Charles James Lever.

The adventures of Arthur O'Leary online

. (page 15 of 40)
Online LibraryCharles James LeverThe adventures of Arthur O'Leary → online text (page 15 of 40)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

tents were these : —

" My dear Sir, — A hasty summons from Count Czaro-
v^iski has compelled me to leave Brussels with'^ut wishing
you good-bye, and thanking you for all your polite atten-
tions. Pray accept these hurried acknowledgments, and
my regret that circumstances do not enable me to visit
Ireland, in which, from your description, I must ever feel
the deepest interest.

" The count sends his most affectionate greetings.

" Yours ever sincerely,


"And is she gone?" said I, starting up in a state of

" Yes, sir ; she started at ten o'clock."

" By what road ? " cried I, determined to follow her on
the instart.


"Louvain was the first stas'e."

In an instant I was up, and dressed ; in ten minutes
more I Avas rattlinq' over the stones to my banker's.

" I want three hundred Napoleons — at once," said I to
the clerk.

" Exainino Mr. O'Leary's account," was the dry reply
of the functionary.

" Overdrawn by fifteen hundi'ed francs," said the other.

'' Overdrawn ? impossible ! " cried I, thunderstruck.
" I had a credit for six hundred pounds."

" Which you drew out by cheque this morning," said
the clerk. " Is not that your handwriting? "

" It is," said I faintly, as I recognized my own scrawl,
dated the evening before-

I had lost above seven hundred, and had not a sou left
to pay post-horses.

I sauntered back sadly to " The France," a sadder man
than ever in my life before ; a thousand tormenting
thoughts were in my brain ; and a feeling of contempt
foi- myself, somehow, occupied a veiy prominent ])lace.
Well, well ; it's all past and gone now, and I must not
awaken buried griefs.

I never saw the count and countess again ; and though
I have since that been in St. Petersburg, the " Grand-
Duke " seems to have forgotten my services, and a very
pompous-looking porter in a bear-skin did not look
exactly the kind of person to whom I should wish to
communicate my impression about " Count Potoski's
house being my own."



Soon after my Polish adventure — I scarcely like to be
more particular in my designation of it — I received a
small remittance from England, and started for Namur.
My uncle Toby's recollections had been an inducement for


tlie journey, had I not the more pleasant one in my wish
to see the Meuse, of whose scenery I had ah*eady heard
so much.

The season was a delightful one — the beginning of
autumn ; and truly tlie country far surpassed all my anti»
cipations. The road to Dinant led along by the river— •
the clear stream rippling at one side; at the other, the
massive granite rocks, rising to several hundred feet,
frowned above you ; some gnarled oak or hardy ash, cling-
ing to the steep cliffs, and hanging their drooping leaves
above your head ; on the opposite bank, meadows of
emerald green, intersected with ash rows and tall poplars,
stretched away to the background of dense forest that
bounded the view to the very horizon.

Here and there a little farm-house framed in wood, and
painted in many a gaudy colour, would peep from the
little inclosure of vines and plum-trees ; more rarely still,
the pointed roof and turreted gable of a venerable chateau
would rise above the trees. How often did I stop to gaze
on these quaint old edifices, with their balustrades and
terraces — on which a solitary peacock walked proudly to
and fro : the only sound that stirred, the hissing plash of
theye^ d'eau, whose sparkling drops came pattering on tho
broad water lilies; and as I looked, I wondered within
myself what kind of life they led who dwelt there. The
windows were open to the ground, bouquets of rich flowers
stood on the little tables. These were all signs of habita-
tion, yet no one moved about — no stir nor bustle denoted
that there were dwellers there. How different from the
country life of our great houses in England, with trains
of servants and equipages hurrying hither and thither ;
all the wealth and magnificence of the great capital trans-
ported to some far-off county — that ennui and fastidious-
ness, fatigue and lassitude, should lose none of their
habitual aids. Well, for mj/ part, the life among green
trees and flowers, where the thrush sings, and the bee goes
humming by, can scarcely be too homely for viy taste. It
is in the peaceful aspect of all Nature, the sense of calm
that breathes from every leafy grove and rippling stream,
that I feel the soothing influence of the country. I could
sit beside the trickling stream of water, clear, but brown,



that comes drop by drop from some fissure in the rocky
cliiF, and foils into the little well below, and dream away
for hours. These slight and simple soiands, that break
the silence of the calm air, are all fraught with pleasant
tlioughts. The unbroken stillness of a prairie is the most
awful thing in all Nature.

Unoppressed in heart, I took my way along the river's
bank, my mind revolving the quiet, j^leasant thoughts
silence and lovely scenery are so sure to suggest. Towards
noon I sat myself down on a large flat rock beside the
stream, and proceeded to make my humble breakfast —
some bread and a few cresses, washed down with a little
water, scarce flavoured with brandy, followed by my pipe ;
and I lay watching the white bubbles that flowed by me,
until 1 began to fancy I could read a moral lesson in their
course. Here was a great swollen fellow, rotund and full,
elbowing out of his way all his lesser brethren, jostling
and pushing aside each he met with ; but at last bursting
from very plethora, and disappearing as though he had
never been : there were a myriad of little bead-like specks,
floating past noiselessly, and yet having their own goal
and destination : some uniting with others, grew stronger
and liardicr, and braved the current with bolder fortune ;
while others vanished ere you could see them well. A
low murmuring plash against the reeds beneath the rock
drew my attention to the place, and I perceived that a
little boat, like a canoe, was fastened by a hay-rope to the
bank, and surged with each motion of the stream against
the weeds. I looked about to see the owner, but no one
could I detect — not a living thing seemed near, nor even
a habitation of any kind. The sun at that moment shone
strongly out, lighting up all the rich landscape on the
opposite side of the river, and throwing long gleams into
a dense beech wood, where a dark, grass-grown alley
entered. Suddenly, the desire seized me to enter the
forest by that shady path. I strapped on my knapsack
at once, and stepped into the little boat. There was
neither oar nor paddle, but as the river was shallow, my
long stafl" served as a pole to drive her across, and I
reached the shore safely. Fastening the craft securely
to a branch, I set forward towards the wood. As I


approached, a little board, nailed to a tree, drew my cyo
towards it, and I read the nearlj-effiaccd inscription,
" Boute des Ardennes." What a thrill did not these words
send through my heart : and was this, indeed, the
of which Shakespeare told us — was I really " under the
greenwood tree," where fair Rosalind had rested, and
where melancholy Jaques had mused and mourned ? and
as I walked along, how instinct with his spirit did each
spot appear. There was the oak,

" Whose antique root peeps out
Upon the brook that brawls along the wood."

A little farther on I came upon

" The bank of osiers by the murmuring stream."

What a bright prerogative has genius, that thus can
people space with images which time and years erase not ;
making to the solitary traveller a world of bright thoughts
even in the darkness of a lonely wood ! And so to me
appeared, as though before me, the scenes he pictured.
Each rustling breeze that shook the leafy shade, seemed
like impetuous passion of the devoted lover — the chirping
notes of the wood-pigeon, like the flippant raillery of
beauteous Rosalind — and in the low ripple of the brook I
heard the complaining sounds of Jaques himself.

Sunk in such pleasant fancies I lay, beneath a spreading
sycamore ; and with half-closed lids invoked the shades of
that delightful vision before me, when the tramp of feet,
moving across the low brushwood, suddenly aroused me.
I started up on one knee, and listened. The next moment
three men emerged from the wood into the path ; the two
foremost, dressed in blouses, were armed with carbines
and a sabre ; the last carried a huge sack on his shoulders,
and seemed to move with considerable difficulty.

" Ventre dit diable," cried he passionately, as he placed his
burden on the ground ; " don't hasten on this way— they'll
never follow us so far, and I am half dead with fatigue."

" Come, come, Gros Jean," said one of the others, in a
voice of command ; " we must not halt before we reach
the three elms."

'^ W^hy not bury it here ? " replied the first speaker, ' or
else take your share of the labour ? "

u 2


"So I would," retorted the other, violently, ^^{( i/ou
could take yny place when we are attacked ; but, parbleu,
you are more given to running away than fighting."

During this brief colloquy my heart rose to my mouth.
The ruilianly looks of the party, their arms, their savage
demeanour, and their secret purpose, Avhatever it was, to
which I was now to a certain extent privy, filled me with,
terror ; and I made an effort to draw myself back on my
hands into the brushwood beneath the tree. The motion
unfortunately discovered me ; and with a spring, the two
armed fellows bounded towards me, and levelled their
jnstols at my head.

" ^Vho are you ? What brings you here ? " shouted they
both in a breath.

"For heaven's sake! Messieurs," said I, "down with
your pistols. I am only a traveller — a poor inoffensive
wanderer — an Englishman, an. Irishman, rather — a good
Catholic " — Heaven forgive me if I meant an equivocation
here—" lower the pistols, I beseech you."

" Shoot him through the skull ; he's a spy," roared the
fellow with the sack.

" Not a bit of it," said I ; " I'm a mere traveller, admir-
ing the country, and an "

" And why have you tracked us out here ? " said one of
the first speakers.

" I did not ; I was hei-e before you came. Do put down
the pistols, for the love of Mary; there's no guarding
against accidents, even with the most cautious."

"Blow his brains out," reiterated he of the bag, louder
than before.

" Don't, Messieurs — don't mind Mm ; he's a coward —
you are Ijrave men, and have nothing to fear from a poor
devil like me."

The two armed fellows laughed heartily at this speech,
while the other, throwing the sack from him, rushed at me
with clenched hands.

" Hold ofi; Gros Jean," said one of his companions ; "if
he never tells a heavier lie than that, he may make an easy
confession on Sunday ; " and with that he pushed him
rudely back, and stood between us. " Come, then," cried
be, " take up that sack and follow us."


My blood curdled at the order; there was something
fearful in the very look of the long bag as it lay on the
ground. I thought I could actually trace the outline of a
human figure. Heaven preserve me, I believed I saw it

" Take it up," cried he, sternly ; " there's no fear of its
biting you."

" Ah," said I to myself, "the poor fellow is dead, then."

"Without more ado they placed the bag on my shoulders,
and ordered me to move forward.

I grew pale and sick, and tottered at each step.

" Is it the smell aflects you ? " said one, with a demoniac

" Pardon, Messieurs," said I, endeavouring to pluck up

courage, and seem at ease ; " I never carried a a

thing like this before."

"Step out briskly," cried he; "you've a long way
before you ;" and with that he moved to the front, while
the others brought up the rear.

As we proceeded on our way, they informed me that if
by any accident they should be overtaken by any of my
friends or associates, meaning thereby any of the human
race that should chance to walk that way, the first thing
they would do would be to shoot me dead — a circumstance
that considerably damped all my ardour for a rescue, and
made me tremble lest, at any turn of the way, some
faggot-gatherer might appear in sight. Meanwhile, never
did a man labour more strenuously to win the favour of
his company.

I began by protesting my extreme innocence — vowed
that a man of more estimable and amiable qualities than
myself never did, nor never would exist. To this decla-
ration they listened with manifest impatience if not with
actual displeasure. I then tried another tack. I abused
the rich and commended the poor — I harangued, in round
terms, on the grabbing monopoly of the great, who en-
joyed all the good things of this life, and would share
none with their neighbours. I even hinted a sly encomium
on those public- spirited individuals, whose gallantry and
sense of justice led them to risk their lives in endeavours
to equalize somewhat more fairly this world's wealth;


and wlio were so ungenerously styled robbers and high-
waymen, though they were in reality benefactors and
heroes. But tliey only laughed at this; nor did they
show any real sympathy with my opinions till, in my
general attack on all constituted authorities — kings,
priests, statesmen, judges, and gendarmes, by chance I
included revenue officers. The phrase seemed like a spark
on gunpowder.

" Curses be on the wretches — they are the plague-spots
of the world," cried I, seeing how they caught at the
bait ; " and thrice honoured the brave fellows who would
relieve suffering humanity from the bui'den of such odious

A low wliispering now took place among my escort,
und at length he Avho seemed the leader stopped me short,
and, placing his hand on my shoulder, cried out —

" Are you sincere in all this ? Are these your
notions ? "

" Can you doubt me ? " said I. " What reasons have I
for speaking them ? How do I know but you are revenue
officers that listen to me."

" Enough, you shall join us. We are going to pass this
sack of cigars."

" Ho ! these are cigars, then," said I, brightening up.
" It is not a a eh ? "

" They are Dutch cigars, and the best that can be
made," said he, not minding my interruption. " We
shall pass them over the frontier by Sedan to-morrow
night, and then we return to Dinant, where you shall come
with us."

" Agreed," said I, while a faint chill i-an through my
limbs, and I could scarcely stand — images of galley life,
irons with cannon shot, and a yellow uniform, all flitting
before me. From this moment they became extremely
communicative, detailing for my amusement many
pleasing incidents of their blameless life — how they
burned a custom-house here, and shot an inspector there ;
and, in fact, displaying the advantages of my new profes-
sion, with all its attractions, before me. How I grinned
n'ith mock delight at atrocities that made my 'ilooJ
.-jurdle, and chuckled over the roasting of a revenue officer


as though he had been a chestnut. I affected to see
drollery in cruelties that deserved the gallows, and
laughed till the tears came at horrors that nearly mado
me faint. ^ly concurrence and sympathy absolutely
delighted the devils, and •\vo shook hands a dozen times

It was evening, when tired and weary, I was ready to
drop with fatigue, my companions called a halt.

" Come, my friend," said the chief, " we'll relieve you
now of your burden. You would be of little service to
us at the frontier, and must wait for us here till our

It was impossible to make any proposal more agreeable
to my feelings. The very thought of being quit of my
friends was ecstasy. I did not dare, however, to vent my
raptures openly, but satisfied myself with a simple acqui-

"And when," said I, " am I to have the pleasure of
seeing you again, gentlemen ? "

" By to-morrow forenoon, at farthest."

By that time, thought I, I shall have made good use of
my legs, please Heaven.

" Meanwhile," said Gros Jean, with a grin that showed
he had neither forgotten nor forgiven my insults to his
courage — " meanwhile we'll just beg leave to fasten you
to this tree ;" and with the words, he pulled from a great
canvas pocket he wore at his belt, a hank of strong cord,
and proceeded to make a slip noose on it.

" It's not your intention, surely, to tie me here for the
whole night ^ " said I, in horror.

" And why not ? " interposed the chief. " Do you think
there are bears or wolves in the Ardennes forest in Sep-
tember ? "

" But I shall die of cold or hunger. I never endured
such usage before."

" You'll have plenty worse when you've joined us, I
promise you," was the short reply, as, without further loss
of time, they passed the cord round my waist, and began,
with a dexterity that bespoke long practice, to fasten me
to the tree. I protested in all form against the pro-
ceeding — I declaimed loudly about the liberty of the sub-


ject — vowed that England would take a frightful measure
of retribution on the whole country, if a hair of my head
were injured — and even went so far in the fervour of my
indignution, as to threaten the party with future conse-
quences from the police.

The word was enough. The leader drew his pistol from
his belt, and slapping down the pan, shook the priming
with his hand.

" So," cried he, in a harsTi and savage voice, unlike his
former tone, " you'd play the informer, would you ? Well,
it's honest at least to say as much. Now then, my man,
a quick shrift and a short pi'ayer, for I'll send you where
you'll meet neither gendarmes nor revenue officers, or if
j-ou do, they'll have enough of business on their hands not
to care for yours."

" Sparc my life, most amiable Monsieur," said I, with
uplifted hands. " Never shall I utter one word about you,
come what will. I'll keep all I've seen a secret. Don't kill
the father of eight children. Let me live this time, and
I'll never wander off a turnpike road, three yards, as long
as I breathe."

They actually screamed with laughter at the terror of
my looks ; and the chief, seemingly satisfied with my pro-
testation, replaced his pistol in his belt, and kneeling
down on the ground, Isegan leisurely to examine my
knapsack, which he coolly unstrapped and emptied on the

" What are these papers ? " said he, as he drew forth a
most voluminous roll of manuscript from a pocket.

" They arc notes of my travels," said I, obsequiously—
"little pen sketches of men and manners in the countries
I've travelled in. I call them ' Adventures of Arthur
O'Lcary.' That's my name, gentlemen — at your service."

" Ah ! indeed. Well, then, we've given you a very

f)retty little incident for your journal this evening," said
le, laughing, "in return for which I'll ask leave to bor-
row these memoranda for wadding for my gun. Believe
me, Monsieur O'Leary, they'll make a greater noise in the
world under my auspices than under yours;" and with
tliat he opnnod a rude clasp knife and proceeded to cut my
valued manuscript into pieces about an inch square. This


done, he presented two of my shirts to each of his fol-
lowers, reserving three for himself; and having made a
most impartial division of my other effects, he pocketed
the purse I carried, with its few gold pieces, and then,
rising to his feet, said —
I " Antoine, let us be stirring now — the moon will be up
soon. Gros Jean, throw that sack on your shoulder and
move forward : and now, Monsieur, I must wish you a
good night ; and as in this changeful life we can never
answer for the future, let me commend myself to your
recollection hereafter, if, as may be, we should not meet
again. Adieu, adieu," said he, waving his hand.

"Adieu," said I, Avith a great effort to seem at ease — "a
pleasant journey, and every success to your honest endea-

" You are a fine fellow," said he, stopping and turning
about suddenly ; " a superb fellow ; and I can't part from
you without a *" gnge d'amitie' between us ;" and with the
■word he took my handsome travelling cap from my head
and placed it on his own, while he crowned me with a
villanous straw thing, that nothing save my bondage pre-
vented me from hurling at his feet.

He now hurried forward after the others, and in a few
minutes I was in perfect solitude. Well, thought I — it
was my first thought — it might all have been worse ; the
wretches might have murdered me — and such reckless
devils as practise their trade, care little for human life.
Murder, too, would only meet the same punishment as
smuggling, or nearly so — a year more, or a year less at
the galleys : and, after all, the night is fine ; and if I
mistake not, he said something about the moon. I won-
dered where was the pi-etty countess — travelling awaj^
probably, as hard as extra post could bring hei-. Ah 1
she little thought of my miserable plight now ! Then
came a little interval of softness — and then a little turn
of indignation at my treatment — that I, an Englishman,
should be so barbarously molested — a native of the land
where freedom was the great birthright of every one.
I called to mind all the fine things Burke used to say
about liberty — and if I had not begun to feel so cold, I'd
have tried to sing " Ilule Britannia," just to keep up my


spirits ; and then I fell asleep — if sleep it could be called
— that frightful nightmare of famished wolves howling
about me, tearing and mangling revenue officers ; and
grisly bears running backward and forward with smuggled
tobacco on their backs. The forest seemed peopled by
every species of hoi'rible shapes — half men, half beast —
but all with straw hats on their heads, and leather
gaiters on their legs. However, the night passed over,
and the day began to break — the purple tint, pale and
streaky, that announces the rising sun, was replacing the
cold grey of the darker hours. What a different thing it
is, to be sure, to get out of your bed deliberately, and
rubbing your eyes for two or three minutes with your
fingers, as you stand at the half-closed curtain, and then,
through the mist of your sleep, look out upon the east,
and think you see the sun rising*, and totter back to the
comfortable nest again — the whole incident not breaking;
your sleep, but merely being interwoven with your
dreams — a thing to dwell on among other pleasant fancies,
and to be boasted of the whole day afterwards — what a
different thing it is, I say, from the sensations of him who has
been up all night in the mail — shaken, bruised, and cramped
— sat on by the fat man, and kicked by the lean one ; still
worse of him who spends his night dos a dos to an oak in
a forest, cold, chill, and comfortless — no property in his
limbs beneath the knees, where all sensation terminates
— and his hands as benumbed as the heart of a poor-law

If I have never, in all my after life, seen the sun rise
from the Rigi, from Snowdon, or the Pic du Midi, or
any other place which seems especially made for this sole
purpose, I owe it to the experience of this night, and am
grateful therefore. Not that I have the most remote
notion of throwing disrespect on the glorious luminary —
far from it. I cut one of my oldest friends for speaking
lightly of the equator ; but I hold it that the sun looks
best — as every one else does — when he's up and dres.=ed
for the day. It's a piece of prying, impertinent curiosity,
to peep at him when he's rising and at his toilet — he has
not rubbed the clouds out of his eyes, or you dared not
look at him, and you feel it too. The very way you


steal out to catch a glimpse shows the sneaking, con-
temptible sense you have of your own act. Peeping Tom
was a gentleman compared to your early riser.

The whole of which digression simply seems to say — I
by no means enjoyed the rosy-fingered morning's blushes,
the raoi-e for having spent the preceding night in the
open air. I need not worry myself, still less my reader,
by recapitulating the various frames of mind which suc-
ceeded each other every hour of my captivity. At one
time, my escape with life served to console me for all I
endured ; at another, my bondage excited my whole

Online LibraryCharles James LeverThe adventures of Arthur O'Leary → online text (page 15 of 40)