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Gerald Fitzgerald, the Chevalier: A Novel

Charles James Lever

  Produced by David Widger



  By Charles Lever

  Author of 'Haury Lorrequer' Etc.

  With A Frontispiece By A. D. M'Cormick

  London Downey And Co., Limited

  12 York Street, Covent Garden 1899


  The Publishers feel that some explanation is necessary concerningthe tardy publication in book form of this story. _Gerald Fitzgerald_appeared as a serial in the _Dublin University Magazine_. The Magazineat the time was changing hands, Lever's old friend and publisher, JamesM'Glashan, having just died. Lever was always eager to avoid trouble,and ever readier to undertake new work than to concern himself aboutwork already done; and possibly--for there is not sufficient evidence tospeak with certainty--owing to some trouble with the new proprietorsof the _Dublin University Magazine_, he decided to put aside _GeraldFitzgerald_. When he was rearranging his novels for a fresh issue,shortly before his death, he omitted a few of his stories from thecollection, but for no adequate reason which can be discovered. He wasassisted in the preparation of this collected edition by his daughter,Mrs. Nevill, who died last year. Mrs. Nevill could not account, forthe omission of _Gerald Fitzgerald_, and left it to the judgment of thepresent publishers whether the work should be issued or not. After verycareful consideration, and with full respect for Lever's memory andreputation, they have decided that the novel should be issued as asubstantive work. It is evident that Lever spent much pains uponthe story; and though it is not to be expected that it will rivalin popularity his earlier and more boisterous performances, yet thepublishers believe it will not in any way damage his reputation as astory-teller.

  London, March 1899.




  At the foot of the hill on which stands the Campidoglio at Rome, andclose beneath the ruins that now encumber the Tarpeian rock, runs amean-looking alley, called the Viccolo D'Orsi, but better known to thepolice as the 'Viccolo dei Ladri,' or 'Thieves' Corner'--the epithetbeing, it is said, conferred in a spirit the very reverse of calumnious.

  Long and straggling, and too narrow to admit of any but foot-passengers,its dwellings are marked by a degree of poverty and destitution evengreater than such quarters usually exhibit. Rudely constructed offragments taken from ancient temples and monuments, richly carvedarchitraves and finely cut friezes are to be seen embedded amidmasses of crumbling masonry, and all the evidences of a cultivated andenlightened age mingled up with the squalor and misery of present want.

  Not less suggestive than the homes themselves are the population of thisdreary district; and despite rags, and dirt, and debasement, there theyare--the true descendants of those who once, with such terrible truth,called themselves 'Masters of the World.' Well set-on heads of massivemould, bold and prominent features, finely fashioned jaws, and lipsfull of vigour and sensual meaning, are but the base counterfeits ofthe traits that meet the eye in the Vatican. No effort of imaginationis needed to trace the kindred. In every gesture, in their gait, even inthe careless ease of their ragged drapery, you can mark the traditionarysigns of the once haughty citizen.

  With a remnant of their ancient pride, these people reject all hiredoccupation, and would scorn, as an act of slavery, the idea of labour;and, as neither trade nor calling prevails among them, their existencewould seem an inscrutable problem, save on the hypothesis which dictatedthe popular title of this district. But without calling to our aid thisexplanation, it must be remembered how easily life is supported by thosesatisfied with its meanest requirements, and especially in a land soteeming with abundance. A few roots, a handful of chestnuts, a pieceof black bread, a cup of wine, scarcely more costly than so much water,these are enough to maintain existence; and in their gaunt and famishedfaces you can see that little beyond this is accomplished.

  About the middle of the alley, and over a doorway of sculptured marble,stands a small statue of Vesta, which, by the aid of a little paint, acrown of gilt paper, and a candle, some pious hands had transformed intoa Madonna. A little beneath this, and on a black board, scrawled withletters of unequal size, is the word 'Trattoria' or eating-house.

  Nothing, indeed, can be well further from the ordinary aspect of atavern than the huge vaulted chamber, almost destitute of furniture,and dimly lighted by the flame of a single lamp; a few loaves of coarseblack bread, some wicker-bound flasks of common wine, and a wooden bowlcontaining salad, laid out upon a table, constituting all that the placeaffords for entertainment. Some benches are ranged on either side of thetable, and two or three more are gathered around a little iron tripod,supporting a pan of lighted charcoal, over which now two figures areto be seen cowering down to the weak flame, while they converse in lowwhispers together.

  It is a cold and dreary night in December; the snow has fallen not onlyon the higher Apennines, but lies thickly over Albano, and is even seenin drifts along the Campagna. The wailing wind sighs mournfully throughthe arches of the Colosseum and among the columns of the old Forum,while at intervals, with stronger gusts, it sweeps along the narrowalley, wafting on high the heavy curtain that closes the doorway of theTrattoria, and leaving its occupants for the time in total darkness.

  Twice had this mischance occurred; and now the massive table is drawnover to the door, to aid in forming a barricade against the storm.

  ''Tis better not to do it, Fra Luke,' said a woman's voice, as the stoutfriar arranged his breastwork. 'You know what happened the last timethere was a door in the same place.'

  'Never mind, Mrs. Mary,' replied the other; they 're not so ready withtheir knives as they used to be, and, moreover, there's few of them willbe out to-night.'

  Both spoke in English, and with an accent which told of an Irish origin;and now, as they reseated themselves beside the brazier, we have timeto observe them. The woman is scarcely above forty years of age, butshe looks older from the effects of sorrow: her regular features anddeeply-set eyes bear traces of former beauty. Two braids of rich brownhair have escaped beneath her humble widow's cap and fallen partly overher cheeks, and, as she tries to arrange them, her taper and delicatelyformed fingers proclaim her of gentle blood: her dress is of thecoarsest woollen stuff worn by the peasantry, but little cuffs of crapeshow how, in all her poverty, she had endeavoured to maintain somesemblance to a garb of mourning. The man, whose age might be fifty-sevenor eight, is tall, powerfully built, and although encumbered by the longdress of a friar, shows in every motion that he is still possessedof considerable strength and activity. The closely cut hair over hisforehead and temples gives something of coarseness to the character ofhis round full head; but his eyes are mild and gentle-looking, and thereis an unmistakable good-nature in his large and thick-lipped mouth.

  If there is an air of deference to his companion in the way he seatshimself a little distance from the 'brazier,' there is, more markedlystill, a degree of tender pity in the look that he bestows on her.

  'I want to read you the petition, Mrs. Mary,' said he, drawing a smallscroll of paper from his pocket, and unfolding it before the light.''Tis right you'd hear it, and see if there's anything you 'd likedifferent--anything mispleasing you, or that you 'd wish left out.' Shesighed heavily, but made no answer. He waited for a second or two,and then resumed: ''Tisn't the like of me--a poor friar, ignorant as Iam--knows well how to write a thing of the kind, and, moreover, to onelike _him_; but maybe the time's coming when you 'll have grander andbetter friends.'

  'Oh, no! no!' cried she passionately; 'not better, Fra Luke--not better;that they can never be.'

  'Well, well,
better able to serve you,' said he, as though ashamed thatany question of himself should have intruded into the discussion; 'andthat they may easily be. But here's the writing; and listen to it now,for it must be all copied out to-night, and ready for to-morrow morning.The cardinal goes to him at eleven. There's to be some grandees fromSpain, and maybe Portugal, at twelve. The Scottish lords come afterthat; and then Kelly tells me he 'll see any that likes, and that hasletters or petitions to give him. That's the time for us, then; for yesee, Kelly doesn't like to give it himself: he doesn't know what thePrince would say, and how he 'd take it; and, natural enough, he 'd notwish to lose the favour he's in by any mistake. That's the word he said,and sure enough it sounded a strange one for helping a friend and acountrywoman; so that I must contrive to go myself, and God's my judge,if I wouldn't rather face a drove of the wild cattle out there on theCampagna, than stand up before all them grand people!' The very thoughtof such an ordeal seemed too much for the poor friar, for he wiped hisforehead with the loose cuff of his robe, and for some minutes appearedto be totally lost in reflection.

  With a low sigh he at last resumed: 'Here it is, now; and I made itshort, for Kelly said, "if it's more than one side of a sheet he 'llnever look at it, but just say 'Another time, my good friend, anothertime. This is an affair that requires consideration; I 'll directMonsignore to attend to it.' When he says that, it's all over with you,"says Kelly. Monsignore Bargalli hates every one of us--Scotch, English,and Irish alike, and is always belying and calumniating us; but if hereads it himself, there's always a chance that he may do something, andthat's the reason I made it as short as I could.'

  With this preface, he flattened out the somewhat crumpled piece ofpaper, and read aloud:

  '"To His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales, the true-born descendantof the House of Stuart, and rightful heir to the Crown of England, thehumble and dutiful petition of Mary Fitzgerald, of Cappa-Glyn, in theCounty Kildare, Ireland------"

  'Eh, what?' cried he suddenly; for a scarcely audible murmur proclaimedsomething like dissent or correction.

  'I was thinking, Fra Luke,' said she mildly, 'if it wouldn't be betternot to say "of Cappa-Glyn." 'Tis gone away from us now for ever,and--and----'

  'What matter--it was yours once. Your ancestors owned it for hundredsand hundreds of years; and if you're not there now, neither is hehimself where he ought to be.'

  The explanation seemed conclusive, and he went on:

  '"County Kildare, Ireland. Ay! May it please your illustrious RoyalHighness--The only sister of Grace Geraldine, now in glory with thesaints, implores your royal favour for the orphan boy that survives her.Come from a long way off, in great distress of mind and body, she has nofriend but your highness and the Virgin Mary--that was well known neverdeserted nor forsook them that stood true to your royal cause--andbeing in want, and having no shelter or refuge, and seeing that Geraldhimself, with the blood in his veins that he has, and worthy of beingwhat your Royal Highness knows he is--"

  'That's mighty delicately expressed, ye see, not to give offence,' saidthe friar, with a most complacent smile at his dexterity--

  '"----hasn't as much as a rag of clothes under his student's gown, nor apair of shoes, barring the boots that the sub-rector lent him; without ashirt to his back, or a cross in his pocket; may at a minute's warningbe sent away from the college by reason of his great distress--having nohome to go to, nor any way to live, but to starve and die in nakedness,bringing everlasting disgrace on your royal house, and more misery toher who subscribes herself in every humility and contrite submission,your Royal Highness's most dutiful, devoted, and till death release herfrom sorrows, ever attached servant, Mary Fitzgerald."

  'I didn't put any address,' said the Fra, 'for, you see, this isn't oneof the genteelest quarters of the town. Here they are, Mrs. Mary--herethey are!' cried he suddenly, and while he spoke, the hasty tramp ofmany feet and the discordant voices of many people talking noisily washeard from without.

  'Sangue dei Santi!' shouted a rude voice, 'is this a fortress we havehere, or a public tavern?' and at the same instant a strong hand seizedthe table in the doorway and flung it on the floor.

  The fellow who thus made good his entrance was tall and muscular, hisstature seeming even greater from the uncouth covering of goat-skins,which in every conceivable fashion he wore around him, while in his handhe carried a long lance, terminating with a goad, such as are used bythe cattle-drivers of the Campagna.

  'A hearty reception, truly, Signora Maria, you give your customers.'cried he, as he strode into the middle of the chamber.

  'It was a barrier against the storm, not against our friends------'

  'Ha! you there, Fra Luke!' shouted the other, interrupting him, while heburst out into a fit of coarse laughter.

  'Who could doubt it, though?--wherever there's a brazier, a wine-shop,and a pretty woman, there you will find a Frate! But come in, lads,'added he, turning once more toward the doorway; 'here are onlyfriends--neither spies nor Swiss among them.'

  A ragged group of half-starved wretches now came forward, from oneof whom the first speaker took a small leathern portmanteau that hecarried, and threw it on the table.

  'A poor night's work, lads,' said he, unstrapping the leather fasteningsaround it; 'but these travellers have grown so wary nowadays, it's rareto pick up anything on the Campagna; and what with chains, bolts, andpadlocks around their luggage, you might as well strive to burst openthe door of the old Mamertine Prison yonder. There's no money here,boys--not a baiocco--nor even clothes, nothing but papers. Cursed bethose who ever taught the art of writing!--it serves for nothing but tosend brave men to the galleys.'

  'I knew he was a courier,' said a small decrepit-looking man, with along stiletto stuck in his garter, 'and that he could have nothing ofany use to us.'

  'Away with the trunk, then! throw it over the parapet into the ditch,and make a jolly blaze with the papers. Ah, Signora Maria, time was whena guidatore of the Campagna seldom came back at night without his pursefilled with sequins. Many a gay silk kerchief have I given a sweetheart,ay, and many a gold trinket too, in those days. Cattle-driving would bebut a poor trade if the Appian Way didn't traverse the plain.' While hespoke he continued to feed the flame with the papers, which he tore andthrew on the burning charcoal. 'Heap them on the fire, Fra, and don'tlose time spelling out their meaning. You get such a taste for learningpeople's secrets at the confessional, you can't restrain the passion.'

  'If I mistake not,' said Fra Luke, 'these papers are worth more thandouble their weight in gold. They treat of very great matters, and arein the writing of great people.'

  'Per Bacco! they shall never bring me to the galleys, that I'll swear,'cried the herdsman. 'Popes and princes would fret little about me whenthey gained their ends. There, on with them, Fra. If I see you steal oneof them inside those loose robes of yours, by the blood of the martyrs,I 'll pin it to your side with my poniard.'

  'You mangy, starved hound of a goatherd!' cried Fra Luke, seizing themassive iron tongs beside him; 'do you think it's one of yourselvesI am, or that I have the same cowardly heart that can be frightenedbecause you wear a knife in your sleeve? May I never see glory, if Iwouldn't clear the place of you all with these ould tongs, ay, and huntevery mother's son of you down the alley.' The sudden spring forward ashe said this, seeming to denote an intention of action, so appalled hishearers that they rushed simultaneously to the door, and, in all theconfusion of terror, fled into the street, the herdsman making use ofall his strength to cleave his way through the rest.

  'Think of the Vendetta, Fra Luke! They never forgive!' tried the woman,in a voice of anguish.

  'Faix, it's more of the police I 'm thinking, Mrs. Mary,' said thefriar. 'You'll see, them fellows will be off now to bring the Swissguard. Burn the papers as fast as you can; God knows what mischief we're doing, but we can't help it. Oh dear! isn't it a sin and a shame?Here's a letter, signed Alberoni, the great Cardinal in Spain. Here'stwo in English, and what's the name--
Watson, is it? No; Wharton, theDuke of Wharton, as I live! There, fan the coals; quick, there's notime to lose. Oh dear, what's this about Ireland! I must read this, Mrs.Mary, come what may. "Cromarty says that the P------regrets he didn'ttry Ireland in the place of Scotland. Kelly persuades him that theIrish would never have abandoned his cause for any consideration forthemselves or their estates." That's true, anyhow,' cried the Fra. '"Andthat as long as he only wanted rebellion, and did not care to make themloyal subjects, the Irish would stand to him to the last." Faix, Kelly'sright!' murmured the Fra. '"The Scotch, besides, grow weary of civilwar, and desire to have peace and order; while the others think fightinga government the best diversion of all, and would ask for nothing betterthan its continuance. For these reasons, and another that is more ofa secret, the Prince is sorry for the choice he made. As to the secretone: there was a certain lady of good family, one of the best in theIsland, they say, called Grace Fitzgerald------'"

  A shriek from the woman arrested the Fra at this instant, and with aspring forward she tore the paper from his hand to read the name.

  'What of her--what of Grace?' cried she, in a voice of heartrendinganxiety.

  'Be calm, and I 'll read it all, Mrs. Mary. It was God's will, may be,put this into our hands to-night. There, now, don't sob and agitateyourself, but listen. "She followed him to France,"' continued he,reading.

  ''She did--she did!' burst out the other, in a passion of tears.

  --'"To France, where they lived in retirement at the Chateau de Marne,in Brittany. Kelly says they were married, and that the priest whosolemnised the marriage was a nephew of Cardinal Tencin, calledDanneton, or Banneton, but well known as Father Ignatius, at theSeminary of Soissons. To his own dishonour and disgrace, and perhaps tohis ruin also, this happy union did not long continue. He was jealousat first; at last he neglected her. Be this as it may, Godfrey Moore andO'Sullivan broke with him for ever on her account; and Ruttledge torehis patent of Baron to pieces, and swore, to his face, that onewho could be so false to his love could be little relied on in hisfriendship."'

  'Who writes this, Fra Luke? Who knew these things so well?' cried thewoman.

  'It is signed "E. W.," and dated from Ancona, something more than tenyears back. The remainder treats of money matters, and of names that arenew to us. Here is the postscript: "You are right in your estimate ofhim--too right; still I am inclined to think that Kelly's influence hasworked more ill than all his misfortunes. They drink together all day,and even his brother cannot see him without permission; and if you butsaw the man--coarse, low-minded, and ill-educated as he is--so unlikelyin every way to have gained this ascendency over one of cultivated tasteand refinement; but Kinloch said truly, 'What have your RoyalHighness's ancestors done, that God should have cursed you with suchcompanionship!' To what end, then, this new plan--this last attempt toavert failure? I 'll go, if I must, but it will be only to expose myselfto the same impertinences as before."

  'I wish I could make out his name, or even to whom it was addressed;but it is only inscribed "G. H., care of Thomas Foster." Is that any onecoming, Mrs. Mary?''

  'No, it's only the wind; it often sounds like voices moaning throughthose old corridors,' said the woman sorrowfully. 'You'll keep thatletter safe, Fra Luke:'

  'That I will, Mrs. Mary. I 'll put it now with the rest, in that oldiron box in the wall behind the chimney.'

  'But if we should have to leave this?'

  'Never fear, I 'll take care to have it where we can come at it.' Hepaused for a second or so, and then said, 'Yes, you can't stay here anylonger; you must go at once too.'

  'Let it be, then, to some spot where I can see him,' cried she eagerly.'I 've borne the misery of this gloomy spot for years back, just becausethat each day he passes near my door. Down the Capitoline, to theold Forum, is their walk; and how my heart beats as I see the darkprocession winding slowly down the hill, till my eyes rest on him--myown dear Gerald. How proudly he steps in all his poverty!--how sorrowfulin his youth! What would I not suffer to speak to him--to tell him thatI am the sister of his mother--that he is not all forgotten or forsaken,but that through long days and nights I sit to think on him!'

  'But you know this cannot be, as yet.'

  'I know it--I know it I' cried she bitterly. 'It is not to a home ofcrime and infamy--to such pollution as this--I would bring him. Nor needthis any longer be endured. The slavery is now unrecompensed. I can earnnothing. It is four months since I last sent him a few pauls.'

  'Come, come, do not give way thus; to-morrow may be the turn to betterfortune. Ask of the Virgin to aid us--pray fervently to those who seeour need, and hope--ay, hope, Mrs. Mary, for hope is faith.'

  'My heart grows too cold for hope,' said she with a faint shudder; andthen, with a low 'good-night,' she lighted the little lamp that stoodbeside her, and ascended the narrow stairs to her room, while the Fraproceeded to gather up the papers that lay scattered about: havingaccomplished this task, he listened for a while, to ascertain that allwas quiet without, and then, drawing his cowl over his head, set out forhis humble home--a small convent behind the Quirinal.