Charles James Lever.

The adventures of Arthur O'Leary online

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a little lighthouse myself to the Virgin, if I could only
catr-h a glimpse of a gleam of light this moment.

Just then, I thought I saw something twinkle, far
away across the heath : I climbed up on the rock, and
looked steadily in the direction — there was no doubt of it
— there was a light — no Jack-o'-Lantern either, — but a
good, respectable light, of domestic habits, shining steadily
and brightly. It seemed far oflT, but there is nothing so
deceptive as the view over a flat surface. In any case, I
resolved to make for it, and so, seizing my staff, I once
more set forward ; unhappily, however, I soon perceived
that the road led off in a direction exactly the reverse of
the object I sought, and I was now obliged to make
my choice of quitting the path or abandoning the
light ; my resolve was quickly made, and I started off
across the plain, with my eyes steadily fixed upon my

The mountain was marshy and wet, that wearisome
surface of spongy hillock, and low, creeping brush.wood,
the most fatal tiling to a tried walker, and I made but
slow progress ; besides, frequently, from inequalities of
the soil, I would lose sight of the light for half an hour
together, and then, on its reappearing suddenly, discover
how far I had wandered out of the direct line. These


little aberrations did not certainly improve my tem[)er,
and 1 plodded along, weary of limb, and out of spirits.

At length I came to tlie verge of a declivity : beneath
me lay a valley, winding and rugged, with a little torrent
brawling through rocks and stones — a wild and gloomy
scene, by the imperfect light of the star^. On the oppo-
site mountain stood the coveted light, which now I could
discover, proceeding from a building of some size, at least
8 5 far as I could pronounce from the murky shadow
against the background of sky.

I summoned up one great eifort, and pushed down the
slope; now sliding on hands and feet, now trusting to a
run of some yards where the ground was more feasible
After a fatifjuine: course of two hours, I reached the crest
of the opposite hill, and stood within a few hundred
yards of the house- — the object of my wearisome jouimey.

It was indeed in keeping with the deserted wildness of
the place. A ruined tower, one of those square keeps
which formerly were intended as frontier defences, stand-
ing on a rocky base, beside the edge of a steep cliff, had
been made a dwelling of by some solitary herdsman, for
so the sheep, collected within a little inclosure, bespoke
him. The rude efforts to make the place habitable were
conspicuous in the door formed of wooden planks nailed
coarsely together, and the window, whose panes were
made of a thin substance, like parchment, through which,
however, the blaze of a fire shone brightly without.

Creeping carefully forward to take a reconnoissance of
the interior before I asked for admission, I appioached a
small aperture, whora a single pane of glass permitted a
view : a great heap of blazing furze that filled he old
chimney of the tower, lit up the whole space, and enabled
me to see a man who sat on a log of wood beside the
hearth, with his head bent upon his knees. His dress
was a coarse blouse of striped woollen, descending to his
knees, where a pair of gaiters of sheepskin were fastened
by thongs of untaniied leather — his head was bare, and
covered only by a long mass of black bail', that i'ell in
tangled locks down his back, and even over his face, as
he bent forward. A shepherd's staff, and a broad hat of
felt, lay on the ground beside him ; there was neither


chair nor table, noi", save some fern in one corner, any
tliiiiii: tliat might serve as a bed; a large earthenware
jug, and a metal pot, stood near the fire, and a knife, such
as butchers kill with, beside them. Over the chimney,
however, was suspended, by two thongs of leather, a
sword, long and straight, like the weapon of the heavy
cavalry of France ; and, liigher again, I could see a great
piece of printed paper was fastened to the wall. As I
continued to scan, one by one, these signs of utter poverty,
the man stretched out his limbs and rubbed his eyes for a
minute or two, and then with a start sprang to his feet,
displaying, as he did so, the proportions of a most power-
ful and athletic frame. He was, as well as I could guess,
about forty-five years of age ; but hardship and suifering
had worn deep lines about his face, which was sallow and
emaciated. A black moustache, that hung aown over
his lip. and descended to his chin, concealed the lower
part of his face — the upper was bold and manly, the fore-
head high and well developed ; but his eyes — and I could
mark tlieni well as the light fell on him — were of an unna-
tural brilliancy — their sparkle had the feai^ful gleam of
a mind diseased, and in their quick, restless glances
through the room I saw that he was labouring under
some insane delusion. He paced the room with a steady
step, backwards and forwards, for a few minutes, and
once, as he lifted his eyes above the chimney, he stopped
abruptly, and carried his hand to his forehead in a mili-
tary salute, w-hile he muttered something to himself; the
moment after he threw open the door, and stepping out-
side, g'ave a long, shrill whistle; he paused for a few
seconds, and repeated it, when 1 could hear the distant
barking of a dog replying to his call. Just then he
turned abruptly, and, with a spring, seized me by the

" Who are you — what do you want here ? " said he, in
a voice tremulous with passion.

A few words- it was no tiine for long explanations —
told nim how I had lost my way in the mountain, and was
in Bearch of shelter for the nierht.

" It was a lucky tliing for you that one of my lambs
was as/ ray,'' said he, with a fierce smile. " If Tete-noire


had been at home, he'd have made short work of jou —
come in."

With that he pushed me before him into the tower,
and pointed to the block of wood, where he had been
sitting previously, while he threw a fresh supply of furze
upon the hearth, and stirred up the blaze with his foot.

" The wind is moving round to the soutli'ard," said he ;
" we'll have a heavy i'all of rain soon."

" The stars look very bright, however "

" Never trust them. Before day bi'eaks, you'll see tne
mountain will be covered with mist."

As he spoke, he crossed his arras on his breast, and re-
commenced his walk up and down the chamber. The few
words he spoke surprised me much by the tones of his
voice — so unlike the accents I should have expected from
one of his miserable and squalid appearance — they were
mild, and bore the traces of one who had seen very dif-
ferent fortunes from his present ones.

I wished to speak and induce him to converse with me;
but the efforts I made seemed only to excite his displea-
sure, and I abandoned the endeavour with a good grace ;
and having disposed my knapsack as a pillow, stretched
myself full length before the hearth, and fell sound

When I awoke, the shepherd was not to be seen ; the
fire, which blazed brightly, showed, however, that he had
not long been absent ; a huge log of beech had recently
been thrown upon it. The day was breaking, and 1 went
to the door to look out ; nothing, however, could 1 see ;
vast clouds of mist were sweeping along before the wind,
that sighed mournfully over the bleak mountains, and con-
cealed everything a few yards off, while a thin rain came
slanting down, the prelude to the storm the shepherd had

Never was there anything more dreaiy, within or with-
out ; the miserable poverty of the ruined tower was
scarcely a shelter from the coming hurricane. I returned
to my place beside the fire, sad and low in heart. While
I was conjecturing within myself what distance I might
be from Spa, and how 1 could contrive to reach it, I
chanced to fix my eyes on the sabre above the cliimney,


■which I took down to examine. It was a plain straight
weapon, of tlio kind carried by the soldier}'; its only
sign of inscription was the letter " N " on the blade.
.As I replaced it, I caught sight of the printed paper,
which, begrimed with smoke, and partly obliterated by
time, was nearly illegible. After much pains, however, I
succeeded in deciphering the following; it was headed in
laj^je letters —

" Ordre du Jour, de I'Armee Fran^aise.

" Le 9 Thermidor."

The lines which followed immediately were covered by
another piece of paper pasted over them, where I could
just here and there detect a stray word, which seemed to
indicate that the whole bore reference to some victory of
the republican army. The last four lines, much clearer
than the rest, ran thus : —

" Le citoyen Aubuisson, chef de bataillon de Grenadiers,
de cette demi-brigade, est entiele premier dans la redoute.
Il a eu son habit crible de balles." *

I read and re-read the lines a dozen times over ; indeed,

to this hour are they fast fixed in my memory. Some

strange mystery seemed to connect them with the poor

shepherd — otherwise, why were they here ? I thought

over his ficrure, strong: and well-knit, as I saw him stand

upright in the room, and of his military salute ; and the

conviction came fully over me that the miserable creature,

covered with rags and struggling with want, was no other

than the citizen Aubuisson.

Yet, by what fearful vicissitude had he fallen to this ?
The wild ex})ression of his features at times did indeed
look like insanity ; still, what he said to me was both calm
and coherent. The my.stery excited all my curiosity, and
J longed for his return, in the hope of detecting some clue
to it.

The door opened suddenly ; a large dog, more mastiff
than sh(-cp-dog, dashed in ; seeing me, he retreated a step,
and, fixing his eyes steadily upcm me, gave a fearful howl.

* The citizen Aubuisson, chef -de-bataillon of Grenadiers, of this
briL'a'le. was the firsif to enter the redoubt. Hif? coat was riddled with


T could not stir from fear. I saw that he was jjrepuring
for a spring, when the voice of the shepherd called our,
" Couche-toi, Tete-noire, couche ! " The savage beast at
once slunk quietly to a cornet', and lay down, still never
taking his eyes from me, and seeming as if his services
would soon be in request in my behalf; while his master
sliook the rain from his hat and blouse, and came forward
to dry himself at the fire. Fixing his eyes steadfastly on
the red embers as he stirred them with his foot, he muttered
some few and broken words, among which, although I
listened attentively, I could but hear, "Pas un mot — silence
— silence, a la mort ! "

" You were not wrong in your prophecy, shepherd ; the
storm is setting in already," said I, wishing to attract his

" Hush ! " said he, in a low whisper, while he motioned
me with his hand to be still, " hush — not a word ! "

The eager glare of madness was in his eye as he spoke,
and a tremulous movement of his pale cheek betokened
some great inward convulsion. He threw his eyes slowly
around the miserable room, looking below and above with
the scrutinizing glance of one resolved to let nothing es-
cape his observation ; and then kneeling down on one knee
beside the blaze, he took a piece of dry wood, and stole it
quietly among the embers.

" There, there ! " cried he, springing to his legs, while
he seized me rudely by the shoulder, and hurried me to
the distant end of the room. " Come — quickly— stand
back — stand back there — see — see," said he, as the crack-
ling sparks flew up and the tongned flame rose in th«
chimney, " there it goes ! " Then, putting his lips to my
ear, he muttered, " Not a word ! — silence — silence to the
death ! "

As he said this, he drew himself up to his full height,
and, crossing his arms upon his breast, stood firm and
erect before me, and certainly — covered with rags the
meanest poverty would have rejected, shrunk by famine,
and chilled by hunger and storm — there was still remain-
ing the traits of a once noble face and figure. The fire of
madness, unquenched by every misery, lit up his dark eye,
and even on his compressed lip there was a curl of pride.


Poor fellow ! some pleasant memory seemed to flit acrosa
Lim ; he smiled, and as lie moved his hair from his fore-
head he bowed his head slightly, and murmured, " Oui,
sire!" How soft, how musical that voice was then!
Just at this instant the deep bleating of the sheep was
heard without, and Tete-noire, springing up, rushed to the
door, and scratched tiercely with his fore-paws. The
shepherd hastened to open it, and to my surprise I beheld
a boy, about twelve years of age, poorly clad and drip-
ping with wet, who was carrying a small canvas bag on
his back.

" Has the lamb been found, Lazare ? " said the child, as
he unslung his little sack.

" res ; 'tis safe in the fold."

"And the spotted ewe? Ton don't think the wolves
could have taken her away so early as this "

" Hush, hush ! " said the shepherd, with a warning ges-
ture to the child, who seemed at once to see that the luna-
tic's vision was on him ; for he drew his little blouse close
around his throat, and muttered a " Bon jour, Lazare," and

" Couldn't that boy guide me down to Spa, or some vil-
lage near it ? " said I, anxious to seize an opportunity of

He looked at me without seeming to understand my
question. I repeated it more slowly, when, as if suddenly
aware of my moaning, he replied quickly —

" No, no ; little Pierre has a long road to go home ; he
lives far away in the mountains ; I'll show you the way

With that, he opened the sack, and took forth a loaf of
coarse wheaten bread, such as the poorest cottagers make,
and a tin flask of milk. Tearing the loaf asunder, he
handed me one half, which, more from policy than hunger,
though I had endured a long iast. I accepted. Then,
passing the milk towards me, he jnade a sign for me to
drink, and when I had done, seized the flask himself, and,
nodding gaily with his head, cried, "A vous, camarade."
Simple as the gesture, and few the words, they both con-
vinced mo that he had been a soldier once ; and each
moment only fitieugthened me in the impression that I


liad before me in the shepherd Lazare an officer of tho
Grande Armee — one of those heroes of a hundred fights,
•whose glory was the tributary stream in the great ocean
of the Empire's grandeur.

Our meal was soon concluded, and in silence ; and
Lazare, having replenished his fire, went to the door and
looked out.

'* It will be wilder ere night," said he, as he peered into
the dense mist, which, pressed down by rain, lay like a
pall upon the earth ; " if you are a good walker, I'll take
you by a short way to Spa."

*' I'll do my best," said I, " to follow you."

" The mountain is easy enough ; but there may be a
stream or two swollen by the rains. They are sometimes

" What distance are we then from Spa ? "

"Four leagues and a half by the nearest route — seven
nnd a half by the road. Come, Tete-noire — bonne bete,"
said he, patting the savage beast, who, with a rude gesture
of his tail, evinced his joy at the recognition. "Thou
must be on guard to-day — take care of these for me — that
thou wilt, old fellow — farewell, good beast, good-bye ! "
The animal, as if he understood every word, stood with
his red eyes fixed upon him till he had done, and then
answered by a long, low howl. Lazare smiled with
pleasure, as he waved his hand towards him, and led tho
way from the tower.

I had but time to leave two louis-d'ors on the block of
wood, when he called out to me to follow him. The pace
he walked at, as well as the rugged course of the way he
took, prevented my keeping at his side ; and I could only [
track him as he moved along through the misty rain, like
some genius of the storm, his long locks flowing wildly
behind him, and his tattered garments fluttering in the

It was a toilsome and dreary march, unrelieved by
aught to lessen the fatigue. Lazare never spoke one word
the entire time — occasionally he would point with his
stafi'to the course we were to take, or mark the flight of
some great bird of prey, soaring along near the ground, as
if fearless of man in regions so wild and desolate save:



at these moments, lie seemed buried in his own gloomy
thoughts. Four hours of hard walking brought us at last
to the summit of a greot mountain, from which, as the
mist was considerably cleared away, I could perceive a
number of lesser mountains surrounding it, like the waves
of the sea. My guide pointed to the ground, as if recom-
mending a rest, and I willingly threw myself on the heatli,
damp and wet as it was.

The rest was a short one : he soon motioned me to
resume the way, and we plodded onward for an houi'
longer, when we came to a great table-land of several
'miles in extent, but which still I could perceive was on a
/cry high level. At last we reached a little grove of
stunted pines, where a rude cross of stone stood — a mark
to commemorate the spot where a murder had been com-
mitted, and to entreat prayers for the discovery of the
murderers. Here Lazare stopjicd, and pointing to a
little narroAV path in the heather, he said, —

" Spa is scarce two leagues distant — it lies in the valley
yonder — follow this path, and you'll not fail to reach it."

While I proffered my thanks to him for his guidance, I
could not help expressing my wish to make some slight
return for it. A dark, disdainful look soon stopped mo
in my speech, and I turned it oif, in a desire to leave some
souvenir of my night's lodging behind me, in the old
tower. But even this he Avould not hear of, and when I
stretched out my hand to bid him good-bye, he took it with
a cold and distant courtesy, as though he were condescend-
ing to a favour he had no fancy for.

"Adieu, monsieur," said 1, still tempted, by a last;
effort of allusion to his once condition, to draw something
from him ; " adieu ! "

He approached me nearer, and with a voice of tremu-
lous eagerness, he muttered —

" Not a word yonder — not a syllable — pledge me your
faitli in that ! "

Thinking now that it was merely the recurrence of his, I answered carelessly —

" Kcver fear, I'll say nothing."

*' Yes, but swear it," said he, with a fixed look of his
dark eye ; " swear it to me now — so long as you are


below tliere" — he pointed to the valley — "younevex' speak
of me."

I made him the promise ho required, though with great
unwillingness, as my curiosity to learn something about
him wa-s becoming intense.

"Not a word!" said he, with a finger on his lip,
" that's the consignc.'''

" Not a word ! " repeated I, and we parted.



Two hours after I was enjoying the pleasant fire of the
Hotel de Flandre, where I arrived in time for table dlwte,
not a little to the surprise of the host and six waiters,
who were totally lost in conjectures to account for my
route, and sorely puzzled to ascertain the name of my last
hotel in the mountains,

A watering-place at the close of a season is always a
sad-looking thing. The ban'icades of the coming winter
already begin to show — the little statues in public gai'-
dens are assuming their great coats of straw against
the rigours of f r ost-'-ihe jet-d'eaux cease to play, or per-
form with the unwilling air of actors to empty benches —
the fahle dlwtes present their long dinner-rooms unoccu-
pied, save by a little table at one end, where some half-
dozen shivering inmates still remain, the debris of the
mighty army who floui-ished their knives there but six
weeks before. These usually consist of a stray invalid
or two, completing his course of the waters — he has a
fortnight of sulphuretted hydrogen before him yet, and
he dare not budge till he has finished his " heeltap" of
abomination. Then there's the old half-pay major, that
has lived in Spa, for aught I know, since the siege of
Namur, and who passes his nine months of winter shoot-
ing quails and playing dominoes ; and there's an elderly


lady, witli spectacles, always working at a little embro^
dery frame, who speaks no French, nor seems to be aware
of anything going on around her. Xo one can guess why
she is there — I wager she does not know herself; and
lastly, there is a very distracted-looking young gentle-
man, with a shooting jacket, and young moustaches, who
having been " cleaned out " at rouge et noir^ is w-aiting in
the hope of a remittance from some commiserating relative
in England.

The theatre is closed — its little stars, dispersed among
the small capitals, have shrunk back to their former pro-
portions of third and fourth-rate parts — for though
butterflies in July, they are mere grubs in December.
"While the clink of the croupier's mace no longer is heard,
revelling amid the five-franc pieces, all is still and silent
in that room which so late the conflict of human passion,
hope, envy, fear, and despair, had made a very hell on earth.

The donkeys, too — who but the other day were decked
in scarlet trappings — are now despoiled of their gay
panoply, and condemned to the mean drudgery of the
cart/ Poor beasts ! their drooping ears and fallen heads
seem to show some sense of their changed fortunes. No
longer bearing the burden of some fair-cheeked girl, or
laughing boy, along the mountain side — they are brought
down to the daily labour of the cottage; and a cutlet
is no more like a mutton chop, than is a donkey like an
ass. So does everything suS'er a " sea-change." The
" modiste," whose pretty cap with its gay ribbons was
itself an advertisement of her wares, has taken to a close
bonnet and a woollen shawl — a metamorphosis as com-
plete as is the misshapen mass of cloaks and mud-boots
of the agile " danseuse," who flitted between earth and
:air, a few moments before. Even the doctor — and what
a study is the doctor of a watering-place ! — even he has
laid by his smiles and his soft speeches, folded up in the
same drawer with his black coat, for the winter. He has
not thrown physic to the dogs, because he is fond of
sporting, and would not injure the poor beasts, but he has
^'iven it an " au revoir ; " and as grouse come in with
autumn, and blackcock in November, so does he feel
thalybeates are in season on the first of May. Exchang-


ing his cane for a Manton, and his mild whisper for a
dog-whistle, he takes to the j)ursuit of tlio lower animals,
leaving men for the warmer months.

All this disconcerts one ; you hate to be present at those
" demcnagements," where the curtains are taking down,
and the carpet is taking up ; wliere they are nailing
canvas across pictures, and storing books into pantrie?.
These smaller revolutions are all very detestable, and you
gladly escape into some quiet and retired spot and wait
till the fussing be over. So felt I. Had I came a month
later, this place would have suited me perfectly, but this
process of human moulting is horrible to witness, and so,
say I once more — en route.

Like a Dutchman who took a run of three miles to
jump over a hill, and then sat down tired at the foot of it,
I flurried myself so completely in canvassing all the possi-
ble places I might, could, would, should, or ought to pass
the winter in, that I actually took a fortnight to recover
my energies before I could set out. Meanwhile I had
made a close friendship with a dyspeptic countryman of
mine, who went about the Continent with a small port-
manteau and a very large medicine chest, chasing health
from Naples to Paris, and from Aix-la-Chapelle to Wild-
bad, firmlypersuadedthat every country had only one month
in the year at most whei'ein it were safe to live there — Spa
being the appropriate place to pass the October. He cared
nothing for the ordinary topics that engross the attention
of mankind— kings might be dethroned and dynasties
demolished — states might revolt and subjects be rebellious
— all he wanted to know was, not what changes were
made in the code but in the pharmacopoeia. The libei'tj
of the press was a matter of indifference to him; he cared
^ little for what men might say, but a great deal for what it

Online LibraryCharles James LeverThe adventures of Arthur O'Leary → online text (page 23 of 40)