"I will tell you by and by, my dear Maria," replied her mother; "but you were going to ask me something—what was it?"
"This man," replied her daughter, "wishes to know the abode of the person I was speaking about."
"Pray, what is his motive? What is your motive, my good man, for asking such a question?"
"Bekaise, ma'am," replied Dandy, "I happen to know a gentleman who has been for some time on the lookout for him, and wishes very much to find where he is. If it be the young man I spake of, he disappeared some three or four months ago from the town of Ballytrain."
"Well," replied Mrs. Mainwaring, with her usual good-sense and sagacity, "as I know not what your motive for asking such a question is, I do not think this lady ought to answer it; but if the gentleman himself is anxious to know, let him see her; and upon giving satisfactory reasons for the interest he takes in him, he shall be informed of his present abode. You must rest satisfied with this. Go to the kitchen and say to the servant that I desired her to give you refreshment."
"Thank you, ma'am," replied Dandy; "faith, that's a lively message, anyhow, and one that I feel great pleasure in deliverin'. This Wicklow air's a regular cutler; it has sharpened my teeth all to pieces; and if the cook 'ithin shows me good feedin' I'll show her something in the shape of good atin'. I'm a regular man of talent at my victuals, ma'am, an' was often tould I might live to die an alderman yet, plaise God; many thanks agin, ma'am." So saying, Dandy proceeded at a brisk pace to the kitchen.
"That communication, mamma," said Mrs. Scarman, after Dandy had left them, "has distressed you."
"It has, my child. Poor Miss Gourlay is in a most wretched state. This I know is, from her lover. In fact, they will be the death—absolutely and beyond a doubt—the death of this admirable and most lovely creature. But what can I do? Her father will not permit me to visit her, neither will he permit her to correspond with me, I have already written to him on the risk to which he submits his daughter in this ominous marriage, but I received neither notice of, nor reply to my letter. Oh, no; the dear girl is unquestionably doomed. I thinks however, I shall write a few lines in reply to this," she added, "but, alas the day! they cannot speak of comfort."
Whilst she is thus engaged, we will take, a peep at the on-goings of Dandy and Nancy Gallaher, in the kitchen, where, in pursuance of his message our bashful valet was corroborating, by very able practice, the account which he had given of the talents he had eulogized so justly.
"Well, in troth," said he, "but, first and foremost, I haven't the pleasure of knowin' yer name."
"Nancy Gallaher's my name, then," she replied.
"Ah," said Dandy, suspending the fork and an immense piece of ham on the top of it at the Charybdis which he had opened to an unusual extent to receive it; "ah, ma'am, it wasn't always that, I'll go bail. My counthrymen knows the value of such a purty woman not to stamp some of their names upon her. Not that you have a married look, either, any more than myself; you're too fresh for that, now that I look at you again."
A certain cloud, which, as Dandy could perceive, was beginning to darken her countenance, suggested the quick turn of his last observation. The countenance, however, cleared again, and she replied, "It is my name, and what is more, I never changed it. I was hard to plaise—and I am hard to plaise, and ever an' always had a dread of gettin' into bad company, especially when I knew that the same bad company was to last for life."
"An ould maid, by the Rock of Cashel," said Dandy, to himself.
"Blood alive, I wondher has she money; but here goes to thry. Ah, Nancy," he proceeded, "you wor too hard to plaise; and now, that you have got money like myself, nothing but a steady man, and a full purse, will shoot your convanience—isn't that pure gospel, now, you good lookin' thief?"
Nancy's face was now like a cloudless sky. "Well," she replied, "maybe there's truth in that, and maybe there's not; but I hope you are takin' care of yourself? That's what I always did and ever will, plaise God. How do you like the ham?"
"Divil a so well dressed a bit o' ham ever I ett—it melts into one's mouth like a kiss from a purty woman. Troth, Nancy, I think I'm kissing you ever since I began to ait it."
"Get out," said Nancy, laughing; "troth, you're a quare one; but you know our Wickla' hams is famous."
"And so is your Wicklow girls," replied Dandy; "but for my part, I'd sooner taste their lips than the best hams that ever were ett any day."
"Well, but," said Nancy, "did you ever taste our bacon? bekaise, if you didn't, lave off what you're at, and in three skips I'll get you a rasher and eggs that'll make you look nine ways at once. Here, throw that by, it's could, and I'll get you something hot and comfortable."
"Go on," replied Dandy; "I hate idleness. Get the eggs and rasher you spake of, and while you're doin' it I'll thry and amuse myself wid what's before me. Industhry's the first of virtues, Nancy, and next to that comes perseverance; I defy you in the mane time to do a rasher as well as you did this ham—hoeh—och—och. God bless me, a bit was near stickin' in my throat. Is your wather good here? and the raison why I ax you is, that I'm the devil to plaise in wather; and on that account I seldom take it without a sup o' spirits to dilute it, as the docthors say, for, indeed, that's the way it agrees with me best. It's a kind of family failin' with us—devil a one o' my blood ever could look a glass of mere wather in the face without blushin'."
Dandy was now upon what they call the simplicity dodge; that is to say, he affected that character of wisdom for which certain individuals, whose knowledge of life no earthly experience ever can improve, are so extremely anxious to get credit. Every word he uttered was accompanied by an oafish grin, so ludicrously balanced between simplicity and cunning, that Nancy, who had been half her life on the lookout for such a man, and who knew that this indecision of expression was the characteristic of the tribe with which she classed him, now saw before her the great dream of her heart realized.
"Well, in troth," she replied, "you are a quare man; but still it would be too bad to make you blush for no stronger raison than mere wather. So, in the name o' goodness, here's a tumbler of grog," she added, filling him out one on the instant, "and as you're so modest, you must only drink it and keep your countenance; it'll prepare you, besides, for the rasher and eggs; and, by the same token, here's an ould candle-box that's here the Lord knows how long; but, faix, now it must help to do the rasher. Come then; if you are stronger than I am, show your strength, and pull it to pieces, for you see I can't."
It was one of those flat little candle-boxes made of deal, with which every one in the habit of burning moulds is acquainted. Dandy took it up, and whilst about to pull it to pieces, observed written on a paper label, in a large hand, something between writing and print, "Mrs. Norton, Summerfield Cottage, Wicklow."
"What is this?" said he; "what name is this upon it? Let us see, 'Mrs. Norton, Summerfield Cottage, Wicklow!' Who the dickens is Mrs. Norton?"
"Why, my present mistress," replied Nancy; "Mr. Mainwaring is her second husband, and her name was Mrs. Norton before she married him."
"Norton," said Dandy, whose heart was going at full speed, with a hope that he had at length got into the right track, "it's a purty name in troth. Arra, Nancy, do you know was your misthress ever in France?"
"Ay, was she," replied Nancy. "Many a year maid to—let me see—what's this the name is? Ay! Cullamore. Maid to the wife of Lord Cullamore. So I was tould by Alley Mahon, a young woman that was here on a visit to me."
Dandy put the glass of grog to his mouth, and having emptied it, sprung to his feet, commenced an Irish jig through the kitchen, in a spirit so outrageously whimsical—buoyant, mad, hugging the box all the time in his arms, that poor Nancy looked at him with a degree of alarm and then of jealousy which she could not conceal.
"In the name of all that's wonderful," she exclaimed, "what's wrong—what's the matter? What's the value of that blackguard box that you make the mistake about in huggin' it that way? Upon my conscience, one would think you're in a desolate island. Remember, man alive, that you're among flesh and blood like your own, and that you have friends, although the acquaintance isn't very long, I grant, that wishes you betther than to see you makin' a sweetheart of a tallow-box. What the sorra is that worth?"
"A hundred pounds, my darlin'—a hundred pounds—bravo, Dandy—well done, brave Dulcimer—wealthy Nancy. Faith, you may swear upon the frying-pan there that I've the cash, and sure 'tis yourself I was lookin' out for."
"I don't think, then, that ever I resembled a candle-box in my life," she replied, rather annoyed that the article in question came in for such a prodigality of his hugs, kisses, and embraces, of all shapes and characters.
"Well, Nancy," said he, "charming Nancy, you're my fancy, but in the meantime I have the honor and pleasure to bid you a good day."
"Why, where are you goin'?" asked the woman. "Won't you wait for the rasher?"
"Keep it hot, charming Nancy, till I come back; I'm just goin' to take a constitutional walk." So saying, Dandy, with the candle-box under his arm, darted out of the kitchen, and without waiting to know whether there was an answer to be brought back or not, mounted his jarvey, and desiring the man to drive as if the devil and all his imps were at their heels, set off at full speed for the city.
"Bad luck to you for a scamp," exclaimed the indignant cook, shouting after him; "is that the way you trate a decent woman after gettin' your skinful of the best? Wait till you put your nose in this kitchen again, an' it'a different fare you'll get."
On reaching his master's hotel, Dandy went upstairs, where he found him preparing to go out. He had just sealed a note, and leaning himself back on the chair, looked at his servant with a good deal of surprise, in consequence of the singularity of Ms manner. Dandy, on the other hand, took the candle-box from under his arm, and putting it flat on the table, with the label downwards, placed his two hands upon it, and looked the other right in the face; after which he closed one eye, and gave him a very knowing wink.
"What do you mean, you scoundrel, by this impudence?" exclaimed his master, although at the same time he could not avoid laughing; for, in truth, he felt a kind of presentiment, grounded upon Dandy's very assurance, that he was the bearer of some agreeable intelligence. "What do you mean, sirra? You're drunk, I think."
"Hi tell you what, sir," replied Dandy, "from this day out, upon my soul, I'll patronize you like a man as I am; that is to say, provided you continue to deserve it."
"Come, sirra, you're at your buffoonery again, or else you're drunk, as I said. Did the lady send any reply?"
"Have you any cash to spare?" replied Dandy. "I want to invest a thrifle in the funds."
"What can this impudence mean, sirra?" asked the other, sadly puzzled to understand his conduct. "Why do you not reply to me? Did the lady send an answer?"
"Most fortunate of all masthers," replied Dandy, "in havin' such a servant; the lady did send an answer."
"And where is it, sirra?"
"There it is!" replied the other, shoving the candle-box triumphantly over to him, The stranger looked steadily at him, and was beginning to lose his temper, for he took it now for granted that his servant was drunk.
"I shall dismiss you instantly, sirra," he said, "if you don't come to your senses."
"I suppose so," replied the other, still maintaining his cool, unabashed effrontery. "I dare say you will, just after I've made a man of you—changed you from nothing to something, or, rather, from nobody—for devil a much more you were up to the present time yet—to somebody. In the meantime, read the lady's answer, if you plaise."
"Where is it, you impudent knave? I see no note—no answer."
"Troth, sir, I am afeared many a time you were ornamented with the dunce's cap in your school-days, and well, I'll be bound, you became it. Don't I say the answer's before you, there?"
"There is nothing here, you scoundrel, but a deal box."
"Eight, sir; and a deal of intelligence can it give you, if you have the sense to find it out. Now, listen, sir. So long as you live, ever and always examine both sides of every subject that comes before you, even if it was an ould deal box."
His master took the hint, and instantly turning the box, read to his astonishment, Mrs. Norton, Summerfield pottage, Wicklow, and then looked at Dandy for an explanation. The latter nodded with his usual easy confidence, and proceeded, "It's all right, sir—she was in France—own maid to Lady Cullamore—came home and got married—first to a Mr. Norton, and next to a person named Mainwarin': and there she is, the true Mrs. Norton, safe and sound for you, in Summerfield Cottage, under the name of Mrs. Mainwarin'."
"Dandy," said his master, starting to his feet, "I forgive you a thousand times. Throw that letter in the post-office. You shall have the money, Dandy, more, perhaps, than I promised, provided this is the lady; but I cannot doubt it. I am now going to Mr. Birney; but, stay, let us be certain. How did you become acquainted with these circumstances?"
Dandy gave him his authority; after which his master put on his hat, and was about proceeding out, when the former exclaimed, "Hello-sir, where are you goin'?"
"To see Birney, I have already told you."
"Come, come," replied his man, "take your time—be steady, now—be cool—and listen to what your friend has to say to you."
"Don't trifle with me now, Dandy; I really can't bear it."
"Faith, but you must, though. There's one act I patronized you in; now, how do you know, as I'm actin' the great man, but I can pathronize you in another?"
"How is that? For heaven's sake, don't trifle with me; every day, every hour, every moment, is precious, and may involve the happiness of—"
"I see, sir," replied this extraordinary valet, with an intelligent nod, "but, still, fair and aisy goes far in a day. There's no danger of her, you know—don't be unaisy. Fenton, sir—ehem—Fenton, I say—Fenton and fifty I say."
"Fenton and a hundred, Dandy, if there's an available trace of him."
"I don't know what you call an available trace," replied Dandy, "but I can send you to a lady who knows where he is, and where you can find him."
The stranger returned from the door, and sitting down again covered his face with his hands, as if to collect himself; at length he said, "This is most extraordinary; tell me all about it."
Dandy related that with which the reader is already acquainted, and did so with such an air of comic gravity and pompous superiority, that his master, now in the best possible spirits, was exceedingly amused.
"Well, Dandy," said he, "if your information respecting Fenton prove correct, reckon upon another hundred, instead of the fifty I mentioned. I suppose I may go now?" he added, smiling.
Dandy, still maintaining his gravity, waved his hand with an air of suitable authority, intimating that the other had permission to depart. On going out, however, he said, "I beg your pardon, sir, but while you're abroad, I'd take it as a favor if you'd find out the state o' the funds. Of course, I'll be investin'; and a man may as well do things with his eyes open—may as well examine both sides o' the candle-box, you know. You may go, sir."
"Well," thought the stranger to himself, as he literally went on his way rejoicing toward Birney's office, "no man in this life should ever yield to despair. Here was I this morning encompassed by doubt and darkness, and I may almost say by despair itself. Yet see how easily and naturally the hand of Providence, for it is nothing less, has changed the whole tenor of my existence. Everything is beginning not only to brighten, but to present an appearance of order, by which we shall, I trust, be enabled to guide ourselves through the maze of difficulty that lies, or that did lie, at all events, before us. Alas, if the wretched suicide, who can see nothing but cause of despondency about him and before him, were to reflect upon the possibility of what only one day might evolve from the ongoing circumstances of life, how many would that wholesome reflection prevent from the awful crime of impatience at the wisdom of God, and a want of confidence in his government! I remember the case of an unhappy young man who plunged into a future life, as it were, to-day, who, had he maintained his part until the next, would have found himself master of thousands. No; I shall never despair. I will in this, as in every other virtue, imitate my beloved Lucy, who said, that to whatever depths of wretchedness life might bring her, she would never yield to that."
"Good news, Birney!" he exclaimed, on entering that gentleman's office; "charming intelligence! Both are found at last."
"Explain yourself, my dear sir," replied the other; "how is it? What has happened? Both of whom?"
"Mrs. Norton and Fenton."
He then explained the circumstances as they had been explained to himself by Dandy; and Birney seemed gratified certainly, but not so much as the stranger thought he ought to have been.
"How is this?" he asked; "this discovery, this double discovery, does not seem to give you the satisfaction which I had expected, it would?"
"Perhaps not," replied the steady man of law, "but I am highly gratified, notwithstanding, provided everything you tell me turns out to be correct. But even then, I apprehend that the testimony of this Mrs. Norton, unsupported as it is by documentary evidence, will not be: sufficient for our purpose. It will require corroboration, and how are we to corroborate it?"
"If it will enable us to prevent the marriage," replied the other, "I am satisfied."
"That is very generous and disinterested, I grant," said Birney, "and what few are capable of; but still there are forms of law and principles of common justice to be observed and complied with; and these, at present, stand in our way for want of the documentary evidence I speak of."
"What then ought our next step to be?—but I suppose I can anticipate you—to see Mrs. Norton."
"Of course, to see Mrs. Norton; and I propose that we start immediately. There is no time to be lost about it. I shall get on my boots, and change my dress a little, and, with this man of yours to guide us, we shall be on the way to Summerfield Cottage in half-an-hour."
"Should I not communicate this intelligence to Lady Gourlay?" said the stranger. "It will restore her to life; and surely the removal of only one day's sorrow such as lies at her heart becomes a duty."
"But suppose our information should prove incorrect, into what a dreadful relapse would you plunge her then!"
"On, very true—very true, indeed: that is well thought of; let us first see that there is no mistake, and afterwards we can proceed with confidence."
Poor Lucy, unconscious that the events we have related had taken place, was passing an existence of which every day brought round to her nothing but anguish and misery. She now not only refused to see her brother on any occasion, or under any circumstances, but requested an interview with her father, in order to make him acquainted with the abominable principles, by the inculcation of which, as a rule of life and conduct, he had attempted to corrupt her. Her father having heard this portion of her complaint, diminished in its heinousness as it necessarily was by her natural modesty, appeared very angry, and swore roundly at the young scapegrace, as he called him.
"But the truth is, Lucy," he added, "that however wrong and wicked he may have been, and was, yet we cannot be over severe on him. He has had no opportunities of knowing better, and of course he will mend. I intend to lecture him severely for uttering such principles to you; but, on the other hand, I know him to be a shrewd, keen young fellow, who promises well, notwithstanding. In truth, I like him, scamp as he is; and I believe that whatever is bad in him—"
"Whatever is bad in him! Why, papa, there is nothing good in him."
"Tut, Lucy; I believe, I say, that whatever is bad in him he has picked up from the kind of society he mixed with."
"Papa," she replied, "it grieves me to hear you, sir, palliate the conduct of such a person—to become almost the apologist of principles so utterly fiendish. You know that I am not and never have been in the habit of using ungenerous language against the absent. So far as I am concerned, he has violated all the claims of a brother—has foregone all title to a sister's love; but that is not all—I believe him to be so essentially corrupt and vicious in heart and soul, so thoroughly and blackly diabolical in his principles—moral I cannot call them—that I would stake my existence he is some base and plotting impostor, in whose veins there flows not one single drop of my pure-hearted mother's blood. I therefore warn you, sir, that he is an impostor, with, perhaps, a dishonorable title to your name, but none at all to your property."
"Nonsense, you foolish girl. Is he not my image?"
"I admit he resembles you, sir, very much, and I do not deny that he may be"—she paused, and alternately became pale and red by turns—"what I mean to say, sir, is what I have already said, that he is not my mother's son, and that although he may be privileged to bear your name, he has no claim on either your property or title. Does it not strike you, sir, that it might be to make way for this person that my legitimate brother was removed long ago? And I have also heard yourself say frequently, while talking of my brother, how extremely like mamma and me he was."
"There is no doubt he was," replied her father, somewhat struck by the force of her observations; "and I was myself a good deal surprised at the change which must have taken place in him since his childhood. However, you know he accounted for this himself very fairly and very naturally."
"Very ingeniously, at least," she replied; "with more of ingenuity, I fear, than truth. Now, sir, hear me further. You are aware that I never liked those Corbets, who have been always so deeply, and, excuse me, sir, so mysteriously in your confidence."
"Yes, Lucy, I know you never did; but that is a prejudice you inherited from your mother."
"I appeal to your own conscience, sir, whether mamma's prejudice against them was not just and well founded. Yet it was not so much prejudice as the antipathy which good bears to evil, honesty to fraud, and truth to darkness, dissimulation, and falsehood. I entreat you, then, to investigate this matter, papa; for as sure as I have life, so certainly was my dear brother removed, in order, at the proper time, to make way for this impostor. You know not, sir, but there may be a base and inhuman murder involved in this matter—nay, a double murder—that of my cousin, too; yes, and the worst of all murders, the murder of the innocent and defenceless. As a man, as a magistrate, but, above all, a thousand times, as a father—as the father and uncle of the very two children that have disappeared, it becomes your duty to examine into this dark business thoroughly."
"I have no reason to suspect the Corbets, Lucy. I have ever found them faithful to me and to my interests."
"I know, sir, you have ever found them obsequious and slavish and ready to abet you in many acts which I regret that you ever committed. There is the case of that unfortunate man, Trailcudgel, and many similar ones; were they not as active and cheerful! in bearing out your very harsh orders against him and others of your tenantry, as if they I had been advancing the cause of humanity?"
"Say the cause of justice, if you please, Lucy—the rights of a landlord."
"But, papa, if the unfortunate tenantry by whose toil and labor we live in affluence and; luxury do not find a friend in their landlord, who is, by his relation to them, their natural protector, to whom else in the wide world can they turn? This, however, is not the subject on which I wish to speak. I do believe that Thomas Corbet is deep, designing, and vindictive. He was always a close, dark man, without either cheerfulness or candor. Beware, therefore, of him and of his family. Nay, he has a capacity for being dangerous; for it strikes me, sir, that his intellect is as far above his position in life as his principles are beneath it."
There was much in what Lucy said that forced itself upon her father's reflection, much that startled him, and a good deal that gave him pain. He paused for a considerable time after she had ceased to speak, and said,
"I will think of these matters, Lucy. I will probably do more; and if I find that they have played me foul by imposing upon me—" He paused abruptly, and seemed embarrassed, the truth being that he knew and felt how completely he was in their power.
"Now, papa," said Lucy, "after having heard my opinion of this young man—after the wanton outrage upon all female delicacy and virtue of which he has been guilty, I trust you will not in future attempt to obtrude him upon me. I will not see him, speak to him, nor acknowledge him; and such, let what may happen, is my final determination."
"So far, Lucy, I will accede to your wishes. I shall take care that he troubles you with no more wicked exhortations."
"Thank you, dear papa; this is kind, and I feel it so."
"Now," said her father, after she had withdrawn, "how am I to act? It is not impossible but there may be much truth in what she says. I remember, however, the death of the only son that could possibly be imposed on me in the sense alluded to her. He surely does not live; or if he does, the far-sighted sagacity which made the account of his death a fraud upon my credulity, for such selfish and treacherous purposes, is worthy of being concocted in the deepest pit of hell. Yet that some one of them has betrayed me, is evident from the charges brought against me by this stranger to whom Lucy is so devotedly attached, and which charges Thomas Corbet could not clear up. If one of these base but dexterous villains, or if the whole gang were to outwit me, positively I could almost blow my very brains out, for allowing myself, after all, to become their dupe and plaything. I will think of it, however. And again, there is the likeness; there does seem to be a difficulty in that; for, beyond all doubt, my legitimate child, up until his disappearance, did not bear in his countenance a single feature of mine but bore a strong resemblance to his mother; whereas this Tom is my born image! Yet I like him. He has all my points; knows the world, and despises it as much as I do. He did not know Lucy, however, or he would have kept his worldly opinions to himself. It is true he said very little but what we see about us as the regulating principles of life every day; but Lucy, on the other hand, is no every-day girl, and will not receive such doctrines, and I am glad of it They may do very well in a son; but somehow one shudders at the contemplation of their existence in the heart and principles of a daughter. Unfortunately, however I am in the power of these Corbets, and I feel that exposure at this period, the crisis of my daughter's marriage, would not only frustrate my ambition for her, but occasion my very death, I fear. I know not how it is, but I think if I were to live my life over again, I would try a different course."
CHAPTER XXXVIII. An Unpleasant Disclosure to Dunroe
—Anthony Corbet gives Important Documents to the Stranger—Norton catches a Tartar.
The next morning the stranger was agreeably surprised by seeing the round, rosy, and benevolent features of Father M'Mahon, as he presented himself at his breakfast table. Their meeting was cordial and friendly, with the exception of a slight appearance of embarrassment that was evident in the manner of the priest.
"The last time you were in town," said the former, "I was sorry to observe thai you seemed rather careworn and depressed; but I think you look better now, and a good deal more cheerful."
"And I think I have a good right," replied the priest; "and I think no man ought to know the, cause of it better than yourself. I charge it, sir, with an act of benevolence to the poor of my parish, through their humble pastor; for which you stand.—I beg your pardon—sit there, a guilty man."
"How is that?" asked the other, smiling.
"By means of an anonymous letter that contained a hundred pound note, sir."
"Well," said the stranger, "there is no use in telling a falsehood about it. The truth is, I was aware of the extent to which you involved yourself, in order to relieve many of the small farmers and other struggling persons of good repute in your parish, and I thought it too bad that you should suffer distress yourself, who had so frequently relieved it in others."
"God bless you, my friend," replied the priest; "for I will call you so. I wish every man possessed of wealth was guided by your principles. Freney the Robber has a new saddle and bridle, anyhow; and I came up to town to pay old Anthony Corbet a sum I borrowed from him the last time I was here?"
"Oh, have you seen that cautious and disagreeable old man? We could make nothing of him, although I feel quite certain that he knows everything connected with the disappearance of Lady Gourlay's son."
"I have no doubt of it myself," replied the priest; "and I now find, that what neither religion, nor justice, nor humanity could influence him to do, superstition is likely to effect. He has had a drame, he says, in which his son James that was in Lady Gourlay's service has appeared to him, and threatens that unless he renders her justice, he has but a poor chance in the other world."
"That is not at all unnatural," said the stranger; "the man, though utterly without religion, was nevertheless both hesitating and timid; precisely the character to do a just act from a wrong motive."
"Be that as it may," continued the priest, "I have a message from him to you."
"To me!" replied the other. "I am much obliged to him, but it is now too late. We have ascertained where Lady Gourlay's son is, without any assistance from him; and in the course of this very day we shall furnish ourselves with proper authority for claiming and producing him."
"I am delighted to hear it," said the priest. "God be praised that the heart of that charitable and Christian woman will be relieved at last, and made happy; but still I say, see old Anthony. He is as deep as a draw-well, and as close as an oyster. See him, sir. Take my advice, now that the drame has frightened him, and call upon the old sinner. He may serve you in more ways than you know."
"Well, as you advise me to do so, I shall; but I do not relish the old fellow at all."
"Nobody does, nor ever did. He and all his family lived as if every one of them carried a little world of their own within them. Maybe they do; and God forgive me for saying it, but I don't think if its secrets were known, that it would be found a very pleasant world. May the Lord change them, and turn their hearts!"
After some further chat, the priest took his departure, but promised to see his friend from time to time, before he should leave town.
The stranger felt that the priest's advice to see old Corbet again was a good one. The interview could do no harm, and might be productive of some good, provided he could be prevailed on to speak out. He accordingly directed his steps once more to Constitution Hill, where he found the old man at his usual post behind the counter.
"Well, Corbet," said he, "alive still?"
"Alive still, sir," he replied; "but can't be so always; the best of us must go."
"Very true, Corbet, if we could think of it as we ought; but, somehow, it happens that most people live in this world as if they were never to die."
"That's too true, sir—unfortunately too true, God help us!"
"Corbet," proceeded the stranger, "nothing can convince me that you don't know something about—"
"I beg your pardon, sir," said the old man; "we had betther go into the next room. Here, Polly," he shouted to his wife, who was inside, "will you come and stand the shop awhile?"
"To be sure I will," replied the old woman, making her appearance. "How do you do, sir," she added, addressing the stranger; "I am glad to see you looking so well."
"Thank you, madam," replied the stranger: "I can return the compliment, as they say."
"Keep the shop, Polly," said the old man sharply, "and don't make the same mistake you made awhile ago—give away a stone o' meal for half a stone. No wondher for us to be poor at sich a rate of doin' things as that. Walk in, if you plaise, sir."
They accordingly entered the room, and the stranger, after they had taken seats, resumed,
"I was going to say, Corbet, that nothing can convince me that you don't know more about the disappearance of Lady Gourlay's heir than you are disposed to acknowledge."
The hard, severe, disagreeable expression returned once more to his features, as he replied,
"Troth, sir, it appears you will believe so, whether or not. But now, sir, in case I did, what would you say? I'm talkin' for supposition's sake, mind. Wouldn't a man desarve something that could give you information on the subject?"
"This avaricious old man," thought the stranger, pausing as if to consider the proposition, "was holding us out all along, in order to make the most of his information. The information, however, is already in our possession, and he comes too late. So far I am gratified that we are in a position to punish him by disappointing his avarice."
"We would, Corbet, if the information were necessary, but at present it is not; we don't require it."
Corbet started, and his keen old eyes gleamed with an expression between terror and incredulity.
"Why," said he, "you don't require it! Are you sure of that?"
"Perfectly so. Some time ago we would have rewarded you liberally, had you made any available disclosure to us; but now it is too late. The information we had been seeking for so anxiously, accidentally came to us from another quarter. You see now, Corbet, how you have overshot the mark, and punished yourself. Had you been influenced by a principle of common justice, you would have been entitled to expect and receive a most ample compensation; a compensation beyond your hopes, probably beyond your very wishes, and certainly beyond your wants. As matters stand, however, I tell you now that I would not give you sixpence for any information you could communicate."
Anthony gave him a derisive look, and pursed up his thin miser-like lips into a grin of most sinister triumph.
"Wouldn't you, indeed?" said he. "Are you quite sure of what you say?"
"Quite certain of it."
"Well, now, how positive some people is. You have found him out, then?" he asked, with a shrewd look. "You have found him, and you don't require any information from me."
"Whether we have found him or not," replied the other, "is a question which I will not answer; but that we require no information from you, is fact. While it was a marketable commodity, you refused to dispose of it; but, now, we have got the supply elsewhere."
"Well, sir," said Anthony, "all I can say is, that I'm very glad to hear it; and it's no harm, surely, to wish you joy of it."
The same mocking sneer which accompanied this observation was perfectly vexatious; it seemed to say, "So you think, but you may be mistaken, Take care that I haven't you in my power still."
"Why do you look in that disagreeable way, Corbet? I never saw a man whose face can express one thing, and his words another, so effectually as yours, when you wish."
"You mane to say, sir," he returned, with a true sardonic smile, "that my face isn't an obedient face; but sure I can't help that. This is the face that God has given me, and I must be content with it, such as it is."
"I was told this morning by Father M'Mahon," replied the other, anxious to get rid of him as soon as he could, "that you had expressed a wish to see me."
"I believe I did say something to that effect; but then it appears you know everything yourself, and don't want my assistance."
"Any assistance we may at a future time require at your hands we shall be able to extort from you through the laws of the land and of justice; and if it appears that you have been an accomplice or agent in such a deep and diabolical crime, neither power, nor wealth, nor cunning, shall be able to protect you from the utmost rigor of the law. You had neither mercy nor compassion on the widow or her child; and the probability is, that, old as you are, you will be made to taste the deepest disgrace, and the heaviest punishment that can be annexed to the crime you have committed."
A singular change came over the features of the old man. Paleness in age, especially when conscience bears its secret but powerful testimony against the individual thus charged home as Corbet was, sometimes gives an awful, almost an appalling expression to the countenance. The stranger, who knew that the man he addressed, though cunning, evasive, and unscrupulous, was, nevertheless, hesitating and timid, saw by his looks that he had produced an unusual impression; and he resolved to follow it up, rather to gratify the momentary amusement which he felt at his alarm, than from any other motive. In fact, the appearance of Corbet was extraordinary. A death-like color, which his advanced state of life renders it impossible to describe, took possession of him; his eyes lost the bitter expression so peculiar to them—his firm thin lips relaxed and spread, and the corners of his mouth dropped so lugubriously, that the stranger, although he felt that the example of cowering guilt then before him was a solemn one, could scarcely refrain from smiling at what he witnessed.
"How far now do you think, sir," asked Corbet, "could punishment in such a case go? Mind, I'm putting myself out of the question; I'm safe, any how, and that's one comfort."
"For a reply to that question," returned the other, "you will have to go to the judge and the hangman. There was a time when you might have asked it, and answered it too, with safety to yourself; but now that time has gone by, and I fear very much that your day of grace is past."
"That's very like what James tould me in my dhrame," said the old man, in a soliloquy, dictated by his alarm. "Well, sir," he replied, "maybe, afther all—but didn't you say awhile ago that you wouldn't give sixpence for any information I could furnish you with?"
"I did, and I do."
A gleam of his former character returned to his eye, as, gathering up his lips again, 'he said, "I could soon show you to the contrary."
"Yes; but you will not do so. I see clearly that you are infatuated. It appears to me that there is an evil fate hanging over you, like some hungry raven, following and watching the motions of a sick old horse that is reduced to skin and bone. You're doomed, I think."
"Well, now," replied Anthony, the corners of whose mouth dropped again at this startling and not inappropriate comparison, "to show how much you are mistaken, let me ask how your business with Lord Cullamore gets on? I believe there's a screw loose there?—eh? I mean on your side—eh?"
It wasn't in his nature to restrain the sinister expression which a consciousness of his advantage over the stranger caused him to feel in his turn. The grin, besides, which he gave him, after he had thrown out these hints, had something of reprisal in it; and, to tell the truth, the stranger's face now became as blank and lugubrious as Anthony's had been before.
"If I don't mistake," he continued—for the other was too much astonished to reply, "if I don't mistake, there's a couple o' bits of paper that would stand your friend, if you could lay your claws upon them."
"Whether they could, or could not, is no affair of yours, my good sir," replied the stranger, rising and getting his hat; "and whether I have changed my mind on the subject you hint at is a matter known only to myself. I wish you good-day."
"I beg your pardon," said Anthony, probably satisfied with the fact of his having turned the tables and had his revenge on the stranger; "I beg your pardon, sir. Let us part friends, at all events. Set in case now—"
"I will listen to none of those half sentences. You cannot possibly speak out, I see; in fact, you are tongue-tied by the cord of your evil fate. Upon no subject can you speak until it is too late."
"God direct me now!" exclaimed Corbet to himself. "I think the time is come; for, unless I relieve my conscience before I'm called—James he tould me the other night—Well, sir," he proceeded, "listen. If I befriend you, will you promise to stand my friend, if I should get into any difficulty?"
"I will enter into no compromise of the kind with you," said the other. "If you are about to do an act of justice, you ought to do it without conditions; and if you possess any document that is of value to another, and of none to yourself, and yet will not restore it to the proper owner, you are grossly dishonest, and capable of all that will soon, I trust, be established against you and your employers. Good-by, Mr. Corbet."
"Aisy, sir, aisy," said the tenacious and vacillating old knave. "Aisy, I say. You will be generous, at any rate; for you know their value. How much will you give me for the papers I spake of—that is, in case I could get them for you?"
"Not sixpence. A friend has just returned from France, who—no," thought he, "I will not state a falsehood—Good-day, Mr. Corbet; I am wasting my time."
"One minute, sir—one minute. It may be worth your while."
"Yes; but you trifle with me by these reluctant and penurious communications."
Anthony had laid down his head upon his hands, whose backs were supported by the table; and in this position, as' if he were working himself into an act of virtue sufficient for a last effort, he remained until the stranger began to wonder what he meant. At length he arose, went up stairs as on a former occasion, but with less—and not much less—hesitation and delay; he returned and handed him the identical documents of which M'Bride had deprived him. "Now," said he, "listen to me. You know the value of these; but that isn't what I want to spake to you about.—Whatever you do about the widow's son, don't do it without lettin' me know, and consultin' me—ay, and bein' guided by me; for although you all think yourselves right, you may find, yourselves in the wrong box still. Think of this now, and it will be better for you. I'm not sure, but I'll open all your eyes yet, and that before long; for I believe the time has come at last. Now that I've given you these papers," (extracted, by the way, from M'Bride's pockets during his drunkenness, by Ginty Cooper, on the night she dogged him,) "you must promise me one thing."
"What is that?"
"I suppose you know where this boy is? Now, when you're goin' to find him, will you bring me with you?"
"It'll plaise an ould man, at any rate; but there may be other raisons. Will, you do this?"
The stranger, concluding that the wisest tiring was to give him his way, promised accordingly, and. the old man seemed somewhat satisfied.
"One man, at all events, I'll punish, if I should sacrifice every child I have in doin' so; and it is in order that he may be punished to the heart—to the marrow—to the soul within him—that I got these papers, and gave them to you."
"Corbet," said the stranger, "be the cause of your revenge what it may, its principle in your heart is awful. You are, in fact, a dreadful old man. May I ask how you came by these papers?"
"You may," he replied; "but I won't answer you. At a future time it is likely I will—but not now. It's enough for you to have them."
On his way home the stranger called at Birney's office, where he produced the documents; and it was arranged that the latter gentleman should wait upon Lord Cullamore the next day, in order to lay before him the proofs on which they were about to proceed; for, as they were now complete, they thought it more respectful to that venerable old nobleman to appeal privately to his own good sense, whether it would not be more for the honor of his family to give him an opportunity of yielding quietly, and without public scandal, than to drag the matter before the world in a court of justice. It was so arranged; and a suitable warrant having been procured to enable them to produce the body of the unfortunate Fenton, the proceedings of that day closed very much to their satisfaction.
The next day, between two and three o'clock, a visitor, on particular business, was announced to Lord Cullamore; and on being desired to walk up, our friend Birney made his bow to his lordship. Having been desired to take a seat, he sat down, and his lordship, who appeared to be very feeble, looked inquiringly at him, intimating thereby that he waited to know the object of his visit.
"My lord," said the attorney, "in the whole course of my professional life, a duty so painful as this has never devolved upon me. I come supported with proofs sufficient to satisfy you that your title and property cannot descend to your son, Lord Dunroe."
"I have no other son, sir," said his lordship, reprovingly.
"I do not mean to insinuate that you have, my lord. I only assert that he who is supposed to be the present heir, is not really so at all."
"Upon what proofs, sir, do you ground that assertion?"
"Upon proofs, my lord, the most valid and irrefragable; proofs that cannot be questioned, even for a moment; and, least of all, by your lordship, who are best acquainted with their force and authenticity."
"Have you got them about you?"
"I have got copies of the documentary proofs, my lord, and I shall now place them before you."
"Yes; have the goodness to let me see them."
Birney immediately handed him the documents, and mentioned the facts of which they were the proofs. In fact, only one of them was absolutely necessary, and that was simply the record of a death duly and regularly attested.
The old man seemed struck with dismay; for, until this moment he had not been clearly in possession of the facts which were now brought against him, as they were stated, and made plain as to their results, by Mr. Birney.
"I do not know much of law," he said, "but enough, I think, to satisfy me, that unless you have other and stronger proofs than this, you cannot succeed in disinheriting my son. I have seen the originals of those before, but I had forgotten some facts and dates connected with them at the time."
"We have the collateral proof you speak of, my lord, and can produce personal evidence to corroborate those which I have shown you."
"May I ask who that evidence is?"
"A Mrs. Mainwaring, my lord—formerly Norton—who had been maid to your first wife while she resided privately in Prance—was a witness to her death, and had it duly registered."
"But even granting this, I think you will be called on to prove the intention on my part: that which a man does in ignorance cannot, and ought not to be called a violation of the law."
"But the law in this case will deal only with facts, my lord; and your lordship must now see and feel that we are in a capacity to prove them. And before I proceed further, my lord, I beg to say, that I am instructed to appeal to your lordship's good sense, and to that consideration for the feelings of your family, by which, I trust, you will be influenced, whether, satisfied as you must be of your position, it would not be more judicious on your own part to concede our just rights, seeing, as you clearly may, that they are incontrovertible, than to force us to bring the matter before the public; a circumstance which, so far as you are yourself concerned, must be inexpressibly painful, and as regards other members of your family, perfectly deplorable and distressing. We wish, my lord, to spare the innocent as much as we can."
"I am innocent, sir; your proofs only establish an act done by me in ignorance."
"We grant that, my lord, at once, and without for a moment charging you with any dishonorable motive; but what we insist on—can prove—and your lordship cannot deny—is, that the act you speak of was done, and done at a certain period. I do beseech you, my lord, to think well and seriously of my proposal, for it is made in a kind and respectful spirit."
"I thank you, sir," replied his lordship, "and those who instructed you to regard my feelings; but this you must admit is a case of too much importance, in which interests of too much consequence are involved, for me to act in it without the advice and opinion of my lawyers."
"You are perfectly right, my lord; I expected no less; and if your lordship will refer me to them, I shall have no hesitation in laying the grounds of our proceedings before them, and the proofs by which they will be sustained."
This was assented to on the part of Lord Cullamore, and it is only necessary to say, that, in a few days subsequently, his lawyers, upon sifting and thoroughly examining everything that came before them, gave it as their opinion—and both were men of the very highest standing—that his lordship had no defence whatsoever, and that his wisest plan was to yield without allowing the matter to go to a public trial, the details of which must so deeply affect the honor of his children.
This communication, signed in the form of a regular opinion by both these eminent gentlemen, was received by his lordship on the fourth day after Birney's visit to him on the subject.
About a quarter of an hour after he had perused it, his lordship's bell rang, and Morty O'Flaherty, his man, entered.
"Morty," said his lordship, "desire Lord Dunroe to come to me; I wish to speak with him. Is he within?"
"He has just come in, my lord. Yes, my lord, I'll send him up."
His lordship tapped the arms of his easy chair with the lingers of both hands, and looked unconsciously upon his servant, with a face full of the deepest sorrow and anguish.
The look was not lost upon Morty, who said, as he went down stairs, "There's something beyond the common on my lord's mind this day. He was bad enough before; but now he looks like a man that has got the very heart within him broken."
He met Dunroe in the hall, and delivered his message, but added,
"I think his lordship has had disagreeable tidin's of some kind to-day, my lord. I never saw him look so ill. To tell you the truth, my lord, I think he has death in his face."
"Well, Morty," replied his lordship, adjusting his collar, "you know we must all die. I cannot guess what unpleasant tidings he may have heard to-day; but I know that I have heard little else from him this many a day. Tell Mr. Norton to see about the bills I gave him, and have them cashed as soon as possible. If not, curse me, I'll shy a decanter at his head after dinner."
He then went rather reluctantly up stairs, and presented himself, in no very amiable temper, to his father.
Having taken a seat, he looked at the old man, and found his eyes fixed upon him with an expression of reproof, and at the same time the most profound affliction.
"Dunroe," said the earl, "you did not call to inquire after me for the last two or three days."
"I did not call, my lord, certainly; but, nevertheless, I inquired. The fact is, I feel disinclined to be lectured at such a rate every time I come to see you. As for Norton, I have already told you, with every respect for your opinion and authority, that you have taken an unfounded prejudice against him, and that I neither can nor will get rid of him, as you call it. You surely would not expect me to act dishonorably, my lord."
"I did not send for you now to speak about him, John. I have a much more serious, and a much more distressing communication to make to you."
The son opened his eyes, and stared at him.
"It may easily be so, my lord; but what is it?"
"Unfortunate young man, it is this—You are cut off from the inheritance of my property and title."
"Sickness, my lord, and peevishness, have impaired your intellects, I think. What kind of language is this to hold to me, your son and heir?"
"My son, John, but not my heir."
"Don't you know, my lord, that what you say is impossible. If I am your son, I am, of course, your heir."
"No, John, for the simplest reason in the world. At present you must rest contented with the fact which I announce to you—for fact it is. I have not now strength enough to detail it; but I shall when I feel that I am equal to it. Indeed, I knew it not myself, with perfect certainty, until to-day. Some vague suspicion I had of late, but the proofs that were laid before me, and laid before me in a generous and forbearing spirit, have now satisfied me that you have no claim, as I said, to either title or property."
"Why, as I've life, my lord, this is mere dotage. A foul conspiracy has been got up, and you yield to it without a struggle. Do you think, whatever you may do, that I will bear this tamely? I am aware that a conspiracy has been getting up, and I also have had my suspicions."
"It is out of my power, John, to secure you the inheritance."
"This is stark folly, my lord—confounded nonsense—if you will pardon me. Out of your power! Made silly and weak in mind by illness, your opinion is not now worth much upon any subject. It is not your fault, I admit; but, upon my soul, I really have serious doubts whether you are in a sufficiently sane state of mind to manage your own affairs."
"Undutiful young man," replied his father, with bitterness, "if that were a test of insanity, you yourself ought to have been this many a day in a strait waistcoat. I know it is natural that you should feel this blow deeply; but it is neither natural nor dutiful that you should address your parent in such unpardonable language."
"If what that parent says be true, my lord, he has himself, by his past vices, disinherited his son."
"No, sir," replied the old man, whilst a languid flush of indignation was visible on his face, "he has not done so by his vices; but you, sir, have morally disinherited yourself by your vices, by your general profligacy, by your indefensible extravagance, and by your egregious folly, A man placed in the position which you would have occupied, ought to be a light and an example to society, and. not what you have been, a reproach to your family, and a disgrace to your class. The virtues of a man of rank should be in proportion to his station; but you have distinguished yourself only by holding up to the world the debasing example of a dishonorable and licentious life. What virtue can you plead to establish a just claim to a position which demands a mind capable of understanding the weighty responsibilities that are annexed to it, and a heart possessed of such enlightened principles as may enable him to discharge them in a spirit that will constitute him, what he ought to be, a high example and a generous benefactor to his kind? Not one: but if selfishness, contempt for all the moral obligations of life, a licentious spirit that mocks at religion and looks upon human virtue as an unreality and a jest—if these were to give you a claim to the possession of rank and property, I know of no one more admirably qualified to enjoy them. Dunroe, I am not now far from the grave; but listen, and pay attention to my voice, for it is a warning voice."
"It was always so," replied his son, with sulky indignation; "it was never anything else; a mere passing bell that uttered nothing but advices, lectures, coffins, and cross-bones."
"It uttered only truth then, Dunroe, as you feel now to your cost. Change your immoral habits. I will not bid you repent; because you would only sneer at the word; but do endeavor to feel regret for the kind of life you have led, and give up your evil propensities; cease to be a heartless spendthrift; remember that you are a man: remember that you have important duties to perform; believe that there are such things as religion, and virtue, and honor in the world; believe that there is a God a wise Providence, who governs that world upon principles of eternal truth and justice, and to whom you must account, in another life, for your conduct in this."
"Well, really, my lord," replied Dunroe, "as it appears that the lecture is all you have to bestow upon me, I am quite willing that you should disinherit me of that also. I waive every claim to it. But so do I not to my just rights. We shall see what a court of law can do."
"You may try it, and entail disgrace upon yourself and your sister. As for my child, it will break her heart. My God! my child! my child!"
"Not, certainly, my lord, if we should succeed."
"All hopes of success are out of the question," replied his father.
"No such thing, my lord. Your mind, as I said, is enfeebled by illness, and you yield too easily. Such conduct on your part is really ridiculous. We shall have a tug for it, I am determined."
"Here," said his father, "cast your eye over these papers, and they will enable you to understand, not merely the grounds upon which our opponents proceed, but the utter hopelessness of contesting the matter with them."
Dunroe took the papers, but before looking at them replied, with a great deal of confidence, "you are quite mistaken there, my lord, with every respect. They are not in a position to prove their allegations."
"How so?" said his father.
"For the best reason in the world, my lord. We have had their proofs in our possession and destroyed them."
"I don't understand you."
"The fellow, M'Bride, of whom I think your lordship knows something, had their documents in his possession."
"I am aware of that."
"Well, my lord, while in a drunken fit, he either lost them, or some one took them out of his pocket. I certainly would have purchased them from him."
"Did you know how he came by them?" asked his father, with a look of reproof and anger.
"That, my lord, was no consideration of mine. As it was, however, he certainty lost them; but we learned from him that Birney, the attorney, was about to proceed to France, in order to get fresh attested copies; upon which, as he knew the party there in whose hands the registry was kept, Norton and he started a day or two in advance of him, and on arriving there, they found, much to our advantage, that the register was dead. M'Bride, however, who is an adroit fellow, and was well acquainted with his house and premises, contrived to secure the book in which the original record was made—which book he has burned—so that, in point of fact, they have no legal proofs on which to proceed."
"Dishonorable man!" said his father, rising up in a state of the deepest emotion. "You have made me weary of life; you have broken my heart: and so you would stoop to defend yourself, or your lights, by a crime—by a crime so low, fraudulent, and base—that here, in the privacy of my own chamber, and standing face to face with you, I am absolutely ashamed to call you my son. Know, sir, that if it were a dukedom, I should scorn to contest it, or to retain it, at the expense of my honor."
"That's all very fine talk, my lord; but, upon my soul, wherever I can get an advantage, I'll take it. I see little of the honor or virtue you speak of going, and, I do assure you, I won't be considered at all remarkable for acting up to my own principles. On the contrary, it is by following yours that I should be so."
"I think," said the old man, "that I see the hand of God in this. Unfortunate, obstinate, and irreclaimable young man, it remains for me to tell you that the very documents, which you say have been lost by the villain M'Bride, with whom, in his villainy, you, the son of an earl, did not hesitate to associate yourself, are now in the possession of our opponents. Take those papers to your room," he added, bursting into tears: "take them away, I am unable to prolong this interview, for it has been to me a source of deeper affliction than the loss of the highest title or honor that the hand of royalty could bestow."
When Dunroe was about to leave the room, the old man, who had again sat down, said:
"Stop a moment. Of course it is unnecessary to say, I should hope, that this union between you and Miss Gourlay cannot proceed."
Dunroe, who felt at once that if he allowed his father to suppose that he persisted in it, the latter would immediately disclose his position to the baronet, now replied:
"No, my lord, I have no great ambition for any kind of alliance with Sir Thomas Gourlay. I never liked him personally, and I am sufficiently a man of spirit, I trust, not to urge a marriage with a girl who—who—cannot appreciate—" He paused, not knowing exactly how to fill up the sentence.
"Who has no relish for it," added his father, "and can't appreciate your virtues, you mean to say."
"What I mean to say, my lord, is, that where there is no great share of affection on either side, there can be but little prospect of happiness."
"Then you give up the match?"
"I give up the match, my lord, without a moment's hesitation. You may rest assured of that."
"Because," added his father, "if I found that you persisted in it, and attempted to enter the family, and impose yourself on this admirable girl, as that which you are not, I would consider it my duty to acquaint Sir Thomas Gourlay with the unfortunate discovery which has been made. Before you go I will thank you to read that letter for me. It comes, I think, from the Lord Chancellor. My sight is very feeble to-day, and perhaps it may require a speedy answer."
Dunroe opened the letter, which informed Lord Cullamore, that it had afforded him, the Lord Chancellor, much satisfaction to promote Periwinkle Crackenfudge, Esq., to the magistracy of the county of ———, understanding, as he did, from the communication "of Sir Thomas Gourlay, enclosed in his lordship's letter, that he (Crackenfudge) was, by his many virtues, good sense, discretion, humanity, and general esteem among all classes, as well as by his popularity in the country, a person in every way fitted to discharge the important duties of such an appointment.
"I feel my mind at ease," said the amiable old nobleman, "in aiding such an admirable country gentleman as this Crackenfudge must be, to a seat on the bench; for, after all, Dunroe, it is only by the contemplation of a good action that we can be happy. You may go."
Some few days passed, when Dunroe, having read the papers, the contents of which he did not wish Norton to see, returned them to his father in sullen silence, and then rang his bell, and sent for his worthy associate, that he might avail himself of his better judgment.
"Norton," said he, "it is all up with us."
"How is that, my lord?"
"Those papers, that M'Bride says he lost, are in the hands of our enemies."
"Don't believe it, my lord.' I saw the fellow yesterday, and he told me that he destroyed them in a drunken fit, for which he says he is ready to cut his throat."
"But I have read the opinion of my father's counsel," replied his lordship, "and they say we have no defence. Now you know what a lawyer is: if there were but a hair-breadth chance, they would never make an admission that might keep a good fat case from getting into their hands. No; it is all up with us. The confounded old fool above had everything laid before them, and such is the upshot. What is to be done?"
"Marriage, without loss of time—marriage, before your disaster reaches the ears of the Black Baronet."
"Yes, but there is a difficulty. If the venerable old nobleman should hear of it, he'd let the cat out of the bag, and leave me in the lurch, in addition to the penalty of a three hours' lecture upon honor. Everything, however, is admirably arranged quoad the marriage. We have got a special license for the purpose of meeting our peculiar case, so that the marriage can be private; that is to say, can take place in the lady's own house. Do you think though, that M'Bride has actually destroyed the papers?"
"The drunken ruffian! certainly. He gave me great insolence a couple of days ago."
"Because I didn't hand him over a hundred pounds for his journey and the theft of the registry."
"And how much did you give him, pray?"
"A fifty pound note, after having paid his expenses, which was quite enough for him. However, as I did not wish to make the scoundrel our enemy, I have promised him something more, so that I've come on good terms with him again. He is a slippery customer."
"Did you get the bills cashed yet?"
"No, my lord; I am going about it now; but I tell you beforehand, that I will have some difficulty in doing it. I hope to manage it, however; and for that reason I must bid you good-by."
"The first thing to do, then, is to settle that ugly business about the mare. By no means must we let it come to trial."
"Very well, my lord, be it so."
Norton, after leaving his dupe to meditate upon the circumstances in which he found himself, began to reflect as he went along, that he himself was necessarily involved in the ruin of his friend and patron.
"I have the cards, however, in my own hands," thought he, "and M'Bride's advice was a good one. He having destroyed the other documents, it follows that this registry, which I have safe and snug, will be just what his lordship's enemies will leap at. Of course they are humbugging the old peer about the other papers, and, as I know, it is devilish easy to humbug the young one. My agency is gone to the winds; but I think the registry will stand me instead. It ought, in a case like this, to be well worth five thousand; at least, I shall ask this sum—not saying but I will take less. Here goes then for an interview with Birney, who has the character of being a shrewd fellow—honorable, they say—but then, is he not an attorney? Yes, Birney, have at you, my boy;" and having come to this virtuous conclusion, he directed his steps to that gentleman's office, whom he found engaged at his desk.
"Mr. Birney, I presume," with a very fashionable bow.
"Yes, sir," said Birney, "that is my name."
"Haw! If I don't mistake, Mr. Birney," with a very English accent, which no one could adopt, when he pleased, with more success than our Kerry boy—"if I don't mistake, we both made a journey to France very recently?"
"That may be, sir," replied Birney, "but I am not aware of it."
"But I am, though," tipping Birney the London cockney.
"Well, sir," said Birney, very coolly, "and what follows from that?"
"Why haw—haw—I don't exactly know at present; but I think a good dee-al may follow from it."
"As how, sir?"
"I believe you were over there on matters connected with Lord Cullamore's family—haw?"
"Sir," replied Birney, "you are a perfect stranger to me—I haven't the honor of knowing you. If you are coming to me on anything connected with my professional services, I will thank you to state it."
"Haw!—My name is Norton, a friend of Lord Dunroe's."
"Well, Mr. Norton, if you will have the goodness to mention the business which causes me the honor of your visit, I will thank you; but I beg to assure you, that I am not a man to be pumped either by Lord Dunroe or any of his friends. You compel me to speak very plainly, sir."
"Haw! Very good—very good indeed! but the truth his, I've given Dunroe hup."
"Well, sir, and how is that my affair? What interest can I feel in your quarrels? Personally I know very little of Lord Dunroe, and of you, sir, nothing."
"Haw! but everything 'as a beginning, Mr. Birney."
"At this rate of going, I fear we shall be a long time ending, Mr. Norton."
"Well," replied Norton, "I believe you are right; the sooner we understand each other, the better."
"Certainly, sir," replied Birney; "I think so, if you have any business of importance with me."
"Well, I rayther think you will find it important—that is, to your own interests. You are an attorney, Mr. Birney, and I think you will admit that every man in this world, as it goes, ought to look to 'is own interests."
Birney looked at him, and said, very gravely, "Pray, sir, what is your business with me? My time, sir, is valuable. My time is money—a portion of my landed property, sir."
"Haw! Very good; but you Hirish are so fiery and impatient! However, I will come to the point. You are about to joust that young scamp, by the way, out of the title and property. I say so, because I am up to the thing. Yet you want dockiments to establish your case—haw?"
"Well, sir, and suppose we do; you, I presume, as the friend of Lord Dunroe, are not coming to furnish us with them?"
"That is, Mr. Birney, as we shall understand one another. You failed in your mission to France?"
"I shall hear any proposal, sir, you have to make, but will answer no questions on the subject until I understand your motive for putting them."
"Good—very cool and cautious—but suppose, now, that I, who know you 'ave failed in procuring the dockiments in question, could supply you with them—haw!—do you understand me now?"
"Less than ever, sir, I assure you. Observe that you introduced yourself to me as the friend of Lord Dunroe."
"Merely to connect myself with the proceedings between you. I 'ave or am about to discard him, but I shaunt go about the bush no longer. I'm a native of Lon'on, w'at is tarmed a cockney—haw, haw!—and he 'as treated me ill—very ill—and I am detarmined to retaliate."
"How, sir, are you determined to retaliate?"
"The truth is, sir, I've got the dockiments you stand in need of in my possession, and can furnish you with them for a consideration."
"Why, now you are intelligible. What do you want, Murray? I'm engaged."
"To speak one word with you in the next room, sir. The gentleman wants you to say yes or no, in a single line, upon Mr. Fairfield's business, sir—besides, I've a private message."
"Excuse me for a moment, sir," said Birney; "there's this morning's paper, if you haven't seen it."
"Well, Bob," said he, "what is it?"
"Beware of that fellow," said he: "I know him well; his name is Bryan; he was a horse jockey on the Curragh, and was obliged to fly the country for dishonesty. Be on your guard, that is all I had to say to you."
"Why, he says he is a Londoner, and he certainly has the accent," replied the other.
"Kerry, sir, to the backbone, and a disgrace to the country, for divil a many rogues it produces, whatever else it may do."
"Thank you, Murray," said Birney; "I will be doubly guarded now."
This occurred between Birney and one of his clerks, as a small interlude in their conversation.
"Yes, sir," resumed Birney, once more taking his place at the desk, "you can now be understood."
"Haw!—yes, I rayther fancy I can make myself so!" replied Norton. "What, now, do you suppose the papers in question may be worth to your friends?"
"You cannot expect me to reply to that question," said Birney; "I am acting professionally under the advice and instructions of others; but I will tell you what I think you had better do—I can enter into no negotiation on the subject without consulting those who have employed me, and getting their consent—write down, then, on a sheet of paper, what you propose to do for us, and the compensation which you expect to receive for any documents you may supply us with that we may consider of value, and I shall submit it for consideration."
"May I not compromise myself by putting it on paper, though?"
"If you think so, then, don't do it; but, for my part, I shall have no further concern in the matter. Verbal communications are of little consequence in an affair of this kind. Reduce it to writing, and it can be understood; it will, besides, prevent misconceptions in future."
"I trust you are a man of honor?" said Norton.
"I make no pretensions to anything so high," replied Birney; "but I trust I am an honest man, and know how to act when I have an honest man to deal with. If you wish to serve our cause, or, to be plain with you, wish to turn the documents you speak of to the best advantage, make your proposal in writing, as you ought to do, otherwise I must decline any further negotiation on the subject."
Norton saw and felt that there was nothing else for it. He accordingly took pen and ink and wrote down his proposal—offering to place the documents alluded to, which were mentioned by name, in the hands of Mr. Birney, for the sum of five thousand pounds."
"Now, sir," said Birney, after looking over this treacherous proposition, "you see yourself the advantage of putting matters down in black and white. The production of this will save me both time and trouble, and, besides, it can be understood at a glance. Thank you, sir. Have the goodness to favor me with a call in a day or two, and we shall see what can be done."
"This," said Norton, as he was about to go, "is a point of honor between us."
"Why, I think, at all events, it ought," replied Bimey; "at least, so far as I am concerned, it is not my intention to act dishonorably by any honest man."
"Haw—haw! Very well said, indeed; I 'ave a good opinion of your discretion.
"Well, sir, I wish you good morneen; I shall call in a day or two, and expect to 'ave a satisfactory answer."
"What a scoundrel!" exclaimed Birney.
"Here's a fellow, now, who has been fleecing that unfortunate sheep of a nobleman for the last four years, and now that he finds him at the length of his tether, he is ready to betray and sacrifice him, like a double-distilled rascal as he is. The villain thought I did not know him, but he was mistaken—quite out in his calculations. He will find, too, that he has brought his treachery to the wrong market."
CHAPTER XXXIX. Fenton Recovered—The Mad-House
Sir Thomas Gourlay, on his return with the special license, was informed by the same servant who had admitted the stranger, that a gentleman awaited him in the drawing-room.
"Who is he, M'Gregor?"
"I don't know, sir; he paid you a visit once at Red Hall, I think."
"How could I know him by that, you blockhead?"
"He's the gentleman, sir, you had hot words with."
"That I kicked out one day? Crackenfudge, eh?"
"No, faith, sir; not Crackenfudge. I know him well enough; and devil a kick your honor gave him but I wished was nine. This is a very different man, sir; and I believe you had warm words with him too, sir."
"Oh!" exclaimed his master; "I remember. Is he above?"
"I believe so, sir."
A strange and disagreeable feeling came over the baronet on hearing these words—a kind of presentiment, as it were, of something unpleasant and adverse to his plans. On entering the drawing-room, however, he was a good deal surprised to find that there was nobody there; and after a moment's reflection, a fearful suspicion took possession of him; he rang the bell furiously.
Gibson, who had been out, now entered.
"Where is Miss Gourlay, sir?" asked his master, with eyes kindled by rage and alarm.
"I was out, sir," replied Gibson, "and cannot tell."
"You can never tell anything, you scoundrel. For a thousand, she's off with him again, and all's ruined. Here, Matthews—M'Gregor—call the servants, sir. Where's her maid?—call her maid. What a confounded fool—ass—I was, not to have made that impudent baggage tramp about her business. It's true, Lucy's off—I feel it—I felt it. Hang her hypocrisy! It's the case, however, with all women. They have neither truth, nor honesty of purpose. A compound of treachery, deceit, and dissimulation; and yet I thought, if there was a single individual of her sex exempted from their vices, that she was that individual. Come here, M'Gregor—come here you scoundrel—do you know where Miss Gourlay is? or her maid?"
"Here's Matthews, sir; he says she's gone out."
"Gone out!—Yes, she's gone out with a vengeance. Do you know where she's gone, sirra? And did any one go with her?" he added, addressing himself to Matthews.
"I think, sir, she's gone to take her usual airing in the carriage."
"Who was with her?"
"No one but her maid, sir."
"Oh, no; they would not go off together—that would be too open and barefaced. Do you know what direction she took?"
"No, sir; I didn't observe."
"You stupid old lout," replied the baronet, flying at him, and mauling the unfortunate man without mercy; "take that—and that—and that—for your stupidity. Why did you not observe the way she went, you! villain? You have suffered her to elope, you hound! You have all suffered her to elope with a smooth-faced impostor—a fellow whom no one knows—a blackleg—a swindler—a thief—a—a—go and saddle half a dozen horses, and seek her in all directions. Go instantly, and—hold—easy—stop—hang you all, stop!—here she is—and her maid with her—" he exclaimed, looking out of the window. "Ha! I am relieved. God bless me! God bless me!" He then looked at the servants with something of deprecation in his face, and waving his hand, said, "Go—go quietly; and, observe me—not a word of this—not a syllable—for your lives!"
His anger, however, was only checked in mid-volley. The idea of her having received a clandestine visit from her lover during his absence rankled at his heart; and although satisfied that she was still safe, and in his power, he could barely restrain his temper within moderate limits. Nay, he felt angry at her for the alarm she had occasioned him, and the passion he had felt at her absence.
"Well, Lucy," said he, addressing her, as she entered, in a voice chafed with passion, "have you taken your drive?"
"Yes, papa," she replied; "but it threatened rain, and we returned earlier that usual."
"You look pale."
"I dare say I do, sir. I want rest—repose;" and she reclined on a lounger as she spoke. "It is surprising, papa, how weak I am!"
"Not too weak, Lucy, to receive a stolen visit, eh?"
Lucy immediately sat up, and replied with surprise, "A stolen visit, sir? I don't understand you, papa."
"Had you not a visitor here, in my absence?"
"I had, sir, but the visit was intended for you. Our interview was perfectly accidental."
"Ah! faith, Lucy, it was too well timed to be accidental. I'm not such a fool as that comes to. Accidental, indeed! Lucy, you should not say so."
"I am not in the habit of stating an untruth, papa. The visit, sir—I should rather say, the interview—was purely accidental; but I am glad it took place."
"The deuce you are! That is a singular acknowledgment, Lucy, I think."
"It is truth, sir, notwithstanding. I was anxious to see him, that I might acquaint him with the change that has taken place in my unhappy destiny. If I had not seen him, I should have asked your permission to write to him."
"Which I would not have given."
"I would have submitted my letter to you, sir."
"Even so; I would not have consented."
"Well, then, sir, as truth and honor demanded that act from me, I would haye sent it without your consent. Excuse me for saying this, papa; but you need not be told that there are some peculiar cases where duty to a parent must yield to truth and honor."
"Some peculiar cases! On the contrary, the cases you speak of are the general rule, my girl—the general rule—and rational obedience to a parent the exception. Where is there a case—and there are millions—where a parent's wish and will are set at naught and scorned, in which the same argument is not used? I do not relish these discussions, however. What I wish to impress upon you is this—you must see this fellow no more."
Lucy's temples were immediately in a blaze. "Are you aware, papa, that you insult and degrade your daughter, by applying such a term to him? If you will not spare him, sir, spare me; for I assure you that I feel anything said against him with ten times more emotion than if it were uttered against myself."
"Well, well; he's a fine fellow, a gentleman, a lord; but, be he what he may, you must see him no more."
"It is not my intention, papa, to see him again."
"You must not write to him."
"It will not be necessary."
"But you must not."
"Well, then, I shall not."
"Nor receive kis letters."
"Nor receive his letters, knowing them to be his."
"You promise all this?"
"I do, sir, faithfully. I hope you are now satisfied, papa?"
"I am, Lucy—I am. You are not so bad a girl as I sus—no, you are a very good girl; and when I see you the Countess of Cullamore, I shall not have a single wish un-gratified."
Lucy, indeed, poor girl, was well and vigilantly guarded. No communication, whether written or otherwise, was permitted to reach her; nor, if she had been lodged in the deepest dungeon in Europe, and secured by the strongest bolts that ever enclosed a prisoner, could she have been more rigidly excluded from all intercourse, her father's and her maid's only excepted.
Her lover, on receiving the documents so often alluded to from old Corbet, immediately transmitted to her a letter of hope and encouragement, in which he stated that the object he had alluded to was achieved, and that he would take care to place such documents before her father, as must cause even him to forbid the bans. This letter, however, never reached her. Neither did a similar communication from Mrs. Mainwaring, who after three successive attempts to see either her or her father, was forced at last to give up all hope of preventing the marriage. She seemed, indeed, to have been fated.
In the meantime, the stranger, having, as he imagined, relieved Lucy's mind from her dreaded union with Dunroe, and left the further and more complete disclosure of that young nobleman's position to Mrs. Mainwaring, provided himself with competent legal authority to claim the person of unfortunate Fenton. It is unnecessary to describe his journey to the asylum in which the wretched young man was placed; it is enough to say that he arrived there at nine o'clock in the morning, accompanied by old Corbet and three officers of justice, who remained in the carriage; and on asking to see the proprietor, was shown into a parlor, where he found that worthy gentleman reading a newspaper.
This fellow was one of those men who are remarkable for thick, massive, and saturnine features. At a first glance he was not at all ill-looking; but, on examining his beetle brows, which met in a mass of black thick hair across his face, and on watching the dull, selfish, cruel eyes that they hung over—dead as they were to every generous emotion, and incapable of kindling even at cruelty itself—it was impossible for any man in the habit of observing nature closely not to feel that a brutal ruffian, obstinate, indurated, and unscrupulous, was before him. His forehead was low but broad, and the whole shape of his head such as would induce an intelligent phrenologist to pronounce him at once a thief and a murderer.
The stranger, after a survey or two, felt his blood boil at the contemplation of his very visage, which was at once plausible and diabolical in expression. After some preliminary chat the latter said:
"Your establishment, sir, is admirably situated here. It is remote and isolated; and these, I suppose, are advantages?"
"Why, yes, sir," replied the doctor, "the further we remove our patients from human society, the better. The exhibition of reason has, in general, a bad effect upon the insane."
"Upon what principle do you account for that?" asked the stranger. "To me it would appear that the reverse of the proposition ought to hold true."
"That may be," replied the other; "but no man can form a correct opinion of insane persons who has not mingled with them, or had them under his care. The contiguity of reason—I mean in the persons of those who approach them—always exercises a dangerous influence upon lunatics; and on this account, I sometimes place those who are less insane as keepers upon such as are decidedly so."
"Does not that, sir, seem very like setting the blind to lead the blind?"
"No," replied the other, with a heavy, I heartless laugh, "your analogy fails; it is rather like setting a man with one eye to guide another who has none."
"But why should not a man who has two guide him better?"
"Because the consciousness that there is but the one eye between both of them, will make him proceed more cautiously."
"But that in the blind is an act of reason," replied the stranger, "which cannot be applied to the insane, in whom reason is deficient."
"But where reason does not exist," said the doctor, "we must regulate them by the passions."
"By the exercise of which passion do you gain the greatest ascendency over them?" asked the stranger.
"By fear, of course. We can do nothing, at least very little, without inspiring terror."
"Ah," thought the stranger, "I have now got the key to his conduct!—But, sir," he added, "we never fear and love the same object at the same time."
"True enough, sir," replied the ruffian; "but who could or ought to calculate upon the attachment of a madman? Boys are corrected more frequently than men, because their reason is not developed: and those in whom it does not exist, or in whom it has been impaired, must be subjected to the same discipline. Terror, besides, is the principle upon which reason itself, and all society, are governed."
"But suppose I had a brother, now, or a relative, might I not hesitate to place him in an establishment conducted on principles which I condemn?"
"As to that, sir," replied the fellow, who, expecting a patient, feared that he had gone too far, "our system is an adaptable one; at least, our application of it varies according to circumstances. As our first object is cure, we must necessarily allow ourselves considerable latitude of experiment until we hit upon the right key. This being found, the process of recovery, when it is possible, may be conducted with as much mildness as the absence of reason will admit. We are mild, when we can, and severe only where we must."
"Shuffling scoundrel!" thought the stranger. "I perceive in this language the double dealing of an unprincipled villain.—Would you have any objection, sir," he said, "that I should look through your establishment?"
"I can conduct you through the convalescent wards," replied the doctor; "but, as I said, we find that the appearance of strangers—which is what I meant by the contiguity of reason—is attended with very bad, and sometimes deplorable consequences. Under all circumstances it retards a cure, under others occasions a relapse, and in some accelerates the malady so rapidly that it becomes hopeless. You may see the convalescent ward, however—that is, if you wish."
"You will oblige me," said the stranger.
"Well, then," said he, "if you will remain here a moment, I will send a gentleman who will accompany you, and explain the characters of some of the patients, should you desire it, and also the cause of their respective maladies."
He then disappeared, and in a few minutes a mild, intelligent, gentlemanly man, of modest and unassuming manners, presented himself, and said he would feel much pleasure in showing him the convalescent side of the house. The stranger, however, went out and brought old Corbet in from the carriage, where he and the officers had been sitting; and this he did at Corbet's own request.
It is not our intention to place before our readers any lengthened description of this gloomy temple of departed reason. Every one who enters a lunatic asylum for the first time, must feel a wild and indescribable emotion, such as he has never before experienced, and which amounts to an extraordinary sense of solemnity and fear. Nor do the sensations of the stranger rest here. He feels as if he were surrounded by something sacred as well as melancholy, something that creates at once pity, reverence, and awe. Indeed, so strongly antithetical to each other are his first impressions, that a kind of confusion arises in his mind, and he begins to fear that his senses have been affected by the atmosphere of the place. That a shock takes place which slightly disarranges the faculty of thought, and generates strong but erroneous impressions, is still more clearly established by the fact that the visitor, for a considerable time after leaving an asylum, can scarcely rid himself of the belief that every person he meets is insane.
The stranger, on entering the long room in which the convalescents were assembled, felt, in the silence of the patients, and in their vague and fantastic movements, that he was in a position where novelty, in general the source of pleasure, was here associated only with pain. Their startling looks, the absence of interest in some instances, and its intensity in others, at the appearance of strangers, without any intelligent motive in either case, produced a feeling that seemed to bear the character of a disagreeable dream.
"All the patients here," said his conductor, "are not absolutely in a state of convalescence. A great number of them are; but we also allow such confirmed lunatics as are harmless to mingle with them. There is scarcely a profession, or a passion, or a vanity in life, which has not here its representative. Law, religion, physic, the arts, the sciences, all contribute their share to this melancholy picture gallery. Avarice, love, ambition, pride, jealousy, having overgrown the force of reason, are here, as its ideal skeletons, wild and gigantic—fretting, gambolling, moping, grinning, raving, and vaporing—each wrapped in its own Vision, and indifferent to all the influence of the collateral faculties. There, now, is a man, moping about, the very picture of stolidity; observe how his heavy head hangs down until his chin rests upon his breastbone, his mouth open and almost dribbling. That man, sir, so unpoetical and idiotic in appearance, imagines himself the author of Beattie's 'Minstrel' He is a Scotchman, and I shall call him over."
"Come here, Sandy, speak to this gentleman."
Sandy, without raising his lack-lustre eye, came over and replied, "Aw—ay—'Am the author o' Betty's Menstrel;" and having uttered this piece of intelligence, he shuffled across the room, dragging one foot after the other, at about a quarter of a minute per step. Never was poor Beattie so libellously represented.
"Do you see that round-faced, good-humored looking man, with a decent frieze coat on?" said their conductor. "He's a wealthy and respectable farmer from the county of Kilkenny, who imagines that he is Christ. His name is Rody Rafferty."
"Come here, Rody."
Rody came over, and looking at the stranger, said, "Arra, now, do you know who I am? Troth, I go bail you don't."
"No," replied the stranger, "I do not; but I hope you will tell me."
"I'm Christ," replied Rody; "and, upon my word, if you don't get out o' this, I'll work a miracle on you."
"Why," asked the stranger, "what will you do?"
"Troth, I'll turn you into a blackin' brush, and polish my shoes wid you. You were at Barney's death, too."
The poor man had gone deranged, it seemed, by the violent death of his only child—a son.
"There's another man," said the conductor; "that little fellow with the angry face. He is a shoemaker, who went mad on the score of humanity. He took a strong feeling of resentment against all who had flat feet, and refused to make shoes for them."
"How was that?" inquired the stranger.
"Why, sir," said the other, smiling, "he said that they murdered the clocks (beetles), and he looked upon every man with flat feet as an inhuman villain, who deserves, he says, to have his feet chopped off, and to be compelled to dance a hornpipe three times a day on his stumps."