THIS is a tale by the author of Chartley ; in which, however, we can detect no traces of the author of that peculiar story. We were much disappointed, on opening his present work, to find that he had altogether deserted the ground of natural feelings and modern life, for a historical picture, where at hestall is guess-work. The author has the power of moral delineation ;:he does not excel in the restoration of historical scenes—at least he does not excel many scores Of rivals in the same walk.
The scene of the Robber lies in Flanders ; of which country we are heartily sick—what with its clumsy revolutions and its having become the ground of every third novel, we are tired of the very name. The.time is.pretty nearly that of Mr. GRATTAN'S Heiress of Bruges ; to which work the Robber bears a resemblance. It has not, however, the vehemence, the exaggeration, of the writings of the author of Highways and Byeways : it is more natural, and does not give the reader a headache. On the whole, the charac- teristic of the book is good sense and propriety ; the pictures and characters are interesting, without being striking. The introduction of the Inquisition into the Netherlands, under Philip the Second—the persecutions of Alva—the stand of the Prince of Orange—are the great historical incidents ; engrafted on which is, of course, a circumstantial detail of love and war. The Robber possesses this singularity, that we are at a loss to say which is the hero—which the heroine—and, what is more, who is the Robber. Certainly there is a robbery committed, and there is a robber ; but so insignificant are both deed and doer, that we conclude the title has been fixed upon only for want of a better..
Our specimen of the author's manner and ability may as well be taken from the description of the incident which, we suppose, gives its name to the book. The castle spoken of, the Fort St. Antoine, cuts a great figure in the story : its temporary. Governor, Van Laret, who first permits his prisoner to escape, and then robs him, is a veteran soldier; an uncommonly cool and sordid villain. The incidiMts of the escape are vividly represented to the imagina- tion.
Though Snell would have preferred a less intricate and safer exit from the castle, liberty was too alluring in prospect to allow of auy hesitation ; neverthe- less while waiting wearily for the moon's decline, he could not help feeling that he kad yet something to accomplish, as he looked down upon the precipice, and in vain sought to descry a trace of the path he had to follow. Nothing was to be seenbutprojecting crags, from which huge.masses of ivy hung, swinging in the breeze, or clung, matted firmly round, in vigorous maturity ; while, . here and there, a stunted oak thrust forth its crooked arms from its prison in the clefts of the rock.
At length the moon disappeared behind a mass of streaky clouds, winch seemed mingled with the horizon. A faint glimmering, or gloaming, of light alone remained, and the prisoner summoned his resolution for the hazardous de- scent. At the foot of the ladder, be found indeed that there was no resting-place —the crumbling dry earth gave way beneath his tread, and went showering and rattling down the abyss, giving fearful notice of the depth beneath, as, after a prolonged silence, it struck upon the distant foliage of the valley. But the pro- jecting ledge, which Van Laret had described, was •now visible, about six feet below where he hung suspended ; and, after a few momems' hesitation, he hit upon an expedient, by which, with much teil, he contrived to reach it in safety. Ascendingthe ladder, after having ascertained that one of the mopes, which composed. its sides, was more than sufficient to supporthis *eight, he cut away the other, step by step, as he descended, and then, by tying them together, ob- taMed the means of letting himself down several feet lOwer, and thus, at length, stood firm upon the rock. • The task of finding his way round the entrance-gate appeared now more bewildering than what he had already accomplished ; for the path, if it deserved such a name, was utterly indistinguishable amid the dark- ness in which every thing was already shrouded. Here and there he fancied he was treading where human footsteps might have trod before ; but, the moreent after, all trace was lost, and tangled vegetation barred his progress. At last, after much fatigue and danger, he found himself Upon a clear level spot, some yards in extent, about which the fantastic projections of the rods, formed a rude sort of crescent, while others hung fearfully beetling overhead. Here he threw himself down and had just made up his mind to await the slow coming of the dawn, when fie heard a rustling among the leaves some few yards below. Start- ing up, he listened with an indefinite apprehension of the presence of wolves or bears; but all remained silent for a few seconds ; and then a similar noise pro- ceeded from a spot more to the left, in the direction which he had traversed—a moment after there was heard a short gruff bark, then a low whining, and the agitation among the leaves increased. Whatever the creature might be, it was evident now to Snell that his presence was discovered. He started, therefore, on his legs, to prepare for acting on the defensive ; but his suspense was not of long duration ; for, hurried and panting, a huge animal came bounding upon the floor of his retreat, and was instantly recognized by the fugitive. It would be difficult to say whether the joy of Fido or his master was the most excessive : the" dumb" animal, assuredly, made most noise on the occasion, and thereby excited a degree of alarm in the mind of his newly-recovered protector., lest the unusual sounds should attract notice in the castle. And they were heard and canvassed within it by certain of the wakeful guardians, among whom, luckily, Momper was not. . These fellows decided that it was " the young lady's great big dog again," and wondered what he had "found out now ;" but, as they knew not that there was a prisoner confined within their walls, they, of course, could have no suspicion of what was really going forward. After what has been said of Fido's nocturnal rambles, the reader will scarcely be surprised to hear that he was perfectly competent to conduct his master along the rook-shooter's path ; a task which he performed with all the extraordinary sagacity of his kind—going forward and returning, and then advancing and wait- ing, till convinced that his steps were followed—leaping to and fro, wherever there was a chasm to be passed, lest it might escape notice—and blocking up the way, and even using his teeth to pull his master back, when about to take a wrong direction. In this manner they soon arrived before the main entrance of the castle, when all intricacies seemed to be at an end ; and they passed rapidly forward, down hill, along the causeway, over the ravine bridge, and so on to- ward the valley, the gloom gradually deepening as they descended into the lower ground among the lofty trees of the forest. As they entered the turn which was to conduct than to the river-side, Fido ran forward, and gave a short bark, and
then returned immediately, and kept close to his master ; who shortly after,
thought he perceived a figure moving in the road before him. A few more paces served to convince him that he was not mistaken ; and advancing nearer, he ac-
costed the stranger ; who replied immediately, in a hoarse voice, using the un-
couth dialect of the country, that he was a poor man out of employ, but that he had heard of a place at Beaufort, on the road to Liege ; and so, as he couldn't afford to lose a day, and knew the country well, he thought he should be able to get there in time to have a nap before he went to work. " The worst of it is," said he, coughing, "I've got such a terrible bad cold, that I can hardly speak."
"I am going that way likewise," observed Snell; "so we shall be company for each other."
"Poor company I shall be," replied the man, "with this cursed cold, that makes me as hoarse as a raven ;" and again he coughed violently. . • They. proceeded onward together for some time ; the countryman always answenn,g as briefly possible to the questiona.puf to him, and still coniplaining of his cold. The river now became clearly visible before thein, as they looked from under the dark canopy of the forest; and they were about to pass into the open space along its banks, when Snell felt himself suddenlYseized.by the collar, as his companion resolutely demanded his money. The grasp was so firm, and made with such skill, as to render his struggles to disengage himself perfectly ineffectual. Fido growled, but.did not appear disposed to take any other part-us
the fray. . His growling was, however, suffieient to recal his presence to SuelFs recollection; . and he vehemently called out, "Seize him, Fido !" The animal instantly sprang at the throat of the assailant, and soon forced him to let go his hold of Snell ; but the moment after, his antagonist cried out, in a voice of au- thority, "Down, Snarler, down !" and the bewildered brute, accustomed to obey that tone of command, immediately released him. "Can it be possible?" exclaimed Snell ; "yes, I know you now." " You do, do you?" exclaimed Van Laret; "then take that !" and he dis- charged a pistol at his victim, who instantly fell prostrate on the ground. The rage of poor Fido now knew no bounds : he flew upon the Governor, who fired his remaining pistol, happily without effect ; and a long and desperate conflict ensued, in which the superior strength of the man at last proved victorious. Grasping the animal's neck with both hands, he succeeded in stopping his breath- inc; and when all struggling was at an end, he hurled the inanimate carcass from him, into a pit by the road-side. He then proceeded to unbuckle the belt from the body of Snell, which he rudely kicked, in order to ascertain that life was actually extinct. But there was no motion, and all remained silent ; and the villain went his way, perfectly satisfied that his purpose was accomplished, after a resistance upon which he had not calculated.
" Curse the dog !" he muttered; "who could have supposed he had so much strength? It's the first time I ever had a battle of that kind, and I can feel I've not come off without some marks. Humph ! how shall I account fstn:thteam: • Must hide 'em, if possible ; but my hands ? Pshaw—shall snake ii some le when I get home, before to-morrow."
With such soliloquies, but without the smallest tinge of remorse, Van Laret . occupied himself on his return home, into which he entered by the sally-port, a small doorway, hidden by brambles, and opening into the ravine, nearly under the bridge already described. From thence it communicated with the interior of the castle, by a passage cut through the rock. On reaching his chamber, he was long occupied in washing and stressing his wounds ; a task which lse found even more irksome and painful than he had anticipated—for Fido had indeed done his duty, and left deep and enduring marks of his fury, some of which were destined to accompany his antagonist to the grave.
The style of this author is better and more finished than that of most writers of novels ; and in the course of perusal we have been struck with many little felicities of expression which, though they are not calculated to produce an effect in extract, are very grateful to a reader of taste. For instance, in the description of this same Van Laret, whom we have seen above very characteristically em- ployed, he says of him— He was six feet high ; stoutly, but awkwardly built;—as if rather meant to fight where he stood, than to be engaged in pursuit or driven to flight.
Of Mrs. Bhlum, an old housekeeper of the castle, and an amusing personage, he says—
When telling a favourite story, it was her invariable custom to fix her eve steadily upon the fire, as though it had been a book in which the whole matter was written.
This will be recognized as a just trait of antique prosers.
The train of reflection in the following brief passage will likewise . be acknowledged as just, though not altogether new : something -very like it has occurred to most contemplative fancies, while standing on the banks of a rolling volume of water.
The view of a noble river seldom fails to excite emotion in the human breast. A broad and deep expanse of waters, moving for ever onward, changing its sub- stance and identity every moment, yet retaining its form and destination, while ages roll by, like its passing waves, and the firm and solid earth undergoes a thou- sand vicissitudes—such is the Rhine. Empires have crumbled v wild barbarian has been succeeded by the tame slave of tyranny, the subservient minion, and the unshriuking patriot. The conquerors of the world established colonies, and built towns, and towers, and pleasant houses upon the banks, the remains of which serve but to guide the antiquarian in his conjectures respecting their probable names and uses. Even languages have passed away, unknown and forgotten. Yet, still as ever, glides along the living barrier, dividing man from man, and kingdom from kingdom, as though commissioned to mark the boundaries of ambition by Him who formed the mighty hills from whence its swim is derived.