Charles James Lever.

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my card with my name to the major domo, who stood at the
top of the stairs with an army of liveried lacqueys around
him. " Le Comte de Creganne!" resounded now through
the spacious anti-chamber, and the voices of others took it
up, and the echo without repeated it, every syllable falling
upon my heart like the bang of a death-bell !

Although our progress was soon arrested by the dense



4tO THE CONFESSIONS OF CON CREGAN.

crowd, and all chance of moving farther, for a time at least,
out of the question, the lacquey continued to call my name
aloud, with what I deemed a most needless importunity of
announcement. At last he ceased, leaving me to the enjoy-
ment of a momentary tranquillity in mixing with the crowd.
It was indeed but momentary ; for the young attache had
made his way through the throng, and whispered in my ear,
" Let us retire this way, and I'll lead you by another passage,
otherwise you will run a great risk of never being presented
to the Marchesa." I could have told him that I would
have borne even this misfortune like a man, but I did not,
and merely followed him as he led the way through a suite
of rooms, of which only one was occupied, and that by a
card-party.

The buzz and hum of voices apprised me that we were
again approaching the company, and suddenly, on opening
a door, we found ourselves in a small but gorgeously-
furnished chamber, where three or four ladies and about a
dozen men were assembled, while the main body of the guests
passed through in defile, each stopping to salute and say a
few words to a lady, who did the honours of the reception.
As her back was towards me, I could only mark that she was
tall, and of an air that was queenly in state and dignity.
The stars and decorations around her showed that some of
the party were princes of the blood, and others, ambassadors
and ministers of state.

" Wait where you are," whispered my companion ; and he
moved forward and entered the crowd. I stood an eager
spectator of the scene, in which, despite all my anxieties, I
could not but feel interested. It was the first great review
I had ever witnessed of that fashionable world, whose recog-
nition and acceptance I so ardently coveted. Its slightest
gestures, its least and most insignificant observances, were all
matters of study to me. Every deep reverence, each motion
of respectful courtesy, were things to mark and imitate, and I
was storing up many a hint for future guidance, when I
observed that a gentleman, whom 1 had rightly conjectured
to be a royal prince, appeared to press some remark upon the
" Marchesa," to which at last she replied, " 1 believe I must
follow your Royal Highness's counsel, and take a few minutes'
rest ;" and so saying, she dropped back from the group, and
retired within a few paces of where I stood.

" May I beg you to hand that chair, sir," said the Prince
to me, and in a tone in which I own a certain haughtiness
seemed to rebuke my want of thoughtfuluess in not present-



A SOlltEE IN THE " GREAT WORLD." 401

ing it unbidden. I hastened to perform this service. The
lady turned to acknowledge it; our eyes met, and we stood
fixed and rooted to the spot, each speechless and pale
with emotion. In those few seconds I felt as if I had lived
years.

"La Senhora Dias," murmured I unconsciously to myself.

" Lupo ! " ejaculated she, as if in answer, and she trembled
from head to foot.

" You have really over-exerted yourself," said the prince, as
taking her hand he pressed her down into a seat.

Her eyes never quitted me for an instant, and the expres-
sion of her feature became almost that of agonizing pain as
she motioned me to approach her. ' Is it possible that I see

before me ray old friend the Duke of ? " She stopped,

and with a look of entreaty I can never forget, intimated that
I should fill up the blank.

" Le Comte de Creganne, Madame," said I, coming to the
rescue, " who is but too happy to find himself remembered
by the Marchesa de la Norada."

" Very true, Comte ; I was confounding you with your
constant companion the Duke de la Breanza ; I hope he is
well, and the dear duchess and you when did you arrive
from the Brazils ? I trust very lately, or you have treated
me shamefully."

Rapidly as these words were uttered, they were enough to
give me the " consigne " of what rank my intimate friends
held, in what class we met, and from whence I came. While
I replied to her questions, she motioned me to a seat beside
her, and with a smile and a courteous apology to the prince
for devoting herself to the old friend who had so unexpect-
edly presented himself, she dropped her voice to a whisper,
and said, " Not now, nor here, but to-morrow we will speak
together."

"Enough," said I, rapidly; "I am your old and esteemed
friend the Comte de Creganne ; you are not compromised in
calling me so."

"Nor can your memory fail to recall me as a Lady of
Honour at the Brazilian court! "

And now some of the company had gathered around us, to
most of whom she presented me, always adding some few
courteous expressions, indicative of our ancient friendship,
and of the pleasure she felt at our unexpected meeting. If I
have occasionally given way to those erratic flights of fancy
which led me to believe myself a scion of a noble house, well
born and nurtured, with wealth at my command and a high



462 THE CONFESSIONS OP CON CREOAN.

station in store, all these delusions were nothing to the crea-
tive efforts of her imagination, who commenced by reminding
me of a hundred people who never existed, and places and
incidents which were all as unreal. How we did bewail the
death of some, rejoice over the good fortune of other " dear,
dear friends," who had never breathed ! and with what plea-
sant laughter we remembered eccentricities and oddities that
once used to amuse us so much !

Never can I forget the look of astonishment of the young
attache as he came up and found me seated on the ottoman
beside the Marchesa, with her pet spaniel upon my lap, while
my whole air was redolent of that triumphant expression so
unmistakably denoting security.

" I perceive,'' said he, with difficulty repressing his ill-
humour, " that Madame la Marchesa is acquainted with the
Comte de Creganne."

" For many years, sir, the Comte and I have known each
other, and I have only to own my surprise that none of my
friends at Naples ever mentioned to me the arrival of one in
every way so distinguished but here is the Marquese ; I
must present you, Comte ; " so saying, she introduced me to
a tall, pompous-looking, elderly gentleman, who, it is but fair
to add, did not evince half so much satisfaction at sight of
me as his wife showed. And now was I the lion of the
evening. I, who had walked the Chiaia every day for weeks
back without notice or recognition, and who might, had the
idea occurred to me have fallen down and died without one
to pity me I became all of a sudden a most " interesting
personage ! " My African campaign was exalted into a per-
fect career of glory, and even my modesty was pushed hard to
accept the praises most lavishly bestowed upon acts of heroism
of which I had not even heard.

The Duke of Vallabretta, the younger brother of the king,
was certain he had often heard of me from his " friend De
St. Cloud." He was quite positive that I was the officer of
dragoons who, with one squadron of horse, captured " a
Smala " defended by twelve hundred Arabs, while fully one
half of the illustrious cruelties of the Oran war was gener-
ously laid to my charge. A dash of atrocity adds immensely
to the charm of heroism in Italian estimation ; and so I dis-
covered that various acts of roasting prisoners, sending a
cargo of noses to Toulon, and such like, were exceedingly
popular with the ladies, who regarded me as a modern
" Bayard."

Not all these sensations of triumph, however, gave me one



A SOIREE IN THE " GREAT WORLD." 468

half the pleasure that I felt in trampling upon the little
French attache, whom I persecuted with a proud disdain that
nearly drove him mad. All my ignorance of Neopolitan
society, the obscurity in which I had lived hitherto, I laid at
his door. I deplored most feelingly to the prince the ineffi-
cient mode in which we were represented at his court, and
promised to use my influence in effecting a change. I fear^
my disposition is not so angelic as I usually conceive it, for I
actually taxed my ingenuity for little subjects of attack against
the unlucky diplomatist, and saw him at length retire from
the salons, crushed, crest-fallen, and miserable.

Another consideration, perhaps, added venom to my malig-
nity^ I knew not how short-lived might be my power, and
determined to " make my running while the course was free."
The vicissitudes of fortune had often reversed in one short
day all the prospect I trusted to be the most stable and cer-
tain ; and for the future I was fully resolved never to forego
the stroke to-day, for which my arm might be too weak to-
morrow. As I saw him depart, I felt like a naval hero when
his enemy has struck, and in the pride of victory abandoned
myself to pleasure.

If the Marchesa watched me at first with an uneasy and
anxious eye, doubtful, perhaps, how I should acquit myself
in that high and polished world, I soon saw that her fears
were allayed as she saw the easy quietude of my manner,
and that tranquil self possession which is supposed to be
only acquired by long admixture with the world of fashion.
It was evident, too, that if any failure on my part would
entail disgrace, success was just as certain to do her honour
and credit, since I was a strong rebutting evidence against
all those who denied that the Marchesa was ever known or
recognized before in the high circles of a court.

" To-morrow, at noon," said she, as I made my bow at
parting ; and it was not likely I should forget the appoint-
ment.

It was with very different feelings I drove up to the palace
of the Marchesa on the day following, from those I had ex-
perienced on approaching it on the evening of the reception ;
nor was I long without perceiving that my confidence was
well founded. The Groom of the Chambers received me with
his most bland courtesy, and by his manner showed that he
expected my arrival.

Preceding me through a suite of rooms whose magnificence
I had not time to observe on the previous evening, he ushered
me into a small chamber leading into a conservatory, from



464 THE CONFESSIONS OP CON CREGAN.

which the view extended over the wide Bay of Naples, and
presented Vesuvius from base to summit. As I was left by
myself here for some minutes, I had leisure to notice the
varied elegance by which I was surrounded. Rare plants and
flowers, in jars of costly porcelain ; alabaster statues and rich
bronzes, appeared amid the clustering foliage ; and in the
midst of all, two tiny swans, of the rare breed of Morocco,
lay tranquilly in a little basin, whose water spouted from a
silver fountain of most elaborate workmanship.

While yet gazing on the tasteful objects around, the Mar-
chesa had entered, and so noiselessly, that she was at my side
ere I knew it. Paler than on the previous evening, she looked
even handsomer : but in the sunken eye and the wearied ex-
pression of the mouth, I could see that she had passed a
sleepless night.

Having taken a seat upon a sofa, and motioned me to seat
myself beside her. she looked fixedly at me for several minutes
without a word : at last, in a voice of deep feeling, she said,
" Do you remember the pledge with which we parted ? do
you recollect the oath by which you bound yourself? "

" Perfectly, Senhora ! " said I ; "nor was I aware yester-
day, till the very moment of our meeting, in whose presence
I was standing."

" But you had heard of me here ? "

" Only as the Marchesa de la Norada not as the Senhora."

" Hush ! let that name never escape your lips ; I believe
you and trust you. The commission I gave you was well
and faithfully executed : were it otherwise, and did I deem
you false, it would not be difficult for me to rid myself of the
embarrassment. We live in a city where such things are well
understood." My blood ran cold at this threat, for I remem-
bered the accusation which hangover her in Mexico : she saw
what was passing in my mind, and added, " You have nothing
to fear ; we shall be good friends while you remain here ; but
that time must be brief. I cannot, I will not, live a life of
terror ; a moment of impatience, an unguarded word, a hasty
expression of yours might compromise me, and then When
can you leave Naples ? "

" To-morrow to-day, if you desire it."

" That would be too hurried," she said, thoughtfully. " We
must not encourage suspicion. Why are you here ? "

I gave the restoration of my health as the reason, and then
alluded to the circumstances of my Spanish claim, which 1
had hoped Naples would have proved a suitable place for
pressing.



A SOIEEE IN THE " GREAT WORLD." 465

" Who knows of this transaction ? what evidence have you
of its truth?" said she, hurriedly.

" The minister by whose order I was imprisoned, the Go-
vernor of Malaga, his official underlings, all know of it."

" Enough. Now, by whom was the information given on
which you were arrested ? "

" A man who called himself the Consul at Campecho, and
to whose early history I am disposed to suspect I have the
clue; but to whom, unfortunately, in a hasty moment, I be-
trayed that secret knowledge."

" And thus he dreads and hates you," said she, fixing her
dark eyes sternly on me.

" He rather fears me without reason," said L.

" But still you would have traded on that fear had it
served your purpose?" reiterated she, with a pointedness
that showed how the application to her own case was upper-
most in her thoughts.

" You are less than just to me, Senhora ! " said I, proudly.
" A variety of circumstances led me to connect this man with
a very unhappy incident which took place years ago in Eng-
land, and wherein his conduct supposing him to be the same
was base to the last degree. This suspicion I was weak
enough to let escape me. His enmity was the consequence,
and from it followed all the misfortunes I have suffered."

" Was he a murderer?"

"No not that."

" Nor a forger ? for methinks in English esteem such is
the parallel offence."

" In the case I speak of forgery was the least of his crimes
he seduced the wife of his friend and benefactor."

" Oh, the wretch ! " exclaimed she, with a derisive smile,
that gave her features beautiful as they were an almost
demoniac expression. " I trust he never prospered after such
iniquity."

Not heeding the tone of sneer in which she uttered this, I
replied, " You are right, Senhora ; he lived a life of terror
and misery. He was a coward ; and the man he had injured
never ceased to track him from country to country. Over
sea and land he followed him ; the thirst for vengeance
stimulating a heart dead to every other emotion. Accident,
when I was a mere boy, brought me into close relation with
poor Broughton."

" With whom ? " said she, grasping my wrist, while her
eyes strained till the very blood started in them.

" Sir Dudley Broughton," said I; but the words were not

H H



466 THE CONFESSIONS OF CON CREGAN.

out ere she fell senseless on the floor. I raised her and placed
her on a sofa ; and then dipping her handkerchief in the
fountain, bathed her temples and her lips. But she gave no
sign of returning animation ; her arms dropped powerless at
either side. She did not even seem to breathe. What was I
to do ? I knew not where to find a bell to summon the
servants, even should I dare to leave her. In my excitement
I believed that she was dead, and that I had killed her ; and
then there darted through my brain the terrible conviction
that this could be no other than Lady Broughton herself
the unhappy Lydia Delmar. With a long-drawn sigh she at
length awoke, and, opening her eyes, looked up at me. A
convulsive shudder speedily followed, and she closed them
again, and remained still, with her hands clasped tightly
over her heart.

" Have I been dreaming a terrible dream," said she at last,
in a weak and broken voice, " or are my dreadful thoughts
realities ? Tell me of what were we speaking ?"

I did not answer. I could not tell her of the sad theme,
nor did I dare to deceive her. In this dilemma I became
silent ; but my confusion did not escape her, and with a
voice, every syllable of which struck deep into my heart, she
said, " Is this secret your own, or have you ever revealed it
to another ? "

" I have never told it, nor indeed, till now, was the full
mystery known to myself."

These few word*, which served to confirm her own waver-
ing terrors, at the same time that they showed how sho her-
self had betrayed her dreadful secret, increased her suffering,
and for a space she seemed overwhelmed by affliction.

"Let us speak of this no more," said she at last, in the
same hurried voice which once before had made me suspect
the soundness of her intellect. " I cannot, I dare not, trust
myself to dwell upon this theme ; nor will I suffer any one to
usurp an ascendency over me from terror. No, sir; you
shall not deceive yourself by such a delusion. I have friends
great and powerful friends who will protect me. I have
money, and can buy the aid that outstrips patronage. Be-
ware, then, how you threaten me ! "

" You are unjust to me, lady," said I, calmly, but resolutely.
" I never meant to threaten. A mere accident has put me in

Eossession of a secret which, while you live, none shall ever
ear from my lips ; nor need you fear any allusion to it will
ever escape me, to yourself."

" Then let us part. Let us see each other no more," said



A SOIREE IN THE " GBEAT WOULD." 467

she, rising, and approaching a small ivory cabinet, which she
unlocked. " See, here is enough to satisfy the desire for
mere money, if your heart be so set upon wealth that it has
no other idol. Take these, and these, and these. They are
gems of price, and taken from a royal crown. That necklace
of rubies once graced the shoulders of an empress ; and here
are rings, whose value will buy long years of dissipation and
excess."

" I must interrupt you, Senhora," said I, offended at the
tone she assumed towards me. " There is no need to ' buy me
off ; ' I am ready to take my leave to quit Naples within an
hour and I pledge myself that we shall never meet again,
or if we do, as utter strangers to each other."

" These were the terms of our contract once before," said
she, fixing her gaze steadfastly on me.

" And by whom broken, and how ? " said I.

"True too true!" exclaimed she, in a voice of deep
emotion. " Fate, that did this, has doubtless other punish-
ments in store for me ! It is plain, then, that I must trust
you I, who can feel confidence in none ! "

" I do not seek for it, Senhora," replied I ; " my offer is to
leave this city, where already I see but little prospect of
urging my suit with success. Why should we meet again in
life, when both of us are travelling opposite roads ? "

" This suit of yours is, then, a real demand, founded upon
an actual loss, matter of fa.ct throughout ? " This, although
said in these few words, had nothing offensive in its tone, and
I replied by an assurance of my good faith and veracity.

" Send me the memorial this evening ; to-morrow, or the
day after at farthest, you shall have an answer. As for your
demand upon the Havannah, the banker is my own, and I
can answer for your being honourably dealt with ; all your
property in his keeping, I will guarantee."

" If that be so, Senhora, I am indifferent about the Spanish
Minister's reply ; I shall have wealth more than enough for
all my desires without him."

"How do you call yourself in these papers?" asked she,
hurriedly.

" El Conde de Cregano."

" And you were known by that title in Mexico ? "

" Certainly ; I have no other."

She stared at me fixedly for a minute or two, and then
muttered to herself, " By what pretension should I question
His rank! " then turning to me, said, " Senhor el Conde de
Cregano, I receive the world at large, every evening save

H H 2



468 THE CONFESSIONS OF CON CEEGAN.

Saturday ; that night I reserve for my friends. Come as often
as you can during the week, but never omit a Saturday ; visit
me at the opera frequently; speak to me always when we
meet in public places ; be my intimate friend, in fact, but not
more you have too much tact to be my admirer." With
this she gave me her hand, which I pressed respectfully to
my lips, and bowing deeply, moved towards the door.

" We understand each other," said she, calmly.

" Perfectly, madame," replied I.

" Then never say, sir," resumed she, in a stern, determined
voice, " never say that you are not an adventurer ; never dare
to tell me that one who so quickly assumes a part is not a
professed actor on the great boards of life ready to take the
character assigned him, be it broad farce or comedy ay, or
even tragedy, if needs were. Do not deny or seek to contra-
dict me ; I did not care that your countship had fourteen
quarterings behind it, nay, I like you even better as you are.
There, now you look natural and at your ease. Adieu, Mon-
sieur le Comte."

"Adieu, Madame la Marquise," said I, putting as much
irony into my accent as might repay her, and then we parted.
Whatever her feelings, I know not ; mine, I own, were
scarcely of the pleasantest ; prompting me to make my resi-
dence at Naples as brief as might be, and to see no more of
my " dear friend of former years " than was absolutely indis-
pensable.

Were I to dwell upon those portions of my history which
afforded me the highest amount of enjoyment, while passing
I might linger upon the weeks I spent in Naples, as perhaps
the very pleasantest of my life. The world of fashion was new
to me. All those fascinations to which habit renders men
either apathetic or indifferent, came fresh upon me. The out-
ward show of splendour in dress and jewels, gorgeous saloons,
rare flowers, exquisite pictures and statues, soon cease to
astonish and amaze ; but it takes a long while ere the charm
of intercourse with really brilliant society begins to wear off ;
and ere a man recognizes a degree of sameness in the pleasures
and amusements of his fashionable friends.

I am not sure that the society which I frequented had not
more power of captivation than a more rigidly scrupulous
circle ; since, while exacting all the observances of polished
life, it yet admitted a degree of liberty, almost of familiarity,
among its members, that I have since remarked is not com-
mon in the wider intercourse of the world.

Pretty women were not ashamed to look their best, and



A SOIREE IN THE " GREAT WORLD." 469

dresa the most becomingly ; witty men were not chary of
their smartness ; courtiers were confidential ; statesmen were
candid ; men of the world unbent, as if in a circle where their
freedom would not be misinterpreted, and said a hundred
things that in other societies would have been, to say the
least, indiscreet. It is true that individuals were more dis-
cussed than events, and that characters, not facts, formed the
staple of the talk : but how amusing was it what stores of
anecdote were opened ; what strange histories, and curious
illustrations of life unfolded. Pretension was ridiculed, vul-
garity exposed, stupidity laughed at, awkwardness criticized,
and want of tact condemned with most unsparing ridicule ;
but, I am bound to own, that there were few commendations
reserved for virtuous conduct or honourable action. The
debtor side of the account was full, but the credit had not an
item on it!

No rank, however exalted, could escape the judgments of
a " set," who, with all the exclusiveness of fashion, affected a
most democratic spirit of equality. It was, however, a " Com-
munism " that assumed to start on the basis of every one
having at least ten thousand a year not so bad a theory,
were it only practicable.

I must not linger longer on this subject, on which I have
only touched to remark that here it was where I acquired that
knowledge of forms and conventionalities which constitute the
tactique of life: those "gambits'' and " openings," to use a
chess phrase, by which you at once obtain an advantage over
an equal adversary, and secure yourself against injury'with
even a superior player. I learned when to use an illustration
or a story ; when to become a mere listener; how to assist a
slow man without his detecting the aid ; and how to disclose
a discussion with an epigram ; and all this without the faintest



Online LibraryCharles James Lever[Charles Lever's novels (Volume 5) → online text (page 47 of 50)