"I fear to tell you, papa; but surely you understand me. Oh, relent! as you hope for heaven's mercy, pity me. I have, for your sake, undertaken too much. I have not strength to fulfil the task I imposed on myself. I will die; you will see me dead at your feet, and then your last one will be gone. You will be alone; and I should wish to live for your sake, papa. Look upon me! I am your only child—your only child—your last, as I said; and do not make your last and only one miserable—miserable—mad! Only have compassion on me, and release me from this engagement."
The baronet's eye brightened at the last two or three allusions, and he looked upon her with a benignity that filled her unhappy heart with hope.
"Oh, speak, papa," she exclaimed, "speak. I see, I feel that you are about to give me comfort—to fill my heart with joy."
"I am, indeed, Lucy. Listen to me, and restrain yourself. You are not my only child!"
"What!" she exclaimed. "What do you mean, papa? What is it?"
"Have strength and courage, Lucy; and, mark me, no noise nor rout about what I am going to say. Your brother is found—my son Thomas is found—and you will soon see him; he will be here presently. Get rid of this foolish dream you've had, and prepare to receive him!"
"My brother!" she exclaimed, "my brother! and have I a brother? Then God has not deserted me; I shall now have a friend. My brother!—my brother! But is it possible, or am I dreaming still? Oh, where is he, papa? Bring me to him!—is he in the house? Or where is he? Let the carriage be ordered, and we will both go to him. Alas, what may not the poor boy have suffered! What privations, what necessities, what distress and destitution may he not have suffered! But that matters little; come to him. In want, in rags, in misery, he is welcome—yes, welcome; and, oh, how much more if he has suffered."
"Have patience, child; he will be here by and by. You cannot long to see him more than I do. But, Lucy, listen to me; for the present we must keep his discovery and restoration to us a profound secret."
"A profound secret! and why so, papa? Why should we keep it secret? Is it not a circumstance which we should publish to the world with delight and gratitude? Surely you will not bring him into this house like a criminal, in secrecy and silence? Should the lawful heir of your name and property be suffered to enter otherwise than as becomes him? Oh, that I could see him! Will he soon be here?"
"How your tongue runs on, you foolish girl, without knowing what you say."
"I know what I say, papa. I know—I feel—that he will be a friend to me—that he will share with me in my sorrows."
"Yes, the sorrows of being made a countess."
"And a wretched woman, papa. Yes, he will sympathize with, sustain, and console me. Dear, dear brother, how I wish to see you, to press you to my heart, and to give you a sister's tenderest welcome!"
"Will you hear me, madam?" said he, sternly; "I desire you to do so."
"Yes, papa; excuse me. My head is in a tumult of joy and sorrow; but for the present I will forget myself. Yes, papa, speak on; I hear you."
"In the first place, then, it is absolutely necessary, for reasons which I am not yet at liberty to disclose to you, that the discovery of this boy should be kept strictly secret for a time."
"For a time, papa, but not long, I hope. How proud I shall feel to go out with him. We shall be inseparable; and if he wants instructions, I shall teach him everything I know."
"Arrange all that between you as you may, only observe me, I repeat. None in this house knows of his restoration but I, yourself, and Corbet. He must not live here; but he shall want neither the comforts nor the elegancies of life, at all events. This is enough for the present, so mark my words, and abide by them."
He then left her, and retired to his private room, where he unlocked a cabinet, from which he took out some papers, and having added to them two or three paragraphs, he read the whole over, from beginning to end, then locked them up again, and returned to the library.
The reader may perceive that this unexpected discovery enabled the baronet to extricate himself from a situation of much difficulty with respect to Lucy; nor did he omit to avail himself of it, in order to give a new turn to her feelings. The affectionate girl's heart was now in a tumult of delight, checked, however, so obviously by the gloomy retrospection of the obligation she had imposed upon herself, that from time to time she could not repress those short sobs by which recent grief, as in the case of children who are soothed after crying, is frequently indicated. Next to the hated marriage, however, that which pressed most severely upon her was the recollection of the manly and admirable qualities of him whom she had now forever lost, especially as contrasted with those of Dunroe. The former, for some time past, has been much engaged in attempting to trace Fenton, as well as in business connected with his own fortunes; and yet so high was his feeling of generosity and honor, that, if left to the freedom of his own will, he would have postponed every exertion for the establishment of his just rights until death should have prevented at least one honored individual from experiencing the force of the blow which must necessarily be inflicted on him by his proceedings.
At the moment when the baronet was giving such an adroit turn to the distracted state of his daughter's mind, the stranger resolved to see Birney, who was then preparing to visit France, as agent in his affairs, he himself having preferred staying near Lucy, from an apprehension that his absence might induce Sir Thomas Gourlay to force on her marriage. On passing through the hall of his hotel, he met his friend Father M'Mahon, who, much to his surprise, looked careworn and perplexed, having lost, since he saw him last, much of his natural cheerfulness and easy simplicity of character. He looked travel-stained, too, and altogether had the appearance of a man on whose kind heart something unpleasant was pressing.
"My excellent friend," said he, "I am heartily glad to see you. But how is this? you look as if something was wrong, and you have been travelling. Come upstairs; and if you have any lengthened stay to make in town, consider yourself my guest. Nay, as it is, you must stop with me. Here, Dandy—here, you Dulcimer, bring in this gentleman's luggage, and attend him punctually."
Dandy, who had been coming from the kitchen at the time, was about to comply with his orders, when he was prevented by the priest.
"Stop, Dandy, you thief. My luggage, sir! In truth, the only luggage I have is this bundle under my arm. As to my time in town, sir, I hope it won't be long; but, long or short, I must stop at my ould place, the Brazen Head, for not an hour's comfort I could have in any other place, many thanks to you. I'm now on my way to it; but I thought I'd give you a call when passing."
They then proceeded upstairs to the stranger's room, where breakfast was soon provided for the priest, who expressed an anxiety to know how the stranger's affairs proceeded, and whether any satisfactory trace of poor Fenton had been obtained.
"Nothing satisfactory has turned up in either case," replied the stranger. "No additional clew to the poor young fellow has been got, and still my own affairs are far from being complete. The loss of important documents obtained by myself in France will render it necessary for Birney to proceed to that country, in order to procure fresh copies. I had intended to accompany him myself; but I have changed my mind on that point, and prefer remaining where I am. A servant in whom I had every confidence, but who, unfortunately, took to drink, and worse vices, robbed me of them, and has fled to America, with a pretty Frenchwoman, after having abandoned his wife."
"Ay, ay," replied the priest, "that is the old story; first drink, and after that wickedness of every description. Ah, sir, it's a poor wretched world; but at the same time it is as God made it; and it becomes our duty to act an honest and a useful part in it, at all events."
"You seemed depressed, sir, I think," observed the stranger; "I hope there is nothing wrong. If there is, command my services, my friendship, my purse; in each, in all, command me."
"Many thanks, many thanks," returned the other, seizing him warmly by the hand, whilst the tears fell from his eyes. "I wish there were more in the world like you. There is nothing wrong with me, however, but what I will be able, I hope, to set right soon."
"I trust you will not allow any false delicacy to stand in your way, so far as I am concerned," said the stranger. "I possess not only the wish but the ability to serve you; and if—"
"Not now," replied the priest; "nothing to signify is wrong with me. God bless you, though, and he will, too, and prosper your honorable endeavors. I must go now: I have to call on old Corbet, and if I can influence him to assist you in tracing that poor young man, I will do it. He is hard and cunning, I know; but then he is not insensible to the fear of death, which, indeed, is the only argument likely to prevail with him."
"You should dine with me to-day," said his friend, "but that I am myself engaged to dine with Dean Palmer, where I am to meet the colonel of the Thirty-third, and some of the officers. It is the first time I have dined out since I came to the country. The colonel is an old friend of mine, and can be depended on."
"The dean is a brother-in-law of Lady Gourlay's, is he not?"
"Yes, and what is better still, he is an excellent man, and a good Christian. I wish there were more like him in the country. I know the good done by him in my own neighborhood, where he has established, by his individual exertions, two admirable institutions for the poor—a savings' bank and a loan fund—to the manifest, relief of every struggling man who is known to be industrious and honest; and see the consequences—he is loved and honored by all who know him, for he is perpetually doing good."
"Your own bishop is not behindhand in offices of benevolence and charity, any more than Dean Palmer," observed the stranger.
"In truth, you may say so," replied, the other. "With the piety and humility of an apostle, he possesses the most childlike simplicity of heart; to which I may add, learning the most profound and extensive. His private charity to the poor will always cause himself to be ranked among their number. I wish every dean and bishop in the two churches resembled the Christian men we speak of; it would be well for the country."
"Mr. Birney, I know, stands well with you. I believe, and I take it for granted, that he does also with the people."
"You may be certain of that, my dear sir. He is one of the few attorneys who is not a rogue, but, what is still more extraordinary, an honest man and an excellent landlord. I will tell you, now, what he did some time ago. He has property, you know, in my parish. On that property an arrear of upwards of eight hundred pounds had accumulated. Now, this arrear, in consideration of the general depression in the value of agricultural produce, he not only wiped off, but abated the rents ten per cent. Again, when a certain impost, which shall be nameless (tithe), became a settled charge upon the lands, under a composition act, instead of charging it against the tenants, he paid it himself, never calling upon a tenant to pay one farthing of it. Now, I mention these things as an example to be held up and imitated by those who hold landed property in general, many of whom, the Lord knows, require such an example badly; but I must not stop here. Our friend Birney has done more than this.
"For the last fifteen years he has purchased for and supplied his tenants with flaxseed, and for which, at the subsequent gale time, in October, they merely repay him the cost price, without interest or any other charge save that of carriage.
"He also gives his tenantry, free of all charges, as much turf-bog as is necessary for the abundant supply of their own fuel.
"He has all along paid the poor-rates, without charging one farthing to the tenant.
"During a season of potato blight, he forgave every tenant paying under ten pounds, half a year's rent; under twenty, a quarter's rent; and over it, twenty per cent. Now, it is such landlords as this that are the best benefactors to the people, to the country, and ultimately to themselves; but, unfortunately, we cannot get them to think so; and I fear that nothing but the iron scourge of necessity will ever teach them their duty, and then, like most other knowledge derived from the same painful source, it will probably come too late. One would imagine a landlord ought to know without teaching, that, when he presses his tenantry until they fall, he must himself fall with them. In truth, I must be off now."
"Well, then, promise to dine with me tomorrow."
"If I can I will, then, with pleasure; but still it may be out of my power. I'll try, however. What's your hour?"
"Suit your own convenience: name it yourself."
"Good honest old five o'clock, then; that is, if I can come at all, but if I cannot, don't be disappointed. The Lord knows I'll do everything in my power to come, at any rate; and if I fail, it won't be my heart that will hinder me."
When he had gone, the stranger, after a pause, rang his bell, and in a few moments Dandy Dulcimer made his appearance.
"Dandy," said his master, "I fear we are never likely to trace this woman, Mrs. Norton, whom I am so anxious to find."
"Begad, plaise your honor, and it isn't but there's enough of them to be had. Sure it's a levy I'm houldin' every day in the week wid them, and only that I'm engaged, as they say, I'd be apt to turn some o' them into Mrs. Dulcimer."
"How is that, Dandy?"
"Why, sir, I gave out that you're young and handsome, God pardon me."
"How, sirra," said his master, laughing, "do you mean to say that I am not?"
"Well, sir, wait till you hear, and then you may answer yourself; as for me, afther what I've seen, I'll not undertake to give an opinion on the subject. I suppose I'm an ugly fellow myself, and yet I know a sartin fair one that's not of that opinion—ahem!"
"Make yourself intelligible in the meantime," said his master: "I don't properly understand you."
"That's just what the Mrs. Nortons say, your honor. 'I don't understand you, sir;' and that is bekaise you keep me in the dark, and that I can't explain to them properly what you want; divil a thing but an oracle you've made of me. But as to beauty—only listen, sir. This mornin' there came a woman to me wid a thin, sharp face, a fiery eye that looked as if she had a drop in it, or was goin' to fight a north-wester, and a thin, red nose that was nothing else than a stunner. She was, moreover, a good deal of the gentleman on the upper lip—not to mention two or three separate plantations of the same growth on different parts of the chin. Altogether, I was very much struck with her appearance."
"You are too descriptive, Dandy," said his master, after enjoying the description, however; "come to the point."
"Ay, that's just what she said," replied Dandy, "coaxing the point of her nose wid her finger and thumb: 'Come to the point,' said she; 'mention the services your master requires from me.'
"'From you,' says I, lookin' astonished, as you may suppose—'from you, ma'am?'
"'Yes, my good man, from me; I'm Mrs. Norton.'
"'Are you indeed, ma'am?' says I; 'I hope you're well, Mrs. Norton. My master will be delighted to see you.'
"'What kind of a man is he?' she asked.
"'Young and handsome, ma'am,' says I; 'quite a janious in beauty.'
"'Well,' says my lady, 'so far so good; I'm young and handsome myself, as you see, and I dare say we'll live happily enough together;' and as she spoke, she pushed up an old bodice that was tied round something that resembled a dried skeleton, which it only touched at points, like a reel in a bottle, strivin', of course, to show off a good figure; she then winked both eyes, as if she was meetin' a cloud o' dust, and agin shuttin' one, as if she was coverin' me wid a rifle, whispered, 'You'll find me generous maybe, if you desarve it. I'll increase your allowances afther our marriage.'
"'Thanks, ma'am,' says I, 'but my masther isn't a marryin' man—unfortunately, he is married; still,' says I, recoverin' myself—for it struck me that she might be the right woman, afther all—'although he's married, his wife's an invalid; so that it likely you may be the lady still. Were you ever in France, ma'am?'
"'No,' says she, tossing up the stunner I spoke of, 'I never was in Prance; but I was in Tipperary, if that would sarve him.'
"I shook my head, your honor, as much as to say—'It's no go this time.'
"'Ma'am,' says I, 'that's unfortunate—my masther, when he gets a loose leg, will never marry any woman that has not been in France, and can dance the fandango like a Frenchman.'
"'I am sorry for his taste,' says she, 'and for yours, too; but at all events, you had better go up and tell him that I'll walk down the opposite side of the street, and then he can see what he has lost, and feel what France has cost him.'
"She then walked, sir, or rather sailed, down the other side of the street, holdin' up her clothes behind, to show a pair of legs like telescopes, with her head to it's full height, and one eye squintin' to the hotel, like a crow lookin' into a marrow bone."
"Well," said his master, "but I don't see the object of all this."
"Why, the object, sir, is to show you that it's not so aisy to know whether a person's young and handsome or not. You, sir, think yourself both; and so did the old skeleton I'm spakin' of."
"I see your moral, Dandy," replied his master, laughing; "at all events, make every possible inquiry, but, at the same time, in a quiet way. More depends upon it than you can imagine. Not," he added, in a kind of half soliloquy, "that I am acting in this affair from motives of a mere personal nature; I am now only the representative of another's wishes, and on that account, more than from any result affecting myself, do I proceed in it."
"I wish I knew, sir," said Dandy, "what kind of a woman this Mrs. Norton is; whether she's old or young, handsome or otherwise. At all events, I think I may confine myself to them that's young and handsome. It's always pleasanter, sir, and more agreeable to deal with a hands—"
"Confine yourself to truth, sir," replied his master, sharply; "make prudent inquiries, and in doing so act like a man of sense and discretion, and don't attempt to indulge in your buffoonery at my expense. No woman named Norton can be the individual I want to find, who has not lived for some years in France. That is a sufficient test; and if you should come in the way of the woman I am seeking, who alone can answer this description, I shall make it worth your while to have succeeded."
CHAPTER XXXIII. The Priest asks for a Loan of Fifty Guineas
—and Offers "Freney the Robber" as Security.
Whilst Father M'Mahon was wending his way to Constitution Hill from the Brazen Head, where he had deposited his little bundle, containing three shirts, two or three cravats, and as many pairs of stockings, a dialogue was taking place in old Corbet's with which we must make the reader acquainted. He is already aware that Corbet's present wife was his second, and that she had a daughter by her first marriage, who had gone abroad to the East Indies, many years ago, with her husband. This woman was no other than Mrs. M'Bride, wife of the man who had abandoned her for the French girl, as had been mentioned by the stranger to Father M'Mahon, and who had, as was supposed, eloped with her to America. Such certainly was M'Bride's intention, and there is no doubt that the New World would have been edified by the admirable example of these two moralists, were it not for the fact that Mrs. M'Bride, herself as shrewd as the Frenchwoman, and burdened with as little honesty as the husband, had traced them to the place of rendezvous on the very first night of their disappearance; where, whilst they lay overcome with sleep and the influence of the rosy god, she contrived to lessen her husband of the pocketbook which he had helped himself to from his master's escritoire, with the exception, simply, of the papers in question, which, not being money, possessed in her eyes but little value to her. She had read them, however; and as she had through her husband become acquainted with their object, she determined on leaving them in his hands, with a hope that they might become the means of compromising matters with his master, and probably of gaining a reward for their restoration. Unfortunately, however, it so happened, that that gentleman did not miss them until some time after his arrival in Ireland; but, on putting matters together, and comparing the flight of M'Bride with the loss of his property, he concluded, with everything short of certainty, that the latter was the thief.
Old Corbet and this woman were seated in the little back parlor whilst Mrs. Corbet kept the shop, so that their conversation could take a freer range in her absence.
"And so you tell me, Kate," said the former, "that the vagabond has come back to the country?"
"I seen him with my own eyes," she replied; "there can be no mistake about it."
"And he doesn't suspect you of takin' the money from him?"
"No more than he does you; so far from that, I wouldn't be surprised if it's the Frenchwoman he suspects."
"But hadn't you better call on him? that is, if you know where he lives. Maybe he's sorry for leavin' you."
"He, the villain! No; you don't know the life he led me. If he was my husband—as unfortunately he is—a thousand times over, a single day I'll never live with him. This lameness, that I'll carry to my grave, is his work. Oh, no; death any time sooner than that."
"Well," said the old man, after a lung pause, "it's a strange story you've tould me; and I'm sorry, for Lord Cullamore's sake, to hear it. He's one o' the good ould gentlemen that's now so scarce in the country. But, tell me, do you know where M'Bride lives?"
"No," she replied, "I do not, neither do I care much; but I'd be glad that his old master had back his papers. There's a woman supposed to be livin' in this country that could prove this stranger's case, and he came over here to find her out if he could."
"Do you know her name?"
"No; I don't think I ever heard it, or, if I did, I can't at all remember it. M'Bride mentioned the woman, but I don't think he named her."
"At all events," replied Corbet, "it doesn't signify. I hope whatever steps they're takin' against that good ould nobleman will fail; and if I had the papers you speak of this minute, I'd put them into the fire. In the mane time try and make out where your vagabone of a husband lives, or, rather, set Ginty to work, as she and you are living together, and no doubt she'll soon ferret him out."
"I can't understand Ginty at all," replied the woman. "I think, although she has given up fortune tellin', that her head's not altogether right yet. She talks of workin' out some prophecy that she tould Sir Thomas Gourlay about himself and his daughter."
"She may talk as much about that as she likes," replied the old fellow. "She called him plain Thomas Gourlay, didn't she, and said he'd be stripped of his title?"
"So she told me; and that his daughter would be married to Lord Dunroe."
"Ay, and so she tould myself; but there she's in the dark. The daughter will be Lady Dunroe, no doubt, for they're goin' to be married; but she's takin' a bad way to work out the prophecy against the father by —hem—"
"I'm not free to mention it, Kate; but this very day it's to take place, and. I suppose it'll soon be known to everybody."
"Well, but sure you might mention it to me."
"I'll make a bargain with you, then. Set Ginty to work; let her find out your husband; get me the papers you spake of, and I'll tell you all about it."
"With all my heart, father. I'm sure I don't care if you had them this minute. Let Ginty try her hand, and if she can succeed, well and good."
"Well, Kate," said her father, "I'm glad I seen you; but I think it was your duty to call upon me long before this."
"I would, but that I was afraid you wouldn't see me; and, besides, Ginty told me it was better not for some time. She kept me back, or I would have come months ago."
"Ay, ay; she has some devil's scheme in view that'll end in either nothing or something. Good-by, now; get me these papers, and I'll tell you what'll be worth hearin'."
Immediately after her departure Father M'Mahon entered, and found Corbet behind his counter as usual. Each on looking at the other was much struck by his evident appearance for the worse; a circumstance, however, which caused no observation until after they had gone into the little back room. Corbet's countenance, in addition to a careworn look, and a consequent increase of emaciation, presented a very difficult study to the physiognomist, a study not unobserved! by the priest himself. It was indicative of the conflicting resolutions which had for some time past been alternating in his mind; but so roguishly was each resolution veiled by an assumed expression of an opposite I nature, that although the general inference was true, the hypocrisy of the whole face made it individually false. Let us suppose, by way of illustration, that a man whose heart is full of joy successfully puts on a look of grief, and vice versa. Of course, the physiognomist will be mistaken in the conclusions he draws from each individual expression, although correct in perceiving that there are before him the emotions of joy and grief; the only difference being, that dissimulation has put wrong labels upon each emotion.
"Anthony," said his reverence, after having taken a seat, "I am sorry to see such a change upon you for the worse. You are very much broken down since I saw you last; and although I don't wish to become a messenger of bad news, I feel, that as a clergyman, it is my duty to tell you so."
"Troth, your reverence," replied the other, "I'm sorry that so far as bad looks go I must return the compliment. It grieves me: to see you look so ill, sir."
"I know I look ill," replied the other; "and I know too that these hints are sent to us in mercy, with a fatherly design on the part of our Creator, that we may make the necessary preparations for the change, the awful change that is before us."
"Oh, indeed, sir, it's true enough," replied Corbet, whose visage had become much blanker at this serious intimation, notwithstanding his hypocrisy; "it's true enough, sir; too true, indeed, if we could only remember it as we ought. Have you been unwell, sir?"
"Not in my bodily health, thank God, but I've got into trouble; and what is more, I'm coming to you, Anthony, with a firm I hope that you will bring me out of it."
"The trouble can't be very great then," replied the apprehensive old knave, "or I wouldn't be able to do it."
"Anthony," said the priest, "I have known you a long time, now forty years at least, and you need not be told that I've stood by some of your friends when they wanted it. When your daughter ran away with that M'Bride, I got him to marry her, a thing he was very unwilling to do; and which I believe, only for me, he would not have done. On that occasion you know I advanced twenty guineas to enable them to begin the world, and to keep the fellow with her; and I did this all for the best, and not without the hope either that you would see me reimbursed for what you ought, as her father, to have given them yourself. I spoke to you once or twice about it, but you lent me the deaf ear, as they call it, and from that day to this you never had either the manliness or the honesty to repay me."
"Ay," replied Corbet, with one of his usual grins, "you volunteered to be generous to a profligate, who drank it, and took to the army."
"Do you then volunteer to be generous to an honest man; I will neither drink It nor take to the army. If he took to the army, he didn't do so without taking your daughter along with him. I spoke to Sir Edward Gourlay, who threatened to write to his colonel; and through the interference of the same humane gentleman I got permission for him to bring his wife along with him. These are circumstances that you ought not to forget, Anthony."
"I don't forget them, but sure you're always in somebody's affairs; always goin' security for some of your poor parishioners; and then, when they're not able to pay, down comes the responsibility upon you."
"I cannot see a poor honest man, struggling and industrious, at a loss for a friendly act. No; I never could stand it, so long as I had it in my power to assist him."
"And what's wrong now, if it's a fair question?"
"Two or three things; none of them very large, but amounting in all to about fifty guineas."
"Ay, indeed; fifty guineas, which you will lend me on my own security."
"Fifty guineas to you? Don't I know you? Why, if you had a thousand, let alone fifty, it's among the poor o' the parish they'd be afore a week. Faith, I know you too well Father Peter."
"You know me, man alive—yes, you do know me; and it is just because you do that I expect you will lend me the money. You wouldn't wish to see my little things pulled about and auctioned; my laughy little library gone; nor would you wish to see me and poor Freney the Robber separated. Big Ruly desaved me, the thief; but I found him out at last. Money I know is a great temptation, and so is mate when trusted to a shark like him; but any way, may the Lord pardon the blackguard! and that's the worst I wish him."
There are some situations in life where conscience is more awakened by comparison, or perhaps we should say by the force of contrast, than by all the power of reason, religion, or philosophy, put together, and advancing against it in their proudest pomp and formality. The childlike simplicity, for instance, of this good and benevolent man, earnest and eccentric as it was, occasioned reflections more painful and touching to the callous but timid heart of this old manoeuvrer than could whole homilies, or the most serious and lengthened exhortations.
"I am near death," thought he, as he looked upon the countenance of the priest, from which there now beamed an emanation of regret, not for his difficulties, for he had forgotten them, but for his knavish servant—so simple, so natural, so affecting, so benevolent, that Corbet was deeply struck by them. "I am near death," he proceeded, "and what would I not give to have within me a heart so pure and free from villany as that man. He has made me feel more by thinkin' of what goodness and piety can do, than I ever felt in my life; and now if he gets upon Freney the Robber, or lugs in that giant Ruly, he'll forget debts, difficulties, and all for the time. Heavenly Father, that I had as happy a heart this day, and as free from sin!"
"Anthony," said the priest, "I must tell you about Freney—"
"No, sir, if you plaise," replied the other, "not now."
"Well, about poor Mat Ruly; do you know that I think by taking him back I might be able to reclaim him yet. The Lord has gifted him largely in one way, I admit; but still—"
"But still your bacon and greens would pay for it. I know it all, and who doesn't? But about your own affairs?"
"In truth, they are in a bad state—the same bacon and greens—he has not left me much of either; he made clean work of them, at any rate, before he went."
"But about your affairs, I'm sayin'?"
"Why, they can't be worse; I'm run to the last pass; and Freney now, the crature, when the saddle's on him, comes to the mounting-stone of himself, and waits there till I'm ready. Then," he added, with a deep sigh, "to think of parting with him! And I must do it—I must;" and here the tears rose to his eyes so copiously that he was obliged to take out his cotton handkerchief and wipe them away.
The heart of the old miser was touched. He knew not why, it is true, but he felt that the view he got of one immortal spirit uncorrupted by the crimes and calculating hypocrisy of life, made the contemplation of his own state and condition, as well as of his future hopes, fearful.
"What would I not give," thought he, "to have a soul as free from sin and guilt, and to be as fit to face my God as that man? And yet they say it can be brought about. Well, wait—wait till I have my revenge on this black villain, and I'll see what may be done. Ay, let what will happen, the shame and ruin of my child must be revenged. And yet, God help me, what am I sayin'? Would this good man say that? He that forgives every one and everything. Still, I'll repent in the long run. Come, Father Peter," said he, "don't be cast down; I'll thry what I can for you; but then, again, if I do, what security can you give me?"
"Poor Freney the Robber—"
"Well, now, do you hear this!"
"—Was a name I gave him on account of—"
"Troth, I'll put on my hat and lave you here, if you don't spake out about what you came for. How much is it you say you want?"
The good man, who was startled out of his affection for Freney by the tone of Corbet's voice more than by his words, now raised his head, and looked about him somewhat like a person restored to consciousness.
"Yes, Anthony," said he; "yes, man alive; there's kindness in that."
"In what, sir?"
"In the very tones of your voice, I say. God has touched your heart, I hope. But oh, Anthony, if it were His blessed will to soften it—to teach it to feel true contrition and repentance, and to fill it with love for His divine will in all things, and for your fellow-creatures, too—how little would I think of my own miserable difficulties! Father of all mercy! if I could be sure that I had gained even but one soul to heaven, I would say that I had not been born and lived in vain!"
"He'll never let me do it," thought Corbet, vexed, and still more softened by the piety, the charity, and the complete forgetfulness of self, which the priest's conduct manifested. Yet was this change not brought about without difficulty, and those pitiful misgivings and calculations which assail and re-assail a heart that has been for a long time under the influence of the world and those base principles by which it is actuated. In fact, this close, nervous, and penurious old man felt, when about to perform this generous action, all that alarm and hesitation which a virtuous man would feel when on the eve of committing a crime. He was about to make an inroad upon his own system—going to change the settled habits of his whole life, and, for a moment, he entertained thoughts of altering his purpose. Then he began to think that this visit of the priest might have been a merciful and providential one; he next took a glimpse at futurity—reflected for a moment on his unprepared state, and then decided to assist the priest now, and consider the necessity for repentance as soon as he felt it convenient to do so afterwards.
How strange and deceptive, and how full of the subtlest delusions, are the workings of the human heart!
"And now, Anthony," proceeded the priest, "while I think of it, let me speak to you on another affair."
"I see, sir," replied Corbet, somewhat querulously, "that you're determined to prevent me from sarvin' you. If my mind changes, I won't do it; so stick to your own business first. I know very well what you're goin' to spake about. How much do you want, you say?"
"Fifty guineas. I'm responsible for three bills to that amount. The bills are not for myself, but for three honest families that have been brought low by two of the worst enemies that ever Ireland had—bad landlords and bad times."
"Well, then, I'll give you the money."
"God bless you, Anthony!" exclaimed the good man, "God bless you! and above all things may He enable you and all of us to prepare for the life that is before us."
Anthony paused a moment, and looked with a face of deep perplexity at the priest.
"Why am I doin' this," said he, half repentant of the act, "and me can't afford it? You must give me your bill, sir, at three months, and I'll charge you interest besides."
"I'll give you my bill, certainly," replied the priest, "and you may charge interest too; but be moderate."
Corbet then went upstairs, much at that pace which characterizes the progress of a felon from the press-room to the gallows; here he remained for some time—reckoning the money—paused on the stairhead—and again the slow, heavy, lingering step was heard descending, and, as nearly as one could judge, with as much reluctance as that with which it went up. He then sat down and looked steadily, but with a good deal of abstraction, at the priest, after having first placed the money on his own side of the table.
"Have you a blank bill?" asked the priest.
"Have you got a blank bill? or, sure we can send out for one."
"For a blank bill."
"A blank bill—yes—oh, ay—fifty guineas!—why, that's half a hundre'. God protect me! what am I about? Well, well; there—there—there; now put it in your pocket;" and as he spoke he shoved it over hastily to the priest, as if he feared his good resolution might fail him at last.
"But about the bill, man alive?"
"Hang the bill—deuce take all the bills that ever were drawn! I'm the greatest ould fool that ever wore a head—to go to allow myself to be made a—a—. Take your money away out of this, I bid you—your money—no, but my money. I suppose I may bid farewell to it—for so long as any one tells you a story of distress, and makes a poor mouth to you, so long you'll get yourself into a scrape on their account."
The priest had already put the money in his pocket, but he instantly took it out, and placed it once more on Corbet's side of the table.
"There," said he, "keep it. I will receive no money that is lent in such a churlish and unchristian spirit. And I tell you now, moreover, that if I do accept it, it must be on the condition of your listening to what I feel it my duty to say to you. You, Anthony Corbet, have committed a black and deadly crime against the bereaved widow, against society, against the will of a merciful and—take care that you don't find him, too—a just God. It is quite useless for you to deny it; I have spoken the truth, and you know it. Why will you not enable that heart-broken and kind lady—whose whole life is one perpetual good action—to trace and get back her son?"
"I can't do it."
"That's a deliberate falsehood, sir. Your conscience tells you it's a he. In your last conversation with me, at the Brazen Head, you as good as promised to do something of the kind in a couple of months. That time and more has now passed, and yet you have done nothing."
"How do you know that?"
"Don't I know that the widow has got no trace of her child? And right well I know that you could restore him to her if you wished. However, I leave you now to the comfort of your own hardened and wicked heart. The day will come soon when the black catalogue of your own guilt will rise up fearfully before you—when a death-bed, with all its horrors, will startle the very soul within you by its fiery recollections. It is then, my friend, that you will feel—when it is too late—what it is to have tampered with and despised the mercy of God, and have neglected, while you had time, to prepare yourself for His awful judgment. Oh, what would I not do to turn your heart from the dark spirit of revenge that broods in it, and changes you into a demon! Mark these words, Anthony. They are spoken, God knows, with an anxious and earnest wish for your repentance, and, if neglected, they will rise and sound the terrible sentence of your condemnation at the last awful hour. Listen to them, then—listen to them in time, I entreat, I beseech you—I would go on my bare knees to you to do so." Here his tears fell fast, as he proceeded, "I would; and, believe me, I have thought of you and prayed for you, and now you see that I cannot but weep for you, when I know that you have the knowledge—perhaps the guilt of this heinous crime locked up in your heart, and will not reveal it. Have compassion, then, on the widow—enable her friends to restore her child to her longing arms; purge yourself of this great guilt, and you may believe me, that even in a temporal point of view it will be the best rewarded action you ever performed; but this is little—the darkness that is over your heart will disappear, your conscience will become light, and all its reflections sweet and full of heavenly comfort; your death-bed will be one of peace, and hope, and joy. Restore, then, the widow's son, and forbear your deadly revenge against that wretched baronet, and God will restore you to a happiness that the world can neither give nor take away."
Corbet's cheek became pale as death itself whilst the good man spoke, but no other symptom of emotion was perceptible; unless, indeed, that his hands, as he unconsciously played with the money, were quite tremulous.
The priest, having concluded, rose to depart, having completely forgotten the principal object of his visit.
"Where are you going?" said Corbet, "won't you take the money with you?"
"That depends upon your reply," returned the priest; "and I entreat you to let me have a favorable one."
"One part of what you wish I will do," he replied; "the other is out of my power at present. I am not able to do it yet."
"I don't properly understand you," said the other; "or rather, I don't understand you at all. Do you mean what you have just said to be favorable or otherwise?"
"I have come to a resolution," replied Corbet, "and time will tell whether it's in your favor or not. You must be content with this, for more I will not say now; I cannot. There's your money, but I'll take no bill from you. Your promise is sufficient—only say you will pay me?"
"I will pay you, if God spares me life."
"That is enough; unless, indeed "—again pausing.
"Satisfy yourself," said the priest; "I will give you either my bill or note of hand."
"No, no; I tell you. I am satisfied. Leave everything to time."
"That may do very well, but it does not apply to eternity, Anthony. In the meantime I thank you; for I admit you have taken me out of a very distressing difficulty. Good-by—God bless you; and, above all things, don't forget the words I have spoken to you."
"Now," said Corbet, after the priest had gone, "something must be done; I can't stand this state of mind long, and if death should come on me before I've made my peace with God—but then, the black villain!—come or go what may, he must be punished, and Ginty's and Tom's schemes must be broken. That vagabone, too! I can't forget the abuse he gave me in the watch-house; however, I'll set the good act against the bad one, and who knows but the one may wipe out the other? I suppose the promisin' youth has seen his father, and thinks himself the welcome heir of his title and property by this; and the father too—but wait, if I don't dash that cup from his lips, and put one to it filled with gall, I'm not here; and then when it's done, I'll take to religion for the remainder of my life."
What old Corbet said was, indeed, true enough; and this brings us to the interview between Mr. Ambrose Gray, his parent, and his sister.
There is nothing which so truly and often so severely tests the state of man's heart, or so painfully disturbs the whole frame of his moral being as the occurrence of some important event that is fraught with happiness. Such an event resembles the presence of a good man among a set of profligates, causing them to feel the superiority of virtue over vice, and imposing a disagreeable restraint, not only upon their actions, but their very thoughts. When the baronet, for instance, went from his bedroom to the library, he experienced the full force of this observation. A disagreeable tumult prevailed within him. It is true, he felt, as every parent must feel, to a greater or less extent delighted at the contemplation of his son's restoration to him. But, at the same time, the tenor of his past life rose up in painful array before him, and occasioned reflections that disturbed him deeply. Should this young man prove, on examination, to resemble his sister in her views of moral life in general—should he find him as delicately virtuous, and animated by the same pure sense of honor, he felt that his recovery would disturb the future habits of his life, and take away much of the gratification which he expected from his society. These considerations, we say, rendered him so anxious and uneasy, that he actually wished to find him something not very far removed from a profligate. He hoped that he might be inspired with his own views of society and men, and that he would now have some one to countenance him in all his selfish designs and projects.
CHAPTER XXXIV. Young Gourlay's Affectionate Interview with His Father
—Risk of Strangulation—Movements of M'Bride.
It is not necessary here to suggest to the reader that Tom Corbet, who knew the baronet's secrets and habits of life so thoroughly, had prepared Mr. Ambrose Gray, by frequent rehearsals, for the more adroit performance of the task that was before him.
At length a knock, modest but yet indicative of something like authority, was heard at the hall-door, and the baronet immediately descended to the dining-room, where he knew he could see his son with less risk of interruption. He had already intimated to Lucy that she should not make her appearance until summoned for that purpose.
At length Mr. Gray was shown into the dining-room, and the baronet, who, as usual, was pacing it to and fro, suddenly turned round, and without any motion to approach his son, who stood with a dutiful look, as if to await his will, he fixed his eyes upon him with a long, steady, and scrutinizing gaze. There they stood, contemplating each other with earnestness, and so striking, so extraordinary was the similarity between their respective features, that, in everything but years, they appeared more like two counterparts than father and son. Each, on looking at the other, felt, in fact, the truth of this unusual resemblance, and the baronet at once acknowledged its influence.
"Yes," he exclaimed, approaching Mr. Gray, "yes, there is no mistake here; he is my son. I acknowledge him." He extended his hand, and shook that of the other, then seized both with a good deal of warmth, and welcomed him. Ambrose, however, was not satisfied with this, but, extricating his hands, he threw his arms round the baronet's neck, and exclaimed in the words of an old play, in which he had been studying a similar scene for the present occasion, "My father! my dear father! Oh, and have I a father! Oh, let me press him to my heart!" And as he spoke he contrived to execute half a dozen dry sobs (for he could not accomplish the tears), that would have done credit to the best actor of the day.
The baronet, who never relished any exhibition of emotion or tenderness, began to have misgivings as to his character, and consequently suffered these dutiful embraces instead of returning them.
"There, Tom," he exclaimed, laughing, "that will do. There, man," he repeated, for he felt that Tom was about recommencing another rather vigorous attack, whilst the sobs were deafening, "there, I say; don't throttle me; that will do, sirrah; there now. On this occasion it is natural; but in general I detest snivelling—it's unmanly."
Tom at once took the hint, wiped his eyes, a work in this instance of the purest supererogation, and replied, "So do I, father; it's decidedly the province of an old woman when she is past everything else. But on such an occasion I should be either more or less than man not to feel as I ought."
"Come, that is very well said. I hope you are not a fool like your—Corbet, go out. I shall send for you when we want you. I hope," he repeated, after Corbet had disappeared, "I hope you are not a fool, like your sister. Not that I can call her a fool, either; but she is obstinate and self-willed."
"I am sorry to hear this, sir. My sister ought to have no will but yours."
"Why, that is better," replied the baronet, rubbing his hands cheerfully. "Hang it, how like?" he exclaimed, looking at him once more. "You resemble me confoundedly, Tom—at least in person; and if you do in mind and purpose, we'll harmonize perfectly. Well, then, I have a thousand questions to ask you, but I will have time enough for that again; in the meantime, Tom, what's your opinion of life—of the world—of man, Tom, and of woman? I wish to know what kind of stuff you're made of."
"Of life, sir—why, that we are to take the most we can out of it. Of the world—that I despise it. Of man—that every one is a rogue when he's found out, and that if he suffers himself to be found out he's a fool; so that the fools and the rogues have it between them."
"And where do you leave the honest men, Tom?"
"The what, sir?"
"The honest men."
"I'm not acquainted, sir, nor have I ever met a man who was, with any animal of that class. The world, sir, is a moral fiction; a mere term in language that represents negation."
"Well, but woman?"
"Born to administer to our pleasure, our interest, or our ambition, with no other purpose in life. Have I answered my catechism like a good boy, sir?"
"Very well, indeed, Tom. Why, in your notions of life and the world, you seem to be quite an adept."
"I am glad, sir, that you approve of them. So far we are likely to agree. I feel quite proud, sir, that my sentiments are in unison with yours. But where is my sister, sir? I am quite impatient to see her."
"I will send for her immediately. And now that I have an opportunity, let me guard you against her influence. I am anxious to bring about a marriage between her and a young nobleman—Lord Dunroe—who will soon be the Earl of Cullamore, for his old father is dying, or near it, and then Lucy will be a countess. To effect this has been the great ambition of my life. Now, you must not only prevent Lucy from gaining you over to her interests, for she would nearly as soon die as marry him."
"What do you pshaw for, Tom?"
"All nonsense, sir. She doesn't know her own mind; or, rather, she ought to have no mind on the subject."
"Perfectly right; my identical sentiments. Lucy, however, detests this lord, notwithstanding—ay, worse than she does the deuce himself. You must, therefore, not permit yourself to be changed or swayed by her influence, but support me by every argument and means in your power."
"Don't fear me, sir. Your interests, or rather the girl's own, if she only knows them, shall have my most strenuous support."
"Thank you, Tom. I see that you and I are likely to agree thoroughly. I shall now send for her. She is a superb creature, and less than a countess I shall not have her."
Lucy, when the servant announced her father's wish to see her, was engaged in picturing to herself the subject of her brother's personal appearance. She had always heard that he resembled her mother, and on this account alone she felt how very dear he should be to her. With a flushing, joyful, but palpitating heart, she descended the stairs, and with a trembling hand knocked at the door. On entering, she was about to rush into her newly-found relative's arms, but, on casting her eyes around, she perceived her father and him standing side by side, so startlingly alike in feature, expression, and personal figure, that her heart, until then bounding with rapture, sank at once, and almost became still. The quick but delicate instincts of her nature took the alarm, and a sudden weakness seized her whole frame. "In this young man," she said to herself, "I have found a brother, but not a friend; not a feature of my dear mother in that face."
This change, and this rush of reflection, took place almost in a moment, and ere she had time to speak she found herself in Mr. Ambrose Gray's arms. The tears at once rushed to her eyes, but they were not such tears as she expected to have shed. Joy there was, but, alas, how much mitigated was its fervency! And when her brother spoke, the strong, deep, harsh tones of his voice so completely startled her, that she almost believed she was on the breast of her father. Her tears flowed; but they were mingled with a sense of disappointment that amounted almost to bitterness.
Tom on this occasion forebore to enact the rehearsal scene, as he had done in the case of his father. His sister's beauty, at once melancholy but commanding, her wonderful grace, her dignity of manner, added to the influence of her tall, elegant figure, awed him so completely, that he felt himself incapable of aiming at anything like dramatic effect. Nay, as her warm tears fell upon his face, he experienced a softening influence that resembled emotion, but, like his father, he annexed associations to it that were selfish, and full of low, ungenerous caution.
"My father's right," thought he; "I must be both cool and firm here, otherwise it will be difficult not to support her."
"Well, Lucy," said her father, with unusual cheerfulness, after Tom had handed her to a seat, "I hope you like your brother. Is he not a fine, manly young fellow?"
"Is he not my brother, papa?" she replied, "restored to us after so many years; restored when hope had deserted us—when we had given him up for lost."
As she uttered the words her voice quivered; a generous reaction had taken place in her breast; she blamed herself for having withheld from him, on account of a circumstance over which he had no control, that fulness of affection, with which she had prepared herself to welcome him. A sentiment, first of compassion, then of self-reproach, and ultimately of awakened affection, arose in her mind, associated with and made still more tender by the melancholy memory of her departed mother. She again took his hand, on which the tears now fell in showers, and after a slight pause said,
"I hope, my dear Thomas, you have not suffered, nor been subject to the wants and privations which usually attend the path of the young and friendless in this unhappy world? Alas, there is one voice—but is now forever still—that would, oh, how rapturously! have welcomed you to a longing and a loving heart."
The noble sincerity of her present emotion was not without its effect upon her brother. His eyes, in spite of the hardness of his nature, swam in something like moisture, and he gazed upon her with wonder and pride, that he actually was the brother of so divine a creature; and a certain description of affection, such as he had never before felt, for it was pure, warm, and unselfish.
"Oh, how I do long to hear the history of your past life!" she exclaimed. "I dare say you had many an early struggle to encounter; many a privation to suffer; and in sickness, with none but the cold hand of the stranger about you; but still it seems that God has not deserted you. Is it not a consolation, papa, to think that he returns to us in a condition of life so gratifying?"
"Gratifying it unquestionably is, Lucy. He is well educated; and will soon be fit to take his proper position in society."
"Soon! I trust immediately, papa; I hope you will not allow him to remain a moment longer in obscurity; compensate him at least for his sufferings. But, my dear Thomas," she proceeded, turning to him, "let me ask, do you remember mamma? If she were now here, how her affectionate heart would rejoice! Do you remember her my dear Thomas?"
"Not distinctly," he replied; "something of a pale, handsome woman comes occasionally like a dream of my childhood to my imagination—a graceful woman, with auburn hair, and a melancholy look, I think."
"You—do," replied Lucy, as her eyes sparkled, "you do remember her; that is exactly a sketch of her—gentle, benignant, and affectionate, with a fixed sorrow mingled with resignation in her face. Yes, you remember her!"
"Now, Lucy," said her father, who never could bear any particular allusion to his wife; "now that you have seen your brother, I think you may withdraw, at least for the present. He and I have matters of importance to talk of; and you know you will have enough of him again—plenty of time to hear his past history, which, by the way, I am as anxious to hear as you are. You may now withdraw, my love."
"Oh, not so soon, father, if you please," said Thomas; "allow us a little more time together."
"Well, then, a few minutes only, for I myself must take an airing in the carriage, and I must also call upon old Cullamore."
"Papa," said Lucy, "I am about to disclose a little secret to you which I hesitated to do before, but this certainly is a proper occasion for doing it; the secret I speak of will disclose itself. Here is where it lay both day and night since mamma's death," she added, putting her hand upon her heart; "it is a miniature portrait of her which I myself got done."
She immediately drew it up by a black silk ribbon, and after contemplating it with tears, she placed it in the hands of her brother.
This act of Lucy's placed him in a position of great pain and embarrassment. His pretended recollection of Lady Gourlay was, as the reader already guesses, nothing more than the description of her which he had received from Corbet, that he might be able to play his part with an appearance of more natural effect. With the baronet, the task of deception was by no means difficult; but with Lucy, the case was altogether one of a different complexion. His father's principles, as expounded by his illegitimate son's worthy uncle, were not only almost familiar to him, but also in complete accordance with his own. With him, therefore, the deception consisted in little else than keeping his own secret, and satisfying his father that their moral views of life were the same. He was not prepared, however, for the effect which Lucy's noble qualities produced upon him so soon. To him who had never met with or known any other female, combining in her own person such extraordinary beauty and dignity—such obvious candor of heart—such graceful and irresistible simplicity, or who was encompassed by an atmosphere of such truth and purity—the effect was such as absolutely confounded himself, and taught him to feel how far they go in purifying, elevating, and refining those who come within the sphere of their influence. This young man, for instance, was touched, softened, and awed into such an involuntary respect for her character and virtues, that he felt himself almost unable to sustain the part he had undertaken to play, so far at least as she was concerned. In fact, he felt himself changed for the better, and was forced, as it were, to look in upon his own heart, and contemplate its deformity by the light that emanated from her character. Nor was this singular but natural influence unperceived by her father, who began to fear that if they were to be much together, he must ultimately lose the connivance and support of his son.
Thomas took the portrait from her hand, and, after contemplating it for some time, felt himself bound to kiss it, which he did, with a momentary consciousness of his hypocrisy that felt like guilt.
"It is most interesting," said he; "there is goodness, indeed, and benignity, as you say, in every line of that placid but sorrowful face. Here," said he, "take it back, my dear sister; I feel that it is painful to me to look upon it."
"It has been my secret companion," said Lucy, gazing at it with deep emotion, "and my silent monitress ever since poor mamma's death. It seemed to say to me with those sweet lips that will never more move: Be patient, my child, and put your firm trust in the hopes of a better life, for this world is one of trial and suffering."
"That is all very fine, Lucy," said her father, somewhat fretfully; "but it would have been as well if she had preached a lesson of obedience at the same time. However, you had better withdraw, my dear; as I told you, Thomas and I have many important matters to talk over."
"I am ready to go, papa," she replied; "but, by the way, my dear Thomas, I had always heard that you resembled her very much; instead of that, you are papa's very image."
"A circumstance which will take from his favor with you, Lucy, I fear," observed her father; "but, indeed, I myself am surprised at the change that has come over you, Thomas; for, unquestionably, when young you were very like her."
"These changes are not at all unfrequent, I believe," replied his son. "I have myself known instances where the individual when young resembled one parent, and yet, in the course of time, became as it were the very image and reflex of the other."
"You are perfectly right, Tom," said his father; "every family is aware of the fact, and you yourself are a remarkable illustration of it."
"I am not sorry for resembling my dear father, Lucy," observed her brother; "and I know I shall lose nothing in your good will on that account, but rather gain by it."
Lucy's eyes were already filled with tears at the ungenerous and unfeeling insinuation of her father.
"You shall not, indeed, Thomas," she replied; "and you, papa, are scarcely just to me in saying so. I judge no person by their external appearance, nor do I suffer myself to be prejudiced by looks, although I grant that the face is very often, but by no means always, an index to the character. I judge my friends by my experience of their conduct—by their heart—their principles—their honor. Good-by, now, my dear brother; I am quite impatient to hear your history, and I am sure you will gratify me as soon as you can."
She took his hand and kissed it, but, in the act of doing so, observed under every nail a semicircular line of black drift that jarred very painfully on her feelings. Tom then imprinted a kiss upon her forehead, and she withdrew.
When she had gone out, the baronet bent his eyes upon her brother with a look that seemed to enter into his very soul—a look which his son, from his frequent teachings, very well understood.
"Now, Tom," said he, "that you have seen your sister, what do you think of her? Is it not a pity that she should ever move under the rank of a countess?"
"Under the rank of a queen, sir. She would grace the throne of an empress."
"And yet she has all the simplicity of a child; but I can't get her to feel ambition. Now, mark me, Tom; I have seen enough in this short interview to convince me that if you are not as firm as a rock, she will gain you over."
"Impossible, sir; I love her too well to lend myself to her prejudices against her interests. Her objections to this marriage must proceed solely from inexperience. It is true, Lord Dunroe bears a very indifferent character, and if you could get any other nobleman with a better one as a husband for her, it would certainly be more agreeable."
"It might, Tom; but I cannot. The truth is, I am an unpopular man among even the fashionable circles, and the consequence is, that I do not mingle much with them. The disappearance of my brother's heir has attached suspicions to me which your discovery will not tend to remove. Then there is Lucy's approaching marriage, which your turning up at this particular juncture may upset. Dunroe, I am aware, is incapable of appreciating such a girl as Lucy."
"Then why, sir, does he marry her?"
"In consequence of her property. You perceive, then, that unless you lie by until after this marriage, my whole schemes for this girl may be destroyed."
"But how, sir, could my appearance or reappearance effect such a catastrophe?"
"Simply because you come at the most unlucky moment."
"Unlucky, sir!" exclaimed the youth, with much affected astonishment, for he had now relapsed into his original character, and felt himself completely in his element.
"Don't misunderstand me," said his father; "I will explain myself. Had you never appeared, Lucy would have inherited the family estates, which, in right of his wife, would have passed into the possession of Dunroe. Your appearance, however, if made known, will prevent that, and probably cause Dunroe to get out of it; and it is for this reason that I wish to keep your very existence a secret until the marriage is over."
"I am willing to do anything, sir," replied worthy Tom, with a very dutiful face, "anything to oblige you, and to fall in with your purposes, provided my own rights are not compromised. I trust you will not blame me, sir, for looking to them, and for a natural anxiety to sustain the honor and prolong the name of my family."
"Blame you, sirrah!" said his father, laughing. "Confound me, but you're a trump, and I am proud to hear you express such sentiments. How the deuce did you get such a shrewd notion of the world? But, no matter, attend to me. Your rights shall not be compromised. A clause shall be inserted in the marriage articles to the effect that in case of your recovery and restoration, the estates shall revert to you, as the legitimate heir. Are you satisfied?"
"Perfectly, sir," replied Thomas, "perfectly; on the understanding that these provisions are duly and properly carried out."
"Undoubtedly they shall; and besides," replied his father with a grin of triumph, "it will be only giving Dunroe a quid pro quo, for, as I told you, he is marrying your sister merely for the property, out of which you cut him."
"Of course, my dear father," replied the other, "I am in your hands; but, in the meantime, how and where am I to dispose of myself?"
"In the first place, keep your own secret—that is the principal point—in which case you may live wherever you wish; I will give you a liberal allowance until you can make your appearance with safety to Lucy's prosperity. The marriage will take place very soon; after which you can come and claim your own, when it will be too late for Dunroe to retract. Here, for the present, is a check for two hundred and fifty; but, Tom, you must be frugal and cautious in its expenditure. Don't suffer yourself to break out: always keep a firm hold of the helm. Get a book in which you will mark down your expenses; for, mark me, you must render a strict account of this money. On the day after to-morrow you must dine with Lucy and me; but, if you take my advice, you will see her as seldom as possible until after her marriage. She wishes me to release her from her engagement, and she will attempt to seduce you to her side; but I warn you that this would be a useless step for you to take, as my mind is immovable on the subject."
They then separated, each, but especially Mr. Ambrose Gray, as we must again call him, feeling very well satisfied with the result of the interview.
"Now," said the baronet, as he paced the floor, after his son had gone, "am I not right, after all, in the views which I entertain of life? I have sometimes been induced to fear that Providence has placed in human society a moral machinery which acts with retributive effect upon those who, in the practice of their lives, depart from what are considered his laws. And yet here am I, whose whole life has been at variance with and disregarded them—here I am, I say, with an easier heart than I've had for many a day: my son restored to me—my daughter upon the point of being married according to my highest wishes—all my projects prospering; and there is my brother's wife—wretched Lady Gourlay—who, forsooth, is religious, benevolent, humane, and charitable—ay, and if report speak true, who loves her fellow-creatures as much as I scorn and detest them. Yes—and what is the upshot? Why, that all these virtues have not made her one whit happier than another, nor so happy as one in ten thousand. Cui bono, then I ask—where is this moral machinery which I sometimes dreaded? I cannot perceive its operations. It has no existence; it is a mere chimera; like many another bugbear, the foul offspring of credulity and fear on the one side—of superstition and hypocrisy on the other. No; life is merely a thing of chances, and its incidents the mere combinations that result from its evolutions, just like the bits of glass in the kaleidoscope, which, when viewed naked, have neither order nor beauty, but when seen through our own mistaken impressions, appear to have properties which they do not possess, and to produce results that are deceptive, and which would mislead us if we drew any absolute inference from them. Here the priest advances, kaleidoscope in hand, and desires you to look at his tinsel and observe its order. Well, you do so, and imagine that the beauty and order you see lie in the things themselves, and not in the prism through which you view them. But you are not satisfied—you must examine. You take the kaleidoscope to pieces, and where then are the order and beauty to be found? Away! I am right still. The doctrine of life is a doctrine of chances; and there is nothing certain but death—death, the gloomy and terrible uncreator—heigho!"
Whilst the unbelieving baronet was congratulating himself upon the truth of his principles and the success of his plans, matters were about to take place that were soon to subject them to a still more efficient test than the accommodating but deceptive spirit of his own scepticism. Lord Cullamore's mind was gradually sinking under some secret sorrow or calamity, which he refused to disclose even to his son or Lady Emily. M'Bride's visit had produced a most melancholy effect upon him; indeed, so deeply was he weighed down by it, that he was almost incapable of seeing any one, with the exception of his daughter, whom he caressed and wept over as one would over some beloved being whom death was about to snatch from the heart and eyes forever.
Sir Thomas Gourlay, since the discovery of his son, called every day for a week, but the reply was, "His lordship is unable to see any one."
One evening, about that time, Ginty Cooper had been to see her brother, Tom Corbet, at the baronet's, and was on her way home, when she accidentally spied M'Bride in conversation with Norton, at Lord Cullamore's hall-door, which, on her way to Sir Thomas's, she necessarily passed. It was just about dusk, or, as they call it in the country, between the two lights, and as the darkness was every moment deepening, she resolved to watch them, for the purpose of tracing M'Bride home to his lodgings. They, in the meantime, proceeded to a public-house in the vicinity, into which both entered, and having ensconced themselves in a little back closet off the common tap-room, took their seats at a small round table, Norton having previously ordered some punch. Giuty felt rather disappointed at this caution, but in a few minutes a red-faced girl, with a blowzy head of hair strong as wire, and crisped into small obstinate undulations of surface which neither comb nor coaxing could smooth away, soon followed them with the punch and a candle. By the light of the latter, Ginty perceived that there was nothing between them but a thin partition of boards, through the slits of which she could, by applying her eye or ear, as the case might be, both see and hear them. The tap-room at the time was empty, and Ginty, lest her voice might be heard, went to the bar, from whence she herself brought in a glass of porter, and having taken her seat close to the partition, overheard the following conversation:
"In half an hour he's to see you, then?" said Norton, repeating the words with a face of inquiry.
"Yes, sir; in half an hour."
"Well, now," he continued, "I assure you I'm neither curious nor inquisitive; yet, unless it be a very profound secret indeed, I give my honor I should wish to hear it."
"There's others in your family would be glad to hear it as well as you," replied M'Bride.
"The earl has seen you once or twice before on the subject, I think?"
"He has, sir?"
"And this is the third time, I believe?"
"It will be the third time, at all events."
"Come, man," said Norton, "take your punch; put yourself in spirits for the interview. It requires a man to pluck up to be able to speak to a nobleman."
"I have spoken to as good as ever he was; not that I say anything to his lordship's disparagement," replied M'Bride; "but I'll take the punch for a better reason—because I I have a fellow feeling for it. And yet it was my destruction, too; however, it can't be helped. Yes, faith, it made me an ungrateful scoundrel; but, no matter!—sir, here's your health! I must only, as they say, make the best of a bad bargain—must bring my cattle to the best market."
"Ay," said Norton, dryly and significantly; "and so you think the old earl, the respectable old nobleman, is your best chapman? Am I right?"
"I may go that far, any way," replied the fellow, with a knowing grin; "but I don't lave you much the wiser."
"No, faith, you don't," replied Norton, grinning in his turn. "However, listen to me. Do you not think, now, that if you placed your case in the hands of some one that stands well with his lordship, and who could use his influence in your behalf, you might have better success?"
"I'm the best judge of that myself," replied M'Bride. "As it is, I have, or can have, two strings to my bow. I have only to go to a certain person, and say I'm sorry for what I've done, and I've no doubt but I'd come well off."
"Well, and why don't you? If I were in your case, I'd consider myself first, though."
"I don't know," replied the other, as if undecided. "I think, afther all, I'm in better hands. Unless Lord Cullamore is doting, I'm sure of that fact. I don't intend to remain in this counthry. I'll go back to France or to America; I can't yet say which."
"Take your punch in the meantime; take off your liquor, I say, and it'll clear your head. Come, off with it. I don't know why, but I have taken a fancy to you. Your face is an honest one, and if I knew what your business with his lordship is, I'd give you a lift."
"Thank you, sir," replied the other; "but the truth is, I'm afeard to take much till after I see him. I must have all my wits about me, and keep myself steady."
"Do put it in my power to serve you. Tell me what your business is, and, by the honor of my name, I'll assist you."
"At present," replied M'Bride, "I can't; but if I could meet you after I see his lordship, I don't say but we might talk more about it."
"Very well," replied Norton; "you won't regret it. In the course of a short time I shall have the complete management of the whole Cullamore property; and who can say that, if you put confidence in me now, I may not have it in my power to employ you beneficially for yourself?"
"Come then, sir," replied M'Bride, "let me have another tumbler, on the head of it. I think one more will do me no harm; as you say, sir, it'll clear my head."
This was accordingly produced, and M'Bride began to become, if not more communicative, at least more loquacious, and seemed disposed to place confidence in Norton, to whom, however, he communicated nothing of substantial importance.
"I think," said the latter, "if I don't mistake, that I am acquainted with some of your relations."
"That may easily be," replied the other; "and it has struck me two or three times that I have seen your face before, but I can't tell where."
"Very likely," replied Norton; "but 111 tell you what, we must get better acquainted. Are you in any employment at present?"
"I'm doing nothing," said the other; "and the few pounds I had are now gone to a few shillings; so that by to-morrow or next day, I'll be forced to give my teeth a holiday."
"Poor fellow," replied Norton, "that's too bad. Here's a pound note for you, at all events. Not a word now; if we can understand each other you sha'n't want; and I'll tell you what you'll do. After leaving his lordship you must come to my room, where you can have punch to the eyes, and there will be no interruption to our chat. You can then tell me anything you like; but it must come willingly, for I'd scorn to force a secret from any man—that is, if it is a secret. Do you agree to this?"
"I agree to it, and many thanks, worthy sir," replied M'Bride, putting the pound note in his pocket; after which they chatted upon indifferent matters until the period for his interview with Lord Cullamore had arrived.
Ginty, who had not lost a syllable of this dialogue, to whom, as the reader perhaps may suspect, it was no novelty, followed them at a safe distance, until she saw them enter the house. The interest, however, which she felt in M'Bride's movements, prevented her from going home, or allowing him to slip through her finger without accomplishing a project that she had for some time before meditated, but had hitherto found no opportunity to execute.
Lord Cullamore, on M'Bride's entrance, was in much the same state which we have already described, except that in bodily appearance he was somewhat more emaciated and feeble. There was, however, visible in his features a tone of solemn feeling, elevated but sorrowful, that seemed to bespeak a heart at once resigned and suffering, and disposed to receive the dispensations of life as a man would whose philosophy was softened by a Christian spirit. In the general plan of life he clearly recognized the wisdom which, for the example and the benefit of all, runs with singular beauty through the infinite combinations of human action, verifying the very theory which the baronet saw dimly, but doubted; we mean that harmonious adaptation of moral justice to those actions by which the original principles that diffuse happiness through social life are disregarded and violated. The very order that characterizes all creation, taught him that we are not here without a purpose, and when human nature failed to satisfy him upon the mystery of life, he went to revelation, and found the problem solved. The consequence was, that whilst he felt as a man, he endured as a Christian—aware that this life is, for purposes which we cannot question, chequered with evils that teach us the absolute necessity of another, and make us, in the meantime, docile and submissive to the will of him who called us into being.
His lordship had been reading the Bible as M'Bride entered, and, after having closed it, and placed his spectacles between the leaves as a mark, he motioned the man to come forward.
"Well," said he, "have you brought those documents with you?"
"I have, my lord."
"Pray," said he, "allow me to see them."
M'Bride hesitated; being a knave himself, he naturally suspected every other man of trick and dishonesty; and yet, when he looked upon the mild but dignified countenance of the old man, made reverend by age and suffering, he had not the courage to give any intimation of the base suspicions he entertained.
"Place the papers before me, sir," said his lordship, somewhat sharply. "What opinion can I form of their value without having first inspected and examined them?"
As he spoke he took the spectacles from out the Bible, and settled them on his face.
"I know, my lord," replied M'Bride, taking them out of a pocket-book rather the worse for wear, "that I am placing them in the hands of an honorable man."
His lordship took them without seeming to have heard this observation; and as he held them up, M'Bride could perceive that a painful change came over him. He became ghastly pale, and his hands trembled so violently, that he was unable to read their contents until he placed them flat upon the table before him. At length, after having read and examined them closely, and evidently so as to satisfy himself of their authenticity, he turned round to M'Bride, and said, "Is any person aware that you are in possession of these documents?"
"Aha," thought the fellow, "there's an old knave for you. He would give a round sum that they were in ashes, I'll engage; but I'll make him shell out for all that.—I don't think there is, my lord, unless the gentleman—your lordship knows who I mean—that I took them from."
"Did you take them deliberately from him?"
The man stood uncertain for a moment, and thought that the best thing he could do was to make a merit of the affair, by affecting a strong disposition to serve his lordship.
"The truth is, my lord, I was in his confidence, and as I heard how matters stood, I thought it a pity that your lordship should be annoyed at your time of life, and I took it into my head to place them in your lordship's hands."
"These are genuine documents," observed his lordship, looking at them again. "I remember the handwriting distinctly, and have in my possession some letters written by the same individual. Was your master a kind one?"
"Both kind and generous, my lord; and I have no doubt at all but he'd forgive me everything, and advance a large sum besides, in order to get these two little papers back. Your lordship knows he can do nothing against you without them; and I hope you'll consider that, my lord."
"Did he voluntarily, that is, willingly, and of his own accord, admit you to his confidence? and, if so, upon what grounds?"
"Why, my lord, my wife and I were servants to his father for years, and he, when a slip of a boy, was very fond of me. When he came over here, my lord, it was rather against his will, and not at all for his own sake. So, as he knew that he'd require some one in this country that could act prudently for him, he made up his mind to take me with him, especially as my wife and myself were both anxious to come back to our own country. 'I must trust some one, M'Bride,' said he, 'and I will trust you'; and then he tould me the raison of his journey here."
"Well," replied his lordship, "proceed; have you anything more to add!"
"Nothing, my lord, but what I've tould you. I thought it a pitiful case to see a nobleman at your time of life afflicted by the steps he was about to take, and I brought these papers accordingly to your lordship. I hope you'll not forget that, my lord."
"What value do you place on these two documents?"
"Why, I think a thousand pounds, my lord."
"Well, sir, your estimate is a very low one—ten thousand would come somewhat nearer the thing."
"My lord, I can only say," said M'Bride, "that I'm willin' to take a thousand; but, if your lordship, knowin' the value of the papers as you do, chooses to add anything more, I'll be very happy to accept it."
"I have another question to ask you, sir," said his lordship, "which I do with great pain, as I do assure you that this is as painful a dialogue as I ever held in my life. Do you think now, that, provided you had not taken—that is, stolen-these papers from your master, he would, upon the success of the steps he is taking, have given you a thousand pounds?"
The man hesitated, as if he had caught a glimpse of the old man's object in putting the question. "Why—hem—no; I don't think I could expect that, my lord; but a handsome present, I dare say, I might come in for."
Lord Cullamore raised himself in his chair, and after looking at the treacherous villain with a calm feeling of scorn and indignation, to which his illness imparted a solemn and lofty severity, that made M'Bride feel as if he wished to sink through the floor,
"Go," said he, looking at him with an eye that was kindled into something of its former fire. "Begone, sir: take away your papers; I will not—I cannot enter into any compact with an ungrateful and perfidious villain like you. These papers have come into your hands by robbery or theft—that is sufficient; there they are, sir—take them away. I shall defend myself and my rights upon principles of justice, but never shall stoop to support them by dishonor."
On concluding, he flung them across the table with a degree of energy that surprised M'Bride, whilst his color,hitherto so pale, was heightened by a flash of that high feeling and untarnished integrity which are seldom so beautifully impressive as when exhibited in the honorable indignation of old age. It might have been compared to that pale but angry red of the winter sky which flashes so transiently over the snow-clad earth, when the sun, after the fatigues of his short but chilly journey, is about to sink from our sight at the close of day.
M'Bride slunk out of the room crestfallen, disappointed, and abashed; but on reaching the outside of the door he found Norton awaiting him. This worthy gentleman, after beckoning to him to follow, having been striving, with his whole soul centred in the key-hole, to hear the purport of their conference, now proceeded to his own room, accompanied by M'Bride, where we shall leave them without interruption to their conversation and enjoyment, and return once more to Ginty Cooper.
Until the hour of half-past twelve that night Ginty most religiously kept her watch convenient to the door. Just then it opened very quietly, and a man staggered down the hall steps, and bent his course toward the northern part of the city suburbs. A female might be observed to follow him at a distance, and ever as he began to mutter his drunken meditations to himself, she approached him more closely behind, in order, if possible, to lose nothing of what he said.
"An ould fool," he hiccupped, "to throw them back to me—hie—an' the other a kna-a-ve to want to—to look at them; but I was up—up; if the young-oung L-lor-ord will buy them, he mu-must-ust pay for them, for I hav-ave them safe. Hang it, my head's turn-turn-turnin' about like the—"
At this portion of his reflections he turned into a low, dark line of cabins, some inhabited, and others ruined and waste, followed by the female in question; and if the reader cannot ascertain her object in dogging him, he must expect no assistance in guessing it from us.
CHAPTER XXXV. Lucy's Vain but Affecting Expostulation with her Father
—Her Terrible Denunciation of Ambrose Gray.
The next morning, after breakfast, Lord Dunroe found Norton and M'Bride in the stable yard, when the following conversation took place.
"Norton," said his lordship, "I can't understand what they mean by the postponement of this trial about the mare. I fear they will beat us, and in that case it is better, perhaps, to compromise it. You know that that attorney fellow Birney is engaged against us, and by all accounts he has his wits about him."
"Yes, my lord; but Birney is leaving home, going to France, and they have succeeded in getting it postponed until the next term. My lord, this is the man, M'Bride, that I told you of this morning. M'Bride, have you brought those documents with you? I wish to show them to his lordship, who, I think, you will find a more liberal purchaser than his father."
"What's that you said, sir," asked M'Bride, with an appearance of deep interest, "about Mr. Birney going to France?"
"This is no place to talk about these matters," said his lordship; "bring the man up to your own room, Norton, and I will join you there. The thing, however, is a mere farce, and my father a fool, or he would not give himself any concern about it. Bring him to your room, where I will join you presently. But, observe me, Norton, none of these tricks upon me in future. You said you got only twenty-five for the mare, and now it appears you got exactly double the sum. Now, upon my honor, I won't stand any more of this."
"But, my lord," replied Norton, laughing, "don't you see how badly you reason? I got fifty for the mare; of this I gave your lordship twenty-five—the balance I kept myself. Of course, then, you can fairly say, or swear, if you like, that she brought you in nothing but the fair value. In fact, I kept you completely out of the transaction; but, after all, I only paid myself for the twenty-five I won off you."