Charles James Lever.

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departure."

" Follow me, then," said the Pere, "'' and I'll conduct



A NARROW ESCAPE. 239

yoa by an easier path than we came up by," With that
he unlocked a small postern in the curtain wall, and led
us across a neatly-shaven lawn to a little barbican, where,
again unlocking the door, we descended a flight of stono
steps into a small garden terraced iu the native rock.
The labour of forming it must have been immense, aa
every shovelful of earth was carried from the plain be-
neath ; and here were fruit-trees and flowers, shrubs and
plants, and in the midst, a tiny jet cVeau, which, as we
entered, seemed magically to salute us with its refreshing
plash. A little bench, commanding a view of the river
from a different aspect, invited us to sit down for a
moment. Indeed, each turn of the way seduced us by
some beauty, and we could have lingered on for hours.
As for me, forgetful of the past, careless of the future, I
was totally wrapt up in the enjoyment of the moment,
and Laura herself seemed so enchanted by the spot that
she sat, silently gazing on the tranquil scene, and
apparently lost in delighted reverie. A low, faint sigh
escaped her as she locked; and I thought I could see a
tremulous motion of her ej'elid, as though a tear were
struggling within it: my heart beat powerfully against
my side. I turned to see where was the Pare. He had
gone. I looked again, and saw him standing on a point
of rock far beneath us, and waving his handkerchief as a
signal to some one in the valley. Never was there such a
situation as mine^ — never was mortal man so placed. I
stole my hand carelessly aloug the bench till it touched
hers, but she moved not away — no, her mind seemed quite
pre-occupied. I had never seen her profile before, and
truly it was very beautiful. All the vivacity of her
temperament calmed down by the feeling of the moment,
her features had that character of placid loveliness which
seemed only wanting to make her perfectly handsome. I
wished to speak, and could not. I felt that if I could have
dared to say " Laura," I could have gone on bravely after-
wards, — but it would not come. " Amen stuck in my
throat." Twice I got half-way, and covered my retreat
by a short cough. Only think what a change in my
destiny another syllable might have caused ! It was
exactly as my second effoi t proved fruitless, that a deli-



210 THE AD\TENTUEES OF ARTHUR o'LEARY.

cions sound of music swelled up from the glen beneath,
and floated through the air — a chorus of young voice.s
singing what seemed to be a h^-mn. Never was anything
more charming. The notes, so.teued as they rose on high,
seemed almost like a serapli's song — now raising the soul
to hifjh and holv thou<rhts — now thrilling: within the heart
with a very ecblasy ot deliijht.

At length they paused, the last cadence melted slowly
Hway, and all was still — we did not dare to move — when
Laura touched my hand gently, and whispered —

"Hark! there it is again:" and at the instant the
voices broke forth, but into a more joyous measure. ]t
was one of those sweet peasant-carollings which breathe of
the light heart and the simple life of the cottage.

The words came nearer and nearer as we listened, and
at length 1 could trace the refrain which closed each verse :

"Pu'.sque I'Lcrbe et la fleur parlent mieux que les mots,
Puisque un aveu d'amour s'exbale de la rose,
Qi;e le ' ne m'oublie pas ' de souvenir s'arrose,
C^ue le laurier dit Gloire ! et cypres sauglots."

At last the wicket of the gnrden slowly opened, and a
little procession of young girls, all dressed in white, with
white roses in their hair, and carrying bouquets each in
their hands, entered, and with steady step came forward.
We vratched them attentively, believing that they were
celebrating some little devotional pilgrimage, when, to
our surpri.se, they approached where we sat, and, with a
low courtesy, each dropped her bouquet at Laura's feet,
whispering in a low silver voice as they passed, " May thy
feet always tread upon flowers !"

Ere we could speak our surprise and admiration of this
touching scene — for it was such, in all its simplicity — they
were gone, and the last notes of their chant were dying
away in the distance.

"How beautiful — how very beautiful!'" said Laura;
" I shall never forget this."

"Nor I," said I, making a desperate effort at I know
not what avowal, which the appearance of the Pere at
once put to flight. He had just seen the boy returning
along the river-side with the mule and cart, and came to
apprise us that we had better descend.



A NARROW ESCAPE. 211

"It will be very late indeed before we reach Dinant ;
we shall scarcely get there before midnight."

" Oh, you'll be there much earlier; it is now past six ;
in less than ten minutes you can be en route. I shall not
cause you much delay."

Ah, thou<2:ht I. the good Father is still dreaminf-' about
his album ; we must indulge his humour, which, alter all,
is but a poor requital for all his politeness.

As we entei'cd the parlour of the Toison D'Or, we found
the host iti all tlie bravery of his Sunday suit, with a light
brown wig, and stockings blue as the heaven itself, stand-
ing waiting our arrival. The hostess, too, stood at the
other side of the door, in the full splendour of a great
quilted jupe, and a cap, whose ears descended half-way to
her waist. On the table, in the middle of the room, were
two wax-candles, of that portentous size that we see in
chapels. Between them there lay a great open volume,
which at a glance I guessed to be the priest's album.
Not comprehending what the worthy host and hostess
meant by their presence, I gave a look of interrogation to
the Pere, who quickly whispered —

" Oh, it is nothing ; they are only the witnesses."

I could not help laughing outright at the idea of this
formality, nor could Laura refrain either when I explained
to her what they came for. However, time passed ; the
jingle of the bells on the mules' harness warned us that
our equipage waited ; and I dipped the pen in the ink
and handed it to Laura.

" I wish he could excuse me from performing this cere-
mony," said she, holding back ; " I really am quite enough
ashamed already."

" What says Mademoiselle ? " inquired the Pere, as she
spoke in English.

I translated her remark, when he broke in —

" Oh, you must comply j it's only a formality, but still
every one does it."

*' Come, come," said I, in English, " indulge the old
man ; he is evidently bent on this whim, and let us not
leave him disappointed."

" Be it so, then," said she ; " on your head, Mr. O'Leary,
be the whole of this day's indiscretion ; " and so saying-,

B



242 THE ADVENTUKES OF ARTHUR o'lEART.

she took the peu and wrote her name, '* Laura Alicia
Muddletou."

"Now, then, for my turn," said T, advancing; but the
Pere took the pen from her fingers, and proceeded care-
fully to di-y the writing with a scrap of blotting-paper.

" On this side, Monsieur," said he, turning over the page ;
" we do tlie whole affair in orderly fashion, you see ; put
your name there, with the date nnd the day of the week."

" Will that do ? " said I, as 1 pushed over the book to-
wards him, where certainly the least imposing specimen of
caligrajjhy the volume contained now stood confessed.

" What a droll name ! " said the priest, as he peered at it
throutrh his spectacles. " How do you pronounce it ? "

While I endeavoured to indoctrinate the Father into the
mystery of my Irish appellation, the mayor and the mayoress
had both appended their signatures on either page.

" Well, I suppose now we may depart at last,'' said
Laura ; "it's getting very late."

"Yes," said I, aloud; "we must take the road now;
there is nothing more, I fancy, Pere Jose ? "

" Yes ; but there is though," said he, laughing

But, at the same moment, the galloping of horses and
the crash of wheels were heard without, and a cari'iage
drew up in the street. Down went the steps with a crash
— several people rushed along the little gallery, till the
very house shook with their tread. The door of the salon
was now banged wide, and in rushed Colonel Muddleton,
followed by the count, the abbe, and an eldetly lady.

" Where is he ? "— " Where is slie ? "— " Where is he ?"
-— " Where is she ? " — Where are they ? " screamed they,
in confusion, one after the other.

" Laura ! Laura ! '' cried the old colonel, clasping his
daughter in his arms ; " I didn't expect this from you ! "

"Monsieur O'Leary, voua etes un "

Before the count could finish, the abbe interposed be-
tween us, and said — •

" No, no ! Everything may be arranged. Tell me, in
one word, is it over ? "

"Is what over?" said I, in a state two degrees worse
Ihan insanity — " is what over ? "

"Are you married?" whispered he.



A NARROW ESCAPE. 24'J

" No, bless ycur heart ; never thought of it."

" Oh, the wretch ! " screamed the old lady, and went off
into strong kickings on the sofa.

" It's a bad affair," said the abbe, in a low voice ; " take
my advice — propose to marry her tit once."

"Yes, pnrbleu!" said the little count, twisting his
moustaches in a fierce manner ; " there is but one road to
take here."

Now, though unquestionably but half an hour before,
when seated beside the lovely Laura in the gnrden of the
chateau, such a thought would have filled me with delight ;
now, the same proposition, accompanied by a threat, stirred
up all my indignation and resistance.

"Not on compulsion," said Sir John; and truly there
was reason in the speech.

But, indeed, before I could reply, the attentions of all
were drawn towards Laura herself, who, from laughing
violently at first, had now become hysterical, and con-
tinued to laugh and cry at intervals ; and as the old lady
continued her manipulations with a candlestick on an oak
table near, while the colonel shouted for various unattain-
able remedies at the top of his voice, the scene was any-
thing but decorous ; the abbe, who alone seemed to preserve
his sanity, having as much as he could do to prevent the
little count from strangling me with his own hands ; such,
at least, his violent gestures seemed to indicate. As for
tl'.e priost, and the Maire, and the she Maire, they had all
fled long before. There appeared now but one course for
me, which was to fly also. There was no knowing what
intemperance the count might not commit under his
present excitement. It was clear they were all labouring
under a delusion, wliich nothing at the present moment
could elucidate. A nod from the abbe and a motion
towai'ds the open door decided my wavering resolution.
I rushed out, over the gallery, and down the road, not
knowing whither, nor caring.

1 might as well try to chronicle the sensations of my
raving intellect, in my first fever in boyhood, as convey
any notion of what passed through my brain for the next
two hours. I sat on a rock beside the i-iver, vainly
endeavouring to collect my scattered thoughts, which only

R 2



241 THE ADVENTURES OF ARTHUR o'lEARY.

pi-esented to me a vast chaos of a wood and a crusader, a
priest and a lady, veal cutlets and music, a big book, an
old lady in fits, and a man in sky-blue stockings. The
rulliuo- of a carriMtje with four hoi-ses near me aroused me
for a second, but I could not well say why, and all was again
still, and 1 sat there alone.

" He must be somewhere near this," said a voice, as I
heard the tread of footsteps approaching ; " this is his
hat. Ah, here he is." At the same moment the abbe
stood beside me.

" Come along, now ; don't stay here in the cold," said
he, taking me bj'- the arm. "They've all gone home two
hours ago. I have remained to ride back the nag in the
morning."

I followed without a word.

" Ma joi ! " said he, " it is the iirst ocoasion in my life
where I could not see my way through a difficulty.
What, in Heaven's name, were you about? What was
your plan ? "

" Give Die half an hour in peace," said I, " and if I'n:
not deranged before it's over, I'll tell you."

The abbe complied, and I fulfilled my promise — though,
in good sooth, the shouts of laughter with which he re-
ceived my story caused many an interruption. When I
had finished, he began, and leisurely proceeded to inform
me that Bouvigue's great celebrity was as a place for run-
away couples to get married ; that the inn of the Golden
Fleece was known over the whole kingdom, and the Pere
Jose's rejjutation wide as the Archbishop of Ghent's ; and
as to the phrase " sous la clieminea,'" it is only applied to a
clandestine marriage, which is called a " mariage sous la
cheminee.''

" Now I," continued he, " can readily believe every
word you've told me, yet there's not another person in
Uochepied would credit a syllable of it. Never hope for
an explanation. In fact, before you were listened to,
there .are at least two duels to fight — the count first, and
thon D'Espagne. I know Laura well — she'll let the
affair have all its edat before she will say a word about
it ; and, in fact, your executors may be able to clear
your character — you'll never do so in your lifetime.



A NARROW ESCAPE. 2-15

Dnn't go biick tl.ere," said the able, "at least for the
{jresent."

" I'll never set eyes on one of them," cried I, in despera-
tion ; " I'm nigh deranged as it is — the memory of this
confounded ad'air "

" \^'ill make you laugh yet," said the abbe. " And
now, good niglit, or rather good-bye — I start early to-
morrow morning, and we may not meet again."

He promised to i'orward my effects to Dinant, and we
parted.

" Monsieur will have a single bed ? " said the house-
maid, iu answer to my summons.

"Yes," said I, with a muttering, I fear very like an
oath.

Morning broke in, through the half-closed curtains,
with the song of birds, and the ripple of the gentle river.
A balmy air stirred the leaves, and the sweet valley lay
in all its peaceful beauty before me.

" Well, well," said I, rubbing my eyes, " it was a
queer adventure ; and there's no saying what might have
happened, had they been only ten minutes later. I'd
give a napoleon to know what Laura thinks of it now.
But I must not delay here — the very villagers will laugh
at me."

I ate my breakfast rapidly, and called for my bill. The
sum was a mere trifle, and I was just adding something
to it, when a knock came to the door.

" Come in," said I, and the Pere entered

" How sadly unfortunate," began he, when I interrupted
him at once, assuring him of his mistake; that we were
no runaway couple at all, had not the most remot^e idea
of being married, and in fact owed our whole disagreeable
adventure to his ridiculous misconception.

" It's very well to say that tioiv,''' growled out the Pere,
in a very different accent from his former one. "You
may pretend what you like, but — "and he spoke in a
determined tone — " j^ou'U pay mi/ bill."

" Your bill!" said I, waxing wroth. "What liave I
had from you — how am I your debtor ? I should like to
hear."

" And you shall," said he, drawing forth a long docu-



•2iG THE ADVENTURES OF ARTHUR o'lEARY.

ment fiom a pocket in his cassock. "Here it is." Hs
handed me the paper, of which the following is a tran-
script : —

Noces de AH Lord O'Leary et Mademoiselle Mi Lady de Mmldleton.

FRANCS.

Two conversations — preliminary, admonitory, and con-
solatory 10

Advice to the young couple, with moral maxims inter-
spersed .......

Soiree, and society at wine ....

Guide to the Chateau, with details, artistic and anti-
quarian .......

Eight Children with flowers, at half a franc each

Fees at the Chfiteiiu

Chorus of Yirfiins, at one franc per virgin .

Hoses for Virgins ......

M. le Maire et Madame " en grande tenue "

Book of Registry, setting forth the date of the Marriage —

" The devil take it ! " said I ; " it was no marriage at all."
"Yes, but it was, though," said he. "It's your own
fault if you can't take care of your wife."

The noise of his reply brought the host and hostess to
the scene of action ; and though I resisted manfully for a
time, there was no use in prolonging a hopeless contest,
and, with a melancholy sigh, I disbursed my wedding
expenses, and with a hearty malediction on Bouvigne, —
its chateau — its inn — its Pere — its Maire — and its virgins,
— I took the road towards Namur, and never lifted my
head till I had left the place miles behind me.



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CHAPTER XV.

A MOUNTAIN AT>VKNTDRB.



It was growing late cm a fine evening of autumn, as, a
t^olitary pedestrian, J drew near the little town of Spa.
From the time of my leaving Chaude Fontaine, I lingered
along the road, enjoying to the utmost the beautiful valley



A MOUNTAIN ADVENTUliE. 247

of ihii Vesdre, and sometimes half hesilaiinq- wliether I
would not loiter away some daws in one of the little vil-
lages I passed, and see if the trout, whose circling eddies
marked the stream, might not rise as favourably to my
fly as to the vagrant insect that now flitted across the
water.

In good sooth, I wished for rest, and I wished for soli-
tude ; too much of my life latterly had been passed in
salons and soirees — the peaceful habit of my soul, the
fruit of my own lonely hours — had suffered grievous in-
roads by my partnership with the world ; and I deemed
it essential to be once more apart from the jarring influ-
ences and distracting casualties which every step in life is
beset by, were it only to recover again my habitual tran-
quillity — to refit the craft ere she took the sea once more.

I wanted but little to decide my mind ; the sight of an
inn, some picturesque spot, a pretty face — anything, in
short — would have sufficed ; but somehow I suppose I
must have been more fastidious than I knew of, for I con-
tinued to walk onward, and at last, leaving the little
hamlet of Pepinsterre behind me, set out with brisker
pace towards Spa.

The air was calm and balmy ; no leaf stirred ; the river
beside the road did not even murmur, but crept silently
along its gravelly bed, fearful to break the stillness.
Gradually the shadows fell stronger and broader, and at
length mingled into one broad expanse of gloom, and in
a few minutes moi-e it was night.

There is something very striking, I had almost said
saddening, in the sudden transition from day to darkness,
in those countries where no twilight exists. The gradual
change by which road and mountain, rock and cliff, mellow
into the hues of sunset, and grow grey in the " gloam-
ing," deepening the shadows, and by degrees losing all
outline in the dimness around, prepares us for the gloom
of night. We feel it like the tranquil current of years,
marking some happy life, where childhood and youth, and
manhood and age, succeed in measured time. Not so the
sudden and immediate change, which seems rather like
the stroke of some fell misfortune, converting the cheerful
hours into dark brooding melancholy. Years may, they



'24S ti:e aptentukes of Arthur o'leary.

do, fall lightly on some ; they creep with noiseless step,
aiul youth and age gHde softly into each other, without
any shock to awaken the thought that says — Adieu to
this ! — Farewell to that for ever !

Thus was I rriusing, when suddenly I found mj-self at
the spot whc'i-e tlie road brancliod off in two directions.
No house, not a living thing was near, from whom I could
ask the way. I endeavoured, by the imperfect light of the
stars— for there was no moon — to ascertain Avhich road
seemed most fi-equented and travelled, judging that Spa
was the most likely resort of all journeying in these parts ;
but, unhappily, I could detect no difference to guide me;
there were wheel-tracks in both, and ruts and stones
tolerably equitably adjusted ; each had a pathway, too, the
right-hand road enjoying a slight superiority over the
other, in this respect, as its path was more even.

1 was completely puzzled. Had I been mounted, I
had left the matter to my horse ; but, unhappily, my de-
cision had not a ])article of reason to guide it. I looked
from the road to the trees, and from the trees to the stars,
but they looked down as tranquilly as though either way
would do — all save one — a sly little brilliant spangle in
the south, that seemed to wink at my difficulty. " 'No
matter," said I, " one thing is certain ; neither a supper
nor a bed will come to look for me here, and so now for
the best pathway, as I begin to feel foot-sore."

My momentary embarrassment about the road com-
pletely routed all my musings, and I now turned my
thoughts to the comforts of the inn, and the pleasant
little supper I promised myself on reaching it. 1 de-
bated about what was in season, and what was not ; 1
spelled October twice to ascertain if oysters were in. and
there came a doubt across me whether the Flemish name
for the month might have an r in it, and then I laughed
at my own bull ; afterwards I disputed with myself as
to the relative merits of Chablis and Hochheimer, and
resolved to be guided by the ffcir^on. I combated long a
weakness I felt growing over me — for a pint of mulled
claret, as the air was now becoming fresh ; but I gave iu
at last, and began to hammer my brain for the French
words for cloves and nutmeg.



A MOUNTAIN ADVENTURE. 2 i9

In tliose innocent ruminations did an hour pass b}',
and yet no sign of human habitation, no sound of life,
could I perceive at either side of me. The night, 'tis
true, was brighter as it became later, and there were
stars in thousands in the sky; but I would gladly have
exchanged Venus for the chambermaid of the humblest
auberge, and given the Great Bear himself for a single
slice of bacon. At length, after about two hours' walk-
ing, I remarked that the road was becoming much more
steep; indeed, it had presented a continual ascent for
some miles, but now the acclivity was very considerable,
particularly at the close of a long day's march ; I remem-
bered well that Spa lay in a valley, but, for the life of me,
I could not think whetlier a mountain was to be crossed
to arrive there. " That comes of travelling by post,"
said I to myself; "had I walked the rond, 1 had never
forgotten so remarkable a feature." While I said this,
I could not help confessing that I had as lieve my pre-
sent excursion had been also in a conveyance. " Forwiirts!
fort, und Immer fort!" hummed I, remembering Komer's
song, and taking it for my motto, and on I went at a
good pace. It needed all my powers as a pedestrian,
however, to face the mountain — for such I could see it
was that I was now ascending — the patliway, too, less
trodden than below, was encumbered with loose stones,
and the trees which lined the way on either side gra-
dually became thinner and rarer, and at last ceased
altogether, exposing me to the cold blast, which swept
from time to time across the barren heath with a chill
that said October was own brother to November. Three
hours and a half did I toil along, and at last the convic-
tion came before me that I must have taken the wrong
road. This could not possibly be the way to Spa ;
indeed, I had great doubts that it led anywhere : I
mounted upon a little rock, and took a survey of the
bleak mountain side; but nothing could I see that indi-
cated that the hand of man had ever laboured in that
wild region. Fern and heath, clumps of gorse and mis-
shapen rocks, diversified the barren surface on every side,
and I now seemed to have gained the summit, a vast
table-land spreading away for miles. I sat down to con-



250 THE ADVENTURES OF ARTUUR o'lEAHY.

pider what was best to be done ; the thought of retracing
BO many leagues of way was very depressing, and yet what
were my chances it" 1 went forward 't

Ah ! thought I, why did not some benevolent indi-
vidual think of erecting lighthouses inland ? What a
glorious invention would it have been ! — just think of the
great mountain districts which lie in the very midst of
civilization, i-athless, trackless, and unknown — where a
benighted traveller may perish, within the very sour.d of
succour, if he but knew where to seek it. How cheer-
ing to the wayworn traveller as he plodded along his
weary road, to lift from time to time his eyes to the guide-
star in the distance! Had the monks been in the habit
of going out in the dark, there's little doubt they'd have
persuaded some good Catholics to endow some institutions
like this. How well they knew hovv to have their
chapels and convent* erected ! I'm not sure but I'd vow



Online LibraryCharles James LeverThe adventures of Arthur O'Leary → online text (page 22 of 40)