Charles James Lever.

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over the keys with a masterly facility. As he flew over the octaves, and
struck chords of splendid harmony, I could not help feeling an amount of
credit in all his boastful declarations just from this one trait of real
power about him.

"I see you are a rare musician," said I.

"And it is what I know least," said he; "though Flotow said one day,
'If that rascal De Marsac takes to writing operas, I 'll never compose
another. 'But here comes the supper;" and as he spoke my servant entered
with a small basket with six bottles in it; two waiters following him,
bearing a good-sized tin box, with a charcoal fire beneath.

"Well and perfectly done," exclaimed my guest, as he aided them to place
the soup on the table, and to dispose some _hors d'oeuvre_ of anchovies,
caviare, ham, and fresh butter on the board. "I am sorry we have no
flowers. I love a bouquet A few camellias for color, and some violets
for odor. They relieve the grossness of the material enjoyments; they
poetize the meal; and if you have no women at table, _mon cher_, be sure
to have flowers: not that I object to both together. There, now, is our
little bill of fare, - a white soup, a devilled mackerel, some truffles,
with butter, and a capon with stewed mushrooms. Oysters there are
none, not even those native shrimps they call scampi; but the wine
will compensate for much: the wine is Roediger; champagne, with a faint
suspicion of dryness. And as he has brought ice, we 'll attack that
Bordeaux you spoke of till the other be cool enough for drinking."

As he rattled on thus, it was not very easy for me to assure myself
whether I was host or guest; but as I saw that this consideration did
not distress _him_, I resolved it should not weigh heavily on me.

"I ordered a _compote_ of peaches with maraschino. Go after them and
say it has been forgotten." And now, as he dismissed my servant on this
errand, he sat down and served the soup, doing the honors of the board
in all form. "You are called - "

"Digby is my Christian name," interrupted I, "and you can call me by
it."

"Digby, I drink to your health; and if the wine had been only a little
warmer, I 'd say I could not wish to do so in a more generous fluid. No
fellow of your age knows how to air his Bordeaux; hot flannels to the
caraffe before decanting are all that is necessary, and let your glasses
also be slightly warmed. To sip such claret as this, and then turn one's
eyes to that champagne yonder in the ice-pail, is like the sensation
of a man who in his honeymoon fancies how happy he will be one of
these days, _en secondes noces_. Don't you feel a sense of triumphant
enjoyment at this moment? Is there not something at your heart that
says, 'Hodnig and Oppovich, I despise you! To the regions I soar in you
cannot come! To the blue ether I have risen, your very vision cannot
reach!' Eh, boy! tell me this."

"No; I don't think you have rightly measured my feelings. On the whole,
I rather suspect I bear a very good will to these same people who have
enabled me to have these comforts."

"You pretend, then, to what they call gratitude?"

"I have that weakness."

"I could as soon believe in the heathen mythology! I like the man who
is kind to me while he is doing the kindness, and I could, if occasion
served, be kind to him in turn; but to say that I could retain such a
memory of the service after years that it would renew in me the first
pleasant sensations it created, and with these sensations the goodwill
to requite them, is downright rubbish. You might as well tell me that I
could get drank simply by remembering the orgie I assisted at ten years
ago."

"I protest against your sentiment and your logic too."

"Then we won't dispute the matter. We'll talk of something we can agree
upon. Let us abuse Sara."

"If you do, you'll choose some other place to do it."

"What, do you mean to tell me that you can stand the haughty airs and
proud pretensions of the young Jewess?"

"I mean to tell you that I know nothing of the Fräulein Oppovich but
what is amiable and good."

"What do I care for amiable and good? I want a girl to be graceful,
well-mannered, pleasing, lively to talk, and eager to listen. There,
now, don't get purple about the cheeks, and flash at me such fiery
looks. Here's the champagne, and we 'll drink a bumper to her."

"Take some other name for your toast, or I 'll fling your bottle out of
the window."

"You will, will you!" said he, setting down his glass, and measuring me
from head to foot.

"I swear it"

"I like that spirit, Digby; I'll be shot if I don't," said he, taking my
hand, which I did not give very willingly. "You are just what I was some
fifteen or twenty years ago, - warm, impulsive, and headstrong. It's the
world - that vile old mill, the world - grinds that generous nature out
of one! I declare I don't believe that a spark of real trustfulness
survives a man's first moustaches, - and yours are very faint, very faint
indeed; there 's a suspicion of smut on the upper lip, and some small
capillary flourishes along your cheek. That wine is too sweet. I 'll
return to the Bordeaux."

"I grieve to say I have no more than that bottle of it. It was some I
bought when I was ill and threatened with ague."

"What profanation! anything would be good enough for ague. It is in
a man's days of vigorous health he merits cherishing. Let us console
ourselves with Rodiger. Now, boy," said he, as he cleared off a bumper
from a large goblet, "I 'll give you some hints for your future, far
more precious than this wine, good as it is. Gustave de Marsac, like
Homer's hero, can give gold for brass, and instead of wine he will give
you wisdom. First of all for a word of warning: don't fall in love
with Sara. It's the popular error down here to do so, but it's a
cruel mistake. That fellow that has the hemp-trade here, - what's his
name, - the vulgar dog that wears mutton-chop whiskers, and fancies he's
English because he gets his coats from London? I 'll remember his name
presently, - he has all his life been proposing for Sara, and begging
off - as matters go ill or well with the House of Oppovich; and as he is
a shrewd fellow in business, all the young men here think they ought to
'go in' for Sara too."

I should say here that, however distasteful to me this talk, and however
willingly I would have repressed it, it was totally out of my power to
arrest the flow of words which with the force of a swollen torrent came
from him. He drank freely, too, large goblets of champagne as he talked,
and to this, I am obliged to own, I looked as my last hope of being rid
of him. I placed every bottle I possessed on the table, and, lighting my
cigar, resigned myself, with what patience I could, to the result.

"Am I keeping you up, my dear Digby?" cried he, at last, after a burst
of abuse on Fiume and all it contained that lasted about half an hour.

"I seldom sit up so late," was my cautious reply; "but I must own I have
seldom such a good excuse."

"You hit it, boy; that was well and truly spoken. As a talker of the
highest order of talk, I yield to no man in Europe. Do you remember
Duvergier saying in the Chambre, as an apology for being late, 'I dined
with DeMarsac'?"

"I cannot say I remember that."

"How could you? You were an infant at the time." Away he went after this
into reminiscences of political life, - how deep he was in that Spanish
marriage question, and how it caused a breach, - an irreparable breach
between Guizot and himself, when that woman, "you know whom I mean, let
out the secret to Bulwer. Of course I ought not to have confided it to
her. I know all that as well as you can tell it me, but who is wise, who
is guarded, who is self-possessed at all times?"

Not entirely trustful of what he was telling me, and little interested
in it besides, I brought him back to Fiume, and to the business that was
now about to be confided to me.

"Ah, very true; you want your instructions. You shall have them,
not that you 'll need them long, _mon cher_. Six months - what am I
saying? - three will see it all up with; Hodnig and Oppovich."

"What do you mean?" cried I, eagerly.

"Just simply what I say."

It was not very easy for me to follow him here, but I could gather,
amidst a confused mass of self-glorification, prediction, and
lamentation over warnings disregarded, and such like, that the great Jew
house of "Nathanheimer" of Paris was the real head of the firm of Hodnig
and Oppovich.

"The Nathanheimers own all Europe and a very considerable share of
America," burst he out "You hear of a great wine-house at Xeres, or a
great corn-merchant at Odessa, or a great tallow-exporter at Riga.
It's all Nathanheimer! If a man prospers and shows that he has skill in
business, they 'll stand by him, even to millions. If he blunders, they
sweep him away, as I brush away that cork. There must be no failures
with _them_. That's their creed."

He proceeded to explain how these great potentates of finance and trade
had agencies in every great centre of Europe, who reported to them
everything that went on, who flourished, and who foundered; how, when
enterprises that promised well presented themselves, Nathanheimer would
advance any sum, no matter how great, that was wanted. If a country
needed a railroad, if a city required a boulevard, if a seaport wanted
a dock, they were ready to furnish each and all of them. The conditions,
too, were never unfair, never ungenerous, but still they bargained
always for something besides money. They desired that this man would aid
such a project here, or oppose that other there. Their interests were so
various and widespread that they needed political power everywhere, and
they had it.

One offence they never pardoned, never condoned, which was any, the
slightest, insubordination amongst those they supported and maintained.
Marsac ran over a catalogue of those they had ruined in London,
Amsterdam, Paris, Frankfort, and Vienna, simply because they had
attempted to emancipate themselves from the serfdom imposed upon
them. Let one of the subordinate firms branch out into an enterprise
unauthorized by the great house, and straightway their acceptances
become dishonored, and their credit assailed. In one word, he made it
appear that from one end of Europe to the other the whole financial
system was in the bands of a few crafty men of immense wealth, who
unthroned dynasties, and controlled the fate of nations, with a word.

He went on to show that Oppovich had somehow fallen into disgrace with
these mighty patrons. "Some say that he is too old and too feeble for
business, and hands over to Sara details that she is quite unequal to
deal with; some aver that he has speculated without sanction, and is
intriguing with Greek democrats; others declare that he has been merely
unfortunate; at all events, his hour has struck. Mind my words, three
months hence they 'll not have Nathanheimer's agency in their house,
and I suspect you 'll see our friend Bettmeyer will succeed to that rich
inheritance."

Rambling on, now talking with a vagueness that savored of imbecility,
now speaking with a purpose-like acuteness and power that brought
conviction, he sat till daybreak, drinking freely all the time, and at
last so overwhelming me with 'strange revelations that I was often at a
loss to know whether it was he that was confounding me, or that I myself
had lost all control of right reason and judgment.

"You're dead beat, my poor fellow," said he at last, "and it's your own
fault. You 've been drinking nothing but water these last two hours.
Go off to bed now, and leave me to finish this bottle. After that I 'll
have a plunge off the end of the mole, cold enough it will be, but no
ice, and you 'll find me here at ten o'clock with a breakfast appetite
that will astonish you."

I took him at his word, and said "Good-night."




CHAPTER XXIV. MY INSTRUCTIONS

My friend did not keep his self-made appointment with me at breakfast,
nor did I see him for two days, when we met in the street.

"I have gone over to the enemy," said he; "I have taken an engagement
with Bettmeyer: six thousand florins and all expenses, - silver florins,
_mon cher_; and if you're wise," added he in a whisper, "you 'll follow
my lead. Shall I say a word for you?"

I thanked him coldly, and declined the offer.

"All right; stick to gratitude, and you'll see where it will land you,"
said he, gayly. "I've sent you half a dozen letters to friends of mine
up yonder;" and he pointed towards the North. "You 'll find Hunyadi an
excellent fellow, and the Countess charming; don't make love to her,
though, for Tassilo is a regular Othello. As for the Erdödis, I only
wish I was going there, instead of you; - such pheasants, such women,
such Tokay, their own vintage! Once you 're down in Transylvania, write
me word whom you 'd like to know. They 're all dear friends of mine. By
the way, don't make any blunder about that Hunyadi contract The people
here will want you to break it, - don't, on any account. It's the finest
bargain ever was made; splendid timber, magnificent bark, and the
cuttings alone worth all the money."

He rattled out this with his own headlong speed, and was gone before I
well knew I had seen him.

That evening I was ordered to Herr Oppovich's house to receive my last
instructions. The old man was asleep on a sofa, as I entered, and Sara
seated at a table by the fire, deeply engaged in accounts.

"Sit down, Herr Owen," - she had ceased to call me Von Owen, - "and I will
speak to you in a minute."

I was not impatient at the delay, for I had time to gaze at her silken
hair, and her faultless profile, and the beautiful outline of her
figure, as, leaning her head on her hand, she bent over the table.

"I cannot make this come right, - are you clever at figures?" asked she.

"I cannot say it is my gift, but I will do my best to aid you." And now
we were seated side by side, poring over the same page; and as she had
placed one taper finger next the column of figures, I did so likewise,
thinking far less of the arithmetic than of the chance of touching her
hand with mine.

"These figures are somewhat confusing," she said. "Let us begin at the
top, - fourteen hundred and six hundred, make two thousand, and twelve
hundred, three thousand two hundred, - now is this a seven or a three?"

"I'd say a three."

"I 've called it a seven, because M. Marsac usually writes his sevens in
this way."

"These are De Marsac's, then?" asked I.

"And why 'De,' may I ask?" said she, quickly; "why not Marsac, as I
called him?"

"I took his name as he gave it me."

"You know him, then? Oh, I had forgotten, - he called on you the night he
came. Have you seen him since?"

"Only passingly, in the street"

"Had he time to tell you that he has been dismissed?"

"Yes; he said he was now in Mr. Bettmeyer's office."

"Shall I tell you why?" She stopped, and her cheek became crimson, while
her eyes sparkled with an angry fire that actually startled me. "But let
us finish this. Where were we?" She now leaned her head down upon her
hands, and seemed overcome by her emotion. When she looked up again, her
face was perfectly pale, and her eyes sad and weariful. "I am afraid we
shall wake him," said she, looking towards her father; "come into this
room here. So this man has been talking of us?" cried she, as soon as we
had passed into the adjoining room. "Has he told you how he has requited
all my father's kindness? how he has repaid his trustfulness and faith
in him? Speak freely if you wish me to regard you as a friend."

"I would that you might, Fräulein. There is no name I would do so much
to win."

"But you are a gentleman, and with noble blood. Could you stoop to be
the friend of - " Here she hesitated, and, after an effort, added, "A
Jew?"

"Try me, prove me," said I, stooping till my lips touched her hand.

She did not withdraw her hand, but left it in mine, as I pressed it
again and again to my lips.

"He told you, then," said she, in a half-whisper, "that our house was
on the brink of ruin; that in a few weeks, or even less, my father would
not face the exchange, - did he not say this?"

"I will tell you all," said I, "for I know you will forgive me when I
repeat what will offend you to hear, but what is safer you should hear."
And, in the fewest words I could, I related what Marsac had told me
of the house and its difficulties. When I came to that part which
represented Oppovich as the mere agent of the great Parisian
banker, - whose name I was not quite sure of, - I faltered and hesitated.

"Go on," said she, gently. "He told you that Baron Nathanheimer was
about to withdraw his protection from us?"

I slightly bent my head in affirmation.

"But did he say why?"

"Something there was of rash enterprise, of speculation
unauthorized - of - "

"Of an old man with failing faculties," said she, in the same low tone;
"and of a young girl, little versed in business, but self-confident and
presumptuous enough to think herself equal to supply his place. I have
no doubt he was very frank on this head. He wrote to Baron Elias, who
sent me his letter, - the letter he wrote of us while eating our bread.
It was not handsome of him, - was it, sir?"

I can give no idea, not the faintest, of the way she said these few
words, nor of the ineffable scorn of her look, while her voice remained
calm and gentle as ever.

"No; it was not handsome."

She nodded to me to proceed, and I continued, -

"I have told you nearly everything; for of himself and his
boastfulness - "

"Oh! do not tell me of that I am in no laughing mood, and I would not
like to hear of it What did he say of the Hunyadi affair?"

"Nothing, or next to nothing. He offered me letters of introduction to
Count Hunyadi; but beyond that there was no mention of him."

She arose as I said this, and walked slowly up and down the room. I saw
she was deep in thought, and was careful not to disturb or distract
her. At last she opened a writing-desk, and took out a roll of papers
fastened by a tape.

"These," said she, "you will take with you, and carefully read over.
They are the records of a transaction that is now involving us in great
trouble, and which may prove more than trouble. M. Marsac has been
induced - how, we shall not stop to inquire - to contract for the purchase
of an extensive wood belonging to Graf Hunyadi; the price, half a
million of francs. We delayed to ratify an agreement of such moment,
until more fully assured of the value of the timber; and while we
deliberated on the choice of the person to send down to Hungary, we have
received from our correspondent at Vienna certain bills for acceptance
in payment of this purchase. You follow me, don't you?"

"Yes. As I understand it, the bargain was assumed to be ratified?"

"Just so."

She paused; and, after a slight struggle with herself, went on, -

"The contract, legally drawn up and complete in every way, _was_ signed;
not, however, by my father, but by my brother. You have heard, perhaps,
that I have a brother. Bad companionship and a yielding disposition
have led him into evil, and for some years we have not seen him. Much
misfortune has befallen him; but none greater, perhaps, than his meeting
with Marsac; for, though Adolf has done many things, he would not have
gone thus far without the promptings of this bad man."

"Was it his own name he wrote?" asked I.

"No; it was my father's," and she faltered at the word; and as she spoke
it, her head fell heavily forward, and she covered her face with her
hands.

She rallied, however, quickly, and went on. "We now know that the timber
is not worth one-fourth of this large sum. Baron Elias himself has seen
it, and declares that we have been duped or - worse. He insists that
we rescind the contract, or accept all its consequences. The one
is hopeless, - the other ruin. Meanwhile, the Baron suspends farther
relations with us, and heavy acceptances of ours will soon press for
payment. I must not go into this," said she, hurriedly. "You are very
young to charge with such a mission; but I have great faith in your
loyalty. You will not wrong our trust?"

"That I will not."

"You will go to Graf Hunyadi, and speak with him. If he be - as many
of his countrymen are - a man of high and generous feeling, he will not
bring ruin upon us, when our only alternative would be to denounce our
own. You are very young; but you have habits of the world and society.
Nay, - I am not seeking to learn a secret; but you know enough to make
you companionable and acceptable, where any others in our employ would
be inadmissible. At all events, you will soon see the sort of man we
have to deal with, and you will report to me at once."

"I am not to tell him how this signature has been obtained?" asked I,
awaiting the reply.

"That would be to denounce the contract at once," cried she, as though
this thought had for the first time struck her. "You know the penalty
of a forgery here. It is the galleys for life. He must be saved at
all events. Don't you see," cried she, eagerly, "I can give you no
instructions. I have none to give. When I say I trust you, - I have told
you all."

"Has Herr Ignaz not said how he would wish me to act?"

"My father knows nothing of it all! Nothing. You have seen him, and you
know how little he is able now to cope with a difficulty. The very sense
that his faculties are not what they were overcomes him, even to tears."

Up to this she had spoken with a calm firmness that had lent a touch of
almost sternness to her manner, but at the mention of her poor father's
condition, her courage gave way, and she turned away and hid her face,
but her convulsed shoulders showed how her emotion was overcoming her.
I went towards her, and took her hand in both my own. She left it to me
while I kissed it again and again.

"Oh, Sara," I whispered rather than spoke, "if you knew how devoted I am
to you, if you knew how willingly I would give my very life for you, you
would not think yourself friendless at this hour. Your trust in me has
made me forget how lonely I am, and how humble, - to forget all that
separates us, even to telling that I love you. Give me one word - only
one - of hope; or if not that, let your dear hand but close on mine, and
I am yours forever."

She never spoke, however, and her cold fingers returned no pressure to
mine.

"I love you; I love you!" I muttered, as I covered her hand with kisses.

"There! Do you not hear?" cried she, suddenly. "My father is calling
me."

"Sara, Sara! Where is Sara?" cried the old man, in a weak, reedy voice.

"I am coming, dear father," said she. "Good-bye, Digby; remember that I
trust you!"

[Illustration: 612]

She waved me a farewell, and, with a faint, sad smile, she moved away.
As she reached the door, however, she turned, and, with a look of kindly
meaning, said, "Trust you in all things."

I sprang forward to clasp her to my heart; but the door closed on her,
and I was alone.




CHAPTER XXV. "ON THE ROAD" IN CROATIA

I passed half the night that followed in writing to my mother. It was a
very long epistle, but, in my fear lest, like so many others, it should
not ever reach her, it was less expansive and candid than I could have
wished. Sara's name did not occur throughout, and yet it was Sara's
image was before me as I wrote, and to connect my mother in interest for
Sara was my uppermost thought. Without touching on details that might
awaken pain, I told how I had been driven to attempt something for my
own support, and had not failed.

"I am still," I wrote, "where I started, but in so far a different
position that I am now well looked on and trusted, and at this moment
about to set out on a mission of importance. If I should succeed in
doing what I am charged with, it will go far to secure my future, and
then, dearest mother, I will go over to fetch you, for I will no longer
live without you."

I pictured the place I was living in, and its climate, as attractively
as I was able, and said, what I verily believed, that I hoped never to
leave it. Of my father I did not venture to speak; but I invited her, if
the course of our correspondence should prove assured, to tell me freely
all about her present condition, and where and how she was.

"You will see, dear mother," said I, in conclusion, "that I write in all
the constraint of one who is not sure who may read him. Of the accident
by which the address I now give this letter reached me, I will tell when
I write again. Meanwhile, though I shall not be here to receive it at


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Online LibraryCharles James LeverThat boy of Norcott's → online text (page 12 of 17)