Charles James Lever.

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Cleremont ; but she did not leave her room the whole day. A

6



82 THAT BOY OF NORCOTT'S.

distinguislied hairdresser had arrived with a mysterious box early
in the morning, and after passing two hours engaged with her,
had returned for more toilet requirements. In fact, from the
coming and going of maids and dressmakers, it was evident that
the preparations of beauty were fully equal to those that were
being made by cooks and confectioners.

My father, too, was invisible ; his breakfast was served in his
own room ; and when Cleremont wished to communicate with
him, he had to do so in writing : and these little notes passed
unceasingly between them till late in the afternoon.

" What's up now?" I heard Hotham say, as Cleremont tore
up a note in pieces and flung the fragments from him with
impatience.

" Just like him. I knew exactly how it would be," cried the
other. " He sent a card of invitation to the Due de Bredar
without first making a visit ; and here comes the Due's chasseur
to say that his Excellency has not the honour of knowing the
gentleman who has been so gracious as to ask him to
dinner."

" Norcott will have him out for the impertinence," said
Hotham.

"And what will that do? Will the shooting him or the
being shot make this dinner go off as we meant it, eh ? Is that
for me, Nixon ? give it here." He took a note as he spoke, and
tore it open. " ' La Marquise de Carnac is engaged,' not a word
more. The world is certainly progressing in politeness. Three
cards came back this day with the words ' Sent by mistake '
written on them. Norcott does not know it yet, nor shall he
till to-morrow."



A BIKTHDAY DINNER. 83

"Is it true that the old Countess de Joievillars begged to
know who was to receive the ladies invited ?"

" Yes, it is true ; and I told her a piece of her own early
history in return, to assure her that no accident of choice should
be any bar to the hope of seeing her."

"What was the story?"

" I'd tell it if that boy of Norcott's was not listening there
at that window."

" Yes, sir," cried I ; "I have heard every word, and mean
to repeat it to my father when I see him."

" Tell him at the same time, then, that his grand dinner of
twenty-eight has now come down to seventeen, and I'm not fully
sure of three of these."

I went down into the dining-room, and saw that places had
been laid for twenty-eight, and as yet no alteration had been
made in the table, so that it at once occurred to me this speech
of Cleremont's was a mere impertinence — one of those insolent
sallies he was so fond of. Nixon, too, had placed the name of each
guest on his napkin, and he, at least, had not heard of any apologies.

Given in my honour, as this dinner was, I felt a most intense
interest in its success. I was standing, as it were, on the
threshold of life, and regarded the mode in which I should be
received as an augury of good or evil. My father's supremacy
at home, the despotism he wielded, and the respect and defer-
ence he exacted, led me to infer that he exercised the same
influence on the world at large ; and that, as I had often heard,
the only complaint against him in society was his exclusiveness.
I canvassed these thoughts with myself for hours, as I sat alone
in my room waiting till it was time to dress.



84 THAT BOY OF NORCOTT'S.

At last eight o'clock struck, and I went down into the draw-
ing-room. Hotham was there, in a window recess, conversing
in whispers with an Italian count — one of our intimates, but of
whom I knew nothing. They took no notice of me, so that I
took up a paper and began to read. Cleremont came in soon
after with a bundle of notes in his hand. " Has your father
come down ? " asked he, hastily ; and then, without waiting for
my reply, he turned and left the room. Madame next appeared.
I have no words for my admiration of her as, splendidly dressed
and glittering with diamonds, she swept proudly in. That her
beauty could have been so heightened by mere toilette seemed
incredible, and as she read my wonderment in my face she
smiled, and said : —

" Yes, Digby, I am looking my very best to fete your birth-
day."

I would have liked to have told her how lovely she appeared
to me, but I could only blush and gaze wonderingly on her.

" Button this glove, dear," said she, handing to me her
wrist all weighted and jingling with costly bracelets ; and while,
with trembling fingers, I was trying to obey her, my father
entered and came towards us. He made her a low but very-
distant bow, tapped me familiarly on the shoulder, and then
moved across to an arm-chair and sat down.

Cleremont now came in, and drawing a chair beside my
father's, leaned over and said something in a whisper. Not
seeming to attend to what he was sajdng, my father snatched
rather than took the bundle of letters he held in his hand, ran
his eyes eagerly over some of them ; and then, crushing the
mass in liis grasp, he threw it into the fire.



A BIRTHDAY DINNER. 85

" It is forty minutes past eight," said be, calmly, but witb a
deadly pallor in bis face. "Can any one tell me if tbat clock
be rigbt ? "

" It is eigbt or ten minutes slow," said Hotbam.

" WTiom do we wait for, Cleremont ? " asked my fatber
again.

" Steinmetz was ' de service ' mtb tbe King, but would come
if be got free ; and tbere's Rocbegude, tbe Frencb Secretary,
was to replace bis cbief. I'm not quite sure about tbe Walronds,
but Craydon told me positively to expect him.'"

"Do me tbe favour to ring tbe bell and order dinner," said
my fatber, and be spoke witb measured calm.

"Won't you wait a few minutes?" wbispered Cleremont.
" Tbe Duke de Frialmont, I'm sure, will be bere."

" No, sir ; we live in a society tbat understands and observes
punctuality. No breacb of it is accidental. Dinner, Nixon ! "
added be, as tbe servant appeared.

Tbe folding doors were tbrown wide almost at once, and
dinner announced. My fatber gave bis arm to Madame Clere-
mont, wbo actually tottered as sbe walked beside bim, and as
sbe sat down seemed on tbe verge of fainting. Just as we took
our places tbree young men, somewbat over-dressed, entered
hurriedly, and were proceeding to make their apologies for being
late ; but my fatber witb a chilling distance, assured them they
were in excellent time, and motioned them to be seated.

Of tbe table laid for twenty-eight guests, nine places were
occupied ; and these, by some mischance, were scattered bere
and there witb wide intervals. Madame Cleremont sat on my
father's rigbt, and three empty places flanked his left hand.



86 THAT BOY OF NORCOTT'S.

I sat opposite my father, with two vacant seats on either
side of me ; Hotham nearest to me, and one of the strangers
beside him. They conversed in a very low tone, but short
snatches and half sentences reached me ; and I heard the
stranger say, " It was too bold a step ; women are sure to resent
such attempts." Madame Cleremont's name, too, came up
three or four times ; and the stranger said, "It's my first
dinner here, and the Bredars will not forgive me for
coming."

" Well, there's none of them has such a cook as Norcott,"
said Hotham.

" I quite agree with you ; but I'd put up with a worse dinner
for better company."

I looked round at this to show I had heard the remark, and
from that time they conversed in a whisper.

My father never uttered a word during the dinner. I do
not know if he ate, but he helped himself and affected to eat.
As for madame, how she sat out those long two hours, weak
and fainting as she was, I cannot tell. I saw her once try to
lift her glass to her lips, but her hand trembled so, she set it
down untasted, and lay back in her chair, like one dying out of
exhaustion.

A few words and a faint attempt to laugh once or twice broke
the dead silence of the entertainment, which proceeded, however,
in all its stately detail, course after course, till the dessert was
handed round, and Tokay, in small gilt glasses, was served ; then
my father rose slowly, and drawing himself up to his full height,
looked haughtily around him. " May I ask my illustrious
friends," said he, " who have this day so graciously honoured me



A BIRTHDAY DINNER. 87

with their presence, to drink the health of my son, whose birth-
day we celebrate. There is no happier augury on entering life
than to possess the friendship and goodwill of those who stand
foremost in the world's honour. It is^ his great privilege to be
surrounded this day by beauty and by distinction. The great in
the arts of peace and war, and that loveliness which surpasses in
its fascination all other rewards, are around me, and I call upon
these to drink to the health of Digby Norcott."

All rose and drank ; Hotham lifted his glass high in air and
tried a cheer, but none joined him ; his voice died away,
and he sat down ; and for several minutes an unbroken silence
prevailed.

My father at last leaned over towards madame, and I heard
the word " coffee." She arose and took his arm, and we all
followed them to the drawing room.

" I'm right glad it's over," said Hotham, as he poured his
brandy over his coffee. " I've sat out a court-martial that wasn't
slower than that dinner."

" But what's the meaning of it all ? " asked another. " Why
and how came all these apologies ? "

" You'd better ask Cleremont, or rather his wife," muttered
Hotham, and moved away.

"You ought to get into the open air: that's the best thing
for you," I heard Cleremont say to his wife, but there was such
a thorough indifference in the tone, it sounded less like a kind-
ness than a sarcasm. She, however, drew a shawl around her
and moved down the steps into the garden. My father soon
after retired to his own room, and Cleremont, laughingly, said,
" There are no women here, and we may have a cigar ; " and



88 THAT BOY OF NOECOTTS.

lie threw his case across the table. The whole party were soon
immersed in smoke.

I saw that my presence imposed some restraint on the conver-
sation, and soon sought my room with a much sadder spirit and
a heavier heart than I had left it two hours before.



( 89 )



CHAPTER XII.



THE BALL.



Musing, and thinking, and fretting together, I had fallen asleep
on my sofa, and was awakened by Mr. Nixon lighting my candles,
and asking me, in a very mild voice, if I felt unwell.

" No, nothing of the kind."

" Won't you go down, sir, then ? It's past eleven now, and
there's a good many people below."

" Who have come ? " asked I, eagerly.

"Well sir," said he, with a certain degreee of hesitation,
" they're not much to talk about. There's eight or nine
young gentlemen of the embassies, — attaches like, — and there's
fifteen or twenty officers of the Guides, and there's some
more that look like travellers out of the hotels ; they ain't in
evening-dress."

" Are there no ladies ? "

" Yes ; I suppose we must call them ladies, sir. There's
Madame Rigault and her two daughters."

" The pastrycook ? "

"Yes, sir; and there are the Demoiselles Janson, of the
cigar-shop, and stunningly dressed they are, too ! Amber satin
with black lace, and Spanish veils on their heads. And there's



90 THAT BOY OF NOECOTT'S.

that little Swedish girl — I believe she's a Swede — that sells the
iced drinks."

" But what do you mean ? These people have not been
invited. How have they come here ? "

" Well, sir, I mustn't tell you a lie ; but I hope you'll not
betray me if I speak in confidence to you. Here's how it all
has happened. The swells all refused : they agreed together
that they'd not come to dinner, nor come in the evening.
Mr. Cleremont knows why ; but it ain't for me to say it."

"But I don't know, and I desire to know ! " cried I
haughtily.

" Well, indeed, sir, it's more than I can tell you. There's
people here not a bit correcter than herself that won't meet
her."

" Meet whom ? "

" Madame, sir — Madame Cleremont."

" Don't dare to say another word," cried I, passionately.
" If you utter a syllable of disrespect to that name I'll fling you
out of the window."

" Don't be afraid, Master Digby, I know my station, and I
never forget it, sir. I was only telling you what you asked me,
not a word more. The swells sent back your father's cards, and
there's more than three hundred of them returned."

" And where's papa now ? "

" In bed, sir. He told his valet he wasn't to be disturbed,
except the house took fire."

" Is Madame Cleremont below ? "

" No, sir ; she's very ill. The doctor has been with her,
and he's coming again to-night."



THE BALL. 93

" And are these people — tliis rabble that you talk of — received
as my papa's guests ? "

" Only in a sort of a way, sir," said he, smiling. " You see,
that when Mr. Cleremont perceived that there was nothing but
excuses and apologies pouring in, he told me to close the house,
and that we'd let all the bourgeois people into the grounds, and
give them a jolly supper and plenty of champagne ; and he sent
word to a many of the young officers to come up and have a
lark ; and certainly, as the supper was there, they might as well
eat it. The only puzzle is now, won't there be too many, for he
sent round to all Sir Koger's tradespeople, — all at least that has
good-looking daughters, — and they're pourin' in by tens and
fifteens, and right well dressed and well got up, too."

" And what will papa say to all this to-morrow ? "

** Don't you know, sir, that Sir Roger seldom looks back,"
said he, with a cunning look ; " he'll not be disturbed to-night,
for the house is shut up, and the bands are playing, one at the
lake, the other at the end of the long walk, and the suppers will
be Served here and there, where they can cheer and drink toasts '
without annoying anyone."

" It's a downright infamy ! " cried I.

" It ain't the correct thing, sure enough, sir, there's none of
us could say that, but it will be rare fun ; and as Captain
Hotham said, ' the women are a precious sight better looking
than the countesses.' "

" Where is Mr. Eccles ? "

" I saw him waltzing, sir, or maybe it was the polka, with
Madame Robineau just as I was coming up to you."

" I'll go down and tell Mr. Cleremont to dismiss his



92 THAT BOY OF NOECOTT'S.

friends," cried I, boiling over with anger. " Papa meant this
fete to celebrate my birthday. I'll not accept such rabble
congratulations. If Mr. Cleremont must have an orgie, let him
seek for another place to give it in."

" Don't go, master, don't, I entreat 3'ou," cried he implor-
ingly. " You'll only make a row, sir, and bring down Sir
Koger, and then who's to say what will happen ? He'll have a
dozen duels on his hands in half as many minutes. The officers
won't stand being called to account, and Sir Koger is not the
man to be sweet-tempered with them."

" And am I to see my father's name insulted, and his house
dishonoured by such a canaille crew as this ? "

" Just come down and see them. Master Digby ; prettier,
nicer girls you never saw in your life, and pretty behaved too.
Ask Mr. Eccles if he ever mixed with a nicer company. There
now, sir, slip on your velvet jacket — it looks nicer than that tail-
coat — and come down. They'll be all proud and glad to see you,
and won't she hold her head high that you ask to take a turn of
a waltz with you ! "

"And how should I face my father to-morrow?" said I,
blushing deeply.

" Might I tell you a secret. Master Digby ? " said he, leaning
over the table, and speaking almost in my ear.

"Go on," said I, drily.

" I know well, sir, you'll never throw me over, and what I'm
going to tell you is worth gold to you."

" Go on," cried I, for he had ceased to speak.

" Here it is, then," said he, with an effort. " The greatest
sorrow your father has, Master Digby, is that he thinks you have



THE BALL. 93

no spirit in you — that you're a mollycot. As he said one day to
Mr. Cleremont, ' You must teach him everything, he has no
" go " in himself : there's nothing in his nature but what some-
body else put into it.' "
" He never said that ! "
" I pledge you my oath he did."

*' Well, if he did, he meant it very differently from what
you do."

" There's no two meanings to it. There's a cheer ! " cried

he, running over to the window and flinging it wide. " I

wonder who's come now? Oh, it's the fireworks are beginning."

*' I'll go down," said I ; but out of what process of reasoning

came that resolve I am unable to tell.

"Maybe they won't be glad to see you," cried he, as he
helped me on with my jacket and arranged the heron's feathers
in my velvet cap. I was half faltering in my resolution, when I
bethought me of that charge of feebleness of character Nixon had
reported to me, and I determined, come what might, I could
show that I had a will and could follow it. In less than five
minutes after, I was standing under the trees in the garden
shaking hands with scores of people I never saw before, and
receiving the very politest of compliments and good wishes from
very pretty lips, aided by very expressive eyes.

" Here's Mademoiselle Pauline Delorme refuses to dance
with me," cried Eccles, "since she has seen the head of the
house. Digby, let me present you." And with this he led me
up to a very beautiful girl, who, though only the daughter of a
celebrated restaurateur of Brussels, might have been a princess,
so far as look and breeding and elegance were concerned.



94 THAT BOY OF NORCOTT'S.

" This is to be the correct thing," cried Cleremont. " We
open with a quadrille; take your partners, gentlemen, and to
your places."

Nothing could be more perfectly proper and decorous than
this dance. Tt is possible, perhaps, that we exceeded a little on
the score of reverential observances : we bowed and curtsied at
every imaginable opportunity, and with an air of homage that
smacked of a court ; and if we did raise our eyes to each other,
as we recovered from the obeisance, it was with a look of the
softest and most subdued deference. I really began to think
that the only hoydenish people I had ever seen were ladies and
gentlemen. As for Eccles, he wore an air of almost reverential
gravity, and Hotham was sternly composed. At last, however,
we came to the finish, and Cleremont, clapping his hands thrice,
called out "grand roncl ; " and taking his partner's arm within
his own, led off at a galop ; the music striking up one of Strauss's
wildest, quickest strains. Away he went down an alley, and we
all after him, stamping and laughing like mad. The sudden
revulsion from the quiet of the moment before was electric ; no
longer arm-in-arm, but with arms close clasped around the
waist, away we went over the smooth turf with a wild delight to
which the music imparted a thrilling ecstasy. Now through the
dense shade we broke into a blaze of light, where a great buffet
stood ; and round this we all swarmed at once, and glasses were
filled with champagne, and vivas shouted again and again ; and
I heard that my health was toasted, and a very sweet voice
— the lips were on my ear — whispered I know not what, but it
sounded very like wishing me joy and love, while others were
deafening me about long life and happiness.



THE BALL. 95

I do not remember, — I do not want to remember, — all the
nonsense I talked, and with a volubility quite new to me ; my
brain felt on fire with a sort of wild ecstasy, and as homage and
deference met me at every step, my every wish acceded to,
and each fancy that struck me hailed at once as bright inspira-
tion, no wonder was it if I lost m^'self in a perfect ocean of bliss.
I told Pauline she should be the queen of the fete, and ordered
a splendid wreath of flowers to be brought, which I placed upon
her brow, and saluted her with her title, amidst the cheering
shouts of willing toasters. Except to make a tour of a waltz
or a polka with some one I knew, I would not permit her to
dance with any but myself; and she, I must say, most gi-aciously
submitted to the tp-anny, and seemed to delight in the extra-
vagant expressions of my admiration for her.

If I was madly jealous of her, I felt the most overwhelming
delight in the praises bestowed upon her beauty and her graceful-
ness. Perhaps the consciousness that I was a mere boy, and
that thus a freedom might be used towards me tbat would bave
been reprehensible with one older, led her to treat me with a
degree of intimacy that was positively captivating; and before
our third waltz was over, I was calling her Pauline, and she
calling me Digby, like old friends.

"Isn't that boy of Norcott's going it to-night?" I heard
a man say as I swung past in a polka, and I turned fiercely
to catch the speaker's eye, and show him I meant to call him
to book.

" Eh, Eccles, your pupil is a credit to you ! " cried another.

" I'm a Dutchman if that fellow doesn't rival his father."

"He'll be far and away beyond him," muttered another;



96 THAT BOY OF NOECOTT'S.

" for he has none of Norcott's crotchets — he's a scamp * pur
et simple.' "

"Where are you breaking away from me, Digby?" said
Pauline, as I tried to shake myself free of her.

"I want to follow those men. I have a word to say to
them."

" You shall do no such thing, dearest," muttered she. " You
have just told me, I am to be your little wife, and I'm not going
to see my husband rushing into a stupid quarrel."

" And you are mine then," cried I, " and you will wear this
ring as a betrothal? Come, let me take off your glove."

" That will do, Digby : that's quite enough for courtesy and
a little too much for deference," whispered Eccles in my ear ;
for I was kissing her hand about a hundred times over, and she
laughing at my raptures as an excellent joke. " I think you'd
better lead the way to supper."

Secretly resolving that I would soon make very short work
of Mr. Eccles and his admonitions, I gave him a haughty glance
and moved on. I remember very little more than that I walked
to the head of the table and placed Pauline on my right. I
know I made some absurd speech in return for'their drinking
my health, and spoke of us, and what tve — Pauline and myself
— felt, and with what pleasure we should see our friends often
around us, and a deal of that tawdry trash that comes into a
brain addled with noise and heated with wine. I was frequently
interi'upted ; uproarious cheers at one moment would break
forth, but still louder laughter would ring out and convulse the
whole assembly. Even addled and confused as I was, I could
see that some were my partisans and friends, who approved of



THE BALL. 97

all I said, and wished me to give a free course to my feelings ;
and there were others — two or three — who tried to stop me :
and one actually said aloud, " If that boy of Norcott's is not
supi^ressed, we shall have no supper."

Recalled to my dignity as a host by this impertinence, I
believe I put some restraint on my eloquence, and I now
addressed myself to do the honours of the table. Alas, my
attentions seldom strayed beyond my lovely neighbour, and
I firmly believed that none could remark the rapture with which
I gazed on her, or as much as suspected that I had never quitted
the grasp of her hand from the moment we sat down.

" I suspect you'd better let mademoiselle dance the cotillon
with the Count Vauglas," whispered Eccles in my ear.

" And why, sir ? " rejoined I, half fiercely.

" I think you might guess," said he, with a smile ; " at least
you could if you were to get up."

"And would she — would Pauline — I mean, would Made-
moiselle Delorme — approve of this arrangement ? "

" No, Monsieur Digby, not if it did not come from. you.
"We shall sit in the shade yonder for half an hour or so, and
then, when you are rested, we'll join the cotillon."

" Get that boy off to bed, Eccles," said Cleremont, who did
not scruple to utter the words aloud.

I started up to make an indignant rejoinder; some fierce
insult was on my lips ; but passion, and excitement, and wine
mastered me, and I sank back on my seat overcome and sense-
less.



98 THAT BOY OF NORCOTT'S.



CHAPTER XIII.



A NEXT MORNING.



I COULD not awake on the day after the fete. I was conscious
that Nixon was making a considerable noise — that he shut and
opened doors and windows, splashed the water into my bath,
and threw down my boots with an unwonted energy ; but through
all this consciousness of disturbance I slept on, and was deter-
mined to sleep, let him make what uproar he pleased.

" It's nigh two o'clock, sir ! " whispered he in my ear, and I
replied by a snort.

" I'm very sorry to be troublesome, sir ; but the master is
very impatient : he was getting angry when I went in last time."


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Online LibraryCharles James LeverThat boy of Norcott's → online text (page 6 of 17)