Charles James Lever.

That boy of Norcott's online

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many loves I sent her, nor what longings to be again beside her,

to hold her hand, and hear her voice, and call her by that dearest

of all the names affection cherishes. " I am going from this in

a few days into Hungary," added I; '' but address me here, and

it shall be sent after me."

When I had finished my letter, I again turned my thoughts
to this strange communication, so abrupt and so short. How


came it to Fiume, too ? Was it enclosed in some other letter,
and to whom ? If posted in Fiume, why not written there ?
Ay ; but by whom ? Who could know that I had wished for my
mother's address ? It was a secret buried in my own heart.

I suddenly determined I would ask the Fraulein Sara to aid
me in unravelling this mystery, which, of course, I could do
without disclosing the contents of the note. I hurried off to the
house, and asked if she would permit me to speak to her.

*' Yes. The Fraulein was going out ; but, if my business
was brief, she would see me."

She was in bonnet and shawl as I entered, and stood with
one hand on a table, looking very calm, but somewhat haughty.

" I beg your pardon, M. Owen," said she, " if I say that I
can only give you a few minutes, and will not ask you even to sit
down. If it be a matter of the office "

" No, mademoiselle ; it is not a matter of the office."

" Then, if it relate to your change of occupation "

" No, mademoiselle, not even to that. It is a purely personal
question. I have got a letter, with a Fiume post-mark on it,
but without the writer's name ; and I am curious to know if you
could aid me to discover him. Would you look at the hand, and
see if it be known to you ? "

" Pray excuse me, M. Owen. I am the stupidest of all
people in reading riddles or solving difficulties. All the help I
can give you is to say how I treat anonymous letters myself. If
they be simply insults, I burn them. If they relate what appear
to be matters of fact, I wait and watch for them."

Offended by the whole tone of her manner, I bowed, and
moved towards the door.


" Have you seen M. Marsac ? I hear he has arrived."

" No, mademoiselle ; not yet."

" When you have conferred and consulted with him, your
instructions are all prepared ; and I suppose you are ready to
start ? "

" I shall be, mademoiselle, when called upon."

" I will say good-hy, then," said she, advancing one step
towards me, evidently intending to ofler me her hand ; but I
replied by a low, very low, bow, and retired.

I thought I should choke as I went down the stairs. My
throat seemed to swell, and then to close up ; and when I gained
the shelter of the thick trees, I threw myself down on my face in
the grass, and sobbed as if my heart was breaking. How I
vowed and swore that I would tear every recollection of her from
my mind, and never think more of her, and how her image ever
came back clearer and brighter and more beautiful before me
after each oath !




As I sat brooding over my fire that same evening, my door was
suddenly opened, and a large burly man, looming even larger
from an immense fur pelisse that he wore, entered. His first
care was to divest himself of a tall Astracan cap, from which he
flung off some snow-flakes, and then to throw off his pelisse,
stamping the snow from his great boots, which reached halfway
up the thigh.

" You see," cried he, at last, with a jovial air, " you see I
come, like a good comrade, and make myself at home at once."

" I certainly see so much," said I, drily; " but whom have I
the honour to receive ? "

" You have the honour to receive Gustave Maurice de Marsac,
young man, a gentleman of Dauphine, who now masquerades
in the character of first traveller for the respectable house of
Hodnig and Oppovich."

" I am proud to make your acquaintance, M. de Marsac,"
said I, offering my hand.

" What age are you ? " cried he, staring fixedly at me.
"You can't be twenty?"

" No, I am not twenty."


" And they purpose to send you down to replace me /" cried
be : and lie threw himself back in bis chair, and shook with

" I see all the presumption ; but I can only say it was none
of my doing."

" No, no ; don't say presumption," said he, in a half-coaxing
tone. " But I may say it, without vanity, it is not every man's
gift to be able to succeed Gustave de Marsac. May I ask for a
cigar ? Thanks. A real Cuban, I verily believe. I finished
my tobacco two posts from this, and have been smoking all
the samples — pepper and hemp-seed amongst them — since

" May I offer ^'ou something to eat ?"

" You may, if you accompany it with something to drink.
"Would you believe it, Oppovich and his daughter were at supper
when I arrived to report myself ; and neither of them as much as
said, Chevalier — I mean Mon. de Marsac — won't you do us the
honour to join us ? No. Old Ignaz went on with his meal —
cold veal and a potato salad, I think it was ; and the fair Sara
examined my posting-book, to see I had made no delay on the
road : but neither oifered me even the courtesy of a glass
of wine."

" I don't suspect it was from any want of hospitality,"
I began.

" An utter want of everything, mon cher. Want of decency ;
want of delicacy ; want of due deference to a man of birth and
blood. I see you are sending your servant out. Now, I beg,
don't make a stranger — don't make what we call a ' Prince Russe '
of me. A little quiet supper, and something to wash it down ;


good fellowship will do the rest. May I give your man the
orders ?"

" You will confer a great favour on me," said I.

He took my servant apart, and whispered a few minutes with
him at the window. " Try Kleptomitz first," said he aloud, as
the man was leaving ; " and mind you say M. Marsac sent you.
Smart ' hursche ' you've got there. If you don't take him with
you, hand him over to me."

" I will do so," said I ; " and am happy to have secured him
a good master."

" You'll not know him when you pass through Fiume again.
I helieve there's not my equal in Europe to drill a servant.
Give me a Chinese, an Esquimaux ; give me a Hottentot, and
in six months you shall see him announce a visitor, deliver a
letter, wait at table, or serve coflee, with the quiet dignity and
the impassive steadiness of the most accomplished lacquey. The
three servants of Fiume were made by me, and their fortunes
also. One has now the chief restaurant at Eome, in the Piazza
di Spagna ; the other is manager of the ' Iron Crown Hotel,' at
Zurich ; he wished to have it called the ' Arms of Marsac,' but I
forbade him. I said, ' No, Pierre, no. The de Marsacs are
now travelling incog.' Like the Tavannes and the Kohans, we
have to wait and bide our time. Louis Napoleon is not immortal.
Do you think he is ?"

" I have no reason to think so."

" Well, well, you are too young to take interest in politics ;
not but that I did at fourteen : I conspired at fourteen ! I will
show you a stiletto Mazzini gave me on my birthday ; and the
motto on the blade was, ' Au service du Hoi.' Ah ! vou are


surprised at what I tell 5^011. I liear you say to yourself, ' How
the devil did lie come to this place ? what led him to Fiume ? '
A long story that ; a story poor old Dumas would give one of
his eyes for. There's more adventure, more scrapes hy villainy,
dangers and death-blows generally, in the last twenty-two years
of my life — I am now thirty-six — than in all the Monte Christos
that ever were written. I will take the liberty to put another
log on your fire. What' do you say if we lay the cloth ? It will
expedite matters a little."

" With all my heart. Here are all my household goods,"
said I, opening a little press in the wall.

" And not to be despised, by any means. Show me what a
man drinks out of, and I'll tell you what he drinks. When
a man has got thin glasses like these — a la Mousseline, as we
say, — his tipple is Bordeaux."

" I confess the weakness," said I, laughing.

"It is my own infirmity, too," said he, sighing. " My
theory is, plurality of "^ines is as much a mistake as plurality
of wives. Coquette, if you will, with fifty, but give your
affections to one. If I am an}-thing, I am moral. What
can keep your fellow so long? I gave him but two commis-

" Perhaps the shops were closed at this hour."

" If they were, sir," said he, pompously, " at the word
Marsac they would open. Ha ! what do I see here ? — a piano ?
Am I at liberty to open it?" And without waiting for a reply,
he sat down, and ran his hands over the keys with a masterly
facility. As he flew over the octaves, and struck chords of
splendid harmony, I could not help feeling an amount of credit


in all his boastful declarations just from this one trait of real
power about him.

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

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

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

As he rattled on thus it was not very easy for me to assure
myself whether I was host or guest ; but as I saw that this
consideration did not distress him, I resolved it should not
weigh heavily on 7ne.

" I ordered a ' compote ' of peaches vdih. maraschino. Go


after them and say it has been forgotten." And now, as he
dismissed my servant on this errand, he sat down and served
the soup, doing the honours of the hoard in all form. "You
are called "

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

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

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

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

" I have that weakness."

" I could as soon believe in the heathen mythology ! I like
the man who is kind to me while he is doing the kindness, and I
could, if occasion served, be kind to him in turn ; but to say
that I could retain such a memory of the service after years


that it would renew in me the first pleasant sensations it
created, and with these sensations the goodwill to requite them,
is downright rubhish. You might as w'ell tell me that I could
get drunk simply by remembering the orgie I assisted at ten
years ago."

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

" Then we won't dispute the matter. "We'll talk of some-
thing w^e can agree upon. Let us abuse Sara."

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

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

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

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

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

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

" I swear it."

" I like that spirit, Digby ; I'll be shot if I don't," said he,
taking my hand, which I did not give very willingly. " You
are just what I was some fifteen or twenty years ago, — warm,
impulsive, and headstrong. It's the world, — that vile old mill,
the world, — grinds that generous nature out of one ! I declare
I don't believe that a spark of real trustfulness survives a man's


first moustaches, — and yours are very faint, very faint indeed ;
there's a suspicion of smut on the upper lip, and some small
capillary flourishes along your cheek. That wine is too sweet.
I'll return to the Bourdeaux."

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

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

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


I placed every bottle I possessed on the table, and lighting my
cigar, resigned myself, with what patience I could, to the

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

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

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

" I cannot say I remember that."

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

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

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

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


" Just simply what I say." It was not very easy for me to
follow him here, but I could gather, amidst a confused mass of
self-glorification, prediction, and lamentation over warnings dis-
regarded, and such like, that the great Jew house of " Nathan-
heimer " of Paris was the real head of the firm of Hodnig and
Oppovich. " The Nathanheimers own all Europe and a very
considerable share of America," burst he out. " You hear of a
great wine house at Xeres, or a great corn-merchant at Odessa,
or a great tallow exporter at Eiga. It's all Nathanheimer ! If
a man prospers and shows that he has skill in business, they'll
stand by him, even to millions. If he blunders, they sweep him
away, as I brush away that cork. There must be no failures with
them. That's their creed."

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

One ofiience they never pardoned, never condoned, which was
any, the slightest, insubordination amongst those they supported


and maintained. Marsac ran over a catalogue of those they had
ruined in London, Amsterdam, Paris, Frankfort, and Vienna,
simply because they had attempted to emancipate themselves
from the serfdom imposed upon them. Let one of the subor-
dinate firms branch out into an enterprise unauthorised by the
great house, and straightway their acceptances become dis-
honoured, and their credit assailed. In one word, he made
it appear that from one end of Europe to the other the whole
financial system was in the hands of a few crafty men of immense
wealth, who unthroned dynasties, and controlled the fate of
nations, with a word.

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

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

" You're dead beat, my poor fellow," said he at last, " and


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





My friend did not keep his self-made appointment with me at
breakfast, nor did I see him for two days, when we met in the
street. "I have gone over to the enemy," said he, "I have
taken an engagement with Bettmeyer : six thousand florins and
all expenses, — silver florins, mon cher ; and if you're wise,"
added he in a whisper, "you'll follow my lead. Shall I say a
word for you ?" I thanked him coldly, and declined the ofier.

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


alone worth all the money." He rattled out this with his
own headlong speed, and was gone before I well knew I had
seen him.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

" These are de Marsac's then ? " asked I.


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

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

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

*' Only passingly, in the street."

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

" Yes, he said he was now in Mr. Bettmej-er's office."

" Shall I tell you why ? " she stopped, and her cheek became
crimson, while her eyes sparkled with an angry fire, that actually
startled me ; " but let us finish this. AMiere were we ? " she
now leaned her head down upon her hands, and seemed over-
come by her emotion. When she looked up again her face was
perfectly pale, and her ejes sad and weariful. " I a.m afraid we
shall wake him," said she, looking towards her father; "come

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