And thus they separated.
The scene that had just taken place rendered every effort at composure necessary on the part of Lucy, before the return of Lady Gourlay. This lady, strange as it may seem, she had yet never seen or met, and she now began to reflect upon the nature of the visit she had made her, as well as of the reception she might get. If it were possible that her father had made away with her child on the one hand, could it be possible, on the other, that Lady Gourlay would withhold her resentment from the daughter of the man who had made her childless? But, no; her generous heart could not for a moment admit the former possibility. She reasoned not from what she had felt at his hands, but as a daughter, who, because she abhorred the crime imputed to him, could not suppose him capable of committing it. His ambition was all for herself. Neither, she felt, would Lady Gourlay, even allowing for the full extent of her suspicions, confound the innocent daughter with the offending parent. Then her reputation for meekness, benevolence, patience, charity, and all those virtues which, without effort, so strongly impress themselves upon the general spirit of social life, spoke with a thousand tongues on her behalf. Yes, she was glad she came; she felt the spirit of a virtuous relationship strongly in her heart; and in that heart she thanked the amiable Mrs. Mainwaring for the advice she had given her.
A gentle and diffident tap at the door interrupted the course of her reflections; and the next moment, a lady, grave, but elegant in appearance, entered. She courtesied with peculiar grace, and an air of the sweetest benignity, to Lucy, who returned it with one in which humility, reverence, and dignity, were equally blended. Neither, indeed, could for a single moment doubt that an accomplished and educated gentlewoman stood before her. Lucy, however, felt that it was her duty to speak first, and account for a visit so unexpected.
"I know not," she said, "as yet, how to measure the apology which I ought to make to Lady Gourlay for my presence here. My heart tells me that I have the honor of addressing that lady."
"I am, indeed, madam, that unhappy woman."
Lucy approached her, and said, "Do not reject me, madam; pardon me—love me—pity me;—I am Lucy Gourlay."
Lady Gourlay opened her arms, exclaiming, as she did it, in a voice of the deepest emotion, "My dear niece—my child—my daughter if you will;" and they wept long and affectionately on each other's bosoms.
"You are the only living individual," said Lucy, after some time, "whom I could ask to pity me; but I am not ashamed to solicit your sympathy. Dear, dear aunt, I am very unhappy. But this, I fear, is wrong; for why should I add my sorrows to the weight of misery which you yourself have been compelled to bear? I fear it is selfish and ungenerous to do so."
"No, my child; whatever the weight of grief or misery which we are forced, perhaps, for wise purposes, to bear, it is ordained, for purposes equally wise and beneficent, that every act of sympathy with another's sorrow lessens our own. Dear Lucy, let me, if you can, or will be permitted to do so, be a loving mother to you, and stand to my heart in relation to the child I have lost; or think that your own dear mother still survives in me."
This kindness and affection fairly overcame Lucy, who sat down on a sofa, and wept bitterly. Lady Gourlay herself was deeply affected for some minutes, but, at length, resuming composure, she sat beside Lucy, and, taking her hand, said: "I can understand, my dear child, the nature of your grief; but be comforted. Your heart, which was burdened, will soon become lighter, and better spirits will return; so, I trust, will better times. It is not from the transient and unsteady, and too often painful, incidents of life, that we should attempt to draw consolation, but from a fixed and firm confidence in the unchangeable purposes of God."
"I wish, dear Lady Gourlay—dear aunt—"
"Yes, that is better, my love."
"I wish I had known you before; of late I have been alone—with none to advise or guide me; for, she, whose affectionate heart, whose tender look, and whose gentle monition, were ever with me—she—alas, my dear aunt, how few know what the bitterness is—when forced to struggle against strong but misguided wills, whether of our own or others'; to feel that we are without a mother—that that gentle voice is silent forever; that that well in the desert of life—a mother's heart—is forever closed to us; that that protecting angel of our steps is departed from us—never, never to return."
As she uttered these words in deep grief, it might have been observed, that Lady Gourlay shed some quiet but apparently bitter tears. It is impossible for us to enter into the heart, or its reflections; but it is not, we think, unreasonable to suppose that while Lucy dwelt so feelingly upon the loss of her mother, the other may have been thinking upon that of her child.
"My dear girl," she exclaimed, "let the affectionate compact which I have just proposed be ratified between us. My heart, at all events, has already ratified it. I shall be as a mother to you, and you shall be to me as a daughter."
"I know not, my dear aunt," replied Lucy, "whether to consider you more affectionate than generous. How few of our sex, after—after—that is, considering the enmities—in fact, how a relative, placed as you unhappily are, would take me to her heart as you have done."
"Perhaps, my child, I were incapable of it, if that heart had never been touched and softened by affliction. As it is, Lucy, let me say to you, as one who probably knows the world better, do not look, as most young persons like you do, upon the trials you are at present forced to suffer, as if they were the sharpest and heaviest in the world. Time, my love, and perhaps other trials of a still severer character, may one day teach you to think that your grief and impatience were out of proportion to what you then underwent. May He who afflicts his people for their good, prevent that this ever should be so in your case; but, even if it should, remember that God loveth whom he chasteneth. And above all things, my dear child, never, never, never despair in his providence. Dry your eyes, my love," she added, with a smile of affection and encouragement, that Lucy felt to be contagious by its cheering influence upon her; "dry your tears, and turn round to the light until I contemplate more clearly and distinctly that beauty of which I have heard so much."
Lucy obeyed her with all the simplicity of a child, and turned round so as to place herself in the position required by the aunt; but whilst she did so, need we say that the blushes followed each other beautifully and fast over her timid but sparkling countenance?
"I do not wonder, my dear girl, that public rumor has borne its ample testimony to your beauty. I have never seen either it or your figure surpassed; but it is here, my dear," she added, placing her hand upon her heart, "where the jewel that gives value to so fair a casket lies."
"How happy I am, my dear aunt," replied Lucy, anxious to change the subject, since I know you. The very consciousness of it is a consolation."
"And I trust, Lucy, we shall all yet be happy. When the dispensations ripen, then comes the harvest of the blessings."
The old footman now entered, saying: "Here is a note, my lady," and he presented one, "which the gentleman desired me to deliver on your ladyship's return."
Lady Gourlay took the note, saying: "Will you excuse me, my dear niece?—this, I believe, is on a subject that is not merely near to, but in the innermost recesses of my heart."
Lucy now took that opportunity on her part of contemplating the features of her aunt; but, as we have already described them elsewhere, it is unnecessary to do so here. She was, however, much struck with their chaste but melancholy beauty; for it cannot be disputed, that sorrow and affliction, while they impair the complexion of the most lovely, very frequently communicate to it a charm so deep and touching, that in point of fact, the heart that suffers within is taught to speak in the mournful, grave, and tender expression, which they leave behind them as their traces. As Lucy surveyed her aunt's features, which had been moulded by calamity into an expression of settled sorrow—an expression which no cheerfulness could remove, however it might diminish it, she was surprised to observe at first a singular degree of sweetness appear; next a mild serenity; and lastly, she saw that that serenity gradually kindled into a radiance that might, in the hands of a painter, have expressed the joy of the Virgin Mother on finding her lost Son in the Temple. This, however, was again succeeded by a paleness, that for a moment alarmed Lucy, but which was soon lost in a gush of joyful tears. On looking at her niece, who did not presume to make any inquiry as to the cause of this extraordinary emotion, Lady Gourlay saw that her eyes at least were seeking, by the wonder they expressed, for the cause of it.
"May the name," she exclaimed, "of the just and merciful God be praised forever! Here, my darling, is a note, in which I am informed upon the best authority, that my child—my boy, is yet alive—and was seen but very recently. Dear God of all goodness, is my weak and worn heart capable of bearing this returning tide of happiness!"
Nature, however, gave way; and after several struggles and throbbings, she sank into insensibility. To ring for assistance, to apply all kinds of restoratives; and to tend her until she revived, and afterwards, were offices which Lucy discharged with equal promptitude and tenderness.
On recovering, she took the hand of the latter in hers, and said, with a smile full of gratitude, joy, and sweetness, "Our first thanks are always due to God, and to him my heart offers them up; but, oh, how feebly! Thanks to you, also, Lucy, for your kindness; and many thanks for your goodness in giving me the pleasure of knowing you. I trust that we shall both see and enjoy better and happier days. Your visit has been propitious to me, and brought, if I may so say, an unexpected dawn of happiness to the widowed mother's heart."
Lucy was about to reply, when the old footman came to say that the lady who had accompanied her was waiting below in the chaise. She accordingly bade her farewell, only for a time she said, and after a tender embrace, she went down to Mrs. Mainwaring who respectfully declined on that occasion to be presented to Lady Gourlay, in consequence of the number of purchases she had yet to make, and the time it would occupy to make them.
CHAPTER XXVIII. Innocence and Affection overcome by Fraud and Hypocrisy
—Lucy yields at Last.
Not many minutes after Mrs. Mainwaring's interview with the baronet, Gibson entered the library, and handed him a letter on which was stamped the Ballytrain postmark. On looking at it, he paused for a moment:
"Who the d——— can this come from?" he said. "I am not aware of having any particular correspondence at present, in or about Ballytrain. Here, however, is a seal; let me see what it is. What the d———, again? are these a pair of asses' ears or wings? Certainly, if the impression be correct, the former; and what is here? A fox. Very good, perfectly intelligible; a fox, with a pair of asses' ears upon him! intimating a combination of knavery and folly. 'Gad, this must be from Crackenfudge, of whom it is the type and exponent. For a thousand, it contains a list of his qualifications for the magisterial honors for which he is so ambitious. Well, well; I believe every man has an ambition for something. Mine is to see my daughter a countess, that she may trample with velvet slippers on the necks of those who would trample on hers if she were beneath them. This fellow, now, who is both slave and tyrant, will play all sorts of oppressive pranks upon the poor, by whom he knows that he is despised; and for that very reason, along with others, will he punish them. That, however, is, after all, but natural; and on this very account, curse me, but I shall try and shove the beggarly scoundrel up to the point of his paltry ambition. I like ambition. The man who has no object of ambition of any kind is unfit for life. Come, then, wax, deliver up thy trust.'"
With a dark grin of contempt, and a kind of sarcastic gratification, he perused the document, which ran as follows:
"My dear Sir Tomas,—In a letter, which a' had the honer of receiving from you, in consequence of your very great kindness in condescending to kick me out of your house, on the occasion of my last visit to Red Hall, you were pleased to express a wish that a' would send you up as arthentic a list as a' could conveniently make up of my qualifications for the magistracey. Deed, a'm sore yet, Sir Tomas, and wouldn't it be a good joke, as my friend Dr. Twig says, if the soreness should remain until it is cured by the Komission, which he thinks would wipe out all recollection of the pain and the punishment. And he says, too, that this application of it would be putting it to a most proper and legutimate use; the only use, he insists, to which it ought to be put. But a' don't go that far, because a' think it would be an honerable dockiment, not only to my posterity, meaning my legutimate progenitors, if a' should happen to have any; but, also and moreover, to the good taste and judgment, and respect for the honer and integrity of the Bench, manifested by those who attributed to place me on it.
"A' now come to Klaim No. I, for the magistracey: In the first place a'm not without expeyrience, having been in the habit of acting as a magistrate in a private way, and upon my own responsibility, for several years. A' established a kourt in a little vilage, which—and this is a strong point in my feavor now-a-days—which a' meself have depopilated; and a' trust that the depopilation won't be ovelueked. To this kourt a' com-peled all me taunts to atend. They were obliged to summon one another as often as they kould, and much oftener than they wished, and for the slightest kauses. A' presided in it purseondlly; and a'll tell you why. My system was a fine system, indeed. That is to say, a' fined them ether on the one side or the tother, but most generally on both, and then a' put the fines into my own pocet. My tenints a' know didn't like this kind of law very much—but if they didn't a' did; and a' made them feel that a' was their landlord. No man was a faverite with me that didn't frequent my kourt, and for this resin, in order to stand well with me, they fought like kat and dog. Now, you know, it was my bisness to enkorage this, for the more they fought and disputed, the more a' fined them.
"In fact, a' done everything in my power, to enlitin my tenints. For instance, a' taught them the doktrine of trespiss. If a' found that a stranger tuck the sheltry side of my hedge, to blow his nose, I fined him half-a-crown, as can be proved by proper and undeniable testomony. A' mention all these matters to satisfy you that a' have practis as a magistrate, and won't have my duties to lern when a'm called upon to discharge them.
"Klaim No. II. is as follows: A'm very unpopilar with the people, which is a great thing in itself, as a' think no man ought to be risen to the bench that's not unpopilar; because, when popilar, he's likely to feavor them, and symperthize with them—wherein his first duty is always to konsider them in the rong. Nether am a' popilar with the gentry and magistrates of the kountry, because they despise me, and say that a'm this, that and tother; that a'm mean and tyrannical; that a' changed my name from pride, and that a'm overbearing and ignorant. Now this last charge of ignorance brings me to Klaim No. III.
"Be it nown to you, then, Sir Tomas, that a' received a chollege eddycation, which is an anser in full to the play of ignorance. In fact, a' devoted meself to eddycation till my very brain began to go round like a whurli-gig; and many people say, that a' never rekovered the proper use of it since. Hundres will tell you that they would shed their blood upon the truth of it; but let any one that thinks so transact bisness with me, or bekome a tenint of mine, and he'll find that a' can make him bleed in proving the reverse.
"A' could prove many other klaims equally strong, but a' hope it's not necessary to seduce any more. A' do think, if the Lord Chanceseller knew of my qualifications, a' wouldn't be long off the bench. If, then, Sir Tomas, you, who have so much influence, would write on my behalf, and rekomend me to the custus rascalorum as a proper kandi-date, I could not fail to sukceed in reaching the great point of my ambition, which is, to be accommodated with a seat—anything would satisfy me—even a close-stool—upon the magisterial bench. Amen, Sir Tomas.
"And have the honer to be,
"Your obedient and much obliged, and very thankful servant for what a' got, as well as for what a' expect, Sir Tomas,
Sir Thomas—having perused this precious document, which, by the way, contains no single fact that could not be substantiated by the clearest testimony, so little are they at head-quarters acquainted with the pranks that are played off on the unfortunate people by multitudes of petty tyrants in remote districts of the country—Sir Thomas, we say, having perused the aforesaid document, grinned—almost laughed—with a satirical enjoyment of its contents.
"Very good," said he; "excellent: confound me, but Crackenfudge must get to the bench, if it were only for the novelty of the thing. I will this moment recommend him to Lord Cullamore, who is custos rotulorum for the county, and who would as soon, by the way, cut his right hand off as recommend him to the Chancellor, if he knew the extent of his 'klaims,' as the miserable devil spells it. Yes, I will recommend him, if it were only to vex my brother baronet, Sir James B——-, who is humane, and kind, and popular, forsooth, and a staunch advocate for purity of the bench, and justice to the people! No doubt of it; I shall recommend you, Crackenfudge, and cheek by jowl with the best among them, upon the same magistorial bench, shall the doughty Crackenfudge sit."
He instantly sat down to his writing-desk, and penned as strong a recommendation as he could possibly compose to Lord Cullamore, after which he threw himself again upon the sofa, and exclaimed:
"Well, that act is done, and an iniquitous one it is; but no matter, it is gone off to the post, and I'm rid of him.' Now for Lucy, and my ambition; she is unquestionably with that shameless old woman who could think of marrying at such an age. She is with her; she will hear of my illness, and as certain as life is life, and death death, she will be here soon."
In this he calculated aright, and he felt that he did so. Mrs. Mainwaring, on the evening of their visit to the city, considered it her duty to disclose, fully and candidly, to Lucy, the state of her father's health, that is, as it appeared to her on their interview. Lucy, who knew that he was subject to sudden attacks upon occasions of less moment, not only became alarmed, but experienced a feeling like remorse for having, as she said, abandoned him so undutifully.
"I will return immediately," she said, weeping; "he is ill: you say he speaks of me tenderly and affectionately—oh, what have I done! Should this illness prove serious—fatal—my piece of mind were gone forever. I should consider myself as a parricide—as the direct cause of his death. My God! perhaps even now I am miserable for life—forever—forever!"
Mrs. Mainwaring soothed her as well as she could, but she refused to hear comfort, and having desired Alley Mahon to prepare their slight luggage, she took an affectionate and tearful leave of Mrs. Mainwaring, bade adieu to her husband, and was about to get into the chaise, which had been ordered from the inn in Wicklow, when Mrs. Mainwaring said:
"Now, my dear Lucy, if your father should recover, and have recourse to any abuse of his authority, by attempting again to force your inclinations and consummate your misery, remember that my door, my arms, my heart, shall ever be open to you. I do not, you will observe, suggest any act of disobedience on your part; on the contrary, I am of opinion that you should suffer everything short of the last resort, by which I mean this hateful marriage with Dunroe, sooner than abandon your father's roof. This union is a subject on which I must see him again. Poor Lord Cullamore I respect and venerate, for I have reason to believe that he has, for one contemplated error, had an unhappy if not a remorseful life. In the meantime, even in opposition to your father's wishes, I say it, and in confirmation of your strongest prejudices———"
"It amounts to antipathy, Mrs. Mainwaring—to hatred, to abhorrence."
"Well, my dear child, in confirmation of them all, I implore, I entreat, I conjure, and if I had authority, I would say, I command you not to unite your fate with that young profligate."
"Do not fear me, Mrs. Mainwaring; but at present I can think of nothing but poor papa and his illness; I tremble, indeed, to think how I shall find him; and, my God, to reflect that I am the guilty cause of all this!"
They then separated, and Lucy, accompanied by Alley, proceeded to town at a pace as rapid as the animals that bore them could possibly accomplish.
On arriving in town, she was about rushing upstairs to throw herself in her father's arms, when Gibson, who observed her, approached respectfully, and said:
"This haste to see your father, Miss Gourlay, is very natural; but perhaps you will be good enough to wait a few moments, until he is prepared to receive you. The doctor has left strict orders that he shall not see any person; but, above all things, without being announced."
"But, Gibson—first, how is he? Is he very ill?"
Gibson assumed a melancholy and very solemn look, as he replied, "He is, indeed, ill, Miss Gourlay; but it would not become me to distress you—especially as I hope your presence will comfort him; he is perpetually calling for you."
"Go, Gibson, go," she exclaimed, whilst tears, which she could not restrain, gushed to her eyes. "Go, be quick; tell him I am here."
"I will break it to him, madam, as gently as possible," replied this sedate and oily gentleman; "for, if made acquainted with it too suddenly, the unexpected joy might injure him."
"Do not injure him, then," she exclaimed, earnestly; "oh, do not injure him—but go; I leave it to your own discretion."
Lucy immediately proceeded to her own room, and Gibson to the library, where he found the baronet in his nightcap and morning gown, reading a newspaper.
"I have the paragraph drawn up, Gibson," said he, with a grim smile, "stating that I am dangerously ill; take and copy it, and see that it be inserted in to-morrow's publication."
"It will not be necessary, sir," replied the footman; "Miss Gourlay is here, and impatient to see you."
"Here!" exclaimed her father with a start; "you do not say she is in the house?"
"She has just arrived, sir, and is now in her own room."
"Leave me, Gibson," said the baronet, "and attend promptly when I ring;" and Gibson withdrew. "Why," thought he to himself, "why, do I feel as I do? Glad that I have her once more in my power, and this is only natural; but why this kind of terror—this awe of that extraordinary girl? I dismissed that prying scoundrel of a footman, because I could not bear that he should observe and sneer at this hypocrisy, although I know he is aware of it. What can this uncomfortable sensation which checks my joy at her return mean? Is it that involuntary homage which they say vice is compelled to pay to purity, truth, and virtue? I know not; but I feel disturbed, humbled with an impression like that of guilt—an impression which makes me feel as if there actually were such a thing as conscience. As my objects, however, are for the foolish girl's advancement, I am determined to play the game out, and for that purpose, as I know now by experience that neither harshness nor violence will do, I shall have recourse to tenderness and affection. I must touch her heart, excite her sympathy, and throw myself altogether upon her generosity. Come then—and now for the assumption of a new character."
Having concluded this train of meditation, he rang for Gibson, who appeared.
"Gibson, let Miss Gourlay know that, ill as I am, I shall try to see her: be precise in the message, sir; use my own words."
"Certainly, Sir Thomas," replied the footman, who immediately withdrew to deliver it.
The baronet, when Gibson went out again, took a pair of pillows, with which the sofa was latterly furnished, in order to maintain the appearance of illness, whenever it might be necessary, and having placed them under his head, laid himself down, pulled the nightcap over his brows, and affected all the symptoms of a man who was attempting to struggle against some serious and severe attack.
In this state he lay, when Lucy entering the room, approached, in a flood of tears, exclaiming, as she knelt by the sofa, "Oh, papa—dear papa, forgive me;" and as she spoke, she put her arms round his neck, and kissed him affectionately. "Dear papa," she proceeded, "you are ill—very ill, I fear; but will you not forgive your poor child for having abandoned you as she did? I have returned, however, to stay with you, to tend you, to soothe and console you as far as any and every effort of mine can. You shall have no nurse but me, papa. All that human hands can do to give you ease—all that the sincerest affection can do to sustain and cheer you, your own Lucy will do. But speak to me, papa; am I not your own Lucy still?"
Her father turned round, as if by a painful effort, and having looked upon her for some time, replied, feebly, "Yes, you are—you are my own Lucy still."
This admission brought a fresh gush of tears from the affectionate girl, who again exclaimed, "Ah, papa, I fear you are very ill; but those words are to me the sweetest that ever proceeded from your lips. Are you glad to see me, papa?—but I forget myself; perhaps I am disturbing you. Only say how you feel, and if it will not injure you, what your complaint is."
"My complaint, dear Lucy, most affectionate child—for I see you are so still, notwithstanding reports and appearances—"
"Oh, indeed, I am, papa—indeed I am."
"My complaint was brought on by anxiety and distress of mind—I will not say why—I did, I know, I admit, wish to see you in a position of life equal to your merits; but I cannot talk of that—it would disturb me; it is a subject on which, alas! I am without hope. I am threatened with apoplexy or paralysis, Lucy, the doctor cannot say which; but the danger, he says, proceeds altogether from the state of my mind, acting, it is true, upon a plethoric system of body; but I care not, dear Lucy—I care not, now; I am indifferent to life. All my expectations —all a father's brilliant plans for his child, are now over. The doctor says that ease of mind might restore, but I doubt it now; I fear it is too late. I only wish I was better prepared for the change which I know I shall soon be forced to make. Yet I feel, Lucy, as if I never loved you until now—I feel how dear you are to me now that I know I must part with you so soon."
Lucy was utterly incapable of resisting this tenderness, as the unsuspecting girl believed it to be. She again threw her arms around him, and wept as if her very heart would break.
"This agitation, my darling," he added, "is too much for us both. My head is easily disturbed; but—but—send for Lucy," he exclaimed, as if touched by a passing delirium, "send for my daughter. I must have Lucy. I have been harsh to her, and I cannot die without her forgiveness."
"Here, papa—dearest papa! Recollect yourself; Lucy is with you; not to forgive you for anything, but to ask; to implore to be forgiven."
"Ha!" he said, raising his head a little, and looking round like a man awakening from sleep. "I fear I am beginning to wander. Dear Lucy—yes, it is you. Oh, I recollect. Withdraw, my darling; the sight of you—the joy of your very appearance—eh—eh—yes, let me see. Oh, yes; withdraw, my darling; this interview has been too much for me—I fear it has—but rest and silence will restore me, I hope. I hope so—I hope so."
Lucy, who feared that a continuance of this interview might very much aggravate his illness, immediately took her leave, and retired to her own room, whither she summoned Alley Mahon. This blunt but faithful attendant felt no surprise in witnessing her grief; for indeed she had done little else than weep, ever since she heard of her father's illness.
"Now don't cry so much, miss," she said; "didn't I tell you that your grief will do neither you nor him any good? Keep yourself cool and quiet, and spake to him like a raisonable crayture, what you are not, ever since you herd of his being sick. It isn't by shedding tears that you can expect to comfort him, as you intend to do, but by being calm, and considerate, and attentive to him, and not allowin' him to see what you suffer."
"That is very true, Alice, I admit," replied Lucy; but when I consider that it was my undutiful flight from him that occasioned this attack, how can I free myself from blame? My heart, Alice, is divided between a feeling of remorse for having deserted him without sufficient cause, and grief for his illness, and in that is involved the apprehension of his loss. After all, Alice, you must admit that I have no friend in the world but my father. How, then, can I think of losing him?"
"And even if God took him," replied Alley, "which I hope after all isn't so likely—"
"What do you mean, girl?" asked Lucy, ignorant that Alley only used a form of speech peculiar to the people, "what language is this of my father?"
"Why, I hope it's but the truth, miss," replied the maid; "for if God was to call him to-morrow—which may God forbid! you'd find friends that would take care of you and protect you."
"Yes; but, Alice, if papa died, I should have to reproach myself with his death; and that consideration would drive me distracted or kill me. I am beginning to think that obedience to the will of a parent is, under all circumstances, the first duty of a child. A parent knows better what is for our good than we can be supposed to do. At all events, whatever exceptions there may be to this rule, I care not. It is enough, and too much, for me to reflect that my conduct has been the cause of papa's illness. His great object in life was to promote my happiness. Now this was affection for me. I grant he may have been mistaken, but still it was affection; and consequently I cannot help admitting that even his harshness, and certainly all that he suffered through the very violence of his own passions, arose from the same source—affection for me."
"Ah," replied Alley, "it's aisy seen that your heart is softened now; but in truth, miss, it was quare affection that would make his daughter miserable, bekase he wanted her to become a great lady. If he was a kind and raisonable father, he would not force you to be unhappy. An affectionate father would give up the point rather than make you so; but no; the truth is simply this, he wanted to gratify himself more than he did you, or why would he act as he did?"
"Alice," replied Lucy, "remember that I will not suffer you to speak of my father with disrespect. You forget yourself, girl, and learn from me now, that in order to restore him to peace of mind and health, in order to rescue him from death, and oh," she exclaimed involuntarily, "above all things from a death, for which, perhaps, he is not sufficiently prepared—as who, alas, is for that terrible event!—yes in order to do this, I am ready to yield an implicit obedience to his wishes: and I pray heaven that this act on my part may not be too late to restore him to his health, and relieve his mind from the load of care which presses it down upon my account."
"Good Lord, Miss Gourlay," exclaimed poor Alley, absolutely frightened by the determined and vehement spirit in which these words were uttered, "surely you wouldn't think of makin' a saickerfice of yourself that way?"
"That may be the word, Alice, or it may not; but if it be a sacrifice, and if the sacrifice is necessary, it shall be made—I shall make it. My disobedience shall never break my father's heart."
"I don't wish to speak disrespectfully of your father, miss; but I think he's an ambitious man."
"And perhaps the ambition which he feels is a virtue, and one in which I am deficient. You and I, Alice, know but little of life and the maxims by which its great social principles are regulated."
"Faith, spake for yourself, miss; as for me, I'm the very girl that has had my experience. No less than three did I manfully refuse, in spite of both father and mother. First there was big Bob Broghan, a giant of a fellow, with a head and pluck upon him that would fill a mess-pot. He had a chape farm, and could afford to wallow like a swine in filth and laziness. And well becomes the old couple, I must marry him, whether I would or not. Be aisy, said I, it's no go; when I marry a man, it'll be one that'll know the use of soap and wather, at all events. Well, but I must; I did not know what was for my own good; he was rich, and I'd lead a fine life with him. Scrape and clane him for somebody else, says I; no such walkin' dungheap for me. Then they came to the cudgel, and flaked me; but it was in a good cause, and I tould them that if I must die a marthyr to cleanliness, I must; and at last they dropped it, and so I got free of Bob Broghan.
"The next was a little fellow that kept a small shop of hucksthery, and some groceries, and the like o' that. He was a near, penurious devil, hard and scraggy lookin', with hunger in his face and in his heart, too; ay, and besides, he had the name of not bein' honest. But then his shop was gettin' bigger and bigger, and himself richer and richer every day. Here's your man, says the old couple. Maybe not, says I. No shingawn that deals in light weights and short measures for me. My husband must be an honest man, and not a keen shaving rogue like Barney Buckley. Well, miss, out came the cudgel again, and out came I with the same answer. Lay on, says I; if I must die a marthyr to honesty, why I must; and may God have mercy on me for the same, as he will. Then they saw that I was a rock, and so there was an end of Barney Buckley, as well as Bob Broghan.
"Well and good; then came number three, a fine handsome young man, by name Con Coghlan. At first I didn't much like him, bekase he had the name of being too fond of money, and it was well known that he had disappointed three or four girls that couldn't show guinea for guinea with him. The sleeveen gained upon me, however, and I did get fond of him, and tould him to speak to my father, and so he did, and they met once or twice to make the match; but, ah, miss, every one has their troubles. On the last meetin', when he found that my fortune wasn't what he expected, he shogged off wid himself; and, mother o' mercy, did ever I think it would come to that?" Here she wiped her eyes, and then with fresh spirit proceeded, "He jilted me, Miss—the desateful villain jilted me; but if he did, I had my revenge. In less than a year he came sneakin' back, and tould my father that as he couldn't get me out of his head, he would take me with whatever portion they could give me. The fellow was rich, Miss, and so the ould couple, ready to bounce at him, came out again. Come, Alley, here's Con Coghlan back. Well, then, says I, he knows the road home again, and let him take it. One good turn desarves another. When he could get me he wouldn't take me, and now when he would take me, he won't get me; so I think we're even.
"Out once more came the cudgel, and on they laid; but now I wasn't common stone but whitestone. Lay on, say I; I see, or rather I feel, that the crown is before me. If I must die a marthyr to a dacent spirit, why I must; and so God's blessing be with you all. I'll shine in heaven for this yet.
"I think now, Miss, you'll grant that I know something about life."
"Alice," replied Lucy, "I have often heard it said, that the humblest weeds which grow contain virtues that are valuable, if they were only known. Your experience is not without a moral, and your last lover was the worst, because he was mean; but when I think of him—the delicate, the generous, the disinterested, the faithful, the noble-hearted—alas, Alice!" she exclaimed, throwing herself in a fresh paroxysm of grief upon the bosom of her maid, "you know not the incredible pain—the hopeless agony—of the sacrifice I am about to make. My father, however, is the author of my being, and as his very life depends upon my strength of mind now, I shall, rather than see him die whilst I selfishly gratify my own will—yes, Alice, I shall—I shall—and may heaven give me strength for it!—I shall sacrifice love to duty, and save him; that is, if it be not already too late."
"And if he does recover," replied Alice, whose tears flowed along with those of her mistress, but whose pretty eye began to brighten with indignant energy as she spoke, "if he does recover, and if ever he turns a cold look, or uses a harsh word to you, may I die for heaven if he oughtn't to be put in the public stocks and made an example of to the world."
"The scene, however, will be changed then, Alice; for the subject matter of all our misunderstandings will have been removed. Yet, Alice, amidst all the darkness and suffering that lie before me, there is one consolation"—and as she uttered these words, there breathed throughout her beautiful features a spirit of sorrow, so deep, so mournful, so resigned, and so touching, that Alley in turn laid her head on her bosom, exclaiming, as she looked up into her eyes, "Oh, may the God of mercy have pity on you, my darling mistress! what wouldn't your faithful Alley do to give you relief? and she can't;" and then the affectionate creature wept bitterly. "But what is the consolation?" she asked, hoping to extract from the melancholy girl some thought or view of her position that might inspire them with hope or comfort.
"The consolation I allude to, Alice, is the well-known fact that a broken heart cannot long be the subject of sorrow; and, besides, my farewell of life will not be painful; for then I shall be able to reflect with peace that, difficult as was the duty imposed upon me, I shall have performed it. Now, dear Alice, withdraw; I wish to be alone for some time, that I may reflect as I ought, and endeavor to gain strength for the sacrifice that is before me."
Her eye as she looked upon Alley was, though filled with a melancholy lustre, expressive at the same time of a spirit so lofty, calm, and determined, that its whole character partook of absolute sublimity. Alley, in obedience to her words, withdrew; but not without an anxious and earnest effort at imparting comfort.
When her maid had retired, Lucy began once more to examine her position, in all its dark and painful aspects, and to reflect upon the destiny which awaited her, fraught with unexampled misery as it was. Though well aware, from former experience, of her father's hypocritical disguises, she was too full of generosity and candor to allow her heart to entertain suspicion. Her nature was one of great simplicity, artlessness, and truth. Truth, above all things, was her predominant virtue; and we need not say, that wherever it resides it is certain to become a guarantee for the possession of all the rest. Her cruel-hearted father, himself false and deceitful, dreaded her for this love of truth, and was so well acquainted with her utter want of suspicion, that he never scrupled, though frequently detected, to impose upon her, when it suited his purpose. This, indeed, was not difficult; for such was his daughter's natural candor and truthfulness, that if he deceived her by a falsehood to-day, she was as ready to believe him to-morrow as ever. His last heartless act of hypocrisy, therefore, was such a deliberate violation of truth as amounted to a species of sacrilege; for it robbed the pure shrine of his own daughter's heart of her whole happiness. Nay, when we consider the relations in which they stood, it might be termed, as is beautifully said in Scripture, "a seething of the kid in the mother's milk."
As it was, however, her father's illness disarmed her generous and forgiving spirit of every argument that stood in the way of the determination she had made. His conduct she felt might, indeed, be the result of one of those great social errors that create so much misery in life; that, for instance, of supposing that one must ascend through certain orders of society, and reach a particular elevation before they can enjoy happiness. This notion, so much at variance with the goodness and mercy of God, who has not confined happiness to any particular class, she herself rejected; but, at the same time, the modest estimate which she formed of her own capacity to reason upon or analyze all speculative opinions, led her to suppose that she might be wrong, and her father right, in the inferences which they respectively drew. Perhaps she thought her reluctance to see this individual case through his medium, arose from some peculiar idiosyncrasy of intellect or temperament not common to others, and that she was setting a particular instance against a universal truth.
That, however, which most severely tested her fortitude and noble sense of what we owe a parent, resulted from no moral or metaphysical distinctions of human duty, but simply and directly from what she must suffer by the contemplated sacrifice. She was born in a position of life sufficiently dignified for ordinary ambition. She was surrounded by luxury—had received an enlightened education—had a heart formed for love—for that pure and exalted passion, which comprehends and brings into action all the higher qualities of our being, and enlarges all our capacities for happiness. God and nature, so to speak, had gifted her mind with extraordinary feeling and intellect, and her person with unusual grace and beauty; yet, here, by this act of self-devotion to her father, she renounced all that the human heart with such strong claims upon the legitimate enjoyments of life could expect, and voluntarily entered into a destiny of suffering and misery. She reflected upon and felt the bitterness of all this; but, on the other hand, the contemplation of a father dying in consequence of her disobedience—dying, too, probably in an unprepared state—whose heart was now full of love and tenderness for her; who, in fact, was in grief and sorrow in consequence of what he had caused her to suffer. We say she contemplated all this, and her great heart felt that this was the moment of mercy.
"It is resolved!" she exclaimed; "I will disturb him for a little. There is no time now for meanly wrestling it out, for ungenerous hesitation and delay. Suspense may kill him; and whilst I deliberate, he may be lost. Father, I come, Never again shall you reproach me with disobedience. Though your ambition may be wrong, yet who else than I should become the victim of an error which originates in affection for myself? I yield at last, as is my duty; now your situation makes it so; and my heart, though crushed and broken, shall be an offering of peace between us. Farewell, now, to love—to love legitimate, pure, and holy!—farewell to all the divine charities and tendernesses of life which follow it—farewell to peace of! heart—to the wife's pride of eye, to the husband's tender glance—farewell—farewell to everything in this wretched life but the hopes of heaven! I come, my father—I come. But I had forgotten," she said, "I must not see him without permission, nor unannounced, as Gibson said. Stay, I shall ring for Gibson."
"Gibson," said she, when he had made his appearance, "try if your master could see me for a moment; say I request it particularly, and that I shall scarcely disturb him. Ask it as a favor, unless he be very ill indeed—and even then do so."
Whilst Gibson went with this message, Lucy, feeling that it might be dangerous to agitate her father by the exhibition of emotion, endeavored to compose herself as much as she could, so that by the time of Gibson's return, her appearance was calm, noble, and majestic. In fact, the greatness—the heroic spirit—of the coming sacrifice emanated like a beautiful but solemn light from her countenance, and on being desired to go in, she appeared full of unusual beauty and composure.
On entering, she found her father much in the same position: his head, as before, upon the pillows, and the nightcap drawn over his heavy brows.
"You wished to see me, my dear Lucy. Have you any favor to ask, my child? If so, ask whilst I have recollection and consciousness to grant it. I can refuse you nothing now, Lucy. I was wrong ever to struggle with you. It was too much for me, for I am now the victim; but even that is well, for I am glad it is not you."
When he mentioned the word victim, Lucy felt as if a poniard had gone through her heart; but she had already resolved that what must be done should be done generously, consequently, without any ostentation of feeling, and with as little appearance of self-sacrifice as possible.
It is not for us, she said to herself, to exaggerate the value of the gift which we bestow, but rather to depreciate it, for it is never generous to magnify an obligation.
"I have a favor to ask, papa," said the generous and considerate girl.
"It is granted, my darling Lucy, before I hear it," he replied. "What is it? Oh how happy I feel that you have returned to me; I shall not now pass away my last moments on a solitary deathbed. But what is your request, my love?"
"You have to-day, papa, told me that the danger of your present attack proceeds from the anxious state of your mind. Now, my request is, that I may be permitted to make that state easier; to remove that anxiety, and, if possible, all other anxiety and care that press upon you. You know, papa, the topic upon which we have always differed; now, rather than any distress of feeling connected with it should stand in the way of your recovery, I wish to say that you may I count upon my most perfect obedience."
"You mean the Dunroe business, dear Lucy?"
"I mean the Dunroe business, papa."
"And do you mean to say that you are willing and ready to marry him?"
The reply to this was indeed the coming away of the branch by which she had hung on the precipice of life. On hearing the question, therefore, she paused a little; but the pause did not proceed from any indisposition to answer it, but simply from what seemed to be the refusal of her natural powers to enable her to do so. When about to speak, she felt as if all her physical strength had abandoned her; as if her will, previously schooled to the task, had become recusant. She experienced a general chill and coldness of her whole body; a cessation for a moment or two of the action of the heart, whilst her very sight became dim and indistinct. She thought, however, in this unutterable moment of agony and despair, that she must act; and without feeling able to analyze either her thoughts or sensations, in this terrible tumult of her spirit, she heard herself repeat the reply, "I am, papa."
For a moment her father forgot his part, and started up into a sitting posture with as much apparent energy as ever. Another moment, however, was sufficient to make him feel his error.
"Oh," said he, "what have I done? Let me pause a little, my dear Lucy; that effort to express the joy you have poured into my heart was nearly too much for me. You make this promise, Lucy, not with a view merely to ease my mind and contribute to my recovery; but, should I get well, with a firm intention to carry it actually into execution?"
"Such, papa, is my intention—my fixed determination, I should say; but I ought to add, that it is altogether for your sake, dear papa, that I make it. Now let your mind feel tranquillity and ease; dismiss every anxiety that distresses you, papa; for you may believe your daughter, that there is no earthly sacrifice compatible with her duties as a Christian which she would not make for your recovery. This interview is now, perhaps, as much as your state of health can bear. Think, then, of what I have said, papa; let it console and strengthen; and then it will, I trust, help at least to bring about your recovery. Now, permit me to withdraw."
"Wait a moment, my child. It is right that you should know the effect of your goodness before you go. I feel already as if a mountain were removed from my heart—even now I am better. God bless you, my own dearest Lucy; you have saved your father. Let this consideration comfort you and sustain you. Now you may go, my love."
When Lucy withdrew, which she did with a tottering step, she proceeded to her own chamber, which, now that the energy necessary for the struggle had abandoned her, she entered almost unconsciously, and with a feeling of rapidly-increasing weakness. She approached the bell to ring for her maid, which she was able to do with difficulty; and having done so, she attempted to reach the sofa; but exhausted and overwrought nature gave way, and she fell just sufficiently near it to have her fall broken and her head supported by it, as she lay there apparently lifeless. In this state Alley Mahon found her; but instead of ringing an alarm, or attempting to collect a crowd of the servants to witness a scene, and being besides a stout as well as a discreet and sensible girl, she was able to raise her up, place her on a sofa, until, by the assistance of cold water and some patience, she succeeded in restoring her to life and consciousness.
"On opening her eyes she looked about, and Alley observed that her lips were parched and dry.
"Here, my darling mistress," said the affectionate girl, who now wept bitterly, "here, swallow a little cold water; it will moisten your lips, and do you good."
She attempted to do so, but Ally saw that her hand trembled too much to bring the water to her own lips. On swallowing it, it seemed to relieve her a little; she then looked up into Alley's face, with a smile of thanks so unutterably sweet and sorrowful, that the poor girl's tears gushed out afresh.
"Take courage, my darling mistress," she replied; "I know that something painful has happened; but for Christ's blessed sake, don't look so sorrowful and broken-hearted, or you will—"
"Alice," said she, interrupting her, in a calm, soft voice, like low music, "open my bosom—open my bosom, Alice; you will find a miniature there; take it out; I wish to look upon it."
"O thin," said the girl, as she proceeded to obey her, "happy is he that rests so near that pure and innocent and sorrowful heart; and great and good must he be that is worthy of it."
There was in the look which Lucy cast upon her when she had uttered these words a spirit of gentle but affectionate reproof; but she spoke it not.
"Give it to me, Alice," she said; "but unlock it first; I feel that my hands are too feeble to do so."
Alice unlocked the miniature, and Lucy then taking it from her, looked upon it for a moment, and then pressing it to her lips with a calm emotion, in which grief and despair seemed to mingle, she exclaimed,
"Alas! mamma, how much do I now stand in need of your advice and consolation! The shrine in which your affection and memory dwelt, and against whose troubled pulses your sweet and serene image lay, is now broken. There, dearest mamma, you will find nothing in future but affliction and despair. It has been said, that I have inherited your graces and your virtues, most beloved parent; and if so, alas! in how remote a degree, for who could equal you? But how would it have wining your gentle and loving heart to know that I should have inherited your secret griefs and sufferings? Yes, mamma, both are painted on that serene brow; for no art of the limner could conceal their mournful traces, nor remove the veil of sorrow which an unhappy destiny threw over your beauty. There, in that clear and gentle eye, is still the image of your love and sympathy—there is that smile so full of sweetness and suffering. Alas, alas! how closely do we resemble each other in all things. Sweet and blessed saint, if it be permitted, descend and let your spirit be with me—to guide, to soothe, and to support me; your task will not be a long one, beloved parent. From this day forth my only hope will be to join you. Life has nothing now but solitude and sorrow. There is no heart with which I can hold communion; for my grief, and the act of duty which occasions it, must be held sacred from all."
She kissed the miniature once more, but without tears, and after a little, she made Alley place it where she had ever kept it—next her heart.
"Alice," said she, "I trust I will soon be with mamma."
"My dear mistress," replied Alice, "don't spake so. I hope there's many a happy and pleasant day before you, in spite of all that has come and gone, yet."
She turned upon the maid a look of incredulity so hopeless, that Alley felt both alarmed and depressed.
"You do not know what I suffer, Alice," she replied, "but I know it. This miniature of mamma I got painted unknown to—unknown to—" (here we need not say that she meant her father) "—any one except mamma, the artist, and myself. It has laid next my heart ever since; but since her death it has been the dearest thing to me on earth—one only other object perhaps excepted. Yes," she added, with a deep sigh, "I hope I shall soon be with you, mamma, and then we shall never be separated any more!"
Alley regretted to perceive that her grief now had settled down into the most wasting and dangerous of all; for it was of that dry and silent kind which so soon consumes the lamp of life, and dries up the strength of those who unhappily fall under its malignant blight.
Lucy's journey, however, from Wicklow, the two interviews with her father, the sacrifice she had so nobly made, and the consequent agitation, all overcame her, and after a painful struggle between the alternations of forgetfulness and memory, she at length fell into a troubled slumber.
CHAPTER XXIX. Lord Dunroe's Affection for his Father
—Glimpse of a new Character—Lord Gullamore's Rebuke to his Son, who greatly refuses to give up his Friend.
A considerable period now elapsed, during which there was little done that could contribute to the progress of our narrative. Summer had set in, and the Cullamore family, owing to the failing health of the old nobleman, had returned to his Dublin residence, with an intention of removing to Glenshee, as soon he should receive the advice of his physician. From the day on which his brother's letter reached him, his lordship seemed to fall into a more than ordinary despondency of mind. His health for years had been very infirm, but from whatsoever cause it proceeded, he now appeared to labor under some secret presentiment of calamity, against which he struggled in vain. So at least he himself admitted. It is true that age and a constitution enfeebled by delicate health might alone, in a disposition naturally hypochondriac, occasion such anxiety; as we know they frequently do even in the youthful. Be this as it may, one thing was evident, his lordship began to sink more rapidly than he had ever done before; and like most invalids of his class, he became wilful and obstinate in his own opinions. His doctor, for instance, advised him to remove to the delightful air of Glenshee Castle; but this, for some reason or other, he peremptorily refused to do, and so long as he chose to remain in town, so long were Lady Emily and her aunt resolved to stay with him. Dunroe, also, was pretty regular in inquiries after his health; but whether from a principle of filial affection, or a more flagitious motive, will appear from the following conversation, which took place one morning after breakfast, between himself and Norton.
"How is your father this morning, my lord?" inquired that worthy gentleman. "I hope he is better."
"A lie, Norton," replied his lordship—"a lie, as usual. You hope no such thing. The agency which is to follow on the respectable old peer's demise bars that—eh?"
"I give you my honor, my lord, you do me injustice. I am in no hurry with him on that account; it would be unfeeling,and selfish."
"Now, Tom," replied the other, in that kind of contemptuous familiarity which slavish minions or adroit knaves like Norton must always put up with from such men, "now, Tom, my good fellow, you know the case is this—you get the agency to the Cullamore property the moment my right honorable dad makes his exit. If he should delay that exit for seven years to come, then you will be exactly seven years short of the period in which you will fleece me and my tenants, and put the wool on yourself."
"Only your tenants, my lord, if you please. I may shear them, a little, I trust; but you can't suppose me capable of shearing—"
"My lordship. No, no, you are too honest; only you will allow me to insinuate, in the meantime, that I believe you have fleeced me to some purpose already. I do not allude to your gambling debts, which, with my own, I have been obliged to pay; but to other opportunities which have come in your way. It doesn't matter, however; you are a pleasant and a useful fellow, and I believe that although you clip me yourself a little, you would permit no one else to do so. And, by the way, talking of the respectable old peer, he is anything but a friend of yours, and urged me strongly to send you to the devil, as a cheat and impostor."
"How is that, my lord?" asked Norton, with an interest which he could scarcely disguise.
"Why, he mentioned something of a conversation you had, in which you told him, you impudent dog—and coolly to his face, too—that you patronized his son while in France, and introduced him to several distinguished French noblemen, not one of whom, he had reason to believe, ever existed except in your own fertile and lying imagination."
"And was that all?" asked Norton, who I began to entertain apprehensions of Morty O'Flaherty; "did he mention nothing else?"
"No," replied Dunroe; "and you scoundrel, was not that a d—d deal too much?"
Norton, now feeling that he was safe from Morty, laughed very heartily, and replied,
"It's a fact, sure enough; but then, wasn't it on your lordship's account I bounced? The lie, in point of fact, if it can be called one, was, therefore, more your lordship's lie than mine."
"How do you mean by 'if it can be called one'?"
"Why, if I did not introduce you to real noblemen, I did to some spurious specimens, gentlemen who taught you all the arts and etiquette of the gaming-table, of which, you know very well, my lord, you were then so shamefully ignorant, as to be quite unfit for the society of gentlemen, especially on the continent."
"Yes, Tom, and the state of my property now tells me at what cost you taught me. You see these tenants say they have not money, plead hard times, failure of crops, and depreciation of property."
"Ay, and so they will plead, until I take them in hand."
"And, upon my soul, I don't care how soon that may be."
"Monster of disobedience," said Norton, ironically, "is it thus you speak of a beloved parent, and that parent a respectable old peer? In other words, you wish him in kingdom come. Repent, my lord—retract those words, or dread 'the raven of the valley'."
"Faith, Tom, there's no use in concealing it. It's not that I wish him gone; but that I long as much to touch the property at large, as you the agency. It's a devilish tough affair, this illness of his."
"Patience, my lord, and filial affection."
"I wish he would either live or die; for, in the first case, I could marry this brave and wealthy wench of the baronet's, which I can't do now, and he in such a state of health. If I could once touch the Gourlay cash, I were satisfied. The Gourlay estates will come to me, too, because there is no heir, and they go with this wench, who is a brave wench, for that reason."
"So she has consented to have you at last?"
"Do you think, Tom, she ever had any serious intention of declining the coronet? No, no; she wouldn't be her father's daughter if she had."
"Yes; but your lordship suspected that the fellow who shot you had made an impression in that quarter."
"I did for a time—that is, I was fool enough to think so; she is, however, a true woman, and only played him off against me."
"But why does she refuse to see you?"
"She hasn't refused, man; her health, they tell me, is not good of late; of course, she is only waiting to gain strength for the interview, that is all. Ah, Tom, my dear fellow, I understand women a devilish deal better than you do."
"So you ought; you have had greater experience, and paid more for it. What will you do with the fair blonde, though. I suppose the matrimonial compact will send her adrift."
"Suppose no such thing, then. I had her before matrimony, and I will have her after it. No, Tom, I am not ungrateful; fore or aft, she shall be retained. She shall never say that I acted unhandsomely by her, especially as she has become a good girl and repented. I know I did her injustice about the player-man. On that point she has thoroughly satisfied me, and I was wrong."
Norton gave him a peculiar look, one of those looks which an adept in the ways of life, in its crooked paths and unprincipled impostures, not unfrequently bestows upon the poor aristocratic dolt whom he is plundering to his face. The look we speak of might be mistaken for surprise—it might be mistaken for pity—but it was meant for contempt.
"Of course," said he, "you are too well versed in the ways of the world, my lord, and especially in those of the fair sex, to be imposed upon. If ever I met an individual who can read a man's thoughts by looking into his face, your lordship is the man. By the way, when did you see your father-in-law that is to be?"
"A couple of days ago. He, too, has been ill, and looks somewhat shaken. It is true, I don't like the man, and I believe nobody does; but I like very well to hear him talk of deeds, settlements, and marriage articles. He begged of me, however, not to insist on seeing his daughter until she is fully recovered, which he expects will be very soon; and the moment she is prepared for an interview, he is to let me know. But, harkee, Tom, what can the old earl want with me this morning, think you?"
"I cannot even guess," replied the other, "unless it be to prepare you for—"
"Why, it is said that the fair lady with whom you are about to commit the crime of matrimony is virtuous and religious, as well as beautiful and so forth; and, in that case, perhaps he is about to prepare you for the expected conference. I cannot guess anything else, unless, perhaps, it may be the avarice of age about to rebuke the profusion and generosity of youth. In that case, my lord, keep your temper, and don't compromise your friends."
"Never fear, Tom; I have already fought more battles on your account than you could dream of. Perhaps, after all, it is nothing. Of late he has sent for me occasionally, as if to speak upon some matter of importance, when, after chatting upon the news of the day or lecturing me for supporting an impostor—meaning you—he has said he would defer the subject on which he wished to speak, until another opportunity. Whatever it is, he seems afraid of it, or perhaps the respectable old peer is doting."
"I dare say, my lord, it is very natural he should at these years; but if he," proceeded Norton, laughing, "is doting now, what will you be at his years? Here, however, is his confidential man, Morty O'Flaherty."
O'Flaherty now entered, and after making a bow that still smacked strongly of Tipperary, delivered his message.
"My masther, Lord Cullamore, wishes to see you, my lord. He has come down stairs, and is facing the sun, the Lord be praised, in the back drawin'-room."
"Go, my lord," said Norton; "perhaps he wishes you to make a third luminary. Go and help him to face the sun."
"Be my sowl, Mr. Norton, if I'm not much mistaken, it's the father he'll have to face. I may as well give you the hard word, my lord—troth, I think you had better be on your edge; he's as dark as midnight, although the sun is in his face."
His lordship went out, after having given two or three yawns, stretched himself, and shrugged his shoulders, like a man who was about to enter upon some unpleasant business with manifest reluctance.
"Ah," exclaimed Morty, looking after him, "there goes a cute boy—at last, God forgive him, he's of that opinion himself. What a pity there's not more o' the family; they'd ornament the counthry."
"Say, rather, Morty, that there's one too many."
"Faith, and I'm sure, Barney, you oughtn't to think so. Beg pardon—Mr. Norton."
"Morty, curse you, will you be cautious? But why should I not think so?"
"For sound raisons, that no man knows better than yourself."
"I'm not the only person that thinks there's one too many of the family, Morty. In that opinion I am ably supported by his lordship, just gone out there."
"Where! Ay, I see whereabouts you are now. One too many—faith, so the blessed pair of you think, no doubt."
"Eight, Morty; if the devil had the agency of the ancient earl's soul, I would soon get that of his ancient property; but whilst he lives it can't be accomplished. What do you imagine the old bawble wants with the young one?"
"Well, I don't know; I'm hammerin' upon that for some time past, and can't come at it."
"Come, then, let us get the materials first, and then put them on the anvil of my imagination. Imprimis—which means, Morty, in the first place, have you heard anything?"
"No; nothing to speak of."
"Well, in the second place, have you seen or observed anything?"
"Why, no; not much."
"Which means—both your answers included—that you have both heard and seen—so I interpret 'nothing to speak of,' on the one hand, and your 'not much,' on the other. Out with it; two heads are better than one: what you miss, I may hit."
"The devil's no match for you, Bar—Mr. Norton, and it's hard to expect Dunroe should. I'll tell you, then—for, in troth, I'm as anxious to come at the meanin' of it myself as you can be for the life of you. Some few months ago, when we were in London, there came a man to me."
"Name him, Morty."
"His name was M'Bride."
"His name was M'Bride. His face was tanned into mahogany, just as every man's is that has lived long in a hot country. 'Your name,' says he, 'is O'Flaherty, I understand?'"
"'Morty O'Flaherty, at your sarvice,' says I, 'and how are you, sir? I'm happy to see you; only in the mane time you have the advantage of me.'"
"'Many thanks to you,' said he, 'for your kind inquiries; as to the advantage, I won't keep it long; only you don't seem to know your relations.'"
"'Maybe not,' says I, 'they say it's a wise man that does. Are you one o' them?'"
"'I'm one o' them, did you ever hear of ould Kid Flaherty?'"
"'Well, no; but I did of Buck Flaherty, that always went in boots and buckskin breeches, and wore two watches and a silver-mounted whip.'"
"'Well, you must know that Kid was a son'—and here he pointed his thumb over his left shoulder wid a knowin' grin upon him—'was a son of the ould Buck's. The ould Buck's wife was a Murtagh; now she again had a cousin named M'Shaughran, who was married upon a man by name M'Faddle. M'Faddle had but one sisther, and she was cousin to Frank M'Fud, that suffered for—but no matther—the M'Swiggins and the M'Fuds were cleaveens to the third cousins of Kid Flaherty's first wife's sister-in-law, and she again was married in upon the M'Brides of Newton Nowhere—so that you see you and I are thirty-second cousins at all events.'"
"'Well, anyway he made out some relationship between us, or at least I thought he did—and maybe that was as good—and faith may be a great deal better, for if ever a man had the look of a schemer about him the same customer had. At any rate we had some drink together, and went on very well till we got befuddled, which, it seems, is his besetting sin. It was clearly his intention, I could see, to make me tipsy, and I dare say he might a done so, only for a slight mistake he made in first getting tipsy himself."
"Well, but I'm not much the wiser of this," observed Norton. "What are you at?"
"Neither am I," replied Morty; "and as to what I'm at—I dunna what the devil I'm at. That's just what I want to know."
"Go on," said the other, "we must have patience. Who did this fellow turn out to be?"
"He insisted he was a relation of my own, as I tould you."
"Who the devil cares whether he was or not! What was he, then?"
"Ay; what was he?—that's what I'm askin' you."
"Proceed," said Norton; "tell it your own way."
"He said he came from the Aist Indies beyant; that he knew some members of his lordship's family there; that he had been in Paris, and that while he was there he larned to take French lave of his masther."
"But who was his master?"
"That he would not tell me. However, he said he had been in Ireland for some time before, where he saw an aunt of his, that was half mad; and then he went on to tell me that he had been once at sarvice wid my masther, and that if he liked he could tell him a secret; but then, he said, it wouldn't be worth his while, for that he would soon know it."
"Very clear, perfectly transparent, nothing can be plainer. What a Tipperary sphinx you are; an enigma, half man, half beast, although there is little enigma in that, it is plain enough. In the meantime, you bog-trotting oracle, say whether you are humbugging me or not."
"Devil a bit I'm humbuggin' you; but proud as you sit there, you have trotted more bogs and horses than ever I did."
"Well, never mind that, Morty. What did this end in?"
"End in!—why upon my conscience I don't think it's properly begun yet."
"Good-by," exclaimed Norton, rising to go, or at least pretending to do so. "Many thanks in the meantime for your information—it is precious, invaluable."
"Well, now, wait a minute. A few days ago I seen the same schemer skulkin' about the house as if he was afeared o' bein' seen; and that beef and mutton may be my poison, wid health to use them, but I seen him stealin' out of his lordship's own room. So, now make money o' that; only when you do, don't be puttin' it in circulation."
"No danger of that, Morty, in any sense. At all events, I don't deal in base coin."
"Don't you, faith. I wondher what do you call imposin' Barney Bryan, the horse-jockey, on his lordship, for Tom Norton, the gentleman? However, no matther—that's your own affair; and so long as you let the good ould lord alone among you—keep your secret—I'm not goin' to interfere wid you. None of your travellers' tricks upon him, though."
"No, not on him, Morty; but concerning this forthcoming marriage, if it takes place, I dare say I must travel; I can't depend upon Dunroe's word."
"Why, unlikelier things has happened, Mr. Norton. I think you'll be forced to set out."
"Well, I only say that if Mr. Norton can prevent it, it won't happen. I can wind this puppy of a lord, who has no more will of his own than a goose, nor half so much; I say I can wind him round my finger; and if I don't get him to make himself, in any interview he may have with her, so egregiously ridiculous, as to disgust her thoroughly, my name's not Norton—hem—ha, ha, ha!"
"Well, your name's not Norton—very good. In the mane time more power to you in that; for by all accounts it's a sin and a shame to throw away such a girl upon him."
Norton now having gained all he could from his old acquaintance, got up, and was about to leave the room, when Morty, looking at him significantly, asked,
"Where are you bound for now, if it's a fair question?"
"I will tell you, then, Morty—upon an affair that's anything but pleasant to me, and withal a little dangerous: to buy a horse for Dunroe."
"Troth, you may well say so; in God's name keep away from horses and. jockeys, or you'll be found out; but, above all things, don't show your face on the Curragh."
"Well, I don't know. I believe, after all, there's no such vast distinction there between the jockeys and the gentlemen. Sometimes the jockey swindles himself up into a gentleman, and sometimes the gentleman swindles himself down to a jockey. So far there would be no great mistake; the only thing to be dreaded is, discovery, so far as it affects the history which I gave of myself to Dunroe and his father. Then there is the sale of some races against me on that most elastic sod; and I fear they are not yet forgotten. Yes, I shall avoid the Curragh; but you know, a fit of illness will easily manage that. However, pass that by; I wish I knew what the old peer and the young one are discussing."
"What now," said Norton to himself, after Morty had gone, "can this M'Bride be scheming about in the family? There's a secret here, I'm certain. Something troubles the old peer of late, whatever it is. Well, let me see; I'll throw myself in the way of this same M'Bride, and it will go hard with me or I'll worm it out of him. The knowledge of it may serve me. It's a good thing to know family secrets, especially for a hanger-on like myself. One good effect it may produce, and that is, throw worthy Lord Dunroe more into my power. Yes, I will see this M'Bride, and then let me alone for playing my card to some purpose."
Dunroe found his father much as Morty had described him—enjoying the fresh breeze and blessed light of heaven, as both came in upon him through the open window at which he sat.
The appearance of the good old man was much changed for the worse. His face was paler and more emaciated than when we last described it. His chin almost rested on his breast, and his aged-looking hands were worn away to skin and bone. Still there was the same dignity about him as ever, only that the traces of age and illness gave to it something that was still more venerable and impressive. Like some portrait, by an old master, time, whilst it mellowed and softened the colors, added that depth and truthfulness of character by which the value I is at once known. He was sitting in an arm-chair, with a pillow for his head to rest upon when he wished it; and on his son's entrance he asked him to wheel it round nearer the centre of the room, and let down the window.
"I hope you are better this morning, my lord?" inquired Dunroe.
"John," said he in reply, "I cannot say that I am better, but I can that I am worse."
"I am sorry to hear that, my lord," replied the other, "the season is remarkably fine, and the air mild and cheerful."
"I would much rather the cheerfulness were here," replied his father, putting his wasted hand upon his heart; "but I did not ask you here to talk about myself on this occasion, or about my feelings. Miss Gourlay has consented to marry you, I know."
"She has, my lord."
"Well, I must confess I did her father injustice for a time. I ascribed his extraordinary anxiety for this match less to any predilection of hers—for I thought it was otherwise—than to his ambition. I am glad, however, that it is to be a marriage, although I feel you are utterly unworthy of her; and if I did not hope that her influence may in time, and in a short time, too, succeed in bringing about a wholesome reformation in your life and morals, I would oppose it still as far as lay in my power. It is upon this subject I wish to speak with you."
Lord Dunroe bowed with an appearance of all due respect, but at the same time wished in his heart that Norton could be present to hear the lecture which he had so correctly prognosticated, and to witness the ability with which he should bamboozle the old peer.
"I assure you, my lord," he replied, "I am very willing and anxious to hear and be guided by everything you shall say. I know I have been wild—indeed, I am very sorry for it; and if it will satisfy you, my lord, I will add, without hesitation, that it is time I should turn over a new leaf—hem!"
"You have, John, been not merely wild—for wildness I could overlook without much severity—but you have been profligate in morals, profligate in expenditure, and profligate in your dealings with those who trusted in your integrity. You have been intemperate; you have been licentious; you have been dishonest; and as you have not yet abandoned any one of these frightful vices, I look upon your union with Miss Gourlay as an association between pollution and purity."
"You are very severe, my lord."
"I meant to be so; but am I unjust? Ah, John, let your own conscience answer that question."
"Well, my lord, I trust you will be gratified to hear that I am perfectly sensible of the life I have led—ahem?"
"And what is that but admitting that you know the full extent of your vices?—unless, indeed, you have made a firm resolution to give them up."
"I have made such a resolution, my lord, and it is my intention to keep it. I know I can do little of myself, but I trust that where there is a sincere disposition, all will go on swimmingly, as the Bible says—ahem!"
"Where does the Bible say that all will go on swimmingly?"
"I don't remember the exact chapter and verse, my lord," he replied, affecting a very grave aspect, "but I know it is somewhere in the Book of Solomon—ahem!—ahem! Either in Solomon or Exodus the Prophet, I am not certain which. Oh, no, by the by, I believe it is in the dialogue that occurs between Jonah and the whale."
His father looked at him as if to ascertain whether his worthy son were abandoned enough to tamper, in the first place, with a subject so solemn, and, in the next, with the anxiety of his own parent, while laboring, under age and infirmity, to wean him from a course of dissipation and vice. Little indeed did he suspect that his virtuous offspring was absolutely enacting his part, for the purpose of having a good jest to regale Norton with in the course of their evening's potations.
Let it not be supposed that we are overstepping the modesty of nature in this scene. There is scarcely any one acquainted with life who does not know that there are hundreds, thousands, of hardened profligates, who would take delight, under similar circumstances, to quiz the governor—as a parent is denominated by this class—even at the risk of incurring his lasting displeasure, or of altogether forfeiting his affection, rather than lose the opportunity of having a good joke to tell their licentious companions, when they meet. The present age has as much of this, perhaps, as any of its predecessors, if not more. But to return.
"I know not," observed Lord Cullamore, "whether this is an ironical affectation of ignorance, or ignorance itself; but on whichever horn of the dilemma I hang you, Dunroe, you are equally contemptible and guilty. A heart must be deeply corrupted, indeed, that can tempt its owner to profane sacred things, and cast an aged and afflicted parent into ridicule. You are not aware, unfortunate young man, of the precipice on which you stand, or the dismay with which I could fill your hardened heart, by two or three words speaking. And only that I was not a conscious party in circumstances which may operate terribly against us both, I would mention them to you, and make you shudder at the fate that is probably before you."
"I really think," replied his son, now considerably alarmed by what he had heard, "that you are dealing too severely with me. I am not, so far as I know, profaning anything sacred; much less would I attempt to ridicule your lordship. But the truth is, I know little or nothing of the Bible, and consequently any mistaken references to it that I may sincerely make, ought not to be uncharitably misinterpreted—ahem! 'We are going on swimmingly' as Jonah said to the whale, or the whale to Jonah, I cannot say which, is an expression which I have frequently heard, and I took it for granted that it was a scriptural quotation. Your lordship is not aware, besides, that I am afflicted with a very bad memory."
"Perfectly aware of it, Dunroe: since I have been forced to observe that you forget every duty of life. What is there honorable to yourself or your position in the world, that you ever have remembered? And supposing now, on the one hand, that you may for the present only affect a temporary reformation, and put in practice that worst of vices, a moral expediency, and taking it for granted, on the other, that your resolution to amend is sincere, by what act am I to test that sincerity?"
"I will begin and read the Bible, my lord, and engage a parson to instruct me in virtue. Isn't that generally the first step?"
"I do not forbid you the Bible, nor the instructions of a pious clergyman; but I beg to propose a test that will much more satisfactorily establish that sincerity. First, give up your dissipated and immoral habits; contract your expenditure within reasonable limits; pay your just debts, by which I mean your debts of honesty, not of honor—unless they have been lost to a man of honor, and not to notorious swindlers; forbear to associate any longer with sharpers and blacklegs, whether aristocratic or plebeian; and as a first proof of the sincerity you claim, dismiss forever from your society that fellow, Norton, who is, I am sorry to say, your bosom friend and boon companion."
"With every condition you have proposed, my lord, I am willing and ready to comply, the last only excepted. I am sorry to find that you have conceived so strong and unfounded a prejudice against Mr. Norton. You do not know his value to me, my lord. He has been a Mentor to me—saved me thousands by his ability and devotion to my interests. The fact is, he is my friend. Now I am not prepared to give up and abandon my friend without a just cause; and I regret that any persuasion to such an act should proceed from you, my lord. In all your other propositions I shall obey you implicitly; but in this your lordship must excuse me. I cannot do it with honor, and therefore cannot do it at all."
"Ah, I see, Dunroe, and I bitterly regret to see it—this fellow, this Norton, has succeeded in gaining over you that iniquitous ascendancy which the talented knave gains over the weak and unsuspicious fool. Pardon me, for I speak plainly. He has studied your disposition and habits; he has catered for your enjoyments; he has availed himself of your weaknesses; he has flattered your vanity; he has mixed himself up in the management of your affairs; and, in fine, made himself necessary to your existence; yet you will not give him up?"
"My lord, I reply to you in one word—he IS MY FRIEND."
A shade of bitterness passed over the old man's face as he turned a melancholy look upon Dunroe.
"May you never live, Dunroe," he said, "to see your only son refuse to comply with your dying request, or to listen with an obedient I spirit to your parting admonition. It is true, I am not, I trust, immediately dying, and yet why should I regret it? But, at the same time, I feel that my steps are upon the very threshold of death—a consideration which ought to insure obedience to my wishes in any heart not made callous by the worst experiences of life."
"I would comply with your wishes, my lord," replied Dunroe, "with the sincerest pleasure, and deny myself anything to oblige you; but in what you ask there is a principle involved, which I cannot, as a man of honor, violate. And, besides, I really could not afford to part with him now. My affairs are in such a state, and he is so well acquainted with them, that to do so would ruin me."
His father, who seemed wrapt in some painful reflection, paid no attention to this reply, which, in point of fact, contained, so far as Norton was concerned, a confirmation of the old man's worst suspicions. His chin had sunk on his breast, and looking into the palms of his hands as he held them clasped together, he could not prevent the tears from rolling slowly down his furrowed cheeks. At length he exclaimed:
"My child, Emily, my child! how will I look upon thee! My innocent, my affectionate angel; what, what, oh what will become of thee? But it cannot be. My guilt was not premeditated. What I did I did in ignorance; and why should we suffer through the arts of others? I shall oppose them step by step should they proceed. I shall leave no earthly resource untried to frustrate their designs; and if they are successful, the cruel sentence may be pronounced, but it will be over my grave. I could never live to witness the sufferings of my darling and innocent child. My lamp of life is already all but exhausted—this would extinguish it forever."
He then raised his head, and after wiping away the tears, spoke to his son as follows:
"Dunroe, be advised by me; reform your life; set your house in order, for you know not, you see not, the cloud which is likely to burst over our heads."
"I don't understand you, my lord."
"I know you do not, nor is it my intention that you should for the present; but if you are wise, you will be guided by my instructions and follow my advice."
When Dunroe left him, which he did after some formal words of encouragement and comfort, to which the old man paid little attention, turning toward the door, which his son on going out had shut, he looked as if his eye followed him beyond the limits of the room, and exclaimed:
"Alas! why was I not born above the ordinary range of the domestic affections? Yet so long as I have my darling child—who is all affection—why should I complain on this account? Alas, my Maria, it is now that thou art avenged for the neglect you experienced at my hands, and for the ambition that occasioned it. Cursed ambition! Did the coronet I gained by my neglect of you, beloved object of my first and only affection, console my heart under the cries of conscience, or stifle the grief which returned for you, when that ambition was gratified? Ah, that false and precipitate step! How much misery has it not occasioned me since I awoke from my dream! Your gentle spirit seemed to haunt me through life, but ever with that melancholy smile of tender and affectionate reproach with which your eye always encountered mine while living. And thou, wicked woman, what has thy act accomplished, if it should be successful? What has thy fraudulent contrivance effected? Sorrow to one who was ever thy friend—grief, shame, and degradation to the innocent!"
Whilst the old man indulged in these painful and melancholy reflections, his son, on the other hand, was not without his own speculations. On retiring to his dressing-room, he began to ponder over the admonitory if not prophetic words of his father.
"What the deuce can the matter be?" he exclaimed, surveying himself in the glass; "a good style of face that, in the meantime. Gad, I knew she would surrender in form, and I was right. Something is wrong with—that gold button—yes, it looks better plain—the old gentleman—something's in the wind—in the meantime I'll raise this window—or why should he talk so lugubriously as he does? Upon my soul it was the most painful interview I ever had. There is nothing on earth so stupid as the twaddle of a sick old lord, especially when repenting for his sins. Repentance! I can't at all understand that word; but I think the style of the thing in the old fellow's hands was decidedly bad—inartistic, as they say, and without taste; a man, at all events, should repent like a gentleman. As far as I can guess at it, I think there ought to be considerable elegance of manner in repentance—a kind of genteel ambiguity, that should seem to puzzle the world as to whether you weep for or against the sin; or perhaps repentance should say—as I suppose it often does—'D—n me, this is no humbug; this, look you, is a grand process—I know what I'm about; let the world look on; I have committed a great many naughty things during my past life; I am now able to commit no more; the power of doing so has abandoned me; and I call gods and men to witness that I am very sorry for it.'—Now, that, in my opinion, would be a good style of thing. Let me see, however, what the venerable earl can mean. I am threatened, am I? Well, but nothing can affect the title; of that I'm sure when the cue, 'exit old peer,' comes; then, as to the property; why, he is one of the wealthiest men in the Irish peerage, although he is an English one also. Then, what the deuce can his threats mean? I don't know—perhaps he does not know himself; but, in any event, and to guard against all accidents, I'll push on this marriage as fast as possible; for, in case anything unexpected and disagreeable should happen, it will be a good move to have something handsome—something certain, to fall back upon."
Having dressed, he ordered his horse, and rode out to the Phoenix Park, accompanied by his shadow, Norton, who had returned, and heard with much mirth a full history of the interview, with a glowing description of the stand which Dunroe made for himself.
CHAPTER XXX. A Courtship on Novel Principles.
Having stated that Sir Thomas Gourlay requested Dunroe to postpone an interview with Lucy until her health should become reestablished, we feel it necessary to take a glance at the kind of life the unfortunate girl led from the day she made the sacrifice until that at which we have arrived in this narrative. Since that moment of unutterable anguish her spirits completely abandoned her. Naturally healthy she had ever been, but now she began to feel what the want of it meant; a feeling which to her, as the gradual precursor of death, and its consequent release from sorrow, brought something like hope and consolation. Yet this was not much; for we know that to the young heart entering upon the world of life and enjoyment, the prospect of early dissolution, no matter by what hopes or by what resignation supported, is one so completely at variance with the mysterious gift of existence and the natural tenacity with which we cling to it, that, like the drugs which we so reluctantly take during illness, its taste upon the spirit is little else than bitterness itself. Lucy's appetite failed her; she could not endure society, but courted solitude, and scarcely saw any one, unless, indeed, her father occasionally, and her maid Alley Mahon, when her attendance was necessary. She became pale as a shadow, began to have a wasted appearance, and the very fountains of her heart seemed to have dried up, for she found it impossible to shed a tear. A dry, cold, impassive agony, silent, insidious, and exhausting, appeared to absorb the very elements of life, and reduce her to a condition of such physical and morbid incapacity as to feel an utter inability, or at all events disinclination, to complain.
Her father's interviews with her were not frequent. That worthy man, however, looked upon all her sufferings as the mere pinings of a self-willed girl, lovesick and sentimental, such as he had sometimes heard of, or read in books, and only worthy to be laughed at and treated with contempt. He himself was now progressing in an opposite direction, so far as health was concerned, to that of his daughter. In other words, as she got ill, he gradually, and with a progress beautifully adapted to the accomplishment of his projects, kept on recovering. This fact was Lucy's principal, almost her sole consolation; for here, although she had sacrificed herself, she experienced the satisfaction of seeing that the sacrifice was not in vain.