Charles James Lever.

That boy of Norcott's online

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bank of affection at my disposal at which I could draw at will; and
what an object for my imitation was that fine courage of hers, that took
defeats as mere passing shadows, and was satisfied to fight on to the
end, ever hopeful and ever brave.

How I would have liked to return to Madame Cleremont, and read her some
passages of these letters, and said, "And this is the woman you seek to
dethrone, and whose place you would fill! This is she whose rival you
aspire to be. What think you of the contest now? Which of you should
prove the winner? Is it with a nature like this you would like to
measure yourself?"

How I would have liked to have dared her to such a combat, and boldly
declared that I would make my father himself the umpire as to the
worthier. As to her hate or her vengeance, she had as much as promised
me both, but I defied them; and I believed I even consulted my safety by
open defiance. As I thus stimulated myself with passionate counsels, and
burned with eagerness for the moment I might avow them, I flung open my
window for fresh air, for my excitement had risen to actual fever.

It was very dark without Night had set in about two hours, but no
stars had yet shone out, and a thick impenetrable blackness pervaded
everywhere. Some peasants were shovelling the snow in the court beneath,
making a track from the gate to the house-door, and here and there a
dimly burning lantern attached to a pole would show where the work
was being carried out. As it was about the time of the evening when
travellers were wont to arrive, the labor was pressed briskly forward,
and I could hear an overseer's voice urging the men to increased zeal
and activity.

"There has been a snow-mountain fallen at Miklos, they say," cried one,
"and none can pass the road for many a day."

"If they cannot come from Pesth, they can come from Hermanstadt, from
Temesvar, from Klausenberg. Guests can come from any quarter," cried the

I listened with amusement to the discussion that followed; the various
sentiments they uttered as to whether this system of open hospitality
raised the character of a country, or was not a heavy mulct out of the
rights which the local poor possessed on the properties of their rich

"Every flask of Tokayer drunk at the upper table," cried one, "is an
eimer of Mediasch lost to the poor man."

"That is the true way to look at it," cried another. "We want neither
Counts nor Tokayer."

"That was a Saxon dog barked there!" called out the overseer. "No
Hungarian ever reviled what his land is most famed for."

"Here come travellers now," shouted one from the gate. "I hear horses at
full speed on the Klausenberg road."

"Lanterns to the gate, and stand free of the road," cried the overseer;
and now the scene became one of striking excitement, as the lights
flitted rapidly from place to place; the great arch of the gate being
accurately marked in outline, and the deep cleft in the snow lined on
either side by lanterns suspended between posts.

"They 're coming at a furious pace," cried one; "they 've passed the
toll-bridge at full gallop."

"Then it's the Count himself," chimed in another, "There 's none but he
could force the toll-bar."

"It's a country wagon, with four _juckers_; and here it comes;" and as
he spoke four sweating horses swung through the gateway, and came full
speed into the court.

"Where is Kitzlach? Call Kitzlach! call the doctor!" screamed a voice
from the wagon. "Tell him to come down at once."

"Out with the _juchera_, and harness a fresh team," cried the same
voice. And now, as he descended from the wagon, he was surrounded
with eager figures, all anxious to hear his tidings. As I could gather
nothing from where I was, I hastily threw on a fur coat, and made my
way down to the court. I soon learned the news. A terrible disaster had
befallen the hunting-party. A she-boar, driven frantic by her wounds,
had dashed suddenly into the midst of them, slightly wounded the Count
and his head Jager, but dangerously one of the guests, who had sustained
a single combat with her and killed her; not, however, without grievous
injury to himself, for a large blood-vessel had been severed; all the
efforts to stanch which had been but half successful.

"Have you your tourniquet, doctor?" cried the youth from a wagon, as the
equipage was turned again to the gate.

"Everything - everything."

"You 'll want any quantity of lint and bandages; and, remember, nothing
can be had down yonder."

"Make your mind easy! I've forgotten nothing. Just keep your beasts
quiet till I get up."

I drew nigh as he was about to mount, and whispered a word in his ear.

"I don't know," said he, gruffly. "I can't see why you should ask."

"Why don't you get up?" cried the youth, impatiently.

"There's a young fellow here importuning me to ask you for a place in
the wagon. He thinks he knows this stranger."

"Let him get in at once, then; and let's have no more delays." And
scarcely had we scrambled to our places, than the loud whip resounded
with the quick, sharp report of pistol-shots, and the beasts sprung out
at once, rushed through the narrow gateway, and were soon stretching
along at their topmost pace through impenetrable blackness.

Crouching in the straw at the bottom of the wagon, I crept as closely as
I could to where the doctor was seated beside the young man who drove.
I was eager to hear what I could of the incident that had befallen; but,
to my great disappointment, they spoke in Hungarian, and all I could
gather, from certain dropping expressions, was that both the Count and
his English friend had been engaged in some rivalry of personal daring,
and that the calamity had come of this insane contest. "They'll never
say 'Mad as a Hunyadi' any longer up at Lees. They 'll say 'Mad as an

The young fellow spoke in wondrous admiration of the wounded man's
courage and coolness, and described how he had taught them to pass a
light ligature round his thigh, and tighten it further by inserting a
stick to act as a screw. "Up to that," said he, "he had been bleeding
like a tapped Wein-kass; and then he made them give him large goblet» of
strong Bordeaux, to sustain him."

"He's a bold-hearted fellow then?" said the doctor.

"The Count declares he has never met his equal. They were alone together
when I started, for the Englishman said he had something for the Count's
own ear, and begged the others to withdraw."

"So he thought himself in danger?"

"That he did. I saw him myself take off a large signet ring and lay it
on the table beside his watch, and he pointed them out to Hunyadi as he
came in, and said something in English; but the Count rejoined quickly,
'No, no. It's not come to that yet.'"

While they spoke slowly, I was able to gather at least the meaning of
what passed between them, but I lost all clew so soon as they talked
eagerly and rapidly, so that, confused by the unmeaning sounds, and made
drowsy by the fresh night-air, I at last fell off into a heavy sleep.

I was awakened by the noise of the wheels over a paved street. I looked
up, and saw, by the struggling light of a breaking dawn, that we were in
a village where a number of people were awaiting us. "Have you brought
the doctor?" "Where is the doctor?" cried several together; and he was
scarcely permitted to descend, so eager were they to seize and carry him

A dense crowd was gathered before the door of a small two-storied house,
into which the doctor now disappeared; and I, mixing with the mass,
tried as best I might, to ask how the wounded man was doing, and what
hopes there were of his life. While I thus went from one to another
vainly endeavoring to make my question intelligible, I heard a loud
voice cry out in German, "Where is the young fellow who says he knows

"Here," cried I, boldly. "I believe I know him, - I am almost sure I do."

"Come to the door, then, and look in; do not utter a word," cried a tall
dark man I soon knew to be Count Hunyadi. "Mind, sir, for your life's
sake, that you don't disturb him."

I crept on tiptoe to the slightly opened door, and looked in. There, on
a mattress on the floor, a tall man was lying, while the doctor knelt
beside him, and seemed to press with all his weight on his thigh. The
sick man slowly turned his face to the light, and it was my father! My
knees trembled, my sight grew dim; strength suddenly forsook me, and I
fell powerless and senseless to the ground.

They were bathing my face and temples with vinegar and water to rally me
when the doctor came to say the sick man desired to see me. In a moment
the blood rushed to my head, and I cried out, "I am ready."

"Be calm, sir. A mere word, a gesture, may prove fatal to him,"
whispered the doctor to me. "His life hangs on a thread."

Count Hunyadi was kneeling beside my father, and evidently trying to
catch some faint words he was saying, as I stole forward and knelt down
by the bedside. My father turned his eyes slowly round till they fell
upon me, - when their expression suddenly changed from the look of weary
apathy to a stare of full and steadfast meaning, - intense, indeed, in
significance; but I dare not say that this conveyed anything like love
or affection for me.

"Come closer," cried he, in a hoarse whisper. "It is Digby, is it not?
This boy is my son, Hunyadi," he said, with an increased effort. "Give
me your hand." He took my trembling fingers in his cold moist hand,
and passed the large signet ring over my second finger. "He is my heir.
Gentlemen," he cried, in a tone at once haughty and broken by debility,
"my name, my title, my fortune all pas» to _him_. By to-morrow you will
call him Sir Digby - "

He could not finish; his lips moved without a sound. I was conscious of
no more than being drawn heavily across the floor, not utterly bereft of
reason, but dulled and stunned as if from the effect of a heavy blow.

When I was able, I crept back to the room. It was now the decline of
day. A large white cavalry cloak covered the body. I knelt down beside
it, and cried with a bursting heart till late into the night.


Of what followed that night of mourning I remember but snatches and
brief glimpses. There is nothing more positively torturing to the mind
in sorrow than the way in which the mere excitement of grief robs
the intellect of all power of perspective, and gives to the smallest,
meanest incidents the prominence and force of great events. It is as
though the jar given to the nervous system had untuned us for the entire
world, and all things come amiss. I am sure, indeed, I know it would
have been impossible to have met more gentle and considerate kindness
than I now experienced on every hand, and yet I lived in a sort of
feverish irritability, as though expecting each moment to have my
position questioned, and my right to be there disputed.

In obedience to the custom of the country, it was necessary that the
funeral should take place within forty-eight hours after death, and
though all the details had been carefully looked to by the Count's
orders, certain questions still should be asked of me, and my leave
obtained for certain acts.

The small church of Hunyadi-Naglos was fixed on for the last
resting-place. It contained the graves of eight generations of Hunyadis,
and to accord a place amongst them to a stranger, and a Protestant, was
deemed a high honor. Affliction seemed to have developed in me all the
pride of my race, for I can recall with what sullen hauteur I heard of
this concession, and rather took it as a favor accorded than accepted.
An overweening sense of all that my father himself would have thought
due to his memory was on me, and I tortured my mind to think that no
mark of honor he would have desired should be forgotten. As a soldier,
he had a right to a soldier's funeral, and a "Honved" battalion, with
their band, received orders to be present For miles around the landed
gentry and nobles poured in, with hosts of followers. Next to a death in
battle, there was no such noble death as in the hunting-field, and the
splendid prowess of my father's achievement had won him imperishable

All was conducted as if for the funeral of a magnate of Hungary. The
titles and rank of the deceased were proclaimed aloud as we entered the
graveyard, and each whose station entitled him to be thought a friend
came forward and kissed the pall as the body was borne in.

One part of the ceremony overcame me altogether. When the third round of
musketry had rung out over the grave, a solemn pause of half a minute or
so was to ensue, then the band was to burst out with the first bars
of "God preserve the Emperor;" and while a wild cheer arose, I was to
spring into the saddle of my father's horse, which had been led close
after the coffin, and to join the cheer. This soldier declaration that
death was but a passing terror, revolted me to the heart, and I over and
over asserted I could not do this. They would not yield, however; they
regarded my reasons as childish sentimentality, and half impugned my
courage besides. I do not know why I gave in, nor am I sure I ever did
yield; but when the heavy smoke of the last round slowly rose over the
bier, I felt myself jerked up into the saddle of a horse that plunged
wildly and struck out madly in affright With a rider's instinct, I
held my seat, and even managed the bounding animal with the hand of a
practised rider. Four fearful bounds I sat unshaken, while the air rang
with the hoarse cheer of some thousand voices, and then a sickness like
death itself gathered over my heart, - a sense of horror, of where I was
and why, came over me. My arms fell powerless to my sides, and I rolled
from the saddle and fell senseless and stunned to the ground.

Without having received serious injury, I was too ill to be removed from
the little village of Naglos, where I was confined to bed for ten days.
The doctor remained with me for some days, and came again and again
to visit me afterwards. The chief care of me, however, devolved on my
father's valet, a smart young Swiss, whom I had difficulty in believing
not to be English, so perfectly did he speak our language.

I soon saw this fellow was thoroughly conversant with all my father's
history, and, whether in his confidence or not, knew everything that
concerned him, and understood his temperament and nature to perfection.
There was much adroitness in the way in which he showed me this,
without ever shocking my pride or offending my taste by any display of a
supposed influence. Of his consummate tact I need give but one, - a
very slight instance, it is true, but enough to denote the man. He, in
addressing me as Sir Digby, remarked how the sound of my newly acquired
title seemed to recall my father to my mind at once, and ever after
limited himself to saying simply "sir," which attracted no attention
from me.

Another instance of his address I must record also. I had got my
writing-desk on the bed, and was writing to my mother, to whom I had
already despatched two telegraphic messages, but as yet received no
reply. "I beg pardon, sir," said La Grange, entering in his usual
noiseless fashion; "but I thought you would like to know that my Lady
has left Schloss Hunyadi. She took her departure last night for Pesth."

"You mean - " I faltered, not really knowing what I. would say.

"Yes, sir," said he, thoroughly aware of what was passing in my mind.
"She admitted no one, not even the doctor, and started at last with only
a few words of adieu in writing for the Countess."

"What impression has this left? How are they speaking of her?" asked I,
blurting out against my will what was working within me.

"I believe, sir," said he, with a very faint smile, "they lay it all to
English ways and habits. At least I have heard no other comments than
such as would apply to these."

"Be sure that you give rise to no others," said I, sternly.

"Of course not, sir. It would be highly unbecoming in me to do so."

"And greatly to your disservice besides," added I, severely.

He bowed in acquiescence, and said no more.

"How long have you served my father, La Grange?" asked I.

"About two years, sir. I succeeded Mr. Nixon, sir, who often spoke of

"Ah, I remember Nixon. What became of him?"

"He set up the Hôtel Victoria at Spa, sir. You know, sir, that he
married, and married very well too?"

"No, I never heard of it," said I, carelessly.

"Yes, sir; he married Delorme's daughter, la belle Pauline they used to
call her at Brussels."

"What, Pauline Delorme?" said I, growing crimson with I know not what

"Yes, sir, the same; and she's the size of old Pierre, her father,
already: not but she's handsome still, - but such a monster!"

I cannot say with what delight I heard of her disfigurement. It was a
malice that warmed my heart like some good news.

"It was Sir Roger, sir, that made the match."

"How could that be? What could he care about it?"

"Well, sir, he certainly gave Nixon five hundred pounds to go and
propose for her, and promise old Pierre his patronage, if he agreed to

"Are you sure of this?" asked I, eagerly.

"Nixon himself told me, sir. I remember he said, 'I haven't much time to
lose about it, for the tutor, Mr. Eccles, is quite ready to take her, on
the same terms, and Sir Roger doesn't care which of us it is."

"Nor the lady either, apparently," said I, half angrily.

"Of course not. Pauline was too well brought up for that."

I was not going to discuss this point of ethics with Mr. La Grange, and
soon fell off into a vein of reflection over early loves, and what they
led to, which took me at last miles away from Pauline Delorme, and her

I would have liked much to learn what sort of a life my father had led
of late: whether he had plunged into habits of dissipation and excess;
or whether any feeling of remorse had weighed with him, and that he
sorrowed over the misery and the sorrow he had so recklessly shed around
him; but I shrunk from questioning a servant on such matters, and merely
asked as to his habitual spirits and temper.

"Sir Roger was unlike every other gentleman I ever lived with, sir,"
said he. "He was never in high spirits except when he was hard up for
money. Put him down in a little country inn to wait for his remittances,
and live on a few francs a day till they arrived, and I never saw his
equal for good humor. He 'd play with the children; he 'd work in the
garden. I 've seen him harness the donkey, and go off for a load of
firewood. There's nothing he would not do to oblige, and with a kind
word and a smile for every one all the while; but if some morning he 'd
get up with a dark frown on his face, and say, 'La Grange, get in your
bills here, and pay them; we must get away from this dog-hole,' I knew
well the banker's letter had come, and that whatever he might want, it
would not be money."

"And had my Lady - Madame, I mean - no influence over him?"

"None, sir, or next to none; he was all ceremony with her; took her
in to dinner every day with great state, showed her every attention at
table, left her at liberty to spend what money she liked. If she fancied
an equipage, it was ordered at once. If she liked a bracelet, it was
sent home. As to toilette, I believe there are queens have not as many
dresses to change. We had two fourgons of her luggage alone, when we
came to the Schloss, and she was always saying there was something she
was longing for."

"Did not this irritate my father?"

"No, sir; he would simply say, 'Don't wish, but write for it.' And I
verily believe this indifference piqued her, - she saw that no sacrifice
of money cost him anything, and this thought wounded her pride."

"So that there was not much happiness between them?"

"There was none, sir! Something there was that Sir Roger would never
consent to, but which she never ceased to insist on, and I often
wondered how she could go on, to press a man of his dangerous temper,
as she did, and at times she would do so to the very verge of a
provocation. Do you know, sir," said he, after a short silence, - "if I
was to be on my oath to-morrow, I 'd not say that he was not seeking his
death when he met it? I never saw a man so sick of life, - he was only
puzzled how to lay it down without dishonor."

I motioned him to leave me as he said this, and of my father I never
spoke to him more.


Two telegrams came from my mother. They were little other than
repetitions. She had been ill, and was impatient to see me. In the last,
she added that she would shorten the distance between us by coming to
Dublin to meet me. I was to inquire for her at "Elridge's Hotel."

I was no less eager to be with her; but there were many matters of
detail which still delayed me. First of all, all my father's papers and
effects were at Schloss Hunyadi, and some of these were all-essential
to me. On arriving at the Castle, a sealed packet addressed Sir Digby
Norcott, Bart., in Madame Cleremont's hand, was given me. On opening, I
found it contained a bunch of keys, without one word of any kind. It was
an unspeakable relief to me to discover that she had not sent me either
her condolences or her threats, and I could scarcely reassure myself
that we had parted thus easily.

My father's personal luggage might have sufficed for half-a-dozen
people. Not only did he carry about a quantity of clothes that no
ordinary life could have required, but that he journeyed with every
imaginable kind of weapon, together with saddlery and horse-gear of all
fashions and shapes. Fishing-tackle and hunting-spears abounded; and
lassos of Mexican make seemed to show that he had intended to have
carried his experiences to the great Savannahs of the West.

From what I had seen of him, I was in no way prepared for the order
and regularity in which I found his papers. All that regarded his money
matters was contained in one small oak desk, in which I found a will,
a copy of which, it was stated, was deposited with Norton and Temple,
Solicitors, Furnival's Inn. The document ran thus: -

"I leave whatever I may die possessed of in personal or real property to
the wife I have long neglected, in trust for the boy I have done much
to corrupt. With time, and in the enjoyment of better fortune, they may
learn to forgive me; but even if they should not, it will little trouble
the rest of - - -Roger Norcott.

"I desire that each of my servants in my service at the time of my death
should receive a quarter's wages; but no present or gratuity of any
kind. It is a class that always served me with fear and dislike, and
whose services I ever accepted with distrust and repugnance.

"I also desire that my retriever, 'Spy,' be shot as soon after my death
as may be, and that my other dogs be given away to persons who have
never known me, and that my heirs will be particular on this head, so
that none shall pretend that they inherit this or that of mine in token
of friendship or affectionate remembrance.

"There are a few objects of furniture in the care of Salter, the
house-agent at Brussels, of which I beg my wife's acceptance; they are
intrinsically of little value, but she will know how dearly we have both
paid for them. This is all.

(Signed) "Roger Norcott, Bart

"Witnesses, Joseph Granes, head groom.

"Paul Lanton, house-steward."

This will, which bore for date only four months prior to his death, did
not contain any, the slightest, allusion to Madame Cleremont. Was it
that by some antecedent arrangement he had taken care to provide for
her, omitting, through a sense of delicacy to my mother, all mention of
her name? This I could not guess at the time, nor did I ever discover

In a larger desk I found a mass of letters; they were tied in packets,
each with a ribbon of a different color; they were all in women's
handwriting. There were several miniatures on ivory, one of which was of
my mother, when a girl of about eighteen. It was exceedingly beautiful,
and wore an expression of girlish innocence and frankness positively
charming. On the back, in my father's hand, there was, - "Why won't they
keep this look? Is the fault theirs or ours?"

Of the contents of that box, I committed all to the flames except that
picture. A third desk, the key of which was appended to his watch,
contained a manuscript in his writing, headed "My Cleremont Episode,
how it began, and how it cannot but end." I own it pushed my curiosity
sorely to throw this into the fire without reading it; but I felt it

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Online LibraryCharles James LeverThat boy of Norcott's → online text (page 16 of 17)