Charles James Lever.

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that I should be likely to injure myself of degenerating into
an easy and familiar manner, by associating with those so
nearly of my own level.

I saw the blood mantle in the pale cheek of the student as

E E 2



420 THE COXFESSIONS OP CON CCBGAtt.

he listened to this impertinence, and thought that I could
mark the struggle that was passing within him, while, in a
calm collected tone he said " that those were questions on
which he could not give any opinion ; and that, if I desired
to leave, of course no farther objections would be offered.
Might I ask," added he, with a manner where a most cour-
teous politeness prevailed, "might I ask what are the
qualifications of a person in your condition of life ? "

" I think," replied I, " that I appreciate the meaning ot
your question. You would ask by what right a man humbly
born, educated to mere menial duties, can aspire to the posi-
tion and the pay a courier claims. I am willing to tell you.
To begin then : He must be familiar with the geography of
Europe I speak here of the merely Continental courier he
must know the boundaries, the high roads, the coinage, the
customs, the privileges of every petty state, from the smallest
principality of Germany to the greatest sovereignty of a czar.
He must know the languages, not as scholars and gram-
marians know them, but in all their dialects and 'patois.'
It is not enough ihat he has learned the tongue in which
Dante wrote, or Metastasio sung ; he must speak Venetian
and Milanese, Neapolitan and Piedmontese. He should know
the low German of the Black Forest, the Wiener dialect of
the Austrian, and talk every gradation of French, from the
frontiers of Flanders to the vine-groves of Provence and
Auvergne. He must be as familiar with every city of Europe
as though it were his birthplace ; with the churches, the
galleries, their monuments, and their history. He must
know the delicacies of each land, and every rarity it can pro-
-duce for the palate of the epicure. He must be a connoisseur
in wine, pictures, china, cuisine, statuary, engravings, armour,
ancient furniture, manuscripts, horseflesh, the drama, and
Bohemian glass ; able to pack a trunk, or expatiate upon a
Titian ; to illustrate a fresco, to cheat a custom-house, to
bully a prefect, make an omelette, ride postilion. These,
with a running knowledge of international law, and the Code
Napoleon, and some skill in all the minor operations of
surgery these are a brief summary of a courier's quali-
fications."

" And do you tell me, friend," said he earnestly, " that you
can do all this ? "

" Indifferent well," said I, carelessly. " There are, doubt-
less, others who have gained a higher proficiency in the
craft ; but as I am still young, I'll not despair of future emi-
nence."



CONSOLATIONS OF DIPLOMACY. 421

He heaved a deep sigh, and leaned his head upon his
hand.

I fancied I could read what was passing in his mind, and
at a haphazard, said, " Tou are contrasting the catalogue with
that of your own requirements, and perhaps asking yourself
to what end all the midnight toil of scholarship ? why have
I laboured hard with aching brow and fevered heart, when,
one with vulgar attainments like these the scattered frag-
ments the crumbs that fall from the table of real knowledge,
can secure a better livelihood and more real independence
than myself ; and the reason is, mine are marketable wares
that find purchasers in every class, and among every gradation
of society. ' My lord ' must have his courier ; so must the
rich cotton-spinner or the barrister on his wedding-tour.
The wealthy dowager, the blooming widow, the ex-minister
travelling for ' distraction,' the young heir journeying for
dissipation. The prelate, the banker, the ruined duke, the
newly-enriched mill-owner all, however differing in other
points, agree in this one want, and must have one who will
think for them and speak for them, bargain and bully for
them, assert their rank and importance wherever they appear ;
so that of the obstacles of travel, its difficulties and con-
trarieties, they should know as little as though their road lay
between London and Croydon."

" Still it is a puzzle to me," sighed the young man, " how
these people achieve the attainments you speak of. Even a
smattering of such knowledge would seem to require both
time and study."

" They have but a smattering," said I ; " yet it is gained
exactly in the very school where such small proficiency goes
farthest ' the world ' and which you will one day discover
has its sources of knowledge, its tests of ability, ay, and its
degrees of honour, marked out as palpably as Oxford and
Cambridge. There is this advantage, too, sir, over the uni-
versity the track in which you are to travel is marked out
for you you must not stray to the right or to the left ; while
in ' the world ' the field of direction is wide, open, and
expanded ; there's a path for every one, if they'll only look
for it."

He started as I said these words ; and as his cheeks
flushed up, he said, " I remember once upon a time hearing
those very words from a poor friendless boy in my own
country. He was setting out, as he said, to seek his fortune,
and his whole stock in life was the hope inspired by that
sentiment."



422 THE CONFESSIONS OF CON CREGAN.

" And what became of him ? "

" I never could learn, he disappeared suddenly, and
whether he enlisted into some regiment abroad, or died at
home, I never ascertained."

" Then I can tell you, sir, he now stands before you, the
same whom once you so kindly succoured ! the houseless,
friendless child, whom you protected and sheltered I am Con
Cregan."

It would be difficult to describe the bewilderment of poor
Lyndsay, as I said this ; he sat down, closed his eyes, opened
them again, rubbed them, stared at me, tried to speak, and at
last, rising up, grasped my hand warmly, and cried, " Then
of course you remember my name ? "

" I could never forget it, Mr. Lyndsay," said I, affection-
ately.

This was enough, and he now shook me by both hands with
all the warmth of old friendship.

As he was madly eager to learn the story of my life, and
as I was bent on my departure by the morning mail for
Genoa, we agreed to meet at an hour when the household had
retired to bed ; meanwhile he was to charge himself with
the office of making an explanation to the family, and
informing them that matters of urgency required my
presence at Paris without delay. This agreed upon, we
separated.

The entire night we passed in talking, for he insisted upon
hearing my adventures from the very hour we had parted
company in Dublin, down to the moment we were then seated
together. It was evident, at times, from the tone of ques-
tioning, that he accepted several of my statements at least as
doubtful, but gradually, as he discovered my acquaintance
with various languages, the knowledge I possessed of different
remote countries, their habits and natural productions, this
incredulity gave way, and' when finally I produced the letters
of the Havannah banker, with the receipts for my instalments,
he showed that every shade of hesitation had vanished, and
that he no longer entertained a doubt of my veracity.

As the hour of separating drew nigh, he turned the sub-
ject to my own immediate requirements, and although I
assured him that my ring, which I had already disposed of,
was sufficient for all immediate wants, he insisted upon my
accepting a loan of one hundred dollars, to be repaid, as he
himself said, " when I resumed my countship." These were
his parting words as I ascended to the roof of the dili-
gence.



423



CHAPTER XXXI.

"A NEW WALK IN PROGRESSIVE LIFE."

I WILL not trespass on my reader's patience with the details
of my journey, nor ask him to form acquaintance with any of
those pleasant travelling companions whose whims, caprices,
and merry fancies lightened the road. The company of a
diligence is a little world in all its features of selfishness,
apathy, trustfulness, credulity, and unbelief. It has its mock
humilities and absurd pretensions even more glaringly dis-
played than every-day life exhibits them. Enough, then, if
I say ours were fair specimens of the class, and when, on
arriving at the Messageries Royales, the heavy "conveniency"
deposited us in the court, Ave shook hands all round ere
separating, like people who were well pleased when together,
but yet not broken-hearted at the thought of parting.

And now I found myself at Paris, that glorious capital
whose very air is the champagne of atmospheres, and where,
amid the brilliant objects so lavishly thrown on every side,
even the poor man forgets his poverty, and actually thinks he
has some share in the gorgeous scene around him. I heaved
one heavy sigh, from the very bottom of my heart, as I
thought what might have been the condition in which I could
once have rolled along these same streets, and with this brief
tribute to the past I trudged along towards the embassy. All
my hope lay in the prospect of an interference on the part of
the English Government, and the demand of an indemnifica-
tion for my loss.

After some little delay, and a slight catechizing on the part
of a bulky porter in scarlet livery, I was admitted to a room
where a number of people, chiefly couriers and " Laquais de
Place," were assembled, to obtain signatures or passports,
and who were summoned from time to time to enter an
inner chamber where the official sat. My turn came at
length, and with a heart almost swelling to suffocation, I
entered.

"For England, I suppose," said a pale young gentleman,
with black moustaches, not looking up from the table, where
he sat reading his Galignani.



424 THE CONFESSIONS OF CON CREGAN.

" No, sir, mine is not a passport case. I am here to mako
a charge against the Spanish Government for false imprison-
ment and spoliation."

The young gentleman raised his head, and stared at mo
fixedly for a couple of seconds, and then, in the most silvery
of accents said, " Be good enough to repeat what you have
said."

I did so ; adding, " as my case has occupied the attention
of the Foreign Office for some time back, you may possibly
have heard of my name Count Cregan."

The youth sprang up from his chair, and hastened into
another room, whence I could hear loud shouts of laughter
immediately proceeding.

" .No, no, Harrington," said a deeper and an older voice.
" I don't want to see the fellow, and I advise you to get rid
of him at once. He'll be a bore to us every day of the week,
if you give him the slightest encouragement."

" But is there really nothing in his case ? "

" Nothing whatever ; he is a downright impostor."

" But Puzzleton certainly corresponded with him."

" Of course he did, to prevent the opposition making a
handle of his case in ' the House ;' but he soon saw the
whole thing was a trumped-up charge ; and as we want to
go on smoothly with the Madrid Government, it would be
absurd to disturb our relations for the sake of a fellow like
this."

" Oh, that's it," said the attache, catching a faint glimmer-
ing of the secret machinery of diplomacy.

" To be sure," added the other ; " if we wanted a griev-
ance, that man's would do as well as another ; but there is
no need to hold him over, we can always catch the Spaniards
tripping when we want it. My advice is, therefore, get rid
of him. Say that he must embody his statement in the form
of a memorial, supported by whatever he can adduce in the
way of evidence; that a personal interview can lead to
nothing ; and, in fact, dismiss him in the usual way."

And with these lucid instructions given in a tone far too
loud to be diplomatic the attache returned to the room where
I waited.

" You'll have to reduce this to writing, Count Cregan,"
said he, standing with his back to the fire, and assuming an
air that he fancied was quite that of a Talleyrand, " some-
thing in the form of a memorial, you understand."

" I have already done so, unsuccessfully," said I,
shortly.



"A NEW WALK IN PROGRESSIVE LIFE." 425

" Ah ! wasn't awai-e," sighed the young gentleman, strok-
ing his moustache.

" The Secretary of Foreign Affairs acknowledged the
receipt of my statement, and at one time held out some hope
of redress."

"Ah, indeed! " echoed the other.

" The state of our relations with Spain, however," added
I, "not requiring a grievance just then, my case was
naturally shelved."

He started, bit his lip, and evinced unmistakable signs of
being ill at ease. " In fact," resumed I, growing warmer as
I proceeded, " no further notice was taken of me than what
barely sufficed to take my case out of the hands of Opposition
members. I was assumed to be an impostor, because the
moment was not favourable to believe me honest. Good
diplomacy, perhaps, but rather lax morality. Now, sir,
I have lost my cause that is quite evident : let us see if you
have gained yours. The press is the great vindicator of indi-
vidual wrongs, and I'll make its columns the arena in which
this struggle shall be decided."

"Be good enough to wait one instant, take a seat,
Count," observed the young gentleman, in his very politest
of tones, while he hastily retired into the inner room once
more. This time the conversation was so low, that not a
whisper reached me. After a few seconds he re-entered.

" Your case will be inquired into, Count, and representa-
tion made to the Spanish minister at this court. May I ask
where you are staying here ? "

"I have not yet taken up my residence at Paris."

" Your passport is of course with the police? "

I bowed an assent, while a sudden thought flashed across
me. "They mean to send me out of the country!" The
attache had twice said " Good morning," ere I remarked it,
and with a hurried leave-taking I quitted the room, well
aware of the folly into which a momentary fit of passion had
betrayed me.

It was palpable enough my passport would at once offer
a ground for my expulsion I was an English subject, travel-
ling on a Spanish passport. I must of course expect to be
disowned by the Spanish minister, and not acknowledged by
my own.

This was a sorry beginning, and I sauntered out into the
streets in a very depressed state of mind. What was I to
do ? my funds were at a low ebb, I had not above four
hundred francs in the world. Into what career could I throw



426 THE CONFESSIONS OF CON CREGAN.

myself, and while obtaining a livelihood avoid discovery. I
knew various things, in that smattering sort of way which,
by the aid of puffing and notoriety, often succeed with tho
world ; but yet notoriety was the very thing I most dreaded !
There was nothing for it but to change my name. Many
would doubtless say, that this was not any great sacrifice,
need not have cost me any very poignant sufferings ; but
they would be wrong. I had clung to my name through all
the changes and vicissitudes of my fortune, as though it em-
bodied my very identity. It was to make that humble
name a great one, that I had toiled and struggled through
my whole life. In that obscure name lay the whole impulse
of my darings. Take that from me, and you took away
the energy that sustained me, and I sunk down into the
mere adventurer, living on from clay to day, and hour to hour,
without purpose or ambition. I had borne my name in the
very lowest passages of my fortune, hoping, one day or
other, to contrast these dark periods with the brilliant hours
of my destiny. And now I must abandon it ! " Well, be it
so," thought I, " and by way of compromise, I'll keep half of
it, and call myself Monsieur Corneille ; and as to nationality,
there need be little difficulty. Whenever a man talks in-
different Spanish, he says he is from the Basque. If he
speaks bad German, he calls himself an Austrian ; so, I, if
there be any irregularities in my regular verbs, will coolly
assert that I am a brave Beige, and a subject of King
Leopold ; and if humility be a virtue, this choice of a native
land ought to do me credit."

I raised my head from my musings at this moment, and
found myself at the corner of the Rue Goguenarde, exactly
opposite a house covered with placards and announcements
from the street to the third story. A great board with gilt
letters over the entrance, proclaiming it the " Bureau des
Affiches " for all nations. Nor was the universality a mere
pretence, as a single glance could show the range of advertise-
ments, taking in everything, from an estate in Guadaloupe, to
a neat chamber in the Marais ; from a foundry at Lyons to
the sweeping of a passage in the Rue Rivoli. All the nos-
trums of medicine, all the cheap appliances of the toilet,
remedies against corpulence, preventives to extreme emacia-
tion, how to grow hair, how to get rid of it, governesses,
ballet-dancers, even ladies " with suitable portions and great
personal attractions," were all at the command of him rich
enough to indulge his indolence. " There must surely be
something applicable to me in all those varied wants," thought



"A NEW WALK IN PROGEESSIYE LIFE." 427

I ; and I entered a great room where several knots of men
and women, of different ranks and conditions, were gathered
around large tablets of advertisements.

Some were in search of lost articles of dress, or jewellery,
a run-away child, or a missing spaniel ; some inquiring for
cheap apartments, or economical modes of travel with others
going the same road ; but the greater number were in pur-
suit of some means of livelihood, and what a host they were !
Professors of every art, science, arid language; journalists,
poets, tenors, gardeners, governesses, missionaries, rope-dancers,
frail little damsels who performed as goddesses in a panto-
mime, and powerful fellows who performed the " life-models"
of academies, together with a number of well-dressed gentle-
men of a certain age, who announced themselves as " discreet
friends tp any party engaged in a delicate and difficult trans-
action."

My heart sunk within me as I saw the mass of capability
by which I was surrounded. " What could the world want
with me," thought I, "in such a glut of acquirements as I
see here ? " And I was about to turn away when my atten-
tion was drawn to a very little elderly man, who was most
importunately entreating one of the clerks to do him some
service or other. The old man's eagerness was actually pain-
ful to witness. " I w 1! sell it for a mere nothing," said he,
" although it cost me five hundred francs ! "

" You'll be fortunate if you get one hundred for it," said
the clerk.

" I would accept of even one hundred, nay ! I'd take
eighty," sighed the old man.

" So you ought," said the other. " These things are all at
a discount now ; men like more active and energetic situa-
tions. Retirement is not the taste of our day."

" Retirement," thought I, " that may be exactly what
would suit me at this moment," and I drew near to listen.

" Find me a purchaser with seventy francs," ejaculated tho
old man, " and I'll close with him."

" What is it, Monsieur ? " said I, bowing civilly to
both.

" A 'quatorzieme,' sir," said the clerk, interposing, that he
might earn his commission in the event of a deal. " A qua-
torzieme, and I am bound to say one of the best in this
quarter of Paris. It takes in the Rue de la Chuine, the
Place de la Boucherie, with a very large sweep of the Boule-
vard Mont Parnasse."

" A quatorzieme! " cried I, in amazement, " I never heard



423 TUB CONFESSIONS OF CON CREGAN.

of any one living so hi^h up. Are there really houses in
Paris fourteen stories high ! "

They both burst into a fit of laughter as I said this, and
it was some time ere the clerk could recover his gravity
sufficiently to reply ; at last he said, " I perceive that Mon-
sieur is a stranger to Paris and its ways, or he would know
that a quatorzieme is not an apartment fourteen stories high,
but an individual who holds himself always in readiness at
the dining-hours of his neighbourhood, to make the four-
teenth at any table, where, by accident, the unlucky number
of thirteen should be assembled ; a party which every well-
informed person would otherwise scruple to sit down with.
This, sir, is a quatorzieme ; and here is a gentleman desirous
of disposing of his interest in such an enviable property.

To my question as to what were the necessary qualifica-
tions, they both answered in a kind of duet, by volubly re-
capitulating that nothing was needed but a suit of black and
clean gloves ; unobtrusive demeanour, and a moderate appe-
tite, being the certain recommendations to a high professional
success. I saw the chief requirement well to eat little and
to talk less to come in with the soup and go out with the
salad never to partake of an entree, nor drink save the
" ordinaire : " these were the duties ; the reward was ten
francs. " It used to be a Napoleon, Monsieur," said the old
man, wiping his eyes. " In the time of Charles the Tenth it
was always a Napoleon, but these ' canailles' now-a-days have
no reverence for anything ; I have known even the ministry
dine thirteen on a Friday; to be sure, the king was fired at
two days afterwards for it but nothing can teach them."

The old gentleman grew most communicative on the
subject of his "walk," which he was only abandoning in
consequence of the rheumatism, and the difficulty of ascend-
ing to dinner-parties on a high elevation. He depicted. with
enthusiasm the enjoyments of a profession that demanded,
as he observed, so little previous study, was removed from
all the vicissitudes of commerce, pleasant in practice, and
remunerative in pay. He also insinuated the possible ad-
vantages to a young and handsome man, who could scarcely
f;iil to secure a good marriage, by observing a discreet and
decorous demeanour ; and, in fact, he represented his calling
in such a light, as at least to give me the liveliest curiosity
to enter upon it for a brief space, and while meditating what
future steps I should take in life.

That same afternoon I saw myself announced at the per
ter's window of a very shabby-looking house in the Rue de



"A NEW WALK IN PROGRESSIVE LIFE." 429

la Forge, as Monsieur de Corneille the " de " being advised
by my predecessor. " Qaatorzieme pret a toute heure," and
thus opened my professional career. I was told that it was
all-important in my vocation, that I should not be seen much
abroad in the world. There should be a certain mysterious-
ness about me, when I appeared at a dinner-table, that might
permit the host to speak of me to strangers as his old
friend the Baron de So-and-so, who rarely ventured out even
to dine with him. In fact, I should be as guarded against
publicity as though I were a royal personage. This was not
a hard condition at the time, since I was desirous of escaping
notice. I passed all my mornings, therefore, in writing
sometimes memorials to a minister sometimes statements
for the press : now, they were letters to the banker at Gua-
juaqualla, or to Don Estaban, or to the great firm at the
Havannah. The cost of postage deterred me from despatch-
ing most of them, but I continued to write them as though
to feed the cravings of my hope. When evening drew nigh
I abandoned the desk for the toilet; and having arrayed
myself in most austere black, waited for the summons which
should invite me to some unknown feast. I have often
perused records of the early struggles of a professional life
the nervous vacillations between hope and fear, which haunt
him who watches day after day, for some time, that he is not
forgotten of the world. The fretful jealousies of the fortunate
rival the sad depression over his own failures the eager
watching lest the footfall on the stairs stop not at his door,
and the wearisome sinking of the heart as the sounds die
away in the distance, and leave him to the silence of his own
despair. If I had not to feel the corroding regrets of him
who has toiled long and ardently, for the attainment of a
knowledge that now lies " a rust," unused, unasked for, un-
wanted I had to learn what are his tortures who waits till
the world call him.

There I sat in all my " bravery." What a contrast between
my sleek exterior, and the half-famished creature within !
Sometimes my impatience would break out into a fit of
passion, in which I railed at the old knave who had en-
trapped me at fortune that deserted me at myself, who had
grown indolent, and void of enterprise. Sometimes I became
almost stupid by long reflection, and would sit to a late hour
of the night, unconscious of everything ; and sometimes I
would actually laugh outright, at the absurdity of my



Online LibraryCharles James Lever[Charles Lever's novels (Volume 5) → online text (page 43 of 50)