Charles James Lever.

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alteration which not only impressed his mind, but even his " outward
man," when his attention was drawn to the fact by overhearing the
observations of some young Englishmen upon his appearance, as he
sat one evening in a cafe at Naples. Conversing in all that careless
freedom of our young countrymen, which never supposes that their
language can be understood by others, they criticised his dress, his
sombre look, and his manner ; and, after an animated discussion as to
whether lie were a refugee political oftender, a courier, or a spy, they
wound up by a wager that he was at least forty years of age, one of
the party dissenting, on the ground that, although he looked it, it
was rather from something on the fellow's mind than years.

" How shall we find out ?" cried the proposer of the bet. " I, for
one, shouldn't like to ask him his age."

" If I knew Spanish enough, I'd do it at once," said another.

*' It might cost you dearly, Harry, for all that; he looks marvellously
like a feUowthat wouldn't brook trifling."

" He wouldn't call it trifling to lose me ten ' carlines,' and I'm sure
I should win my wager ; so here goes at him with French." Eising at
the same moment, the young man crossed the room and stood before
the table where Cashel sat, with folded arras and bent-down head, lis-
tening in utter indiflerence to all that passed. " Monsieur !" said
the youth, bowing. Cashel looked up, and his dark, heavily-browed
eyes seemed to abash the other, who stood, blushing, and uncertain
what to do.

"With faltering accents and downcast look he began to mutter ex-
cuses for his intrusion ; when Cashel, in a mild and gentle voice, in-
terrupted him, saying in English, " I am your countryman, young
gentleman, and my age not six-and-twenty."

The quiet courtesy of his manner as he spoke, as well as the sur-


prise at liis being English, seemed to increase tbe youtli's shame for
the liberty he had taken, and he was profuse in his apologies ; but
Cashel soon allayed this anxiety by adroitly turning to another part
of the subject, and saying, " If I look much older than I am, it is that
I have travelled and lived a good deal in southern climates, not
to speak of other causes, which give premature age."

A slight, a very slight touch of melancholy in the latter words gave
them a deep interest to the youth ; who, with a boyish frankness — far
more fascinating than more finished courtesy — asked Eolaud if he
would join their party. Had such a request been made lialf an hour
before, or had it come in more formal fashion, Cashel would inevitably
have declined it; but what between the generous candour of the
youth's address, and a desire to show that he did not resent his in-
trusion, Cashel acceded good naturedly, and took his seat amongst

As Eoland listened to the joyous freshness of their boyish talk —
the high-hearted hope — the sanguine trustfulness with which they re-
garded life — he remembered what but a few years back he had himself
been. He saw in them the self-same elements which had led him on
to every calamity that he suffered — the passionate pursuit of pleasure
— the inexhaustible craving for excitement that makes life the feverish
paroxysm of a malady.

They sat to a late hour together ; and when they separated, the
chance acquaintance had ripened into intimacy. Night after night
they met in the same place ; and while they were charmed with the
gentle seriousness of one in whom they could recognise the most
manly daring, he, on his side, was fascinated by the confiding warmth
and the generous frankness of their youth.

One evening, as they assembled as usual, Eoland remarked a some-
thing like unusual excitement amongst them ; and learned, that from
a letter they had received that morning, they were about to leave
Naples the next day. There seemed some mystery in the reason, and
a kind of reserve in even alluding to it, which made Cashel half sus-
pect that they liad been told who he was, and that a dislike to further
intercourse had suggested the departure. It was the feeling that
never left him by day or night — that dogged his waking and haunted
his dreams — that he was one to be shunned and avoided by his feUow-
men. His pride, long dormant, arose under the supposed slight, and
he was about to say a cold farewell, when the elder of the party, whose
name was Sidney, said :

" How I wish you were coming with us !"

" "Whither to ?" said Cashel, hurriedly.

" To Venice— say, is this possible ?"

" I am free to turn my steps in any direction — too free — for I have
neither course to sail nor harbour to reach."


"Come M-ith us, then, Eolaud," cried they all, "and our journey
-n-ill be delightful."

" But why do you start so hurriedly ? "What is there to draw you
from this at the very brightest season of the year?"

*' There is rather that which draws us to Venice," said Sidney,
coloiu-ing slightly ; " but this is our secret, and you shall not hear it
till we are on our way."

Eoland's curiosity was not exacting ; he asked no more : nor was it
till they had proceeded some days on their journey that Sidney con-
fided to him the sudden cause of their journey, which he did in the
few words :

'' La Ninetta is at Venice — she is at the ' Fenice.' "

" But who is La Ninetta ? Tou forget that you are speaking to
one who lives out of the world."

" Not know La Ninetta !" exclaimed lie ; " never have seen her ?"

" Never even heard of her."

To the pause which the shock of the first astonishment imposed
there now succeeded a burst of enthusiastic description, in which the
three youths vied with each other who should be most eloquent in ■
praise. Her beauty, her gracefulness, the witching fascination of her
movements, the enchanting captivation of her smile, were themes
they never wearied of. Nor was it till he had suftered the enthu-
siasm to take its course that they would listen to his calm question :

" Is she an actress?"

" She is the first ' BaUarina'' of the world," cried one. " None
ever did, nor ever will, dance like her."

" They say she is a Prima Donna, too ; but how could such excel-
lence be vmited in one creature ?"

To their wild transports of praise Eoland listened patiently, in the
hope that he might glean something of her story ; but they knew
nothing, except that she was reputed to be a Sicilian, of a noble
family, whose passion for the stage had excited the darkest enmity of
her relatives ; insomuch, that it was said she was tracked from city
to city by hired assassins. She remained two days at Naples ; she
appeared but once at Eome ; in Genoa, though announced, she never
came to the theatre. Such were the extravagant tales, heightened
by all the colour of romantic adventure — how, at one time, she had
escaped from a royal palace by leaping into the sea — how, at another,
she had ridden through a squadron of the Swiss Guard, sabre in hand,
and got clean away from Bologna, where a cardinal's letter had
arrested her. Incidents, the strangest, the least probable, were
recounted of her: the high proffers of marriage she had rejected —
the alliances, even with royal blood, she had refused. There was
nothing, where her name figured, that seemed impossible ; hers was
a destiny above all the rules that guide humbler mortals.


Excellence, of whatever kind it be, has always this attraction —
that it forms a standard by which men measure with each other their
capacities of enjoyment and their powers of appreciation. Eoland's
curiosity was stimulated, therefore, to beliold with his own eyes the
wonder which had excited these youthful heroics. He had long since
ceased to be sanguine on any subject ; and he felt that he could sus-
tain disappointment on graver matters than this.

"When they reached Venice, they found that city in a state of
enthusiastic excitement fully equal to their own. All the excesses
into which admiration for art can carry a people insensible to other
emotions than those which minister to the senses, had been committed
to welcome "La Eegina de la Balla." Her entree had been like a
triumph ; garlands of flowers, bouquets, rich tapestries floating from
balconies, gondolas with bands of music ; the civic authorities even,
in robes of state, met her as she entered ; strangers flocked in crowds
from the other cities of the north, and even from parts beyond the
Alps. The hotels were crammed with visitors, all eager to see one
of whom every tongue was telling. A guard of honour stood before
the palace in which she resided — as much a measure of necessity to
repel the pressure of the anxious crowd as it was a mark of dis-

The epidemic character of enthusiasm is well known. It is a fer-
vour to which none can remain insensible. Cashel was soon to ex-
perience this. How could he preserve a cold indifference to the
emotions which swayed thousands around him ? How maintain his
calm amid that host, which surged and fretted like the sea in a storm ?
La Ninetta was the one word repeated on every side ; even to have
seen her once was a distinction, and they who had already felt her
fascinations were listened to as oracles.

She was to give but three representations at Venice, and ere
Cashel's party had arrived all the tickets were already disposed of.
By unceasing eff'orts, and considerable bribery, they contrived at last
to obtain places for the first night, and early in the forenoon were
admitted among a privileged number to take their seats. They who
were thus, at a heavy cost, permitted to anticipate the general public,
seemed— at least to Cashel's eyes — to fill the house ; and so, in the
dim indistinctness, they appeared. Wherever the eye turned, from
the dark parterre, below, to the highest boxes, above, seemed filled
with people. There was something almost solemn in that vast con-
course, who sat subdued and silent in the misty half light of the
theatre. The intense anxiety of expectation, the dreary gloom of
the scene, contributed to spread a kind of awe-struck influence
around, and brought up to Eoland's memory a very different place
and occasion — when, himself the observed of all observers, he stood
in the felon's dock. Lost in the gloomy reverie these sad thoughts


suggested, Le took no note of time, nor marked the lagging hours
■which stole hea\"ilj past.

Suddenly the full glare of light burst forth, and displayed the great
theatre crowded in every part. That glittering spectacle, into which
beauty, splendour of dress, jewels, and rich uniforms enter, broke
upon the sight, while a kind of magnetic sense of expectancy seemed
to pervade all, and make conversation a mere murmur. The opera —
a weU-known one of a favourite composer, and admirably sustained
— ^attracted little attention. The thrilling cadences, the brilliant
passages, all fell upon senses that had no relish for their excellence ;
and even the conventional good-breeding of the spectators was not
proof against the signs of impatience that every now and then wei*e

The third act at last began, and the scene represented a Spanish
village of the New World, which, bad it been even less correct and
true to nature, had yet possessed no common attraction for Eoland
—recalling by a hundred little traits a long unvisited but well-re-
membered land. The usual troops of villagers paraded about in all
that mock grace which characterises the peasant of the ballet. There
were the same active mountaiueers, the same venerable fathers, the
comely matrons with little baskets of nothing carefully covered by
snowy napkins, and the young maidens, who want only beauty to make
them what they affect to be. Eoland gazed at all this with the in-
difference a stupid prelude ever excites, and would rapidly have been
wearied, when a sudden pause in the music ensued, and then a death-
like stillness reigned through the house. The orchestra again opened,
and with a melody which thrilled through every fibre of Eoland's
heaxt. It was a favourite Mexican air; one to which, in happier
times, he had often danced. "What myriads of old memories came
flocking to his mind as he listened ! What fancies came thronging
around him ! Every bar of the measure beat responsive!}' with some
association of the past. He leaned his head downwards, and, cover-
ing his face with his hands, all thought of the present was lost, and
in imagination he was back again on the green sward before the
" ViUa de las Noches ;" the mocking-bird and the nightingale were
filling the air with their warblings ; tlie sounds of gay voices, the
plash of fountains, the meteor-like flashes of the fire-flies, were all
before him. He knew nob that' a thousand voices were shoutinfr
around him in wildest enthusiasm — tliat bouquets of rarest flowers
atrewed the stage — that every form adulation can take was assumed
towards one on whom every eye save his own was bent ; and that,
before her, rank, beauty, riches — all that tlie world makes its idols —
were now bending in deepest liomage. He knew nothing of all this,
as he sat with bent-down head, lost in his own bright dreamings. At
length he looked up, but, instead of his fancy being dissipated by


reality, it now assumed form and substance. There was the very
scenery of that far-off laud ; the music was the national air of Mexico ;
the dance was the haughty Manolo ; and, oh ! was it that his brain was
wandering — had reason, shaken by many a rude shock, given way at
last ? The dancer — she, on whose witching graces every glance was
})ent — was Maritafia ! There she stood, more beautiful than he had
ever seeu her before ; her dark hair eucircled with brilliants, her
black eyes flashing in all the animation of triumph, and her fairly-
rounded limbs the perfection of symmetry.

Oh no ! this was some mind-drawn picture ; this was the shadowy
imaf^e that failinsr intellect creates ere all is lost in chaos and con-
fusion ! Such was the conflict in his brain as, with staring eyeballs,
he tracked her as she moved, and followed each graceful bend, each
proud commanding attitude. Nor was it till the loud thunder-roll of
applause had drawn her to the front of the stage, to acknowledge the
favour by a deep reverence, that he became assured beyond all ques-
tion. Then, when he saw the long dark lashes fall upon the rounded
cheek, when he beheld the crossed arm upon her bosom, and marked
the taper fingers he had so often held within his own, in a transport
of feeling, where pride, and joy, and shame, and sorrow, had each
their share, he cried aloud :

" Oh, Maritaiia ! Maritaiia ! Shame ! shame !"
Scarcely had the wild cry re-echoed through the house than, with a
scream, whose terror pierced every heart, the girl started from her
studied attitude, and rushed forward towards the foot-lights, her
frighted looks and pale cheeks seeming ghastly with emotion.

"Where? — where?" cried she. "Speak again — I know the
voice !" But already a scene of uproar and confusion had arisen in
the parteiTe around Cashel, whose interruption of the piece called
dovra universal reprobation ; and cries of " Out with him !" '• Away
with him !" rose on every side.

Struggling madly and fiercely against his assailants, Cashel for a
brief space seemed likely to find his way to the stage ; but overcome
by numbers, he was subdued at last, and consigned to the hands of
the guard. His last look, still turned to the " scene," showed him
Maritana, as she was carried away senseless and fainting.



The laughing Seine, whose midnight flood
Shrouds many a deed of crime and blood !


Thet alone who have passed much of their lives on the Continent
of Europe can estimate the amount of excitement caused by such an
incident as that we have just related. So much of life is centred in
the theatre, so many interests revolve around it, engrossing, as it
does, so much of the passions and the prejudices of those whose ex-
istence seldom rises above the pursuit of pleasure, that anything
which might interrupt " the scene," which should disturb its pro-
gress, or mar its eiFect, is sure to evoke the loudest evidence of public
indignation. "Where a high cultivation of the arts is employed to
gloss over the corruptions of a vicious system, it may be easily con-
ceived how men would be judged more leniently for crimes than for
those minor offences which rebel against the usages of good society.

The " Ballet interrupted in its most interesting moment," " La
Kinetta carried away fainting at the very commencement of her most
attractive movement," insulted — so it was rumoured — " by some
offensive epithet of a Spaniard," were enough to carry indignation to
the highest pitch, and it needed the protection of the guard to screen
him from the popular vengeance.

After a night of feverish anxiety, where hopes and fears warred and
conflicted with each other, Cashel was early on the following morning
conducted before the Chief Commissary of the Police. His passport
represented him as a Spaniard, and he adhered to the pretended na-
tionality to avoid the dreaded notoriety of his name.

"While he answered the usual questions as to age, religion, and pro-
fession, an officer deposited a sealed paper in the hands of the Pre-
fetto ; who, opening it, appeared to study the contents with much

" Tou have called yourself II Senor Roland da Castel, Sir?" said
the official, staring fixedly upon him. " Have you always gone by this
name ?"

" In Mexico and the New "World I was ever known as such. In
England men call me Eoland Cashel."

" "Which is your more fitting appellation— is it not ?"

'' Yes."

" Tou are then an English, and not a Spanish subject ?"

He nodded aflsent.


"You were, however, in a South American service?" said the
Prefetto, reading from his paper.

Roland bowed again.

" In which service, or pretended service, you commanded a slaver ?"

" This is untrue," said Cashel, calmly.

" I have it asserted here, however, by those of whose statements
you have already acknowledged the accuracy."

" It is not the less a falsehood."

" Perhaps you will allow more correctness to the next allegation ?
It is said that, under the pretended right to a large inheritance, you
visited England, and succeeded in preferring a claim to a vast estate ?"

Eoland bent his head in assent.

" And that to this property you possessed neither right nor title ?"

Eoland started : the charge involved a secret he be^eved unknown,
save to himself, Hammond, and Linton, and he could not master his
surprise enough to reply.

" But a weightier allegation is yet behind, Sir," said the Prefetto,
sternly. "Are you the same Eoland Cashel whose trial for murder'
occupied the assizes of Ennis in the spring of the year 18 — ?"

" I am," said Cashel, faintly.

" Tour escape of conviction depended on the absence of a material
witness for the prosecution, I believe ?"

" I was acquitted because I was not guilty, Sir."

" On that point we are not agreed," said the Prefetto, sarcastically ;
" but you have admitted enough to warrant me in the course I shall
pursue respecting you — the fixct of a false name and passport, the
identity witli a well-known character admitted — I have now to detain
you in custody until such time as the Consul of your country may
take steps for your conveyance to England, where already new evi-
dence of your criminality awaits you. Yes, prisoner, the mystery
which involved your guilt is at length about to be dissipated, and the
day of expiation draws nigh."

Eoland did not speak. Shame at the degraded position he occupied,
even in the eyes of those with whom he had associated, overwhelmed
him, and he suffered himself to be led away without a word.

Alone in the darkness and silence of a prison, he sat indifferent to
what might befal him, wearied of himself and all the world.

Days, even weeks passed on, and none inquired after him ; he
seemed forgotten of all, when the Consul, who had been absent,
having returned, it was discovered that the allegations respecting the
murder were not sufficient to warrant his being transmitted to Eng-
land, and that the only charge against him lay in the assumed na-
tionality — an offence it was deemed sufficiently expiated by his im-
prisonment. He was free then once more— free to wander forth into

VOL. II. 8


the world where his notoriety bad been already proclaimed, and wbere,
if not bis guilt, bis shame was published.

Of MaritaSa all that he could learn was that she bad left Venice
without again appearing in public ; but in what direction none knew
accurately. Casbel justly surmised that she had not gone without
seeing him once more, bad it not been from tbe compulsion of otbers ;
and if he grieved to think tbey were never to meet more, he felt a
secret consolation on reflecting how much of mutual sbame and
sorrow was spared tbeiii. Shame was indeed the predominant emo-
tion of his mind; sbame for his now sullied name — his character
tarnished by tbe allegations of crime ; and sbame for her, degraded
to a " Ballarina.^'

Had Fortune another reverse in store for him ? Was there one
cherished hope stiU remaining ? Had life one solitary spot to which
he could now du-ect his weary steps, and be at rest ? The publicity
which late events had given to his name, rendered him more timid
and retiring than ever. A morbid sense of modesty — a shrinking
dread of tbe slights to which he would be exposed in the world —
made him shun all intercourse, and live a life of utter seclusion.

Like all men who desire solitude, he soon discovered that it is
alone attainable in great cities. "Where tbe great human tide mns
full and strong, tbe scattered wrecks are scarcely noticeable.

To Paris, therefore, he repaired ; not to that brilliant Paris where
sensuality and vice costume themselves in all the brilliant hues de-
rived from the highest intellectual culture, but to the dark and
gloomy Paris which lies between the arms of tbe Seine — the " He St.
Louis." There, amid the vestiges of an extinct feudalism, and the
trials of a present wretchedness, he passed his life in strict solitude.
In a mean apartment, whose only solace was the view of the river,
with a few books picked up on a neighbouring stall, and tbe moving
crowd beneath his window to attract his wandering thoughts, he lived
his lonely life. The past alone occupied bis mind : for the future he
had neither care nor interest, but of his bygone life he could dream
for hours. These memories be used to indulge each evening in a
particular spot ; it was an old and ruinous stair which descended to
the river, from a little wooden platform, near wbere he lived. It had
been long disused, and suffered to fall into rot and decay. Here he
sat, each night, watching the twinkling lights that glittered along the
river, and listening to the distant hum of that great hive of pleasure
that lay beyond it.

That the neighbourhood about was one of evil repute and danger,
mattered little to one wlio set small store by his life, and whose
stalwart figure and signs of personal prowess Avere not unknown in
the quarter. The unbroken solitude of the spot was its attraction to
him, and truly none ever ventured near it after nightfall.


There he was sitting, one night, as usual, musing, as was his wont.
It was a period when men's minds were stirred by the expectation of
some great but unknown event : a long political stagnation — the dead
sea of hopeless apathy — was beginning to be ruffled by short and fitful
blasts that told of a coming hurricane. Vague rumours of a change
— scattered sentences of some convulsion, whence proceeding, or
whither tending, none could guess — were abroad. The long-sleeping
terrors of a past time of blood were once more remembered, and men
talked of the guillotine and the scaffold as household themes. It was
the summer of 1830 — that memorable year, wbose deeds were to form
but the prologue of the great drama we are to-day the spectators at.
Eoland heard these things, as he who wanders along the shore at
night may hear the brooding signs of a gathering storm, bvit has no
" venture on the sea." He thought of them — with a certain interest,
too — but it was with that interest into which no personal feeling
enters ; for how could great convulsions of states affect 1dm ? How
could the tui-n of fortune raise or depress him ?

He sat, now pondering over his own destiny, now wondering

Online LibraryCharles James LeverRoland Cashel (Volume 2) → online text (page 28 of 32)