Charles James Lever.

Arthur O'Leary : his wanderings and ponderings in many lands (Volume 2) online

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'^ Holloa there ! what's the matter V shouted a
deep mellow voice from the middle of the wood;
and before I could reply^ a fat, rosy-cheeked man,
of about fifty, with a pleasant countenance termi-
nating in a row of double chins, approached me,
but still with evident caution, and halting when
about five paces distant, stood still.

"Who are your'' said 1, hastily, resolving this
time at least, to adopt a difierent method of
eflfecting my liberation.

" What's all this?" quoth the fat man, shading
his eyes with his palm, and addressing some one
behind him, whom I now recognised as my friend
the fool who visited me in the morning.

" I say, sir," repeated I, in a tone of command
somewhat absurd from a man in my situation —
"who are you, may I ask?"

" The Maire of Givet," said he, pompously, as
he drew himself up, and took a large pinch of
snuif with an imposing gravity, while his com-
panion took off his hat in the most reverent
fashion, and bowed down to the ground.



91

"Well^ Monsieur le Maire, the better fortune
mine to fall into such hands. I have been robbed
and fastened here, as you see, by a gang of
scoundrels,'^ — I took good care to say nothing of
smugglers — ** who have carried away everything I
possessed. Have the goodness to loosen these
confounded cords, and set me at liberty .^^

"Were there many of them?^^ quoth the
Maire, without budging a step forward.

'^ Yes, a dozen at least. But untie me at once
— I^m heartily sick of being chained up here.^^

*^ A dozen at least ?' repeated he, in an accent
of wonderment, '^ Ma foi, a very formidable
gang. Do you remember any of their names r^^

'•' Devil take their names ! how should I know
them ? Come, cut these cords, will you ? We
can talk just as well when Fm free.^^

" Not so fast, not so fast," said he, admonish-
ing me with a bland motion of his hand. ^'Every-
thing must be done in order. Now, since you
don^t know their names, we must put them down
as ^parties unknown.^"

^^ Put them down whatever you like; but let
me loose."



*^ All in good time. Let us proceed regularly.
Who are your witnesses V'

" Witnesses \" screamed I, overcome with pas-
sion. — " You'll drive me distracted. I tell you I
was waylaid in the wood by a party of scoundrels,
and you ask me for their names, and then for my
witnesses. Cut these cords, and don't be so infer-
nally stupid. Come, old fellow, be alive, will you ?"

"Softly, softly, don't interrupt public justice;'^
said he, with a most provoking composure. " We
must draw up theproces verbal."

"To be sure," said I, endeavouring to see
vv'hat might be done by concurrence with him —
"nothing more natural. But let me loose first;
then we'll arrange the proces."

'^ Not at all; you're all wrong," interposed he.
'• I must have two witnesses first, to establish the
fact of your present position — ay, and they must
be of sound mind, and able to sign their names. '^

" May Heaven grant me patience, or I'll burst,"
said I to myself, while he continued in a regular
sing-song tone —

"Then we'll take the depositions in form.
Where do you come from ?"



93

^' Ireland/^ said I^ with a deep sigh, wishing I
were up to the neck in a bog-hole there, in pre-
ference to my actual misfortune.

^' What language do you usually speak r'^

^^ English.'^

"There now/' said he, brightening up — "there's
an important fact already in the class No. 1,
identity, which speaks of ^ all traits, marks, and
characteristic signs by which the plaintiff may be
known/ Now we'll set you forth as ^ an Irish-
man that speaks English.' "

"If you go on this way a little longer, you may
put me do\vTi as ^ insane,' for I a'ow to Heaven
I'm becoming so."

^•'Come, Bobeche," said he, turning towards
the natural, who stood in mute admiration at his
side — " go over to Claude Gueirans' at the mill,
and see if the ' Not aire* be up there: there was a
marriage of his niece this morning, and I think
you'll find him; — then cross the bridge, and make
for Papalot's, and ask him to come up here, and
bring some stamped paper to take informations,
wdth him. You may tell the cure as you go by,
that there's been a dreadful crime committed in



94

the forest, and that ' la justice si' informed'' — these
last words were pronounced with an accent of the
most magniloquent solemnity.

Scarcely had the fool set out on his errand
when my temper, so long restrained, burst all
bounds, and I abused the Maire in the most out-
rageous manner. There was no insult I could
think of I did not heap on his absurdity, his
ignorance, his folly, and stupidity; and never
ceased till actually want of breath completely
exhausted me. To all this, the worthy man made
no reply, nor paid even the least attention.
Seated on the stump of a beech tree, he looked
steadily at vacancy, till at length I began to
doubt whether the whole scene were real, and
that he was not a mere creature of my imagina-
tion. I verily believe I'd have given five louis
d'ors to have been free one moment, if only to
pelt a stone at him. Meanwhile, the shadow of
coming night was falling on the forest — the crows
came cawing home to their dwelling in the tree-
tops — the sounds of insect life were stilled in
the grass — and the odours of the forest, stronger
as night closed in, filled the air. Gradually, the




'A^'/Uiy y^'.



\^c^ .J^i-^^^g^^



-yt^e^?z^




V,



..^'^



9S

darkness grew thicker and thicker^ and at last all
I could distinguish wsis the stems of the trees
near me, and a massive black object I judged to
be the Maire,

I called out to him in accents intended to be
most apologetic — I begged forgiveness for my
warmth of temper — protested my regrets, and
only asked for the pleasure of his entertaining
society till the hour of my liberation should
arrive. But no answer came — not a word, not a
syllable in reply; I could not even hear him
breathing. Provoked at this uncomplying obsti-
nacy, I renewed my attacks on all constituted
authorities — expressed the most Uvely hopes that
the gang of robbers would some day or other bum
down Givet and all it contained, not forgetting
the Maire and the notary; and finally, to fill up
the measure of insult, tried to sing the ^^ qa ira^^
which, in good monarchical Holland, was, I knew,
a dire offence; but I broke down in the melody,
and had to come back to prose. However, it
came just to the same— all was silent. When I
ceased speaking, not even an echo returned me a
reply. At last I grew wearied — the thought that



96 ARTHUR O^LEARY.

all my anathemas had only an audience of weasles
and wood-peckers^ damped the ardour of my
eloquence, and I fell into a musing fit on Dutch
justice, which seemed admirably adapted to those
good old times when people lived to the age of
eight or nine hundred years, and when a few
months were as the twinkling of an eye. Then I
began a little plan of a tour from the time of my
liberation, cautiously resolving never to move out
of the most beaten tracks, and to avoid all dis-
tricts where the " J/aire'^ was a Dutchman. Hun-
ger, and thirst, and cold, by this time began to
tell upon my spirits too, and I grew sleepy from
sheer exhaustion.

Scarcely had I nodded my head twice in slum-
ber, when a loud shout awoke me. I opened my
eyes, and saw a vast mob of men, women, and
children, carrying torches, and coming through
the wood at full speed — the procession being led
by a venerable-looking old man on a white pony,
whom I at once guessed to be the cure, while the
fool, with a very imposing branch of burning pine,
walked beside him.

" Good evening to you. Monsieur,^' said the old



97

man^ as he took off his hat, with an air of
courtesy.

^' You must excuse the miserable phght I'm in,
Monsieur le Cure," said I, " if I can't return your
politeness — but I'm tied."

" Cut the cords at once/' said the good man to
the crowd that now pressed forward.

"Your pardon, Father Jacques," said the
'^Maire," as he sat up in the grass and rubbed
his eyes, which sleep seemed to have almost obli-
terated ; " but the proces verbal is "

"Quite unnecessar}' here," replied the old
man. " Cut the rope, my friends."

" Not so fast," said the Maire, pushing towards
me. "I'll untie it. That's a good cord, and
worth eight sous."

And so, notwithstanding all my assurances that
I'd give him a crown-piece to use more despatch,
he proceeded leisurely to unfasten every knot,
and took at least ten minutes before he set me at
liberty.

"Hurrah," said I, as the last coil was with-
drawn, and I attempted to spring into the air,
but my cramped and chilled limbs were un-

VOL. II. H



98



equal to the effort, and I rolled headlong on the
grass.

The worthy cure, however, was at once beside
me, and after a few directions to the party to
make a litter for me, he knelt down to offer up a
short prayer for my deliverance — the rest followed
the act with implicit devotion, while I took off
my hat in respect, and sat still where I was.

" I see,^^ whispered he, when the ave was over
— "I see you are a Protestant. This is a fast
day with us, but we^ll get you a poulet at my
cottage, and a glass of wine will soon refresh
you.^^

With many a thankful speech, I soon suffered
myself to be Hfted into aJarge sheet, such as they
use in the vineyards, and with a strong cortege of
the villagers, carrying their torches, we took our
way back to Givet.

* * * 3fc *

The circumstances of my adventure, consider-
ably exaggerated, of course, were bruited over the
country ; and before I was out of bed next morn-
ing, a chasseur, in a very showy livery, arrived



99

with a letter from the lord of the manor, entreat-
ing me to take my abode for some days at the
Chateau de Rochepied, where I should be received
with a perfect welcome, and every endeavour
made to recover my lost effects. Having con-
sulted with the worthy cure, who counselled me
by all means to accept this flattering invitation —
a course I was myself disposed to — I vrrote a few
lines of answer, and dispatched a messenger by
post to Dinant, to bring up my heavy baggage
which I had left there.

Towards noon the count^s carriage drove up to
convey me to the Chateau ; and having taken an
affectionate farewell of my kind host, I set out for
Rochepied. The -^dcker conveniency in which I
travelled, all alone, was, albeit not the thing for
Hyde Park, easy and pleasant in its motion ; the
fat Flemish mares, with their long tails tastefully
festooned over a huge cushion of plaited straw on
their backs, went at a fair steady pace ; the road
led through a part of the forest abounding in
pretty vistas of woodland scenery; and ever^-thing
conspired to make me feel that even an affair
with a gang of smugglers might not be the worst

H 2



100

thing in life, if it were to lead to such pleasant
results afterwards.

As we jogged along, I learned from the fat
Walloon coachman, that the Chateau was full of
company ; the count had invited numerous guests
for the opening of the " Chasse/^ and that there
were French, and Germans, and English, and, for
aught he knew, Chinese, expected to " assist" at
the ceremony. 1 confess the information con-
siderably damped the pleasure I at first expe-
rienced. I was in hopes to see real country life,
the regular course of chateau existence, in a
family quietly domesticated on their own pro-
perty. I looked forw^ard to a peep at that ^' vie
intime" of Flemish household, of which all I
knew was gathered from a Wenix picture — I
wanted to see the thing in reality. The good
Vrow, with her high cap and her long waist, her
pale features, lit up with eyes of such brown, as
only Vandyk ever caught the colour of; and the
daughters, prim and stately, with their stiiF quaint
courtesy, moving about the terraced walks, like
figures stepping from an ancient canvas, with
bouquets in their white and dimpled fingers, or



101

mayhap a jesse hawk perched upon their wrist ;
and then the Mynheer baron — I pictured him as
a large and portly Fleming, with a slouched
beaver, and a short trim moustache, deep of voice,
heavy of step, seated on a grey Cuyp-like horse,
with a flowing mane and a huge tassel of a
tail, flapping lazily his brawny flanks, or slapping
with heavy stroke the massive jack boots of his
rider.

Such were my notions of a Dutch household.
The unchanged looks of the dwellings, which for
centuries were the same, in part suggested these
thoughts. The quaint old turrets, the stiff and
stately terraces, the fosse, stagnant and sluggish,
the carved tracery of the massive doorway, were
all as we see them in the oldest pictures of the
land j and when the rind looks so like, it is hard
to imagine the fruit with a different flavour.

It was then with considerable regret I learned,
that I should see the family, en gala, that I had
fallen upon a time of feasting and entertainment,
and had it not been too late, I should have beaten
my retreat, and taken up my abode for another day
with the Cure of Givet; as it was, I resolved to



102

make my visit as brief as possible^ and take to
the road with all convenient despatch.

As we neared the Chateau, the Walloon remem-
bered a number of apologies with which the count
charged him to account for his not having gone
himself to fetch me, alleging the claims of his
other guests, and the unavoidable details which
the forthcoming ^'ouverture de chasse'^ demanded
at his hands. I paid little attention to the mum-
bled and broken narrative, interrupted by impre-
cations on the road, and exhortations to the
horses ; for already we had entered the precincts
of the demesne, and I was busy in noting down
the appearance of the place. There was, however,
little to remark; the transition from the wide
forest to the park, was only marked by a httle
improvement in the road ; there was neither lodge
nor gate — ^no wall, no fence, no inclosure of any
kind. The trim culture, w^hich in our country is
so observable around the approach of a house of
some consequence, was here totally w^anting : the
avenue was partly of gravel, partly of smooth
turf; the brushwood of prickly holly was let grow
wild, and straggled in many places across the



road; the occasional views that opened seemed
to have been made by accident, not design : and
all was rank vegetation and rich verdure, uncared
for — uncultivated; but, Uke the children of the
poor, seeming only the healthier and more robust,
because left to their own unchecked, untutored
impulses. The rabbits played about within a few
paces of the carriage track ; the birds sat motion-
less on the trees as we passed, while here and
there, through the fohage, I could detect the gor-
geous colouring of some bright peacock^s tail, as
he rested on a bough and held converse with his
wilder brethren of the air, just as if the remote-
ness of the spot and its seclusions, led to intima-
cies, which in the ordinary routine of life had
been impossible. At length the trees receded
farther and farther from the road, and a beautiful
expanse of waving lawn, dotted with sheep,
stretched before the eye ; in the distance, too, I
could perceive the Chateau itself — a massive pile
in the shape of a letter L, bristling with chmineys,
and pierced with windows of every size and shape;
clumps of flowering shrubs and fruit trees were
planted about, and little beds of flowers spangled



104 ARTHUR o'lEARY.

the even turf like stars in the expanse of heaven.
The Meuse wound round the Chateau on three
sides, and perhaps thus saved it from being in-
flicted by a ditch — for without water a Dutchman
can no more exist than a mackerel.

"Fine! isn't it'^" said the Walloon, as he
pointed with his finger to the scene before me,
and seemed to revel with delight in my look of
astonishment, while he plied his whip with re-
newed vigour, and soon drew up at a wide
flight of stone steps, where a row of orange trees
mounted guard on either side, and filled the place
with their fragrance.

A servant in a strange melange of a livery,
where the colours seemed chosen from a bed of
ranunculuses just near, came out to let down the
steps, and usher me into the house. He in-
formed me that the count had given orders for
my reception, but that he and all his friends were
out on horseback, and would not be back before
dinner time. Not sorry to have a little time to
myself, I retired to my room, and threw myself
down on a most comfortable sofa, excessively
well satisfied with the locality, and well disposed



105

to take advantage of my good fortune. The
little bed, with its snow-white curtains and gilded
canopy; the brass dogs upon the hearth, that
shone like gold; the cherry-wood table, that
might have served as a mirror ; the modest book-
shelf, with its pleasant row of volumes ; but,
better than all, the open window, from which
I could see for miles over the tops of a dark
forest, and watch the Meuse as it came and went,
now shining, now lost in the recesses of the
wood — all charmed me: and I fully confessed,
what I have had very frequently to repeat in
life, that ^^Arthur O^Leary was bom under a lucky
planet/^



106



Chapter XII.
A FRAGMENT OF CHATEAU LIFE.

Stretched upon a large old-fashioned sofa,
where a burgomaster might have reclined with
'^ ample room and verge enough/^ in all the easy
abandonment of dressing-gown and shppers—
the cool breeze gently wafting the window-blind
to and fro, and tempering the lulling sounds from
wood and water — the buzzing of the summer
insects, and the far-oflf carol of a peasant^s song —
I fell into one of those delicious sleeps in which
dreams are so faintly marked, as to leave us no
disappointment on waking : flitting, shadow-like,
before the mind, they live only in a pleasant
memory of something vague and undefined ; and
impart no touch of sorrow for expectations un-
fulfilled — for hopes that are not to be realized.
I would that my dreams might always take this
shape. It is a sad thing when they become



107'

tangible — when features and looks, eyes, hands,
words, and sighs, live too strongly in our sleeping
minds — and that we awake to the cold reality
of our daily cares and crosses, tenfold less
endurable from very contrast. No! give me
rather the faint and weaving outline — the shadowy
perception of pleasure, than the vivid picture, to
end only in the conviction that I am but Chris-
topher Sly after all ; or what comes pretty much
to the same, nothing but — Arthur O^Leary.

Still, I would not have you deem me discon-
tented wdth my lot; far from it. I chose my
path early in life, and never saw reason to
regret the choice. How many of you can say
as much? I felt that while the tender ties of
home and family — the charities that grow up
around the charmed circle of a wife and children
— are the great prizes of life; there are also a
thousand lesser ones in the wheel, in the kindly
sympathies with which the world abounds; that
to him who bears no ill will at his heart, nay,
rather loving all things that are loveable, with
warm attachments to all who have been kind to
him, with strong sources of happiness in his own



108



tranquil thoughts, the wandering life would offer
many pleasures.

Most men live, as it were, with one story of
their lives, the traits of childhood maturing into
manly features ; their history consists of the
development of early character in circumstances
of good or evil fortune. They fall in love, they
marry, they grow old, and they die — each incident
of their existence bearing on that before and that
after, like link upon link of some great chain.
He, however, who throws himself like a plank
upon the waters, to be washed hither and thither,
as wind or tide might drive him, has a very
different experience. To him, Ufe is a succession
of episodes, each perfect in itself; the world is
but a number of tableaux, changing with climate
and country ; his sorrows in France have no con-
nexion with his joys in Italy; his delights in
Spain live apart from his griefs on the Rhine.
The past throws no shadow on the future — his
philosophy is, to make the most of the present;
and he never forgets La Bruyere's maxim — "II
faut rire avant d^etre heureux, de peur de mourir



109

Now, if you don^t like my philosophvj set it
down as a dream, and here I am awake once
more.

And certainly I claim no great merit on the
score of my vigilance; for the tantararara that
awoke me, wovdd have aroused the seven sleepers
themselves. Words are weak to convey the most
distant conception of the noise : it seemed as
though ten thousand peacocks had congregated
beneath my window, and with brazen throats
were bent on giving me a hideous concert. The
fiend-chorus in "Robert le Diable^^ was a psalm-
tune compared to it. I started up and rushed to
the casement; and there, in the lawn beneath,
beheld some twenty persons costumed in hunting
fashion — their horses foaming and splashed, their
coats stained with marks of the forest ; but the
uproar was soon comprehensible, owing to some
half dozen of the party who performed on that
most diabolical of all human inventions, the cor
de chasse.

Imagine, if you can, and thank your stars that
it is only a work of imagination, some twenty
feet of brass pipe, worn belt-fashion over one



110

shoulder, and under the opposite arm — one end
of the aforesaid tube being a mouth-piece, and
the other expanding itself into a huge trumpet-
mouth; then conceive a Fleming — one of Rubens'
cherubs, immensely magnified, and decorated with
a beard and moustaches — blowing into this, with
.all the force of his lungs, perfectly unmindful of
the five other performers, who at five several and
distinct parts of the melody, are blasting away
also; treble and bass, contre alto and soprano,
shake and sostenuto — all blending into one crash
of hideous discord, to which the Scotch bagpipe,
in a pibroch, is a soothing, melting melody. A
deaf and dumb institution would capitulate in
half an hour. Truly, the results of a hunting
expedition ought to be of the most satisfactory
kind, to make the "retour de chasse'^ — it was this
they were blowing — at all sufFerable to those who
were not engaged in the concert; as for the
performers, I can readily believe they never
heard a note of the whole.

Even Dutch lungs grow tired at last ; having
blown the establishment into ecstasies, and
myself into a furious headache, they gave in ; and



Ill

now an awful bell announced the time to dress
for dinner. While I made my toilet^ I endea-
voured, as well as my throbbing temples would
permit me, to fancy the host's personal appear-
ance, and to conjecture the style of the rest of
the party. My preparations over, I took a part-
ing look in the glass, as if to guess the probable
impression I should make below stairs, and saUied
forth.

Cautiously stealing along over the well-waxed
floors, slippery as ice itself, I descended the
broad oak stair into a great hall, wainscotted
with dark walnut, and decorated with antlers and
stags' heads, cross-bows, and arquebusses, and, to
my shuddering horror, various cors de chasse,
now happily, however, silent on the walls. I
entered the dra^ving-room, conning over to myself
a little speech in French, and preparing myself to
bow for the next fifteen minutes ; but to my sur-
prise, no one had yet appeared. All were still
occupied dressing, and probably taking some
well-merited repose after their exertions on the
wind instruments. I had now time for a survey
of the apartment; and, generally speaking, a



112 ARTHUR o'lEARY.

drawing-room is no bad indication of the tastes
and temperament of the owners of the establish
ment.

The practised eye speedily detects in the cha-
racter and arrangement of a chamber, something
of its occupant. In some houses, the absence
of all decoration — the simple puritanism of the
furniture, bespeaks the life of quiet souls, whose
days are as devoid of luxury as their dwellings.
You read in the cold grey tints, the formal stiff-
ness, the unrelieved regularity around, the Quaker-
like flatness of their existence. In others, there
is an air of ill-done display, a straining after
effect, which shows itself in costly, but ill-assorted
details — a mingling of all styles and eras, without
repose or keeping. The bad pretentious pictures,
the faulty bronzes, meagre casts of poor originals,
. the gaudy china, are safe warranty for the vul-
garity of their owners ; while the humble parlour


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