Charles James Lever.

That boy of Norcott's online

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less look of purpose about him. There was greed, craft, determi-
nation, at times even violence, to be read in the faces ; but never
weakness, never imbecility : and so striking was this, that the
Christian physiognomy seemed actually vulgar when contrasted
with those faces so full of vigorous meaning and concentration.

Nothing could be less like my father's guests than these
people. It was not in dress and demeanour and general carriage
that they differed — in their gestures as they met, in their briefest
greetings — but the whole character of their habits, as expressed
by their faces, seemed so unlike, that I could not imagine any
clue to their several ranks, and how this one was higher or
greater than that. All the nationalities of Eastern Europe were
there — Hungarian, Stj'rian, Dalmatian, and Albanian. Traders
all. This one bond of trafl&c and gain blending into a sort of
family, races and creeds the most discordant, and t}^es w^hose
forefathers had been warring with each other for centuries.
Plenty of coarseness there was, unculture and roughness every-
where ; but, strangely enough, little vulgarity and no weakness,
no deficient energy anywhere. They were the warriors of com-
merce ; and they brought to the battle of trade, resolution and
boldness and persistence and daring not a whit inferior to what
their ancestors had carried into personal conflict.



( 149 )



CHAPTER XIX.

AT THE FETE.

If, seated on my rustic bench under a spreading ilex, I was not
joining in the pleasures and amusements of those around me, I
was tasting an amount of enjoyment to the full as great. It was
my first holiday after many months of monotonous labour. It
was the first moment in which I felt myself free to look about
me without the irksome thought of a teasing duty, — that ever-
lasting song of score and tally, which Hans and I sang duet
fashion, and which at last seemed to enter my very veins and
circulate with my blood.

The scene itself was of rare beauty. Seated as I was, the
bay appeared a vast lake, for the outlet that led seaward was
backed by an island, and thus the coast-line seemed unbroken
throughout. Over this wide expanse now hundreds of fishing-
boats were moving in every direction, for the wind was blowing
fresh from the land, and permitted them to tack and beat as they
pleased. If thus in the crisply curling waves, the flitting boats,
and the fast-flying clouds above, there was motion and life, there
was, in the high-peaked mountain that frowned above me, and
in the dark rocks that lined the shore, a stern, impassive gran-
deur that became all the more striking from contrast. The



150 THAT BOY OF NOKCOTT'S.

plashing water, the fisherman's cries, the merry laughter of the
revellers as they strayed through brake and copse, seemed all
but whispering sounds in that vast amphitheatre of mountain, so
solemn was the influence of those towering crags that rose
towards heaven.

" Have you been sitting there ever since ? " asked the cashier,
as he passed me with a string of friends.

" Ever since."

" Not had any breakfast ? "

" None."

" Nor paid your compliments to Herr Ignaz and the Frau-
lein ? "

I shook my head in dissent.

" Worst of all," said he, half rebukingly, and passed on. I
now bethought me how remiss I had been. It is true it was
through a sense of my own insignificant station that I had not
presented myself to my host ; but I ought to have remembered
that this excuse could have no force outside the limits of my own
heart ; and so, as I despaired of finding Hanserl, whose advice
might have aided me, I set out at once to make my respects.

A long, straight avenue, flanked by tall lime-trees, led from
the sea to the house ; and as I passed up this, crowded now like
the chief promenade of a city, I heard many comments as I went
on my dress and appearance. " What have we here ? " said one.
"Is this a prince or a mountebank?" "What boy, with a
much -braid-bedizened velvet coat is this ? " muttered an old
German, as he pointed at me with his pipe-stick.

One pronounced me a fencing-master ; but public reprobation
found its limit at last by calling me a Frenchman. Shall I own



AT THE FETE. 151

that I heard all these with something much more akiu to pride
than to shame ? The mere fact that they recognized me as
unlike one of themselves — that they saw in me what was not
" Fiumano " — was in itself a flattery; and as to the depreciation,
it was pure ignorance ! I am afraid that I even showed how
defiantly I took this criticism, — showed it in my look, and
showed it in my gait : for as I ascended the steps to the terrace
of the villa I heard more than one comment on my pretentious
demeanour. Perhaps some rumour of the approach of a dis-
tinguished guest had reached Herr Oppovich where he sat, at a
table with some of the magnates of Fiume, for he hastily arose
and came forward to meet me. Just as I gained the last terrace
the old man stood bareheaded and bowing before me, a semi-
circle of wondering guests at either side of him.

" Whom have I the distinguished honour to receive ? " said
Herr Ignaz, with a profound show of deference.

" Don't you know me, sir ? Owen — Digby Owen."
" What ! — how? Eh, — in heaven's name— sure it can't be !
Why, I protest it is," cried he, laying his hand on my shoulder,
as if to test my reality. " This passes all belief. Who ever
saw the like ! Come here, Knabe, come here." And slipping
his hand within my arm he led me towards the table he had just
quitted. " Sara," cried he, " here is a guest you have not
noticed ; a high and well-born stranger, who claims all your
attention. Let him have the place of honour at your side.
This, ladies and gentlemen, is Herr Digby Owen, the stave-
counter of my timber-yard ! " And he burst with this into a
roar of laughter, that, long pent up by an efibrt, now seemed to
threaten him with a fit. Nor was the company slow in chorus-



152 THAT BOY OF NORCOTT'S.

sing him : round after round shook the table, and it seemed as if
the joke could never be exhausted.

All this time I stood with my eyes fixed on the Frilulein,
whose glance was directed as steadfastly on me. It was a
haughty look she bent on me, but it became her well, and
I forgave all the scorn it conveyed in the pleasure her beauty
gave me. My face, which at first was in a flame, became
suddenly cold, and a faintish sickness was creeping over me,
so that, to steady myself, I had to lay my hand on a chair.
"Won't you sit down?" said she, in a voice fully as much
command as invitation. She pointed to a chair a little distance
from her own, and I obeyed.

The company appeared now somewhat ashamed of its rude
display of merriment, and seeing how quietly and calmly I
bore myself — unresentingly too — there seemed something like
a reaction in my favour. Foreigners, it must be said, are
generally sorry when betrayed into any exhibition of ill-breeding,
and hastily seek to- make amends for it. Perhaps Herr Oppovich
himself was the least ready in this movement, for he continued
to look on me with a strange blending of displeasure and
amusement.

The business of breakfast was now resumed, and the servants
passed round with the dishes, helping me amongst the rest.
While I was eating I heard — what of course was not meant for
my ears — an explanation given by one of the company of my
singular appearance. He had lived in England, and said that
the English of every condition had a passion for appearing
to belong to some rank above their own ; that to accomplish
this there was no sacrifice they would not make, for these



AT THE FETE. 153

assumptions imposed upon those ■uho made them fully as much
as on the public they were made for. " You'll see," added he,
"that the youth there, so long as he figures in that fine dress,
will act up to it, so far as he knows how." He talked with
a degree of assurance and fluency that gained conviction, and I
saw that his hearers went along ^dth him, and there soon began
— very cautiously and very guardedly indeed — a sort of exami-
nation of me and my pretensions, for which, fortunately for me,
I was so far prepared.

"x\nd do all English boys of your rank in life speak and
read four languages?" asked Herr Ignaz, after listening some
time to my answers.

"You are assuming to know his rank, papa," whispered
Sara, who watched me closely during the whole interrogatoiy.

" Let him answer my question," rejoined the old man,
roughly.

"Perhaps not all," said I, half amused at the puzzle I was
becoming to them.

" Then how came it your fortune to know them — that is,
if you do know them ? "

Slipping out of his question, I replied — "Nothing can be
easier than to test that point. There are gentlemen here whose
acquirements go far beyond mine."

" Your German is very good," said Sara. " Let me hear
you s.peak French."

" It is too much honour for me," said I, bowing, "to address
you at all."

"Is your Italian as neat in accent as that?" asked a lady
near.



154 THAT BOY OF NOKCOTTS.

" I believe I am best in Italiau — of course, after English —
for I always talked it with my music-master, as well as with my
teacher."

"Music-master!" cried Herr Ignaz ; "what phoenix have
we here ? "

" I don't think we are quite fail* to this boy," said a stern-
featured, middle-aged man. " He has shown us that there is
no imposition in his pretensions, and we have no right to
question him further. If Herr Ignaz thinks you too highly
gifted for his service, young man, come over to Carl Bettmeyer's
counting-house to-morrow at noon."

" I thank you, sir," said I, " and am very grateful ; but if
Herr Oppovich will bear wdth me, I will not leave him."

Sara's eyes met mine as I spoke, and I cannot tell what
a flood of rapture her look sent into my heart.

" The boy will do well enough," muttered Herr Ignaz. " Let
us have a ramble through the grounds, and see how the skittle-
players go on."

And thus passed off the little incident of my appearance :
an incident of no moment to any but myself, as I was soon
to feel ; for the company, descending the steps, strayed away
in broken twos or threes through the grounds, as caprice or
will inclined them.

If I were going to chronicle the fete itself, I might perhaps
say there was a striking contrast between the picturesque beauty
of the spot, and the pastime of those who occupied it. The
scene recalled nothing so much as a village fair. All the simple
out-of-door amusements of popular taste were there. There
were conjurors and saltimbanques and fortune-tellers, lottei-y-



AT THE FETE. 155

booths and nine-pin alleys and restaurants, only differing from
tlieir prototypes in that there was nothing to pay. If a consider-
able number of the guests were well pleased with the pleasures
provided for them, there were others no less amused as spectators
of these enjoyments, and the result was an amount of mirth and
good-humour almost unbounded. There were representatives of
almost every class and condition, from the prosperous merchant
or rich banker down to the humblest clerk or even the porter
of the warehouse ; and yet a certain tone of equality pervaded
all, and I observed that they mixed with each other on terms of
friendliness and familiarity that never recalled any difference
of condition : and this feature alone was an ample counterpoise
to any vulgarity observable in their manners. If there was any
*' snobbery," it was of a species quite unlike what we have at
home, and I could not detect it.

While I strolled about, amusing myself with the strange
sights and scenes around me, I suddenly came upon a sort of
merry-go-round, where the performers, seated on small hobby-
horses, tilted with a lance at a ring as they spun round, their
successes or failures being hailed with cheers or with laughter
from the spectators. To my intense astonishment, I might
almost say shame, Hanserl was there ! Mounted on a fiery
little grey, with blood-shot eyes and a flowing tail, the old fellow
seemed to have caught the spirit of his steed, for he stood up in
his stirrups, and leaned forward with an eagerness that showed
how he enjoyed the sport. Why was it that the spectacle so
shocked me ? Why was it that I shrunk back into the crowd,
fearful that he might recognize me ? Was it not well if the
poor fellow could throw off, even for a passing moment, the



156 THAT BOY OF NOECOTT'S.

weary drudgery of liis daily life, and play the fool just for
distraction sake ? All this I could have believed and accepted
a short time before, and yet now a strange revulsion of feeling
had come over me, and I went away, well pleased that Hans had
not seen, nor claimed me. " These vulgar games don't amuse
you," said a voice at my side ; and I turned and saw the
merchant who, at the breakfast-table, invited me to his count-
ing-house.

'• Not that," said I ; " but they seem strange and odd at a
private entertainment. I was scarce prepared to see them
here."

" I suspect that is not exactly the reason," said he, laughing.
" I know something of your English tone of exclusiveness, and
how each class of your people has its appropriate pleasures.
You scorn to be amused in low company."

" You seem to forget my own condition, sir."

" Come, come," said he, with a knowing look, " I am not
so easily imposed upon, as I told you a while back. I know
England. Your ways and notions are all known to me. It is
not in the place you occupy here young lads are found who speak
three or four languages, and have hands that show as few signs
of labour as yours. " Mind," said he, quickly, " I don't want
to know your secret."

" If I had a secret it is scarcely likely I'd tell it to a
stranger," said I, haughtily.

" Just so ; you'd know your man before you trusted him.
Well, I'm more generous, and I'm going to trust you, whom I
never saw till half-an-hour ago."

"Trust me/"



AT THE FETE. 157

" Trust you," repeated be, slowly. " And first of all, what
age would you give that young lady whose birthday we are
celebrating ? "

" Seventeen — eighteen — perhaps nineteen."

" I thought you'd say so ; she looks nineteen. Well, I can
tell you her age to an hour. She is fifteen to-day."

" Fifteen ! "

" Not a day older, and yet she is the most finished coquette
in Europe. Having given Fiume to understand that there is
not a man here whose pretensions she would listen to, her whole
aim and object is to surround herself with admirers — I might
say worshippers. Young fellows are fools enough to believe
they have a chance of ^^inuiug her favour, while each sees how
contemptuously she treats the other. They do not perceive it
is the number of adorers she cares for."

" But w^hat is all this to me ? "

" Simply that you'll be enlisted in that corps to-morrow,"
said he, with a malicious laugh ; " and I thought I'd do you a
good turn to warn you as to -what is in store for you."

" Me ? I enlisted ! Why, just bethink you, sir, who and
what I am : the very lowest creature in her father's employ-
ment."

" What does that signify ? There's a mystery about you.
You are not, — at least you were not, — what you seem now.
You have as good looks and better manners than the people
usually about her. She can amuse herself with you, and so far
harmlessly, that she can dismiss you when she's tired of you,
and if she can only persuade you to believe yourself in love with
her, and can store up a reasonable share of misery for you in



158 THAT BOY OF NORCOTT'S.

consequence, you'll make her nearer being liaj^py tlian she has
felt this many a day."

" I don't understand all this," said I, doubtingly.

" Well, you will one of these days ; that is, unless you have
the good sense to take my warning in good part, and avoid her
altogether."

" It will be quite enough for me to bear in mind who she is,
and what I am ! " said I, calmly.

" You think so ? Well, I don't agree with you. At all
events, keep what I have said to yourself, even if you don't
mean to profit by it." And with this he left me.

That strange education of mine, in which M. de Balzac
figured as a chief instructor, made me reflect on what I had
heard in a spirit little like that of an ordinary lad of sixteen
years of age. Those wonderful stories, in which passion and
emotion represent action, and where the great game of life is
played out at a fireside or in a window recess, and where feeling
and sentiment war and fight and win or lose — these same tales
supplied me with wherewithal to understand this man's warn-
ings, and at the same time to suspect his motives ; and from
that moment my life became invested with new interests and
new anxieties, and to my own heart I felt myself a hero of
romance.

As I sauntered on, revolving very pleasant thoughts to
myself, I came upon a party who were picnicing under a tree.
Some of them graciously made a place for me, and I sat down
and ate my dinner with them. They were very humble people
all of them, but courteous and civil to my quality of stranger in
a remarkable degree. Nor was I less struck by the delicate



AT THE FETE. 159

forbearance they showed towards the host : for, while the
servant pressed them to drink Bordeaux and Champagne, they
merely took the little wines of the country, perfectly content
with simple fare and the courtesy that offered them better.

When one of them asked me if I had ever seen a fete of such
magnificence in my own country, my mind went back to that
costly entertainment of our villa, and Pauline came up before
me, with her long dark eyelashes, and those lustrous eyes beam-
ing with expression and flashing with a light that dazzled while
it charmed. Coquetry has no such votaries as the young. Its
artifices, its studied graces, its thousand rogueries, to them seem
all that is most natural and most " naive ; " and thus every
toss of her dark curls, every little mock resentment of her
beautiful mouth, every bend and motion of her supple figure,
rose to my mind, till I pictured her image before me, and
thought I saw her.

"What a hunt I have had after you, Herr Engliinder," said
a servant, who came up to me all flushed and heated. " I have
been over the whole park in search of you."
*' In search of me ? Surely you mistake."
" No; it is no mistake. I see no one here in a velvet jacket
but yourself ; and Herr Ignaz told me to find you and tell you
that there is a place kept for you at his table, and they are at
dinner now in the large tent before the terrace."

I took leave of my friends, who rose respectfully to make
their adieux to the honoured guest of the host, and I followed
the servant to the house. I was not without my misgivings
that the scene of the morning, with its unpleasant cross-exami-
nation of me, might be repeated, and I even canvassed myself



160 THAT BOY OF NORCOTT'S.

liow far I ought to submit to such liberties ; but the event was
not to put my dignity to the test. I was received on terms of
perfect equality with those about me, and, though the dinner
had made some progress before I arrived, it was with much
difficulty I could avoid being served with soup and all the earlier
delicacies of the entertainment.

I will not dwell on the day that to recall seems more to me
like a page out of a fairy tale than a little incident of daily life.
I was, indeed, to all intents the enchanted j)rince of a story, who
went about with the lovely princess on his arm, for I danced the
mazurka with the Friiulein Sara, and was her partner several
times during the evening, and finished the fete with her in the
cotillon, she declaring, in that calm quiet voice that did not seek
to be unheard around, that I alone could dance the waltz a deux
temps, and that I slid gently, and did not spring like a Fiumano,
or bound like a French bagman — a praise that brought on me
some very menacing looks from certain commis-voyageurs near
me, and which I, confident in my " skill of fence," as insolently
returned.

" You are not to return to the Hof, Herr von Owen,
to-morrow," said she, as we parted. " You are to wait on papa
at his office at eleven o'clock." And there was a staid dignity
in her words that spoke command ; but in stjding me •" fon,"
there was a whole world of recognition, and I kissed her hand
as I said good-night with all the deference of her slave, and all
the devotion of one who already felt her power and delighted
in it.



( ici )



CHAPTER XX.

OUK INNER LIFE.

Let me open this chapter with an apology, and I mean it not
only to extend to errors of the past, hut to whatever similar
blunders I may commit hereafter. What I desire to ask pardon
for is this : I find in this attempt of mine to jot down a portion of
my life, that I have laid a most disproportionate stress on some
passages the most insignificant and unimportant. Thus, in my
last chapter, I have dwelt unreasonably on the narrative of one
day's pleasure, while it may be that a month, or several months,
shall pass over with scarcely mention. For this fault — and I do
not attempt to deny it is a fault — I have but one excuse. It is
this : my desire has been to place before my reader the events,
small as they might be, that influenced my life and decided my
destiny. Had I not gone to this fete, for instance ; had I taken
my holiday in some quiet ramble into the hills alone ; or had I
passed it — as I have passed scores of happy hours — in the soli-
tude of my own room, how different might have been my fate !

We all of us know how small and apparently insignificant are
the events by which the course of our lives is shapen. A look
we catch at parting, — a word spoken that might have passed
unheard, — a pressure of the hand that might or might not have

11



162 THAT BOY OF NOKCOTT'S.

been felt, and straightway all our sailing orders are revoked, and
instead of north we go south. Bearing this in mind, my reader
will perhaps forgive me, and at least bethink him that these
things are not done by me through inadvertence, but of intention
and with forethought.

" So we are about to part," said Hanserl to me as I awoke
and found my old companion at my bedside. " You're the
twenty-fifth that has left me," said he, mournfully. "But look
to it, Knabe ; change is not always betterment."

" It was none of my doing, Hanserl ; none of my seeking."

" If you had worn the grey jacket you wear on Sundays there
would have been none of this, lad ! I have seen double as many
years in the yard as you have been in the world, and none have
ever seen me at the master's table or waltzing with the master's
daughter."

I could not help smiling, in spite of myself, at the thought
of such a spectacle.

" Nor is there need to laugh because I speak of dancing,"
said he, quickly. " They could tell you up in Kleptowitz there
are worse performers than Hans Sponer; and if he is not an
Englishman, he is an honest Austrian ! " This he said with a
sort of defiance, and as if he expected a reply.

"I have told you already, Hans," said I, soothingly, "that
it was none of my seeking if I am to be transferred from the
yard. I was very happy there — very happy to be with you. We
were good comrades in the past, as I hope we may be good
friends in the future."

" That can scarcely be," said he, sorrowfully. " I can have
no friend in the man I must say ' sir ' to. It's Herr Ignaz's



OUR INNER LIFE. 163

order," went he on ; "he sent for me this morning, and said,
' Hanserl, when you address Herr von Owen,' — aye, he said
Herr von Owen, — ' never forget he is your superior ; and though
he once worked with you here in the yard, that was his caprice,
and he will do so no more.' "

" But, Hans, my dear old friend."

" Ja, ja," said he, waving his hand. " ' Jetz ist aus !' It
is all over now. Here's your reckoning," and he laid a slip of
paper on the bed: — " Twelve gulden for the dinners, three-fifty
for wine and beer, two gulden for the wash. There were four
ki-eutzers for the girl wdth the guitar ; you bade me give her ten,
but four was plenty, — that makes seventeen-six-and-sixty : and
you've twenty -three gulden and thirty -four krentzers in that
packet, and so Leb wohl," and with a short wave of his hand he
turned away ; but as he left the room I saw that the other hand
had been drawn over his eyes, for Hanserl was crying : and I
buried my face in the clothes, and sobbed bitterly.

My orders were to present myself at Herr Ignaz's private
office by noon. Careful not to presume on what seemed at least
a happy turn in my destiny, I dressed in my every- day clothes,


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Online LibraryCharles James LeverThat boy of Norcott's → online text (page 10 of 17)