« PreviousContinue »
Walter's advice to me was most opportune, for I was just in the mood to receive it; not from any wish to escape proper restraint, but I longed to break over, for a time at least, the bonds which my birth and the ar. tificial rules of society imposed, that I might say to my fellow: Man, we meet in common together. God made us both. What say you ; what are your thoughts, your impulses, your sympathies? I assented at once to Walter's proposal.
Just then we stopped to change horses, and most of the passengers alighted. I was somewhat tardy in getting up again, and on mounting found, greatly to my surprise, that the foreign-looking stranger had taken my seat, and was coolly looking the other way, as I thought, purposely to avoid me. In a very civil though determined tone, I suggested to him that he had my place. He pointed with a careless air over his shoulder, and remarked that there were plenty of seats above. His contemptuous manner set me completely on fire. The blood seemed to boil in my veins, I was so angry; and taking a step toward the stranger, I exclaimed, • You may take your choice, either to vacate my seat instantly, or be pitched off the box !'
What might have been the end of the controversy I cannot tell ; for Walter promptly interfered, saying :
• Patience! patience! Master St. Leger. The young man is foreignbred, and does n't understand the custom of the English road. So I must tell you, Sir, that seats on a stage-coach are like beds at an inn; and as you make
your bed, so you must lie in it, you know.' • A plague on your roads, your customs, and your impertinence !' said the stranger, addressing Walter, but resuming his old seat at the same time; "for the present I bear with all three. As for my young master there, I have no desire to quarrel with him, unless he forces me to it. His fangs are not grown yet, and I dislike to have too great an advantage.'
With all submission,' retorted Walter, with mock humility, ‘I would advise you to seek no matter for quarrel with a St. Leger, for though the cub may not know his own nature till he is roused, you will find enough of the tiger there before you have finished. These are peaceful times, letting alone the cursed Frenchers across the water. We have done with feuds, and quarrels, and bloodshed, since the time I was a baby, I may say; but I will uphold, till I see the difference, that a St. Leger is a St. Leger so long as a drop of old Bertold's blood remains, which they say is having its last run, but of that I do n't pretend to know.'
During this rather long harangue, the stranger's countenance had settled into its usual contemptuous expression which seemed for a moment excited at the mention of my name, for he muttered, half to himself, without appearing farther to notice the coachman: “St. Leger! strange enough too; we shall see.' In the mean time, I maintained a determined silence, quite ashamed at the violence of my passion, and fully resolved not to embroil myself in a disreputable controversy with an unknown adventurer. My thoughts in the mean while were none of the most pleasant. All my wise philosophy had vanished. Where, I asked myself, were the strong yearnings to make acquaintance with humanity ? – where the desire to meet my kind on common ground ? to know men ?
how like a very
to know myself? A moment of foolish excitement had dispersed all ; and I felt that I was but a child. After a time, however, my natural equanimity began to return. I reflected that I had to school myself if I expected to pass profitably through life, and that every incident must serve to teach me something.
The stage-coach rolled rapidly on. We had passed the old town of Woodstock, and the splendid palace and park of Blenheim, and were in sight of Oxford. The country in the vicinity is enchanting. The day was fine ; the season the loveliest in all the year; and as we approached this famous seat of learning, the sun, which had enriched the landscape with its declining rays, sunk gently out of sight, leaving behind a canopy of gorgeous clouds, which were full of changeful beauty, as each succeeding hue threw a new aspect over the scene.
How my young heart enjoyed what was before me!. paradise it seemed! I lost for the moment the thought of every thing earthly; of every thing unpleasant, and gave myself up to the beautiful ideal. My reverie was broken by Walter, who exclaimed ::- I have been waiting for you to speak first, but I see Master St. Leger is not disposed to make free with his tongue. So I will just say, that I suppose I was fairly enough to blame for not sending that jackanapes to the seat which belonged to him, when he had the impudence to take yours. But to tell you the truth, I wanted to see your mettle, my boy, and by St. George and the Dragon! I came near rousing more than we could have carried. I do believe you would have thrown him under the wheel if I had not stood between; and what a scandal that would have been to His Majesty's Royal Mail! You saw, though, I gave him a settler. But it did do me good to see your blood up; not that I counsel brawls and swaggering and all that ; no, no; Walter Roland is a peaceful man; but it requires a man of spirit to be a man of peace and no coward.'
"I feel ashamed of such a sudden show of passion,' replied I, and I candidly acknowledge it; for that stranger, whom I cannot help disliking, might not have been aware of the affront put upon me.'
• He not aware of it !' exclaimed Walter, with a grin. . Hush !' said he, speaking in a lower tone, for fear of being overheard, and making what was intended to be a very significant gesture from one side of his face; I have seen him before, or my circumspection goes for nothing ! «Seen him before ? why what do you mean?' Inquired I.
Nothing,' answered Walter, except that you will probably see him again, and that he knows as much of the rules of the road as either of us : not a word more, for he is watching us. You will part company at Oxford, and here we are already ; just over the bridge, then two squares, and we are safe at the · Hen and Chickens.'
There was the usual blast of the guard, the usual bustle of attendants at the inn, the usual questions and usual answers.
The Fly Dragon' threw off her passengers, and forthwith rolled away to her resting place.
I remained quietly at the · Hen and Chickens,' a respectable inn, frequented by the regular 'traveller,' men of counting house importance, and the like, but of a stamp entirely different from the Cross,' the Star,' and the Angel,' which were then in high repute.
I had at last the satisfaction of feeling that I was not known. I observed that the unknown stranger seemed astonished when I ordered the porter to take in my luggage, but nothing passed, and I was heartily glad to be rid of his presence. At the door a pretty rosy-cheeked chambermaid asked if the young gentleman would be shown to his room. I assented; and after having shaken off the dust with which the ride had encumbered me, I proceeded to the traveller's-room and ordered refreshments. I had here ample chance to look around me. In the public room were seated several mercantile men, some engaged in conversation, others over their port, or reading their newspapers. One or two mawkish-looking young men were talking largely about the Newton races, which had just come off. I took a seat near the window, to command a view of the passers-by. The twilight continued far into the evening, and tempted out the most recluse ; now a student from one of the colleges would pass with cap and gown; next came tripping by some tradesman's daughter, dressed for an evening out ; next the sturdy laborer, covered with dust and sweat, going home after his day's toil to meet his wife and children, and be refreshed; some servant girls, in their Sunday's best, were talking and laughing very loud, as they sauntered along the pavement, watched by three or four young men, who might have been students, though they had doffed the garb of the college ; carriages rolled along the street; the hackman was soliciting a fare. The very town seemed agog that evening, it was so delightful; and occasionally the rigid, unearthly sound of a passing Israelite would startle me with its never-ending Clothes ! old clothes! Presently a French. man made his appearance with two little dogs which he had taught to stand the one upon the shoulders of the other, (each upon their hind legs,) while the by-standers, by offering inviting morsels, first to one and then to the other dog, endeavored to disturb their equilibrium. The poor animals, although evidently very hungry, maintained their position, casting ever and anon longing looks toward the tempting bribe, and then despairingly toward their master, who only scowled at them, shook his head, and muttered, “Dé donc !
After the performance was over, requisition was made for pennies and sixpences, according to the liberality of the donors. The old man, it was evident, could speak no English beyond the 'var' good,'' tank-ee,' which he used most generously, whether his suit was favored or rejected. As he approached me, cap in hand, leading his little dogs, I thought I could discover traces of deep feeling concealed under the air of mendicant entreaty which he assumed. A strong feeling of pity came over me; and as he passed, I dropped into his cap a half.crown piece: · Dix mille grâces – ah! mon Dieu!' exclaimed the poor
fellow; and then, as if remembering himself, repeated with great energy, three or four times, 'Var' good ; tank-ee, tank-ee!'
As the old man turned away, after receiving his contribution, I walked up and addressed him in his own tongue. Had I cast a handful of guineas into his hat, it would not have had half the effect that was caused by a few familiar words in his native language falling upon the poor creature's ear. He stopped, clasped his hands together, lifted his eyes to heaven, and poured out a torrent of exclamations, blessings
and thanks, as if it were by some direct interposition of the Deity that I had crossed his path. After this was over, Laurent, for that was the old man's name, informed me that he was valet to the Marquis de distinguished nobleman of France; that his master, with his wife and only child, a beautiful girl, sixteen years of age, barely escaped with their lives from an infuriated Parisian mob, and by the assistance of humble friends, had found their way to the sea-board, and thence on board an English vessel, bound for London, where they landed about two months previous; that the marquis was too proud to make any application to the English government for relief; that madame was in very delicate health, and that the whole charge devolved upon Mademoiselle Emilie, who took care of her mother, sang and played for her father, and wrought at embroidery every leisure moment, from the proceeds of which a considerable sum was weekly realized.. Laurent in the meanwhile fulfilled his usual duties as valet to the Marquis, to which were added those of steward and cook.
Beside this, whenever an opportunity allowed, and as Laurent confessed, without the knowledge of the family, he stole away with his two little dogs, which had been trained to innumerable grotesque feats to please his young mistress in happier days, and exhibited them in the manner I have described. The additional sum derived in this way was absolutely necessary to support the household, although they occupied a miserable little hut in the suburbs of the town.
I was deeply affected with Laurent’s narrative, which was detailed with great effect, and in a most forcible manner, but resisted his earnest entreaties to accompany him home, believing that the natural pride of the marquis would overcome any other feeling he might have in seeing a stranger, no matter under what circumstances. So pressing a guinea upon poor Laurent, who went into another fit of ecstacy on the occasion, I bade him adieu.
Here was a new current given to my thoughts, and for the first time in my life, sentiment came into play. As I walked slowly toward the inn, Í revolved Laurent's story over and over ; every word that he told me of the unfortunate family was full in my mind. But the thought of the young girl, so devoted, so cheerful, so persevering in her efforts to provide for her parents, in this their hour of adversity and distress, was uppermost in my thoughts. How I regretted that I had not accepted the invitation of the valet, and thus obtained an interview! I will see her yet, I exclaimed ; I will show her that an Englishman can sympathize with her, and she will understand my feelings, I know. I had wrought myself up into a fever-heat of enthusiasm by the time I reached the inn. Around the door were collected another
upon the mummeries of an old gipsy, who, bent nearly double with age
pretended infirmities, was soliciting fortunes from the by-standers. The old creature was evidently well known, and consequently, although there were numbers ready to listen to her prophecies, few cared to be the subject of them. As I came up, the hag cast her black eyes upon me, which were still bright and piercing, and exclaimed, · Here is a fine youth, that I warrant me never has had his hand crossed by old Elspeth. Try a sixpence, now, and see if you do n't have a fortune with it.' I
do n't know what devil prompted me to assent to this appeal. I knew the gipsy habit well, and had a thorough contempt for their jugglery ; but the crowd gave way, and the old crone hobbled up to me; and almost without my knowing it, she had my hand. First, she crossed it with a ‘silver sixpence' — of course of my bestowing. 'A strange hand ! mut. tered she; I must cross it again with a silver shilling; it must needs be, young master,' she continued earnestly. I was prepared for this, and as Í had commenced I determined to go on; so the silver shilling was produced. Another cross followed, and again old Elspeth was in a quandary. Indeed, I can say nought,' she muttered; 'my tongue is strangely tied. God wot what it means ; but if I had a half crown piece to get the right angle with, you would hear something worth knowing.' By this time the attention of the crowd was attracted, for the fortune-teller's demand was exorbitant, even for a gipsy. Determined to end the scene, which was becoming any thing but agreeable to me, I put a half crown in her hand, and said, “ Take what you will, only have done with this foolery. The old creature took the money, without paying any notice to my remark, crossed my palm with it very carefully several times, till she seemed to have struck upon the right line, then stopped, drew her. self up till her form was erect, and looking me full in the face with her keen sharp eyes, she uttered slowly:
"When ye St. Leger shal marrie a virgyn fair,
Had every possible calamity of earth been at that moment announced as about to happen to me, I could not have been more completely overwhelmed.
All the gloom of my whole life-time gathered around my heart again, and nothing could exceed the blackness of darkness that succeeded. But pride, that pride which afterward supported me under so many emer. gencies, came to my relief. I forcibly withdrew my hand from the hag, and turned quickly away, exclaiming as I left her, Pshaw! I have heard that doggrel a thousand times before ; if this is all you have got to say, 't is hardly, as you promised, ' worth the knowing." "If you have heard it before, heed it now! heed it now!' quoth the crone. • Ah! ah ! continued she, 'give but one golden guinea, and old Elspeth will reveal wonderful things, fearful things; and perhaps a way to get by the doom. I had by this time reached the door-way: without heeding this last appeal, I turned neither to the right nor left, but sprang to my chamber, locked and bolted the door, and threw myself upon the bed, in a state of phrenzy and despair.