," she said to me. "In one I shall live as Aurora de Guzman, with my maid, who must play the part of an aunt. In the other, I shall be Don Felix de Mendoc, a gallant cavalier, and you must be my valet."
We set off for Salamanca at daybreak, and arrived before Don Luis. Aurora took a furnished mansion in the fashionable quarter, and I called at the principal inns, and found the one where Don Luis had arranged to stay, Aurora then hid her pretty brown tresses under a wig, and put on a dashing cavalier's costume, and came and engaged a room at the place where her lover was.
"So you have come to study at the university, sir?" said the innkeeper. "How lucky! Another gallant young nobleman has just taken a room here for the same purpose. You will be able to dine together and entertain one another."
He introduced his two guests, and they quickly became fast friends.
"Do you know, Don Felix, you're uncommonly good-looking," said Don Luis, as they sat talking over the wine. "Between us we shall set on fire the hearts of the pretty girls of Salamanca."
"There's really a lovely girl staying in the town," said my mistress. "She's a cousin of mine, Aurora de Guzman. We are said to resemble each other in a remarkable way."
"Then she must be a beautiful creature," said Don Luis, "for you have fine, regular features and an admirable colour. When can I see this paragon?"
"This afternoon, if you like," said my mistress.
They went together to the mansion, where the maid received them, dressed as an elderly noblewoman.
"I'm very sorry, Don Felix," said the maid, "but my niece has a bad headache, and she has gone to lie down."
"Very well," said the pretended cousin. "I will just introduce my friend, Don Luis, to you. Tell Aurora we will call to-morrow morning."
Don Luis was much interested in the lovely girl whom he had not been able to see. He talked about her to his companion late into the night. The next day, as they were about to set out to visit her, I rushed in, as arranged, with a note for my mistress.
"What a nuisance!" she said. "Here is some urgent business I must at once attend to. Don Luis, just run round and tell my cousin that I cannot come until this afternoon!"
Don Luis retired to put some final touches to his dress, and my mistress hurried off with me to her mansion, and there, with the help of her maid, she quickly got into her proper clothes. She received Don Luis very kindly, and they talked together for quite two hours. Don Luis then went away, and Aurora slipped into her cavalier's costume and met him at the inn.
"My dear Felix," said Don Luis, "your cousin is an adorable lady. I'm madly in love with her. If I can only win her, I'll marry and settle down on my estates."
Aurora gazed at him very tenderly, and then, with a gay laugh, she shook off her wig and let her curls fall about her shoulders.
Don Felix knelt at her feet and kissed her hands, crying, "Oh, my beautiful Aurora! Do you really care for me? How happy we shall be together!"
The two lovers resolved to return at once to Madrid, and make preparations for the wedding. At the end of a fortnight my mistress was married, and I again set out on my travels with a well-lined purse.
I had always had a particular desire to see the famous town of Toledo. I arrived there in three days, and lodged at a good inn, where, by reason of my fine dress, I passed for a gentleman of importance. But I soon discovered that Toledo was one of those places in which it is easier to spend money than to gain it.
So I set out for Aragon. On the road I fell in with a young cavalier going in the same direction. He was a man of a frank and pleasant disposition, and we soon got on a friendly footing. His name, I learned, was Don Alfonso; he was, like me, seeking for means of livelihood.
It came on to rain very heavily as we were skirting the base of a mountain, and, in looking about for some place of shelter, we found a cave in which an aged, white-haired hermit was living. At first he was not pleased to see us, but something about me seemed to strike him favourably, and he then gave us a kind welcome. We tied our horses to a tree, and prepared to stay the night. The hermit began to talk to us in a very pious and edifying way, when another aged anchorite ran into the cave, and said, "It is all over; we're discovered. The police are after us!"
The first hermit tore off his white beard and his hair, and took off his long robe, showing a doublet beneath; and his companion followed his example. In a few moments they were changed into a couple of young men whose faces I recognised.
"Raphael! Lamela! What mischief are you working now? And where are my thousand ducats, you rascals?"
"Ah, Gil Blas, I knew you at once!" said Raphael blandly. "One comes on old acquaintances when one least expects them. I know we treated you badly. But the money's gone, and can't be recovered. Come with us, and we will soon make up to you all that you have lost."
It was certainly unwise to remain in a cave which the police were about to visit, and, as the rain had ceased and the night had fallen, we all set out in the darkness to find some better shelter. We took the road to Requena, and came to a forest, where we saw a light shining in the distance. Don Alfonso crept up to the spot, and saw four men sitting round a fire, eating and quarrelling. It was easy to see what they were quarrelling about. An old gentleman and a lovely young girl were bound to a tree close by, and by the tree stood a fine carriage.
"They are brigands," said Alfonso, when he returned, "who have captured a nobleman and his daughter, I think. Let us attack them. In order, no doubt, to prevent their quarrelling turning into a deadly affray, they have piled all their arms in a heap some yards away from the fire. So they cannot make much of a fight."
And they did not. We quietly surrounded them, and shot them down before they were able to move. Don Alfonso and I then set free the captives, while Raphael and Lamela rifled the pockets of the dead robbers.
"I am the Count of Polan, and this is my daughter Seraphina," said the old gentleman. "If you will help me to get my carriage ready, I will drive back to an inn which we passed before entering the forest."
When we came to the inn, the count begged us all to stay with him. Raphael and Lamela, however, were afraid that the police would track them out; Don Alfonso, who had been talking very earnestly to Seraphina, was, for some strange reason, also unwilling to remain; so I fell in with their views.
"Why didn't you stay?" I said to Don Alfonso.
"I was afraid the count would recognise me, as Seraphina has done," he said. "I killed his son in a duel, just when I was trying to win Seraphina's love. Heaven grant that the service I have now rendered will make him inclined to forgive me."
The day was breaking when we reached the mountains around Requena. There we hid till nightfall, and then we made our way in the darkness to the town of Xeloa. We found a quiet, shady retreat beside a woodland stream, and there we stayed, while Lamela went into the town to buy provisions. He did not return until evening. He brought back some extraordinary things.
He opened a great bundle containing a long black mantle and robe, another costume, a roll of parchment, a quill, and a great seal in green wax.
"Do you remember the trick you played on Camilla?" he said to me. "I have a better scheme than that. Listen. As I was buying some provisions at a cook-shop, a man entered in a great rage and began abusing a certain Samuel Simon, a converted Jew and a cruel usurer. He had ruined many merchants at Xeloa, and all the towns-people would like to see him ruined in turn. Then, my dear Gil Blas, I remembered your clever trick, and brought these clothes so that we might visit this Jew dressed up as the officers of the Inquisition."
After we had made a good meal, Lamela put on the robe and mantle of the Inquisitor, Raphael the costume of the registrar, and I took the part of a sergeant of the police. We walked very solemnly to the house of the usurer; Simon opened the door himself, and started back in affright.
"Master Simon," said Lamela, in a grave imperative tone of voice, "I command you, on behalf of the Holy Inquisition, to deliver to these officers the key of your cabinet. I must have your private papers closely examined. Serious charges of heresy have been brought against you."
The usurer grew pale with fear. Far from doubting any deceit on our part, he imagined that some of his enemies had informed the Holy Office against him. He obeyed without the least resistance, and opened his cabinet.
"I am glad to see," said Lamela, "that you do not rebel against the orders of the Holy Inquisition. Retire now to another room, and let me carry out the examination without interference."
Simon withdrew into a farther room, and Lamela and Raphael quickly searched in the cabinet for the strongbox. It was unlocked, being so full of money that it could not be closed. We filled all our pockets; then our hose; and then stuffed the coins in any place in our clothes that would hold them. After this, we closed the cabinet, and our pretended Inquisitor sealed it down with a great seal of green wax, and said very solemnly to the usurer, "Master Simon, I have sealed your cabinet with the seal of the Holy Office. Let me find it untouched when I return to-morrow morning to inform you of the decision arrived at in your case."
The next morning we were a good many leagues from Xeloa. At breakfast, we counted over the money which we had taken from Simon. It came to three thousand ducats, of which we each took a fourth part. Raphael and Lamela then desired to carry out a similar plot against someone in the next town; but Don Alfonso and I would not agree to take any part in the affair, and set out for Toledo. There, Don Alfonso was reconciled to the Count of Polan, and soon afterwards he and Seraphina were happily married.
I retired to Lirias, a pleasant estate that Don Alfonso gave me, and there I married happily, and grew old among my children. In the reign of Philip IV., I went to the court, and served under the great minister, Olivarez. But I have now returned to Lirias, and I do not intend to go to Madrid again.
* * * * *
The author of "Charles O'Malley," perhaps the most typical of Irish novelists, was of English descent on his father's side. But Charles James Lever himself was Irish by birth, being born at Dublin on August 31, 1806—Irish in sentiment and distinctly Irish in temperament. In geniality and extravagance he bore much resemblance to the gay, riotous spirits he has immortalised in his books. "Of all the men I have ever encountered," says Trollope, "he was the surest fund of drollery." Lever was intended for medicine; but financial difficulties forced him to return to literature. His first story was "Harry Lorrequer," published in 1837. It was followed in 1840 by "Charles O'Malley, the Irish Dragoon," which established his reputation as one of the first humorists of his day. The story is the most popular of all Lever's works, and in many respects the most characteristic. The narrative is told with great vigour, and the delineation of character is at once subtle and life-like. Lever died on June 1, 1872.
I.—O'Malley of O'Malley Castle
It was in O'Malley Castle, a very ruinous pile of incongruous masonry that stood in a wild and dreary part of Galway, that I passed my infancy and youth. When a mere child I was left an orphan to the care of my worthy uncle. My father, whose extravagance had well sustained the family reputation, had squandered a large and handsome property in contesting elections for his native county, and in keeping up that system of unlimited hospitality for which Ireland in general, and Galway more especially, was renowned. The result was, as might be expected, ruin and beggary. When he died the only legacy he left to his brother was a boy of four years of age, entreating him, with his last breath, "Be anything you like to him, Godfrey, but a father—or, at least, such a one as I have proved."
Godfrey O'Malley sometime previous had lost his wife, and when this new trust was committed to him he resolved never to re-marry, but to rear me as his own child.
From my earliest years his whole anxiety was to fit me for the part of a country gentleman, as he regarded that character—viz., I rode boldly with the fox-hounds; I was about the best shot within twenty miles; I could swim the Shannon at Holy Island; I drove four-in-hand better than the coachman himself; and from finding a hare to hooking a salmon my equal could not be found from Killaloe to Banagher. These were the staple of my endowments; besides which, the parish priest had taught me a little Latin, a little French, and a little geometry.
When I add to this portraiture of my accomplishments that I was nearly six feet high, with more than a common share of activity and strength for my years, and no inconsiderable portion of good looks, I have finished my sketch, and stand before my reader.
We were in the thick of canvassing the county for the parliamentary seat in my uncle's interest. O'Malley Castle was the centre of operations; while I, a mere stripling, and usually treated as a boy, was entrusted with an important mission, and sent off to canvass a distant relation, Mr. Matthew Blake, who might possibly be approachable by a younger branch of the family, with whom he had never any collision.
I arrived at his house while the company were breakfasting. After the usual shaking of hands and hearty greetings were over, I was introduced to Sir George Dashwood, a tall and singularly handsome man of about fifty, and his daughter, Lucy Dashwood.
If the sweetest blue eyes that ever beamed beneath a forehead of snowy whiteness, over which dark brown and waving hair fell, less in curls than masses of locky richness, could only have known what wild work they were making of my poor heart, Miss Dashwood, I trust, would have looked at her teacup or her muffin rather than at me, as she actually did, on that fatal morning.
Beside her sat a tall, handsome man of about five-and-thirty, or perhaps forty, years of age, with a most soldierly air, who, as I was presented to him, scarcely turned his head, and gave me a half-nod of unequivocal coldness. As I turned from the lovely girl, who had received me with marked courtesy, to the cold air and repelling hauteur of the dark-browed captain, the blood rushed throbbing to my forehead; and as I walked to my place at the table, I eagerly sought his eye, to return him a look of defiance and disdain, proud and contemptuous as his own.
Captain Hammersly, however, never took further notice of me, and I formed a bitter resolution, which I endeavoured to carry into effect during the next day's hunt. Mounted on my best horse, I deliberately led him across the worst and roughest country, river, and hills, and walls, and ditches, till I finished up with a broken head and he with a broken arm, and a horse that had to be slaughtered.
On the fourth day after this adventure I was able to enter the drawing-room again. Sir George Dashwood made the kindest inquiries about my health.
"They tell me you are to be a lawyer, Mr. O'Malley," said he; "and, if so, I must advise you to take better care of your headpiece."
"A lawyer, papa? Oh, dear me!" said his daughter. "I should never have thought of his being anything so stupid."
"Why, silly girl, what would you have a man to be?"
"A dragoon, to be sure, papa," said the fond girl, as she pressed her arm around him, and looked up in his face with an expression of mingled pride and affection.
That word sealed my destiny.
II.—I Join the Dragoons
I had been at Mr. Blake's house five days before I recollected my uncle's interests; but with one hole in my head and some half-dozen in my heart my memory was none of the best. But that night at dinner I discovered, to my savage amazement, that Mr. Blake and all the company were there in the interest of the opposition candidate, and that Sir George Dashwood was their candidate. In my excitement I hurled my wineglass at the head of one of the company who expressed himself in regard to my uncle in a manner insulting to a degree. In the duel which followed I shot my opponent.
I had sprung into man's estate. In three short days I had fallen deeply, desperately, in love, and had wounded, if not killed, an antagonist in a duel. As I meditated on these things I was aroused by the noise of horses' feet. I opened the window, and beheld no less a person than Captain Hammersly. I begged of him to alight and come in.
"I thank you very much," he said; "but, in fact, my hours are now numbered here. I have just received an order to join my regiment. I could not, however, leave the country without shaking hands with you. I owe you a lesson in horsemanship, and I'm only sorry that we are not to have another day together. I'm sorry you are not coming with us."
"Would to heaven I were!" said I, with an earnestness that almost made my brain start.
"Then why not?"
"Unfortunately, my worthy uncle, who is all to me in this world, would be quite alone if I were to leave him; and, although he has never said so, I know he dreads the possibility of my suggesting such a thing."
"Devilish hard; but I believe you are right. Something, however, may turn up yet to alter his mind. And so good-bye, O'Malley, good-bye."
During the contest for the seat—which was frankly fought in pitched battles and scrimmages, and by corruption and perjury—I managed to save Miss Dashwood's life. When polling-time came, Sir George found the feeling against him was so strong, and we were so successful in beating his voters out of the town, in spite of police and soldiers, that he resigned his candidature.
Afterwards I spent some time in Dublin, nominally in preparation for the law, at Trinity College. But my college career convinced my uncle that my forte did not lie in the classics, and Sir George succeeded in inducing him to yield to my wishes, and interested himself so strongly for me that I obtained a cornetcy in the 14th Light Dragoons a week before the regiment sailed for Portugal. On the morning of my last day in Dublin I met Miss Dashwood riding in the park. For some minutes I could scarcely speak. At last I plucked up courage a little, and said, "Miss Dashwood, I have wished most anxiously, before I parted for ever with those to whom I owe already so much, that I should, at least, speak my gratitude."
"But when do you think of going?"
"To-morrow. Captain Power, under whose command I am, has received orders to embark immediately for Portugal."
I thought—perhaps it was but a thought—that her cheek grew somewhat paler as I spoke; but she remained silent.
Fixing my eyes full upon her I spoke.
"Lucy, I feel I must confess it, cost what it may—I love you. I know the fruitlessness, the utter despair, that awaits such a sentiment. My own heart tells me that I am not, cannot be, loved in return. I ask for nothing; I hope for nothing. I see that you at least pity me. Nay, one word more. Do not, when time and distance have separated us, think that the expressions I now use are prompted by a mere sudden ebullition of boyish feeling; for I swear to you that my love to you is the source and spring of every action in my life, and, when I cease to love you, I shall cease to feel. And now, farewell; farewell for ever."
I pressed her hand to my lips, gave one long, last look, turned my horse rapidly away, and, ere a minute, was out of sight.
III.—I Smell Gunpowder
What a contrast to the dull monotony of our life at sea did the scene present which awaited us on landing at Lisbon! The whole quay was crowded with hundreds of people, eagerly watching the vessel which bore from her mast the broad ensign of Britain.
The din and clamour of a mighty city mingled with the far-off sounds of military music; and, in the vistas of the opening streets, masses of troops might be seen, in marching order. All betokened the near approach of war.
On the morning after we landed, Power rode off with dispatches to headquarters, leaving me to execute two commissions with which he had been entrusted—a packet for Hammersly from Miss Dashwood and an epistle from a love-sick midshipman who could not get on shore, to the Senhora Inez da Silviero. I took up the packet for Hammersly with a heavy heart. Alas! thought I, how fatally may my life be influenced by it!
The loud call of a cavalry trumpet roused me, and I passed out into the street for the morning's inspection. The next day I delivered the packet to the Senhora Inez, by whom I was warmly received—rather more on my own account than on that of the little midshipman, I fancied. Certainly I never beheld a being more lovely, and I found myself paying her some attentions. Yet she was nothing to me. It is true, she had, as she most candidly informed me, a score of admirers, among whom I was not even reckoned; she was evidently a coquette. On May 7, 1809, we set off for Oporto. The 14th were detailed to guard the pass to the Douro until the reinforcements were up, and then I saw my first engagement. Never till now, as we rode to the charge, did I know how far the excitement reaches when, man to man, sabre to sabre, we ride forward to the battlefield. On we went, the loud shout of "Forward!" still ringing in our ears. One broken, irregular discharge from the French guns shook the head of our advancing column, but stayed us not as we galloped madly on.
I remember no more. The din, the smoke, the crash—the cry for quarter, mingled with the shout of victory, the flying enemy—are all commingled in my mind, but leave no trace of clearness or connection between them; and it was only when the column wheeled to re-form that I awoke from my trance of maddening excitement, and perceived that we had carried the position and cut off the guns of the enemy.
The scene was now beyond anything, maddening in its interest. From the walls of Oporto the English infantry poured forth in pursuit; while the whole river was covered with boats, as they still continued to cross over. The artillery thundered from the Sierra, to protect the landing, for it was even still contested in places; and the cavalry, charging in flank, swept the broken ranks and bore down their squares. Then a final impetuous charge carried the day.
From that fight I got my lieutenancy, and then was sent off by Sir Arthur Wellesley on special duty to the Lusitanian Legion in Alcantara—a flattering position opened to my enterprise. Before I set out, I was able to deliver Miss Dashwood's packet to Captain Hammersly, barely recovered from a sabre wound. His agitation and his manner in receiving it puzzled me greatly, though my own agitation was scarcely less.
When I returned after a month with the Legion, during which my services were of no very distinguished character, I found a letter from Galway which saddened my thoughts greatly. A lawsuit had gone against my uncle, and what I had long foreseen was gradually accomplishing—the wreck of an old and honoured house. And I could only look on and watch the progress of our downfall without power to arrest it.
Having been sent to the rear with dispatches, I did not reach Talavera till two days' hard fighting had left the contending armies without decided advantage on either side.
I had scarcely joined my regiment before the 14th were ordered to charge.
We came on at a trot. The smoke of the cannonade obscured everything until we had advanced some distance, but suddenly the splendid panorama of the battlefield broke upon us.
"Charge! Forward!" cried the hoarse voice of our colonel; and we were upon them. The French infantry, already broken by the withering musketry of our people, gave way before us, and, unable to form a square, retired fighting, but in confusion and with tremendous loss, to their position. One glorious cheer from left to right of our line proclaimed the victory, while a deafening discharge of artillery from the French replied to this defiance, and the battle was over.
For several months after the battle of Talavera my life presented nothing which I feel worth recording. Our good fortune seemed to have deserted us when our hopes were highest; for from the day of that splendid victory we began our retrograde movement upon Portugal. Pressed hard by overwhelming masses of the enemy, we saw the fortresses of Ciudad Rodrigo and Almeida fall successively into their hands, and retired, mystified and disappointed, to Torres Vedras.
Wounded in a somewhat scatter-brain night expedition to the lines of Ciudad Rodrigo, my campaigning—for some time, at least—was concluded; for my wound began to menace the loss of my arm, and I was ordered back to Lisbon. Fred Power was the first man I saw, and almost the first thing he told me was that Sir George Dashwood was in Lisbon, and that his daughter was with him. And then, with conflicting feelings, I found that all Lisbon mentioned my name in connection with the senhora, and Sir George himself, in appointing me an aide-de-camp, threw increased gloom over my thoughts by referring to the report Power had spoken of. My torment was completed by meeting Miss Dashwood in the Senhora Inez's house under circumstances which led to treat me with stiff, formal courtesy.
The next night a letter from a Dublin friend reached me which told me that "Hammersly had got his conge."
Here, then, was the solution of the whole chaos of mystery; here the full explanation of what had puzzled my aching brain for many a night long. His own were the letters I had delivered into Hammersly's hands. A flood of light poured at once across all the dark passages of my history; and Lucy, too—dare I think of her? What if she had really cared for me! Oh, the bitter agony of that thought! To think that all my hopes were shipwrecked with the very land in sight.
I sprang to my feet with some sudden impulse, but, as I did so, the blood rushed madly to my head, and I fell. My arm was again broken, and ere day I was delirious.
Hours, days, weeks rolled over, and when I returned to consciousness and convalescence I found I had been removed to the senhora's villa, and to her I owed, in a large part, my recovery. I was deeper in my dilemma than ever. Nevertheless, before I returned to the front, I found an opportunity to vindicate to Lucy my unshaken faith, reconciling the conflicting evidences with the proofs I proffered of my attachment. We were interrupted before I could learn how my protestations were received. Power, I found soon after, was the one favoured by the fair Inez's affections.
V.—A Desolate Hearth
It is not my intention, were I even adequate to the task, to trace with anything like accuracy the events of the war at this period. In fact, to those who, like myself, were performing duties of a mere subaltern character, the daily movements of our own troops, not to speak of the continual changes of the enemy, were perfectly unknown, and an English newspaper was more ardently longed for in the Peninsula than by the most eager crowd of a London coffee-room.
So I pass over the details of the retreat of the French, and the great battle of Fuentes D'Onoro. In the storming of Ciudad Rodrigo, that death struggle of vengeance and despair, I gained some notoriety in leading a party of stormers through a broken embrasure, and found myself under Lord Wellington's displeasure for having left my duties as aide-de-camp. However, the exploit gained me leave to return to England, and the additional honour of carrying dispatches to the Prince Regent.
When I arrived in London with the glorious news of the capture of Ciudad Rodrigo, the kind and gracious notice of the prince obtained me attentions on all sides. Indeed, so flattering was the reception I met with, and so overwhelming the civility showered on me, that it required no small effort on my part not to believe myself as much a hero as they would make me. An eternal round of dinners, balls, and entertainments filled up an entire week.
At last I obtained the Prince Regent's permission to leave London, and a few mornings after landed in Cork. Hastening my journey, I was walking the last eight miles—my chaise having broken down—when suddenly my attention was caught by a sound which, faint from the distance, scarce struck upon my ear. Thinking it probably some delusion of my heated imagination, I rose to push forward; but at the moment a slight breeze stirred, and a low, moaning sound swelled upward, increasing each instant as it came. It grew louder as the wind bore it towards me, and now falling, now swelling, it burst forth into one loud, prolonged cry of agony and grief. O God, it was the death-wail!
My suspense became too great to bear; I dashed madly forward. As I neared the house, the whole approach was crowded with carriages and horsemen. At the foot of the large flight of steps stood the black and mournful hearse, its plumes nodding in the breeze, and, as the sounds without sank into sobs of bitterness and woe, the black pall of a coffin, borne on men's shoulders, appeared at the door, and an old man, a life-long friend of my uncle, across whose features a struggle for self-mastery was playing, held out his hand to enforce silence. I sprang toward him, choked by agony. He threw his arms around me, and muttering the words, "Poor Godfrey!" pointed to the coffin.
Mine was a desolate hearth. In respect to my uncle's last wishes, I sold out of the army and settled down to a quieter life than the clang of battle, the ardour of the march. Gradually new impressions and new duties succeeded; and, ere four months elapsed, the quiet monotony of my daily life healed up the wounds of my suffering, and a sense of content, if not of happiness, crept gently over me, and I ceased to long for the clash of arms and the loud blast of the trumpet.
But three years later a regiment of infantry marching to Cork for embarkation for the Continent after Bonaparte's return from Elba, roused all the eagerness of my old desires, and I volunteered for service again.
A few days after I was in Brussels, and attending that most memorable and most exciting entertainment, the Duchess of Richmond's ball, on the night of June 15, 1815. Lucy Dashwood was there, beautiful beyond anything I had ever seen her. When the word came of the advance of Napoleon I was sent off with the major-general's orders, and then joined the night march to Quatre Bras. There I fell into the hands of a French troop and missed the fighting, though I saw Napoleon himself, and had the good fortune to effect the escape of Sir George Dashwood, who lay a prisoner under sentence of death in the same place as myself. Early in the day of Waterloo I contrived my own escape, and was able to give Lord Wellington much information as to the French movements.
After the battle I wandered back into Brussels and learned that we had gained the day. As I came into the city Sir George met me and took me into his hotel, where were Power and the senhora, about to be married. Wounded by the innocent raillery of my friends, I escaped into an empty room and buried my head in my hands. Oh, how often had the phantom of happiness passed within my reach, but glided from my grasp!
"Oh, Lucy, Lucy!" I exclaimed aloud. "But for you, and a few words carelessly spoken, I had never trod the path of ambition whose end has been the wreck of all my happiness! But for you I had never loved so fondly! But for you, and I had never been—"
"A soldier, you would say," whispered a soft voice as a light hand gently touched my shoulder. "No, Mr. O'Malley; deeply grateful as I am to you for the service you once rendered myself, bound as I am by every tie of thankfulness by the greater one to my father, yet do I feel that in the impulse I have given to your life I have done more to repay my debt to you than by all the friendship, all the esteem I owe you. If, indeed, by any means, you became a soldier, then I am indeed proud."
"Alas! Lucy—Miss Dashwood, I would say—how has my career fulfilled the promise that gave it birth? For you, and you only, to gain your affection, I became a soldier. And now, and now——"
"And now," said she, while her eyes beamed upon me with a very flood of tenderness, "is it nothing that I have glowed with pride at triumphs I could read of, but dared not share in? I have thought of you. I have dreamed, I have prayed for you."
"Alas! Lucy, but not loved me."
Her hand, which had fallen upon mine, trembled violently. I pressed my lips upon it, but she moved it not. I dared to look up; her head was turned away, but her heaving bosom betrayed emotion.
Our eyes met—I cannot say what it was—but in a moment the whole current of my thoughts was changed. Her look was bent upon me, beaming with softness and affection; her hand gently pressed my own, and her lips murmured my name.
The door burst open at this moment, and Sir George Dashwood appeared. Lucy turned one fleeting look upon her father, and fell fainting into my arms.
"God bless you, my boy!" said the old general as he hurriedly wiped a tear from his eye. "I am now indeed a happy father."
* * * * *
Tom Burke of "Ours"
In 1840 Charles Lever, on an invitation from Sir John Crompton, Secretary to the British Embassy in Belgium, forsook Ireland for Brussels, where for a time he followed his profession of medicine. Two years later an offer of the editorship of the "Dublin University Magazine" recalled him to Ireland, when he definitely abandoned a medical career and settled down to literature permanently. The first fruit of that appointment was "Tom Burke of Ours," published, after running serially in the magazine, in 1844. It is more serious in tone than any of his preceding works; in it the author utilises the rich colouring gained from his long residence in France, and the book is less remarkable for the complex, if vigorous, story it contains than for its graphic and exciting pictures of men and events in the campaigns of Napoleon Many of its episodes are conceived in the true spirit of romance.
I.—The Boy Rebel
"Be advised by me," said De Meudon earnestly; "do not embark with these Irish rebels in their enterprise! They have none. Their only daring is some deed of rapine and murder. No; liberty is not to be achieved by such bands as these. France is your country—there liberty has been won; there lives one great man whose notice, were it but passingly bestowed, is fame."
He sank back exhausted. The energy of his speech was too great for his weak and exhausted frame to bear. Captain de Meudon had come to Ireland in 1798 to aid in the rebellion; he had seen its failure, but had remained in Ireland trying vainly to give to the disaffection some military organization. He had realized the hopelessness of his efforts. He was ill, and very near to death. Now I stood by his bedside in a little cottage in Glenmalure.
Boy as I was, I had already seen enough to make me a rebel in feeling and in action. I had stood a short time before the death-bed of my father, who disliked me, and who had left nearly all his property to my elder brother, who was indifferent to me. My father had indentured me as apprentice to his lawyer, and sooner than submit to the rule of this man—the evil genius of our family—I had taken flight. The companion of my wanderings was Darby M'Keown, the piper, the cleverest and cunningest of the agents of rebellion. Then I had met De Meudon, who had turned my thoughts and ambitions into another channel.
My companion grew steadily worse.
"Take my pocket-book," he whispered; "there is a letter you'll give my sister Marie. There are some five or six thousand francs—they are yours; you must be a pupil at the Polytechnique at Paris. If it should be your fortune to speak with General Bonaparte, say to him that when Charles de Meudon was dying—in exile—with but one friend left—he held his portrait to his lips, and, with his last breath, he kissed it."
A shivering ran through his limbs—a sigh—and all was still. He was dead.
"Halloa, there!" said a voice. The door opened, and a sergeant entered. "I have a warrant to arrest Captain de Meudon, a French officer who is concealed here. Where is he?"
I pointed to the bed.
"I arrest you in the king's name!" said the sergeant, approaching. "What——" He started back in horror. "He is dead!"
Then entered one I had seen before—Major Barton, the most pitiless of the government's agents in suppressing insurrection.
The sergeant whispered to him, and his eye ranged the little chamber till it fell on me.
"Ha!" he cried. "You here! Sergeant, here's one prisoner for you, at any rate."
Two soldiers seized me, and I was marched away towards Dublin. About noon the party halted, and the soldiers lay down and chatted on a patch of grass, while my own thoughts turned sadly back to the friend I had known.
Suddenly I heard a song sung by a voice I knew, and afterwards a loud clapping of hands. Darby M'Keown was there in the midst of the soldiers, and as I turned to look at him, my hand came in contact with a clasp-knife. I managed with it to free my arms from the ropes that fastened them, but what was to be done next?
"I didn't think much of that song of yours," said one of the soldiers. "Give us 'The British Grenadiers.'"
"I never heard them play but onst, sir," said Darby, meekly, "and they were in such a hurry I couldn't pick up the tune."
"What d'you mean?"
"'Twas the day but one after the French landed, and the British Grenadiers was running away."
The party sprang to their legs, and a shower of curses fell upon the piper.
"And sure," continued Darby, "'twasn't my fault av they took to their heels. Wouldn't anyone run for his life av he had the opportunity?"
These words were uttered in a raised voice, and I took the hint. While Darby was scuffling with the soldiers, I slipped away.
For miles I pressed forward without turning, and in the evening I found myself in Dublin. The union with England was being debated in the Parliament House; huge and angry crowds raged without. Remembering the tactics De Meudon had taught me, I sought to organize the crowd in a kind of military formation against the troops; but a knock on the head with a musket-butt ended my labours, and I knew nothing more until I came to myself in the quarters of an old chance acquaintance—Captain Bubbleton.
Here, in the house of this officer—an eccentric and impecunious man, but a most loyal friend—I was discovered by Major Barton and dragged to prison. I was released by the intervention of my father's lawyer, who claimed me as his apprentice.
For weeks I lived with Captain Bubbleton and his brother officers, and nothing could be more cordial than their treatment of me. "Tom Burke of 'Ours,'" the captain used proudly to call me. Only one officer held aloof from me, and from all Irishmen—Montague Crofts—through whom it came about that I left Ireland.
One day an uncouth and ragged woman entered the barracks, and addressed me. It was Darby M'Keown, and he brought me nothing less precious than De Meudon's pocket-book, which had been taken from me, and had been picked up by him on the road. A few minutes later Bubbleton lost a sum at cards to Crofts; knowing he could not pay, I passed a note quietly to him. When Bubbleton had gone, Crofts held up the note before me. It was a French note of De Meudon's! I demanded my property back. He refused, and threatened to inform against me. On my seeking to prevent him from leaving the room, he drew his sword, and wounded me; but in the nick of time a blow from a strong arm laid him senseless—dead, perhaps—on the floor.
"We must be far from this by daybreak," whispered Darby.
I walked out of the barracks as steadily as I could. For all I knew, I was implicated in murder—and Ireland was no place for me. In a few days I stood on the shores of France.
II.—A Blow for the Emperor
By means of a letter of introduction to the head of the Polytechnique, which De Meudon had placed for me in his pocket-book, I was able to enter that military college, and, after a spell of earnest study, I was appointed to a commission in the Eighth Hussars. Proud as I was to become a soldier of France, yet I could not but feel that I was a foreigner, and almost friendless—unlucky, indeed, in the choice of the few friends I possessed. Chief of them was the Marquis de Beauvais, concerning whom I soon made two discoveries—that he was in the thick of an intrigue against the republic I served, and its First Consul, and that he was in love with Marie de Meudon, my dead friend's sister.
To her, as soon as an opportunity came, I gave the news of her brother's end, and his last message. She was terribly affected; and the love we bore in common to the dead, and her own wonderful beauty, aroused in me a passion that was not the less fervent because I felt it was almost hopeless. I did not dare to ask her love, but I had her friendship without asking. She it was who warned me of the dangerous intrigues of De Beauvais and his associates. She it was who, when I fell a victim to their intrigues, laboured with General d'Auvergne, who had befriended me while I was at college, to restore me to liberty.
I had heard that De Beauvais and his fellow royalists were plotting in a chateau near Versailles, and that a scheme was afoot to capture them. In hot haste I rode to the chateau, hoping secretly to warn my friend. He did indeed escape, but it was my lot to be caught with the conspirators. For the second time in my short life I saw the inside of a prison; I was in danger of the guillotine; despair had almost overpowered me, when I learnt that my friends had prevailed—my sword was returned to me. I became again an officer of the army of him who was now emperor, and I set forth determined to wipe out on the battlefield the doubts that still clung to my loyalty. Marie de Meudon was wedded, by the emperor's wish, to the gallant and beloved soldier on whose staff I proudly served—General d'Auvergne.
In four vast columns of march, the mighty army poured into the heart of Germany. But not until we reached Mannheim did we learn the object of the war. We were to destroy the Austro-Russian coalition, and the first blow was to be struck at Ulm. When Ulm had capitulated, General d'Auvergne and his staff returned to Elchingen, and on the night when we reached the place I was on the point of lying down supperless in the open air, when I met an old acquaintance, Corporal Pioche, a giant cuirassier of the Guard, who had fought in all Bonaparte's campaigns.
"Ah, mon lieutenant," said he, "not supped yet, I'll wager. Come along with me; Mademoiselle Minette has opened her canteen!"
Presently we entered a large room, at one end of which sat a very pretty Parisian brunette, who bade me a gracious welcome. The place was crowded with captains and corporals, lieutenants and sergeants, all hobnobbing, hand-shaking, and even kissing each other. "Each man brings what he can find, drinks what he is able, and leaves the rest," remarked Pioche, and invited me to take my share in the common stock.
All went well until I absent-mindedly called out, as if to a waiter, for bread. There was a roar of laughter at my mistake, and a little dark-whiskered fellow stuck his sword into a loaf and handed it to me. As I took the loaf, he disengaged his point, and scratched the back of my hand with it. Obviously an insult was intended.
"Ah, an accident, morbleu!" said he, with an impertinent shrug.
"So is this!" said I, as I seized his sword and smashed it across my knee.
"It's Francois, maitre d'armes of the Fourth," whispered Pioche; "one of the cleverest duellists of the army."
I was hurried out to the court, one adviser counselling me to beware of Francois's lunge in tierce, another to close on him at once, and so on. For a long time after we had crossed swords, I remained purely on the defensive; at last, after a desperate rally, he made a lunge at my chest, which I received in the muscles of my back; and, wheeling round, I buried my blade in his body.
Francois lingered for a long time between life and death, and for several days I was incapacitated, tenderly nursed by Minette.
As soon as I was recovered the order came to advance.
Not many days passed ere the chance came to me for which I had longed— the chance of striking a blow for the emperor. Hand-to-hand with the Russian dragoons on the field of Austerlitz, sweeping along afterwards with the imperial hosts in the full tide of victory, I learnt for the first time the exhilaration of military glory; and I had the good fortune to receive the emperor's favour—not only was I promoted, but I was appointed to the compagnie d'elite that was to carry the spoils of victory to Paris.
A few weeks after my return to Paris, the whole garrison was placed in review order to receive the wounded of Austerlitz.
As the emperor rode forward bareheaded to greet his maimed veterans, I heard laughter among the staff that surrounded him. Stepping up, I saw my old friend Pioche, who had been dangerously wounded, with his hand in salute.
"Thou wilt not have promotion, nor a pension," said Napoleon, smiling. "Hast any friend whom I could advance?"
"Yes," answered Pioche, scratching his forehead in confusion. "She is a brave girl, and had she been a man——"
"Whom can he mean?"
"I was talking of Minette, our vivandiere."
"Dost wish I should make her my aide-de-camp?" said Napoleon, laughing.
"Parbleu! Thou hast more ill-favoured ones among them," said Pioche, with a glance at the grim faces of Rapp and Daru. "I've seen the time when thou'd have said, 'Is it Minette that was wounded at the Adige and stood in the square at Marengo? I'll give her the Cross of the Legion!'"
"And she shall have it!" said Napoleon. Minette advanced, and as the emperor's own cross was attached to her buttonhole she sat pale as death, overcome by her pride.
For two hours waggon after waggon rolled on, filled with the shattered remnants of an army. Every eye brightened as the emperor drew near, the feeblest gazed with parted lips when he spoke, and the faint cry of "Vive l'Empereur" passed along the line.
Ere I had left Paris to join in the campaign against Prussia, I had made, and broken off, another dangerous friendship. In the compagnie d'elite was an officer named Duchesne who took a liking to me—a royalist at heart, and a cynic who was unfailing in his sneers at all the doings of Napoleon. His attitude was detected, and he was forced to resign his commission; and his slights upon the uniform I wore grew so unbearable that I abandoned his company—little guessing the revenge he would take upon me.
Once more the Grand Army was set in motion, and the hosts of France pressed upon Russia from the south and west. Napoleon turned the enemy's right flank, and compelled him to retire and concentrate his troops around Jena, which was plainly to be the scene of a great battle.
My regiment was ordered on September 13, 1806, to proceed without delay to the emperor's headquarters at Jena, and I was sent ahead to make arrangements for quarters. In the darkness I lost my way, and came upon an artillery battery stuck fast in a ravine, unable to move back or forwards. The colonel was in despair, for the whole artillery of the division was following him, and would inevitably be involved in the same mishap. Wild shouting had been succeeded by a sullen silence, when a stern voice called out: "Cannoniers, dismount; bring the torches to the front!"
When the order was obeyed, the light of the firewood fell upon the features of Napoleon himself. Instantly the work began afresh, directed by the emperor with a blazing torch in his hand. Gradually the gun-carriages were released, and began to move slowly along the ravine. Napoleon turned, and rode off at full speed in the darkness towards Jena. It was my destination, and I followed him.
He preceded me by about fifty paces—the greatest monarch of the world, alone, his thoughts bent on the great events before him. On the top of an ascent the brilliant spectacle of a thousand watch-fires met the eye. Napoleon, lost in meditation, saw nothing, and rode straight into the lines. Twice the challenge "Qui vive?" rang out. Napoleon heard it not. There was a bang of a musket, then another, and another. Napoleon threw himself from his horse, and lay flat on the ground. I dashed up, shouting, "The emperor! The emperor!" My horse was killed, and I was wounded in the shoulder; but I repeated the cry until Napoleon stepped calmly forward.
"Ye are well upon the alert, mes enfants," he said, smiling. Then, turning to me, he asked quickly, "Are you wounded?"
"A mere scratch, sire."
"Let the surgeon see to it, and do you come to headquarters when you are able."
In the morning I went to headquarters, but the emperor was busy; seemingly I was forgotten. My regiment was out of reach, so, at the invitation of my old duelling antagonist, Francois, I joined the Voltigeurs. My friends could not understand why, after tasting the delights of infantry fighting, I should wish to rejoin the hussars; but I went back to my old regiment after the victory, and rode with it to Berlin.
Soon after our arrival there I read my name in a general order among those on whom the Cross of the Legion was to be conferred. On the morning of the day when I was to receive the decoration, I was requested to attend the bureau of the adjutant-general. There I was confronted with Marshal Berthier, who held up a letter before me. I saw, by the handwriting, it was Duchesne's.
"There, sir, that letter belongs to you," he said. "There is enough in it to make your conduct the matter of a court-martial; but I am satisfied that a warning will be sufficient. I need hardly say that you will not receive the Cross of the Legion."
I glanced at the letter, and realised Duchesne's treachery. Knowing that all doubtful letters were opened and read by the authorities, he had sent me a letter bitterly attacking the emperor, and professing to regard me as a royalist conspirator.
Exasperated, I drew my sword.
"I resign, sir," I said. "The career I can no longer follow honourably and independently, I shall follow no more."
With a half-broken heart and faltering step, I regained my quarters; the whole dream of life was over. Broken in spirit, I made my way slowly back through Germany to Paris, and back to Ireland.