Charles James Lever.

The adventures of Arthur O'Leary online

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"D n 1/our eyes!" ejaculated he, with as much

composure as though he were maintaining an earnest

AVhen I had sufficiently recovered from the hearty fit
of laughter this colloquy occasioned me, I began by signs,


such as melo-dramatic people make to express sleep,
placing my head in the hollow of my hand, snoring and
yawning, to represent that I stood in need of a bod.

*' Ja !" cried my companion with more energy than
before, and led the way down one narrow street^ and up
another, traversing lanes where two men could scarcely
go abreast, until at length we reached a branch of the
Scheldt, along which we continued for about twenty
minutes. Suddenly the sound of voices shouting a species
of Dutch tunc — for so its unspeakable words, and wooden
turns, bespoke it — apprised me that we were near a house
where the people were yet astii\

" Ha !" said I, " this is a hotel then."

Another " Ja !"

"What do they call it?"

A shake of the head.

•' That will do ; good night," said I, as I saw the
bright lights gleaming from the small diamond panes df
an old Flemish window ; " I am much obliged to you."

"D n your eyes!" said my friend, taking off his

hat politely, and making me a low bow, while he added
something in Flemish, which I sincerely trust was of a
more polite and complimentary import than his parting
benediction in English.

As I turned from the Fleming, I entered a naxTOw
hall, which led by a low-arched door into a large room,
along which a number of tables were placed, each
crowded by its own party, who clinked their cans and
vociferated a chorus which, from constant repetition,
rings still in my memory — •

" Wenn die wein is;t in die mann,
Der weisdheid den ist in die kan ;"

or in the vernacular — •

" ^Yhen the wine is in the man,
Then is the wisdom in the can ;"

a sentiment which a very brief observation of their faces
induced me perfectly to concur in. Over th.-; chimney-
piece an inscription was painted in letters of about a foot

D 2


long, "Hier verkoopt man Bier," implying, what a very
cursory observation might have conveyed to any one,
even on the evidence of his nose, that beer was a very
attainable fluid in the establishment. The floor was
sanded, and the walls whitewashed, save whei'e some
pictorial illustrations of Flemish habits were displayed in
black chalk, or the smoke of a candle.

As I stood uncertain whether to advance or retreat, a
large portly Fleming, with a great waistcoat, made of the
skin of some beast, eyed me steadfastly from head to foot,
and then, as if divining ray embai-rassment, beckoned me
to approach, and pointed to a seat on the bench beside him.
I was not long in availing myself of his politeness, and
before half an hour elapsed, found myself with a bi-ass can
of beer, about eighteen inches in height, before me ; while
I was smoking away as though I had been born within
the " dykes," and never knew the luxury of dry land.

Around the table sat some seven or eight others, whose
phlegmatic look and sententious aspect convinced me they
were Flemings. At the far end, however, was one whose
dark eyes, flashing beneath heavy shaggy eyebrows, huge
whiskers, and bronzed complexion, distinguished him
sufficiently from the rest. He appeared, too, to have
something of respect paid him, inasmuch as the others
invariably nodded to him whenever the-y lifted their cans
to their mouths. He woi'e a low fur cap on his head, and
his dark blue frock Avas trimmed also Avitli fur, and slashed
witli a species of braiding, like an undi'ess uniform.

Unlike the rest, he spoke a great deal, not only to his
own party, but maintaining a conversation with various
others tlirough the room — sometimes speaking French,
tlien Dutch, and occasionally changing to German or
Italian, Avilli all which tongues he appeared so familiar,
tliat 1 was fairly puzzled to what country to assign him.

I could mark at times that he stole a sly glance over
towards where I wos sitting, and, more than once, I
thought I observed him watching what elTect his voluble
powers as a linguist was producing upon me. At last our
eyes met, he smiled politely, and taking up the can before
hini, he bowed, saying, "A voire sanlc, monsieur.''

I acknowledged the compliment at once, and seizing the


opportunity, begged to know of wliat land so accomplished
a linguist was a native. His face brightened up at once,
a certain smile of self-satisfied triumj:)!! passed over his
features, he smacked his lips, and then poured out a torrent
of strange sounds, which, from their accent, I guessed to
be Russian.

" Do you speak Slavonic ? " said he in French ; and as I
nodded a negative, he added — " fc*panish, — Portuguese ? "

"Neither," said I.

" Where do you come from, then ? " asked he, retorting
my question.

" Ireland, if you may have hoard of such a place."

" Hurroo ! " cried he, with a yell that made the room
start with amazement. " By the powers ! I thought so ;
come up, my hearty, and give me a sbake of your

If I were astonished before, need I say how I felt now ?

"And you are really a countryman of mine ? " said I,
as I took my seat beside him.

"Faith, I believe so. Con O'Kelly does not sound
very like Italian, and that's my name, anyhow ; but wait
a bit, they're calling on me for a Dutch song, and when
I've done we'll have a chat together."

A very uproarious clattering of brass and pewter cans
on the tables announced that the company was becoming
impatient for Mynheer O'Kelly's performance, which he
immediately began ; but of either the words or air, I can
render no possible account ; I only know there was a kind
of refrain or chorus, in which all, round each table, took
hands, and danced a " grand round," making the most
diabolical clatter with wooden shoes I ever listened to.
After which, the song seemed to subside into a low droning
sound, implying sleep. The singer nodded his head, the
company followed the example, and a long heavy note,
like snoring, was heard through the room, when suddenly,
with a hiccup, he awoke, the others did the same, and then
the song broke out once more, in all its vigour, to end as
before, in another dance, an exercise in which I certainly
fared worse than my neighbours, who tramped on my
corns without mercy, leaving it a very questionable fact
how far his " pious, glorious, and immortal memory " was



to be respected, who had despoiled my country of " wooden
Bhoes," when walking oti" with its brass money.

The melody over, Mr, 0' Kelly proceeded to question
me somewhat minutely, as to how I had chanced upon
this house, which was not known to many, even of the
residents of Antwerp.

I briefly explained to him the circumstances which led
me to my present asylum, at which he laughed heartily.

*' You don't know, then, where you are ? " said he, look-
ing at me, with a droll half-suspicious smile.

" No ; it's a Schenck Haus, I suppose," replied I.

" Yes, to be sure, it is a Schenck Haus ; but it's the
resort only of smugglers, and those connected with their
traffic. Every man about you, and there are, as you see,
some seventy or eighty, are all either sea-faring folks, or
landsmen associated with them, in contraband trade."

" But how is this done so openly ? the house is surely
known to the police."

" Of course, and they arc well paid for taking no notice
of it."

" And you? "

" ]Me ! Well, I do a little that v/ay too, though it's
only a branch of my business. I'm only Dirk Hatteraick,
when I come down to the coast : then you know a man
doesn't like to be idle ; so that when I'm hero, or on the
Bretagny shore, I generally mount the red cap, and buckle
on the cutlass, just to keep moving ; as, when I go inland,
I take an occasional turn with the gipsy folk in Bohemia,
or their brethren in the Basque provinces. There's nothing
like being up to everything — that's mi/ way."

I confess I was a good deal surprised at my companion's
account of him.sclf, and not over impressed with the rigour
of his principles ; but my curiosity to know more of him
became so much the stronger.

" Well," said I, "you seem to have a jolly life of it;
and, certainly a heallhllil one."

" Ay, that it is," replied he quickly. " I've more than
once thought of going back to Kcriy, and living quietly
for the rest of my days, for I could afford it well enough ;
but, somehow, the thought of staying in one place, talking
always to the same set of people, seeing every day the


Game sights, and hearing the same eternal little gossip
about little things, and little folk, was too much for mo,
and so I stuck to the old trade, which I supjjose I'll not
give up now as long as I live."

" And what may that be ? " asked I, curious to know
how he filled up moments snatched from the agreeable
pursuits he had ali^eady mentioned.

lie eyed me with a shrewd, suspicious look, for above a
minute, and then, laying down his hand on my arm, said —

" Where do you put up at, here in Antwerp ? "

*' The ' St. Antoine.' "

" Well, I'll come over for you to-morrow evening about
nine o'clock ; you're not engaged, are you? "

"No, I've no acquaintance here."

"At nine, then, be ready, and you'll come and take a
bit of supper with me ; and in exchange for your news
of the old country, I'll tell you something of my career."

I readily assented to a proposal which promised to
make me better acquainted with one evidently a character;
and after half an hour's chatting, I arose.

" You're not going away, are you ? " said he. "Well,
I can't leave this yet ; so I'll just send a boy to show you
the way to the ' St. Antony.' "

With that he beckoned to a lad at one of the tables,
and addressing a few words in Flemish to him, he shook
me warmly by the hand. The whole room rose respect-
fully as I took my leave, and I could see that " Mr.
O'Kelly's friend " stood in no small estimation with the

The day was just breaking when I reached my hotel ;
but I knew I could poach on the daylight for what the
dark had robbed me ; and besides, my new acquaintance
promised to repay the loss of a night's sleep, should it
even come to that.

Punctual to his appointment, my newlj'-made friend
knocked at my door exactly as the cathedral was chiming
for nine o'clock. His dress was considerably smarter
than on the preceding evening, and his whole air and
bearing bespoke a degree of quiet decorum and reserve,
very different from his free-and-easy carriage in the
'* Fischer's Haus." As I accompanied him through the


porie-cocliere, we passed the landlord, -who saluted us with
much politeness, shaking my companion by the hand like
an old friend.

" You are acquainted hero, I sec," said I.

*' There are few landlords from Lubeck to Leghorn I
don't know by this time," was the reply, and he smiled as
he spoke.

A Ciilei^lie with one horse was waiting for us without,
and into this we stepped. The driver had got his direc-
tions, and plying his whip briskly, we rattled over the
paved stiTcts, and passing through a considerable part of
the town, arrived at last at one of the gates. Slowly
crossing the draw-bridge at a walk, we set out again at a
trot, and soon I could perceive, through the half light,
that we had traversed the suburbs and were entering the
open country.

" We've not far to go now," said my companion, who
seemed to suspect that I was meditating over the length
of the way ; " where you see the lights yonder — that's our

The noise of the wheels over the stones soon after
ceased, and I found we were passing across a grassy lawn
in front of a large house, which, even by the twilight, I
could detect was built in the old Flemish taste. A squai'e
tower flunked one cxti-emity, and from the upper part of
this tlie light gleamed to which my companion pointed.

We descended from the carriage at the foot of a long
terrace, which, though dilapidated and neglected, bore
still some token of its ancient splendour. A stray statue
here and there remained, to mark its former beauty, while,
close by, the hissing splash of wafer told that ixjet d'eaie
was ])laying away, unconscious that its river gods, dolphins,
and tritons had long since departed.

" A fine old place once," said my new friend ; " the old
chateau of Overghem — one of the richest seignories of
Flanders in its day — sadly changed now ; but come,
follow me."

So saying, he led the way into the hall, where detaching
a rude lantern that was hung against the wall, he ascended
the broad oak stairs.

I could trace, bj the fitful gleam of the light, that the


walls had been painted in fresco, the arcliitravcs of tlie
windows and doors being richly carved in all the grotosquo
cxti'avagance of old Flemish art ; a gallery which tra-
versed the building, was hung with old pictures, appa-
rently family portraits, but they were all either destroyed
by damp or rotting with neglect. At the extremity of
this, a narrow stair conducted us by a winding ascent to
the upper story of the tower, where, for the first time, my
companion had recourse to a key ; with this he opened a
low pointed door, and ushered me into an apartment, at
which I could scarcely help expressing my suz-prise aloud
as I entered.

The room was of small dimensions, but seemed actually
the boudoir of a palace. Rich cabinets in buhl graced tho
walls, brilliant in all the splendid costliness of tortoise-
shell and silver inlaying — bronzes of the rarest kind, pic-
tures, vases ; curtains of gorgeous damask covered the
windows, and a chimney-piece of carved black oak, repre-
senting a pilgrimage, presented a depth of perspective,
and a beauty of design, beyond anything I had ever wit-
nessed. The floor was covered with an old tapestry of
Oudenarde, spread over a heavy Persian rug, into which
the feet sank at every step, while a silver lamp, of antique
mould, threw a soft, mellow light around, revolving on an
axis, whose machinery played a slow but soothing melody
delightfully in harmony with all about.

" You like this kind of thing," said my companion, who
watched with evident satisfaction the astonishment and
admiration with which I regarded every object around
me. " Tlaat's a pretty bit of carving there ; that was done
by Van Zoost, from a design of Schneider's ; see how tho
lobsters are crawling- over the tangled sea-weed there, and
look how the leaves seem to fall heavy and flaccid, as if
wet with spray. This is good, too ; it was painted by
Gherard Dow. It is a portrait of himself; he is making
a study of that little boy who stands there on the table ;
see how he has disposed the light so as to fall on the little
fellow's side, tipping him from the yellow curls of his
round bullet head to the angle of his white sabot.

" Yes, you're right, that is by Van Dyk ; only a sketch,
to be sure, but has all his manner. I like the Velasquez


yonder better, but tliey both jiosscss tlie s;ime excellence.
They could represent hirth. Just see that dark fellow
thci'e ; he's no beauty, you'll say ; but regard him closely,
and tell me if he's one to take a liberty with ; look at his
thin, clenched liji, and that long, thin, pointed chin, -with
its straight, stiti" beard — can there be a doubt he was a
gentleman ? Take care ; gently, j'our elbow grazed it.
That is a specimen of the old Japan china — a lost art
now — they cannot produce the blue colour you see there,
running into green. See, the flowers are laid on after
the cup is baked, and the birds are a separate thing after
all. ]Jut come, this is, perhaps, tiresome work to you ;
follow me."

Notwithstanding my earnest entreaty to remain, he took
me by the arm, and opening a small door, covered by a
mirror, led me into another room, the walls and ceiling
of which were in dark oak wainscot ; a single picture
occupied the space above the chimney, to which, however,
I gave little attention, my eyes being fixed upon a most
appetizing sujipcr, which figured on a small table in the
middle of the room. Not even the savoury odour of the
good dishes, or my host's entreaty to begin, could turn
me from the contemplation of the antique silver covers,
carved in the richest fashion. The handles of the knives
were fashioned into representations of saints and angels,
the costly ruby glasses, of Venetian origin,were surrounded
with cases of gold filagree, of most delicate and beautiful '

" We must be our own attendants," said the host.
*' What have you there ? Here are some Ostend oystex's,
* en matelot ;' ih^i i^ a small capon Ini/fe; and here are
some cutlets ' aux j^oinfs rrasperrje.' But let us begin, and
explore as we proceed. A glass of Chablis with your
oysters ; what a pity these Bargundy wines are inacces-
fiiblo to you in England I Chablis scarcely bears the sea ;
of half a dozen bottles, one is drinkable ; the same of the
red Avines ; and what is there co generous ? Not that
wo are to despise our old friend. Champagne ; and now
that you've helped yourself to a «a^', let us have a bum-
per. By the bye, liave tliey abandoned that absui'd notion
they used to have in England about Champagne ? ^Vhen


I was there, they never served it during the firsl, course,
Now Champagne should come immediately after youi
soup — your glass of Sherry or Madeira is a holocaust
offered up to bad cookery ; for if the soup were safe,
Chablis or Sautcrne is your fluid. How is the capon ? —
good ? I'm glad of it. These countries excel in their

In this fashion my companion ran on, accompanying
each plate with some commentary on its history or con-
coction ; a kind of dissertation, I must confess, I have no
manner of objection to, especially when delivered by a host
who illustrates his theorem, not by " plates " but " dishes."

Supper over, we wheeled the table to the wall, and
drawing forward another, on which the wine and dessert
were already laid out, prepared to pass a pleasant and
happy evening in all form.

" Worse countries than Holland, Mr. O'Leary," said
my companion, as he sipped his Burgundy, and looked
with ecstasy at the rich colour of the wine through the

" When seen thus," said I, " I don't know its equal."

" Why, perhaps this is rather a favourable specimen of
a smuggler's cave, " replied he, laughing. " Better than
old Dirk's, eh? By the bye, do you know Scott?"

" No ; I am sorry to say that I am not acquainted
■with him."

"What the devil could have led him into such a
blunder as to make Hatteraick, a regular Dutchman, sing
a German song? Why, ' Ich Bin liederlich ' is good
Hoch-Deutsch and Saxon to boot. A Hollander might
just as well have chanted modern Greek, or Coptic. I'll
wager you that Rubins there, over the chimney, against
a crown-piece, you'll not find a Dutchman, from Dort to
Nimwegen, could repeat the lines that he has made a
regular national song of ; and again, in Quentin Durward,
he has made all the Liege folk speak German. That was
even a worse mistake. Some of them speak French ; but
the nation, the people, are Walloons, and have as much
idea of German as a Hottentot has of the queen of hearts.
Never mind, he s a glorious fellow for all that, and here's
his health. When will Ireland have his equal to chronicle


her feats of field and flood, and make her land as classic
as Scott has done his own ! "

While we rambled on, chatting of all that came upper-
most, the wine passed freely across the narrow table, and
the eveninj^ wore on. My curiosity to know more of one
who, on whatever he talked, seemed thoroughly informed,
grew gradually more and more ; and at last I ventured to
remind him that he had half promised me the previous
evening to let me hear something of his own history.

" Xo, no," said he," laughing; "story-telling is poor
work tor the teller and the listener too ; and when a
man's tale has not even brought a moral to himself, it's
scarcely likely to be more generous towards his neighbour."

" Of, course," said I ; " I have no claim as a stranger — "

" Oh, as to that," interrupted he, "somehow I feel as
though we were longer acquainted. I've seen much of
the world, and know by this time that some men begin
to know each other from the starting-post — others never
do, though they travel a life long together ; so that, on that
score, no modesty. If you care for my story, fill your
glass, and let's open another flask ; and here it's for you,
though I warn you beforehand the narrative is somewhat
of the lungcfat."




'I CAN tell you but little about my familj^," said my host,
stretching out his legs to the fire, and crossing his arms
easily before him. " My grandfather was in the Austrian
service, and killed in some old battle with the Turks.
My father, Peter O' Kelly, was shot in a duel by an
attorney from Youghal. Something about nailing his ear
to the pump, I've heard tell was the cause of the row ; for
he came down to my father's with a writ, or a process, or
something of the kind. N'o matter — the thief had pluck
in him ; and when Peter— my father that was — told him
he'd make a gentleman of him, and fight him, if he'd give
up the bill of costs, why, the temptation was too strong to
resist; he pitched the papers into the fire, went out the
same morning, and faith he put in his bullet as fair as if
he was used to the performance. I was only a child then,
ten or eleven years old, and so I remember nothing of the
particulars ; but I was packed off the next day to an old
aunt's, a sister of my father's, who resided in the town
of Tralee.

" Well, to be sure, it was a great change for me, young
as I was, from Castle O'Kelly to Aunt Judy's. At home
there was a stable full of horses, a big house, generall}^
full of company, and the company as full of fun ; we had
a pack of harriers went out twice or thrice a week, had
plenty of snipe-shooting, and a beautiful race-course was
made round the lawn : and though I wasn't quite of an
age to join in these pleasures myself, I had a lively taste
for them all, and relished the free-and-easy style of my
father's house, without any unhappy forebodings that the
amusements there practised would end in leaving me a

" Now, my Aunt Judy lived in what might bo called a


state of painfully-elegant poverty. Her habitation was
somewhat more capacious than a house in a toj'-sliop ;
but then it liad all the usual attributes of a hous-o. There
"was a hall door, and two windows, and a chimney, and a
brass knocker, and, I believe, a scraper ; and within there
•were three little rooms, about the dimensions of a mail-
coach, each. I think I see the little parlour before me,
now this minute : there was a miniature of my father in a
red coat over the chimney, and two screens painted by my
aunt — landscapes, I am told they were once ; but time and
damp had made them look something like the moon seen
through a bit of smoked glass ; and there were fire-irons
as bright as day, for they never performed any other duty
than standing on guard beside the grate — a kind of royal
beef-eaters, kept for show ; and there was a little table
covered with shells and minerals, bits of coral, conchs,
and cheap curiosities of that nature, and over them, again,
was a stutfcd macaw. Oh, dear ! I see it all before me,
and the little tea service, that if the beverage had been
vitriol, a cupful couldn't have harmed you. There wero
four chairs; — human ingenuity couldn't smuggle in a fifth.
There was one for Father Donncllan, another for Mrs.
Brown, the post-mistress, another for the barrack-master,
Captain Dwyer, the fourth for my aunt herself ; but
then no more were wanted. I^othing but real gentility,
the ' ould Irish blood,' would be received by Miss
Judy ; and if the post-mistress wasn't fourteenth cousin
to somebody, who was aunt to Phelim O'Brien, who
was hanged for some humane practice towards the
English in former times, the devil a cup of bohea
iihe'd have tasted there ! The priest was ex officio,
but Captain Dwyer was a gentleman born and bred.
His great-grandfather had an estate ; the last three gene-
rations had lived on the very reputation of its once being
in the family: ^ thej/ weren't upstarts, no, sorrow bit of

Online LibraryCharles James LeverThe adventures of Arthur O'Leary → online text (page 4 of 40)