To add to all my perplexities, two years after my poor child's death, my wife, whose vagaries of temper and wayward follies I had borne with for twelve years, wanted to leave me, and absolutely made attempts at what she called escaping from my tyranny.
My mother, who was the only person that, in my misfortunes, remained faithful to me (indeed, she has always spoken of me in my true light, as a martyr to the rascality of others and a victim of my own generous and confiding temper), found out the first scheme that was going on; and of which those artful and malicious Tiptoffs were, as usual, the main promoters. Mrs. Barry, indeed, though her temper was violent and her ways singular, was an invaluable person to me in my house; which would have been at rack and ruin long before, but for her spirit of order and management, and for her excellent economy in the government of my numerous family. As for my Lady Lyndon, she, poor soul! was much too fine a lady to attend to household matters—passed her days with her doctor, or her books of piety, and never appeared among us except at my compulsion; when she and my mother would be sure to have a quarrel.
Mrs. Barry, on the contrary, had a talent for management in all matters. She kept the maids stirring, and the footmen to their duty; had an eye over the claret in the cellar, and the oats and hay in the stable; saw to the salting and pickling, the potatoes and the turf-stacking, the pig-killing and the poultry, the linen-room and the bakehouse, and the ten thousand minutiae of a great establishment. If all Irish housewives were like her, I warrant many a hall-fire would be blazing where the cobwebs only grow now, and many a park covered with sheep and fat cattle where the thistles are at present the chief occupiers. If anything could have saved me from the consequences of villainy in others, and (I confess it, for I am not above owning to my faults) my own too easy, generous, and careless nature, it would have been the admirable prudence of that worthy creature. She never went to bed until all the house was quiet and all the candles out; and you may fancy that this was a matter of some difficulty with a man of my habits, who had commonly a dozen of jovial fellows (artful scoundrels and false friends most of them were!) to drink with me every night, and who seldom, for my part, went to bed sober. Many and many a night, when I was unconscious of her attention, has that good soul pulled my boots off, and seen me laid by my servants snug in bed, and carried off the candle herself; and been the first in the morning, too, to bring me my drink of small-beer. Mine were no milksop times, I can tell you. A gentleman thought no shame of taking his half-dozen bottles; and, as for your coffee and slops, they were left to Lady Lyndon, her doctor, and the other old women. It was my mother's pride that I could drink more than any man in the country,—as much, within a pint, as my father before me, she said.
That Lady Lyndon should detest her was quite natural. She is not the first of woman or mankind either that has hated a mother-in-law. I set my mother to keep a sharp watch over the freaks of her Ladyship; and this, you may be sure, was one of the reasons why the latter disliked her. I never minded that, however. Mrs. Barry's assistance and surveillance were invaluable to me; and, if I had paid twenty spies to watch my Lady, I should not have been half so well served as by the disinterested care and watchfulness of my excellent mother. She slept with the house-keys under her pillow, and had an eye everywhere. She followed all the Countess's movements like a shadow; she managed to know, from morning to night, everything that my Lady did. If she walked in the garden, a watchful eye was kept on the wicket; and if she chose to drive out, Mrs. Barry accompanied her, and a couple of fellows in my liveries rode alongside of the carriage to see that she came to no harm. Though she objected, and would have kept her room in sullen silence, I made a point that we should appear together at church in the coach-and-six every Sunday; and that she should attend the race-balls in my company, whenever the coast was clear of the rascally bailiffs who beset me. This gave the lie to any of those maligners who said I wished to make a prisoner of my wife. The fact is, that, knowing her levity, and seeing the insane dislike to me and mine which had now begun to supersede what, perhaps, had been an equally insane fondness for me, I was bound to be on my guard that she should not give me the slip. Had she left me, I was ruined the next day. This (which my mother knew) compelled us to keep a tight watch over her; but as for imprisoning her, I repel the imputation with scorn. Every man imprisons his wife to a certain degree; the world would be in a pretty condition if women were allowed to quit home and return to it whenever they had a mind. In watching over my wife, Lady Lyndon, I did no more than exercise the legitimate authority which awards honour and obedience to every husband.
Such, however, is female artifice, that, in spite of all my watchfulness in guarding her, it is probable my Lady would have given me the slip, had I not had quite as acute a person as herself as my ally: for, as the proverb says that 'the best way to catch one thief is to set another after him,' so the best way to get the better of a woman is to engage one of her own artful sex to guard her. One would have thought that, followed as she was, all her letters read, and all her acquaintances strictly watched by me, living in a remote part of Ireland away from her family, Lady Lyndon could have had no chance of communicating with her allies, or of making her wrongs, as she was pleased to call them, public; and yet, for a while, she carried on a correspondence under my very nose, and acutely organised a conspiracy for flying from me; as shall be told.
She always had an inordinate passion for dress, and, as she was never thwarted in any whimsey she had of this kind (for I spared no money to gratify her, and among my debts are milliners' bills to the amount of many thousands), boxes used to pass continually to and fro from Dublin, with all sorts of dresses, caps, flounces, and furbelows, as her fancy dictated. With these would come letters from her milliner, in answer to numerous similar injunctions from my Lady; all of which passed through my hands, without the least suspicion, for some time. And yet in these very papers, by the easy means of sympathetic ink, were contained all her Ladyship's correspondence; and Heaven knows (for it was some time, as I have said, before I discovered the trick) what charges against me.
But clever Mrs. Barry found out that always before my lady-wife chose to write letters to her milliner, she had need of lemons to make her drink, as she said; this fact, being mentioned to me, set me a-thinking, and so I tried one of the letters before the fire, and the whole scheme of villainy was brought to light. I will give a specimen of one of the horrid artful letters of this unhappy woman. In a great hand, with wide lines, were written a set of directions to her mantua-maker, setting forth the articles of dress for which my Lady had need, the peculiarity of their make, the stuff she selected, &c. She would make out long lists in this way, writing each article in a separate line, so as to have more space for detailing all my cruelties and her tremendous wrongs. Between these lines she kept the journal of her captivity: it would have made the fortune of a romance-writer in those days but to have got a copy of it, and to have published it under the title of the 'Lovely Prisoner, or the Savage Husband,' or by some name equally taking and absurd. The journal would be as follows:—
'MONDAY.—Yesterday I was made to go to church. My odious, MONSTROUS, VULGAR SHE-DRAGON OF A MOTHER-IN-LAW, in a yellow satin and red ribands, taking the first place in the coach; Mr. L. riding by its side, on the horse he never paid for to Captain Hurdlestone. The wicked hypocrite led me to the pew, with hat in hand and a smiling countenance, and kissed my hand as I entered the coach after service, and patted my Italian greyhound—all that the few people collected might see. He made me come downstairs in the evening to make tea for his company; of whom three-fourths, he himself included, were, as usual, drunk. They painted the parson's face black, when his reverence had arrived at his seventh bottle; and at his usual insensible stage, they tied him on the grey mare with his face to the tail. The she-dragon read the "Whole Duty of Man" all the evening till bedtime; when she saw me to my apartments, locked me in, and proceeded to wait upon her abominable son: whom she adores for his wickedness, I should think, AS STYCORAX DID CALIBAN.'
You should have seen my mother's fury as I read her out this passage! Indeed, I have always had a taste for a joke (that practised on the parson, as described above, is, I confess, a true bill), and used carefully to select for Mrs. Barry's hearing all the COMPLIMENTS that Lady Lyndon passed upon her. The dragon was the name by which she was known in this precious correspondence: or sometimes she was designated by the title of the 'Irish Witch.' As for me, I was denominated 'my gaoler,' 'my tyrant,' 'the dark spirit which has obtained the mastery over my being,' and so on; in terms always complimentary to my power, however little they might be so to my amiability. Here is another extract from her 'Prison Diary,' by which it will be seen that my Lady, although she pretended to be so indifferent to my goings on, had a sharp woman's eye, and could be as jealous as another:—
'WEDNESDAY.—This day two years my last hope and pleasure in life was taken from me, and my dear child was called to heaven. Has he joined his neglected brother there, whom I suffered to grow up unheeded by my side: and whom the tyranny of the monster to whom I am united drove to exile, and perhaps to death? Or is the child alive, as my fond heart sometimes deems? Charles Bullingdon! come to the aid of a wretched mother, who acknowledges her crimes, her coldness towards thee, and now bitterly pays for her error! But no, he cannot live! I am distracted! My only hope is in you, my cousin—you whom I had once thought to salute by a STILL FONDER TITLE, my dear George Poynings! Oh, be my knight and my preserver, the true chivalric being thou ever wert, and rescue me from the thrall of the felon caitiff who holds me captive—rescue me from him, and from Stycorax, the vile Irish witch, his mother!'
(Here follow some verses, such as her Ladyship was in the habit of composing by reams, in which she compares herself to Sabra, in the 'Seven Champions,' and beseeches her George to rescue her from THE DRAGON, meaning Mrs. Barry. I omit the lines, and proceed:)—
'Even my poor child, who perished untimely on this sad anniversary, the tyrant who governs me had taught to despise and dislike me. 'Twas in disobedience to my orders, my prayers, that he went on the fatal journey. What sufferings, what humiliations have I had to endure since then! I am a prisoner in my own halls. I should fear poison, but that I know the wretch has a sordid interest in keeping me alive, and that my death would be the signal for his ruin. But I dare not stir without my odious, hideous, vulgar gaoler, the horrid Irishwoman, who pursues my every step. I am locked into my chamber at night, like a felon, and only suffered to leave it when ORDERED into the presence of my lord (I ordered!), to be present at his orgies with his boon companions, and to hear his odious converse as he lapses into the disgusting madness of intoxication! He has given up even the semblance of constancy—he, who swore that I alone could attach or charm him! And now he brings his vulgar mistresses before my very eyes, and would have had me acknowledge, as heir to my own property, his child by another!
'No, I never will submit! Thou, and thou only, my George, my early friend, shalt be heir to the estates of Lyndon. Why did not Fate join me to thee, instead of to the odious man who holds me under his sway, and make the poor Calista happy?'
So the letters would run on for sheets upon sheets, in the closest cramped handwriting; and I leave any unprejudiced reader to say whether the writer of such documents must not have been as silly and vain a creature as ever lived, and whether she did not want being taken care of? I could copy out yards of rhapsody to Lord George Poynings, her old flame, in which she addressed him by the most affectionate names, and implored him to find a refuge for her against her oppressors; but they would fatigue the reader to peruse, as they would me to copy. The fact is, that this unlucky lady had the knack of writing a great deal more than she meant. She was always reading novels and trash; putting herself into imaginary characters and flying off into heroics and sentimentalities with as little heart as any woman I ever knew; yet showing the most violent disposition to be in love. She wrote always as if she was in a flame of passion. I have an elegy on her lap-dog, the most tender and pathetic piece she ever wrote; and most tender notes of remonstrance to Betty, her favourite maid; to her housekeeper, on quarrelling with her; to half-a-dozen acquaintances, each of whom she addressed as the dearest friend in the world, and forgot the very moment she took up another fancy. As for her love for her children, the above passage will show how much she was capable of true maternal feeling: the very sentence in which she records the death of one child serves to betray her egotisms, and to wreak her spleen against myself; and she only wishes to recall another from the grave, in order that he may be of some personal advantage to her. If I DID deal severely with this woman, keeping her from her flatterers who would have bred discord between us, and locking her up out of mischief, who shall say that I was wrong? If any woman deserved a strait-waistcoat,—it was my Lady Lyndon; and I have known people in my time manacled, and with their heads shaved, in the straw, who had not committed half the follies of that foolish, vain, infatuated creature.
My mother was so enraged by the charges against me and herself which these letters contained, that it was with the utmost difficulty I could keep her from discovering our knowledge of them to Lady Lyndon; whom it was, of course, my object to keep in ignorance of our knowledge of her designs: for I was anxious to know how far they went, and to what pitch of artifice she would go. The letters increased in interest (as they say of the novels) as they proceeded. Pictures were drawn of my treatment of her which would make your heart throb. I don't know of what monstrosities she did not accuse me, and what miseries and starvation she did not profess herself to undergo; all the while she was living exceedingly fat and contented, to outward appearances, at our house at Castle Lyndon. Novel-reading and vanity had turned her brain. I could not say a rough word to her (and she merited many thousands a day, I can tell you), but she declared I was putting her to the torture; and my mother could not remonstrate with her but she went off into a fit of hysterics, of which she would declare the worthy old lady was the cause.
At last she began to threaten to kill herself; and though I by no means kept the cutlery out of the way, did not stint her in garters, and left her doctor's shop at her entire service,—knowing her character full well, and that there was no woman in Christendom less likely to lay hands on her precious life than herself; yet these threats had an effect, evidently, in the quarter to which they were addressed; for the milliner's packets now began to arrive with great frequency, and the bills sent to her contained assurances of coming aid. The chivalrous Lord George Poynings was coming to his cousin's rescue, and did me the compliment to say that he hoped to free his dear cousin from the clutches of the most atrocious villain that ever disgraced humanity; and that, when she was free, measures should be taken for a divorce, on the ground of cruelty and every species of ill-usage on my part.
I had copies of all these precious documents on one side and the other carefully made, by my beforementioned relative, godson, and secretary, Mr. Redmond Quin at present the WORTHY agent of the Castle Lyndon property. This was a son of my old flame Nora, whom I had taken from her in a fit of generosity; promising to care for his education at Trinity College, and provide for him through life. But after the lad had been for a year at the University, the tutors would not admit him to commons or lectures until his college bills were paid; and, offended by this insolent manner of demanding the paltry sum due, I withdrew my patronage from the place, and ordered my gentleman to Castle Lyndon; where I made him useful to me in a hundred ways. In my dear little boy's lifetime, he tutored the poor child as far as his high spirit would let him; but I promise you it was small trouble poor dear Bryan ever gave the books. Then he kept Mrs. Barry's accounts; copied my own interminable correspondence with my lawyers and the agents of all my various property; took a hand at piquet or backgammon of evenings with me and my mother; or, being an ingenious lad enough (though of a mean boorish spirit, as became the son of such a father), accompanied my Lady Lyndon's spinet with his flageolet; or read French and Italian with her: in both of which languages her Ladyship was a fine scholar, and with which he also became conversant. It would make my watchful old mother very angry to hear them conversing in these languages; for, not understanding a word of either of them, Mrs. Barry was furious when they were spoken, and always said it was some scheming they were after. It was Lady Lyndon's constant way of annoying the old lady, when the three were alone together, to address Quin in one or other of these tongues.
I was perfectly at ease with regard to his fidelity, for I had bred the lad, and loaded him with benefits; and, besides, had had various proofs of his trustworthiness. He it was who brought me three of Lord George's letters, in reply to some of my Lady's complaints; which were concealed between the leather and the boards of a book which was sent from the circulating library for her Ladyship's perusal. He and my Lady too had frequent quarrels. She mimicked his gait in her pleasanter moments; in her haughty moods, she would not sit down to table with a tailor's grandson. 'Send me anything for company but that odious Quin,' she would say, when I proposed that he should go and amuse her with his books and his flute; for, quarrelsome as we were, it must not be supposed we were always at it: I was occasionally attentive to her. We would be friends for a month together, sometimes; then we would quarrel for a fortnight; then she would keep her apartments for a month: all of which domestic circumstances were noted down, in her Ladyship's peculiar way, in her journal of captivity, as she called it; and a pretty document it is! Sometimes she writes, 'My monster has been almost kind to-day;' or, 'My ruffian has deigned to smile.' Then she will break out into expressions of savage hate; but for my poor mother it was ALWAYS hatred. It was, 'The she-dragon is sick to-day; I wish to Heaven she would die!' or, 'The hideous old Irish basketwoman has been treating me to some of her Billingsgate to-day,' and so forth: all which expressions, read to Mrs. Barry, or translated from the French and Italian, in which many of them were written, did not fail to keep the old lady in a perpetual fury against her charge: and so I had my watch-dog, as I called her, always on the alert. In translating these languages, young Quin was of great service to me; for I had a smattering of French—and High Dutch, when I was in the army, of course, I knew well—but Italian I knew nothing of, and was glad of the services of so faithful and cheap an interpreter.
This cheap and faithful interpreter, this godson and kinsman, on whom and on whose family I had piled up benefits, was actually trying to betray me; and for several months, at least, was in league with the enemy against me. I believe that the reason why they did not move earlier was the want of the great mover of all treasons—money: of which, in all parts of my establishment, there was a woful scarcity; but of this they also managed to get a supply through my rascal of a godson, who could come and go quite unsuspected: the whole scheme was arranged under our very noses, and the post-chaise ordered, and the means of escape actually got ready; while I never suspected their design.
A mere accident made me acquainted with their plan. One of my colliers had a pretty daughter; and this pretty lass had for her bachelor, as they call them in Ireland, a certain lad, who brought the letter-bag for Castle Lyndon (and many a dunning letter for me was there in it, God wot!): this letter-boy told his sweetheart how he brought a bag of money from the town for Master Quin; and how that Tim the post-boy had told him that he was to bring a chaise down to the water at a certain hour. Miss Rooney, who had no secrets from me, blurted out the whole story; asked me what scheming I was after, and what poor unlucky girl I was going to carry away with the chaise I had ordered, and bribe with the money I had got from town?
Then the whole secret flashed upon me, that the man I had cherished in my bosom was going to betray me. I thought at one time of catching the couple in the act of escape, half drowning them in the ferry which they had to cross to get to their chaise, and of pistolling the young traitor before Lady Lyndon's eyes; but, on second thoughts, it was quite clear that the news of the escape would make a noise through the country, and rouse the confounded justice's people about my ears, and bring me no good in the end. So I was obliged to smother my just indignation, and to content myself by crushing the foul conspiracy, just at the moment it was about to be hatched.
I went home, and in half-an-hour, and with a few of my terrible looks, I had Lady Lyndon on her knees, begging me to forgive her; confessing all and everything; ready to vow and swear she would never make such an attempt again; and declaring that she was fifty times on the point of owning everything to me, but that she feared my wrath against the poor young lad her accomplice: who was indeed the author and inventor of all the mischief. This—though I knew how entirely false the statement was—I was fain to pretend to believe; so I begged her to write to her cousin, Lord George, who had supplied her with money, as she admitted, and with whom the plan had been arranged, stating, briefly, that she had altered her mind as to the trip to the country proposed; and that, as her dear husband was rather in delicate health, she preferred to stay at home and nurse him. I added a dry postscript, in which I stated that it would give me great pleasure if his Lordship would come and visit us at Castle Lyndon, and that I longed to renew an acquaintance which in former times gave me so much satisfaction. 'I should seek him out,' I added, 'so soon as ever I was in his neighbourhood, and eagerly anticipated the pleasure of a meeting with him.' I think he must have understood my meaning perfectly well; which was, that I would run him through the body on the very first occasion I could come at him.
Then I had a scene with my perfidious rascal of a nephew; in which the young reprobate showed an audacity and a spirit for which I was quite unprepared. When I taxed him with ingratitude, 'What do I owe you?' said he. 'I have toiled for you as no man ever did for another, and worked without a penny of wages. It was you yourself who set me against you, by giving me a task against which my soul revolted,—by making me a spy over your unfortunate wife, whose weakness is as pitiable as are her misfortunes and your rascally treatment of her. Flesh and blood could not bear to see the manner in which you used her. I tried to help her to escape from you; and I would do it again, if the opportunity offered, and so I tell you to your teeth!' When I offered to blow his brains out for his insolence, 'Pooh!' said he,—'kill the man who saved your poor boy's life once, and who was endeavouring to keep him out of the ruin and perdition into which a wicked father was leading him, when a Merciful Power interposed, and withdrew him from this house of crime? I would have left you months ago, but I hoped for some chance of rescuing this unhappy lady. I swore I would try, the day I saw you strike her. Kill me, you woman's bully! You would if you dared; but you have not the heart. Your very servants like me better than you. Touch me, and they will rise and send you to the gallows you merit!'
I interrupted this neat speech by sending a water-bottle at the young gentleman's head, which felled him to the ground; and then I went to meditate upon what he had said to me. It was true the fellow had saved poor little Bryan's life, and the boy to his dying day was tenderly attached to him. 'Be good to Redmond, papa,' were almost the last words he spoke; and I promised the poor child, on his death-bed, that I would do as he asked. It was also true, that rough usage of him would be little liked by my people, with whom he had managed to become a great favourite: for, somehow, though I got drunk with the rascals often, and was much more familiar with them than a man of my rank commonly is, yet I knew I was by no means liked by them; and the scoundrels were murmuring against me perpetually.
But I might have spared myself the trouble of debating what his fate should be, for the young gentleman took the disposal of it out of my hands in the simplest way in the world: viz. by washing and binding up his head so soon as he came to himself: by taking his horse from the stables; and, as he was quite free to go in and out of the house and park as he liked, he disappeared without the least let or hindrance; and leaving the horse behind him at the ferry, went off in the very post-chaise which was waiting for Lady Lyndon. I saw and heard no more of him for a considerable time; and now that he was out of the house, did not consider him a very troublesome enemy.
But the cunning artifice of woman is such that, I think, in the long run, no man, were he Machiavel himself, could escape from it; and though I had ample proofs in the above transaction (in which my wife's perfidious designs were frustrated by my foresight), and under her own handwriting, of the deceitfulness of her character and her hatred for me, yet she actually managed to deceive me, in spite of all my precautions and the vigilance of my mother in my behalf. Had I followed that good lady's advice, who scented the danger from afar off, as it were, I should never have fallen into the snare prepared for me; and which was laid in a way that was as successful as it was simple.
My Lady Lyndon's relation with me was a singular one. Her life was passed in a crack-brained sort of alternation between love and hatred for me. If I was in a good-humour with her (as occurred sometimes) there was nothing she would not do to propitiate me further; and she would be as absurd and violent in her expressions of fondness as, at other moments, she would be in her demonstrations of hatred. It is not your feeble easy husbands who are loved best in the world; according to my experience of it. I do think the women like a little violence of temper, and think no worse of a husband who exercises his authority pretty smartly. I had got my Lady into such a terror about me, that when I smiled, it was quite an era of happiness to her; and if I beckoned to her, she would come fawning up to me like a dog. I recollect how, for the few days I was at school, the cowardly mean-spirited fellows would laugh if ever our schoolmaster made a joke. It was the same in the regiment whenever the bully of a sergeant was disposed to be jocular—not a recruit but was on the broad grin. Well, a wise and determined husband will get his wife into this condition of discipline; and I brought my high-born wife to kiss my hand, to pull off my boots, to fetch and carry for me like a servant, and always to make it a holiday, too, when I was in good-humour. I confided perhaps too much in the duration of this disciplined obedience, and forgot that the very hypocrisy which forms a part of it (all timid people are liars in their hearts) may be exerted in a way that may be far from agreeable, in order to deceive you.
After the ill-success of her last adventure, which gave me endless opportunities to banter her, one would have thought I might have been on my guard as to what her real intentions were; but she managed to mislead me with an art of dissimulation quite admirable, and lulled me into a fatal security with regard to her intentions: for, one day, as I was joking her, and asking her whether she would take the water again, whether she had found another lover, and so forth, she suddenly burst into tears, and, seizing hold of my hand, cried passionately out,—
'Ah, Barry, you know well enough that I have never loved but you! Was I ever so wretched that a kind word from you did not make me happy! ever so angry, but the least offer of goodwill on your part did not bring me to your side? Did I not give a sufficient proof of my affection for you, in bestowing one of the first fortunes in England upon you? Have I repined or rebuked you for the way you have wasted it? No, I loved you too much and too fondly; I have always loved you. From the first moment I saw you, I felt irresistibly attracted towards you. I saw your bad qualities, and trembled at your violence; but I could not help loving you. I married you, though I knew I was sealing my own fate in doing so; and in spite of reason and duty. What sacrifice do you want from me? I am ready to make any, so you will but love me; or, if not, that at least you will gently use me.'
I was in a particularly good humour that day, and we had a sort of reconciliation: though my mother, when she heard the speech, and saw me softening towards her Ladyship, warned me solemnly, and said, 'Depend on it, the artful hussy has some other scheme in her head now.' The old lady was right; and I swallowed the bait which her Ladyship had prepared to entrap me as simply as any gudgeon takes a hook.
I had been trying to negotiate with a man for some money, for which I had pressing occasion; but since our dispute regarding the affair of the succession, my Lady had resolutely refused to sign any papers for my advantage: and without her name, I am sorry to say, my own was of little value in the market, and I could not get a guinea from any money-dealer in London or Dublin. Nor could I get the rascals from the latter place to visit me at Castle Lyndon: owing to that unlucky affair I had with Lawyer Sharp when I made him lend me the money he brought down, and old Salmon the Jew being robbed of the bond I gave him after leaving my house, [Footnote: These exploits of Mr. Lyndon are not related in the narrative. He probably, in the cases above alluded to, took the law into his own hands.] the people would not trust themselves within my walls any more. Our rents, too, were in the hands of receivers by this time, and it was as much as I could do to get enough money from the rascals to pay my wine-merchants their bills. Our English property, as I have said, was equally hampered; and, as often as I applied to my lawyers and agents for money, would come a reply demanding money of me, for debts and pretended claims which the rapacious rascals said they had on me.
It was, then, with some feelings of pleasure that I got a letter from my confidential man in Gray's Inn, London, saying (in reply to some ninety-ninth demand of mine) that he thought he could get me some money; and inclosing a letter from a respectable firm in the city of London, connected with the mining interest, which offered to redeem the incumbrance in taking a long lease of certain property of ours, which was still pretty free, upon the Countess's signature; and provided they could be assured of her free will in giving it. They said they heard she lived in terror of her life from me, and meditated a separation, in which case she might repudiate any deeds signed by her while in durance, and subject them, at any rate, to a doubtful and expensive litigation; and demanded to be made assured of her Ladyship's perfect free will in the transaction before they advanced a shilling of their capital.
Their terms were so exorbitant, that I saw at once their offer must be sincere; and, as my Lady was in her gracious mood, had no difficulty in persuading her to write a letter, in her own hand, declaring that the accounts of our misunderstandings were utter calumnies; that we lived in perfect union, and that she was quite ready to execute any deed which her husband might desire her to sign.
This proposal was a very timely one, and filled me with great hopes. I have not pestered my readers with many accounts of my debts and law affairs; which were by this time so vast and complicated that I never thoroughly knew them myself, and was rendered half wild by their urgency. Suffice it to say, my money was gone—my credit was done. I was living at Castle Lyndon off my own beef and mutton, and the bread, turf, and potatoes off my own estate: I had to watch Lady Lyndon within, and the bailiffs without. For the last two years, since I went to Dublin to receive money (which I unluckily lost at play there, to the disappointment of my creditors), I did not venture to show in that city: and could only appear at our own county town at rare intervals, and because I knew the sheriffs: whom I swore I would murder if any ill chance happened to me. A chance of a good loan, then, was the most welcome prospect possible to me, and I hailed it with all the eagerness imaginable.
In reply to Lady Lyndon's letter, came, in course of time, an answer from the confounded London merchants, stating that if her Ladyship would confirm by word of mouth, at their counting-house in Birchin Lane, London, the statement of her letter, they, having surveyed her property, would no doubt come to terms; but they declined incurring the risk of a visit to Castle Lyndon to negotiate, as they were aware how other respectable parties, such as Messrs. Sharp and Salmon of Dublin, had been treated there. This was a hit at me; but there are certain situations in which people can't dictate their own terms: and, 'faith, I was so pressed now for money, that I could have signed a bond with Old Nick himself, if he had come provided with a good round sum.
I resolved to go and take the Countess to London. It was in vain that my mother prayed and warned me. 'Depend on it,' says she, 'there is some artifice. When once you get into that wicked town, you are not safe. Here you may live for years and years, in luxury and splendour, barring claret and all the windows broken; but as soon as they have you in London, they'll get the better of my poor innocent lad; and the first thing I shall hear of you will be, that you are in trouble.'
'Why go, Redmond?' said my wife. 'I am happy here, as long as you are kind to me, as you are now. We can't appear in London as we ought; the little money you will get will be spent, like all the rest has been. Let us turn shepherd and shepherdess, and look to our flocks and be content.' And she took my hand and kissed it; while my mother only said, 'Humph! I believe she's at the bottom of it—the wicked SCHAMER!'
I told my wife she was a fool; bade Mrs. Barry not be uneasy, and was hot upon going: I would take no denial from either party. How I was to get the money to go was the question; but that was solved by my good mother, who was always ready to help me on a pinch, and who produced sixty guineas from a stocking. This was all the ready money that Barry Lyndon, of Castle Lyndon, and married to a fortune of forty thousand a year, could command: such had been the havoc made in this fine fortune by my own extravagance (as I must confess), but chiefly by my misplaced confidence and the rascality of others.
We did not start in state, you may be sure. We did not let the country know we were going, or leave notice of adieu with our neighbours. The famous Mr. Barry Lyndon and his noble wife travelled in a hack-chaise and pair to Waterford, under the name of Mr. and Mrs. Jones, and thence took shipping for Bristol, where we arrived quite without accident. When a man is going to the deuce, how easy and pleasant the journey is! The thought of the money quite put me in a good humour, and my wife, as she lay on my shoulder in the post-chaise going to London, said it was the happiest ride she had taken since our marriage.
One night we stayed at Reading, whence I despatched a note to my agent at Gray's Inn, saying I would be with him during the day, and begging him to procure me a lodging, and to hasten the preparations for the loan. My Lady and I agreed that we would go to France, and wait there for better times; and that night, over our supper, formed a score of plans both for pleasure and retrenchment. You would have thought it was Darby and Joan together over their supper. O woman! woman! when I recollect Lady Lyndon's smiles and blandishments—how happy she seemed to be on that night! what an air of innocent confidence appeared in her behaviour, and what affectionate names she called me!—I am lost in wonder at the depth of her hypocrisy. Who can be surprised that an unsuspecting person like myself should have been a victim to such a consummate deceiver!
We were in London at three o'clock, and half-an-hour before the time appointed our chaise drove to Gray's Inn. I easily found out Mr. Tapewell's apartments—a gloomy den it was, and in an unlucky hour I entered it! As we went up the dirty back-stair, lighted by a feeble lamp and the dim sky of a dismal London afternoon, my wife seemed agitated and faint.
'Redmond,' said she, as we got up to the door, 'don't go in: I am sure there is danger. There's time yet; let us go back—to Ireland—anywhere!' And she put herself before the door, in one of her theatrical attitudes, and took my hand.
I just pushed her away to one side. 'Lady Lyndon,' said I, 'you are an old fool!'
'Old fool!' said she; and she jumped at the bell, which was quickly answered by a mouldy-looking gentleman in an unpowdered wig, to whom she cried, 'Say Lady Lyndon is here;' and stalked down the passage muttering 'Old fool.' It was 'OLD' which was the epithet that touched her. I might call her anything but that.
Mr. Tapewell was in his musty room, surrounded by his parchments and tin boxes. He advanced and bowed; begged her Ladyship to be seated; pointed towards a chair for me, which I took, rather wondering at his insolence; and then retreated to a side-door, saying he would be back in one moment.
And back he DID come in one moment, bringing with him—whom do you think? Another lawyer, six constables in red waistcoats with bludgeons and pistols, my Lord George Poynings, and his aunt Lady Jane Peckover.
When my Lady Lyndon saw her old flame, she flung herself into his arms in an hysterical passion. She called him her saviour, her preserver, her gallant knight; and then, turning round to me, poured out a flood of invective which quite astonished me.
'Old fool as I am,' said she, 'I have outwitted the most crafty and treacherous monster under the sun. Yes, I WAS a fool when I married you, and gave up other and nobler hearts for your sake—yes, I was a fool when I forgot my name and lineage to unite myself with a base-born adventurer—a fool to bear, without repining, the most monstrous tyranny that ever woman suffered; to allow my property to be squandered; to see women, as base and low-born as yourself'—
'For Heaven's sake, be calm!' cries the lawyer; and then bounded back behind the constables, seeing a threatening look in my eye which the rascal did not like. Indeed. I could have torn him to pieces, had he come near me. Meanwhile, my Lady continued in a strain of incoherent fury; screaming against me, and against my mother especially, upon whom she heaped abuse worthy of Billingsgate, and always beginning and ending the sentence with the word fool.
'You don't tell all, my Lady,' says I bitterly; 'I said OLD fool.'
'I have no doubt you said and did, sir, everything that a blackguard could say or do,' interposed little Poynings. 'This lady is now safe under the protection of her relations and the law, and need fear your infamous persecutions no longer.'
'But YOU are not safe,' roared I; 'and, as sure as I am a man of honour, and have tasted your blood once, I will have your heart's blood now.'
'Take down his words, constables: swear the peace against him!' screamed the little lawyer, from behind his tipstaffs.
'I would not sully my sword with the blood of such a ruffian,' cried my Lord, relying on the same doughty protection. 'If the scoundrel remains in London another day, he will be seized as a common swindler.' And this threat indeed made me wince; for I knew that there were scores of writs out against me in town, and that once in prison my case was hopeless.
'Where's the man will seize me!' shouted I, drawing my sword, and placing my back to the door. 'Let the scoundrel come. You—you cowardly braggart, come first, if you have the soul of a man!'
'We're not going to seize you!' said the lawyer; my Ladyship, her aunt, and a division of the bailiffs moving off as he spoke. 'My dear sir, we don't wish to seize you: we will give you a handsome sum to leave the country; only leave her Ladyship in peace!'
'And the country will be well rid of such a villain!' says my Lord, retreating too, and not sorry to get out of my reach: and the scoundrel of a lawyer followed him, leaving me in possession of the apartment, and in company of the bullies from the police-office, who were all armed to the teeth. I was no longer the man I was at twenty, when I should have charged the ruffians sword in hand, and have sent at least one of them to his account. I was broken in spirit; regularly caught in the toils: utterly baffled and beaten by that woman. Was she relenting at the door, when she paused and begged me turn back? Had she not a lingering love for me still? Her conduct showed it, as I came to reflect on it. It was my only chance now left in the world, so I put down my sword upon the lawyer's desk.
'Gentlemen,' said I, 'I shall use no violence; you may tell Mr. Tapewell I am quite ready to speak with him when he is at leisure!' and I sat down and folded my arms quite peaceably. What a change from the Barry Lyndon of old days! but, as I have read in an old book about Hannibal the Carthaginian general, when he invaded the Romans, his troops, which were the most gallant in the world, and carried all before them, went into cantonments in some city where they were so sated with the luxuries and pleasures of life, that they were easily beaten in the next campaign. It was so with me now. My strength of mind and body were no longer those of the brave youth who shot his man at fifteen, and fought a score of battles within six years afterwards. Now, in the Fleet Prison, where I write this, there is a small man who is always jeering me and making game of me; who asks me to fight, and I haven't the courage to touch him. But I am anticipating the gloomy and wretched events of my history of humiliation, and had better proceed in order.
I took a lodging in a coffee-house near Gray's Inn; taking care to inform Mr. Tapewell of my whereabouts, and anxiously expecting a visit from him. He came and brought me the terms which Lady Lyndon's friends proposed-a paltry annuity of L300 a year; to be paid on the condition of my remaining abroad out of the three kingdoms, and to be stopped on the instant of my return. He told me what I very well knew, that my stay in London would infallibly plunge me in gaol; that there were writs innumerable taken out against me here, and in the West of England; that my credit was so blown upon that I could not hope to raise a shilling; and he left me a night to consider of his proposal; saying that, if I refused it, the family would proceed: if I acceded, a quarter's salary should be paid to me at any foreign port I should prefer.
What was the poor, lonely, and broken-hearted man to do? I took the annuity, and was declared outlaw in the course of next week. The rascal Quin had, I found, been, after all, the cause of my undoing. It was he devised the scheme for bringing me up to London; sealing the attorney's letter with a seal which had been agreed upon between him and the Countess formerly: indeed he had always been for trying the plan, and had proposed it at first; but her Ladyship, with her inordinate love of romance, preferred the project of elopement. Of these points my mother wrote me word in my lonely exile, offering at the same time to come over and share it with me; which proposal I declined. She left Castle Lyndon a very short time after I had quitted it; and there was silence in that hall where, under my authority, had been exhibited so much hospitality and splendour. She thought she would never see me again, and bitterly reproached me for neglecting her; but she was mistaken in that, and in her estimate of me. She is very old, and is sitting by my side at this moment in the prison, working: she has a bedroom in Fleet Market over the way; and, with the fifty-pound annuity, which she has kept with a wise prudence, we manage to eke out a miserable existence, quite unworthy of the famous and fashionable Barry Lyndon.
Mr. Barry Lyndon's personal narrative finishes here, for the hand of death interrupted the ingenious author soon after the period at which the Memoir was compiled; after he had lived nineteen years an inmate of the Fleet Prison, where the prison records state he died of delirium tremens. His mother attained a prodigious old age, and the inhabitants of the place in her time can record with accuracy the daily disputes which used to take place between mother and son; until the latter, from habits of intoxication, falling into a state of almost imbecility, was tended by his tough old parent as a baby almost, and would cry if deprived of his necessary glass of brandy.
His life on the Continent we have not the means of following accurately; but he appears to have resumed his former profession of a gambler, without his former success.
He returned secretly to England, after some time, and made an abortive attempt to extort money from Lord George Poynings, under a threat of publishing his correspondence with Lady Lyndon, and so preventing his Lordship's match with Miss Driver, a great heiress, of strict principles, and immense property in slaves in the West Indies. Barry narrowly escaped being taken prisoner by the bailiffs who were despatched after him by his lordship, who would have stopped his pension; but Lady Lyndon would never consent to that act of justice, and, indeed, broke with my Lord George the very moment he married the West India lady.
The fact is, the old Countess thought her charms were perennial, and was never out of love with her husband. She was living at Bath; her property being carefully nursed by her noble relatives the Tiptoffs, who were to succeed to it in default of direct heirs: and such was the address of Barry, and the sway he still held over the woman, that he actually had almost persuaded her to go and live with him again; when his plan and hers was interrupted by the appearance of a person who had been deemed dead for several years.
This was no other than Viscount Bullingdon, who started up to the surprise of all; and especially to that of his kinsman of the house of Tiptoff. This young nobleman made his appearance at Bath, with the letter from Barry to Lord George in his hand; in which the former threatened to expose his connection with Lady Lyndon—a connection, we need not state, which did not reflect the slightest dishonour upon either party, and only showed that her Ladyship was in the habit of writing exceedingly foolish letters; as many ladies, nay gentlemen, have done ere this. For calling the honour of his mother in question, Lord Bullingdon assaulted his stepfather (living at Bath under the name of Mr. Jones), and administered to him a tremendous castigation in the Pump-Room.
His Lordship's history, since his departure, was a romantic one, which we do not feel bound to narrate. He had been wounded in the American War, reported dead, left prisoner, and escaped. The remittances which were promised him were never sent; the thought of the neglect almost broke the heart of the wild and romantic young man, and he determined to remain dead to the world at least, and to the mother who had denied him. It was in the woods of Canada, and three years after the event had occurred, that he saw the death of his half-brother chronicled in the Gentleman's Magazine, under the title of 'Fatal Accident to Lord Viscount Castle Lyndon;' on which he determined to return to England: where, though he made himself known, it was with very great difficulty indeed that he satisfied Lord Tiptoff of the authenticity of his claim. He was about to pay a visit to his lady mother at Bath, when he recognised the well-known face of Mr. Barry Lyndon, in spite of the modest disguise which that gentleman wore, and revenged upon his person the insults of former days.
Lady Lyndon was furious when she heard of the rencounter; declined to see her son, and was for rushing at once to the arms of her adored Barry; but that gentleman had been carried off, meanwhile, from gaol to gaol, until he was lodged in the hands of Mr. Bendigo, of Chancery Lane, an assistant to the Sheriff of Middlesex; from whose house he went to the Fleet Prison. The Sheriff and his assistant, the prisoner, nay, the prison itself, are now no more.
As long as Lady Lyndon lived, Barry enjoyed his income, and was perhaps as happy in prison as at any period of his existence; when her Ladyship died, her successor sternly cut off the annuity, devoting the sum to charities: which, he said, would make a nobler use of it than the scoundrel who had enjoyed it hitherto. At his Lordship's death, in the Spanish campaign, in the year 1811, his estate fell in to the family of the Tiptoffs, and his title merged in their superior rank; but it does not appear that the Marquis of Tiptoff (Lord George succeeded to the title on the demise of his brother) renewed either the pension of Mr. Barry or the charities which the late lord had endowed. The estate has vastly improved under his Lordship's careful management. The trees in Hackton Park are all about forty years old, and the Irish property is rented in exceedingly small farms to the peasantry; who still entertain the stranger with stories of the daring and the devilry, and the wickedness and the fall of Barry Lyndon.