Charles James Lever.

The adventures of Arthur O'Leary online

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seemed actually deserted.

" Fatigued with walking, I sat down on a door-sill and
began to consider what was best to be done, when I heard
the sound of heavy feet moving along towards me, the
clattering of sabots on the rough pavement, and shortly
after, a man came up, who, 1 could just distinguish,
seemed to be a labourer. I suffered him to pass me a few
paces, and then called out —

" ' Halloa, friend, can you tell me the shortest way to
the "PontNeuf?"'

" He replied by some words in a fatois so strange I
could make nothing of it. I repeated my question, and
endeavoured by signs to express my wish. By this time
he was standing close beside me, and I could mark, was
evidently paying full attention to all I said. He looked
about him once or twice, as if in search of soma



one, and then turning to mc, said in a thick guttural
voice —

" ' Ilalte la, I'll come : ' and with that he moved down
in the direction he originally came from, and I could hear
the clatter of his heavy shoes, till the sounds were lost in
the winding alleys.

" A sudden thought struck me that I had done wrong.
The fellow had evidently some dark intention by his going
back, and I repented bitterly having allowed him to leave
me ; but then, what were easier for him than to lead me
where ho pleased, had I retained him ; and so I reflected,
when the noise of many voices speaking in a half-subdued
accent came up the street. I hoard the sound, too, of a
great many feet ; my heart sickcued as the idea of murder,
so associated with the place, flashed across me ; and I had
just time to squeeze myself within the shelter of the door-
way, when the party came up.

"'Somewhere hereabouts, you said, wasn't it?' said
one in a good accent, and a deep clear voice.

" ' Oul da ! ' said the man I had spoken to, while he felt
with his hands upon the walls and doorway of the opposite
house. ' Halloa there,' he shouted.

" ' Be still, you fool; don't you think that he suspects
something by this time ? Did the others go down the
Hue des Loups ? '

" ' Yes, yes,' said a voice close to where I stood.

" ' Then all's safe ; he can't escape that way. Strike a
light, Pierre.'

" A tall figure, wrapped up in a cloak, produced a
tinder-box, and began to clink deliberately with a steel
and flint. Every flash showed me some savage-looking
face, where crime and famine struggled for masteiy, while
I could mark that many had large clubs of wood, and one
or two were armed with swords. I drew my breatli with
short cff'orts, and was preparing myself for the struggle,
in which, though I saw death before me, I resolved to sell
life dearly, when a hand was passed across the pillar of
the d(H.)r, and rested on my leg. For a second it never
stirred; then slowly moved up to my knee, where it
stopped ag;iin. !My heart seemed to cease its beating; I
felt like one around whose body some snake is coiling,

THE smuggler's STORY. 115

fold after folii, liis slimy grasp. Tlie hand was gently

withdrawn, and before I could recover from my surprise,

I was seized by the throat and hurled out into the street.

A savage laugh rang through the crowd, and a lantern,

just lighted, was held up to my fiice, while he who spoke

first called out —

" ' You didn't dream of escaping us, hele, did you ? ' at

the same moment hands were thrust into my various

pockets; the few silver pieces I possessed were taken;

my watch torn off; my hat examined, and the lining of

my coat ripped open, and all so speedily, that I saw at

once I had fallen into experienced hands.

" ' Where do you live in Paris?' said the first speaker,

still holding the light to my face, and staring fixedly at

me, while I answered.

" ' I am a stranger and alone,' said I, for the thought

sti'uck me, that in such a circumstance, frankness was as

good policy as any other. ' I came here to-night to see

the cathedral, and lost my way in returning.'

" * But where do you live ? in what quarter of Paris ? '
" ' The Rue d' Alger ; number 12 ; the second story.'
*' ' What effects have you there in money ? '
"'One English bank-note for five pounds; nothing


" ' Any jewels, or valuables of any kind ? *

" ' None ; I am as poor as any man in Paris.*

*' ' Does the porter know your name, in the house ?'

" ' No ; I am only known as the Englishman of

number 12.'

" ' What are your hours ? irregular, are they not ? '

" 'Yes, I often come homo very late.'

" ' That's all right. You speak French well. Can you

write it ? '

" ' Yes ; sufficiently so for any common purpose.'

" ' Here, then,' said he, opening a large pocket-book,

* write an order which I'll tell you, to the concierge of the

house. Take this pen.'

" With a trembling hand I took the pen, and waited

for his direction.

Is it a woman keeps the door of your hotel ? '
Yes,' said I.

I 2


" ' Well, then, begin — Madame La Concierge, let tlio
bearer of this note have the key of my apartment. '

" As I followed with my hand the words, I could mark
that one of tlic party was whispering in the ear of the
speaker, and then moved slowly round to my back.

" ' Hush ! what's that ? ' cried the chief speaker. ' Be
still there ; ' and as wo listened, the chorus of a number
of voices singing in pai'ts, was heard at some little dis-
tance off.

" ' That infernal nest of fellows must be rooted out of
this, one day or other,' said the chief; ' and if I end my
days on the Place de Greve, I'll try and do it. Hush
there — be still — they're passing on.' True enough, the
sound began to wax fainter, and my heart sank heavily,
US I thought the last hope was leaving me : suddenly a
thought dashed through my mind — death in one shape is
as bad as another. I'll do it — I stooped down as if to
continue my writing, and then collecting my strength for
the effort, and taking a deep breath, I struck the man in
front a blow, with all my might, that felled him to the
ground, and clearing him with a spring, bounded down
the street. My old Indian teaching had done me good
service here ; few white men could have caught me in an
open plain, with space and sight to guide me — and I
gained at every stride ; but, alas, I dared not stop to listen
whence the sounds proceeded, and could only dash straight
forward, not knowing where it might lead me ; down a
steep rugged street, that grew narrower as I went, I
plunged — when, horror of horrors, I heard the Seine plash-
ing at the end ; the rapid current of the river surged
against the heavy timbers that defended the banks, with a
sound like a death-wail.

"A solitary, trembling light, lay afar off in the river,
from some barge that was at anchor there ; I fixed my
eye upon it, and was preparing for a plunge, when, with
a half-suppressed cry, my pui'suers sprang up from a low
wharf I had not seen, below the quay, and stood in front
of me. In an instant they were upon me ; a shower of
blows fell upon my head and .shoulders — and one, armed
u'ith desperate resolution, struck me on the forehead, and
felled me on the spot.


" ' Be quick now, be quick,' said a voice T well knew —
"into the river with liim — the " filets de St. Cloud" will
catch him by daybreak — into the i-iver with him.' They
tore off my coat and slices, and dragged me along towards
the whai-f — my senses were clear, though the blow had
deprived me of all power to resist — and 1 could calculate
the little chance still left me, when once I had reached
the river — when a loud yell, and a whistle was heard afar
off — another, louder, followed — the fellows around me
sprang to their legs, and with a muttered curse, and a
cry of terror, darted off in different directions. I could
hear now several pistol-shots following quickly on each
ether, and the noise of a scuffle with swords ; in an instant
it was over, and a cheer burst forth like a cry of triumph.
' Any one wounded there ? ' shouted a deep manly voice,
from the end of the street : I endeavoured to call out, bvit
my voice failed me. ' Halloa, there, any one wounded ? '
said the voice again, when a window was opened over my
head, and a man held a candle out, and looked into the
street. ' This way, this way,' said he, as he caught sight
of ray shadow where I lay. ' Ay, I guessed they went
down here,' said the same voice I heai'd first, as he came
along, followed by several others. * Well, friend, arc yo^
much hurt, any blood lost ? '

" ' No, only stunned,' said I, ' and almost well al

" ' Have you any friends here — were you quite alone ?

" ' Yes; quite alone.'

" ' Of course you were — why should I ask ? That
murderous gang never dared to face two men yet. Come,
£Lve you able to walk ? Oh, you're a stout fellow, I see —
come along with us. Come, Ludwig, put a hand under
him, and we'll soon bring him up.'

" When they lifted me up, the sudden motion caused
«, weakness so complete, that I fainted, and knew little
more of their proceedings, till I found myself lying on a
£ofa in a large room, where some forty persons were seated
at a long table, most of them smoking from huge pipes of
regular German proportions.

" ' Where am I ? ' was my question, as I looked about,
and perceived that the party wore a kind of blue uniform,


•with fnr on the collar and cuffs — and a greyhound worlced
in gold on the arm.

" ' Why, you're safe, my good friend,' said a friendly
voice beside me — ' that's quite enough to know at pre-
sent, isn't it ? '

" ' 1 beLTin to agree with you,' said I, coolly-^and so,
turning round on my side, I closed my eyes, and fell into
as pleasant a sleep as ever I remember in my life.

" Thoy were, indeed, a very singular class of restora-
tives which my kind friends thought proper to administer
to me ; nor am I quite sure that a havaroise of chocolate,
dashed with rum, and friction oyer the face, witla liot Eau
de Cologne, are sufficiently appreciated by the ' faculty;'
but this I do know, that I felt very much, revived by the
application without, and within, and with a face somewhat
the colour of a copper preserving-pan, and far too hot
to put anything on, I sat up, and looked about me. A
merrier set of gentlemen, not even my experience had
ever beheld. They were mostly middle-aged, grizzly-looking
fellows, with very profuse beards and moustachios ; their
conversation was partly French, partly German, here and
there a straj^ Italian diminutive crept in ; and, to season
the whole, like cayenne in a ragout, there was an odd
curse in English.

" Their strange dress, their free and easy manner, their
intimacy with each other, and above all, the locale they
had chosen for their festivities, made me, I own, a little
suspicious about their spotless morality, and I began con-
jecturing to what possible calling they might belong.
Now, guessing them smugglers — now, police of some kind
or other — now, highwaymen outright, but Avithout ever
being able to come to any conclusion that even approached
satisfaction. The more I listened, the more did my puzzle
grow on me ; tliat they were either the most distin-
guished and exalted individuals, or the most confounded
Btory-tellers, was certain. Here, was a fat greasy little
fellow, with a beard like an Armenian, wlio was talking
of a trip he made to Greece with tlie Duke of Saxe
"Weimar ; apparently they were on tlie best of terms toge-
ther, and had a most jolly time of it. There was a large
handsome man, with a short black moustache, describing

THE smuggler's STOUY. 119

a niglit attack by wolves, made on the caravan he was in,
during- a journey to Siberia. I listened with intense in-
terest to his narrative ; the scenery, the danger, the pre-
paration for defence, had. all those little traits that bespeak
truth, when, confound him ! he desti'oyed. the whole in a
moment as ho said, ' At that moment the Archduke
Nicholas said to one* — the Archduke Nicholas, indeed —
very good that — he's just as great a liar as the other.

" ' Come,' thought I, ' there's a respectable-looking old
fellow with a bald head ; let us hear him ; there's no
boasting of the great people he ever met with from that
one, I'm sure.'

" We were now coming near to Vienna,' continued he,

* the night was dark as pitch, when a vidette came up to
say, that a party of brigands, well known thereabouts,
Avere seen hovering about the post station the entire
evening. We were well armed, but still by no means
numerous, and it became a grave question what we were
to do ? I got down immediately, and examined the
loading and priming of the carbines ; they were all right,
nothing had been stirred. "What's the matter?" said
the duke.'

" ' Oh,' said I, ' then there's a duke here also.'
" ' What's the matter ? ' said the Duke of Wellington.
" * Oh, by Jove ! that beats all,' cried I, jumping up on
the sofa, and opening both my hands with astonishment.

• I'd have wagered a trifle on that little fellow, and hang
me, if he isn't the worst of the whole set.'

" ' What's the matter ? — what's happened ? ' said they
all, turning round in amazement at my sudden exclama-
tion. ' Is the man mad ? '

" 'It's hard to say,' replied I; 'but if I'm not, you
must be ; unless I have the honour, which is perfectly pos-
sible, to be at this moment in company with the Holy
Alliance ; for, so help me, since I've sat here and listened
to you, there is not a crowned head in Europe, not a
queen, not an archduke, ambassador, and general-in-chief,
Bome of you have not been intimate with ; and the small
man with a red beard has just let slip something about the
Shah of Persia.'

" The torrent of laughter that shook the table never


ceased for a full quarter of an hour. Old and young,
smooth and grizzly, they laughed, till their faces were
seamed with rivulets, like a mountain in winter; and
when they would endeavour to address me, they'd burst
out again, as fresh as ever.

" Come over and join us, worthy friend,' said he who
sat at the head of the board, ' you seem well equal to it ;
and perhaps our character as men of truth may improve
on acquaintance.'

" ' What, in Heaven's name, are you ? ' said I.

" Another burst of merriment was the only reply they
made me. I nevc-r found much difficulty in making my
wav in certain classes of society, wiiere the tone was a
familiar one : where a hon mot was good currency, and a
joke passed Avell, there I was at home, and to assume the
features of the party was with me a kind of instinct
which I could not avoid. It cost me neither effort nor
strain — I caught up the spirit as a child catches up an
accent, and went the pace as pleasantly as though I had
been bred among them. I was therefore but a short time
at table, when, by way of matriculation, I deemed it
necessary to relate a story ; and certainly, if they had
astounded me by the circumstances of their high and
mighty acquaintances, I did not spare them in my nar-
rative, in which the Emperor of Japan figured as a very
commonplace individual, and the King of Candia came
in, just incidentally, as a rather dubious acquaintance
might do.

" For a time they listened, like people who are well
accustomed to give and take these kind of miracles ; but
when I mentioned something about a game of leap-frog
on the wall of China with the Celestial himself, a perfect
bhout of incredulous laughter interrupted me.

" ' Well,' said I, ' don't believe me, if you don't like ;
but here have I been the whole evening listening to you,
and if I've not bolted as much as that, my name's not
Con O'Kelly.'

" But it is not nece.ssary to tell you how, step by step,
they led me to credit all they were saying, but actually
to tell my own real story to them, which I did from
beginning to end, down to the very moment I sat there,

THE smuggler's STORY. 121

with a large glass of hot claret before me, as happy as
might be.

" ' And you really are so low in purse ? ' said one.

" * And have no prospect of any occupation, nor any
idea of a livelihood ? ' cried anotlier.

" ' Just as much as I expect promotion from my friend
the Emperor of China,' said I.

" ' You speak French and German well enough though ? '

" ' And a smattering of Italian,' said I.

" ' Come, you'll do admirably ; be one of us.'

" ' Might I make buld enough to ask what trade that


" ' You don't know ; you can't guess even ? '

" ' Not even guess,' said I, ' except you report for " the
papers," and come here to make up the news.'

" ' Something better than that, I hope,' said the man at
the head of the table. ' What think you of a life that
leads a man about the world from JS'orway to Jerusalem —
that shows him every land the sun shines on, and every
nation of the globe, travelling with every luxury that can
make a journey easy, and a road pleasant ; enables him to
visit whatever is remarkable in every city of the universe ;
to hear Pasta at St. Petersburgh in the winter, and before
the year's end to see an Indian war-dance among the red
men of the Rocky Mountains ; to sit beneath the shadow
of the Pyramids, as it were to-day, and, ere two months
be over, to stand in the spray of Trolhattan, and join a
wolf-chase through the pine forests of the north ; and not
only this, but to have opportunities of seeing life, on terms
the most intimate ; that society should be unveiled to an
extent that few men of any station can pretend to ; to
converse with the greatest, and the wisest, the most dis-
tinguished in rank, ay ! and better than all, the ruost
beautiful women of every land in Europe, who depend on
your word, rely on your information, and permit a degree
of intimacy, which in their own rank is unattainable ; to
improve your mind by knowledge of languages, acquaint-
ance with works of art, scenery, and more still, by habits
of intelligence which travelling bestows.'

" ' And to do this,' said I, burning with impatience at a
picture that realized all I wished for, ' to do this '


" * Be a Courier,' said thirty voices in a cheer. ' Yivela
Graiulc Koute ! * and with the word each man drained his
glass to the bottom.

" ' Vive la Grande Route ! ' exclaimed I, louder than the
rest ; ' and here I join you.' From that hour I entered on
a career, that each day I follow is becoming- dearer to me.
It is true, I sit in the I'umble of the carriage, while ^ mon-
seiqneur' or my lord, reclines within ; but would I ex-
change his ennni and depression for my own light-hearted-
ness and jollity? would I give up the happy independence
of all the inti'igue and plotting of the world I enjoy, for
all his rank and station? Does not Mont Blanc look as
grand in his hoary panoply to me as to him ? are not the
Danube and the Rhine as fair? If I wander through the
gallery of Dresden, have I not the sweet smile of the great
Raphael's Madonna bent on me, as blandly as it is on him?
Is not mine host, with less of ceremony, far more cordial
to me than to him? Is not mine a rank known, and
acknowledged, in every town, in every village ? Have I
not a greeting wherever I pass ? Should sickness overtake
me, where have I not a home ? Where am I among
strangers ? Then, what care I for the bill — mine is a royal
route where I never pay ? As, lastly, how often is the
touhrelte of the rumble as agreeable a companion as th«
pale and careworn lady within ?

" Such is my life. Many would scoff and call it menial.
Let them, if they will. I wqs^gv felt it so : and once more
I say, ' Vive la Grande Route ! '

" But 3'our friends of the Fischer's Haus ?"

*'A jolly set of smugglers, with whom, for a month or
two in summer, I take a cruise, less for profit than plea-
fiure. The blue water is a necessary of life, to the man
that has been some years at sea. My little collection has
been made in my wanderings ; and if ever you come to
Naples, you must visit a cottage I have at Castella Mare,
where you'll see something better worth your looking at.
And now, it does not seem very hospitable, but I must
say, adieu." With these words Mr. O'Kelly opened a
drawer, and drew forth a bluejacket, lined witli rich dark
fur, and slashed witli black braiding : a greyhound was
embroidered in gold twist on the arm, and a similar decora-

THE smuggler's STORY. 123


tion ornamented the front of his blue cloth cap. *' I start
for Genoa in half an hour — we'll meet again, and often, ]

*' Good-bye," said I, " and a hundred thanks for a plea^
Bant evening, and one of the strangest stories I ever heard.
I half wish I were a younger man, and I think I'd mount
the blue jacket too."

" It would show you some strange scenes," said Mr.
O'Kelly, while he continued to equip himself for the road.
" All I have told is little compared to what I might, were
I only to give a few leaves of my life ' en Courier ;' but, as
I said before, we'll Hve to meet again. Do you know who
my party is this morning ? "

" I can't guess."

"My old ilame. Miss Blundell ; she's married now, and
has a daughter, so like what I remember herself once.
Well, well,' it's a strange world. Good-bye."

With that we shook hands for the last time, and
parted; and 1 wandered back to Antwerp when the sun
was rising, to get into a bed and sleep for the next eight




^loRGAN O'DoGHEKTY was wi'ong — and, sooth to say, lie
was not often so — when bo pronounced a " Mess " to be
" tbe pertection of dinner society." In the first place,
there can be no perfection anywlioi'e, or in anything-, it is
evident, wbere hidies are not. Secondly, a number of
persons so purely professional, and therefore so very much
alike in their habits, tone of thinking, and expression, can
scarcely be expected to make up that complex amalgam
so indispensable to pleasant society. Lastly, the very fact
of meeting the same people each day, looking the very
same way too, is a sad damper to that flow of spirits,
which, for their free current, demand all the chances and
vicissitudes of a fresh audience. In a word, in the one
case, a man becomes like a Dutch canal, standing stagnant
and slow between its trim banks ; in the other, he is a
bounding rivulet, careering pleasantly through gTassy
meadows and smiling fields, now, basking in the gay
sunshine, now, lingering in the cool shade ; at one
moment, hurrying along between rocks and moss-grown
pel)bles, brawling, breaking, and foaming; at the next,
expanding into some little lake, calm, and deep, and

It is the very chances and changes of conversation, its
nps and downs, its lights and shadows — so like those of
life itself — that make its great charm ; and for this
generally, a mixed party gives the only security. Now,
a Mess has very little indeed of this requisite; on the
contrary, its great stronghold is the fact, that it offers an
easy taljleland for all capacities. It has its little, dry,
stale jokes, as flat and as dull as the orderly book ; the
regular quiz about " Jones's" whiskers, or "Tobin's;" the hackneyed stories about Simpson of "Oui's,"
or Nokes of " Yours," of which the major is never tired,


and the newly-joined sub, is enraptured. Bless their
honest hearts, very little fun goes far in the army ! like
the regimental allowance of wine, it will never intoxicate,
and no man is expected to call for a fresh supply.

I have dined at more messes than any red-coat of them
all, at home and abroad ; cavalry, artillery, and infantry
— " horse, foot, and dragoons," as Grattan has it ; in gala
parties, with a general and his staff for guests ; after
sweltering field-days, where all the claret could not clear
your throat of pipe-clay and contract powder ; in the
colonies, where flannel jackets were substituted for regu-
lation coats; and land-crabs and pepper-pot for saddles
and sirloins ; in Connemara, Calcutta, or Corfu, it was all
the same, — caelum non ahimirm &c.

Xot but that they had all their little peculiarities
among themselves ; so much so, indeed, that I offer a
fifty, if you set me down blindfolded at any Mess in the
service, to tell you what " corps " they belong to, before
the clieese appears ; before the bottle goes half round,
I'll engage to distinguish the hussars from the heavies,
and the fusileers from the light-bobs ; and when the
president is ringing for more claret, it will go hard with

Online LibraryCharles James LeverThe adventures of Arthur O'Leary → online text (page 11 of 40)