Charles James Lever.

The adventures of Arthur O'Leary online

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and that after, like link upon link of some great chain.
He, however, who throws himself like a plank upon the
waters, to be washed hither and thither, as wind or tide
might drive him, has a very different experience. To him,
life is a succession of episodes, each perfect in itself; the
world is but a number of tableaux, changing with climate
and country ; his sorrows in France have no connection
with his joys in Italy ; his delights in Spain live apart
from his griefs on the Ehine. The past throws no
shadow on the future — his philosophy is, to make the
most of the present ; and he never foi'gets La Bruyere's
maxim — " II faut rire avant d'etre heureux, de peur de

inounr sans avow i-i."

Now, if you don't like my philosophy, set it down as
a dream, and here I am awake once more.

And certainly I claim no great merit on the score of
my vigilance ; for the tantararara that awoke me would
liave aroused the Seven Sleepers themselves. Words are
weak to convey the most distant conception of the noise :
it seemed as though ten thousand peacocks had congre-


gated beneath my window, and with brazen throats were
bent on giving me a hideous concert. Tlie fiend-chorus
in '* Robert le Diable" was a psalm-tune compared to it.
I started up and rushed to the casement ; and there, in
the lawn beneath, behehl some twenty persons costumed
in hunting fashion — their horses foaming and splashed,
their coats stained with marks of the forest ; but the up-
roar was soon comprehensible, owing to some half-dozen
of the party who performed on that most diabolical of
all human inventions, the cor de cliasse.

Imagine, if you can, and thank your stars that it is
only a work of imagination, some twenty feet of brass
pipe, worn belt-fashion over one shoulder, and under the
opposite arm — one end of the aforesaid tube being a
mcuth-piece, and the other expanding itself into a huge
trumpet-mouth ; then conceive a Fleming — one of Ru-
bens' cherubs, immensely magnified, and decorated with
a beard and moustaches — blowing into this, with all the
force of his lungs, pei'fectly unmindful of the five other
performers, who at five several and distinct parts of the
melody are blasting away also ; treble and bass, contralto
and soprano, shake and sostcnuto — all blending into one
crash of hideous discord, to -udiich the Scotch bagpipe,
in a pibroch, is a soothing, melting melody. A deaf-and-
dumb institution would capitulate in half an hour.
Truly, the results of a hunting expedition ought to be of
the most satisfactory kind, to make the " Retour de Chasse"
— it was this they were blowing — at all suff'erable to
those who were not engaged in the concert ; as for the
performers, I can readily JDelieve they never heard a note
of the whole.

Even Dutch lungs grow tired at last ; having blown
the establishment into ecstasies, and myself into a fui-ious
headache, they gave in ; and now an awful bell an-
nounced the time to dress for dinner While I made my
toilet, I endeavoured, as well as my throbbing temples
would permit me, to fancy the host's personal appear-
ance, and to conjecture the style of the rest of the party.
My preparations over, I took a parting look in the glass,
as if to guess the probable impression I should make
below stairs, and sallied forth.


Cautiously stealing along over the well-waxed oors,
slippery as ice itself, I descended the broad oak stai into
a great hall, wainscoted with dark walnut, and deco-
rated with antlers and stags' heads, cross-bows and
nrquebusses, and, to my shuddering horror, various cors
de chasse, now happily, however, silent on the walls. I
entered the drawing-room, conning over to myself a little
speech in French, and preparing myself to bow for the
next fifteen minutes; but, to my surprise, no one had yei
appeared. All were still occupied dressing, and probably
taking some well-merited repose after their exertions on
the wind instruments. I had now time for a survey of
the apartment ; and, generally speaking, a drawing-room
is no bad indication of the tastes and temperament of the
owners of the establishment.

The practised eye speedily detects in the character and
arrangement of a chamber, something of its occupant. In
some houses, the absence of all decoration — the simple
puritanism of the furniture, bespeaks the life of quiet
souls, whose days are as devoid of luxury as their dwell-
ings. You read in the cold grey tints,, the formal stiffness,
the unrelieved regularity around the Quaker-like flat-
ness of their existence. In others, there is an air of
ill-done display, a straining after effect, which shows itself
in costly but ill-assorted details — a mingling of all styles
and eras, without repose or keeping. The bad preten-
tious pictures, the faulty bronzes, meagre casts of poor
originals, the gaudy china, are safe warranty for the vul-
garity of their owners ; while the humble parlour of a
village inn can be, as I have seen it, made to evidence the
cultivated tastes and polished habits of those who have
made it the halting-place of a day. We might go back
and trace how much of our knowledge of the earliest
ages is derived from the study of the interior of their
<lwcllings; what a rich volume of information is con-
veyed in a mosaic; what a treatise does not lie in a
fre.<*coed wall.

The room in which I now found myself was a long,
and, for its length, a narrow apartment ; a range of tall
windows, deeply sunk in the thick wall, occupied one
Bide, opposite to which was a plain wall, covered with


jjictures from flocr to cornice, save where, at a consider-
able distance I'rora each other, were two s])lendi(jly-
carved chimney-pieces of bhick oak, one re[)resentino'
" The Adoration of the Shepherds," and the other " The
Miraculous Draught of Fishes," — the latter done with
a relief, a vigour, and a movement I have never seen
equalled. Above these were Kcme armorial trophici of
an early date, in which, among the maces and battle-axes,
I could, recognize some weapons of Eastern origin, which,
by the family, I learned, were ascribed to the periods of
the Crusades.

Between the windows were placed a succession of
carved, oak cabinets of the seventeenth century, beautiful
specimens of art, and, for all their quaintness, far hand-
somer objects of furniture than our modern luxury has
introduced among us. Japan vases of dark blue and green
were filled with rare flowers ; here and there small tables
of costly buhl invited you to the window I'ccesses, where
the downy ottomans, pillowed, with Flemish luxury, sug-
gested rest, if not sleep. The pictures, over which I could
but throw a passing glance, wei'e all by Flemish painters,
and of that character which so essentially displays their
chief merits, richness of colour and tone — Gerard Dow
and Ostade, Cuyp, Van der Meer, and Terburg ; those
admirable groupings of domestic life, where the nation
is, as it were, miniatured before you ; that perfection
of domestic quiet, which bespeaks an heirloom of tran-
quillity, derived w'hole centuries back. You see at once,
in those dark brown eyes and placid features, the traits
that have taken ages to bring to such perfection ; and
you recognize the origin of those sturdy burgomasters and
bold burghers, who were at the same time the thriftiest
merchants and the hautiest princes of Europe.

Suddenly, and when I was almost on my knees, to
examine a picture by Memling, the door opened, and a
small, sharp-looking man, dressed in the hxst extrava-
gance of Paris mode, resplendent in waistcoat, and glisten-
ing in jewellery, tripped lightly forward. " Ah, mi Lor
O'Leary ! " said he, advancing towards me with a bow and
a slide.

It was no time to discuss pedigree ; so gulping the


promotion, I niaile my acknowledgments as best I could;
and by the time that we met, which, on a moderate cal-
culation, might have been two minutes after he entered,
we shook hands very cordially, and looked delighted to
sec each other. This cei'emony, I repeat, was only ac-
complished after his having bowed round two tables, an
ottoman, and an oak " armoire," I having performed the
like ceremony behind a Chinese screen, and very nearly
over a vase of the original " green di-agon," which actually
seemed disposed to spring at me for my awkwardness.

Before my astonishment — shall I add, disappointment ?
— had subsided, at finding that the diminutive, over-dressed
figure before me was the representative of those bold
barons I had been musing over, for such ho was, the
room began to fill. Portly ladies of undefined dates sailed
in and took their places — stiff, stately, and silent as their
grandmothers on the walls ; heavy-looking gentlemei],
with unpronounceable names, bowed and wheeled, and
bowed again; while a buzz of " vofre servifeur,^' Madame,
or Monsieur, swelled and sank amid the murmur of the
room, with the scraping of feet on the glazed parquet, and
the rustle of silk, whose plentitude bespoke a day when
silkworms were honest.

The host paraded me around the austere circle, where
the very names sounded like an incantation ; and the old
ladies shook their bugles and agitated their fans, in re-
cognition of my acquaintance. The circumstances of my
adventure were the conversation of every group ; and
although, I confess, I could not help feeling that even a
small spice of malice might have found food for laughter
in the absurdity of my durance, yet not one there could
sec anytliing in the wliole afihir, save a grave case of
smuggled tobacco, and a most unwaiTantable exercise of
authority on the part of the cure who liberated me. In-
deed, this latter seemed to gain ground so rapidly, that;
once or twice I began to fear they might remand me and
sentence me to another night in the air, " tiJl justice should
be satisfied." I did the worthy Maire de Givet foul wrong,
said I to myself; these people hero are not a whit better.

Tlie company continued to arrive at every moment ; and
now I remarked that it was the veteran battalion who led


the Tnarch, the younger members of the household only
dropping in as the hour gi-ew hiter. Among these was a
pleasant sprinkling of Frenchmen, as easily recognizable
among Flemings as is an officer of the " Blues " from
one of the new police. A German baron, a very portrait
of his class — fat, heavy-browed, sulky-looking, but in
reality a good-hearted, fine-tempered fellow ; two Ameri-
cans ; an English colonel, with his daughters twain ; and
a Danish cliarrje d'affaires — the minor characters being
what, in dramatic phrase, are q,^\q.^ premiers and previieres^
meaning thereby young people of either sex, dressed in
the latest mode, and performing the part of lovers : the
ladies, with a moderate share of good looks, being perfect
in the freshness of their toilette, and a certain air of ease
and gracefulness, almost universal abroad ; the men, a
strange mixture of silliness and savagery— a bad ci'oss —
half hairdresser, half hero.

Before the dinner was announced, I had time to perceive
that the company was divided into two different and very
opposite currents — one party consisting of the old Dutch
or Flemish race, quiet, plodding, peaceable souls, pretend-
ing to nothing new, enjoying everything old ; their sou-
venirs referring to some event in the time of their grand-
fathers : the other section were the younger portion, Avho,
strongly imbued with French notions on dress, and English
on sporting matters, attempted to bring Newmarket and the
*' Boulevards des Italiens " into the heart of the Ardennes.

Between the two, and connecting them with each other,
was a species of po7it dit, diulle, in the person of a little,
dapper, olive-complexioned man of about forty ; his eyes
black as jet, but with an expression soft and subdued,
save at moments of excitement, when they flashed like
glow-worms ; his plain suit of black, with deep cambric
ruffles — his silk shorts and buckled shoes, had something
of the ecclesiastic — and so it was : he was the Abbe van
Praet, the cadet of an ancient Belgian family, a man of
considerable ability, highly informed on most subjects — a
linguist, a musician, a painter of no small pretensions,
who spent his Hie in i\\Q "■far niente'' of chateau exist-
ence ; now devising a party of pleasure, now inventing a
madrical — now givinsr directions to the c//'/ how to ma^e


an omeleite a la cin^, now stealing noiselessly along
some sheltered Avalk, to hear sonic fair ladj-'s secret
confidence, — for he was privy counsellor in all alfairs of
the heart, and, if the world did not wrono; him, occasionally
pleaded his own cause, when no other petitioner offered.

I was soon struck by this man, and by tlic tact with
which, while he preserved his ascendancy over the minds
of all, he never admitted any undue familiarity, yet
affected all the ease and insoicciance of the veriest idler.
I was flattered, also, by his notice of me, and by the
politeness of his invitation to sit next him at table.

The distinctions I have hinted at already made the
dinner conversation a strange medley of Flemish history
and sporting anedotcs — of reminiscences of the times of
Maria Theresa, and dissertations on weights and ag:es — of
the genealogies of Hemisli families, and tha pedigrees of
English race-horses. The young English ladies, both
pretty and delicate-looking girls, with an air of good
breeding and tone in their manner, shocked me not a little
by the intimate knowledge they displayed on all matters
of the turf and the stable; their acquaintance with the
details of hunting, racing, and steeple-chasing, seeming
to form the most wonderful attraction to the moustached
counts and whiskered barons who listened to them. The
colonel was a fine, mellow-looking old gentleman, with a
white head and a red nose, and with that species of placid
expression one sees in the people who perform those parts
3.1 Vaudeville theatres, called pcres nobles ; he seemed, in-
deed, as if he had been daily in the habit of bestowing a
lovely daughter on some happy, enraptured lover, and invok-
ing a blessing on their heads. There was a rich unction in
his voice, an almost imperceptible quaver, tliat made it
Kecni kind and aQ'ectionate ; he finished his slialcj of the
liand with a little parting squeeze, a kind of " one cheer
more," as they say now-a-days, when some misguided
admirer calls upon a meeting for enthusiasm they don't
feel. The Americans were — and one description will
serve for both, so like were they — sallow, high-boned,
fiilent men, with a species of quiet caution in tlieir manner,
as if they were learning, but had not yet completed, a
European education, as to habits and customs, and were


■studiously careful not to commit any solecisms which
might betray their country.

As dinner proceeded, the sporting characters carried
the day. The '' ouverture do chasse," which was to take
place the following morning, was an all-engrossing topic,
and I found myself established as judge on a hundred
points of English jockey etiquette, of which as my igno-
rance was complete, I suffered grievously in the estimation
of the company, and, when referred to, could neither
apportion the weight to age, nor even tell the number of
yards in a " distance."

It was, however, decreed that I should ride the next
day — the host had the "very horse to suit me;" and,
as the abbe whispered me to consent, I acceded at once
to the arrangement.

When we adjourned to the drawing-room. Colonel
Muddleton came towards me with an easy smile and an
outstretched suuflf-box, both in such perfect keeping — the
action was a finished thing.

"Any relation, may I ask, of a very old friend and
brother-officer of mine, General Mark O'Leary, who was
killed in Canada? " said he.

" A very distant one onlj^," replied I.

" A capital fellow — brave as a lion — and pleasant. By
Jove, I never met the like of him ! What became of his
Irish property? — ^he was never married, I think? "

" No, he died a bachelor, and left his estates to my
uncle ; they had met once by accident, and took a liking
to each other."

" And so your uncle has them now ? "

" No ; my uncle died since : they came into my possession
some two or three years ago."

" Eh — ah — upon my life ! " said he, with something of
surprise in his manner ; and then, as if ashamed of his
exclamation, and with a much more cordial vein than at
first, he resumed—" What a piece of unlooked-for good
fortune to be sure ! Only think of voj finding my old
friend JNTark's nephew ! "

" Not his nephew. I was only "

"Nevermind, nevermind; he was a kind of an uncle,
you know ; any man might be proud of him. What a


glorious fellow ! full of fun — full of spirit and animation.
Ah, just like all your countryman ! I've a little Irish
blood in my veins myself; my mother was an O'Flalierty,
or an O'Xeil, or something of that sort ; and there's
Laura — you don't know my daughter? "

" I have not the honour."

" Come along, and I'll introduce you to lier — a little
rosci'vcd or so," said he, in a whispei', as if to give me the
carte du pays — " rather cold, you know, to strangers ; but
when she hears you ai'e the nephew of my old friend
^lark — Mark and I were like brothers. Laura, my love,"
said he, tapping the young lady on her wdiite shoulder, as
she stood with her back towards us ; " Laura, dear — the
son of my oldest friend in the world, General O'Leary."
The young lady turned quickly round, and, as she drew
herself up somewhat haughtily, dropped me a low curt-
sey, and then resumed her conversation with a very much
whiskered gentleuan near.

The colonel seemed, despite all his endeavours to over-
come it, rather put out by his daughter's hauteur to the
fson of his old friend ; and what he should have said or
done I know not, when the abbe came suddenly up, and
with a card invited me to join a party at whist. The
moment was so awkward for all, that I would have ac-
cepted an invitation even to ecarie to escape from the
dilllculty, and I followed him into a small boudoir where
two ladies where awaiting us. I had just time to see
that they were both pleasing-looking, and of that time of
life when women, Avithout forfeiting any of the attractions
of youth, are much more disposed to please by the attrac-
tions of manner and esprit than by mere beauty, when we
sat down to our game. La Baronne do Meer, my partner,
was the younger and the prettier of the two; she was one
of those Flemings into whose families the i-ace of Spain
poured tlie warm current of southern blood, and gave
tlieni the dark eye and the olive skin, the graceful figure
scd the clastic step, so characteristic of their nation.

" yl la honne heure,'^ said she, smiling; "have we
rescued one from the enchantress? "

" Yes," replied the ab];4, with an afi'ected gravity; " in
another moment he was lost."


" If j-oii mean mc," said I, laughing, " I assure you I
ran no danger whatever; for whatever the young lady's
glances may portend, she seemed very much indisposed to
bestow a second on me."

Tiie game proceeded with its running fire of chit-chat;
in which I could gather that Mademoiselle Laura was a
most established man-killer, no one ever escaping her
fascinations, save when by some strange fatality they pre-
ferred her sister Julia, whose style was, to use the abbe's
phrase, her sister's " diluted."

There was a tone of pique in the way the ladies criti-
cized the colonel's daughters, which, since that, I have
often remai'ked in those who, accustomed to the atten-
tions of men themselves, without any unusual effort to
please on their part, are doubly annoyed when they per-
ceive a rival making more than ordinary endeavours to
attract admirers. They feel as a capitalist would, when
another millionaire offers money at a lower rate of in-
terest. It is, as it were, a breach of conventional
etiquette, and never escapes being severely criticized.

As for me, I had no personal feeling at stake, and
looked on at the game of all parties with much amusement.

*' Where is the Count D'Espagne to-night, said the
baronne to the abbe — has he been false?"

" Not at all ; he was singing with mademoiselle when I
was in the salon."

" You'll have a dreadful rival there, Monsieur O'Leary,"
said she, laughingly; he " is the most celebrated swords-
man and the best shot in Flanders."

" It is likely he may rust his weapons if he have no
opportunity for their exercise till I give it," said I.

" Don't you admire her, then ?" said she.

" The lady is very pretty, indeed," said I.

" The heart led," interrupted the abbe, suddenly, as he
touched my foot beneath the table — " play a heart."

Close beside my chair, and leaning over my cards, stood
Mademoiselle Laura herself at the moment.

" You have no heart," said she, in English, and with a
singular expression on the words, while her downcast eye
Bliot a glance — one glance — through me.

" Yes, but I have th{ ugh," said I, discovering a card


that lay concealed beliind another ; " it only requires a
little looking for."

"Not worth the trouble, perhaps," said she, with a toss
of her head, as I threw the deuce upon the table ; and
before I could reply she was gone.

" I think her much prettier when she looks saucy," said
the baronnc, as if to imply that the air of pique assumed
was a mere piece of acting got up for effect.

I see it all, said I to myself. Foreign women can never
forgive English for bcing'so much their superior in beauty
and loveliness. ]\reanwhile our game came to a close,
and we gathered around the buffet.

There we found the old colonel, with a large silver tan-
kard of mulled wine, holding forth over some campaigning
exploit, to which no one listened for more than a second
or two, and thus the whole room became joint-stock
hearers of his story. Laura stood eating her ice with
the Count D'Espagne, the black- whiskered cavalier already
mentioned, beside her. The Americans were prosing
away about Jefl'erson and Adams. The Belgians talked
agriculture and genealogy; and the French, collecting
into a group of their own, in which nearly all the pretty
women joined, discoursed the ballet, the " Chambrc," the
court, tiie coulisses, the last mode, and the last murder ;
and all in the same mirthful and lively tone. And truly,
let people condemn as they will this superficial style of
conversation, there is none equal to it. It avoids the
prosaic flatness of German, and the monotonous perti-
nacity of English, which seems more to partake of the
nature of discussion than dialogue. French chit-chat
takes a wider range ; anecdotic, illustrative, and discur-
sive by turns. It deems nothing too light, nothing too
weighty for its subject. It is a gay butterfly, now float-
ing with gilded wings above yoii, now tremulously perched
upon a leaf below, now sparkling in fhc sunbeam, now
loitering in the shade ; embodying not only thought, but
expression, it charms by its style as well as by its matter.
Tlie language, too, suggests shades and "nuances" of
colouring that exist not in other tongues ; you can give to
your canvas the precise tint you wish, for v/hen mystery
vould prove a merit, the equivoque is there ready to


your hand, that means so much, yet asserts so little.
For my part I should make my will in English, but
I'd rather make love in French. But while thus di-
gressing, I have forgotten to mention that people are
running back and forward with bedroom candles ; there
is a confused hum of bon soir on every side ; and, with
many a hope of a line day for the morrow, we separate for
the night.

I lay awake some hours thinking of Laura, and then of
the baronne — they were both arch ones ; tlie abbe ^^oo
crossed my thoughts, and once or twice the old colonel's
roguish leer ; but 1 slept soundly for all that, and did not
wake till eight o'clock the next morning. The silence of
the house struck nic forcibly as I rubbed my eyes and
looked about. Hang it, thought T, have they gone off" to
the chasse without me ? I surely could never have slept
through the upi'oar of their trumpets. I drew aside the
window curtains, and the mystery was solved : such rain

Online LibraryCharles James LeverThe adventures of Arthur O'Leary → online text (page 17 of 40)