The stranger now looked at his watch, bade them good day, and took his leave.
CHAPTER XV. Interview between Lady Gourlay and the Stranger
—Dandy Dulcimer makes a Discovery—The Stranger receives Mysterious Communications.
From Constitution Hill our friend drove directly to Merrion square, the residence of Lady Gourlay, whom he found alone in the drawing-room. She welcomed him with a courtesy that was expressive at once of anxiety, sorrow, and hope. She extended her hand to him and said, after the usual greetings were over:
"I fear to ask what the result of your journey has been—for I cannot, alas! read any expression of success in your countenance."
"As yet," replied the stranger, "I have not been successful, madam; but I do not despair. I am, and have been, acting under an impression, that we shall ultimately succeed; and although I can hold out to your ladyship but very slender hopes, if any, still I would say, do not despair."
Lady Gourlay was about forty-eight, and although sorrow, and the bitter calamity with which the reader is already acquainted, had left their severe traces upon her constitution and features, still she was a woman on whom no one could look without deep I interest and sympathy. Even at that age, her fine form and extraordinary beauty bore up in a most surprising manner against her sufferings. Her figure was tall—its proportions admirable; and her beauty, faded it is true, still made the spectator feel, with a kind of wonder, what it must have been when she was in the prime of youth and untouched by affliction. She possessed that sober elegance of manner that was in melancholy accordance with her fate; and evinced in every movement a natural dignity that excited more than ordinary respect and sympathy for her character and the sorrows she had suffered. Her face was oval, and had been always of that healthy paleness than which, when associated with symmetry and expression—as was the case with her—there is nothing more lovely among women. Her eyes, which were a dark brown, had lost, it is true, much of the lustre and sparkle of early life; but this was succeeded by a mild and mellow light to which an abiding sorrow had imparted an expression that was full of melancholy beauty.
For many years past, indeed, ever since the disappearance of her only child, she had led a secluded life, and devoted herself to the Christian virtues of charity and benevolence; but in such a way as to avoid anything like ostentatious display. Still, such is the structure of society, that it is impossible to carry the virtues for which she was remarkable to any practical extent, without the world by degrees becoming cognizant of the secret. The very recipients themselves, in the fulness of their heart, will commit a grateful breach of confidence with which it is impossible to quarrel.
Consoled, as far as any consolation could reach her, by the consciousness of doing good, as well as by a strong sense of religion, she led a life which we regret so few in her social position are disposed to imitate. For many years before the period at which our narrative commences, she had given up all hope of ever recovering her child, if indeed he was alive. Whether he had perished by an accidental death in some place where his body could not be discovered—whether he had been murdered, or kidnapped, were dreadful contingencies that wrung the mother's soul with agony. But as habits of endurance give to the body stronger powers of resistance, so does time by degrees strengthen the mind against the influence of sorrow. A blameless life, therefore, varied only by its unobtrusive charities, together with a firm trust in the goodness of God, took much of the sting from affliction, but could not wholly eradicate it. Had her child died in her arms—had she closed its innocent eyes with her own hands, and given the mother's last kiss to those pale lips on which the smile of affection was never more to sit—had she been able to go, and, in the fulness of her childless heart, pour her sorrow over his grave—she would have felt that his death, compared with the darkness and uncertainty by which she was enveloped, would have been comparatively a mitigated dispensation, for which the heart ought to feel almost thankful.
The death of Corbet, her steward, found her in that mournful apathy under which she had labored for year's. Indeed she resembled a certain class of invalids who are afflicted with some secret ailment, which is not much felt unless when an unexpected pressure, or sudden change of posture, causes them to feel the pang which it inflicts. From the moment that the words of the dying man shed the serenity of hope over her mind, and revived in her heart all those tender aspirations of maternal affection which, as associated with the recovery of her child, had nearly perished out of it—from that moment, we say, the extreme bitterness of her affliction had departed.
She had already suffered too much, however, to allow herself to be carried beyond unreasonable bounds by sanguine and imprudent expectations. Her rule of heart and of conduct was simple, but true—she trusted in God and in the justice of his providence.
On hearing the stranger's want of success, she felt more affected by that than by the faint consolation which he endeavored to hold out to her, and a few bitter tears ran slowly down her cheeks.
"Hope had altogether gone," said she, "and with hope that power in the heart to cherish the sorrow which it sustains; and the certainty of his death had thrown me into that apathy, which qualifies but cannot destroy the painful consequences of reflection. That which presses upon me now, is the fear that although he may still live, as unquestionably Corbet on his death-bed had assured me, yet it is possible we may never recover him. In that case he is dead to me—lost forever."
"I will not attempt to offer your ladyship consolation," replied the stranger; "but I would suggest simply, that the dying words of your steward, perhaps, may be looked upon as the first opening—the dawn of a hopeful issue. I think we may fairly and reasonably calculate that your son lives. Take courage, madam. In our efforts to trace him, remember that we have only commenced operations. Every day and every successive attempt to penetrate this painful mystery will, I trust, furnish us with additional materials for success."
"May God grant it!" replied her ladyship; "for if we fail, my wounds will have been again torn open in vain. Better a thousand times that that hope had never reached me."
"True, indeed, madam," replied the stranger; "but still take what comfort you can. Think of your brother-in-law; he also has lost his child, and bears it well."
"Ah, yes," she replied, "but you forget that he has one still left, and that I am childless. If there be a solitary being on earth, it is a childless and a widowed mother—a widow who has known a mother's love—a wife who has experienced the tender and manly affection of a devoted husband."
"I grant," he replied, "that it is, indeed, a bitter fate."
"As for my brother-in-law," she proceeded, "the child which God, in his love, has spared to him is a compensation almost for any loss. I trust he loves and cherishes her as he ought, and as I am told she deserves. There has been no communication between us ever since my marriage. Edward and he, though brothers, were as different as day and night. Unless once or twice, I never even saw my niece, and only then at a distance; nor has a word ever passed between us. They tell me she is an angel in goodness, as well as in beauty, and that her accomplishments are extraordinary—but—I, alas!—am alone and childless."
The stranger's heart palpitated; and had Lady Gourlay entertained any suspicion of his attachment, she might have perceived his agitation. He also felt deep sympathy with Lady Gourlay.
"Do not say childless, madam," he replied. "Your ladyship must hope for the best."
"But what have you done?" she asked. "Did you see the young man?"
"I saw him, madam; but it is impossible to get anything out of him. That he is wrapped in some deep mystery is unquestionable. I got a letter, however, from an amiable Roman Catholic clergyman, the parish priest of Ballytrain, to a man named Dunphy, who lives in a street called Constitution Hill, on the north side of the city."
"He is a relation, I understand, of Edward Corbet, who died in my service," replied her ladyship, with an interest that seemed instantly to awaken her. "Well," said she, eagerly, "what was the result? Did you present the letter?"
"I presented the letter, my lady; and had at first strong hopes—no, not at first—but in the course of our conversation. He dropped unconscious hints that induce me to suspect he knows more about the fate of your son than he wishes to acknowledge. It struck me that he might have been an agent in this black business, and, on that account, that he is afraid to criminate himself. I have, besides," he added, smilingly, "had the gratification to have heard a prophecy uttered, by which I was assured of ultimate success in my efforts to trace out your son;—a prophecy uttered under and accompanied by circumstances so extraordinary and incomprehensible as to confound and amaze me."
He then detailed to her the conversation he had had with old Dunphy and the fortune-teller, suppressing all allusion to what tha latter had said concerning Lucy and himself. After which, Lady Gourlay paused for some time, and seemed at a loss what construction to put upon it.
"It is very strange," she at length observed; "that woman has been here, I think, several times, visiting her late brother, who left her some money at his death. Is she not extremely pale and wild-looking?"
"So much so, madam, that there is something awful and almost supernatural-looking in the expression of her eyes and features. I have certainly never seen such a face before on a denizen of this life."
"It is strange," replied her ladyship, "that she should have taken upon her the odious character of a fortune-teller. I was not aware of that. Corbet, I know, had a sister, who was deranged for some time; perhaps this is she, and that the gift of fortune-telling to which she pretends may be a monomania or some other delusion that her unhappy malady has left behind it."
"Very likely, my lady," replied the other; "nothing more probable. The fact you mention accounts both for her strange appearance and conduct. Still I must say, that so far as I had an opportunity of observing, there did not appear to be any obvious trace of insanity about her."
"Well," she exclaimed, "we know to foretell future events is not now one of the privileges accorded to mortals. I will place my assurance in the justice of God's goodness and providence, and not in the delusions of a poor maniac, or, perhaps, of an impostor. What course do you propose taking now?"
"I have not yet determined, madam. I think I will see this old Dunphy again. He told me that he certainly suspected your brother-in-law, but assured me that he had no specific grounds for his suspicions—beyond the simple fact, that Sir Thomas would be the principal gainer by the child's removal. At all events, I shall see him once more to-morrow."
"What stay will you make in town?"
"I cannot at the present moment say, my lady. I have other matters, of which your ladyship is aware, to look after. My own rights must be vindicated; and I dare say you will not regret to hear that everything is in a proper train. We want only one link of the chain. An important document is wanting; but I think it will soon be in our hands. Who knows," he added, smiling, "but your ladyship and I may ere long be able to congratulate each other upon our mutual success? And now, madam, permit me to take my leave. I am not without hope on your account; but of this you may rest assured, that my most strenuous exertions shall be devoted to the object nearest your heart."
"Alas," she replied, as she stood up, "it is neither title nor wealth that I covet. Give me my child—restore me my child—and I shall be happy. That is the simple ambition of his mother's heart. I wish Sir Thomas to understand that I shall allow him to enjoy both title and estates during his life, if, knowing where my child is, he will restore him to my heart. I will bind, myself by the most solemn forms and engagements to this. Perhaps that might satisfy him."
They then shook hands and separated, the stranger involuntarily influenced by the confident predictions of Ginty Cooper, although he was really afraid to say so; whilst Lady Gourlay felt her heart at one time elevated by the dawn of hope that had arisen, and again depressed by the darkness which hung over the fate of her son.
His next visit was to his attorney, Birney, who had been a day or two in town, and whom he found in his office in Gloucester street.
"Well, Mr. Birney," he inquired, "what advance are you making?"
"Why," replied Birney, "the state of our case is this: if Mrs. Norton could be traced we might manage without the documents you have lost;—by the way, have you any notion where the scoundrel might be whom you suspect of having taken them?"
"What! M'Bride? I was told, as I mentioned before, that he and the Frenchwoman went to America, leaving his unfortunate wife behind him. I could easily forgive the rascal for the money he took; but the misfortune was, that the documents and the money were both in the same pocket-book. He knew their value, however, for unfortunately he was fully in my confidence. The fellow was insane about the girl, and I think it was love more than dishonesty that tempted him to the act. I have little doubt that he would return me the papers if he knew where to send them."
"Have you any notion where the wife is?"
"None in the world, unless that she is somewhere in this country, having set out for it a fortnight before I left Paris."
"As the matter stands, then," replied Birney, "we shall be obliged, to go to France in order to get a fresh copy of the death and the marriage properly attested—or, I should rather say, of the marriage and the death. This will complete our documentary evidence; but, unfortunately, Mrs. Norton, who was her maid at the time, and a witness of both the death and marriage, cannot be found, although she was seen in Dublin about three months ago. I have advertised several times for her in the papers, but to no purpose. I cannot find her whereabouts at all. I fear, however, and so does the Attorney-General, that we shall not be able to accomplish our purpose without her."
"That is unfortunate," replied the stranger. "Let us continue the advertisements; perhaps she may turn up yet. As to the other pursuit, touching the lost child, I know not what to say. There are but slight grounds for hope, and yet I am not at all disposed to despair, although I cannot tell why."
"It cannot be possible," observed Bimey, "that that wicked old baronet could ultimately prosper in his villainy. I speak, of course, upon the supposition that he is, or was, the bottom of the business. Your, safest and best plan is to find out his agents in the business, if it can be done."
"I shall leave nothing unattempted," replied the other; "and if we fail, we shall at least have the satisfaction of having done our duty. The lapse of time, however, is against us;—perhaps the agents are dead."
"If this man is guilty," said the attorney, "he is nothing more nor less than a modern Macbeth. However, go on, and keep up your resolution; effort will do much. I hope in this case—in both cases—it will do all."
After some further conversation upon the matter in question, which it is not our intention to detail here, the stranger made an excursion to the country, and returned about six o'clock to his hotel. Here he found Dandy Dulcimer before him, evidently brimful of some important information on which he (Dandy) seemed to place a high value, and which gave to his naturally droll countenance such an expression of mock gravity as was ludicrous in the extreme.
"What is the matter, sir?" asked his master; "you look very big and important just now. I hope you have not been drinking."
Dandy compressed his lips as if his master's fate depended upon his words, and pointing with his forefinger in the direction of Wicklow, replied:
"The deed is done, sir—the deed is done."
"What deed, sirra?"
"Weren't you tould the stuff that was in me?" he replied. "But God has gifted me, and sure that's one comfort, glory be to his name. Weren't—"
"Explain yourself, sir!" said his master, authoritatively. "What do you mean by the deed is done?' You haven't got married, I hope. Perhaps the cousin you went to see was your sweetheart?"
"No, sir, I haven't got married. God keep me a little while longer from sich a calamity? But I have put you in the way of being so."
"How, sirra—put me into a state of calamity? Do you call that a service?"
"A state of repentance, sir, they say, is a state of grace; an' when one's in a state of grace they can make their soul; and anything, you know, that enables one to make his soul, is surely for his good."
"Why, then, say 'God forbid,' when I suppose you had yourself got married?"
"Bekaise I'm a sinner, sir,—a good deal hardened or so,—and haven't the grace even to wish for such a state of grace."
"Well, but what deed is this you have done? and no more of your gesticulations."
"Don't you undherstand, sir!" he replied, extending the digit once more in the same direction, and with the same comic significance.
"She's safe, sir. Miss Gourlay—I have her."
"How, you impudent scoundrel, what kind of language is this to apply to Miss Gourlay?"
"Troth, an' I have her safe," replied the pertinacious Dandy. "Safe as a hare in her form; but it is for your honor I have her. Cousin! oh, the divil a cousin has Dandy widin the four walls of Dublin town; but well becomes me, I took a post-chaise, no less, and followed her hot foot—never lost sight of her, even while you'd wink, till I seen her housed."
"Explain yourself, sirra."
"Faith, sir, all the explanation I have to give you've got, barrin' where she lives."
The stranger instantly thought of Lucy's caution, and for the present determined not to embarrass himself with a knowledge of her residence; "lest," as she said, "her father might demand from him whether he was aware of it." In that case he felt fully the truth and justness of her injunctions. Should Sir Thomas put the question to him he could not betray her, nor could he, on the other hand, stain his conscience by a deliberate falsehood; for, in truth, he was the soul of honor itself.
"Harkee, Dandy," said he, not in the slightest degree displeased with him, although he affected to be so, "if you wish to remain in my service keep the secret of Miss Gourlay's residence—a secret not only from me, but from every human being that lives. You have taken a most unwarrantable and impudent liberty in following her as you did. You know not, sirra, how you may have implicated both her and me by such conduct, especially the young lady. You are known to be in my service; although, for certain reasons, I do not intend, for the present at least, to put you into livery; and you ought to know, sir, also, that it will be taken for granted that you acted by my orders. Now, sir, keep that secret to yourself, and let it not pass your lips until I may think proper to ask you for it."
One evening, on the second day after this, he reached his hotel at six o'clock, and was about to enter, when a young lad, dancing up to him, asked in a whisper if that was for him, at the same time presenting a note. The other, looking at it, saw that it was addressed to him only by his initials.
"I think it is, my boy," said he; "from whom did it come, do you know?"
The lad, instead of giving him any reply, took instantly to his heels, as if he had been pursued for life and death, without even waiting to solicit the gratuity which is usually expected on such occasions. Our friend took it for granted that it had come from the fortune-teller, Ginty Cooper; but on opening it he perceived at a glance that he must have been mistaken, as the writing most certainty was not that of this extraordinary sibyl. The hand in which she had written his name was precisely such as one would expect from such a woman—rude and vulgar —whereas, on the contrary, that in the note was elegant and lady-like. The contents were as follows:
"Sir,—On receipt of this you will, if you wish to prosper in that which you have undertaken to accomplish, hasten to Ballytrain, and secure the person of a young man named Fenton, who lives in or about the town. You will claim him as the lawful heir of the title and property of Red Hall, for such in fact he is. Go then to Sir Thomas Gourlay, and ask him the following questions:
"1st. Did he not one night, about sixteen years ago, engage a man who was so ingeniously masked that the child neither perceived the mask, nor knew the man's person, to lure, him from Red Hall, under the pretence of bringing him to see a puppet show?
"2d. Did not Sir Thomas give instructions to this man to take him out of his path, out of his sight, and out of his hearing?
"3d. Was not this man well rewarded by Sir Thomas for that act?
"There are other questions in connection with the affair that could he put, but at present they would be unseasonable. The curtain of this dark drama is beginning to rise; truth will, ere long, be vindicated, justice rendered to the defrauded orphan, and guilt punished.
"A Lover of Justice."
It is very difficult to describe the feelings with which the stranger perused this welcome but mysterious document. To him, it was one of great pleasure, and also of exceedingly great pain. Here was something like a clew, to the discovery which he was so deeply interested in making. But, then, at whose expense was this discovery to be made? He was betrothed to Lucy Gourlay, and here he was compelled by a sense of justice to drag her father forth to public exposure, as a criminal of the deepest dye. What would Lucy say to this? What would she say to the man who should entail the heavy ignominy with which a discovery of this atrocious crime must blacken her father's name. He knew the high and proud principles by which she was actuated, and he knew how deeply the disgrace of a guilty parent would affect her sensitive spirit. Yet what was he to do? Was the iniquity of this ambitious and bad man to deprive the virtuous and benevolent woman—the friend of the poor and destitute, the loving mother, the affectionate wife who had enshrined her departed husband in the sorrowful recesses of her pure and virtuous heart, was this coldblooded and cruel tyrant to work out his diabolical purposes without any effort being made to check him in his career of guilt, or to justify her pious trust in that God to whom she looked for protection and justice? No, he knew Lucy too well; he knew that her extraordinary sense of truth and honor would justify him in the steps he might be forced to take, and that whatever might be the result, he at least was the last man whom she could blame for rendering justice to the widow of her father's brother. But, then again, what reliance could be placed upon anonymous information—information which, after all, was but limited and obscure? Yet it was evident that the writer—a female beyond question—whoever she was, must be perfectly conversant with his motives and his objects. And if in volunteering him directions how to proceed, she had any purpose adversative to his, her note was without meaning. Besides, she only reawakened the suspicion which he himself had entertained with respect to Fenton. At all events, to act upon the hints contained in the note, might lead to something capable of breaking the hitherto impenetrable cloud under which this melancholy transaction lay; and if it failed to do this, he (the stranger) could not possibly stand worse in the estimation of Sir Thomas Gourlay than he did already. In God's name, then, he would make the experiment; and in order to avoid mail-coach adventures in future, he would post it back to Ballytrain as quietly, and with as little observation as possible.
He accordingly ordered Dandy to make such slight preparations as were necessary for their return to that town, and in the meantime he determined to pay another visit to old Dunphy of Constitution Hill.
On arriving at the huckster's, he found him in the backroom, or parlor, to which we have before alluded. The old man's manner was, he thought, considerably changed for the better. He received him with more complacency, and seemed as if he felt something like regret for the harshness of his manner toward him during his first visit.
"Well, sir," said he, "is it fair to ask you, how you have got on in ferritin' out this black business?"
There are some words so completely low and offensive in their own nature, that no matter how kind and honest the intention of the speaker may be, they are certain to vex and annoy those to whom they are applied.
"Ferreting out!" thought the stranger—"what does the old scoundrel mean?" Yet, on second consideration, he could not for the soul of him avoid admitting that, considering the nature of the task he was engaged in, it was by no means an inappropriate illustration.
"No," said he, "we have made no progress, but we still trust that you will enable us to advance a step. I have already told you that we only wish to come at the principals. Their mere instruments we overlook. You seem to be a poor man—but listen to me—if you can give us any assistance in this affair, you shall be an independent one during the remainder of your life. Provided murder has not been committed I guarantee perfect safety to any person who may have only acted under the orders of a superior."
"Take your time," replied the old man, with a peculiar expression. "Did you ever see a river?"
"Of course," replied the other; "why do you ask?"
"Well, now, could you, or any livin' man, make the strame of that river flow faster than its natural course?"
"Certainly not," replied the stranger.
"Well, then—I'm an ould man and be advised by me—don't attempt to hurry the course o' the river. Take things as they come. If there's a man on this earth that's a livin' divil in flesh and blood, it's Sir Thomas Gourlay, the Black Barrownight; and if there's a man livin' that would go half way into hell to punish him, I'm that man. Now, sir, you said, the last day you were here, that you were a gentleman and a man of honor, and I believe you. So these words that have spoken to you about him you will never mention them—you promise that?"
"Of course I can, and do. To what purpose should I mention them?"
"For your own sake, or, I should say, for the sake of the cause you are engaged in, don't do it."
The bitterness of expression which darkened the old man's features, while he spoke of the Baronet, was perfectly diabolical, and threw him back from the good opinion which the stranger was about to form of him, notwithstanding his conduct on the previous day's visit.
"You don't appear to like Sir Thomas," he said. "He is certainly no favorite of yours."
"Like him," replied the old man, bitterly. "He is supposed to be the best friend I have; but little you know the punishment he will get in his heart, sowl, and spirit—little you know what he will be made to suffer yet. Of course now you undherstand, that if I could help you, as you say, to advance a single step in finding the right heir of this property I would do it. As matthers stand now, however, I can do nothing—but I'll tell you what I will do—I'll be on the lookout—I'll ask, seek, and inquire from them that have been about him at the time of the child's disappearance, and if I can get a single particle worth mentionin' to you, you shall have it, if I could only know where a letther would find you."
The cunning, the sagacity, the indefinable twinkle that scintillated from the small, piercing eyes, were too obvious to be overlooked. The stranger instantly felt himself placed, as it were, upon his guard, and he replied,
"It is possible that I may not be in town, and my address is uncertain; but the moment you are in a capacity to communicate any information that may be useful, go to the proper quarter—to Lady Gourlay herself. I understand that a relation of yours lived and died in her service?"
"That's true," said the man, "and a betther mistress never did God put breath in, nor a betther masther than Sir Edward. Well, I will follow your advice, but as for Sir Thomas—no matther, the time's comin'—the river's flowin—and if there's a God in heaven, he will be punished for all his misdeeds—for other things as well as takin' away the child—that is, if he has taken him away. Now, sir, that's all I can say to you at present—for I know nothing about this business. Who can tell, however, but I may ferret out something? It won't be my heart, at any rate, that will hinder me."
There was nothing further now to detain the stranger in town. He accordingly posted it at a rapid rate to Ballytrain, accompanied by Dandy and his dulcimer, who, except during the evenings among the servants in the hotel, had very little opportunity of creating a sensation, as he thought he would have done as an amateur musician in the metropolis.
"Musha, you're welcome back, sir," said Pat Sharpe, on seeing the stranger enter the Mitre; "troth, we were longin' for you, sir. And where is herself, your honor?"
"Whom do you mean, Pat?" said the stranger, sharply.
Pat pointed with his thumb over his shoulder toward Red Hall. "Ah!" he exclaimed, with a laugh, "by my soul I knew you'd manage it well. And troth, I'll drink long life an' happiness an' a sweet honeymoon to yez both, this very night, till the eyes stand in my head. Ah, thin, but she is the darlin', God bless her!"
If a thunderbolt had fallen at his feet, the stranger could not have felt more astonishment; but that is not the word—sorrow—agony—indignation.
"Gracious heaven!" he exclaimed, "what is this? what villanous calumny has gone abroad?"
Here Dandy saw clearly that his master was in distress, and generously resolved to step in to his assistance.
"Paudeen," said he, "you know nothing about this business, my hurler. You're a day before the fair. They're not married yet—but it's as good—so hould your prate about it till the knot's tied—then trumpet it through the town if you like."
The stranger felt that to enter into an altercation with two such persons would be perfect madness, and only make what now appeared to be already too bad, much worse. He therefore said, very calmly,
"Pat, I assure you, that my journey to Dublin had nothing whatsoever to do with Miss Gourlay's. The whole matter was accidental. I know nothing about her; and if any unfortunate reports have gone abroad they are unfounded, and do equal injustice to that lady and to me."
"Divil a thing else, now, Paudeen," said Dandy, with a face full of most villanous mystery—that had runaway and elopement in every line of it—and a tone of voice that would have shamed a couple-beggar—"bad scran to the ha'p'orth happened. So don't be puttin' bad constructions on things too soon. However, there's a good time comin', plaise God—so now, Paudeen, behave yourself, can't you, and don't be vexin' the masther."
"Pat," said the stranger, feeling that the best way to put an end to this most painful conversation was to start a fresh topic, "will you send for Fenton, and say I wish to see him?"
"Fenton, sir!—why, poor Mr. Fenton has been missed out of the town and neighborhood ever since the night you and Miss Gour—I beg pardon—"
"Upon my soul, Paudeen," said Dandy, "I'll knock you down if you say that agin now, afther what the masther an' I said to you. Hang it, can't you have discretion, and keep your tongue widin your teeth, on this business at any rate?"
"Is not Fenton in town?" asked the stranger.
"No, sir; he has neither been seen nor heard of since that night, and the people's beginin' to wonder what has become of him."
Here was a disappointment; just at the moment when he had determined, by seizing upon Fenton, with a view to claim him as the son of the late Sir Edward Gourlay, and the legitimate heir of Red Hall, in order, if it were legally possible, to bring about an investigation into the justice of those claims, it turned out that, as if in anticipation of his designs, the young man either voluntarily disappeared, or else was spirited forcibly away. How to act now he felt himself completely at a loss, but as two heads he knew were better than one, he resolved to see Father M'Mahon, and ask his opinion and advice upon this strange and mysterious occurrence. In the mean time, while he is on the way to visit that amiable and benevolent priest, we shall so far gratify the reader as to throw some light upon the unaccountable disappearance of the unfortunate Fenton.
Conception and Perpetration of a Diabolical Plot against Fenton.
Sir Thomas Gourlay was a man prompt and inexorable in following up his resolutions. On the night of Lucy's flight from Red Hall, he had concocted a plan which it was not his intention to put in execution for a day or two, as he had by no means made up his mind in what manner to proceed with it. On turning over the matter, however, a second time in his thoughts, and comparing the information which he had received from Crackenfudge respecting the stranger, and the allusion to the toothpick manufacturer, he felt morally certain that Fenton was his brother's son, and that by some means or other unknown to him he had escaped from the asylum in which he had been placed, and by some unaccountable fatality located himself in the town of Ballytrain, which, in fact, was a portion of his inheritance.
"I am wrong," thought he, "in deferring this project. There is not a moment to be lost. Some chance incident, some early recollection, even a sight of myself—for he saw me once or twice, to his cost—may awaken feelings which, by some unlucky association, might lead to a discovery. Curse on the cowardly scoundrel, Corbet, that did not take my hint, and put him at once and forever out of my path, sight, and hearing. But he had scruples, forsooth; and here now is the serpent unconsciously crossing my path. This is the third time he has escaped and broken out of bounds. Upon the two former I managed him myself, without a single witness; and, but that I had lost my own child—and there is a mystery I cannot penetrate—I would have—"
Here he rang the bell, and a servant entered.
"Send up Gillespie."
The servant, as usual, bowed, and Gillespie entered.
"Gillespie, there is a young fellow in Ballytrain, named—Fenton, I think?"
"Yes, your honor; he is half-mad, or whole mad, as a good many people think."
"I am told he is fond of liquor."
"He is seldom sober, Sir Thomas."
"Will you go into Ballytrain, and try to see him? But first see the butler, and desire him, by my orders, to give you a bottle of whiskey. I don't mean this moment, sirra," he said, for Gillespie was proceeding to take him instantly at his word.
"Listen, sir. See Fenton—lure him as quietly and secretly as you can out of town—bring him into some remote nook—"
"Sir Thomas, I beg your pardon," exclaimed Gillespie, getting pale; "if you mean that I should—"
"Silence, sir," replied the baronet, in his sternest and deepest voice; "hear me; bring him, if you can, to some quiet place, where you will both be free from observation; then produce your bottle and glass, and ply him with liquor until you have him drunk."
"It's very likely that I'll find him drunk as it is, sir; he is seldom otherwise."
"So much the better; you will have the less trouble. Well, when you have him sufficiently drunk, bring him to the back gate of the garden, which you will find unlocked; lodge him in the tool-house, ply him with more liquor, until he becomes helpless. In the meantime, lock the back gate after you—here is the key, which you can keep in your pocket. Having left him in the tool-house—in a sufficiently helpless state, mark—lock him in, put that key in your pocket, also; then get my travelling carriage ready, put to the horses, and when all this is done, come to me here; I shall then instruct you how and where to proceed. I shall also accompany you myself to the town of ———, after which you shall take a post-chaise, and proceed with this person to the place of his destination. Let none of the servants see you; and remember we are not to start from the garden gate until about twelve o'clock, or later."
Gillespie promised compliance, and, in fact, undertook the business with the greater alacrity, on hearing that there was to be a bottle of whiskey in the case. As he was leaving the room, however, Sir Thomas called him back, and said, with a frown which nobody could misunderstand, "Harkee, Gillespie, keep yourself strictly sober, and—oh yes, I had nearly forgotten it—try if there is a hard scar, as if left by a wound, under his chin, to the left side; and if you find none, have nothing to do with him. You understand, now, all I require of you?"
"Perfectly, your honor. But I may not be able to find this Fenton."
"That won't be your own fault, you must only try another time, when you may have better success. Observe, however, that if there is no scar under the left side of his chin, you are to let him pass—he is not the person in whom I feel interested, and whom I am determined to serve, if I can—even against his wishes. He is, I believe, the son of an old friend, and I will endeavor to have him restored to the perfect use of his reason, if human skill can effect it."
"That's very kind of you, Sir Thomas, and very few would do it," replied Gillespie, as he left the apartment, to fulfil his execrable mission.
Gillespie having put the bottle of strong spirits into his pocket, wrapped a great coat about him, and, by a subsequent hint from Sir Thomas, tied a large handkerchief across his face, in order the better to conceal his features, and set out on his way to Ballytrain.
It may be remarked with truth, that the projects of crime are frequently aided by those melancholy but felicitous contingencies, which, though unexpected and unlooked for, are calculated to enable the criminal to effect his wicked purposes with more facility and less risk. Gillespie, on the occasion in question, not only met Fenton within a short distance of the town, and in a lonely place, but also found him far advanced in a state of intoxication.
"Is this Mr. Fenton?" said he. "How do you do, Mr. Fenton? A beautiful night, sir."
"Yes, sir," replied the unfortunate young man; "it is Mr. Fenton, and you are a gentleman. Some folks now take the liberty of calling me Fenton, which is not only impudently familiar and ridiculous, but a proof that they do not know how to address a gentleman."
"You are leaving the town, it seems, Mr. Fenton?"
"Yes, there's a wake down in Killyfaddy, where there will be a superfluity, sir, of fun; and I like to see fun and sorrow associated. They harmonize, my friend—they concatenate."
"Mr. Fenton," proceeded Gillespie, "you are a young gentleman—"
"Yes, sir, that's the term. I am a gentleman. What can I do for you? I have rare interest among the great and powerful."
"I don't at all doubt it," replied Gillespie; "but I was go in' to say, sir, that you are a young gentleman that I have always respected very highly."
"Thanks, my friend, thanks."
"If it wouldn't be takin' a liberty, I'd ask a favor of you."
"Sir, you are a gentleman, and it should be granted. Name it."
"The night, sir, although a fine enough night, is a little sharp, for all that. Now, I happen to have a sup of as good liquor in my pocket as ever went down the red lane, and if we could only get a quiet sheltering spot, behind one of these ditches, we could try its pulse between us."
"The project is good and hospitable," replied poor Fenton, "and has my full concurrence."
"Well, then, sir," said the other, "will you be so good as to come along with me, and we'll make out some snug spot where I'll have the pleasure of drinkin' your honor's health."
"Good again," replied the unlucky dupe; "upon my soul you're an excellent fellow; Proceed, I attend you. The liquor's good, you say?"
"Betther was never drank, your honor."
"Very well, sir, I believe you. We shall soon, however, put the truth of that magnificent assertion to the test; and besides, sir, it will be an honor for you to share your bottle with a gentleman."
In a few minutes they reached a quiet little dell, by which there led a private pathway, open only to the inmates of Red Hall when passing to or from the town, and which formed an agreeable and easy shortcut when any hurried message was necessary. This path came out upon an old road which ran behind the garden, and joined the larger thoroughfare, about a quarter of a mile beyond it.
In a sheltered little cul de sac, between two white-thorn hedges, they took their seats; and Gillespie having pulled out his bottle and glass, began to ply the luckless young man with the strong liquor. And an easy task he found it; for Fenton resembled thousands, who, when the bounds of moderation are once passed, know not when to restrain themselves. It would be both painful and disagreeable to dwell upon the hellish iniquity of this merciless and moral murder; it is enough to say that, having reduced the young man to the precise condition which was necessary for his purpose, this slavish and unprincipled ruffian, as Delahunt did with his innocent victim, deliberately put his hand to his throat, or, rather, to the left side of his neck, and there found beyond all doubt a large welt, or cicatrice, precisely as had been described by Sir Thomas. After the space of about two hours—for Gillespie was anxious to prolong the time as much as possible—he assisted Fenton, now unable to walk without support, and completely paralyzed in his organs of speech, along the short and solitary path to the back gate of the garden.. He opened it, dragged Fenton in like a dog whom he was about to hang, but still the latter seemed disposed to make some unconscious and instinctive resistance. It was to no purpose, however. The poor young man was incapable of resistance, either by word or deed. In a short time they reached the tool-house, where he threw Fenton on a heap of apples, like a bag, and left him to lie in cold and darkness, as if he were some noxious animal, whom it would be dangerous to set at large. He then locked the door, put the key in his pocket, and went to acquaint the baronet with the success of his mission.
The latter, on understanding from Gillespie that Fenton was not only secured, but that his suspicions as to his identity were correct, desired him to have the carriage ready in the course of about an hour. He had already written a letter, containing a liberal enclosure, to the person into whose merciless hands he was about to commit him. In the meantime, it is impossible to describe the confused character of his feelings—the tempest, the tornado of passions, that swept through his dark and ambitious spirit.
"This is the third time," he thought to himself, as he paced the room in such a state of stormy agitation as reacted upon himself, and tilled him with temporary alarm. His heart beat powerfully, his pulsations were strong and rapid, and his brain felt burning and tumultuous. Occasional giddiness also seized him, accompanied by weakness about the knee-joints, and hoarseness in the throat. In fact, once or twice he felt as if he were about to fall. In this state he hastily gulped down two or three large glasses of Madeira, which was his favorite wine, and he felt his system more intensely strung.
"That woman," said he, alluding to Lady Gourlay, "has taken her revenge by destroying my son. There can be no doubt of that. And what now prevents me from crushing this viper forever? If my daughter were not with me, it should be done; yes, I would do it silently and secretly, ay, and surely, with my own hand. I would have blood for blood. What, however, if the mur—if the act came to light! Then I must suffer; my daughter is involved in my infamy, and all my dreams for her aggrandizement come to worse than nothing. But I know not how it is, I fear that girl. Her moral ascendency, as they call it, is so dreadful to me, that I often feel as if I hated her. What right has she to subjugate a spirit like mine, by the influence of her sense of honor and her virtuous principles? or to school me to my face by her example? I am not a man disposed to brook inferiority, yet she sometimes makes me feel as if I were a monster. However, she is a fool, and talks of happiness as if it were anything but a chimera or a dream. Is she herself happy? I would be glad to see the mortal that is. Do her virtues make her happy? No. Then where is the use of this boasted virtue, if it will not procure that happiness after which all are so eager in pursuit, but which none has ever yet attained? Was Christ, who is said to have been spotless, happy? No; he was a man of sorrows. Away, then, with this cant of virtue. It is a shadow, a deception; a thing, like religion, that has no existence, but takes our senses, our interests, and our passions, and works with them under its own mask. Yet why am I afraid of my daughter? and why do I, in my heart, reverence her as a being so far superior to myself? Why is it that I could murder—ay, murder—this worthless object that thrust himself, or would thrust himself, or might thrust himself, between me and the hereditary honors of my name, were it not that her very presence, if I did it, would, I feel, overpower and paralyze me with a sense of my guilt? Yet I struck her—I struck her; but her spirit trampled mine in the dust—she humiliated me. Away! I am not like other men. Yet for her sake this miserable wretch shall live. I will not imbrue my hands in his blood, but shall place him where he will never cross me more. It is one satisfaction to me, and security besides, that he knows neither his real name nor lineage; and now he shall enter this establishment under a new one. As for Lucy, she shall be Countess of Cullamore, if she or I should die for it."
He then swallowed another glass of wine, and was about to proceed to the stables, when a gentle tap came to the door, and Gillespie presented himself.
"All's ready, your honor."
"Very well, Gillespie. I shall go with you to see that all is right, In the course of a few minutes will you bring the carriage round to the back gate? The horses are steady, and will remain there while we conduct him down to it. Have you a dark lantern?"
"I have, your honor."
Both then proceeded toward the stables. The baronet perceived that everything was correct; and having seen Gillespie, who was his coachman, mount the seat, he got into the carriage, and got out again at the door of the tool-house, where poor Fenton lay. After unlocking the door, for he had got the key from Gillespie, he entered, and cautiously turning the light of the lantern in the proper direction, discovered his unhappy victim, stretched cold and apparently lifeless.
Alas, what a melancholy picture lay before him! Stretched upon some apples that were scattered over the floor, he found the unhappy young man in a sleep that for the moment resembled the slumber of the dead. His hat had fallen off, and on his pale and emaciated temples seemed indeed to dwell the sharp impress of approaching death. It appeared, nevertheless, that his rest had not been by any means unbroken, nor so placid as it then appeared to be; for the baronet could observe that he must have been weeping in his sleep, as his eyelids were surcharged with tears that had not yet had time to dry. The veins in his temples were blue, and as fine as silk; and over his whole countenance was spread an expression of such hopeless sorrow and misery as was sufficient to soften the hardest heart that ever beat in human bosom. One touch of nature came over even that of the baronet. "No," said he, "I could not take his life. The family likeness is obvious, and the resemblance to his cousin Lucy is too strong to permit me to shed his blood; but I will secure him so that he shall never cross my path again. He will not, however, cross it long," he added to himself, after another pause, "for the stamp of death is upon his face."
Gillespie now entered, and seizing Fenton, dragged him up upon his legs, the baronet in the meantime turning the light of the lantern aside. The poor fellow, being properly neither asleep nor awake, made no resistance, and without any trouble they brought him down to the back gate, putting him into the coach, Sir Thomas entering with him, and immediately drove off, about half-past twelve at night, their victim having fallen asleep again almost as soon as he entered the carriage.
The warmth of the carriage, and the comfort of its cushioned sides and seat occasioned his sleep to become more natural and refreshing. The consequence was, that he soon began to exhibit symptoms of awakening. At first he groaned deeply, as if under the influence of physical pain, or probably from the consciousness of some apprehension arising from the experience of what he had already suffered. By and by the groan subsided to a sigh, whose expression was so replete with misery and dread, that it might well have touched and softened any heart. As yet, however, the fumes of intoxication had not departed, and his language was so mingled with the feeble delirium resulting from it, and the terrors arising from the situation in which he felt himself placed, that it was not only wild and melancholy by turns, but often scarcely intelligible. Still it was evident that one great apprehension absorbed all his other thoughts and sensations, and seemed, whilst it lasted, to bury him in the darkness of despair.
"Hold!" he exclaimed; "where am I?—what is this? Let me see, or, rather, let me feel where I am, for that is the more appropriate expression, considering that I am in utter obscurity. What is this, I ask again? Is my hospitable friend with me? he with whom I partook of that delicious liquor under 'the greenwood-tree'?"
He then searched about, and in doing so his hands came necessarily in contact with the bulky person of the baronet. "What!" he proceeded, supposing still that it was Gillespie, "is this you, my friend?—but I take that fact for granted. Sir, you are a gentleman, and know how to address a gentleman with proper respect; but how is this, you have on your hat? Sir, you forget yourself—uncover, and remember you are in my presence."
As he uttered the words, he seized the baronet's hat, tore it forcibly off, and, in doing so, accidentally removed a mask which that worthy gentleman had taken the precaution to assume, in order to prevent himself from being recognized.
"Ha!" exclaimed Fenton, with something like a shriek—"a mask! Oh, my God! This mysterious enemy is upon me! I am once more caught in his toils! What have I done to deserve this persecution? I am innocent of all offence—all guilt. My life has been one of horror and of suffering indescribable, but not of crime; and although they say I am insane, I know there is a God above who will render me justice, and my oppressor justice, and who knows that I have given offence to none.
There is a bird that sings alone—heigh ho! And every note is but a tone of woe. Heigh ho!"
The baronet grasped his wrist tightly with one hand—and both feeble and attenuated was that poor wrist—the baronet, we say, grasped it, and in an instant had regained possession of the mask, which he deliberately replaced on his face, after which he seized the unfortunate young man by the neck, and pressed it with such force as almost to occasion suffocation. Still he (Sir Thomas) uttered not a syllable, a circumstance which in the terrified mind of his unhappy victim caused his position as well as that of his companion to assume a darker, and consequently a more terrible mystery.
"Ah!" he exclaimed, in a low and trembling voice, "I know you now. You are the stranger who came to stop in the 'Mitre.' Yes, you came down to stop in the 'Mitre.' I know you by your strong grasp. I care not, however, for your attempt to strangle me. I forgive you—I pardon you; and I will tell you why—treat me as violently as you may—I feel that there is goodness in your face, and mercy in your heart. But I did see a face, one day, in the inn," he added, in a voice that gradually became quite frantic—"a face that was dark, damnable, and demoniac—oh, oh! may God of heaven ever preserve me from seeing that face again!" he exclaimed, shuddering wildly. "Open me up the shrouded graves, my friend; I will call you so notwithstanding what has happened, for I still think you are a gentleman; open me up, I say, the shrouded graves—set me among the hideous dead, in all their ghastly and loathsome putrefaction—lay me side by side with the sweltering carcass of the gibbeted murderer—give me such a vision, and expose me to the anger of the Almighty when raging in his vengeance; or, if there be a pitch of horror still beyond this, then I say—mark me, my friend—then I say, open me up all hell at full work—hissing, boiling, bubbling, scalding, roasting, frying, scorching, blazing, burning, but ever-consuming hell, sir, I say, in full operation—the whole dark and penal machinery in full play—open it up—there they are—the yell, the scream, the blasphemy, the shout, the torture, the laughter of despair—with the pleasing consciousness that all this is to be eternal; hark ye, sir, open me up a view of this aforesaid spectacle upon the very brow of perdition, and having allowed me time to console myself by a contemplation of it, fling me, soul and body, into the uttermost depths of its howling tortures; do any or all of these things, sooner than let me have a sight of that face again—it bears such a terrible resemblance to that which blighted me."
He then paused for a little, and seemed as if about to sink into a calmer and more thoughtful mood—at least the baronet inferred as much from his silence. The latter still declined to speak, for he felt perfectly aware, from this incoherent outburst, that although Fenton had seen him only two or three times, many years ago, when the unfortunate young man was scarcely a boy, yet he had often heard his voice, and he consequently avoided every possibility of giving the former a clew to his identity. At length Fenton broke silence.
"What was I saying?" he asked. "Did I talk of that multitudinous limbo called hell? Well, who knows, perhaps there may be a general jail delivery there yet; but talking of the thing, I assure you, sir, I feel a portion of its tortures. Like Dives—no, not like the rich and hardened glutton—I resemble him in nothing but my sufferings. Oh! a drink, a drink—water, water—my tongue, my mouth, my throat, my blood, my brain, are all on fire?"
Oh, false ambition, to what mean and despicable resources, to what low and unscrupulous precautions dost thou stoop in order to accomplish thy selfish, dishonest, and heartless designs! The very gratification of this expected thirst had been provided for and anticipated. As Fenton spoke, the baronet took from one of the coach pockets a large flask of spirits and water, which he instantly, but without speaking, placed in the scorching wretch's hands, who without a moment's hesitation, put it to his lips and emptied it at one long, luxurious draught.
"Thanks, friend," he then exclaimed; "I have been agreeably mistaken in you, I find. You are—you must be—no other than my worthy host of the 'Hedge.' Poor Dives! D—n the glutton; after all, I pity him, and would fain hope that he has got relief by this time. As for Lazarus, I fear that his condition in life was no better than it deserved. If he had been a trump, now, and anxious to render good for evil, he would have dropped a bottle of aquapura to the suffering glutton, for if worthy Dives did nothing else, he fed the dogs that licked the old fellow's sores. Fie, for shame, old Lazarus, d—n me, if I had you back again, but we'd teach you sympathy for Dives; and how so, my friend of the hawthorn—why, we'd send him to the poor-house,* or if that wouldn't do, to the mad-house—to the mad-house. Oh, my God—my God! what is this? Where are you bringing me, sir? but I know—I feel it—this destiny that's over me!"
* It is to be presumed, that Fenton speaks here from his English experience. We find no poor-houses at the time.
He again became silent for a time, but during the pause, we need scarcely say, that the pernicious draught began to operate with the desired effect.
"That mask," he then added, as if speaking to himself, "bodes me nothing but terror and persecution, and all this in a Christian country, where there are religion and laws—at least, they say so—as for raypart, I could never discover them. However, it matters not, let us clap a stout heart to a steep brae, and we may jink them and blink them yet; that's all.
There was a little bird, a very little bird, And a very little bird was he; And he sang his little song all the summer day long, On a branch of the fair green-wood tree. Heigh ho!"
This little touch of melody, which he sang to a sweet and plaintive air, seemed to produce a feeling of mournfulness and sorrow in his spirit, for although the draught he had taken was progressing fast in its operations upon his intellect, still it only assumed a new and more affecting shape, and occasioned that singular form and ease of expression which may be observed in many under the influence of similar stimulants.
"Well," he proceeded, "I will soon go home; that is one consolation! There is a sickness, my friend, whoever you are, at my heart here, and in what does that sickness consist? I will tell you—in the memory of some beautiful dreams that I had when a child or little-boy: I remember something about green fields, groves, dark mountains, and summer rivers flowing sweetly by. This now, to be sure, is a feeling which but few can understand. It is called homesickness, and assumes different aspects, my worthy friend. Sometimes it is a yearning after immortality, which absorbs and consumes the spirit, and then we die and go to enjoy that which we have pined for. Now, my worthy mute friend, mark me, in my case the malady is not so exalted. I only want my green fields, my dark mountains, my early rivers, with liberty to tread them for a brief space. There lies over them in my imagination—there does, my worthy and most taciturn friend, upon my soul there does—a golden light so clear, so pure, so full of happiness, that I question whether that of heaven itself will surpass it in radiance. But now I am caged once more, and will never see anything even like them again."
The poor young man then wept for a couple of minutes, after which he added, "Yes, sir, this is at once my malady and my hope. You see, then, I am not worth a plot, nor would it be a high-minded or honorable act for any gentleman to conspire against one who is nobody's enemy, but appears to have all the world against him. Yes, and they thought when I used to get into my silent moods that I was mad. No, but I was in heaven, enjoying, as I said, my mountains, my rivers, and my green fields. I was in heaven, I say, and walked in the light of heaven, for I was a little boy once more, and saw its radiance upon them, as I used to do long ago. But do you know what occurs to me this moment, most taciturn?" He added, after a short pause, being moved, probably, by one of those quick and capricious changes to which both the intoxicated and insane are proverbially liable: "It strikes me, that you probably are descended from the man in the iron mask—ha—ha—ha! Or stay, was there ever such a thing in this benevolent and humane world of ours as a man with an iron heart? If so, who knows, then, but you may date your ancestry from him? Ay, right enough; we are in a coach, I think, and going—going—going to—to—to—ah, where to? I know—oh, my God—we are going to—to—to——" and here poor Fenton once more fell asleep, as was evident by his deep but oppressive breathing.
Now the baronet, although he maintained a strict silence during their journey, a silence which it was not his intention to break, made up for this cautious taciturnity by thought and those reflections which originated from his designs upon Fenton. He felt astonished, in the first place, at the measures, whatever they might have been, by which the other must have obtained means of escaping from the asylum to which he had been committed with such strict injunctions as to his secure custody. It occurred to him, therefore, that by an examination of his pockets he might possibly ascertain some clew to this circumstance, and as the man was not overburdened with much conscience or delicacy, he came to the determination, as Fenton was once more dead asleep, to search for and examine whatever papers he should find about him, if any. For this purpose he ignited a match—such as they had in those days—and with this match lit up a small dark lantern, the same to which we have already alluded. Aided by its light, he examined the sleeping young man's pockets, in which he felt very little, in the shape of either money or papers, that could compensate him for this act of larceny. In a breast-pocket, however, inside his waistcoat, he found pinned to the lining a note—a pound note—on the back of which was jotted a brief memorandum of the day on which it was written, and the person from whom he had received it. To this was added a second memorandum, in the following words: "Mem. This note may yet be useful to myself if I could get a sincere friend that would find out the man whose name—Thomas Skipton—is written here upon it. He is the man I want, for I know his signature."
No sooner had the baronet read these lines, than he examined the several names on the note, and on coming to one which was underlined evidently by the same ink that was used by Fenton in the memoranda, his eyes gleamed with delight, and he waved it to and fro with a grim and hideous triumph, such as the lurid light of his foul principles flashing through such eyes, and animating such features as his, could only express.
"Unhappy wretch," thought he, looking upon his unconscious victim, "it is evident that you are doomed; this man is the only individual living over whom I have no control, that could give any trace of you; neither of the other two, for their own sakes, dare speak. Even fate is against you; that fate which has consigned this beggarly representative of wealth to my hands, through your own instrumentality. I now feel confident; nay, I am certain that my projects will and must succeed. The affairs of this world are regulated unquestionably by the immutable decrees of destiny. What is to be will be; and I, in putting this wretched, drunken, mad, and besotted being out of my way, am only an instrument in the hands of that destiny myself. The blame then is not mine, but that of the law which constrains—forces me to act the part I am acting, a part which was allotted to me from the beginning; and this reflection fills me with consolation."
He then re-examined the note, put it into a particular fold of his pocket-book which had before been empty, in order to keep it distinct, and once more thrusting it into his pocket, buttoned it carefully up, extinguished the lantern, and laid himself back in the corner of the carriage, in which position he reclined, meditating upon the kind partiality of destiny in his favor, the virtuous tendencies of his own ambition, and the admirable, because successful, means by which he was bringing them about.
In this manner they proceeded until they reached the entrance of the next town, when the baronet desired Gillespie to stop. "Go forward," said he, "and order a chaise and pair without delay. I think, however, you will find them ready for you; and if Corbet is there, desire him to return with you. He has already had his instructions. I am sick of this work, Gillespie; and I assure you it is not for the son of a common friend that I would forego my necessary rest, to sit at such an hour with a person who is both mad and drunk. What is friendship, however, if we neglect its duties? Care and medical skill may enable this unfortunate young man to recover his reason, and take a respectable position in the world yet. Go now and make no delay. I shall take charge of this poor fellow and the horses until you return. But, mark me, my name is not to be breathed to mortal, under a penalty that you will find a dreadful one, should you incur it."
"Never fear, your honor," replied Gillespie; "I am not the man to betray trust; and indeed, few gentlemen of your rank, as I said, would go so far for the son of an auld friend. I'll lose no time, Sir Thomas." Sir Thomas, we have had occasion to say more than once, was quick and energetic in all his resolutions, and beyond doubt, the fact that Gillespie found Corbet ready and expecting him on this occasion, fully corroborates our opinion.
Indeed, it was his invariable habit, whenever he found that more than one agent or instrument was necessary, to employ them, as far as was possible, independently of each other. For instance, he had not at all communicated to Gillespie the fact of his having engaged Corbet in the matter, nor had the former any suspicion of it until he now received the first hint from Sir Thomas himself. A chaise and pair in less than five minutes drove gently, but with steady pace, back to the spot where the baronet stood at the head of his horses, watching the doors of the carriage on each side every quarter of a minute, lest by any possible chance his victim might escape him. Of this, however, there was not the slightest danger; poor Fenton's sleep, like that of almost all drunken men, having had in it more of stupor than of ordinary and healthful repose.
We have informed our readers that the baronet was not without a strong tinge of superstition, notwithstanding his religious infidelity, and his belief in the doctrine of fate and necessity. On finding himself alone at that dead and dreary hour of the night—half-past two—standing under a shady range of tall trees that met across the road, and gave a character of extraordinary gloom and solitude to the place, he began to experience that vague and undefined terror which steals over the mind from an involuntary apprehension of the supernatural. A singular degree of uneasiness came over him: he coughed, he hemmed, in order to break the death-like stillness in which he stood. He patted the horses, he rubbed his hand down their backs, but felt considerable surprise and terror on finding that they both trembled, and seemed by their snorting and tremors to partake of his own sensations. Under such terrors there is nothing that extinguishes a man's courage so much as the review of an ill-spent life, or the reproaches of an evil conscience. Sir Thomas Gourlay could not see and feel, for the moment, the criminal iniquity of his black and ungodly ambition, and the crimes into which it involved him. Still, the consciousness of the flagitious project in which he was engaged against the unoffending son of his brother, the influence of the hour, and the solitude in which he stood, together with the operation upon his mind of some unaccountable fear apart from that of personal violence—all, when united, threw him into a commotion that resulted from such a dread as intimated that something supernatural must be near him. He was seized by a violent shaking of the limbs, the perspiration burst from every pore; and as he patted the horses a second time for relief, he again perceived that their terrors were increasing and keeping pace with his own. At length, his hair fairly stood, and his excitement was nearly as high as excitement of such a merely ideal character could go, when he thought he heard a step—a heavy, solemn, unearthly step—that sounded as if there was something denouncing and judicial in the terrible emphasis with which it went to his heart, or rather to his conscience. Without having the power to restrain himself, he followed with his eyes this symbolical tread as it seemed to approach the coach door on the side at which he stood. This was the more surprising and frightful, as, although he heard the tramp, yet he could for the moment see nothing in the shape of either figure or form, from which he could resolve what he had heard into a natural sound. At length, as he stood almost dissolved in terror, he thought that an indistinct, or rather an unsubstantial figure stood at the carriage-door, looked in for a moment, and then bent his glance at him, with a severe and stem expression; after which, it began to rub out or efface a certain portion of the armorial bearings, which he had added to his heraldic coat in right of his wife. The noise of the chaise approaching now reached his ears, and he turned as a relief to ascertain if Gillespie and Corbet were near him. As far as he could judge, they were about a couple of hundred yards off, and this discovery recalled his departed courage; he turned his eyes once more to the carriage-door, but to his infinite relief could perceive nothing. A soft, solemn, mournful blast, however, somewhat like a low moan, amounting almost to a wail, crept through the trees under which he stood; and after it had subsided—whether it was fact or fancy cannot now be known—he thought he heard the same step slowly, and, as it were with a kind of sorrowful anger, retreating in the distance.
"If mortal spirit," he exclaimed as they approached, "ever was permitted to return to this earth, that form was the spirit of my mortal brother. This, however," he added, but only in thought, when they came up to him, and after he had regained his confidence by their presence, "this is all stuff—nothing but solitude and its associations acting upon the nerves; thus enabling us, as we think, to see the very forms created only by our fears, and which, apart from them, have no existence."
The men and the chaise were now with him—Gillespie on horseback, that is to say, he was to bring back the same animal on which Sir Thomas had secretly despatched Corbet from Red Hall to the town of ———, for the purpose of having the chaise ready, and conducting Fenton to his ultimate destination. The poor young man's transfer from the carriage to the chaise was quickly and easily effected. Several large flasks of strong spirits and water were also transferred along with him.
"Now, Corbet," observed Sir Thomas apart to him, "you have full instructions how to act; and see that you carry them out to the letter. You will find no difficulty in keeping this person in a state of intoxication all the way. Go back to ———, engage old Bradbury to drive the chaise, for, although deaf and stupid, he is an excellent driver. Change the chaise and horses, however, as often as you can, so as that it may be difficult, if not impossible, to trace the route you take. Give Benson, who, after all, is the prince of mad doctors, the enclosure which you have in the blank cover; and tell him, he shall have an annuity to the same amount, whether this fellow lives or dies. Mark me, Corbet—whether his charge lives or dies. Repeat these words to him twice, as I have done to you. Above all things, let him keep him safe—safe—safe. Remember, Corbet, that our family have been kind friends to yours. I, therefore, have trusted you all along in this matter, and calculate upon your confidence as a grateful and honest man, as well as upon your implicit obedience to every order I have given you. I myself shall drive home the carriage; and when we get near Red Hall, Gillespie can ride forward, have his horse put up, and the stable and coachhouse doors open, so that everything tomorrow morning may look as if no such expedition had taken place."
They then separated; Corbet to conduct poor Fenton to his dreary cell in a mad-house, and Sir Thomas to seek that upon which, despite his most ambitious projects, he had been doomed all his life to seek after in vain—rest on an uneasy pillow.
CHAPTER XVII. A Scene in Jemmy Trailcudgel's
—Retributive Justice, or the Robber robbed.
In the days of which we write, travelling was a very different process from what it is at present. Mail-coaches and chaises were the only vehicles then in requisition, with the exception of the awkward gingles, buggies, and other gear of that nondescript class which were peculiar to the times, and principally confined to the metropolis. The result of this was, that travellers, in consequence of the slow jog-trot motion of those curious and inconvenient machines, were obliged, in order to transact their business with something like due dispatch, to travel both by night and day. In this case, as in others, the cause produced the effect; or rather, we should say, the temptation occasioned the crime. Highway-robbery was frequent; and many a worthy man—fat farmer and wealthy commoner—was eased of his purse in despite of all his armed precautions and the most sturdy resistance. The poorer classes, in every part of the country, were, with scarcely an exception, the friends of those depredators; by whom, it is true, they were aided against oppression, and assisted in their destitution, as a compensation for connivance and shelter whenever the executive authorities were in pursuit of them. Most of these robberies, it is true, were the result of a loose and disorganized state of society, and had their direct origin from oppressive and unequal laws, badly or partially administered. Robbery, therefore, in its general character, was caused, not so much by poverty, as from a desperate hatred of those penal statutes which operated for punishment but not for protection. Our readers may not feel surprised, then, when we assure them that the burgler and highway-robber looked upon this infamous habit as a kind of patriotic and political profession, rather than a crime; and it is well known that within the last century the sons of even decent farmers were bound apprentices to this flagitious craft, especially to that of horse stealing, which was then reduced to a system of most extraordinary ingenuity and address. Still, there were many poor wretches who, sunk in the deepest destitution, and contaminated by a habit which familiarity had deprived in their eyes of much of its inherent enormity, scrupled not to relieve their distresses by having recourse to the prevalent usage of the country.
Having thrown out these few preparatory observations, we request our readers to follow us to the wretched cabin of a man whose nom de guerre was that of Jemmy Trailcudgel—a name that was applied to him, as the reader may see, in consequence of the peculiar manner in which he carried the weapon aforesaid. Trailcudgel was a man of enormous personal strength and surprising courage, and had distinguished himself as the leader of many a party and faction fight in the neighboring fairs and markets. He had been, not many years before, in tolerably good circumstances, as a tenant under Sir Thomas Gourlay; and as that gentleman had taken it into his head that his tenantry were bound, as firmly as if there had been a clause to that effect in their leases, to bear patiently and in respectful silence, the imperious and ribald scurrility which in a state of resentment, he was in the habit of pouring upon them, so did he lose few opportunities of making them feel, for the most-trivial causes, all the irresponsible insolence of the strong and vindictive tyrant. Now, Jemmy Trailcudgel was an honest man, whom every one liked; but he was also a man of spirit, whom, in another sense, most people feared. Among his family he was a perfect child in affection and tenderness—loving, playful, and simple as one of themselves. Yet this man, affectionate, brave, and honest, because he could not submit in silence and without vindication, to the wanton and overbearing violence of his landlord, was harassed by a series of persecutions, under the pretended authority of law, until he and his unhappy family were driven to beggary—almost to despair.
"Trailcudgel," said Sir Thomas to him one day that he had sent for him in a fury, "by what right and authority, sirra, did you dare to cut turf on that part of the bog called Berwick's Bank?"
"Upon the right and authority of my lease, Sir Thomas," replied Trailcudgel; "and with great respect, sir, you had neither right nor authority for settin' my bog, that I'm payin' you rent for, to another tenant."
The baronet grew black in the face, as he always did when in a passion, and especially when replied to.
"You are a lying scoundrel, sirra," continued the other; "the bog does not belong to you, and I will set it to the devil if I like."
"I know nobody so fit to be your tenant," replied Trailcudgel. "But I am no scoundrel, Sir Thomas," added the independent fellow, "and there's very few dare tell me so but yourself."
"What, you villain! do you contradict me? do you bandy words and looks with me?" asked the baronet, his rage deepening at Trailcudgel's audacity in having replied at all.
"Villain!" returned his gigantic tenant, in a voice of thunder. "You called me a scoundrel, sirra, and you have called me a villain, sirra, now I tell you to your teeth, you're a liar—I am neither villain nor scoundrel; but you're both; and if I hear another word of insolence out of your foul and lying mouth, I'll thrash you as I would a shafe of whate or oats."
The black hue of the baronet's rage changed to a much modester tint; he looked upon the face of the sturdy yeoman, now flushed with honest resentment; he looked upon the eye that was kindled at once into an expression of resolution and disdain; and turning on his toe, proceeded at a pace by no means funereal to the steps of the hall-door, and having ascended them, he turned round and said, in a very mild and quite a gentlemanly tone,
"Oh, very well, Mr. Trailcudgel; very well, indeed. I have a memory, Mr. Trailcudgel—I have a memory. Good morning!"
"Betther for you to have a heart," replied Trailcudgel; "what you never had."
Having uttered these words he departed, conscious at the same time, from his knowledge of his landlord's unrelenting malignity, that his own fate was sealed, and his ruin accomplished. And he was right. In the course of four years after their quarrel, Trailcudgel found himself, and his numerous family, in the scene of destitution to which we are about to conduct the indulgent reader.
We pray you, therefore, gentle reader, to imagine yourself in a small cabin, where there are two beds—that is to say, two scanty portions of damp straw, spread out thinly upon a still damper foot of earth, in a portion of which the foot sinks when walking over it. The two beds—each what is termed a shake down—have barely covering enough to preserve the purposes of decency, but not to communicate the usual and necessary warmth. In consequence of the limited area of the cabin floor they are not far removed from each other. Upon a little three-legged stool, between them, burns a dim rush candle, whose light is so exceedingly feeble that it casts ghastly and death-like shadows over the whole inside of the cabin. That family consists of nine persons, of whom five are lying ill of fever, as the reader, from the nature of their bedding, may have already anticipated—for we must observe here, that the epidemic was rife at the time. Food of any description has not been under that roof for more than twenty-four hours. They are all in bed but one. A low murmur, that went to the heart of that one, with a noise which seemed to it louder and more terrible than the deepest peal that ever thundered through the firmament of heaven—a low murmur, we say, of this description, arose from the beds, composed of those wailing sounds that mingle together as they proceed from the lips of weakness, pain, and famine, until they form that many-toned, incessant, and horrible voice of multiplied misery, which falls upon the ear with the echoes of the grave, and upon the heart as something wonderful in the accents of God, or, as we may suppose the voice of the accusing angel to be, whilst recording before His throne the official inhumanity of councils and senates, who harden their hearts and shut their ears to "the cry of the poor."
Seated upon a second little stool was a man of huge stature, clothed, if we can say I so, with rags, contemplating the misery around him, and having no sounds to listen to but the low, ceaseless wail of pain and suffering which we have described. His features, once manly and handsome, are now sharp and hollow; his beard is grown; his lips are white; and his eyes without I speculation, unless when lit up into an occasional blaze of fire, that seemed to proceed as much from the paroxysms of approaching insanity as from the terrible scene which surrounds him, as well as from his own I wolfish desire for food. His cheek bones project fearfully, and his large temples seem, by the ghastly skin which is drawn tight about them, to remind one of those of a skeleton, were it not that the image is made still more appalling by the existence of life. Whilst in this position, motionless as a statue, a voice from one of the beds called out "Jemmy," with a tone so low and feeble that to other ears it would probably not have been distinctly audible. He went to the bedside, and taking the candle in his hand, said, in a voice that had lost its strength but not its tenderness:
"Well, Mary dear?"
"Jemmy," said she, for it was his wife who had called him, "my time has come. I must lave you and them at last."
"Thanks be to the Almighty," he exclaimed, fervently; "and don't be surprised, darlin' of my life, that I spake as I do. Ah, Mary dear," he proceeded, with, a wild and bitter manner, "I never thought that my love for you would make me say such words, or wish to feel you torn out of my breakin' heart; but I know how happy the change will be for you, as well as the sufferers you are lavin' behind you. Death now is our only consolation."
"It cannot be that God, who knows the kind and affectionate heart you have, an' ever had," replied his dying wife, "will neglect you and them long,"—but she answered with difficulty. "We were very happy," she proceeded, slowly, however, and with pain; "for, hard as the world was of late upon us, still we had love and affection among ourselves; and that, Jemmy, God in his goodness left us, blessed be his—his—holy name—an' sure it was betther than all he took from us. I hope poor Alley will recover; she's now nearly a girl, an' will be able to take care of you and be a mother to the rest. I feel that my tongue's gettin' wake; God bless you and them, an', above all, her—for she was our darlin' an' our life, especially yours. Raise me up a little," she added, "till I take a last look at them before I go." He did so, and after casting her languid eyes mournfully over the wretched sleepers, she added: "Well, God is good, but this is a bitther sight for a mother's heart. Jemmy," she proceeded, "I won't be long by myself in heaven; some of them will be with me soon—an' oh, what a joyful meeting will that be. But it's you I feel for most—it's you I'm loath to lave, light of my heart. Howsomever, God's will be done still. He sees we can't live here, an' He's takin' us to himself. Don't, darlin', don't kiss me, for fraid you might catch this fav——"
She held his hand in hers during this brief and tender dialogue, but on attempting to utter the last word he felt a gentle pressure, then a slight relaxation, and on holding the candle closer to her emaciated face—which still bore those dim traces of former beauty, that, in many instances, neither sickness nor death can altogether obliterate—he stooped and wildly kissed her now passive lips, exclaiming, in words purposely low, that the other inmates of the cabin might not hear them:
"A million favers, my darlin' Mary, would not prevent me from kissin' your lips, that will never more be opened with words of love and kindness to my heart. Oh, Mary, Mary! little did I drame that it would be in such a place, and in such a way, that you'd lave me and them."
He had hardly spoken, when one of the little ones, awaking, said:
"Daddy, come here, an' see what ails Alley; she won't spake to me."
"She's asleep, darlin', I suppose," he replied; "don't spake so loud, or you'll waken her."
"Ay, but she's as could as any tiling," continued the little one; "an'I can't rise her arm to put it about me the way it used to be."
Her father went over, and placing' the dim light close to her face, as he had done to that of her mother, perceived at a glance, that when the spirit of that affectionate mother—of that faithful wife—went to happiness, she had one kindred soul there to welcome her.
The man, whom we need not name to the reader, now stood in the centre of his "desolate hearth," and it was indeed a fearful thing to contemplate the change which the last few minutes had produced on his appearance. His countenance ceased to manifest any expression of either grief or sorrow; his brows became knit, and fell with savage and determined gloom, not unmingled with fury, over his eyes, that now blazed like coals of lire. His lips, too, became tight and firm, and were pressed closely together, unconsciously and without effort. In this mood, we say, he gazed about him, his heart smote with sorrow and affliction, whilst it boiled with indignation and fury. "Thomas Gourlay," he exclaimed—"villain—oppressor—murdherer—devil—this is your work! but I here entreat the Almighty God "—he droppe'd on his knees as he spoke—"never to suffer you to lave this world till he taches you that he can take vengeance for the poor." Looking around him once more, he lit a longer rushlight, and placed it in the little wooden candlestick, which had a slit at the top, into which the rush was pressed. Proceeding then to the lower corner of the cabin, he put up his hand to the top of the side wall, from which he took down a large stick, or cudgel, having a strong leathern thong in the upper part, within about six inches of the top. Into this thong he thrust his hand, and twisting it round his wrist, in order that no accident or chance blow might cause him to lose his grip of it, he once more looked upon this scene of unexampled wretchedness and sorrow, and pulling his old caubeen over his brow, left the cabin.
It is altogether impossible to describe the storm of conflicting passions and emotions that raged and jostled against each other within him. Sorrow—a sense of relief—on behalf of those so dear to him, who had been rescued from such misery; the love which he bore them now awakened into tenfold affection and tenderness by their loss; the uncertain fate of his other little brood, who were ill, but still living; then the destitution—the want of all that could nourish or sustain them—the furious ravenings of famine, which he himself felt—and the black, hopeless, impenetrable future—all crowded, upon his heart, swept through his frantic imagination, and produced those maddening but unconscious impulses, under the influence of which great crimes are frequently committed, almost before their perpetrator is aware of his having committed them.
Trailcudgel, on leaving his cabin, cared not whither he went; but, by one of those instincts which direct the savage to the peculiar haunts where its prey may be expected, and guides the stupid drunkard to his own particular dwelling, though unconscious even of his very existence at the time—like either, or both, of these, he went on at as rapid a pace as his weakness would permit, being quite ignorant of his whereabouts until he felt himself on the great highway. He looked at the sky now with an interest he had never felt before. The night was exceedingly dark, but calm and warm. An odd star here and there presented itself, and he felt glad at this, for it removed the monotony of the darkness.
"There," said he to himself, "is the place where Mary and Alley live now. Up there, in heaven. I am glad of it; but still, how will I enther the cabin, and not hear their voices? But the other poor creatures! musn't I do something for them, or they will go too? Yes, yes,—but whisht! what noise is that? Ha! a coach. Now for it. May God support me! Here comes the battle for the little ones—for the poor weak hand that's not able to carry the drink to its lips. Poor darlins! Yes, darlins, your father is now goin' to fight your battle—to put himself, for your sakes, against the laws of man, but not against the laws of nature that God has put into my heart for my dying childre. Either the one funeral will carry three corpses to the grave, or I will bring yez relief. It's comin' near, and I'll stand undher this tree."
In accordance with this resolution, he planted himself under a large clump of trees where, like the famished tiger, he awaited the arrival of the carriage. And, indeed, it is obvious that despair, and hunger, and sorrow, had brought him down to the first elements of mere animal life; and finding not by any process of reasoning or inference, but by the agonizing pressure of stern reality, that the institutions of social civilization were closed against him and his, he acted precisely as a man would act in a natural and savage state, and who had never been admitted to a participation in the common rights of humanity—we mean, the right to live honestly, when willing and able to contribute his share of labor and industry to the common stock.
Let not our readers mistake us. We are not defending the crime of robbery, neither would we rashly palliate it, although there are instances of it which deserve not only palliation, but pardon. We are only describing the principles upon which this man acted, and, considering his motives, we question whether this peculiar act, originating as it did in the noblest virtues and affections of our nature, was not rather an act of heroism than of robbery. This point, however, we leave to metaphysicians, and return to our narrative.
The night, as we said, was dark, and the carriage in question was proceeding at that slow and steady pace which was necessary to insure safety. Sir Thomas, for it was he, sat on the dickey; Gillespie having proceeded in advance of him, in order to get horses, carriage, and everything safely put to rights without the possibility of observation.
We may as well mention here that his anxiety to keep the events of the night secret had overcome his apprehensions of the supernatural, and indeed, it may not be impossible that he made acquaintance with one of the flasks that had been destined for poor Fenton. Of this, however, we are by no means certain; we only throw it out, therefore, as a probability.
It is well known that the stronger and more insupportable passions sharpen not only the physical but the mental faculties in an extraordinary degree. The eye of the bird of prey, which is mostly directed by the savage instincts of hunger, can view its quarry at an incredible distance; and, instigated by vengeance, the American Indian will trace his enemy by marks which the utmost ingenuity of civilized man would never enable him to discover. Quickened by something of the kind, Trailcudgel instantly recognized his bitter and implacable foe, and in a moment an unusual portion of his former strength returned, with the impetuous and energetic resentment which the appearance of the baronet, at that peculiar crisis, had awakened. When the carriage came nearly opposite where he stood, the frantic and unhappy man was in an instant at the heads of the horses, and, seizing the reins, brought them to a stand-still.
"What's the matter there?" exclaimed the baronet, who, however, began to feel very serious alarm. "Why do you stop the horses, my friend? All's right, and I'm much obliged—pray let them go."
"All's wrong," shouted the other in a voice so deep, hoarse, and terrible in the wildness of its intonations, that no human being could recognize it as that of Trailcudgel; "all's wrong," he shouted; "I demand your money! your life or your money—quick!"