Charles James Lever.

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meddlesome Kadicals, whose whole mission in life
was to assail men of family and station.

'' In the famous revolution of France, sir," cried
he, " they did their work with the guillotine ; but
our cowardly canaille never rise above defamation.
You must write to the papers about this, Temple.
You must expose this system of social assassination,
or the day will come, if it has not already come,
when gentlemen of birth and blood will refuse to
serve the Crown."

'' I came back to tell you that our man has made
his escape," said Temple, half trembling at daring
to interrupt this flow of indignation.

" And whom do you call our man, sir ? "

*' I mean Eogers — the fellow we have been writing

" How and when has this happened ? "

Temple proceeded to repeat what he had learned
at the prefecture of the police, and read out the
words of the telegram.

" Let us see," said Lord CuldufF, seating himself
in a well-cushioned chair. "Let us see what new
turn this will give the affair. He may be recaptured,


or lie may Le, most probably is, drowned. We then
come in for compensation. They must indemnify.
There are few claims so thoroughly chronic in their
character as those for an indemnity. You first
discuss the right, and you then higgle over the
arithmetic. I don't want to go back to town this
season. See to it then, Temple, that we reserve
this question entirely to ourselves. Let Blagden
refer everything to us."

" They have sent the news home already."

" Oh ! they have. Very sharp practice. Xot
peculiar for any extreme delicacy either. But I
cannot dine with Blagden, for all that. This escape
gives a curious turn to the whole affair. Let us look
into it a little. I take it the fellow must have gone
down— eh ?"

" Most probably."

" Or he might have been picked up by some
passing steamer or by a fishing-boat. Suppose him
to have got free, he'll get back to England, and make
capital out of the adventure. These fellows under-
stand all that nowadays."

Temple, seeing a reply was expected, assented.

" So that we must not be precipitate, Temple,"
VOL. III. 53


said Lord Culduff, slowly. " It's a case for

These words, and the keen look that accompanied
them, were perfect puzzles to Temple, and he did not
dare to speak.

"The thing must he done this wise," said
Lord Culduff. " It must he a ' private and con-
fidential ' to the office, and a ' sly and ambiguous '
to the public prints. I'll charge myself with the
former ; the latter shall be your care. Temple.
You are intimate with Flosser, the correspondent of
the Bell-Weather. Have him to dinner and be
indiscreet. This old Madeira here will explain any
amount of expansiveness. Get him to talk of this
escape, and let out the secret that it was we who
managed it all. Mind, however, that you swear him
not to reveal anjrthing. It would be your ruin, you
must say, if the affair got wind; but the fact was
Lord Culduff saw the Neapolitans were determined
not to surrender him, and, knowing what an insult it
would be to the public feeling of England that an
Englishman was held as a prisoner at the galleys,
for an act of heroism and gallantry, the only course
was to liberate him at any cost and in any way.


Flosser will swear secrecVj but hint at this solution
as the on dit in certain keen coteries. Such a mode
of treating the matter carries more real weight than a
sworn affidavit. Men like the problem that they
fancy they have unravelled by theii* own acuteness.
And then it muzzles discussion in the House, since
even the most blatant Radical sees that it cannot
be debated openly ; for all Englishmen, as a rule,
love compensation, and we can only claim indemni-
fication here on the assumption that we were
no parties to the escape. Do you follow me,
Temple ? "

" I believe I do. I see the drift of it at least."
" There's no drift, sir. It is a full, palpable,
weU-deHvered blow. AVe saved Rogers ; but we
refuse to explain how."

" And if he turn up one of these days, and
refuse to confirm us ? "

'•'Then we denounce him as an impostor; but
always, mark you, in the same shado^-y way that
we allude to our share in his evasion. It must be
a sketch in water-colours throughout. Temple ; veiy
faint and very transparent. When I have rough -
drafted my despatch you shall see it. Once the


original melody is before you, you will see there
is nothing to do but invent the variations. "

" My lady wishes to know, my lord, if your lord-
ship will step upstairs to speak to her ? " said a
servant at this conjuncture.

" Go up. Temple, and see what it is," whispered
Lord Culduff. "If it be about that box at the
St. Carlos, you can say our stay here is now most
uncertain. If it be a budget question, she must
wait till quarter-day." He smiled maliciously as he
spoke, and waved his hand to dismiss him. Within
a minute, — it seemed scarcely half that time, — Lady
Culduff entered the room, with an open letter in her
hand ; her colour was high, and her eyes flashing, as
she said : —

" Make your mind at ease, my lord. It is no
question of an opera box, or a milliner's bill, but it is
a matter of much importance that I desire to speak
about. Will you do me the favour to read that, and
say what answer I shall return to it."

Lord Culduff took the letter and read it over
leisurely, and then, laying it down, said, " Lady
Augusta is not a very perspicuous letter-writer, or
else she feels her present task too much for her tact,


but what she means here is, that you should give
M. Pracontal permission to ransack your brother's
house for documents, which, if discovered, might
deprive him of the title to his estate. The request,
at least, has modesty to recommend it."

" The absurdity is, to my thinking, greater than
even the impertinence," cried Lady Culduff. " She
says, that on separating two pages, which, by some
accident had adhered, of Giacomo Lami's journal, —
whoever Giacomo Lami may be, — ice, — ice being
Pracontal and herself — have discovered that it was
Giacomo's habit to conceal important papers in the
walls where he painted, and in all cases where he
introduced his daughter's portrait ; and that as in the
octagon room at Castello, there is a picture of her as
Flora, it is believed — confidently believed — such docu-
ments will be found there as will throw great light
on the present claim — ."

''First of all," said he interrupting, "is there
such a portrait ? "

" There is a Flora ; I never heard it was a
portrait. Who could tell after what the artist
copied it?"

" Lady Augusta assumes to beheve this story."


" Lady Augusta is only too glad to believe what
everybody else would pronounce incredible ; but
this is not all, she has the inconceivable imperti-
nence to prefer this request to us, to make us a
party to our own detriment, — as if it were matter
of perfect indifference who possessed these estates,
and who owned Castello."

" I declare I have heard sentiments from your
brother Augustus that would fully warrant this im-
pression. I have a letter of his in my desk wherein
he distinctly says, that once satisfied in his own mind,
— not to the conviction of his lawyer, mark you,
nor to the conviction of men well versed in evidence,
and accustomed to sift testimony, but simply to his
own not very capacious intellect, — that the estate
belongs to Pracontal, he'll yield him up the posses-
sion without dispute or delay."

"He's a fool, there is no other name for him,"
said she passionately.

" Yes, and his folly is very mischievous folly, for
he is abrogating rights he has no pretension to deal
with. It is just as well, at all events, that this
demand was addressed to us and not to your brother,
for I'm certain he'd not have refused his permission."


'^I know it," said she fiercelv; ''and if Lady
Augusta only knew his address and how a letter
might reach him, she would never have written to
us. Time j^ressed however ; see what she says here.
' The case will come on for trial in Novemher, and
if the papers have the value and significance Count
Pracontal's lawyers suspect, there ^ill yet he time to
make some arrangement, — the Count would he dis-
])Osed for a generous one, — which might lessen the
blow, and diminish the evil consequences of a verdict
cei-tain to be adverse to the present possessor.' "

" She dissevers her interests from those of her
late husband's family vrith great magnanimity, I
must say."

" The horrid woman is going to many Pracontal."

" They say so, but I doubt it, at least, till he
comes out a victor."

" How she could have dared to -^Tite this, how
she could have had the shamelessness to ask vie,
— me whom she certainly ought to know, — to aid
and abet a plot directed against the estates, — the
very legitimacy of my family — is more than I can


•' She's an implicit believer one must admit,


for she says, 'if on examining the part of the wall
behind the pedestal of the figure nothing shall he
found, she desires no further search.' The spot is
indicated with such exactness in the journal, that
she limits her request distinctly to this."

'' Probably she thought the destruction of a costly
fresco might well have been demurred to," said Lad}"
Culduff angrily. " Not but for my part, I'd equally
refuse her leave to touch the moulding in the sur-
base. I am glad, however, she has addressed this
demand to us, for I know well Augustus is weak
enough to comply with it, and fancy himself a hero
in consequence. There is something piquant in
the way she hints that she is asking as a favour
what, for all she knows, might be claimed as a
right. Imagine the woman saying this ! "

*' It is like asking me for the key of my writing-
desk to see if I have not some paper or letter there,
that might, if published, give me grave inconvenience."

" I have often heard of her eccentricities and
absurdities, but on this occasion I believe she has
actually outdone herself. I suppose, though this
appeal is made to us conjointly, as it is addressed
to me, I am the proper person to reply to it."


" Certainly, my lady."

" And I may say, — Lord Culduff feels shocked
equally with myself at the indelicacy of the step
you have just taken ; failing to respect the tie which
connects you with our family, you might, he opines,
have had some regards for the decencies which regulate
social intercourse, and while bearing our name, not
have ranked yourself with those who declare them-
selves our enemies. I may say this, I may tell her
that her conduct is shameless, an outrage on all
feeling, and not only derogatory to her station,
but unwomanly ? "

"I don't think I'd say that," said he, with a
faint simper, while he patted his hand -^ith a gold
paper-knife. "I opine the Letter way would be to
accept her ladyship's letter as the most natural thing
in life from her ; that she had preferred a request,
which coming from her, was all that was right and
reasonable. That there was something very noble
and very elevated in the way she could rise superior
to personal interests, and the ties of kindred, and
actually assert the claims of mere justice ; but I'd
add that the decision could not lie with us, — that your
brother being the head of the family, the person


to whom the request must be addressed, and that
we would, with her permission, charge ourselves with
the task. Pray hear me out — first of all, we have
a delay while she replies to this, with or without
the permission we ask for ; in that interval you can
inform your brother that a very serious plot is being
concerted against him; that your next letter will
fully inform him as to the details of the conspiracy,
— your present advice being simply for warning, and
then, when, if she still persist, the matter must
be heard, it will be strange if Augustus shall not
have come to the conclusion that the part intended
for him is a very contemptible one — that of a dupe."

" Your lordship's mode may be more diplomatic ;
mine would be more direct."

" Which is exactly its demerit, my lady," said
he, with one of his blandest smiles. ^'In my'cvaft
the great secret is never to give a flat refusal to any-
thing. If the French were to ask us for the Isle
of Wight, the proper reply would be a polite demand
for the reasons that prompted the request, — whether
' Osborne ' might be reserved, — and ' a courteous
assurance that the claim should meet with every
consideration and a cordial disposition to make every


possible concession that might lead to a closer union
mth a nation it was our pride and happiness to
reckon on as an ally."

'^ These fallacies never deceive anyone."

" Nor are they meant to do so, any more than
the words ' your most obedient and humble servant '
at the foot of a letter ; but they serve to keep corre-
spondence within polite limits."

'^ And they consume time," broke she in, im-

'^ And, as you observe so aptly, they consume

" Let us have done with trifling, my lord. I
mean to answer this letter in my own way."

" I can have no other objection to make to that,
save the unnecessary loss of time I have incurred in
listening to the matter."

" That time so precious to the nation you
serve ! " said she, sneeringly.

"Your ladyship admirably expresses my meaning."

"Then, my lord, I make you the only amends in
my power ; I take my leave of you."

" Your ladyship's politeness is never at fault,"
said he, rising to open the door for her.


" Has Temple told you that the hox on the lower
tier is now free — the box I spoke of ? "

" He has ; but our stay here is now uncertain.
It may be days ; it may be hours "

'' And why was I not told ? I have been giving
orders to tradespeople — accepting invitations — making
engagements, and what not. Am I to be treated like
the wife of a subaltern in a marching regiment — to
hold myself ready to start when the route comes ? "

*'How I could envy that subaltern," said he,
with an inimitable mixture of raillery and deference.

She darted on him a look of indignant anger, and
swept out of the room.

Lord Culduff rang his bell, and told the servant
to beg Mr. Temple Bramleigh would have the kind-
ness to step down to him.

"Write to Filangieri, Temple," said he, "and say
that I desire to have access to the prisoner Rogers.
We know nothing of his escape, and the demand will
embarrass — There, don't start objections, my dear
boy ; I never play a card mthout thinking what the
enemy will do after he scores the trick." And with
this profound encomium on himself he dismissed the
secretary, and proceeded to read the morning papers.

( 1-25 )



The absurd demand preferred by Lady Augusta in her
letter to Marion was a step taken ^*itbont any authority
from Pracontal, and actually without his knowledge.
On the discovery of the adhering pages of the journal,
and their long consideration of the singular memo-
randum that they found within, Pracontal earned
away the book to Longworth to show him the
passage and ask what importance he might attach
to its contents.

Longworth was certainly struck by the minute
particularity with which an exact place was indicated.
There was a rough pen sketch of the Flora, and a
spot marked by a cross at the base of the pedestal
with the words, '•' Here will be found the books."
Lower down on the same page was wi-itten, " These
volumes, which I did not obtain without difficulty.


and which were too cumbrous to carry away, I have
deposited in this safe place, and the time may come
when they mil be of value. — G. L."

"Now," said Longworth, after some minutes of
deep thought, '^ Lami was a man engaged in every
imaginable conspu*acy. There was not a State in
Europe, apparently, where he was not, to some
extent compromised. These books he refers to may
be the records of some secret society, and he may
have stored them there as a security against the luke-
warmness or the treachery of men whose fate might
be imperilled by certain documents. Looking to the
character of Lami, his intense devotion to these
schemes, and his crafty nature and the Italian fore-
thought which seems always to have marked what-
ever he did, I half incline to this impression.
Then, on the other hand, you remember, Pra-
contal, when we went over to Portshannon to
inquire about the registry books, we heard that
they had all been stolen or destroyed by the rebels
in '98 ? "

" Yes, I remember that well. I had not
attached any importance to the fact ; but I remem-
ber how much Kelson was disconcerted and put out


by the intelligence, and how he continually repeated,
' This is no accident ; this is no accident.' "

"It would be a rare piece of fortune if they were
the church books, and that they contained a formal
registry of the marriage."

''But who doubts if?"

" Say rather, my dear friend, why should any
one believe it ? Just think for one moment who
Montague Bramleigh was, what was his station and
his fortune, and then remember the interval that
separated him from the Italian painter — a man of a
certain ability, doubtless. Is it the most likely
thing in the world that if the young Englishman
fell in love vdth. the beautiful Itahan, that he would
have sacrificed his whole ambition in life to his
passion ? Is it not far more probable, in fact, that
no marriage whatever united them ? Come, come,
Pracontal, this is not, now at least, a matter to grow
sulky over ; you cannot be angry or indignant at my
frankness, and you'll not shoot me for this slur on
your grandmother's fair reputation."

" I certainly think that -^dth nothing better than
a theory to support it, you might have spared her
memory this aspersion."


*' If I had imagined jou could not talk of it as
unconcernedly as myself, I assure you I would never
have spoken about it."

" You see now, however, that you have mistaken
me — that you have read me rather as one of your
own people than as a Frenchman," said the other,

'' I certainly see that I must not speak to you
with frankness, and I shall use caution not to offend
you by candour."

" This is not enough, sir," said the Frenchman,
rising and staring angrily at him.

" What is not enough ? " said Longworth, with a
perfect composure.

" Not enough for apology, sir; not enough as
* amende' for an unwarrantable and insolent calumny."

" You are getting angry at the sound of jour
own voice, Pracontal. I now tell you that I never
meant — never could have meant — to offend you.
You came to me for a counsel which I could only
give by speaking freely what was in my mind. This
is surely enough for explanation."

" Then let it all be forgotten at once," cried the
other, warmly.


" I'll not go that far," said Longwortli, in the
same calm tone as before. '' You have accepted my
explanation ; you have recognised what one moment
of justice must have convinced you of — that I had no
intention to wound your feelings. There is certainly,
howeyer, no reason in the world why I should expose
my own to any unnecessary injury. I have escaped a
peril; I have no wish to incur another of the same sort."

" I don't think I understand you," said Praconlal,
quickly. " Do you mean we should quarrel "? "

" By no means."

" That we should separate, then 7 "

" Certainly."

The Frenchman became pale, and suddenly his
face flushed till it was deep crimson, and his eyes
flashed with fire. The efibrt to be calm was almost
a strain beyond his strength ; but he succeeded, and
in a voice scarcely above a whisper, he said, " I am
deeply in your debt ; I cannot say how deeply.
My lawyer, however, does know, and I will confer
with him."

" This is a matter of small consequence, and
does not press : besides, I beg you will not let it
trouble you."

VOL. III. 54


The measured coldness with which these words
were spoken seemed to jar painfully on Pracontal's
temper, for he snatched his hat from the table, and
with a hurried, '' Adieu— adieu, then," left the room.
The carriages of the hotel were waiting in the court-
yard to convey the trayellers to the station.

" Where is the train starting for ? " asked he of
a waiter.

" For Civita, sir."

" Step up to my room, then, and throw my
clothes into a portmanteau — enough for a few days.
I shall have time to wi-ite a note, I suppose ? "

" Ample, sir. You have forty minutes 3^et."

Pracontal opened his writing-desk and wrote a
few lines to Lady Augusta, to tell how a telegram
had just called him avray, — it might be to Paris,
perhaps London. He would be back within ten
days, and explain all. He wished he might have
her leave to T\Tite, but he had not a moment left
him to ask the permission. Should he risk the
liberty ? What if it might displease her ? He was
every way unfortunate; nor, in all the days of a
life of changes and vicissitudes, did he remember
a sadder moment than this in which he TVTote himself


lier devoted seryant, A. Pracontal de Bramleigh.
This done, lie jumped into a carriage, and just
reached the train in time to stai-t for Civita.

There was Httle of exaggeration when he said he
had never known greater misery and depression than
he now felt. The thought of that last meeting with
Long^'orth overwhelmed him with sorrow. When
we bear in mind how slowly and gradually the edifice
of friendship is built up ; how many of our prejudices
have often to be overcome ; how much of self-
education is effected in the process ; the thought
that all this labour of time and feeling should be
cast to the winds at once for a word of passion
or a hasty expression, is humiliating to a degree.
Pracontal had set great store by Longworth's friend-
ship for him. He had accepted great favours at his
hand; but so kindly and so gi-acefully conferred
as to double the obligations by the delicacy T\-ith
which they were bestowed. And this was the man
whose good feeling for him he had outraged and
insulted beyond recall. '"' If it had been an open
quaiTel between us, I could have stood his fire and
shown him how thoroughly I knew myself in the
T\Tong; but his cold disdain is more than I can


bear. And what was it all about ? How my old
comrades would laugh if they heard that I had
quarrelled with my best friend. Ah, my grand-
mother's reputation ! Ma foi, how much more
importance one often attaches to a word than to
what it represents ! " Thus angry with himself,
mocking the very pretensions on which he had
assumed to reprehend his friend, and actually
ridiculing his own conduct, he embarked from
Marseilles to hasten over to England, and entreat
Kelson to discharge the money obligation which
yet bound him to Longworth.

It was a rough night at sea, and the packet so
crowded by passengers that Pracontal was driven to
pass the night on deck. In the haste of departure
he had not provided himself with overcoats or rugs,
and was but ill suited to stand the severity of a night
of cold cutting wind and occasional drifts of hail.
To keep himself warm he walked the deck for hours,
pacing rapidty to and fro : perhaps not sorry at heart
that physical discomfort compelled him to dwell less
on the internal griefs that pre3-ed upon him. One
solitary passenger besides himself had sought the
deck, and he had rolled himself in a multiplicity


of warm wrappers, and lay snugly under the shelter
of the binnacle — a capacious tarpaulin cloak sur-
mounting all his other integuments.

Pracontal's campaigning experiences had taught
him that the next best thing to being well cloaked
oneself is to lie near the man that is so ; and thus,
seeing that the traveller was fast asleep, he stretched
himself under his lee, and even made free to draw a
corner of the heavy tarpaulin over him.

" I say," cried the stranger, on discovering a
neighbour; " I say, old fellow, you are coming it a
bit too free and easy. You've stripped the covering
off my legs."

" A thousand pardons," rejoined Pracontal. " I

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Online LibraryCharles James LeverThe Bramleighs of Bishop's Folly (Volume 3) → online text (page 6 of 16)