Charles James Lever.

That boy of Norcott's online

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These words served to dispel my drowsiness at once, and the
mere thought of my father's displeasure acted on me like a
strong stimulant.

" Does papa want me ?" cried I, sitting up in bed ; " did you
say papa wanted me ?"

"Yes, sir," said a deep voice; and my father entered the
room, dressed for the street, and with his hat on.

" You may leave us," said he to Nixon ; and as the man
withdrew my father took a chair and sat down close to my


" I have sent three messages to you this morning," said he,
gravely, " and am forced at last to come myself."

I was beginning my apologies, when he stopped me, and
said, " That will do ; I have no wish to he told why you overslept
3'ourself ; indeed I have already heard more on that score than
I care for."

He paused, and though perhaps he expected me to say some-
thing, I was too much terrified to speak.

" I perceive," said he, " you understand me : you apprehend
that I know of your doings of last night, and that any attempt
at excuse is hopeless. I have not come here to reproach you for
your misconduct ; I reproach myself for a mistaken estimate of
you ; I ought to have known — and if you had been a horse I
would have known — that your cross-hreeding would tell on you.
The had drop was sure to betray itself. I will not dwell on this,
nor have I time. Your conduct last night makes my continued
residence here impossible. I cannot continue in a city where
my tradespeople have become my guests, and where the honours
of my house have been extended to my tailor and my butcher.
I shall leave this, therefore, as soon as I can conclude my
arrangements to sell this place : you must quit it at once.
Eccles will be ready to start with you this evening for the Ehine,
and then for the interior of Germany — I suspect Weimar will
do. He will be paj-master, and you will conform to his wishes
strictly as regards expense. Whether you study or not, whether
you employ your time profitably and creditably, or whether you
pass it in indolence, is a matter that completely regards yourself.
As for me, my conscience is acquitted when I provide you with
the means of acquirement, and I no more engage you to benefit


by these advantages, than I do to see you eat the food that is
placed before you. The compact that unites us enjoins distinct
duties from each. You need not write to me till I desire you
to do so ; and when I think it proper we should meet I will
tell you."

If, while he spoke these harsh words to me, the slightest
touch of feelings had one trace of even sorrow crossed his face,
— my whole heart would have melted at once, and I would have
thrown myself at his feet for forgiveness. There was, however,
a something so pitiless in his tone, and a look so full of scorn in
his steadfast eye, that every sentiment of pride within me — that
same pride I inherited from himself — stimulated me to answer
him; and I said boldly, — " If the people I saw here last night
were not as well born as your habitual guests, sir, I'll venture
to say there was nothing in their manner or deportment to be
ashamed of."

*' I am told that Mdlle. Pauline Delorme was charming," said
he ; and the sarcasm of his glance covered me wdth shame and
confusion. He had no need to say more : I could not utter
a word.

" This is a topic I will not discuss with you, sir," said he,
after a pause. " / intended you to be a gentleman, and to live
with gentlemen. You7' tastes incline differently, and I make no
opposition to them. As I have told you already, I was willing
to launch you into life : I'll not engage to be your pilot. Any
interest I take, or could take in you, must be the result of your
own qualities. These have not impressed me strongly up to
this : and were I to judge by what I have seen, I should send
you back to those you came from."


" Do so, then, if it will only give me back the nature I
brought away with me!" cried I passionately; and my throat
swelled till I felt almost choked with emotion.

" That nature," said he, with a sneer on the word, " was
costumed, if I remember right, in a linen blouse and a pair of
patched shoes ; and I believe they have been preserved along with
some other family relics."

I bethought me at once of the tower and its humble furniture,
and a sense of terror overcame me, that I was in presence of one
who could cherish hate with such persistence.

" The fumes of your last night's debauch are some excuse for
your bad manners, sir," said he, rising. " I leave you to sleep
them off ; only remember that the train starts at eight this
evening, and it is my desire you do not miss it."

With this he left me. I arose at once and began to dress.
It was a slow proceeding, for I would often stop, and sit down to
think w^hat course would best befit me to take at this moment.
At one instant it seemed to me I ought to follow him, and
declare that the splendid slavery in which I lived had no charm
for me — that the faintest glimmering of self-respect and inde-
pendence was more my ambition than all the luxuries that sur-
rounded me ; and when I had resolved I would do this, a
sudden dread of his presence — his eye, that I could never face
without shrinking — the tones of his voice, that smote me
like a lash, — so abashed me that I gave up the effort with
. despair.

Might he not consent to give me some pittance — enough to
save her from the burden of my support — and send me back to
my mother ? Oh, if I could summon courage to ask this ! This


assistance need be continued only for a few years, for I hoped
and believed I should not always have to live as a dependant.
"What if I were to write him a few lines to this purport? I
could do this even better than speak it.
I sat down at once and began :

" Dear papa," — he would never permit me to use a more
endearing word. " Dear papa, I hope you will forgive me
troubling you about myself and my future. I would like to fit
myself for some career or calling by which I might become
independent. I could work very hard and study very closely if
I were back with my mother."

As I reached this far, the door opened and Eccles

" All right ! " cried he ; " I was afraid I should catch you in
bed still, and I'm glad 3-ou're up and preparing for the road.
Are you nearly ready?"

" Not quite ; I wanted to write a letter before I go. I was
just at it."

" Write from Verviers or Bonn ; you'll have lots of time on
the road."

" Ay, but my letter might save me from the journey if I sent
it off now."

He looked amazed at this, and I at once told him my plan
and showed him what I had written.

" You don't mean to say you'd have courage to send this to
your father?"

"And why not?"

" Well, all I have to say is, don't do it till I'm off the
premises ; for I'd not be here when he reads it for a trifle. My


dear Digby," said he, with a changed tone, " you don't know Sir
Roger ; you don't know the violence of his temper if he imagines
himself what he calls outraged, which sometimes means ques-
tioned. Take your hat and stick, and go seek your fortune, in
Heaven's name, if you must ; but don't set out on your life's
journey with a curse or a kick, or possibly both. If I preach
patience, my dear boy, I have had to practise it too. Put up
your traps in your portmanteau ; come down and take some
dinner : we'll start with the night-train ; and take my word for
it, we'll have a jolly ramble and enjoy ourselves heartily. If I
know anything of life, it is that there's no such mistake in the
world as hunting up annoyances. Let them find us if they can,
but let us never run after them."

*' My heart is too heavy for such enjoyment as you
talk of."

" It won't be so to-morrow, or at all events the day after.
Come, stir yourself now with your packing ; a thought has just
struck me that you'll be very grateful to me for, when I tell
it you."

** What is it ?" asked I half carelessly.

" You must ask with another guess-look in your eye if you
expect me to tell you."

" You could tell me nothing that would gladden me."

" Nor propose anything that you'd like ?" asked he.

" Nor that either," said I despondingly.

" Oh, if that be the case, I give up my project ; not that it
was much of a project after all. What I was going to suggest
was, that instead of dining here we should put our traps into a
cab, and drive down to Delorme's and have a pleasant little


dinner there, in the garden ; it's quite close to the railroad, so
that we could start at the last whistle."

" That does sound pleasantly," said I ; " there's nothing
more irksome in its way than hanging about a station waiting
for departure."

" So then 3-ou agree?" cried he, with a malicious twinkle in
his eye that I affected not to understand.

"Yes," said I indolently; "I see little against it; and if
nothing else, it saves me a leave-taking with Captain Hotham
and Cleremont."

" By the way, you are not to ask to see madame ; your father
reminded me to tell you this. The doctors say she is not to he
disturbed on any account. What a chance that I did not forget
this ! "

Whether it was that I was too much concerned for my own
misfortunes to have a thought that was not selfish, or that
another leave-taldng that loomed in the distance was upjiermost
in my thoughts, certain it is I felt this privation far less acutely
than I might.

" She's a nice little woman, and deserves a better lot than
she has met with."

" "VVTiat sort of dinner will Delorme give us ?" said I, afiecting
the air of a man about town, but in reality throwing out the bait
to lead the talk in that direction.

" First-rate, if we let him: that is, if we only say, * Order
dinner for us, Monsieur Pierre.' There's no man understands
such a mandate more thoroughly."

"Then that's what I shall say," cried I, "as I cross his


" He'll serve you Madeira with your soup, and Steinberger
with your fish, thirty francs a bottle, each of them."

'' Be it so. We shall drink to our pleasant journey," said I ;
and I actually thought my voice had caught the tone and cadence
of my father's as I spoke.




While I strolled into the garden to select a table for our dinner,
Eccles went in search of Mr. Delorme, and though he had
affected to say that the important duty of devising the feast
should be confided to the host, I could plainly see that my
respected tutor accepted his share in that high responsibility.

I will only say of the feast in question that, though I was
daily accustomed to the admirable dinners of my father's table,
I had no conception of what exquisite devices in cookery coult;
be produced by the skill of an accomplished restaurateur, left
free to his own fancy, and without limitation as to the bill.

One thing alone detracted from the perfect enjoyment of the
banquet. It was the appearance of Mr. Delorme himself, white-
cravated and gloved, canning in the soup. It, was an attention
that he usually reserved for great personages, royalties, or high
dignitaries of the court ; and I was shocked that he should have
selected me for the honour, not the less as it was only a few
hours before he and I had been drinking champagne with much
clinking of glasses together, and interchanging the most affec-
tionate vows of eternal friendship.

I arose fi'om my chair to salute him, but, as he deposited the


tureen upon the table, be stepped back and bowed low, and
retreated in this fashion, with the same humble reverence at
every step, till he was lost in the distance.

" Sit down," said Eccles, with a peculiar look, as though to
warn me that I was forgetting my dignity ; and then, to divert
my attention, he added, " That green seal is an attention
Delorme oifers you — a very rare favour too — a bottle of his own
peculiar Johannisberg. Let us drink his health. Now, Digby,
I call this something very nigh perfection."

It was a theme my tutor understood thoroughly, and there
was not a dish nor a wine that he did not criticize.

" I was always begging your father to take this cook, Digby,"
said he, with a half sigh. " Even with a first-rate artist you
need change, otherwise your dinners become manneristic, as
ours have become of late."

He then went on to show me that the domestic cook, always
appealing to the small public of the family, gets narrowed in his
views and bounded in his resources. He compared them, I
remember, to the writers in certain religious newspapers, who
must always go on spicing higher and higher as the palates of
their clients grow more jaded. How he worked out his theme
afterwards I cannot tell, for I was watching the windows of the
house, and stealing glances down the alleys in the garden,
longing for one look, ever so fleeting, of my lovely partner of the
night before.

" I see, young gentleman," said he, evidently nettled at my
inattention, " your thoughts are not with me."

" How long have we to stay, sir? " said I, reverting to the
respect I tendered him at my lessons.


" You have thirty-eight minutes," said he, examining his
watch : "which I purpose to apportion in this wise, — eight for
the douceur, five for the cheese, fifteen for the dessert, five for
coffee and a glass of cura9oa. The bill and our parting compli-
ments will take the rest, giving us three minutes to walk across
to the station."

These sort of pedantries were a passion with him, and I did
not interpose a word as he spoke.

*' What, a pineapple ! " cried a young fellow from an adjoin-
ing table, as a waiter deposited a magnificent pine in the midst
of the bouquet that adorned our table,

" Monsieur Delorme begs to say, sir, this has just arrived
from Laeken."

" Don't you know who that is ? " said a companion, in a low
voice ; but my hearing, ever acute, caught the words, — " He's
that boy of Norcott's."

I started as if I had received a blow. It was time to resent
these insolences, and make an end of them for ever.

" You heard what that man yonder has called me ? " said I
to Eccles.

" No ; I was not minding him."

" The old impertinence, — 'That boy of Norcott's.' "

I arose, and took the cane I had laid against a chair. What
I was about to do I knew not. I felt I should launch some
insolent provocation. As for what should follow, the event
might decide that.

" I'd not mind him, Digby," said Eccles, carelessly, as he
lit his cigarette, and stretched his legs on a vacant chair. I
took no notice of his words, but walked on. Before, however.

A GOOD-BY. 109

I had made tliree steps my eyes caught the flutter of a dress at
the end of the alley. It was merely the last folds of some
floating muslin, but it was enough to rout all other thoughts
from my head, and I flew down the walk with lightning speed.
I was right, it was Pauline. In an instant I was beside her.

" Dearest, darling Pauline," I cried, seizing her round the
waist and kissing her cheek, before she well knew, " how happy
it makes me to see you even for a few seconds."

" Ah, milord, I did not expect to see you here," said she,
half distantly.

" I am not milord ; I am your own Digby — Digby Norcott
who loves you, and will make you his wife."

" Ma foi ! children don't marry — at least demoiselles don't
marry them," said she, with a saucy laugh.

" I am no more an ' enfant,' " said I, with a passionate stres,s
on the word, " than I was last night, when you never left my
arm except to sit at my side at supper."

" But you are going away," said she, pouting, " else why
that travelling dress, and that sack strapped at your side ? "

" Only for a few weeks. A short tour up the Ehine,
Pauline, to see the world, and complete my education ; and
then I will come back and marry you, and you shall be
mistress of a beautiful house, and have everything you can
think of."

" Vrai ? " asked she, with a little laugh.

*' I swear it by this kiss."

" Pardie, monsieur! you are very adventurous," said she,
repulsing me ; " you will make me not regret that you are going
so soon."


" Oh, Pauline ! when you know that I adore you, that I only
value wealth to share it with you ; that all I ask of life is to
devote it to you."

" And that you haven't got full thirty seconds left for that
admirable object," broke in Eccles. " We must run for it like
fury, boy, or we shall be late."

" I'll not go."

" Then I'll be shot if I stay here and meet your father,"
said he, turning away.

" Oh, Pauline, dearest, dearest of my heart ! " I sobbed out,
as I fell upon her neck ; and the vile bell of the railroad rang
out with its infernal discord as I clasped her to my heart.

" Come along, and confound you," cried Eccles ; and with a
porter on one side and Eccles on the other, I was hurried along
down the garden, across a road, and along a platform, where the
station-master, wild with passion, stamped and swore in a very
different mood fi'om that in which he smiled at me across the
supper-table the night before.

" "We're waiting for that boy of Norcott's, I vow," said an
old fellow with a grey moustache ; and I marked him out for
future recognition.

Unlike my first journey, where all seemed confusion, trouble,
and annoyance, I now saw only pleasant faces, and people bent
on enjoyment. We were on the great tourist road of Europe,
and it seemed as though every one was bound on some errand of
amusement. Eccles, too, was a pleasant contrast to the courier
who took charge of me on my first journey. Nothing could be
more genial than his manner. He treated me with a perfect
equality, and by that greatest of all flatteries to one of my age,


induced me to believe that I was actually companionable to

I will not pretend that he was an instructive companion.
He had neither knowledge of history nor feeling for art, and
rather amused himself with sneering at both, and quizzing such
of our fellow-travellers as the practice was safe with. But he
was always gay, always in excellent spirits, ready to make light
of the passing annoyances of the road, and, as he said himself,
he always carried a quart-bottle of condensed sunshine with him
against a rainy day ; and of my own knowledge I can say his
supply seemed inexhaustible.

His cheery manner, his bright good looks, and his invariable
good-humour won upon every one, and the sourest and least
genial people thawed into some show of warmth under his con-
tagious pleasantry.

He did not care in what direction we went, and would have
left it entirely to me to decide, had I been able to determine.
All he stipulated for was: — "No barbarism, no Oberland or
glacier humbug. No Saxon Switzerland abominations. So
long as we travel in a crowd, and meet good cookery every day,
you'll find me charming."

Into this philosophy he inducted me. " Make life pleasant,
Digby ; never go in search of annoyances. Duns and dis-
agreeables will come of themselves, and it's no bad fun dodging
them. It's only a fool ever keeps their company."

A more shameless immorality might have revolted me, but
this peddling sort of wickedness, this half-jesting mth right and
wrong, — giving to morals the aspect of a game in which a certain
kind of address was practicable, — was very seductive to one of


my age and temper. I fancied, too, that I was becoming a con-
summate man of the world, and his praises of my proficiency
were unsparingly bestowed.

Attaching ourselves to this or that party of travellers, we
would go off here or there, in any direction, for four or five days ;
and though I usually found myself growing fond of those I
became more intimate with, and sorry to part from them, Eccles
invariably wearied of the pleasantest people after a day or two.
Incessant change seemed essential to him, and his nature and
his spirits flagged when denied it.

What I least liked about him, however, was a habit he had of
" trotting" me out — his own name for it — before strangers. My
knowledge of languages, my skill at games, my little musical
talents, he would parade in a way that I found positively offensive.
Nor was this all, for I found he represented me as the son
of a man of immense wealth and of a rank commensurate with
his fortune.

One must have gone through the ordeal of such a representa-
tion to understand its vexations, to know all the impertinences it
can evoke from some, all the slavish attentions from others. I
feel a hot flush of shame on my cheek now, after long years,
as I think of the mortifications I went through, as Eccles
would suggest that I should buy some princely chateau that
we saw in passing, or some lordly park alongside of which
our road was lying.

As to remonstrating with him on this score, or, indeed, on
any other, it was utterly hopeless ; not to say that it was just as
likely he would amuse the first group of travellers we met by a
ludicrous version of my attempt to coerce him into good behaviour.

A GOOD-BY. 113

One day he pushed my patience beyond all limit, and I grew
downright angry with him. I had been indulging in that harm-
less sort of half flirtation with a young lady, a fellow-traveller,
which, not transgressing the bounds of small attentions, does not
even excite remark or rebuke.

"Don't listen to that young gentleman's blandishments,"
said he, laughing, " for, young as he looks, he is already engaged.
Come, come, don't look as though you'd strike me, Digby, but
deny it if you can."

We w^ere, fortunately for me, coming into a station as he
spoke. I sprang out, and travelled third-class the rest of the
day to avoid him, and when we met at night, I declared that
with one such liberty more I'd part company with him for ever.

The hearty good-humour with which he assured me I should
not be offended again almost made me ashamed of my complaint.
We shook hands over our reconciliation, and vowed we were
better friends than ever.

What it cost him to abandon this habit of exalting me before
strangers, how nearly it touched one of the chief pleasures of his
life, I was, as I thought, soon to see in the altered tone of his
manner. In fact, it totally destroyed the easy flippancy he used
to wield, and a facility with strangers that once seemed like a
special gift with him. I tried in vain to rally him out of this
half depression, but it was clear he was not a man of many
resources, and that I had already sapped a principal one.

W^hile we thus journeyed, he said to me one day, " I find,
Digby, our money is running short ; w^e must make for Zurich :
it is the nearest of the places on our letter of credit."

I assented, of course, and w^e bade adieu to a pleasant family



with whom we had been travelHiig, and who were bound for
Dresden, assuring them we should meet them on the Elbe.

Eccles had grown of late more and more serious ; not alone
had his gaiety deserted him, but he grew absent and forgetful to
an absurd extent ; and it was evident some great preoccupation
had hold of him. During the entire of the last day before
we reached Zurich he scarcely spoke a word, and as I saw that he
had received some letters at Schaff hausen, I attributed his gloom
to their tidings. As he had not spoken to me of bad news, I felt
ashamed to obtrude myself on his confidence and kept silent, and
not a word passed between us as we went. He had telegraphed
to the banker, a certain Mr. Heinfetter, to order rooms for us at
the hotel ; and as we alighted at the door, the gentleman himself
was there to meet us.

/." Herr Eccles ? " said he, eagerly, lifting his hat as we
descended ; and Eccles moved towards him, and, taking his arm,
walked away to some distance, leaving me alone and unnoticed.
For several minutes they appeared in closest confab, their heads
bent close together, and at last I saw Eccles shake himself free
from the other's arm, and throw up both his hands in the air with
a gesture of wild despair. I began to suspect some disaster had
befallen our remittances, that they were lost or suppressed, and
that Eccles was overwhelmed by the misfortune. I own I could
not participate in the full measure of the misery it seemed to
cause him, and I lighted a cigar and sat down on a stone bench
to wait patiently his return.

" I believe you are right ; it is the best way, after all," said
Eccles, hurriedly. "You say you'll look after the boy, and I'll

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Online LibraryCharles James LeverThat boy of Norcott's → online text (page 7 of 17)