Charles James Lever.

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assumed calling, wondering how I ever could have been fool
' f9 mbrace it.



430 THE CONFESSIONS OP CON CREGAN.

The world had evidently grown out of its superstitions:
republicanism and socialism, and all the other free and easy
notions by which men persuaded themselves that the rich are
thieves, and the poor the just inheritors of the gains, had
knocked down many a mock idol besides monarchy. Men
no longer threw a pinch of salt over their left shoulder, when
they upset the saltcellar didn't pierce their egg-shell, lest
the fairies might make a boat of it ; and so, among many
other remains' of the custom of our ancestors abandoned,
they sat down to dinner, careless whether the party were
thirteen or thirty.

" I might as well try and revive astrology," thought I, " as
seek to trade upon superstition, in this unbelieving age ! I
doubt if all Paris contains another quatorzieme than myself;
the old villain knew the trade was ruined, when he sold me
his ' goodwill * of the business."

I was in the very deepest and darkest abyss of these gloomy
thoughts one evening, when a heavy down-pour of rain, and
the sorrowful moanings of a December wind, added melan-
choly to my wearied spirit. It was such a night that none
would have ventured out, who could have claimed the hum-
blest roof to shelter him. The streets were perfectly deserted,
and early as it was the shops were already closed for the
night. The very lamps that swung to and fro with the wind,
looked hazy and dim, amid the sweeping rain, and the chains
clanked with the dreary cadence of a gibbet.

I knew it was needless to go through the ceremony of
dressing on such a night. " Better face all the imaginary
terrors of a thirteen party than brave the real danger of a
storm like this," so I reasoned ; and, in all the freedom of my
tattered dressing-gown, I paced my room in a frame of mind
very little above despair. " And this in Paris," cried I ;
" this the city, where in some hundred gilded saloons at this
very moment are met men, brilliant in all the gifts of
genius, and women more beautiful and more fascinating than
the houris of Paradise. Wit and polished raillery bright
glances and soft smiles, are now mingling amid the glitter of
stars, and crosses, and diamonds ; while some thousands,
like me, are actually famishing with hunger too poor, even,
to have a fire to thaw the icicles of despair that are gathering
around the heart !

Had it not been better for me, if I had lived on in the
same humble condition to which I was born, than have tasted
of the fascinations of riches, to love and pine after them for
ever ! No ! this I could not agree to. There were some



"A NEW WALK IN PROGRESSIVE LIFE." 431

moments of my glorious prosperity that well repaid me for
all I had, or all I could suffer for them ; and to whatever
depth of evil destiny I might yet be reserved, I should carry
with me the delicious memory of my once happiness. Con
Cregan the light-hearted was himself again! Con the
vagrant the passionate lover of whatever life offered of
pleasure, of beauty, and of splendour who only needed a
good cash account with Coutts to make his existence a " fairy
tale." I forgot for a moment that I lived in a mean chamber,
with a broken window, a fireless grate, a table that never was
graced with a meal! a bed that resembled a "board," and a
chair, to sit upon which without smashing, required the
dexterity of a juggler.

A sharp knocking at my door cut short these meditations,
and a voice at the same time cried out my name. " Come
in," said I, authoritatively. I fancied it might be the land-
lord, and was not sorry to brave him by the darkness. The
door opened, and a figure, which even in the gloom I could
perceive was that of a stranger, entered. " Monsieur de
Corneille lives here ? " said he.

"I have the humble honour to be that individual," re-
sponded I.

" Have you got no light ? I have smashed my shins across
a confounded chair," said he, querulously.

"You're all safe now," said I; "keep round by the wall,
but take care of the rat-trap near the corner."

" Let's have a light, mon cher," said the other, half coax-
ingly.

"I never have a light," said I; "I detest glare hate
snuffing a candle, and can't endure the thought of patronizing
Russia and her tallow."

" Couldn't we have a bit of fire, then ? " asked he.

"^Fire before Christmas!" exclaimed I; "are we in
Tobolsk ? What Sybarite talks of fire in Paris at this sea-
son?"

" I really am ambitious of seeing yon, Monsieur," said the
other : " can we not compass this object without any violence
to your feelings?-"

" Have you a cigar-case ? " said I.

" Yes."

" Well, strike a light ; and here's a letter which you may
set fire to : you can thus make an inspection of me by ' inch
of paper.' "

He laughed pleasantly at the conceit, and lighted the letter,
by the aid of which, as he held it above his head, he took a



432 THE CONFESSIONS OF CON CREGAN.

rapid survey of the chamber and its contents, myself being
the chief movable it boasted.

" Of a truth, my friend," said he," " this apartment has
nothing superfluous about it."

" Cool and airy," said I, calmly, " with a magnificent view
of red-tiled roofs and chimney-pots."

" And you would it be an impertinence to ask if you
ever condescend to the restriction of anything more limited
than that very graceful dressing-room ? "

" Oh, certainly ! " exclaimed I ; " only be good enough to
say why you ask the question." By this time the stranger's
torch had burned down so close to his fingers as to cause an
exclamation of pain as he threw it on the ground, and thus
were we once more in the dark.

" Not from mere motives of idle curiosity, Monsieur," said
he, " did I ask ; but simply, having come here, to request the
pleasure of your company at dinner to-day. I made the
inquiry with a direct object. My name is Paul de Minerale."

" Not the distinguished writer the inimitable novelist
the delightful composer of the ' Curate's Niece,' ' The Path
through the Vineyard,' ' The Rose of Auteuil ? ' '

" 1 am much flattered," said he, cutting short my enumera-
tion, " to discover so ardent an admirer of my poor produc-
tions ; but, as time presses, will you be good enough to hasten
your toilet, for my ' cottage ' is near Belleville, and will take
us nigh an hour to reach."

I proceeded accordingly to array myself in cleaner cos-
tume, while my visitor kept up an agreeable conversation,
chiefly bearing upon my line of life, the changeful passages
of which, he seemed to think, ought to offer much amuse-
ment; nor could he conceal his astonishment on learning
that he himself was my first and only client. " What an
age we live in ! " cried he ; " where is that ' ancient faith '
departed ? Can men so openly disparage the gods ? "

" Though my theology has been changed," said I, " that's
all. The Bourse and the Ballet are the modern deities,
and he must be a rare sceptic who refuses to believe in
them."

" You are a philosopher, I perceive," said he.

" Only before dinner," replied I. " I am speculative with
the soup, and grave with my ' petit pate ; ' reserved with the
first entree; blandly communicative after the ' piece de resist-
ance; playful over the asparagus or the peas; soothing with
the rote ; and so descend into a soft and gentle sadness as the
dessert appears. I leave digestion to take its course, waiting



" A KEW WALK IN PROGRESSIVE LIFE." 433

for my mocha and maraschino. In the drawing-room I blaze
forth in all the vividness of agreeability."

" What could have induced one so evidently intended for
a foreground figure to prefer the humble and shadowy part of
a ' Quatorzieme ? ' " said he, in surprise.

" The ' Res Dura ' that crosses every man's destiny, and
a spice of that spirit of investigation which teaches one to
explore very unwholesome depths, and very unrewarding
regions ; a blending of that which made the Czar a carpenter,
and Louis Philippe a teacher of mathematics."

"Ah! that reminds me," interposed he, " that I ought to
put you on your guard. To-day a Royal Prince will honour
us with his company. There are a couple of ministers and a
general. The rest of the party are of the artiste class, whose
susceptibilities you cannot wound, authors, actresses, jour-
nalists, and danseuses, however touchy in the great world,
are angels of good temper in small societies." With this he
proceeded to give me a nearer insight into the kind of com-
pany into which I was to be introduced a society, so far as
I could learn, that a rigid moralist might have deemed " more
fair than honest." I learned too, that I owed the distinction
of my invitation to a wager between his Royal Highness the
Due de St. Cloud, and my host. The bet being that De
Minerale was to find out a " Quatorzieme," and bring him
to dinner, his search for one not to begin till after five
o'clock P.M. ; the Prince being fully convinced that no regular
practitioner in that walk any longer existed. " Your presence,
my dear sir," continued he, "is worth, independent of the
charm of your conversation, fifty Napoleons ; one-half of
which I must beg you to accept : " saying which, he gracefully
presented me with a purse, whose pleasant weight descended
into my palm with a sensation indescribably soft and
soothing.

All this time we were rattling along towards Belleville at
a rapid pace ; and although the rain swept past in torrents,
the lightning flashed, and the wind tore the strong trees from
their roots, and strewed the ground with their gigantic limbs,
I sat in a reverie of sweet and delightful fancies the only
alloy to my ecstasy being a passing fear that at each moment
shot through me Can this be real am I awake ? or has
long fasting so weakened my faculties that this is but a delu-
sion ; and instead of hastening to a dinner-party with a royal
guest, I am speeding onwards to a prison, or, mayhap, a mad-
house. These fancies, at first but fitful and at intervals,
became at length so distressing, that I was on the very point

F F



434 THE CONFESSIONS OP CON CREGAN.

of communicating them to my companion, and asking for his
counsel and comfort, when we drove into a small avenue, and
then almost immediately drew up in front of a porch, where
amid a blaze of light stood three or four servants in gaudy
liveries, awaiting our arrival.

" Well, Paul! " cried a young, fashionable-looking fellow,
with a very imposing black beard " What success ? "

"I've won here he is ! " cried my companion. " Have I
much time to spare ? "

" Something less than two minutes," said the other, as he
coolly surveyed me through his glass. " Present me, Paul."

" Mons. Alphonse de Langeron Mons. de Corneille."

"The author of the ' Fancies by Star Light,' " said I, bowing
with a most respectful devotion.

" Guilty, sir ! and of fifty other indiscretions to the full
as great," said he, laughing.

" Ah, sir, I know it by heart ; that stanza on the ' Waled
Letty,' haunts me like a dream."

" Sharp fellow, our friend the ' Quatorzieme !'" whispered
Alphonse to Paul, as we walked along towards the drawing-
room.

How I should like to dwell upon the details of that dinner,
the most delightful entertainment of my whole life ! It
needed not the sudden transition from the dark and dreary
chamber I inhabited to the gilded saloon, all in a blaze with
wax-lights, to make me feel it such. The " service " was
splendid the cookery perfection the wines the rarest of
every vintage the apartment itself had all the chastened
grandeur of a medieval chamber, with the gorgeous splendour
contributed by a magnificent beaufet of silver ; and the
guests ! what beauty and fascination of female loveliness
what charm of wit and agreeability among the men ! The
great damper upon my enjoyment was my actual doubt of the
reality of the whole scene. It was not, alone, that all the
splendour appeared so wonderful that the glitter of gold
and the beauty of porcelain dazzled the eye ; but the very
names of the illustrious guests themselves, suggested incre-
dulity. What wonder if I could not credit my senses, as I
heard the first names in all the genius of France, on every
side of me. Here the great historian, and philosopher, and
statesman ; there, the delightful lyric poet ; yonder, the first
novelist of Europe ; and next to him the distinguished painter,
whose great battle-piece was in commemoration of the young
Prince beside him, a hero of " two-and-twenty."

Nothing could be more easy or familiar than the tone of



"A NEW WALK IN PROGBESBIYE LIFE." 435

conversation that happy pleasantry, that tickles but never
wounds, so unlike the English propensity for " quizzing "
that vulgar version of Gallic "badinage;" and then
how eloquent, without pedantry how sparkling and how
suggestive ! Ah, my kind reader, I see the rippling smile
over the broad Atlantic of your countenance. You have
guessed all the secret of my enthusiasm, and you know the
mystery of my admiration. Be it so : I am ready to confess
nil. It was my own success that made the chief enchantment
of the scene. I was the lion of the evening. Not a theme
on which I did not hold forth, not a subject I did not discuss
politics, bull-fighting, cookery, dress, literature, duelling,
the ballet, horseracing, play, scandal, naval tactics, coloniza-
tion, cotton-spinning, music, railroads, and the "dry-rot." I
was profound, playful, serious, jocose, instructive and amusing
by turns. Madmlle. de la Bourdonaye, the first actress of
the "Francais," was charmed with my dramatic criticism;
the poet enthusiastic at my recital of a stanza of his own ;
the general pronounced me the very best judge of cavalry
evolutions he had ever met; the great painter begged the
favour of a visit from me at his studio ; and the Prince's
aide-de-camp himself a distinguished soldier told me, in
a whisper, to hold myself disengaged for the following
Wednesday.

These were, after all, but the precursors of greater triumphs
in the drawing-room, where I played and sang several Mexi-
can ballads ; danced the Bollero with Madmlle. Rose Jasmin,
of the Grand Opera ; and lassoed a Mount Saint Bernard
mastiff with the bell-rope. After this, beat the statesman at
chess ; rolled up Indian cigarettes for the ladies, whom I
taught to sit squaw fashion ; told various anecdotes of my
prairie adventures ; and wound up all by concocting a bowl
of " ponch a 1'Americaine," at once the astonishment and the
delight of all. I must not suffer myself to dwell longer on
this theme, nor speak of that supper, with its champagne and
culembourgs, its lyrics and its lobster salads, with ortolans,
epigrams, seductive smiles, and maraschino jelly. Enough.
The orgies for it was no less lasted till nigh morning, and
when we arose from table a pale streak of coming day was
struggling bet \veen the margins of the curtains.

" His Royal Highness will set you down, Mons. de Cor-
neille," said the aide-de-camp, advancing to me.

Blushing with pleasure and shame together, I accepted
what could not be declined, and proceeded to take leave of
my kind host and his friends. Cordial greetings, and flat-

F F 2



436 THE CONFESSIONS OF CON CREOAN.

tering wishes soon to meet again met me on every side, and
I retired actually overwhelmed with civil attentions.

" Do we pass by your quarter, Monsieur ?" said his Royal
Highness, as I took my seat in the carriage.

I would have given all my worldly wealth, and expecta-
tions to boot, to be able to say that I lived in the Place Ven-
dome or the Rue Royale ; but there was no help for it; the
murder would out one day, since my host knew my address ;
and with an easy, unabashed air, I said that I lodged in the
Rue de la Forge, near the Mount St. Parnasse.

The Prince bowed, and took no notice of the announce-
ment; but I thought that I could read a very peculiar
twinkle in the eye of the aide-de-camp. I might have easily
been mistaken, however, for I felt myself on my trial, and
thought everything an accusation. How gratuitously I tor-
tured myself, subsequent knowledge of life has repeatedly
convinced me ; for while to some upstart rich man, the
acknowledgment of my humble abode would have been a
shock sufficient to sever us for ever, to the Prince the matter
had no other significance than that it suited my means, with
which, whether ample or the reverse, he had no right to
meddle. Indeed, I was not sorry to remain in doubt upon
the fact, since, in the difficult negotiation between the aide-
de-camp and the coachman, who had never so much as heard
of my unhappy street, his Royal Highness never evinced
any surprise whatever, but sat patiently to the end of the
discussion, without vouchsafing even a word upon the
subject.

"This must be the house, number 21,748," said the chas-
seur, at length ; and we drew up at the well-known door,
where the old porter sat reading on one side, while his wife
was peeling carrots at the other.

It was the first moment of confusion I suffered, since I had
left the same spot ; but my cheek was in a flame, as the
lacquey let down the steps, and offered me his arm to descend.
The lowly veneration cf the old porter, as he stared at the
royal liveries and the emblazoned panels of the carriage, was
but a sorry compensation for the mock servility of the chas-
seur, whose eyes seemed to look through into my very heart,
so that I actually did not hear the parting words of the
Prince, as the equipage drove away.

Curious anomaly ! the half-insolent glances of the lacqueys
sank deeper into my spirit than the flattering smile of the
Prince's adieu. How much more alive is our nature to the
pang of scorn than to the balm of kindness. These were my



"A NEW WALK IN PROGBESStVE LIFE." 437

reflections as I entered my humble chamber, every portion of
which seemed doubly miserable to me now. " Is it possible,"
thought I, " that I have endured this hitherto ? have I really
sat in that crazy old chair, and stretched my limbs upon that
wretched pallet ? Can it be real ? or which is the delusion
my recent splendour or my present squalor ?" Although up
all night, I was far too much excited for sleep, even could I
have persuaded myself to seek it on so humble a couch. I
therefore set myself to think over the future, and wonder
whether the brilliant scene in which I had so lately mixed,
would remain in its isolated brightness amid the desolation
of my life, or be the guide-star to future greatness and dis-
tinction. My late success emboldened me to think that For-
tune had not yet deserted me. " Who knows," thought I,
" but the Spaniards may behave handsomely yet, and make
restitution of my property ; or what if the Mexican banker
should be a true man, and acknowledge my claim upon
him?" "If I could but enlist the Prince in my cause,"
thought I again, " how certain should I be of the issue !
French influence always was powerful in Spain. Napoleon
used to say, 'There were no Pyrenees ;' I should be content
if there were only a good road over them to convey the dis-
patches that might assert my just right."

A quick step upon the stairs at that instant caught my
ear ; few ever ascended so high up as my story, so I listened,
and almost at once my door was thrown open, and my host
of the preceding evening rushed into the room. Having
shaken hands with me cordially, he said, " Corneille, mon
ami ! I have made another wager about you ; and although
the sum is a trifling one, I am curious to ascertain if I am
the winner. Jules do Montserrat, and Emile de Gency, and
myself, had a dispute last night about your nationality, which
ended in a bet. I am bound in honour not to tell you what
our several opinions and guesses were ; but still at liberty to
ask you, what is your native country f "

" I am an Irishman, and derive my name from the ancient
family of Cregan. Cornelius is but my Christian name,
which I assumed to cover the disgrace of my altered for-
tune."

" As to our wager, then, we were all in error, none of us
guessed Ireland. As to your being a man of birth and station,
1 need scarcely say, we were all agreed."

" Would it were otherwise," said I, with a deep sigh ;
" a humble position might be endured well enough, if un-
alloyed by the regrets of a condition forfeited for ever. If



438 THE CONFESSIONS OF CON CREGAN.

you are curious to hear a very unhappy story, I am -willing
to relate it."

"You couldn't do me a greater favour," said he, seating
himself like one eager to listen.

" First, then, we'll have some breakfast," said I ; " and
then, with a good fire and no fear of interruption, for I
have not one acquaintance in Paris, you shall hear my
history from beginning to end."

Chocolate and cutlets, champagne and devilled kidneys,
brioches, sardines, and coffee, made their appearance as rapidly
as though such delicacies were in the habit of daily mounting
these steep stairs ; and a cheerful blaze glowed once more in
a grate where the oldest inhabitant had never beheld a fire.

These preparations being made, we began our meal, and I
opened my narrative. The reader must not feel offended with
me, if I ventured to draw upon my imagination for the earlier
facts of my history. Nature had not been generous to me in
the article of a father ; what great harm if I invented one for
myself? Fortune had placed my birth beneath the thatched
roof of an Irish cabin ; was it not generous of me to call it
the ancient baronial seat of the Cregans ? She started me
poor and in rags ; I was above repining, and called myself
rich and well-nurtured ; but why weary my reader with such
a recital. If it was necessary to raise the foundation on
fiction ; the after events of my career I was satisfied to state
pretty nearly as they happened, merely altering the reasons
for my journey to the New World, which I ascribed to my
search after a great inheritance belonging to my family, who
were originally from Andalusia, and grandees of Spain.

" And this of course you failed in," said my friend, who
rather felt this portion of my story less interesting than cer-
tain other and more stirring passages.

" On the contrary," said I, " I succeeded perfectly. I not
only discovered the banker in whose hands my family wealth
was deposited, but established my claim most satisfactorily,
and received a very large sum in gold, with bills to a high
amount on various mercantile houses, besides leaving in his
hands an important balance, for which I had no immediate
necessity." After a slight sketch of my Mexican progress
very little embellished or exaggerated I narrated my voyage
to Europe and my capture at Malaga exactly as they occurred,
circumstantially recording every detail of name and date I
could remember down to the very moment of my reaching
Paris.

" One question more, my dear friend," said M. Paul, after



"A NEW WALK IN PEOGEESSIVE LIFE." 439

gome fifty very searching interrogatories as closely argued as
the cross-examination of a counsel at law. " One question
more, and I have done ; I know you'll not be offended at the
liberty I am about to take nay, I feel you'll be even gratified
with my candour. Tell me, frankly, as between man and
man, is there one word of truth in^all this, or is it not down-
right moonshine sheer invention from beginning to end ? "

I started to my legs, my face crimson with anger, but as
suddenly recovering myself, said, " You were right, sir, to
bespeak a degree of command over my feelings before you
ventured upon this freedom, which if I cannot altogether
pardon, yet I will not resent."

" So it is true, then," said he, with a degree of melancholy
in his voice I could not fathom.

" Of course it is," rejoined I.

" Sorry to hear it ; deeply, sincerely sorry, that's all,"
replied he in the self-same manner ; " I cannot express to
you one-half of my disappointment."

" Sorrow ! disappointment ! " exclaimed I. " May I ask
what possible interest you could have in supposing me to be
an impostor and a cheat."

" Hard names these," said he, laughing ; " but I will
explain myself: if the story that you have just told me were
fiction, I could give you three hundred francs a day to write
feuilletons for the Debats. If one-half of it were even inven-
tion, you'd be worth two hundred on the Siecle or the Presse ;
say you stole the material, and you'd still do admirably for
the Mode.

" Are you so conversant with a hundred thousand things
ignorant that the grand principle of division of labour has
extended itself from the common arts of manufacture, to the
operations of genius; and that, now-a-days, no man would



Online LibraryCharles James Lever[Charles Lever's novels (Volume 5) → online text (page 44 of 50)