Charles James Lever.

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steeple of Haarlem.

The interior was in perfect keeping with the designar
tion of tiie building. Every appliance that could suggest
ease, if not sleep, was tl)ere : the chairs were deep, plethoric-
looking Dutch chairs, that seemed as if they had led a
sedentary life, and throve upon it; the table was a short,
thick-legged one, of dark oak, whose polished surface re-
flected the tall brass cups, and tlu; amjih; features of Myn-
Jieer, and seemed to hob-uob with him when he lilted the


cnpacions vessel to his lips ; the walls were tkcorated with
quaint pipes, whose large porcelain bowls bespoke them of
home origin ; and here and there a sea-fight, with a Dutch
three-decker hurling destruction on the enemy. But the
genius of the place was its owner, who, in a low fur cap and
slippers, whose shape and size might have drawn tears of
envy from the Ballast Board, sat giizing upon the canal in
a state of Dutch rapture, very like apoplexy. He motioned
me to a chair without speaking — he directed me to a pipe,
by a long whitF of smoke from his own — he grunted out a
welcome, and then, as if overcome by such unaccustomed
exertion, he lay back in his chair, and sighed deeply.

We smoked till the sun went down, and a thicker haze,
rising from the stagnant ditch, joined with the tobacco
vapour, made an atmosphere like mud reduced to gas.
Through the mist, I saw a vision of soup tureens, hot meat,
and smoking vegetables. I beheld as though Mynheer
moved among the condiments, and I have a faint dreamy
recollection of his performing some feat before me ; bui
whether it was carving, or the sword exercise, I won't be

Now, though the schiedam was strong, a spell was upon
me, and I could not speak ; the great green eyes that
glared on me through the haze, seemed to chill my very
soul ; and I drank, out of desperation, the deeper.

As the evening wore on, I waxed bolder ; I had looked
tipon the Dutchman so long, that my awe of him began to
subside, and I at last grew bold enough to address him.

I remember well, it was pretty much with that kind of
energy, that semi-desperation, with which a man nerves
himself to accost a spectre, that I ventured on addressing
him. How or in what terms I did it, Heaven knows !
Some trite every-day observation about his great know-
ledge of life — his wonderful experience of the world, was
all I could muster ; and when I had made it, the sound of
my own voice terrified me so much, that I finished the
can at a draught, to reanimate my courage.

" Ja ! Ja!" said Van Hoogendorp, in a cadence as
solemn as the bell of the cathedral ; " I have seen many
strange things ; I remember what few men living can
remember. I mind well the time when the ' Hollandische


Vrow ' made her first voyafye from Batavia, and brought
back a paroquet for the burgomaster's wife ; the great
trees upon the Boomjes were but saplings when I was a
boy; they were not thicker than my waist;" here he
looked down upon himself with as much complacency as
though he were a sylph. " Ach Gott ! they were brave
times, schiedam cost only half a guilder the krug."

I waited in hopes he would continue, but the glorious
retrospect he had evoked, seemed to occupy all his
thouo-hts, and he smoked away wit'iout ceasing.

" You ren)ember the Austrians, then ? " said I, by way
of drawing him on.

" They were dogs," said he, spitting out,

" Ah !" said I, " the French were better then ? "

" Wolves! " ejaculated he, after glowring on me fearfully.

There was a long pause after this ; I perceived that I
had taken a wrong path to lead him into conversation, and
he was loo deeply overcome with indignation to speak.
During this time, however, his anger took a thirsty form,
and he swigged away at the schiedam most manfully.

The eflect of his libations Ijt-came at last evident, his
great green stagnant eyes flashed and flared, his wide
nostrils swelled and contra'-ted, and his breathing became
short and thick, like the convulsive sobs of a steam-
engine when they open and shut the valves alternately.
I watched these indications for some time, wondering
what they miglit portend, when at length he withdrew
his pipe from his mouth, and with such a tone of voice
as he might have used if confessing a bloody and atrocious
mur ler, he said —

'• I will tell you a story."

Had the great stone figure of Erasmus beckoned to me
across the market-place, and asked me the news " on
Change," I could not have been more amazed ; and not
venturing on the slightest interruption, I refilled my
pipe, and nodded scntentiously across the table, while he
thus began.



MINE host's tale.

" It was in the winter of the year 1806, the first week of
December, the frost was setting in, and I resolved to pay
a visit to my brother, whom I hadn't seen for forty years;
he was burgomaster of Antwerp. It is a long voyage
and a perilous one, but with the protection of Providence,
our provisions held out, and on the fourth night after we
sailed, a violent shock shook the vessel from stem to stern,
and we found ourselves against the quay of Antwerp.

" When I reached my brother's house I found him in bed,
bick ; the doctors said it was a dropsy ; I don't know
how that might be, for he drank more gin than any man
in Holland, and hated water all his life. We were twins,
but no one would have thought so, I looked so thin and
meagre beside him.

" Well, as I was there, I resolved to see the sights of the
town ; and the next morning, after breakfast, I set out by
myself, and wandered about till evening. Now there were
many things to see — very strange things too ; the noise,
and the din, and the bustle, addled and confused me ;
the people were running here and there, shouting as if
they were mad, and there were great Hags hanging out
of the windows, and drums beating, and, stranger than
all, I saw little soldiers with red breeches and red shoulder-
knots, running about like monkeys.

" ' What is all this ? ' said I, to a man near me.

" ' Methinks,' said he, ' the burgomaster himself might
well know what it is.'

" ' I am not the burgomaster,' quoth I, ' I am his
brother, and only came Irom Rotterdam yesterday.'

'"Ah! then,' said another, with a stinnge grin, ' you
didn't know these preparations were meant to welcoaio
your arrival.'



"'No,' said I; 'but tb3y are very fine, and if there
were not so much noise, I would like them well.'

" And so I sauntered on till I came to the great Platz,
opposite the cathedral — that was a fine place — and there
was a large man carved in cheese over one door, very
wonderful to see ; and there was a big fish, all gilt, w'here
they sold herrings ; but in tlie town-hall there seemed
something more than usual going on, for great crowds
were there, and dragoons were galloping in and galloping
out, and all was confusion.

' What's this ? ' said I. * Are the dykes open ? '
But not one would mind me ; and then suddenly I
heard some one call out my name.

" ' Where is Van Hoogendorp ? ' said one ; and then
another cried, ' Where is Van Hoogendorp ? '

*' ' Here I am,* said I ; and at the same moment two
officers, covered with gold lace, came through the crowd,
and took me by the arms.

" ' Come along with us, Monsieur de Hoogendorp,' said
they, in French ; ' there is not a moment to lose ; we
have been looking for you everywhere.'

" Now, though I understand that tongue, I cannot speak
it myself, so I only said ' Ja, Ja,' and followed them.

" They led me up an oak stair, and through three or four
large rooms, crowded with officers in fine uniforms, who
all bowed as I passed, and some one went before us,
calling out in a loud voice, ' Monsieur de Hoogendorp ! '

" ' This is too much honour,' said I, ' far too much ;' but
as I spoke in Dutch, no one minded me. Suddenly, how-
ever, the wide folding-doors were flung open, and we were
ushered into a large hall, where, although above a hundred
people were assembled, you might have heard a pin drop ;
the few who spoke at all did so only in whispers.

" ' Monsieur de Hoogendorp ! ' shouted the man again.

*' ' For shame,' said I ; ' don't distui-b the company ; *
and I thought some of them laughed, but he only bawled
the louder, ' Monsieur de Hoogendorp ! '

" ' Let him approach,* said a quick, sharp voice, from
the fireplace.

" * Ah ! ' thought I, ' they are going to rea I me an
address. I trust it may be in Dutch.'

MINE host's tale. 27

** They led me along in silence to the fire, before which,
with his back turned towards it, stood a short man, with
a sallow, stern countenance, and a great, broad forehead,
his hair combed straight over it. He wore a green coat
with white facings, and over that a grey surtout trimmed
with fur. I am particular about all this, because this
little man was a persozi of consequence.

" ' You are late, Monsieur de Hoogendorp,' said he, in
French ; ' it is half-past four ; ' and so saying, he pulled
out his watch, and held it up before me.

" ' Ja ! ' said I, taking out my own, 'we are just the
same time.'

" At this he stamped upon the ground, and said some-
thing I thought was a curse.

" ' Where are the Echevins, monsieur ? ' said he.

*' * God knows,' said I ; ' most probably at dinner.'

'" Ventre bleu! '

" ' Don't swear,' said I. ' If I had you in Rotterdam,
]'d fine you two guilders.'

" ' What does he say ? ' while his eyes flashed fire. ' Tell
La grande morue to speak French.'

" ' Tell him I am not a cod-fish,' said I.

" ' Who speaks Dutch here ? ' said he. ' General de
Ritter, ask him where are the Echevins, or, is the man
a fool ? '

" ' I have heard,' said the General, bowing obsequiously
— ' I have heard your Majesty, that he is little better.'

" ' Tonnerre de Dieit !' said he ; ' and this is tbeir chief
magistrate ! ]\Iarat, you must look to this to-morrow ;
and as it grows late now, let us see the citadel at once ; he
can show us the way thither, I suppose;' and with this
he moved forward, followed by the i-est, among whom I
found mj'self hurried along, no one any longer paying me
the slightest respect or attention.

" ' To the citadel,' said one.

" ' To the citadel,' cried another. \

"'Com^, Hoogendorp, lead the way,' cried several
together; and so they pushed me to the front, and, not-
withstanding all I said, tliat I did not know the citadel
from the Dome Church, they would listen to nothing, but
OJily called the louder, ' Step out, old " Grande ciiLUe" '


nnd hurried me down the street, at the pace of a boar-

• Lead on,' cried one, 'To the front,' said another.
' Step out,' roared three or four together ; and I found
myself at the bead of the procession, without the power to
explain or confess my igiiuruace.

" 'As sure as my name is Peter van Hoogendorp, I'll
give you all a devil's dance,' said I to myself; and with
that 1 grasped my staff", and set out as fast as L was able.
Down one narrow street we went, and up another; some-
times we got into a citl de sac, where there was no exit,
and had to turn back again ; another time we would
ascend a huge flight of steps, and come plump into a
tanner's yard, or a place where the}^ were curing fish, and
io we blundered on till there wasn't a blind alley nor
crooked lane of Antwerp that we didn't wade tlu-ough,
and I was becoming foot-sore and tired, myself, with the

" All this time the Emperor — for it was Xapoleon — took
no note of where we were going ; he was too busy con-
versiijg with old General de Ritter to mind anything else.
At last, alter traversing a long naiTOw street, we came
down upon an arm of the Scheldt, and so overcome was I
then that I resolved I would go no further without a
smoke, and I sat myself down on a butter firkin, and took
out my pipe, and proceeded to strike a light with my flint.
A- titter of laughter from the officers now attracted the
Kmperor's attention, and he stopped short and stared at
me as if I had been some wondei-ful beast.

" ' What is this ? ' said he. ' Why don't you move

" ' It's impossible,' replied I ; ' I never walked so far
since I was born.'

" ' Where is the citadel ? ' cried he in a passion.

" ' In the devil's keeping,' said I, ' or we should have
seen it long ago.'

" ' That must be it yonder,' said an aide-de-camp, point-
ing to a green, grassy eminence, at the other side of the

" The Emperor took the telescope from his hand, and
looked through it steadily for a couple of minutes.

MINE host's TaLE. 29

** ' Yes,' said he, ' that's it : but why have we come all
this rouud ? the road lay yonder '

'" Ja ! ' said I, ' so it did.'

*' ' Ventre bleu!' roared he, while he stamped his foot
upon the ground, ' Le gaiUard se moque de nous.' *

" ' Ja! ' said I again, without well knowing why.

" ' The citadel is there ! It is yonder! ' cried he, point-
ing with his finger.

" ' Ja ! ' said I, once more.

" ' J^n avant ! then,' shouted he, as he motioned me
to descend the flight of steps which led down to the
Scheldt; ' if this be the road you take, par Saint Denis!
you shall go first.'

" Now the frost, as I have said, had only set in a few
days before, and the ice on the Scheldt would scarcely
have borne the weight of a drummer-boy ; so I remon-
strated at once, at first in Dutch, and then in French, as
well as I was able, but nobody minded me. I then endea-
voured to show the danger his Majesty himself would
incur ; but they only laughed at this, and cried —

" ' En avant, en avant tottjours,'' and before I had time
for another word, there was a corporal's guard behind mo
with fixed bayonets ; the word ' march ' was given and
out I stepped.

" I tried to say a prayer, but I could think of nothing
but curses upon the fiends, whose shouts of laughter
behind put all my piety to flight. When I came to the
bottom step, I turned round, and, putting my hand to my
sides, endeavoured by signs to move their pity ; but they
only screamed the louder at this, and at a signal from
an ofiicer, a fellow touched me with a bayonet.

"' That was an awful moment,' said old Hoogendorp,
stopping short in his narrative, and seizing the can, which
for half an hour he had not tasted. I think 1 see the
river before me still, with its flakes of ice, some thick and
some thin, riding on each other ; some whirling along in
the rapid current of the stream ; some lying like islands
where the water was sluggish. I turned round, and
I clenched my fist, and I shook it in the Emperor's face,

• The fellow is laughing at na.


and I swore by tlie bones of the Stadtli older, that if I had
but one grasp of his hand, I'd not perform that dance
without a partner. Here I stood,' quoth he, 'and the
Sc'hukit niiqht be, as it were, there. I lifted my foot thus,
and came down upon a large piece of floating ice, which,
the moment I touched it, slipped away, and shot out into
the stream. ' ' '

At this moment Mynheer, who had been dramatizing
this portion of his adventure, came down upon the waxed
floor with a plump that shook the pagoda to its centre,
while I, who had during the narrative been working
double tides at the schiedam, was so interested at the
catastrophe that I thought he was really in the Scheldt,
in the situation he was describing. The instincts of
humanity were, I am proud to say, stronger in me than
those of reason. I kicked oif my shoes, threw away
my coat, and plunged boldly after him. I remember well
catching him by the throat, and I remember, too, feeling
what a dreadful thing was the grip of a drowning man ;
for both his hands were on my neck, and he squeezed me
fearfully. Of what happened after, the waiters or the
Humane Society may know something. I only can tell
that I kept my bed for four days, and when I next
descended to the table d'hote, I saw a large patch of black
sticking-plaster across the bridge of old Hoogendorp's nose,
and I never was a guest in ' Lust und Rust ' afterwards.
* * * * »

The loud clanking of the table d'hote bell aroused me,
as I lay dreaming of Frank Holbein and the yellow
doublet. I dressed hastily and descended to the saal ;
everything was exactly as I left it ten years before ; even
to the cherrywood pipe-stick that projected from Myn-
heer's breeches-pocket, nothing was changed. The clatter
of and the heavy rattle of wheels drew me
to the window, in time to see the Alderman's carriage,
with four posters, roll past ; a kiss of the hand was thrown
me from the rumble. It was the "Honourable Jack" him-
belf, who, somehow, had won their favour, and was already
installed their travelling companion.

MINE host's tale. 31

" It is odd enough," thought I, as I arraugod my
napkin across my knee, " what success lies in u vvull-curlud
whisker — particularly if the wearer be a fool."



It was through no veneration for the memory of Van
Hoogendorp's adventure, that I found myself one morning
at Antwerp. I like the old town. I like its quaint,
irregular streets — its glorious cathedral — the old " Place,"
with its alleys of trees ; I like the Flemish women, and
their long-eared caps ; and I like the table dltdte at the
•' St. Antoine" — among other reasons, because, being at
one o'clock, it affords a capital argument for a hot supper
at nine.

I do not know how other people may feel, but to me, I
must confess, much of the pleasure the Continent affords
me, is destroyed by the jargon of the " Comtnissionaires,'^
and the cant of guide-books. Why is not a man permitted
to sit down before that great picture, " The Descent
from the Cross," and "gaze his fill" on it? Why may he
not look till the whole scene is, as it were, acted before
him, and all those faces of grief, of care, of horror, and
despair, are graven in his memory, never to be erased
again ? Why, I say, may he not study this in tranquillity
and peace, withoiit some coarse, tobacco-reeking fellow at
his elbow, in a dirty blouse and wooden shoes, explaining,
in 2}ffois French, the merits of a work which he is as well
fitted to paint as to appreciate ?

But I must not myself commit the very error I am
reprobating. I will not attempt any description of a


picture which, to those who have seen it, could realize not
cue of the impressions the work itself atlorded, aud to
those who have not, would convey nothing at all. I will
not bore my reader with the tiresome cant of " effect,"
" expression," " force," " depth," and " relief," but, instead
of all this, will tell him a short story about the painting,
which, if it has no other merit, has at least that of

Rubens — who, among his other tastes, was a great florist
— was very desirous to enlarge his garden, by adding to
it a patch of ground adjoining. It chanced, unfortunately,
that this piece of land did not belong to an individual
who could be tempted by a large price, but to a society or
club called the " Arquebussiers," one of those old Flemish
guilds which date their origin several centuries back.
Insensible to every temptation of money, they resisted
all the painter's offers, and at length only consented to
relinquish the land on condition that he would paint a
picture for them, representing their patron saint, St.
Christopher. To this, Eubens readily acceded, his only
diflBculty being to find out some incident in the good
saint's life which might serve as a subject. What St.
Christopher had to do with cross bows or sharpshooters,
no one could tell him ; and for many a long day he puzzled
his mind, without ever being able to hit upon a solution
of the difficulty. Vt last, in despair, the etymology of
the word suggested a plan ; and " Christopheros," or
cross-bearer, afforded the hint on which he began his great
picture of " The Descent." For months long, he worked
industriously at the painting, taking an interest in its
details, such as he confesses never to have felt in any of
his previous works. He knew it to be his chef-d^oeuvre,
and looked forward, w'ith a natural eagerness, to the
moment when he should display it before its future
po.ssessors, and receive their congratulations on his

The day came ; the "Arquebuss" men assembled, and
repaired in a body to Rubens' house ; the large folding
fihutters which concealed the painting were opened, and
the triumph of the painter's genius was displayed before
them : but not a word was spoken ; no exclamation of


admiration or wonder broke from tlie assembled tlironrr :
not a murmur of pleasure, or even surprise, was there.
On the contrary, the artist beheld nothing but faces expres-
sive of disappointment and dissatisfaction ; and at length,
after a considerable pause, one question burst from every
lip— "Where is St. Christopher?"

It was to no purpose that he explained the object of his
work. In vain he assured them that the picture was the
greatest he had ever painted, and f;ir superior to what he
had contracted to give them. They stood obdurate and
motionless. It was St. Christopher they Avished for; it
was for him they bargained, and him they would have.

The altercation continued long and earnest. Some of
them, more moderate, hoping to conciliate both parties,
suggested that, as there was a small space unemployed in
the left of the painting, St. Christopher could be intro-
duced there, by making him somewhat diminutive.
Rubens rejected the proposal with disgust : his great
woi'k was not to be destroyed by such an anomaly as this :
and so, breaking off the negotiation at once, he dismissed
the " Arquebuss " men, and relinquished all pretension to
the " promised land."

Matters remained for some months thus, when the
burgomaster, who was an ardent admirer of Rubens'
genius, happened to hear of the entire transaction, and,
waiting on the painter, suggested an expedient by which
every difficulty might be avoided, and both parties rest
content. " Why not," said he, "make a St. Christopher
on the outside of the shutter ? You have surcl}^ space
enough there, and can make him of any size you like."
The artist caught at the proposal, seized his chalk, and in
a few minutes sketched out a gigantic saint, which the
burgomaster at once pronounced suited to the occasion.

The "Arquebuss" men were again introduced, and,
immediately on beholding their patron, professed them-
selves perfectly satisfied. The bargain was concluded, the
land ceded, and the picture hung up in the great cathedral
of Antwerp, where, with the exception of the short period
that French spoliation carried it to the Louvre, it has
I'emained ever since, a monument of llio artist's genius,
the greatest and most finished of all his works. And now


that I Lave clone my story, I'll try and find out that little
quaint hotel they call the "Fischer's Haus."

Fifteen years ago, I remember losing my way one night
in the streets of Antwerp. I couldn't speak a word of
Flemish : the few people I met couldn't understand a word
of French. I wandered about for fall two hours, and
heard the old cathedral clock play a psalm tune, and the
St. Joseph tried its hand ou another. A watchman cried
the hour thi'ongh a cow's horn, and set all the dogs a-
barkiiig; and then all was still again, and I plodded
along, withoat the faintest idea of the points of the

In this moody frame of mind I was, when the heavy
clant of a pair of sabots, behind, apprised me that some
one was following. I turned sharply about, and accosted
hivr in French.

" English ?" said he, in a thick, guttural tone.

" Yes, thank Heaven," said I, " do you speak English ? "

" Ja, IMynhoer," answered he.

Though this reply didn't promise very favourably, I
immediately asked him to guide me to my hotel, upon
which he shook his head gravely, and said nothing.

" Don't you speak English ?" said I.

" Ja!" said he once more.

" I've lost my way," cried I ; " I am a stranger."

Ue looked at me doggedly for a minute or two, and
then, with a, stern gravity of manner and a phlegm I
cannot attempt to convey, he said —

" D n m>/ eyes ! "

" What," said I, " do you mean ? "

*' Ja !" was the only reply.

" If you know English, why won't you speak it?"

" D n /lis eyes !" said he with a deep solemn tone.

"Is that all you know of the language?" cried I,
stamping with impatience. '■ Can you say no more than

Online LibraryCharles James LeverThe adventures of Arthur O'Leary → online text (page 3 of 40)