Charles James Lever.

That boy of Norcott's online

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dread of his presence, - his eye that I could never face without
shrinking, - the tones of his voice that smote me like a lash, - so
abashed me that I gave up the effort with despair.

Might he not consent to give me some pittance - enough to save her from
the burden of my support - and send me back to my mother? Oh, if I could
summon courage to ask this! This assistance need be continued only for a
few years, for I hoped and believed I should not always have to live as
a dependant What if I were to write him a few lines to this purport? I
could do this even better than speak it.

I sat down at once and began: -

"Dear papa," - he would never permit me to use a more endearing word.
"Dear papa, I hope you will forgive me troubling you about myself and my
future. I would like to fit myself for some career or calling by which I
might become independent. I could work very hard and study very closely
if I were back with my mother."

As I reached this far, the door opened, and Eccles appeared.

"All right!" cried he; "I was afraid I should catch you in bed still,
and I 'm glad you 're up and preparing for the road. Are you nearly
ready?"

"Not quite; I wanted to write a letter before I go. I was just at it."

"Write from Verviers or Bonn; you'll have lots of time on the road."

"Ay, but my letter might save me from the journey if I sent it off now."

He looked amazed at this, and I at once told him my plan and showed him
what I had written.

"You don't mean to say you 'd have courage to send this to your
father?"

"And why not?"

"Well, all I have to say is, don't do it till I 'm off the premises; for
I 'd not be here when he reads it for a trifle. My dear Digby," said
he, with a changed tone, "you don't know Sir Roger; you don't know the
violence of his temper if he imagines himself what he calls outraged,
which sometimes means questioned. Take your hat and stick, and go seek
your fortune, in Heaven's name, if you must; but don't set out on your
life's journey with a curse or a kick, or possibly both. If I preach
patience, my dear boy, I have had to practise it too. Put up your traps
in your portmanteau; come down and take some dinner: we 'll start with
the night-train; and take my word for it, we 'll have a jolly ramble and
enjoy ourselves heartily. If I know anything of life, it is that there's
no such mistake in the world as hunting up annoyances. Let them find us
if they can, but let us never run after them."

"My heart is too heavy for such enjoyment as you talk of."

"It won't be so to-morrow, or, at all events, the day after. Come, stir
yourself now with your packing; a thought has just struck me that you
'll be very grateful to me for, when I tell it you."

"What is it?" asked I, half carelessly.

"You must ask with another guess-look in your eye if you expect me to
tell you."

"You could tell me nothing that would gladden me."

"Nor propose anything that you'd like?" asked he.

"Nor that, either," said I, despondingly.

"Oh, if that be the case, I give up my project; not that it was much of
a project, after all. What I was going to suggest was that instead
of dining here we should put our traps into a cab, and drive down to
Delorme's and have a pleasant little dinner there, in the garden;
it's quite close to the railroad, so that we could start at the last
whistle."

"That does sound pleasantly," said I; "there's nothing more irksome in
its way than hanging about a station waiting for departure."

"So, then, you agree?" cried he, with a malicious twinkle in his eye
that I affected not to understand.

"Yes," said I, indolently; "I see little against it; and if nothing
else, it saves me a leave-taking with Captain Hotham and Cleremont."

"By the way, you are not to ask to see Madame; your father reminded
me to tell you this. The doctors say she is not to be disturbed on any
account. What a chance that I did not forget this!"

Whether it was that I was too much concerned for my own misfortunes to
have a thought that was not selfish, or that another leave-taking that
loomed in the distance was uppermost in my thoughts, certain it is, I
felt this privation far less acutely than I might.

"She's a nice little woman, and deserves a better lot than she has met
with."

"What sort of dinner will Delorme give us?" said I, affecting the air of
a man about town, but in reality throwing out the bait to lead the talk
in that direction.

"First-rate, if we let him; that is, if we only say, 'Order dinner for
us, Monsieur Pierre.' There's no man understands such a mandate more
thoroughly."

"Then that's what I shall say," cried I, "as I cross his threshold."

"He'll serve you Madeira with your soup, and Stein-berger with your
fish, thirty francs a bottle, each of them."

"Be it so. We shall drink to our pleasant journey," said I; and I
actually thought my voice had caught the tone and cadence of my father's
as I spoke.




CHAPTER XIV. A GOOD-BYE

While I strolled into the garden to select a table for our dinner,
Eccles went in search of Mr. Delorme; and though he had affected to say
that the important duty of devising the feast should be confided to the
host, I could plainly see that my respected tutor accepted his share in
that high responsibility.

I will only say of the feast in question, that, though I was daily
accustomed to the admirable dinners of my father's table, I had no
conception of what exquisite devices in cookery could be produced by the
skill of an accomplished restaurateur, left free to his own fancy, and
without limitation as to the bill.

One thing alone detracted from the perfect enjoyment of the banquet It
was the appearance of Mr. Delorme himself, white-cravated and gloved,
carrying in the soup. It was an attention that he usually reserved for
great personages, royalties, or high dignitaries of the court; and I was
shocked that he should have selected me for the honor, not the less as
it was only a few hours before he and I had been drinking champagne
with much clinking of glasses together, and interchanging the most
affectionate vows of eternal friendship.

I arose from my chair to salute him; but, as he deposited the tureen
upon the table, he stepped back and bowed low, and retreated in this
fashion, with the same humble reverence at every step, till he was lost
in the distance.

"Sit down," said Eccles, with a peculiar look, as though to warn me that
I was forgetting my dignity; and then, to divert my attention, he added,
"That green seal is an attention Delorme offers you, - a very rare
favor, too, - a bottle of his own peculiar Johannisberg. Let us drink his
health. Now, Digby, I call this something very nigh perfection."

It was a theme my tutor understood thoroughly, and there was not a dish
nor a wine that he did not criticise.

"I was always begging your father to take this cook, Digby," said
he, with half sigh. "Even with a first-rate artist you need change,
otherwise your dinners become manneristic, as ours have become of late."

He then went on to show me that the domestic cook, always appealing to
the small public of the family, gets narrowed in his views and bounded
in his resources. He compared them, I remember, to the writers in
certain religious newspapers, who must always go on spicing higher and
higher as the palates of their clients grow more jaded. How he worked
out his theme afterwards I cannot tell, for I was watching the windows
of the house, and stealing glances down the alleys in the garden,
longing for one look, ever so fleeting, of my lovely partner of the
night before.

"I see, young gentleman," said he, evidently nettled at my inattention,
"your thoughts are not with me."

"How long have we to stay, sir?" said I, reverting to the respect I
tendered him at my lessons.

"You have thirty-eight minutes," said he, examining his watch: "which I
purpose to apportion in this wise, - eight for the douceur, five for the
cheese, fifteen for the dessert, five for coffee and a glass of cura√Іoa.
The bill and our parting compliments will take the rest, giving us three
minutes to walk across to the station."

These sort of pedantries were a passion with him, and I did not
interpose a word as he spoke.

"What a pineapple!" cried a young fellow from an adjoining table, as
a waiter deposited a magnificent pine in the midst of the bouquet that
adorned our table.

"Monsieur Delorme begs to say, sir, this has just arrived from Laeken."

"Don't you know who that is?" said a companion, in a low voice; but my
hearing, ever acute, caught the words, "He's that boy of Norcott's."
I started as if I had received a blow. It was time to resent these
insolences, and make an end of them forever.

"You heard what that man yonder has called me?" said I to Eccles.

"No; I was not minding him."

"The old impertinence, - 'That boy of Norcott's.'"

I arose, and took the cane I had laid against a chair. What I was about
to do I knew not. I felt I should launch some insolent provocation. As
for what should follow, the event might decide _that_.

"I'd not mind him, Digby," said Eccles, carelessly, as he lit his
cigarette, and stretched his legs on a vacant chair. I took no notice
of his words, but walked on. Before, however, I had made three steps
my eyes caught the flutter of a dress at the end of the alley. It was
merely the last folds of some floating muslin, but it was enough to rout
all other thoughts from my head, and I flew down the walk with lightning
speed. I was right; it was Pauline. In an instant I was beside her.

"Dearest, darling Pauline," I cried, seizing her round the waist and
kissing her cheek, before she well knew, "how happy it makes me to see
you even for a few seconds."

"Ah, milord, I did not expect to see you here," said she, half
distantly.

"I am not milord; I am your own Digby - Digby Nor-cott, who loves you,
and will make you his wife."

"Ma foi! children don't marry, - at least demoiselles don't marry them,"
said she, with a saucy laugh.

"I am no more an 'enfant,'" said I, with a passionate stress on the
word, "than I was last night, when you never left my arm except to sit
at my side at supper."

"But you are going away," said she, pouting; "else why that
travelling-dress, and that sack strapped at your side?"

"Only for a few weeks. A short tour up the Rhine, Pauline, to see the
world, and complete my education; and then I will come back and marry
you, and you shall be mistress of a beautiful house, and have everything
you can think of."

"Vrai?" asked she, with a little laugh.

"I swear it by this kiss."

"Pardie, Monsieur? you are very adventurous," said she, repulsing me;
"you will make me not regret that you are going so soon."

"Oh, Pauline! when you know that I adore you, that I only value wealth
to share it with you; that all I ask of life is to devote it to you."

"And that you have n't got full thirty seconds left for that admirable
object," broke in Eccles. "We must run for it like fury, boy, or we
shall be late."

"I'll not go."

"Then I 'll be shot if I stay here and meet your father," said he,
turning away.

"Oh, Pauline, dearest, dearest of my heart!" I sobbed out, as I fell
upon her neck; and the vile bell of the railway rang out with its
infernal discord as I clasped her to my heart.

"Come along, and confound you," cried Eccles; and with a porter on
one side and Eccles on the other, I was hurried along down the garden,
across a road, and along a platform, where the station-master, wild with
passion, stamped and swore in a very different mood from that in which
he smiled at me across the supper-table the night before.

"We're waiting for that boy of Norcott's, I vow," said an old fellow
with a gray moustache; and I marked him out for future recognition.

Unlike my first journey, where all seemed confusion, trouble, and
annoyance, I now saw only pleasant faces, and people bent on enjoyment.
We were on the great tourist road of Europe, and it seemed as though
every one was bound on some errand of amusement. Eccles, too, was a
pleasant contrast to the courier who took charge of me on my first
journey. Nothing could be more genial than his manner. He treated me
with a perfect equality, and by that greatest of all flatteries to one
of my age, induced me to believe that I was actually companionable to
himself.

I will not pretend that he was an instructive companion.

He had neither knowledge of history nor feeling for art, and rather
amused himself with sneering at both, and quizzing such of our
fellow-travellers as the practice was safe with. But he was always
gay, always in excellent spirits, ready to make light of the passing
annoyances of the road, and, as he said himself, he always carried a
quart-bottle of condensed sunshine with him against a rainy day; and, of
my own knowledge, I can say his supply seemed inexhaustible.

His cheery manner, his bright good looks, and his invariable good-humor
won upon every one, and the sourest and least genial people thawed into
some show of warmth under his contagious pleasantry.

He did not care in what direction we went, and would have left
it entirely to me to decide, had I been able to determine. All he
stipulated for was: "No barbarism, no Oberland or glacier humbug. No
Saxon Switzerland abominations. So long as we travel in a crowd, and
meet good cookery every day, you 'll find me charming."

Into this philosophy he inducted me. "Make life pleasant, Digby;
never go in search of annoyances. Duns and disagreeables will come of
themselves, and it's no bad fun dodging them. It's only a fool ever
keeps their company."

A more shameless immorality might have revolted me, but this peddling
sort of wickedness, this half-jesting with right and wrong, - giving
to morals the aspect of a game in which a certain kind of address was
practicable, - was very seductive to one of my age and temper. I fancied,
too, that I was becoming a consummate man of the world, and his praises
of my proficiency were unsparingly bestowed.

Attaching ourselves to this or that party of travellers, we would go
off here or there, in any direction, for four or five days; and though I
usually found myself growing fond of those I became more intimate
with, and sorry to part from them, Eccles invariably wearied of
the pleasant-est people after a day or two. Incessant change seemed
essential to him, and his nature and his spirits flagged when denied it.

What I least liked about him, however, was a habit he had of "trotting"
me out - his own name for it - before strangers. My knowledge of
languages, my skill at games, my little musical talents, he would parade
in a way that I found positively offensive. Nor was this all, for I
found he represented me as the son of a man of immense wealth and of a
rank commensurate with his fortune.

One must have gone through the ordeal of such a representation to
understand its vexations, to know all the impertinences it can evoke
from some, all the slavish attentions from others. I feel a hot flush
of shame on my cheek now, after long years, as I think of the
mortifications I went through, as Eccles would suggest that I should
buy some princely chateau that we saw in passing, or some lordly park
alongside of which our road was lying.

As to remonstrating with him on this score, or, indeed, on any other,
it was utterly hopeless; not to say that it was just as likely he would
amuse the first group of travellers we met by a ludicrous version of my
attempt to coerce him into good behavior.

One day he pushed my patience beyond all limit, and I grew downright
angry with him. I had been indulging in that harmless sort of
half-flirtation with a young lady, a fellow-traveller; which, not
transgressing the bounds of small attentions, does not even excite
remark or rebuke.

"Don't listen to that young gentleman's blandishments," said he,
laughing; "for, young as he looks, he is already engaged. Come, come,
don't look as though you'd strike me, Digby, but deny it if you can."

We were, fortunately for me, coming into a station as he spoke. I sprang
out, and travelled third-class the rest of the day to avoid him, and
when we met at night, I declared that with one such liberty more I 'd
part company with him forever.

The hearty good-humor with which he assured me I should not be offended
again almost made me ashamed of my complaint. We shook hands over our
reconciliation, and vowed we were better friends than ever.

What it cost him to abandon this habit of exalting me before strangers,
how nearly it touched one of the chief pleasures of his life, I was, as
I thought, soon to see in the altered tone of his manner. In fact, it
totally destroyed the easy flippancy he used to wield, and a facility
with strangers that once seemed like a special gift with him. I tried in
vain to rally him out of this half depression; but it was clear he was
not a man of many resources, and that I had already sapped a principal
one.

While we thus journeyed, he said to me one day, "I find, Digby, our
money is running short; we must make for Zurich: it is the nearest of
the places on our letter of credit."

I assented, of course, and we bade adieu to a pleasant family with whom
we had been travelling, and who were bound for Dresden, assuring them we
should meet them on the Elbe.

Eccles had grown of late more and more serious: not alone had his gayety
deserted him, but he grew absent and forgetful to an absurd extent;
and it was evident some great preoccupation had hold of him. During
the entire of the last day before we reached Zurich he scarcely spoke a
word, and as I saw that he had received some letters at Schaffhausen, I
attributed his gloom to their tidings. As he had not spoken to me of
bad news, I felt ashamed to obtrude myself on his confidence and kept
silent, and not a word passed between us as we went. He had telegraphed
to the banker, a certain Mr. Heinfetter, to order rooms for us at the
hotel; and as we alighted at the door, the gentleman himself was there
to meet us.

"Herr Eccles?" said he, eagerly, lifting his hat as we descended; and
Eccles moved towards him, and, taking his arm, walked away to some
distance, leaving me alone and unnoticed. For several minutes they
appeared in closest confab, their heads bent close together, and at last
I saw Eccles shake himself free from the other's arm, and throw up both
his hands in the air with a gesture of wild despair. I began to suspect
some disaster had befallen our remittances, that they were lost or
suppressed, and that Eccles was overwhelmed by the misfortune. I own
I could not participate in the full measure of the misery it seemed to
cause him, and I lighted a cigar and sat down on a stone bench to wait
patiently his return.

"I believe you are right; it is the best way, after all," said Ecoles,
hurriedly. "You say you'll look after the boy, and I 'll start by the
ten o'clock train."

"Yes, I'll take the boy," said the other; "but you'll have to look sharp
and lose no time. They will be sequestering the moment they hear of it,
and I half suspect old Engler will be before you."

"But my personal effects? I have things of value."

"Hush, hush! he 'll overhear you. Come, young gentleman," said he to
me, - "come home and sup with me. The hotel is so full, they 've no
quarters for you. I 'll try if I can't put you up."

Eccles stood with his head bent down as we moved away, then lifted his
eyes, waved his hand a couple of times, and said, "By-bye."

"Isn't he coming with us?" asked I.

"Not just yet: he has some business to detain him," said the banker; and
we moved on.




CHAPTER XV. A TERRIBLE SHOCK

Herb Heinfetter was a bachelor, and lived in a very modest fashion over
his banking-house; and as he was employed from morning to night, I
saw next to nothing of him. Eccles, he said, had been called away, and
though I eagerly asked where, by whom, and for how long, I got no other
answer than "He is called away," in very German English, and with a
stolidity of look fully as Teutonic.

The banker was not talkative: he smoked all the evening, and drank beer,
and except an occasional monosyllabic comment on its excellence, said
little.

"Ach, ja!" he would say, looking at me fixedly, as though assenting
to some not exactly satisfactory conclusion his mind had come to about
me, - "ach, ja!" And I would have given a good deal at the time to
know to what peculiar feature of my fortune or my fate this
half-compassionate exclamation extended.

"Is Eccles never coming back?" cried I, one day, as the post came in,
and no tidings of him appeared; "is he never coming at all?"

"Never, no more."

"Not coming back?" cried I.

"No; not come back no more."

"Then what am I staying here for? Why do I wait for him?"

"Because you have no money to go elsewhere," said he; and for once he
gave way to something he thought was a laugh.

"I don't understand you, Herr Heinfetter," said I; "our letter of
credit, Mr. Eccles told me, was on your house here. Is it exhausted, and
must I wait for a remittance?"

"It is exhaust; Mr. Eccles exhaust it."

"So that I must write for money; is that so?"

"You may write and write, mien lieber, but it won't come."

Herr Heinfetter drained his tall glass, and, leaning his arms on the
table, said: "I will tell you in German, you know it well enough." And
forthwith he began a story, which lost nothing of the pain and misery
it caused me by the unsympathizing tone and stolid look of the narrator.
For my reader's sake, as for my own, I will condense it into the fewest
words I can, and omit all that Herr Heinfetter inserted either as
comment or censure. My father had eloped with Madame Cleremont! They had
fled to Inn-spruck, from which my father returned to the neighborhood of
Belgium, to offer Cleremont a meeting. Cleremont, however, possessed in
his hands a reparation he liked better, - my father's check-book, with a
number of signed but unfilled checks. These he at once filled up to the
last shilling of his credit, and drew out the money, so that my father's
first draft on London was returned dishonored. The villa and all its
splendid contents were sequestrated, and an action for divorce, with ten
thousand pounds laid as damages, already commenced. Of three thousand
francs, which our letter assured us at Zurich, Eccles had drawn two
thousand: he would have taken all, but Heinfetter, who prudently foresaw
I must be got rid of some day, retained one thousand to pay my way.
Eccles had gone, promising to return when he had saved his own effects,
or what he called his own, from the wreck; but a few lines had come from
him to say the smash was complete, the "huissiers" in possession, seals
on everything, and "not even the horses watered without a gendarme
present in full uniform."

"Tell Digby, if we travel together again, he 'll not have to complain of
my puffing him off for a man of fortune; and, above all, advise him to
avoid Brussels in his journey-ings. He 'll find his father's creditors,
I 'm afraid, far more attached to him than Mademoiselle Pauline."

His letter wound up with a complaint over his own blighted prospects,
for, of course, his chance of the presentation was now next to hopeless,
and he did not know what line of life he might be driven to.

And now, shall I own that, ruined and deserted as I was, overwhelmed
with sorrow and shame, there was no part of all the misery I felt more
bitterly than the fate of her who had been so kindly affectionate to
me, - who had nursed me so tenderly in sickness, and been the charming
companion of my happiest hours? At first it seemed incredible. My
father's manner to her had ever been coldness itself, and I could only
lead myself to believe the story by imagining how the continued cruelty
of Cleremont had actually driven the unhappy woman to entreat protection
against his barbarity. It was as well I should think so, and it served
to soften the grief and assuage the intensity of the sorrow the event
caused me. I cried over it two entire days and part of a third; and so
engrossed was I with this affliction that not a thought of myself, or of
my own destitution, ever crossed me.

"Do you know where my father is?" asked I of the banker.

"Yes," said he, dryly.

"May I have his address? I wish to write to him."

"This is what he send for message," said he, producing a telegram, the
address of which he had carefully torn off. "It is of you he speak: 'Do
what you like with him except bother me. Let him have whatever money
is in your hands to my credit, and let him understand he has no more to


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Online LibraryCharles James LeverThat boy of Norcott's → online text (page 7 of 17)