Charles James Lever.

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show of premeditation or the very slightest sign of forethought.
While my education as a man of the world was progressing,
my material fortune was also advancing. The Spanish Ambas-
sador, who had referred my case to his court, ascertained that
I had been most infamously treated ; that not alone my rank
and fortune were indisputable, but that the individual on
whose affirmation I was arrested was himself a Carlist spy,
and the noted agent of a great Northern power. In fact,
so manifold were his infractions against law, in every country
in Europe, that the only difficulty was to what particular
power to hand him over, so many laying claim to the honour
of punishing him. In the end, Naples obtained this distinc-
tion ! and at the very period I was enjoying the luxurious



470 THE CONFESSIONS OF CON CREGAN.

pleasures of that capital, " my friend, the Consul," -was ex-
panding his chest and his faculties in the less captivating
career of a galley-slave. " Fortune is just," said I, as I
arranged my cravat at the window which overlooked the
Bay, on whose glassy surface some half-dozen boats moved
sluggishly, as the red and yellow rowers kept time to the
" stroke " by the clanking of their fetters.

Governments move slowly particularly when the case is
one of refunding a previous spoliation ; meanwhile they
admitted my claim ; and by way of keeping me in good-
humour, they sent me a cross of the Order of Isabella, of the
first class a very gratifying recognition of my noble birth
and merits. My intimacy with the Duke of Medina the
brother of the king obtained for me the Neapolitan Order ;
and thus was I decorated with three very distinguished cor-
dons, which I wore in my button-hole as a "tricolour," a
fact insignificant in itself ; but I mention it here, as many of
my imitators have since that affected to be the inventors of
the method.

Periods of expectancy are generally deemed great trials,
making inroads upon the health, and sapping the energies of
the mind. Such was not my case here ; I waited like one
who loiters in some delicious garden, surrounded with bloom-
ing flowers and sweet odours. The delays and procrastina-
tions of cabinets for which the most profuse apologies were
made I bore with a degree of calm equanimity that won for
me the appellation of a most finished gentleman ; and thus
was I almost unconsciously perfecting myself in that grand
element of breeding whose triumph is " impassiveness."

There were moments when I actually dreaded the termina-
tion of my cause, so agreeable had Naples become to me ; but
as the rich gamester is certain to win, while the poor player
is luckless ever, successes crowded on me, because I was half
indifferent to them.

Six months had now nearly elapsed since my arrival at
Naples, and I was paying a morning visit to the Marchesa.
whom I was engaged to accompany to a grand dejetiner, to
be given on board of a British ship of war in the Bay. It
was one of those gorgeous days of brilliant colouring, which,
in Italy, seem to exaggerate the effect of landscape, and defy
all efforts of art to imitate ; the scene was heightened, too,
by the objects moving across the bay. The various boats,
with ensigns floating and music playing the swift " La-
teeners " skimming along the glassy surface, almost without
a breath of wind and then the great three-decker herself,



A SOIEEE IN THE " GEEAT WORLD." 471

in all the pride of her majestic size, with flags of every nation
flattering from her halyards, were splendid adjuncts to the
picture.

" Here are three letters for you, Monsiuer le Comte," said,
the Marchesa ; " they came in the Spanish Minister's bag this
morning ; but I suppose there is nothing sufficiently interest-
ing in them to withdraw your thoughts from that magnificent
panorama."

Of course I affected concurrence in the sentiment, and
thrust them into my pocket with assumed indifference. The
room soon after filled with arriving visitors, and among the
rest the Spanish Ambassador.

"Ha, Senhor Conde," said he, approaching me ; " let me
offer my warmest felicitations. How happy am I to be the
means through which your good tidings have reached you ! "

I bowed, smiled, and seemed charmed, without the slightest
notion wherein lay my good fortune. His practised eye,
however, soon detected my game, and he said, " You have
received your letters, I hope ? "

" Yes," replied I, carelessly; " the Marchesa has been kind
enough to give them to me."

" And you have read them ? " asked he again.

"Not yet," said I; "I make it a rule never to risk the
pleasure of a happy day by opening a letter at hazard."

" What if its contents were but to increase the enjoyment;
what if the tidings were to fill up the very measure of your
wishes, Senhor? "

" In that case," rejoined I, as coldly as before, " they will
be very acceptable to-morrow morning ; and thus I shall have
gained two days of happiness, vice one."

"Admirable philosophy, indeed," said he. " Still I must
be pardoned for interfering with its exercise. I shall there-
fore take upon me to inform the honourable company that
her Majesty, my royal mistress, has named the Count de
Cregano a Grand Cordon of the Fleece, in consideration of
his distinguished services in arranging the Mexican debt ;
that all his property, taken from him under a false and trai-
terous imputation, shall be at once restored ; that any addi-
tional recompense he may demand for his imprisonment and
other inconveniences incurred, shall be immediately accorded;
and that all Envoys and Ministers of the Court of Spain are
instructed to receive the Count de Cregano with every honour
and distinction, affording him every protection, and facili-
tating him in the prosecution of any project in which he may
be interested."



472 THE CONFESSIONS OF CON CREGAK.

This speech, delivered in a very imposing manner, was fol-
lowed by a round of felicitation from the assembled company,
the Marchesa offering me her hand in congratulation, and
whispering the words, " How soon ? "

" To-morrow, if I must," replied I, sorrowfully.

" To-morrow be it," said she, and turned away hastily.

The information conveyed to me by the Ambassador was
what formed the substance of two of the letters : the third I
contrived to peep into unobserved, was a formal notification
from the Havannah that my bills for the amount in the bankers'
hands would be accepted and negotiated at a well-known
house in Paris. Thus, then, and in one moment, was I once
more rich the possessor of immense wealth, and not alone
of mere fortune, but of all the honours and dignities which
can grace and adorn it. Of course I became the hero of the
day. To me was entrusted the arm of the Marchesa as we
descended to the pier ; to me was accorded the seat of honour
beside her in the boat. All the pleasant flatteries that are
reserved for rich men were heaped upon me, and I felt that life
had but one prize more with which to fill up the most ambi-
tious of my cravings. That, alas ! could never be Donna
Maria was the wife of another ; and thus should I learn that
complete happiness is never to be the lot of any mere mortal !

The fete on board the Tariffa was very splendid ; but it had
another charm still more rarely met with, I mean that
hearty cordiality which graces every entertainment where
British sailors are the hosts, their courtesy being blended
with an actual warmth of hospitality that wins even upon
the coldest guest, and gives a tone of friendliness to the most
promiscuous gathering.

Every one appeared to experience the influence of this pecu-
liar magic, and all gave way to the impulse that suggested
the fullest enjoyment of the hour.

To waltzes had succeeded the manolo and the bolero ; dances
of the wild regions of Calabria and Sicily were performed by
men of noble birth, the petty princes of those countries ; and
all were vying who should introduce something new and
unknown to the rest, when, suddenly, the distant sound of
the church bells of the city was borne along the water,
announcing the " Vinti quatro," as it is called the hour of
evening prayer. In a moment a sudden air of devotional
seriousness spread itself over the company, and most bent
their heads in pious reverence while they recited to them-
selves the words of the " Angelus." If there seemed, to the
sense of English Protestantism, something strange and un-



A SOIREE IN THE "GREAT WORLD." 473

natural in this great revulsion, there was a degree of earnest-
ness and sincerity in the features of the worshippers that
showed their piety to be unfeigned ; and here I might leave
the theme, were it not for an incident which, taking place at
the same moment, will remain for ever associated in my mind
with that brief interval of prayer.

The hour of sunset, or, as the Neapolitans term it, the
" Vinti quatro," is that in which the galley-slaves, employed
from dawn of day at convict labour, return to their prisons ;
and while the streets at that period exhibit long lines of men
whose terrible appearance needs not the heightening acces-
sories of a shocking dress and a heavy lumbering chain to
pronounce them criminals, over the bay are seen boats moving
in sad procession, the clanking of the fetters creaking mourn-
fully upon the ear, and sounding like the wail of hopeless
captivity.

No scene of pleasurable enjoyment can stand the contrast
of such a sight ; the revulsion is too sudden and too painful
from the light frivolity of mirth to the terrible reality of
suffering and sorrow. To escape, therefore, from the gloomy
picture, the officers of the vessel endeavoured to withdraw
their guests from the deck to the shelter of the cabin. The
change was accomplished well and naturally, and we were all
gathered between decks in that turmoil and confusion which
form no insignificant part of the success of every entertain-
ment; the buzz of talking and the sounds of pleasant laughter
were heard on every side when suddenly a cry was heard
above, and then the loud voice of the officer of the watch,
commanding a boat to be instantly manned and lowered.

A hundred conjectures at once ran round as to the meaning
of the order; but one of the officers hastily entering, a few
minutes later, put an end to all guessing, by informing us
that a very dreadful incident had just occurred within a short
distance from where we lay. " You may have remarked a
handsome yacht, which anchored last night in the bay, coming
up from the eastward : she belonged to an English gentleman,
with whose name we were not acquainted, but whose conduct
is calculated to confirm all that Frenchmen are accustomed
to say of our national taste for eccentricity even in crime.
It would seem that at an early hour this morning he landed
at the Mole, and by means of letters with which he was
provided to the minister of police, obtained leave to inspect
the different prisons of the city, and to pass under the most
minute examination all those condemned to the galleys for
life. As already all those who work at Castelamare had been



474 THE CONFESSIONS OF CON CREGAN.

sent away, he obtained an order to visit the galleys there,
being determined, as it would seem, to leave nothing unseen.
On reaching Castelamare it is said that he again commenced
his tour of inspection, going over the roll of the prisoners,
with the muster-book in his hand, as if to compare their
features with the crimes alleged against them, and scruti-
nizing each with a most searching look. The visit lasted till
nigh evening ; and although the governor was not a little
astonished at the proceeding of the stranger, still less was he
prepared for the singular request which succeeded : it was,
that he might be permitted to return to Naples in one of the
convict boats instead of in his own gig. The demand might
have been treated lightly, or altogether refused, but that the
Englishman's appearance and manner indicated rank, while
the letter he carried from the minister showed him to be one
with claims for consideration. The governor, therefore, gave
the permission, smiling at the same time at a caprice which
could not have proceeded from the native of any other
country.

" The Englishman took his seat in the stern of the boat,
and, as I am told by the steersman, never spoke nor moved
for nigh an hour's time, muffling himself up in his cloak so
that his very face was concealed ; he neither cast his eyes
over the bay nor looked towards the shore, but sat like one in
deep reflection. As we neared the Tariffa" said my infor-
mant, " our passenger affected to feel cold and chilly, he
might have been so, since the evening breeze was just spring-
ing up, and said that he would like to row for a spell, just
to warm himself. The petty officer in charge explained that
the request could not be complied with, since, amongst other
reasons, the men were chained two and two on every bench,
and then obliged to tug at the same oar.

" The Englishman, who, throughout the day, had invariably
overruled every objection opposed to him, grew only more
positive in his demand, and at last produced the minister's
order to strengthen his proposal ; and finally said, that as he
had obtained the permission to learn all he could of the con-
dition of the convicts, he was determined not to depart with-
out experiencing in his own person the amount of labour
exacted from them. ' You shall chain me to that fellow in
the bow of the boat,' said he, 'for I have my doubts that this
same punishment is not equal to what our own sailors perform
every day, as a mere duty.'

" I need not dwell upon the arguments he used, and the
reason he pressed ; and although 1 have not heard it, I have



A SOIREE IN THE " GREAT WORLD." 475

little doubt that bribery was among the rest. His demand
was granted, and he was actually placed beside the convict,
and his left wrist enclosed in the same fetter with the other's
right.

" His face became almost purple as he grasped the oar,
and his eyes glared fiercely round upon his fellow-labourer,
like the red and staring orbs of a wild beast. ' So dreadful
was the expression of his face,' said the steersman, ' that I
believed him to be insane ; and a shocking fear of evil con-
sequences shot through me for having yielded to him.'

" I at once called out to the crew to ship their oars, deter-
mining to make him resume his place beside me. The order
was obeyed by the bow-oar as by the rest. I was then about
to issue a command for him to be released, when, with a yell
that I shall never forget, he sprang up in the boat, and then
calling out something in English, which I could not under-
stand, he seized his comrade by the throat and shook him
violently.

" The convict himself a strong man, yet in the prime of
life seemed nothing in the grasp of the other, who held him
at arm's length, as though he were a child ; and then letting
go his hold, clasping him round the waist with both arms,
he jumped into the sea."

" They were seen in mortal conflict for a second or two as
they sank in the clear water, but they never rose to the
surface, the weight of the massive fetters and their own
struggles soon finished their sufferings ! "

Such was the terrible story which now broke in upon the
gay current of our festivity, and threw a gloom over a scene
of brilliant pleasure. Of course various surmises as to the
motive of this fearful act were uttered, but they all tended to
the conclusion that it proceeded from insanity, which occa-
sionally displays amongst its wonderful phenomena all the
premeditation and circumspection of accomplished guilt.

There is that of solemnity about an event of this nature
that even frivolity itself stands rebuked by, and so, now,
instead of resuming the occupations of pleasure, many took
their leave suddenly ; and of those who still remained, but
one topic engrossed the conversation that of madness as an
element in all great cases of guilt.

Of course, as in all similar discussions, the superiority lay
with those who, with more readiness of expression, also
possessed greater resources in anecdote and illustration, and
of these the greater number were disposed to believe that all
great criminality is allied with deranged intellect. The Mar-



476 THE CONFESSIONS OP CON CftEGAN.

chesa, however, took the opposite side, and insisted that the
passion which prompted to the most terrible and appalling
acts was perfectly consistent with right reason and sound
judgment.

" It is too rash in us," said she, "to assume a mere blind
impulse in cases even where recognized insanity exists. Were
we to know the secrets of the human heart, we might, per-
haps, see a long-cherished purpose in acts which appear to be
dictated by momentary passion. These impulses may be ex-
cessive, ill-directed, and ill-judging ; but still they may have
their origin in some train of thought where generous feelings
and noble aspirations mingle. Witness those heroic for
they are, after all, heroic assassinations of the student
Sandt and Charlotte Corday. What a perfect abrogation of
self did these acts evince ; what consummate devotion to a
cause ! Deeply as we may condemn the horrid nature of the
crime, it would be a great error to class these men with
vulgar criminals, or deny to them the motives at least of
something great."

I am not able were I even disposed to repeat all the
ingenious arguments by which the Marchesa supported her
opinion, nor the instances she so readily adduced in support
of it. She became highly excited by the theme, and soon, by the
eloquence of her words, and the fascinations of her manner,
enchained the whole company in a mute attention around her.

It was just as she concluded a very animated and glowing
description of that condition of the human mind, when by a
volcanic effort, as it were, the long-buried flames burst forth,
to scatter ruin and destruction on every side, that a young
officer entered the cabin, and stood fascinated by the powers
of her fervid eloquence.

" Well, Mr. Hardy," said the Captain, recalling the youth's
attention to duty, " have you been on board of her p "

" Yes, sir, she is an English yacht, the Firefly, and her late
owner was an English baronet, whose name I have written
down in my pocket-book."

The Captain took the note-book from the young officer's
hand, and, after reading the name, said, " If I mistake not,
this is the same person that once was so well known in Lon-
don life. Most of the present company must have heard of
the rich and eccentric Sir Dudley Broughton."

A low groan broke from me, and I turned my eyes slowly
and stealthily towards the end of the table, where the Mar-
chesa sat. Not a word, not the faintest sound had issued
from her lips ; but she sat still and motionless, her lips



A SOIREE IN THE tc GREAT WORLD." 477

slightly parted, and her eyes staring straight before her.
The pallor of her features was that of death itself; and,
indeed, the rigid contour of the cheeks, and the firm tension
of the muscles, gave no evidence of life.

" You are ill, Madame la Marchesa," said a gentleman who
sat beside her ; but, as she made no reply, several now turned
towards her, to press their attentions, and suggest advice.
She never spoke ; indeed, she seemed not to hear them, but
sat with her head erect, and her arms rigidly stretched out
on either side, motionless as a statue.

The shocking incident that had occurred, and the discus-
sion which followed it, were sufficient to account for this sud-
den attack in one whose nervous temperament was so finely
strung ; but as she showed no signs of recovering conscious-
ness, nor gave the slightest indication of rallying, it was
decided at once that she should be conveyed to shore, where
in her own house medical aid might be had recourse to.

I was one of those who assisted to carry her to the boat,
and sat beside her afterwards, and held her hand in mine,
but she never recognized me ; her hand, too, was cold and
clammy, and the fingers felt rigid and cramped. The stern
impressive look of her features, the cold stare of her fixed
eyes, were terrible to behold ; far more so than even the
workings of mere bodily sufferings.

During the passage to the shore, at the landing itself, and
on our way to the Palazzo, she remained in the same state,
nor did she ever evince any trait of consciousness till she
reached the foot of the great staircase, where a crowd of ser-
vants, in the richest liveries, awaited to offer their services.
Then suddenly she moved her head from side to side, regard-
ing the crowd with a glance of wild and terrific meaning ;
she raised her hand to her brow, and passed it slowly across
her forehead. For an instant it seemed as if the lethargic
paroxysm was about to pass away, for her features softened
into a look of calm but melancholy beauty. This, too, glided
away, and her mouth settled into a hard and rigid smile. It
was the last change of all for she had become an IDIOT !

From that hour forth she never spoke again ! she never
knew those about her, neither missing them while absent nor
recognizing them when they reappeared. She had none of
the childish wilfulness of others in her sad condition, nor did
she shed the likings and dislikings they usually manifest ;
and thus she lingered on to her death.

Of her secret I was the sole depositary and from that horn-
to this in which I write, it has never escaped my lips.



478 THE CONFESSIONS OF CON CREGAN.



CHAPTER XXXIV.

CONCLUSION.

I HAD few inducements to prolong my stay at Naples. The
society in which I moved had received a shock so terrible that
for some time, at least, it could not hope to recover, and an
air of gloom and despondency prevailed, where so lately all
had worn the livery of pleasure.

I made my farewell visit, therefore, at the court, and the
various embassies, and set out for Paris. This time, grown
wiser by experience, I did not seek to astonish the world by
any gorgeous display of my riches. I travelled with but
two carriages one of which contained my luggage ; the
other, a light " coupe," I occupied alone. My route lay
through Rome and Florence, across the Apennines to Milan,
and thence, by the glorious scenery of the Spleiigen, into
Switzerland ; but I saw little of the varied scenes through
which I journeyed. My whole thoughts were engaged upon
the future.

I had once more won the great prize in the world's lot-
tery, and I never ceased catechizing myself in what way I
should exercise my power.

From what I had already observed of life the great mistake
of rich men seemed to me, their addiction to some one pur-
suit of pleasure, which gradually gained an undue ascendency
over their minds, and exercised, at last, an unwonted degree
of tyranny. The passion for play the love of pictures the
taste for company-seeing the sports of the field, and so on,
ought never to be allowed any paramount place, or used as
pursuits ; all these things should be simply employed as
means of obtaining an ascendency over other men, and of
exercising that sway which is never denied to success.

Some men are your slaves because your cook is unrivalled,
or your cellar incomparable : others look up to yon because
your equipages exhibit an elegance with which none can vie ;
because your thorough-breds are larger, show more bone, and
carry the highest condition. Others, again, revere you for
your Vandykes and your Titiaus your Rembrandts and
Murillos your illuminated missals your antique marbles.



CONCLUSION. 479

To every section of society you can exhibit some peculiar
and special temptation, which, in their blind admiration, they
refer to as an attribute of yourself. Your own fault is it, if
they ever discover their error ! The triumphs of Raphael
and Velasquez shed a reflected light upon him who possesses
them ; and so of each excellence that wealth can purchase.
You stand embodied in the exercise of your taste, and in
your own person receive the adulation which greatness and
genius have achieved.

To accomplish this, however, requires infinite tact and a
great abrogation of self. All individuality must be merged,
and a new character created, from the " disjecta membra" of
many crafts and callings.

To have any one inordinate passion is to betray a weak
spot in one's armour, of which the cunning will soon take
advantage. Such were among my meditations as I rolled
along towards Paris ; and so long as I journeyed alone, with no
other companionship than my own thoughts, these opinions
appeared sage and well reasoned ; but how soon were they
routed as I drove into that gorgeous capital, and saw the full



Online LibraryCharles James Lever[Charles Lever's novels (Volume 5) → online text (page 48 of 50)