Charles James Lever.

The adventures of Arthur O'Leary online

. (page 14 of 40)
Online LibraryCharles James LeverThe adventures of Arthur O'Leary → online text (page 14 of 40)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


monize with her gentle and more constant nature ? From
such thoughts I was awakened by her saying, in a low,
faint voice —



1-48 THE ADVENTURES OF ARTHUR o'lEARY.

"You must forget what I said to-night. There are
moments when some strong impulse will force the heart
to declare the long-bnricd tlioughts of years — perhaps
some secret instinct tells us that we are near to those who
cnri sympathise and feel for us — perhaps these are the
dvcilfowings of grief, without which the heart would grow
full to bursting. Whatever they be, they seem to calm and
soothe us, though al'terwards we may sorrow for having
indultred in them. You will forget it all, won'tyou ? "

"iWill do my best," said I, timidly, "to do all you
wish ; but I cannot promise you what may be out of my
power: the few words you spoke have never left my
mind since — nor can I say when I shall cease to remember

them."

" What do you think, Duischka? " said the count, as
he flung away the fragment of his cigar, and turned round
on the box. " What do you think of an invitation to
dinner I have accepted for Tuesday next ? "

" Where, pray ? " said she, with an effort to seem in-
1 crested.

" I am to dine with my worthy friend Van Houdi-
camp. Rue de Lacken, number twenty-eight — a very high
mark, let me tell you — his father was burgomaster at
Alust, and he himself has a great sugar bakery, or salt
' raffinerie,' or something equivalent, at Scharbeck."

" How can you find any pleasure in such society,
Gustav ? "

" Pleasure you call it — delight is the word. I shall
liear all the gossip of the Basse Ville — quite as amusing,
I'm certain, as of the Place and the Boulevards ; besides,
there are to be some half-d(.z'ju Echevins, with wives
and daughters, and we shall have a round game for
the most patriarchal stakes. 1 have also obtained
jicrmission to bring a friend - so you see, Monsieur
O'Leary "

" Pni certain," interposed madame, " he has much better
taste tlian t(j avail himself of your offer."

" ril bet my life on it he'll not refuse."

" I say he will," said the lady.

" ril wagir that jiear' ring at Mertan's, that if you
leave him to himself, he says 'yes.' "



A DILEMMA. 149

"Agreed," said madame — " I accept the bet. We
Poles are as great gamblers as yourselves, you see," added
she, turning to me. " Now, Monsieur, decide the question

— will you dine with Van Hottentot on Tuesday next

or, with me ? "

Tlie last three words were spoken in so low a tone as
made me actually suspect that my imagination alone had
conceived them.

" Well," cried the count, " what say you ? "

" I pronounce for the Hotel de France," said I,

fearing in what words to accept the invitation of the
lady.

"Then I have lost my bet," said the count, laughing;
" and worse still, have found myself mistaken in my
opinion."

" And I," said madame, in a faint whisper, " have won
mine, and found my impressions more correct."

Nothing more occurred worth mentioning on our way
back ; when we reached the hotel in safety, and separated
with many promises to meet early next day.

From that hour my intimacy took a form of almost
friendship. I visited the count, or tlie countess, if he was
out, every morning ; chatted over the news of the day ;
made our plans for the evening, eitlier for Boitsfort or
Lacken, or occasionally the alh'e verte, or the theatre, and
sometimes arranged little excursions to Antwerp, Louvain,
or Ghent.

It is indeed a strange thing, to think of what slight
materials happiness is made up. The nest that incloses
our greatest pleasure is a thing of straws and feathers,
gathered at random or carried towards us by the winds of
Ibrtune. If you were to ask me now, what I deemed the
most delightful period of my whole life, I don't hesitate
to say I should name this. In the first place, the great
requisite of happiness I possessed — every moment of my
whole day was occupied ; each hour was chained to its
fellow by some slight but invisible link ; and whether I
was hammering away at my Polish grammar, or sitting
beside the pianoforte while the countess sang some of her
country's ballads, or listening to legends of Poland in its
times of greatness, or galloping along at her side through



loO THE ADVENTURES OF ARTHUR o'lEARY.

the forest of Soignies, my mind was ever full — no sense
of weariness or ennui ever invaded me ; wliile a con-
sciousness of a change in myself — I knew not what it was
— suggested a feeling of pleasure and delight I cannot
account for or convoy; and this, 1 tal<e it — though
speaking in ignorance and merely from surmise — this, I
suspect, is something like what people in love experience,
and what gives them the ecstasy of the passion. There is
sullicient concentration in the admiration of the loved
object to give the mind a decided and hrm purpose, and
enough of change in the various devices to win her prai>e,
to impart the charm of novelty. Now for all this, my
reader, fair or false as she or he may be, must not suspect
that anything bordering on love was concerned in the
present case.

To begin — the countess was married, and I was brought
up at an excelL-nt school at Bangor, where the catechism,
Welsli and English, was Hogged into me until every com-
mandment had a separate welt of its own on my back.
No ; I had taken the royal road to happiness ; I was
delighted without stopping to know why, and enjoyed
myself witliout ever thinking to inquire wherefore. New
sources of information and knowledge were opened to me
by those who possessed vast stores of acquirement, and I
h-arned how the conversation of gifted and accomplished
persons may be made a great agent in training and
forming the mind, if not to the higher walks of know-
ledge, at least to those paths in which the greater part of
life is spent, and where it imports each to make the road
agreeable to his fellows. I have said to you I was not
in love — how could I be, under the circumstances ? — but
still I own that the regulir verbs of the Polish grammar
had been but dry work, if it had not been for certain
irreguhir glances at mj' pretty mistress ; nor could I ever
have seen my way tlirough the difficulties of the declen-
sions if the light of her eyes had not lit up the page, and
her taper finger pointed out the place.

And thus two months flew past, during which she never
even alluded most distantly to our conversation in the
garden at Boitsfort, nor did 1 learn any tnie particular
more of my friends tlian on the fii'st day of our meeting.



A DILEMMA. 151

Mcnnwhile, all icleao of travellinfr had completely left
me; and altliough I bad now abundant resources in my
banker's hands for all the purposes of the road, I never
once dreamed of leaving a place where I felt so thoroughly
happy.

kSucb, then, was our life, when I began to remark a
sHo'ht chano-e in the count's manner — an appearance of
gloom and pre-ocfupatiou which seemed to nicrease each
day, and against which he strove, but in vain, to combat.
It was clear something had gone wrong with him, but I
did not dare to allude to, much less ask him on the sub-
ject. At last, one evening, just as I was preparing for
bed, he entered my dressing-room, and closing the door
cautiously behind him, sat down. I saw that he was
dressed as if for the road, and looking paler and more
agitated than usual.

" O'Leary," said he, in a tremulous voice, " I am come
to place in your hands the highest trust a man can repose
in anotlier — am I certain of your friendship ? " I shook
his hand in silence, and he went on. " I must leave
Brussels to-night secretly. A political affair, in which
the peace of Europe is involved, has just come to my
knowledge ; the government here will do their best to
detain me ; orders are already given to delay me at the
frontier — perhaps send me back to the capital ; in conse-
quence, I must cross the boundary on horse back, and reach
Aix-la-Chapelle by to-morrow evening. Of course, the
countess cannot accompany me." He paused for a second.
" You must be her protector. A hundred rumours will
be afloat the moment they find I have escaped, and as
many reasons for my departure announced in the papers.
However, I'm content if they amuse the public and occupy
the police, and meanwhile I shall obtain time to pass
through Prussia unmolested. Before I reach St. Peters-
burgh, the countess will receive letters from me, and know
where to proceed to ; and I count on your friendship to
remain here until that time — a fortnight, three weeks at

farthest. If money is any object to you "

" Not in the least; I have far more than I want."
" Well, then, may I conclude that you consent? "
" Of course, you may," said I, overpowered by a rush



152 TUE ADVENTURES OF ARTHUR o'lEARY.

of sensations I must leave to my reader to feel, if it has
ever heen his li>t to luive been placed in such circum-
stances, or to imagine for me if he has not.

" The countess is, of course, aware "

"Of evervthing, " interru[)tL'(l he, "and bears it ali
admirably. Much, however, is attributable to the arrange-
ment with you, which I promised her was completed,
even before I asked your consent — such was my confi-
dence in your friendship."

" You have not deceived yourself, " was my reply, while
I puzzled my brain to think how I could repay such
proofs of his trust. " Is tlierc aiiytliing, then, more, " said
1 — "can you think of noihing in which I may be of
service ? "

'• Nothing, dear friend, nothing," said he. " Probably we
shall meet at St. Petersburgh."

" Ye.s, yes," said I; " that is my firm intention."

"Thai's all I could wish for," rejoined he. "The
grand-duku will be delighted to acknowledge the assist-
ance your friendship has rendered us, and Potoski's house
will be your own." So saying, he embraced me most
affectionately, and dc])iirted, while I sat to muse over the
Bingulai'ity of my position, and wonder if any other man
was ever similarly situated.

When 1 proceeded to pay my respects to the countess
the next morning, I prepared myself to witness a state of
great sorrow an<l depression. How pleasantly was I dis-
appointed at finding her gay — perhaps gayer than ever —
and evidently enjoying the success of the count's scheme!

" Gustav is at St. Tron by this," said she, looking at the
map ; " he'll reach Liege two hours before the post ; fresb
horses will then bring him rapidly to Battiste. Oh, here
are the papers. Let us see the way his departure is
announced." . She turned over one journal after another
■without finding the wislied-for paragraph, until at last,
in the corner of the " Handelsblad," she came upon the
f(;llowing : —

" Yesterday morning an express reached the minister
for the home affairs, that the celebrated escroc, the Cheva-
lier Duguet, whoso famous forgery on the Neapolitan
bank may be in the memory of our readers, was actually



A DILEMMA. 153

practising his art under a feigned name in Brussels, where,
having obtained his entree among some respectable families
of the lower town, he has succeeded in obtaining large
sums of money under various pretences ; his skill at play
is, they say, the least of his many accomplishments."

She threw down the paper in a fit of laughter at these
words, and called out—" Is it not too absurd ? That's
Gustav's doing — anything for a quiz — no matter what.
He once got himself and Prince Carl of Prussia brought
up before the police for hooting the king."

" But Duguet," said I, — " what has he to do with
Duguet ? "

" Don't you see that's a feigned name," replied she, —
" assumed by him as if he had half a dozen such ? Read
on, and you'll learn it all."

I took the paper, and continued where she ceased read-

" This Duguet is then, it would appear, identical with a
very well-known Polish Count Czaroviski, who. with his
lady, had been passing some weeks at the Hotel de Fi-ance.
The police have, however, received his ' signahment,' and
are on his track."

" But why, in Heaven's name, should he spread such an
odious calumny on himself?" said I.

" Dear me, how very simple you are ! I thought he had
told you all. As a mere ' escroc,'' money will always bribe
the authorities to let him pass ; as a political offender, and
as such the importance of his mission would proclaim him,
nothing would induce the officials to further his escape —
their own heads would pay for it. Once over the frontier,
the ^ruse' will be discovered, the editors obliged to eat
their words and be laughed at, and Gustav receive the
Black Eagle for his services. But see, here's another."

"Among the victims at play of the well-known Cheva-
lier Duguet, or, as he is loetter known here, the Count
Czaroviski, is a simple Englishman, resident at the Hotel
de France, and from whom it seems he has won every
louis-d'or he possessed in the world. This miserable dupe,
whose name is O'Learie, or O'Leary "

At these words she leaned back on the sofa, and laughed
immoderately.



154 THE ADVENTURES OF ARTHUR o'lEART.

"Have yon, then, suTered so deeply ?" said she, wiping
her eyes — " has Ciustav really won all your louis-d'ors? "

" This is too bad — tar too bad," said I ; " aud I really
cannot comprehend how any intrigue could induce him f-o
lai- to asperse his character in this manner ; I, for my j art,
can be no party to it."

As I said this, my eyes fell on the latter part of the
parasraph, which ran thus: —

''This poor boy — for we understand he is no more — has
been lured to his ruin by the beauty and attraction of
Madame Czaroviski."

I crushed the odious paper without venturing to see
more, and tore it in a thousand pieces, and, not waiting an
instant, hurried to my room and seized a pen ; burning
with indignation and rage, I wrote a short note to the
editor, in which I not only contradicted the assertions of
his correspondent, but offered a reward of a hundred louis
for the name of the person who had invented the infamous
calumny.

It was some time before I recovered my composure
sufficiently to return to the countess, whom I now faund
greatly excited and alarmed at my sudden departure. She
insisted with such eagerness on knowing what I had done,
that 1 was obliged to confess everything, and show her f4
copy of the letter I had already despatched to the editor.
She grew pale as death as she read it, ffushed deeply, and
then became pale again, while she sank faint and sick into
a chair.

" This is very noble conduct of yours," said she, in a low
hollow voice ; " but 1 see where it will lead to — Czaroviski
has great and powerful enemies ; they will become yours
also."

" Be it so," said I, interrupting her. " They have little
power to injure me — let them do their worst."

"You forget, apparently," said she, with a most be-
wit<jhing smile, " that you are no longer I'ree to dispose
of your liberty — that, as my protector, you cannot brave
dangers and difficulties which may terminate in a prison."
" What, then, would you have me do ? "
" Hasten to the editor at once ; erase so much of your
letter as refers to the proposed reward ; the information



A DILEMMA. 155

could be of no service to you if obtained — some * miserable,'
perhaps some spy of the police, the slanderer. What
could you f^aia by his punishment, save publicity ? A
mere denial of the fucts alleged is quite suflicient ; and
even that," continued she, smiling, "how superfluous is it
aft r all ! a week — ten days at farthest, and the whole
mystery is unveiled. Jv'ot that I would dissuade you
from a course I see your heart is bent upon, and which,
after all, is a purely personal consideration."

" Tes," said I, after a ])ause, " I'll take your advice ;
fhe letter shall be insertLtl without the concluding para-
graph."

Tlie calumnious report-* on the count prevented madame
dining that day at the tahJe-crhote ; and I remarked, as I
took my place at table, a certain air of constraint and
reserve among the guests, as though my presence had
interdicted the discussion of a topic which f)ccupied a1!
Brussels. Dinner over, I walked into the park to medi-
tate on the course I should pursue under present cii-
cumstances, and deliberate with myself bow far the habits
of my former intimacy might or might not be admissible,
during her husband's absence. The question was solved
for me sooner than I anticipated, for a waiter overtook
me with a short note, written with a pencil ; it ran
thus : —

" They play the Zauberflotte to-night at the Opera ; I
shall go at eight —perhaps you would like a seat in the



carriage.



" DOISCHKA.



Whatever doubts I might have conceived about my
conduct, the manner of the countess at once dispelled
them. A tone of perfect ease, and almost sisterly con-
fidence, marked her whole bearing ; and while I felt
delighted and fascinated by the freedom of our inter-
course, I could not help thinking how impossible such a
line of acting would have been in my own more rigid
country, and to what cruel calumnies and ospersions it
would have subjected her. Truly, thought I, if they
manage these things — as Sterne says they do — " better



156 THE ADVENTURES OF ARTHUR OLEARY.

in France," they also fixr excel in them in Poland ; and
KO my Polish grammar, and the canzonettes, and the
drives to IJoitsfort, all went on as usual, and my dream of
happiness, interrupted for a moment, flowed on again in
its tbrmcr channel with increased force.

A fortniglit had now chipsed without any letter from
the count, save a few hurried lines written fi'om ilagde-
burg; and I remarked that the countess betrayed at times
a degree of anxiety and agitation I had not observed in
her before. At last the secret cause came out. We were
sitting together in the park, eating ice after dinner, when
she suddenly rose, and prepared to leave the place.

"Has anything happened to annoy you?" said I,
hurriedly. '' Why are you going ? "

" I can bear it no longer ! " cried she, as she drew her
veil down and hastened forward, and, without speaking
another woi-d, continued her way towards the ho' el. On
reaching her apartments, she bur.st into a torrent of tears,
and .sobbed most violently.

" What is it ? " said I, maddened by the sight of such
sorrow, " For Heaven's sake tell me. Has any one
dared "

" No, no," replied she, wiping the tears away with her
handkerchief; " nothing of the kind. It is the state of
doubt— of trying, harassing uncertainty I am reduced to
here, is breaking my heart. Don't you see that, when-
ever I appear in public, by the air of insufferable
impudence of the men, and the .still more insulting looks
of the women, how they dare to think of me ? I have
borne it as well as I was able hitherto; I can do so no
longer."

" What ! " cried I, impetuously, " and sliall one dare
to "

" The world will always dare what may be dared in
safety," interrupted she, laying her hand on my arm.
" They know that you could not make a quarrel on my
account without compromising my honour; and such an
occasion to trample on a poor weak woman could not be
lost. Well, well ; Gustav may write to-moiTow or next
day. A little more patience ; and it is the only cure for
these evilis."



A DILEMMA. 157

There was a tone of angelic sweetness in her voice as
Blie spoke these words of resignation, and never did she
seem more lovely in my eyes.

"Now, then, as I shall not go to the opera, what shall
■we do to pass the time ? You are tired — I know you are
— of Polish melodies and German ballads. Well, well ;
then 1 am. I have told you that we Poles are as great
gamblers as yourselves. What say you to a game at
picquet ? "

" By all means," said I, delighted at the prospect of
anything to while away the hours of her sorrowing.

" Then you must teach me," rejoined she, laughing,
" for I don't know it. I'm wretchedly stupid about all
these things, and never could learn any game but ecarte.'"

" Then ecarte be it," said I ; and in a few minutes more
I had arranged the little table, and down we sat to our
party.

" There," said she, laughing, and thi'owing her pur.se
on the table, " I can only afford to lose so much ; but you
may win all that, if you're fortunate." A rouleau of
louis escaped at the instant, and fell about the table.

"Agreed," said I, indulging the quiz. "lam an in-
veterate gambler, and play always high. What shall be
our stakes?"

" Fifty, I suppose," said she, still laughing : " we can
increase our bets afterwards."

After some little badinarje, we each, placed a double
louis-d'or on the board, and began. For a while the game
employed our attention ; but gradually we fell into con-
versation, the cards gradually dropped listlessly from our
hands, the tricks remained unclaimed, and we could never
decide whose turn it was to deal.

" This wearies you, I see," said she ; " perhaps you'd
like to stop?"

" By no means," said I. " I like the game, of all
things." This I said rather because I was a considerable
winner at the time, than from any other motive ; and so
we played on till eleven o'clock, at which hour I usually
took my leave ; and by this time my gains had increased
to some seventy louis.

'' Is it not fortunate," said she, laughing, " tliat eleven



158 THE ADVENTURES OF ARTHUR o'lEARY.

has struck? You'd certainly have won all my gold ; and
now you must kave off in the midst of youi' good fortune:
and so, bon soir, el a revancJie."

Eacli evening now saw cur little party at ecarte usurp
the place of the drive and the opera ; and though our
successes ran occasionally high at either side, yet, on the
whole, neither was a winner; and we jested about the
impartiality with which fortune treated us both.

At last, one evening, eleven struck when I was a
greater winner than ever, and I thought I saw a little
pique in her manner at the enormous run of luck I had
experienced throughout.

" Como," said she, laughing, "you have really wounded
a national feeling in a Polish heart — you have asserted a
superiority at a game of skill. I must beat you ; " and
with that she phiced five louis on the table. She lost.
Again the same stake followed, and again the same for-
tune — notwithstanding that I did all in my power to avoid
winning — of course without exciting her suspicions.

" And so," said she, as she dealt the cards, " Ireland is
really so picturesque as you say ? "

" Beautifully so,"replied I, as, warmed up by a favourite
topic, 1 1 lunched fortli into a description of the mountain
.scenery ( f the south and west : the rich emerald green of
the valleys, the wild fantastic character of the mountains,
the changeful skies, wete all brought up to make a
picture for her admiration ; and she did indeed seem to
enjoy it with th-; highest zest, only interrupting me in
my liarangue by the words, " Ji? marque, le Rg\^' to which
circumstance she directed my attention by a sweet smile,
and a gesture of her taper finger. And thus hour fol-
lowed hour ; and already the grey dawn was breaking,
while I was just beginning an eloquent description of
'• The Killeries," and the countess suddenly looking at
her watch, cried out, —

" How very dreadful ! only think of three o'clock ! "

True enough ; it was that hour : and I started up to
say " Good-night," shocked at myself for so far transgress-
ing, and yet secretly flattered that my conversational
[)Owers had made time slip by uncounted.

"And the Irish are really so clever -so gifted as you



A DILEMMA. 159

6Hy ? " said she, as sbe beld out her hand to wish me
good-night.

" The most astonishing quickness is theirs," repHed T,
half-reluctant to depart : " nothing can equal their intelli-
gence and shrewdness."

" How charming ! Bon soil','" said she, and I closed
the door.

What dreams were mine that night! What deiiglitfnl
visions of lake scenery and Polish countesses, — and moun-
tain gorges and bine e^'es, — of deep ravines and lovely
forms ! I thought we were sailing up Lough Corrib ;
the moon was up, spangling and flecking the rippling
lake ; the night was still and calm, not a sound save the
cuckoo was heard breaking the silence; as I listened I
started, for I thought, instead of her wonted note, her cry
was ever, " Je marque le Boi."

Morning came at last ; but I could not awake, and
endeavoured to sink back into the pleasant realm of
dreams, from which dayliglit disturbed me. It was noon
when at length I succeeded in awaking perfectly.

" A note for monsieur," said a waiter, as he stood beside
the bed.

I took it eagerly. It was from the countess : its con-



Online LibraryCharles James LeverThe adventures of Arthur O'Leary → online text (page 14 of 40)