Charles James Lever.

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tide of its pleasure-loving inhabitants, as it rolled proudly
past ! How vain to reason farther upon the regulation of a
life to which wealth set no limits ! how impossible to restrain
one's self within the barriers of cold prudential thought, where
all was to be had for asking.

Ah, Con, your philosophy was excellent while, sitting in
the corner of your coupe, you rolled along unnoticed, save by
the vacant stare of some vigneron in a blue cotton nightcap,
Or some short-legged wench in wooden " sabots ; " but, now
ti\at you stand in the window of your great hotel in the Place
Vendome, and see the gathering crowd, which inquires
who is the illustrious arrival ? your heart begins to beat
quicker and fuller ; you feel like a great actor, for whom the
house is already impatient ; nor is the curtain to remain
longer down. You are scarcely an hour in Paris when your
visitors begin to call. Here are cards without number
officers in high command, courtiers, ministers, and aides-de-
camp of those whose rank precludes the first visit. The
" place " is like a fair, with its crush of equipages, the hotel
is actually besieged. Every language of Europe is heard
within its " porte-cochere," and your own chasseur is over-
whelmed with questionings, enough to drive him distracted.

Is it any wonder how the poor man adulates wealth, when
those in high station the great and titled of the earth are
BO ready to worship and revere it!



480 THE CONFESSIONS OF CON CREGAN.

My first care was, of course, to present myself before the
prince, my gracious master, and I drove at once to the Tuile-
ries. There was a reception that morning by the King, and
the Due de St. Cloud led me forward, and presented me to
his Majesty, with a very eulogistic account of my services in
Africa.

The King listened most graciously to the narrative, and
then, with a cordial courtesy that at once put me at my ease,
asked me several questions about my campaigns, all inge-
niously contrived to be complimentary to me.

" Yours is not originally a Spanish family, Count; I fancy
the name is Celtic."

"Yes, sire, we came from Ireland," said I, blushing in
spite of myself.

"Ah, very true. There was always a great interchange of
races between the two nations. And have you never tried to
trace back, among your Irish ancestors, so as to learn who
are the lineal descendants of your house? "

" I have been hitherto, sire, rather a man of action than of
thought or reflection. To obtain possession of a property
belonging to my family, I undertook a journey to, and a long
residence in, Mexico ; and although successful in this, a sub-
sequent misfortune deprived me of all I owned, and left me
actually in want. The good fortune which led me to take
service under your Majesty has, however, never deserted
me, and I am enabled once again to assume the station that
belonged to me."

The King heard me with apparent pleasure, and after a few
generalities about Paris and my acquaintances, said, " His
Royal Highness the Due de St. Cloud has asked me to
appoint you on my personal staff. There is not at the present
a vacancy, but you shall be named as an extra aide-de-camp in
the meanwhile."

Overwhelmed by this distinction, I could only bow my
gratitude in silence, and, with an air and show of great
devotion, I retired from the royal presence. Thus did proper
feeling suggest the truest politeness ; for had I been more
assured, the chances were, I should have endeavoured to say
something, and consequently committed a very grievous
breach of etiquette.

The following day I received an invitation to dine at Court.
The company was numerous, and among them I discovered
the young English attache who had so insolently treated my
demands on my first visit to Paris. With what sovereign
contempt did I now look down upon him ! He was there,



CONCLUSION. 481

exactly as I left him, muddling away in the petty details of
his little routine life, signing a passport or copying a des-
patch, playing off the airs of grand seigneur to couriers and
lacquais de place, while in the same time, I had won honours
and rewards upon the field of battle, and now stood while the
Prince leaned upon my arm, and chatted familiarly over the
assembled company. Nothing gave me a more confident
sense of my own standing in the world, than the feeling witb
which I now regarded those whom once I looked up to with
a kind of awe. It is precisely as we discover that the hills
which, in childhood, we believed to be gigantic mountains,
are mere hillocks, that in after life we find out how indescri-
bably small are many of those we used to think of as " high
and mighty."

I therefore sneered down my poor attache, and as I pass 3d
him, I believe I even suffered my sabre to jar against his leg,
not without hoping that he might notice the slight, and seek
satisfaction for it. In this I was disappointed, and I left him,
never to trouble my head more about him.

Among the pleasures which awaited me in Paris, none
gave me more sincere satisfaction than the renewal of my
acquaintance with De Minerale, who, however, could never
believe that my good fortune was other than some lucky
accident of my African campaign.

" Come out with it," he would say. " You robbed a
' Smala,' you pillaged a ' Deira,' or something of the sort.
Tell me frankly how it was, and on my honour I'll never
print it till you're dead and gone. In fact, if you persist in
refusing, I'll give you to the world with name in full. I'll
describe you as a fellow that picked up a treasure in some
small island of the Mediterranean, and turned millionaire
after being a pirate."

" Put me down for fifty copies of the book," said I, laugh-
ing ; " I'm rich enough now to encourage the small-fry of
literature."

Thus did we often jest with each other, and we met con-
tinually ; for when not invited out myself, I gave entertain-
ments at home, at which I assembled various members of that
artistic set in which I had once moved a very different order
of society from that in which I mixed in Naples and I am
free to own, with far less claim to real agreeability. The
" wits by profession " were not only less natural than the
smart people of society, but they wearied you by the exactions
of their drollery. Not to laugh at the sorriest jest was to
discredit the jester, and the omission became a serious thing

I I



482 THE CONFESSIONS OP CON CREGAN.

when it touched a man's livelihood. In fact, from first to
last, in whatever country I have lived, I have ever found that
the best, that is, the highest society, was always the most
agreeable, as well as the most profitable. Its forms were not
alone regulated upon the surest basis of comfort, but its tone
ever tended to promote whatever was pleasurable, and
exclude everything that could hurt or offend. So is it, your
great aristocrats are very democratic in a drawing-room
professing and practising the most perfect equality ; while
your " rights of man " and " popular sovereignty advocate,"
insists upon always being the king of his company. Forgive
this digression, my dear reader, if for nothing else than be-
cause it shall be the last time of my offending.

I had now enjoyed myself at Paris about two months, or
thereabouts, in which, having most satisfactorily arranged all
my monetary matters, and besides having a considerable
sum in the English funds found myself down in the "Grand
Livre " for a couple of million of francs a feature which
made me a much-caressed individual in that new social order
just then springing up, called the " financiers " class, one
which, if with few claims to the stately manners of the " Fau-
bourg," numbered as many pretty women, and as agreeable
ones as could be found anywhere. Had I been matrimonially
disposed, this set would certainly have been dangerous ground
for me the attentions which beset me being almost like
adulation. The truth was, however, Donna Maria had left
an impression which comparison with others did not efface.
I felt, if I were to marry, it might as well be for high rank
and family influence, since I never could do so for love. My
nobility required a little strengthening, nor was there any
easier, or more efficient mode of supporting it, than by an
alliance with some of those antiquated houses, who, with
small fortunes, but undiminished pride, inhabited the solitudes
of the " Faubourg St. Germain." I cannot afford space here
to recount my adventures in that peaceful and deserted quar-
ter, whose amusements ranged between masses and tric-trac,
where Piety and Pope Joan divided the hours. The anti-
quity of my family, and the pureness of my Castilian blood !
had been the pretensions which obtained admission for me
into these sacred precincts, and there, I must say, everything
seemed old and worn out : the houses, the salons, the furni-
ture, the masters, servants, horses, carriages all were as old
as the formalities and the opinions they professed.

Even the young ladies had got a premature cast of serious-
ness that took away every semblance of juvenility. Whether



CONCLUSION. 483

from associating with them, or that I had voluntarily con-
formed to the staid Puritanism of their manners, I cannot
say, but my other acquaintances began to quiz and rally me
about my " legitimist " air, and even said that the change had
been remarked at Court.

This was an observation that gave me some uneasiness, and
I hastened off to the Due de St. Cloud, whose kindness had
always admitted me to the most open intercourse.

" It is quite true, Creganne," said he, " we all remarked
that you were coquetting with the ' vieux ' the old ones of
the Faubourg and although / had never any misgivings
about you, others were less charitable."

" What is to be done then ? " said I, in my distress at the
bare thought of seeming ungrateful.

" I'll tell you," said he; " there's the post of secretary of
embassy just vacant at Madrid ; your knowledge of the lan-
guage, and your Spanish blood, admirably fit you for the
mission. Shall I ask for it in your behalf? "

I could scarcely speak for gratitude. I was longing for
some " charge," some public station that would give me a
recognized position as well as wealth.

The " Due " hurried from the room, and after an absence
of half-an-hour came back, laughing, to say " This was
quite a brilliant idea of mine, for the Minister of Foreign
Affairs was just in conversation with the Bang, and, seeing
that they were both in good humour, and discussing the
Madrid mission, I even asked for the post of ambassador for
you ay, and what's better, obtained it too."

I could not believe my ears as I heard these words, and the
Prince was obliged to repeat his tidings ere I could bring
myself to credit them. " And now for a little plan of my
own," resumed he ; I am about to make a short visit to
England, and, better still, to Ireland. You must accompany
me. Of course I travel ' incog.,' which means that my real
rank will be known to all persons in authority, but, avoiding
all state and parade, I shall be able to see something of
that remarkable country of which I have heard so much."

I acknowledged a degree of curiosity to the full as great
but bewailed my ignorance of the language, as a great draw-
back to the pleasures of the journey.

II But you do know a little English," said the Prince.

" Not a word," said I, coolly. " When a child, I believe I
could speak it fluently, so I have heard; but since that
period I have utterly forgotten all about it." This may seem
to have been a gratuitous fiction on my part, but it was not

i I 2



484 THE CONFESSIONS OF CON CREGAN.

BO ; and, to prove it, I must tell the reader a little incident
which was running in my mind at that moment. A certain
Tipperary gentleman, whose name is too familiar for me to
print, once called upon a countryman in Paris, and after
ringing stoutly at the bell, the door was opened by a very
smartly-dressed " maid," whose grisette cap and apron im-
mediately seemed to pronounce her to be French. " Est
Capitaiue est Monsieur O'Shea ici ?" asked he, in consider-
able hesitation.

" Oh, sir! you're English," exclaimed the maid, in a very
London accent.

" Yes, my little darlin', I was asking for Captain O'Shea."

" Ah, sir, you're Irish 1 " said she, with a very significant
fall of the voice. " So," as he afterwards remarked, " my
French showed that I was English, and my English that I
was Irish."

Now, although my French would have passed muster from
Cannes to Caen, my English had something of the idiomatic
peculiarity of the gentleman just alluded to; and were I
only to speak once in Ireland, I must be inevitably detected.
There was then no choice for it ; I must even consent to talk
through an interpreter, a rather dull situation for a man
about to " tour it" in Ireland !

As the Prince's journey was a secret in Paris, our arrange-
ments were made with great caution and despatch. We
travelled down to Boulogne with merely one other compa-
nion, an old Colonel Demannais, who had been for some
years a prisoner in England, and spoke English fluently, and
with only three servants ; there was nothing in our " cortege"
betraying the rank of his Royal Highness.

Apartments had been prepared for us at Mivart's, and
we dined each day at the French Embassy, going to the
Opera in the evening, and sight-seeing all the forenoon,
like genuine " country cousins." The Court was in Scot-
land ; but even had it been in London, I conclude that the
Prince would have been received in some mode which should
not have attracted publicity.

Ten days sufficed for " town," and we set out for Ireland,
to visit which his Royal Highness was all impatience and
eagerness.

Never can I forget the sensations with which I landed on
that shore, which, about a dozen years before, I had quitted
barefooted and hungry ! Was the change alone in me ; or
what had come over the objects, to make them so very dif-
ferent from what they once were ? The hotel that I remem-



CONCLUSION. 485

bered to have regarded as a kind of palace, where splendour
and profusion prevailed, seemed now dirty and uncared for ;
the waiters slovenly, the landlord rude, the apartments mean,
and the food detestable ! The public itself, as it paraded on
the pier, was not that gorgeous panorama I once saw there;
the mingled elegance and fashion I used to regard with such
eyes of wonderment and envy. What had become of them ?
Good looks there were, and in abundance, for Irish women
will be pretty, no matter what changes come over the land;
but the men ! good lack, what a strange aspect did they pre-
sent ! Without the air of fashion you see in Paris, or that
more strongly marked characteristic of style and manliness
the parks of London exhibit, here were displayed a kind of
swaggering self-sufficiency, whose pretension was awfully
at variance with the mediocrity of their dress, and the easy
jocularity that leered from their eyes. Some were aquatics,
and wore Jersey shirts and frocks, loose trousers, and low
shoes ; but they overdid their parts, and lounged like Tom
Cooke in a sea-piece.

Others appeared as elegam, and were even greater burlesques
on the part. It was quite clear, however, that these formed
no portion of the better classes of the capital, and so I hastened
to assure the Prince, whose looks bespoke very palpable dis-
appointment.

In Dublin, however, the changes were greater than I
expected. It was not alone that I had seen other and greater
capitals, where affluence and taste abound, and where, while
the full tide of fashion sets " in " in one quarter, the still
more exciting course of activity and industry flows along in
another ; but here an actual decline had taken place in the
appearance of everything. The shops, the streets, the inha-
bitants, all looked in disrepair. There were few carriages,
nothing deserving the name of equipage none of that stir
and movement which characterize a capital. It all looked
like a place where people dwelt to wear out their old houses
and old garments, and to leave both behind them when no
longer wearable ; windows mended with paper, pantaloons
patched with parti-coloured cloth, "shocking bad hats," mangy
car-drivers, and great troops of beggars of every age and
walk of mendicancy, were met with even in the best quarters ;
and with all these signs of poverty and decay, there was an air
of swaggering recklessness in every one that was particularly
striking. All were out of temper with England and English
rule ; and " Ireland for the Irish " was becoming a popular
cant phrase, pretty much on the same principle that blacklegs



486 THE CONFESSIONS OF CON CREGAN.

extinguish the lights, when luck goes against them, and
have a scramble for "the bank" in the dark. The strangest
of all was, however, that nobody seemed to have died or left
the place since I remembered it as a boy. There went the
burly barrister down Bachelor 's-walk, with the same sturdy
stride I used to admire of yore his cheek a little redder, his
presence somewhat more portly, perhaps, but with the self-
same smile with which he then cajoled the jury ; and that
imposing frown with which he repelled the freedom of a
witness. There were the same civic magistrates, the same
attorneys, dancing-masters ; ay, even the dandies had not
been replaced, but were the old crop, sadly running to seed,
and marvellously ill cared for.

Even the Castle officials were beautifully consistent, and
true to their old traditions ; they were as empty and insolent
as ever. It was the English pale performed over again at the
Upper Castle-yard, and all without its limits were the kerns
and " wild Irish " of centuries ago.

How is a craft like this ever to take the sea, thought I,
with misery and mutiny everywhere ! with six feet of water
in the hold, the crew are turning out for higher wages, and
ready to throw overboard the man who counsels them to put
a hand to the pump !

But what had I to do with all this ? nor would I allude to it
here, save to mention the straits and difficulties which beset
me, to account for changes that I had never anticipated.

We dined everywhere, from that vice-regal palace in a
swamp, to the musty halls of the chief-secretary in the Castle.
We partook of a civic feast, a pic-nic at the waterfall ; we had
one day with the military ! and here, by the way, I recognized
an old acquaintance of other days, the Hon. Captain De
Courcy. He was still on the staff', and still constant to his
ancient flame, who, with a little higher complexion, and more
profuse ringlets it is strange how colour and hair go on
increasing with years, looked pretty much what I remem-
bered her of yore.

"You had better wait for your groom, Mons. Le Comte,"
said De Courcy to me at the review, as I was dismounting to
speak to some people in the crowd of carriages. " Don't trust
those fellows. I once had a valuable mare stolen by one of
those vagrants, and, what was worse, the rascal rode her at a
steeple-chase the same day."

"Pas possible! " exclaimed I, at the bare thought of such
an indignity. " What became of the young villain ? "

" I forget now, whether I let him off, or whether he was



CONCLUSION. 487

publicly whipped ; but I am certain he never came to
good."

I felt a flush of anger rise to my cheek at this speech, but
I checked my passion ; and well I might, as I thought upon
my own condition and upon his. To have expended any
interest or sympathy as to the boy, besides, would have been
absurd, and I was silent. Among our invitations, was one
to the house of a baronet, who resided in a midland county,
only a few miles from my native place. We arrived at night
at Knockdangan Castle, an edifice of modern gothic style,
which means a marvellously expensive residence, rendered
almost uninhabitable, by the necessity of having winding
stairs, narrow corridors, low ceilings, and pointed windows.
The house was full of company, the greater part of whom had
arrived unexpectedly : still, our reception was everything that
genial hospitality could dictate. One of the drawing-rooms
had been already converted into a kind of barrack-room, with
half a dozen beds in it ; and now the library was to be devoted
to the Prince, while a small octagon tower leading off it,
about the ^ze and shape of a tea-tray, was reserved for me.
If these arrangements were attended with inconvenience,
certainly nothing in the manner of either host or hostess
showed it. They, and their numerous family of sons and
daughters, seemed to take it as the most natural thing in life
to be thrown into disorder, to accommodate their friends ;
not alone their friends, but their friends' friends ; for so
proved more than half of the present company. Several of
"the boys," meaning the sons of the host, slept at houses in
the neighbourhood ; one actually bivouacked in a little temple
in the garden. There seemed no limit to the contrivances of
our kind entertainers, either in the variety of the plans for
pleasure, or the hearty good-nature with which they concurred
in any suggestion of the guests. All that Spanish politeness
expresses, as a phrase, was hei'e reduced to actual practice.
Everything was at the disposal of the stranger. Not alone
was he at liberty to ride, drive, fish, shoot, hunt, boat, or
course at will but all his hours were at his own disposal; and
his liberty unfettered, even as to whether he dined in his own
apartment, or joined the general company. Nothing that the
most courteous attention could provide was omitted, at the
same time that the most ample freedom was secured to all.
Here, too, was found a tone of cultivation that would have
graced the most polished society of any European capital.
Foreign languages were well understood and spoken ; music
practised in its higher walks ; drawing cultivated with a skill



488 THE CONFESSIONS OP CON CHEGAN.

rarely seen out of the hands of professed masters ; subjects of
politics and. general literature were discussed with a know-
ledge and a liberality that bespoke the highest degree of
enlightenment ; while to all these gifts the general warmth
of native character lent an indescribable charm of kindliness
and cordiality, that left none a stranger who spent even twelve
hours beneath their roof.

The Prince was in ecstasies with everything and every
one, and he himself no less a favourite with all. Every fall
he got in hunting made him more popular ; every misadven-
ture that occurred to him, in trying to conform to native
tastes, gave a new grace and charm to his character. The
ladies pronounced him " a love ; " and the men, in less
polished, but not less hearty encemium, called him " a
devilish good fellow for a Frenchman."

The habits I have already alluded to, of each guest living
exactly how he pleased, gave a continual novelty to the
company ; sometimes two or three new faces would appear
at the dinner-table, or in the drawing-room, and conjecture
was ever at work whether the last arrivals had been yet
seen, and who were they who presented themselves at
table?

" You will meet two new guests to-day, Count," said the
host one day, as we entered the drawing-room before dinner:
" a Spanish Bishop and his niece a very charming person,
and a widow of nineteen ! They came over to Ireland about
some disputed question of property being originally Irish
by family and are now, I regret to say, about to return to
Spain in a few days. Hitherto a severe cold has confined the
Bishop to his chamber ; and his niece, not being, I fancy, a
proficient in any but her native language, had not courage to
face a miscellaneous party. They will both, however, favour
us to-day ; and, as you are the only one here who can com-
mand the ' true Castilian tongue,' you will take the Countess
in to dinner."

I bowed my acknowledgments, not sorry to have the occa-
sion of displaying my Spanish, and playing the agreeable to
my fair countrywoman.

The drawing-room each day before dinner had no other
light than that afforded by a great fire of bog deal, which,
although diffusing a rich and ruddy glow over all who sat
within the circle around it, left the remainder of the apart-
ment in comparative darkness ; and few, except those very
intimate, were able to recognize each other in the obscurity.
Whether this was a whim of the host, or a pardonable artifice




UP mutual



CONCLUSION. 489

to make the splendour of the well-lighted dinner-table more
effective, on the principle of orators, who begin at a whisper
to create silence, I know not, but we used to jest over the
broken shins and upset spider tables, that each day announced



Online LibraryCharles James Lever[Charles Lever's novels (Volume 5) → online text (page 49 of 50)