Charles James Lever.

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wrath — I vowed vengeance on my persecutors too, and
meditated various schemes for their lounishment — my
anger rising as their absence was prolonged, till I thought
I could calculate my indignation by an algebraical formula,
and make it exactly equal to the "squares of the distance "
of my persecutors : then I thought of the delight I should
experience in regaining my freedom, and actually made
a bold effort to see something ludicrous in the entire
adventure — but no ; it would not do ; I could not summon
up a laugh. At last — it might have been towards noon
— I heard a merry voice chanting a song, and a quick
step coming up the alJee of the wood. I^Tever did my
heart beat with such delight : the very mode of pro-
gression had something joyous in it — it seemed a hop,
and a step and a spring, suiting each motiou to the tune
of the ail' — when suddenly the singer, with a long bound.,
stood befoi'e me. It would, indeed, have been a puzzling
question which of us more surprised the other : however,
as I can render no accurate account of his sensations on
seeing me, I must content myself with recording mine on
beholding him, and the best way to do so is to describe
him. He was a man, or a boy — Heaven knows which
— of something under the middle size, dressed in rags
of every colour and shape — his old white hat was crushed
and bent into some faint resemblance of a chapeau,
and decorated with a cockade of dirty ribands and a
cock's feather — a little white jacket, such as men-cooks
wear in the kitchen, and a pair of flaming crimson plusl:
shorts, cut above the knee, and displaying his naked legs,
with sabots, formed his costume. A wooden sword was



172 THE ADVEXTUnES OF ARTHUR o'lEART.

attached to an old belt round his waist, an ornament of
which he seemed vastly proud, and which from t me to
time he regarded with no small satisfaction.

"Holloa!" cried he, starting back, as he stood some
six paces off, and gazed at me with most unequivocal
astonishment ; then recovering his self-possession long
before I could summon mine, he said — " JJoujour, ion jour,
camarade — a fine day for the vintage."

" Xo better," said I ; "but come a little nearer, and do
me the favour to untie these cords."

" Ah ! are you long fastened up there ? "

" The whole night," said I, in a lamentable accent, hoping
to move his compassion the more speedily.

"What fun," said he, chuckling. "Were there many-
squirrels about?"

" Thousands of them. But come — be quick and undo
this, and 1*11 tell you all about it."

" Gently, gently," said he, approaching with, great cau-
tion about six inches nearer me. "When did the rabbits
come out ? — Was it before day ? "

" Yes, yes, an hour before. But I'll tell you every-
thing wlicn I'm loose. Be alive now, do."

"Why did you tie yourself so fast?" said he, eagerly,
but not venturing to come closer.

" Confound the fellow," said I, passionately. " I didn't
tie mvself ; it was the — the-



(t



Ah! I know — it was the Maire, old Pierre Bogout.
Well, well, he knows best when you ought to be set free.
lion jour, '^ and with that he began once more his infernal
tune and set out on his way as if nothing had happened ;
and though I called, prayed, swore, promised, and threatened
with all my might, he never turned his head, but went on
capering as before, and soon disappeared in the dark wood.
For a full hour, passion so completely mastered me, that I
could do nothing but revile fools and idiots of every shade
and degree — inveighing against mental imbecility as the
height of human wickedness, and wondering why no one
had ever suggested the propriety of having " naturals '*
publicly whij)pcd. I am shocked at myself now, as I
call to mind tlie extravagance of my anger ; and I grieve
to say, that had I been, lor that short interval, the pro-



FOREST LIFE. 173

prietor of a private madhouse, I fear I should have been
betrayed into the most unwarrantable cruelties towards the
patients ; indeed, what is technically called " moral govern-
ment," would have formed no part of my system.

Meanwhile time was moving on, if not pleasantly, at
least steadily ; and already the sun began to decline some-
what ; and his rays, that before came vertical, were now
slanting as they fell upon the wood. For a while, my
attention was drawn off" from my miseries by watching the
■weasels as they played and sported about me, in the con-
fident belief that I was at best only a kind of fungus— an
excrescence on an oak tree. One of them used to come
actually to my feet, and even ran across my instep in his
play. Suddenly the thought ran through me — and with
terror — how soon may it be thus, and that I shall only be
a miserable skeleton, pecked at by crows, and nibbled by
squirrels. The idea was too dreadful ; and, as if the hour
had actually come, I sci-earaed out to frighten off the little
creatures, and sent them back scampering into theii- dens.

"Holloa there! what's the matter?" shouted a deep
mellow voice from the middle of the wood ; and before I
could reply, a fat, rosy-cheeked man, of about fifty, with a
pleasant countenance terminating in a row of double chins,
approached me, but still with evident caution, and halting
when about five paces distant, stood still.

" Who are you?" said I, hastily, resolving this time at
least to adopt a different method of effecting my liberation.

" What's all this ?" quoth the fat man, shading his eyes
with his palm, and addressing some one behind him, whom
I now recognised as my friend the fool who visited me in
the morning.

" I say, sir," repeated I, in a note of command some-
what absurd from a man in my situation — " who are you,
may I ask ? "

" The Maire of Givet," said he, pompously, as he drew
himself up, and took a large pinch of snuff with an impos-
ing gravity, while his companion took off his hat in the
most reverent fashion, and bowed dowai to the ground.

" Well, Monsieur le Maire, the better fortune mme to
fall into such hands. I have been robbed and fastened
here, as you see, by a gang of scoundrels," — I took good



174 THE ADVENTURES OF ARTHUR o'lEART.

cave to say nothing of smugp^lers — " wlio have carried
away everything I possessed. Have the goodness to loosen
these confounded cords, and set me at liberty."

" Were there many of them ? " quoth the Maire, without
budging a step forward.

"Yes, a dozen at least. But untie me at once. I'm
heartily sick of being chained up here."

" A dozen at least ! " repeated he, in an accent of won- .
derment. "ilTrt foi, a very formidable gang. Do you
remember any of their names ? "

" Devil take their names ! how should I know them ?
Come, cut these cords will you? We can talk just as
well when I'm free."

" Not so fast, not so fast," said he, admonishing me with
a bland motion of his hand. " Eveiything must be done
in order. Now, since you don't know their names, we
must put them down as ' parties unknown.' "

" Put them down whatever you like ; but let me loose."

" All in good time. Let ns proceed regularly. Who
are your witnesses ? "

"Witnesses!" screamed I, overcome with passion. —
"You'll drive me distracted. I tell you I was waylaid in
the wood by a party of scoundrels, and you ask me for
their names, and then for my witnesses. Cut these cords,
and don't be so infernally stupid. Come, old fellow, look
alive, will you ? "

" Softly, softly; don't interrupt public justice," said he,
with a most provoking composure. " We must draw up
the proch verbal."

" To be sure," said T, endeavouring to see what might
be done by concurrence with him — " nothing more natural.
But let me loose first ; and then we'll arrange the proces.'^

" Not at all ; you're all wrong," interposed he. " I must
, have two witnesses first, to establish the fact of your pre-
sent position — ay, and they must be of sound mind, and
able to sign their names."

" May heaven grant me patience, or I'll burst," said I
to myself, while he continued in a regular sing-song tone —

" Then we'll take the depositions in form. Where do
you come from ? "

•* Ireland," said I, with a deep sigh, wishing I were up



FOREST LIFE. 175

to the neck in a bog-hole there, in preference to my actual
misfortune.

" What language do you usually speak ? "

*' English."

*' There now," said he, brightening up — *' there's an
important fact already in the class No. 1, identity, which
speaks of ' all traits, marks, and characteristic signs by
which the plaintiff may be known.' N'ow we'll set you
forth as ' an Irishman that speaks English.' "

" If you go on this way a little longer, you may put mo
down as 'insane,' for I vow to heaven I'm becoming so."

" Come, Bobeche," said he, turning towards the natural,
who stood in mute admiration at his side — " go over to
Claude Gueirans, at the mill, and see if the ' Notaire ' be
tip there : there was a marriage of his niece this morning,
and I think you'll find him ; then cross the bridge, and
make for Papalot's, and ask him to come up here and
bring some stamped paper to take informations with him.
You may tell the euro as you go by, that there's been a
dreadful crime committed in the forest, and that ' la jus-
tice sHnforme' " — these last words were pronounced with
an accent of the most magniloquent solemnity.

Scarcely had the fool set out on his errand when my
temper, so long restrained, burst all bounds, and I abused
the Maire in the most outrageous manner. There was
no insult I could think of I did not heap on his absurdity,
his ignorance, his folly, and stupidity ; and never ceased
till actually want of breath completely exhausted me. To
all this the worthy man made no reply, nor paid even the
least attention. Seated on the stump of a beech-tree, he
looked steadily at vacancy, till at length I began to doubt
whether the whole scene were real, and that he was not a
mere creature of my imagination. I verily believe I'd
have given five louis cVors to have been free one moment,
if only to pelt a stone at him. Meanwhile, the shadow of
coming night was falling on the forest ; the crows came
cawing home to their dwelling in the tree tops ; the
sounds of insect life were stilled in the grass ; and the
odours of the forest, stronger as night closed in, filled the
air. Gradually the darkness grew thicker and thicker,
and at last all I could distinguish was the stems of tl»e



176 THE ADVENTURES OF ARTHUR o'lEARY.

trees near mc, and a massive black object I judged to be
the Claire.

I called out to liim in accents intended to be most apo-
logetic. I begged forgiveness for my warmth of temper ;
protested my regrets, and only asked for the pleasure of
his entertaining society till the hour of my liberation
should arrive. But no answer came ; not a word, not a
syllable in reply — I could not even hear him breathing,
i'rovoked at this uncomplying obstinacy, I renewed my
attacks on all constituted authorities ; expressed the most
lively hopes that the gang of robbers would some day or
other burn down Givet and all it contained, not forgetting
the Maire and the notaiy ; and, finally, to fill up the mea-
sure of insult, tried to sing the " ga ira," which, in good
monarchical Holland, was, 1 knew, a dire offence; but I
broke down in the melody, and had to come back to prose.
However, it came just to the same — all was silent. When
1 ceased speaking, not even an echo returned me a reply.
At last I grew wearied; the thought that all my ana-
themas had only an audience of weasels and woodpeckers
damped the ardour of my eloquence, and I fell into
a musing fit on Dutch justice, which seemed admirably
adapted to those good old times when people lived to the
age of eight or nine hundred years, and when a few
months were as the twinkling of an eye. Then I began
a little plan of a tour from the time of my liberation,
cautiously resolving never to move out of the most beaten
tracks, and to avoid all districts where the Maire was
a Dutchman. Hunger, and thirst, and cold, by this time
began to tell upon my spirits too, and I grew sleepy from
sheer exhaustion.

Scarcely had I nodded my bead twice in slumber, when
a loud shout awoke me. I opened my eyes, and saw a
vast mob of men, women, and children, carrying torches,
and coming through the wood at full speed, the proces-
.sion being led by a venerable-looking old man on a white
pony, whom I at once guessed to be the cure, while the
fool, with a very imposing branch of burning pine, walked
beside him.

•' Good evening to you. Monsieur," said the old man,
as he took off his hat, with an air of courtesy.



FOREST LIFE. 177

" You must excuse tbe miserable pllglit I'm in, Mon-
sieui* le Cuie," said I, " if I cau't return your politeness
—but I'm tied."

" Cut tlie cords at once," said tbe good man to tbe
crowd tliat now pressed forward.

"Your pardon, Fatlicr Jacques," said tbe Maire, as
bo sat up in tbe grass and rubbed bis eyes, wbicb sleep
seemed to bave almost obliterated ; " but tbe proces verbal
is "

" Quite unnecessary bere," replied tbe old man. " Cut
tbe rope, my friends."

" Not so fast," said tbe Maire, pusbing towards me.
" I'll untie it. Tbat's a good cord, and wortb eigbt sous."

And so, notwitbstanding all my assurances that I'd
give bim a crown piece to use more despatcb, be pro-
ceeded leisurely to unfasten every knot, and took at least
ten minutes before be set me at liberty.

" Hurrab ! " said I, as tbe last coil was witbdrawn, and
I attempted to spring into tbe air, but my cramped and
cbilled limbs were unequal to tbe effort, and I rolled
beadlong on tbe grass.

Tbe wortby cur6, bowever, was at once beside me, and
after a few directions to tbe party to make a litter for me,
be knelt down to offer up a sbort prayer for my deliver-
ance ; tbe rest followed tbe act witb implicit devotion,
wbile I took off my hat in respect, and sat still wbere I
was.

" I see," wbispered be, wben tbe ave was over — " I see
you are a Protestant. This is a fast day witb us ; but
we'll get you a poulet at my cottage, and a glass of wine-
will soon refresb you."

AVitb many a tbankful speecb, I soon suffered myself to
be lilted into a large sheet, such as they use in the vine-
yards ; and, witb a strong cortege of the villagers carrying
their torches, we took our way back to Givet.

*^ M. ^ M.

"7t* "A" 'A" "A"

Tbe circumstances of my adventurCj considei'ably exog-
gerated, of course, were bruited over the country ; and
before I was out of bed next morning, a chasseur, in r
yerj showy livery, arrived witb a letter from the lord or
the manoi", entreating me to take my abode for some daya



178 THE ADVENTURES OF ARTHUR o'lEALT.

at the Cliateau de Roclicpied, where I should be received
with a perfect welcome, and every endeavour made to
recover my lost eflects. Having consulted with the
worth V cuie, who counselled me by all means to accept
this flattering invitation — a course I was myself disposed
to — I wrote a few lines of answer, and despatched a mes-
senger by post to Dinant, to bring up my heavy baggage
which I had left there.

Towards noon the count's carriage drove up to convey
me to the chateau ; and having taken an affectionate
fiircwcll of my kind host, I set out for Rochepied. The
wicker convenicncy in which I travelled, all alone, was,
albeit not the thing for Hyde Park, easy and pleasant in
its motion ; the fat Flemish mares, with their long tails
tastefully festooned over a huge cushion of plaited straw
on their backs, went at a fair steady pace ; the road led
through a part of the forest abounding in pretty vistas of
woodland scenery; and everything conspired to make me
feel that even an affair with a gang of smugglers might
not be the worst thing in life, if it were to lead to such
pleasant results afterwards.

As we jogged along, I learned from the fat Walloon
coachman that the chateau was full of company ; the
count had invited numerous guests for the opening of the
chasse, and that there were Fi'ench, and Germans, and
English, and, for aught he knew, Chinese expected to
"assist" at the ceremony. I confess the information con-
siderably damped the pleasure I at first experienced. I
was in hopes to see real country life, the regular course of
chateau existence, in a family quietly domesticated on
their own property. I looked forward to a peep at
that vie intime of Flemish household, of which all I
know was gathered from a Wenix picture — I wanted to
Ecc the thing in reality. The good vrow, with her high
cap and her long waist, her pale features lit up with eyes
of such brown as only Vandyck ever caught the colour of;
and the daughters, prim and stately, with their stiff, quaint
courtesy, moving about the terraced walks, like figures
Btepping from an ancient canvas, with bouquets in their
white and dimpled fingers, or mayhap a jess-hawk perched
Dpon their wrist ; and then the Mynheer Baron — I pic-



FOREST LIFE. 179

tured him as a large and portly Flcnjing, with a slouched
beaver, and a short trim moustache, deep of voice, heavy
of step, seated on a grey Cuyp-likc horse, with a flowing
mane, and a huge tassel of a tail, flapping lazily his bi^awny
flanks, or slapping with heavy stroke the massive jack-
boots of his rider.

Such were my notions of a Dutch household. The un-
changed looks of the dwellings, which for centuries were
the same, in part suggested these thoughts. The quaint
old turrets, the stiff and stately terraces, the fosse, stagnant
and sluggish, the carved tracery of the massive doorway,
were all as we see them in the oldest pictures of the laud ;
and when the rind looks so like, it is hard to imagine the
fruit with a different flavour.

It was then with considerable regret I leai'ned that I
should see the family en gala, that I had fallen upon a
time of feasting and entertainment, and had it not been
too late, I should have beaten my retreat, and taken up
my abode for another day with the Cure of Givet ; as it
was, I resolved to make my visit as brief as possible, and
take to the road with all convenient despatch.

As we neared the chateau, the Walloon remembered a
number of apologies with, which the count charged him to
account for his not having gone himself to fetch me,
alleging the claims of his other guests, and the unavoid-
able details which the forthcoming ouverture de cJiasse
demanded at his hands. I paid little attention to the
mumbled and broken narrative, interrupted by impreca-
tions on the road, and exhortations to the horses ; for
already we had entered the precincts of the demesne, and
I was busy in noting down the appearance of the place.
Thei-e was, however, little to remark : the transition from
the wide forest to the park was only marked by a little
improvement in the road ; there was neither lodge nor
gate — no wall, no fence, no inelosure of any kind. The
trim culture, which in our country is so observable around
the approach of a house of some consequence, was here
totally wanting ; the avenue was partly of gravel, partly
of smooth turf ; the brushwood of prickly holly was let
grow wild, and straggled in many places across the road ;
the occasional views that opened seemed to have been

N 2



180 TUE ADVENTURES OF ATITHUR o'lEARY.

made by accidcr.t, not design ; and all was rank vegeta*
tion and vieh verdure, uncared for — uncultivated, but
like the children of the poor, seeming only the healthier
and more robust, because left to their own unchecked, un-
tutored impulses. The rabbits played about within a few
paces of the carriage tracks ; the birds sat motionless on
the trees as we passed, while here and there, through the
foliage, I could detect the gorgeous colouring of some
briglit peacock's tail, as he rested on a bough and held
converse with his wilder brethren of the air, just as if the
remoteness of the spot and its seclusions led to intimacies
which in the ordinary routine of life had been impossible.
At length the trees receded farther and farther from the
road, and a beautiful expanse of waving lawn, dotted with
sheep, stretched before the eye. In the distance, too, I
could perceive the chateau itself — a massive pile in the
shape of a letter L, bristling with chimneys, and pierced
with windows of every size and shape ; clumps of flower-
ing shrubs and fruit trees were planted about, and little
beds of flowers spangled the even turf like stars in the
expanse of heaven. The Mouse wound round the chateau
on three sides, and perhaps thus saved it from being
inflicted by a ditch, for without water a Dutchman can no
more exist than a mackerel.

" Fine ! isn't it ? " said the Walloon, as he pointed with
his finger to the scene before me, and seemed to revel with
delight in my look of astonishment, while he plied his
whip with renewed vigour, and soon drew up at a wide
flight of stone steps, where a row of orange trees mounted
guard on each side, and filled the place with their frag-
rance.

A servant in the strange melanrje of a livery, where the
colours seemed chosen from a bed of ranunculuses just
near, came out to let down the steps and usher me into
the house. He informed me that the count had given
orders for my reception, but that he and all his friends
were out on horseback, and would not be back before din-
ner-time. Not sorry to have a little time to myself, I
retired to my room, and threw myself down on a most
comfortable sofa, excessively well satisfied with the locality
and well disposed to take advantage of my good fortune.



FOREST LIFE. 181

The little bed, with its snow-white curtains and gilded
canopy ; the brass do2;s upon the hearth, tliafc shone like
gold ; the cherry-wood table, that might have served as a
mirror; the modest book-shelf, with its pleasant row of
volumes; but, better than all, the open window, from which
I could see for miles over the top of a dark forest, and
watch the Meuse as it came and went, now shining, now
lost in the recesses of the wood — all charmed me; and I
fully confessed what I have had very frequently to repeat
in life, that " Arthur O'Leary was born under a lucky
planet."



CHAPTER XI.



CHATEAU LIFE.



SxRETCnED upon a large old-fashioned sofa, where a burgo-
master might have reclined with " ample room and verge
enough," in all the easy abandonment of dressing-gown
and slippers — the cool breeze gently wafting the window-
blind to and fro, and tempering the lulling sounds from
wood and water — the buzzing ot the summer insects, and
the far-off carol of a peasant's song — I fell into one of
those delicious sleeps in which dreams are so faintly
marked as to leave us no disappointment on waking :
flitting, shadow-like, before the mind, they live only in a
pleasant memory of something vague and undefined, and.
impart no touch, of sorrow for expectations unfulfilled —
for hopes that are not to be realized. I would that my
dreams might always take this shape. It is a sad. thing
when they become tangible — when features and looks,
eyes, hands, words, and signs, live too strongly in our
sleeping minds — and that we awake to the cold reality of
our daily cares and crosses, tenfold less endurable from
very contrast. No ! give me rather the faint and waving
outline ; the shadowy perception of pleasure, than the
vivid picture, to end only in the conviction that I anr bub



182 THE ADVENTURES OF ARTHUR o'lEARY.

Christopher Sly after all ; or what comes pretty much to
the same, nothing but — Arthur O'Leary.

Still, I would not have you deem me discontented
with mj' lot; far from it. I chose my path early in
life, {\nd never saw reason to regret the choice. How
many of you can say as much ? I felt that while the
tender tics of home and family — the charities that grow
up around the charmed circle of a wife and children — are
the great prizes of life, there are also a thousand lesser
cues in the wheel, in the kindly sympathies with which
the world abounds ; that to him who bears no ill-will at
his heart — nay, rather loving all things that are lovable,
with warm attachments to all who have been kind to
him, with strong sources of happiness in his own tranquil
thoughts — the wandering life would offer many pleasures.

Most men live, as it were, with one story of their
lives, the traits of childhood maturing into manly fea-
tures ; their history consists of the development of early
character in circumstances of good or evil fortune. They
fall in love, they marry, they grow old, and they die — -
each incident of their existence bearing on that before



Online LibraryCharles James LeverThe adventures of Arthur O'Leary → online text (page 16 of 40)