Charles James Lever.

The adventures of Arthur O'Leary online

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that court-martial were never made known ;* the tribunal*
sat with closed doors, accessible only to the Emperor hira-
Relf and the officers of his personal staff. On the fourth
day of the investigation, a messenger was despatched to
Bi-aunach, a distant outpost of the army, to bring up
General Aubuisson, who, it was rumoured, was somehow
implicated in the transaction.

The general took his place beside the other prisoners,
in the full uniform of his " grade." He wore on his breast
the cross the Emperor himself had given him, and he
carried at his side the sabre of honour he had received on
the battle-field of Eylau. Still, they who knew him well
remarked that his countenance no longer wore its frank
and easy expression, while in his eye there was a restless,
anxious look as he glanced from side to side, and seemed
troubled and suspicious.

An order, brought by one of the aides-de-camp of the-
Emperor, commanded that the proceedings should not be
opened that morning before his Majesty's arrival, and
already the court had remained an hour inactive, when
Napoleon entered suddenly, and saluting the members of
the tribunal with a courteous bow, took his place at the
head of the table. As he passed up the hall he threw
one glance upon the bench where the prisoners sat; it

* The Vicom te's assertion is historically correct.



was short and fleeting, but there was one there who felt
it in his inmost soul, and who in that rapid look read his
own fate for ever.

" General Aubuisson," said the President of the court-
martial, " you were on duty with the peloton of your
battalion on the evening of the 18th? "

A short nod of the head was the only reply. " It is
alleged," continued the President, " that a little after nine
o'clock you appeared on the bridge over the Elster, and
held a conversation with Colonel Montfort, the officer
commanding the post; the court now desires that you will
recapitulate the circumstances of that conversation, as well
as inform it generally on the reasons of your presenting
yourself at a post so remote from your duty ? "

The general made no reply but fixed his eyes stead-
fastly on the face of the Emperor, whose cold glance met
his own, impassive and unmoved.

" Have you heard the question of the court ? '' said the
President, in a louder tone, " or shall 1 repeat it ? "

The prisoner turned upon him a look of vacancy. Like
one suddenly awakened from a frightful dream, he ap-
peared struggling to remember something which no effort
of his mind could accomplish. He passed his hand across
his brow, on which now the big drops of sweat were
standing, and then there broke from him a sigh, so low
and plaintive, it was scai'cely audible.

" Collect yourself. General," said the President, in a
milder tone ; " we v/ish to hear from your own lips your
account of this transaction."

Aubuisson cast his eyes downwards, and with his hands
firmly clasped, seemed to reflect. As he stood thus, his
look fell upon the Cross of the Legion, which he wore on
his bosom, and with a sudden stai-t he pressed his hand
upon it, and drawing himself up to his full heiglit,
exclaimed, in a wild and broken voice —
" Silence! — silence a la mort ! "

The members of the court-martial looked from one to
the other in amazement, while, after a pause of a few
minutes, the Pi'csidcnt repeated his question, dwelling
patiently on each word, as if desirous to suit the troubled
intellect of the prisoner.


'* You are asked," said he, " to remember why yoc
appeared at the bridge of the Elster."

*' Hush ! " replied the prisoner, placing his finger upon
bis lips, as if to instil caution ; " not a word ! "

" What can this mean ? " said the President, " his mind
appears completely astray."

The members of the tribunal leaned their heads over
the table, and conversed for some moments in a low tone,
after which the President resumed the interrogatory as

" Que voulez-vous? " said the Emperor, rising, while a
crimson spot on his cheek evinced his displeasure; " Que
voulez-vous, IMessieurs ! do you not see the man is mad ?"

" Silence ! " reitei-ated Aulmisson, in the same solcmu
voice; "alamort — silence!"

Thei^e could no longer be any doubt upon the question.
From whatever cause proceeding, his intellects were
shaken, and his reason gone. Some predominant impres-
sion, some all-powerful idea, had usurped the seat of both
judgment and memory, and he was a maniac.

In ten days after, the General Aubuisson — the distin-
guished soldier of the Republic, the "brave" of Egypt,
and the hero of many a battle in Germany, Poland, and
Russia— was a patient of Charcnton. A sad and melan-
choly figure, wasted and withered like a tree reft by
lightning, the wreck of his former self, he walked slowly
to and fro ; and though at times his reason would seem to
return free and unclouded, suddenly a dark curtain would
appear to drop over the light of his intellect, and he
would mutter the words, " Silence! silence a la mort ! " ^
and speak not again for several hours after. fe

The Vicomte de Berlemont, from whom I heard this
sad story, was himself a member of the court-martial on i
the occasion.

For the rest, I visited Paris about a fortnight after I
heard it, and, determining to solve my doubts on a sub-
ject of such interest, paid an eai-ly visit to Charenton.
On examining the registry of the institution, I found the
name of " Gustavo Guillaume Aubuisson, native of Dijon,
aged thirty-two. Admitted at Charenton the 31st of
October, 1813— Incurable."

I 2


And on another page was the single line —
" Aubuifson escaped from Charenton, June 16th, 1815
— supposed to have been seen at Waterloo on the 18th."

One more era remains to be mentioned in this sad
story. The old tower still stands, bleak and desolate, on
the mountains of the Vesdre; but it is now uninhabited;,
the sheep seek shelter within its gloomy walls, and herd
in that spacious chimney. There is another change, too,
but so slight as scarcely to be noticed — a little mound of
earth, grass-grown, and covered with thistles, marks the
spot where " Lazare the shepherd " takes his last rest. It
is a lone and dreary spot, and the sighing night winds
as they move over the barren heath seem to utter his
last " consigne," and his requiem — " Silence ! silence a la



" SuMMA diligcntia," as we used to translate it at school,
'' on the top of ihe diligence," I wagged along towards
the Rhine — a weary and a lonely way it is. Indeed, I half
believe a frontier is ever thus: a kind of natural barrier
to ambition on cither side, where both parties stop shorti
and say, AYell, there's no temptation there, anyhow !

Reader, hast ever travelled in the banquette of a dili-
gence ? I will not ask you, fair lady; for how could you
ever mount to that Ol3-inpus of trunks, carpet-bags, and
hat-boxes ; but my whiskered friend with the cheroot
yonder, what says he ? Never look angry, man, there was
no oflence in my question ; better men than either of us
have done it, and no bad place either.

First, if the weather be fine, the view is a glorious
thing ; you are not limited, like your friends in the coupe,
to the sight of the conducteur's gaiters, or the leather
disc of tVie postilion's " continuations." No. Your eye
ranges aN\ayat either side over those undulating plains


winch i}.e Coutineut presents, uiibroken by fence or
liedge-row; vast corn-fields, great waving woods, inter-
minable tracts of j-ellowish pasture land, with liere and
there a village spire, or the pointed roof of some chateau
rising above the trees. A yellow-earthy by-road tra-
verses tlie plain, on whicli a heavy waggon jjlods along,
the o.ght huge horses stepping as free as though no
weight restrained them; their bells are tinkling in the
clear air, and the merry chant of the waggoner chimes in
pleasantly with them. It is somewhat hard to fancy how
the land is ever tilled ; you meet few villages ; scarcely a
house is in sight : yet there are the fragrant fields, the
yellow gold of harvest tints the earth, and the industry of
man is seen on every side. It is peaceful, it is gi-and,
too, from its \Qry extent; but it is not " homolike." No.
Our own happy land alone possesses that attribute. It is
the country of the hearth and home. The traveller in
France or Germany catches no glances as he goes of the
rural life of the proprietors of the soil. A pale white
chateau, seemingly uninhabited, stands in some formal
lawn, where the hot sun darts down his rays unbroken,
and the very fountain seems to hiss with heat. No signs
of life are seen about, all is still and calm, as though the
moon were shedding her yellow lustre over the scene.
Oh ! how I long for the merry school-boy's laugh, the
clatter of the pony's canter, the watch-dog's bark, the
squire's self breathing the morning air amid his woods,
that tell of England. How I fancy a peep into that large
■drawing-room, whose windows open to the greensward,
letting in a view of distant mountains, and far-receding
foreground, through an atmosphere heavy with the rose
and the honeysuckle. Lovely as is the scene, with foliage
tinted in every hue, from the light sprayey hazel to the
dull pine or the dark copper beech ; how I prefer to look
within where tJiri/ are met who call this " home," and
v/hat a Paradise is such a home ! — but I must think no
more of these things. I am a lone and solitary man, my
happiness is cast in a different path, nor shall I mar it by
longings which never can be realized. While I sat thua
musing, my companion of the banquette, of whom I haa
hitherto seen nothing but a blue cloth cloak and a tra-


vclliug-cap, came slap do\YU on mo with a snort tLat
choked liim, and aroused me.

" I ask your pardon, sir," said he in a voice that be-
tra3-ed Middlesex most culpably. " Je suis — that is,

" N"ever mind, sir; English will answer every purpose,'*
cried T. " You have had a sound sleep of it."

" Yes, heaven be praised ! I get over a journey as well
as most men. Where are we now — do you happen to
know ?"

" That old castle yonder, I suspect, is the Alton Burg,"
said I, taking out my guide-book and directory. " The
Alton Burg was built in the year 1384, by Carl Ludwig
Graf von Lowenstein, and is not without its historic
associations "

" D — n its historic associations," said my companion,
with an energy that made me start. '' I wish the devil
and his imps had carried away all such trumpery, or kept
them to torture people in their own hot climate, and left
ns free here. I ask pardon, sir — I beseech you to forgive
my warmth ; you would if you knew the cause, I'm

I began to suspect as much myself, and that my neigh-
bour, being insane, was in no wise responsible for his
opinions ; when he resumed —

" Most men are made miserable by present calamities :
some feel apprehensions for the future; but no one ever
suffered so much from either as I do from the past. No^
sir," continued he, raising his voice, " I have been made
nnhappy from those sweet souvenirs of departed great-
ness guide-book people and tourists gloat over. The very
thought of antiquity makes me shudder ; the name of
Charlemagne gives mo tlie lumbago ; and I'd run a mile
from a conversation about Charles the Bold, or Philip
van Artevelde. I see what's passing in your mind ; but
you're all wrong — I'm not deranged, not a bit of it —
thougli, faith, I might be, without any shame or dis-

The caprices of men, of Englishmen in particular, ha^
long ceased to surprise me; each day disclosed some new
eccentricity or other. In the very last hotel I had left a


tnember of Parliament planning a new route to the Rliine
— avoiding Cologne ; because in the cuiree-room of the
Grossen llheinberg there was a double door, that every-
body banged when he went in or out, and so discomposed
the honoux'able and learned gentleman, that he was laid
tip for three weeks with a fit of gout, brought on by pure
passion at the inconvenience.

I had not long to wait for the explanation in this case.
My companion appeared to think he owed it to himself to
" show cause why " he was not to be accounted a lunatic,
and after giving me briefly to understand that his means
enabled him to retii'e from active pursuits and enjoy his
ease, he went on to recount that he had come abroad to
pass the remainder of his days in peace and tranquillity —
but I shall let him tell his own story in his own words.

" On the eighth day after 7ny arrival at Brussels, I told
my wife to pack up ; for, as Mr. Thysens, the lawyer, who
promised to write before that time, had not done so, we
had nothing to wait for. We had seen Waterloo, visited
the Mu&ee, skated about in listen slippers, through the-
Palais d'Oiange, dined at Dubos's, ate ice at Velloni's,
bought half the old lace in the Rue de la Madelaine, and
almost caught an ague in the Allee Verte. This was,
certainly, pleasure enough for one week ; so I ordered my
bill, and prepared 'to evacuate Flanders.' Lord help us,
what beings we are ! Had I gone down to the raih-oad
by the Boulevards, and not by the Montague de la Cour,
what miseries might I not have been spared. Mr. Thy-
sens' clerk met me, just as T emerged from the Place
Royale, with a letter in his hand.

"I took it — opened — and read: —

" • Sir,^ — I have just completed the pm-chase of the
beautiful Chateau of Vanderstradentendonk, with all its
gardens, orchards, pheasantries, piscince, prairies, and
forest rights, which are now your property-. Accept my
most respectful congratulations upon your acquisition of
this magnificent seat of ancient grandeur, rendered doubly
precious by its having been once the favourite residence
and chateau of the great Vandyck.'

" Here followed a long encomium upon Rubens and his
school, which I did not half relish, knowing it was charged


to me in my account; tlie whole winding up with a press-
ing recommendation to hasten down at once to tako
possession, and enjoy the partridge shooting, then in great

" ]My wife was in ecstasy to be the Frow Vanderstra-
dcntendoiik, with a fish-pond before the door, and twelve
gods and goddesses in lead around it. To have a brace of
asthmatic peacocks on a terrace, and a dropsical swan on
an island, were strong fascinations ; not to speak of the
straight avenues leading nowhere, and the winds of heaven
blowing everywhere. A house with a hundred and thirty
windows, and half as many doors, none of which would
shut close; a garden, with no fruit but crab-apples ; and a
nursery, so culled, because the play-ground of all the
brats for a league round us. No matter, I had resolved to
live abroad for a year or two ; one place would do just as
well as another ; at least, I should have quietness ; that
was something : there was no neighboui'hood, no town,
no high road, no excuse for travelling acquaintances to
drop in, or rambling tourists to bore one with lettei'S of
introduction. Thank God ! there was neither a battle-
field, a cathedral, a picture, nor a great living poet, for
ten miles on every side.

" Here, thought I, I shall have that peace Piccadilly
cannot give. Cincinnatus-like, I'll plant my cabbages,
feed my turkeys, let my beard grow, and nurse my
rental. Solitude never bored me ; I could bear anything
but intrusive impertinence; and so far did I carry this
feeling, that on reading Robinson Crusoe, I laid down
the volume in disgust on the introduction of his man

" It mattered little, therefore, that the couleur cle rose
picture the lawyer had drawn of the chateau, had little
existence out of his own florid imagination : the quaint
old building, with its worn tapestries and faded furniture,
suited the habit of my soul, and I hugged myself often in
the pleasant reflection that my London acquaintances
would be puzzling their brains for my whereabouts, with-
out the slightest clue to my detection. Now, had I settled
in Florence, Frankfort, or Geneva, what a life I must have
led ! There is always some dear Mrs. Somebody going to


!ive in your neighbouvliood, ^vho begs you'll look out for a
house for her: something very eligible; eighteen rooms
well furnished, a southern aspect, in the best quarter ; a
garden indispensable ; and all for some forty ])ounds a
year: or some other dear friend who desires you'll find a
governess, with more accomplishments than Malibrim, and
more learning than Person, with the temper of five angels,
and a ' vow in heaven ' to have no higher salary than a
college bed-maker. Then there are the Thompsons pass-
ing through, Avhom you have taken care never to know
before ; but who fall upon you now, as strangers in a
foreign land, and take the ' benefit ' of the ' Alien Act' in
dinners at your house during their stay. 1 stop not to
enumerate the crying wants of the more lately arrived
resident, all of which are refreshed for your benefit; the
recommendations to butlers who don't cheat, to moral
music-masters, grave dancing-masters, and doctors who
never take fees ; every infraction by each of these indi-
viduals in his peculiar calling being set down as a just
cause of complaint against yourself, requiring an animated
correspondence in writing, and concluding with an abject
apology and a promise to cut the delinquent that day,
though you owe him a half-year's bill.

" These are all pleasant — not to speak of the curse of
disjointed society, ill-assorted, ill-conceived, unreasonable
pretension, vulgar impertinence, and fawning toadyism on
every side, and not one man to be found to join you in
laughing at the whole thing, which would anqily repay
one for any endurance.

" No, thought I, I've had enough of this ! I'll try my
bark in quieter waters, and though it's only a punt, yet
I'll hold the sculls myself, and that's something.

" So much for the self-gratulation I indulged in, as the
old chaise de poste rattled over the heavy pavement, and
drew up short at the portico of my future dwelling. My
wife was charmed with the procession of villagers who
awaited us on the steps, and, although an uglier pojiulation
never trod their mother earth in wooden slippers, fancied
she could detect several faces of great beauty and much
interest in the crowd. I saw nothing but an indis(;riminace
haze of cotton nightcaps, striped jackets, blouses, black


petticoats and sabots : so, pushing my way tlirougb them,
I left the bazoon and the burgomaster, to the united
delights of their music and eloquence, and, shutting the
hall door, threw myself on a seat, and thanked Heaven
that my period of peace and tranquillity was at length to

" Peace and tranquillity ! What airy visions ! Had I
selected the post of cad to an omnibus, a steward to a
Greenwich steamer, were I a guide to the Monument, or
a waiter at Long's, my life had been one of dignified repose,
in comparison with my present existence.

" I had not been a week in the chateau, when a
travelling Englishman sprained his ankle, within a short
distance of the house. As a matter of course he was
brought there, and taken every care of for the few days of
his sta}^ He was fed, housed, leeched, and stuped, and
when at lengtli he proceeded upon his journey, was pro-
fuse in his acknowledgments for the services rendered him ;
and yet, what was the base return of the ungrateful man ?
... I have scarcely temper to record it. During the
very moment when we were most lavish in our attention
to him, he was sapping the vciy peace of his benefactors.
He learned from the Elemish servants of the house that
it had formerly been the favourite residence of Vandyck ;
that the very furniture then there was unchanged since
his time ; the bed, the table, the chair he sat on were all
preserved. The wretch — am I not warranted in calling
him so ? — made notes of all this, and before I had been
three weeks in my abode, out came a ' Walk in Flanders,'
in two volumes, with a Avhole chapter about me, headed
' Chateau de Vandyck.' . . . There we were, myself and
my wife, in every window of the Row — Longman, Hurst,
Rees, Orme, Brown, Green, and Blue, had bought us at a
price, and paid for us : there we were — we, who courted
solitude and retirement, to be read of by every puppy in
the West End, and every apprentice in Cheapside. Our
hospitality was lauded, as if I kept open house for all
comers, with ' hot chops and brown gravy' at a moment's
notice. The antiquary was bribed to visit me by the
fascinations of a spot, 'sacred to the revci'ics of genius;*
the sportsman, by the account of my ' preserves ;' the


idler, to say he had been there ; and the guide-book-
maker and historical biographer, to vamp up det;iils for a
new edition of ' Belgium as it was,' or ' Vandyck and his

" From the liour of the publication of that horrid book
I never enjoyed a moment's peace or ease. The whole
tide of my travelling countrymen — and what a flood it is !
— came pouring into Ghent. Post horses could not be
found sufficient for half the demand ; the hotels were
crowded ; respectable peasants gave up their daily employ
to become guides to the chateau ; and little busts of
Vandyck were hawked about the neighbourhood by children
of four years old. The great cathedral of Ghent — Van
Scamp's pictui-es — all the historic remains of that ancient
city, were at a discount ; and they who formerly exhibited
them, as a livelihood, were now thrown out of bi'ead.
Like the dancing-master vv'ho has not gone up to Paris for
the last ' pirouette,' or the physician who has not taken
up the stethoscope, they were i-eputed old-fashioned and
passe; and, if they could not describe the Chateau de
Vandyck, were voted among the bj-gones.

"The impulse once given, there was no stopping; the
current was irresistible ; the double lock on the gate of
the avenue, the bulldog at the hall door, the closed shut-
ters, the cut-away bell-rope, announced a firm resolution
in the fortress not to surrender ; but we Avere taken by
assault, escaladed, and starved out in turns.

" Scai'cely was the tea-urn on the breakfast-table, when
they began to pour in ; old and young, the halt, the one-
eyed, the fat, the thin, the melancholy, the meriy, the
dissipated, the dyspeptic, the sentimental, the jocose, the
blunt, the ceremonious, the courtly, the rude, the critical,
and the free and easy : one came forty miles out of his
way, and pronounced the whole thing an imposition, and
myself a ' humbug ; ' another insisted upon my getting up
at dinner, that he might sit down in my chair, char-
acterized by the confounded guides as ' le fauteuil de
Vandyck ; ' a third went so far as to propose lying down in
our great four-post bed, just to say he had been there,
though my wife was then in it. I sjieak not of the
miserable practice of cutting slices ofl' all the furniture as


relics. Jolin Murray took an inventory of the whole con-
tents of the house for a new edition of his Guide-book:
nud llolman, the blind traveller, /^/^ me all over with hia
liand as I sat at tea with my wife; and last of all, a
respectable cheesemonger from the Strand, after inspecting
the entire building from the attics to the cellar, pressed
sixpence into my liand at parting, and said, ' Hapjiy to see
you, Mr. Vandyck, if you come into the City !'

" Then the advice and counsel I met with, oral and
written, would fill a volume, and did ; for I was compelled
to keep an album in the hall for the writers' names.

" One suggested that my desecration of the temple of
genius would be less disgusting if I dined in my kitchen,
and left the ancient dining-room as the great artist had
left it.

" Another hinted that my presence in my own house
destroyed all the illusion of its historic associations.

" A third, a young lady — to judge by the writing — pro-
posed my wearing a point beard and lace ruffles, with
trunk hose and a feather in my hat, probably to favour
tlie ' illusion ' so urgently mentioned by the last wi-iter,
and, perhaps, to indulge visitors like my friend the cheese-

"Many pitied me — well might they! — as one insensible

Online LibraryCharles James LeverThe adventures of Arthur O'Leary → online text (page 25 of 40)