Charles James Lever.

A rent in a cloud and St. Patrick's Eve online

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(The right of translation is reserved.)




UT of a window of the Weissen Ross, at Cob-

lentz, looking upon the rapid Rhine, over

J] whose circUng eddies a rich sunset shed a gold-

en tint, two young Englishmen lounged and smoked their
cigars ; rarely speaking, and, to all seeming, wearing that
air of boredom which, strangely enough, would appear
peculiar to a very enjoyable time of life. They were ac-
quaintances of only a few days. They had met on an
Antwerp steamer — rejoined each other in a picture-gallery
— chanced to be side by side at a table d'hote at Brussels,
and, at last, drifted into one of those intimacies which,
to very young men, represents friendship. They agreed
they would travel together, all the more readily that
neither cared very much in what direction. " As for
me," said Calvert, " it doesn't much signify where I pass
the interval ; but, in October, I must return to India and
join my regiment."

"And I," said Loyd, "about the same time must be
in England. I have just been called to the bar."

-4 ^'~M~^ JK ^~«*~.— .^-..

a A Rent ill a Cloud.

" Slow work that must be, I take it."

•• Do you like soldiering ? " asked Loyd, in a low quid

" Hate it ! abhor it ! It's all very well when you join
first. You are so glad to be free of Woolwich or
Sandhurst, or wherever it is. You are eager to be treated
like a man, and so full of Cox and Greenwood, and the
army tailor, and your camp furniture, and then comes the
depot and the mess. One's first three months at mess
seemed to be the cream of existence."

" Is it really so jolly ? Are the fellows good talkers ? "

"About the worst in the universe; but to a young
hand, they are enchantment. All their discourse is of
something to be enjoyed. It is that foot-race, that game
of billiards, that match at cricket, that stunning fine girl
to ride out with, those excellent cigars Watkins is sending
us; and so on. All is action, and very pleasant action
too. Then duty, though it's the habit to revile and curse
it, duty is associated with a sense of manhood ; a sort of
goosestep chivalry to be sure, but still chivalry. One
likes to see the sergeant with his orderly book, and to
read, ' Ensign Calvert for the main guard.' "

" And how long does all this last ? "

" I gave it three months, some have been able to
prolong it to six. Much depends upon where the dtfpot
is, and what sort of corps you're in."

" Now for the reaction ! Tell me of that."

" I cannot ; it's too dreadful. It's a general detestation
of all things military, from the Horse Guards to the mess
waiter. You hate drill — parade — inspection — the adjutant
— the wine committee — the paymaster — the field-officer
of the day — and the major's wife. You are chafed about
everything — you want leave, you Avant to exchange, you
want to be with the de'pot, you want to go to Corfu, and

The White Horse at Cobkntz. 3

you are sent to Canada. Your brother officers are .the
slowest fellows in the service ; you are quizzed about thera
at the mess of the Nine Hundred and Ninth — "Yours"
neither give balls nor private theatricals. You wish you
were in the Cape Coast Fencibles — in fact, you feel that
destiny has placed you in the exact position you are
least fitted for."

" So far as I can see, however, all the faults are in

" Not altogether. If you have plenty of money, your
soldier life is simply a barrier to tke enjoyment of it You
are chained to one spot, to one set of associates, and to
one mode of existence. If you're poor, it's fifty times
worse, and all your time is spent in making five-and-
sixpence a day equal to a guinea."

Loyd made no answer, but smoked on.

" I know," resumed the other, " that this is not what
many will tell you, or what, perhaps, would suggest itself
to your own mind from a chance intercourse with us. To
the civilian the mess is not without a certain attraction,
and there is, I own, something very taking in the aspect
of that little democracy where the fair-cheeked boy is on
an equality with the old bronzed soldier, and the fresh-
ness of Rugby or Eton is confronted with the stern ex-
periences of the veteran campaigner ; but this wears off
very soon, and it is a day to be marked with white chalk
when one can escape his mess dinner, with all its good
cookery, good wine, and good attendance, and eat a
mutton-chop at the Green Man with Simpkins, just be-
cause Simpkins wears a black coat, lives doAAm in tlie
country, and never was in a Gazette in his life. And now
iox your side of the medal — what is it like ? "

'' Nothing very gorgeous or brilliant, I assure you,"
said Loyd, gently; for he spoke with a low quiet tone,

4 A Rent in a Cloud.

ai'id had a student-like submissive manner, in strong con-
trast to the other's easy and assured air. "With g;reat.
abihties, great industry, and great connexion, the career
is a splendid one, and the rewards the highest. But
between such golden fortunes and mine there is a Avhole
realm of space. However, with time and hard work,
and ordinary luck, I don't despair of securing a fair live-

" After — say — thirty years, eh ? "

" Perhaps so."

" By the time that I drop out of the army a retired
lieutenant-colonel, with three hundred a year, you'll be in
fair practice at Westminster, with, let us take it, fifteen
hundred, or two thousand — perhaps five."

" I shall be quite satisfied if I confirm the prediction
in the middle of it."

" Ah," continued the soldier. " There's only one road
to success — to marry a charming girl with money. Ashley
of ours, who has done the thing himself, says that you can
get money — any man can, if he will ; that, in fact, if you
will only take a little trouble you may have all the attrac-
tions you seek for in a wife, plus fortune."

" Pleasant theory, but still not unlikely to involve a
self-deception, since, even without knowing it, a man
may be far more interested by the pecuniary circum-

"Don't begin with it; first fall in love — I mean to
yourself, without betraying it — and then look after the
settlement. If it be beneath your expectation, trip your
anchor, an J get out of the reach of fire."

"y\ndyou may pass your best years in that unprofit-
able foshion, not to say \^■hat you may find yourself be-
come in the meanwhile."

The soldier looked at the other askance, and there was

Tke White Horse at Cohkntz. g

in his sidelong glance a sort of irony that seemed to say,
*' Oh ! you're an enthusiast, are you ? "

•'There you have me, Loyd," said he, hurriedly: "that
is the weak point of my whole system ; but remember,
after all, do what one will, he can't be as fresh at five-and-
thirty as five-and-twenty — he will have added ten years of
distrusts, doubts, and dodges to his nature in spite of

" If they must come in spite of himself, there is no help
for it ; but let him at least not deliberately lay a plan to
acquire them."

" One thing is quite clear," said the other, boldly ]
" the change will come, whether we like it or not, and the
wisest philosophy is to plan our lives so that we may con-
form to the alterations time will make in us. I don't
want to be dissatisfied with my condition at five-and-
forty, just for the sake of some caprice that I indulged in
at five-and-twenty, and if I find a very charming creature
with an angelic temper, deep blue eyes, the prettiest foot
in Christendom, and a neat sum in Consols, I'll promise
you there will soon be a step in the promotion of her
Majesty's service, vice Lieutenant Harry Calvert, sold

The reply of the other was lost in the hoarse noise of
tlie steam which now rushed from the escape-pipe of a
vessel that had just arrived beneath the window. She
was bound for Mayence, but stopped to permit some few
passengers to land at that place. The scene exhibited
all that bustle and confusion so perplexing to the actors,
but so amusing to those who are mere spectators; for
while some were eagerly pressing forward to gain the
gangway with their luggage, the massive machinery of the
bridge of boats was already in motion to open a space for
the vessel to move up the stream. The young English-

6 A Rent in a Cloud.

men were both interested in watching a very tall, thin
old lady, whose efforts to gather together the members of
her party, her luggage, and her followers, seemed to have
overcome all the ordinary canons of politeness, for she
pushed here and drove there, totally regardless of the
inconvenience she was occasioning. She was followed
by two young ladies, from whose courteous gestures it
could be inferred how deeply their companion's insistance
pained them, and how ashamed they felt at their position.

" I am afraid she is English," said Loyd.

" Can there be a doubt of it? Where did you ever see
that reckless indifference to all others, that selfish disre-
gard of decency, save in a certain class of our people ?
Look, she nearly pushed that fat man down the hatch-
way ; and see, she will not show the steward her tickets,
and she will have her change. Poor girls ! what misery
and exposure all this is for you ! "

" But the steamer is beginning to move on. They will
be carried off! See, they are hauling at the gangway

" She's on it ; she doesn't care ; she's over now. Well
done, old lady ! That back-hander was neatly given ; and
see, she has marshalled her forces cleverly : sent the
light division in front, and brings up the rear herself with
the luggage and the maids. Now, I call that as clever a
landing on an enemy's shore as ever was done."

" I must say i pity the girls, and they look as if they
felt all the mortification of their position. And yet,
they'll come to the same sort of thing themselves one of
these days, as naturally as one of us will to wearing very
easy boots and loose-fitting waistcoats."

As he said this, the new arrivals had passed up from
the landing-place, and entered the hotel.

" Let us at least be merciful in our criticisms on for-

27ic White Horse at Coblentz. y

eigners, while we exhibit to their eyes such national speci-
mens as these ! " said Calvert. " For my own part, I
believe, that from no one source have we as a people
derived so much of sneer and shame, as from that which
includes within it what is called the unprotected female."

" What if we were to find out that they were Belgians,
or Dutch, or Americans? or better still, what if they
should chance to be remarkably good sort of English ? I
conclude we shall meet them at supper."

" Yes, and there goes the bell for that gathering, which
on the present occasion will be a thin one. They're all
gone off to that fair at Lahnech." And so saying, Calvert
drew nigh a glass, and made one of those extempoi-e
toilets which young men with smart moustaches are
accustomed to perform before presenting themselves to
strangers. Loyd merely took his hat and walked to
the door.

" There ! that ought to be enough, surely, for all rear
sonable captivation ! " said he, laughingly.

" Perhaps you are right ; besides, I suspect in the
present case it is a mere waste of ammunition ; " and,
with a self-approving smile, he nodded to his image in the
glass, and followed his friend.

One line at this place will serve to record that Calvert
was very good looking ; blue-eyed, blond-whiskered,
Saxon-looking withal ; erect carriage and stately air,
which are always taken as favourable types of our
English blood. Perhaps a certain over-consciousness of
these personal advantages, perhaps a certain conviction
of the success that had attended these gifts, gave him
what, in slang phrase, is called a " tigerish " air : but it
was plain to see that he had acquired his ease of manner
in good company, and that his pretension was rather the
Stamp of a class than of an individual.

8 A Rent in a Cloud.

Loyd was a pale, delicate-looking youth, with dark eyes
set in the deepest of orbits, that imparted sadness to
features in themselves sufficiently grave. He seemed
what he was, an overworked student, a man who had
sacrificed health to toil, and was only aware of the bad
bargain when he felt unequal to continue the contest
His doctors had sent him abroad for rest, for that " dis-
traction" which as often sustain its English as its
French acceptance, and is only a source of woriy and
anxiety where rest and peace are required. His means
were of the smallest — he was the only son of a country
vicar, who was sorely pinched to afford him a very
narrow support — and who had to raise by a loan the
hundred pounds that were to give him this last chance
of regaining strength and vigour. If travel therefore had
its pleasures, it had also its pains for him. He felt, and
very bitterly, the heav;^ load that his present enjoy-
ment was laying upon those he loved best in the world,
and this it was that, at his happiest moments, threw a
gloom over an already moody and depressed tempera-

The sad thought of those at home, whose privations
were the price of his pleasures, tracked him at every
step ; and pictures of that humble fireside where sat
his father and his mother, rose before him as he gazed
at the noble cathedral, or stood amazed before the
greatest triumphs of art. This sensitive feeling, preying
upon one naturally susceptible, certainly tended little to
his recovery, and even at times so overbore every
otlier sentiment, that he regretted he had ever come
abroad. Scarcely a day passed that he did not hesitate
whether he should not turn his steps homeward to En-



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lt'-.'"i''^fe:— i«(





HE table d'hote room was empty as the two
Englishmen entered it at supper-time, and they
took their places, moodily enough, at one end
of a table laid for nigh thirty guests. " All gone to Lah-
nech, Franz ? " asked Calvert of the waiter.

" Yes, Sir, but they'll be sorry for it, for there's thunder
in the air, and we are sure to have a deluge before

" And the new arrivals, are they gone too ? "

" No, Sir. They are up stairs. The old lady would
seem to have forgotten a box, or a desk, on board the
steamer, and she has been in such a state about it that she
couldn't think of supping ; and the young ones appear to
sympathise in her anxieties, for they, too, said, ' Oh, we
can't think of eating just now.'"

" But of course, she needn't fuss herself. It will be
detained at Mayence, and given up to her when she de-
mands it."

A very expressive shrug of the shoulders was the only
answer Franz made, and Calvert added, " You don't
quite agree with me, perhaps ? "

" It is an almost daily event, the loss of luggage on
those Rhine steamers ; so much so, that one is tempted
to believe that stealing luggage is a regular livelihood

lO A Refit in a Cloud.

Just at this moment the Englishwoman in question
entered the room, and in French of a very home
manufacture asked the waiter how she could manage,
by means of the telegraph, to reclaim her missing

A most involved and intricate game of cross purposes
ensued ; for the waiter's knowledge of French was scarcely
more extensive, and embarrassed, besides, by some speci-
alities in accent, so that though sJie questioned and he
replied, the discussion gave little hope of an intelligible

" May I venture to offer my services, Madam ? " said
Calvert, rising and bowing politely. " If I can be of the
least use on this occasion "

" None whatever. Sir. I am perfectly competent to
express my own wishes, and have no need of an inter-
preter ; " and then turning to the waiter, added : " Mon-
trez moi le telegraph, gargon."

The semi-tragic air in which she spoke, not to add the
strange accent of her very peculiar French, was almost
too much for Calvert's gravity, while Loyd, half pained by
the ridicule thus attached to a countrywoman, held down
his head and never uttered a word. Meanwhile the old
lady had retired with a haughty toss of her towering bon-
net, followed by Franz.

'■' The old party is fierce," said Calvert, as he began his
supper, "and would not have me at any price."

" I suspect that this mistrust of each other is very com-
mon with us English : not so much from any doubt of
our integrity, as from a fear lest we should not be equal
in social rank."

" Well ; but really, don't you think that our externals
might have satisfied that old lady she had nothing to ap-
prehend on that score ? "

The Passmgers on the Steamboat. 1 1

" I can't say how she may have regarded that point,"
was the cautious answer.

Calvert pushed his glass impatiently from him, and
said, petulantly, " The woman is evidently a governess,
or a companion, or a housekeeper. She writes her name
in the book Miss Grainger, and the others are called
Walter. Now, after all, a Miss Grainger might, without
derogating too far, condescend to know a Fusilier, eh ?
Oh, here she comes again."

The lady thus criticised had now re-entered the room,
and was busily engaged in studying the announcement
of steamboat departures and arrivals, over the chimney.

" It is too absurd," said she, pettishly, in French, " to
close the telegraph-ofhce at eight, that the clerks may go
to a ball."

" Not to a ball. Madam, to the fair at Lahnech," inter-
posed Franz.

" I don't care, Sir, whether it be a dance or a junket-
ing. It is the same inconvenience to the public ; and the
landlord, and the secretary, as you call him, of this hotel,
are all gone, and nothing left here but you."

Whether it was the shameless effrontery of the contempt
she evinced in these words, or the lamentable look of
abasement of the waiter, that overcame Calvert, certain
is it he made no effort to restrain himself, but, leaning
back in his chair, laughed heartily and openly.

"Well, Sir," said she, turning fiercely on him, ''you
force me to say, that I never witnessed a more gross dis-
play of ill breeding and bad manners."

" Had you only added, Madam, ' after a very long ex-
perience of life,' the remark would have been perfect,"
said he, still laughing.

" Oh, Calvert ! " broke in Loyd, in a tone of depreca-
tion ', but the old lady, white with passion, retired without

12 A Rent in a Cloud.

waiting for that apology which, certainly, there was little
prospect of her receiving.

'* I am sorry you should have said that," said Loyd,
" for though she was scarcely measured in her remark,
your laughter was a gross provocation."

** How the cant of your profession sticks to you ! " said
the other. " There was the lawyer in every word of that
speech. There was the 'case' and the 'set off.' "

Loyd could not help smiling, though scarcely pleased
at this rejoinder.

" Take my word for it," said Calvert, as he helped him-
self to the dish before him, " there is nothing in life so
aggressive as one of our elderly countrywomen when trav-
elling in an independent condition. The theory is attack
— attack — attack ! They have a sort of vague impression
that the jDassive are always imposed on, and certainly
they rarely place themselves in that category. As I live,
here she comes once more."

The old lady had now entered the room with a ^X\\) of
paper in her hand, to which she called the waiter's atten
tion, saying, " You will despatch this message to May-
ence, when the office opens in the morning. See that
there is no mistake about it."

" It must be in German, Madam," said Franz,
" They'll not take it in in any foreign language."

"Tell her you'll translate it, Loyd. Go in, man, and
get your knock-down as I did," whisjDered Calvert.

Loyd blushed slightly ; but not heeding the sarcasm of
his companion, he arose, and, ap2:)roaching the stranger,
said, " It will give me much pleasure to put your
message into German, Madam, if it will at all conven-
ience you."

It was not till after a very searching look into his face,
and an apparently satisfactory examination of his features.

T/ze Passengers on the Steamboat. 13

tliat she replied, "Well, Sir, I make no objection; there
can be no great secrecy in what passes through a
telegraph-office. You can do it, if you please."

Now, though the speech was not a very gi-acious ac-
knowledgment of a proffered service, Loyd took the paper
and proceeded to read it. It was not without an eflbrt,
however, that he could constrain himself so far as not to
laugh aloud at the contents, which began by an explana-
tion that the present inconvenience was entirely owing
to the very shameful arrangements made by the steam
packet company for the landing of passengers at inter-
mediate stations, and through which the complainant,
travelling with her nieces, Millicent and Florence Walter,
and her maids, Susannah Tucker and Mary Briggs, and
having for luggage the following articles

" May I observe, Madam," said Loyd, in a mild tone
of remonstrance, " that these explanations are too lengthy
for the telegraph, not to say very costly, and as your ob-
ject is simply to reclaim a missing article of your bag-
gage "

" I trust, Sir, that having fully satisfied your curiosity
as to who we are, and of what grievance we complain,
that you will spare me your comments as to the mode
in which we prefer our demand for redress ; but I ought
to have known better, and I deserve it ! " and, snatch-
ing the paper rudely from his hand, she dashed out of
the room in passion.

" By Jove ! you fared worse than myself," said Calvert,
as he laughed loud and long. " You got a heavier casti-
gation for your polite interference than I did for my im-

" It is a lesson, at all events," said Loyd, still blushing
for his late defeat. " I wonder is she all right up here,"
and he touched his forehead significantly.


A Rent in a Cloud.

" Of course she is. Nay, more, I'll wager a Nap. that'
in her own set, amidst the peculiar horrors who form her
daily intimates, she is a strong-minded sensible woman,
' that won't stand humbug,' and so on. These are speci-
alities; they wear thick shoes, woollen petticoats, and
brown veils, quarrel with cabmen, and live at Clapham."

" But why do they come abroad ? "

" Ah ! that is the question that would puzzle nineteen
out of every twenty of us. With a panorama in Leicester-
square, and a guide-book in a chimney-corner, we should
know more of the Tyrol than we'll ever acquire junket-
ing along in a hired coach, and only eager not to pay too
much for one's ' Kalbsbraten ' or ' Schweinfleisch,' and
yet here we come in shoals, — to grumble and complain of
all our self-imposed miseries, and incessantly lament the
comforts of the land that we won't live in."

" Some of us come for health," said Loyd, sorrow-

"And was there ever such a blunder? Why the very
vicissitudes of a continental climate are more trying than

Online LibraryCharles James LeverA rent in a cloud and St. Patrick's Eve → online text (page 1 of 26)