Charles James Lever.

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tion. This happy opportunity has arisen by our recent
purchase of the great gold mines of the ' Arguareche ' for
seventy millions of piastres, of which you may have read in
the Faros de la Habanas."

He bowed a humble negative ; and I went on to stato that
our mining operations requiring co-operation and assistancv,
we desired to open relations with the great house of Don
Xafire, whose good fame was well established on the 'Change
of Liverpool.

" You spoke of paper-securities and such like, Senhor ; may
I ask of what nature they are ? "

" You shall see them, Don Xafire/' said I, opening a very
magnificent pocket-book, and presenting :i receipt, dated
forty-eight years back, for the sum of twelve thousand piastres


in silver, and four bags, weighing two hundred and eighty
pounds of gold dust, from the hands of Menelaus Crick, of
the mines of Hajoras, near Guajuaqualla. The Spaniard's
dark cheek trembled, and a faint tinge of sickly yellow
seemed to replace the dusky olive of his tint, as he said,
"This is but wastepaper, Senhor, and I trust your excellent
house has advanced nothing on its credit."

" On the contrary, Senhor Banquiero," responded I, " we
have given the full sum, being much advised thereto by com-
petent counsel."

The battle was now opened, and the combat begun.

It is needless I should weary my reader by recapitulating
the tissue of inventions, in which, as in a garment, 1 wrapped
myself. I saw quickly, that if I was a rogue, so was my
antagonist, and that for eveiy stratagem I possessed, lie was
equally ready with another. At last, pushed hard by his
evasions, equivocations, and subterfuges, I was driven to
utter a shadowy kind of menace, in which I artfully contrived
to mix the name of the General Santa Anna, a word, in
those days, of more than talismanic power.

"And this reminds me," said I, " that one of my suite who
lost his way, and was taken prisoner in the Rocky Mountains,
committed to my charge a letter, in which, I fancy, the
General is interested." This was a random shot, but it
struck the bull's-eye through the very centre. The Sefihora
Dias's letter was enclosed in an envelope, in which a few
words only were written ; but these, few as they were, were
sufficient to create considerable emotion in Don Xafire, who
retired into a window, to read, and re-read them.

Another shot, thought I, and he's disabled ! " It is need-
less, then, Don Xafire, to prolong an interview which promises
so little. I will therefore take my leave ; my next communi-
cation will reach you through the General Santa Anna."

" May I not crave a little time for consideration, Senhor,"
said he, humbly : " these are weighty considerations ; there
may be other demands still heavier in store for us of the same

" You are right, Senhor ; there are other and still heavier
claims, as you very properly opine. Some of them I have
here with me ; others are in the hands of our house ; but all
shall be forthcoming, I assure you."

"What may be the gross amount, Senhor?" said the
banker, trying, but very ineffectually, to look at his ease.

" Without pretending to minute accuracy, I should guess
the sum at something like seven hundred thousand piastres ;



this, exclusive of certain claims for compensation usual in
cases of inquiry. You understand me, I believe." The last
menace was a shot in the very centre of his magazine, and
so the little usurer felt it, as he fidgeted among his papers,
and concealed his face from me.

" Come, Senhor Xafire," said I, with the air of a man who
means to deal mercifully, and not to crush the victim in his
power ; " I will be moderate with you. These bills and
receipts shall be all placed in your hands on payment of the
sums due, without any demand for interest whatever. We
will not speak of the other claims at all. The transaction
shall be strictly in honour between us, and nothing shall
ever transpire to your disadvantage regarding it. Is this
enough ? "

The struggle in the banker's mind was a difficult one, bat
after several hours passed in going over the papers, after
much discussion, and some altercation, I gained the day ;
and when I arose to take my leave, it was with my pocket-
book stuffed full of bills, on Pernambuco, Mexico, Santa
Cruz, and the Havannah, with letters of credit, bonds, and
other securities ; the whole amounting to four hundred thou-
sand piastres, the remaining sum of three hundred thou-
sand, I had agreed to leave in Don Xafire's hands at reason-
able interest. In fact, I was but too happy in the possession
of so much, to think twice about what became of the

I presented my friend Xafire with my ruby brooch, as a
souvenir ; not, indeed, that he needed anything to remind
him of our acquaintance ; and we parted with all the regrets
of brothers about to separate.

" You will stay some days with us here, I hope ? " said he,
as he conducted me to my carriage.

" I intend a short visit to some of the old 'Placers' in your
neighbourhood," replied I, " after which, I mean to return
here ;" and so, with a last embrace, we parted.

My next care was to pay a visit to Don Estaban, for I was
burning with anxiety to see Donna Maria once more, and to
open my campaign as a rich suitor for her hand. The day
chosen for this expedition seemed a fortunate one, for the
road, which led through a succession of vineyards, was
thronged with townspeople and peasants, in gay holiday
dresses ; all wending their way in the same direction with
ourselves. I asked the reason, and heard that it was the
file of the Virgin de los Dolores, whose chapel was on the
estate of Don Estaban. I bethought me of the time when I


had planned a pilgrimage to that same shrine little sus-
pecting that I was to make it in my carriage, with six mules
and two outriders !

In less than an hour's drive we came in sight of Don
Estaban's villa, built on the side of a richly- wooded mountain,
and certainly not betraying any signs of the reduced fortune
of which I had heard. A series of gardens, all terraced in
the mountain, lay in front, among which fountains were play-
ing, and jets d'eau springing. A small lake spread its calm
surface beneath, reflecting the whole scene as in a mirror,
with its feathery palm-trees and blossoming mimosas,
beneath whose shade hundreds of visitors were loitering or
sitting, while the tinkling saunds of guitar and mandolin
broke the stillness.

It was a strange and curious sight ; for while pleasure
seemed to hold unbounded sway on every side, the procession
of priests in rich vestments, the smoke of censers, the red
robes of acolytes, mingled with the throng, and the deep
chanting of the liturgies, were blended with the laughter of
children, and the merry sounds of light-hearted joy. " I have
come in the very nick of time," thought I, "to complete this
scene of festivity ; " and finding that my carriage could only
advance slowly along the crowded avenue, I descended, and
proceeded on foot, merely attended by two lacqueys to make
way for me in front.

A lively controversy ran among the spectators at each side
of me, of which I was evidently the subject, some averring
that I was there as a portion of the pageant, an integral
feature in the procession; others, with equal discrimination,
insisting that my presence was a polite attention on the part
of Our Lady de " Los Dolores," who had sent an illustrious
personage to grace the festival as her representative. On
one point all were agreed, that my appearance amongst
them was a favour which a whole life of devotion to me could
not repay ; and so rapidly was this impression propagated,
that it sped up the long approach through various groups and
knots of people, and actually reached the villa itself, long
before my august person arrived at the outer court.

Never was dignity at least such dignity as mine en-
trusted to better hands than those of my " Ca9adores." They
swaggered along, pushing back the crowds on each side, as
though it were a profanation to press too closely upon me.
They flourished their great, gold-headed canes, as if they
would smash the skulls of those whose eager curiosity out-
stepped the reverence due to me ; and when at length we

B B 2


readied the gates of the court-yard, they announced my natno
with a grandeur and pomp of utterance, that, I own it
frankly, actually appalled myself! I had not, however, much
time given me for such weaknesses, as, directly in front of
the villa, at a table spi-cad beneath an awning of blue silk, sat
a goodly company, whose splendour of dress, and profusion of
jewellery, bespoke them the great guests of the occasion.
The host, it was easy to detect him by the elevated seat he
occupied, rose as I came forward, and with a humility I
never can praise too highly, assured me that if any choice
were permitted him in the matter, he would prefer dying on
the spot, now that his worldly honours could never exceed
the triumph of that day ; that all the happiness of the festi-
vity was as gloom and darkness to his soul, compared to the
brilliancy rny presence diffused ; and not only was every-
thing he owned mine from that moment forth, but, he
ardently hoped he might have a long line of grandchildren,
and great grandchildi-en, to be my slaves in succeeding gene-

While the worthy man poured forth these " truths " in all
the flourish of his purest Castilian, and while I listened to
them with the condescending urbanity with which a sovereign
may be presumed to hear the strains of some national melody
in their praise, as pleasant, though somewhat stale, another
individual was added to the group, whose cunning features
evinced nothing either of the host's reverence or of my gran-
deur. This was Fra Miguel, the Friar, who, in a costume of
extraordinary simplicity, stood staring fixedly at me.

" II Conde de Cregano ! " repeated Don Estaban. " 1 have
surely heard the name before. Your highness is doubtless a
grandee of Spain ? "

" Of the first class ! " said I, with a slight cough ; for the
confounded Friar never took his eyes off me.

" And we have met before, Senor Conde*," said he, with a
most equivocal stress upon the last words. " How pleasant
for me to thank the Conde for what I believed I owed to the
mere wayfai-cr." These words he uttered in a whisper close
to my own ear.

"Better that, than ungratefully desert a benefactor! " said
I, in the same low tone ; then, turning to Don Estaban, who
stood amazed at our dramatic asides, I told him pretty much
what I had already related to the banker at Guajuaqualla ; only
adding, that during an excursion which it was my caprice to
make alone and unaccompanied, I had been able to render a
slight service to his fair daughter, Donna Maria de Loa


Dolores, and that I could not pass the neighbourhood with-
out inquiring after her health, and craving permission to kiss
her hand.

" Is this the Seiihor Cregan of the ' Rio del Crocodielo ? ' '
cried Don Estaban, in rapture.

" The same whom we left in safe keeping with our Brothers
of Mercy, at Bexar ? " exclaimed the Friar, in affected amaze-

" The very same, Fra Miguel, whom you humanely con-
signed to the Lazaretto of Bexar, an establishment which
has as little relation to ' mercy ' as need be ; the same who,
having resumed the rank and station that belong to him, can
afford to forget your cold-hearted desertion."

" San Joachim of Ulloa knows if I did not pay for masses
for your soul's repose ! " exclaimed he.

" A very little care of me in this world," said I, "had been
to the full as agreeable as all your solicitations for me in the
next; and as for San Joachim," added I, "no witness can be
received as evidence who will not appear in court."

"It is a pleasure to see your excellency in the perfect en-
joyment of your faculties," said the Fra, with a deceitful
smile ; but I paid little attention to his sneer, and turned
willingly to Don Estaban, whose grateful acknowledgments
were beyond all bounds. He vowed that he owed his
daughter's life to my heroism, and that he and she, and all
that were theirs, were mine.

" Yery gratifying tidings these," thought I, " for a man
who only asks for an ' instalment of his debt,' and will be
satisfied with the lady."

"Maria shall tell you so herself," added Don Estaban, in
a perfect paroxysm of grateful emotion. " Don Lopez y
Cuesta y Goloso can never forget your noble conduct." Not
caring much how retentive the memory of the aforesaid
hidalgo might prove, whom I at once set down as an uncle
or a godfather, I hastened after the host to where his
daughter sat at the table. I had but time to see that she
was dressed in black, with a profusion of diamonds scattered
not only through her hair, but over her dress, when she arose,
and ere I could prevent it, fell at my feet, and covered my
hands with kisses calling me her " Salvador," in a voice of the
wildest enthusiasm ; an emotion which seemed most electrically
to seize upon the whole company ; for I was now laid hold of
by every limb, and hugged, kissed, and embraced by a score
of people ; tie large majority of whom, I grieve f o say, were
the very hardest specimens of what is called the softer sex.


One member of the company maintained a look of cold
distrust towards me, the very opposite of all this cordiality.
This was Don Lopez, who did not need this air of dislike to
appear to my eyes the ugliest mortal I had ever heheld. He
was exceedingly short of stature, but of an immense breadth;
and yet, even with this, his head was far too big for his
body. A huge spherical mass, parti- coloured with habits of
debauch, looked like a terrestrial globe, of which the mouth
represented the equator. His attempts at embellishment had
even made him more horrible ; for he wore a great wig, with
long curls flowing upon his shoulders ; and his immense mous-
tachios were curled into a series of circles, like a ram's horn.
His nose had been divided across the middle by what seemed
the slash of a cutlass ; the cicatrix remaining of an angry red
colour, amid the florid hue of the countenance.

The expression of these benign features did not disgrace
their symmetry. It was a cross between a scowl and a sneer ;
the eyes and brow performed the former, the mouth assuming
the latter function.

Blushing with shame, and trembling with emotion, Maria
led me towards him ; and in accents I can never forget, told
how I had rescued her in the passage of the Crocodile River.
The wretch scowled more darkly than before, as he listened,
and when she ended, he muttered something between his
bloated lips that sounded marvellously like " Picaro! "

" Your godfather scarcely seems so grateful as one might
expect, Seiihora," said I.

" Muerte de Dios ! " he burst out ; " I am her husband."

Whether it was the simple fact so palpably brought for-
ward, the manner of its announcement, or the terrible curse
that involuntarily fell from my lips, I know not, but Donna
Maria fell down in a swoon. Fainting among foreigners, I
have often found, is regarded next door to actually dying ; and
so it was here. A scene of terror and dismay burst forth that
soon converted the festivity into an uproar of wild con-
fusion. Everyone screamed for aid, and dashed water in his
neighbour's face. The few who retained any presence of
mind filled out large bumpers of wine, and drank them off'.
Meanwhile Donna Maria was sufficiently recovered to be con-
ducted into the house, whither she was followed by her
" marido," Don Lopez, whose last look as he passed me was
one of insulting defiance.

The cause of order having triumphed, as the newspapers
say, I was led to one side by Don Estaban, who in a few
words told me that Don Lopez was a special envoy from the


Court of Madrid, come out to arrange some disputed ques-
tion of a debt between the two countries ; that he was a
Grandee d'Espana, a Golden Fleece, and I don't know what
besides ; his title of Donna Maria's husband being more than
enough to swallow up every other consideration with me.
The ceremony had been performed that very morning. It
was the wedding breakfast I had thrown into such confusion
and dismay.

Don Estaban, in his triumphal narrative of his daughter's
great elevation in rank of the proud place she would occupy
in the proud court of the Escurial her wealth, her splendour,
and her dignity, could not repress the fatherly sorrow he felt
at such a disproportioned union ; nor could he say anything
of his son-in-law but what concerned his immense fortune.
"Had it been you, Senhor Conde," cried he, throwing him-
self into my arms " you, young, handsome, and well-born as
you are, I had been happy."

"Is it too late, Don Estaban?" said I, passionately. "I
have wealth that does not yield to Don Lopez ; and Maria is
not at least, she was not indifferent regarding me."

"Oh, it is too late, far too late ! " cried the father, wring-
ing his hands.

" Let me speak with Maria herself. Let me also speak
with this Don Lopez. I may be able to make him understand
reason, however dull his comprehension."

" This cannot be, Senhor Caballero," said another voice.
It was Fra Miguel, who, having heard all that passed, now
joined the colloquy. " Nothing short of a dispensation from
the Holy See could annul the marriage, and Don Lopez is not
likely to ask for one."

" I will not suffer it," cried I, in desperation. "I would
rather carry her away by force than permit such a desecra-

" Hush, for the love of the Virgin, Senhor," cried Don
Estaban. " Don Lopez is captain of the Alguazils of the
Guard, and a Grand Inquisitor."

" What signifies that in Mexico ?" said I, boldly.
" More than you think for, Seiihor." whispered Fra Miguel.
" We have not ceased to be good Catholics, although we are
no longer subjects of old Spain." There was an air of cool
menace in the way these words were spoken that made me
feel very ill at ease. I soon rallied, however, and, drawing the
Frair to one side, said, " How many crowns will buy a cande-
labrum worthy of your chapel ? "

He looked at me fixedly for a few seconds, and his shrewd


features assumed a character of almost comic cunning, " The
Virgin de los Dolores is too simple for such luxuries, Senhor
Conde," said he, with a sly drollery.

" Would she not condescend to wear a few gems in her
petticoat ?" asked I, with the easy assurance of one not to bo

" She has no pleasure in such vanities," said the Fra, with
an hypocritical casting down of his eyes.

" Would she not accept of an embroidered handkerchief,"
said I, "to dry her tears ? I have known one of this pattern
to possess the most extraordinary powers of consolation ; "
and as I spoke I drew forth a bank-note of some amount, and
gently drew it across his knuckles.

A slight tremor shook his frame, and a short convulsive
motion was perceptible in the hand I had " galvanized ; " but
in an instant, with his habitual calm smile and mellow voice,
he said, " Your piety will bring a blessing upon you, Senhor,
but our poor shrine is unused to such princely donations."

" Confound the old hypocrite," muttered I to myself; "what
is he at?" "Fra Miguel," said I, assuming the business-like
manner of a man who could not afford to lose time ; " the
Virgin may be, and doubtless is, all that you say of her ; but
there must needs be many excellent and devout men here,
yourself doubtless amongst the number, who see numberless
objects of charity, for whom their hearts bleed in vain.
Take this, and remember that he who gave it, only asks as a
return your prayers and good wishes."

The Friar deposited the present in some inscrutable fold of
his loose garment, and then drawing himself proudly up, said,
"Well, now, what is it?"

"Am I too late?" asked I, with the same purpose-like

" Of course you are ; the ceremony is finished ; the con-
tracts are signed and witnessed. In an hour they will be
away on their road to the Havannah."

" Y"ou have no consolation to offer me, no hope ? ''

" None of an earthly character," said he, with a half-closed

" Confound your hypocrisy ! " cried I, in a rage.

"Don't be profane," said he, calmly. " What I have said
is true. Heaven will some day take Don Lopez; he is too
good for this wicked world, and then, who knows what may
happen ! "

This was but sorry comfort, waiting for the bride to become
a widow j but alas, 1 had no better ! besides, it had cost me a


heavy sam to obtain, and accordingly I prized it the more

If my anxieties were acute, apparently Don Lopez's mind
was not in a state of perfect serenity. He stormed and
raved at everybody and everything 1 . He saw, or what was
pretty much the same thing, he fancied he saw, a plot in the
whole business ; and swore he would bring the vengeance of
the Holy Office upon everybody concerned in it. In this
blessed frame of mind the departure of the newly-wedded
pair took place in spite of all my entreaties ; Don Lopez drove
away with his young bride, the last I beheld of her was a
white hand waving a handkerchief from the window of the
carriage. I looked, and she was gone !

If some were kind-hearted enough to pity me, the large
majority of the company felt very differently, and bore any-
thing but friendly feelings to one who had marred the festiv-
ities, and cut short Heaven could only tell by what number
of days the eating, dancing, singing, and merriment.

The old ladies were peculiarly severe in their comments,
averring that no well-bred man would have thought of inter-
fering with a marriage. It was quite time enough to talk of
his passion when the others were six or eight months married !

Of the younger ladies, a few condoled with me, praised my
heroism and my constancy, and threw out sly hints that when
I tried my luck next, fortune might possibly be more generous
to me. Don Estaban himself appeared to sympathize sin-
cerely with my sorrow, and evinced the warmest sense of
gratitude for the past. Even the Fra tried a little goodnature,
but it sat ill upon him, and it was easy to see that he enter-
tained a great mistrust of me.

From the brief experience of what I suffered in these few
days, I am decidedly of opinion that rich men are far more
impatient under reverses and disappointments than poor ones !
It was a marvellous change for one like me, whose earlier
years, it is unnecessary to remind the reader, were not passed
in the lap of that comfortable wet nurse called " affluence,"
and yet with all this brilliant present and still more fascinat-
ing future, at the very first instance of an opposition to my
will, I grew sad, dispirited, and morose. I should have been
very angry with myself for my ingratitude, but that I set it
all down to the score of love ; and so I went about the house,
visiting each room where Donna Maria used to sit, reading
her books, gazing at her picture, and feeding my mind with a
hundred fancies, which the next moment of thought told me
were now impossible.


Don Estaban, whose grief for the loss of his daughter was
in a manner divided with mine, would not suffer me to leave
him, and although the place itself served to keep open the
wound of my regret, and the Era's presence was anything but
conciliatory, I passed several days at the villa.

It would have been the greatest relief to me could I have
persuaded myself to be candid with Don Estaban, and told
him frankly the true story of my life. I felt that all the con-
solations which he offered me were of no avail, simply because
I had misled him ! The ingenious tissue of fiction in which
I enveloped myself, was a web so thin, that it tore whenever
I stirred, and my whole time was spent, as it were, in darning,
patching, and piecing the frail garment with which I covered
my nakedness.

A dozen times every day I jumped up, determined to reveal
my humble history ; but as regularly did a sentiment of false
shame hold me back, and a dread of old Fra Miguel's mali-
cious leer, should he hear the story. Another, and a strange
feeling, too, influenced me. My imaginary rank, birth, and
station, had, from the mere force of repetition, grown to be a
portion of myself. I had played the part with such applause
before the world, that I could not find in my heart to retire
behind the scenes, and resume the humble dress of my real

Online LibraryCharles James Lever[Charles Lever's novels (Volume 5) → online text (page 38 of 50)