Charles James Lever.

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By way of distracting my gloomy thoughts, I made little
excursions in the surrounding country, in one of which I
contrived to revisit the "placer," and carry away all the
treasure which I had left behind me. This was much
more considerable than I had at first believed, the gems
being of a size, and beauty, far beyond any I had ever seen
before ; while the gold, in actual coined money, amounted to
a large sum.

Affecting to have changed my original intention of invest-
ing a great capital in the mines of Mexico, and resolved
instead to return to Europe, I consulted Don Estaban as to
the safest hands in which to deposit my money. He named a
certain wealthy firm at the Havannah, and gave me a letter
of introduction to them, requesting for me all the attention
in their power to bestow ; and so we parted.

It was with sincere sorrow I shook his hand for the last
time ; his cordiality was free-hearted and affectionate ; and I
carry with me, to this hour, the memory of his wise counsels
and honest precepts, as treasures, not the least costly, I
brought away wit.h me from the New World.

I arrived safely at the Havannah, travelling in princely

' ' GUA JUAQU ALL A . " 379

state, with two carriages and a great baggage- waggon, guarded
by four mounted " carabinieros," who had taken a solemn oath
at the shrine of a certain Saint Magalano to eat any bandits
who should molest us, a feat of digestion which I was not
sorry their devotion was spared.

The bankers to whom Don Estaban's letters introduced me
were most profuse in their offers of attention, and treated me
with all the civilities reserved for the most favoured client.
I only accepted, however, one invitation to dinner, to meet,
the great official dignitaries of the place, and the use of their
box each evening at the opera, affecting to make delicacy of
health the reason of not frequenting society ; a pretext I had
often remarked in use among people of wealth and distinc-
tion, among whose privileges there is that of being sick with-
out suffering.

There was a French packet-ship to sail for Malaga in about
ten days after my arrival, and, as I knew that Don Lopez
intended to leave that port for Europe, I quietly waited in
the Havannah, determined to be his fellow-traveller. In
preparing for this voyage, every thought of my mind was
occupied, resolved to outdo the old Spaniard in luxury and
magnificence. I ordered the most costly clothes, I engaged
the most accomplished servants, I bespoke everything which
could make the tediousness of the sea less irksome, even to
the services of a distinguished performer on the guitar, who
was about to visit Europe, and engaged to begin his journey
under such distinguished patronage as that of the Conde de

What wonderful speculations did I revel in as I pictured
to myself Don Lopez's ineffectual rage and his fair wife's
satisfaction, when 1 should first make my appearance on deck,
an appearance which I artfully devised should not take
place until we were some days at sea ! What agonies of
jealousy should I not inflict upon the old Castilian ! what
delicate flatteries should I not offer up to the Donna ! I had
laid in a store of moss-rose plants, to present her with a
fresh bouquet every morning, and then I would serenade her
each night beneath the very window of her cabin. So per-
fectly had I arranged all these details to my own satisfaction,
that the voyage began to appear a mere pleasure-excursion,
every portion of whose enjoyment originated with me, and
all whose blanks and disappointments owed their paternity to
Don Lopez ; so that, following up these self-ci-eated convic-
tions in my usual sanguine manner, I firmly persuaded myself
that the worthy husband would either go mad, or jump over-


board, before we landed at Malaga. Let not the reader fall
into the error of supposing that hatred to Don Lopez was
uppermost in my thoughts. Far from it I wished him in
heaven every hour of the twenty-four, and would will-
ingly have devoted one-half of my fortune to make a saint
of him in the next world, rather than make a martyr in

1 was walking one evening in my banker's garden, chat-
ting pleasantly on indifferent topics, when, on ascending a
little eminence, we came in view of the sea. It was a calm
and lovely evening, a very light land-breeze was just rippling
the waters of the bay fringing the blue with white, when
we saw the graceful spars of a small sloop of war emerge
from beneath the shadow of the tall cliffs, and stand out to

"The Moschetfa" said he, "has got a fair wind, and will
be out of sight of land by daybreak."

" Whither is she bound ? " asked I, carelessly.

" For Cadiz," said he ; " she came into port only this
morning, and is already off again."

" With despatches, perhaps? " I remarked, with the same
tone of indifference.

"No, seiihor ; she came to convey Don Lopez y Geloso, the
Spanish ambassador, back to Madrid."

"And is he on board of her now ? " screamed I, in a pei 1 -
fecfc pai'oxysm of terror. " Is site too ? "

" He embarked about an hour ago, with his bride and
suite," said the astonished banker, who evidently was not
quite sure of his guest's sanity.

Overwhelmed by these tidings, which gave at once the
death-blow to all my plans, I could not speak, but sat down
upon a seat, my gaze fixed upon the vessel which carried all
my dearest hopes.

" Yon probably desired to see his Excellency before ho
sailed ? " said the banker, timidly, after waiting a long time
in the expectation that I would speak.

" Most anxiously did I desire it," said I, shrouding my sor-
row under an affectation of important state solicitude.

" What a misfortune/' exclaimed he, " that you should
have missed him ! in all likelihood, had you seen him, ho
would have agreed to our terms."

" You are right," said I, shaking my head sententiously,
and neither guessing nor caring what he alluded to.

" So that he would have accepted the guarantee," ex-
claimed the banker, with increased excitement.


"He would have accepted the guarantee," echoed I, with-
out the remotest idea of what the words could mean.

" Oh, Madre de Dios ! what an unhappy mischance is this !
Is it yet too late ? Alas, the breeze is freshening, the sloop
is already sinking beyond the horizon ; to overtake her would
be impossible ; and you say that the guarantee would have
been accepted ?"

" You may rely upon it," said I, the more confidently, as I
saw that the ship was far beyond the chance of pursuit.

" What a benefactor to this country you might have been,
seiihor, had you done us this service ! " cried the banker with

" Well, it is too late to think of it now," said I, rather
captiously ; for I began to be worried with the mystification.

" Of course, for the present it is too late ; but when you
arrive in Europe, Sefihcr Conde, when you are once more
in the land where your natural influence holds sway, may we
entertain the hope that you will regard our case with the
same favourable eyes ? "

" Yes, yes," said I, with impatience, " if I see no reason to
change my opinions."

" Upon the subject of the original loan there can be no
doubt, Senhor Conde."

" Perhaps not," said I ; "but these are questions I mnst
decline entering upon. You will, yourself, perceive that any
discussion of them would be inconvenient and indiscreet."

The diplomatic reserve of this answer checked the warmth
of his importunity, and he bashfully withdrew, leaving me to
the undisturbed consideration of my own thoughts.

I sat till it was already near midnight, gazing on the sea, my
eyes still turned to the track by which the vessel had disap-
peared, and at last rose to retire, when, to my amazement, I
pQrceived my friend, the banker, accompanied by another
person, approaching towards me.

" Seiihor Conde," said he, in a mysterious whisper ; " this
is his Excellency the Governor ; " and with these words,
uttered in all the reverence of awe, he retired, leaving me
face to face with a tall dignified-looking personage, whose
figure was concealed in the folds of a great cloak.

In all the formal politeness of his rank and country, the
Governor begged I would be seated, and took his place beside
ine. He explained how the banker, one of the richest and
most respected men in the Havannah, had informed him of
my gracious intentions respecting them, and the sad mishap
by which my mediation was foiled. He entered at length


into the question of the debt, and all its financial difficulties ;
which, even had they been far less intricate and complicated,
would have puzzled a head which never had the bump arith-
metical. How he himself saw his way through the labyrinth
I know not, but had the sum been a moderate one, I vow I
would rather have paid it myself than investigate it any
farther ; such an inextricable mass of complications, doubles,
and difficulties, did it involve.

" Thus, you perceive," said he, at the close of a formidable
sum of figures, " that these eighteen millions made no part
of the old loan, but were, in fact, the first deposit of what is
called the 'Cuba debt;' not that it ever should have had
that name, which more properly belonged to the original
Poyais three-and-a-half you understand me ? "

" Perfectly proceed."

" That being the case, Our liability is reduced to the sum of
twenty-seven millions on the old four-and-a-quarters."

" Clearly so."

" Now we approach the difficult part of the matter," said he,
" and I must entreat your most marked attention ; for here
lies the point which has hitherto proved the stumbling-block
in the way of every negotiation."

I promised the strictest attention, and kept my word till I
found myself in a maze of figures, where compound interest
and decimal fractions danced a reel together, whose evolutions
would have driven Mr. Babbage distracted ; while the Governor,
now grown " warm in the harness," kept exclaiming at every
instant, " Do you see how the ' Ladrones ' want to cheat us
here ? Do you perceive what the Picaros intend by that ? "

If I could not follow his arithmetic, I could at least sym-
pathize in his enthusiasm ; and I praised the honour of the
Mexicans, while I denounced "the cause of roguery " over the
face of the globe, to his heart's content.

" You are satisfied about the original debt, Senhor Conde ? "
at last, said he, after a " four-mile heat " of explanation.

" Most thoroughly," said I, bowing.

" You'd not wish for anything farther on that head ? "

" Not a syllable."

" And as to the Cuba instalment you see the way in which
the first scrip became entangled in the Chihuahua 'fives,'
don't you ? "

" Plain as my hand before me."

" Then, of course, you acknowledge our right to the reserve
fund ? "

" I don't see how it can be disputed," said I.


" And yet that is precisely what the Madrid Government
contest ! "

" What injustice ! " exclaimed I.

" Evident as it is to your enlightened understanding, Senhor
Conde, you are, nevertheless, the first man I have ever found
to take the right view of this transaction. It is a real pleasure
to discuss a state-question with a great man."

Hereupon we both burst forth into an animated duet of
compliments, in which, I am bound to confess, the Governor
was the victor.

"And now, Senhor Conde," said he, after a long volley of
panegyric," may we reckon upon your support in this afl'air ? "

" You must understand, first of all, Excellenza," replied I,
" that I am not in any way an official personage. I am,"
here I smiled with a most fascinating air of mock humility,
" I am, so to speak, a humble a very humble individual, of
unpretending rank and small fortune."

" Ah ! Senhor Conde," sighed the Governor, for he had heard
of my ingots from the banker.

" Being as I say," resumed I, " my influence is naturally
small. If I am listened to in a matter of political importance,
I owe the courtesy, rather to the memory of my family's
services, than to any insignificant merits I may possess. The
cause of justice is, however, never weak no matter how
humble the means of him who asserts it. Such as I am, rely
upon me."

We embraced here, and the Governor shed a few official
tears at the thought of so soon separating from one he regarded
as more than his brother.

" We feel, Senhor Conde," said he, " how inadequate any
recognition of ours must be for services such as yours. We
are a young country and a Republic ; honours we have none
to bestow wealth is already your own we have nothing to
offer, therefore, but our gratitude."

" Be it so ! " thought I, " the burthen will not increase my

" This box will remind you, however, of an interview, and
recall one who deems this the happiest, as it is the proudest,
hour of his life ; " here he presented me with a splendid gold
snuff-box, containing a miniature of the President surrounded
by enormous diamonds.

Resolving not to be outdone in generosity, and, at least, not
to be guilty of dishonesty before my own conscience, I insisted
upon the Governor's acceptance of my watch a very costly
repeater studded with precious stones.


"The arms of my family the Cregaus are Irish will bring
me to your recollection," said I, pointing to a very magnificent
heraldic display on the timepiece, wherein figured the ancient
crown of Ireland, over a shield, in one compartment of which
was an " eye winking," the motto being the Gaelic word,
" Nabocklish," signifying " Maybe not," ironically.

I will not dwell upon the other particulars of an interview
which lasted till nigh morning. It will be sufficient to mention
that I was presented with letters of introduction and recom-
mendation, to the Mexican Ministers at Paris and Madrid,
instructing them to show me every attention, and desiring
them to extend to me their entire confidence, particularly to
furnish me with introductions to any official personages with
whom I desired to be acquainted. This was all that I wanted
for I was immensely rich, and only needed permission to pass
the door of the " great world," to mingle in that society for
which my heart yearned and longed unceasingly.

Some of my readers will smile at the simplicity which
believed these passports necessary, and was ignorant that
wealth alone is wanting to attain any position, to frequent any
society, to be the intimate of any set in Europe, and that the
rich man is other than he was in classic days, " Honoratus,
pulcher, rex denique regum."

I have lived to be wiser, and to see vulgarity, coarseness,
meanness, knavery, nay, even convicted guilt, the favoured
guests of royal saloons. The moral indictments against crime
have to the full as many flaws as the legal ones ; and we see,
in every society, men, and women too, as notoriously criminal
as though they wore the red-and-yellow livery of the galleys.
Physicians tell us that every drug whose sanitary properties
is acknowledged in medicine, contains some ingredients of a
noxious or poisonous nature. May not something similar exist
in the moral world ? and even in the very healthiest mixture,
may not some " bitter principle " be found to lurk ?




I WAS not sorry to leave the Havannah on the following day.
I did not desire another interview with my "friend" the
Governor, but rather felt impatient to escape a repetition of
his arithmetic, and the story of the " original debt."

Desirous of supporting my character as a great personage,
and, at the same time, to secure for myself the pleasure of
being unmolested during the voyage, I obtained the sole
right to the entire cabin accommodation, of the Acadie for
myself and suite, my equipages, baggage, and some eight or
ten Mexican horses occupying the deck.

A salute of honour was fired as I ascended the ladder,
and replied to by the forts a recognition of my dignity at
which I took occasion to seem offended, assuring the captain
that I was travelling in the strictest incognito ; leaving it to
his powers of calculation to compute what amount of retinue
and followers I should have when journeying in the full blaze
of acknowledged identity.

I sat upon the poop-deck as they weighed the anchor, con-
trasting in my mind my present condition with that of my
first marine experiences on board the Firefly. I am richer,
thought I. Am I better ? Have I become more generous,
more truthful, more considerate, more forgiving?

Has my knowledge of the world developed more of good
in me, or of evil ? Have my own successes ministered,
rather to my self-esteem than to my gratefulness ; and have
I learned to think meanly of all who have been beaten in
the race of fortune ? Alas ! there was not a count of this
indictment to which I dared plead "Not guilty." I had
seen knavery thrive too often, not to feel a kind of respect
for its ability ; I saw honesty too often worsted, not to feel
something like contempt for its meekness. It was difficult
to feel a reverence for poverty, whose traits were frequently
ridiculous ; and it was hard to censure wealth, which dis-
pensed its abundance in splendid hospitalities. Oh, the cun-
ning sophistries by which we cover up our real feelings in this



life, smothering every healthy impulse, and every generous
aspiration, under the guise of some " conventionality."

My conscience was less lenient than I expected. I cut but
a sorry figm'e " in the dock," and was obliged to throw my-
self upon the mercy of the court. I will be more considerate
in future, said I to myself ; I will be less exacting with my
servants, and more forgiving to their delinquencies ; I will try
and remember that there is an acid property in poverty that
sours even the sweetest " milk of human kindness ! " I will be
trustful, too a "gentleman " ought not to be suspicious; it
is eminently becoming a Bow Street officer, but suits not the
atmosphere of good society. These excellent resolutions
were, to a certain extent, " apropos ; " for just as " the fore-
sail began to draw " a boat came alongside and hailed the
ship. I did not deign any attention to a circumstance so
trivial to " one of my condition," and never noticed the con-
versation which in very animated tones was kept up between
the captain and the stranger, until the former, approaching
me with the most profound humility, and asking forgiveness
for the great liberty he was about to take, said that a gentle-
man, whom urgent business recalled to Europe, humbly
entreated permission to take his passage on board the

" Are you not aware it is impossible, my good friend ? "
said I, listlessly ; " the accommodation is lamentably restricted
as it is ; my secretary's cabin is like a dog-kennel, and my
second cook has actually to lie round a corner, like a snake."

The captain reddened, and bit his lip in silence.

"As for myself," said I, heroically, "I never complain.
Let me have any little cabin for my bed, a small bath-room,
a place to lounge in during the day, with a few easy sofas,
and a snug crib for a dinner-room, and'I can always rough it.
It was part of my father's system never to make Sybarites
of his boys." This I asserted with all the sturdy vehemence
ot truth.

" We will do everything to make your Excellency comfort-
able," said the captain, who clearly could not see the reasons
for rny self-praise ; " and as to the Consul what shall we
Bay to him ? "

" Consul, did you say ? " said I.

" Yes, Senhor Conde, he is the French Consul for the
Republic of ' Campecho.' " That this was a state I had
never heard of before was quite true ; yet it was clearly
one which the French Government were better informed upon,
and deigned to recognize by an official agent.


" Hold on there a bit ! " shouted out the captain to the
boat's crew. " What shall I say, Senhor Conde ? The Che-
valier de la Boutonerie is very anxious on the subject."

"Let this man have his passage," said I, indolently, and
lighted a cigar, as if to tarn my thoughts in another direc-
tion, not even noticing the new arrival, who was hoisted up
the side with his portmanteau in a very undignified fashion
for an official character. He soon, however, baffled this
indifference on my part, by advancing towards me, and in
a manner where considerable ease and tact were evident
thanked me for my polite consideration regarding him, and
expressed a hope that he might not in any way inconvenience
me during the voyage.

Now, the Chevalier was not in himself a very prepossessing
personage, while his dress was of the very shabbiest, being a
worn-out suit of black, covered by a coarse brown Mexican
mantle ; and yet his fluency, his quiet assurance, his seeming
self-satisfaction, gained an ascendancy over me at once. I saw
that he was a master in a walk in which I myself had so long
been a student, and that he was a consummate adept in the
" art of impudence."

And how mistaken is the world at large in the meaning of
that art ! How prone to call the unblushing effrontery of
every under-bred man, impudence ! the rudeness that dares
any speech, or adventures upon any familiarity the soulless,
heartless, selfish intrusiveness that scruples not to invade any
society. These are not impudence, or they are such speci-
mens of the quality as men only possess in common with
inferior animals. I speak of that educated, cultivated
" impudence," which never abashed by an inferiority felt
acutely is resolved to overbear worldly prejudices by the
exercise of gifts that assert a mastery over others ; a power
of rising, by the expansive force of self-esteem, into some-
thing almost estimable ordinary mortals tell lies at intervals
per sal turn, as the doctors say ; but these people's whole
life is a lie. The Chevalier was a fine specimen of the class,
and seemed as indifferent to a hundred little adverse cir-
cumstances as though everything around him went well and

There was a suave dignity in the way he moved a very
dubious hand over his unshaven chin in the graceful negli-
gence he exhibited when disposing the folds of his threadbare
cloak in the jaunty lightness with which, after saluting, he
replaced his miserable hat on the favoured side of his head,
that conveyed the whole story of the man.

C C 2


What a model for my imitation had he been, thought I, if
I had seen him in the outset of life ! what a study he had
presented ! and yet there he \vas, evidently in needy circum-
stances, pressed on by even urgent want, and I, Con Cregan,
the outcast the poor friendless street-ruined had become a
" millionaire."

I don't know how it was, but certainly I felt marvellously
ill at ease with my new friend. A real aristocrat, with all
the airs of assumption and haughtiness, would have been
a blessing compared with the submissive softness of the
" chevalier." Through all his flattery there seemed a sly
consciousness that his honeyed words were a snare, and his
smile a delusion ; and I could never divest myself of the
feeling that he saw into the very secret of my heart, and
knew me thoroughly.

I must become his dupe, thought I, or it is all over with
me. The fellow will detect me for a "parvenu" long before
we reach Malaga !

No man, born and bred to affluence, could have acquired
the keen insight into life that I possessed. I must mask
this knowledge, then, if I would still be thought a " born
gentleman." This wae a wise resolve ; at least its effects
were immediately such as I hoped for. The Chevalier's little
sly sarcasms, his half-insinuated " equivoques," were changed
for a tone of wonder and admiration for all I said. How
one so young could have seen and learned so much ! what
natural gifts I must possess ! how remarkably just my views
were ! how striking the force of my observations ! and all
this, while I was discoursing what certainly does not usually
pass for " consummate wisdom." I soon saw that the Chevalier
set me down for a fool ; and from that moment we changed
places he became the dupe versus me. To be sure, the con-
trivance cost me something, as we usually spent the evenings
at picquet or ecarte, and the consul was the luckiest of men ;
to use his own phrase, applied to one he once spoke of
" savait corriger la fortune."

Although he spoke freely of the fashionable world of Paris
and London, with all whose celebrities he affected a near

Online LibraryCharles James Lever[Charles Lever's novels (Volume 5) → online text (page 39 of 50)