Charles James Lever.

The adventures of Arthur O'Leary online

. (page 21 of 40)
Online LibraryCharles James LeverThe adventures of Arthur O'Leary → online text (page 21 of 40)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


window one evening, as usual, watching the sun go down,
she beheld a palmer coming slowly along up the cause-
way, leaning on his staff, and seeming sorely tired and
weary "

" But see," cried Laura, at this moment, as we gained
the crest of a gentle acclivity, "yonder is Bouvigne ; it is
a fine thing even yet."

We both reined in our horses, the better to enjoy the
prospect, and certainly it was a grand one. Behind us,
and stretching for miles in either direction, was the great
forest we had been traversing; the old Ardennes had been
a forest in the times of Ceesar; its narrow pathways had
echoed to the tread of Roman legions. In front was a
richly cultivated plain, undulating gently towards the
Meuse, whose silver current wound round it like a garter;
the opposite bank being fox'med by an abrupt wall of
naked rocks of grey granite, sparkling with its brilliant
hues, and shining doubly in the calm stream at its foot.
On one of the highest cliflTs, above an angle of the river,
and commanding both reaches of the stream for a con-
siderable way, stood Bouvigne; two great squaret owers,
rising above a battlemented wall, pierced with long loop-
holes, stood out against the clear sky ; one of them, taller
than the other, was surmounted by a turret at the angle,
fi-om the top of which something projected laterally, like
a beam.

'• Do you see that piece of timber yonder? ' said Laura.

"Yes," said I; " it's the very thing I've been looking
at, and wondering what it could mean."

" Carry your eye downward," said she, " and try if you
can't make out a low wall, connecting two masses of rock
together ; far, far down ; do you see it ? "

" I see a large archway, with some ivy over it."

Q 2



223 THE ADVENTURES OF ARTHUR o'lEARY.

" That's it; that was the gieat entrance to the schloss;
before it is the fosse — a huue ditch ciit in the solid rock,
bo deep as to permit the water of the ^Meuse, when flooded,
to tiow into it. Well, now, if you look agnin, you'll see
^l;at the great beam above hangs exactly over that spot.
It was one of the rude defences of the time, and intended,
by means of an iron basket, which hung from its ex-
tremity, to hurl great rocks and stones upon any assailant.
The mechanism can still be traced by which it was moved
back and loaded ; tlie piece of rope which opened the
basket at each discharge of its contents was there not
many years ago. There's a queer, uncouth representation
of the panier de viorte as it is called, in the Chroiiique,
which you can see in the old library at Rochepied. But
here we are already at the ferry."

As she spoke we had just reached the bank of the
Meu.se, and in front was a beautifullj' .situated little village,
which, escarped in the mountain, presented a succession
of houses, at different elevations, all looking towards
the stream. They were mostly covered with vines and
honeysuckles, and with the picturesque outlines of gable
and roof, diamond windows and rustic porches, had a very
pleasing elfect.

As I looked, I had little difficulty in believing that
they were not a very equestrian people : the little path-
ways that traversed their village being inaccessible, save
to foot-passengers, frequently ascending by steps cut in
the rock, or rude staircases of wood, which hung here
and there over the edge of the cliff in anything but a
tempting way; the more .so, as they trembled and shook
with every foot that passed over them. Little mindful
of this, the peasants might now be seen leaning over their
frail barriers, and staring at the unwonted apparition of
two figures on horseback ; while I was endeavouring, by
signs and gestures, to indicate our wish to cross over.

At la.st a huge raft appeared to move from beneath the
willows of the oppo.site bank, and by the aid of a rope
fastened across the stream, two men proceeded slowly to
ferry the great platform over.

Ticading our horses cautiously forward, we embarked
in this frail ci-aft, and landed sa'ely in Bouvigne.



229



CHAPTER XIV.

A NARROW ESCAPE.

" Will you please to tell me, Mr. O'Leary," said Laura,
in the easy tone of one who asked for information's sake,
''what are your plans here? for up to this moment I
(jnty perceive that we have been increasing the distance
between us and Hochepied."

"Quite true," said I; "but you know we agreed it
was impossible to hope to find our way back through the
forest. Every allee here has not only its brother, but a
large family, so absolutely alike no one could distinguish
between them ; we might wander for weeks without
extricating ourselves."

" I know all that," said she, somewhat pettishly ; " still
my question remains unanswered ; what do you mean to
do here ?"

" In the first place," said I, with the affected precision
of one who had long since resolved on his mode of prO'
Deeding, " we'll dine."

I stopped here, to ascertain her sentiments on this part
of my arrangement. She gave a short nod and I pro-
ceeded —

" Having dined," said I, " we'll obtain horses and a
caleche, if such can be found, for Hochepied."

" I've told you already there are no such things here ;
they never see a carriage of any kind from year's end
to year's end ; and there is not a horse in the whole
village."

" Perhaps, then, there may be a chateau near, where,
on making known our mishap, we might be able "

" Oh, that's very simple, as far as you're concerned,"
said she, w'ith a saucy smile; "but I'd just as soon not
have this adventure published over the whole country."

Ha! by Jove, thought I, there's a consideration com-
pletely overlooked by me : and so I became silent and
thoughtful, and spoke not another word, as we led our



230 THE ADVENTURES OF ARTHUR 0*LEART,

horses up the little rocky causeway towards the ToisoiJ
d'Or. If we did not admire the little auberge of tbo
Golden Fleece, truly the fault was rather our own,
than I'rom any want of merit in the little hostel itself.
Situated on a rocky promontory on the river, it was built
actually over the stream, the door fronting it, and ap-
proachable by a little wooden gallery, along which a i-ange
of orange-ti-ees and arbutus was tastefully disposed, scent-
ing the whole air with their fragrance. As we walked
along we caught glimpses of several rooms within, neatly
and even handsomely fui'nished ; and one ^a/o?^ in parti-
cular, where books and music lay scattered on the tables,
with that air of habitation so pleasant to look on.

So far from our appearance in a neighbourhood thus
remote and secluded creating any surprise, both host and
hostess received us with the most perfect ease, blended
with a mixtui'e of cordial civility, very acceptable at the
moment.

" We wish to dine at onoe," said I, as I handed Laura
to a chair.

" And to know in what way we can reach Rochepied,"
said she; " our horses are weary and not able for the
road."

" For the dinner, raadeinoiselle, nothing is easier; but
as to getting forward to-night "

" Oh, of course I mean to-night — at once."

" Ah, voila," said he, scratching his forehead in bewil-
derment ; " we're not accustomed to that, never. People
generally stop a day or two ; some spend a week here,
and have horses from Dinant to meet them."

" A week here ! " exclaimed she ; " and what in heaven's
name can they do here for a week ?"

" Why, there's the chateau, mademoiselle ; the chateau
of Philip de Bouvigne, and the gardens terraced in the
rock; and there's the well of St. Sevres, and the He de
Notre Dame aux bois ; and then there's such capital fishing
in the stream — abundance of trout."

"Oh, deligliifiil, I'm sure," said she, impatiently; "but
we wish to get on : so just set your mind to that, like a
worthy man."

" Well, we'll see what can be done," replied he; " and



A NARROW ESCAPE. 231

before diimev's over, perhaps I may find some means to
forward you."

With this he left the room, leaving mademoiselle and
myself tete-a-iete. And here let me confess, never did
any man feel his situation more awkwardly than I did
mine at that moment ; and before any of my younger and
more ardent brethren censure me, let me at least " show
cause " in my defence. First, I myself, however uninten-
tionally, had brought Mademoiselle Laura into her present
embarrassment; but for me and the confounded roan she
had been at that moment cantering away pleasantly with
the Corate D'Espague beside her, listening to his Jleu-
o-ettes, and receiving his attentions. Secondly, I was,
partly from bashfulness, partly from fear, little able to
play the part my present emergency demanded, which
should either have been one of downright inditference and
ease, or something of a more tender nature, which indeed
the very pretty companion of my travels might have
perfectly justified.

" Well," said she, after a considerable pause, " this is
about the most ridiculous scrape I've ever been involved
in. What ivill they think at the chateau ? "

" If they saw your horse when he bolted "

"Of course they did," said she ; "but what could they
do? The Comte D'Espagne is always mounted on a
slow horse : he couldn't overtake me ; then the maitres
couldn't pass the grand maitre."

" What ? " cried I, in amazement ; " I don't co«ipre-
hend you perfectly."

" It's quite clear, nevertheless," replied she ; "but I see
you don't know the rules of the cliasse in Flanders."

Witli this she entered into a detail of the laws of the
hunting-field, which more than once threw me into fits of
laughter. It seemed, then, that the code decided that
each horseman who followed the hounds should not be
left to the wilfulness of his horse, or the aspirings of his
ambition, as to the place he occupied in the chase. It w^afi
no momentary superiority of skill or steed, no display of
jockeyship, no blood, that decided this momentous ques-
tion. No, that was arranged on princijiles far less vacil-
lating and more permanent, at the commencement of the



232 THE ADVENTURES OF AllTHUR o'lEARY.

nun ting season, by which it was laid down as a rulr certain
that tlic grand niaitre was always to ride first. His pace
might be fast or it might be slow, but his place was there.
After him came the n)airres, the people in scarlet, who, in
right of paying double subscription, were thus costumed
and thus privileged ; while the aspirants in green followed
last, their smaller contribution only permitting them to
see so much of the sport as their respectful distance
opened to them ; and thus that indiscriminate rush, so
observable in our hunting-fields, was admirably avoided
and provided against. It was no headlong piece of reck-
less dai'ing — no impetuous dash of bold horsemanship ;
on the contrary, it was a decoi'ous and stately canter, not
after hounds, but after an elderly gentleman in a red coat
and a brass tube, who was taking a quiet airing in the
pleasing delusion that he was hunting an animal unknown.

Woe unto the man who forgot his place in the proces-
sion ; you might as well walk into dinner before your host,
under the pi-etence that you were a more nimble pedes-
trian. Besides this, there were subordinate rules to no
end — certain notes on the cor de chasse were roj'alties of
the grand maiti-e ; the maitres possessed others as their
privileges, which no aspirant dare venture on. There
were quavers for one, and semiquavers lor the other; and,
in fact, a most complicated system of legislation compre-
licnded every incident, and, 1 believe, every accident of
the sport, so much that I can't trust my memory as
to whether the wretched aspirants were not limited to
tumbling in one particular direction, which, if so, must
have been somewhat of a tyranny, seeing they were but
men, and Belgians.

" This might seem all very absurd and very fabulous,
if I referred to a number of years back; but when I say
that the code exists still, in the year of grace, 1850, what
will they say at Melton or Grantham? So you may
imagine," said Laura, on concluding her description, which
she gave with much humour, " how manifold your trans-
gressions liave been this day ; you have oii'ended the grand
maitre, maitres, and aspir-ants, in (me coup ; you have
broken up the whoh; ' onler of their going.' "

" And run away with the belle of the chateau," added I.



A NAKROW ESCAPE. 233

She did not seem half to relish my jest, howevei* ; and
gave a little shake of the head, as though to say —

" You're not out of that scrape yet."

Thus did we chat over our dinner, which was really
excellent ; the host's eulogy on the Meuse trout being
admirably sustained by their merits ; nor did his flask of
Haut-13rion lower the character of his cellar. Still no
note of preparation seemed to indicate any arrangements
for our departure ; and although, sooth to say, I could
have reconciled myself wonderfully to the inconvenience
of the Toison D'Or for the whole week if necessary, Laura
was becoming momentarily more impatient, as she said —

" Z)o see if they are getting anything like a cai-riage
ready, or even horses ; we can ride, if they'll only get rs
animals."

As I entered the little kitchen of the inn, I found ray
host sti'etched at ease in a wicker chair, surrounded by a
little atmosphere of smoke, through which his great round
face loomed like the moon in the grotesque engravings
one sees in old spelling-books. So far from giving him-
self any unnecessary trouble about our departure, he had
never ventured beyond the precincts of tlie stove, content-
ing himself with a wholesome monologue on the impossi-
bility of our desires ; and that great Flemish consolation,
that however we might chafe at first, time would cnirn us
in the end.

After a fruitless interrogation about the means of pru-
ceeding, I asked if there were no chateau in tlie vicinity
where horses could be borrowed ?

He replied, "No, not one for miles round."

" Is there no Maire in the village — where is he ? "

" I am the ]\Iaire," replied he, with a conscious dignity.

Alas ! thought I, as the functionary of Givet crossed
my mind, why did I not remember that the Maire is
always the most stupid of the whole community.

" Then I think," said I, after a brief silence, " we had
better see the Cui'e at once "

" I thought so," was the sententious reply.

"Without troubling my head why he " thought so," I
begged that the Cute might be informed that a grntleman
at the inn begged to speak with him for a few minuses.



234 THE ADVENTURES OF ARTHUR O'LEARY.

" The Fere Jose, I suppose ? " said the host, signifi.
cantly-

" With all my heai-t," said I ; " Jofe or Pierre, it's all
alike to me."

" He is there in ■waiting this half-hour," said the host,
pointing -svitli his thunilj to a small salon off the kitchen.

" Indeed ! " said I ; " how very polite the attention.
I'm really most grateful."

"With which, without delaying another moment, I
pushed open the door, and entered.

The Pere Jose was a short, ruddy, astute-looking man
of about fifty, dressed in the canonical habit of a Flemish
priest, which, from time and wear, had lost much of its
original freshness. He had barely time to unfasten a huge
najikin, which he had tied around his neck during his
devotion to a great mess of vegetable soup, when I made
my bow to him. >

" The Pere Jose, I believe ? " said I, as I took my seat
opposite to him.

" That unworthy priest ! " said he, wiping his lips, and
throwing up his eyes with an expression not wholly devo-
tional.

" Pere Jos6," resumed I, " a young lady and myself,
■who have just arrived here with weary horses, stand in
need of your kind assistance." Here he pressed my hand
gently, as if to assure me I was not mistaken in my man,
and I went on : — " We must reach liochepied to-night ;
now will you try and assist us at this conjuncture? we
are complete strangers."

" Enough, enough ! " said he. " I'm sorry you are con-
strained for time. This is a sweet little place for a few
days' sojourn. But if," said he, " it can't be, you shall
have every aid in my power. I'll send off to Poil de
Vache for his mule and car. Tou don't mind a little
shaking," said he, smiling.

" It's no time to be fastidious, Pere, and the lady is au
excellent traveller."

" The mule is a good beast, and will bring you in three
hours, or even less." So saying, he sat down and wrote a
few lines on a scrap of paper, with which he despatched a
boy from the inn, telling him to make every haste. " And



A NARROW ESCAPE. 235

now, "Monsieur, may I be permitted to pay my respects to

Mademoiselle ?"

" Most certainly, Pere Jose ; she will be but too happy
to add her thanks to mine for what you have done for us."

" Say rather, for what I am about to do," said he,
smiling.

" The will is half the deed, Father."

" A good adage, and an old," replied he, while he pro-
ceeded to arrange his drapery, and make himself as pre-
sentable as the nature of his costume would admit.

" This was a rapid business of yours," said he, as he
smoothed down his few locks at the back of his head.

" That it wa<i, Pere, — a regular runaway."

" I guessed as much," said he. " I said so, the moment
I saw you at the ferry."

The Padre is no bad judge of horse-flesh, thought 1, to
detect the condition of our beasts at that distance.

" ' There's something for me,' said I to ]M;idame Guyon.
* Look yonder ! See how their cattle are blowing !
They've lost no time, and neither will I.' Ami with that
I put on my gown and came up here."

" How considerate of you, Pere ; you saw we should
need your help."

" Of course I did," said he, chuckling. " Of course I
did. Old Gregoire, here, is so stupid and so indolent that
I have to keep a sharp look-out myself. But he's the
Maire, and one can't quarrel with him."

"Very true," said I. "A functionary has a hundred
opportunities of doing civil things, or the reverse."

"That's exactly the case," said the Pere. "Without
him we should have no law on our side. It would be ail
sous la chemitiee, as they say."

The expression was new to me, and I imagined the good
priest to mean, that without the magistrature, respect for
ihe laws might as well be " up the chimney." " And now,
if you allow me, we'll pay our duty to the lady," said the
Pere Jose, when he had completed his toilette to his
satisfaction.

When the ceremonial of presenting the Pere was over
I informed Laura of his great kindness in our behalf, and
the trouble he had taken to provide us with auequipage.



236 THE ADVENTURES OF ARTHUR O'LEARY.

" A sorry one, T fear, ^Mademoiselle," interposed lie,
\vith a bow. " JJut 1 believe there are lew circumstancea
in life Avliere people are more Avillmg to endure sacri-
fices."

"Then !^^onsienr has explained to you our position?"
S'lid Luuia, half blushing at the absurdity of the adven-
ture.

" fCverythinLT, my dear young lady- — everything. Don't
let the thought give you any uneasiness, however. 1
listen to stranger stories every day."

" Taste that Haut-Brion, Pere," said I, wishing to give
the conversation a turn, as I saw Laura felt uncomfortable,
" and give me your opinion of it. To my judgment it
seems excellent."

" And your judgment is unimpeachable in more respects
than that," said the Pere, with a signiticaut look, which
lortunately was not seen by Mademoiselle.

Confound him, said I to myself; 1 must try another
tack. " We were remarking, Pere Jose, as we came along
that very picturesque river, the Cliateau de Bouvigne — a
line thing in its time, it must have been."

" You know the story, I suppose ? " said the Pere.

" Mademoiselle was relating it to me on the way, and
indeed 1 am most anxious to hear the denouement.'"

" It was a sad one," said he, slowly. " PU show you
the spot where Henry fell — the stone that marks the
place."

'' Pere Jose," said Laura, " I must stop you — indeed
I must — or the whole interest of my narrative will be
ruined. You forget that Monsieur has not heard, the tale
out."

"Ah? ma foi, I beg pardon — a thousand pardons.
Mademoiselle, then, knows Bouvigne ? "

" I've been here once before, but only part of a morn-
ing. I've seen nothing but the outer court of the chateau
and the/o*«e du trai/t't."

" So, so ; you know it all, I perceive," said he, smiling
pleasantly. " Are you too much fatigued for a walk that
lar?"

" Shall we have time ? " said Laura ; " that's the
question."



L KARROW ESCAPE. 237

** Abundance of time. Jocot can't be here for an hour
yet, at soonest. And, if you allow me, I'll give all the
necessary directions before we leave, so that you'll not be
delayed ten minutes on your return."

While Laura went in search of her hat, I again proffered
my thanks to the kind Pere for all his good nature,
expressing the strong desire I felt for some opportunity of
requital.

" Be happy," said the good man, squeezing my hand
affectionately; " that's the way you can best repay me."

" It would not be difficult to follow the precept in your
society, Pere Jose," said I, overcome by the cordiality of
the old man's manner.

" I have made a great many so, indeed," said he. " The
five-and-thirty years I have lived in Bouvigne have not
been without their fruit."

Laura joined us here, and we took the way together
towards the chateau, the priest discoursing all the way on
the memorable features of the place, its remains of ancient
grandeur, and the pictm-esque beauty of its site.

As we ascended the steep path which, cut in the solid
rock, leads to the chateau, groups of pretty children came
flocking about us, presenting bouquets for our acceptance,
and even scattering flowers in our path. This simple act
of village courtesy struck us both much, and we could not
help feeling touched by the graceful delicacy of the little
ones, who tripped away ere we could reward them ;
neither could I avoid remarking to Laura on the perfect
good understanding that seemed to subsist between Pere
Jose and the children of his flock — the paternal ibnd-
ness on one side, and the filial reverence on the other. As
we conversed thus, we came in front of a great arched
doorway, in a curtain wall connecting two massive frag-
ments of rock. In front lay a deep Ibsse, traversed by a
narrow wall, scarce wide enough for one person to ven-
ture on. Belovv, the tangled weeds and ivy concealed the
dark abyss, which was full eighty fi_et in depth.

" Look up, now," said Laura, " you must bear the
features of this spot in mind to understand the story.
Don't forget where that beam projects — do you mark it

W.)ll?"



238 THE ADVENTURES OF ARTHUR LEART.

" He'll get a better notion of it from the tower," said
tl'e Pere. " Shall I assist you across ? "

Without any aid, however, Laura trod the narrow path-
way, and hasted along up the steep and time-worn steps of
the old tower. A s we emerged upon the battlements we
stood for a moment, overcome by the splendour of the
prospect. Miles upon miles of rich landscape lay beneath
us. flittering in the red, brown, and golden tints of
autumn, — that gorgeous livery which the year puts on, ere
it dons the sad-coloured mantle of winter. The great
forest, too, was touched here and there with that light
brown, the first advance of the season ; while the river
reflected every tint in its calm tide, as though it also would
sympathize with the changes around it.

"While the Pere Jose continued to point out each place
of mark or note in the vast plain, interweaving in his
descriptions some chance bit of antiquarian or historic
lore, we were forcibly struck by the thorough intimacy he
possessed with all the features of the locality, and could
not help complimenting him upon it.

" Yes, ma foi,'" said he, " I know every rock and
crevice, every old tree and rivulet for miles round. In the
long life I have passed here, each day has brought me
among those scenes with some traveller or other ; and
albeit they who visit ns here have little thought for the
picturesque, few are unmoved by this peaceful and lovely
valley. You'd little suspect, Mademoiselle, how many
have passed through my hands here, iu these five-and-
thirty years. I keep a record of their names, in which I
must beg you will kindly inscribe yours."

Laura blushed at the proposition which should thus
commemorate her misadventure ; while I mumbled out
something about our being mere passing strangers, un-
known in the land.

'•No matter for that," replied the inexorable Father,
•' I'll have your names — ay, autographs too ! "

*' The sun seems very low," said Laura, as she pointed
to the west, where already a blaze of red golden light was
spreading over the horizon : " I think we must hasten our



Online LibraryCharles James LeverThe adventures of Arthur O'Leary → online text (page 21 of 40)