Charles James Lever.

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tended. I am sure I invented at least fifty choice stratagems,
which afterthought always showed were perfectly worthless.
I bethought me of bribing the sentry with the few gold pieces
which I still possessed ; but what security had I that he might
not resist the seduction, or betray me even after receiving the
money ?

The fall, too, was considerable ; nor was there anything to
which I could attach my bedclothes to lower myself to the
ground. It must be " a drop," and what a situation should
I be in were I to break a bone, or even sprain my ankle in
the effort ? Alas ! I now perceived that although the most
laborious portion of my work was accomplished, the most
difficult still remained to be done.

The obstacles to mere escape were sufficiently great to
prevent me even thinking of the course to be pursued after
I reached the ground in safety, for I was without friend,
shelter, passport, or any means of disguise or concealment

I pondered long and carefully over the question, and already
had two dreary weeks passed over since I had cut through the
bar, and yet, so far as I could see, no nearer to liberation than
when the solid iron enclosed me. My mind began to sink
under the fatigue of unceasing contrivance, and a dreamy,
dreary sense of hopelessness seemed gaining on me. It had
been a dark cloudy day, with gusts of wind, followed by
intervals of calm. The air was moist and heavy, and charged
with the depressing influences which the " mestrale," that
sickliest of all winds, ever brings. Masses of leaden-coloured
clouds floated low over the sea, which was broken into a short
angry "jobbe," as if after a storm.

All betokened the approach of a gale of wind, and, as night
set in, the signs of bad weather thickened. Scarcely had the
sun set, when it became dark as pitch; the wind, which had
lulled for a brief space previous, now sprung up, and the sea
fretted and chafed against the rocks with that peculiar sharp
chirping sound that presages " wind." The clank of chain
cables the plashing noise of falling anchors the loud
shouts of the sailors as they prepared to meet the gathering


Storm, even now heard while, in the changing position of
the different lights of the bay, I could discern the movements
of the various vessels as they sought shelter or made ready
for sea, in expectation of the " gale." The impenetrable
darkness, the roaring wind, the flashing of the lights, the
cries of the seamen, the hurrying of feet along the quays,
and the sounds of different boats' crews departing in haste
all gave a charm to a scene of which the obscurity increased
the interest. A large French steamer was to have sailed that
night for Marseilles, but I overheard a voice from the street
foretelling that the Gazonne might leave without her pas-
sengers, " as no one would go on board of her on such a
night." A red lantern at the peak indicated the vessel, and
I could see that she had changed her position and " taken up
a berth " farther out in the bay.

I cannot tell by what instinct I selected her as a peculiar
object of my interest, but so it was. I watched her unceas-
ingly, and rarely took my eyes from the quarter where she
lay, and when the heaving motion of the " red light " showed
that she was tossing in a heavy sea, I listened too with eager-
ness to catch anything from those that passed beneath that
might concern this vessel, which now engrossed all my
sympathy. " Were I once but on board of her," thought I,
" the wildest hurricane that ever blew would be sweeter to
me than all the balmy airs that ever bore the odour of orange
blossom through my barred window ! " I would have braved
the stormiest seas, the maddest gale, shipwreck itself, rather
than longer remain the helpless, hopeless thing, a life of im-
prisonment was making of me. " Would that the alternative
were given me," said I to myself; " the free choice to change
these four walls for the deck over which the waves are
dancing in foamy sheets ! with what a thankful heart would
I take the offer."

The last visit of the turnkey, who came to see all safe,
broke in for a moment upon these musings ; and now the
double-locked door, and his retiring footsteps, told me that
no further molestation was to be feared ; and that I was, at
least till daybreak, the undisturbed master of my own
reveries. I opened the window, pushed back the iron stan-
cheon, and walked out upon the terrace. It was a night of
storm and wild hurricane. The rain swept by in great
plashes, increasing the darkness, and mingling its hissing
noise with the breaking crash of the sea, as it beat furiously
against the rocks. The dancing, bobbing motion of the lights
on board the different craft, showed what " a sea " was raging


in the bay : while, even in the city itself, the clatter of falling
tiles and chimneys, told the violence of the gale. I stood
upon the terrace ; and as the rain penetrated my frail gar-
ment, and the wind wafted my wet hair across my cheeks, I
felt a sense of ecstasy that nothing in all my previous life
had ever equalled. It was the sensation of freedom ; it was
the burst of delight with which the captive welcomes the
long-lost liberty. " Better this," thought I, " than the snug-
gest chamber that ever called itself a prison."

It was past the hour when any farther visit from the turn-
key might be expected. Already the outer door of my
chamber had been locked and barred with all that scrupulous
attention to noise and clank that are supposed only essential
in a melodrama. The sentry had just been relieved on the
esplanade beneath the terrace, so that I might consider my-
self disencumbered from all fear of interruption in any
quarter. I sat down upon the parapet, and peered into the
dark depth below me, where the hazy glimmer of the sentry's
lamp served to mark the height At first it seemed a terrific
drop ; but after a while I began to satisfy myself that the
darkness contributed to this effect : and as my sight grew
more accustomed to the gloom, I was able to trace different
objects ; among others, the conical roof of the sentry-box, at
a distance of scarcely more than fifteen feet beneath me.

Tims far I could reach by making a rope of my bed-clothes,
and attach one end to a portion of the battlement of the
parapet; but how should I venture on a descent in such a
place ? how risk the almost certainty of recapture by the
sentry himself? This was a formidable difficulty, and de-
manded much consideration; and yet were I to select any
other spot, I might chance to be disabled by the fall, and then
all my efforts were fruitless, since a broken bone, or even a
sprained ankle, would be certain ruin.

Never was a knotty point more canvassed, nor the clue
to a difficulty more zealously searched for! As generally
happens in such cases, first thoughts are best, and the bold
course the safest. By descending on the sentry-box, I should
fit least reach the ground without injury ; and if I were to
have a "tussle " for it with the guard, it would be without
the disadvantage of a previous damage. Besides this, the
incessant noise of the tempest, the crashing of the sea, and
the deep booming of the thunder, gave hopes that my descent
might be unheard. Nay, more the sound of my heavy body
over his head, would be rather an admonition to stay quietly
within than risk himself outside, to the danger of tumbling


tiles, or masses of masonry from the parapet. The more I
reflected upon this, the clearer I saw that the storm was a
heaven-sent accident for me ; that the darkness, the tumult,
and the deserted streets, were all accessories the most favour-
able ; that to neglect such an occasion of escape would be
downright madness. If I took some time to arrive at this
conclusion, I made up for the delay by the rapidity of my
subsequent movements. I hastily returned to my room ; and
had I been bred a rv^emaker my two sheets and counterpane
could not have been fashioned into a three-stranded rope
more handily ; and my sailor's experience favouring, I adjusted
the cord in a " timber hith " round one of the battlements,
and well satisfied myself that I might trust to the other ex-
tremity " Con Cregan and his fortunes."

I then took a hurried survey of my room, trimmed my
lamp that it might burn till morning, secured the three or
four papers of value which still remained to me, and then
issued forth to my enterprise.

A cannon-shot from, the bay rung out as I again stepped
upon the terrace, and I accepted the augury as an omen of
welcome. I will not deny that my hands trembled as I
examined, for the last time, the fastening of the cord ; nor do
I seek to conceal, that as I buttoned my coat, the beating of
my heart smote heavily against my fingers. I even hesitated
for an instant, and during that instant, brief as it was, I
could have faced death itself rather than the uncertainty
before me. The weakness passed quickly away, and with a
short but fervent prayer, I grasped the rope and slipped
noiselessly over the parapet.

A sudden gust of wind swept past at the moment, and
swung me out from the wall, as though I had been a thing
of no weight ; calling for all my strength to prevent me from
being blown away ! and now, I was buffeted about tossed
here and thrown there, with a violence that almost dislocated
every joint in my body. The jerking motion, and the chafing
of my rope on the parapet, made me tremble for my security,
and not without cause ; for in one great swing, in which I
described an arc no other pendulum, living or dead, ever
compassed before, I came back with such force against the
roof of the sentry-box, striking it with both my feet together
at the same instant, that my cord snapped short in the very

The force of my fall, added to the previous blow, capsized
the sentry-box, and I came to the ground along with it, in a
state of fright, that even to this very hour I cannot recall


without shuddering. Half-stmmed by the fall braised and
almost lifeless from terror, I sat there waiting for the moment
when the sentry would issue forth and seize me ; nor was it
till after the lapse of several minutes that I perceived that
the soldier was in a trap, the weighty sentry-box had fallen
over on the front, and effectually debarred him from any
chance of self-extrication.

I stooped over to listen, but all was still ; he never spoke
a word probably stunned by the shock, or he might have
fainted from terror. Whatever the cause, neither my humanity
nor my curiosity cared to explore further ; but rising to my
feet, and ascertaining to my inexpressible delight that I was
uninjured, I set off at full speed toward the shore. The sea
suggested escape, and thither 1 bent my way without thinking
more on the matter.

I could see from the hurried movement of lights along the
pier, that boats were rapidly leaving for the various ships in
the harbour. To get on board any of these, no matter what,
or whither bound, was all my object, a Tunis pirate, or a
Malay prow, would have been a happy exchange for the
black prison at Malaga.

I had almost run myself out of breath, when I came up
with a knot of some dozen people who were hastening onward
as fast as they could. Two heavily laden barrows with lug-
gage, and a multitude of cloaks, shawls, and mantles, pro-
nounced them to be travellers ; and I soon collected from the
expressions dropped by the boatmen, that they were about to
embark in the French steamer for Leghorn. Mingling with
the group, which the darkness freely permitted, I heard a
voice say in English, something about the weather ; and now
listening more attentively, I picked up that they were an
English family hurrying to Pisa, to see a son, whose failing
health gave them no time for delay. I gathered, too, that
the packet, which should not have started till the next day,
was now leaving suddenly : the captain having sent a mes-
sage to say that he had determined to put to sea rather than
ride out the gale so near shore.

The travellers were mingling their complaints at this
peremptory summons, with others over the absence of their
courier, who had got leave to see some of his friends about a
league away, and must now inevitably be left behind. In
the course of their lamentings, I could learn that they had
only engaged the man the evening before at the recom-
mendation of the landlord, and had scarcely seen him above
a couple of times.


In fact, except that he was an Italian, and his name Raf-
faello, they knew nothing about him. At last they reached
the jetty where the boat lay, and now I could hear their dis-
cussion, whether it were better to leave the courier's effects
behind or take them on, in the hope that he might yet come

"He's a smart fellow, and depend upon it he'll be here
before we sail," said a young man of the party.

"No, no," cried another, "he'll never hear a word of the
packet till she's halfway to Leghorn."

" What did you tell him, William ? " asked an elderly lady.

" To be back by six o'clock to-morrow morning," said the
first speaker.

" Ay, but in what language did yon speak ? "

" I spoke Italian, and afterwards I said it in French, for
he doesn't know one word of English."

This was all I wanted ; I slipped noiselessly away, and
retiring to some distance behind the party, waited till I saw
them descend the stairs to the boat. This occupied some
time, for the party were numerous, and their trunks and port-
manteaus were without end. At last, just as the word to
shove off was given, I dashed forward at the top of my speed
crying out in Spanish, " Hold fast there ! wait for the

" What's the matter ? " asked one of the Englishmen.

" A courier, Senhor," said a sailor, " wants to come with

" Oh, Raffaello, by George ! " exclaimed the other ; "I
knew he'd be up : put back, men, he belongs to us."

" Pardon, signori," said I, stepping lightly over the gun-
wale, " I have had a sharp run for it; " and away we went!
Seated on a great coat of black sheepskin, which from its
style and cut I knew must have belonged to my predecessor,
Raffaello, I could see the rapid passage of lights on the shore
in the direction of my late prison, and at last could detect
one glimmering from a part of the building where my cell
stood. The roll of drums beating to arms was soon heard,
and it was evident to me that my escape had become known,
that the garrison of the fortress was on the alert to recapture
me. Although fully a mile from land, and rowing with all
the vigour of twelve stout sailors towards a vessel whose
steam was already whizzing through the escape funnel, my
heart almost sunk within me from very fear ; and rather than
be retaken, I would have jumped into the boiling tide that
swelled and broke around me.


The sailors more than once relaxed their efforts to watch
what was going forward on shore ; and how fervently did I,
in silence, curse their curiosity. Externally, however, I
maintained my calm, demeanour, and even ventured to con-
jecture that a fire must have broken out in the fortress, such
was the commotion and excitement discernible in that

Another suggested the possibility of its being some
prisoner that had made his escape, a notion which I took
occasion to ridicule, by averring that the Carcel was reputed
to be the strongest prison in Spain, and an instance of evasion
altogether unknown.

Tims chatting we reached the steamer. To my intense
delight the anchor was already weighed ; and scarcely had
we mounted the ladder, than she broached round, head to sea,
and clove through the water like a fish.

Every plunge of the great ship shook the strong timbers,
and made her huge framework tremble, sending a thrill of
pleasure through me. With each mountain wave that rolled
past, I saw my chance of safety increase, and knew that no
boat manned by Spaniards at least, would dare pursuit in
such a storm. I had abundant leisure for these reflections,
since my " masters " had only time to get on board when they
retired to their berths overcome by sea-sickness, so that I was
at full liberty to indulge my own thoughts, and dispose of
myself without the slightest interruption. From a smart
little French maid I learned that the family was called
Grimes, that they had recently come from England, by way
of Gibraltar, where one of the sons, now with them, was
quartered with his regiment. That the party consisted of a
widow lady with three daughters and two sons, a third
being the invalid at Pisa. They were rich, good sort of folks,
very ignorant of the Continent, very credulous, and altogether
a satisfactory kind of connection fora cunning French fcmme-
de-chambre, and a roguish courier to fall in with. This latter
fact Mademoiselle Virgiuie insisted upon, with no small degree
of self-gratulation, giving me to understand that we might
have a very thriving career as fellow-labourers in the same

Her sketches of English life, manners, and prejudices
were not a little amusing ; while the rules she laid down for
the due management and control of her masters, were a per-
fect chapter in domestic machiavelism. There had once been
a time when I would have enlisted willingly under such a
banner glad to reach the upper story of lite, even by such a


back stair ; but now that I had tasted the glorious supremacy
of command myself, that I had revelled in the mastery of
a great household, that I had rolled along in my own
chariot, clothed in fine linen and faring sumptuously every
day, I felt my return to a menial situation a degradation
unendurable. I determined that once in Italy, I would
escape from the thraldom of such servitude, come what might
of it.

By long dwelling on the theme, I had contrived to impress
myself with the most profound conviction that I was a much
injured individual that my case, if not sufficient for a war
with Spain, was a fair ground for a parliamentary " flare-up,"
angry diplomatic notes, and Heaven knows what threats of
our outraged Foreign Office. That a man with such a glorious
grievance should sink dowu into a courier to wrangle with
landlords, bully waiters, and flirt with the " maid in the
rumble," was not to be thought of. I felt that I was sworn,
at Highgate, and destined for the inside of the travelling-
carriage, and not the " out."

Scarcely were we arrived at Leghorn, and installed at the
San Marco, than I began to prepare for my emancipation ;
a bold step, considering that all the available resources I
possessed was a ruby ring set round with brilliants, which I
had concealed in my cap along with my papers. I was ad-
monished to lose no time in my departure, by remarking that
another packet from Malaga was expected within a week,
which probably would convey the rightful courier in search
of his missing baggage, and I was by no means desirous of
being confronted with the real Simon Pure.

I am not sure that this latter consideration did not weigh
most with me in the matter since the novelty of my situa-
tion and the sense of its creature-comforts might have induced
me to linger a little longer in a capacity even as humble.
With such people as the Grimes's the courier was supreme,
and his rule despotic. From the hour at which they were
to dine, to what they were to eat how they were to spend
the day what to see, and what to avoid, were all at his
dictation ; while from the landlord came a perfect volley of
civilities that plainly showed who was the real personage to
whom adulation was due. If my masters dined on a chicken,
I fed upon ortolans ; while t-Jiey made wry faces over their
" Chiante," /luxuriated on Chateau La Rose or Chambertin.
For my table were reserved the oysters of Venice, the fresh
" sardines " of G-orgonu the delicate mutton of Pistoja the
delicious Cecafica of tho Yal d'Arno, while Pisciv was ran-



sacked for my dessert, till I saw myself surrounded with
rarities, that even in my great days I scarcely dreamed of.

There was a kind of " abandon " too in this mode of life
that pleased me well, a delightful sense of irresponsibility
pervaded everything I did, or imagined.

The courier knows nothing of that hesitation which besets
his master at the thought of some costly indulgence. He
neither doubts nor denies himself. The Emperor of Russia
may have bespoke the post-horses, but he knows how to bribe
even against the Czar himself, and would intrigue for the fish
intended for a cardinal's Friday dinner. He is perhaps the
only traveller who is indifferent to the bill : nay, he even
glories in its extravagance, as increasing his own per centage.
I was beginning to see and appreciate all these advantages
when caution admonished me to escape. The real Raffaello
was doubtless already at sea, and might arrive ere I had
evacuated the territory.

I only waited then to see " my family " snugly housed at
Pisa, when I proceeded to tender my resignation. It was
very flattering to my vanity to see the distress my announce-
ment created. They evidently felt like a crew about to be
deserted by the pilot in a difficult navigation. They were
but indifferent linguists, and worse travellers; and I almost
repented of my resolve as I perceived the dismay it occa-
sioned, the full measure of which I was admitted to witness,
since from my supposed ignorance of English they dis-
cussed the question very freely in my presence.

" Does he say he's dissatisfied with his situation ?" asked
the old lady.

"It is difficult to make out what he means, mamma,"
replied a daughter.

" These fellows are always intriguing for higher wages,"
observed the subaltern.

"Or to engage with people of greater consequence,"
remarked the second son.

" We had better send for tho tutor, mamma ; he speaks
French better than we do."

This proposition albeit not accepted as a compliment to
themselves by the two brothers was at last acceded to, and,
after a brief delay, the individual in question made his
appearance. To avoid any semblance of understanding what
went forward, I stood in patient silence, not even turning my
head in the direction where the family were now grouped
around the " Dragoman."

" You arc to find out what he wants," said the old lady,


eagerly. " Say that we are perfectly satisfied with him; and
if it be an increase "

" That he'll not get a sous more with my consent," broke
in the sub. " He receives already more than a captain in the

" I only know that I never had as much to spend at Cam-
bridge," echoed the other.

" They are always extravagantly paid," said the elder

" The creatures give themselves such airs," observed num-
ber two.

'' And when they are at all well-looking they're intoler-
able," broke in number three, who had been coolly scanning
me through her eye-glass.

The tutor by this time had evidently received his instruc-
tions in full, and beckoned me to follow him into a small
room adjoining the saloon. I obeyed ; and scarcely had the
door closed upon us than I started, and broke out into an
involuntary exclamation of surprise. The individual before
me was no other than my first friend the kind youth who
had taken me by the hand at the very outset of my career
the student of Trinity, Dublin, named Lyndsay.

As I perceived that he did not recognize me, I had time
enough to observe him well, and mark the change which more
than twelve years had wrought upon him. Though still
young, anxiety and mental exertion had worn him into pre-
mature age. His eye was dulled, his cheeks pale and sunken,
and in his manner there was that timid hesitation that stood,
abashed in the presence of my own cool effrontery. I could
see easily that the man of thought and reflection was suc-
cumbing before the man of action and of the world, and I
was selfish enough to revel in the triumph.

In a low diffident voice he proceeded to ask me if there
WAS anything in the nature of my situation that induced me
to quit a service where I had given the fullest satisfaction.

I replied by an easy caress of my long black moustache,
and a certain expressive gesture of the shoulders, meant to
convey that my objections were of a iiatm-e that did not
admit exactly of discussion rather questions of delicate per-
sonal feeling than of actual difficulty. Hinted that I had
rarely served anything less than a royal highness, and feared

Online LibraryCharles James Lever[Charles Lever's novels (Volume 5) → online text (page 42 of 50)