The Confessions of Harry Lorrequer Part 15
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It was nearly three o'clock in the morning, as accompanied by the waiter, who, like others of his tribe, had become a kind of somnambulist ex-officio, I wended my way up one flight of stairs, and down another, along a narrow corridor, down two steps, through an antechamber, and into another corridor, to No. 82, my habitation for the night. Why I should have been so far conducted from the habitable portion of the house I had spent my evening in, I leave the learned in such matters to explain; as for me, I have ever remarked it, while asking for a chamber in a large roomy hotel, the singular pride with which you are ushered up grand stair-cases, down pa.s.sages, through corridors, and up narrow back flights, till the blue sky is seen through the sky-light, to No. 199, "the only spare bed-room in the house," while the silence and desolation of the whole establishment would seem to imply far otherwise--the only evidence of occupation being a pair of dirty Wellingtons at the door of No. 2.
"Well, we have arrived at last," said I, drawing a deep sigh, as I threw myself upon a ricketty chair, and surveyed rapidly my meagre-looking apartment.
"Yes, this is Monsieur's chamber," said the waiter, with a very peculiar look, half servile, half droll. "Madame se couche, No. 28."
"Very well, good night," said I, closing the door hastily, and not liking the farther scrutiny of the fellow's eye, as he fastened it on me, as if to search what precise degree of relations.h.i.+p existed between myself and my fair friend, whom he had called "Madame" purposely to elicit an observation from me. "Ten to one though," said I, as I undressed myself, "but they think she is my wife--how good--but again--ay, it is very possible, considering we are in France. Numero vingt-huit, quite far enough from this part of the house I should suppose from my number,--that old gen-d'arme was a fine fellow--what strong attachment to Napoleon; and the story of the pope; I hope I may remember that. Isabella, poor girl --this adventure must really distress her--hope she is not crying over it --what a devil of a hard bed--and it is not five feet long too--and, bless my soul, is this all by way of covering; why I shall be perished here. Oh! I must certainly put all my clothes over me in addition, unfortunately there is no hearth-rug--well, there is no help for it now --so let me try to sleep--numero vingt-huit."
How long I remained in a kind of uneasy, fitful slumber, I cannot tell; but I awoke s.h.i.+vering with cold--puzzled to tell where I was, and my brain addled with the broken fragments of half a dozen dreams, all mingling and mixing themselves with the unpleasant realities of my situation. What an infernal contrivance for a bed, thought I, as my head came thump against the top, while my legs projected far beyond the foot-rail; the miserable portion of clothing over me at the same time being only sufficient to temper the night air, which in autumn is occasionally severe and cutting. This will never do. I must ring the bell and rouse the house, if only to get a fire, if they don't possess such a thing as blankets. I immediately rose, and groping my way along the wall endeavoured to discover the bell, but in vain; and for the same satisfactory reason that Von Troil did not devote one chapter of his work on "Iceland" to "snakes," because there were none such there. What was now to be done? About the geography of my present abode I knew, perhaps, as much as the public at large know about the Coppermine river and Behring's straits. The world, it was true, was before me, "where top choose," admirable things for an epic, but decidedly an unfortunate circ.u.mstance for a very cold gentleman in search of a blanket. Thus thinking, I opened the door of my chamber, and not in any way resolved how I should proceed, I stepped forth into the long corridor, which was dark as midnight itself.
Tracing my path along the wall, I soon reached a door which I in vain attempted to open; in another moment I found another and another, each of which were locked. Thus along the entire corridor I felt my way, making every effort to discover where any of the people of the house might have concealed themselves, but without success. What was to be done now? It was of no use to go back to my late abode, and find it comfortless as I left it; so I resolved to proceed in my search; by this time I had arrived at the top of a small flight of stairs, which I remembered having come up, and which led to another long pa.s.sage similar to the one I had explored, but running in a transverse direction, down this I now crept, and reached the landing, along the wall of which I was guided by my hand, as well for safety as to discover the architrave of some friendly door, where the inhabitant might be sufficiently Samaritan to lend some portion of his bed-clothes; door after door followed in succession along this confounded pa.s.sage, which I began to think as long as the gallery of the lower one; at last, however, just as my heart was sinking within me from disappointment, the handle of a lock turned, and I found myself inside a chamber. How was I now to proceed? for if this apartment did not contain any of the people of the hotel, I had but a sorry excuse for disturbing the repose of any traveller who might have been more fortunate than myself in the article of blankets. To go back however, would be absurd, having already taken so much trouble to find out a room that was inhabited--for that such was the case, a short, thick snore a.s.sured me --so that my resolve was at once made, to waken the sleeper, and endeavour to interest him in my dest.i.tute situation. I accordingly approached the place where the nasal sounds seemed to issue from, and soon reached the post of a bed. I waited for an instant, and then began, "Monsier, voulez vous bien me permettre--"
"As to short whist, I never could make it out, so there is an end of it," said my unknown friend, in a low, husky voice, which, strangely enough, was not totally unfamiliar to me: but when or how I had heard it before I could not then think.
Well, thought I, he is an Englishman at all events, so I hope his patriotism may forgive my intrusion, so here goes once more to rouse him, though he seems a confoundedly heavy sleeper. "I beg your pardon, sir, but unfortunately in a point like the present, perhaps--"
"Well, do you mark the points, and I'll score the rubber," said he.
"The devil take the gambling fellow's dreaming," thought I, raising my voice at the same time.
"Perhaps a cold night, sir, may suffice as my apology."
"Cold, oh, ay! put a hot poker to it," muttered he; "a hot poker, a little sugar, and a spice of nutmeg--nothing else--then it's delicious."
"Upon my soul, this is too bad," said I to myself. "Let us see what shaking will do. Sir, sir, I shall feel obliged by--"
"Well there, don't shake me, and I'll tell you where I hid the cigars --they are under my straw hat in the window."
"Well, really," thought I, "if this gentleman's confessions were of an interesting nature, this might be good fun; but as the night is cold, I must shorten the 'seance,' so here goes for one effort more.
"If, sir, you could kindly spare me even a small portion of your bed-clothes."
"No, thank you, no more wine; but I'll sing with pleasure;" and here the wretch, in something like the voice of a frog with the quinsy, began, "'I'd mourn the hopes that leave me.'"
"You shall mourn something else for the same reason," said I, as losing all patience, I seized quilts and blankets by the corner, and with one vigourous pull wrenched them from the bed, and darted from the room--in a second I was in the corridor, trailing my spoil behind--which in my haste I had not time to collect in a bundle. I flew rather than ran along the pa.s.sage, reached the stairs, and in another minute had reached the second gallery, but not before I heard the slam of a door behind me, and the same instant the footsteps of a person running along the corridor, who could be no other than my pursuer, effectually aroused by my last appeal to his charity. I darted along the dark and narrow pa.s.sage; but soon to my horror discovered that I must have pa.s.sed the door of my chamber, for I had reached the foot of a narrow back stair, which led to the grenier and the servants' rooms, beneath the roof. To turn now would only have led me plump in the face of my injured countryman, of whose thew and sinew I was perfectly ignorant, and did not much like to venture upon. There was little time for reflection, for he had now reached the top of the stair, and was evidently listening for some clue to guide him on; stealthily and silently, and scarcely drawing breath, I mounted the narrow stairs step by step, but before I had arrived at the landing, he heard the rustle of the bed-clothes, and again gave chace. There was something in the unrelenting ardour of his pursuit, which suggested to my mind the idea of a most uncompromising foe; and as fear added speed to my steps, I dashed along beneath the low-roofed pa.s.sage, wondering what chance of escape might yet present itself. Just at this instant, the hand by which I had guided myself along the wall, touched the handle of a door--I turned it--it opened--I drew in my precious bundle, and closing the door noiselessly, sat down, breathless and still, upon the floor.
Scarcely was this, the work of a second, accomplished, when the heavy tread of my pursuer resounded on the floor.
"Upon my conscience it's strange if I haven't you now, my friend," said he: "you're in a cul de sac here, as they say, if I know any thing of the house; and faith I'll make a salad of you, when I get you, that's all. Devil a dirtier trick ever I heard tell of."
Need I say that these words had the true smack of an Irish accent, which circ.u.mstance, from whatever cause, did not by any means tend to a.s.suage my fears in the event of discovery.
However, from such a misfortune my good genius now delivered me; for after traversing the pa.s.sage to the end, he at last discovered another, which led by a long flight to the second story, down which he proceeded, venting at every step his determination for vengeance, and his resolution not to desist from the pursuit, if it took the entire night for it.
"Well now," thought I, "as he will scarcely venture up here again, and as I may, by leaving this, be only incurring the risk of encountering him, my best plan is to stay where I am if it be possible." With this intent I proceeded to explore the apartment, which from its perfect stillness, I concluded to be unoccupied. After some few minutes groping I reached a low bed, fortunately empty, and although the touch of the bed-clothes led to no very favourable augury of its neatness or elegance, there was little choice at this moment, so I rolled myself up in my recent booty, and resolved to wait patiently for day-break to regain my apartment.
As always happens in such circ.u.mstances, sleep came on me unawares --so at least every one's experience I am sure can testify, that if you are forced to awake early to start by some morning coach, and that unfortunately you have not got to bed till late at night, the chances are ten to one, that you get no sleep whatever, simply because you are desirous for it; but make up your mind ever so resolutely, that you'll not sleep, and whether your determination be built on motives of propriety, duty, convenience, or health, and the chances are just as strong that you are sound and snoring before ten minutes.
How many a man has found it impossible, with every effort of his heart and brain aiding his good wishes, to sit with unclosed eyes and ears through a dull sermon in the dog-days; how many an expectant, longing heir has yielded to the drowsy influence when endeavouring to look contrite under the severe correction of a lecture on extravagance from his uncle. Who has not felt the irresistible tendency to "drop off" in the half hour before dinner at a stupid country-house? I need not catalogue the thousand other situations in life infinitely more "sleep-compelling" than Morphine; for myself, my pleasantest and soundest moments of perfect forgetfulness of this dreary world and all its cares, have been taken in an oaken bench, seated bolt upright and vis a vis to a lecturer on botany, whose calming accents, united with the softened light of an autumnal day, piercing its difficult rays through the narrow and cobwebbed windows, the odour of the recent plants and flowers aiding and abetting, all combined to steep the soul in sleep, and you sank by imperceptible and gradual steps into that state of easy slumber, in which "come no dreams," and the last sounds of the lecturer's "hypogenous and perigenous" died away, becoming beautifully less, till your senses sank into rest, the syllables "rigging us, rigging us," seemed to melt away in the distance and fade from your memory--Peace be with you, Doctor A. If I owe grat.i.tude any where I have my debt with you. The very memory I bear of you has saved me no inconsiderable sum in hop and henbane. Without any a.s.sistance from the sciences on the present occasion, I was soon asleep, and woke not till the cracking of whips, and trampling of horses' feet on the pavement of the coach-yard apprised me that the world had risen to its daily labour, and so should I. From the short survey of my present chamber which I took on waking, I conjectured it must have been the den of some of the servants of the house upon occasion--two low truckle-beds of the meanest description lay along the wall opposite to mine; one of them appeared to have been slept in during the past night, but by what species of animal the Fates alone can tell. An old demi-peak saddle, capped and tipped with bra.s.s, some rusty bits, and stray stirrup-irons lay here and there upon the floor; while upon a species of clothes-rack, attached to a rafter, hung a tarnished suit of postillion's livery, cap, jacket, leathers, and jack-boots, all ready for use; and evidently from their arrangement supposed by the owner to be a rather creditable "turn out."
I turned over these singular habiliments with much of the curiosity with which an antiquary would survey a suit of chain armour; the long epaulettes of yellow cotton cord, the heavy belt with its bra.s.s buckle, the c.u.mbrous boots, plaited and bound with iron like churns were in rather a ludicrous contrast to the equipment of our light and jockey-like boys in nankeen jackets and neat tops, that spin along over our level "macadam."
"But," thought I, "it is full time I should get back to No. 82, and make my appearance below stairs;" though in what part of the building my room lay, and how I was to reach it without my clothes, I had not the slightest idea. A blanket is an excessively comfortable article of wearing apparel when in bed, but as a walking costume is by no means convenient or appropriate; while to making a sorti en sauvage, however appropriate during the night, there were many serious objections if done "en plein jour," and with the whole establishment awake and active; the noise of mopping, scrubbing, and polis.h.i.+ng, which is eternally going forward in a foreign inn amply testified there was nothing which I could adopt in my present naked and forlorn condition, save the bizarre and ridiculous dress of the postillion, and I need not say the thought of so doing presented nothing agreeable. I looked from the narrow window out upon the tiled roof, but without any prospect of being heard if I called ever so loudly.
The infernal noise of floor-cleansing, a.s.sisted by a Norman peasant's "chanson du pays," the time being well marked by her heavy sabots, gave even less chance to me within; so that after more than half an hour pa.s.sed in weighing difficulties, and canva.s.sing plans, upon donning the blue and yellow, and setting out for my own room without delay, hoping sincerely, that with proper precaution, I should be able to reach it unseen and un.o.bserved.
As I laid but little stress upon the figure I should make in my new habiliments, it did not cause me much mortification to find that the clothes were considerably too small, the jacket scarcely coming beneath my arms, and the sleeves being so short that my hands and wrists projected beyond the cuffs like two enormous claws; the leathers were also limited in their length, and when drawn up to a proper height, permitted my knees to be seen beneath, like the short costume of a Spanish Tauridor, but scarcely as graceful; not wis.h.i.+ng to enc.u.mber myself in the heavy and noisy ma.s.ses of wood, iron, and leather, they call "les bottes forts," I slipped my feet into my slippers, and stole gently from the room. How I must have looked at the moment I leave my reader to guess, as with anxious and stealthy pace I crept along the low gallery that led to the narrow staircase, down which I proceeded, step by step; but just as I reached the bottom, perceived a little distance from me, with her back turned towards me, a short, squat peasant on her knees, belabouring with a brush the well waxed floor; to pa.s.s therefore, un.o.bserved was impossible, so that I did not hesitate to address her, and endeavour to interest her in my behalf, and enlist her as my guide.
"Bon jour, ma chere," said I in a soft insinuating tone; she did not hear me, so I repeated, "Bon jour, ma chere, bon jour."
Upon this she turned round, and looking fixedly at me for a second, called out in a thick pathos, "Ah, le bon Dieu! qu'il est drole comme ca, Francois, savez vous, mais ce n'est pas Francois;" saying which, she sprang from her kneeling position to her feet, and with a speed that her shape and sabots seemed little to promise, rushed down the stairs as if she had seen the devil himself.
"Why, what is the matter with the woman?" said I, "surely if I am not Francois--which G.o.d be thanked is true--yet I cannot look so frightful as all this would imply." I had not much time given me for consideration now, for before I had well deciphered the number over a door before me, the loud noise of several voices on the floor beneath attracted my attention, and the moment after the heavy tramp of feet followed, and in an instant the gallery was thronged by the men and women of the house --waiters, hostlers, cooks, scullions, filles de chambre, mingled with gens-d'armes, peasants, and town's people, all eagerly forcing their way up stairs; yet all on arriving at the landing-place, seemed disposed to keep at a respectful distance, and bundling themselves at one end of the corridor, while I, feelingly alive to the ridiculous appearance I made, occupied the other--the gravity with which they seemed at first disposed to regard me soon gave way, and peal after peal of laughter broke out, and young and old, men and women, even to the most farouche gens-d'armes, all appearing incapable of controlling the desire for merriment my most singular figure inspired; and unfortunately this emotion seemed to promise no very speedy conclusion; for the jokes and witticisms made upon my appearance threatened to renew the festivities, ad libitum.
"Regardez donc ses epaules," said one.
"Ah, mon Dieu! Il me fait l'idee d'une grenouille aves ses jambes jaunes," cried another.
"Il vaut son pesant de fromage pour une Vaudeville," said the director of the strolling theatre of the place.
"I'll give seventy francs a week, 'd'appointment,' and 'Scribe' shall write a piece express for himself, if he'll take it."
"May the devil fly away with your grinning baboon faces," said I, as I rushed up the stairs again, pursued by the mob at full cry; scarcely, however, had I reached the top step, when the rough hand of the gen-d'arme seized me by the shoulder, while he said in a low, husky voice, "c'est inutile, Monsieur, you cannot escape--the thing was well contrived, it is true; but the gens-d'armes of France are not easily outwitted, and you could not have long avoided detection, even in that dress." It was my turn to laugh now, which, to their very great amazement, I did, loud and long; that I should have thought my present costume could ever have been the means of screening me from observation, however it might have been calculated to attract it, was rather too absurd a supposition even for the mayor of a village to entertain; besides, it only now occurred to me that I was figuring in the character of a prisoner. The continued peals of laughing which this mistake on their part elicited from me seemed to afford but slight pleasure to my captor, who gruffly said-- "When you have done amusing yourself, mon ami, perhaps you will do us the favour to come before the mayor."
"Certainly," I replied; "but you will first permit me to resume my own clothes, I am quite sick of masquerading 'en postillion.'"
"Not so fast, my friend," said the suspicious old follower of Fouche --"not so fast; it is but right the maire should see you in the disguise you attempted your escape in. It must be especially mentioned in the proces verbal."
"Well, this is becoming too ludicrous," said I. "It need not take five minutes to satisfy you why, how, and where, I put on these confounded rags--"
"Then tell it to the maire, at the Bureau."
"But for that purpose it is not necessary I should be conducted through the streets in broad day, to be laughed at. No, positively, I'll not go. In my own dress I'll accompany you with pleasure."
"Victor, Henri, Guillame," said the gen-d'arme, addressing his companions, who immediately closed round me. "You see," added he, "there is no use in resisting."
Need I recount my own shame and ineffable disgrace? Alas! it is too, too true. Harry Lorrequer--whom Stultze entreated to wear his coats, the ornament of Hyde Park, the last appeal in dress, fas.h.i.+on, and equipage--was obliged to parade through the mob of a market-town in France, with four gens-d'armes for his companions, and he himself habited in a mongrel character--half postillion, half Delaware Indian. The incessant yells of laughter--the screams of the children, and the outpouring of every species of sarcasm and ridicule, at my expense, were not all--for, as I emerged from the porte-chochere I saw Isabella in the window: her eyes were red with weeping; but no sooner had she beheld me, than she broke out into a fit of laughter that was audible even in the street.
Rage had now taken such a hold upon me, that I forgot my ridiculous appearance in my thirst for vengeance. I marched on through the grinning crowd, with the step of a martyr. I suppose my heroic bearing and warlike deportment must have heightened the drollery of the scene; for the devils only laughed the more. The bureau of the maire could not contain one-tenth of the anxious and curious individuals who thronged the entrance, and for about twenty minutes the whole efforts of the gens-d'armes were little enough to keep order and maintain silence. At length the maire made his appearance, and accustomed as he had been for a long life to scenes of an absurd and extraordinary nature, yet the ridicule of my look and costume was too much, and he laughed outright. This was of course the signal for renewed mirth for the crowd, while those without doors, infected by the example, took up the jest, and I had the pleasure of a short calculation, a la Babbage, of how many maxillary jaws were at that same moment wagging at my expense.
However, the examination commenced; and I at length obtained an opportunity of explaining under what circ.u.mstances I had left my room, and how and why I had been induced to don this confounded cause of all my misery.
"This may be very true," said the mayor, "as it is very plausible; if you have evidence to prove what you have stated--"
"If it's evidence only is wanting, Mr. Maire, I'll confirm one part of the story," said a voice in the crowd, in an accent and tone that a.s.sured me the speaker was the injured proprietor of the stolen blankets. I turned round hastily to look at my victim, and what was my surprise to recognize a very old Dublin acquaintance, Mr. Fitzmaurice O'Leary.
"Good morning, Mr. Lorrequer," said he; "this is mighty like our ould practices in College-green; but upon my conscience the maire has the advantage of Gabbet. It's lucky for you I know his wors.h.i.+p, as we'd call him at home, or this might be a serious business. Nothing would persuade them that you were not Lucien Buonaparte, or the iron mask, or something of that sort, if they took it into their heads."
Mr. O'Leary was as good as his word. In a species of French, that I'd venture to say would be perfectly intelligible in Mullingar, he contrived to explain to the maire that I was neither a runaway nor a swindler, but a very old friend of his, and consequently sans reproche. The official was now as profuse of his civilities as he had before been of his suspicions, and most hospitably pressed us to stay for breakfast. This, for many reasons, I was obliged to decline--not the least of which was, my impatience to get out of my present costume. We accordingly procured a carriage, and I returned to the hotel, screened from the gaze but still accompanied by the shouts of the mob, who evidently took a most lively interest in the entire proceeding.
I lost no time in changing my costume, and was about to descend to the saloon, when the master of the house came to inform me that Mrs. Bingham's courier had arrived with the carriage, and that she expected us at Amiens as soon as possible.
"That is all right. Now, Mr. O'Leary, I must pray you to forgive all the liberty I have taken with you, and also permit me to defer the explanation of many circ.u.mstances which seem at present strange, till--"
"Till sine die, if the story be a long one, my dear sir--there's nothing I hate so much, except cold punch."
"You are going to Paris," said I; "is it not so?"
"Yes, I'm thinking of it. I was up at Trolhatten, in Norway, three weeks ago, and I was obliged to leave it hastily, for I've an appointment with a friend in Geneva."
"Then how do you travel?"
"On foot, just as you see, except that I've a tobacco bag up stairs, and an umbrella."
"Light equipment, certainly; but you must allow me to give you a set down as far as Amiens, and also to present you to my friends there."
To this Mr. O'Leary made no objection; and as Miss Bingham could not bear any delay, in her anxiety to join her mother, we set out at once--the only thing to mar my full enjoyment at the moment being the sight of the identical vestments I had so lately figured in, bobbing up and down before my eyes for the whole length of the stage, and leading to innumerable mischievous allusions from my friend Mr. O'Leary, which were far too much relished by my fair companion.
At twelve we arrived at Amiens, when I presented my friend Mr. O'Leary to Mrs. Bingham.
At the conclusion of my last chapter I was about to introduce to my reader's acquaintance my friend Mr. O'Leary; and, as he is destined to occupy some place in the history of these Confessions, I may, perhaps, be permitted to do so at more length than his intrinsic merit at first sight might appear to warrant.
Mr. O'Leary was, and I am induced to believe is, a particularly short, fat, greasy-looking gentleman, with a head as free from phrenological development as a billiard-ball, and a countenance which, in feature and colour, nearly resembled the face of a cherub, carved in oak, as we see them in old pulpits.
Short as is his stature, his limbs compose the least part of it. His hands and feet, forming some compensation by their ample proportions, with short, thick fins, vulgarly called a cobbler's thumb. His voice varying in cadence from a deep barytone, to a high falsetto, maintains throughout the distinctive characteristic of a Dublin accent and p.r.o.nunciation, and he talks of the "Veel of Ovoca, and a beef-steek," with some price of intonation. What part of the Island he came originally from, or what may be his age, are questions I have the most profound ignorance of; I have heard many anecdotes which would imply his being what the French call "d'un age mur"--but his own observations are generally limited to events occurring since the peace of "fifteen." To his personal attractions, such as they are, he has never been solicitous of contributing by the meretricious aids of dress. His coat, calculating from its length of waist, and ample skirt, would fit b.u.mbo Green, while his trowsers, being made of some cheap and shrinking material, have gradually contracted their limits, and look now exactly like knee-breeches, without the usual b.u.t.tons at the bottom.
These, with the addition of a pair of green spectacles, the gla.s.s of one being absent, and permitting the look-out of a sharp, grey eye, twinkling with drollery and good humour, form the most palpable of his externals. In point of character, they who best knew him represented him as the best-tempered, best-hearted fellow breathing; ever ready to a.s.sist a friend, and always postponing his own plans and his own views, when he had any, to the wishes and intentions of others. Among the many odd things about him, was a constant preference to travelling on foot, and a great pa.s.sion for living abroad, both of which tastes he gratified, although his size might seem to offer obstacles to the one, and his total ignorance of every continental language, would appear to preclude the other; with a great liking for tobacco, which he smoked all day--a fondness for whist and malt liquors--his antipathies were few; so that except when called upon to shave more than once in the week, or wash his hands twice on the same day, it was difficult to disconcert him. His fortune was very ample; but although his mode of living was neither very ostentatious nor costly, he contrived always to spend his income. Such was the gentleman I now presented to my friends, who, I must confess, appeared strangely puzzled by his manner and appearance. This feeling, however, soon wore off; and before he had spent the morning in their company, he had made more way in their good graces, and gone farther to establish intimacy, than many a more accomplished person, with an unexceptionable coat and accurate whisker might have effected in a fortnight. What were his gifts in this way, I am, alas, most deplorably ignorant of; it was not, heaven knows, that he possessed any conversational talent--of successful flattery he knew as much as a negro does of the national debt--and yet the "bon-hommie" of his character seemed to tell at once; and I never knew him fail in any one instance to establish an interest for himself before he had completed the ordinary period of a visit.
I think it is Was.h.i.+ngton Irving who has so admirably depicted the mortification of a dandy angler, who, with his beaver garnished with brown hackles, his well-posed rod, polished gaff, and handsome landing-net, with every thing befitting, spends his long summer day whipping a trout stream without a rise or even a ripple to reward him, while a ragged urchin, with a willow wand, and a bent pin, not ten yards distant, is covering the greensward with myriads of speckled and scaly backs, from one pound weight to four; so it is in every thing--"the race is not to the swift;" the elements of success in life, whatever be the object of pursuit, are very, very different from what we think them at first sight, and so it was with Mr. O'Leary, and I have more than once witnessed the triumph of his homely manner and blunt humour over the more polished and well-bred taste of his compet.i.tors for favour; and what might have been the limit to such success, heaven alone can tell, if it were not that he laboured under a counter-balancing infirmity, sufficient to have swamped a line-of-battle s.h.i.+p itself. It was simply this--a most unfortunate propensity to talk of the wrong place, person, or time, in any society he found himself; and this taste for the mal apropos, extended so far, that no one ever ventured into company with him as his friend, without trembling for the result; but even this, I believe his only fault, resulted from the natural goodness of his character and intentions; for, believing as he did, in his honest simplicity, that the arbitrary distinctions of cla.s.s and rank were held as cheaply by others as himself, he felt small scruple at recounting to a d.u.c.h.ess a scene in a cabaret, and with as little hesitation would he, if asked, have sung the "Cruiskeen lawn," or the "Jug of Punch," after Lablanche had finished the "Al Idea," from Figaro. 'Mauvaise honte,' he had none; indeed I am not sure that he had any kind of shame whatever, except possibly when detected with a coat that bore any appearance of newness, or if overpersuaded to wear gloves, which he ever considered as a special effeminacy.
Such, in a few words, was the gentleman I now presented to my friends, and how far he insinuated himself into their good graces, let the fact tell, that on my return to the breakfast-room, after about an hour's absence, I heard him detailing the particulars of a route they were to take by his advice, and also learned that he had been offered and had accepted a seat in their carriage to Paris.
"Then I'll do myself the pleasure of joining your party, Mrs. Bingham," said he. "Bingham, I think, madam, is your name."
"Any relation, may I ask, of a most dear friend of mine, of the same name, from Currynaslattery, in the county Wexford?"
"I am really not aware," said Mrs. Bingham. "My husband's family are, I believe, many of them from that county."
"Ah, what a pleasant fellow was Tom!" said Mr. O'Leary musingly, and with that peculiar tone which made me tremble, for I knew well that a reminiscence was coming. "A pleasant fellow indeed."
"Is he alive, sir, now?"
"I believe so, ma'am; but I hear the climate does not agree with him."
"Ah, then, he's abroad! In Italy probably?"
"No, ma'am, in Botany Bay. His brother, they say, might have saved him, but he left poor Tom to his fate, for he was just then paying court to a Miss Crow, I think, with a large fortune. Oh, Lord, what have I said, it's always the luck of me!" The latter exclamation was the result of a heavy saugh upon the floor, Mrs. Bingham having fallen in a faint--she being the identical lady alluded to, and her husband the brother of pleasant Tom Bingham.
To hurl Mr. O'Leary out of the room by one hand, and ring the bell with the other, was the work of a moment; and with proper care, and in due time, Mrs. Bingham was brought to herself, when most fortunately, she entirely forgot the cause of her sudden indisposition; and, of course, neither her daughter nor myself suffered any clue to escape us which might lead to its discovery.
When we were once more upon the road, to efface if it might be necessary any unpleasant recurrence to the late scene, I proceeded to give Mrs. Bingham an account of my adventure at Chantraine, in which, of course, I endeavoured to render my friend O'Leary all the honours of being laughed at in preference to myself, laying little stress upon my masquerading in the jack-boots.
"You are quite right," said O'Leary, joining in the hearty laugh against him, "quite right, I was always a very heavy sleeper--indeed if I wasn't I wouldn't be here now, travelling about en garcon, free as air;" here he heaved a sigh, which from its incongruity with his jovial look and happy expression, threw us all into renewed laughter.
"But why, Mr. O'Leary--what can your sleepiness have to do with such tender recollections, for such, I am sure, that sigh bespeaks them?"
"Ah! ma'am, it may seem strange, but it is nevertheless true, if it were not for that unfortunate tendency, I should now be the happy possessor of a most accomplished and amiable lady, and eight hundred per annum three and a half per cent. stock."
"You overslept yourself on the wedding-day, I suppose."
"You shall hear, ma'am, the story is a very short one: It is now about eight years ago, I was rambling through the south of France, and had just reached Lyons, where the confounded pavement, that sticks up like pears, with the point upwards, had compelled me to rest some days and recruit; for this purpose I installed myself in the pension of Madame Gourgead, Rue de Pet.i.ts Carmes, a quiet house--where we dined at twelve, ten in number, upon about two pounds of stewed beef, with garlic and carrots --a light soup, being the water which accompanied the same to render it tender in stewing--some preserved cherries, and an omelette, with a pint bottle of Beaune, 6me qualite, I believe--a species of pyroligneous wine made from the vine stalks, but pleasant in summer with your salad; then we played dominos in the evening, or whist for sous points, leading altogether a very quiet and virtuous existence, or as Madame herself expressed it, 'une vie tout-a-fait patriarchale;' of this I cannot myself affirm how far she was right in supposing the patriarchs did exactly like us. But to proceed, in the same establishment there lived a widow whose late husband had been a wine merchant at Dijon--he had also, I suppose from residing in that country, been imitating the patriarchs, for he died one day. Well, the lady was delayed at Lyons for some law business, and thus it came about, that her husband's testament and the sharp paving stones in the streets determined we should be acquainted. I cannot express to you the delight of my fair countrywoman at finding that a person who spoke English had arrived at the 'pension'--a feeling I myself somewhat partic.i.p.ated in; for to say truth, I was not at that time a very great proficient in French. We soon became intimate, in less time probably than it could otherwise have happened, for from the ignorance of all the others of one word of English, I was enabled during dinner to say many soft and tender things, which one does not usually venture on in company.
"I recounted my travels, and told various adventures of my wanderings, till at last, from being merely amused, I found that my fair friend began to be interested in my narratives; and frequently when pa.s.sing the bouillon to her, I have seen a tear in the corner of her eye: in a word, 'she loved me for the dangers I had pa.s.sed,' as Oth.e.l.lo says. Well, laugh away if you like, but it's truth I am telling you." At this part of Mr. O'Leary's story we all found it impossible to withstand the ludicrous mock heroic of his face and tone, and laughed loud and long. When we at length became silent he resumed--"Before three weeks had pa.s.sed over, I had proposed and was accepted, just your own way, Mr. Lorrequer, taking the ball at the hop, the very same way you did at Cheltenham, the time the lady jilted you, and ran off with your friend Mr. Waller; I read it all in the news, though I was then in Norway fis.h.i.+ng." Here there was another interruption by a laugh, not, however, at Mr. O'Leary's expense. I gave him a most menacing look, while he continued--"the settlements were soon drawn up, and consisted, like all great diplomatic doc.u.ments, of a series of 'gains and compensations;' thus, she was not to taste any thing stronger than kirsch wa.s.ser, or Nantz brandy; and I limited myself to a pound of short-cut weekly, and so on: but to proceed, the lady being a good Catholic, insisted upon being married by a priest of her own persuasion, before the performance of the ceremony at the British emba.s.sy in Paris; to this I could offer no objection, and we were accordingly united in the holy bonds the same morning, after signing the law papers."
"Then, Mr. O'Leary, you are really a married man."
"That's the very point I'm coming to, ma'am; for I've consulted all the jurists upon the subject, and they never can agree. But you shall hear. I despatched a polite note to Bishop Lus...o...b.., and made every arrangement for the approaching ceremony, took a quartier in the Rue Helder, near the Estaminet, and looked forward with anxiety for the day which was to make my happy; for our marriage in Lyons was only a kind of betrothal. Now, my fair friend had but one difficulty remaining, poor dear soul--I refrain from mentioning her name for delicacy sake; but poor dear Mrs. Ram could not bear the notion of our going up to Paris in the same conveyance, for long as she had lived abroad, she had avoided every thing French, even the language, so she proposed that I should go in the early 'Diligence,' which starts at four-o'clock in the morning, while she took her departure at nine; thus I should be some hours sooner in Paris, and ready to receive her on her arriving; besides sparing her bashfulness all reproach of our travelling together. It was no use my telling her that I always travelled on foot, and hated a 'Diligence;' she coolly replied that at our time of life we could not spare the time necessary for a pilgrimage to Jerusalem, for so she supposed the journey from Lyons to Paris to be; so fearing lest any doubt might be thrown upon the ardour of my attachment, I yielded at once, remembering at the moment what my poor friend Tom Bing--Oh Lord, I'm at it again!"
"Sir, I did not hear."
"Nothing, ma'am, I was just going to observe, that ladies of a certain time of life, and widows especially, like a lover that seems a little ardent or so, all the better." Here Mrs. Bingham blushed, her daughter bridled, and I nearly suffocated with shame and suppressed laughter.
"After a most tender farewell of my bride or wife, I don't know which, I retired for the night with a mind vacillating between my hopes of happiness and my fears for the result of a journey so foreign to all my habits of travelling, and in which I could not but tremble at the many casualties my habitual laziness and dislike to any hours but of my own choosing might involve me in.
"I had scarcely lain down in bed, ere these thoughts took such possession of me, that sleep for once in my life was out of the question; and then the misery of getting up at four in the morning--putting on your clothes by the flickering light of the porter's candle--getting your boots on the wrong feet, and all that kind of annoyance--I am sure I fretted myself into the feeling of a downright martyr before an hour was over. Well at least, thought I, one thing is well done,--I have been quite right in coming to sleep here at the Messagerie Hotel, where the diligence starts from, or the chances are ten to one that I never should wake till the time was past. Now, however, they are sure to call me; so I may sleep tranquilly till then. Meanwhile I had forgotten to pack my trunk--my papers, &c. laying all about the room in a state of considerable confusion. I rose at once with all the despatch I could muster; this took a long time to effect, and it was nearly two o'clock ere I finished, and sat down to smoke a solitary pipe,--the last, as I supposed it might be my lot to enjoy for heaven knows how long, Mrs. R. having expressed, rather late in our intimacy I confess, strong opinions against tobacco within doors.
"When I had finished my little sac of the 'weed,' the clock struck three, and I started to think how little time I was destined to have in bed. In bed! why, said I, there is no use thinking of it now, for I shall scarcely have lain down ere I shall be obliged to get up again. So thinking, I set about dressing myself for the road; and by the time I had enveloped myself in a pair of long Hungarian gaiters, and a kurtcha of sheep's wool, with a brown bear-skin outside, with a Welsh wig, and a pair of large dark gla.s.s goggles to defend the eyes from the snow, I was not only perfectly impervious to all effects of the weather, but so thoroughly defended from any influence of sight or sound, that a volcano might be hissing and thundering within ten yards of me, without attracting my slightest attention. Now, I thought, instead of remaining here, I'll just step down to the coach, and get snugly in the diligence, and having secured the corner of the coupe, resign myself to sleep with the certainty of not being left behind, and, probably, too, be some miles on my journey before awaking.
"I accordingly went down stairs, and to my surprise found, even at that early hour, that many of the garcons of the house were stirring and bustling about, getting all the luggage up in the huge wooden leviathan that was to convey us on our road. There they stood, like bees around a hive, cl.u.s.tering and buzzing, and all so engaged that with difficulty could I get an answer to my question of, What diligence it was? 'La diligence pour Paris, Monsieur.'
"'Ah, all right then,' said I; so watching an opportunity to do so un.o.bserved, for I supposed they might have laughed at me, I stepped quietly into the coupe; and amid the creaking of cordage, and the thumping of feet on the roof, fell as sound asleep as ever I did in my life--these sounds coming to my m.u.f.fled ears, soft as the echoes on the Rhine. When it was that I awoke I cannot say; but as I rubbed my eyes and yawned after a most refres.h.i.+ng sleep, I perceived that it was still quite dark all around, and that the diligence was standing before the door of some inn and not moving. Ah, thought I, this is the first stage; how naturally one always wakes at the change of horses,--a kind of instinct implanted by Providence, I suppose, to direct us to a little refreshment on the road. With these pious feelings I let down the gla.s.s, and called out to the garcon for a gla.s.s of brandy and a cigar. While he was bringing them, I had time to look about, and perceived, to my very great delight, that I had the whole coupe to myself. 'Are there any pa.s.sengers coming in here?' said I, as the waiter came forward with my pet.i.t verre. 'I should think not, sir,' said the fellow with a leer. 'Then I shall have the whole coupe to myself?' said I. 'Monsieur need have no fear of being disturbed; I can safely a.s.sure him that he will have no one there for the next twenty-four hours.' This was really pleasant intelligence; so I chucked him a ten sous piece, and closing up the window as the morning was cold, once more lay back to sleep with a success that has never failed me. It was to a bright blue cloudless sky, and the sharp clear air of a fine day in winter, that I at length opened my eyes. I pulled out my watch, and discovered it was exactly two o'clock; I next lowered the gla.s.s and looked about me, and very much to my surprise discovered that the diligence was not moving, but standing very peaceably in a very crowded congregation of other similar and dissimilar conveyances, all of which seemed, I thought, to labour under some physical ailment, some wanting a box, others a body, &c., &c. and in fact suggesting the idea of an infirmary for old and disabled carriages of either s.e.x, mails and others. 'Oh, I have it,' cried I, 'we are arrived at Mt. Geran, and they are all at dinner, and from my being alone in the coupe, they have forgotten to call me.' I immediately opened the door and stepped out into the innyard, crowded with conducteurs, grooms, and ostlers, who, I thought, looked rather surprised at seeing me emerge from the diligence.
"'You did not know I was there,' said I, with a knowing wink at one of them as I pa.s.sed.
"'a.s.surement non,' said the fellow with a laugh, that was the signal for all the others to join in it. 'Is the table d'hote over?' said I, regardless of the mirth around me. 'Monsieur is just in time,' said the waiter, who happened to pa.s.s with a soup-tureen in his hand. 'Have the goodness to step this way.' I had barely time to remark the close resemblance of the waiter to the fellow who presented me with my brandy and cigar in the morning, when he ushered me into a large room with about forty persons sitting at a long table, evidently waiting with impatience for the 'Potage' to begin their dinner. Whether it was they enjoyed the joke of having neglected to call me, or that they were laughing at my travelling costume, I cannot say, but the moment I came in, I could perceive a general t.i.tter run through the a.s.sembly. 'Not too late, after all, gentlemen,' said I, marching gravely up the table.
The Confessions of Harry Lorrequer Part 15
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