"If I assure you, my lord, that she is not averse to the match—nay"—and here this false man consoled his conscience by falling back upon the prophecy of Ginty Cooper—"if I assure you that she will marry Dunroe willingly—nay, with delight, will your lordship then rest satisfied?"
"I must depend upon your word, Sir Thomas; am I not in conversation with a gentleman?"
"Well, then, my lord, I assure you that it is so. Your lordship will find, when the time comes, that my daughter is not only not indisposed to this union, but absolutely anxious to become your daughter-in-law"—bad as he was, he could not force himself to say, in so many plain words, "the wife of your son"—"But, my lord," he proceeded, "if you will permit me to make a single observation, I will thank you, and I trust you will excuse me besides."
"Unquestionably, Sir Thomas."
"Well, then, my lord, what I have observed during our conversation, with great pain, is, that you seem to entertain—pardon me, I speak in good feeling, I assure your lordship—that you seem, I say, to entertain a very unkind and anything but a parental feeling for your son. What, after all, do his wild eccentricities amount to more than the freedom and indulgence in those easy habits of life which his wealth and station hold out to him with greater temptation than they do to others? I cannot, my lord, in fact, see anything so monstrous in the conduct of a young nobleman like him, to justify, on the part of your lordship, language so severe, and, pardon me, so prejudicial to his character. Excuse me, my lord, if I have taken a liberty to which I am in nowise entitled." Socrates himself could scarcely have assumed a tone more moral, or a look of greater sincerity, or more anxious interest, than did the Black Baronet whilst he uttered these words.
The peer rose up, and his eye and whole person were marked by an expression and an air of the highest dignity, not unmingled with deep and obvious feeling.
"Sir Thomas Gourlay," said he, "you seem to forget the object of our conference, and our respective positions."
"My Lord," exclaimed the other, in a deprecating tone, "I meant no offence, upon my honor."
"I have taken none," replied his lordship; "but I must teach you to understand me. Whatever my son's conduct may be, one thing is evident, that you are his apologist; now, as a moral man, anxious for the happiness of your child, I tell you that you ought to have exchanged positions with me; it is you who, when about to intrust your daughter to him for life, ought to have investigated his moral character and habits, and manifested an anxiety to satisfy yourself whether they were such as would reflect honor upon her, and secure her peace of mind and tranquillity in the married state. You say, too, that I do not speak of my son in a kind or parental feeling; but do you imagine, sir, that, engaged as I am here, in a confidential and important conference, the result of which may involve the happiness or misery of two persons so dear to us both, I would be justified in withholding the truth, or lending myself to a course of dishonorable deception?"
He sat down again, and seemed deeply affected.
"God knows," he said, "that I love that wild and unthinking young man, perhaps more than I ought; but do you imagine, sir, that, because I have spoken of him with the freedom necessary and due to the importance and solemnity of our object in meeting, I could or would utter such sentiments to the world at large? I pray you, sir, then, to make and observe the distinction; and, instead of assailing me for want of affection as a parent, to thank me for the candor with which I have spoken."
The baronet felt subdued; it is evident that his mind was too coarse and selfish to understand the delicacy, the truth, and high, conscientious feeling with which Lord Cullamore conducted his part of this negotiation.
"My lord," said the baronet, who thought of another point on which to fall back, "there is one circumstance, one important fact, which we have both unaccountably overlooked, and which, after all, holds out a greater promise of domestic happiness between these young persons than anything we have thought of. His lordship is attached to my daughter. Now, where there is love, my lord, there is every chance and prospect of happiness in the married life."
"Yes, if it be mutual, Sir Thomas; everything depends on that. I am glad, however, you mentioned it. There is some hope left still; but alas, alas! what is even love when opposed to selfishness and ambition? I could—I myself could——" he seemed deeply moved, and paused for some time, as if unwilling to trust himself with speech—"Yes, I am glad you mentioned it, and I thank you, Sir Thomas, I thank you. I should wish to see these two young people happy. I believe he is attached to your daughter, and I will now mention a fact which certainly proves it. The gentleman with whom he fought that unfortunate duel was forced into it by Dunroe, in consequence of his having paid some marked attentions to Miss Gourlay, when she and her mother were in Paris, some few months before Lady Gourlay's decease. I did not wish to mention this before, out of respect for your daughter; but I do so now, confidentially, of course, in consequence of the turn our conversation has taken."
Something on the moment seemed to strike the baronet, who started, for he was unquestionably an able hand at putting scattered facts and circumstances together, and weaving a significant conclusion from them.
"That, my lord, at all events," said the coarse-minded man, after having recovered himself, "that is gratifying."
"What!" exclaimed Lord Cullamore, "to make your daughter the cause and subject of a duel, an intemperate brawl in a shooting gallery. The only hope I have is, that I trust she was not named."
"But, my lord, it is, after all, a proof of his affection for her."
His lordship smiled sarcastically, and looked at him with something like amazement, if not with contempt; but did not deign to reply.
"And now, my lord," continued the baronet, "what is to be the result of our conference? My daughter will have all my landed property at my death, and a large marriage-portion besides, now in the funds. I am apparently the last of my race. The disappearance and death—I take it for granted, as they have never since been heard of—of my brother Sir Edward's heir, and very soon after of my own, have left me without a hope of perpetuating my name; I shall settle my estates upon Lucy."
His lordship appeared abstracted for a few moments—"Your brother and you," he observed, "were on terms of bitter hostility, in consequence of what you considered an unequal marriage on his part, and I candidly assure you, Sir Thomas, that, were it not for the mysterious disappearance of your own son, so soon after the disappearance of his, it would have been difficult to relieve you from dark and terrible suspicions on the subject. As it is, the people, I believe, criminate you still; but that is nothing; my opinion is, that the same enemy perpetrated the double crime. Alas! the worst and bitterest of all private feuds are the domestic. There is my own brother; in a moment of passion and jealousy he challenged me to single combat; I had sense to resist his impetuosity. He got a foreign appointment, and there has been a gulf like that of the grave between him and his, and me and mine, ever since."
"Nothing, my lord," replied Sir Thomas, his countenance, as he spoke, becoming black with suppressed rage, "will ever remove the impression from my mind, that the disappearance or murder of my son was not a diabolical act of retaliation committed under the suspicion that I was privy to the removal or death, as the case may be, of my brother's heir; and while I have life I will persist in charging Lady Gourlay, as I must call her so, with the crime."
"In that impression," replied his lordship, "you stand alone. Lady Gourlay, that amiable, mild, affectionate, and heart-broken woman, is utterly incapable of that, or any act of cruelty whatsoever. A woman who is the source of happiness, kindness, relief, and support, to so many of her humble and distressed fellow-creatures, is not likely to commit or become accessory in any way to such a detestable and unnatural crime. Her whole life and conduct render such a supposition monstrous and incredible."
Both, after he had closed his observations, mused for some time, when the baronet, rising and pacing to and fro, as was his custom, at length asked—"Well, my lord, what say you? Are we never to come to a conclusion?"
"My determination is simply this, my dear baronet,—that, if you and Miss Gourlay are satisfied to take Lord Dunroe, with all his imperfections on his head, I shall give no opposition. She will, unless he amends and reforms, take him, I grant you, at her peril; but be it so. If the union, as, you say, will be the result of mutual attachment, in God's name let them marry. It is possible, we are assured, that the 'unbelieving husband may be saved by the believing wife.'"
"I am quite satisfied, my lord, with this arrangement; it is fair, and just, and honorable, and I am perfectly willing to abide by it. When does your lordship propose to return to us?"
"I am tired of public life, my dear baronet. My daughter, Lady Emily, who, you know, has chiefly resided with her maiden aunt, hopes to succeed in prevailing on her to accompany us to Glenshee Castle, to spend the summer and autumn, and visit some of the beautiful scenery of this unknown land of ours. Something, as to time, depends upon Dunroe's convalescence. My stay in England, however, will be as short as I can make it. I am getting too old for the exhausting din and bustle of society; and what I want now, is quiet repose, time to reflect upon my past life, and to prepare myself, as well as I can, for a new change. Of course, we will be both qualified to resume the subject of this marriage after my return, and, until then, farewell, my dear baronet. But mark me—no force, no violence."
Sir Thomas, as he shook hands with him, laughed—"None will be necessary, my lord, I assure you—I pledge you my honor for that."
The worthy baronet, on mounting his horse, paced him slowly out of the grounds, as was his custom when in deep meditation.
"If I don't mistake," thought he, "I have a clew to this same mysterious gentleman in the inn. He has seen and become acquainted with Lucy in Paris, under sanction of her weak-minded and foolish mother. The girl herself admitted that her engagement to him was with her consent. Dunroe, already aware of his attentions to her, becomes jealous, and on meeting him in London quarrels with him, that is to say, forces him, I should think, into one;—not that the fellow seems at all to be a coward either,—but why the devil did not the hot-headed young scoundrel take steadier aim, and send the bullet through his heart or brain? Had he pinked him, it would have saved me much vexation and trouble."
He then passed to another train of thought—"Thomas Gourlay,—plain Thomas Gourlay—what the devil could the corpse-like hag mean by that? Is it possible that this insane scoundrel will come to light in spite of me? Would to Heaven that I could ascertain his whereabouts, and get him into my power once more. I would take care to put him in a place of safety." He then touched his horse with the spurs, and proceeded to Red Hall at a quicker pace.
CHAPTER X. A Family Dialogue—and a Secret nearly Discovered.
Our scene must necessarily change to a kind of inn or low tavern, or, as they are usually denominated, eating-houses, in Little Mary street, on the north side of the good city of Dublin. These eating-houses were remarkable for the extreme neatness and cleanliness with which they were kept, and the wonderful order and regularity with which they were conducted. For instance, a lap of beef is hung from an iron hook on the door-post, which, if it be in the glorious heat of summer, is half black with flies, but that will not prevent it from leaving upon your coat a deep and healthy streak of something between grease and tallow as you necessarily brush against it—first, on your going in, and secondly, on your coming out.
The evening was tolerably advanced, and the hour of dinner long past; but, notwithstanding this, there were several persons engaged in dispatching the beef and cabbage we have described. Two or three large county Meath farmers, clad in immense frieze jackets, corduroy knee-breeches, thick woollen stockings, and heavy soled, shoes, were not so much eating as devouring the viands that were before them; whilst in another part of the rooms sat two or three meagre-looking scriveners' clerks, rather out at elbows, and remarkable for an appearance of something that might, without much difficulty, be interpreted into habits that could not be reconciled with sobriety.
As there is not much, however, that is either picturesque or agreeable in the description of such an establishment, we shall pass into an inner room, where those who wished for privacy and additional comfort might be entertained on terms somewhat more expensive. We accordingly beg our readers to accompany us up a creaking pair of stairs to a small backroom on the first floor, furnished with an old, round oak table, with turned legs, four or five old-fashioned chairs, a few wood-cuts, daubed with green and yellow, representing the four seasons, a Christmas carol, together with that miracle of ingenuity, a reed in a bottle, which stood on the chimney-piece.
In this room, with liquor before them, which was procured from a neighboring public house—for, in establishments of this kind, they are not permitted to keep liquor for sale—sat three persons, two men and a woman. One of the men seemed, at first glance, rather good-looking, was near or about fifty, stout, big-boned, and apparently very powerful as regarded personal strength. He was respectably enough dressed, and, as we said, unless when it happened that he fell into a mood of thoughtfulness, which he did repeatedly, had an appearance of frankness and simplicity which at once secured instant and unhesitating good will. When, however, after putting the tumbler to his lips, and gulping down a portion of it, and then replacing the liquor on the table, he folded his arms and knitted his brows, in an instant the expression of openness and good humor changed into one of deep and deadly malignity.
The features of the elder person exhibited a comic contrast between nature and habit—between an expression of good humor, broad and legible, which no one could mistake for a moment, and an affectation of consequence, self-importance, and mock heroic dignity that were irresistible. He was a pedagogue.
The woman who accompanied them we need not describe, having already made the reader acquainted with her in the person of the female fortune-teller, who held the mysterious dialogue with Sir Thomas Gourlay on his way to Lord Cullamore's.
"This liquor," said the schoolmaster, "would be nothing the worse of a little daicent mellowness and flavor; but, at the same time, we must admit that, though sadly deficient in a spirit of exhilaration, it bears a harmonious reference to the beautiful beef and cabbage which we got for dinner. The whole of them are what I designate as sorry specimens of metropolitan luxury. May I never translate a classic, but I fear I shall soon wax aegrotat—I feel something like a telegraphic despatch commencing between my head and my stomach; and how the communication may terminate, whether peaceably or otherwise, would require, O divine Jacinta! your tripodial powers or prophecy to predict. The whiskey, in whatever shape or under whatever disguise you take it, is richly worthy of all condemnation."
"I will drink no more of it, uncle," replied the other man; "it would soon sicken me, too. This shan't pass; it's gross imposition—and that is a bad thing to practise in this world. Ginty, touch the bell, will you?—we will make them get us better."
A smile of a peculiar nature passed over the woman's ghastly features as she looked with significant caution at her brother, for such he was.
"Yes, do get better whiskey," she said; "it's too bad that we should make my uncle sick from mere kindness."
"I cannot exactly say that I am much out of order as yet," replied the schoolmaster, "but, as they say, if the weather has not broken, the sky is getting troubled; I hope it is only a false, alarm, and may pass away without infliction. If there is any of the minor miseries of life more trying than another, it is to drink liquor that fires the blood, splits the head, but basely declines to elevate and rejoice the heart. O, divine poteen! immortal essence of the hordeum beatum!—which is translated holy barley—what drink, liquor, or refreshment can be placed, without the commission of something like small sacrilege, in parallel with thee! When I think of thy soothing and gradually exhilarating influence, of the genial spirit of love and friendship which, owing to thee, warms the heart of man, and not unfrequently of the softer sex also; when I reflect upon the cheerful light which thou diffusest by gentle degrees throughout the soul, filling it with generosity, kindness, and courage, enabling it to forget care and calamity, and all the various ills that flesh is heir to; when I remember too that thou dost so frequently aid the inspiration of the bard, the eloquence of the orator, and changest the modesty of the diffident lover into that easy and becoming assurance which is so grateful to women, is it any wonder I should feel how utterly incapable I am, without thy own assistance, to expound thy eulogium as I ought! Hand that tumbler here, Charley,—bad as it is, there is no use, as the proverb says, in laving one's liquor behind them. We will presently correct it with better drink."
Charley Corbet, for such was the name of the worthy schoolmaster's nephew, laughed heartily at the eloquence of his uncle, who, he could perceive, had been tampering a little with something stronger than water in the course of the evening.
"What can keep this boy." exclaimed Ginty; "he knew we were waiting for him, and he ought to be here now."
"The youth will come," said the schoolmaster, "and a hospitable youth he is—me ipso teste, as I myself can bear witness. I was in his apartments in the Collegium Sanctae Trinitatis, as they say, which means the blessed union of dulness, laziness, and wealth, for which the same divine establishment has gained an appropriate and just celebrity—I say I was in his apartments, where I found himself and a few of his brother students engaged in the agreeable relaxation of taking a hair of the same dog that bit them, after a liberal compotation on the preceding night. Third place, as a scholar! Well! who may he thank for that, I interrogate. Not one Denis O'Donegan!—O no; the said Denis is an ignoramus, and knows nothing of the classics. Well, be it so. All I say is, that I wish I had one classical lick at their provost, I would let him know what the master of a plantation seminary (*—a periphrasis for hedge-school) could do when brought to the larned scratch?"
"How does Tom look, uncle." asked Corbet; "we can't say that he has shown much affection for his friends since he went to college."
"How could you expect it, Charley, my worthy nepos." said the schoolmaster—"These sprigs of classicality, when once they get under the wing of the collegium aforesaid, which, like a comfortable, well-feathered old bird of the stubble, warms them into what is ten times better than celebrity—videlicet, snug and independent dulness—these sprigs, I say, especially, when their parents or instructors happen to be poor, fight shy of the frieze and caubeen at home, and avoid the risk of resuscitating old associations. Tom, Charley looks—at least he did when I saw him to-day—very like a lad who is more studious of the bottle than the book; but I will not prejudge the youth, for I remember what he was while under my tuition. If he be as cunning now and assiduous in the prosecution of letters as I found him—if he be as cunning, as ripe at fiction, and of as unembarrassed brow as he was in his schoolboy career, he will either hang, on the one side, or rise to become lord chancellor or a bishop on the other."
"He will be neither the one nor the other then," said the prophetess, "but something better both for himself and his friends."
"Is this by way of the oracular, Ginty?"
"You may take it so if you like," replied the female.
"And does the learned page of futurity present nothing in the shape of a certain wooden engine, to which is attached a dangling rope, in association with the youth? for in my mind his merits are as likely to elevate him to the one as to the other. However, don't look like the pythoness in her fury, Ginty; a joke is a joke; and here's that he may be whatever you wish him! Ay, by the bones of Maro, this liquor is pleasant discussion!" We may observe here that they had been already furnished with a better description of drink—"But with regard to the youth in question, there is one thing puzzles me, oh, most prophetical niece, and that is, that you should take it into your head to effect an impossibility, in other words, to make a gentleman of him; ex quovis ligno nonfit Mercurius, is a good ould proverb."
"That is but natural in her, uncle," replied Corbet, "if you knew everything; but for the present you can't; nobody knows who he is, and that is a secret that must be kept."
"Why," replied the pedagogue, "is he not a slip from the Black Baronet, and are not you, Ginty——?"
"Whether the child you speak of," she replied, "is living or dead is what nobody knows."
"There is one thing I know," said Corbet, "and that is, that I could scald the heart and soul in the Black Baronet's body by one word's speaking, if I wished; only the time is not yet come; but it will come, and that soon, I hope."
"Take care, Charley," replied the master; "no violation of sacred ties. Is not the said Baronet your foster-brother?"
"He remembered no such ties when he brought shame and disgrace on our family," replied Corbet, with a look of such hatred and malignity as could rarely be seen on a human countenance.
"Then why did you live with him, and remain in his confidence so long," asked his uncle.
"I had my own reasons for that—may be they will be known soon, and may be they will never be known," replied his nephew—"Whisht! there's a foot on the stairs," he added; "it's this youth, I'm thinking."
Almost immediately a young man, in a college-gown and cap, entered, the room, apparently the worse for liquor, and approaching the schoolmaster, who sat next him, slapped his shoulder, exclaiming:
"Well, my jolly old pedagogue, I hope you have enjoyed yourself since I saw you last? Mr. Corbet, how do you do? And Cassandra, my darling death-like old prophetess, what have you to predict for Ambrose Gray," for such was the name by which he went.
"Sit down, Mr. Gray," said Corbet, "and join us in one glass of punch."
"I will, in half-a-dozen," replied the student; "for I am always glad to see my friends."
"But not to come to see them," said Mrs. Cooper—"However, it doesn't matter; we are glad to see you, Mr. Ambrose. I hope you are getting on well at college?"
"Third place, eh, my old grinder: are you not proud of me," said Ambrose, addressing the schoolmaster.
"I think, Mr. Gray, the pride ought to be on the other side," replied O'Donegan, with an affectation of dignity—"but it was well, and I trust you are not insensible of the early indoctrination you received at—whose hands I will not say; but I think it might be guessed notwithstanding."
During this conversation, the eyes of the prophetess were fixed upon the student, with an expression of the deepest and most intense interest. His personal appearance was indeed peculiar and remarkable. He was about the middle size, somewhat straggling and bony in his figure; his forehead was neither good nor bad, but the general contour of his face contained not within it a single feature with the expression of which the heart of the spectator could harmonize. He was beetle-browed, his mouth diabolically sensual, and his eyes, which were scarcely an inch asunder, were sharp and piercing, and reminded one that the deep-seated cunning which lurked in them was a thing to be guarded against and avoided. His hands and feet were large and coarse, his whole figure disagreeable and ungainly, and his voice harsh and deep.
The fortune-teller, as we have said, kept her eyes fixed upon his features, with a look which seemed to betray no individual feeling beyond that of some extraordinary and profound interest. She appeared like one who was studying his character, and attempting to read his natural disposition in his countenance, manner, and conversation. Sometimes her eye brightened a little, and again her death-like face became overshadowed with gloom, reminding one of that strange darkness which, when the earth is covered with snow, falls with such dismal effect before an approaching storm.
"I grant you, my worthy old grinder, that you did indoctrinate me, as you say, to some purpose; but, my worthy old grinder, again I say to you, that, by all the gerunds, participles, and roots you ever ground in your life, it was my own grinding that got me the third place in the scholarship."
"Well, Mr. Ambrose," rejoined the pedagogue, who felt disposed to draw in his horns a little, "one thing is clear, that, between us both, we did it. What bait, what line, what calling, or profession in life, do you propose to yourself, Mr. Ambrose? Your course in college has been brilliant so far, thanks to—ahem—no matter—you have distinguished yourself."
"I have carried everything before me," replied Ambrose—"but what then? Suppose, my worthy old magister, that I miss a fellowship—why, what remains, but to sink down into a resident mastership, and grind blockheads for the remainder of my life? But what though I fail in science, still, most revered and learned O'Donegan, I have ambition—ambition—and, come how it may, I will surge up out of obscurity, my old buck. I forgot to tell you, that I got the first classical premium yesterday, and that I am consequently—no, I didn't forget to tell you, because I didn't know it myself when I saw you to-day. Hip, hip—hurra!"
His two male companions filled their glasses, and joined him heartily. O'Donegan shook him by the hand, so did Corbet, and they now could understand the cause of his very natural elevation of spirits.
"So you have all got legacies," proceeded Mr. Ambrose; "fifty pounds apiece, I hear, by the death of your brother, Mr. Corbet, who was steward to Lady Gourlay—I am delighted to hear it—hip, hip, hurra, again."
"It's true enough," observed the prophetess, "a good, kind-hearted man was my poor brother Edward."
"How is that old scoundrel of a Black Baronet in your neighborhood—Sir Thomas—he who murdered his brother's heir?"
"For God's sake, Mr. Ambrose, don't say so. Don't you know that he got heavy damages against Captain Furlong for using the same words?"
"He be hanged," said the tipsy student; "he murdered him as sure as I sit at this table; and God bless the worthy, be the same man or woman, who left himself, as he left his brother's widow, without an heir to his ill-gotten title and property."
The fortune-teller rose up, and entreated him not to speak harshly against Sir Thomas Gourlay, adding, "That, perhaps, he was not so bad as the people supposed; but," she added, "as they—that is, she and her brother—happened to be in town, they were anxious to see him (the student); and, indeed, they would feel obliged if he came with them into the front room for ten minutes or so, as they wished to have a little private conversation with him."
The change in his features at this intimation was indeed surprising. A keen, sharp sense of self-possession, an instant recollection of his position and circumstances, banished from them, almost in an instant, the somewhat careless and tipsy expression which they possessed on his entrance.
"Certainly," said he—"Mr. O'Donegan, will you take care of yourself until we return?"
"No doubt of it," replied the pedagogue, as they left the room, "I shall not forget myself, no more than that the image and superscription of Sir Thomas Gourlay, the Black Baronet, is upon your diabolical visage."
Instead of ten minutes, the conference between the parties in the next room lasted for more than an hour, during which period O'Donegan did not omit to take care of himself, as he said. The worthy pedagogue was one of those men, who, from long habit, can never become tipsy beyond a certain degree of elevation, after which, no matter what may be the extent of their indulgence, nothing in the shape of liquor can affect them. When Gray and his two friends returned, they found consequently nothing but empty bottles before them, whilst the schoolmaster viewed them with a kind of indescribable steadiness of countenance, which could not be exactly classed with either drunkenness or sobriety, but was something between both. More liquor, however, was ordered in, but, in the meantime, O'Donegan's eyes were fastened upon Mr. Gray with a degree of surprise, which, considering the change in the young man's appearance, was by no means extraordinary. Whatever the topic of their conversation may have been, it is not our purpose at present to disclose; but one thing is certain, that the transition which took place in Gray's features, as well as in his whole manner, was remarkable almost beyond belief. This, as we have said, manifested itself in some degree, on hearing that Corbet and his sister had something to say to him in the next room. Now, however, the change was decided and striking. All symptoms of tipsy triumph, arising from his success in college, had completely disappeared, and were replaced by an expression of seriousness and mingled cunning, which could not possibly escape observation. There was a coolness, a force of reflection, a keen, calm, but agitated lustre in his small eyes, that was felt by the schoolmaster to be exceedingly disagreeable to contemplate. In fact, the face of the young man was, in a surprising degree, calculating and sinister. A great portion of its vulgarity was gone, and there remained something behind that seemed to partake of a capacity for little else than intrigue, dishonesty, and villany. It was one of those countenances on which, when moved by the meditations of the mind within, nature frequently expresses herself as clearly as if she had written on it, in legible characters, 'Beware of this man'.
After a little time, now that the object of this mysterious meeting had been accomplished, the party separated.
We mentioned that Corbet and Sir Thomas Gourlay were foster-brothers—a relation which, in Ireland and the Highlands of Scotland, formed the basis of an attachment, on the part of the latter, stronger, in many instances, than that of nature itself. Corbet's brother stood also to him in the same relation as he did to the late Sir Edward Gourlay, under whom, and subsequently under his widow, he held the situation of house-steward until his death. Edward Corbet, for his Christian name had been given him after that of his master—his mother having nursed both brothers—was apparently a mild, honest, affectionate man, trustworthy and respectful, as far, at least, as ever could be discovered to the contrary, and, consequently, never very deep in the confidence of his brother Charles, who was a great favorite with Sir Thomas, was supposed to be very deeply in his secrets, and held a similar situation in his establishment. It was known, or at least supposed, that his brother Edward, having lived since his youth up with a liberal and affectionate master, must have saved a good deal of money; and, as he had never married, of course his brother, and also his sister—the fortune-teller—took it for granted that, being his nearest relations, whatever savings he had put together, must, after his death, necessarily pass into their hands. He was many years older than either, and as they maintained a constant and deferential intercourse with him—studied all his habits and peculiarities—and sent him, from time to time, such little presents as they thought might be agreeable to him, the consequence was, that they maintained their place in his good opinion, so far at least as to prevent him from leaving the fruits of his honest and industrious life to absolute strangers. Not that they inherited by any means his whole property, such as it was, several others of his relatives received more or less, but his brother, sister, and maternal uncle—the schoolmaster—were the largest inheritors.
The illness of Edward Corbet was long and tedious; but Lady Gourlay allowed nothing to be wanting that could render his bed of sickness or death easy and tranquil, so far as kindness, attention, and the ministry of mere human comforts could effect it. During his illness, his brother Charles visited him several times, and had many private conversations with him. And it may be necessary to state here, that, although these two relatives had never lived upon cold or unfriendly terms, yet the fact was that Edward felt it impossible to love Charles with the fulness of a brother's affection. The natural disposition of the latter, under the guise of an apparently good-humored and frank demeanor, was in reality inscrutable.
Though capable, as we said, of assuming a very different character whenever it suited his purpose, he was nevertheless a man whose full confidence was scarcely ever bestowed upon a human being. Such an individual neither is nor can be relished in society; but it is precisely persons of his stamp who are calculated to win their way with men of higher and more influential position in life, who, when moved by ambition, avarice, or any other of the darker and more dangerous passions of our nature, feel an inclination, almost instinctive, to take such men into their intrigues and deliberations. The tyrant and oppressor discovers the disposition and character of his slave and instrument with as much sagacity as is displayed by the highly bred dog that scents out the game of which the sportsman is in pursuit. In this respect, however, it not unfrequently happens, that even those who are most confident in the penetration with which they make such selections, are woefully mistaken in the result.
We allude particularly to the death of Edward Corbet, at this stage of our narrative, because, from that event, the train of circumstances which principally constitute the body of our narrative originated.
His brother had been with him in the early part of the day on which he breathed his last. On arriving at the mansion in Merrion square, he met Lady Gourlay on the steps of the hall door, about to enter her carriage.
"I am glad you are come, Corbet," she said—"Your poor brother has been calling for you—see him instantly—for his sands are numbered. The doctor thinks he cannot pass the turn of the day."
"God bless your ladyship," replied Corbet, "for your uncommon kindness and attention to him during his long and severe illness. All that could be done for a person in his circumstances, your ladyship did; and I know he is deeply sensible of it, my lady."
"It was only my duty, Corbet," she replied, "to a true-hearted and faithful servant, for such he was to our family. I could not forget the esteem in which his master, my dear husband, held him, nor the confidence which he never failed, and justly, to repose in him. Go immediately to him, for he has expressed much anxiety to see you."
His brother, indeed, found him hovering on the very brink of the grave. What their conversation was, we know not, unless in so far as a portion of it at least may be inferred from the subsequent circumstances of our story. After having spent about an hour with him, his brother, who, it seems, had some pressing commissions to execute for Sir Thomas, was obliged to leave him for a time, but promised to return as soon as he could, get them discharged. In the meantime, poor Corbet sank rapidly after Charles's departure, and begged, with a degree of anguish that was pitiable, to see Lady Gourlay, as he had something, he said, of the utmost importance to communicate to her. Lady Gourlay, however, had gone out, and none of the family could give any opinion as to the period of her return; whilst the dying man seemed to experience a feeling that amounted almost to agony at her absence. In this state he remained for about three hours, when at length she returned, and found him with the mild and ghastly impress of immediate death visible in his languid, dying eyes, and hollow countenance.
"They tell me you wish to see me, Corbet," she said—"If there is anything that can be done to soothe your mind, or afford you ease and comfort in your departing hour, mention it, and, if it be within our power, it shall be done."
He made an effort to speak, but his voice was all but gone. At length, after several efforts, he was able to make, her understand that he wished her to bend down her head to him; she did so; and in accents that were barely, and not without one or two repetitions, intelligible, he was able to say, "Your son is living, and Sir Thomas knows——"
Lady Gourlay was of a feminine, gentle, and quiet disposition, in fact, a woman from whose character one might expect, upon receiving such a communication, rather an exhibition of that wild and hysteric excitement which might be most likely to end in a scream or a fainting fit. Here, however, the instincts of the defrauded heart of the bereaved and sorrowing mother were called into instant and energetic life. The physical system, instead of becoming relaxed or feeble, grew firm and vigorous, and her mind collected and active. She saw, from the death-throes of the man, that a single moment was not to be lost, and instantly, for her mouth was still at his ear, asked, in a distinct and eager voice, "Where, Corbet, where? for God's mercy, where? and what does Sir Thomas know?"
The light and animation of life were fast fading from his face; he attempted to speak again, but voice and tongue refused to discharge their office—he had become speechless. Feeling conscious, however, that he could not any longer make himself understood by words, he raised his feeble hand, and attempted to point as if in a certain direction, but the arm fell powerlessly down—he gave a deep sigh and expired.
Thus far only can we proceed at present. How and why the stranger makes his appearance at Ballytrain, and whether in connection with this incident or not, are circumstances which we will know in due time.
CHAPTER XI. The Stranger's Visit to Father MacMalum.
The stranger, after Fenton had gone, began to feel that it was impossible either to wheedle or extort any information whatsoever, whether of importance or otherwise, from that extraordinary and not very sane individual. That, however, there was a deep mystery about him, be it what it might, he could not, for a moment, doubt; and, for this reason, he resolved by no means to relax his exertions, or suffer Fenton, if he could fairly prevent it, to slip through his fingers. His unaccountable conduct and terror, during, as well as after, his own angry altercation with the baronet, went, in his opinion, strongly to connect him, in some manner, with that unscrupulous man. But how to develop the nature of this connection constituted the very difficulty which not only disappointed but mortified him.
"I will call upon Birney," thought he; "he is acute and sensible, and probably, from his greater experience of life, will be able to throw out some hint that may be valuable, and enable me to proceed with more effect."
We have already said, that it was somewhat difficult to commonplace observers to determine his (the stranger's) exact position in society by a first glance at his dress. This ambiguity of appearance, if, after all, it could properly be called so, was assumed for the express purpose of avoiding observation as much as possible. The fact, however, of finding that his desire to remain unnoticed had been not merely observed and commented on, but imputed to him almost as a crime, determined him no longer to lie perdu in his inn, but to go abroad, and appear in public like another; whilst, at the same time, his resolution remained fixed as ever, for various reasons, to conceal his name. The moment, therefore, he had made up his mind to this course, that assumed restraint of manner and consciousness of not being what we appear to be were completely thrown aside, and the transition which ensued was indeed extraordinary. His general deportment became at once that of a perfect gentleman, easy, elegant, if not absolutely aristocratic; but without the slightest evidence of anything that could be considered supercilious or offensive. His dress was tastefully within the fashion, but not in its extreme, and his admirable figure thus displayed to the best advantage; whilst his whole person was utterly free from every symptom of affectation or foppery. Nor was the change in the tone of his features less striking. Their style of beauty was at once manly and intellectual, combining, as they did, an expression of great sweetness, obvious good sense, and remarkable determination. He bore, in fact, the aspect of a man who could play with a child on the green, or beard a lion in his lair.
The sagacity of the Irish people, in the estimate they form of personal appearance and character, is, indeed, very extraordinary. Our friend, the stranger, when casting his eye over the town of Ballytrain, on his way to have an interview with Birney, who, we may as well observe, was in his confidence, perceived that it was market-day. As he went out upon the street, a crowd of persons were standing opposite the inn door, where an extensive yarn market, in these good old times, was always held; and we need scarcely say that his gentlemanly and noble figure, and the striking elegance of his manner, at once attracted their attention.
"Well," said one of them, "there goes a real gintleman, begad, at any rate."
"Divil a lie in that," added another; "there's no mistakin' the true blood."
"Who is he," asked a third—"Does nobody know him?"
"Troth," said the other, "it doesn't signify a traneen who or what he is; whether he's gentle or simple, I say that the whole country ought to put their heads under his feet."
"Why so, Jemmy Trailcudgel," asked a fourth; "what did he do for the counthry?"
"I'll tell you that, Micky," replied the other—"The Black Baronet, bad luck to him, came to the inn where he stops, and insisted, right or wrong, on knowing who and what he was."
"I wouldn't put it past him, the turk o' blazes! Well, an' what happened?"
"Why, the gintleman got up, and tuck a hoult o' the black villain by the nose, led him to the head of the stairs, then turned him down before him, and made his feet right and left play against the barrow knight, like the tucks of a cloth mill, until he thrundled him clane—I'm not so sure of that, though—out o' the hall door."
"An' for that same, God prosper him! Begad, he's a bully gentleman," observed a stout, frieze-coated fellow, with a large bunch of green linen yarn on his lusty arm—"he is, and it's in him, and upon him, as every one that has eyes to see may know."
The object of their praise, on entering the office of his friend Birney, found him at his desk, with professional papers and documents before him. After the ordinary greetings of the day, and an accurate account of the baronet's interview with him, the stranger introduced the topic in which he felt so deep an interest.
"I am unfortunate, Mr. Birney," said he; "Fenton, notwithstanding his eccentricity, insanity, or whatever it may be termed, seems to suspect my design, and evades, with singular address, every attempt, on my part, to get anything out of him. Is he absolutely deranged, think you? For, I assure you, I have just now had a scene with him, in which his conduct and language could proceed from nothing short of actual insanity. A little affected with liquor he unquestionably was, when he came in first. The appearance, however, of Sir Thomas not only reduced him to a state of sobriety, but seemed to strike him with a degree of terror altogether inexplicable."
"How was that," asked Birney.
The stranger accordingly described the scene between himself and Fenton, with which the reader is acquainted.
"He is not a madman, certainly, in the ordinary sense of the word," replied Birney, after a pause; "but, I think, he may be called a kind of lunatic, certainly. My own opinion is, that, whatever insanity he may be occasionally afflicted with results more from an excessive indulgence in liquor than from any other cause. Be that, however, as it may, there is no question but that he is occasionally seized with fits of mental aberration. From what you tell me, and his exaggerated suspicions of a plot between you and Sir Thomas Gourlay, I think it most probable that he is your man still."
"I, too, think it probable," replied the stranger; "but, alas, I think it possible he may not. On comparing his features with the miniature, I confess I cannot now trace the resemblance which my sanguine imagination—and that only, I fear—first discovered."
"But, consider, sir, that that miniature was taken when the original of it was only five or six years of age; and you will also recollect that growth, age, education, and peculiar habits of life, effect the most extraordinary changes in the features of the same individual. No, sir, I would not advise you to feel disheartened by this."
"But, can you fall upon no hint or principle, Mr. Birney, by which I might succeed in unlocking the secret which this young man evidently possesses?"
"All I can recommend to you, sir, is comprised within one word—patience. Mark him well; ingratiate yourself with him; treat him with kindness; supply his wants; and I have no doubt but you may ultimately win upon his confidence."
"Is there no sagacious old person in the neighborhood, no senachie or genealogist, to whom you could refer me, and from whose memory of past events in this part of the country I might be able to gain something to guide me?"
"There is one woman," replied Birney, "who, were she tractable as to the past as she is communicative of the future, could furnish you more details of family history and hereditary scandal than any one else I can think of just now. Some of her predictions—for she is a fortune-teller—have certainly been amazing."
"The result, I have no doubt," replied the other, "of personal acquaintance with private occurrences, rendered incredible under ordinary circumstances, in consequence of her rapid transitions from place to place. I shall certainly not put myself under the guidance of an impostor, Mr. Birney."
"In this case, sir, I think you are right; for it has been generally observed that, in no instance, has she ever been known to make any reference to the past in her character of fortune-teller. She affects to hold intercourse with the fairies, or good people, as we term them, and insists that it is from them that she derives the faculty of a prophetess. She also works extraordinary cures by similar aid, as she asserts. The common impression is, that her mind is burdened with some secret guilt, and that it relieves her to contemplate the future, as it regards temporal fate, but that she dares not look back into the past. I know there is nothing more certain than that, when asked to do so, in peculiar moods of mind, she manifests quite as much of the maniac as poor Fenton."
"Away with the old impostress!" exclaimed the stranger; "I will have none of her! Can you think of no one else?"
"Of course, you have not had time to become acquainted with our parish priest?" replied Birney. "Since 'Aroint thee, witch,' is your creed, I think you had better try him."
"Not an unnatural transition," replied the stranger, smiling; "but what is he like? Give me an outline."
"He is named the Rev. Peter M'Mahon,and I forewarn you, that you are as likely, if he be not in the mood, to get such a reception as you may not relish. He is somewhat eccentric and original, but, at the same time, his secret piety and stolen benevolence are beyond all question. With his limited means, the good he does is incalculable. He is, in fact, simple, kind-hearted, and truly religious. In addition to all, he is a considerable bit of a humorist; when the good man's mind is easy, his humor is kindly, rich, and mellow; but, when any way in dudgeon, it is comically sarcastic."
"I must see this man," said the stranger; "you have excited my curiosity. By all accounts he is worth a visit."
"He is more likely to serve you in this matter than any one I know," said the attorney; "or, if he can't himself, perhaps he may find out those that can. Very little has happened in the parish within the last thirty-five years with which he is not acquainted."
"I like the man," replied the other, "from your description of him."
"At all events, you would if you knew him," replied Birney. "He is both a good priest and a good man."
He then directed him to the worthy clergy-man's residence, which was not more than a mile and a half from the town, and the stranger lost little time in reaching it.
On approaching the house, he was much struck with the extraordinary air of neatness, cleanliness, and comfort, which characterized not only the house itself, but everything about it. A beautiful garden facing the south, stretched down to the left, as you approached the elegant little whitewashed dwelling, which, placed on a green knoll, literally shone for miles over the beautiful and serene country by which it was surrounded. Below it, to the south, between firm green banks and meadows, wound a beautiful river, and to the north rose one of the most picturesque hills, probably, in the kingdom; at the hip of which was a gloomy, precipitous glen, which, for wildness and solitary grandeur, is unrivalled by anything of the kind we have seen. On the top of the hill is a cave, supposed to be Druidical, over which an antiquarian would dream half a life; and, indeed, this is not to be wondered at, inasmuch as he would find there some of the most distinctly traced Ogham characters to be met with in any part of the kingdom.
On entering the house, our nameless friend found the good priest in what a stranger might be apt to consider a towering passion.
"You lazy bosthoon," said he, to a large, in fact to a huge young fellow, a servant, "was it to allow the pigs, the destructive vagabonds, to turn up my beautiful bit of lawn that I undertook to give you house-room, wages, and feeding—eh? and a bitther business to me the same feeding is. If you were a fellow that knew when he had enough, I could bear the calamity of keeping you at all. But that's a subject, God help you, and God help me too that has to suffer for it, on which your ignorance is wonderful. To know when to stop so long as the blessed victuals is before you is a point of polite knowledge you will never reach, you immaculate savage. Not a limb about you but you'd give six holidays to out of the seven, barrin' your walrus teeth, and, if God or man would allow you the fodder, you'd give us an elucidation of the perpetual motion. Be off, and get the strongest set of rings that Jemmy M'Quade can make for those dirty, grubbing bastes of pigs. The Lord knows I don't wondher that the Jews hated the thieves, for sure they are the only blackguard animals that ever committed suicide, and set the other bastes of the earth such an unchristian example. Not that a slice of ham is so bad a thing in itself, especially when it is followed by a single tumbler of poteen punch."
"Troth, masther, I didn't see the pigs, or they'd not have my sanction to go into the lawn."
"Not a thing ever you see, or wish to see, barring your dirty victuals."
"I hope, sir," said the stranger, much amused in the meantime, but with every courtesy of manner, "that my request for a short interview does not come at an unseasonable hour?"
"And, do you hear me, you bosthoon," proceeded his reverence—this, however, he uttered sotto voce, from an apprehension lest the stranger should hear his benevolent purposes—"did you give the half crown to Widow Magowran, whose children, poor creatures, are lying ill of fever?"
Not a word to the stranger, who, however, overheard him.
"I did, plaise your reverence," replied the huge servant.
"What did she say," asked the other, "when you slipped it to her?"
"She said nothing, sir, for a minute or so, but dropped on her knees, and the tears came from her eyes in such a way that I couldn't help letting down one or two myself. 'God spare him,' she then said, 'for his piety and charity makes him a blessin' to the parish.' Throth, I couldn't help lettin' down a tear or two myself."
"You couldn't now." exclaimed the simple-hearted priest; "why, then, I forgive you the pigs, you great, good-natured bosthoon."
The stranger now thought that he might claim some notice from his reverence.
"I fear, sir," said he—
"And whisper, Mat," proceeded the priest—paying not the slightest attention to him, "did you bring the creel of turf to poor Barney Farrell and his family, as I desired you?"
"I did, your reverence, and put a good heap on it for the creatures."
"Well, I forgive you the pigs!" exclaimed the benevolent priest, satisfied that his pious injunctions had been duly observed, and extending a portion of his good feeling to the instrument; "and as for the appetite I spoke of, sure, you good-natured giant you, haven't you health, exercise, and a most destructive set of grinders? and, indeed, the wonder would be if you didn't make the sorrow's havoc at a square of bacon; so for heaping the creel I forgive you the digestion and the pigs both."
"Will you permit me." interposed the stranger, a third time.
"But listen again," proceeded his reverence, "did you bring the bread and broth to the poor Caseys, the creatures?"
"No, sir," replied Mat, licking his lips, as the stranger thought, "it was Kitty Kavanagh brought that; you know you never trust me wid the vittles—ever since—"
"Yes, I ought to have remembered that notorious fact. There's where your weakness is strongest, but, indeed, it is only one of them; for he that would trust you with the carriage of a bottle of whiskey might be said to commit a great oversight of judgment. With regard to the victuals, I once put my trust in God, and dispatched you, after a full meal, with some small relief to a poor family, in the shape of corned beef and greens, and you know the sequel, that's enough. Be off now, and get the rings made as I desired you."
He then turned to the stranger, whom he scanned closely; and we need hardly assure our reader that the other, in his turn, marked the worthy priest's bearing, manner, and conversation with more than usual curiosity. The harmless passion in which he found him—his simple but touching benevolence, added to the genuine benignity with which he relaxed his anger against Mat Euly, the gigantic servant, because he told him that he had put a heap upon the creel of turf which he brought to poor Barney Farrell and his family, not omitting the tears he represented himself to have shed from Christian sympathy with Widow Magowran, both of which acts were inventions of the purest water, resorted to in order to soften the kind-hearted priest; all this, we say, added to what he had heard from Birney, deeply interested the stranger in the character of Father Peter. Nor was he less struck by his appearance. Father MacMahon was a round, tight, rosy-faced little man, with laughing eyes, full of good nature, and a countenance which altogether might be termed a title-page to benevolence. His lips were finely cut, and his well-formed mouth, though full of sweetness, was utterly free from every indication of sensuality or passion. Indeed, it was at all times highly expressive of a disposition the most kind and placable, and not unfrequently of a comical spirit, that blended with his benevolence to a degree that rendered the whole cast of his features, as they varied with and responded to the kindly and natural impulses of his heart, a perfect treat to look upon. That his heart and soul were genuinely Irish, might easily be perceived by the light of humor which beamed with such significant contagion from every feature of his face, as well as by the tear which misery and destitution and sorrow never failed to bring to his cheek, thus overshadowing for a time, if we may say so, the whole sunny horizon of his countenance. But this was not all; you might read there a spirit of kindly sarcasm that was in complete keeping with a disposition always generous and affectionate, mostly blunt and occasionally caustic. Nothing could exceed the extreme neatness with which he attended to his dress and person. In this point he was scrupulously exact and careful; but this attention to the minor morals was the result of anything but personal pride, for we are bound to say, that, with all his amiable eccentricities, more unaffected humility never dwelt in the heart of a Christian minister.
He had, in fact, paid little or no attention to the stranger until Mat Ruly went out; when, on glancing at him with more attention, he perceived at once that he was evidently a person of no ordinary condition in life.
"I have to ask your pardon, sir," said he, "for seeming to neglect you as I did, but the truth is, I was in a white heat of passion with that great good-natured colossus of mine, Mat Ruly, for, indeed, he is good-natured, and that I can tell you makes me overlook many a thing in him that I would not otherwise pass by. Ah, then, sir, did you observe," he added, "how he confessed to heaping the creel of turf for the Farrells, and crying with poor Widow Magowran?"
The stranger could have told him that, if he had seen the comical wink which the aforesaid Mat had given to one of the servant-maids, as he reported his own sympathy and benevolence to his master, he might probably have somewhat restricted his encomium upon him.
"I can't say, sir," he replied, "that I paid particular attention to the dialogue between you."
"Bless me," exclaimed Father Peter, "what am I about? Walk into the parlor, sir. Why should I have kept you standing here so long? Pray, take a seat, sir. You must think me very rude and forgetful of the attention due to a gentleman of your appearance."
"Not at all, sir," replied the other, seating himself—"I rather think you were better engaged and in higher duties than any that are likely to arise from my communication with you."
"Well, sir," replied the priest, smiling, "that you know is yet to be determined on; but in the mane time I'll be happy to hear your business, whatever it is; and, indeed, from your looks, although the Lord knows they're often treacherous, I tell you that if I can stretch a point to sarve you I will; provided always that I can do so with a good conscience, and provided also that I find your character and conduct entitle you to it. So, then, I say, let us have at the business you spake of, and to follow up this proposition with suitable energy, what's your name and occupation? for there's nothing like knowing the ground a man stands on. I know you're a stranger in this neighborhood, for I assure you there is not a face in the parish but I am as well acquainted with as my own, and indeed a great deal betther, in regard that I never shave with a looking-glass. I tried it once or twice and was near committing suicide in the attempt."
There was something so kind, frank, yet withal so eccentric, and, as it would seem, so unconsciously humorous in the worthy father's manner, that the stranger, whilst he felt embarrassed by the good-natured bluntness of his interrogations, could not help experiencing a sensation that was equally novel and delightful, arising as it did from the candor and honesty of purpose that were so evident in all the worthy man did and said.
"I should never have supposed, from the remarkable taste of your dress and your general appearance," he replied, "that you make your toilet without a looking-glass."
"It's a fact, though; neither I nor my worthy father before me ever troubled one; we left them to the girshas and the women; habit is everything, and for that reason I could shave as well at midnight as at the hour of noon. However, let us pass that by, thank God I can go out with as clane a face, and I trust with as clear a conscience, always barring the passions that Mat Euly puts me into, as some of my neighbors; yet, God forgive me, why should I boast? for I know and feel that I fall far short of my duty in every sense, especially when I reflect how much of poverty and destitution are scattered through this apparently wealthy parish. God forgive me, then, for the boast I made, for it was both wrong and sinful!"
A touch of feeling which it would be difficult to describe, but which raised him still more highly in the estimation of the stranger, here passed over his handsome and benevolent features, but after it had passed away he returned at once to the object of the stranger's visit.
"Well," said he, "to pass now from my omissions and deficiencies, let us return to the point we were talking of; you haven't told me your name, or occupation, or profession, or business of any kind—that is, if you have any?"
"I assure you, reverend sir," replied the other, "that I am at the present moment placed in such a position, that I fear it is out of my power to satisfy you in any of these points. Whilst, at the same time, I confess that, nameless and stranger as I am, I feel anxious to receive your advice and assistance upon a matter of considerable—indeed of the deepest—importance to an unfortunate and heart-broken lady, whose only son, when but six years of age, and then heir to a large property, disappeared many years ago in a manner so mysterious, that no trace, until very recently, has ever been found of him. Nor, indeed, has she found any clew to him yet, beyond a single intimation given to her by her house-steward—a man named Corbet—who, on his death-bed, had merely breath to say that 'your son lives, and that Sir Thomas—' These, sir, were the man's last words; for, alas! unhappy for the peace of mind of this excellent lady, he expired before he could complete the sentence, or give her the information for which her heart yearned. Now, reverend sir," he added, "I told you that it is out of my power, for more than one reason, to disclose my name; but, I assure you, that the fact of making this communication to you, which you perceive I do frankly and without hesitation, is placing a confidence in you, though a personal stranger to me, which I am certain you will respect."
"Me a stranger!" exclaimed the priest, "in my own parish where I have lived curate and parish priest for close upon forty years; hut hut! this is a good joke. Why, I tell you, sir, that there is not a dog in the parish but knows me, with the exception of a vile cur belonging to Jemmy M'Gurth, that I have striven to coax and conciliate a hundred ways, and yet I never pass but he's out at me. Indeed, he's an ungrateful creature, and a mane sconce besides; for I tell you, that when leaving home, I have often put bread in my pocket, and on going past his owner's house, I would throw it to him—now not a lie in this—and what do you think the nasty vermin would do? He'd ait the bread, and after he had made short work of it—for he's aquil to Mat Kuly in appetite—he'd attack me as fresh, and indeed a great dale fresher in regard of what he had got; ay, and with more bitterness, if possible, than ever. Now, sir, I remember that greedy and ungrateful scrub of an animal about three years ago; for indeed the ill feeling is going on between us for nearly seven—I say I remember him in the dear year, when he wasn't able to bark at me until he staggered over and put himself against the ditch on the roadside, and then, heaven knows, worse execution of the kind was never heard. However, there's little else than ingratitude in this world, and eaten bread, like hunger, is soon forgotten, though far seldomer by dogs, I am sorry to say, than by man—a circumstance which makes the case I am repeating to you of this cur still worse. But, indeed, he served me right; for bribery, even to a dog, does not deserve to prosper. But I beg your pardon, sir, for obtruding my own little grievances upon a stranger. What is it you expect me to do for you in this business? You allude, I think, to Lady Gourlay; and, in truth, if it was in my power to restore her son to her, that good and charitable lady would not be long without him."
"I do," replied the other—"She is under a strong impression, in consequence of the dying man's allusion to the boy's uncle, Sir Thomas, 'who,' he said, 'knows,' that he is cognizant of the position—whatever it may be—in which her unfortunate son is placed."
"Not unlikely, but still what can I do in this?"
"I am scarcely aware of that myself," replied the other; "but I may say that it was Mr. Birney, who, under the circumstances of peculiar difficulty in which I am placed, suggested to me to see you, and who justified me besides in reposing this important confidence in you."
"I thank Mr. Birney," said Father Peter, "and you may rest assured, that your confidence will not be abused, and that upon a higher principle, I trust, than my friendship for that worthy and estimable gentleman. I wish all in his dirty roguish profession were like him. By the way," he added, as if struck by a sudden thought, "perhaps you are the worthy gentleman who kicked the Black Baronet downstairs in the Mitre inn?"
"No," he replied; "some warm words we had, which indeed for one reason I regret; but that was all. Sir Thomas, sir, I believe, is not popular in the neighborhood?"
"I make it a point, my friend," replied the priest, "never to spake ill of the absent; but perhaps you are aware that his only son disappeared as mysteriously as the other, and that he charges his sister-in-law as the cause of it; so that, in point of fact, their suspicions are mutual."
"I believe so," said the other; "but I wish to direct your attention to another fact, or, rather, to another individual, who seems to me to be involved in considerable mystery."
"And pray, who is that." replied the priest—"Not yourself, I hope; for in truth, by all accounts, you're as mysterious as e'er a one of them."
"My mystery will soon disappear, I trust," said the stranger, smiling—"The young man's name to whom I allude is Fenton; but I appeal to yourself, reverend sir, whether, if Sir Thomas Gourlay were to become aware of the dying man's words, with which I have just made you acquainted, he might not be apt, if it be a fact that he has in safe and secret durance his brother's son, and the heir to the property which he himself now enjoys, whether, I say, he might not take such steps as Would probably render fruitless every search that could be made for him?"
"You needn't fear me, sir," replied his reverence; "if you can keep your own secret as well as I will, it won't travel far, I can tell you. But what about this unfortunate young man, Fenton? I think I certainly heard the people say from time to time that nobody knows anything about him, either as to where he came from or who he is. How is he involved in this affair, though?"
"I cannot speak with any certainty," replied the other; "but, to tell you the truth, I often feel myself impressed with strong suspicions, that he is the very individual we are seeking."
"But upon what reasons do you ground those suspicions." asked his reverence.
The stranger then related to him the circumstances in connection with Fenton's mysterious terror of Sir Thomas Gourlay, precisely as the reader is already acquainted with them.
"But," said the priest, "can you believe now, if Sir Thomas was the kidnapper in this instance, that he would allow unfortunate Fenton, supposing he is his brother's heir, and who, they say, is often non compos, to remain twenty-four hours at large?"
"Probably not; but you know he may be unaware of his residence so near him. Sir Thomas, like too many of his countrymen, has been an absentee for years, and is only a short time in this country, and still a shorter at Red Hall. The young man probably is at large, because he may have escaped. There is evidently some mysterious relation between Fenton and the baronet, but what it is or can be I am utterly unable to trace. Fenton, with all his wild eccentricity or insanity, is cautious, and on his guard against me; and I find it impossible to get anything out of him."
The worthy priest fell into a mood of apparently deep but agreeable reflection, and the stranger felt a hope that he had fallen upon some plan, or, at all events, that he had thought of or recalled to memory some old recollection that might probably be of service to him.
"The poor fellow, sir," said he, addressing the other with singular benignity, "is an orphan; his mother is dead more than twelve years, and his father, the idle and unfortunate man, never has been of the slightest use to him, poor creature."
"What," exclaimed the stranger, with animation, "you, then, know his father!"
"Know him! to be sure I do. He is, or rather he was, a horse-jockey, and I took the poor neglected young lad in because he had no one to look after him. But wasn't it kind-hearted of the creature to heap the creel of turf though, and shed tears for poor Widow Magowran? In truth, I won't forget either of these two acts to him."
"You speak, sir, of your servant, I believe." observed the other, with something like chagrin.
"In truth, there's not a kind-hearted young giant alive this day. Many a little bounty that I, through the piety and liberality of the charitable, am enabled to distribute among my poor, and often send to them with Mat; and I believe there's scarcely an instance of the kind in which he is the bearer of it, that he doesn't shed tears just as he did with Widow Magowran. Sure I have it from his own lips."
"I have little doubt of it," replied the stranger.
"And one day," proceeded the credulous, easy man, "that I was going along the Race-road, I overtook him with a creel of turf, the same way, on his back, and when I looked down from my horse into the creel, I saw with astonishment that it wasn't more than half full. 'Mat,' said I, 'what's the raison of this? Didn't I desire you to fill the creel to the top, and above it?'
"'Troth,' said poor Mat, 'I never carried such a creelful in my life as it was when I left home.'
"'But what has become of the turf, then?' I asked.
"He gave me a look and almost began to cry—'Arra now, your reverence,' he replied, 'how could you expict me to have the heart to refuse a few sods to the great number of poor creatures that axed me for them, to boil their pratees, as I came along? I hope, your reverence, I am not so hard-hearted as all that comes to.'"
"I know," proceeded the priest, "that it was wrong not to bring the turf to its destination; but, you see, sir, it was only an error of judgment—although the head was wrong, the heart was right—and that's a great point."
It was not in human nature, however, to feel annoyed at this characteristic ebullition. The stranger's chagrin at once disappeared, and as he was in no particular hurry, and wished to see as much of the priest as possible, he resolved to give him his own way.
He had not long to wait, however. After about a minute's deep thought, he expressed himself as follows—and it may be observed here, once for all, that on appropriate occasions his conversation could rise and adapt itself to the dignity of the subject, with a great deal of easy power, if not of eloquence—"Now, sir," said he, "you will plaise to pay attention to what I am about to say: Beware of Sir Thomas Gourlay—as a Christian man, it is my duty to put you on your guard; but consider that you ask me to involve myself in a matter of deep family interest and importance, and yet, as I said, you keep yourself wrapped, up in a veil of impenetrable mystery. Pray, allow me to ask, is Mr. Birney acquainted with your name and secret?"
"He is," replied the other, "with both"
"Then, in that case," said the worthy priest, with very commendable prudence, "I will walk over with you to his house, and if he assures me personally that you are a gentleman in whose objects I may and ought to feel an interest, I then say, that I shall do what I can for you, although that may not be much. Perhaps I may put you in a proper train to succeed. I will, with these conditions, give you a letter to an old man in Dublin, who may give you, on this very subject, more information than any other person I know, with one exception."
"My dear sir," replied the stranger, getting on his legs—"I am quite satisfied with that proposal, and I feel that it is very kind of you to make it."
"Yes, but you won't go," said the priest, "till you take some refreshment. It's now past two o'clock."
"I am much obliged to you," replied the other, "but I never lunch."
"Not a foot you'll stir then till you take something—I don't want you to lunch—a bit and a sup just—come, don't refuse now, for I say you must."
The other smiled, and replied—"But, I assure you, my dear sir, I couldn't—I breakfasted late."
"Not a matter for that, you must have something, I say—a drop of dram then—pure poteen—or maybe you'd prefer a glass of wine? say which; for you must taste either the one or the other"—and as he spoke, with a good-humored laugh, he deliberately locked the door, and put the key in his pocket—"It's an old proverb," he added, "that those who won't take are never ready to give, and I'll think you after all but a poor-hearted creature if you refuse it. At any rate, consider yourself a prisoner until you comply."
"Well, then," replied our strange friend, still smiling, "since your hospitality will force me, at the expense of my liberty, I think I must—a glass of sherry then, since you are so kind."
"Ah," replied his reverence, "I see you don't know what's good—that's the stuff," he added, pointing to the poteen, "that would send the radical heat to the very ends of your nails—I never take more than a single tumbler after my dinner, but that's my choice."
The stranger then joined him in a glass of sherry, and they proceeded to Mr. Birney's.
CHAPTER XII. Crackenfudge Outwitted by Fenton
—The Baronet, Enraged at His Daughter's Firmness, strikes Her.
Crackenfudge, who was completely on the alert to ascertain if possible the name of the stranger, and the nature of his business in Ballytrain, learned that Fenton and he had had three or four private interviews, and he considered it very likely that if he could throw himself in that wild young fellow's way, without any appearance of design, he might be able to extract something concerning the other out of him. In the course, then, of three or four days after that detailed in our last chapter, and we mention this particularly, because Father M'Mahon was obliged to write to Dublin, in order to make inquiries touching the old man's residence to whom he had undertaken to give the stranger a letter—in the course, we say, of three or four days after that on which the worthy priest appears in our pages, it occurred that Crackenfudge met the redoubtable Fenton in his usual maudlin state, that is to say, one in which he could be termed neither drunk nor sober. We have said that Fenton's mind was changeful and unstable; sometimes evincing extraordinary quietness and civility, and sometimes full of rant and swagger, to which we may add, a good deal of adroitness and tact. In his most degraded state he was always known to claim a certain amount of respect, and would scarcely hold conversation with any one who would not call him Mr. Fenton.
On meeting Fenton, the worthy candidate for the magistracy, observing the condition he was in, which indeed was his usual one, took it for granted that his chance was good. He accordingly addressed him as follows:
"Fenton," said he, "what's the news in town?"
"To whom do you speak, sirra?" replied Fenton, indignantly. "Take off your hat, sir, whenever you address a gentleman."
"Every one knows you're a gentleman, Mr. Fenton," replied Crackenfudge; "and as for me, a'd be sorry to address you as anything else."
"I'm sorry I can't return the compliment, then," said Fenton; "everyone knows you're anything but a gentleman, and that's the difference between us. What piece of knavery have you on the anvil now, my worthy embryo magistrate?"
"You're severe this morning, Mr. Fenton; a' don't think a' ever deserved that at your hands. But come, Mr. Fenton, let us be on good terms. A' acknowledge you are a gentleman, Mr. Fenton."
"Take care," replied Fenton, "and don't overdo the thing neither. Whether is it the knave or fool predominates in you to-day, Mr. Crackenfudge?"
"A' hope a'm neither the one nor the other," replied the embryo magistrate. "A' hope a'm not, Mr. Fenton."
"I believe, however, you happen to be both," said Fenton; "that's a fact as well known, my good fellow, as the public stocks there below; and if Madam Fame reports aright, it's a pity you should be long out of them. Avaunt, you upstart! Before the close of your life, you will die with as many aliases as e'er a thief that ever swung from a gallows, and will deserve the swing, too, better than the thief."
"A' had a right to change my name," replied the other, "when a' got into property. A' was ashamed of my friends, because there's a great many of them poor."
"Invert the tables, you misbegotten son of an elve," replied Fenton; "'tis they that are ashamed of you; there is not one among the humblest of them but would blush to name you. So you did not uncover, as I desired you; but be it so. You wish to let me, sir, who am a gentleman, know, and to force me to say, that there is a knave under your hat. But come, Mr. Crackenfudge," he continued, at once, and by some unaccountable impulse, changing his manner, "come, my friend Crackenfudge, you must overlook my satire. Thersites' mood has past, and now for benevolence and friendship. Give us your honest hand, and bear not malice against your friend and neighbor."
"You must have your own way, Mr. Fenton," said Crackenfudge, smiling, or assuming a smile, and still steady as a sleuthhound to his purpose.
"Where now are you bound for, oh, benevolent and humane Crackenfudge?"
"A' was jist thinking of asking this strange fellow—"
"Right, O Crackenfudgius! that impostor is a fellow; or if you prefer the reverse of the proposition, that fellow is an impostor. I have found him out."
"A' hard," replied Crackenfudge, "that he and you were on rather intimate terms, and—"
"And so as being my companion, you considered him a fellow! Proceed, Crackenfudgius."
"No, not at all; a' was thinkin' of makin' his acquaintance, and paying some attention to him; that is, if a' could know who and what he is."
"And thou shalt know, my worthy mock magistrate. I am in a communicative humor to-day, and know thou shalt."
"And what may his name be, pray, Mr. Fenton?" with a peculiar emphasis on the Mr.
"Caution," said Fenton; "don't overdo the thing, I say, otherwise I am silent as the grave. Heigh-ho! what put that in my head? Well, sir, you shall know all you wish to know. In the first place, as to his name—it is Harry Hedles. He was clerk to a toothbrush-maker in London, but it seems he made a little too free with a portion of the brush money: he accordingly brushed off to our celebrated Irish metropolis, ycleped Dublin, where, owing to a tolerably good manner, a smooth English accent, and a tremendous stock of assurance, he insinuated himself into several respectable families as a man of some importance. Among others, it is said that he has engaged the affections of a beautiful creature, daughter and heiress to an Irish baronet, and that they are betrothed to each other. But as to the name or residence of the baronet, O Crackenfudgius, I am not in a condition to inform you—for this good reason, that I don't know either myself."
"But is it a fair question, Mr. Fenton, to ask how you became acquainted with all this?"
"How?" exclaimed Fenton, with a doughty but confident swagger; "incredulous varlet, do you doubt the authenticity of my information? He disclosed to me every word of it himself, and sought me out here for the purpose of getting me to influence my friends, who, you distrustful caitiff, are persons of rank and consequence, for the purpose of bringing about a reconciliation between him and old Grinwell, the toothbrush man, and having the prosecution stopped. Avaunt! now, begone! This is all the information I can afford upon the subject of that stout but gentlemanly impostor."
Crackenfudge, we should have said, was on horseback during the previous dialogue, and no sooner had Fenton passed on, with a look of the most dignified self-consequence on his thin and wasted, though rather handsome features, than the candidate magistrate set spurs to his horse, and with a singularly awkward wabbling motion of his feet and legs about the animal's sides, his right hand flourishing his whip at the same time into circles in the air, he approached Red Hall, as if he brought tidings of some great national victory.
He found the baronet perusing a letter, who, after having given him a nod, and pointing to a chair, without speaking, read on, with an expression of countenance which almost alarmed poor Crackenfudge. Whatever intelligence the letter may have contained, one thing seemed obvious—that it was gall and wormwood to his heart. His countenance, naturally more than ordinarily dark, literally blackened with rage and mortification, or perhaps with both; his eyes flashed fire, and seemed as about to project themselves out of his head, and poor Crackenfudge could hear most distinctly the grinding of his teeth. At length he rose up, and strode, as was his custom, through the room, moved by such a state of feeling as it was awful to look upon. During all this time he never seemed to notice Crackenfudge, whose face, on the other hand, formed a very ludicrous contrast with that of the baronet. There was at any time very little meaning, to an ordinary observer, in the countenance of this anxious candidate for the magisterial bench, but it was not without cunning; just as in the case of a certain class of fools, any one may recollect that anomalous combination of the latter with features whose blankness betokens the natural idiot at a first glance. Crackenfudge, who, on this occasion, felt conscious of the valuable intelligence he was about to communicate, sat with a face in which might be read, as far at least as anything could, a full sense of the vast importance with which he was charged, and the agreeable surprise which he must necessarily give the raging baronet. Not that the expression, after all, could reach anything higher than that union of stupidity and assurance which may so frequently be read in the same countenance.
"A' see, Sir Thomas," he at length said, "that something has vexed you, and a'm sorry to see it."
The baronet gave him a look of such fury, as in a moment banished not only the full-blown consciousness of the important intelligence he was about to communicate, but its very expression from his face, which waxed meaningless and cowardly-looking as ever.
"A' hope," he added, in an apologetical tone, "that a' didn't offend you by my observation; at least, a' didn't intend it."
"Sir," replied the baronet, "your apology is as unseasonable as the offence for which you make it. You see in what a state of agitation I am, and yet, seeing this, you have the presumption to annoy me by your impertinence. I have already told you, that I would help you to this d——d magistracy: although it is a shame, before God and man to put such a creature as you are upon the bench. Don't you see, sir, that I am not in a mood to be spoken to?"
Poor Crackenfudge was silent; and, upon remembering his previous dialogue with Fenton, he could not avoid thinking that he was treated rather roughly between them, The baronet, however, still moved backward and forward, like an enraged tiger in his cage, without any further notice of Crackenfudge; who, on his part, felt likely to explode, unless he should soon disburden himself of his intelligence. Indeed, so confident did he feel of the sedative effect it would and must have upon the disturbed spirit of this dark and terrible man, that he resolved to risk an experiment, at all hazards, after his own way. He accordingly puckered his face into a grin that was rendered melancholy by the terror which was still at his heart, and, in a voice that had one of the most comical quavers imaginable, he said: "Good news, Sir Thomas."
"Good devil, sir! what do you mean?"
"A' mean good news, Sir Thomas. The fellow in the inn—a' know everything about him."
"Eh! what is that? I beg your pardon, Crackenfudge; I have treated you discourteously and badly—but you will excuse me. I have had such cause for excitement as is sufficient to drive me almost mad. What is the good news you speak of, Crackenfudge?"
"Do you know who the fellow in the inn is, Sir Thomas?"
"Not I; but I wish I did."
"Well, then, a' can tell you."
Sir Thomas turned abruptly about, and, fastening his dark gleaming eyes upon him, surveyed him with an expression of which no language could give an adequate description.
"Crackenfudge," said he, in a voice condensed into tremendous power and interest, "keep me not a moment in suspense—don't tamper with me, sir—don't attempt to play upon me—don't sell your intelligence, nor make a bargain for it. Curse your magistracy—have I not already told you that I will help you to it? What is the intelligence—the good news you speak of?"
"Why, simply this, Sir Thomas," replied the other,—"that a' know who and what the fellow in the inn is; but, for God's sake, Sir Thomas, keep your temper within bounds, or if you don't, a' must only go home again, and keep my secret to myself. You have treated me very badly, Sir Thomas; you have insulted me, Sir Thomas; you have grossly offended me, Sir Thomas, in your own house, too, and without the slightest provocation. A' have told you that a' know everything about the fellow in the inn; and now, sir, you may thank the treatment a' received that a' simply tell you that, and have the honor of bidding you good day."
"Crackenfudge," replied. Sir Thomas, who in an instant saw his error, and felt in all its importance the value of the intelligence with which the other was charged, "I beg your pardon; but you may easily see that I was not—that I am not myself."
"You pledge your honor, Sir Thomas, that you will get me the magistracy? A' know you can if you set about it. A' declare to God, Sir Thomas, a' will never have a happy day unless I'm able to write J. P. after my name. A' can think of nothing else. And, Sir Thomas, listen to me; my friends—a' mean my relations—poor, honest, contemptible creatures, are all angry with me, because a' changed my name to Crackenfudge."
"But what has this to do with the history of the fellow in the inn?" replied Sir Thomas. "With respect to the change of your name, I have been given to understand that your relations have been considerably relieved by it."
"How, Sir Thomas?"
"Because they say that they escape the disgrace of the connection; but, as for myself," added the baronet, with a peculiar sneer, "I don't pretend to know anything about the matter—one way or other. But let it pass, however; and now for your intelligence."
"But you didn't pledge your honor that you would get me the magistracy."
"If," said. Sir Thomas, "the information you have to communicate be of the importance I expect, I pledge my honor, that whatever man can do to serve you in that matter, I will. You know I cannot make magistrates at my will—I am not the lord chancellor."
"Well, then, Sir Thomas, to make short work of it, the fellow's name is Harry Hedles. He was clerk to the firm of Grinwell and Co., the great tooth-brush manufacturers—absconded with some of their cash, came over here, and smuggled himself, in the shape of a gentleman, into respectable families; and a'm positively informed, that he has succeeded in seducing the affections, and becoming engaged to the daughter and heiress of a wealthy baronet."
The look which Sir Thomas turned upon Crackenfudge made the cowardly caitiff tremble.
"Harkee, Mr. Crackenfudge," said he; "did you hear the name of the baronet, or of his daughter?"
"A' did not, Sir Thomas; the person that told me was ignorant of this himself."
"May I ask who your informant was, Mr. Crackenfudge?"
"Why, Sir Thomas, a half mad fellow, named Fenton, who said that he saw this vagabond at an establishment in England conducted by a brother of this Grinwell's."
The baronet paused for a moment, but the expression which took possession of his features was one of the most intense interest that could be depicted on the human countenance; he fastened his eyes upon Crackenfudge, as if he would have read the very soul within him, and by an effort restrained himself so far as to say, with forced composure, "Pray, Mr. Crackenfudge, what kind of a person is this Fenton, whom you call half-mad, and from whom you had this information?"
Crackenfudge described Fenton, and informed Sir Thomas that in the opinion of the people he was descended of a good family, though neglected and unfortunate. "But," he added, "as to who he really is, or of what family, no one can get out of him. He's close and cunning."
"Is he occasionally unsettled in his reason?" asked the baronet, with assumed indifference.
"No doubt of it, Sir Thomas; he'll sometimes pass a whole week or fortnight and never open his lips."
The baronet appeared to be divided between two states of feeling so equally balanced as to leave him almost without the power of utterance. He walked, he paused, he looked at Crackenfudge as if he would speak, then resumed his step with a hasty and rapid stride that betokened the depth of what he felt.
"Well, Crackenfudge," he said, "your intelligence, after all, is but mere smoke. I thought the fellow in the inn was something beyond the rank of clerk to a tooth-brush maker; he is not worth our talk, neither is that madman Fenton. In the mean time, I am much obliged to you, and you may calculate upon my services wherever they can be made available to your interests. I would not now hurry you away nor request you to curtail your visit, were it not that I expect Lord Cullamore here in about half an hour, or perhaps less, and I wish to see Miss Gourlay previous to his arrival."
"But you won't forget the magistracy, Sir Thomas? A'm dreaming of it every night. A' think that a'm seated upon a bench with five or six other magistrates along with me, and you can't imagine the satisfaction I feel in sending those poor vermin that are going about in a state of disloyalty and starvation to the stocks or the jail. Oh, authority is a delightful thing, Sir Thomas, especially when a man can exercise it upon the vile rubbish that constitutes the pauper population of the country. You know, if a' were a magistrate, Sir Thomas, a' would fine every one—as well as my own tenants, whom I do fine—that did not take off their hat or make me a courtesy."
"And if you were to do so, Crackenfudge," replied the baronet, with a grim, sardonic smile, or rather a sneer, "I assure you, that such a measure would become a very general and heavy impost upon the country. But goodby, now; I shall remember your wishes as touching the magistracy. You shall have J. P. after your name, and be at liberty to fine, flog, put in the stocks, and send to prison as many of the rubbish you speak of as you wish."
"That will be delightful, Sir Thomas. A'll then make many a vagabond that despises and laughs at me suffer."
"In that case, the country at large will suffer heavily; for to tell you the truth, Crackenfudge, you are anything but a favorite. Goodby, now, I must see my daughter." And so he nodded the embryo magistrate out.
After the latter had taken his departure, Sir Thomas rubbed his hands, with a strong turbid gleam of ferocious satisfaction, that evidently resulted from the communication that Crackenfudge had made to him.
"It can be no other," thought he; "his allusion to the establishment of Grinwell is a strong presumptive proof that it is; but he must be secured forthwith, and that with all secrecy and dispatch, taking it always for granted that he is the fugitive for whom we have been seeking so long. One point, however, in our favor is, that as he knows neither his real name nor origin, nor even the hand which guided his destiny, he can make no discovery of which I may feel apprehensive. Still it is dangerous that he should be at large, for it is impossible to say what contingency might happen—what chance would, or perhaps early recollection might, like a spark of light to a train, blow up in a moment the precaution of years. As to the fellow in the inn, the account of him may be true enough, for unquestionably Grinwell, who kept the asylum, had a brother in the tooth-brush business, and this fact gives the story something like probability, as does the mystery with which this man wraps himself so closely. In the meantime, if he be a clerk, he is certainly an impostor of the most consummate art, for assuredly so gentlemanly a scoundrel I have never yet come in contact with. But, good heavens! if such a report should have gone abroad concerning that stiff-necked and obstinate girl, her reputation and prospects in life are ruined forever. What would Dunroe say if he heard it? as it is certain he will. Then, again, here is the visit from this conscientious old blockhead, Lord Cullamore, who won't allow me to manage my daughter after my own manner. He must hear from her own lips, forsooth, how she relishes this union. He must see her, he says; but, if she betrays me now and continues restive, I shall make her feel what it is to provoke me. This interview will ruin me with old Cullamore; but in the meantime I must see the girl, and let her know what the consequences will be if she peaches against me."
All this, of course, passed through his mind briefly, as he walked to and fro, according to his usual habit. After a few minutes he rang, and with a lowering brow, and in a stern voice, ordered Miss Gourlay to be conducted to him. This was accordingly done, her maid having escorted her to the library door, for it is necessary to say here, that she had been under confinement since the day of her father's visit to Lord Cullamore.
She appeared pale and dejected, but at the same time evidently sustained by serious composure and firmness. On entering the room, her father gazed at her with a long, searching look, that seemed as if he wished to ascertain, from her manner, whether imprisonment had in any degree tamed her down to his purposes. He saw, indeed, that she was somewhat paler than usual, but he perceived at once that not one jot of her resolution had abated. After an effort, he endeavored to imitate her composure, and in some remote degree the calm and serene dignity of her manner. Lucy, who considered herself a prisoner, stood after having entered the room, as if in obedience to her father's wishes.
"Lucy, be seated," said he; and whilst speaking, he placed himself in an arm-chair, near the fire, but turned toward her, and kept his eyes steadily fixed upon her countenance. "Lucy," he proceeded, "you are to receive a visit from Lord Cullamore, by and by, and it rests with you this day whether I shall stand in his estimation a dishonored man or not."
"I do not understand you, papa."
"You soon shall. I paid him a visit, as you are aware, at his own request, a few days ago. The object of that visit was to discuss the approaching union between you and his son. He said he would not have you pressed against your inclinations, and expressed an apprehension that the match was not exactly in accordance with your wishes. Now, mark me, Lucy, I undertook, upon my own responsibility, as well as upon yours, to assure him that it had your fullest concurrence, and I expect that you shall bear me out and sustain me in this assertion."
"I who am engaged to another?"
"Yes, but clandestinely, without your father's knowledge or approbation."
"I admit my error, papa; I fully and freely acknowledge it, and the only atonement I can make to you for it is, to assure you that although I am not likely ever to marry according to your wishes, yet I shall never marry against them."
"Ha!" thought the baronet, "I have brought her down a step already."
"Now, Lucy," said he, "it is time that this undutiful obstinacy on your part should cease. It is time you should look to and respect—yes, and obey your father's wishes. I have already told you that I have impressed Lord Cullamore with a belief that you are a free and consenting party to this marriage, and I trust you have too much delicacy and self-respect to make your father a liar, for that is the word. I admit I told him a falsehood, but I did so for the honor and exaltation of my child. You will not betray me, Lucy?"
"Father," said she, "I regret that you make these torturing communications to me. God knows I wish to love and respect you, but when, under solemn circumstances, you utter, by your own admission, a deliberate falsehood to a man of the purest truth and honor; when you knowingly and wilfully mislead him for selfish and ambitious purposes;—nay, I will retract these words, and suppose it is from an anxiety to secure me rank and happiness,—I say, father, when you thus forget all that constitutes the integrity and dignity of man, and stoop to the discreditable meanness of falsehood, I ask you, is it manly, or honorable, or affectionate, to involve me in proceedings so utterly shameful, and to ask me to abet you in such a wanton perversion of truth? Sir, there are fathers—indeed, I believe, most fathers living—who would rather see any child of theirs stretched and shrouded up in the grave than know them to be guilty of such a base and deliberate violation of all the sacred principles of truth as this."