"How, madam," he exclaimed, "did I not order you to your room? Do you return to bandy undutiful hints and arguments with me?"
"Father," said she, "I am not ignorant, alas! of your stern and indomitable character; but, upon the subject of forced and unsuitable matches, I may and I do appeal directly to the experience of your own married life, and of that of my beloved mother. She was, unhappily for herself—"
"And for me, Miss Gourlay—"
"Well, perhaps so; but if ever woman was qualified to make a man happy, she was. At all events, sir, unhappily she was forced into marriage with you, and you deliberately took to your bosom a reluctant bride. She possessed extraordinary beauty, and a large fortune. I, however, am not about to enter into your heart, or analyze its motives; it is enough to say that, although she had no previous engagement or affection for any other, she was literally dragged by the force of parental authority into a union with you. The consequence was, that her whole life, owing to—to—the unsuitableness of your tempers, and the strongly-contrasted materials which formed your characters, was one of almost unexampled suffering and sorrow. With this example before my eyes, and with the memory of it brooding over and darkening your own heart—yes, papa—my dear papa, let me call you with the full and most distressing recollections connected with it strong upon both of us, let me entreat and implore that you will not urge nor force me into a union with this hateful and repulsive profligate. I go upon my knees to you, and entreat, as you regard my happiness, my honor, and my future peace of mind, that you will not attempt to unite me to this most unprincipled and dishonorable young man."
Her father's brow grew black as a thunder-cloud; the veins of his temples swelled up, as if they had been filled with ink, and, after a few hasty strides through the study, he turned upon her such a look of fury as we need not attempt to describe.
"Miss Gourlay," said he, in a voice dreadfully deep and stern, "there is not an allusion made in that undutiful harangue—for so I must call it—that does not determine me to accomplish my purpose in effecting this union. If your mother was unhappy, the fault lay in her own weak and morbid temper. As for me, I now tell you, once for all, that your destiny is either beggary or a coronet; on that I am resolved!"
She stood before him like one who had drawn strength from the full knowledge of her fate. Her face, it is true, had become pale, but it was the paleness of a calm but lofty spirit, and she replied, with a full and clear voice:
"I said, sir—for I had her own sacred assurance for it—that my mother, when she married you, had no previous engagement; it is not so with your daughter—my affections are fixed upon another."
There are some natures so essentially tyrannical, and to whom resistance is a matter of such extraordinary novelty, that its manifestation absolutely surprises them out of their natural character. In this manner Sir Thomas Gourlay was affected. Instead of flying into a fresh hurricane of rage, he felt so completely astounded, that he was only capable of turning round to her, and asking, in a voice unusually calm:
"Pray name him, Miss Gourlay."
"In that, sir, you will excuse me—for the present. The day may come, and I trust soon will, when I can do so with honor. And now, sir, having considered it my duty not to conceal this fact from your knowledge, I will, with your permission, withdraw to my own apartment."
She paid him, with her own peculiar grace, the usual obeisance, and left the room. The stem and overbearing Sir Thomas Gourlay now felt himself so completely taken aback by her extraordinary candor and firmness, that he was only able to stand and look after her in silent amazement.
"Well!" he exclaimed, "I have reason to thank her for this important piece of information. She has herself admitted a previous attachment. So far my doubts are cleared up, and I feel perfectly certain that the anonymous information is correct. It now remains for me to find out who the object of this attachment is. I have no doubt that he is in the neighborhood; and, if so, I shall know how to manage him."
He then mounted his horse, and rode into Ballytrain, with what purpose it is now unnecessary, we trust, to trouble the reader at farther length.
CHAPTER V. Sir Thomas Gourlay fails in unmasking the Stranger
—Mysterious Conduct of Fenton
When Sir Thomas Gourlay, after the delay of better than an hour in town, entered the coffee-room of the "Mitre," he was immediately attended by the landlord himself.
"Who is this new guest you have got, landlord," inquired the baronet—"They tell me he is a very mysterious gentleman, and that no one can discover his name. Do! you know anything about him?"
"De'il a syllable, Sir Tammas," replied the landlord, who was a northern—"How ir you, Counsellor Crackenfudge," he added, speaking to a person who passed upstairs—"There he goes," proceeded Jack the landlord—"a nice boy. But do you know, Sir Tammas, why he changed his name to Crackenfudge?"
Sir Thomas's face at this moment, had grown frightful. While the landlord was speaking, the baronet, attracted by the noise of a carriage passing, turned to observe it, just at the moment when his daughter was bowing so significantly to the stranger in the window over them, as we have before stated. Here was a new light thrown upon the mystery or mysteries by which he felt himself surrounded on all hands. The strange guest in the Mitre inn, was then, beyond question, the very individual alluded to in the anonymous letter. The baronet's face had, in the scowl of wrath, got black, as mine host was speaking. This expression, however, gradually diminished in the darkness of that wrathful shadow which lay over it. After a severe internal struggle with his tremendous passions, he at length seemed to cool down. His face became totally changed; and in a few minutes of silence and struggle, it passed from the blackness of almost ungovernable rage to a pallid hue, that might not most aptly be compared to the summit of a volcano covered with snow, when about to project its most awful and formidable eruptions.
The landlord, while putting the question to the baronet, turned his sharp, piercing eyes upon him, and, at a single glance, perceived that something had unusually moved him.
"Sir Tammas," said he, "there is no use in denyin' it, now—the blood's disturbed in you."
"Give your guest my compliments—Sir Thomas Gourlay's compliments—and I should feel obliged by a short interview."
On going up, Jack found the stranger and Fenton as we have already described them—"Sir," said he, addressing the former—"there's a gentleman below who wishes to know who you ir."
"Who I am!" returned the other, quite unmoved; "and, pray who may he be?"
"Sir Tammas Gourlay; an' all tell you what, if you don't wish to see him, why don't see him. A 'll take him the message, an' if there's anything about you that you don't wish to be known or heard, make him keep his distance. He's this minute in a de'il of a passion about something, an' was comin' up as if he'd ait you without salt, but a' would n't allow it; so, if you don't wish to see him, am the boy won't be afeard to say so. He's not coming as a friend, a' can tell you."
"Sir Thomas Gourlay's in the house, then," said the stranger, with a good deal of surprise. He then paused for some time, and, during this pause, he very naturally concluded that the baronet had witnessed his daughter's bow, so cautiously and significantly made to himself as she passed. Whilst he turned over these matters in his mind, the landlord addressed Fenton as follows:
"You can go to another room, Fenton. A'm glad to see you in a decent suit of clothes, any way—a' hope you'll take yourself up, and avoid drink and low company; for de'il a haet good ever the same two brought anybody; but, before you go, a'll give you a gless o' grog to drink the Glorious Memory. Come, now, tramp, like a good fellow."
"I have a particular wish," said the stranger, "that Mr. Fenton should remain; and say to Sir Thomas Gourlay that I am ready to see him."
"A' say, then," said Jack, in a friendly whisper, "be on your edge with him, for, if he finds you saft, the very de'il won't stand him."
"The gentleman, Sir Tammas," said Jack, on going down stairs, "will be glad to see you. He's overhead."
Fenton, himself, on hearing that Sir Thomas was about to come up, prepared to depart; but the other besought him so earnestly to stay, that he consented, although with evident reluctance. He brought his chair over to a corner of the room, as if he wished to be as much out of the way as possible, or, it may be, as far from Sir Thomas's eye, as the size of the apartment would permit. Be this as it may, Sir Thomas entered, and brought his ungainly person nearly to the centre of the room before he spoke. At length he did so, but took care not to accompany his words with that courtesy of manner, or those rules of good-breeding, which ever prevail among gentlemen, whether as friends or foes. After standing for a moment, he glanced from the one to the other, his face still hideously pale; and ultimately, fixing his eye upon the stranger, he viewed him from head to foot, and again from foot to head, with a look of such contemptuous curiosity, as certainly was strongly calculated to excite the stranger's indignation. Finding the baronet spoke not, the other did.
"To what am I to attribute the honor of this visit, sir?"
Sir Thomas even then did not speak, but still kept looking at him with the expression we have described. At length he did speak:
"You have been residing for some time in our neighborhood, sir." The stranger simply bowed.
"May I ask how long?"
"I have the honor, I believe, of addressing Sir Thomas Gourlay?"
"Yes, you have that honor."
"And may I beg to know his object in paying me this unceremonious visit, in which he does not condescend either to announce himself, or to observe the usual rules of good-breeding?"
"From my rank and known position in this part of the country, and in my capacity also as a magistrate, sir," replied the baronet, "I'm entitled to make such inquiries as I may deem necessary from those who appear here under suspicious circumstances."
"Perhaps you may think so, but I am of opinion, sir, that you would consult the honor of the rank and position you allude to much more effectually, by letting such inquiries fall within the proper province of the executive officers of law, whenever you think there is a necessity for it."
"Excuse me, but, in that manner, I shall follow my own judgment, not yours."
"And under what circumstances of suspicion do you deem me to stand at present?"
"Very strong circumstances. You have been now living here nearly a week, in a privacy which no gentleman would ever think of observing. You have hemmed yourself in by a mystery, sir; you have studiously concealed your name—your connections—and defaced every mark by which you could be known or traced. This, sir, is not the conduct of a gentleman; and argues either actual or premeditated guilt."
"You seem heated, sir, and you also reason in resentment, whatever may have occasioned it. And so a gentleman is not to make an excursion to a country town in a quiet way—perhaps to recruit his health, perhaps to relax his mind, perhaps to gratify a whim—but he must be pounced upon by some outrageous dispenser of magisterial justice, who thinks, that, because he wishes to live quietly and unknown, he must be some cutthroat, or raw-head-and-bloody-bones coming to eat half the country?"
"I dare say, sir, that is all very fine, and very humorous; but when these mysterious vagabonds—"
The eye of the stranger blazed; lightning itself, in fact, was not quicker than the fire which gleamed from it, as the baronet uttered the last words. He walked over deliberately, but with a step replete with energy and determination:
"How, sir," said he, "do you dare to apply such an expression to me?"
The baronet's eye quailed. He paused a moment, during which he could perceive that the stranger had a spirit not to be tampered with.
"No, sir," he replied, "not exactly to you, but when persons such as you come in this skulking way, probably for the purpose of insinuating themselves into families of rank—"
"Have I, sir, attempted to insinuate myself into yours," asked the stranger, interrupting him.
"When such persons come under circumstances of strong suspicion," said the other, without replying to him, "it is the business of every gentleman in the country to keep a vigilant eye upon them."
"I shall hold myself accountable to no such gentleman," replied the stranger; "but will consider every man, no matter what his rank or character may be, as unwarrantably impertinent, who arrogantly attempts to intrude himself in affairs that don't—" he was about to add, "that don't concern him," when he paused, and added, "into any man's affairs. Every man has a right to travel incognito, and to live incognito, if he chooses; and, on that account, sir, so long as I wish to maintain mine, I shall allow no man to assume the right of penetrating it. If this has been the object of your visit, you will much oblige me by relinquishing the one, and putting an end to the other, as soon as may be."
"As a magistrate, sir, I demand to know your name," said the baronet, who thought that, in the stranger's momentary hesitation, he had observed symptoms of yielding.
"As an independent man, sir, and a gentleman, I shall not answer such a question."
"You brave me, sir—you defy me." continued the other, his face still pale, but baleful in its expression.
"Yes, sir," replied the other, "I brave you—I defy you."
"Very well, sir," returned the baronet—"remember these words."
"I am not in the habit of forgetting anything that a man of spirit ought to remember," said the other—"I have the honor of wishing you a good-morning."
The baronet withdrew in a passion that had risen to red heat, and was proceeding to mount his horse at the door, when Counsellor Crackenfudge, who had followed him downstairs, thus addressed him:
"I beg your pardon, Sir Thomas; I happened to be sitting in the back-room while you were speaking to that strange fellow above; I pledge you my honor I did not listen; but I could not help overhearing, you know—well, Sir Thomas, I can tell you something about him."
"How!" said the baronet, whose eye I gleamed with delight—"Can you, in truth, tell me anything about him, Mr. Crackenfudge? You will oblige me very much if you do."
"I will tell you all I know about him, Sir Thomas," replied the worthy counsellor; "and that is, that I know he has paid many secret visits to Mr. Birney the attorney."
"To Birney!" exclaimed the other; and, as he spoke, he seemed actually to stagger back a step or two, whilst the paleness of his complexion increased to a hue that was ghastly—"to Birney!—to my blackest and bitterest enemy—to the man who, I suspect, has important family documents of mine in his possession. Thanks, even for this, Crackenfudge—you are looking to become of the peace. Hearken now; aid me in ferreting out this lurking scoundrel, and I shall not forget your wishes." He then rode homewards.
The stranger, during this stormy dialogue with Sir Thomas Gourlay, turned his eye, from time to time, toward Fenton, who appeared to have lost consciousness itself so long as the baronet was in the room. On the departure, however, of that gentleman, he went over to him, and said:
"Why, Fenton, what's the matter?" Fenton looked at him with a face of great distress, from which the perspiration was pouring, but seemed utterly unable to speak.
CHAPTER VI. Extraordinary Scene between Fenton and the Stranger.
The character of Fenton was one that presented an extraordinary variety of phases. With the exception of the firmness and pertinacity with which he kept the mysterious secret of his origin and identity—that is, if he himself knew them, he was never known to maintain the same moral temperament for a week together. Never did there exist a being so capricious and unstable. At one time, you found him all ingenuousness and candor; at another, no earthly power could extort a syllable of truth from his lips. For whole days, if not for weeks together, he dealt in nothing but the wildest fiction, and the most extraordinary and grotesque rodomontade. The consequence was, that no reliance could be placed on anything he said or asserted. And yet—which appeared to be rather unaccountable in such a character—it could be frequently observed that he was subject to occasional periods of the deepest dejection. During those painful and gloomy visitations, he avoided all intercourse with his fellow-men, took to wandering through the country—rarely spoke to anybody, whether stranger or acquaintance, but maintained the strictest and most extraordinary silence. If he passed a house at meal-time he entered, and, without either preface or apology, quietly sat down and joined them. To this freedom on his part, in a country so hospitable as Ireland in the days of her prosperity was, and could afford to be, no one ever thought of objecting.
"It was," observed the people, "only the poor young gentleman who is not right in the head."
So that the very malady which they imputed to him was only a passport to their kindness and compassion. Fenton had no fixed residence, nor any available means of support, save the compassionate and generous interest which the inhabitants of Ballytrain took in him, in consequence of those gentlemanly manners which he could assume whenever he wished, and the desolate position in which some unknown train of circumstances had unfortunately placed him.
When laboring under these depressing moods to which we have alluded, his memory seemed filled with recollections that, so far as appearances went, absolutely stupefied his heart by the heaviness of the suffering they occasioned it; and, when that heart, therefore, sank as far as its powers of endurance could withstand this depression, he uniformly had recourse to the dangerous relief afforded by indulgence in the fiery stimulant of liquor, to which he was at all times addicted.
Such is a slightly detailed sketch of an individual whose fate is deeply involved in the incidents and progress of our narrative.
The horror which we have described as having fallen upon this unfortunate young man, during Sir Thomas Gourlay's stormy interview with the stranger, so far from subsiding, as might be supposed, after his departure, assumed the shape of something bordering on insanity. On looking at his companion, the wild but deep expression of his eyes began to change into one of absolute frenzy, a circumstance which could not escape the stranger's observation, and which, placed as he was in the pursuit of an important secret, awoke a still deeper interest, whilst at the same time it occasioned him much pain.
"Mr. Fenton," said he, "I certainly have no wish, by any proceeding incompatible with an ungentlemanly feeling of impertinent curiosity, to become acquainted with the cause of this unusual excitement, which the appearance of Miss Gourlay and her father seems to produce upon you, unless in so far as its disclosure, in honorable confidence, might enable me, as a person sincerely your friend, to allay or remove it."
"Suppose, sir, you are mistaken." replied the other—"Do you not know that there are memories arising from association, that are touched and kindled into great pain, by objects that are by no means the direct cause of them, or the cause of them in any sense?"
"I admit the truth of what you say, Mr. Fenton; but we can only draw our first inferences from appearances. It is not from any idle or prurient desire to become acquainted with the cause of your emotion that I speak, but simply from a wish to serve you, if you will permit me. It is distressing to witness what you suffer."
"I have experienced," said Fenton, whose excitement seemed not only to rise as he proceeded, but in a considerable degree to give that fervor and elevation to his language, which excitement often gives; "yes, sir," he proceeded, his eyes kindling almost into fury, "I have experienced much treacherous and malignant sympathy, under the guise of pretended friendship—sympathy! why do I say sympathy? Persecution—vengeance. Yes, sir, till I have become mad—or—or nearly so. No," he added, "I am not mad—I never was mad—but I understand your object—avaunt, sir—begone—or I shall throw you out of the window."
"Be calm, Mr. Fenton—be calm," replied the stranger, "and collect yourself. I am, indeed, sincerely your friend."
"Who told you, sir, that I was mad?"
"I never said so, Mr. Fenton."
"It matters not, sir—you are a traitor—and as such I denounce you. This room is mine, sir, and I shall forthwith expel you from it—" and, as he spoke, he started up, and sprung at the stranger, who, on seeing him rise for the purpose, instantly rang the bell. The waiter immediately entered, and found the latter holding poor Fenton by the two wrists, and with such a tremendous grasp as made him feel like an infant, in point of strength, in his hands.
"This is unmeaning violence, sir," exclaimed the latter, calmly but firmly, "unless you explain yourself, and give a reason for it. If you are moved by any peculiar cause of horror, or apprehension, or danger, why not enable me to understand it, in order that you may feel assured of my anxious disposition to assist you?"
"Gintlemen," exclaimed Paudeen, "what in the name of Pether White and Billy Neelins is the reason of this? But I needn't ax—it's one of Mr. Fenton's tantrams—an' the occasion of it was, lying snug and warm this mornin', in one of Andy Trimble's whiskey barrels. For shame, Mr. Fenton, you they say a gintleman born, and to thrate one of your own rank—a gintleman that befriended you as he did, and put a daicint shoot of clo'es on your miserable carcase; when you know that before he did it, if the wind was blowing from the thirty-two points of the compass, you had an openin' for every point, if they wor double the number. Troth, now, you're ongrateful, an' if God hasn't said it, you'll thravel from an onpenitent death-bed yet. Be quiet, will you, or my sinful sowl to glory, but I'll bundle you downstairs?"
"He will be quiet, Pat," said the stranger. "In truth, after all, this is a mere physical malady, Mr. Fenton, and will pass away immediately, if you will only sit down and collect yourself a little."
Fenton, however, made another unavailable attempt at struggle, and found that he was only exhausting himself to no purpose. All at once, or rather following up his previous suspicions, he seemed to look upon the powerful individual who held him, as a person who had become suddenly invested with a new character that increased his terrors; and yet, if we may say so, almost forced him into an anxiety to suppress their manifestation. His limbs, however, began to tremble excessively; his eyes absolutely dilated, and became filled by a sense of terror, nearly as wild as despair itself. The transitions of his temper, however, like those of his general conduct, supervened upon each other with remarkable rapidity, and, as it were, the result of quick, warm, and inconsiderate impulses.
"Well," he exclaimed at length, "I will be quiet, I am, I assure you, perfectly harmless; but, at the same time," he added, sitting down, "I know that the whole dialogue between you and that awful-looking man, was a plot laid for me. Why else did you insist on my being present at it? This accounts for your giving me a paltry sum of money, too—it does, sir—and for your spurious and dishonest humanity in wishing to see me well clothed. Yes, I perceive it all; but, let what may happen, I will not wear these clothes any longer. They are not the offering of a generous heart, but the fraudulent pretext for insinuating yourself into my confidence, in order to—to—yes, but I shall not say it—it is enough that I know you, sir—that I see through, and penetrate your designs."
He was about to put his threat with respect to the clothes into instant execution, when the stranger, once more seizing him, exclaimed—"You must promise, Mr. Fenton, before you leave my grasp, that you will make no further attempt to tear off your dress. I insist on this;" and as he spoke he fixed his eye sternly and commandingly on that of Fenton.
"I will not attempt it," replied the latter; "I promise it, on the word of a gentleman."
"There, then," said the stranger—"Keep yourself quiet, and, mark me, I shall expect that you will not violate that word, nor yield to these weak and silly paroxysms."
Fenton merely nodded submissively, and the other proceeded, still with a view of sounding him: "You say you know me; if so, who and what am I?"
"Do not ask me to speak at further length," replied Fenton; "I am quite exhausted, and I know not what I said."
He appeared now somewhat calmer, or, at least, affected to be so. By his manner, however, it would appear that some peculiar opinion or apprehension, with reference either to the baronet or the stranger, seemed as if confirmed, whilst, at the same time, acting under one of his rapid transitions, he spoke and looked like a man who was influenced by new motives. He then withdrew in a mood somewhat between sullenness and regret.
When the stranger was left to himself, he paced the room some time in a state of much anxiety, if not distress. At length he sat down, and, leaning his head upon his hand, exclaimed unconsciously aloud:
"Alas! I fear this search is vain. The faint traces of imaginary resemblance, which I thought I had discovered in this young man's features, are visible no longer. It is; true, this portrait," looking once more at the miniature, "was taken when the original was only a child of five years; but still it was remarked that the family resemblances were, from childhood up, both strong and striking. Then, this unfortunate person is perfectly inscrutable, and not to be managed by any ordinary procedure at present intelligible to me. Yet,—after all, as far as I have been able to conjecture, there is a strong similarity in the cases. The feeling among the people here is, that he is a gentleman by birth: but this may proceed from the air and manners which he can assume when he pleases. I would mention my whole design and object at hazard, but this would be running an unnecessary risk by intrusting my secret to him; and, although it is evident that he can preserve his own, it does not necessarily follow that he would keep mine. However, I must only persevere and bide my time, as the Scotch say."
He again rose, and, pacing the apartment once more, his features assumed a still deeper expression of inward agitation.
"And, again," he exclaimed, "that unfortunate rencounter! Great Heavens, what if I stand here a murderer, with the blood of a fellow-creature, hurried, I fear, in the very midst of his profligacy, into eternity! The thought is insupportable; and I know not, unless I can strictly preserve my incognito, whether I am at this moment liable, if apprehended, to pay the penalty which the law exacts. The only consolation that remains for me is, that the act was not of my seeking, but arrogantly and imperiously forced upon me."
CHAPTER VII. The Baronet attempts by Falsehood
The Baronet attempts by Falsehood to urge his Daughter into an Avowal of her Lover's Name.
Sir Thomas Gourlay, after his unpleasant interview with the stranger, rode easily home, meditating upon some feasible plan by which he hoped to succeed in entrapping his daughter into the avowal of her lover's name, for he had no doubt whatsoever that the gentleman at the inn and he were one and the same individual. For this purpose, he determined to put on a cheerful face, and assume, as far as in him lay, an air of uncommon satisfaction. Now this was a task of no ordinary difficulty for Sir Thomas to encounter. The expression of all the fiercer and darker passions was natural to such a countenance as his; but even to imagine such a one lit up with mirth, was to conceive an image so grotesque and ridiculous, that the firmest gravity must give way before it. His frown was a thing perfectly intelligible, but to witness his smile, or rather his effort at one, was to witness an unnatural phenomenon of the most awful kind, and little short of a prodigy. If one could suppose the sun giving a melancholy and lugubrious grin through the darkness of a total eclipse, they might form some conception of the jocular solemnity which threw its deep but comic shadow over his visage. One might expect the whole machinery of the face, with as much probability as that of a mill, to change its habitual motions, and turn in an opposite direction. It seemed, in fact, as if a general breaking up of the countenance was about to take place, and that the several features, like a crew of thieves and vagabonds flying from the officers of justice, were all determined to provide for themselves.
Lucy saw at a glance that her father was about to get into one of those tender and complacent moods which were few and far between, and, made wise by experience, she very properly conjectured, from his appearance, that some deep design was concealed under it. Anxious, therefore, to avoid a prolonged dialogue, and feeling, besides, her natural candor and invincible love of truth to a certain extent outraged by this treacherous assumption of cordiality, she resolved to commence the conversation.
"Has anything agreeable happened; papa?"
"Agreeable, Lucy, ahem!—why, yes—something agreeable has happened. Now, Lucy, poor foolish girl, would it not have been better to have placed confidence in me with respect to this lover of yours? Who can feel the same interest in your happiness that I do?"
"None, certainly, sir; unless some one whose happiness may probably depend on mine."
"Yes, your lover—well, that now is a natural enough distinction; but still, you foolish, naughty girl, don't you know that you are to inherit my wealth and property, and that they will make you happy? You silly thing, there's a truth for you."
"Were you yourself happy, papa, when we separated this morning? Are you happy this moment? Are you generally happy? Is there no rankling anxiety—no project of ambition—no bitter recollection corroding your heart? Does the untimely loss of my young brother, who would have represented and sustained your name, never press heavily upon it? I ask again, Papa, are you generally happy? Yet you are in possession of all the wealth and property you speak of."
"Tut, nonsense, silly child! Nothing is more ridiculous than to hear a girl like you, that ought to have no will but mine, reasoning like a philosopher."
"But, dear papa," proceeded Lucy, "if you should persist in marrying me to a profligate, merely because he is a nobleman—oh, how often is that honorable name prostituted!—and could give me a title, don't you see how wretched I should be, and how completely your wealth and property would fail to secure my happiness?"
"Very well argued, Lucy, only that you go upon wrong principles. To be sure, I know that young ladies—that is, very young and inexperienced ladies, somewhat like yourself, Lucy—have, or pretend to have—poor fools—a horror of marrying those they don't love; and I am aware, besides, that a man might as well attempt to make a stream run up hill as combat them upon this topic. As for me, in spite of all my wealth and property—I say this in deference to you—I am really very happy this moment."
"I am delighted to hear it, papa. May I ask, what has contributed to make you so?"
"I shall mention that presently; but, in the mean time, my theory on this subject is, that, instead of marrying for love, I would recommend only such persons to contract matrimony as entertain a kind of lurking aversion for each other. Let the parties commence with, say, a tolerably strong stock of honest hatred on both sides. Very well; they, are united. At first, there is a great deal of heroic grief, and much exquisite martyrdom on the part of the lady, whilst the gentleman is at once, if I may say so, indifferent and indignant. By and by, however, they become tired of this. The husband, who, as well as the wife, we shall suppose, has a strong spice of the devil in him, begins to entertain a kind of diabolical sympathy for the fire and temper she displays; while she, on the other hand, comes by degrees to admire in him that which she is conscious of possessing herself, that is to say, a sharp tongue and an energetic temperament. In this way, Lucy, they go on, until habit has become a second nature to them. The appetite for strife has been happily created. At length, they find themselves so completely captivated by it that it becomes the charm of their existence. Thenceforth a bewitching and discordant harmony prevails between them, and they entertain a kind of hostile affection for each other that is desperately delightful."
"Why, you are quite a painter, papa; your picture is admirable; all it wants is truth and nature."
"Thank you, Lucy; you are quite complimentary, and have made an artist of me, as artists now go. But is not this much more agreeable and animated than the sweet dalliance of a sugar-plum life, or the dull, monotonous existence resembling a Dutch canal, which we term connubial happiness?"
"Well, now, papa, suppose you were to hear me through?"
"Very well," he replied; "I will."
"I do not believe, sir, that life can present us with anything more beautiful and delightful than the union of two hearts, two minds, two souls, in pure and mutual affection, when that affection is founded upon something more durable than mere beauty or personal attraction—that is, when it is based upon esteem, and a thorough knowledge of the object we love."
"Yes, Lucy; but remember there are such things as deceit, dissimulation, and hypocrisy in the world."
"Yes, and goodness, and candor, and honor, and truth, and fidelity, papa; do you remember that? When two beings, conscious, I say, of each other's virtues—each other's failings, if you will—are united in the bonds of true and pure affection, how could it happen that marriage, which is only the baptism of love upon the altar of the heart, should take away any of the tenderness of this attachment, especially when we reflect that its very emotions are happiness? Granting that love, in its romantic and ideal sense, may disappear after marriage, I have heard, and I believe, that it assumes a holier and still more tender spirit, and reappears under the sweeter and more beautiful form of domestic affection. The very consciousness, I should suppose, that our destinies, our hopes, our objects, our cares—in short, our joys and sorrows, are identical and mutual, to be shared with and by each other, and that all those delightful interchanges of a thousand nameless offices of tenderness that spring up from the on-going business of our own peculiar life—these alone, I can very well imagine, would constitute an enjoyment far higher, purer, holier, than mere romantic love. Then, papa, surely we are not to live solely for ourselves. There are the miseries and wants of others to be lessened or relieved, calamity to be mitigated, the pale and throbbing brow of sickness to be cooled, the heart of the poor and neglected to be sustained and cheered, and the limbs of the weary to be clothed and rested. Why, papa," she proceeded, her, dark eye kindling at the noble picture of human duty she had drawn, "when we take into contemplation the delightful impression of two persons going thus, hand in hand, through life, joining in the discharge of their necessary duties, assisting their fellow-creatures, and diffusing good wherever they go—each strengthening and reflecting the virtues of the other, may we not well ask how they could look upon each other without feeling the highest and noblest spirit of tenderness, affection, and esteem?"
"O yes, I was right, Lucy; all romances, all imagination, all honeypot, with a streak of treacle here and there for the shading," and, as he spoke, he committed another felony in the disguise of a horse-laugh, which, however, came only from the jaws out.
"But, papa," she proceeded, anxious to change the subject and curtail the interview, "as I said, I trust something agreeable has happened; you seem in unusually good spirits."
"Why, yes, Lucy," he replied, setting his eyes upon her with an expression of good-humor that made her tremble—"yes, I was in Ballytrain, and had an interview with a friend of yours, who is stopping in the 'Mitre.' But, my dear, surely that is no reason why you should all at once grow so pale! I almost think that you have contracted a habit of becoming pale. I observed it this morning—I observe it now; but, after all, perhaps it is only a new method of blushing—the blush reversed—that is to say, blushing backwards. Come, you foolish girl, don't be alarmed; your lover had more sense than you have, and knew when and where to place confidence."
He rose up now, and having taken a turn or two across the room, approached her, and in deep, earnest, and what he intended to be, and was, an impressive and startling voice, added:
"Yes, Miss Gourlay, he has told me all."
Lucy looked at him, unmoved as to the information, for she knew it was false; but she left him nothing to complain of with—regard to her paleness now. In fact, she blushed deeply at the falsehood he attempted to impose upon her. The whole tenor and spirit of the conversation was instantly changed, and assumed for a moment a painful and disagreeable formality.
"To whom do you allude, sir." she asked.
"To the gentleman, madam, to whom you bowed so graciously, and, let me add, significantly, to-day."
"And may I beg to know, sir, what he has told you?"
"Have I not already said that he has told me all? Yes, madam, I have said so, I think. But come, Lucy," he added, affecting to relax, "be a good girl; as you said, yourself, it should not be sir and madam between you and me. You are all I have in the world—my only child, and if I appear harsh to you, it is only because I love and am anxious to make you happy. Come, my dear child, put confidence in me, and rely upon my affection and generosity."
Lucy was staggered for a moment, but only for a moment, for she thoroughly understood him.
"But, papa, if the gentleman you allude to has told you all, what is there left for me to confide to you?"
"Why, the truth is, Lucy, I was anxious to test his sincerity, and to have your version as well as his. He appears, certainly, to be a gentleman and a man of honor."
"And if he be a man of honor, papa, how can you require such a test?"
"I said, observe, that he appears to be such; but, you know, a man may be mistaken in the estimate he forms of another in a first interview. Come, Lucy, do something to make me your friend."
"My friend!" she replied, whilst the tears rose to her eyes. "Alas, papa, must I hear such language as this from a father's lips? Should anything be necessary to make that father the friend of his only child? I know not how to reply to you, sir; you have placed me in a position of almost unexampled distress and pain. I cannot, without an apparent want of respect and duty, give expression to what I know and feel."
"Why not, you foolish girl, especially when you see me in such good-humor? Take courage. You will find me more indulgent than you imagine. Imitate your lover yonder."
She looked at him, and her eyes sparkled through her tears with shame, but not merely with shame, for her heart was filled with such an indignant and oppressive sense of his falsehood as caused her to weep and sob aloud for two or three minutes.
"Come, my dear child, I repeat—imitate your lover yonder. Confess; but don't weep thus. Surely I am not harsh to you now?"
"Papa," she replied, wiping her eyes, "the confidence which you solicit, it is not in my power to bestow. Do not, therefore, press me on this subject. It is enough that I have already confessed to you that my affections are engaged. I will now add what perhaps I ought to have added before, that this was with the sanction of my dear mamma. Indeed, I would have said so, but that I was reluctant to occasion reflections from you incompatible with my affection for her memory."
"Your mother, madam," he added, his face blackening into the hue of his natural temper, "was always a poor, weak-minded woman. She was foolish, madam, and indiscreet, and has made you wicked—trained you up to hypocrisy, falsehood, and disobedience. Yes, madam, and in every instance where you go contrary to my will, you act upon her principles. Why do you not respect truth, Miss Gourlay?"
"Alas, sir!" she replied, stung and shocked by his unmanly reflections upon the memory of her mother, whilst her tears burst out afresh, "I am this moment weeping for my father's disregard of it."
"How, madam! I am a liar, am I? Oh, dutiful daughter!"
"Mamma, sir, was all truth, all goodness, all affection. She was at once an angel and a martyr, and I will not hear her blessed memory insulted by the very man who, above all others, ought to protect and revere it. I am not, papa, to be intimidated by looks. If it be our duty to defend the absent, is it not ten thousand times more so to defend the dead? Shall a daughter hear with acquiescence the memory of a mother, who would have died for her, loaded with obloquy and falsehood? No, sir! Menace and abuse myself as much as you wish, but I tell you, that while I have life and the power of speech, I will fling back, even into a father's face, the falsehoods—the gross and unmanly falsehoods—with which he insults her tomb, and calumniates her memory and her virtues. Do not blame me, sir, for this language; I would be glad to honor you if I could; I beseech you, my father, enable me to do so."
"I see you take a peculiar—a wanton pleasure in calling me a liar."
"No, sir, I do not call you a liar; but I know you regard truth no farther than it serves your own purposes. Have you not told me just now, that the gentleman in the Mitre Inn has made certain disclosures to you concerning himself and me? And now, father, I ask you, is there one word of truth in this assertion? You know there is not. Have you not sought my confidence by a series of false pretences, and a relation of circumstances that were utterly without foundation? All this, however, though inexpressibly painful to me as your daughter, I could overlook without one word of reply; but I never will allow you to cast foul and cowardly reproach upon the memory of the best of mothers—upon the memory of a wife of whom, father, you were unworthy, and whom, to my own knowledge, your harshness and severity hurried into a premature grave. Oh, never did woman pay so dreadful a penalty for suffering herself to be forced into marriage with a man she could not love, and who was unworthy of her affection! That, sir, was the only action of her life in which her daughter cannot, will not, imitate her."
She rose to retire, but her father, now having relapsed into all his dark vehemence of temper, exclaimed—
"Now mark me, madam, before you go. I say you shall sleep under lock and key this night. I tell you that I shall use the most rigorous measures with you, the severest, the harshest, that I can devise, or I shall I break that stubborn will of yours. Do not imagine for one moment that you shall overcome me, or triumph in your disobedience. No, sooner than you should, I would break your spirit—I would break your heart"
"Be it so, sir. I am ready to suffer anything, provided only you will forbear to insult the memory of my mother."
With these words she sought her own room, where she indulged in a long fit of bitter grief.
Sir Thomas Gourlay, in these painful contests of temper with his candid and high-minded daughter, was by no means so cool and able as when engaged in similar exercitations with strangers. The disadvantage against him in his broils with Lucy, arose from the fact that he had nothing in this respect to conceal from her. He felt that his natural temper and disposition were known, and that the assumption of any and every false aspect of character, must necessarily be seen through by her, and his hypocrisy detected and understood. Not so, however, with strangers. When manoeuvring with them, he could play, if not a deeper, at least a safer game; and of this he himself was perfectly conscious. Had his heart been capable of any noble or dignified emotion, he must necessarily have admired the greatness of his daughter's mind, her indomitable love of truth, and the beautiful and undying tenderness with which her affection brooded over the memory of her mother. Selfishness, however, and that low ambition which places human happiness in the enjoyment of wealth, and honors, and empty titles, had so completely blinded him to the virtues of his daughter, and to the sacred character of his own duties as a father, bound by the first principles of nature to promote her happiness, without corrupting her virtues, or weakening her moral impressions—we say these things had so blinded him, and hardened his heart against all the purer duties and responsibilities of life, that he looked upon his daughter as a hardened, disobedient girl, dead to the influence of his own good—the ambition of the world—and insensible to the dignified position which awaited her among the votaries of rank and fashion. But, alas, poor man! how little did he know of the healthy and substantial virtues which confer upon those whose station lies in middle and in humble life, a benevolent and hearty consciousness of pure enjoyment, immeasurably superior to the hollow forms of life and conduct in aristocratic circles, which, like the tempting fruit of the Dead Sea, seem beautiful to the eye, but are nothing more, when tested by the common process of humanity, than ashes and bitterness to the taste. We do not now speak of a whole class, for wherever human nature is, it will have its virtues as well as its vices; But we talk of the system, which cannot be one of much happiness or generous feeling, so long as it separates itself from the general sympathies of mankind.
CHAPTER VIII. The Fortune-Teller—An Equivocal Prediction.
The stranger's appearance at the "Mitre," and the incident which occurred there, were in a peculiar degree mortifying to the Black Baronet, for so he was generally called. At this precise period he had projected the close of the negotiation with respect to the contemplated marriage between Lucy and Lord Dunroe. Lord Cullamore, whose residence was only a few miles from Red Hall, had been for some time in delicate health, but he was now sufficiently recovered to enter upon the negotiation proposed, to which, were it not for certain reasons that will subsequently appear, he had, in truth, no great relish; and this, principally on Lucy Gourlay's account, and with a view to her future happiness, which he did not think had any great chance of being promoted by a matrimonial alliance with his son.
Not many minutes after the interview between Lucy and her father, a liveried servant arrived, bearing a letter in reply to one from Sir Thomas, to the following effect:
"My Dear Gourlay,—I have got much stronger within the last fortnight; that is, so far as my mere bodily health is concerned. As I shall proceed to London in a day or two, it is perhaps better that I should see you upon the subject of this union, between your daughter and my son, especially as you seem to wish it so anxiously. To tell you the truth, I fear very much that you are, contrary to remonstrance, and with your eyes open to the consequences, precipitating your charming and admirable Lucy upon wretchedness and disconsolation for the remainder of her life; and I can tell her, and would if I were allowed, that the coronet of a countess, however highly either she or you may appreciate it, will be found but a poor substitute for the want of that affection and esteem, upon which only can be founded domestic happiness and contentment.
"Ever, my dear Gourlay, faithfully yours,
The baronet's face, after having perused this epistle, brightened up as much as any face of such sombre and repulsive expression could be supposed to do; but, again, upon taking into consideration what he looked upon as the unjustifiable obstinacy of his daughter, it became once more stern and overshadowed. He ground his teeth with vexation as he paced to and fro the room, as was his custom when in a state of agitation or anger. After some minutes, during which his passion seemed only to increase, he went to her apartment, and, thrusting in his head to ascertain that she was safe, he deliberately locked the door, and, putting the key in his pocket, once more ordered his horse, and proceeded to Glenshee Castle, the princely residence of his friend, Lord Cullamore.
None of our readers, we presume, would feel disposed to charge our hardened baronet with any tendency to superstition. That he felt its influence, however, was a fact; for it may have been observed that there is a class of minds which, whilst they reject all moral control when any legitimate barrier stands between them and the gratification of their evil passions or designs, are yet susceptible of the effects which are said to proceed from such slight and trivial incidents as are supposed to be invested with a mysterious and significant influence upon the actions of individuals. It is not, however, those who possess the strongest passions that are endowed with the strongest principles, unless when it happens that these passions are kept in subjection by religion or reason. In fact, the very reverse of the proposition in general holds true; and, indeed, Sir Thomas Gourlay was a strong and startling proof of this. In his case, however, it might be accounted for by the influence over his mind, when young, of a superstitious nurse named Jennie Corbet, who was a stout believer in all the superstitious lore which at that time constituted a kind of social and popular creed throughout the country. It was not that the reason of Sir Thomas was at all convinced by, or yielded any assent to, such legends, but a habit of belief in them, which he was never able properly to throw off, had been created, which left behind it a lingering impression resulting from their exhibition, which, in spite of all his efforts, clung to him through life.
Another peculiarity of his we may as well mention here, which related to his bearing while on horseback. It had been shrewdly observed by the people, that, whilst in the act of concocting any plan, or projecting any scheme, he uniformly rode at an easy, slow, and thoughtful pace; but, when under the influence of his angry passions, he dashed along with a fury and vehemence of speed that startled those whom he met, and caused them to pause and look after him with wonder.
The distance between Red Hall and Glenshee Castle was not more than four miles; the estates of both proprietors lying, in fact, together. The day was calm, mild, and breathed of the fragrant and opening odors of spring. Sir Thomas had nearly measured half the distance at a very slow pace, for, in truth, he was then silently rehearsing his part in the interview which was about to take place between him and his noble friend. The day, though calm, as we said, was nevertheless without sunshine, and, consequently, that joyous and exhilarating spirit of warmth and light which the vernal sun floods down upon all nature, rendering earth and air choral with music, was not felt so powerfully. On the contrary, the silence and gloom were somewhat unusual, considering the mildness which prevailed. Every one, however, has experienced the influence of such days—an influence which, notwithstanding the calm and genial character of the day itself, is felt to be depressing, and at variance with cheerfulness and good spirits.
Be this as it may, Sir Thomas was proceeding leisurely along, when a turn of the road brought him at once upon the brow of the small valley from which the residence of the Cullamore family had its name—Glenshee, or, in English, the Glen of the Fairies. Its sides were wild, abrupt, and precipitous, and partially covered with copse-wood, as was the little brawling stream which ran through it, and of which the eye of the spectator could only catch occasional glimpses from among the hazel, dogberry, and white thorn, with which it was here and there covered. In the bottom, there was a small, but beautiful green carpet, nearly, if not altogether circular, about a hundred yards in diameter, in the centre of which stood one of those fairy rings that gave its name and character to the glen. The place was, at all times, wild, and so solitary that, after dusk, few persons in the neighborhood wished to pass it alone. On the day in question, its appearance was still and impressive, and, owing to the gloom which prevailed, it presented a lonely and desolate aspect, calculated, certainly, in some degree, to inspire a weak mind with something of that superstitious feeling which was occasioned by its supernatural reputation. We said that the baronet came to a winding part of the road which brought this wild and startling spot before him, and just at the same moment he was confronted by an object quite as wild and as startling. This was no-other than a celebrated fortune-teller of that day, named Ginty Cooper, a middle-aged sibyl, who enjoyed a very wide reputation for her extraordinary insight into futurity, as well as for performing a variety of cures upon both men and cattle, by her acquaintance, it was supposed, with fairy lore, the influence of charms, and the secret properties of certain herbs with which, if you believed her, she had been made acquainted by the Dainhe Shee, or good people themselves.
The baronet's first feeling was one of annoyance and vexation, and for what cause, the reader will soon understand.
"Curse this ill-looking wretch," he exclaimed mentally; "she is the first individual I have met since I left home. It is not that I regard the matter a feather, but, somehow, I don't wish that a woman—especially such a blasted looking sibyl as this—should be the first person I meet when going on any business of importance." Indeed, it is to be observed here, that some of Ginty's predictions and cures were such as, among an ignorant and credulous people, strongly impressed by the superstitions of the day, and who placed implicit reliance upon her prophetic and sanative faculties, were certainly calculated to add very much to her peculiar influence over them, originating, as they believed, in her communion with supernatural powers. Her appearance, too, was strikingly calculated to sustain the extraordinary reputation which she bore, yet it was such as we feel it to be almost impossible to describe. Her face was thin, and supernaturally pale, and her features had a death-like composure, an almost awful rigidity, that induced the spectator to imagine that she had just risen from the grave. Her thin lips were repulsively white, and her teeth so much whiter that they almost filled you with fear; but it was in her eye that the symbol of her prophetic power might be said to lie. It was wild, gray, and almost transparent, and whenever she was, or appeared to be, in a thoughtful mood, or engaged in the contemplation of futurity, it kept perpetually scintillating, or shifting, as it were, between two proximate objects, to which she seemed to look as if they had been in the far distance of space—that is, it turned from one to another with a quivering rapidity which the eye of the spectator was unable to follow. And yet it was evident on reflection, that in her youth she must have been not only good-looking, but handsome. This quick and unnatural motion of the eye was extremely wild and startling, and when contrasted with the white and death-like character of her teeth, and the moveless expression of her countenance, was in admirable keeping with the supernatural qualities attributed to her. She wore no bonnet, but her white death-bed like cap was tied round her head by a band of clean linen, and came under her chin, as in the case of a corpse, thus making her appear as if she purposely assumed the startling habiliments of the grave. As for the outlines of her general person, they afforded evident proof—thin and emaciated as she then was—that her figure in early life must have been remarkable for great neatness and symmetry. She inhabited a solitary cottage in the glen, a fact which, in the opinion of the people, completed the wild prestige of her character.
"You accursed hag," said the baronet, whose vexation at meeting her was for the moment beyond any superstitious impression which he felt, "what brought you here? What devil sent you across my path now? Who are you, or what are you, for you look like a libel on humanity?"
"If I don't," she replied, bitterly, "I know who does. There is not much beauty between us, Thomas Gourlay."
"What do you mean by Thomas Gourlay, you sorceress?"
"You'll come to know that some day before you die, Thomas; perhaps sooner than you can think or dream of."
"How can you tell that, you irreverent old viper?"
"I could tell you much more than that, Thomas," she replied, showing her corpse-like teeth with a ghastly smile of mocking bitterness that was fearful.
The Black Baronet, in spite of himself, began to feel somewhat uneasy, for, in fact, there appeared such a wild but confident significance in her manner and language that he deemed it wiser to change his tactics with the woman, and soothe her a little if he could. In truth, her words agitated him so much that he unconsciously pulled out of his waistcoat pocket the key of Lucy's room, and began to dangle with it as he contemplated her with something like alarm.
"My poor woman, you must be raving," he replied. "What could a destitute creature like you know about my affairs? I don't remember that I ever saw you before."
"That's not the question, Thomas Gourlay, but the question is, what have you done with the child of your eldest brother, the lawful heir of the property and title that you now bear, and bear unjustly."
He was much startled by this allusion, for although aware that the disappearance of the child in question had been for many long years well known, yet, involved, as it was, in unaccountable mystery, still the circumstance had never been forgotten.
"That's an old story, my good woman," he replied. "You don't charge me, I hope, as some have done, with making away with him? You might as well charge me with kidnapping my own son, you foolish woman, who, you know, I suppose, disappeared very soon after the other."
"I know he did," she replied; "but neither I nor any one else ever charged you with that act; and I know there are a great many of opinion that both acts were committed by some common enemy to your house, who wished, for some unknown cause of hatred, to extinguish your whole family. That is, indeed, the best defence you have for the disappearance of your brother's son; but, mark me, Thomas Gourlay—that defence will not pass with God, with me, nor with your own heart. I have my own opinion upon that subject, as well as upon many others. You may ask your own conscience, Thomas Gourlay, but he'll be a close friend of yours that will ever hear its answer."
"And is this all you had to say to me, you ill-thinking old vermin." he replied, again losing his temper.
"No," she answered, "I wish to tell your fortune; and you will do well to listen to me."
"Well," said he, in a milder tone, putting at the same time the key of Lucy's door again into his pocket, without being in the slightest degree conscious of it, "if you are, I suppose I must cross your hand with silver as usual; take this."
"No," she replied, drawing back with another ghastly smile, the meaning of which was to him utterly undefinable, "from your hand nothing in the shape of money will ever pass into mine; but listen"—she looked at him for some moments, during which she paused, and then added—"I will not do it, I am not able to render good for evil, yet; I will suffer you to run your course. I am well aware that neither warning nor truth would have any effect upon you, unless to enable you to prepare and sharpen your plans with more ingenious villany. But you have a daughter; I will speak to you about her."
"Do," said the baronet; "but why not take the silver?"
"You will know that one day before you die, too," said she, "and I don't think it will smooth your death-bed pillow."
"Why, you are a very mysterious old lady."
"I'll now give you a proof of that. You locked in your daughter before you left home."
Sir Thomas could not for his life prevent himself from starting so visibly that she observed it at once.
"No such thing," he replied, affecting a composure which he certainly did not feel; "you are an impostor, and I now see that you know nothing."
"What I say is true," she replied, solemnly, "and you have stated, Thomas Gourlay, what you know to be a falsehood; I would be glad to discover you uttering truth unless with some evil intention. But now for your daughter; you wish to hear her fate?"
"Certainly I do; but then you know nothing. You charge me with falsehood, but it is yourself that are the liar."
She waved her hand indignantly.
"Will my daughter's husband be a man of title?" he asked, his mind passing to the great and engrossing object of his ambition.
"He will be a man of title," she replied, "and he will make her a countess."
"You must take money," said he, thrusting his hand into his pocket, and once more pulling out his purse—"that is worth something, surely."
She waved her hand again, with a gesture of repulse still more indignant and frightful than before, and the bitter smile she gave while doing it again displayed her corpse-like teeth in a manner that was calculated to excite horror itself.
"Very well," replied the baronet; "I will not press you, only don't make such cursed frightful grimaces. But with respect to my daughter, will the marriage be with her own consent?"
"With her own consent—it will be the dearest wish of her heart."
"Could you name her husband?"
"I could and will. Lord Dunroe will be the man, and he will make her Countess of Cullamore."
"Well, now," replied the other, "I believe you can speak truth, and are somewhat acquainted with the future. The girl certainly is attached to him, and I have no doubt the union will be, as you say, a happy one."
"You know in your soul," she replied, "that she detests him; and you know she would sacrifice her life this moment sooner than marry him."
"What, then, do you mean." he asked, "and why do you thus contradict yourself?"
"Good-by, Thomas Gourlay," she replied. "So far as regards either the past or the future, you will hear nothing further from me to-day; but, mark me, we shall meet again—-and we have met before."
"That, certainly, is not true," he said, "unless it might be accidentally on the highway; but, until this moment, my good woman, I don't remember to have seen your face in my life."
She looked toward the sky, and pointing her long, skinny finger upwards, said, "How will you be prepared to render an account of all your deeds and iniquities before Him who will judge you there!"
There was a terrible calmness, a dreadful solemnity on her white, ghastly features as she spoke, and pointed to the sky, after which she passed on in silence and took no further notice of the Black Baronet.
It is very difficult to describe the singular variety of sensations which her conversation, extraordinary, wild, and mysterious as it was, caused this remarkable man to experience. He knew not what to make of it. One thing was certain, however, and he could not help admitting it to himself, that, during their short and singular dialogue, she had, he knew not how, obtained and exercised an extraordinary ascendency over him. He looked after her, but she was proceeding calmly along, precisely as if they had not spoken.
"She is certainly the greatest mystery in the shape of woman," he said to himself, as he proceeded, "that I have ever yet met—that is, if she be a thing of flesh and blood—for to me she seems to belong more to death and its awful accessories, than to life and its natural reality. How in the devil's name could she have known that I locked that obstinate and undutiful girl up. This is altogether inexplicable, upon principles affecting only the ordinary powers of common humanity. Then she affirmed, prophesied, or what you will, that Lucy and Dunroe will be married—willingly and happily! That certainly is strange, and as agreeable as strange; but I will doubt nothing after the incident of the locking up, so strangely revealed to me too, at a moment when, perhaps, no human being knew it but Lucy and myself. And, what is stranger still, she knows the state of the girl's affections, and that she at present detests Dunroe. Yet, stay, have I not seen her somewhere before? She said so herself. There is a faint impression on me that her face is not altogether unfamiliar to me, but I cannot recall either time or place, and perhaps the impression is a wrong one."
CHAPTER IX. Candor and Dissimulation
Glenshee Castle was built by the father of the then Lord Cullamore, at a cost of upwards of one hundred thousand pounds. Its general effect and situation were beautiful, imposing, and picturesque in the extreme. Its north and east sides, being the principal fronts, contained the state apartments, while the other sides, for the building was a parallelogram, contained the offices, and were overshadowed, or nearly altogether concealed, by trees of a most luxuriant growth. In the east front stood a magnificent circular tower, in fine proportion with it; whilst an octagon one, of proportions somewhat inferior, terminated the northern angle. The front, again, on the north, extending from the last mentioned tower, was connected with a fine Gothic chapel, remarkable for the beauty of its stained windows, supervening buttresses, and a belfry at its western extremity. On the north front, which was the entrance, rose a porch leading into a vestibule, and from thence into the magnificent hall. From this sprung a noble stone staircase, with two inferior flights that led to a corridor, which communicated with a gorgeous suit of bedchambers. The grand hall communicated on the western side with those rooms that were appropriated to the servants, and those on the opposite, with the state apartments, which were of magnificent size and proportions, having all the wood-work of Irish oak, exquisitely polished. The gardens were in equal taste, and admirably kept. The pleasure grounds were ornamented with some of the rarest exotics. On each side of the avenue, as you approached the castle, stood a range of noble elms, beeches, and oaks intermingled; and, as you reached the grand entrance, you caught a view of the demesne and deer-park, which were, and are, among the finest in the kingdom. There was also visible, from the steps of the hall and front window, the bends of a sweet, and winding river near the centre of the demesne, spanned by three or four light and elegant arches, that connected the latter and the deer-park with each other. Nothing, however, was so striking in the whole landscape as the gigantic size and venerable appearance of the wood, which covered a large portion of the demesne, and the patriarchal majesty of those immense trees, which stood separated from the mass of forest, singly or in groups, in different parts of it. The evening summer's deep light, something between gold and purple, as it poured its mellow radiance upon the green openings between these noble trees, or the evening smoke, as it arose at the same hour from the chimneys of the keepers' houses among their branches, were sights worth a whole gallery of modern art.
As the baronet approached the castle, he thought again of the woman and her prophecies, and yielded to their influence, in so far as they assured him that his daughter was destined to become the proud mistress of all the magnificence by which he was surrounded. The sun had now shone forth, and as its clear light fell upon the house, its beautiful pleasure-grounds, its ornamented lawns, and its stately avenues, he felt that there was something worth making a struggle for, even at the expense of conscience, when he contemplated, with the cravings of an ambitious heart, the spirit of rich and deep repose in which the whole gorgeous spectacle lay.
On reaching the hall he rang, and in a few minutes was admitted to his friend, Lord Cullamore.
Lord Cullamore was remarkable for that venerable dignity and graceful ease, which, after all, can only result from early and constant intercourse with polished and aristocratic society. This person was somewhat above the middle size, his eye clear and significant, his features expressive, and singularly indicative of what he felt or said. In fact, he appeared to be an intelligent, candid man, who, in addition to that air bestowed upon him by his rank and position, and which could never for a moment be mistaken, was altogether one of the best specimens of his class. He had neither those assumptions of hateful condescension, nor that eternal consciousness of his high birth, which too frequently degrade and disgrace the commonplace and vulgar nobleman; especially when he makes the privileges of his class an offence and an oppression to his inferiors, or considers it a crime to feel or express those noble sympathies, which, as a first principle, ought to bind him to that class by whom he lives, and who constitute the great mass of humanity, from whose toil and labor originate the happiness of his order. When in conversation, the natural animation of his lordship's countenance was checked, not only by a polite and complacent sense of what was due to those with whom he spoke, and a sincere anxiety to put them at their ease, but evidently by an expression that seemed the exponent of some undivulged and corroding sorrow. We may add, that he was affectionate, generous, indolent; not difficult to be managed when he had no strong purpose to stimulate him; keen of observation, but not prone to suspicion; consequently often credulous, and easily imposed upon; but, having once detected fraud or want of candor, the discovery was certain forever to deprive the offending party of his esteem—no matter what their rank or condition in life might be.
We need scarcely say, therefore, that this, amiable nobleman, possessing as he did all the high honor and integrity by which his whole life was regulated, (with one solitary exception, for which his heart paid a severe penalty,) carried along with him, in his old age, that respect, reverence, and affection, to which the dignified simplicity of his life entitled him. He was, indeed, one of those few noblemen whose virtues gave to the aristocratic spirit, true grace and appropriate dignity, instead of degrading it, as too many of his caste do, by pride, arrogance, and selfishness.
Sir Thomas Gourlay, on entering the magnificent library to which he was conducted, found his lordship in the act of attaching his signature to some papers. The latter received him kindly and graciously, and shook hands with him, but without rising, for which he apologized.
"I am not at all strong, Sir Thomas," he added; "for although this last attack has left me, yet I feel that it has taken a considerable portion of my strength along with it. I am, however, free from pain and complaint, and my health is gradually improving."
"But, my lord, do you think you will be able to encounter the fatigue and difficulties of a journey to London." replied the other—"Will you have strength for it?"
"I hope so; travelling by sea always agreed with and invigorated my constitution. The weather, too, is fine, and. I will take the long voyage. Besides, it is indispensable that I should go. This wild son of mine has had a duel with some one in a shooting gallery—has been severely hit—and is very ill; but, at the same time, out of danger."
"A duel! Good heavens! My lord, how did it happen." asked the baronet.
"I am not exactly aware of all the particulars; but I think they cannot be creditable to the parties, or to Dunroe, at least; for one of his friends has so far overshot the mark as to write to me, for my satisfaction, that they have succeeded in keeping the affair out of the papers. Now, there must be something wrong when my son's friends are anxious to avoid publicity in the matter. The conduct of that young man, my dear Sir Thomas, is a source of great affliction to me; and I tremble for the happiness of your daughter, should they be united."
"You are too severe on Dunroe, my lord," replied the baronet—"It is better for a man to sow his wild oats in season than out of season. Besides, you know the proverb, 'A reformed rake,' etc."
"The popularity of a proverb, my good friend, is no proof of its truth; and, besides, I should wish to place a hope of my son's reformation upon something firmer and more solid than the strength of an old adage."
"But you know, my lord," replied the other, "that the instances of post-matrimonial reformation, if I may use the word, from youthful folly, are sufficient to justify the proverb. I am quite certain, that, if Lord Dunroe were united to a virtuous and sensible wife, he would settle down into the character of a steady, honorable, and independent man. I could prove this by many instances, even within your knowledge and mine. Why, then, exclude his lordship from the benefit of a contingency, to speak the least, which we know falls out happily in so many instances?"
"You mean you could prove the probability of it, my dear baronet; for, at present, the case is not susceptible of proof. What you say may be true; but, on the other hand, it may not; and, in the event of his marrying without the post-matrimonial reformation you speak of, what becomes of your daughter's happiness?"
"Nay, I know generous Dunroe so well, my lord, that I would not, even as Lucy's father, hesitate a moment to run the risk."
"But what says Lucy herself? And how does she stand affected toward him? For that is the main point. This matter, you know, was spoken over some few years ago, and conditionally approved of by us both; but my son was then very young, and had not plunged into that course of unjustifiable extravagance and profligacy which, to my cost, has disgraced his latter years. I scorn to veil his conduct, baronet, for it would be dishonorable under the circumstances between us, and I trust you will be equally candid in detailing to me the sentiments of your daughter on the subject."
"My lord, I shall unquestionably do so; but Lucy, you must know, is a girl of a very peculiar disposition. She possesses, in fact, a good deal of her unworthy father's determination and obstinacy. Urge her with too much vehemence, and she will resist; try to accelerate her pace, and she will stand still; but leave her to herself, to the natural and reasonable suggestions of her excellent sense, and you will get her to do anything."
"That is but a very indifferent character you bestow upon your daughter, Sir Thomas," replied his lordship—"I trust she deserves a better one at your hands."
"Why, my lord," replied the baronet, smiling after his own peculiar fashion, that is to say, with a kind of bitter sarcasm, "I have as good a right, I think, to exaggerate the failings of my daughter as you have to magnify those of your son. But a truce to this, and to be serious: I know the girl; you know, besides, something about women yourself, my lord, and I need not say that it is unwise to rely upon the moods and meditations of a young lady before marriage. Upon the prospect of such an important change in their position, the best of them will assume a great deal. The period constitutes the last limited portion of their freedom; and, of course, all the caprices of the heart, and all the giddy ebullitions of gratified vanity, manifest themselves so strangely, that it is extremely difficult to understand them, or know their wishes. Under such circumstances, my lord, they will, in the very levity of delight, frequently say 'no,' when they mean 'yes,' and vice versa."
"Sir Thomas," replied his lordship, gravely, "marriage, instead of being the close, should be the commencement, of their happiness. No woman, however, of sense, whether before marriage or after it, is difficult to be understood. Upon a subject of such importance—one that involves the happiness of her future life—no female possessing truth and principle would, for one moment, suffer a misconception to exist. Now your daughter, my favorite Lucy, is a girl of fine sense and high feeling, and I am at a loss, Sir Thomas, I assure you, to reconcile either one or the other with your metaphysics. If Miss Gourlay sat for the disagreeable picture you have just drawn, she must be a great hypocrite, or you have grossly misrepresented her, which I conceive it is not now your interest or your wish to do."
"But, my lord, I was speaking of the sex in general."
"But, sir," replied his lordship with dignity, "we are here to speak of your daughter."
Our readers may perceive that the wily baronet was beating about the bush, and attempting to impose upon his lordship by vague disquisitions. He was perfectly aware of Lord Cullamore's indomitable love of truth, and he consequently feared to treat him with a direct imposition, taking it for granted that, if he had, an interview of ten minutes between Lucy and his lordship might lead to an exposure of his duplicity and falsehood. He felt himself in a painful and distressing dilemma. Aware that, if the excellent peer had the slightest knowledge of Lucy's loathing horror of his son, he would never lend his sanction to the marriage, the baronet knew not whether to turn to the right or to the left, or, in other words, whether to rely on truth or falsehood. At length, he began to calculate upon the possibility of his daughter's ultimate acquiescence, upon the force of his own unbending character, her isolated position, without any one to encourage or abet her in what he looked upon as her disobedience, consequently his complete control over her; having summoned up all those points together, he resolved to beat about a little longer, but, at all events, to keep the peer in the dark, and, if pressed, to hazard the falsehood. He replied, however, to his lordship's last observation:
"I assure you, my lord, I thought not of my daughter while I drew the picture."
"Well, then," replied his lordship, smiling, "all I have to say is, that you are very eloquent in generalities—generalities, too, my friend, that do not bear upon the question. In one word, is Miss Gourlay inclined to this marriage? and I beseech you, my dear baronet, no more of these generalities."
"She is as much so, my lord," replied the other, "as nineteen women out of every twenty are in general. But it is not to be expected, I repeat, that a delicately-minded and modest young creature will at once step forward unabashed and exclaim, 'Yes, papa, I will marry him.' I protest, my lord, it would require the desperate heroism of an old maid on the last legs of hope, or the hardihood of a widow of three husbands, to go through such an ordeal. We consequently must make allowance for those delicate and blushing evasions which, after all, only mask compliance."
By this reply the baronet hoped to be able to satisfy his friend, without plunging into the open falsehood. The old nobleman, however, looked keenly at him, and asked a question which penetrated like a dagger into the lying soul within him.
"She consents, then, in the ordinary way?"
"She does, my lord."
"Well," replied the peer, "that, as the world goes, is, perhaps, as much as can be expected at present. You have not, I dare say, attempted to force her very much on the subject, and the poor girl has no mother. Under such circumstances, the delicacy of a young lady is certainly entitled to a manly forbearance. Have you alluded to Dunroe's want of morals?"
"Your opinion of his lordship and mine differ on this point considerably, my lord," replied the baronet—"You judge him with the severity of a father, I with the moderation of a friend. I have certainly made no allusion to his morals."
"Of course, then, you are aware, that it is your duty to do so; as a father, that it is a most solemn and indispensable duty?"
The soul of Sir Thomas Gourlay writhed within him like a wounded serpent, at the calm but noble truth contained in this apophthegm. He was not, however, to be caught; the subtlety of his invention enabled him to escape on that occasion at least.
"It has this moment occurred to me, my lord, with reference to this very point, that it may be possible, and by no means improbable—at least I for one anxiously hope it—that the recent illness of my Lord Dunroe may have given him time to reflect upon his escapades and follies, and that he will rejoin society a wiser and a better man. Under these expectations, I appeal to your own good sense, my lord, whether it would be wise or prudent by at present alluding—especially if it be rendered unnecessary by his reformation—to his want of morals, in any conversation I may hold with my daughter, and thereby deprive him of her personal respect and esteem, the only basis upon which true affection and domestic happiness can safely rest. Let us therefore wait, my lord. Perhaps the loss of some of his hot blood may have cooled him. Perhaps, after all," he added, smiling, "we may have reason to thank his phlebotomist."
The peer saw Sir Thomas's play, and, giving him another keen glance, replied:
"I never depended much upon a dramatic repentance, my dear baronet. Many a resolution of amendment has been made on the sick bed; but we know in general how they are kept, especially by the young. Be this as it may, our discussion has been long enough, and sufficiently ineffectual. My impression is, that Miss Gourlay is disinclined to the alliance. In truth, I dare say she is as well acquainted with his moral reputation as we are—perhaps better. Dunroe's conduct has been too often discussed in fashionable life to be a secret to her, or any one else who has access to it. If she reject him from a principle of virtuous delicacy and honor, she deserves a better fate than ever to call him husband. But perhaps she may have some other attachment?"
"My lord," replied Sir Thomas, rising, "I think I can perceive on which side the disinclination lies. You have—and pray excuse me for saying so—studiously thrown, during the present conference, every possible obstruction in the way of an arrangement on this subject. If your lordship is determined that the alliance between our families shall not take place, I pray you to say so. Upon your own showing my daughter will have little that she ought to regret in escaping Dunroe."
"And Dunroe would have much to be thankful to God for in securing your daughter. But, Sir Thomas Gourlay, I will be candid and open with you. Pray observe, sir, that, during this whole discussion, conference, or what you will, I did not get out of you a single direct answer, and that upon a subject involving the life-long happiness of your only child. I tell you, baronet, that your indirectness of purpose, and—you will excuse me, too, for what I am about to say, the importance of the subject justifies me—your evasions have excited my suspicions, and my present impression is, that Miss Gourlay is averse to a matrimonial union with my son; that she has heard reports of his character which have justly alarmed her high-minded sense of delicacy and honor; and that you, her parent, are forcing her into a marriage which she detests. Look into your own heart, Sir Thomas, and see whether you are not willing to risk her peace of mind for the miserable ambition of seeing her one day a countess. Alas! my friend," he continued, "there is no talisman in the coronet of a countess to stay the progress of sorrow, or check the decline of a breaking heart. If Miss Gourlay be, as I fear she is, averse to this union, do not sacrifice her to ambition and a profligate. She is too precious a treasure to be thrown away upon two objects so utterly worthless. Her soul is too pure to be allied to contamination—her heart too noble, too good, too generous, to be broken by unavailing grief and a repentance that will probably come too late."