Charles James Lever.

That boy of Norcott's online

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capacity, it may be your pleasure to recognize me, or whether
it might not chime better with your convenience to ignore
me altogether, I write now to submit myself entirely to your
will and guidance, being in this, as in all things, your dutiful
and obedient son."

The words came from her pen as rapidly as her fingers could
move across the paper ; and as she finished, she pushed it towards
me, saying :

" There, — put Digby Norcott there, and it is all done ! "

"This is a matter to think over," said I gravely, "I may
be compromising other interests than my own by signing


" Those Jews of yours have imbued you well with their
cautious spirit, I see," said she scoffingly,

" They have taught me no lessons I am ashamed of, madam,"
said I, reddening with anger.

" I declare, I don't know you as the Digby of long ago ! I
fancied I did, when I heard those ladies coming upstairs each
night, so charmed with all your graceful gifts, and so eloquent
over all your fascinations ; and now, as you stand there, word-
splitting, and phrase-weighing, canvassing what it might cost you
to do this, or where it would lead you to say that, I ask myself,
is this the boy of whom his father said, — ' Above all things, he
shall be a gentleman ? ' "

" To one element of that character, madam, I will try and
preserve my claim — no provocation shall drive me to utter a rude-
ness to a lady."

" This is less breeding than calculation, young gentleman.
I read such iiatures as yours as easily as a printed book."

"I ask nothing better, madam; my only fear would be
that you should mistake me, and imagine that any deference
to my father's views would make me forget my mother's rights."

" So then," cried she with a mocking laugh, "you have got
your courage up so far — you dare me ! Be advised, however,
and do not court such an unequal contest. I have but to choose
in which of a score of ways I could crush you — do you mark me ?
crush you ! You will not always be as lucky as you were this
morning in the riding-school."

" Great heaven ! " cried I, " was this then of your devising ? "

" You begin to have a glimpse of whom you have to deal
with ? Go back to your room and reflect on that knowledge, and


if it end in persuading you to quit this place at once, and never
return to it, it will be a wise resolve."

I was too mucli occupied with the terrible fact that she had
already conspired against my life to heed her words of counsel,
and I stood there stunned and confused.

In the look of scorn and hate she threw on me, she seemed
to exult over my forlorn and bewildered condition.

'* I scarcely think there is any need to prolong this interview,"
said she at last, with an easy smile ; " each of us is by this time
aware of the kindly sentiments of the other ; is it not so ? "

" I am going, madam," I stammered out ; " good-by."

She made a slight movement, as I thought, towards me ; but
it was in reality the prelude to a deep curtsey, while in her
sweetest of accents she whispered, " Au revoir, Monsieur Digby,
au revoir." I bowed deeply and \vithdrew.




Of all the revulsions of feeling that can befall the heart, I know
of none to compare in poignant agony with the sudden conscious-
ness that you are hated where once you were loved ; that where
once you had turned for consolation or sympathy you have now
nothing to expect but coldness and distrust ; that the treasure of
affection on which you had counted against the^day of adversity
had proved bankrupt, and nothing remained of all its bright
hopes and promise but bitter regrets and sorrowful repinings.

It was in the very last depth of this spirit I now locked
myself in my room to determine what I should do, by what course
I should shape my future. I saw the stake for which Madame
Cleremont was playing. She had resolved that my mother's
marriage should be broken, and she herself declared Lady
Norcott. That my father might be brought to accede to such a
plan was by no means improbable. Its extravagance and its
enormity would have been great inducements, had he no other
interest in the matter.

I began to canvass with myself how persons poor and friend-
less could possibly meet the legal battle which this question
should originate, and how my mother, in her destitution and


poverty, could contend against the force of the wealth that would
be opposed to her. It had only been by the united efforts of her
relatives and friends, all eager to support her in such a cause,
that she had been enabled to face the expenses of the suit my
father had brought on the question of my guardianship. How
could she again sustain a like charge ? Was it likely that her
present condition would enable her to fee leaders on circuit and
bar magnates, to pay the costs of witnesses, and all the endless
outgoings of the law ?

So long as I lived, I well knew my poor mother would com-
promise none of the rights that pertained to me ; but if I could be
got rid of — and the event of the morning shot through my mind
— some arrangement with her might not be impossible — at least,
it was open to them to think so ; and I could well imagine that
they would build on such a foundation. It was not easy to
imagine a woman like Madame Cleremont, a person of the most
attractive manners, beautiful, gifted, and graceful, capable of a
great crime ; but she herself had shown me more than once in
fiction the portraiture of an individual, who, while shrinking
with horror from the coarse contact of guilt, would willingly set
the springs in motion which ultimately conduce to the most
appalling disasters. I remember even her saying to me one
day, — "It is in watching the terrible explosions their schemes
have ignited, that cowards learn to taste what they fancy to be
the ecstasy of courage."

While I thought what a sorry adversary I should prove
against such a woman, with all the wiles of her nature, and all
the seductions by which she could display them, my eyes fell
upon the packet from Fiume, which still lay with its seal un-


broken. I broke it open half carelessly. It contained an
envelope marked " letters," and the following note : —

" Hekr Owen, — With this, you are informed that the house of
Hodnig and Oppovich has failed, dockets of bankruptcy having
been yesterday declared against that firm : the usual assignees
will be duly appointed by the court to liquidate, on such terms
as the estate permits. Present liabilities are currently stated as
below eight millions of florins. Actual property will not meet
half that sum.

" Further negotiations regarding the Hunyadi contract on
your part are consequently unnecessary, seeing that the most
favourable conditions you could obtain would in nowise avert or
even lessen the blow that has fallen on the house.

" I am directed to enclose you by bill the sum of two
hundred and eighteen florins, twenty-seven ki-eutzers, which, at
the current exchange, will pay your salary to the end of the
present quarter, and also to state that, having duly acknowledged
the receipt of this sum to me by letter, you are to consider yourself
free of all engagement to the house. I am also instructed to
say that your zeal and probity will be duly attested when any
reference is addressed to the managers of this estate.

" I am, with accustomed esteem and respect,
" Your devoted servant,

" Jacob Ulrich.

" P.S. — Herr Ignaz is, happily for him, in a condition that
renders him unconscious of his calamity. The family has
retired for the present to the small cottage near the gate of the


Abazzia Villa, called ' Die Hiitte,' but desires complete privacy,
and declines all condolences. — J. U.

" 2nfZ P.S. — The enclosed letters have arrived here during
your absence."

So intensely imbued was my mind with suspicion and dis-
trust, that it was not till after long and careful examination I
satisfied myself that this letter was genuine, and that its con-
tents might be taken as true. The packet it enclosed would,
however, have resolved all doubt : they were three letters from
my dear mother. Frequent reference was made to other letters
which had never reached me, and in which it was clear the mode
in which she had learned my address was explained. She also
spoke of Sara as of one she knew by correspondence, and gave
me to understand how she was following every little humble
incident of my daily life with loving interest and afifection. She
enjoined me by all means to devote myself heartily and wholly
to those who had befriended me so generously, and to merit the
esteem of that good girl, who, caring nothing for herself, gave
her heart and soul to the service of her father.

" I have told you so much," said she, " of myself in former
letters " (these I never saw) " that I shall not weary you with
more. You know why I gave up the school, and through what
reasonings I consented to call myself Lady Norcott, though in
such poverty as mine the assumption of a title only provoked
ridicule. Mr. M^Bride, however, persuaded me that a voluntary
surrender of my position might be made terrible use of against
me, should — what I cannot believe — the attempt ever be made
to question the legality of my marriage with your father.


" It has been so constantly repeated, however, that Sir Roger
means to marry this lady — some say they are already married —
that I have had careful abstracts made of the registry, and every
detail duly certified which can establish your legitimacy — not
that I can bring myself to believe your father would ever raise
that question. Strangely enough, my allowance, left unpaid for
several years, was lately resumed, and Foster and Wall received
orders to acknowledge my drafts on them, for what, I concluded,
were meant to cover all the arrears due. As I had already tided
over these years of trial and pressure, I refused all save the sum
due for the current year, and begged to learn Sir Roger's address
that I might write to him. To this they replied ' that they had
no information to give me on the subject ; that their instruc-
tions, as regarded payments to me, came to them from the house
of Rodiger, in Frankfort, and in the manner and terms already
communicated to me,' — all showing me that the whole was a
matter of business, into which no sentiment was to enter, or be
deemed capable of entering."

It was about this period my mother came to learn my
address, and she avowed that all other thoughts and cares were
speedily lost in the whirlpool of joy these tidings swept around
her. Her eagerness to see me grew intense, but was tempered
by the fear lest her selfish anxiety might prejudice me in that
esteem I had already won from my employers, of whom, strangely
enough, she spoke freely and familiarly, as though she had
known them.

The whole tone of these letters — and I read them over and
over — calmed and reassured me. Full of personal details, they
were never selfish in its unpleasant sense. They often spoke of


poverty, but rather as a thing to be baffled by good-humoured
contrivance or rendered endurable by habit than as matter for
complaint and bewailment. Little dashes of light-heartedness
would now and then break the dark sombreness of the picture,
and show how her spirit was yet alive to life and its enjoyments.
Above all, there was no croaking, no foreboding. She had lived
through some years of trial and sorrow, and if the future had
others as gloomy in store it was time enough when they came to
meet their exigencies.

WTiat a blessing was it to me to get these at such a time ! I
no longer felt myself alone and isolated in the world. There
was, I now knew, a bank of aifection at my disposal at which I
could draw at will ; and what an object for my imitation was that
fine courage of hers, that took defeats as mere passing shadows,
and was satisfied to fight on to the end, ever hopeful and ever

How I would have liked to return to Madame Cleremont,
and read her some passages of these letters, and said, " And
this is the woman you seek to dethrone, and whose place you
would fill ! This is she whose rival you aspire to be. What
think you of the contest now ? Which of you should prove the
winner ? Is it with a nature like this you would like to measure

How I would have liked to have dared her to such a combat,
and boldly declared that I would make my father himself the
umpire as to the worthier. As to her hate or her vengeance
she had as much as promised me both, but I defied them ; and
I believed I even consulted my safety by open defiance. As I
thus stimulated myself with passionate counsels, and burned


with eagerness for the moment I might avow them, I flung
open my window for fresh air, for my excitement had risen to
actual fever.

It was very dark without. Night had set in about two hours,
but no stars had yet shone out, and a thick impenetrable black-
ness pervaded everywhere. Some peasants were shovelling the
snow in the court beneath, making a track from the gate to the
house-door, and here and there a dimly burning lantern attached
to a pole would show where the work was being carried out. As
it was about the time of the evening when travellers were wont
to arrive, the labour was pressed briskly forward, and I could
hear an overseer's voice urging the men to increased zeal and

" There has been a snow-mountain fallen at Miklos, they
say," cried one, " and none can pass the road for many a day."

" If they cannot come from Pesth, they can come from
Hermanstadt, from Temesvar, from Klausenberg. Guests can
come from any quarter," cried the overseer.

I listened with amusement to the discussion that followed ;
the various sentiments they uttered as to whether this system of
open hospitality raised the character of a country, or was not a
heavy mulct out of the rights which the local poor possessed on
the properties of their rich neighbours.

" Every flask of Tokayer drunk at the ujiper table," cried
one, *' is an eimer of Mediasch lost to the poor man."

" That is the true way to look at it," cried another. " We
want neither Counts nor Tokayer."

" That was a Saxon dog barked there ! " called out the overseer.
" No Hungarian ever reviled what his land is most famed for."


"Here come travellers now," shouted one from the gate.
" I hear horses at full speed on the Klausenberg road."

" Lanterns to the gate, and stand free of the road," cried
the overseer ; and now the scene became one of striking excite-
ment, as the lights flitted rapidly from place to place ; the great
arch of the gate being accurately marked in outline, and the
deep cleft in the snow lined on either side by lanterns suspended
between posts.

" They're coming at a furious pace," cried one ; " they've
passed the toll-bridge at full gallop.

" Then it's the Count himself," chimed in another. " There's
none but he could force the toll-bar."

" It's a country waggon, with four juckers ; and here it
comes ; " and as he spoke four sweating horses swung through
the gateway, and came full speed into the court.

"Where is Kitzlach? Call Kitzlach ! call the doctor!"
screamed a voice from the waggon. " Tell him to come down
at once."

" Out with the juckers, and harness a fresh team," cried the
same voice. And now, as he descended from the waggon, he
was surrounded with eager figures, all anxious to hear his tidings.
As I could gather nothing from where I was, I hastily threw on
a fur coat, and made my way down to the court. I soon learned
the news. A terrible disaster had befallen the hunting-party.
A she-boar, driven frantic by her wounds, had dashed suddenly
into the midst of them, slightly wounded the Count and his
head Jager, but dangerously one of the guests, who had sustained
a single combat with her and killed her ; not, however, without
grievous injury to himself, for a large blood-vessel had been


severed ; all the efforts to staunch which had heen but half

" Have you your tourniquet, doctor ? " cried the youth from
the waggon, as the equipage was turned again to the gate.

" Everything — everj'thing."

"You'll want any quantity of lint and bandages: and,
remember, nothing can be had down yonder."

" Make your mind easy ! I've forgotten nothing. Just keep
your beasts quiet till I get up."

I drew nigh as he was about to mount, and whispered a word
in his ear.

"I don't know," said he, gruffly. "I can't see why j'ou
should ask."

" Why don't j^ou get up ? " cried the youth, impatiently.
. " There's a young fellow here importuning me to ask you for
a place in the waggon. He thinks he knows this stranger."

" Let him get in at once, then ; and let's have no more
delays." And scarcely had we scrambled to our places, than the
loud whip resounded with the quick, sharp report of pistol-shots,
and the beasts sprung out at once, rushed through the narrow
gateway, and were soon stretching along at their topmost pace
through impenetrable blackness.

Crouching in the straw at the bottom of the waggon, I crept
as closely as I could to where the doctor was seated beside the
young man who drove. I was eager to hear what I could of
the incident that had befallen ; but, to my great disappointment,
they spoke in Hungarian, and all I could gather, from certain
dropping expressions, was, that both the Count and his English
friend had been engaged in some rivalry of personal daring, and


that the calamity had come of this insane contest. " They'll
never say, ' Mad as a Hunyadi ' any longer up at Lees. They'll
say, ' Mad as an Englishman.' "

The young fellow spoke in wondrous admiration of the
wounded man's courage and coolness, and described how he had
taught them to pass a light ligature round his thigh, and tighten
it further by inserting a stick to act as a screw. " Up to that,"
said he, " he had been bleeding like a tapped Wein-fass ; and
then he made them give him large goblets of strong Bordeaux,
to sustain him."

" He's a bold-hearted fellow then ? " said the doctor,

*' The Count declares he has never met his equal. They
were alone together when I started, for the Englishman said he
had something for the Count's own ear and begged the others to

" So he thought himself in danger ? "

" That he did. I saw him myself take off a large signet
ring and lay it on the table beside his watch, and he pointed
them out to Hunyadi as he came in and r -id something in
English ; but the Count rejoined quickly, ' No, no. It's not
come to that j'et.' "

While they spoke slowly, I was able to gather, at least the
meaning of what passed between them, but I lost all clue so
soon as they talked eagerly and rapidly, so that, confused by the
unmeaning sounds, and made drowsy by the fresh night-air, I at
last fell off into a hea\'y sleep.

I was awakened by the noise of the wheels, over a paved
street. I looked up, and saw, by the struggling light of a
breaking dawn, that we were in a village where a number of



people were awaiting us. "Have you brouglit the doctor?"
"Where is the doctor?" cried several together; and he was
scarcely permitted to descend, so eager were they to seize and
carry him off.

A dense crowd was gathered before the door of a small two-
storied house, into which the doctor now disappeared; and I,
mixing with the mass, tried as best I might to ask how the
wounded man was doing, and what hopes there were of his life.
While I thus went from one to another vainly endeavouring to
make my question intelligible, I heard a loud voice cry out
in German, " Where is the young fellow who says he knows
him ? "

" Here," cried I, boldly. " I believe I know him — I am
almost sure I do."

" Come to the door then, and look in ; do not utter a word,"
cried a tall dark man, I soon knew to be Count Hunyadi.
"Mind, sir, for your life sake, that you don't disturb him."

I crept on tiptoe to the slightly opened door, and looked in.
There, on a mattress on the floor, a tall man was lying, while the
doctor knelt beside him, and seemed to press with all his weight
on his thigh. The sick man slowly turned his face to the light,
and it was my father ! my knees trembled, my sight grew dim —
strength suddenly forsook me, and I fell powerless and senseless
to the ground.

They were bathing my face and temples with vinegar and
water to rally me when the doctor came to say the sick man
desired to see me. In a moment the blood rushed to my head,
and I cried out, "I am ready."

" Be calm, sir, A mere word, a gesture, may prove fatal to


him," whispered the doctor to me. " His Hfe hangs on a

Count Hunyadi was kneehng beside my father, and evidently
trying to catch some faint words he was saying, as I stole
forward and knelt down by the bedside. My father turned his
eyes slowly round till they fell upon me, — when their expression
suddenly changed from the look of weary apathy to a stare of
full and steadfast meaning — intense, indeed, in significance ; but
I dare not say that this conveyed anything like love or affection
for me.

*' Come closer," cried he, in a hoarse whisper. "It is Digby, is
it not ? This boy is my son, Hunyadi," he said, with an increased
effort. " Give me your hand." He took my trembling fingers
in his cold moist hand, and passed the large signet ring over my
second finger. " He is my heir. Gentlemen," he cried in a tone
at once haughty and broken by debility, " my name, my title,
my fortune all pass to him. By to-morrow you will call him
Sir Digby "

He could not finish — his lips moved without a sound. I was
conscious of no more than being drawn heavily across the floor,
not utterly bereft of reason, but dulled and stunned as if from
the effect of a heavy blow.

When I was able I crept back to the room. It was now the
decline of day. A large white cavalry cloak covered the body.
I knelt down beside it, and cried with a bursting heart till late
into the nisfht.




Of what followed that night of mourning I remember but
snatches and brief glimpses. There is nothing more positively
torturing to the mind in sorrow. than the way in which the mere
excitement of grief robs the intellect of all power of perspective,
and gives to the smallest, meanest incidents the prominence and
force of great events. It is as though the jar given to the
nervous system had untuned us for the entire world, and all
things come amiss. I am sure, indeed, I know it would have
been impossible to have met more gentle and considerate kind-
ness than I now experienced on every hand, and yet I lived in a
sort of feverish irritability, as though expecting each moment
to have my position questioned, and my right to be there disputed.

In obedience to the custom of the country, it was necessary
that the funeral should take place within forty-eight hours after
death, and though all the details had been carefully looked to by
the Count's orders, certain questions still should be asked of me,
and my leave obtained for certain acts.

The small Church of Hunyadi-Naglos was fixed on for the
last resting-place. It contained the graves of eight generations


of Hunyadis, and to accord a place amongst them to a stranger
and a Protestant was deemed a high honour. Affliction seemed
to have developed in me all the pride of my race, for I can recall
with what sullen hauteur I heard of this concession, and rather
took it as a favour accorded than accepted. An overweening
sense of all that my father himself would have thought due to
his memory was on me, and I tortured my mind to think that
no mark of honour he would have desired should he forgotten.
As a soldier, he had right to a soldier's funeral, and a " Honved "
battalion, with their hand, received orders to be present. For
miles around the landed gentry and nobles poured in, with hosts
of followers. Next to a death in battle, there was no such noble
death as in the hunting-field, and the splendid prowess of my
father's achievement had won him imperishable honour.

All was conducted as if for the funeral of a magnate of
Hungary. The titles and rank of the deceased were proclaimed
aloud as we entered the graveyard, and each whose station en-
titled him to be thought a friend came forward and kissed the

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Online LibraryCharles James LeverThat boy of Norcott's → online text (page 16 of 17)