Charles James Lever.

[Charles Lever's novels (Volume 5) online

. (page 46 of 50)
Online LibraryCharles James Lever[Charles Lever's novels (Volume 5) → online text (page 46 of 50)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


maintain a cool, unaffected indifference in presence of royalty,
there is another frame of mind indicative of ease and self-
possession, perfectly compatible with a kingly presence ; and
this is altogether dependant on the manner and tone of the
sovereign himself. The King I have heard it was his usual
manner was as free from any assumption of superiority as
would be any private gentleman under his own roof; his
conversation was maintained in a tone of perfect familiarity
with all around him, and even when differing in opinion with
any one, there was a degree of almost deference in the way
he insinuated his own views.

o a



450 THE CONFESSIONS OF CON CREGAN.

On this occasion he directed nearly all his attention to
myself, and made Ireland the subject, asking a vast variety
of questions, chiefly regarding the condition of the peasantry,
their modes of life, habits of thinking, education, and future
prospects. I saw that my statements were all new to him,
that he was not prepared for much that I told him, and he
very soen avowed it by saying, " These, I must own, are
not the opinions I have usually heard from your countrymen,
Count ; but I conclude that the opportunities of travel, and
the liberalism of thought which intercourse with foreign
countries begets, may lead you to take views not quite in
accordance with mere stay-at-home politicians." I could
have given him another and more accurate explanation of the
difference. It was the first and only time that his Majesty
had conversed with the son of a peasant one, himself born
and bred beneath the thatch of a cabin, and who had felt the
very emotions which others merely draw from their imagina-
tions. As it grew late, his Majesty arose, and the Ministers
one by one retired, leaving me the only stranger present.
" Now, Count, I must not detain you longer ; you leave Paris
early to-morrow morning, and I should have remembered
how large a portion of your night I have monopolized. This
paper where is it ? "

I at once took up the envelope, and drew forth a document,
but conceive my horror when I discerned that it was a
piece of verse a droll song upon my new dignity, that one
of fmy villanous companions had stuffed into the envelope
in place of my official letter of appointment. Crushing it
in my hand, I pulled out another worse again ! It was the
bill of fare of our dinner at Very's, where " entrees " and
" hors-d'ceuvres, salmis, and macedoines," figured in imposing
array. One document still remained, and 1 drew it out ;
but, as his Majesty's eyes were this time bent upon me,
I had not a moment to see what might be its contents ;
indeed I half suspected the King saw my indecision, and,
determining to put a bold face on the matter, I doubled
down a blank piece of the paper, and placed it for his
Majesty. Apparently his thoughts were wandering in some
other direction, for he took up the pen abstractedly, and
wrote the words, " Approved by us," with his name in a
routine sort of way, that showed he gave no attention to the
act whatever.

It was all I could do ! To avoid any indecent show of
haste in enclosing the paper within the envelope, my hand
trembled BO that 1 could scarcely accomplish it. When I had



" MOI ET MON PRINCE." 451

replaced it in my pocket, I felt like a drowning man a t the
moment he touches land.

The King dismissed me with many flattering speeches, and
I returned to Yery's, where my friends were still at table.
Resolved not to gratify the triumph of their malice, I
affected to have discovered the trick in time to remedy it, and
to replace my appointment in its enclosure. Of course the
possibility of what might have occurred, gave rise to many a
droll fancy and absurd conceit, and I plainly saw how very
little compunction there would have been for my disaster if
a ludicrous scene had ensued between the king and myself.

We separated now with all the testimonies of sincere affec-
tion : some of my fair friends even wept, and our parting had
all the parade, and about the same amount of sincerity as a
scene in a drama. Paul alone showed any real feeling ; he
liked me probably because he had served me a stronger
bond of affection than many people are aware of. " Tell me
one thing, Creganne," cried he, as he shook my hand for the
last time, " we are, perhaps, never to meet again life has so
many vicissitudes tell me frankly, then, if your Mexican
history, your riches, and gems, and gold, your diamonds,
your rubies, your doubloons, and your moidores, are not all a
humbug, together with your imprisonment in Malaga, and all
its consequences ?"

" True, every word of it," said I, impressively.

" Come, come, now, your secret is safe with me. Be open
and above-board ; say honestly that the whole was a ' get up.'
I promise you fairly that, if you do, I'll have a higher value
for your talents at an episode, than I now place upon your
lost wealth and your countship to boot."

" I'm sorry for it," replied I. " There are few men whose
esteem I set more store by. If I could oblige you by becom-
ing a cheat, my regard for you might possibly overmaster my
better judgment ; but, unhappily, I am what I represent my-
self, and what I trust one day yet to convince you." With
this we parted. As the diligence drove away, I could see
Paul still standing in the same place, evidently unable to re-
solve the difficult problem of my voraciousness.

And now I am approaching a chapter of my history whose
adventures and chances are alone a story in themselves. The
varied fortunes of a campaign in a strange land, with strange
enemies, new scenes and climate, of course were not without
incidents to diversify and interest them; and although I
could probably select more passages of curious adventure
from this than from any other portion of my life, I am forced

G G 2



452 THE CONFESSION'S OF 1 CON CREGAN*i

to pass by all in silence ; and for these reasons : first, the
narrative would lead me to a greater length than I have any
right to presume upon in this history, or to believe that my
reader would be a willing party to ; and, secondly, the recital
would entail the acquaintance with a vast variety of
characters, not one of whom ever again occurred to me in
life, and of whom, when I quitted Africa, their very names
never were heard by me more. And here I may be par-
doned for saying, that I have been sadly constrained in these
my Confessions, to avoid, upon the one hand, any mention
of those persons who merely exercised a passing influence on
my fortunes, and yet to show by what agencies of personal
acquaintanceship my character became formed and moulded.
In a novel, the world would seem to consist of only the very
characters introduced, or rather, the characters serve as ab-
stractions to represent certain qualities and passions of man-
kind; but in real life is this the case? Nay, is it not pre-
cisely the reverse ? Do not the chance intimacies we form
in the steam-boat, or the diligence, very frequently leave deep
and lasting impressions behind them ? Are not phrases re-
membered, and words treasured up as axioms, that we have
heard passingly from those we are never to see again ? Of
how many of our strongest convictions the origin was mere
accident, ideas dropped, like those seeds of distant plants
that are borne for thousands of miles upon the wind, and let
fall in some far away land to take root and fructify ? And
are these the agencies to be omitted when a man would give
a "confession" to the world? Why are the letters of an in-
dividual his best biography, save as recording his judgment
upon passing events or people, with whom, in all likelihood,
he has little subsequent connection ? But enough of this I
have said sufficient for apology to those who see the difficulty
of the case. To those who do not, I have been prolix with-
out being profitable.

Of Africa, then, I must not speak. Three years of its
burning sun and parched soil the life of bivouac and battle
had done the work of ten upon my constitution and appear-
ance. I was bronzed almost to a Moorish tint ; a few
straggling hairs of grey showed themselves in my dark beard
and moustache, while emergencies and hazards of different
kinds had imparted a sterner character to my features, that
little resembled the careless gaiety of my earlier days. In
addition to this, I was wounded ; a sabre cut received in de-
fending the Prince from an attack of Arab horsemen, had
severed the muscles of my right arm ; and although en-



" MOI ET MON PKINCE." 453

couraged to believe that I should yet recover its use, I was,
for the time at least, totally disabled, and as incompetent to
wield a sword as a pen. A very flattering mention of me in
" general orders," my name recorded in a despatch, and the
ribbon of the " Legion," well rewarded me for these mishaps ;
and now, as a season of peace intervened, I was about to
return to France with the rank of " Chef d'Escadron," and the
fame of a distinguished officer. As the Prince, my master,
was to make a tour in the provinces before his return to
Paris, permission was given me to visit Italy, whither the
physician advised me to repair to recruit my strength, before
adventuring upon the trials of a more northern climate. The
" Due " overwhelmed me with kind protestations at parting,
and gave me a letter to the French Minister at Naples,
especially commending me to his friendship, and speaking of
my services in terms that my modesty cannot permit me to
repeat. Thus was Fortune once more my friend; and could
I have but obliterated all memory of the past, and of those
fatal riches the brief enjoyment of which had given an
impulse to all my desires I might now have been well con-
tented. High character as a soldier, a certain rank in the
service, and the friendship of a Royal Prince, were not
trifling advantages to one who had often sued destiny with
success, even " in formd pauperis ;" still, the " great game " I
should have played, as the man of large fortune, was never
oub of my thoughts, and in secret I resolved to return to
Mexico, and, as the phrase has it, " look after my affairs."

This determination grew more fixed the longer I considered
it ; and here I may remark, that the document to which the
King had appended his signature and approval, was a state-
ment of my claims on Spain, drawn up by myself, one of those
hundred representations which I made in ,idle hours, to
while away time and amuse hope. If I was well aware that
the signature was obtained by a mere accident, and without
knowledge of the contents, I was not deterred from speculating
as to what useful purpose it might be employed; scruples of
conscience being of all things in the world, those I best knew
how to dispose of.

On reaching Naples, I discovered that the Envoy to whom
my letter was addressed had just been re-called, and in his
place a young Secretary of Embassy was officiating; one of
those admirably-dressed and inimitably-gloved young gentle-
men, whom France despatches to foreign countries as repre-
sentatives of her skill in neckcloths and waistcoats, and her
incomparable superiority in lacquered leather. Monsieur do



454 THE CONFESSIONS OF CON CREGAN.

Bussena? was a veritable type of Paris dandyism vain,
empty, and conceited ; with considerable smartness in con-
versation, and unquestionable personal courage ; his life was
passed in abusing England, and affecting the most ludicrous
imitation of all that was English in dress, equipage, and livery.

Although my name was not unknown to him, he received
me with the condescending courtesy the diplomatist usually
assumes in his intercourse with the soldier protested his
regret that the gay season was over that Naples was thin-
ning every day that he hardly knew where, or to whom, to
present me.

I assured him that pleasure was not among the ambitions
of an invalid like myself; but next to the care of my health,
one of my objects in Naples was to press a claim upon the
Spanish Government, to which the residence of a Spanish
Minister of high rank at that court gave a favourable oppor-
tunity ; and with this preface I gave a brief histoiy of my
loss and imprisonment. The young Charge" d' Affaires looked
horridly bored by my story, of which it was clear he only
heard a very small part ; and when I concluded, he made a
few notes of my statement, and promised to see the Spanish
Ambassador upon it that very day.

I believe that my experience is not a singular one ; but
from the moment that I announced myself as a person claiming
the aid of the " Mission," the doors of the Embassy were
hermetically sealed against me. If I called, " His Excellency"
(everything is Excellency to an embassy porter) was either in
conference with a colleague, or replying to a despatch, or
with the court. If I wrote, my answer was always a polite
acknowledgment of my note, and no more. Even when we
met passingly in the street, his salute was cold, and markedly
distant ; so that I began to suspect that either he had heard
something to my disadvantage among his colleagues, or that
he had received some hint respecting me.

I knew if I were to address the Due de St. Cloud on the
subject, that my essenced friend would at once receive a check,
and possibly a heavy reprimand ; but I was too proud to
descend to this, and resolved to right myself without calling
in the aid of others. With this intention I repaired one day
to the Mission, and having waited for some time, till I saw a
person leave the cabinet, from whom I learned that the Envoy
was at home, I advanced to the door. " Out, sir," said the
porter, barring the way. I pushed him aside, with the air of
one who was not to be trifled with, and opening the door,
walked in.



" MOI ET MON PBINCE." 455

Whether it was that the suddenness of my appearance
unmanned him, or that something in my manner showed
there was no time for farther deception, he arose to receive
me, and handed me a chair.

"I have come, sir," said I, calmly but resolutely, "to ask,
if in the matter which I entrusted to your hands, any progress
has been made, or if I am still to be the patient recipient of
notes which tell me nothing ? "

" What if there be nothing to tell, sir ? " said the young
diplomatist, now recovering his self-possession, and standing
with his back to the fire, in the very easiest of attitudes.

" I will beg of you to be more explicit," said I.

" You shall not have to complain of me on that score, sir,"
said he, with a most affected air of courtesy ; " and, as brevity
is the very essence of clearness, I may as well state, that on
representing the case of El Conde de Cregano to the Minister
of Spain, he very gravely assured me that I was inventing a
personage, for that no such name existed among the nobility
of his land. The dignity may be recognized in Mexico,"
added he, " but the Mexican Minister is equally perverse, and
disclaims having so much as heard of you. I spoke of your
wealth, and great treasures, and they actually were rude
enough to laugh not at you, sir don't be angry but at me.
The Spanish Ambassador, indeed, said that nothing was more
common than for Carlist agents of inferior station to assume
stj'les and titles which might entitle them to greater con-
sideration if taken prisoner ; and that in this wise you might
have succeeded to your countship ; but that to real rank, he
persisted in asserting you had no claim whatever. This you
must allow, sir, is awkward."

" For you, certainly, it will prove so," said I, haughtily.
" You may rely upon it, sir, that your career as a diplomatist
will end where it begun. You have dared to insult one
whose slightest word could crush you, did he not feel that
such an exercise of influence would be ludicrously dispropor-
tioned to the object it was directed against. There, sir,
there is a written statement of my claim, there a full and
explicit demand for reparation ; and there, the signature of
your master the King, at the foot of it. You cannot be
ignorant of the hand, nor can you dare to pretend it is a
forgery."

If my insulting language had brought the flush of anger
to his cheek, this ' ; damning proof" completely overcame all
his presence of mind, and left him in a state of confusion
and perplexity that any one, save myself, must have pitied.



456 THE CONFESSIONS OF CON CREGAN.

"The writing is certainly in the King's hand," said he,
" and therefore I am obliged to concede the fact, that your
claim possesses features 1 was not previously aware of; with
your leave, then, I will lay this document before the Spanish
Minister "

"You shall do no such thing, sir," said I, haughtily ; " my
asserted right is just what it was before I showed you that
paper ; nor shall I stoop to any corroborative testimony of
my claim, even from the hand of royalty : " and with this
impertinent speech, I advanced towards the grate, and thrust
the paper into the fire, pressing it down into the blaze with
my foot, and watching till I saw it consumed.

The diplomatist watched me narrowly throughout this
brief proceeding, and I half feared that he had seen through
my stratagem, as he said, " Well, Count, as not a shadow of
doubt can exist now as to the authentic chai-acter of your
demand, the best course will be, to have a personal interview
with the Spanish Ambassador. He ' receives ' this evening
at his palace, and, with your leave, we will wait upon him
together. Of course the time and place will not admit of
any discussion of this claim : but you can be presented, a
necessary preliminary to the intercourse that will follow."

This all looked marvellously like a trap ; but as any doubt
or indecision now would be ruin, I affected to be much pleased
with the proposal, and we parted.



457



CHAPTER XXXIII.

A SOIREE IN THE "GREAT WORLD."

IT was not without considerable trepidation and great mis-
giving, that I awaited the evening. What subtlety might be
in store for me, I could not guess ; but it seemed clear that
the young secretary meditated a heavy vengeance upon me,
and would not lightly pardon the insult I had passed upon
him.

" I have it," thought I, after long and deep pondering;
" his plan is to introduce me into a great and crowded
assembly, with ministers, ambassadors, and generals, and
then, in the face of a distinguished company, to proclaim rne
a cheat and impostor. He has, doubtless, the train all laid,
only waiting for the match; and as the outrage will be
inflicted conjointly and diplomatically, any demand for
personal satisfaction will be vain ; while a very slight hint at
the Prefecture would suffice to have me expelled from the
country."

Should I confront this danger, or hazard the risk of such
an exposure ; or should I suffer judgment to be given against
me by default ? What a trying alternative ! In the one case,
a peril the greater for its shadowy ill-defined consequences ;
in the other, certain and irretrievable disgrace ! How often
did I curse my ambitious yearning after wealth, that had not
left me contented with my own fortune ; the hard-won, but
incontestable rewards of personal distinction. As the gallant
officer who had gained each step upon the field of battle, and
whose services had claimed the especial notice of his prince,
I ought to have rested satisfied.

My promotion would have been certain and rapid, and what
higher condition should I dare to aspire to than the command
of a French regiment, or possibly some brilliant staff appoint-
ment ! Why will not men look downward as they climb the
mountain of life, and see the humble abyss from which they
have issued ? Were they but to do so, how many would be
convinced that they had done enough, and not risk all by
striving to mount higher! The son of the poor peasant a



458 THE CONFESSIONS OF CON CREGAN.

General of Division ! one among that decorated group sur-
rounding the sovereign of a great nation ! was not this
sufficient, and so much assuredly was within my reach,
merely by length of life, and the ordinary routine of events !
and yet all this must I jeopardize for the sake of gold. And
now what course should I adopt ? My whole philosophy
through life had been comprised in that one word which
summed up all Marshal Blucher's "tactics," "Forwards ! "
It had sufficed for me in many a trying emergency, it had
cut the black knot of many a tangle ; should I not still
abide by it ? Of course. This was not the moment to
abandon the bold policy.

From the " host of mine inn " I learned that the Spanish
minister, whose receptions were little less splendid than those
of the court itself, occupied a position which in countries
of more rigid morality, would have left his salons less
crowded. In fact it was asserted that he owed his eminent
station to his having consented to marry a lady, who had
once been the rival of royalty itself in Spain, and whose
banishment had been thus secured. Being still in the full
pride of her beauty, and possessing great wealth, the
" scandal " only added to her claim, in a society where
notoriety of any kind is regarded as a distinction.

She was the reigning belle of the capital. Her word was
law on every theme of fashion and taste ; her opinions exerted
a considerable influence on matters of high political bearing;
and despite the ambiguity of her position, she was the arbi-
tress of every claim to admission into that society which
arrogated to itself the name of being "the best."

It is needless to say that a station of the kind engenders a
species of tyranny to which the world responds by inventing
all manner of stories and strange histories ; and thus the
Marchesa de la Norada was by some proclaimed a natural
daughter of the Emperor Napoleon, by others, of an English
Royal Duke. She was a widow, and the wife of half-a-dozen
personages together. There was not an European court into
which she had not brought discord, not a cabinet where she
had not sown intrigue. Her beauty had seduced, her gold
corrupted, and her wiles entrapped, half the great statesmen
of the age ; while there was scarcely a crime within the red
catalogue of the law, that was not laid to her charge; and
yet, with all these allegations against her, she was more sove-
reign in that capital than the rightful queen of the land.
This was the presence into which I was to be introduced
to-night, and I frankly own it I would have rather con-



A SOIKEE IN THE " GREAT WORLD." 459

fronted the searching scrutiny of the most penetrating of
men, than meet the careless, half-bestowed glances of that
woman ! nor was it at all unlikely that to such a test they
wished now to subject me and my pretensions.

It is far easier for many men to confront a personal danger,
the peril of life or limb, than to meet the trying difficulty of a
slight before the world. To myself the former would be as
nothing in comparison. I could face any amount of peril in
preference to the risk of a public mark of depreciation, and
from a woman, too ! where redress was as impossible, as
reply was useless.

It was already midnight ere I could muster courage to set
out, not that the hour was inappropriate, for the Marchesa's
receptions only began when the opera was over. As I drove
along the Chiaia, the crowd of carriages told that this was a
night of more than ordinary attraction, and more than one
equipage of the Court passed by, showing that some members
of the royal family would be present. This again terrified
me. Was royalty to be among the witnesses of my shame ?
When a man's thoughts do take the turn of self-tormenting,
what ingenuity will they not exhibit, what astonishing
resources of annoyance ! I am convinced that my greatest
enemy in life could never have inflicted a tenth part of that
suffering which now I experienced from my own fancies !
Among the thoughts which crossed my mind, one kept con-
tinually recurring, and made an impression that my memory
will probably never lose, it was my doubt whether I ought
not to return and exchange my uniform for plain clothes, and
thus avoid exposing the epaulette of a French officer, and the
proud cordon I wore, to the chances of open insult.

This question was yet unsolved in my mind, as I drove into
the court-yard of the palace. The turmoil and confusion of
the scene carriages interlocked, poles smashing panels, and
horses rearing was an actual relief to me, and I would have
felt a heart-warm gratitude for any accident that might have
Upset half the company, and broken up the reception in dis-
order. Such " good-luck " was, however, not in store for
me. My caleche at length drew up at the door, and I handed



Online LibraryCharles James Lever[Charles Lever's novels (Volume 5) → online text (page 46 of 50)