Charles James Lever.

The Bramleighs of Bishop's Folly (Volume 3) online

. (page 8 of 16)
Online LibraryCharles James LeverThe Bramleighs of Bishop's Folly (Volume 3) → online text (page 8 of 16)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

of habitual approval that set all the rest laughing.

" I need not discuss the question of permitting
the search," said Bramleigh; "these gentlemen
have saved me that. The only point now open is,
shall I go over to England or not ? "

" Go by all means," said Julia, eagerly. " Mr.
Sedley's advice cannot be gainsayed."

"But it seems to me our case is lost," said he,
as his eyes turned to Nelly, whose face expressed
deep sorrow.

" I fear so," said she, in a faint whisper.

" Tlien why ask me to leave this, and throw
myself into a hopeless contest ? ^Vhy am I to quit


this spot, where I have found peace and contentment,
to encounter the struggle that, even with all my con-
viction of failure, will still move me to hope and
expectancy ? "

" Just because a brave soldier fights even after
defeat seems certain," said Julia. " More than one
battle has been won from those who had already
despatched news of their victory."

"You may laugh at me, if jou like," said
L 'Estrange, " but Julia is right there." And they
did laugh, and the laughter was so far good that it
relieved the terrible tension of their nerves, and
rallied them back to ease and quietude.

" I see," said Bramleigh, " that you all think I
ought to go over to England; and though none of
you can know what it will cost me in feeling, I will


" There's a messenger from the Podesta of
Cattaro waiting all this time. Gusty, to know about
this English sailor they have arrested. The autho-
rities desire to learn if you will take him off their

" George is my vice-consul. He shall deal with
him," said Bramleigh, laughing, " for as the steamer


touches at two o'clock, I shall be run sharp to catch
her. If any one will help me to pack, I'll he more
than gi'ateful."

^' y^e'W do it in a committee of the whole house,"
said Julia, '^ for when a man's trunk is once corded
he never goes back of his journey."




So much occupied and interested were the little
household of the villa in Bramleigh's departure —
there were so many things to be done, so many-
things to be remembered — that L'Estrange never
once thought of the messenger from the Podesta,
who still waited patiently for his answer.

"I declare," said Julia, ''that poor man is still
standing in the hall. For pity's sake, George, give
him some answer, and send him away."

'' But what is the answer to be, Ju ? I have not
the faintest notion of how these cases are dealt with."

" Let us look over what that great book of
instructions says. I used to read a little of it every
day when we came first, and I worried Mr. Bram-
leigh so completely with my superior knowledge that
he carried it off, and hid it."


'' Oh, I remember now. He told me lie had left
it at the consulate, for that you were positiyely
driving him distracted with official details."

" How ungrateful men are ! They never know
what good * nagging' does them. It is the stimu-
lant that converts half the sluggish people in the
world into reasonably active individuals."

" Perhaps we are occasionally over-stimulated,"
said George, drily.

" If so, it is by your o^ti vanity. Men are
spoiled by their fellowmen, and not by women.
There now, you look vers* much puzzled at that
paradox — as you'd like to call it — but go away and
think over it, and say this evening if I'm not right."

" Very likely you are," said he, in his indolent
way ; " but whether or not, you always beat me in
a discussion."

"And this letter from the Podesta; who is to
reply, or what is the reply to be ? "

"Well," said he, after a pause, "I think of the
two I'd rather speak bad Italian than write it. I'll
go down and see the Podesta."

" There's zeal and activity," said Julia, laughing.
"Never disparage the system of nagging after that.


Poor George," said slie, as slie looked after him
while be set out for Cattaro, "he'd have a stouter
heart to ride at a six-foot wall than for the interview
that is now before him."

" And yet," said Nelly, " it was only a moment
ago you were talking to him about his vanity."

" And I might as well have talked about his
wealth. But you'd spoil him, Nelly, if I wasn't
here to prevent it. These indolent men get into the
way of believing that languor and laziness are good
temper, and as George is really a fine-hearted fellow,
I'm angry when he falls back upon his lethargy for
his character, instead of trusting, as he could and as
he ought, to his good qualities."

Nelly blushed, but it was with pleasure. This
praise of one she liked — liked even better than she
herself knew — was intense enjoyment to her.

Let us now turn to L'E strange, who strolled
along towards Cattaro — now stopping to gather the
wild anemonies which, in every splendid variety of
colour, decked the sward — now loitering to gaze at
the blue sea, which lay still and motionless at his
feet. There was that voluptuous sense of languor
in the silence — the loaded perfume of the air — the


drowsy hum of insect life— the faint ^^lash with
which the sea, unstirred hy wind, washed the shore
— that harmonized to perfection with his own
nature; and could he but have had Xelly at his
side to taste the happiness with him, he would
have deemed it exquisite, for, poor fellow, he was
in love after his fashion. It was not an ardent
impulsive passion, hut it consumed him slowly and
certainly, all the same. He knew well that his
present life of indolence and inactivity could not,
ought not, to continue — that without some prompt
effort on his part his means of subsistence would
be soon exhausted ; but as the sleeper begs that
he may be left to slumber on, and catch up, if
he may, the dream that has just been broken, he *
seemed to entreat of Fate a little longer of the
delicious trance in which he now was living. His
failures in life had deepened in him that sense of
humility which in coarse natures turns to mis-
anthropy, but in men of finer mould makes them
gentle, and submissive, and impressionable. His
own humble opinion of himself deprived him of
all hope of winning Nelly's affection, but he saw
— or he thought he saw — in her that love of
VOL. III. 56


simple pleasures and of a life remoYed from all
ambitions, that led bim to believe slie would not
regard bis pretensions witli disdain. And tben be
felt tbat, tbrown togetber into tbat closer intimacy
tbeir poverty bad broiigbt about, be bad maintained
towards ber a studious deference and respect wbicb
bad amounted almost to coldness, for be dreaded
tbat sbe sbould tbink be would bave adventured,
in tbeir fallen fortunes, on wbat be would never
bave dared in tbeir bigb and palmy days.

'' Well," said be, aloud, as be looked at tbe
small fragment of an almost finisbed cigar, '^ I
suppose it is nigb over now ! I sball bave to go
and seek my fortune in Queensland, or New Zealand,
or some far-away country, and all I sball carry witli
me will be tbe memory of tbis dream — for it is a
dream — of our life bere. I wonder sball I ever, as
I bave seen otber men, tbrow myself into my work,
and efl'ace tbe tbougbt of myself, and of my own poor
weak nature, in tbe bigber interests tbat will press
on me for action."

"Wbat sbould be do if men came to bim for
guidance, or counsel, or consolation. Could he play
tbe hypocrite, and pretend to give what he had not


got ? or tell them to trust to what he bitterly knew
was not the sustaining principle of his own life ?
'•' This shall be so no longer," cried he ; " if I
cannot go heart and soul into my work, I'll turn
farmer or fisherman. Ill be what I can be without
shame and self-reproach. One week more of this
happiness — one week — and I tow to tear myself from
it for ever."

As he thus muttered, he found himself in the
narrow street that led into the centre of the little
town, which, blocked up by fruit-stalls and fish-
baskets, required all his address to navigate. The
whole population, too, were screaming out their
wares in the shiill cries of the South, and invitations
to buy were blended with droll sarcasms on rival
productions and jeering comments on the neighbours.
Though full of deference for the unmistakable signs
of gentleman in his appearance, they did not the less
direct their appeals to him as he passed, and the
flatteries on his handsome face and 'graceful figm*e
mingled with the praises of whatever they had to seU.

Half amused, but not a little flurried by all the
noise and tumult around him, L 'Estrange made his
way through the crowd till he reached the dingy


entrance wliich led to tlie still dingier stair of the
Podesta's residence.

L'Estrange had scarcely prepared the speech in
which he should announce himself as charged with
consular functions, when he found himself in presence
of a very dirty little man, with spectacles and a
skull cap, whose profuse civilities and ceremonious
courtesies actually overwhelmed him. He assured
L'Estrange that there were no words in Italian —
nor even in German, for he spoke in both — which
could express a fractional part of the affliction he
experienced in enforcing measures that savoured
of severity on a subject of that great nation which
had so long been the faithful friend and ally of
the imperial house. On this happy political union
it was clear he had prepared himself historically,
for he gave a rapid sketch of the first empire, and
briefly threw off a spirited description of the disastrous
consequences of the connection with France, and the
passing estrangement from Great Britain. By this
time, what between the difficulties of a foreign tongue,
and a period with which the poor parson was not,
historically, over conversant, he was completely
mystified and bewildered. At last the great func-


tionary condescended to become practical. He pro-
ceeded to narrate that an English sailor, who had
been landed at Ragusa by some Greek coasting-
vessel, had come over on foot to Cattaro to find
his consul as a means of obtaining assistance to
reach England. There were, however, suspicious
circumstances about the man that warranted the
police in arresting him and carrying him ofi" to
prison. First of all, he was very poor, almost in
rags, and emaciated to a degree little short of
starvation. These were signs that vouched little
for a man's character ; indeed, the Podesta thought
them damaging in the last degree ; but there were
others still worse. There were marks on his wrists
and ankles which showed he had lately worn
manacles and fetters — unmistakable marks ; marks
which the practised eyes of gendarmes had declared
must have been produced by the heavy chains worn
by galley-slaves, so that the man was, without doubt,
an escaped convict, and might be, in consequence, a
very dangerous individual.

As the prisoner spoke neither Italian nor German
there was no means of interrogating him. They had
therefore limited themselves to takino: him into


custody, and now held him at the disposal of the con-
sular authority, to deal with him as it might please.

" May I see him ? " asked L 'Estrange.

" By all means ; he is here. We have had him
brought from the prison awaiting your excellency's
arrival. Perhaps you would like to have him hand-
cuffed before he is introduced. The brigadier recom-
mends it."

" No, no. If the poor creature be in the con-
dition you tell me, he cannot be dangerous." And
the stalwart curate threw a downward look at his
own brawny proportions with a satisfied smile that
did not show much fear.

The brigadier whispered something in the
Podesta's ear in a low tone, and the great man
then said aloud, — ^'He tells me that he could
slip the handcuffs on him now quite easily, for the
prisoner is sound asleep, and so overcome by fatigue
that he hears nothing."

" No, no," reiterated L'Estrange. " Let us have
no handcuffs ; and with your good permission, too,
I would ask another favour : let the poor fellow take
his sleep out. It will be quite time enough for me
to see him when he awakes."


The Podesta turned a look of mingled wonder
and pity on the man who could show such palpable
weakness in official life ; but he e\idently felt he
could not risk his dignity by concurrence in such
a line of conduct.

" If your Excellency," said he, •• tells me it is in
this wise prisoners are treated in your country I have
no more to say."

"Well, well; let him be brought up," said
L'Estrange, hastily, and more than ever anxious
to get free of this Austrian Dogberry.

Nothing more was said on either side while the
brigadier went down to bring up the prisoner. The
half - darkened room, the stillness, the mournful
ticking of a clock that made the silence more signifi-
cant, all impressed L'Estrange with a mingled
feeling of weariness and depression ; and that
strange melancholy that steals over men at times,
when all the events of human life seem sad-coloured
and dreary, now crept over him, when the shuffling
sounds of feet, and the clanging of a heavy sabre,
apprised him that the escort was approaching.

'' We have no treaty with any of the Italian
Governments," said the Podesta, " for extradition :


and if a man be a galley-slave, as we suspect, we
throw all the responsibility of his case on you." As
he spoke, the door opened, and a young man wdth a
blue flannel shirt and linen trowsers entered, freeing
himself from the hands of the gendarmes with a
loose shake, as though to say, " In presence of my
country-man in authority, I owe no submission to
these." He leaned on the massive rail that formed
a sort of barrier in the room, and with one hand
pushed back the long hair that fell heavily over his

"What account do you give of yourself, my
man ? " said L'Estrange, in a tone half-command-
ing, half-encouraging.

" I have come here to ask my consul to send
me on to England, or to some seaport where I may
find a British vessel," said the man, and his voice
w^as husky and weak, like that of one just out of

"How did you come to these parts?" asked

" I was picked up at sea by a Greek trabaccolo,
and landed at Antivari ; the rest of the way I came
on foot."


*' Were you cast away "? or how came it that you
were picked up ? "

^'1 made my escape from the Bagni at Ischia.
I had been a galley-slave there."' The bold effrontery
of the declaration was made still more startling by
a sort of low laugh which followed his words.

''You seem to think it a light matter to have
been at the galleys, my friend/' said L 'Estrange,
half reprovingly. " How did it happen that an
Englishman should be in such a discreditable posi-
tion •? "

'•'It's a long story — too long for a hungry man
to tell," said the sailor ; "perhaps too long for your
own patience to listen to. At all events, it has no
bearing on my present condition."

" I'm not so sure of that, my good fellow. Men
are seldom sentenced to the galleys for light offences ;
and I'd like to know something of the man I'm
called on to befriend,"

"I make you the same answer I gave before, —
the story would take more time than I have well
strength for. Do you know," said he, earnestly,
and in a voice of touching significance, " it is twenty-
eight hours since I have tasted food ? "


L 'Estrange leaned forward in his chair, Hke one
expecting to hear more, and eager to catcli the words
aright; and then rising, walked over to the rail
where the prisoner stood. '' You have not told
me your name," said he, in a voice of kindly mean-

" I have been called Sam Rogers for some time
back; and I mean to be Sam Rogers a little longer."

'^ But it is not your real name ? " asked
L 'Estrange, eagerly.

The other made no reply for some seconds ; and
then moving his hand carelessly through his hair,
said, in a half-reckless way, " I declare, sir, I can't
see what you have to do with my name, whether I be
Sam Rogers, or — or — anything else I choose to call
myself. To you — I believe, at least — to you I am
simply a distressed British sailor."

' ' And 3^ou are Jack Bramleigh ? ' ' said L 'Estrange,
in a low tone, scarcely above a whisper, while he
grasped the sailor's hands, and shook them warmly.

"And who are 3'ou ? " said Jack, in a voice
shaken and faltering.

" Don't you know me, my poor dear fellow ?
Don't you remember George L'Estrange ? "


TVTiat between emotion and debility, this speech
unmanned him so that he staggered back a couple of
paces, and sank down hea^ily, not fainting, but too
weak to stand, too much overcome to utter.




*' The Count Pracontal, my lady," said a very grave-
looking groom of the chambers, as Lady Augusta
sat watching a small golden squirrel swinging by his
tail from the branch of a camelia tree.

*' Say I am . engaged, Hislop — particularly en-
gaged. I do not receive — or, wait; tell him I am
much occupied, but if he is quite sure his visit shall
not exceed five minutes, he may come in."

Count Pracontal seemed as though the permis-
sion had reached his own ears, for he entered almost
immediately, and, bowing deeply and deferentially,
appeared to wait leave to advance further into the room.

" Let me have my chocolate, Hislop ; " and, as
the man withdrew, she pointed to a chair, and said,
" There. When did you come back ? "

Pracontal, however, had dropped on his knee


before her, and pressed her hand to his lips with a
fervid devotion, saying, " How I have longed and
waited for this moment."

" I shall ring the hell, sir, if you do not be seated
immediately. I asked when you returned ? "

"An hour ago, my lady — less than an hour ago.
I did not dai-e to ^Tite ; and then I wished to be
myself the bearer of my own good news."

" What good news are these ? "

" That I have, if not won my suit, secured the
victor}'. The registries have been discovered — found
in the veiy spot indicated in the journal. The
entries are complete ; and nothing is wanting to
establish the legality of the marriage. Oh, I entreat
you, do not listen to me so coldly. You know well
for what reason I prize this success. You know well
what gives its brightest lustre in my eyes."

" Pray be narrative now — the emotional can be
kept for some other time. Who says that this
means success?"

" My lawyer, Mr. Kelson. He calls the suit
won. He proves his belief, for he has advanced
me money to pay off my debt to Longworth, and
to place me in a position of ease and comfort."


^' And what is Kelson ; is lie one of the judges?"

'' Of course not. He is one of the leading
solicitors of London ; a very grave, thoughtful,
cautious man. I have shown jo\x manj^ of his
letters. You must remember him."

" No ; I never remember people ; that is, if they
have not personally interested me. I think you have
grown thin. You look as if you had been ill."

'' I have fretted a good deal — worried myself;
and my anxiety about you has made me sleepless and

" About me ! Why, I was never better in my

"Your looks say as much; but I meant my
anxiety to lay my tidings at your feet, and with them
myself and my whole future."

'^ You may leave the chocolate there, Hislop," as
the man entered with a tray ; " unless Count Pracon-
tal would like some."

" Thanks, my lady," said he, bowing his refusal.

"You are wrong then," said she, as the servant
withdrew. " Hislop makes it with the slightest
imaginable flavour of the cherry laurel : and it is
most soothing. Isn't he a love ? "



" No, my darling squirrel 3-onder. The poor
dear has been ill these two days. He bit Sir Marcus
Cluff, and that horrid creature seems to have dis-
agreed with the darling, for he has pined ever since.
Don't caress him — he hates men, except Monsignore
Alberti, whom, probably he mistakes for an old lady.
And what becomes of all the Bramleighs — are they
left penniless ? "

" By no means. I do not intend to press my
claim farther than the right to the estates. I am
not going to proceed for — I forget the legal word —
the accumulated profits. Indeed, if Mr. Bramleigh
be only animated by the spirit I have heard attributed
to him, there is no concession that I am not disposed
to make him."

" ^\Tiat droll people Frenchmen are! They dash
their morality, like their cookery, with something
discrepant. They fancy it means 'piquancy.' ^Tiat,
in the name of all romance, have you to do with the
Bramleighs ? Why all this magnanimity for people
who certainly have been keeping you out of what
was your own, and treating your claim to it as a
knavery ? "


" You might please to remember that we are

" Of course you are nothing of the kind, liyou
he the true prince, the others must be all illegitimate
a couple of generations back. Perhaps I am em-
bittered against them by that cruel fraud practised on
myself. I cannot bring myself to forgive it. Now,
if you really were that fine generous creature you
want me to believe, it is of mc, of me, Lady Augusta
Bramleigh, you would be thinking all this while :
how to secure me that miserable pittance they called
my settlement; how to recompence me for the fatal
mistake I made in my marriage ; how to distinguish
between the persons who fraudulently took possession
of your property, and the poor harmless victim of
their false pretensions."

" And is not this what I am here for ? Is it not
to lay my whole fortune at your feet ?"

" A very pretty phrase, that doesn't mean any-
thing like what it pretends ; a phrase borrowed from
a vaudeville, and that ought to be restored to where
it came from."

" Lord and Lady Culdufi", my lady, wish to pay
their respects."


" They are passing tlirough," said Lady Augusta,
reading the words written in pencil on the card pre-
sented by the servant. " Of course I must see them.
You needn't go away, Count ; but I shall not present
you. Yes, Hislop, tell her ladyship I am at home.
I declare you are always compromising me. Sit
over yonder, and read your newspaper, or play with

She had barely finished these instructions when
the double door was flung wide, and Marion swept
proudly in. Her air and toilette were both queenlike,
and, indeed, her beauty was not less striking than
either. Lord Culduff followed, a soft pleasant smile
on his face. It might do service in many ways, for
it was equally ready to mean sweetness or sarcasm,
as occasion called for.

When the ladies had kissed twice, and his lord-
ship had saluted Lady Augusta with a profound
respect, dashed with a sort of devotion, Marion's
eyes glanced at the stranger, who, though he arose,
and only reseated himself as they sat down, neither
lifted his glance nor seemed to notice them further.

"We are only going through; we start at two
o'clock," said she, hurriedly.

TOL. III. 57


*' At one-forty, my lady," said Lord Culduff, with
a faint smile, as though shocked at being obliged to
correct her.

*'It was so kind of you to come," said Lady
Augusta ; ^' and you only arrived this morning ? "

"We only arrived half-an-hour ago."

" I must order you some lunch ; I'm sure you can
eat something."

" My lady is hungry ; she said so as we came
along," said Lord Culduff, " allow me to ring for
you. As for myself, I take Liebig's lozenges and a
spoonful of Curacoa — nothing else — before dinner."

" It's so pleasant to live with people who are
' dieted,' " said Marion, with a sneering emphasis
on the word.

"So, I hear from Bramleigh," interposed Lord
Culduff, " that this man — I forget his name — actually
broke into the house at Castello, and carried away a
quantity of papers."

" My lord, as your lordship is so palpably refer-
ring to me, and as I am quite sure you are not aware
of my identity, may I hasten to say I am Count
Pracontal de Bramleigh ? "

1 2 3 4 5 6 8 10 11 12 13 14 15 16

Online LibraryCharles James LeverThe Bramleighs of Bishop's Folly (Volume 3) → online text (page 8 of 16)