Charles James Lever.

That boy of Norcott's online

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My dear Erlanger,

Through the many anxieties wlucli beset me while I was
writing this story, your name was continually recurring, and always
with some act of kindness, or some proof of afi'ection. Let me, then,
in simple gratitude dedicate to you a volume of which, in a measure,
you stand sponsor, and say to the world at large, what I have so often
said to my own.

How sincerely and heartily I am
Your fiiend,


Trieste, Fchrt(ari/ -iOth, 18(i9.



I. The Trial 1

II. With my Mother 7

III. With mt Father 15

rV. The Villa Malibran 24

V. A First Dinner-Party 34

VI. How the Days Went Over 40

Vn. A" Private Audience 48

VIII. A Dark-Room Picture 57

IX. Madame Clehemont 65

X. Planning Pleasure 73

XL A Birthday Dinner 80

Xn. The Ball 89

Xni. A Next Morning 98

XrV. AGooD-BY.. 106

XV. A Terrible Shock 116

XVI. FiOME 124

XVII. Hanserl of the Yard 133

XVIII. The Sail across the Bay 141



XIX. At the Fete 149

XX. Our Inner Life 161

XXI. The Office 168

XXII. Unavished-for Promotion 175

XXIII. The Man who Travelled for our House 182

XXIV. My Instructions 194

XXV. "On the Eoad" in Croatia 202

XXVI. In Hungary 212


XXVni. The Salon 228

XXIX. An Unlooked-for Meeting 235

XXX. Hasty Tidings 248

XXXI. In Sorrow 260

XXXII. The End : 267




Some years ago there was a trial in Dublin, which, partly
because the parties in the cause were in a well-to-do condition
of life, and partly because the case, in some measure, involYed
the interests of the two conflicting Churches, excited considerable
sensation and much comment.

The contention was the right to the guardianship of a boy
whose father and mother had ceased to live together. On their
separation they had come to a sort of amicable arrangement that
the child — then seven years old — should live alternate years with
each ; and though the mother's friends warmly urged her not to
consent to a plan so full of danger to her child, and so certain
to result in the worst effects on his character, the poor woman,
whose rank in life was far inferior to her husband's, yielded,
partly from habit of deference to his wishes, and more still
because she believed, in refusing these terms, she might have



found herself reduced to accept even worse ones. The mar-
riage had been unfortunate in every way. Sir Koger Norcott
had accompanied his regiment, the — th Dragoons, to Ireland,
where some violent disturbances in the south had called for an
increase of military force. When the riots had been suppressed,
the troops, broken up into small detachments, were quartered
through the counties, as opportunity and convenience served ;
Norcott's troop — for he was a captain — being stationed in that
very miserable and poverty-stricken town called Macroom. Here
the dashing soldier, who for years had been a Guardsman,
mixing in all the gaieties of a London' life, passed days and
weeks of dreary despondency. His two subs, who happened to
be sons of men in trade, he treated with a cold and distant
politeness, but never entered into their projects, nor accepted
their companionship ; and though they messed together each
day, no other intimacy passed between them than the courtesies
of the table.

It chanced that while thus hipped, and out of sorts, sick of
the place and the service that had condemned him to it, he
made acquaintance with a watchmaker, when paying for some
slight service, and, subsequently, with his daughter, a very
pretty, modest-looking, gentle girl of eighteen. The utter
vacuity of his life, the tiresome hours of barrack-room solitude,
the want of some one to talk to him, but, still more, of some
one to listen — for he liked to talk, and talked almost well — led
him to pass more than half his days and all his evenings at
their house. Nor was the fact that his visits had become a sort
of town scandal without its charm for a man who actually pined
for a sensation, even though painful ; and there was, too, an


impertinence that, while declining the society of the supposed
upper classes of the neighbourhood, he found congenial com-
panionship with these humble people, had a marvellous attrac-
tion for a man who had no small share of resentfulness in his
nature, and was seldom so near being happy as when flouting
some prejudice or outraging some popular opinion.

It had been his passion through life to be ever doing or
saying something that no one could have anticipated. For the
pleasure of astonishing the world, no sacrifice was too costly;
and whether he rode, or shot, or played, or yachted, his first
thought was notoriety. An ample fortune lent considerable aid
to this tendency ; but every year's extravagance was now telling
on his resources, and he was forced to draw on his ingenuity
where before he needed but to draw on his banker.

There was nothing that his friends thought less likely than
that he would marry, except that, if he should, his wife would
not be a woman of family : to bowl over both of these beliefs
together, he married the watchmaker's daughter, and Mary Owen
became a baronet's bride.

Perhaps — I'm not very sure of even that — her marriage gave
her one entire day of unbroken happiness — I do not believe it
gave her a week, and I know it did not a month. Whether it
was that his friends were less shocked than he had hoped for, or
that the shock wore out sooner, he was frantic at the failure of
his grand coup, and immediately set about revenging on his
unhappy wife all the disappointment she had caused him. After
a series of cruelties, — some of which savoured of madness, but
which she bore without complaint, or even murmur, he bethought
him that her religious belief offered a groundwork for torment


which he had hitherto neglected. He accordingly determined to
make his profession to the Church of Rome, and to call on her
to follow. This she stoutly refused ; and he declared that they
should separate. The menace had no longer a terror for her.
She accepted whatever terms he was pleased to dictate ; she only
stipulated as to the child, and for him hut to the extent we
have already seen. The first year after the separation the boy
passed with his father ; the second he spent with his mother.
At the end of the third year, when her turn again came round,
Sir Roger refused to part with him ; and when reminded of his
promise, coarsely replied that his boy, above all things, must be
" a gentleman;" and that he was now arrived at an age when
association with low and vulgar people would attach a tone to
his mind, and a fashion to his thoughts, that all the education
in the world would not eradicate ; and that rather than yield to
such a desecration, he would litigate the matter to the last
shilling of his estate. Such was the cause before the Barons of
the Exchequer : the mother pleading that her child should be
restored to her ; the father opposing the demand, that the
mother's habits and associates were not in accordance with the
prospects of one who should inherit title and fortune ; and, last
of all, that the boy was devotedly attached to him, and bore
scarcely a trace of affection for his mother.

So painful were the disclosures that came out during the
trial, so subversive of eveiy feeling that pertains to the sanctity
of the family, and so certain to work injuriously on the character
of the child whose interests were at stake, that the judge made
more than one attempt to arrest the proceedings and refer the
case to arbitration, but Sir Roger would not agree to this. He


was once more in liis element, he was before the world — the
newspapers were full of him, and better than all, in attack and
reprobation. He had demanded to be put on the table as a
witness, and they who saw, it is said, never forgot the insolent
defiance of public opinion that he on that day displayed ; how
boldly he paraded opinions in opposition to every sense of right
and justice, and how openly he avowed his principle of education
to be — to strip off from youth every delusion as to the existence
of truth and honour in life, and to teach a child, from his
earliest years, that trickery and falsehood were the daily weapons
of mankind, and that he who would not consent to be the dupe
of his fellow-men, must be their despot and their persecutor.
If he had the satisfaction of outraging the feelings of all in
court, and insulting every sense of propriety and decorum, he
paid heavily for the brief triumph. The judge delivered a most
stern denunciation of his doctrines, and declared that no case
had ever come before the court where so little hesitation existed
as to the judgment to be pronounced. The sentence was, that,
up to the age of twelve, the child was to be confided to the
mother's charge : after which period, the court would, on appli-
cation, deliberate and determine on the future guardianship.

" Will you leave me, Digby ?" asked the father, and his lips
trembled, and his cheek blanched as he uttered the words. The
boy sprang into his arms and kissed him wildly and passionately ;
and the two clung to each other in close embrace, and their
mingled sobs echoed through the now silent court. " You see,
my lord, you see — " cried the father ; but the boy's struggles
were choking him, and with his own emotions, would not suffer
him to continue. His sufferings were now real, and a murmur


ran through the court that showed how puhlic feeling was trem-
bling in the balance. The bustle of a new cause that was coming
on soon closed the scene. The child was handed over to an
officer of the court, while the mother's friends concerted together,
and all was over.

Over as regarded the first act of a life-long drama ; and ere
the curtain rises, it only remains to say that the cause which
that day decided was mine, and that I, who write this, was the
boy " Digby Norcott."

With lit Mother.

( 7 )



My mother lived in a little cottage at a place called the Green
Lanes, about three miles from Dublin. The name was happily
given, for on every side there were narrow roads overshadowed
by leafy trees, which met above and gave only glimpses of sky
and cloud through their feathery foliage. The close hedgerows
of white or pink thorn limited the view on either side, and
imparted a something of gloom to a spot whose silence was rarely
broken, for it was not a rich man's neighbourhood. They who
frequented it were persons of small fortune, retired subalterns
in the army, or clerks in public offices, and such like petty
respectabilities who preferred to herd together, and make no
contrasts of their humble means with larger, greater incomes.

Amongst the sensations I shall never forget, — and which,
while I write, are as fresh as the moment I first felt them — were
my feelings when the car stopped opposite a low wicket, and Mr.
M'^Bride, the attorney, helped me down and said, " This is your
home, Digby ; your mother lives here." The next moment a
pale, but very handsome young woman, came rushing down the
little path and clasped me in her arms. She had dropped on
her knees to bring her face to mine, and she kissed me madly


and wildly, so that my cap fell off. " See how my frill is all
rumpled," said I, unused as I was to such disconcerting warmth,
and caring far more for my smart appearance than for demon-
strations of affection. " Oh darling, never mind it," sobbed she.
"You shall have another and a nicer. I will make it myself,
for my own boy, — for you are mine, Digby. You are mine,
dearest, ain't you ?"

" I am papa's boy," said I doggedly.

" But you will love mamma too, Digby, won't you ? — poor
mamma, that has no one to love her, or care for her if you do
not ; and who will so love you in return, and do everything
for you, — everything to make you happy, — happy and good,

" Then let us go back to Earls Court. It's far prettier than
this, and there are great lions over the gateway, and wide steps
up to the door. I don't like this. It looks so dark and dreary,
— it makes me cry." And to prove it, I burst out into a full
torrent of weeping, and my mother hung over me and sobbed
too ; and long after the car had driven away, we sat there on the
grass weeping bitterly together, though there was no concert in
our sorrow, nor any soul to our grief.

That whole afternoon was passed in attempts to comfort and
caress me by my mother, and in petulant demands on my part
for this or that luxury I had left behind me. I wanted my nice
bed with the pink curtains, and my little tool-case. I wanted
my little punt, my pony, my fishing-rod. I wanted the obse-
quious servants, who ran at my bidding, and whose respectful
manner was a homage I loved to exact. Not one of these was
forthcoming, and how could I believe her who soothingly told


me that her love would replace them, and that her heart's affec-
tion would soon be dearer to me than all my toys and all the
glittering presents that littered my room ? " But I want my
pony," I cried ; "I want my little dog Fan, and I want to sit
beside papa, and see him drive four horses, and he lets me whip
them too, and you won't." And so I cried hysterically again,
and in these fretful paroxysms I passed my evening.

The first week of my life there was to me — it still is to me —
like a dream — a sad, monotonous dream. Eepulsed in every
form, my mother still persisted in trying to amuse or interest
me, and I either sat in moody silence, refusing all attention, or
went off into passionate grief, sobbing as if my heart would
break. " Let him cry his fill," said old Biddy, the maid. " Let
him cry his fill, and it \A\\ do him good." And I could have
killed her on the spot as she said it.

If Biddy Cassidy really opined that a hearty fit of crying
would have been a good alterative for me, she ought not to have
expressed the opinion in my presence, for there was that much
of my father in me that quickly suggested resistance, and I at
once resolved that no matter what it might cost me, or by what
other means I might find a vent for my grief, I'd cry no more.
All my poor mother's caresses, all her tenderness, and all her
watchful care, never acted on my character with half the force or
one-tenth of the rapidity that did this old hag's attempt to thwart
and oppose me. Her system was, by a continual comparison
between my present life and my past, to show how much better
off I was now than in my former high estate, and by a travestie
of all I had been used to, to pretend that anything like complaint
from me would be sheer ingratitude. " Here's the pony, darlin'.


waitin' for you to ride liim," she would say, as she would lay an
old walking-stick beside my door ; and though the blood would
rush to my head at the insult, and something very nigh choking
rise to my throat, I would master my i^assion, and make no
reply. This demeanour was set down to sulkiness, and Biddy
warmly entreated my mother to suppress the temper it indicated,
and, as she mildly suggested, " Cut it out of me when I was
young " — a counsel, I must own, she did not follow.

Too straitened in her means to keep a governess for me, and
unwilling to send me to a school, my mother became my teacher
herself; and, not having had any but the very commonest
education, she was obliged to acquire in advance what she
desired to impart. Many a night would she pore over the Latin
Grammar, that she might be even one stage before me in the
morning. Over and over did she get up the bit of geography
that was to test my knowledge the next day ; and in this way,
while leading me on, she acquired, almost without being aware
of it, a considerable amount of information. Her faculties were
above the common, and her zeal could not be surpassed ; so
that, while I was stumbling and blundering over Swaine's
Sentences, she had read all Sallust's Catiline, and most of the
Odes of Horace ; and long before I had mastered my German
declensions, she was reading Grimm's Stories and Auerbach's
Village Sketches. Year after year went over quietly, uneventfully.
I had long ceased to remember my former life of splendour, or,
if it recurred to me, it came with no more of reality than the
events of a dream. One day, indeed — I shall never forget it —
the past revealed itself before me with the vivid distinctness of
a picture, and, I shame to say, rendered me unhappy and


discontented for several days after. I was returning one after-
noon from a favourite haunt, where I used to spend hours — the
old churchyard of Killester, a long-unused cemeteiy, with a
ruined church heside it — when four spanking chestnuts came to
the foot of the little rise on which the ruin stood, and the
servants jumping down, undid the bearing-reins, to breathe the
cattle up the ascent. It was my father was on the box, and as
he skilfully brushed the flies from his horses wdth his whip,
gently soothing the hot -mettled creatures with his voice, I
bethought me of the proud time when I sat beside him, and
w^hen he talked to me of the different tempers of each horse in
the team, instilling into me that interest and that love for them,
as thinking, sentient creatures, which gives the horse a distinct
character to all who have learned thus to think of him fi-om
childhood. He never looked at me as he passed. How should
he recognize the little boy in the grey linen blouse he was wont
to see in black velvet, with silver buttons ? Perhaps I was not
sorry he did not know me. Perhaps I felt it easier to fight my
own shame alone than if it had been confessed and witnessed.
At all events the sight sent me home sad and depressed, no
longer able to take pleasure in my usual pursuits, and turning
from my toys and books with actual aversion.

Eemembering how all mention of my father used to affect
my mother long ago, seeing how puinfully his mere name acted
upon her, I forbore to speak of this incident, and buried it in
my heart, to think and ruminate over when alone.

Time went on and on till I wanted but a few months of
twelve, and my lessons were all but dropped, as my mother's
mornings w'ere passed either in letter-writing or in interviews


with her lawyer. It was on the conclusion of one of these
councils that Mr. M'Bride led me into the garden, and seating
me beside him on a bench, said, " I have something to say to
you, Digby ; and I don't know that I'd venture to say it, if I
had not seen that you are a thoughtful boy, and an affectionate
son of the best mother that ever lived. You are old enough,
besides, to have a right to know something about yourself and
your future pros^Dects, and it is for that I have come out to-day."
And with this brief preface he told me the whole story of my
father's and mother's marriage and separation ; and how it came
to pass that I had been taken from one to live with the other ;
and how the time was now drawing nigh — it wanted but two
months and ten days — when I should be once more under my
father's guidance, and totally removed from the influence of that
mother who loved me so dearly.

" "We might fight the matter in the courts, it is true," said
he. " There are circumstances which might weigh with a judge
whether he'd remove you from a position of safety and advantage
to one of danger and difficulty ; but it would be the fight of a
weak purse against a strong one, not to say that it would also be
the struggle of a poor mother's heart against the law of the
land ; and I have at last persuaded her it would be wiser and
safer not to embitter the relations with your father — to submit
to the inevitable ; and not improbably you may be permitted to
see her from time to time, and, at all events, to write to her."
It took a long time for him to go through what I have so briefly
set down here ; for there were many pros and cons, and he
omitted none of them ; and while he studiously abstained from
applying to my father any expression of censure or reprobation,


he could not conceal from me that he regarded him as a veiy
cold-hearted, unfeeling man, from whom little kindness could he
expected, and to whom entreaty or petition would he lost time.
I will not dwell on the impression this revelation produced on
me, nor will I linger on the time that followed on it — the very
saddest of my life. Our lessons were stopped — all the occupa-
tions that once filled the day ceased — a mournful silence fell
upon us, as though there was a death in the house ; and there
was, indeed, the death of that peaceful existence in which we had
glided along for years, and we sat grieving over a time that was
to return no more. My mother tried to employ herself in
setting my clothes in order, getting my books decently hound,
and enabling me in every way to make a respectable appearance
in that new life I was about to enter on ; but her grief usually
overcame her in these attempts, and she would hang in tears
over the little trunk that recalled every memory she was so soon
to regard as the last traces of her child. Biddy who had long,
for years back, ceased to torment or annoy me, came back with an
arrear of bitterness to her mockeries and sneers. " I was going
to be a lord, and I'd not know the mother that nursed me if I
saw her in the street ! Fine clothes and fine tratement was
more to me than love and affection ; signs on it, I was turning
my back on my own mother, and going to Hve with the black-
guard" — she didn't mince the word — " that left her to starve."
These neatly turned compliments met me at every moment, and
by good fortune served to arm me with a sort of indignant courage
that carried me well through all my perils.

To spare my poor mother the pain of parting, Mr. M^Bride —
I cannot say how judiciously — contrived that I should be taken


out for a drive and put on board the packet bound for Holyhead,
under the charge of a courier, whom my father had sent to fetch
me, to Brussels, where he was then living. Of how I left
Ireland, and journeyed on afterwards, I know nothing ; it was all
confusion and turmoil. The frequent changes from place to
place, the noise, the new people, the intense haste that seemed
to pervade all that went on, addled me to that degree that
I had few collected thoughts at the time, and no memory of
them afterwards.

From certain droppings of the courier, however, and his
heartily expressed joy as Brussels came in sight, I gathered that
I had been a very troublesome charge, and refractory to the very
limit of actual rebellion.

( 15 )



At the time I speak of, my father dwelt in a villa near Brussels,
which had been built by or for Mdme Malibran. It was a
strange, somewhat incongruous edifice, and more resembled a
public building than a private gentleman's residence. It stood
in a vast garden, or rather park, where fruit and forest trees
abounded, and patches of flowers came suddenly into view in
most unexpected places. There were carriage-drives, too, so
ingeniously managed that the visitor could be led to believe the
space ten times greater than it was in reality. The whole inside
and out savoured strongly of the theatre, and every device of
good or bad taste — the latter largely predominating — had its
inspiration in the stage.

As we drove under the arched entrance gate, over which a
crowned leopard — the Norcott crest — was proudly rampant, I felt
a strange throb at my heart that proved the old leaven was still
alive within me, and that the feehng of being the son of a man of
rank and fortune had a strong root in my heart.

From the deep reverence of the gorgeous porter, who wore an
embroidered leather belt over his shoulder, to the trim propriety
and order of the noiseless avenue, all bespoke an amount of state


and grandeur that appealed very powerfully to me, and I can

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Online LibraryCharles James LeverThat boy of Norcott's → online text (page 1 of 17)