Charles James Lever.

[Charles Lever's novels (Volume 5) online

. (page 21 of 50)
Online LibraryCharles James Lever[Charles Lever's novels (Volume 5) → online text (page 21 of 50)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


crossing a rivulet.

In this frame of mind I went to bed, but only to rove over
my rude fancies, and, in a state between sleep and waking, to
imagine that some tiny hand held me back, and prevented me
ascending a path, on which Fortune kept waving her hand
for me to follow. When day broke, I found myself sitting at
my window, with the newspaper in my hands, though how
I came there, or how long I had spent in that attitude, I
cannot say, I only know that my limbs were excessively
cold, and my temples hot, and that while my hands were
benumbed and swollen, my heart beat faster and fuller than I
had ever felt it before.

"Now for the Picayune" said I, starting from my chair;
" though I never may make the journey, at least I'll ask the
road."



198 THE CONFESSIONS OF CON CEEQAN.



CHAPTER XVIII.

"lH ORDINARY OP ALL NATIONS."

MAKING my way with difficulty through the crowd which filled
the hall of the house, and which consisted of purchasers, news-
venders, reporters, printers' devils, and others interested in
the Picayune, all eagerly discussing the news of the day, I
reached a small back office, where, having knocked timidly
twice, I was desired to enter.

A man seated at a coarse deal table was cutting out para-
graphs from various newspapers, which, as he threw them at
either side of him, were eagerly caught up by two or three
ragged urchins who were in waiting behind him. He looked
up at me as I entered, and roughly asked what I wanted.

" I have seen an advertisement in your paper, headed,
'Expedition to Texas' "

" Upstairs No. 3 two-pair back," said he, and went on
with his labour.

I hesitated, hoping he might add something ; but seeing
that he had said all he intended or was likely to say, I slowly
withdrew.

" Upstairs, then No. 3 two-pair back," said I to myself,
and mounted, with the very vaguest notions of what business
I had when I got there. There was no difficulty in finding
the place many others were hastening towards it at the same
time ; and in company with some half-dozen very ill-favoured
and meanly-clad fellows, I entered a large room, where about
forty men were assembled, who stood in knots or groups,
talking in low and confidential tones together.

" Is there a committee to-day ? " asked one of those who
caine in with me.

" Business is over," said another.

" And is the lottery drawn ?"

" Ay, every ticket, except one or two."

" Who's won Butcher's mare ? "

" Tell us that, if you can," said a huge fellow, with a red
worsted comforter round his throat ; " that's exactly what wo
want to know."

" Well, I'm whipped if it ain't among those numbers," said



" THE OBDINARY OP ALL NATIONS." 199

a pale man with one eye, " and I'll give fifty dollars for one
of'ern."

" You. would, would you ? " said another, jeering. " Lord,
how soft you've grown ! Why, she's worth five hundred
dollars, that 'ere beast! "

" Butcher gave a mustang and two hundred and seventy
for her," cried another.

" Well, she broke his neck, for all that," growled out he
of the red neckcloth ; " you'll see that some chap will win
her that don't want a beast, and she'll be sold for a trifle."

" And there's a free passage to Galvcston, grub and liquor,
in the same ticket," said another ; " an almighty sight of
luck for one man ! "

" It ain't me, anyhow," said red cravat, and then with a
tremendous oath added, " I've been a putter in at these
Texas lotteries for four years, and never won anything but a
blessed rosary."

" What became of it, Dick ? " said another, laughing.

" The beads fitted my rifle-bore, and I fired 'em away when,
lead was scarce."

Various discussions followed about luck and lotteries, with
anecdotes of all kinds respecting fortunate winners ; then
came stories of Texan expeditions in former times, which I
began to perceive were little else than speculations of a gam-
bling kind, rarely intended to go farther than the quay of
New Orleans.

On the present occasion, however, it would seem a real
expedition had been planned. Some had already sailed,
others were to follow the very day after the lottery, and only
waited to learn who was the fortunate winner of Butcher's
mare, at that time waiting at Galveston for an owner.

I waited a long time, in hope of acquiring something like
an insight into the scope of the enterprise, but in vain ;
indeed, it was easy to see, that, of the company, not a single
one, in all likelihood, intended to join the expedition. When
I left the Picayune, therefore, I was but little wiser than when
I entered it ; and yet somehow the whole, scheme had taken
a fast hold on my imagination, which readily filled in the
details of what I was ignorant. The course of reading in
which I had indulged on board Sir Dudley's yacht was
doubtless the reason of this. My mind had laid up so many
texts fur adventurous fancies, that on the slightest pretext
I could call up any quantity of enterprise and vicissitude.

A hundred times I asked myself if it were likely that any
of these Texan adventurers would accept of my services to



200 THE CONFESSIONS OF CON CREGAN.

wait upon them. I was not ignorant of horses, a tolerably
fair groom, could cook a little, that much I had learned on
board the yacht; besides, wherever my qualifications failed,
I had a ready-witted ingenuity that supplied the place almost
as well as the " real article."

"Ah! " thought I, " who knows how many are passing at
this moment, whose very hearts would leap with joy to find
such a fellow as I am, ' accustomed to in-door and out, wages
no object, and no objection to travel ! ' ' Possessed with this
notion, I could not help fancying that in every look that met
mine as I went, I could read something like an inquiry a
searching glance that seemed to say, " Bless me ! ain't that
Con ? as I live, there's Con Cregan ! What a rare piece of
fortune to chance upon him at this juncture! "

I own it did require a vivid and warm imagination so to
interpret the expressions which met my eyes at every moment,
seeing that the part of the town into which I had wandered
was that adjoining to the docks, a filthy, gloomy quarter,
chiefly resorted to by Jew slop-sellers, ship-chandlers, and
such like, with here and there a sailors' ordinary, usually
kept by a negro or half-breed.

I had eaten nothing that day, and it was now late in the
afternoon, so that it was with a very strong interest I peeped
occasionally into the little dens, where, under a paper lantern
with the inscription, " All for Twelve Cents," sat a company
usually of sailors and watermen, whose fare harmonized most
unpleasantly with their features.

The combat between a man's taste and his exchequer is
never less agreeable than when it concerns a dinner. To feel
that you have a soul for turtle and truffles, and yet must
descend to mashed potatoes and herrings, to know that a
palate capable of appreciating a salmi des perdreaux must be
condemned to the indignity of stock fish, what an indignity
is that! The whole man revolts at it! You feel, besides,
that such a meal is unrelieved by those suggestive excursions
of fancy which a well-served table abounds in. In the one
case you eat like the beast of the field, it is a question of
supporting nature, and no more : in the other, there is a
poetry interwoven that elevates and exalts. With what dis-
cursive freedom does the imagination range from the little
plate of oysters that preludes your soup, to pearl fishery and
the coral reefs, " with moonlight sleeping on the breaking
surf!" And then your soup, be it turtle or mulligatawny,
how associated is it with the West Indies or the East, bearing
on its aromatic vapour thousands of speculative reflections



"THE ORDINARY OF ALL NATIONS." 201

about sugar and slavery, pepper-pots, straw hats, piccaninnies,
and the Bishop of Barbadoes ; or the still grander themes
of elephants, emeralds, and the Indus, with rajahs, tigers,
punkahs, and the Punjaub !

And so you proceed, dreamily following out in fancy the
hints each course supplies, and roving with your cutlets to
the " cattle upon a thousand hills," or dallying with the
dessert to the orange-groves of Zante or Sicily.

I do love all this. The bouquet of my Bordeaux brings
back the Rhone, as the dry muscat of my Johannisberg pic-
tures the vine-clad cliffs of the Vaterland, with a long
diminuendo train of thought about Metternich and the
Holy Alliance the unlucky treaty of '15 Vienna Madame
Schrader and Castelli.

And how pleasantly and nationally does one come back
with the Port to our " ancient ally Portugal," with a mind-
painted panorama of Torres- Vedras and the Douro with
Black Horse Square and the Tagus " the Duke " ever and
anon flitting across the scene, and making each glass you
carry to your lips a heartfelt " long life to him ! "

Alas ! and alas ! such prandial delights were not for me ; I
must dine for twelve cents, or, by accepting the brilliant
entertainment announced yonder, price half-a-dollar, keep
Lent the rest of the week.

The temptation to which I allude ran thus :

<( Ladies and Gentlemen's Grand Ordinary of all Nat'ons
At 5 o'clock precisely.

Thumbo-rig Mint julep and a Ball.

The ' Half-dollar.'
Monsieur Palamede de Rosanne directs the Ceremonies."

If there was a small phrass in the aforesaid not perfectly
intelligible, it seemed upon the principle of the well-known
uda^e, only to heighten the inducement. The " Thumbo-
rig" above might mean either a new potation or a new
dance. Still, conceding this unknown territory, there was
quite sufficient in the remainder of the advertisement to
prove a strong temptation. The house, too, had a pre-
tentious air about it that promised well. There was a large
bow-window, displaying a perfect landscape of rounds and
sirloins, with a tasteful drapery of sausages overhead ; while



202 THE CONFESSIONS OF CON CREGAN.

a fragrant odour of rum, onions, fresh crabs, cheese, salt cod,
and preserved ginger, made the very air ambrosial.

As I stood and sniffed, my resolution staggered under the
assaults made on eye, nose, and palate, a very smartly-dressed
female figure crossed the way, holding up her dress full an
inch or so higher than even the mud required, and with a
jaunty air displayed a pair of very pink stockings on very
well-turned legs. I believe I'm not sure, but I fear the
pink stockings completed what the pickled beef began. I
entered. Having paid my money at the bar, and given up
my hat and greatcoat, I was ushered by a black waiter,
dressed in a striped jacket and trousers, as if he had been
ruled with red ink, into a large room, where a very numerous
company of both sexes were assembled ; some seated, some
standing, but all talking away with buzz and confusion, that
showed perfect intimacy to be the order of the day. The men
it was easy to see were chiefly in the " shipping interest."
There was a strong majority of mates and small skippers,
whose varied tongues ranged from Spanish and Portuguese
to Dutch and Danish ; French, English, and Russian, were
also heard in the melee, showing that the Grand Ordinary had
a world-made repute. The ladies were mostly young, very
condescending in their manners, somewhat overdressed, and
for the most part French.

As I knew no one, I waited patiently to be directed where
I should sit, and was at last shown to a place between a very
fat lady of Creole tint another dip would have made her
black and a little brisk man, whom I soon heard was
Monsieur Palamede himself.

The dinner was good; the conversation easiest of the easy;
taking in all, from matters commercial to social ; the whole
seasoned with the greatest good humour, and no small share
of smartness. Personal adventures by land and sea many
of the latter recounted by men who made no scruple of con-
fessing that they " dealt in ebony"- the slave trade. Little
incidents of life, that told much for the candour of the
recounter, were heard on all sides, until at length I really felt
ashamed of my own deficiency in not having even contributed
an anecdote for the benefit of the company. This preyed
upon me the more, as I saw myself surrounded by persons
who really, if their own unimpeachable evidence was to be
credited, began the world in ways and shapes the most
singular and uncommon. Not a man or woman of the party
that, had not slipped into existence in some droll quaint
fashion of their own, so that positively, and for the first



"THE OEDINARY OP ALL NATIONS." 203

time, I really grew ashamed to think that I belonged to
" decent people," who had not compromised me in the
slightest degree. " Voila ! un jeune homme qui ne dit pas un
mot ! " said a pretty-looking woman with fair brown hair,
and a very liquid pair of blue eyes. The speech was addressed
to me, and the whole table at once turned their glances
towards me.

" Ay, very true," said a short, stout little skipper, with an
unmistakable slash from a cutlass across his nose. "A sharp-
looking fellow like that has a story if he will only tell it."

" And you may see," cried another, "that we are above
petty prejudices here ; roguery only lies heavy on the con-
science that conceals it." The speaker was a tall sallow
man, with singularly intelligent features : he had been a
Jesuit tutor in the family of an Italian noble, and after con-
signing his patron to the Inquisition, had been himself
banished from Rome.

Pressing entreaties and rough commands, half imperious
instances and very seductive glances, all were directed
towards me, with the object of extorting some traits of my
life, and more particularly of that part of it which concerned
my birth and parentage. If the example of the company
invited the most unqualified candour, I cannot say that it
overcame certain scruples I felt about revealing my humble
origin. I was precisely in that anomalous position in life
when such avowals are most painful. Without ambition,
the confession had not cost me any sacrifice ; while, on the
other hand, I had not attained that eminence which has a
proud boastfulness in saying, " Yes, I, such as you see me
now great, titled, wealthy, and powerful I was the son
of a newsvender or a lamplighter." Such avowals, highly
lauded as they are by the world, especially when made by
archbishops or chancellors, or other great folk, at public
dinners, are, to my thinking, about as vainglorious bits of
poor human nature as the most cynical could wish to witness.
They are the mere victories of vanity over self-esteem. Now,
I had no objection that the world should think me a young
gentleman of the very easiest notions of right and wrong,
with a conscience as elastic as gutta percha, picking my
way across life's stream on the stepping-stones made by
other men's skulls being, as the phrase has it, a very loose
fish indeed; but I insisted on their believing that I was well-
born. Every one has his weakness this was Con Cregan's ;
and as these isolated fissures in strong character are nearly
allied with strength, so was it with me ; had I not had this



204 THE CONFESSIONS OF CON CREGAN.

frailty I had never cherished so intensely the passion
to become a gentleman. This is all digressiouary ; but
I'll not ask pardon of my dear reader for all that. If
he be reading in his snug well-cushioned chair, with every
appliance of case about him, he'll not throw down thcso
" Confessions " for a bit of prosing that invites the sleep
that is already hovering round him. If he has taken me up
in the few minutes before dinner, he'll not regret the bit of
meditation which does not involve him in a story. If he be
spelling me out in a mail-train, he'll be grateful for the
" skipping " place, which leaves him time to look out and
see the ingenious preparations that are making by the
" down " or the " up " train, to run into and smash the
unhappy convoy of which he forms a part.

" Come, my young lad, out with it. Let us hear a bit
about the worthy people who took the sin of launching you
into the wide ocean. You must have had owners one time
or other." This was said by a hearty-looking old man, with
hair white as snow, and an enormous pair of eyebrows to
match.

" Willingly, sir," said I, with an air of the easiest con-
fidence ; " I should be but too proud if anything in a history
humble as mine is, could amuse this honourable company.
But the truth is, a life so devoid of interest would be only a
tax upon its patience to listen to ; and, as to my birth, I can
give little indeed no information. The earliest record of
my existence that I possess is from the age of two days and
three hours."

"That will do do admirably ! " chorused the party, who
laughed heartily at the gravity with which I spoke, and
which to them seemed an earnest of my extreme simplicity.
" We shall be quite satisfied with that," cried they again.

" Well, then, gentlemen, thanking you for the indulgence
with which you consent to overlook my want of accuracy, I
proceed. At the tender age I have mentioned, I was won in
a raffle ! "

" Won in a raffle ! won in a raffle ! " screamed one after
the other, and amid shouts of laughter the phrase continued
to be echoed from end to end of the table. " That beats
you hollow, Giles ! " " By Jove, how scarce babies must be
in the part you come from, if people take tickets for 'em ! "
Sach were some of the commentaries that broke out amidst
the mirth.

" I move," said a dapper little Frenchman, who had been
a barber and a National Guard once, " I move that the



"THE OKDINARY OP ALL NATIONS." 205

honourable deputy make a statement to the Chamber, re-
specting the interesting fact to which he has alluded."

The motion was carried by acclamation, and I was accord-
ingly induced to ascend the tribune, a kind of rude pulpit
that was brought specially into the room, and stationed at
the side of the President's chair ; the comments on my
personal appearance, age, air, and probable rank, which were
made all the while, evidencing the most candid spirit one can
well imagine.

" A right down slick and shrewd 'un, darn me if he
ain't ! "

" A very wide awake young gemman," quoth number
two.

" II a de ' beaux yeux,' celui-la," this was a lady's remark.

" Set that young 'un among the girls ' down east,' and he'll
mow 'em down like grass."

" A Londoner swell-mobbish a bit, I take it."

" Not at all, he a'nt ; he's a bank clerk or a post-office
fellow, bolted with a lot of tin."

" Der ist ein echter schelm,' growled out an old Dantzic
skipper, " I kenn him vehr wohl ; steal your wash wid a
leetle scheer scissars you call him, ha ! ha ! "

" Ladies and gentlemen," said I, assuming a pose of the
most dignified importance, " before entering upon the cir-
cumstance to which you have so graciously attached a little
interest, let me assure you not that the fact can or ought to
have any weight with this distinguished company that I
have no claim upon your sympathy with regard to any of the
pleas whispered around me. I am neither thief, pickpocket,
runaway postman, burglar, nor highwayman. If I be, as
you are pleased to say, ' wide awake,' I believe it is only a
common precaution, considering the company I find myself
in ; and if I really could lay claim to the flattering praise of
a fair lady on the left, it would be merely from accidentally
reflecting her own bright glances. I present myself, then,
with much diffidence before you, for the simple reason that I
come in a character somewhat strange in these parts I am
a gentleman ! "

The ineffable impertinence of this address succeeded to a
miracle. Some laughed some applauded a few muttered
an unintelligible discontent ; but the majority of the men
and all the women were with me, and I saw that audacity had
gained the day. Ay, and so will it ninety-nine times out of
the hundred in everything through life ! The strategic axiom,
that no fortress is impregnable, is a valuable worldly lesson,



206 THE CONFESSIONS OF CON CREGAN.

and one ought never to forget, that a storming party rarely
fails.

" The circumstance to which I alluded a few minutes back
I dare not presume to call it a story occurred thus :

" There was a large and brilliant party assembled to pass

the Christmas at the Duke of Y 's ; you will understand

my reserve. The company included many of the first persons
in fashionable life, and a Royal Duke to boot, a great friend
of her grace, and some said an old admirer of one of her
sisters, who so went the rumour showed the strength of
her attachment to his Royal Highness by never having ac-
cepted any of the brilliant offers of marriage made her. She
was remarkably beautiful, and although a little past the first
bloom of youth, in full possession of her charms at the time

I speak of. Old Lord E was one of the guests ; and I

am sure many of the distinguished company to whom I now
address myself will not need any more particular description
of the man they must have met a hundred times every
London season, well known, indeed, as he is, with his light
blue coat and his buckskin tights, his wide beaver hat, and
his queue; his eccentricities, his wealth, and his great avarice
are themes all London is acquainted with." I paused.

A buzz of acknowledgment and recognition followed, and I
resumed :

" Lord E , you are aware, was a great musical amateur;
he was the leader of everything of that kind about town, and
whenever he could prevail upon himself to open his house in
Carlton Terrace, it was always io Lablache, and Rubini, and
Marini, and the rest of them. Well, it was just at the period
of this Christmas visit over which I may remark, en passant,
Lady Blanche's indisposition cast a shade of gloom that in
making some alteration in the mansion, they discovered in a
concealed press in the wall a mahogany case, on opening
which were found the moth-and-worm-eaten remains of a
violin. A parchment document, enclosed in a little scroll of
brass, and which had escaped the ravages of time, explained
that this was the instrument of the celebrated Giacomo Bat-
testa Pizzichetoni, the greatest violinist that ever lived the
composer of ' II Diavolo e la sua Moglia,' and the ' Balla di
Paradiso,' and many other great works, with which you are
all familiar."

The company chorused assent, and I continued : " The
party had somehow not gone off well the accustomed spirit
and animation of the scene were wanting. Perhaps Lady
Blanche's illness had some share in this ; in any case, every



"THE ORDINARY or ALL NATIONS." 207

one seemed low and out of sorts, and the pleasant people
talked of taking leave, when his Royal Highness proposed, by
way of doing something, that they should have a raffle for
this wonderful fiddle, of which, though only seen by the host
and another, every one was talking.

'' Even this much of stir was hailed with enthusiasm, tho
secrecy and mystery increasing the interest to a high degree.

The tickets were two guineas each ; and Lord E , dying

to possess ' a real Pizzichetoni,' took twenty of them. The
number was limited to a hundred, but such was the judicious
management of those who directed the proceedings, that the
shares were at a ' high premium,' on the day of drawing, his
Royal Highness actually buying up several at five guineas
apiece. The excitement, too, was immense ; encyclopedias
were ransacked for histories of the violin, and its great pro-
fessors and proficients. The ' Conversations Lexicon' opened
of itself at the letter P., and Pizzichetoni's name turned up in
every corner and on every theme, fifty times a day. What a
time I have heard that was ! nothing talked of but bow-action,
shifting, bridging, double fingering, and the like, from morn-
ing to night. Lord E became, in consequence of this

run about a favourite subject, a personage of more than
ordinary importance ; instead of being deemed, what he was
commonly called at the clubs, the Great ' Borassus,' he was
listened to with interest and attention; and, in fact, from the
extent of his knowledge of the subject, and his acquaintance
with every detail of its history, each felt that to his Lordship
ought by right to fall the fortunate ticket.

" So did it, in fact, turn out. After much vacillation, with
the last two numbers remained the final decision. One be-
longed to the Royal Duke, the other to Lord E . 'You

shall have a hundred guineas for your chance, E ,' said

the Duke, ' what say you ? '

" ' Your Royal Highness's wish is a command,' said he,
bowing and blushing : ' but were it otherwise, and to any
other than your Royal Highness, I should as certainly say
nay/

" ' Then "nay " must be the answer to me also; I cannot



Online LibraryCharles James Lever[Charles Lever's novels (Volume 5) → online text (page 21 of 50)