Charles James Lever.

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intimacy, he rarely touched upon his New World experiences,
and blinked all allusion whatever to the republic of " Cam-
pecho." His own history was comprised in the brief fact that
he was the cadet of a great family of Provence. All your
French rogues I remark come from the south of France. That
he had once held a high diplomatic rank, from which, in conse-
quence of the fall of a ministry, he was degraded, and, after


many vicissitudes of fortune, he had become Consul-General
at Campecho. " My friends," continued he, " are now looking
up again in the world, so that I entertain hopes of something
better than perpetual banishment."

Of English people, their habits, modes of life, and thought,
the Chevalier spoke to me with a freedom he never would have
used if he had not believed me to be a Spaniard, and only
connected with Ireland through the remote chain of ancestry.
This deceit of mine was one he never penetrated, and I often
thought over the fact with satisfaction. To encourage his
frankness on the subject of my country, I affected to know
nothing, or next to nothing, of England ; and gradually he
grew to be more communicative, and at last spoke with an
unguarded freedom which soon opened to me a clue of his
real history.

It was one day as we walked the deck together, that, after
discussing the tastes and pursuits of the wealthy English, he
began to talk of their passion for sport, and especially horse-
racing. The character of this national pastime he appeared
to understand perfectly, not as a mere foreigner who had
witnessed a Derby or a Doncaster, but as one conversant
with the traditions of the turf or the private life of the jockey
and the trainer.

I saw that he coloured all his descriptions with a tint meant
to excite an interest within me for these sports. He drew a
picture of an "Ascot meeting," wherein were assembled all
the ingredients that could excite the curiosity and gratify
the ambition of a wealthy, high-spirited youth ; and he
dilated with enthusiasm upon his own first impressions
of these scenes, mingled with half- regrets of how many
of his once friends had quitted the "Turf" since he last
saw it !

He spoke familiarly of those whose names I had often read
in newspapers as the great leaders of the " sporting world,"
and affected to have known them all on terms of intimacy and
friendship. Even had the theme been less attractive to me, I
would have encouraged it for other reasons, a strange glim-
mering suspicion ever haunting my mind that I had heard
of the worthy Chevalier before, and under another title ; and
so completely had this idea gained possession of me, that I
could think of nothing else.

At length, after we had been some weeks at sea, the wel-
come cry of " Land ;" was given from the mast-head ; but as
the weather w is hazy and thick, we were compelled to shorten
sail, and made comparatively little way through the water;


so that at nightfall we saw that another day must elapse ere
we touched mother earth again.

The Chevalier and the Captain both dined with me ; the
latter, however, soon repaired to the deck, leaving us in
tete-a-tete. It was in all likelihood the last evening we
should ever pass together, and I felt a most eager longing to
ascertain the truth of my vague suspicions. Chance gave
me the opportunity. We had been playing cards, and luck
contrary to custom, and in part owing to my always shuf-
fling the cards after my adversary had deserted him and
taken my side. At first this seemed to amuse him, and ho
merely complimented me upon my fortune, and smiled blandly
at my success. After a while, however, his continued losses
began to irritate him, and I could see that his habitual com-
mand of temper was yielding to a peevish, captious spirit he
had never exhibited previously.

" Shall we double our stake ?" said he, after a long run of

" If you prefer it, of course," said I. And we played on,
but ever with the same result.

" Come," cried he, at last, " I'll wager fifty Napoleons on
this game." The bet was made, and he lost it ! With the
like fortune he played on and on, till at last, as day was
dawning, he had not only lost all that he had won from me
during the voyage, but a considerable sum besides, and for
which he gave me his cheque upon a well-known banker at

" Shall I tell you your fortune, Monsieur le Comte?" said
he, in a tone of bitterness that almost startled me.

" With all my heart," said I, laughing; "are you skilful
as a necromancer ? "

" I can at least decipher what the cards indicate," said
he. " There is no great skill in reading, where the print is
legible." With these words he shuffled the cards, dividing
them into iwo or three packets, the first card of each he
turned on the face. " Let me premise, Count," said he,
" before I begin, that you will not take anything in bad part
which I may reveal to you, otherwise I'll be silent. You are
free to believe, or not to believe, what I tell you, but you
cannot reasonably be angry if unpleasant discoveries await

"Go on fearlessly," said I; " Fll not promise implicit
faith in everything, but I'll pledge myself to keep my

He began at once, drawing forth every third card of each


heap, and disposing them in a circle, side by side. When
they were so arranged, he bent over, as if to study them,
concealing his eyes from me by his hand, but at the same
time, as I could perceive, keenly watching my face between
his fingers. " There is some great mistake here," said he at
length, in a voice of irritation. " I have drawn the cards
wrong, somehow ; it must be so, since tfee interpretation is
clear as print. What an absurd blunder, too !" and he
seemed as if about to dash the cards up in a heap, from a
sense of angry disappointment.

"Nay, nay," cried I, interposing. "Let us hear what
they say, even though we may dispute the testimony."

" If it were less ridiculous it might be offensive," said he,
smiling; "but being as it is, it is really good laughing-

" I am quite impatient, pray read on."

" Of course it is too absurd for anything but ridicule," said
he, smiling, but, as I thought, with a most malicious expres-
sion. " You perceive here this four of clubs, which, as the
first card we turn, assumes to indicate your commencement
in life. Now, only fancy, Monsieur le Comte, what this most
insolent little demon would insinuate. Really, I cannot
continue. Well, well be it so. This card would say, thai
you were not only born without rank or title, but actually in
a condition of the very meanest, and most humble poverty.
Isn't that excellent ?" said he, bursting out into a fit of im-
moderate laughter, in which the spiteful glance of his keen
eyes seemed to pierce through and through me.

As for me, I laughed too ; but what a laugh it was ! Never
was a burst of natural sorrow so poignant in suffering as that
forced laugh, when, covered with shame, I sat there, beneath
the sarcastic insolence of the wretch who seemed to gloat over
the tortures he was inflicting.

" I can scarcely expect that this opening will inspire you
with much confidence in the oracle," said he ; " the first step
a falsehood, promises ill for the remainder of the journey."

" If not very veracious," said I, " it is at least very amus-
ing. Pray continue."

" What would the old counts of your ancestry have said to
such a profanation ?" cried the Chevalier. " By St. Denis, I
would not have been the man to asperse their blood thus, in
their old halls at Grenada!"

" We live in a less haughty age," said I, affecting a smile
of indifference, and motioning to him to proceed.

" What follows is the very commonest of that nonsense


which is revealed in all lowly fortunes. You are, as usual,
the victim of cold and hunger, suffering from destitution and
want. Then, there are indications of a bold spirit, ambitious
and energetic, bursting out through all the gloom of your
dark condition, and a small whispered word in your ear,
tells you to hope !" While the Chevalier rattled out this
" rodomontade" at a much greater length than I have time
or patience to repeat, his eyes never quitted me, but seemed
to sparkle with a fiend-like intelligence of what was passing
within me. As he concluded, he mixed up the cards together,
merely muttering, half-aloud, " adventures and escapes by
land and sea. Abundance of hard luck, to be all com-
pensated for one day, when wealth in all its richest profusion
is showered upon you." Then, dashing the cards from him
in affected anger, he said, " It is enough to make men despise
themselves, the way in which they yield credence to such
rank tomfoolery ! but I assure you, Count, however con-
temptible the oracle has shown herself to-day, I have on more
than one occasion been present at the most startling revela-
tions, not alone as regarded the past, but the future also."

" I can easily believe it, Chevalier," replied I, with a great
effort to seem philosophically calm. "One must not reject
everything that has not the stamp of reason upon it ; and
even what I have listened to to-day, absurd as it is, has not
shaken my faith in the divination of the cards. Perhaps
this fancy of mine is the remnant of a childish superstition,
which I owe in great part to my old nurse. She was a Moor
by birth, and imbued with all the traditions and superstitions
of her own romantic land."

There was a most sneering expression on the Chevalier's
face as I uttered these words. I paid no attention to it, how-
ever, but went on : " From the venerable dame I myself
attained to some knowledge of ' destiny reading,' of which
I remember once or twice in life to have afforded very singular
proofs. My skill, however, usually preferred unravelling the
' future ' to the ' present.' "

" Speculation is always easier than recital," said the Cheva-
lier, drily.

"Very true," said I; "and in reading the past I have
ever found how want of sufficient skill has prevented my
giving to the great fact of a story the due and necessary con-
nection ; so that, indeed, I appear as if distinct events alone
were revealed to me, without clue to what preceded or fol-
lowed them. I see destiny as a traveller sees a landscape by
fitful flashes of lightning at night, great tracts of country


suddenly displayed in all the blaze of noon-day, but lost to
sigbt the next moment for ever! Such humble powers as
these, are, I am well aware, unworthy to bear competition
with your more cultivated gifts ; but if, witli all their imper-
fections, you are disposed to accept their exercise, they are
sincerely at your service."

The Chevalier, I suspect, acceded to this proposal in the
belief that it was an effort on my part to turn the topic from
myself to him, for he neither seemed to believe in my skill,
nor feel any interest in its exercise..

Affecting to follow implicitly the old Moorish woman's
precepts, I prepared myself for my task by putting on a great
mantle with a hood, which, when drawn forward, effectually
concealed the wearer's face. This was a precaution I took
the better to study his face, while my own remained hid from

" You are certainly far more imposing as a prophet than I
can pretend to be," said he, laughing, as he lighted a cigar,
and lay back indolently to await my revelations. I made a
great display of knowledge in shuffling and arranging the
cards, the better to think over what I was about ; and at last,
disposing some dozen in certain mystic positions before me,
I began.

" You startled me, Chevalier, by a discovery which only
wanted truth to make it very remarkable. Let me now repay
you by another which I shrewdly suspect to be in the same
condition. There are four cards now before me, whose mean-
ing is most positive, and which distinctly assert that you,
Chevalier de la Boutonerie, are no chevalier at all ! "

" This is capital," said he, filling out a glass of wine and
drinking it off with the most consummate coolness.

" And here," said I, not heeding his affected ease ; " here
is another still stranger revelation, which says that you are
not a Frenchman, but a native of a land which latterly has
taken upon it to supply the rest of the world with adventurers
in plain words, a Pole."

"It is true that my father, who held a command in the
Imperial army, lived some years in that country," said he,
hastily ; " but I have yet to learn that he forfeited his nation-
ality by so doing."

" I only know what the cards tell me," said I, spreading
out a mass of them before me, and pretending to study them
attentively ; " and here is a complication which would need a
cleverer expositor than I am. Of all the tangled webs ever
I assayed to unravel, this is the knottiest. Why really^


Chevalier, yours must have been a life of more than ordinary
vicissitude, or else my prophetic skill has suffered sadly from

" Judging from what you have just told me, I rather lean
to the latter explanation," said he, swallowing down two
glasses of wine with great rapidity.

" I suspect such to be the case, indeed," said I, " for other-
wise I could scarcely have such difficulty in reading these
mystic signs once so familiar to me, and from which I can
now only pick up a stray phrase here and there. Thus I see
what implies a high diplomatic employment, and yet. imme-
diately after, I perceive that this is either a mistake of mine,
or the thing itself a cheat and a deception."

" It surely does not require divination to tell a diplomatic
agent that he has served on a foreign mission," said the
Chevalier with a sneer.

" Perhaps not, but I see here vestiges of strange occur-
rences in which this fact is concerned. A fleeting picture
passes now before my eyes : I see a race-course, with its
crowds of people, and its throng of carriages, and the horses
are led out to be saddled, and all is expectation and eagerness,
and what ! This is most singular ! the vision has passed
away, and I am looking at two figures who stand side by side
in a richly-furnished room, a man and a woman. She is
weeping, and Tie consoling her. Stay ! He lifts his head
the man is yourself, Chevalier! "

" Indeed ! " said he ; but this time the word was uttered in
a faint voice, while a pallor, that was almost lividness, coloured
his dark features.

" She murmurs a name; I almost caught it," exclaimed I,
as if carried away by the rapt excitement of prophecy.
" Yes ! I hear it now, perfectly ; the name is Alexis ! "

A fearful oath burst from the Chevalier, and with a bound
he sprung to his feet, and dashed his closed fists against
his brow. " Away with your jugglery, have done with
your miserable cheat, sir, that can only terrify women and
children. Speak out like a man ; who are you, and what
are you ? "

" What means this outrage, sir ? How have you forgotten"
yourself so far as to use this language to me? " said I, throw-
ing back the mantle and standing full before him.

" Let us have no more acting, sir, whether it be as prophet
or bully," said he, sternly. " You affect to know me, who I
am, and whence I have come. Make the game equal between
us, or it may be worse for you."

My first attempt at .For time Teitm^'.


" You threaten me, then," said I, calmly.

" I do," was the answer.

" It is therefore open war between us ? "

" I never said so," replied, he with a most cutting irony of
manner ; " but whatever secret malice can do and you shall
soon know what it means I pledge myself you will not find
yourself forgotten."

" Agreed then ; now leave me, sir."

"I am your guest, sir," said he, with a most hypocritical
air of deference and courtesy. " It is surely scant politeness
to drive me hence when I am not in a position to find another
shelter ; we are upon the high seas ; I cannot walk forth and
take my leave. Believe me, sir, the character you would fain
perform before the world would not act so."

Notwithstanding the insult conveyed in the last words, I
determined that I would respect " him who had eaten my
salt," and with a gesture of assent, for I could not speak, I
moved away.

No sooner was I alone, than I repented me of the rash folly
into which, for the indulgence of a mere petty vengeance, I
had been betrayed. I saw that by this absurd piece of malice,
I had made an enemy of a man whose whole career vouched
for the danger of his malevolence.

How could he injure rne ? What species of attack could
he make upon me ? Whether was it more likely that he
would avoid me as one dangerous to himself, or pursue me
wherever I went by his vengeance ? These were hard ques-
tions to solve, and they filled my mind so completely, that I
neither heeded the bustle which heralded the arrival on board
of the pilot, or the still busier movement which told that we
were approaching the harbour. At last I went on deck and
approached the bulwai-k, over which a number of the crew
were leaning, watching the course of a boat, that, with all
her canvas spread, was making for land. " The pilot-boat,"
said the captain, in reply to my glance of inquiry ; " she is
lying straight in, as the consul is anxious to land at once."

" Is he on board of her ?" said I, with an anxiety I could
not conceal.

" Yes, Senhor Conde, and your Excellency's secretary too."

Was it my fear suggested the notion, or was it the simple
fact, but I thought that the words " Count " and " Excellency"
were articulated with something like a sneer ? I had no
opportunity to put the matter to the test, for the captain had
already quitted the spot, and was busy with the multifarious
cares the near approach to land enforces. My next thought


was, Why had my secretary gone ashore without my orders ?
Was this a piece of zeal on his part to make preparations
for our disembarking, or might it be something worse ? and
if so, what ? Every moment increased the trouble of my
thoughts. Certainly misfortunes do cast their shadows
before them, for I felt that strange and overwhelming sense
of depression that never is causeless. I ran over every spe-
cies of casualty that I could imagine, but except highway
robbery, actual " brigandage," I could not fancy any real
positive danger to be anticipated from the chevalier.

How different was my mood from what I expected it would
have been on nearing shore ? Where were all my visions of
pomp and splendour? Where the proud circumstances of
my more than princely state ? Alas, I would have given a
full fourth of my wealth to be landed unostentatiously and
quietly, and to have my mind relieved from all dread of the
cursed Chevalier!

That I did not overrate the peril before me, events soon




As we sailed proudly into the harbour of Malaga, my atten-
tion, at first directed to the striking features of the shore,
where lay a city actually embowered amid orange groves
was soon drawn off by the appearance of a boat, rowed by
twelve men, which approached the ship. The national flag
of Spain floated from a standard in her stern, and I could
mark the glitter of arms and uniform on board of her.

" The officers of health, I suppose ?" said I, carelessly, to
the captain ; " No, Serihor, these are soldiers of the garrison."

"Ah! I understand," said I, "they are on the alert as to
whom they land in these troublous times ; " for it was the
period of the great Carlist struggle.

" Possibly," was his dry remark ; and he moved away.

A hoarse challenge from the boat, was answered by some-
thing from the ship; and the "accommodation-ladder" was
immediately lowered, and an officer ascended to the deck,
followed by two of his men, with their side-arms.

Some of the ordinary greetings being interchanged be-
tween the captain and the officer, the latter said, " My busi-
ness here is with the person styling himself the Conde de
Cregano. Where is he ? "

" That is my name, Seiihor," said I, with a studious ad-
mixture of civility and condescension.

" Please to walk this way, sir," said the officer, leading
towards the poop cabin, and preceding me with a degree of
assurance, that boded ill for his impression of my dignity.

As we entered the cabin, I could hear the two soldiers
taking up their places as sentries at the door.

" I wish to sec your passport, Senhor," said he, as he seated
himself at the table.

" My passport shall be produced at the fitting time," said
I, " when I arrive on shore. Here I have no need of any."

" You are wrong, sir : once within that circle of buoys, at
the mouth of the port, you are within the limits of the shore
authorities ; but were it even otherwise, these are not the


times for scruples, and I, for one, would not hesitate to arrest
you on the information I have received."

"Information you have received, sir!" exclaimed I, in
terror and amazement.

" Yes, sir ; I may as well tell you that Malaga is not in the
possession of your friends you will not find a Carlist gar-
rison ready to give you a salute of honour at your landing.
Far less formal, but not less peremptory attentions await
you ; but produce your papers, for I have no time to lose."

I saw at a glance that my position was most perilous, and
as rapidly resolved to make an effort for safety. " Sefihor
Capitana," said I, placing an open pocket-book stuffed with
bank-notes before him ; " please to accept my passport, and to
keep it in your own safe possession. I shall put to sea again,
and order the captain to land me at some port in Italy."

" It is too late," said he, with a sigh, as he pushed the
pocket-book away ; " the informations against you are already
transmitted to Madrid."

" Great heavens! and for whom do they take me?"
cried I.

" I cannot tell. I never heard. I only know that I have
the order for your ari'est as the person assuming to be ' the
Conde Cregano.' "

" What crime is laid to my charge? have I defrauded
any one ? What is alleged against me ? "

" Show me your passport," said he again.

" There it is," said I, producing the document which by
Don Estaban's intervention I had obtained from the autho-
rities of Guajuaqualla, and wherein I was called a native of
Grenada, and a noble of Spain.

" And all this is true as set forth ?" said the officer.

" It is a principle of law in my native land, that no pri-
soner is called upon to criminate himself," said I.

" In that case you are no Spaniard," said the officer,
shrewdly, " nor, indeed, does your accent so bespeak you.
You are now under arrest." He opened the door as he said
this, and pointing me out to the two sentries, whispered
something too low for me to overhear. This done, he left
the cabin and went upon deck.

I looked np from the chair where I sat, into the faces of
my two guardians, and a more ill-favoured pair of gentlemen
I never beheld. Ill-fed but dissipated-looking rascals, they
seemed more like highwaymen than soldiers. Still, even a
chance was not to be thrown away, and so I whispered in
a soft voice, " My worthy friends, in that writing-case


yonder there are bank-notes to a very large amount. In a
few moments they will be taken away from me, never to bo
restored. I may as well have the satisfaction of knowing
that two brave, but poor men, are benefited by them. Bring
me the desk, and I'll give them to you." They looked at
each other and they looked at me : they then looked towards
the door and the skylight, and although without speaking, it
was plain enough to see what was passing in their minds.

" Remember," said I, " I ask nothing in return from you.
I shall not attempt to escape; nor were I to do so, could you
aid me in any way. I merely wish to assist two worthy
fellows, who certainly do not look like the ' spoiled children
of fortune.' "

They hesitated, and seemed afraid ; and at last they whis-
pered for a few seconds together; and then one of them went
over, and taking up the desk, laid it down before me. " You
can make a fair division at another time," said I; "it is
better not to waste precious moments now, but at once con-
ceal the money about your persons. Here are some eight or
ten thousand piastres, and here, fully as much more for
you. These are Mexican notes for a large sum, and these
are bills on Amsterdam and Hamburgh for great amounts.

Online LibraryCharles James Lever[Charles Lever's novels (Volume 5) → online text (page 40 of 50)