Charles James Lever.

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carried away by an intense excitement I could not master.

On the second day of the journey we left the region of roads,
and usually directed our course by some church spire or tower in
the distance, or followed the bank of a river, when not too devious.
This headlong swoop across fields and prairies, dashing madly on
in what seemed utter recklessness, was glorious fun ; and when
we came to cross the small bridges which span the streams,
without rail or parapet at either side, and where the deviation of
a few inches would have sent us headlong into the torrent
beneath, I felt a degree of blended terror and delight such as one
experiences in the mad excitement of a fox-hunt.

On the third morning I discovered on awaking that a heavy
fall of snow had occurred during the night, and we were forced
to take off our wheels and place the carriage on sledge-slides.
This alone was wanting to make the enjoyment perfect, and our
pace from this hour became positively steeple-chasing. Lying
back in my ample fur mantle, and my hands enclosed in a fur
muff, I accepted the salutations of the villagers as we swept along,
or blandly raised my hand to my cap as some wearied guard
would hurriedly turn out to present arms to a supposed
" magnate ; " for we were long out of the beat of usual travel, and
rarely any but some high official of the State was seen to come
" extra post," as it is called, through these wild regions."

Up to Izarous the country had been a plain, slightly, but
very slightly, undulating. Here, however, we got amongst the
mountains, and the charm of scenery was now added to the



214 THAT BOY OF NORCOTT'S.

delight of the pace. On the fifth day I learned, and not without
sincere regret, that we were within seven German miles, — some-
thing over thirty of ours, — from Gross Wardein, from which the
Hunyadi Schloss only lay about fifty miles.

Up to this I had been, to myself at least, a " Grand
Seigneur," travelling for his pleasure, careless of cost, and
denying himself nothing ; splendid generosity, transmitted from
each postilion to his successor, secured me the utmost speed his
beasts could master, and the impetuous dash with which we
spun into the arched doorways of the inns, routed the whole
household, and not unfrequently summoned the guests them-
selves to witness the illustrious arrival. A few hours more and
the grand illusion would dissolve ! No more the wild stretching
gallop, cutting the snowdrift ; no more the clear bells, ringing
through the frosty air ; no more the eager landlord bustling to
the carriage -side with his flagon of heated wine ; no more that
burning delight imparted by speed, a sense of power that actually
intoxicates. Not one of these ! A few hours more and I should
be Herr Owen, travelling for the house of Hodnig and Oppovich,
banished to the company of bagmen, and reduced to a status
where whatever life has of picturesque or graceful is made matter
for vulgar sarcasm and ridicule. I know well, ye gentlemen who
hold a station fixed and unassailable will scarcely sympathize
with me in all this ; but the castle-builders of this world, and
happily they are a large class, will lend me all their pity, — well
aware that so long as imagination honours the drafts upon her,
the poor man is never bankrupt, and that it is only as illusions
dissolve he sees his insolvency.

I reached Gross Wardein to dinner, and passed the night



IN HUNGAKY. 215

there, essaying, but with no remarkable success, to learn some-
thing of Count Hunyadi, his habits, age, temper, and general
demeanour. As my informants were his countrymen, I could
only gather that his qualities were such as Hungarians held
in esteem. He was proud, braye, costly in his mode of life,
splendidly hospitable, and a thorough sportsman. As to what
he might prove in matters of business, if he would even stoop to
entertain such at all, none could say, — the very thought seemed
to provoke a laugh.

" I once attempted a deal with him," said an old farmer-like
man at the fireside. " I wanted to buy a team of 'juckers' he
drove into the yard here, and was rash enough to offer five
hundred florins for what he asked eight. He did not even
vouchsafe me an answer, and almost drove over me the next day
as I stood at the side of the gate there."

" That was like Tassilo," said a Hungarian, with flashing
eyes.

" He served you right," cried another. " None but a German
would have offered him such a rudeness."

" Not but he's too ready with his heavy whip," muttered an
old soldier-like fellow. "He might chance to strike where no
words would efface the welt."

Stories of Hunyadi's extravagance and eccentricity now
poured in on all sides. How he had sold an estate to pay the
cost of an imperial visit that lasted a week ; how he had driven
a team of four across the Danube on the second day of the frost,
when a heavy man could have smashed the ice by a stamp of his
foot ; how he had killed a boar in single combat, though it cost
him three fingers of his left hand, and an awful flesh wound in



216 THAT BOY OF NOECOTT'S.

the side ; and numberless other feats of daring and recklessness
were recorded by admiring narrators, who finished by a loud
" Elyen " to his health.

I am not sure that I went away to my bed feeling much
encouraged at the success of my mission, or very hopeful of
what I should do with this magnate of Hungary.

By daybreak, I was again on the road. The journey led
through a wild mountain pass, and was eminently interesting
and picturesque ; but I was no longer so open to enjoyment as
before, and serious thoughts of my mission now oppressed me,
and I grew more nervous and afraid of failure. If this haughty
Graf were the man they represented him, it was just as likely
he would refuse to listen to me at all ; nor was the fact a cheering
one that my client was a Jew, since nowhere is the race less held
in honour than in Hungary.

As day began to decline, we issued forth upon a vast plain
into which a mountain spur projected like a bold promontory
beside the sea. At the very extremity of this a large mass, which
might be rock, seemed to stand out against the sky. " There —
yonder " — said the postilion, pointing towards it with his whip ;
" that is Schloss Hunyadi. There's three hours' good gallop yet
before us."

A cold snowdrift borne on a wind that at times brought us
to a stand- still, or even drove us to seek shelter by the wayside
now set in, and I was fain to roll myself in my furs and lie
snugly down on the hay in the "Avagen," where I soon fell
asleep ; and, though we had a change of horses, and I must have
managed somehow to settle with the postilion and hand him his
" trink-geld," I was conscious of nothing till awakened by the



IN HUNGARY. 217

clanking sound of a great bell, when I started up and saw we
had driven into a spacious court-yard in which, at an immense
fire, a number of people were seated, while others bustled about
harnessing or unharnessing horses. " Here we are, Herr Graf! "
cried my postilion, who called me Count in recognition of the
handsome way I had treated his predecessor. " This is Schloss
Hunyadi."



218 THAT BOY OF NORCOTT'S.



CHAPTER XXVII.

SCHLOSS HUNYADI.

When I had made known my rank and quality, I was assigned
a room — a very comfortable one — in one wing of the castle, and
no more notice taken of me than if I had been a guest at an inn.
The house was filled with visitors ; but the master, with some
six or seven others, was away in Transylvania boar-shooting.
As it was supposed he would not return for eight or ten days, I
had abundant time to look about me, and learn something of the
place and the people.

Schloss Hunyadi dated from the fifteenth century, although
now a single square tower was all that remained of the early
building. Successive additions had been made in every imagin-
able taste and style, till the whole presented an enormous
incongruous mass, in which fortress, farmhouse, convent, and
palace struggled for the mastery, size alone giving an air of
dignity to what numberless faults would have condemned as an
outrage on all architecture.

If there was deformity and ugliness without, there was,
however, ample comfort and space within. Above two hundred
persons could be accommodated beneath the roof, and half as
many more had been occasionally stowed away in the out-



SCHLOSS HUNYADI. 219

buildings. I made mauy attempts, but all unsuccessfully, to
find out what number of servants the household consisted of.
Several wore livery, and many — especially such as Avaited on
guests humble as myself — were dressed in blouse, with the crest
of the house embroidered on the breast ; while a little army of
retainers, in Jager costume, or in .the picturesque dress of the
peasantry, lounged about the courtyard, lending a hand to
unharness or harness a team, to fetch a bucket of water, or
" strap down " a beast, as some weary traveller would ride in,
splashed and waworn. If there seemed no order or discipline
anywhere, there was little confusion, and no ill humour whatever.
All seemed ready to oblige, and the Avork of life, so far as I
could see from my window, ;R"ent on cheerfully and joyfully, if
not very regularly or well.

If there was none of the trim propriety, or that neatness that
rises to elegance, which I had seen in my father's household,
there was a la\ish profusion here, a boundless abundance, that,
contrasted with our mode of life, made us seem almost mean
and penurious. Guests came and went unceasingly, and to all
seeming, not known to any one. An unbounded hospitality
awaited all comers, and of the party who supped and caroused
to-night, none remained on the morrow, nor, perhaps, even a
name was remembered.

It took me some days to learn this, and to know that there
was nothing singular or strange in the position I occupied,
living where none knew why or whence I came, or even so much
as cared to inquire my name or country.

In the great hall, where we dined all together — the dis-
tinguished guests at one end of the table, the lesser notabilities



220 THAT BOY OF NORCOTT'S.

lower down, and the menials last of all — there was ever a place
reserved for sudden arrivals ; and it was rare that the meal
went over without some such. A hearty welcome and a cordial
greeting were soon over, and the work of festivity went on as
before.

I was soon given to understand that, not only I might
dispose of my time how I pleased, but that every appliance to do
so agreeably was at my disposal, and that I might ride, or drive,
or shoot, or sledge just as I fancied. And though I was cautious
to show that my personal pretensions were of the very humblest,
this fact seemed no barrier whatever to my enjoyment of all
these courteous civilities.

" We're always glad when any one will ride the juckers,"
said a Jiiger to me ; " they are ruined for want of exercise, and,
if you like three mounts a day, you shall have them."

It was a rare piece of good luck for me that I could both ride
and shoot. No two accomplishments could have stood me in
such request as these, and I rose immensely in the esteem of
those amongst whom I sat at table when they saw that I could
sit a back-jumper and shoot a wood-pigeon on the wing.

While I thus won such humble suffrages, there was a higher
applause that my heart craved and longed for. As the company
— some five-and-twenty or thirty persons — who dined at the
upper table withdrew after dinner, they passed into the drawing-
rooms, and we saw them no more. Of the music and dancing,
in which they passed the evening, we knew nothing ; and we, in
our own way, had our revels, which certainly amply contented
those who had no pretensions to higher company ; but this was
precisely what I could not, do what I might, divest myself of.



SCHLOSS HUNYADI. 221

Like one of the characters of my old favourite Balzac, I yearned
to be once more in the " salon," and amongst " ces epaules
blanches," where the whole game of life is finer, where the
parries are neater, and the thrusts more deadly.

An accident gave me what all my ingenuity could not have
effected. A groom of the chambers came suddenly one evening
into the hall where we all sat to ask if any one there could play
the new Csardas called the " Stephan." It was all the rage at
Pesth ; but no copy of it had yet reached the far east. I had
learned this while at Pesth, and had the music with me ; and,
of course, offered my services at once. Scarcely permitted a
moment to make some slight change of dress, I found myself in
a handsome salon with a numerous company. In my first con-
fusion, I could mark little beyond the fact that most of the
persons were in the national costume, the ladies wearing the
laced bodice, covered with precious stones, and the men in velvet
coats, with massive turquoise buttons, the whole effect being
something like that of a splendid scene in a theatre.

" We are going to avail ourselves of your talent at the piano,
sir," said the Countess Hunyadi, approaching me with a cour-
teous smile. " But let me first ofier you some tea."

Not knowing if fortune might ever repeat her present favour,
I resolved to profit by the opportunity to the utmost ; and while
cautiously repressing all display, contrived to show that I was
master of some three or four languages, and a person of educa-
tion generally.

" We are puzzled about your nationality, sir," said the
Countess to me. " If not too great a liberty, may I ask your
country?"



222 THAT BOY OF NORCOTT'S.

When I said England, the effect produced was almost magical.
A little murmur of something I might even call applause ran
through the room ; for I had mentioned the land of all Europe
dearest to the Hungarian heart, and I heard, " An Englishman !
an Englishman ! " repeated from mouth to mouth, in accents of
kindest meaning.

" Why had I not presented myself hefore ? Why had I not
sent my name to the Countess ? Why not have made it known
that I was here ? " and so on, were asked eagerly of me, as
though my mere nationality had invested me with some special
claim to attention and regard.

I had to own that my visit was a purely business one ; that I
had come to see and confer with the Count ; and had not the
very slightest pretension to expect the courtesies I was then
receiving.

My performance at the piano crowned my success. I played
the " Csardas " with such spirit as an impassioned dancer alone
can give to the measure he delights in, and two enthusiastic
encores rewarded my triumph. " Adolf, you must play now, for
I know the Englishman is dying to have a dance," said the gay
young Countess Palfi : " and I am quite ready to be his partner."
And the next moment we were whirling along in all the mad
mazes of the " Csardas."

There is that amount of display in the dancing of the
" Csardas " that not merely invites criticism, but actually com-
pels an outspoken admiration whenever anything like excellence
accompanies the performance. My partner was celebrated for
the grace and beauty of her dancing, and for those innumerable
intei-polations which, fancy or caprice suggesting, she could



SCHLOSS HUNYADT. 223

throw into the measure. To meet and respond to these bj'
appropriate gesture, to catch the spirit of each mood, and be
ready for each change, was the task now assigned me ; and I
need not say with what passionate ardour I threw myself into it.
At one moment she would advance in proud defiance ; and as I
fell back in timid homage, she would turn and fly off in the wild
transport of a waltz movement. Then it was mine to pursue
and overtake her ; and, clasping her, whirl away, till suddenly,
with a bound, she would free herself, again to dramatize some
passing emotion, some mood of deep dejection, or of mad and
exuberant delight. It was clear that she was bent on trying the
resources of my ingenuity to the very last limit ; and the loud
plaudits that greeted my successes had evidently put her pride
on the mettle. I saw this, and saw, as I thought, that the
contest, had begun to pique ; so taking the next opportunity she
gave me to touch her hand, I dropped on one knee, and kissing
her fingers, declared myself vanquished.

A deafening cheer greeted this finale, and accompanied us as
I led my partner to her seat.

It is a fortunate thing for young natures that there is no
amount of praise, no quantity of flattery, ever palls upon them.
Their moral digestion is as great as their physical ; and even
gluttony does not seem to hurt them. Of all the flattering
speeches made me on my performance, none were more cordially
uttered than by my beautiful partner, who declared that if I had
but the Hungarian costume, — where the clink of the spur and
the jingle of the hussar equipment blend with the time, — my
" Csardas " was perfection.

Over and over again were regrets uttered that the Empress,



224 THAT BOY OF NORCOTT'S.

who had seen the dance at Pesth done by timid and unimpas-
sioned dancers, and who had, in consequence, carried away but a
faint idea of its real captivation, could have witnessed our perform-
ance ; and some even began to plot how such a representation
could be prepared for her Majesty's next visit to Hungary.
While they thus talked supper was announced ; and as the com-
pany were marshalling themselves into the order to move
forward, I took the opportunity to slip away unnoticed to my
room, well remembering that my presence there was the result of
accident, and that nothing but a generous courtesy could regard
me as a guest.

I had not been many minutes in my room when I heard a
footstep in the corridor- I turned the key in my lock, and put
out my light.

" Herr Englander ! Herr Engliinder 1 " cried a servant's
voice, as a sharp knocking shook the door. I made no reply,
and he retreated.

It was clear to me that an invitation had been sent after me ;
and this thought filled the measure of my self-gratulation, and I
drew nigh my fire, to sit and weave the pleasantest fancies that
had crossed my mind for many a long day.

I waited for some time, sitting by the fire-light, and then
relit my lamp. I had a long letter to write to Mdlle. Sara ; for
up to then I had said nothing of my arrival, nor given any
account of the Schloss Hunyadi.

Had my task been simply to record my life and my im-
pressions of those around me at Hunyadi, nothing could well
have been much easier. My few days there had been actually
crammed with those small and pleasant incidents which tell well



SCHLOSS HUNYADI. 225

in gossiping correspondence. It was all, too, so strange, so
novel, so picturesque, that, to make an effective tableau of such
a life, was merely to draw on memory.

There was a barbaric grandeur, on the whole, in the vast
building ; its crowds of followers, its hordes of retainers who
came and went, apparently at no bidding but their own ; in the
ceaseless tide of travellers who, hospited for the night, went
their way on the morrow, no more impressed by the hospitality,
to all seeming, than by a thing they had their own valid right
to. Details there were of neglect and savagery, that even an
humble household might have been ashamed of, but these were
lost — submerged as it were — in that ocean of boundless extra-
vagance and cost, and speedily lost sight of.

It was now my task to tell Sara all this, coloured by the light,
a warm light, too, of my own enjoyment of it. I pictured the
place as I saw it, on the night I came, and told how I could not
imagine for a while in what wild region I found myself; I
narrated the way in which I was assigned my place in this
strange world, with Ober-jiigers and Unter-jagers for my friends,
who mounted me and often accompanied me in my rides ; how
I had seen the vast territories from hill -tops and eminences
which pertained to the great Count, boundless plains that
in summer would have been waving with yellow corn, and
far-stretching woods of oak or pine lost in the long dis-
tance ; and last of all, coming down to the very moment I
was writing, I related the incident by which I had been pro-
moted to the society of the castle, and how I had passed my
first evening.

My pen ran rapidly along as I told of the splendours and

15



226 THAT BOY OF NORCOTT'S.

magnificence of the scene, and of a company whose brilliant
costume filled up the measure of the enchantment. " They
pass and repass before me, in all their gorgeous bravery, as
I write ; the air vibrates with the music, and unconsciously
my foot keeps time with the measure of that Csardas, that
spins and whirls before me till my brain reels with a mad
intoxication."

It was only when I read over what I had written, that I
became aware of the questionable taste of recording these things
to one who perhaps was to read them after a day of heavy toil,
or a sleepless night of watching. What will she think of me,
thought I, if it be thus I seem to discharge the weighty trust
confided to me '? Was it to mingle in such revelries I came
here, or will she deem that these follies are the fitting prelude
to a grave and difficult negotiation ? For a moment I had half
determined to throw my letter in the fire, and limit myself
simply to saying that I had arrived, and was awaiting the
Count's return ; but my pride, or rather my vanity, carried the
day ; and I could not repress the delight I felt to be in a society
I clung to by so many interesting ties, and to show that here
I was in my true element — here breathing the air that was
native to me.

" I am not to be supposed to forget," I wrote, " that it was
not for these pleasures you sent me here, for I bear well in mind
why I have come, and what I have to do. Count Hunyadi is,
however, absent, and will not return before the end of the
week, by which time I fully hope that I shall have assured
such a position here as will mainly contribute to my ability to
serve you. I pray you, therefore, to read this letter by the



SCHLOSS HUNYADI. 227

light of the assurance I now give, and though I may seem
to lend myself too easily to pleasure, to believe that no
seductions of amusement, no flatteries of my self-love shall
turn me from the devotion I owe you, and from the fidelity to
which I pledge my life." With this I closed my letter and
addressed it.



228 THAT BOY OF NORCOTT'S.



CHAPTER XXVIII.



THE SALON.



The morning after my Csardas success, a valet in discreet black
brought me a message from tlie Countess that she expected to
see me at her table at dinner, and from him I learned the names
and rank of the persons I had met the night before. They were
all of that high noblesse which in Hungai-y assumes a sort of
family prestige, and by frequent intermarri&ge really possesses
many of the close familiar interests of the family. Austrians,
or indeed Germans from any part, are rarely received in these
intimate gatherings, and I learned with some surprise that the
only strangers were an English "lord" and his countess — so
the man styled them — who were then amongst the guests.
" The lord " was with the Count on the shooting excursion ; my
lady being confined to her room by a heavy cold she had caught
out sledging.

Shall I be misunderstood if I own that I was very sorry to
hear that an Englishman and a man of title was amongst the
company. Whatever favour foreigners might extend to any small
accomplishments I could lay claim to, I well knew would not
compensate in my countryman's eyes for my want of station.
In my father's house I had often had occasion to remark that



THE SALON. 229

while Englishmen freely admitted the advances of a foreigner,
and accepted his acquaintance with a courteous readiness, with
each other they maintained a cold and studied reserve ; as though
no difference of place or circumstance was to obliterate that
insular code which defines class, and limits each man to the
exact rank he belongs to.

When they shall see, therefore, thought I, how my titled
countryman will treat me — the distance at which he will hold
me — and the measured firmness with which he will repel — not
my familiarities, for I should not dare them — but simply the ease
of my manner— these foreigners will be driven to regard me as
some ignoble upstart who has no pretension whatever to be
amongst them. I was very unwilling to encounter this humilia-
tion. It was true I was not sailing under false colours. I had
assumed no pretensions from which I was now to retreat. I
had nothing to disown or disavow ; but still I was about to be
the willing guest of a society, to a place in which, in my own


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Online LibraryCharles James LeverThat boy of Norcott's → online text (page 14 of 17)