Charles James Lever.

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best razor ; wears your shirts, as washing is scarce ; and winds up
all by having a good story of you every evening for the edification
of the other " sharp gentlemen," who, being too wide awake to be
humbugged themselves, enjoy his success prodigiously. This, gentle
reader, is neither confession nor avowal of mine. The passage I have
here presented to you. I have taken from the journal of my brother
officer, Mr. Sparks, who, when not otherwise occupied, usually em-
ployed his time in committing to paper his thoughts upon men,
manners, and things at sea in general ; though, sooth to say, his was
not an idle life ; being voted by unanimous consent " a junior," he



208 CHARLES 0' MALLET.

was condemned to offices that the veriest fag in Eton or Harrow
bad rebelled against. In the morning, under the pseudonym of Mrs.
Sparks, he presided at breakfast, having previously made tea, coffee,
and chocolate for the whole cabin, besides boiling about twenty eggs
at various degrees of hardness ; he was under heavy recognizances
to provide a plate of buttered toast of very alarming magnitude, fried
ham, kidneys, &c, to no end. Later on, when others sauntered
about the deck, vainly endeavoring to fix their attention upon a
novel or a review, the poor Cornet might be seen, with a white apron
tucked gracefully round his spare proportions, whipping eggs for
pancakes, or, with upturned shirt sleeves, fashioning dough for a
pudding. As the day waned, the cook's galley became his haunt,
where, exposed to a roasting fire, he inspected the details of a cuisine
for which, whatever his demerits, he was sure of an ample remunera-
tion in abuse at dinner. Then came the dinner itself, that dread
ordeal, where nothing was praised, and everything censured. This
was followed by the punch-making, where the tastes of six different
and differing individuals were to be exclusively consulted in the self-
same beverage; and lastly, the supper at night, when Sparkie (as he
was familiarly called), towards evening, quite exhausted, became the
subject of unmitigated wrath and unmeasured reprobation.

" I say, Sparks, it's getting late ; the spatch-cock, old boy ; don't
be slumbering."

"By the bye, Sparkie, what a mess you made of that pea-soup to-
day ! By Jove ! I never felt so ill in my life."

"Na, na, it was' na the soup; it was something he pit in the
punch, that's burnin' me ever since I tuk it. Ou, man, but ye're
an awfu' creture wi' vittals."

"He'll improve, Doctor, he'll improve; don't discourage him;
the boy's young. Be alive now, there ; where's the toast ? Confound
you — where's the toast ?"

"There, Sparks, you like a drumstick, I know — mustn't muzzle
the ox, eh ? Scripture for you, old boy. Eat away ; hang the ex-
pense. Hand him over the jug. Empty — eh, Charley? Come,
Sparkie, bear a hand ; the liquor's out."

" But won't you let me eat ?"

" Eat ! heavens, what a fellow for eating ! By George, such an
appetite is clean against the articles of war ! Come, man, it's drink
we're thinking of. There's the rum, sugar, limes ; see to the hot
water. Well, Skipper, how are we getting on?"

" Lying our course ; eight knots off the log. Pass the rum. Why,
Mister Sparks !"

"Eh, Sparks, what's.this?"

"Sparks, my man, confound it!" And then, omnes chorusing,



THE VOYAGE. 209

91 Sparks !" in every key of the gamut, the luckless fellow would be
obliged to jump up from his meagre fare, and set to work at a fresh
brewage of punch for the others. The bowl and the glasses filled,
by some little management on Power's part, our friend the Cornet
would be draivn out, as the phrase is, into some confession of his
early years, which seemed to have been exclusively spent in love-
making — devotion to the fair being as integral a portion of his cha-
racter as tippling was of the worthy Major's.

Like most men who pass their lives in over-studious efforts to
please, — however ungallant the confession be, — the amiable Sparks
had had little success. His love, if not, as it generally happened,
totally unrequited, was invariably the source of some awkward
catastrophe, there being no imaginable error he had not, at some
time or other, fallen into, nor any conceivable mischance to which
he had not been exposed. Inconsolable widows, attached wives,
fond mothers, newly-married brides, engaged young ladies, were, by
some contretemps, continually the subjects of his attachments ; and
the least mishap which followed the avowal of his passion was to be
heartily laughed at, and obliged to leave the neighborhood. Duels,
apologies, actions at law, compensations, &c, were of every-day
occurrence, and to such an extent, too, that any man blessed with a
smaller bump upon the occiput would eventually have long since
abandoned the pursuit, and taken to some less expensive pleasure ;
but poor Sparks, in the true spirit of a martyr, only gloried the
more, the more he suffered, and, like the worthy man who continued
to purchase tickets in the lottery for thirty years, with nothing but
a succession of blanks, he ever imagined that fortune was only try-
ing his patience, and had some cool forty thousand pounds of hap-
piness waiting his perseverance in the end. Whether this prize
ever did turn up in the course of years, I am unable to say ; but,
certainly, up to the period of his history I now speak of, all had
been as gloomy and unrequiting as need be. Power, who knew
something of every man's adventures, was aware of so much of poor
Sparks' s career, and usually contrived to lay a trap for a confession
that generally served to amuse us during an evening, as much, I
acknowledge, from the manner of the recital as anything contained
in the story. There was a species of serious matter-of-fact sim-
plicity in the detail of the most ridiculous scenes, that left you con-
vinced that his bearing upon the affair in question must have
greatly heightened the absurdity, nothing, however comic or droll
in itself, ever exciting in him the least approach to a smile. He sat
with his large light-blue eyes, light hair, long upper lip, and retreat-
ing chin, lisping out an account of an adventure, with a look of
Liston about him that was inconceivably amusing.
14



210 CHARLES O'M ALLEY.

" Come, Sparks/' said Power, " I claim a promise you made me
the other night, on condition that we let you off making the oyster-
patties at ten o'clock ; you can't forget what I mean." Here the
Captain knowingly touched the tip of his ear, at which signal the
Cornet colored slightly, and drank off his wine in a hurried, con-
fused way. " He promised to tell us, Major, how he lost the tip of
his left ear. I have myself heard hints of the circumstance, but
would much rather hear Sparks's own version of it."

" Another love story," said the Doctor, with a grin, " I'll be
bound."

" Shot off in a duel?" said I, inquiringly; "close work, too."

" No such thing," replied Power ; " but Sparks will enlighten
you. It is, without exception, the most touching and beautiful
thing I ever heard ; as a simple story, it beats the i Vicar of Wake-
field' to sticks."

" You don't say so ?" said poor Sparks, blushing.

" Ay, that I do, and maintain it too. I'd rather be the hero of
that little adventure, and be able to recount it as you do, — for, mark
me, that's no small part of the effect, — than I'd be full colonel of
the regiment. Well, I am sure I always thought it affecting ; but,
somehow, my dear friend, you don't know your powers ; you have
that within you which would make the fortune of half the periodi-
cals going. Ask Monsoon or O'Malley there if I did not say so at
breakfast, when you were grilling the old hen, — which, by the bye,
let me remark, was not one of your chefs-d'ceuvre."

" A tougher beastie I never put a tooth in."

" But the story — the story," said I.

"Yes," said Power, with a tone of command: "the story,
Sparks."

" Well, if you really think it worth telling, as I have always felt
it a very remarkable incident, here goes."



CHAPTER XXXII.

MB. SPAEKS'S STORY.

I SAT at breakfast one beautiful morning at the Goat Inn at
Barmouth, looking out of a window upon the lovely vale of
Barmouth, with its tall trees and brown trout-stream struggling
through the woods, then turning to take a view of the calm sea, that,
speckled over with white-sailed fishing-boats, stretched away in the



MR. SPARKS' S STORY. 211

distance. The eggs were fresh ; the trout newly caught ; the cream
delicious ; before me lay the Plwdwddlwn Advertiser, which, among
the fashionable arrivals at the sea-side, set forth Mr. Sparks, nephew
of Sir Toby Sparks, of Manchester, — a paragraph, by the way, I
always inserted. The English are naturally an aristocratic people,
and set a due value upon a title."

"A very just observation," remarked Power, seriously, while Sparks
continued.

" However, as far as any result from the announcement, I might
as well have spared myself the trouble, for not a single person
called ; not one solitary invitation to dinner ; not a picnic ; not a
breakfast ; no, nor even a tea-party was heard of. Barmouth, at the
time I speak of, was just in that transition state at which the cater-
pillar may be imagined, when, having abandoned his reptile habits,
he still has not succeeded in becoming a butterfly. In fact, it had
ceased to be a fishing- village, but had not arrived at the dignity of a
watering-place. Now, I know nothing as bad as this. You have
not, on one hand, the quiet retirement of a little peaceful hamlet,
with its humble dwellings and cheap pleasures, nor have you the
gay and animated tableau of fashion in miniature on the other ; but
you have noise, din, bustle, confusion, beautiful scenery, and lovely
points of view, marred and ruined by vulgar associations. Every
bold rock and jutting promontory has its citizen occupants ; every
sandy cove or tide-washed bay has its myriads of squalling babes and
red baize-clad bathing women — those veritable descendants of the
nymphs of old. Pink parasols, donkey-carts, baskets of bread-and-
butter, reticules, guides to Barmouth, specimens of ore, fragments
of gypsum, meet you at every step, and destroy every illusion of the
picturesque.

" ' I shall leave this,' thought I. * My dreams, my long-cherished
dreams of romantic walks upon the sea-shore, of evening strolls by
moonlight, through dell and dingle, are reduced to a short prome-
nade through an alley of bathing-boxes, amid a screaming popula-
tion of nursery-maids and sick children, with a thorough-bass of
" Fresh Shrimps !" discordant enough to frighten the very fish from
the shores. There is no peace, no quiet, no romance, no poetry, no
love.' Alas ! that most of all was wanting ; for, after all, what is it
which lights up the heart, save the flame of a mutual attachment ?
what gilds the fair stream of life, save the bright ray of warm affec-
tion? what "

" In a word," said Power, " it is the sugar in the punch-bowl of
our existence. Perge, Sparks; push on."

" I was not long in making up my mind. I called for my bill ; I
packed my clothes ; I ordered post-horses ; I was ready to start ; one



212 CHARLES O'MALLEY.

item in the bill alone detained me. The frequent occurrence of the
enigmatical word ' crw' following my servant's name demanded an
explanation, which I was in the act of receiving, when a chaise-and-
four drove rapidly up to the house. In a moment the blinds were
drawn up, and such a head appeared at the window ! Let me pause
for one moment to drink in the remembrance of that lovely being ;
eyes, where heaven's own blue seemed concentrated, were shaded
by long, deep lashes of the darkest brown ; a brow fair, noble, and
expansive, at each side of which masses of dark-brown hair waved
half in ringlets, half in loose falling bands, shadowing her pale and
downy cheek, where one faint rosebud tinge seemed lingering ;
lips slightly parted, which, so to speak, gave to the features all the
play of animation which completed this intellectual character, and
made up "

" What I should say was a devilish pretty girl," interrupted
Power.

" Back the widow against her at long odds, any day," murmured
the Adjutant.

" She was an angel ! an angel !" cried Sparks, with enthusiasm.

"So was the widow, if you go to that," said the Adjutant, hastily.

"And so is Matilda Dalrymple," said Power, with a sly look at
me. " We are all honorable men — eh, Charley ?"

" Go ahead with the story," said the Skipper ; " I'm beginning to
feel an interest in it."

" ' Isabella/ said a man's voice, as a large, well-dressed personage
assisted her to alight — i Isabella, love, you must take a little rest
here before we proceed farther.'

" ' I think she had better, sir,' said a matronly-looking woman,
with a plaid cloak and a black bonnet.

" They disappeared within the house, and I was left alone. The
bright dream was past ; she was there no longer ; but in my heart
her image lived, and I almost felt she was before me. I thought I
heard her voice ; I saw her move ; my limbs trembled ; my hands
tingled ; I rang the bell, ordered my trunks back again to No. 5,
and, as I sank upon the sofa, murmured to myself, ' This is indeed
love at first sight.' "

" How devilish sudden it was," said the Skipper.

"Exactly like camp fever," responded the Doctor. "One mo-
ment ye are vara well; the next ye are seized wi' a kind of
shivering ; then comes a kind of mandering, dandering, travelling
a'overness."

" D — the camp fever," interrupted Power.

" Well, as I observed, I fell in love ; and here let me take the op-
portunity of observing that all we are in the habit of hearing about



ME. SPARKS'S STORY. 213

single or only attachments is mere nonsense. No man is so capable
of feeling deeply as he who is in the daily practice of it. Love, like
everything else in this world, demands a species of cultivation. The
mere tyro in an affair of the heart thinks he has exhausted all its
pleasures and pains ; but only he who has made it his daily study
for years, familiarizing his mind with every phase of the passion,
can properly or adequately appreciate it. Thus, the more you love,
the better you love; the more frequently has your heart yielded "

" It's vara like the mucous membrane," said the Doctor.

" I'll break your neck with the decanter if you interrupt him
again !" exclaimed Power.

" For days I scarcely ever left the house," resumed Sparks, " watch-
ing to catch one glance of the lovely Isabella. My farthest excursion
was to the little garden of the inn, where I used to set every imagin-
able species of snare, in the event of her venturing to walk there.
One day I would leave a volume of poetry ; another a copy of Paul
and Virginia with a marked page ; sometimes my guitar, with a
broad blue ribbon, would hang pensively from a tree ; but, alas ! all
in vain ; she never appeared. At length, I took courage to ask the
waiter about her. For some minutes he could not comprehend what
I meant ; but, at last, discovering my object, he cried out, ' Oh ! No.
8, sir ; it is No. 8 you mean.'

" ' It may be/ said I. ' What of her, then V

" ' Oh, sir, she's gone these three days/

" ' Gone !' said I, with a groan.

" ' Yes, sir ; she left this early on Tuesday with the same old gen-
tleman and the old woman in a chaise-and-four. They ordered
horses at Dolgelly to meet them ; but I don't know which road they
took afterwards.'

"I fell back on my chair unable to speak. Here was I enacting
Romeo for three mortal days to a mere company of Welsh waiters
and chamber-maids, sighing, serenading, reciting, attitudinizing,
rose-plucking, soliloquizing, half-suiciding, and all for the edifica-
tion of a set of savages, with, about as much civilization as their
own goats.

" ' The bill,' cried I, in a voice of thunder ; • my bill this in-
stant.'

" I had been imposed upon, shamefully, grossly imposed upon, and
would not remain another hour in the house. Such were my feel-
ings, at least, and so thinking, 1 sent for my servant, abused him for
not having my clothes ready packed. He replied ; I reiterated ; and,
as my temper was mounted, vented every imaginable epithet upon
his head, and concluded by paying him his wages and sending him
about his business. In one hour more I was upon the road.



214 CHARLES O'M ALLEY.

" * What road, sir ?' said the postilion, as he mounted into the
saddle.

" ' To the devil, if you please/ said I, throwing myself back in the
carriage.

" ' Very well, sir,' replied the boy, putting spurs to his horse.

" That evening I arrived in Bedgellert.

" The little humble inn of Bedgellert, with its thatched roof and
earthen floor, was a most welcome sight to me, after eleven hours'
travelling on a broiling July day. Behind the very house itself rose
the mighty Snowdon, towering high above the other mountains,
whose lofty peaks were lost amid the clouds; before me was the
narrow valley "

" Wake me up when he's under weigh again," said the Skipper,
yawning fearfully.

" Go on, Sparks," said Power, encouragingly; " I was never more
interested in my life ; eh, O'Malley ?"

" Quite thrilling," responded 1, and Sparks resumed.

" Three weeks did I loiter about that sweet spot, my mind filled
with images of the past and dreams of the future, my fishing-rod my
only companion ; not, indeed, that 1 ever caught anything, for,
somehow, my tackle was always getting foul of some willow-tree
or water-lily, and at last I gave up even the pretence of whipping
the streams. Well,, one day, — I remember it as well as though it
were but yesterday — it was the 4th of August, — I had set off upon
an excursion to Llanberris. I had crossed Snowdon early, and
reached the little lake on the opposite side by breakfast-time. There
I sat down near the ruined tower of Dolbadern, and, opening my
knapsack, made a hearty meal. I have ever been a day-dreamer ;
and there are few things I like better than to lie, upon some hot and
sunny day, in the tall grass beneath the shade of some deep boughs,
with running water murmuring near, hearing the summer bee buz-
zing monotonously, and in the distance the clear, sharp tingle of the
sheep-bell. In such a place, at such a time, one's fancy strays play-
fully, like some happy child, and none but pleasant thoughts pre-
sent themselves. Fatigued by my long walk, and overcome by
heat, I fell asleep. How long I lay there I cannot tell, but the deep
shadows were half-way down the tall mountain when I awoke. A
sound had startled me ; I thought I heard a voice speaking close to'
me. I looked up, and for some seconds I could not believe that I
was not dreaming. Beside me, within a few paces, stood Isabella,
the beautiful vision that I had seen at Barmouth, but far, a thou-
sand times, more beautiful. She was dressed in something like a
peasant's dress, and wore the round hat which, in Wales at least,
seems to suit the character of the female face so well ; her long and



MR. SPARKS' S ST OR Y. 2\,



A



waving ringlets fell carelessly upon her shoulders, and her chee
flushed from walking. Before I had a moment's notice to recover
my roving thought, she spoke. Her voice was full and round, but
soft and thrilling, as she said, —

" ' I beg pardon, sir, for having disturbed you unconsciously ; but
having done so, may I request you will assist me to fill this pitcher
with water ?'

" She pointed at the same time to a small stream which trickled
down a fissure in the rock, and formed a little well of clear water
beneath. I bowed deeply, and murmuring something, — I know not
what, — took the pitcher from her hand, and scaling the rocky cliff,
mounted to the clear source above, where having filled the vessel, I
descended. When I reached the ground beneath, I discovered that
she was joined by another person, whom in an instant I recognized
to be the old gentleman I had seen with her at Barmouth, and who
in the most courteous manner apologized for the trouble I had
been caused. He informed me that a party of his friends were
enjoying a little picnic quite near, and invited me to make one of
them.

" I need not say that I accepted the invitation, nor that with de-
light I seized the opportunity of forming an acquaintance with Isa-
bella, who, I must confess, upon her part, showed no disinclination
to the prospect of my joining the party.

" After a few minutes' walking, we came to a small rocky point
which projected for some distance into the lake, and offered a view
for several miles of the vale of Llanberris. Upon this lovely spot
we found the party assembled. They consisted of about fourteen or
fifteen persons, all busily engaged in the* arrangement of a very
excellent cold dinner, each individual having some peculiar pro-
vince allotted to him or her, to be performed by their own hands.
Thus, one elderly gentleman was whipping cream under a chestnut-
tree, while a very fashionably-dressed young man was washing
radishes in the lake ; an old lady with spectacles was frying salmon
over a wood fire, opposite to a short, pursy man, with a bald head
and drab shorts, deep in the mystery of a chicken salad, from which
he never lifted his eyes, when I came up. It was thus I found how
the fair Isabella's lot had been cast, as a drawer of water ; she, with
the others, contributing her share of exertion for the common good.
The old gentleman who accompanied her seemed the only unoccu-
pied person, and appeared to be regarded as the ruler of the feast ;
at least, they all called him General, and implicitly followed every
suggestion he threw out. He was a man of a certain grave and
quiet manner, blended with a degree of mild good-nature and cour-
tesy, that struck me much at first, and gained greatly on me, even in



216 CHARLES 0>M ALLEY.

the few minutes I conversed with him as we came along. Just be-
fore he presented me to his friends, he gently touched my arm, and,
drawing me aside, whispered in my ear, —

" ' Don't be surprised at anything you may hear to-day here ; for
I must inform you that this is a kind of club, as I may call it,
where every one assumes a certain character, and is bound to sus-
tain it under a penalty. We have these little meetings every now
and then, and as strangers are never present, I feel some explana-
tion necessary, that you may be able to enjoy the thing ; you under-
stand ?'

" ' Oh, perfectly,' said I, overjoyed at the novelty of the scene,
and anticipating much pleasure from my chance meeting with such
very original characters.

" ' Mr. Sparks, Mrs. Winterbottom. Allow me to present Mr.
Sparks.'

" ' Any news from Batavia, young gentleman V said the sallow old
lady addressed. ' How is coffee ?'

"The General passed on, introducing me rapidly as he went.

" ' Mr. Doolittle, Mr. Sparks.'

" ' Ah, how do you do, old boy ?' said Mr. Doolittle ; ' sit down
beside me. We have forty thousand acres of pickled cabbage spoil-
ing for want of a little vinegar.'

" ' Fie, fie ! Mr. Doolittle,' said the General, and passed on to
another.

" ' Mr. Sparks, Captain Crosstree.'

" 'Ah, Sparks, Sparks ! son of old Blazes? Ha, ha, ha!' and the
Captain fell back in an immoderate fit of laughter.

" ' Le Roi est servi/ said the thin, meagre figure in nankeens, bow-
ing, cap in hand, before the General; and, accordingly, we all
assumed our places upon the grass.

" 'Say it again ! say it again ! and I'll plunge this dagger in your
heart !' said a hollow voice, tremulous with agitation and rage,
close beside me. I turned my head, and saw an old gentleman, with
a wart on his nose, sitting opposite a meat pie, which he was con-
templating with a look of fiery indignation. Before I could witness
the sequel of the scene, I felt a soft hand pressed upon mine. I
turned. It was Isabella herself, who, looking at me with an expres-
sion I shall never forget, said, —

" ' Don't mind poor Faddy ; he never hurts any one.'

" Meanwhile the business of dinner went on rapidly. The ser-
vants, of whom enormous numbers were now present, ran hither
and thither; and duck, ham, pigeon-pie, cold veal, apple tarts,
cheese, pickled salmon, melon and rice-pudding, flourished on every
side. As for me, whatever I might have gleaned from the coiner-



MR. SPARKS'S STORY. 21V

sation around, under other circumstances, 1 was too much occupied
with Isabella to think of any one else. My suit — for such it was —
progressed rapidly. There was evidently something favorable in the
circumstances we last met under, for her manner had all the warmth
and cordiality of old friendship. It is true that more than once I



Online LibraryCharles James LeverCharles O'Malley, the Irish dragon → online text (page 22 of 80)