Charles James Lever.

That boy of Norcott's online

. (page 8 of 17)
Online LibraryCharles James LeverThat boy of Norcott's → online text (page 8 of 17)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

start by the ten o'clock train."

A GOOD-BY. 115

" Yes, I'll take the boy," said the other ; " but you'll have
to look sharp and lose no time. They will be sequestering
the moment they hear of it, and I half suspect old Engler will be
before you."

" But my personal effects ? I have things of value."

" Hush, hush ! he'll overhear you. Come, young gentle-
man," said he to me — " come home and sup with me. The
hotel is so full, they've no quarters for you. I'll try if I can't
put you up."

Eccles stood with his head bent down as we moved away,
then lifted his eyes, waved his hand a couple of times, and said,

" Isn't he coming with us ? " asked I.

"Not just yet: he has some business to detain him," said
the banker, and we moved on.




Here Heinfetter was a baclielor, and lived in a very modest
fashion over bis banking bouse, and as be v^^as employed from
morning to nigbt, I saw next to notbing of bim. Eccles, be
said, bad been called away, and tbougli I eagerly asked where ?
by whom ? and for how long ? I got no other answer than " he
is called away," in very German English, and with a stolidity of
look fully as Teutonic.

The banker was not talkative : be smoked all the evening,
and drank beer, and except an occasional monosyllabic comment
on its excellence, said little.

" Ach, ja ! " he would say, looking at me fixedly, as though
assenting to some not exactly satisfactory conclusion his mind
bad come to about me — " Ach, ja ! " And I would have given
a good deal at the time to know to what peculiar feature of
my fortune or my fate this half-compassionate exclamation

"Is Eccles never coming back?" cried I, one day, as the
post came in, and no tidings of him appeared; "is he never
coming at all ? "

" Never, no more."


" Not coming back ! " cried I.
" No ; not come back no more."

" Then what am I staying here for ? Why do I wait for
him ? "

" Because you have no money to go elsewhere," said he ; and
for once he gave way to something he thought was a hxugh.

"I don't understand you, Herr Heinfetter," said I; "our
letter of credit, Mr. Eccles told me, was on your house here. Is
it exhausted, and must I wait for a remittance ? "
" It is exhaust; Mr. Eccles exhaust it."
" So that I must write for money ; is that so ? "
" You may write and write, mein lieber, but it won't come."
Herr Heinfetter drained his tall glass, and, leaning his arms
on the table, said : " I will tell you in German, you know it well
enough." And forthwith he began a story, which lost nothing
of the pain and misery it caused me by the unsympathizing tone
and stolid look of the narrator. For my reader's salve, as for
my own, I will condense it into the fewest words I can, and omit
all that Herr Heinfetter inserted either as comment or censure.
My father had eloped with Madame Cleremont ! They had fled
to Innspriick, from which my father returned to the neighbour-
hood of Belgium, to offer Cleremont a meeting. Cleremont,
however, possessed in his hands a reparation he liked better —
my father's cheque-book, with a number of signed but unfilled
cheques. These he at once filled up to the last shilling of his
credit, and drew out the money, so that my father's first draft on
London was returned dishonoured. The villa and all its splendid
contents were sequestrated, and an action for divorce, with ten
thousand pounds laid as damages, already commenced. Of


three tliousaucl francs, which our letter assured us at Zurich,
Eccles had drawn two thousand : he would have taken all, but
Heinfetter, who prudently foresaw I must be got rid of some
day, retained one thousand to pay my way. Eccles had gone,
promising to return when he had saved his own effects, or what
he called his own, from the wreck ; but a few lines had come
from him to say the smash was complete, the "huissiers" in
possession, seals on everything, and " not even the horses
watered "ndthout a gendarme present in full uniform."

" Tell Digby, if we travel together again, he'll not have to
complain of my puffing him off for a man of fortune ; and, above
all, advise him to avoid Brussels in his journeyings. He'll find
his father's creditors, I'm afraid, far more attached to him than
Mademoiselle Pauline."

His letter wound up with a complaint over his own blighted
prospects, for, of course, his chance of the presentation was now
next to hopeless, and he did not know what line of life he might
be driven to.

And now, shall I own that, ruined and deserted as I was,
overwhelmed with sorrow and shame, there was no part of all
the misery I felt more bitterly than the fate of her who had been
so kindly affectionate to me — who had nursed me so tenderly in
sickness, and been the charming companion of my happiest
hours. At first, it seemed incredible. My father's manner to
her had ever been coldness itself, and I could only lead myself
to believe the story by imagining how the continued cruelty of
Cleremont had actually driven the unhappy woman to entreat
protection against his barbarity. It was as well I should think
so, and it served to soften the grief and assuage the intensity of


the sorrow the event caused me. I cried over it two entire days
and part of a third, and so engrossed was I with this affliction,
that not a thought of myself, or of my own destitution, ever
crossed me.

" Do you know where my father is ? " asked I of the hanker.

" Yes," said he, drily.

" May I have his address ? I wish to write to him."

" This is what he send for message," said he, producing a
telegram, the address of which he had carefully torn off. " It is
of you he speak. ' Do what you like with him, except hother
me. Let him have whatever money is in your hands to my
credit, and let him understand he has no more to expect from
Eoger Norcott.' "

" May I keep this paper, sir ? " asked I, in a humble

" I see no reason against it. Yes," muttered he. " As to
the moneys, Eccles have drawn eighty pound ; there is forty
remain to you."

I sat down and covered my face with my hands. It was a
habit with me when I wanted to apply myself fully to thought ;
but Herr Heinfetter suspected that I had given way to grief, and
began to cheer me up. I at once undeceived him, and said, " No,
I was not crying, sir ; I was only thinking what I had best do.
If you allow me, I will go up to my room, and think it over by
myself. I shall be calmer, even if I hit on nothing profitable."

I passed twelve hours alone, occasionally dropping off to
sleep out of sheer weariness, for my brain worked hard, travelling
over a wide space, and taking in every contingency and every acci-
dent I could think of. I might go back and seek out my mother ;


but to what end, if I should only become a dependant on her ?
No : far better that I should tiy and obtain some means of
earning a livelihood, ever so humble, abroad, than spread the
disgrace of my family at home. Perhaps Herr Heinfetter might
accept my services in some shape ; I could be anything but a

When I told him I wished to earn my bread, he looked
doubtingly at me in silence, shaking his head, and muttering,
" Nein, niemals, nein," in every cadence of despair.

" Could you not try me, sir ? " pleaded I, earnestly ; but his
head moved sadly in refusal.

" I will think of it," he said at last, and he left me.

He was good as his word : he thought of it for two whole
days, and then said that he had a correspondent on the shore of
the Adriatic, in a little-visited town, where no news of my
father's history was like to reach, and that he would write to
him to take me into his counting-house in some capacity : a
clerk, or possibly a messenger, till I should prove myself worthy
of being advanced to the desk. It would be hard work, how-
ever, he said ; Herr Oppovich was a Slavac, and they were people
who gave themselves few indulgences, and their dependants still

He went on to tell me, that the house of Hodnig and Oppovich
had been a wealthy firm formerly, but that Hodnig had over-
speculated, and died of a broken heart ; that now, after years of
patient toil and thrift, Oppovich had restored the credit of the
house, and was in good repute in the world of trade. Some
time back he had written to Heinfetter to send him a young
fellow who knew languages and was willing to work.


" That's all," he said; "shall I venture to tell hhn that I
recommend you for these ? "

" Let me have a trial," said I, gravely.

" I will write your letter to-night, then, and you shall set out
to-morrow for A^ienna ; thence you'll take the rail to Trieste, and
by sea you'll reach Fiume, where Herr Oppovich lives."

I thanked him heartily, and went to my room.

On the morning that followed began my new life. I was
no longer to be the pampered and spoiled child of fortune,
surrounded with every appliance of luxury, and waited on by
obsequious servants. I was now to travel modestly, to fare
humbly, and to ponder over the smallest outlay, lest it should
limit me in some other quarter of greater need. But of all the
changes in my condition, none struck me so painfully at first
as the loss of consideration from strangers that immediately
followed my fallen state. People who had no concern with my
well-to-do condition, who could take no possible interest in my
prosperity, had been courteous to me hitherto, simply because I
was prosperous, and were now become something almost the
reverse for no other reason, that I could see, than that I was

Where before I had met willingness to make my acquaintance,
and an almost cordial acceptance, I was now to find distance and
reserve. Above all, I discovered that there was a general
distrust of the poor man, as though he were one more especially
exposed to rash influences, and more likely to yield to them.

I got some sharp lessons in these things the first few days of
my journey, but I dropped down at last into the third-class
train, and found myself at ease. My fellow-travellers were not


very polished or very cultivated, but in one respect their good
breeding had the superiority over that of finer folk. They never
questioned my right to be saving, nor seemed to think the worse
of me for being poor.

Herr Heinfetter had counselled me to stay a few days at
Vienna, and provide myself with clothes more suitable to my
new condition than those I was wearing.

" If old Ignaz Oppovich saw a silk-lined coat, he'd soon send
you about your business," said he ; " and as to that fine watch-
chain and its gay trinkets, you have only to appear with it once
to get your dismissal."

It was not easy, with my little experience of life, to see how
these things should enter into an estimate of me, or why Herr
Ignaz should concern him with other attributes of mine than
such as touched my clerkship ; but as I was entering on a world
where all was new, where not only the people, but their
prejudices and their likings were all strange to me, I resolved
to approach them in an honest spirit, and with a desire to
conform to them as well as I was able.

Lest the name Norcott appearing in the newspapers in my
father's case should connect me with his story, Heinfetter
advised me to call myself after my mother's family, which
sounded, besides, less highly born ; and I had my passport made
out in the name of Digby Owen.

" Mind, lad," said the banker, as he parted with me, " give
yourself no airs with Ignaz Oppovich ; do not turn up your nose
at his homely fare, or handle his coarse napkin as if it hurt
your skin, as I have seen you do here. From his door to
destitution there is only a stej), and bethink yourself twice


before you take it. I have done all I mean to do Ly you, more
than I shall ever be paid for. And now good-by."

This sort of language grated very harshly on my ears at first ;
but I had resolved to bear my lot courageously, and conform,
where I could, to the tone of those I had come down to.

I thanked him, then, respectfully and calmly for his hospi-
tality to me, and went my way.




" I SAW a young fellow, so like that boy of Norcott's in a third-
class carriage," I overheard a traveller say to his companion, as
we stopped to sup at Gratz.

" He'll have scarcely come to that, I fancy," said the other,
"though Norcott must have run through nearly everything by
this time."

It was about the last time I was to hear myself called in
this fashion. They who were to know me thenceforward were
to know me by another name, and in a rank that had no
traditions ; and I own I accepted this humble fortune with a
more contented spirit and with less chagrin than it cost me to
hear myself spoken of in this half-contemptuous fashion.

I was now very plainly, simply dressed. I made no display
of studs or watch-chain ; I even gave up the ring I used to wear,
and took care that my gloves — in which I once was almost
puppyish — should be the commonest and the cheapest.

If there was something that at moments fell very heavily on
my heart in the utter destitution of my lot, there was, on the
other hand, what nerved my heart and stimulated me in the
thought that there was some heroism in what I was doing. I

FIUME. 125

was, so to say, about to seek my fortune ; and what to a young
mind could be more full of interest and anticipation than such
a thought ? To be entirely self-dependent ; to be thrown into
situations of difficulty, with nothing but one's own resources to
rely on ; to be obliged to trust to one's head for counsel, and one's
heart for courage ; to see oneself, as it were, alone against the
world, is intensely exciting.

In the days of romance there were personal perils to confront,
and appalling dangers to be surmounted ; but now it was a game
of life, to be played, not merely with a stout heart and a ready
hand, but with a cool head and a steady eye. Young as I was,
I had seen a great deal. In that strange comedy of which my
father's guests were the performers, there was great insight into
character to be gained, and a marvellous knowledge of that skill
by which they who live by their wits cultivate these same wits
to live.

If I was not totally corrupted by the habits and ways of that
life, I owe it wholly to those teachings of my dear mother, which,
through all the turmoil and confusion of this ill - regulated
existence, still held a place in my heart, and led me again
and again to ask myself how she would think of this, or what
judgment she would pass on that ; and even in this remnant of
a conscience there was some safety. I tried to persuade myself
that it was well for me that all this was now over, and that an
honest existence was now about to open to me — an existence
in which my good mother's lessons would avail me more, stimu-
late me to the right and save me from the wrong, and give to the
humblest cares of daily labour a halo that had never shone on
my life of splendor.


It was late at niglit when I reached Trieste, and I left it at
dayhreak. The small steamer in which I had taken my passage
followed the coast line, calling at even the most insignificant
little towns and villages, and winding its track through that
myriad of islands which lie scattered along this strange shore.
The quiet, old-world look of these quaint towns, the simple
articles they dealt in, the strange dress, and the stranger sounds
of the language of these people, all told me into what a new life
I had just set foot, and how essential it was to leave all my
former habits behind me as I entered here.

The sun had just gone below the sea, as we rounded the
great promontory of the north and entered the bay of Fiume.
Scarcely had we passed in, than the channel seemed to close
behind us, and we were moving along over what looked like a
magnificent lake bounded on every side by lofty mountains — for
the islands of the bay are so placed that they conceal the open-
ings to the Adriatic. If the base of the great mountains was
steeped in a blue, deep and mellow as the sea itself, their sum-
mits glowed in the carbuncle tints of the setting sun, and over
these again long lines of cloud, golden and azure streaks, marked
the sky, almost on fire, as it were, with the last parting salute
of the glorious orb that was setting. It was not merely that
I had never seen, but I could not have imagined such beauty
of landscape, and as we swept quietly along nearer the shore,
and I could mark the villas shrouded in the deep woods of
chestnut and oak, and saw the olive and the cactus, with the
orange and the oleander, bending their leafy branches over the
blue water, I thought to myself, would not a life there be nearer
Paradise than anything wealth and fortune could buy elsewhere ?

FIUME. 127

" There, yonder," said the captain, pointing to the orna-
mented chimneys of a house surrounded by a deep oak-wood,
and the terrace of which overhung the sea, " that's the villa of
old Ignaz Oppovich. They say the Emperor tempted him with
half a million of florins to sell it, but miser as he was and is, the
old fellow refused it."

" Is that Oppovich of the firm of Hodnig and Oppovich ?"
asked I.

" Yes ; the house is all Oppovich's now, and half Fiume too,
I believe."

" There are worse fellows than old Ignaz," said another
gravely. " I wonder what would become of the hospital, or the
poor-house, or the asylum for the orphans here, but for him,"

" He's a Jew," said another, spitting out with contempt.

" A Jew that could teach many a Christian the virtues of his
own faith," cried the former. " A Jew that never refused an
alms to the poor, no matter of what belief, and that never spoke
ill of his neighbour."

" I never heard as much good of him before, and I have been
a member of the town council with him these thirty years."

The other touched his hat respectfully in recognition of the
speaker's rank, and said no more.

I took my little portmanteau in my hand as we landed, and
made for a small hotel which faced the sea. I had determined
not to present myself to the Herr Oppovich till morning, and to
take that evening to see the town and its neighbourhood.

As I strolled about, gazing with a stranger's curiosity at all
that was new and odd to me in this quiet spot, I felt coming
over me that deep depression which almost invariably falls upon


him who, alone and friendless, makes first acquaintance with the
scene wherein he is to live. How hard it is for him to helieve
that the objects he sees can ever become of interest to him ; how
impossible it seems that he will live to look on this as home ;
that he will walk that narrow street as a familiar spot ; giving
back the kindly greetings that he gets, and feeling that strange,
mysterious sense of brotherhood that grows out of daily inter-
course with the same people !

I was curious to see where the Herr Oppovich lived, and
found the place after some search. The public garden of the
town, a prettily planted spot, lies between two mountain streams,
flanked by tall mountains, and is rather shunned by the inhabit-
ants from its suspicion of damp. Through this deserted spot, —
for I saw not one being as I went,— I passed on to a dark copse
at the extreme end, and beyond which a small wooden bridge
led over to a garden wildly overgrown with evergreens and shrubs,
and so neglected, that it was not easy at first to select the right
path amongst the many that led through the tangled brushwood.
Following one of these, I came out on a little lawn in front of a
long low house of two storeys. The roof was high-pitched, and
the windows narrow and defended by strong iron shutters, which
lay open on the outside wall, displaying many a bolt and bar,
indicative of strength and resistance. No smoke issued from a
chimney, not a sound broke the stillness, nor was there a trace of
any living thing around, — desolation like it I had never seen.
At last, a mean, half-starved dog crept coweringly across the
lawn, and drawing nigh the door, stood and whined plaintively.
After a brief pause the door opened, the animal stole in, the
door then closed "oith a bang, and all was still as before. I

FIUME. 129

turned back towards the town with a heavy heart : a gloomy
dread of those I was to be associated with on the morrow was
over me, and I went to the inn and locked myself into my room,
and fell upon my bed with a sense of desolation that found vent
at last in a torrent of tears.

As I look back on the night that followed, it seems to me
one of the saddest passages of my life. If I fell asleep it was to
dream of the past, with all its exciting pleasures and delights,
and then awaking suddenly, I found myself in this wretched,
poverty-stricken room, where every object spoke of misery,
and recalled me to the thought of a condition as ignoble and
as lowly.

I remember well how I longed for day-dawn, that I might
get up and wander along the shore, and taste the fresh breeze,
and hear the plash of the sea, and seek in that greater, wider,
and more beautiful world of nature a peace that my own
despairing thoughts would not suffer me to enjoy. And at the
first gleam of light I did steal down, and issue forth, to walk for
hours along the bay in a sort of enchantment from the beauty of
the scene, that filled me at last with a sense of almost happiness.
I thought of Pauline, too, and wondered would sJie partake of
the delight this lovely spot imparted to me ? would she see these
leafy woods, that bold mountain, that crystal sea, with its
glittering sands many a fathom deep, as I saw them ? And if
so, what a stimulus to labour and grow rich was in the thought.

In pleasant reveries, that dashed the future with much that
had delighted me in the past, the hours rolled on till it was time
to present myself at Herr Oppovich's. Armed with my letter of
introduction, I soon found myself at the door of a large ware-



house, over wliicb bis name stood iu big letters. A narrow
wooden stair ascended steeply from tbe entrance to a long low
room, in wbicb fully twenty clerks were busily engaged at
their desks. At tbe end of this, in a smaller room, I was told
Herr Ignaz — for he was always so called — held bis private office.

Before I was well conscious of it, I was standing in this
room before a short thick- set old man, with heavy eyebrows
and beard, and whose long coat of coarse cloth reached to
bis feet.

He sat and examined me as he read tbe note, pausing at
times in tbe reading as if to compare me with tbe indications
before him.

" Digby Owen — is that tbe name ? " asked he.

" Yes, sir."

" Native of Ireland, and never before employed in commercial
pursuits ? "

I nodded to this interrogatory

" I am not in love with Ireland, nor do I feel a great liking
for ignorance, Herr Owen," said be, slowly ; and there was a
deep impressiveness in bis tone, though the words came with
tbe thick accentuation of tbe Jew. "My old friend and corre-
spondent should have remembered these prejudices of mine.
Herr Jacob Heinfetter should not have sent you here."

I knew not what reply to make to this, and was silent.

" He should not have sent you here ; " and be repeated the
words with increased solemnity. " What do you w^ant me to do
with you ? " said he, sharply, after a brief pause.

" Anything that will serve to let me earn my bread," said I,

FIUME. 131

" But I can get scores like you, young man, for the wages we
give servants here ; and would you be content with that ? "

" I must take what you are pleased to give me."

He rang a little bell beside him, and cried out, " send
Harasch here." And at the word a short, beetle-browed, ill-
favoured young fellow appeared at the door, pen in hand.

"Bring me your ledger," said the old man. "Look here
now," said he to me, as he turned over the beautifully clean and
neatly kept volume : " this is the work of one who earns six
hundred florins a year. You began with four, Harasch ? "

" Three hundred, Herr Ignaz," said the lad, bowing.

" Can you live and wear such clothes as these," said the old
man, touching my tweed coat, " for three hundred florins a year
— paper florins, mind, which in your money would make about
twenty-five pounds ? "

" I will do my best with it," said I, determined he should
not deter me by mere words.

1 2 3 4 5 6 8 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17

Online LibraryCharles James LeverThat boy of Norcott's → online text (page 8 of 17)