Charles James Lever.

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ting upon my power and my merciful disposition, till I had
warmed my blood to a very good tyrant pitch, from which
state I was aroused by the guard at the gate of the town,
asking if I had anything with me which should pay custom.

" A poor traveller with his knapsack," said I, " may surely
pass freely."

" Vaya con Dios," said he, carelessly, and I entered the city.

Although the little plain in which Guajuaqualla stands is
more favourable as a site, than the narrow gorge where
Chehuahua is situated the city itself is inferior to the latter.
Built irregularly, not only as chance or caprice directed, but
sharing in all the vicissitudes of speculation which the mines
afforded, great palaces stand by the side of mean hovels, and

orgeous churches are flanked by abodes of squalid poverty,
treets, properly speaking, there were none. Each choosing
the spot for his house at will, and as the city was founded in
troubled times, when lawless violence was unrestrained the
fortress-like character of the buildings was often conspicuous.
Massive iron bars and stanchions protected the windows of
the ground-floors heavy fastenings secured the doors, whose
surface was a fretwork of iron. Loop-holes for musketry,
usually guarded each side of the entrance, and a " grille," like
that of a convent, showed that no stranger could be admitted,
un interrogated. Many of the houses were surrounded by
regular outworks of moat and bastion, while here and there
an old rusty cannon, half hid among the weeds, would show
more pretentious, though possibly not very efficient means of


Of shrines, holy wells, and altars, there was no end. The
superstitious character of the Gambusino life had been
adroitly laid hold of by the priests, who rarely fail to turn
each phase of existence to their own profit, and, in this spot,
the priestly hierarchy appeared to have nothing so near at
heart as the success of the " Placers." Here were pictured
virgins, looking blandly down at a group of very ill-favoured
half-breeds, at a washing ; there was an old negro, presenting
a massive lump of gold to St. Joseph, who, with a sly look,
seemed to promise not to forget the donor. St. Francis him-
self, pick in hand, was seen labouring at the head of a sturdy
gang of workmen, and angels of all sizes appeared to busy
themselves in gold seeking, as though it were their natural

Upon several of the altars, pieces of solid gold and silver
lay, in a security that said much for the religious zeal of the
inhabitants, while lamps of pure silver hung in a profusion
on every side surrounded by votive offerings of the same
metal such as shovels, barretas, picks, and sieves. Nor did
piety limit itself merely to incentives to " stand well with the
saints ; " some most terrible examples of the opposite line of
conduct were conspicuously displayed. Pictures, represent-
ing dreadful catastrophes, by falling masses of rock irrup-
tions of torrents and down-pouring cataracts, showed what
fates were ever in store for those who "forgot the Church."
And, as if to heighten the effect, whenever a cayman or a
jaguar was " sloping off'' with a miner in his mouth a res-
pectable saint was sure to be detected in the offing wiping his
eyes in compassion, but not stirring a finger to his assistance.

I will not say that these specimens of pictorial piety in-
duced any strong religious feeling to my mind, but they cer-
tainly amused me highly, and although hungry from a Icng
fast, I stopped full twenty times on my way to the Posada,
to gaze and wonder at them.

At the " Mono " (the " Ape "), a beast, which, at first I
mistook for a certain historical character, to whom popular
prejudice always vouchsafes a tail, I put up, and having dis-
cussed a very sumptuous breakfast, sent for the landlord, a
little dark-visaged Jew from Pernambuco.

" I hear," said I, arranging myself in an attitude of im-
posing elegance, " I hear, Senhor Maestro, that my people
and equipages have not arrived yet, and I begin to feel a
great anxiety for their safety. Can you learn from any of
the Muleros if they have seen two carriages, with four mules
each, on the Chehuahua road ? "


" I have just inquired," said the Jew, with a sly, almost
impertinent ieer, " and his Excellency's suite have not been

" How provoking ! " said I, impatiently ; " this comes of
indulging that capricious taste for adventure which always
inclines me to a solitary ramble among mountains ; and now,
here I am, without clothes, baggage, horses, servants, in
fact, with nothing that a person of my condition is accus-
tomed to have about him."

The Jew's face changed its expression during this speech,
and from a look of droll malice, which it wore at first,
assumed an air of almost open insolence, as he said,

" Senhor Viajador, I am too old to be imposed upon by
these fooleries. The traveller who enters an inn on his feet,
with ragged clothes and tattered shoes, takes too high a
flight when he raves of equipage and followers."

I bethought me of the lesson 1 once gave the mate of the
transport ship at Quebec, and I lay back indolently in my
chair, and stared coolly at the Jew. " Son of Abraham,"
said I, with a slow intonation, " take care what you say. I
indulge in a vast variety of caprices, some of which the
severe world calls follies ; but there is one which I never
permit myself namely, to suffer the slightest liberty on the
part of an inferior. I give you this piece of information for
your guidance, since it is possible that business with the
banker Don Manuel Hijaroa may detain me a few days in
this place, and I desire that the lesson be not lost upon you."

The Jew stood while I delivered these words, a perfect
ideal of doubt and embarrassment. The pretentious tone,
contrasted with the ragged apparel the air of insufferable
pride, with all the semblance of poverty, and the calm com-
posure of confidence, seemed to him singular features in one
whose apparent destitution might have suggested humility.

" I see your embarrassment," said I, " and I forgive your
error, and now to business. I have several visits to pay in
this neighbourhood ; my people may not arrive for a day or
two ; and I cannot atibrd the delay of waiting for them.
Can you tell if there be anything suitable in the way of
equipage for a man of rank to be had here ? Something
simple, of course, as befitting the place a plain carriage,
with four mules if Andalusian, all the better ; two la/a-
dores, or outriders, will be sufficient, as I wish to avoid dis-
play ; the liveries and equipment may be plain also."

' There is at this moment, Senhor, the open carriage of
the late Gobernador of Guajnaqualla, to be sold; he had not


used it when lie was called away by death ; that and his six
mules not Andalusian, it is true, but of the black breed of
the Habannah, are now at your Excellency's disposal "

" And the price," said I, not seeming to not ce the half-
impertinent smile that curled his lip as he spoke.

" Three thousand crowns, Senhor ; less than half their

" A mere trifle," said I, carelessly, " if the carnage please

" Your Excellency can see it in the court beneath."

I followed the Jew as he led the way into the open " cour,"
and, after passing across it, we entered a spacious building,
where, amidst a whole hospital of ruined and dilapidated
caleches, carres, and waggons, stood a most beautiful britscka,
evidently imitated from some London or Parisian model. It
was of a dark chocolate colour, with rich linings of pale blue
silk. The arms of the late Gobernador were to have been
painted on the doors, but fortunately were not begun when
he died, so that the " carroza " seemed in every respect a
private one. The Jew next showed me the team of mules,
magnificent animals of fifteen and half hands in height, and
in top condition. The harness and housings were all equally
splendid and suitable.

" If your Excellency does not deem them unworthy of
you," said he, with a smile of most treacherous meaning,
" they are certainly a great bargain. I have myself ad-
vanced fifteen hundred piastres upon them."

" I'll take them," said I, curtly; " and now for the ser-

" The coachman and a few lacqueys are here still, your
Excellency ; but their liveries had not been ordered when the
sad event occurred."

" Send the first tailor in the place to my apartment," said
I ; " and if there be a diamond merchant, or a gem valuer
here, let him come also."

" I am myself a dealer in precious stones, your Excel-
lency," replied the Jew, with a more submissive air than he
had yet exhibited.

" Come with me then," said I; " for I always carry some
of my less valuable trinkets about with me, as the least
cumbrous mode of taking money." Leaving the landlord in
the sitting-room, I passed into my chamber, and speedily
re-entered with a handsome emerald ring upon my finger,
and a ruby brooch of great size in my breast.

The Jew's eyes were lit up with a lustre only inferior to


that of the gems, as he saw them, aiid, in a voice tremulous
with eagerness, he said, " Will your Excellency dispose of

" Yes," said I, carelessly; " there are others also, which I
am determined to turn into cash. What value would you
put upon this ring ? "

" Five hundred crowns, Senhor, if it be really as pure as
it seems."

" If that be your valuation, friend," rejoined I, " I would
be a purchaser, not a seller, in this city. That gem cost me
six thousand piastres ! to be sure, something of the price
must be laid to the charge of historical associations. It was
the present of the Sultan Al Hadgid ak Meerun-ak-Roon, to
the Empress Matilda."

" Six thousand piastres ! " echoed the Jew, whose astonish-
ment stopped short at the sum, without any regard for the
great names I had hurled at him. " I believe I may have
paid a trifle too much," said I, smiling; "the Prince of
Syracuse thought it dear ! But then here is a much more
valuable stone, which only cost as much : " and so saying, I
took from my pocket an immense emerald, which had once
formed the ornament of a dagger.

"Ah, Dios! that is fine," said the Jew, as he held it
between him and the light ; " and were it not for the flaw,
would be a rare prize ! "

" Were it not for the flaw, friend," said I, " it would still be
where it stood for upwards of eight hundred years in the
royal crown of Hungary in the ' Schatz-Kammer ' of Pres-
burg. The Emperor Joseph had it mounted in his own poig-
nard ; from his hands it reached the Calton's of Auersberg,
and then, at the value of six thousand piastres, by a wager,
came into my own."

" And at what price would you now dispose of it? " asked
he, timidly.

" A friend might have it for ten thousand," said I, calmly ;
"to the world at large the price would be twelve."

" Ah, your Excellency ! such sums rest not in our humble
city ! Ton must go to Madrid or Grenada for wealth like that."

" So I suspect," said I, cooly. " I will content myself with
depositing them with my banker for the present; to sell them
here would be a needless sacrifice of them."

" And yet, Senhor, I would willingly be the purchaser of
that gem," said he, as he stood, fascinated by the lustre of the
stone, from which he could not take his eyes. " If six thou-
sand five hundred paistres "


" I have said ten to a friend, my honest Israelite," inter-
rupted I.

" I am but a poor man, your Excellency a poor strug-
gling hard-working man content if he but gain the
humblest profit by his labour ; say, then, seven thousand
piastres, and I will sell my mules to make up the amount."

" I will say twelve, and not a doubloon less, ' Senhor Judio,'
but a friend may have it for ten."

"Ah! if your 'Alteza' would but say eight. Eight
thousand piastres counted down upon the table in honest
silver," said he ; and the tears stood in his eyes as he sup-

" Be it so," said I, " but upon one condition. Should you ever
reveal this, or should you speak of the transaction in any
way, there is no manner of evil and mischief I will not work
you. If it cost me half my fortune, I will be your ruin ; for
I refused to part with that same to the Primate of Seville,
and he would never forgive me if the story should reach his

The Jew wished the Patriarchs to witness his oath of
secrecy, and though each of us was well aware that the other
was lying, somehow we seemed satisfied by the exchange of
our false coinage. I suppose we acted on the same principle
as the thieves, who could not keep their hands out of each
other's pockets, although they knew well there was nothing

Whatever the Jew's suspicion of the means by which I had
become possessed of such wealth, he prudently thought that
he might reap more profit by falling in with my plans, than
by needlessly scrutinizing my character; and, so far, he
judged wisely.

The contract for the carriage I completed on the Jpot, and
having engaged the servants and ordered their liveries plain
suits of brown with gold tags, aiguilettes I gave directions
for my own wearing apparel, in a style of costly magnificence
that confirmed me in the title of " Alteza," given by all who
came in contact with me. These occupations occupied the
entire morning, and it was only late in the afternoon that I
had spare time to recreate myself by a walk in the garden of
the inn before dinner ; a promenade which, I am free to own,
was heightened in its enjoyment by the rich rustling sounds
of my heavy silk robe-de-chambre, and the soft downy tread
of my velvet slippers on the smooth turf. It was a delicious
moment ! the very birds seemed to sing a little pcean of
rejoicing at my good luck ; the flowers put forth their


sweetest odours as I passed, and I felt myself in ecstasy with
the whole creation, and in particular with that segment of it
called Con Cregan. And there be folk in this world would
call this egotism and vanity ; ay, and by worse names too !
As if it was not the very purest philanthropy as if my self-
content did not spring from the calm assurance that the
goods of fortune were bestowed in the right direction and
that the goddess whom men call " fickle," was in reality a
most discriminating deity !

There are no two things in creation less alike than a rich
man and a poor one ! Not only do all their thoughts, feel-
ings, and affections run in opposite channels, but their judg-
ments are different; and from the habit of presenting
particular aspects to the world, they come at last to conform
to the impressions conceived of them by the public. The
eccentricities of wealth are exalted into fashions the pecu-
liarities of poverty are degraded to downright vices.

"Oh, glorious metal!" exclaimed I, as I walked along,
" that smoothes the roughest road of life, that makes the
toughest venison savoury, and renders the rudest associates
civil and compliant, what insolence and contumely had I not
met with here, in this poor ' Posada,' had I only been what
my humble dress and mean exterior denoted ! and now, what
is there that I cannot exact what demands can I make, and
hear that they are impossible ? "

" His Excellency's dinner is served," said the host, as he
advanced with many a low and obsequious salutation, to
announce my dinner.

I suppose that the cookery of the " Mono " was not of the
very highest order, and that if presented before me now, it
wou,ld meet but sorry acceptance from my more educated
palate ; but at the time I speak of, it seemed actually delicious.
There appeared to arise faint odours of savoury import, from
dishes whose garlic would now almost suffocate me, and I
luxuriated in the flavour of wine, every glass of which would,
at this day, have put my teeth on edge. If my enjoyment
was great, however, I took care not to let it appear too
palpable ; on the contrary, I criticized and condemned, with
all the fastidiousness of a spoiled nature, and only conde-
scended to taste anything on the perpetual assurance of the
host, that " though very different from what his Excellency
was used to, it was exactly to the taste of the late ' Gober-
nador.' "

I felt all the swelling importance of wealth within me, as T
beheld the cringing lacqueys and the obsequious host, who


never dared to carry himself erect in my presence the very
meats seemed to send up an incense to my nostrils. The
gentle -wind that shook the orange blossoms, seemed made to
bear its odours to ray senses all Nature appeared tributary
to my enjoyment. And only to think of it ! all this adu-
lation was for poor Con Cregan, the convict's son ; the house-
less street-runner of Dublin ; the cabin-boy of the yacht ;
the flunkey at Quebec ; the penniless wanderer in Texas ; the
wag of the " Noria," in Mexico ; what a revulsion, and how
sudden and unexpected !

It now became a matter of deep consideration within me
how I should support this unlooked-for change of condition,
without betraying too palpably Avhat the French would call
my " antecedents." As to my " relatives," forgive the poor
pun they gave me little trouble. I had often remarked in
life, that vulgar wealth never exhibits itself in a more absurd
and odious light, than when indulging in pleasures of which
the sole enjoyment is the amount of the cost. The upstart
rich man may sit in a gallery of pictures, where Titian,
Velasquez, and Vandyck have given him a company, whose
very countenances seem to despise him, while he thinks of
nothing save the price. If he listen to Malibran, the only
sense awakened is the cost of her engagement ; and hence
that stolid apathy the lustreless gaze the unrelieved weari-
ness he exhibits in society, where it is the metal of the
" mind " is clinking, and not the metal of the " mint." To a
certain extent I did not incur great danger on this head :
Nature had done me some kind services ; the chief of Avhich
was, she had made me an Irishman !

There may seem alas ! there is too great cause that there
should seem something paradoxical in this boast, now, when
sorrow and suQ'ering are so much our portion ! but I speak
only of the individuality which, above every other I have
seen or heard of, invests a man with a spirit to enjoy what-
ever is agreeable in life. Now this same gift is a great ?ai'e-
p-nard against the vulgarity of purse pride, since the man
who launches forth upon the open sea of pleasure is rarely
occupied by thoughts of self.

As for me, I felt a kind of gluttony for every delight tlint
gold can purchase. What palaces I would inhabit; what
equipages I would drive ; what magnificent fetes I would
give ; what inimitable little dinners, where beauty, wit, and
genius alone should be gathered together ; what music should
I possess in " my private band ; " what exotics in my conser-
vatory ; and how I should dispense these fascinations ; what


happiness would I diffuse in the circle in which I moved, and
what a circle would that be ! It was to this precise point my
buoyant fancy had brought me, as the second flask of cham-
pagne, iced almost to a crystal, had warmed me into a glow
of imaginative enthusiasm. I fancied myself in a gilded
saloon, where, amid the glare of a thousand wax lights, a
brilliant company were assembled. I thought that at each
opening of the folding door a servant announced some
name, illustrious from position, or great in reputation, and
that around me, as I stood, a group was gathered of all that
was distinguished in the world of fashion or celebrity. " Your
Royal Highness has made this the proudest day of my life,"
said I, rising, and bowing reverentially before a faded old
arm-chair. " May I offer your Eminence a seat," continued
I, to a red sofa-cushion I mistook for a cardinal. "Your
Excellency is most heartily welcome," said I, to an empty
decanter ; and so did I convert every adjunct of the chamber
into some distinguished personage, even to my fast expiring
lamp, which, with a glimmering flame, and a nauseous odour,
was gradually dying away, and which I actually addressed
as a great ambassador !

After this, I conclude that I must have imagined myself in
the East ; possibly taking a cup of sherbet with the Sultan,
or a chibouk with the Khan ot Tammerkabund ; for when
I became conscious once more, I found myself upon the
hearth-rug, where I had been enjoying a delicious sleep for
some hours.

" Would his Excellency desire to see his chamber ?" asked
the landlord, as with a branch of candles he stood in the

I waved my hand in sign of assent, and followed him.




THERE are few things in this world gold cannot buy ; but
one among their number assuredly is "a happy dream."
Now, although I went to sleep in a great bed with damask
hangings, and a gilt crown upon it, my pillow fringed with
deep lace, my coverlet of satin edged with gold, I dreamed
the whole night through of strifes, combats, and encounters.
At one time my enemy would be an Indian ; at another, a
half-breed ; now, a negro ; now, a jaguar or a rattlesnake ;
but with whom, or whatever the struggle, it was always for
money ! Nothing else seemed to have any hold upon my
thoughts. Wealth, and wealth alone, appeared the guiding
principle of my being ; and, as the penalty, I was now to
learn the ceaseless anxieties, the torturing dreads, this passion

With daylight, however, I awoi'ce, and the bright sun
streaming in, brought the glorious reality of my happy lot
before me, and reminded me of the various duties my high,
state imposed. My first care was to ascertain the amount
and security of my riches ; and I resolved to proceed regu-
larly, and in the most businesslike manner in the matter. To
this end I ordered my carriage, and proceeded to pay my
visit to the banker, Don Xafire.

I had devised and demolished full fifty ingenious narratives
of myself, when I drove into the court-yard where the banker
resided, and found myself actually without one single satis-
factory account of who I was, whence I came, and by what
means I became possessed of the formidable paper? I carried.
" Let circumstances pilot the event " was my old maxim ; and
so saying I entered.

The rattling tramp of my six mules, the cracking of whips,
and the crash of the wheels, brought many a head to the
windows of the old gaol-like palace when my carriage drove
up to the door, and the two out-riders stood in " a salute "
at each side while I descended. " Sua Eccelcnza El Conde
de Cregano " resounded through the arched hull and passages,
as an old servant in a tawdry suit of threadbare livery led the
way to Don Xafire's private apartment.


After a brief wait in a large but meagrely-furnished cham-
ber, au old man or a middle-aged one, with a look of age
entered ; and, with a profusion of ceremonial, in which he
assured me that his house, his wife, his oxen, his mules, his
asses, and in fact everything " that was his," stood at my
disposal, asked to what fortunate event he owed the honour
of my visit.

" I am the representative, Senhor Xafire," said I, " of the
great house of Cregan and Company, of which doubtless you
have heard ; whose ships walk the waters of the icy seas, and
lay at anchor amid the perfumes of the spice islands, and
whose traffic unites two hemispheres."

"May they always be prosperous," said the polite Spaniard,

"They have hitherto enjoyed that blessing," responded I,
almost thankfully. " Even as the youngest member of the
firm, I have nothing to complain of on the score of prosperity."
I smiled, took forth a most gorgeous snuff-box, all glittering
with brilliants, and presenting it to the Spaniard, laid it
carelessly on the table. After a brief pause, to let the splen-
dour settle down into his heart, I proceeded to inform him
that in the course of commercial transactions, a vast number
of bills, receipts for deposits, and other securities, had fallen
into our hands, upon many of which we had advanced large
sums, seeing that they bore the name of that most respect-
able house, the Bank of Don Xafire, of Guajuaqualla.
"These would," I added, "have been dispersed through the
various channels of trade, had it not been the wish of my
partners to open distinct relations with your house, and con-
sequently they have retained the papers until a favourable
occasion presented itself of personally making the proposi-

Online LibraryCharles James Lever[Charles Lever's novels (Volume 5) → online text (page 37 of 50)