Charles James Lever.

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the entrance of some guest, less familiarized to the geography
of the apartment.

On this particular occasion the party was unusually large ;
possibly a certain curiosity to see the new guests had added
to the number, while some of the neighbouring families were
also present. Various were the new names announced ; and
at last came the Bishop, with the lady of the house upon his
arm, the young widow following with one of the daughters of
the house. I could only distinguish a very white head, with
a small black skull-cap, a stooping figure, and a great gold
cross, which, I concluded, represented the holy man ; something
in black, with a very long veil descending from the back of
her head, being as evidently the niece.

A few formal introductions were gone through in clever
pantomime, dinner was announced, and the company paired
off in all stateliness, while the host, seizing my arm, led me
across the room, and in a few words presented me to the
fair widow, who curtseyed and accepted my arm, and away
we marched in that solemn procession by which people
endeavour to thaw the ice of first acquaintance.

" Your first visit to Ireland, I believe, Senhora?" said I,
in Spanish, wishing to say something as we walked along.

" Yes, Senhor, and yours also, I understand ? " replied
she.

" Not exactly," muttered I, taken too suddenly to recover
myself, " when I was a boy, a mere child," I here by acci-
dent employed a Mexican word almost synonymous with the
French " gamin," she started, and said eagerly, " How ! you
have been in Mexico ? "

" Yes, Senhora, I have passed some years in that country."

" I am a Mexican," cried she delightedly. " Tell me,
where have you travelled, and whom did you know there ? "

" T have travelled a good deal, but scarcely knew any one,"
replied I. " At Guajuaqualla."

" Oh, were you there ? my own neighbourhood my
home," exclaimed she, fervidly.

" Then, probably, you know Don Esteban Olares," said I.

" My own father ! "

I turned round ; our eyes met ; it was just at the very
entrance of the dinner-room, where a blaze of light was shed
on everything, and there upon my arm her hand trembling,



490 THE CONFESSIONS OF CON CREGAN.

her cheek colourless, and her eyes swimming in tears
was Donna Maria ! Neither of us spoke neither of us could
speak ! and while her eyes wandered from my face to the
several decorations I wore upon my breast, and I watched
with agonizing intensity the look of terror she threw down
the table towards the place where her uncle was seated, I
saw plainly that some painful mystery was struggling within
her mind.

" Do not let my uncle recognize you," said she, in a low
whisper ; " he is not likely to do so, for both his sight and
hearing are much impaired."

" But why should I not claim him as an old acquaintance, if
not a friend, Senhora, if he be the same Fra Miguel ? "

" Hush, be cautious," cried she, " I will tell you all to-
morrow to-night, if there be a fitting opportunity. Let us
talk of something else, or we shall be remarked."

I tried my best to obey her, but I fear my attempt was a
poor one ; I was able, however, to listen to her with a certain
amount of composure, and while doing so, to remark how
much she had improved in grace and beauty since we met.
Tears had developed the charms which girlhood then but
shadowed forth, and in the full and liquid softness of her
dark and long-lashed eyes, and the playful delicacy of her
mouth, I saw how a consciousness of fascination had served
to lend new powers of pleasing.

She spoke to me of her widowhood without any affectation
of feeling grieved or sorry. So long as Don Geloso had
lived, her existence had been like that of a nun in a cloister ;
he was too jealous to suffer her to go into the world, and
save at the Court Chapel each morning and evening, she
never saw anything of that brilliant society in which her
equals were moving. When her uncle was created Bishop of
Seville, she removed to that city to visit him, and had never
seen her husband after. Such, in few words, was the story
of a life, whose monotony would have broken the spirit of
any nature less buoyant and elastic than her own. Don
Esteban was dead ; and of him she spoke with deep and
affectionate feeling, betraying besides that her own lot was
rendered almost a friendless one by the bereavement.

That same evening, as we walked through the rooms,
examining pictures and ancient armour, of which our host
was somewhat vain, I learned the secret to which the Senhora
had alluded at table, and divesting which of all the embar-
rassment the revelation occasioned hefSelf, was briefly this :
The Fra, who had never, for some reasons of his own, either



CONCLUSION. 491

liked or trusted me, happened to discover some circumstances
of my earlier adventures in Texas, and even traced me in my
rambles to the night of my duel with the Ranchero. Hence
he drew the somewhat rash and ungenerous conclusion that
my character was not so unimpeachable as I affected, and
that my veracity was actually open to question ! An active
correspondence had taken place between Don Geloso and
himself about me, in which the former, after great researches,
pronounced that no noble family of my name had existed in
old Spain, and that, in plain fact, I was nothing better than
an impostor ! In this terrible delusion the old gentleman
died, but so fearful was he of the bare possibility of injuring
one in whose veins flowed the pure blood of Castile, that
on his death-bed he besought the Bishop to ascertain the fact
to a certainty, and not to desist in the investigation till he
had traced me to my birth, parentage, and country. Upon
this condition he had bequeathed all his fortune to the
Church, and not alone all his own wealth, but all Donna
Maria's also.

The Bishop's visit to Ireland, therefore, had no other object
than to look for my baptismal certificate, an investigation,
I need scarcely say, somewhat difficult and intricate !

Of course, in this confession, the fair Countessa never hesi-
tated to regard me as an injured and calumniated individual;
but so assured was she of the Bishop's desire to endow the
Church with her wealth, that he would have less brooked to
discover me a noble of title and rank indisputable, than to
find me a poor and ignoble adventurer. " Were he but to
recognize you," said she, "J should be condemned to a
nunnery for life! " and this terror, however little startling
to my ears, had too much of significance to Tier mind to be
undervalued.

Of course my present position, the companionship of the
Prince, the foreign orders I wore, were more than sufficient
to accredit me to her as anything I pleased to represent my-
self; but somehow I felt little inclination for that vein of
fiction in which so often and so largely I had indulged ! For
the first time in my life I regarded this flow of invention as
a treachery ! and, when pressed by her to relate the full story
of my life, I limited myself to that period which, beginning
with my African campaign, brought me down to the moment
of telling I was in love. Such is the simple solution of the
mystery ; nor can I cite a more convincing evidence of the
ennobling nature of the passion, than that it made me, such
as I was, tenacious of the truth.



492 THE CONFESSIONS OF CON CREGAN.

Every succeeding day brought me into closer intimacy with
the Senhora, and taught me more and more to value her for
other graces than those of personal beauty. The seclusion
in which she had passed her last few years had led her to
cultivate her mind by a course of study such as few Spanish
women ever think of, and which gave an almost serious cha-
racter to a nature of more than childlike buoyancy. We talked
of her own joyous land, to which she seemed longing to re-
turn, and of our first meeting beside the " Rio Colloredo,"
and then of our next meeting on her own marriage-day, and
she wondered where, if ever, we should see each other again !
The opportunity was not to be lost. I pressed her hand to
my lips, and asked her never to leave me ! I told her that,
for me, country had no ties, that I had neither home nor
kindred. 1 would, at that moment, have confessed every-
thing, even to my humble birth ! I pledged myself to live
with her amidst the sierras of the far west, or, if she liked
better, in some city of the old world. I told her that I was
rich, and that I needed not that wealth of which her uncle's
covetousness would rob her. In fact, I said a great deal that
was true, and when I added anything that was not so, it was
simply as painters introduce a figure with a " bit of red," to
heighten the landscape. I will not weary my fair reader
with all the little doubts, and hesitations, and fears, so
natural for her to experience and express ; nor will I tire my
male companion by saying how I combated each in turn.
Love, like a lawsuit, has but one ritual. First comes the
declaration usually a pretty unintelligible piece of business
in either case ; then come the "affidavits," the sworn depo-
sitions ; then follow the cross-examinations ; after which, the
charge and the verdict. In my case it was a favourable one,
and I was almost out of my senses with delight.

The Bishop, with whom my acquaintanceship had never
betrayed my secret, was to leave Ireland in a few days, and
the Prince, to whom I told everything, with the kindness of
a true friend, promised that he would take the very same day
for his own departure. The remainder we were to leave to
fortune. Love-making left me little time for any other
thoughts ; but still as, for appearance' sake, I was obliged
to pass some hours of every day apart from Donna Maria, I
took the occasion of one of these forced absences to visit a
scene which had never quitted my mind through all the
changeful fortunes of my life the little spot where I was
born. Rising one morning at break of day, I set out for
Horseleap, to see once more, and for the last time, the



CONCLUSION. 493

bumble home of my childhood. The distance was about
sixteen miles ; but as I rode slowly, my mind full of old
memories and reflections, I did not reach the place till nigh
noon. Alas! I should never have known the spot! There
had been a season of famine and pestilence, and now the
little village was almost tenantless. Many of the cabins were
unroofed : in some, the blackened rafters bore tokens of fire.
The one shop, that used to supply the humble luxuries of the
poor, Avas closed, and I passed on with a heavy heart towards
the cross-roads where " Con's Acre " lay.

I had not gone far when my eye, straining to catch it,
detected the roof of the cabin rising above the little thorn
hedge that flanked the road. Ay, there was the old stone-
quarry I used to play in, as a child, fancying that its granite
sides were mountain precipices, and its little pools were lakes.
There was the gate on which for hours long I have saf", gazing
at the bleak expanse of moorland, and wondering if all the
wide world beyond had nothing fairer or more beautiful than
this.

"Who lives in that cabin yonder?" asked I, of a peasant
on the road.

The man replied that it was " the minister;" adding his
name, which, however, I could not catch. Long as I had
been away from Ireland, I could not forget that this was the
especial title given to the Protestant clergyman of the parish,
and I rode up to the door wondering how it chanced that he
was reduced to a dwelling of such humble pretensions. An
old woman came out as I drew up, and told me that the
curate was from home, but would be back in less than an
hour ; requesting me to " put in my beast," and sit down in
the parlour till he came.

I accepted the invitation, followed her into the cabin,
which, although in a condition of neatness very different
from what I remembered it of old, brought back all my boyish,
days in an instant. There was the fireside, where with naked
feet roasting before the blazing turf, I had sat and slept full
many an hour, dreaming of adventures which were as nothing
to those my real life had met with. There the corner where
I used to sit, throughout the night, copying those law papers
my father would bring back with him from Kilbeggan. There
stood the little bed, where often I have sobbed myself to sleep,
when, wearied and worn out, I was punished for some trifling
omission, some slight and accidental mistake. I sat down,
and covered my face with my hands, for a sense of my utter
loneliness in the world came suddenly over me ; 1 felt as if



494 THE CONFESSIONS OF CON CREGAN.

this poor hovel was my only real home, and that all my
success in life was a mere passing dream.

Meanwhile the old woman, with true native volubility, was
explaining how the Bishop " bad scran to him ! wouldn't
let his riv'rence have pace and ease till he kem and lived in.
the .parish, though there wasn't a spot fit for a gentleman in
the whole length and breadth of it ! and signs on it," added
she, " we had to put up with this little place here, they call
Con's Acre, and it was all a ruin when we got it."

" And who owned this cabin before ?" asked I.

" A villain they call Con Cregan, your honour ; the biggest
thief ye ever heard of; he was paid for informin' agin the
people, and whin the Government had done wid him, they
transported him too ! "

" Had he any children, this same Con ?"

" He had a brat of a boy that was drowned at ' say,' they
tell me ; but I'd never believe it was that way that Con
Cregan's son was to die ! "

I need scarcely remark that I saw no inducement for pro-
longing this conversation, wherein all the facts quoted were
already familiar, and all the speculations the reverse of flat-
tery ; and I was far more agreeably occupied in discussing
the eggs and milk the old lady had placed before me, when
the door opened, and the curate entered. A deep cavernous
cough, and a stooped figure, announcing the signs of some
serious chest disease, were all I had time to observe; when,
with the politeness of a gentleman, he advanced towards
me. The first sound of his voice was enough, and I cried
out, " Lyndsay ! my oldest and best friend don't you know
me?"

" I am ashamed to say that I do not," said he, faltering,
while he still held my hand, and gazed into my face.

" Not yet ? " asked I again, smiling at the embarrassment
of his countenance.

" Not even yet," said he. " Tell me, I beseech you, where
did we meet ?"

" Come here," said I, leading him to the door, and point-
ing to the wide-stretching moor that lay before us ; " it was
there yonder, where you see that heavy cloud-shadow steal-
ing along, yonder we first met. Do yon know me now ? '

He started ; his pale cheek grew paler, and he fell upon my
neck in a burst of tears. Who shall ever know the source,
or what the meaning P They were not of joy, still less of
sorrow, they were the outbreak of a hundred emotions.
Old memories of happy days, never to come back boyish



CONCLUSION. 495

triumphs, successes, failures moments of ecstasy of bitter
anguish ; his own bleak joyless existence perhaps contrast-
ing with mine, and then at last the fell consciousness of the
malady in which he was but lingering out life.

"And here are you, and here I!" cried he, in a voice
which his faltering accents made scarce intelligible ; " who
should say that we were to meet thus ? " Then, as if his
words had conveyed a meaning of which he was ashamed, he
blushed deeply, and said, " And oh, my friend ! how truly
you told me that life had its path for each, if we but knew
how to choose it."

I must not say how the hours were passed, nor how it was
nightfall ere either of us guessed it. Lyndsay insisted upon
hearing every adventure that had befallen me, questioning
me eagerly us I went, how each new feature of prosperity
had "worked with me," and whether gold had yet hardened
my heart, and taught me indifference to the poor.

I told him of my love, and with such rapturous delight,
that he even offered to aid me in my object, by marrying me
to Donna Maria ; a piece of generous zeal, I am certain, that
originated less in friendship than in the prospect of a pro-
selyte the niece of a bishop, too ! Poor fellow, he might
make many converts if he were thus easily satisfied.

The next day I drove Donna Maria out for an airing, and,
while occupying her mind with various matters, contrived to
prolong our excursion to Horseleap. " What a dreary spot
you have chosen for our drive ! " said she, looking around
her.

"Do you see yonder little hut," said I, "where the smoke
is rising ?"

" Yes, that poor cabin yonder ! You have not come to
show me that?" said she, laughing.

"Even so, Maria," said I; "to show you that poor and
humble hut, and to tell you that it was there I was born a
peasant's son ; that from that same lowly roof I wandered
out upon the world friendless and hungry ; that partly by
energy, partly by a resolution to succeed, partly by the daring
determination that would not admit a failure, I have become
what I am titled, honoured, wealthy, but still the son of a
poor man. I could not have gone on deceiving you, even
though this confession should separate us for ever." I could
not speak more, nor needed I. Her hand had already clasped
mine, as she murmured "Yours more than ever."

"Now is the moment, then, to become so," said I, as I
lifted her from the carriage and led her within the. cabin.



496 THE CONFESSIONS OF CON CREGAN.

The company were already waiting dinner ere we returned
to the Castle. " I have to make our excuses," said I, to the
hostess ; " but we prolonged our drive to a considerable
distance."

"Ah, we feared you might have taken the road by the lake,
where there is no turning back," said she.

" Exactly, madam ; that is what we did precisely, for we
are married ! "

Need I dwell upon the surprise and astonishment of this
announcement ? The Bishop fortunately it was in Spanish
uttered something very like an oath. The bride blushed
some of the ladies looked shocked the men shook hands
with me, and the Prince, saluting Donna Maria with a most
hearty embrace, begged to say, " that the lady would be very
welcomely received in Paris, since it was the only drawback
to my appointment as an ambassador that I was unmarried."

Here I have done, not that my Confessions are exhausted,
but that I fear my reader's patience may be ; I may, however,
add that this was not the only " Spanish marriage " in which
I had a share, that my career in greatness was not less
eventful than my life in obscurity, and that I draw up at this
stage, leaving it for the traveller to say if he should ever care
hereafter to journey further with me.



THE END.



Woodfall & Kinder, Printers, Milford Lane, Strand, London, W.C.



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