Charles James Lever.

The adventures of Arthur O'Leary online

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left Frankfort the same day the regiment marched into
town, and retired to Wiesbaden.

" The circumstance soon became the subject of town
gossip, and plenty there were most willing to attribute
Van Halsdt's departure to prudential motives, rather than
to give 60 wild a character any credit for filial ones.
Several who felt off"ended at his haughty, supercilious
manner, now exulted in this, as it seemed, fall to his
pride ; and Norvins, unfortunately, fell into the same track,
and by many a sly innuendo, and half allusion to his
absence, gave greater currency to the re[iort, that his
absence was dictated by other considerations than those
of parental respect.

THE abbe's stobt. 205

" Through all the chit-chat of the time, Marguerite
ghowed herself highly indignant at Van Halsdt's conduct.
The quiet timid girl, who detested violence, and hated
crime in any shape, felt disgusted at the thought of his
poltroonery, and could not hear his name mentioned with-
out an expression of contempt. All this delighted Edward.
It seemed to be the just retribution on the former inso-
lence of the other, and he longed for his return to Frank-
fort to witness the thousand slights that awaited him.
Such a strange and unaccountable thing is our triumph
over others, for the want of those qualities in which we
see ourselves deficient. None are so loud in decrying dis-
honesty and fraud as the man who feels knave in his own
heart. Who can censure female frailty like her who has
felt its sting in her own conscience ? You remember the
great traveller, Mungo Park, used to calculate the depths
of rivers in Africa, by rolling heavy stones over their banks
and watching the air-bubbles that mounted to the surface ;
so, oftentimes, may you measure the innate sense of a vice
by the execration some censor of morals bestows upon
it. Believe me, these heavy chastisements of crime are
many times but the cries of awakened conscience. I
speak strongly, but I feel deeply on this subject. But to
my story : — It was the custom for Marguerite and her
lover each evening to visit the theatre, where the minister
had a box-, and as they were stepping into the carriage
one night, as usual. Van Halsdt drove up to the door, and
asked if he might accompany them. Of course, a refusal
was out of the question — he was a member of the mission
— he had done nothing to forfeit his position there, how-
ever much he had lost in the estimation of society gene-
rally, and they acceded to his request, still with a species
of cold courtesy that would, by any other man, have been
construed into a refusal.

" As they drove along in silence, the constraint increased
at every moment, and had it not been for the long-sup-
px'essed feeling of hated rivalry, Norvins could have pitied
Van Halsdt as he sat, no longer with his easy smile of
self-satisfied indifference, but with a clouded heavy brow,
mute and pale. As for Marguerite, her features expressed
a species of quiet cold disdain, whenever she looked towards


him, far more terrible to bear than anything like an open
reproach. Twice or thrice he made an etFort to start some
topic of convorsatiou, but in vain, his observations were
either unreplied to, or met a cold distant assent more
chilling still. At length, as if resolved to break through
their icy reserve towards him, he asked in a tone of
ati'ected indifference —

" ' Any chaniies in Frankfoi-t, mademoiselle, since I had
the ])leasure of seeing you last ? '

" ' None, sir, that 1 know of, save that the French
cuirassier regiment marched this morning for Baden, of
ichicli, Jioioever, it is more than probable you are aware

" On each of these latter words she laid an undue stress,
fixing her eyes steadfastly on him, and speaking in a slow
measured tone. He grew deeply red, almost black for a
moment or two, his moustache seemed almost to bristle
with the tremulous convulsion that shook his npper lip,
then as suddenly he became lividly pale, while the great
druj)s of perspiration stood on his brow, and fell upon his
cheek. Isotanother word was spoken. They soon reached
the theatre, when Norvins offered Marguerite his arm, Van
Halsdt slowly following them up stairs.

" The play was one of Lessing's, and well acted, but
somehow Norvins could pay no attention to the perform-
ance, his whole soul was occupied by other thoughts.
Marguerite appeared to him in a different light from what
he had ever seen her ; not less to be loved, but altogether
difl'erent. The staid, placid girl, whose quiet thoughts
seemed never to rest on topics of violent passion or excite-
ment ; who fled from the very approach of anything
bordering on overwrought feeling, now appeared carried
away by her abhorrence of a man, to the very extreme of
hatred, for conduct, which Norvins scarcely thought she
should have considered even faulty. If, then, his triumph
over Van lialssdt brought any pleasure to his heart, a
secret sense of his own deficiency in the very quality for
which she condemned him, made him shudder.

" While he reflected thus, his ear was struck with a
conversation in the box next his, in which were seated a
large party of young men, with two or three ladies,

THE abbe's story. 207

whoso air, dress, and manners were, at least, somewhat

" ' And so, Alphonse, you sncceeded after all ? ' said a
youth, to a large, powerful, dark-moustached man, whose
plain blue frock could not conceal the soldier.

" ' Yes,' replied he, in a deep sonorous voice, ' our
doctor managed the matter for me — he pronounced me
unable to march before to-morrow ; he said that my old
wound in the arm gave symptoms of uneasiness, and
required a little more rest ; but, by St. Denis, I see little
benefit in the plan, after all. This " white feather" has
not ventured back, and I must leave in the morning with-
out meeting him.'

" These words, which were spoken somewhat loudly,
could be easily heard in any part of the adjoining box,
and scarcely were they uttered when Van Halsdt, who
sat the entire evening far back, and entirely concealed
from view, covered his face with both his hands, and
remained in that posture for several minutes. When he
withdrew them, the alteration in his countenance was
actually fearful. Though his cheeks were pale as death,
his eyes were bloodshot, and the lids swelled and con-
gested ; his lips, too, were protruded, and trembled like
one in an ague, and his clasped hands shook against the

" Norvins would have asked him if he were ill, but was
afraid even to speak to him ; while again his attention was
drawn off by the voices near him.

" ' Not got a bouquet ? ' said the large man to a lady
beside him ; ^ pardie, that's too bad. Let me assist you.
I perceive that this pretty damsel, who turns her shoulder
so disdainfully towards us, makes little use of hers, and
so avec permission, Mademoiselle ! ' With that he stood
up, and leaning across the division into their box, stretched
over his hand and took the bouquet that lay before Mar
guerite, and handed it to the lady at his side.

" Marguerite started back, as her eyes flashed with
offended pride, and then turned them on her lover. He
stood up, not to resent the insult, but to offer her his arm
to leave the bo^. She gave him a look — never in a glance
was there read such an expression of withering contempt


— and, drawing her shawl around her, said in a low voice,
' the carriage.' Before he could open tlie box door to
permit her to pass out, Van Haldst sprang to the front
of the box, and stretched over — then came a crash — a cry
— a confused shout of many voices together — and the
word ^ poJissnn,' above all ; but hurrying Marguerite along,
Norvins hastened down the stairs and assisted her into the
carriage. As she took her place, he made a gesture, as if
to follow, but she drew the door towards her, and with a
shuddering expression — ' No ' — leaned back, and closed
the diyoi". The caleche moved on, and Norvins was alone
in the street.

" I shall not attempt to describe the terrific rush of
sensations that came crowding on his brain. Coward as
he was, he would have braved a hundred deaths rather
than endure such ngony. He turned towards the theatre,
but his craveu spirit seemed to paralyze his very limbs ;
he felt as if though his antagonist were before him he
would not have had energy to speak to him. Marguerite's
look was ever before him — it sank into his inmost soul —
it was burning there like a fire, that no memory nor after
sorrow should ever quench.

" As he stood thus, an arm was passed hastily through
his, and he was led along. It was Van Halsdt, his hat
drawn over his brows, and a slight mark of blood upon
his cheek. He seemed so overwhelmed with his own
sensations as not to be cognizant of his companion's.

" ' I struck him,' said he, in a thick guttural voice, the
very breathings of vengeance, ' I struck him to my feet.
It is now a la viort between us, and better it should be so
at once.' As he spoke thus he turned towards the Boule-
vard, instead of the usual way towards the embassy.

'"We are going wrong,' said Norvins — ' this leads to
the Breiten gasse.'

'"Iknow it,' was the brief reply; 'we must make
for the country ; the tiling was too public not to
excite measures of precaution. We are to rendezvous at

" ' With swords ? '

"'No; pistols, this time,' said he, with a fiendish em-
phasis on the last words.

THE abbe's story. 200

"They walked on for above an Lour, passing through
the gate of the town, and reached the open country, each
Bllent and lost in his own thoughts.

"At a small cabaret they procured horses and a guide
to Katznach, which was about eleven miles up the
mountain. The way was so steep that they were obliged
to walk their horses, and frequently to get down and
lead them, yet not a word was spoken on either side.
Once, only, Norvins asked ' how he was to get his pistols
from Frankfort ? ' to which the other answered merely,
• then pi-ovide the weapons! ' nnd they were again silent.

" Norvins was somewhat surprised, and offended also,
that liis companion should have given him so little of his
confidence at such a moment ; gladly, indeed, would he
have exchiuiged his own th(mghts for those of any one
else; but he left him to ruminate in silence on his un-
happy position, and to brood over miseries that every
minute seemed to aggravate.

" ' They're coming up the road yonder ; I see them
now,' said Van Halsdt, suddenly, as he aroused the other
from a deep train of melancholy thoughts. ' Ha, how
lame he walks !' cried he, with savage exultation.

" In a few minutes the party, consisting of four persons,
dismounted from their horses, and entered the little
burial-ground beside the chapel. One of them advancing
hastily towards Van Halsdt, shook him warmly by the
hand, and whispered something in his ear. The other
replied ; when the first speaker turned towards Norvins,
with a look of ineffable scorn, and then passed over to the
opposite group. Edward soon perceived that this man
was to act as Halsdt's friend ; and though really glad
that such an office fell rot to his share, was deeply
offended on being thus, as it were, passed over. In this
state of dogged anger, he sat down on a tombstone, and,
as if having no interest whatever in the whole proceed-
ings, never once looked towards them.

" He did not notice that the party now took the path
towards the wood, nor was he conscious of the flight of
time, when suddeidy the loud report of two pistols, so
close together as to be almost blended, rang through his
ears. Then he sprang up, a dreadful pang piercing his


bosom ; some terrible sense of guilt he could neithf*-
fathom nor explain, flashing across him ; at the same
instant the brushwood crashed behind him, and Van
}Ialsdt and his companion came out; the former with his
eyes glistening and his cheek flushed, the other pale and
dreiulfuUy agitatrd. He nodded towards Edward signifi-
cantly, and Van Halsdt said — ' Yes.'

" Before Norvins couid conjecture what this meant, the
stranger approaelied him, and said —

" ' I am sorry, sir, the sad work of this morning cannot
end here ; but of course you are prepared to atlord my
friend the only reparation in your power.'

" ' ^le — reparation — what do you mean ? — afford
whom ? '

"'Monsieur van Halsdt,' said he, coolly ; and with a
slight emphasis of contempt as he spoke.

" ' Monsieur van Halsdt ! he never offended me — 1
never insulted, never injured him,^ said he, trembling at
every word.

'' ' Never injured me ! ' cried Van Halsdt. ' Is it nothing
that you have ruined me for ever — that your cowardice
to resent an affront offered to one who should have been
dearer than your life, a hundred times told, should have
involved me in a duel with a man I swore never to meet,
never to cross swords, nor exchange a shot with ? Is it
nothing that I am to be disgraced by my king, disin-
herited by my father — a beggar, an exile at once ? Is it
nothing, sir, that the oldest name of Friesland is to be
blotted from the nobles of his nation ? Is it nothirg that
for you I should be what I now am ? '

" The last words were uttered in a voice that made
Norvins' very blood run cold ; but he could not speak ;
he conld not mutter a word in answer.

" ' What ! ' said Van Halsdt, in an accent of cutting
sarcasm, ' I thought that perhaps in the suddenness of
the moment, your courage, unprepared for an unexpected
call, might not have stood your part j but can it be true
that you are a coward ? Is this the case ?'

"Norvins hung down his head — the sickness of death
was on him. The dreadful pause was broken at last; it
■was Van Halsdt who spoke —

THE abbe's story. 211

"'Adieu, sir; I grieve for j'ou. I li(>pe we may novel
meet again : yet let me give you a counsel ere we part.
There is but one coat men can wear with impunity, when
they carry a malevolent and a craven spirit ; you can be

"Monsieur I'Abbe, the dinner is on the table," said a
servant, entering at this moment of the story.

" Ma foi, and so it is," said he, looking gaily at his
watch, as he rose from his chair.

"But, mademoiselle," said I, " what became of her ?"

" Ah, Marguerite ; she was married to Van Halrfdt in
less than three months; the cuirassier fortunately re-
covered from his wounds ; the duel was shown to be a
thing forced by the sti-ess of consequences. A.s fur Van
Ilalsdt, the King foi^gave him, and he is now ambassador
at Naples."

" And the other, Norvins ? though I scarcely feel any
interest in him."

" I'm sorry for it," said he, laughing ; " but won't vou
move forward P"

With that he made me a polite bow to precede him
towai'ds the dinner room, and followed me with the
jaunty step and the light gesture of an easy and contented

I need scarcely say that I did not sit next the abbe
that day at dinner; on the contrary, I selected the most
stupid-looking old man I could find for my neighbour,
hugging myself in the thought, that where there is little
agreeability, Nature may kindly have given in recompense
some traits of honesty, and some vestiges of honour.
Indeed, such a disgust did. I feel for the amusing features
of the pleasantest part of the company — and so inextri-
cably did I connect repartee with rascality, that 1 trembled
at every good thing I heard, and stole away early to bed,
resolving never to take sudden fancies to agreeable people
as Ion or as I lived — an oath which a long residence in a
certain country, that shall be nameless, happily permits
me to keep, with little temptation to transgress.

The next moiuing was indeed a brilliant one — the
earth refreshed by rain — the verdure more brilliant — the
D-.ountain streams grown fuller : all the landscape seemcJ

p 2


to sV.ine forth in its gladdest features. I was up and
st.rring soon after sunrise; and ^vitll all my prejudices
agtiinst such a means of " longtlicning one's days," sat at
my window, actually entranced with the beauty of the
scene. Beyond the river there rose a heath-clad mountain,
along which mi;-ty masses of vapour swept hurriedly, dis-
closing as they passed some tiny patch of cultivation,
struggling for life amid granite rocks and abrupt preci-
pices. As the sun grew stronger, the grey tints became
brown, and the brown grew purple, while certain dark
lines that tracked their way from summit to base, began
to shine like silver, and showed the course of many a
mountain torrent, tumbling and splashing towards that
little lake that lay calm as a mirror below. Immediately
beneath ray window was the garden of the chateau : a
succession of terraces descending to the very river — the
quaint yew hedges carved into many a strange device —
the balustrades lialf hidden by flowering shrubs and
creepers — the marble statues peeping out here and there,
trim and orderly as they looked, were a pleasant feature
of the picture, and heightened the effect of the desolate
grandeur of the distant view. The very swans that sailed
about on the oval pond told of habitation and life, just
as the broad expanded wing that soared above the moun-
tain peak spoke of the wild region where the eagle was

My musings were suddenly brought to a close by a
voice on the terrace beneath. It was that of a man who
was evidently, from his pace, enjoying his morning's pro-
menade under the piazza of the chateau, while he hummed
a tune to pass away the time : —

" Why, soldiers, why
Should we be melancholy, boys ;

AVhy, soldiers, why ?
Whose business

Holloa, there, Fran9oi8, ain't they stirring yet ? why, it's
past six o'clock."

The person addressed was a serving man, who, in the
formidable attire of an English groom — in which he was
about as much at home as a coronation champion feels iu

THE abce's story. 213

plate armour — was crossing the garden towards tho

"No, sir; the count won't start before eight."

" And when do we breakfast ? "

*' At seven, sir."

** The devil — another hour —

"Why, soldiers, why,
Should we be

I say, Francois, what horse do they mean for Made-
moiselle Laura to-day r "

" The mare she rode on Wednesday, sir. Mademoiselle
liked her veiy much."

"And what have they ordered for the stranger that
came the night before last ? The gentleman who was
robbed "

" I know, I know, sir ; the roan, with the cut on her

" Why, she's a mad one — she's a run-away."

" So she is, sir; but then monsieur is an Englishman,
and the count says he'll soon tame the roan filly."

"Why, soldiers, w'" y," hummed the old colonel, for it
was Muddleton himself ; and the groom pursued bis way
without further questioning. Whereupon two thoughts
took possession of my brain : one of which was, what
peculiar organization it is which makes certain old people
who have nothing to do early risers ; the otlur, what
offence had I committed to induce the master of the
chateau to plot my sudden death.

The former has been a puzzle to me all my life. What
a blessing should sleep be to that class of beings who do
nothing when awake ; how they should covet those
drowsy hours that give, as it were, a sanction to indo-
lence ; with what anxiety they ought to await the fall of
day, as announcing the period when they become the
equals of their fellow-men ; and with what terror they
should look forward to the time wdicn the busy world is
up and stirring, and their incapacity and slothfulness only
become more glai'ing from contrast. Would not any one
say that such people would naturally cultivate sleep as
their comforter? Should they not hug their pillow as the


friend of their bosom ? On the contrai-y, tliese are in-
variably your early risers : every house where I have ever
been on a visit, has had at least one of these troubled and
troublesome spirits ; the torment of Boots — the horror of
housemaids. Their chronic cough forms a duet with the
inharmonious crowing of the young cock, who, for lack of
better knowledge, proclaims day a full hour before his time.
Their creaking shoes are the accompaniment to the scrub-
bing of brass fenders and the twigging of carpets, the
jarring sounds of opening shutters, and the cranking dis-
cord of a hall-door chain ; their heavy step sounds like
a nightmare's tread, through the whole sleeping house;
and what is the object of all this? What new fact have
they acquired? what difficult question have they solved?
whom have they made happier, or wiser, or better? Not
Betty, the cook, certainly, whose morning levee of beggars
they have most unceremoniously scattered and scared ;
not ^larv, the housemaid, who, unaccustomed to be caught
en deshabille, is cross the whole day after, though he was
"only an elderly gentleman, and wore spectacles:" not
Richard, who cleaned their shoes by candle-light : nor the
venerable butler, who, from shame sake, is up and dressed,
Imt who, still asleep, stands with his corkscrew in his
liand, under the vague impression that it is a late supper

These people, too, have always a consequential, self-
satisfied look about them ; they seem to say, as though
they knew a "thing or two" others had no wot of; as
though the day, more confidential when few were by, told
them some capital secrets the sleepers never heard of; and
they made this pestilential habit a reason for eating the
l)reakfast of a Cossack, as if the consumption of victuals
was a cardinal virtue.

Civilized differs from savage life as much by the regu-
lation of time as by any other feature. 1 see no objection
to your red man, who, probably, can't go to breakfast till
he has caught a bear, being up betimes ; but for the
gentleman who goes to bed With the conviction that hot
rolls and coffee, tea and marmalade, bloaters and honey,
liani, muffins, and eggs await him at ten vj'clock ; for him,
1 bay, these absurd vagabondisms are an iusuil'erable alfeo

THE abbe's story. 215

tation, and a most unwarrantable liberty with the peace
and privacy of a household.

Meanwhile, old Colonel Muddleton is parading below ;
and here we must leave him for another chapter.



All the world was to figure on horseback. The horses
theinselves no bad evidence of the exertions used to
mount the party. Here was a rugged pony from the
Ardennes, with short neck and low shoulder; his head
broad as a bull's, and his counter like the bow of a Dutch
galliot; there, a great Flemish beast, seventeen hands
high, with a tail festooned over a straw " bustle," and
even still hanging some inches on the ground — straight in
the shoulder, and straighter in the pasterns — giving the
rider a shock at every motion that, to any other than a
Fleming, would lead to concussion of the brain. Here
stood an English thoroughbred, sadly " shook " before,
and with that tremulous quivering of the fore-legs that
betokens a life of hard work ; still, with all his imperfec-
tions, and the mark of a spavin behind, he looked like a
gentleman among a crowd of low fellows — a reduced
gentleman it is true — but a gentleman still. His mane
was long and silky ; his coat was short and glossy ; his
head finely formed, and well put on his long, taper, and
well-balanced neck. Beside him was a huge Holsteiner,
d-ipping his broad flanks with a tail like a weeping ash — •
a great massive animal, that seemed from his action as if
he were in the habit of ascending stairs, and now and then
got the shock one feels when they come to a step too few.
Among the mass there were some " Limousins " — pretty,
neatly-formed little animals, with great strength for their
appearance, and showing a deal of Arab breeding ; and
an odd Schimmel or two from Hungary, snorting and
pawing like a war-horse. But the staple was a collection


of such screws as every week are to be seen at Tattersall'a
auction, announced as " first-rate weight-carriers with
any fox-hounds — fast in double and single harness, and
' bflievod ' sound by the owner." Well, what credulous
people are the proprietors of hoi-ses! These are the
groat exports to tlie Low Countries, repaid in mock
Vandycks, apocryi)hal Renibrandts, and fabulous Hob-
bimas ; for the exliibitiou of which, in our dining-rooms
and libraries, we are as heartily laughed at as tliey are
for their taste in manners equine ! and in the same way

Online LibraryCharles James LeverThe adventures of Arthur O'Leary → online text (page 19 of 40)