The Confessions of Harry Lorrequer Part 16
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"'Monsieur is in excellent time,' said the host, making room for me beside his chair. Notwithstanding the inc.u.mbrance of my weighty habiliments, I proceeded to do ample justice to the viands before me, apologizing laughingly to the host, by pleading a traveller's appet.i.te.
"'Then you have perhaps come far this morning,' said a gentleman opposite.
"'Yes,' said I, 'I have been on the road since four o'clock.'
"'And how are the roads?' said another. 'Very bad,' said I, 'the first few stages from Lyons, afterwards much better.' This was said at a venture, as I began to be ashamed of being always asleep before my fellow-travellers. They did not seem, however, to understand me perfectly; and one old fellow putting down his spectacles from his forehead, leaned over and said: 'And where, may I ask, has Monsieur come from this morning?'
"'From Lyons,' said I, with the proud air of a man who has done a stout feat, and is not ashamed of the exploit.
"'From Lyons!' said one. 'From Lyons!' cried another. 'From Lyons!' repeated a third.
"'Yes,' said I; 'what the devil is so strange in it; travelling is so quick now-a-days, one thinks nothing of twenty leagues before dinner.'
"The infernal shout of laughing that followed my explanation is still in my ears; from one end of the table to the other there was one continued ha, ha, ha--from the greasy host to the little hunchbacked waiter, they were all grinning away.
"'And how did Monsieur travel?' said the old gentleman, who seemed to carry on the prosecution against me.
"'By the diligence, the "Aigle noir,"' said I, giving the name with some pride, that I was not altogether ignorant of the conveyance.
"'The you should certainly not complain of the roads,' said the host chuckling; 'for the only journey that diligence has made this day has been from the street-door to the inn-yard; for as they found when the luggage was nearly packed that the axle was almost broken through, they wheeled it round to the court, and prepared another for the travellers.'
"'And where am I now?' said I.
"'In Lyons,' said twenty voices, half choked with laughter at my question.
"I was thunderstruck at the news at first; but as I proceeded with my dinner, I joined in the mirth of the party, which certainly was not diminished on my telling them the object of my intended journey.
"'I think, young man,' said the old fellow with the spectacles, 'that you should take the occurrence as a warning of Providence that marriage will not suit you.' I began to be of the same opinion;--but then there was the jointure. To be sure, I was to give up tobacco; and perhaps I should not be as free to ramble about as when en garcon. So taking all things into consideration, I ordered in another bottle of burgundy, to drink Mrs. Ram's health--got my pa.s.sport vised for Barege--and set out for the Pyrenees the same evening."
"And have you never heard any thing more of the lady?" said Mrs. Bingham.
"Oh, yes. She was faithful to the last; for I found out when at Rome last winter that she had offered a reward for me in the newspapers, and indeed had commenced a regular pursuit of me through the whole continent. And to tell the real fact, I should not now fancy turning my steps towards Paris, if I had not very tolerable information that she is in full cry after me through the Wengen Alps, I having contrived a paragraph in Galignani, to seduce her thither, and where, with the blessing of Providence, if the snow set in early, she must pa.s.s the winter."
Nothing more worthy of recording occurred before our arrival at Meurice on the third day of our journey. My friend O'Leary had, with his usual good fortune, become indispensable to his new acquaintance, and it was not altogether without some little lurking discontent that I perceived how much less often my services were called in request since his having joined our party; his information, notwithstanding its very scanty extent, was continually relied upon, and his very imperfect French everlastingly called into requisition to interpret a question for the ladies. Yes, thought I, "Oth.e.l.lo's occupation's gone;" one of two things has certainly happened, either Mrs. Bingham and her daughter have noticed my continued abstraction of mind, and have attributed it to the real cause, the pre-occupation of my affections; or thinking, on the other hand, that I am desperately in love with one or other of them, have thought that a little show of preference to Mr. O'Leary may stimulate me to a proposal at once. In either case I resolved to lose no time in taking my leave, which there could be no difficulty in doing now, as the ladies had reached their intended destination, and had numerous friends in Paris to advise and a.s.sist them; besides that I had too long neglected the real object of my trip, and should lose no time in finding out the Callonbys, and at once learn what prospect of success awaited me in that quarter. Leaving my fair friends then to refresh themselves after the journey, and consigning Mr. O'Leary to the enjoyment of his meershaum, through the aid of which he had rendered his apartment like a Dutch swamp in autumn, the only portion of his own figure visible through the mist being his short legs and heavy shoes.
On reaching the house in the Rue de la Paix, where the Callonbys had resided, I learned that they were still at Baden, and were not expected in Paris for some weeks; that Lord Kilkee had arrived that morning, and was then dining at the Emba.s.sy, having left an invitation for me to dine with him on the following day, if I happened to call. As I turned from the door, uncertain whither to turn my steps, I walked on unconsciously towards the Boulevard, and occupied as I was, thinking over all the chances before me, did not perceive where I stood till the bright glare of a large gas lamp over my head apprised me that I was at the door of the well known Salon des Etrangers, at the corner of the Rue Richelieu; carriages, citadines, and vigilantes were crowding, cras.h.i.+ng, and clattering on all sides, as the host of fas.h.i.+on and the gaming-table were hastening to their champ de bataille. Not being a member of the Salon, and having little disposition to enter, if I had been, I stood for some minutes looking at the crowd as it continued to press on towards the splendid and brilliantly lighted stairs, which leads from the very street to the rooms of the palace, for such, in the magnificence and luxury of its decorations, it really is. As I was on the very eve of turning away, a large and very handsome cab-horse turned the corner from the bal.u.s.trade, with the most perfect appointment of harness and carriage I had seen for a long time.
While I continued to admire the taste and propriety of the equipage, a young man in deep mourning sprung from the inside and stood upon the pavement before me. "A deux heures, Charles," said he to his servant, as the cab turned slowly around. The voice struck me as well known. I waited till he approached the lamp, to catch a glimpse of the face; and what was my surprise to recognise my cousin, Guy Lorrequer of the 10th, whom I had not met with for six years before. My first impulse was not to make myself known to him. Our mutual position with regard to Lady Jane was so much a mystery, as regarded myself, that I feared the result of any meeting, until I was sufficiently aware of how matters stood, and whether we were to meet as friends and relations, or rivals, and consequently enemies.
Before I had time to take my resolution, Guy had recognised me, and seizing me by the hand with both his, called, "Harry, my old friend, how are you? how long have you been here, and never to call on me? Why man, what is the meaning of this?" Before I had time to say that I was only a few hours in Paris, he again interrupted me by saying: "And how comes it that you are not in mourning? You must surely have heard it."
"Heard what?" I cried, nearly hoa.r.s.e from agitation. "Our poor old friend, Sir Guy, didn't you know, is dead." Only those who have felt how strong the ties of kindred are, as they decrease in number, can tell how this news fell upon my heart. All my poor uncle's kindnesses came one by one full upon my memory; his affectionate letters of advice; his well-meant chidings, too, even dearer to me than his praise and approval, completely unmanned me; and I stood speechless and powerless before my cousin as he continued to detail to me the rapid progress of Sir Guy's malady, and attack of gout in the head, which carried him off in three days. Letters had been sent to me in different places, but none reached; and at the very moment the clerk of my uncle's lawyer was in pursuit of me through the highlands, where some mistaken information had induced him to follow me.
"You are, therefore," continued Guy, "unaware that our uncle has dealt so fairly by you, and indeed by both of us; I have got the Somersets.h.i.+re estates, which go with the baronetcy; but the c.u.mberland property is all yours; and I heartily wish you joy of having nearly eight thousand per annum, and one of the sweetest villas that ever man fancied on Derwent.w.a.ter. But come along here," continued he, and he led me through the crowded corridor and up the wide stair. "I have much to tell you, and we can be perfectly alone here; no one will trouble themselves with us." Unconscious of all around me, I followed Guy along the gilded and glittering lobby, which led to the Salon, and it was only as the servant in rich livery came forward to take my hat and cane that I remembered where I was. Then the full sense of all I had been listening to rushed upon me, and the unfitness, and indeed the indecency of the place for such communications as we were engaged in, came most forcibly before me. Sir Guy, it is true, had always preferred my cousin to me; he it was who was always destined to succeed both to his t.i.tle and his estates, and his wildness and extravagance had ever met with a milder rebuke and weaker chastis.e.m.e.nt than my follies and my misfortunes. Yet still he was my last remaining relative; the only one I possessed in all the world to whom in any difficulty or trial I had to look up; and I felt, in the very midst of my newly acquired wealth and riches, poorer and more alone than ever I had done in my lifetime. I followed Guy to a small and dimly lighted cabinet off the great salon, where, having seated ourselves, he proceeded to detail to me the various events which a few short weeks had accomplished. Of himself he spoke but little, and never once alluded to the Callonbys at all; indeed all I could learn was that he had left the army, and purposed remaining for the winter at Paris, where he appeared to have entered into all its gaiety and dissipation at once.
"Of course," said he, "you will give up 'sodgering' now; at the best it is but poor sport after five and twenty, and is perfectly unendurable when a man has the means of pus.h.i.+ng himself in the gay world; and now, Harry, let us mix a little among the mob here; for Messieurs les Banquiers don't hold people in estimation who come here only for the 'chapons au riz.' and the champagne glacee, as we should seem to do were we to stay here much longer."
Such was the whirl of my thoughts, and so great the confusion in my ideas from all I had just heard, that I felt myself implicitly following every direction of my cousin with a child-like obedience, of the full extent of which I became only conscious when I found myself seated at the table of the Salon, between my cousin Guy and an old, hard-visaged, pale-countenanced man, who he told me in a whisper was Vilelle the Minister.
What a study for the man who would watch the pa.s.sions and emotions of his fellow-men, would the table of a rouge et noir gambling-house present --the skill and dexterity which games of other kinds require, being here wanting, leave the player free to the full abandonment of the pa.s.sion. The interest is not a gradually increasing or vacillating one, as fortune and knowledge of the game favour; the result is uninfluenced by any thing of his doing; with the last turned card of the croupier is he rich or ruined; and thus in the very abstraction of the anxiety is this the most painfully exciting of all gambling whatever; the very rattle of the dice-box to the hazard player is a relief; and the thought that he is in some way instrumental in his good or bad fortune gives a turn to his thoughts. There is something so like the inevitable character of fate a.s.sociated with the result of a chance, which you can in no way affect or avert, that I have, notwithstanding a strong bias for play, ever dreaded and avoided the rouge et noir table; hitherto prudential motives had their share in the resolve; a small loss at play becomes a matter of importance to a sub in a marching regiment; and therefore I was firm in my determination to avoid the gambling-table. Now my fortunes were altered; and as I looked at the heap of s.h.i.+ning louis d'or, which Guy pushed before me in exchange for a billet de banque of large amount, I felt the full importance of my altered position, mingling with the old and long practised prejudices which years had been acc.u.mulating to fix. There is besides some wonderful fascination to most men in the very aspect of high play: to pit your fortune against that of another--to see whether or not your luck shall not exceed some others--are feelings that have a place in most bosoms, and are certainly, if not naturally existing, most easily generated in the bustle and excitement of the gambling-house. The splendour of the decorations; the rich profusion of gilded ornaments; the large and gorgeously framed mirrors; the sparkling l.u.s.tres; mingling their effect with the perfumed air of the apartment, filled with orange trees and other aromatic shrubs; the dress of the company, among whom were many ladies in costumes not inferior to those of a court; the glitter of diamonds; the sparkle of stars and decorations, rendered more magical by knowing that the wearers were names in history. There, with his round but ample shoulder, and large ma.s.sive head, covered with long snow-white hair, stands Talleyrand, the maker and unmaker of kings, watching with a look of ill-concealed anxiety the progress of his game. Here is Soult, with his dogged look and beetled brow; there stands Balzac the author, his gains here are less derived from the betting than the bettors; he is evidently making his own of some of them, while in the seeming bon hommie of his careless manners and easy abandon, they scruple not to trust him with anecdotes and traits, that from the crucible of his fiery imagination come forth, like the purified gold from the furnace. And there, look at that old and weather-beaten man, with grey eyebrows, and moustaches, who throws from the breast-pocket of his frock ever and anon, a handful of gold pieces upon the table; he evidently neither knows nor cares for the amount, for the banker himself is obliged to count over the stake for him--that is Blucher, the never-wanting attendant at the Salon; he has been an immense loser, but plays on with the same stern perseverance with which he would pour his bold cavalry through a ravine torn by artillery; he stands by the still waning chance with a courage that never falters.
One strong feature of the levelling character of a taste for play has never ceased to impress me most forcibly--not only do the individual peculiarities of the man give way before the all-absorbing pa.s.sion--but stranger still, the very boldest traits of nationality even fade and disappear before it; and man seems, under the high-pressure power of this greatest of all stimulants, resolved into a most abstract state.
Among all the traits which distinguish Frenchmen from natives of every country, none is more prominent than a kind of never-failing elasticity of temperament, which seems almost to defy all the power of misfortune to depress. Let what will happen, the Frenchman seems to possess some strong resource within himself, in his ardent temperament, upon which he can draw at will; and whether on the day after a defeat, the moment of being deceived in his strongest hopes of returned affection--the overthrow of some long-cherished wish--it matters not--he never gives way entirely; but see him at the gaming-table--watch the intense, the aching anxiety with which his eye follows every card as it falls from the hand of the croupier--behold the look of cold despair that tracks his stake as the banker rakes it in among his gains--and you will at once perceive that here, at least, his wonted powers fail him. No jest escapes the lips of one, that would badinet upon the steps of the guillotine. The mocker who would jeer at the torments of revolution, stands like a coward quailing before the impa.s.sive eye and pale cheek of a croupier. While I continued to occupy myself by observing the different groups about me, I had been almost mechanically following the game, placing at each deal some gold upon the table; the result however had interested me so slightly, that it was only by remarking the attention my game had excited in others, that my own was drawn towards it. I then perceived that I had permitted my winnings to acc.u.mulate upon the board, and that in the very deal then commencing, I had a stake of nearly five hundred pounds upon the deal.
"Faites votre jeu, le jeu est fait," said the croupier, "trente deux."
"You have lost, by Jove," said Guy, in a low whisper, in which I could detect some trait of agitation.
"Trente et une," added the croupier. "Rouge perd, et couleur."
There was a regular buz of wonder through the room at my extraordinary luck, for thus, with every chance against me, I had won again.
As the croupier placed the billets de banque upon the table, I overheard the muttered commendations of an old veteran behind me, upon the coolness and judgment of my play; so much for fortune, thought I, my judgment consists in a perfect ignorance of the chances, and my coolness is merely a thorough indifference to success; whether it was now that the flattery had its effect upon me, or that the pa.s.sion for play, so long dormant, had suddenly seized hold upon me, I know not, but my attention became from that moment rivetted upon the game, and I played every deal. Guy, who had been from the first betting with the indifferent success which I have so often observed to attend upon the calculations of old and experienced gamblers, now gave up, and employed himself merely in watching my game.
"Harry," said he at last, "I am completely puzzled as to whether you are merely throwing down your louis at hazard, or are not the deepest player I have ever met with."
"You shall see," said I, as I stooped over towards the banker, and whispered, "how far is the betting permitted?"
"Fifteen thousand francs," said the croupier, with a look of surprise.
"Then be it," said I; "quinze mille francs, rouge."
In a moment the rouge won, and the second deal I repeated the bet, and so continuing on with the like success; when I was preparing my rouleau for the fifth, the banquier rose, and saying-- "Messiers, la banque est fermee pour ce soir," proceeded to lock his casette, and close the table.
"You are satisfied now," said Guy, rising, "you see you have broke the banque, and a very pretty incident to commence with your first introduction to a campaign in Paris."
Having changed my gold for notes, I stuffed them, with an air of well-affected carelessness, into my pocket, and strolled through the Salon, where I had now become an object of considerably more interest than all the marshals and ministers about me.
"Now, Hal," said Guy, "I'll just order our supper in the cabinet, and join you in a moment."
As I remained for some minutes awaiting Guy's return, my attention was drawn towards a crowd, in a smaller salon, among whom the usual silent decorum of the play-table seemed held in but small respect, for every instant some burst of hearty laughter, or some open expression of joy or anger burst forth, by which I immediately perceived that they were the votaries of the roulette table, a game at which the strict propriety and etiquette ever maintained at rouge et noir, are never exacted. As I pressed nearer, to discover the cause of the mirth, which every moment seemed to augment, guess my surprise to perceive among the foremost rank of the players, my acquaintance, Mr. O'Leary, whom I at that moment believed to be solacing himself with his meershaum at Meurice. My astonishment at how he obtained admission to the Salon was even less than my fear of his recognising me. At no time is it agreeable to find that the man who is regarded as the buffo of a party turns out to be your friend, but still less is this so, when the individual claiming acquaintance with you presents any striking absurdity in his dress or manner, strongly at contrast with the persons and things about him; and thus it now happened--Mr. O'Leary's external man, as we met him on the Calais road, with its various accompaniments of blouse-cap, spectacles, and tobacco-pipe, were nothing very outre or remarkable, but when the same figure presented itself among the elegans of the Parisian world, redolent of eau de Portugal, and superb in the glories of brocade waistcoats and velvet coats, the thing was too absurd, and I longed to steal away before any chance should present itself of a recognition. This, however, was impossible, as the crowd from the other table were all gathered round us, and I was obliged to stand fast, and trust that the excitement of the game, in which he appeared to be thoroughly occupied, might keep his eye fixed on another quarter; I now observed that the same scene in which I had so lately been occupied at the rouge et noir table, was enacting here, under rather different circ.u.mstances. Mr. O'Leary was the only player, as I had just been--not, however, because his success absorbed all the interest of the bystanders, but that, unfortunately, his constant want of it elicited some strong expression of discontent and mistrust from him, which excited the loud laughter of the others; but of which, from his great anxiety in his game, he seemed totally unconscious.
"Faites votre jeu, Messieurs," said the croupier.
"Wait a bit till I change this," said Mr. O'Leary, producing an English sovereign; the action interpreted his wishes, and the money was converted into coupons de jeu.
I now discovered one great cause of the mirth of the bystanders, at least the English portion of them. Mr. O'Leary, when placing his money upon the table, observed the singular practice of announcing aloud the amount of his bet, which, for his own information, he not only reduced to English but also Irish currency; thus the stillness of the room was every instant broken by a strong Irish accent p.r.o.nouncing something of this sort--"five francs," "four and a penny"--"ten francs," "eight and three ha'pence." The amus.e.m.e.nt thus caused was increased by the excitement his losses threw him into. He now ceased to play for several times, when at last, he made an offering of his usual stake.
"Perd," said the croupier, raking in the piece with a contemptuous air at the smallness of the bet, and in no way pleased that the interest Mr. O'Leary excited should prevent the other players from betting.
"Perd," said O'Leary, "again. Divil another song you sing than 'perd,' and I'm not quite clear you're not cheating all the while--only, G.o.d help you if you are!"
As he so said, the head of a huge black-thorn stick was half protruded across the table, causing renewed mirth; for, among other regulations, every cane, however trifling, is always demanded at the door; and thus a new subject of astonishment arose as to how he had succeeded in carrying it with him into the salon.
"Here's at you again," said O'Leary, regardless of the laughter, and covering three or four numbers with his jetons.
Round went the ball once more, and once more he lost.
"Look now, divil a lie in it, he makes them go wherever he pleases. I'll take a turn now at the tables; fair play's a jewel--and we'll see how you'll get on."
So saying, he proceeded to insinuate himself into the chair of the croupier, whom he proposed to supersede by no very gentle means. This was of course resisted, and as the loud mirth of the bystanders grew more and more boisterous, the cries of "a la porte, a la porte," from the friends of the bank, rung through the crowd.
"Go it, Pat--go it, Pat," said Guy, over my shoulder, who seemed to take a prodigious interest in the proceedings.
At this unexpected recognition of his nativity, for Mr. O'Leary never suspected he could be discovered by his accent; he looked across the table, and caught my eye at once.
"Oh, I'm safe now! stand by me, Mr. Lorrequer, and we'll clear the room."
So saying, and without any further provocation, he upset the croupier, chair and all, with one sudden jerk upon the floor, and giving a tremendous kick to the casette, sent all the five-franc pieces flying over him; he then jumped upon the table, and brandis.h.i.+ng his black-thorn through the ormolu l.u.s.tre, scattered the wax-lights on all sides, accompanying the exploit by a yell that would have called up all Connemara at midnight, if it had only been heard there; in an instant, the gens d'armes, always sufficiently near to be called in if required, came pouring into the room, and supposing the whole affair had been a preconcerted thing to obtain possession of the money in the bank, commenced capturing different members of the company who appeared, by enjoying the confusion, to be favouring and a.s.sisting it. My cousin Guy was one of the first so treated--a proceeding to which he responded by an appeal rather in favour with most Englishmen, and at once knocked down the gen d'arme; this was the signal for a general engagement, and accordingly, before an explanation could possibly be attempted, a most terrific combat ensued. The Frenchmen in the room siding with the gen d'armerie, and making common cause against the English; who, although greatly inferior in number, possessed considerable advantage, from long habit in street-rows and boxing encounters. As for myself, I had the good fortune to be pitted against a very pursy and unwieldy Frenchman, who sacre'd to admiration, but never put in a single blow at me; while, therefore, I amused myself practising what old Cribb called "the one, two," upon his fat carcase, I had abundant time and opportunity to watch all that was doing about me, and truly a more ludicrous affair I never beheld. Imagine about fifteen or sixteen young Englishmen, most of them powerful, athletic fellows, driving an indiscriminate mob of about five times their number before them, who, with courage enough to resist, were yet so totally ignorant of the boxing art, that they retreated, pell-mell, before the battering phalanx of their st.u.r.dy opponents--the most ludicrous figure of all being Mr. O'Leary himself, who, standing upon the table, laid about him with a bra.s.s l.u.s.tre that he had unstrung, and did considerable mischief with this novel instrument of warfare, crying out the entire time, "murder every mother's son of them," "give them another taste of Waterloo." Just as he had uttered the last patriotic sentiment, he received a slight admonition from behind, by the point of a gen d'arme's sword, which made him leap from the table with the alacrity of a harlequin, and come plump down among the thickest of the fray. My attention was now directed elsewhere, for above all the din and "tapage" of the encounter I could plainly hear the row-dow-dow of the drums, and the measured tread of troops approaching, and at once guessed that a reinforcement of the gen d'armerie were coming up. Behind me there was a large window, with a heavy scarlet curtain before it; my resolution was at once taken, I floored my antagonist, whom I had till now treated with the most merciful forbearance, and immediately sprung behind the curtain. A second's consideration showed that in the search that must ensue this would afford no refuge, so I at once opened the sash, and endeavoured to ascertain at what height I was above the ground beneath me; the night was so dark that I could see nothing, but judging from the leaves and twigs that reached to the window, that it was a garden beneath, and auguring from the perfumed smell of the shrubs, that they could not be tall trees, I resolved to leap, a resolve I had little time to come to, for the step of the soldiers was already heard upon the stair. Fixing my hat then down upon my brows, and b.u.t.toning my coat tightly, I let myself down from the window-stool by my hands, and fell upon my legs in the soft earth of the garden, safe and unhurt. From the increased clamour and din overhead, I could learn the affray was at its height, and had little difficulty in detecting the sonorous accent and wild threats of my friend Mr. O'Leary, high above all the other sounds around him. I did not wait long, however, to enjoy them; but at once set about securing my escape from my present bondage. In this I had little difficulty, for I was directed by a light to a small door, which, as I approached, found that it led into the den of the Concierge, and also communicated by another door with the street. I opened it, therefore, at once, and was in the act of opening the second, when I felt myself seized by the collar by a strong hand; and on turning round saw the st.u.r.dy figure of the Concierge himself, with a drawn bayonet within a few inches of my throat, "Tenez, mon ami," said I quietly, and placing half a dozen louis, some of my recent spoils, in his hand, at once satisfied him that, even if I were a robber, I was at least one that understood and respected the conveniences of society. He at once relinquished his hold and dropped his weapon, and pulling off his cap with one hand, to draw the cord which opened the Porte Cochere with the other, bowed me politely to the street. I had scarcely had time to insinuate myself into the dense ma.s.s of people whom the noise and confusion within had a.s.sembled around the house, when the double door of the building opened, and a file of gens d'armerie came forth, leading between them my friend Mr. O'Leary and some others of the rioters--among whom I rejoiced to find my cousin did not figure. If I were to judge from his disordered habiliments and scarred visage, Mr. O'Leary's resistance to the const.i.tuted authorities must have been a vigorous one, and the drollery of his appearance was certainly not decreased by his having lost the entire brim of his hat--the covering of his head bearing, under these distressing circ.u.mstances, a strong resemblance to a saucepan.
As I could not at that moment contribute in any way to his rescue, I determined on the following day to be present at his examination, and render him all the a.s.sistance in my power. Meanwhile, I returned to Meurice, thinking of every adventure of the evening much more than of my own changed condition and altered fortunes.
The first thing which met my eye, when waking in the morning, after the affair at the salon, was the rouleau of billets de banque which I had won at play; and it took several minutes before I could persuade myself that the entire recollection of the evening had any more solid foundation than a heated brain and fevered imagination. The sudden spring, from being a subaltern in the th, with a few hundreds per annum--"pour tout potage," to becoming the veritable proprietor of several thousands, with a handsome house in c.u.mberland, was a consideration which I could scarcely admit into my mind--so fearful was I, that the very first occurrence of the day should dispel the illusion, and throw me back into the dull reality which I was hoping to escape from.
There is no adage more true than the old Latin one--"that what we wish, we readily believe;" so, I had little difficulty in convincing myself that all was as I desired--although, certainly, my confused memory of the past evening contributed little to that conviction. It was, then, amid a very whirl of antic.i.p.ated pleasures, and new schemes for enjoying life, that I sat down to a breakfast, at which, that I might lose no time in commencing my race, I had ordered the most recherche viands which even French cookery can accomplish for the occasion.
My plans were soon decided upon. I resolved to remain only long enough in Paris to provide myself with a comfortable travelling carriage--secure a good courier--and start for Baden; when I trusted that my pretensions, whatever favour they might have been once received with, would certainly now, at least, be listened to with more prospect of being successful.
I opened the Galignani's paper of the day, to direct me in my search, and had scarcely read a few lines before a paragraph caught my eye, which not a little amused me; it was headed--Serious riot at the Salon des Etrangers, and attempt to rob the Bank:-- "Last evening, among the persons who presented themselves at the table of this fas.h.i.+onable resort, were certain individuals, who, by their names and dress bespoke any thing rather than the rank and condition of those who usually resort there, and whose admission is still unexplained, notwithstanding the efforts of the police to unravel the mystery. The proprietors of the bank did not fail to remark these persons; but scrupled, from fear of disturbing the propriety of the salon, to take the necessary steps for their exclusion--reserving their attention to the adoption of precautions against such intrusion in future--unfortunately, as it turned out eventually, for, towards eleven o'clock, one of these individuals, having lost a considerable sum at play, proceeded in a very violent and outrageous manner to denounce the bank, and went so far as to accuse the croupier of cheating. This language having failed to excite the disturbance it was evidently intended to promote, was soon followed up by a most dreadful personal attack upon the banquier, in which he was thrown from his seat, and the ca.s.sette, containing several thousand francs in gold and notes, immediately laid hold of. The confusion now became considerable, and it was apparent, that the whole had been a pre-concerted scheme. Several persons, leaping upon the table, attempted to extinguish the great l.u.s.tre of the salon, in which bold attempt, they were most spiritedly resisted by some of the other players and the gens-d'arme, who had by this time arrived in force. The riot was quelled after a prolonged and desperate resistance, and the rioters, with the exception of two, were captured, and conveyed to prison, where they await the result of a judicial investigation--of which we shall not fail to lay the particulars before our readers.
"Since our going to press, we have learned that one of the ringleaders in this vile scheme is a noted English escroc--a swindler, who was already arrest at C__ for travelling with a false pa.s.sport; but who contrives, by some collusion with another of the gang, to evade the local authorities. If this be the case, we trust he will speedily be detected and brought to punishment."
Whatever amus.e.m.e.nt I had found in reading the commencing portion of this ridiculous misstatement, the allusion in the latter part by no means afforded me equal pleasure; and I saw, in one rapid glance, how much annoyance, and how many delays and impediments--a charge even of this ridiculous nature, might give rise to in my present circ.u.mstances. My pa.s.sport, however, will settle all--thought I--as I thrust my hand towards my pocket, in which I had placed it along with some letters.
Guess my misery, to discover that the whole of the pocket had been cut away, probably in the hope of obtaining the billets de banque I had won at play, but which I had changed from that pocket to a breast one on leaving the table. This at once led me to suspect that there might be some truth in the suspicion of the newspaper writer of a pre-concerted scheme, and at once explained to me what had much puzzled me before--the extreme rapidity with which the elements of discord were propagated, for the whole affair was the work of a few seconds. While I continued to meditate on these matters, the waiter entered with a small note in an envelope, which a commissionaire had just left at the hotel for me, and went away, saying there was no answer. I opened it hastily, and read:-- "Dear H.--The confounded affair of last night has induced me to leave this for a few days; besides that I have obtained a most excellent reason for absenting myself in the presence of a black eye, which will prevent my appearance in public for a week to come. As you are a stranger here, you need not fear being detected. With all its desagremens, I can't help laughing at the adventure, and I am heartily glad to have had the opportunity of displaying old Jackson's science upon those wretched gens-d'arme.
"Your, truly, "G.L."
This, certainly, thought I, improves my position. Here is my cousin Guy --the only one to whom, in any doubt or difficulty here, I could refer-- here he is--flown, without letting me know where to address him or find him out. I rung my bell hastily, and having written a line on my card, requesting Lord Kilkee to come to me as soon as he could, despatched it to the Rue de la Paix. The messenger soon returned with an answer, that Lord Kilkee had been obliged to leave Paris late the evening before, having received some important letters from Baden. My anxiety now became greater. I did not know but that the moment I ventured to leave the hotel I should be recognised by some of the witnesses of the evening's fray; and all thoughts of succouring poor O'Leary were completely forgotten in my fear for the annoyances the whole of this ridiculous affair might involve me in. Without any decision as to my future steps, I dressed myself, and proceeded to pay my respects to Mrs. Bingham and her daughter, who were in the same hotel, and whom I had not seen since our arrival.
As I entered the drawing-room, I was surprised to find Miss Bingham alone. She appeared to have been weeping--at least the efforts she made to appear easy and in good spirits contrasted a good deal with the expression of her features as I came in. To my inquiries for Mrs. Bingham, I received for answer that the friends Mrs. Bingham had expected having left a few days before for Baden, she had resolved on following them, and had now merely driven out to make a few purchases before her departure, which was to take place in the morning.
There is something so sad in the thought of being deserted and left by one's friends under any circ.u.mstances, that I cannot express how much this intelligence affected me. It seemed, too, like the last stroke of bad news filling up the full measure, that I was to be suddenly deprived of the society of the very few friends about me, just as I stood most in need of them.
Whether or not Miss Bingham noticed my embarra.s.sment, I cannot say; but certainly she seemed not displeased, and there was in the half-encouraging tone of her manner something which led me to suspect that she was not dissatisfied with the impression her news seemed to produce upon me.
Without at all alluding to my own improved fortune, or to the events of the preceding night, I began to talk over the coming journey, and expressed my sincere regret that, having lost my pa.s.sport under circ.u.mstances which might create some delay in retrieving it, I could not join their party as I should otherwise have done.
Miss Bingham heard this speech with rather more emotion than so simple a declaration was calculated to produce; and, while she threw down her eyes beneath their long dark lashes, and coloured slightly, asked-- "And did you really wish to come with us?"
"Undoubtedly," said I.
"And is there no other objection than the pa.s.sport?"
"None whatever," said I, warming as I spoke, for the interest she appeared to take in me completely upset all my calculations, besides that I had never seen her looking so handsome, and that, as the French wisely remark, "vaut toujours quelque chose."
"Oh, then, pray come with us, which you can do, for mamma has just got her pa.s.sport for her nephew along with her own; and as we really don't want him, nor he us, we shall both be better pleased to be free of each other, and you can easily afterwards have your own forwarded to Baden by post."
"Ah, but," said I, "how shall I be certain, if I take so flattering an offer, that you will forgive me for filling up the place of the dear cousin; for, if I conjecture aright, it is 'Le Cher Edouard' that purposes to be your companion."
"Yes, you have guessed quite correctly; but you must not tax me with inconsistency, but really I have grown quite tired of my poor cousin, since I saw him last night."
"And you used to admire him prodigiously."
"Well, well, that is all true, but I do so no longer."
"Eh! perche," said I, looking cunningly in her eye.
"For reasons that Mr. Lorrequer shall never know if he has to ask them," said the poor girl, covering her eyes with her hands, and sobbing bitterly.
What I thought, said, or did upon this occasion, with all my most sincere desire to make a "clean breast of it in these confessions," I know not; but this I do know, that two hours after, I found myself still sitting upon the sofa beside Miss Bingham, whom I had been calling Emily all the while, and talking more of personal matters and my own circ.u.mstances than is ever safe or prudent for a young man to do with any lady under the age of his mother.
All that I can now remember of this interview, is the fact of having arranged my departure in the manner proposed by Miss Bingham--a proposition to which I acceded with an affectation of satisfaction that I fear went very far to deceive my fair friend. Not that the pleasure I felt in the prospect was altogether feigned; but certainly the habit of being led away by the whim and temper of the moment had so much become part of my nature, that I had long since despaired of ever guarding myself against the propensity I had acquired, of following every lead which any one might throw out for me. And thus, as poor Harry Lorrequer was ever the first man to get into a row at the suggestion of a friend, so he only waited the least possible pressing on any occasion, to involve himself in any sc.r.a.pe or misfortune that presented itself, provided there was only some one good enough to advise him to do so.
As I entered my own room, to make preparations for my departure, I could not help thinking over all the events thus crowded into the s.p.a.ce of a few hours. My sudden possession of wealth--my prospects at Callonby still undecided--my sc.r.a.pe at the Salon--my late interview with Miss Bingham, in which I had only stopped short of a proposal to marry, were almost sufficient to occupy any reasonable mind; and so I was beginning to suspect, when the waiter informed me that the Commissaire of Police was in waiting below, and wished to speak to me. Affecting some surprise at the request which I at once perceived the object of, I desired him to be introduced. I was quite correct in my guess. The information of my being concerned in the affair at the Salon had been communicated to the authorities, and the Commissaire had orders to obtain bail for my appearance at the Tribunal de Justice, on that day week, or commit me at once to prison. The Commissaire politely gave me till evening to procure the required bail, satisfying himself that he could adopt measures to prevent my escape, and took his leave. He had scarcely gone when Mr. Edward Bingham was announced--the reason for this visit I could not so easily divine; but I had little time allowed for my conjectures, as the same instant a very smart, dapper little gentleman presented himself, dressed in all the extravagance of French mode. His hair, which was permitted to curl upon his shoulders, was divided along the middle of the head; his moustaches were slightly upturned and carefully waxed, and his small chin-tuft or Henri-quatre most gracefully pointed; he wore three most happily contrasting coloured waistcoats, and spurs of glittering bra.s.s. His visit was of scarcely five minutes' duration; but was evidently the opening of a breaching battery by the Bingham family in all form--the object of which I could at least guess at.
My embarra.s.sments were not destined to end here; for scarcely had I returned Mr. Bingham's eighth salutation at the head of the staircase, when another individual presented himself before me. This figure was in every respect the opposite of my last visitor. Although framed perfectly upon the late Parisian school of dandyism, his, however, was the "ecole militaire." Le Capitaine Eugene de Joncourt, for so he introduced himself, was a portly personage, of about five-and-thirty or forty years of age, with that mixture of bon hommie and ferocity in his features which the soldiers of Napoleon's army either affected or possessed naturally. His features, which were handsome, and the expression of which was pleasing, were, as it seemed, perverted, by the warlike turn of a most terrific pair of whiskers and moustaches, from their naturally good-humoured bent; and the practised frown and quick turn of his dark eye were evidently only the acquired advantages of his military career; a handsome mouth, with singularly regular and good teeth, took much away from the farouche look of the upper part of his face; and contributed, with the aid of a most pleasing voice, to impress you in his favour; his dress was a blue braided frock, decorated with the cordon of the legion; but neither these, nor the clink of his long cavalry spurs, were necessary to convince you that the man was a soldier; besides that, there was that mixture of urbanity and aplomb in his manner which showed him to be perfectly accustomed to the usages of the best society.
"May I beg to know," said he, as he seated himself slowly, "if this card contains your name and address," handing me at the same moment one of my visiting cards. I immediately replied in the affirmative.
"You are then in the English service?"
The Confessions of Harry Lorrequer Part 16
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