Charles James Lever.

[Charles Lever's novels (Volume 5) online

. (page 45 of 50)
Online LibraryCharles James Lever[Charles Lever's novels (Volume 5) → online text (page 45 of 50)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


think of composing an entire work himself, any more than
he would of turning mason, carpenter, slater, locksmith, and
glazier, were he about to build a house. On the contrary,
having fixed upon the site, and determined the proportions of
his future edifice, he surrounds himself with competent and
skilful hands in all the several walks of constructiveness ;
reserving to himself that supervision and direction, which
could not be practicable were he engaged in actual labour ;
thus is he a master-builder in fiction, selecting his artificers
storing his materials apportioning the quantity keenly
watching the variations in public taste and producing at
last a mass and variety that no one brain however fertile
and assiduous could be capable of. This," said he, drawing



440 THE CONFESSIONS OF CON CREGAN.

himself up proudly, " this is my walk. By the aid of tin's
discovery for it is mine, and mine only I am enabled to
draw tears in the Debuts and convulse with laughter in the
Constitutionnel ; and while writing of the torrid zone in one
journal, I have an Icelander aa my hero in another. Men
stare at the range of my knowledge of life under aspects so
various and discordant ; and well may they wonder, were I to
draw upon my own unassisted faculties. But it is men like
you, Cregan, I want : shrewd, sharp, ready-witted dogs ;
quick to remark, and quicker to report. What say you, then,
will you join my corps in the fiction-foundry over which I
preside ? "

" Were I but capable "

"You are eminently so. We need no literary ability no
craft of authorship no more than the child who picks the
wool in the factory is called on to direct the loom that weaves
it into cloth. Let me finish the article ; I'll give it the gloss
for sale ! What say you ? five thousand francs a year
free admission to every theatre in Paris, and a dinner
at'LaTrou aux Bois ' where you dined yesterday every
Sunday?"

" A bargain," cried I, in ecstasy.

" Concluded by both parties, who thus acknowledge their
hand and seal," cried he, tossing off' a glass of chamapgne,
and then rising from the table he prepared to take his leave.
" I conclude," said he, " that you'll not continue your resi-
dence here much longer. Seek out some quarter less near to
heaven, and more accessible to poor human nature."

I promised to follow the advice, and we separated. He to
repair to his haunts the cafes, the editorial snuggeries, and
other gossip shops of Paris ; and I to seek out a more congenial
abode, and one more befitting the favourable turn which Fate
had now imparted to my fortune.

The afternoon of that same day saw me installed in a
pleasant little apartment overlooking the garden of the
Luxembourg, and where, from a little terrace, I could inhale
the odour ot the orange blossoms, and see the children at
play amid the plashing of fountains and the waving of the
tall grass. It was, as I discovered, the quarter of the whole
artiste class, poets, painters, actors, sculptors, feuilletonists,
and caricaturists ; nor was it difficult to ascertain the fact, as
a certain extravagance of beard, various modifications of hat,
and peculiarly-cut coats and trousers, presented themselves at
every moment. Resolving to don " the livery of my race,"
I made my appearance in a suit of coffee-brown, hat and



"A XEAV WALK IN PROGRESSIVE LIFE." 441

russet boots to match ; as for beard, a life of seclusion for
several weeks had only left me the task of retrenchment ;
and the barber, whose services I invoked, had but to ask my
career to impress me with that artiste stamp, that makes
every full-faced man a mock " Holbein," and every thin one
a bad Vandyke.

" The novelists wear it straight across, and square below
the chin, sir," said he. " This is a plate of Monsieur Eugene
Sue ; but there is a certain dash of energy about Monsieur's
eyes a kind of ' beaute insolente,' if I may be pardoned
the phrase, that would warrant the beard to be pointed. May
I venture to trim Monsieur as Salvator Rosa ? "

"Use your own discretion, Monsieur Palmyre," said I;
" the responsibility is great, and I will not clog it by even a
suggestion."

To say that I could not have known myself on arising
from his hands is no exaggeration, so perfectly changed had
my features become in their expression. As a disguise it was
perfect ; and this alone was no small recommendation.

As I walked the alleys of the Luxembourg, where at every
instant men travestied like myself, came and went, I could
not help recalling the classical assertion, that " no two
augurs could meet face to face without laughing," and I won-
dered excessively how \ve artistes surveyed each other, and
preserved even a decent gravity.

My career as a litterateur began the next day, and I
received a short editorial summons from the office of La
Tempete to furnish a feuilleton of a hundred and twenty-four
lines: the postscript adding, that as Admiral Du Guesclin had
just arrived from Macao, some "esquisses des mceursChiuoises"
would be well timed. Of China I only knew what a lac-
quered tea-tray and the willow pattern could teach me ; but
I set to work at once, and by assuming my sketches to be
personal adventures and experiences, made up a most im-
posing account of Chinese domesticity.

The article had an immense success : the air of veracity
was perfect ; and the very officers of the fleet were so
deluded by the imposition, as to believe they must have fre-
quently met me at Shang-kee-shing or Fong-wong-loo.

Thus was I launched into a career, of all others the most
amusing, the most exciting, and I must also add, the most
dissipated. Living apart from all mankind in a little circle
of our own, where we only recognized the world as we our-
selves were pleased to paint it, our whole lives were one
long scoff and sneer at everybody and everything. Friend-



442 THE CONFESSIONS OF CON CREGAN.

ship meant the habit of meeting at dinner ; the highest
nobility of soul was his who paid the reckoning.

If there was little actual happiness among us, there was
certainly no care nor any touch of sorrow. A great picture
condemned, a poem cut to pieces, a play hissed off, only sug-
gested a " souper de consolation," when the unlucky author
would be the first to cut jokes upon his own failure, and
ridicule the offspring of his own brains. Who could look for
sympathy where men had no feeling for themselves ! Even
thieves, the proverb tells us, observe "honour" with each
other; but we were worse than thieves, since we actually
lived and grew fat upon each other's mishaps. If one exhi-
bited a statue at the Louvre, another was sui-e to caricature
it for the Passage de 1'Opera. If one brought out a grand
drama at the Fran9ais, a burlesque was certain to follow ib at
the Palais Royale. Every little trait that near intercourse
and familiarity discloses, every weakness that is laid bare in
the freedom of friendly association, were made venal, and
worth so much a line for Le Voyeur or UEspion.

As to any sulking, or dreaming of resenting these infrac-
tions, he might as well try to repress the free-and-easy
habits of a midshipman's berth. They were the " masonry
of the craft," which each tacitly subscribed^ to when he
entered it.

All intercourse was completely gladiatorial, not for dis-
play, but for defence. Everlasting badinage on every subject
and on everybody was the order of each day ; and as success
was to the lull as much quizzed as failure, any exhibition of
vanity or self-gratulation met a heavy retribution. Woe
unto him whose romance went through three editions in a
fortnight, or whom the audience called for at the conclusion
of his drama !

As for the fairer portion of our guild, being for the most
part ostracised in general society, they bore a grudge against
their sex, and affected a thousand airs of mannishness.
Some always dressed in male attire ; many sported little
moustaches and chin-tufts, rode man-fashion in the Bois do
Boulogne, fought duels, and all smoked. Like other con-
verts, they went farther in their faith than the old believers,
and talked Communism, Socialism, and Saint Simonianisin,
with a freedom that rose high above all the little prejudices
ordinary life fosters.

If great crimes, such as shock the world by their enormity,
were quite unknown among us, all the vices, practicable
within the Law and the Code Napoleon, were widely popular,



" A NEW WALK IN PROGRESSIVE LIFE." 443

and the worst of it all was, none seemed to have the remotest
conception that he was not the beau ideal of morality. The
simple fact was, we assumed a very low standard of riff Jit,
and chose to walk even under that.

With Paris, and all its varied forms of life, I soon became
perfectly familiar ; not merely that city which occupies the
Faubourg St. Honore, or St. Germain not the Paris of
the Boulevards or the Palais Royale only ; but with Quartier
St. Denis, the Batignolles, the Cite, and the Pays Latin. I
knew every dialect, from the slang of fashion to the conven-
tional language of its lowest populace. I heard every rumour,
from the cabinet of the Minister down to the latest gossip of
the " Coulisses ; " what the world said and thought, in each
of its varying and dissimilar sections ; how each political
move was judged ; what was the public feeling for this or
that measure; how the "many-headed" were satisfied or
dissatisfied, whether with the measures of the Ministry, or
the legs of the new danseuse ; and thus I became the very
perfection of a feuilletoniste. There is but one secret in this
species of literature the ever watchful observation of the
public and when it is considered that this is a Parisian
public, the task is not quite so easy as some would deem it.
This watchfulness, and a certain hardihood that never shrinks
from any theme, however sacred to the conventional reserves
of the general world, are all the requisites.

I have said it was a most amusing life ; and if eternal
excitement if the onward rush of new emotions, the never-
ceasing flow of stimulating thoughts, could have sufficed for
happiness, I might have been, and ought to have been, con-
tented. Still the whole was UNREAL. Not only was the
world we had made for ourselves unreal, but all our judg-
ments, all our speculations, our hopes, fears, anticipations,
our very likings and dislikings ! our antipathies were mock ;
and what we denounced with all the pretended seriousness of
heartfelt conviction in one journal, we not imfrequently pro-
nounced to be a heaven-sent blessing in another. Bravos of
the pen we had no other principle than our pay, and were
utterly indifferent at whom we struck, even though the blow
should prove fatal. That we should become sceptical on
every subject ; that we should cease to bestow credence on
anything ; believing that all around was false, hypocritical,
and unreal as ourselves, was natural enough ; but this frame
of mind bears its own weighty retribution, and not even the
miserable victim of superstitious fear, dreads solitude like
him whose mind demands the constant stimulant of inter-



444 THE CONFESSIONS OF CON CREOAN.

course, the torrent of new ideas, tLat whirls him along,
unreflecting and unthinking.

It will be easily seen that all my narrative of myself met
but little faith in such company. They unhesitatingly re-
jected the whole story of my wealth ; and my future restora-
tion to rank and riches used to be employed as a kind of
synonym for the Greek calends. The worst of all this was,
their disbelief infected even me, and I gradually began to
look upon myself as an impostor. My hope the guide-star
that cheered me in many a dark and gloomy period began
to wane, and I felt that ere long all those aspirations which
had spirited me on in life would lie cold and dead within me,
and that my horizon would extend no further than where
each daily sun sunk to rest. To show any discontent with
my walk ; to evince, in the slightest degree, any misgivings
that we of " La petite Presse " did not give laws to taste,
morals, jurisprudence, and legislation, would have been high
treason. To imply a doubt that we held in our hands, not
alone the destinies of Paris, but of Europe of all civiliza-
tion would have been a rank and outrageous heresy.
Like the priest, the journalist can never unfrock himself.
The mark of tho ink, more tenacious than the blood on Lady
Macbeth's fingers, will " never out." What, then, could I
do ? for, wearied of my calling, I yearned for a little truth,
for a new glimpse of reality, however short and fleeting.

Full of these thoughts, I repaired one morning to the Trou-
aux-I3ois, where fortunately I found my friend Paul alone ;
at least, except three secretaries, to whom he was dictating
by turns, he had no one with him ! " Wait till I have
finished this ' Attack of Wolves on a Caravan,' " said lie,
" and the ' Death of Jules de Tavanne by Poison,' and I'm
your man ; meanwhile step into my study there are masses
of newspapers and letters, which you can read freely."

He did not detain me long ; apparently the wolves were
weak, and soon beaten off, and the poison was strong, and
soon did its work : for he joined me in less than half an hour.

Aly explanation was listened to patiently, and what sur-
prised me more, without astonishment. He saw nothing
exaggerated or high-flown in the difficulties I startsd ; and
even went the length of confessing, that many of my objec-
tions had occurred to his own mind. " But then," said he,
"what is to be done? If you turn soldier, are you always
certain that you will concur in the justice of the cause for
which you fight? Become a lawyer, and is not half your
life passed in arraigning the right, and defending the wrong ?



<( A NEW WALK IN PROGKESSIVE LIFE." 445

Try medicine; and where will be your 'practice' if you only
prescribe for the really afflicted, and do not indulge the
caprices, and foster the complainings of the ' malade imagi-
naire ? ' As an apothecary, you would vend poisons ; as an
architect, you would devise gaols and penitentiaries ; and so
to the end of the chapter. Optimism is just as impracticable
as it is dangerous. Accept the world as you find it, not
because it is the best, but because it is the only policy ; and,
above all, be slow in changing a career where you have met
with success. The best proof that it suits you is, that the
public think so."

Being determined on my course, I now affected a desire to
see life in some other form, and observe mankind under some
other aspect. To this he assented freely ; and after a few
moments' discussion, suddenly bethought him of a letter be
had received that very morning. " You remember the Due
de St. Cloud, whom you met at dinner the first day you spent
here?"

" Perfectly."

" Well, he was, as you are aware, ordered off to Africa, to
take a high military command a few days after, and has not
since returned to France. This day I have received a letter
from him, asking me to recommend some one among my
literary acquaintances to fill the office of his private secretary.
You are exactly the man for the appointment. The duties
are light, the pay liberal, the position agreeable in every way;
and in fact, for one who desires to see something of the world,
which the Boulevard du Gent and the Cafe de Paris cannot
show him, the opportunity is first-rate."

The proposal overjoyed me ! had I been called on to invent
a post for myself, this was exactly the thing I should have
fancied. A campaign against the Arabs the novelty of
country, people, and events a life of adventure, with a
prince for my companion these were the very crowning
desires of my ambition.

" I'll write about it this very day : there will be a mail for
Algiers made up this evening, and not a moment shall be lost
in making the application."

I could not express one-half my gratitude for this opportune
kindness ; and when I again turned my steps toward Paris,
my heart had regained the buoyant elasticity which had so
often lifted me above all the troubled waves of life.



446 THE CONFESSIONS OF CON OKEQAN.



CHAPTER XXXII.

"lIOI ET MON PRINCE."

Jules Janin.

IN less than a fortnight after the interview I have just
recorded, I received a letter from De Minerale, inclosing
another addressed to himself, and whose royal seal at once
proclaimed the writer. De Minerale's was only a few lines,
thus:

" Dear C. I forward you the ' Duke's ' reply to my note,
by which you will see that we have been in time, and fortunate
enough to secure your appointment. Lose not a moment in
fulfilling the instructions contained in it, and dine with me
to-day at the Treres,' at seven.

"Yours,

P. de M."

The Duke's epistle, almost equally brief, was to the effect :

"Head Quarters, Oran.

" My dear De Minerale, Of course I remember perfectly
our friend the ' Quatorzierne,' whose lucubrations in the jour-
nals I have since been much amused with. In some respects
he would suit me well, being a fellow of high animal spirits
great readiness and, if I mistake not, well fitted for the
rough usage of a campaign. But, it strikes me, that if his
position be such as you represent it, the exchange would be
anything but profitable. This is a land of few pleasures and
no luxuries. Tell him that we never see truffles that cham-
pagne is only a tradition ; and, except Moorish damsels, who
never show us more of their faces than a pair of eyes dart-
ing fire and anger wo have no beauties. Yet, if, despite all
these drawbacks, he be still willing to tempt his fortune, and
trust to ' a razzia' for the rest, let him call on Count du Verg-
noble, at the ' Ministere de la Guerre,' where ho will find
everything in readiness for his appointment.

" Should he desire it, he can also receive his commission



' MOI ET MON PRINCE." 447

in my own regiment, the 13th Chasseurs-a-cheval ; and as ho
will not be called on for duty, he might as well accept an
appointment that will at least give him forage for his horses
and some other advantages.

" Send me all the new things that are out, and tell me what
you and Alphonse are doing. ' Mes amites' to our fair friend
in the Rue Ponchaule, and the like indiscriminately to all
the others.

" Yours affectionately,

H. de St. C.

" You call him { Le Comte de Creganne,' and so I have
written it for the Minister is this right ? "

I read and re-read the letter till I knew every sentence of
it by heart ; and then, dressing myself with a degree of care
the importance of the occasion suggested, I drove off for the
Minister's office. It was not the hour of his usual reception ;
but on sending in my name, which I did as Le Comte de
Creganne, I was at once admitted.

His Excellency was all smiles and affability, praised his
Royal Highness's selection of a name so greatly honoured in
literature, and paid me many flattering compliments on my
writings, which, by the way, he confounded with those of
half a dozen others ; and then, after a variety of civil speeches,
gently diverged into a modest inquiry as to my native coun-
try, rank, and fortune. " We live in days, mon cher Comte,"
said he, laughing, "in which high capacity and talent happily
take precedence of mere lineage ; but still, an illustrious per-
sonage has always insisted upon the necessity of those imme-
diately about the person of the princes being of noble families.
I am quite aware that you can fulfil every condition of the
kind, and only desire such information as may satisfy his
Majesty."

I replied by relating the capture of my property at Malaga,
which, among other things, contained all the title-deeds of
my estates, and the patent of my nobility. " These alone,"
said I, producing the banker's letters addressed to me as
Conde de Cregano, " are all that remain to me now to remind
me of my former standing ; and although, as born a British
subject, I might at once apply to my minister to substantiate
my claims, the unhappy events of Ireland which enlisted my
family in the ranks of her patriots, have made us exiles,
proscribed exiles for ever."

This explanation went further than my previous one. The
old French antipathy to England found sympathy for Irish



448 THE CONFESSIONS OF CON CREGAN.

rebellion at once ; and after a very brief discussion, my appoint-
ment was filled up, and I was named Private Secretary to
the Due de St. Cloud, and Lieutenant in the 13th Regiment
of Chasseurs-a-cheval.

A. new career had now opened before me, and it was one of
all others the most to my choice. The war in Africa had be-
come by that time a kind of crusade ; it was the only field
where Frenchmen could win fame and honour in arms, and
the military fever of the nation was at its height. Into this
enthusiasm, I threw myself ardently ; nor did it need the
stimulation derived from a new and most becoming uniform,
to make me fancy myself a very Bayard in chivalry.

A truly busy week was spent by me in preparations for
departure : as I had to be presented at a private audience of
the Court, to wait upon various high official personages, to
receive instructions on many points, and lastly, to preside at
a parting dinner, which I was to give to my literary brethern,
before retiring from the guild for ever.

Last dinners and leave-takings are generally sad affairs ;
this of mine was, however, an exception. It was a perfect
orgie of wild and enthusiastic gaiety. All the beauty which
the theatres and the " artiste " class generally could boast,
was united with the brilliancy and convivial excellence of
the cleverest men in Paris the professional sayers of smart
things the ready-witted ones, whose epigrams were sufficient
to smash a cabinet, or laugh down a new treaty; and all in
high spirits, since what promoted me, also left a vacancy in
the corps, that gave many others a step in the ranks of
letters.

What speeches were made in my honour what toasts,
prefaced by all the exaggeration of pi-aise that would have
been fulsome, save for the lurking diablerie of fun, that every
now and then burst forth in the midst of them ! And then
there were odes, and sonnets, and songs, in which my future
achievements were pictured in a vein half-flattering, half-
satirical that peculiar eau Sucre, with a squeeze of lemon,
that only a Frenchman knows how to concoct !

During one of my most triumphant moments, when two of
the very prettiest of actresses of the " Odeon" were placing
a laurel crown upon my brow, a cabinet-messenger was
announced, and presented me with an order to repair at once
to the Tuileries with my official letter of appointment, as
his Majesty, by some accident, had forgotten to append to it
his signature. Apologizing to my worthy friends for a
brief absence, which they assured me should be devoted to



"MOI ET MON PRINCE." 419

expatiating on those virtues of my character which my
presence interdicted them from enlarging upon, I arose and
left the room. It was necessary to arrange the disorder of
my dress and appearance, and I made a hurried dressing,
bathing my temples in cold water, and composing myself, so
far as might be, into a condition fit to meet the eyes of royalty
two of my friends accompaning me the while, and lending
their assistance to my toilet. They at length pronounced
me perfect, and I drove off.

Although already past midnight, the King, with several
members of the royal family, were seated at tea two of the
ministers, a few general officers, and a foreign ambassador,
being of the party.

Into this circle, in which there was nothing to inspire awe,
save the actual rank of the illustrious personages themselves,
I was now introduced by the Minister of War. " Le Comte
de Creganne, please your Majesty," said he, twice, ere the
King heard him.

"Ah! very true," said the King, turning round, and with
a smile of most cordial expression, adding, " My dear Count,
it seems I had forgotten to sign your appointment a mistake
that might have caused you some inconvenience and delay
at Algiers. Pray let me amend this piece of forgetfulness."

I bowed respectfully, and deposited before him the great
square envelope, with the huge official seal annexed, that
contained my nomination.

" The Princess de Verneuil will be happy to give you some
tea, Count," said the King, motioning me to sit down, and I
obeyed, while my heart, beating violently at my side, almost
overpowered me with emotion. Only to think of it! the
son of an Irish peasant seated at the family tea-table of a
great sovereign, and the princess herself, the daughter of a
king, pouring out his tea !

If nothing short of the most consummate effrontery can



Online LibraryCharles James Lever[Charles Lever's novels (Volume 5) → online text (page 45 of 50)