"She has been presented," said her father, "but not brought out; nor is it my intention, in the obvious sense of that word, that she ever shall."
"Oh, your lordship perhaps has a tendency to Popery, then, and there is a convent in the background? Is that it, my good lord?" he asked, smiling.
"No," replied his father, who could not help smiling in return, "not at all, John. Emily will not require to be brought out, nor paraded through the debasing formalities of fashion. She shall not be excluded from fashion, certainly; but neither shall I suffer her to run the vulgar gauntlet of heartless dissipation, which too often hardens, debases, and corrupts. But a truce to this; the subject is painful to me; let us change it."
The last observation of Dunroe to his sister startled her so much that she blushed deeply, and looked with that fascinating timidity which is ever associated with innocence and purity from her brother to her father.
"Have I said anything wrong, papa?" she asked, when Lord Cullamore had ceased to speak.
"Nothing, my love, nothing, but precisely what was natural and right. Dunroe's reply, however, was neither the one nor the other, and he ought to have known it."
"Well now, Emily," said her brother, "I don't regret it, inasmuch as it has enabled me to satisfy myself upon a point which I have frequently heard disputed—that is, whether a woman is capable of blushing or not. Now I have seen you blush with my own eyes, Emily; nay, upon my honor, you blush again this moment."
"Dunroe," observed his father, "you are teasing your sister; forbear."
"But don't you see, my lord," persisted his son, "the absolute necessity for giving her a course of fashionable life, if it were only to remove this constitutional blemish. If it were discovered, she is ruined; to blush being, as your lordship knows, contrary to all the laws and statutes of fashion in that case made and provided."
"Dunroe," said his father, "I intend you shall spend part of the summer and all the autumn in Ireland, with us."
"Oh, yes, John, you must come," said his sister, clapping her snow-white hands in exultation at the thought. "It will be so delightful."
"Ireland!" exclaimed Dunroe, with well-feigned surprise; "pray where is that, my lord?"
"Come, come, John," said his father, smiling; "be serious."
"Ireland!" he again exclaimed; "oh, by the way, that's an island, I think, in the Pacific—is it not?"
"No," replied his father; "a more inappropriate position you could not have possibly found for it."
"Is not that the happy country where the people live without food? Where they lead a life of independence, and starve in such an heroic spirit?"
"My dear Dunroe," said his father, seriously, "never sport with the miseries of a people, especially when that people are your own countrymen."
"My lord," he replied, disregarding the rebuke he had received, "for Heaven's sake conceal that disgraceful fact. Remember, I am a young nobleman; call me profligate—spendthrift—debauchee—anything you will but an Irishman. Don't the Irish refuse beef and mutton, and take to eating each other? What can be said of a people who, to please their betters, practise starvation as their natural pastime, and dramatize hunger to pamper their most affectionate lords and masters, who, whilst the latter witness the comedy, make the performers pay for their tickets? And yet, although the cannibal system flourishes, I fear they find it anything but a Sandwich island."
"Papa," said Lady Emily, in a whisper, and with tears in her eyes, "I fear John's head is a little unsettled by his illness."
"You will injure yourself, my dear Dunroe," said his father, "if you talk so much."
"Not at all, my good lord and father. But I think I recollect one of their bills of performance, which runs thus: 'On Saturday, the 25th inst., a tender and affectionate father, stuffed by so many cubic feet of cold wind, foul air, all resulting from extermination and the benevolence of a humane landlord, will in the very wantonness of repletion, feed upon, the dead body of his own child—for which entertaining performance he will have the satisfaction, subsequently, of enacting with success the interesting character of a felon, and be comfortably lodged at his Majesty's expense in the jail of the county.' Why, my lord, how could you expect me to acknowledge such a country? However, I must talk to Tom Norton about this. He was born in the country you speak of—and yet Tom has an excellent appetite; eats like other people; abhors starvation; and is no cannibal. It is true, I have frequently seen him ready enough to eat a fellow—a perfect raw-head-and-bloody-bones—for which reason, I suppose, the principle, or instinct, or whatever you call it, is still latent in his constitution. But, on the other hand, whenever Tom gnashed his teeth at any one a la cannibale, if the other gnashed his teeth at him, all the cannibal disappeared, and Tom was quite harmless."
* This alludes to a dreadful fact of cannibalism, which occurred in the South of Ireland in 1846.
"By the way, Dunroe," said his father, "who is this Tom Norton you speak of?"
"He is my most particular friend, my lord—my companion—and traveled with me over the Continent. He is kind enough to take charge of my affairs: he pays my servants, manages my tradesmen—and, in short, is a man whom I could not do without. He's up to everything; and is altogether indispensable to me."
Lord Cullamore paused for some time, and seemed for a moment absorbed in some painful reflection or reminiscence. At length he said,
"This man, Dunroe, must be very useful to you, if he be what you have just described him. Does he also manage your correspondence?"
"He does, my lord; and is possessed of my most unlimited confidence. In fact, I could never get on without him. My affairs are in a state of the most inextricable confusion, and were it not for his sagacity and prudence, I could scarcely contrive to live at all. Poor Tom; he abandoned fine prospects in order to devote himself to my service."
"Such a friend must be invaluable, John," observed his sister. "They say a friend, a true friend, is the rarest thing in the world; and when one meets such a friend, they ought to appreciate him."
"Very true, Emily," said the Earl; "very true, indeed." He spoke, however, as if in a state of abstraction. "Norton!—Norton. Do you know, John, who he is? Anything of his origin or connections?"
"Nothing whatever," replied Dunroe; "unless that he is well connected—he told me so himself—too well, indeed, he hinted, to render the situation of a dependent one which he should wish his relatives to become acquainted with—Of course, I respected his delicacy, and did not, consequently, press him further upon the point."
"That was considerate on your part," replied the Earl, somewhat dryly; "but if he be such as you have described him, I agree with Emily in thinking he must be invaluable. And now, John, with respect to another affair—but perhaps this interview may be injurious to your health. Talking much, and the excitement attending it, may be bad, you know."
"I am not easily excited, my lord," replied Dunroe; "rather a cool fellow; unless, indeed, when I used to have duns to meet. But now Norton manages all that for me. Proceed, my lord."
"Yes, but, John," observed Lady Emily, "don't let affection for papa and me allow you to go beyond your strength."
"Never mind, Emily; I am all right, if this wound were healed, as it will soon be. Proceed, my lord."
"Well, then, my dear Dunroe, I am anxious you should know that I have had a long conversation with Sir Thomas Gourlay, upon the subject of your marriage with his beautiful and accomplished daughter."
"Yes, the Black Baronet; a confounded old scoundrel by all accounts."
"You forget, sir," said the Earl, sternly, "that he is father to your future wife."
"Devilish sorry for it, my lord. I wish Lucy was daughter to any one else—but it matters not; I am not going to marry the black fellow, but twelve thousand a year and a pretty girl. I know a prettier, though."
"Impossible, John," replied Lady Emily, with enthusiasm. "I really think Lucy Gourlay the most lovely girl I have ever seen—the most amiable, the most dignified, the most,accomplished, the most—dear John, how happy I shall be to call her sister!"
"Dunroe," proceeded his father, "I beg you consider this affair seriously—solemnly—the happiness of such a girl as Lucy Grourlay is neither to be sported with nor perilled. You will have much to reform before you can become worthy of her. I now tell you that the reformation must be effected, sincerely and thoroughly, before I shall ever give my consent to your union with her. There must be neither dissimulation nor hypocrisy on your part. Your conduct must speak for you, and I must, from the clearest evidence, be perfectly satisfied that in marrying you she is not wrecking her peace and happiness, by committing them to a man who is incapable of appreciating her, or who is insensible to what is due to her great and shining virtues."
"It would be dreadful, John," said his sister, "if she should not feel happy. But if John, papa, requires reformation, I am sure he will reform for Lucy's sake."
"He ought to reform from a much higher principle, my dear child," replied her father.
"And so he will, papa. Will you not, dear brother?"
"Upon my honor, my lord," said Dunroe, "I had a conversation this very morning upon the subject with Tom Norton."
"I am glad to hear it, my dear son. It is not too late—it is never too late—to amend the life; but in this instance there is an event about to take place which renders a previous reformation, in its truest sense, absolutely indispensable."
"My lord," he replied, "the truth is, I am determined to try a course of religion. Tom Norton tells me it is the best thing in the world to get through life with."
"Tom Norton might have added that it is a much better thing to get through death with," added the Earl, gravely.
"But he appears to understand it admirably, my lord," replied Dunroe. "He says it quickens a man's intellects, and not only prevents him from being imposed upon by knaves and sharpers, but enables him, by putting on a long face, and using certain cabalistic phrases, to overreach—no, not exactly that, but to—let me see, to steer a safe course through the world; or something to that effect. He says, too, that religious folks always come best off, and pay more attention to the things of this life, than any one else; and that, in consequence, they thrive and prosper under it. No one, he says, gets credit so freely as a man that is supposed to be religious. Now this struck me quite forcibly, as a thing that might be very useful to me in getting out of my embarrassments. But then, it would be necessary to go to church, I believe—to pray—sing psalms—read the Bible—and subscribe to societies of some kind or other. Now all that would be very troublesome. How does a person pray, my lord? Is it by repeating the Ten Commandments, or reading a religious book?"
Despite the seriousness of such a subject, Lord Cullamore and his daughter, on glancing at each other, could scarcely refrain from smiling.
"Now, I can't see," proceeded Dunroe, "how either the one or the other of the said commandments would sharpen a man for the world, as Tom Norton's religion does."
The good old Earl thought either that his son was affecting an ignorance on the subject which he did not feel, or that his ignorance was in reality so great that for the present, at least, it was useless to discuss the matter with him.
"I must say, my dear Dunroe," he added, in a kind and indulgent voice, "that your first conceptions of reformation are very original, to say the least of them."
"I grant it, my lord. Every one knows that all my views, acts, and expressions are original. 'Dunroe's a perfect original' is the general expression among my friends. But on the subject of religion, I am willing to be put into training. I told Tom Norton to look out and hire me a pas'n, or somebody, to give me lessons in it. Is there such a thing, by the way, as a Religious Grammar? If so, I shall provide one, and make myself master of all the rules, cases, inflections, interjections, groans, exclamations, and so on, connected with it. The Bible is the dictionary, I believe?"
Poor Lady Emily, like her father, could not for the life of her suppose for a moment that her brother was serious: a reflection that relieved her from much anxiety of mind and embarrassment on his account.
"Papa," said, she, whilst her beautiful features were divided, if we may so say, between smiles and tears, "papa, Dunroe is only jesting; I am sure he is only jesting, and does not mean any serious disrespect to religion."
"That may be, my dear Emily; but he will allow me to tell him that it is the last subject upon which he, or any one else, should jest. Whether you are in jest or earnest, my dear Dunroe, let me advise you to bring the moral courage and energies of a man to the contemplation of your life, in the first place; and in the next, to its improvement. It is not reading the Bible, nor repeating prayers, that will, of themselves, make you religious, unless the heart is in earnest; but a correct knowledge of what is right and wrong—in other words, of human duty—will do much good in the first place; with a firm resolution to avoid the evil and adopt the good. Remember that you are accountable to the Being who placed you in this life, and that your duty here consists, not in the indulgence of wild and licentious passions, but in the higher and nobler ones of rendering as many of your fellow-creatures happy as you can: for such a course will necessarily insure happiness to yourself. This is enough for the present; as soon as you recover your strength you shall come to Ireland."
"When I recover my strength!" he exclaimed. "Ay, to be eaten like a titbit. Heavens, what a delicious morsel a piece of a young peer would be to such fellows! but I will not run that horrible risk. Lucy must come to me—I am sure the prospect of a countess's coronet ought to be a sufficient inducement to her. But, to think that I should run the risk of being shot from behind a hedge—made a component part of a midnight bonfire, or entombed in the bowels of some Patagonian cannibal, savagely glad to feed, upon the hated Saxon who has so often fed upon him!—No, I repeat, Lucy, if she is to be a countess, must travel in this direction."
The indelicacy and want of all consideration for the feelings of his father, so obvious in his heartless allusion to a fact which could only result from that father's death, satisfied the old man that any reformation in his son was for the present hopeless, and even Lady Emily felt anxious to put an end to the visit as soon as possible.
"By the way," said his father, as they were taking their leave, "I have had an unpleasant letter from my brother, in which he states that he wrote to you, but got no answer."
"I never received a letter from him," replied his lordship; "none ever reached me; if it had, the very novelty of a communication from such a quarter would have prevented me from forgetting it."
"I should think so. His letter to me, indeed, is a strange one. He utters enigmatical threats—"
"Come, I like that—I am enigmatical myself—you see it is in the family."
"Enigmatical threats which I cannot understand, and desires me to hold myself prepared for certain steps which he is about to take, in justice to what he is pleased to term his own claims. However, it is not worth notice. But this Norton, I am anxious to see him, Dunroe—will you request him to call upon me to-morrow at twelve o'clock?—of course, I feel desirous to make the acquaintance of a man who has proved himself such a warm and sterling friend to my son."
"Undoubtedly, my lord, he shall attend on you—I shall take care of that. Good-by, my lord—good by, Emily—good—good—my dear girl, never mind the embrace—it is quite undignified—anything but a patrician usage, I assure you."
Now it is necessary that we should give our readers a clearer conception of Lord Dunroe's character than is to be found in the preceding dialogue. This young gentleman was one of those who wish to put every person who enters into conversation with them completely at fault. It was one of his whims to affect ignorance on many subjects with which he was very well acquainted. His ambition was to be considered a character; and in order to carry this idea out, he very frequently spoke on the most commonplace topics as a man might be supposed to do who had just dropped from the moon. He thought, also, that there was something aristocratic in this fictitious ignorance, and that it raised him above the common herd of those who could talk reasonably on the ordinary topics of conversation or life. His ambition, the reader sees, was to be considered original. It had besides, this advantage, that in matters where his ignorance is anything but feigned, it brought him out safely under the protection of his accustomed habit, without suffering from the imputation of the ignorance he affected. It was, indeed, the ambition of a vain and silly mind; but provided he could work out this paltry joke upon a grave and sensible though unsuspecting individual, he felt quite delighted at the feat; and took the person thus imposed upon into the number of his favorites. It was upon this principle among others that Norton, who pretended never to see through his flimsy irony, contrived to keep in his favor, and to shape him according to his wishes, whilst he made the weak-minded young man believe that everything he did and every step he took was the result of his own deliberate opinion, whereas in fact he was only a puppet in his hands.
His father, who was naturally kind and indulgent, felt deeply grieved and mortified by the reflections arising from this visit. During the remainder of the day he seemed wrapped in thought; but we do not attempt to assert that the dialogue with his son was the sole cause of this. He more than once took out his brother's letter which he read with surprise, not unmingled with strong curiosity and pain. It was, as he said, extremely enigmatical, whilst at the same time it contained evidences of that deplorable spirit which almost uniformly embitters so deeply the feuds which arise from domestic misconceptions. On this point, however, we shall enable the reader to judge for himself. The letter was to the following effect:
"My Lord Cullamore.—It is now nine months and upwards since I addressed a letter to your son; and I wrote to him in reference to you, because it had been for many years my intention never to have renewed or held any communication whatsoever with you. It was on this account, therefore, that I opened, or endeavored to open, a correspondence with him rather than with his father. In this I have been disappointed, and my object, which was not an unfriendly one, frustrated. I do not regret, however, that I have been treated with contempt. The fact cancelled the foolish indulgence with which an exhibition of common courtesy and politeness, if not a better feeling, on the part of your son, might have induced me to treat both you and him. As matters now stand between us, indulgence is out of the question; so is compromise. I shall now lose little time in urging claims which you will not be able to withstand. Whether you suspect the nature of these claims or not is more than I know. Be that, however, as it may, I can assure you that I had resolved not to disturb your last days by prosecuting them during your lifetime. That resolution I have now rescinded, and all that remains for me to say is; that as little time as possible shall be lost in enforcing the claims I allude to, in justice to my family.
"I am, my Lord Cullamore,
"Your obedient servant,
This strange and startling communication caused the good old man much uneasiness, even although its object and purpose were altogether beyond his comprehension. The only solution that occurred to him of the mystery which ran through it, was that it must have been written under some misconception or delusion for which he could not account. Another key to the difficulty—one equally replete with distress and alarm—was that his brother's reason had probably become unsettled, and that the communication in question was merely the emanation of mental alienation. And, indeed, on this point only could he account for the miscarriage of the letter to his son, which probably had never been written at all and existed only in the disturbed imagination of his unfortunate brother.
At all events, the contents of this document, like those mysterious presentiments of evil which sometimes are said to precede calamity, hung like a weight upon his mind, view them as he might. He became nervous, depressed, and gloomy, pleaded illness as an apology for not dining abroad; remained alone and at home during the whole evening, but arose the next morning in better spirits, and when our friend Tom Norton presented himself, he had regained sufficient equanimity and composure to pay proper attention to that faithful and friendly gentleman.
Now Tom, who resolved to make an impression, as it is termed, was dressed in the newest and most fashionable morning visit costume, drove up to the hall-door at that kind of breakneck pace with which your celebrated whips delight to astonish the multitude, and throwing the reins to a servant, desired, if he knew how to pace the horse up and down, to do so; otherwise to remember that he had a neck.
The servant in question, a stout, compact fellow, with a rich Milesian face and a mellow brogue, looked at him with a steady but smiling eye.
"Have a neck, is it?" he exclaimed; "by my sowl, an' it's sometimes an inconvenience to have that same. My own opinion is, sir, that the neck now is jist one of the tenderest joints in the body."
Norton looked at him for a moment with an offended and haughty stare.
"If you are incapable of driving the landau, sir," he replied, "call some one who can; and don't be impertinent."
"Incapable," replied the other, with a cool but humorous kind of gravity; "troth, then it's disgrace I'd bring on my taicher if I couldn't sit a saddle an' handle a whip with the best o' them. And wid regard to the neck, sir, many a man has escaped a worse fall than one from the box or the saddle."
Norton drew himself up with a highly indignant scowl, and turning his frown once more upon this most impertinent menial, encountered a look of such comic familiarity, easy assurance, and droll indifference, as it would not be easy to match. The beau started, stared, again pulled himself to a still greater height—as if by the dignity of the attitude to set the other at fault—frowned more awfully, then looked bluster, and once more surveyed the broad, knowing face and significant laughing eyes that were fixed upon him—set, as they were, in the centre of a broad grin—after which he pulled up his collar with an air—taking two or three strides up and down with what he intended as aristocratic dignity—
"Hem! ahem! What do you mean, sir?"
To this, for a time, there was no reply; but there, instead, were the laughing fascinators at work, fixed not only upon him, but in him, piercing him through; the knowing grin still increasing and gathering force of expression by his own confusion.
"Curse me, sir, I don't understand this insolence. What do you mean? Do you know who it is you treat in this manner?"
Again he stretched himself, pulled up his collar as before, displaying a rich diamond ring, then taking out a valuable gold watch, glanced at the time, and putting it in his fob, looked enormously big and haughty, exclaiming again, with a frown that was intended to be a stunner—after again pacing up and down with the genuine tone and carriage of true nobility—
"I say, sir, do you know the gentleman whom you are treating with such impertinence? Perhaps you mistake me, on account of a supposed resemblance, for some former acquaintance of yours. If, so, correct yourself; I have never seen you till this moment."
There, however, was the grin, and there were the eyes as before, to which we must add a small bit of pantomime on the part of Morty O'Flaherty, for such was the servant's name, which bit of pantomime consisted in his (Morty's) laying his forefinger very knowingly alongside his nose, exclaiming, in a cautious and friendly voice however,
"Barney, achora, don't be alarmed; there's no harm done yet. You're safe if you behave yourself."
"What!" said Norton. "By the bones of St. Patrick but you are Morty O'Flaherty! Confound it, my dear Morty, why didn't you make yourself known at once? it would have relieved both of us."
"One of us, you mane," replied Morty, with a wink.
"Upon my soul I am glad to free you, Morty. And how are you, man alive? In a snug berth here, I see, with the father of my friend, Lord Dunroe."
"Ha!" exclaimed Morty, shrewdly; "is that it? Your friend; Oh, I see. Nate as ever, like a clane sixpence. Well, Barney, the world will have its way."
"Ay, Morty, and we must comply with it. Some it brings up, and others it brings down."
"Whisht, now, Barney," said Morty; "let by-gones be by-gones. That it didn't bring you up, be thankful to a gracious Providence and a light pair o' heels; that's all. And what are you now?"
"No longer Barney Bryan, at any rate," replied the other. "My name, at present, is Norton."
"At present! Upon my sowl, Barney, so far as names goes, you're a walkin' catalogue."
"Thomas Norton, Esquire; residing with that distinguished young nobleman, Lord Dunroe, as his bosom friend and inseparable companion."
"Hem! I see," said Morty, with a shrug, which he meant as one of compassion for the aforesaid Lord Dunroe; "son to my masther. Well, God pity him, Barney, is the worst I wish him. You will take care of him; you'll tache him a thing or two—and that's enough. But, Barney—"
"Curse Barney—Mr. Norton's the word."
"Well, Mr. Norton—ah, Mr. Norton, there's one person you'll not neglect."
"Who is that, Morty?"
"Faith, your mother's son, achora. However, you know the proverb—'A burnt child dreads the fire.' You have a neck still, Barney—beg pardon, Mr. Norton—don't forget that fact."
"And I'll take care of the said neck, believe me, Morty; I shall keep it safe, never fear."
"Take care you don't keep it a little too safe. A word to the wise is enough, Bar—Mr. Norton."
"It is, Morty; and I trust you will remember that that is to be a regulation between us. 'A close mouth is the sign of a wise head,' too; and there's a comrade for your proverb—but we are talking too long. Listen; keep my secret, and I will make it worth your while to do so. You may ruin me, without serving yourself; but as a proof that you will find me your friend, I will slip you five guineas, as a recompense, you know, for taking care of the landau and horses. In short, if we work into each other's hands it will be the better for us both."
"I'll keep your' saicret," replied honest Morty, "so long, Barney—hem! Mr. Norton—as you keep yourself honest; but I'll dirty my hands wid none o' your money. If I was willin' to betray you, it's not a bribe would prevent me."
Mr. Norton, in a few moments, was ushered into the presence of Lord Cullamore.
On entering the apartment, the old nobleman, with easy and native courtesy, rose up, and received him with every mark of attention and respect.
"I am happy, Mr. Norton," he proceeded, "to have it in my power to thank you for the friendship and kindness which my son, Lord Dunroe, has been so fortunate as to receive at your hands. He speaks of you with such warmth, and in terms of such high esteem, that I felt naturally anxious to make your acquaintance, as his friend. Pray be seated."
Norton, who was a quick and ready fellow, in more senses than one, bowed lowly, and with every mark of the deepest respect; but, at the same time, he certainly started upon a high and a rather hazardous theory—to wit, that of a man of consequence, who wished to be considered with respect to Dunroe rather as a patron than a dependent.
The fellow, we should have stated to the reader, was originally from Kerry, though he adopted Connaught, and consequently had a tolerable acquaintance with Latin and Greek—an acquisition which often stood him in stead through life; joined to which was an assurance that nothing short of a scrutiny such as Morty O'Maherty's could conquer.
"I assure you, my lord," he replied, "you quite overrate any trifling services I may have rendered to my friend Dunroe. Upon my soul and honor you do. I have done nothing for him—that is, nothing to speak of. But the truth is, I took a fancy to Dunroe; and I do assure you again, Lord Cullamore, that when I do take a fancy to any person—a rare case with me, I grant—I would go any possible lengths to serve him. Every man has his whim, my lord, and that is mine. I hope your lordship had a pleasant trip across Channel?"
"Yes, thank you, Mr. Norton; but I have been for some time past in delicate health, and am not now so capable of bearing the trip as formerly. Still I feel no reason to complain, although far from strong. Dunroe, I perceive, is reduced considerably by his wound and the consequent confinement."
"Oh, naturally, of course, my lord; but a few days now will set him upon his legs."
"That, it seems to me, Mr. Norton, was a very foolish and unpleasant affair altogether."
"Nothing could be more so, my lord. It was altogether wrong on the part of Dunroe, and so I told him."
"Could you not have prevented it, Mr. Norton?"
"Ha, ha, ha! very good, Lord Cullamore. Ask me could I prevent or check a flash of lightning. Upon my soul and honor, the thing was over, and my poor friend down, before you could say 'Jack Robinson'—hem!—as we say in Connaught."
"You have travelled, too, with my son, Mr. Norton, and he is perfectly sensible of the services you have rendered him during his tour."
"God forbid, my Lord Cullamore, that I should assume any superiority over poor, kind-hearted, and honorable Dunroe; but as you are his father, my lord, I may—and with pride and satisfaction I do it—put the matter on its proper footing, and say, that Dunroe travelled with me. The thing is neither here nor there, of course, nor would I ever allude to it unless as a proof of my regard and affection for him."
"That only enhances your kindness, Mr. Norton."
"Why, my lord, I met Dunroe in Paris—no matter, I took him out of some difficulties, and prevented him from getting into more. He had been set by a clique of—but I will not dwell on this, it looks like egotism—I said before, I took a fancy to him—for it frequently happens, my good lord, that you take a fancy to the person you have served."
"True enough, indeed, Mr. Norton."
"I am fond of travelling, and was about to make my fourth or fifth tour, when I met your son, surrounded by a crew of—but I have alluded to this a moment ago. At all events, I saw his danger—a young man exposed to temptation—the most alluring and perilous. Well, my lord, mine was a name of some weight and authority, affording just the kind of countenance and protection your son required. Well, I travelled with him, guarded him, guided him, for as to any inconvenience I may myself have experienced in taking him by the most comprehensive routes, and some other matters, they are not worth naming. Of course I introduced him to some of the most distinguished men of France—to the Marquis De Fogleville, for instance, the Count Rapscallion, Baron Snottellin, and some others of the first rank and nobility of the country. The pleasure of his society, however, more than compensated me for all."
"But, pardon me, Mr. Norton, I believe the title and family of De Fogleville have been extinct. The last of them was guillotined not long since for an attempt to steal the crown jewels of France, I think."
"True, my lord, you are perfectly right, the unhappy man was an insane legitimist; but the title and estates have been revived in the person of another member of the family, the present marquis, who is a nobleman of high consideration and honor."
"Oh, indeed! I was not aware of that, Mr. Norton," said his lordship. "I am quite surprised at the extent of your generosity and goodness to my son."
"But, my lord, it is not my intention to give up Dunroe or abandon the poor fellow yet awhile. I am determined to teach him economy in managing his affairs, to make him know the value of time, of money, and of system, in everything pertaining to Life and business. Nor do I regret what I have done, nor what I propose to do; far from it, my lord. All I ask is, that he will always look upon me as a friend or an elder brother, and consult me, confide in me, and come to me, in fact, or write to me, whenever he may think I can be of service to him."
"And in his name, of course, I may at least thank you, Mr. Norton," replied the Earl, with a slight irony in his manner, "not only for all you have done, but for all you propose to do, as you say."
Norton shook his head peremptorily.
"Pardon me, my lord, no thanks. I am overpaid by the pleasure of ranking Dunroe among the number of my friends."
"You are too kind, indeed, Mr. Norton; and I trust my son will be duly grateful, as he is duly sensible of all you have done for him. By the way, Mr. Norton, you alluded to Connaught. You are, I presume, an Irishman?"
"I am an Irishman, my lord."
"Of course, sir, I make no inquiry as to your individual family. I am sure from what I have seen of you they must have been, and are, persons of worth and consideration; but I wished to ask if the name be a numerous one in Ireland, or rather, in your part of it—Connaught?"
"Numerous, my lord, no, not very numerous, but of the first respectability."
"Pray, is your father living, Mr. Norton? If he be, why don't you bring him among us? And if you have any brother, I need scarcely say what pleasure it would afford me, having, as you are aware, I presume, some influence with ministers, to do anything I could for him, should he require it; probably in the shape of a foreign appointment, or something that way. Anything, Mr. Norton, to repay a portion of what is due to you by my family."
"I thank your lordship," replied Tom. "My poor father was, as too many other Irish gentlemen have been, what is termed a hard goer (the honest man was a horse jockey like myself, thought Tom)—and indeed ran through a great deal of property during the latter part of his life (when he was huntsman to Lord Rattlecap, he went through many an estate)."
"Well, but your brother?"
"Deeply indebted, my lord, but I have no brother living. Poor Edward did get a foreign appointment many years ago (he was transported for horse stealing), by the influence of one of the most eminent of our judges, who strongly advised him to accept it, and returned his name to government as a worthy and suitable candidate. He died there, my lord, in the discharge of his appointed duties. Poor Ned, however, was never fond of public business under government, and, indeed, accepted the appointment in question with great reluctance."
"The reason why I made these inquiries about the name of Norton," said Lord Cullamore, "is this. There was, several years ago, a respectable female of the name, who held a confidential situation in my family; I have long lost sight of her, however, and would be glad to know whether she is living or dead."
("My sister-in-law," thought Tom.) "I fear," he replied, "I can render you no information on that point, my lord; the last female branch of our part of the family was my grandmother, who died about three years ago."
At this moment a servant entered the apartment, bearing in his hand a letter, for which office he had received a bribe of half-a-crown. "I beg pardon, my lord, but there's a woman at the hall-door, who wishes this letter to be handed to that gentleman; but I fear there's some mistake," he added, "it is directed to Barney Bryan. She insists he is here, and that she saw him come into the house."
"Barney Bryan," said Tom, with great coolness; "show me the letter, for I think I know something about it. Yes, I am right. It is an insane woman, my lord, wife to a jockey of mine, who broke his neck riding my celebrated horse, Black and all Black, on the Curragh. The poor creature cannot believe that her husband is dead, and thinks that I enjoy that agreeable privilege. The circumstance, indeed, was a melancholy one; but I have supported her ever since."
Morty O'Flaherty, who had transferred his charge to other hands, fearing that Mister Norton might get into trouble, now came to the rescue.
"Pray," said Tom, quick as lightning, "is that insane creature below still, a poor woman whose husband broke his neck riding a race for me on the Curragh, and she thinks that I stand to her in that capacity?"
"Oh, yes; she says," added the man who brought the letter, "that this gentleman's name is not Norton, but Bryan—Barney Bryan, I think—and that he is her husband, exactly as the gentleman says."
"Just so, my lord," said Tom, smiling; "poor thing! what a melancholy delusion."
"I was present at the accident, Mr. Norton," added Morty, boldly, "and remember the circumstance, in throth, very well. Didn't the poor woman lose her senses by it?"
"Yes," replied Tom, "I have just mentioned the circumstance to his lordship."
"And—beg pardon, Mr. Norton—doesn't she take you for her husband from that day to this?"
"Yes, so I have said."
"Oh, God help her, poor thing! Isn't she to be pitied?" added Morty, with a dry roguish glance at Mr. Norton; "throth, she has a hard fate of it. Howaniver, she is gone. I got her off, an' now the place is I clear of the unfortunate creature. The lord look to her!"
The servants then withdrew, and Norton made his parting bow to Lord Cullamore, whom we now leave to his meditations on the subject of this interview.
CHAPTER XXI. A Spy Rewarded
—Sir Thomas Gourlay Charged Home by the Stranger with the Removal and Disappearance of his Brother's Son.
We left the Black Baronet in a frame of mind by no means to be envied by our readers. The disappearance of his daughter and her maid had stunned and so completely prostrated him, that he had not sufficient energy even for a burst of his usual dark and overbearing resentment. In this state of mind, however, he was better able to reflect upon the distressing occurrence that had happened. He bethought him of Lucy's delicacy, of her sense of honor, her uniform propriety of conduct, her singular self-respect, and after all, of the complacent spirit of obedience with which, in everything but her contemplated union with Lord Dunroe, she had, during her whole life, and under the most trying circumstances, accommodated herself to his wishes. He then reflected upon the fact of her maid having accompanied her, and concluded, very naturally, that if she had resolved to elope with this hateful stranger, she would have done so in pursuance of the precedent set by most young ladies who take such steps—that is, unaccompanied by any one but her lover. From this view of the case he gathered comfort, and was beginning to feel his mind somewhat more at ease, when a servant entered to say that Mr. Crackenfudge requested to see him on particular business.
"He has come to annoy me about that confounded magistracy, I suppose," exclaimed the baronet. "Have you any notion what the worthless scoundrel wants, Gibson?"
"Not the least, your honor, but he seems brimful of something."
"Ay, brimful of ignorance, and of impertinence, too, if he durst show it; yes, and of as much pride and oppression as could well be contained in a miserable carcass like his. As he is a sneaking, vigilant rascal, however, and has a great deal of the spy in his composition, it is not impossible that he may be able to give me some information touching the disappearance of Miss Gourlay."
Gibson, after making his bow, withdrew, and the redoubtable Crackenfudge was ushered into the presence of the baronet.
The first thing the former did was to survey the countenance of his patron, for as such he wished to consider him and to find him. There, then, Sir Thomas sat, stern but indifferent, with precisely the expression of a tiger lying gloomily in his den, the natural ferocity "in grim repose" for the time, but evidently ready to blaze up at anything that might disturb or provoke him. Had Crackenfudge been gifted with either tact or experience, or any enlarged knowledge of the human heart, especially of the deep, dark, and impetuous one that beat in the bosom then before him, he would have studied the best and least alarming manner of conveying intelligence calculated to produce such terrific effects upon a man like Sir Thomas Gourlay. Of this, however, he knew nothing, although his own intercourse with him might have well taught him the necessary lesson.
"Well, Mr. Crackenfudge," said the latter, without moving, "what's wrong now? What's the news?"
"There's nothing wrong, Sir Thomas, and a've good news."
The baronet's eye and brow lost some of their gloom; he arose and commenced, as was his custom, to walk across the room.
"Pray what is this good news, Mr. Crackenfudge? Will you be kind enough, without any unnecessary circumlocution, to favor your friends with it?"
"With pleasure, Sir Thomas, because a' know you are anxious to hear it, and it deeply concerns you."
Sir Thomas paused, turned round, looked at him for a moment with an impatient scowl; but in the meaningless and simpering face before him he could read nothing but what appeared to him to be an impudent chuckle of satisfaction; and this, indeed, was no more than what Crackenfudge felt, who had altogether forgotten the nature of the communication he was about to make, dreadful and disastrous as it was, and thought only of the claim upon Sir Thomas's influence which he was about to establish with reference to the magistracy. It was the reflection, then, of this train of little ambition which Sir Thomas read in his countenance, and mistook for some communication that might relieve him, and set his mind probably at ease. The scowl we allude to accordingly disappeared, and Sir Thomas, after the glance we have recorded, said, checking himself into a milder and more encouraging tone:
"Go on, Mr. Crackenfudge, let us hear it at once."
"Well, then, Sir Thomas, a' told you a'd keep my eye on that chap."
"On whom? name him, sir."
"A' can't, Sir Thomas; the fellow in the inn."
"Oh! what about him?"
"Why he has taken her off."
"Taken whom off?" shouted the baronet, in a voice of thunder. "You contemptible scoundrel, whom has he taken off?"
"Your daughter, Sir Thomas—Miss Gourlay. They went together in the 'Fly' on Tuesday night last to Dublin; a' followed in the 'Flash of Lightning,' and seen them in conversation. Dandy Dulcimer, who is your friend—For God's sake, Sir Thomas, be quiet. You'll shake me—a-a-ach—Sir—Thom-a-as—w-wi-will you not take my—my —li-life——"
"You lie like a villain, you most contemptible reptile," shouted the other. "My daughter, sirrah, never eloped with an adventurer. She never eloped at all, sir. She durst not elope. She knows what my vengeance would be, sirrah. She knows, you lying whelp of perdition, that I would pursue herself and her paramour to the uttermost ends of the earth; that I would shoot them both dead—that I would trample upon and spurn their worthless carcasses, and make an example of them to all time, and through all eternity. And you—you prying, intermeddling scoundrel—how durst you—you petty, beggarly tyrant—hated and despised by poor and rich—was it to mock me—"
"Sir Thom-a-as, a'm—a'm—I—I—aach—ur-ur-ur-mur-murd-murd-er-er-err-errr."
"Was it to jeer and sneer at me—to insult me—you miserable knave—to drive me mad—into raging frenzy—that you came, with a smirk of satisfaction on your face, to communicate the disgrace and dishonor of my family—the ruin of my hopes—the frustration of my ambition—of all I had set my heart on, and that I perilled my soul to accomplish? Yes, you villain, your eye was smiling—elated—your heart was glad—for, sirrah, you hate me at heart."
"God! oh, oh! a'm—a'm—ur-urr-urrr—whee-ee-ee-hee-hee-hee. God ha-ha-ha-have mer-mer-mercy on my sinf-sinfu-l sou-so-soul! a'm gone."
"Yes, you hate me, villain, and this is a triumph to you; every one hates me, and every one will rejoice at my shame. I know it, you accursed miscreant, I feel it; and in return I hate, with more than the malignity of the devil, every human creature that God has made. I have been at enmity with them, and in that enmity I shall persist; deep and dark as hell shall it be, and unrelenting as the vengeance of a devil. There," he added, throwing the almost senseless body of Crackenfudge over on a sofa, "there, you may rest on that sofa, and get breath; get breath quickly, and mark, obey me."
"Yes, Sir Thomas, a' will; a'll do anything, provided that you'll let me escape with my life. God! a'm nearly dead, the fire's not out of my eyes yet."
"Silence, you wretched slave!" shouted the baronet, stamping with rage; not another word of complaint, but listen to n—listen to me, I say: go on, and let me hear, fully and at large, the withering history of this burning and most flagitious disgrace."
"But if a' do, you'll only beat and throttle me to death, Sir Thomas."
"Whether I may or may not do so, go on, villain, and—go on, that quickly, or by heavens I shall tear the venomous heart from your body, and trample the black intelligence out of it. Proceed instantly."
With a face of such distress as our readers may well imagine, and a voice whose quavers of terror wrere in admirable accordance with it, the unfortunate Crackenfudge related the circumstance of Lucy's visit to Dublin, as he considered it, and, in fact, so far as he was acquainted with her motions, as it appeared to him a decided elopement, without the possibility of entertaining either doubt or mistake about it.
In the meantime, how shall we describe the savage fury of the baronet, as the trembling wretch proceeded? It is impossible. His rage, the vehemence of his gestures, the spasms that seemed to sey;e sometimes upon his features and sometimes upon his limbs, as well as upon different parts of his body, transformed him into the appearance of something that was unnatural and frightful. He bit his lips in the effort to restrain these tremendous paroxysms, until the bloody foam fell in red flakes from his mouth, and as portions of it were carried by the violence of his gesticulations over several parts of his face, he had more the appearance of some bloody-fanged ghoul, reeking from the spoil of a midnight grave, than that of a human being.
"Now," said he, "how did it happen that—brainless, worthless, and beneath all contempt, as you are, most execrable scoundrel—you suffered that adroit ruffian, Dulcimer—whom I shall punish, never fear—how came it, you despicable libel on nature and common sense—that you allowed him to humbug you to your face, to laugh at you, to scorn you, to spit upon you, to poke your ribs, as if you were an idiot, as you are, and to kick you, as it were, in every imaginable part of your worthless carcass—how did it come, I say, that you did not watch them properly, that you did not get them immediately arrested, as you ought to have done, or that you did not do more than would merely enable you to chronicle my disgrace and misery?"
"A' did all a' could, Sir Thomas. A' searched through all Dublin for her without success; but as to where he has her, a' can't guess. The first thing a' did, after takin' a sleep, was to come an' tell you to-day; for a' travelled home by last night's coach. You ought to do something, Sir Thomas, for every one has it now. It's through all Ballytrain. 'Deed a' pity you, Sir Thomas."
Now this unfortunate being took it for granted that the last brief silence of the baronet resulted from, some reasonable attention to what he (Crackenfudge) had been saying, whereas the fact was, that his terrible auditor had been transfixed into the highest and most uncontrollable fit of indignation by the substance of his words.
"What!" said he, in a voice that made Crackenfudge leap at least a foot from the sofa. "You pity me, do you!—you, you diabolical eavesdropper, you pity me. Sacred heaven! And again, you searched through all Dublin for my daughter!—carrying her disgrace and infamy wherever you appeared, and advertising them as you went along, like an emissary of shame and calumny, as you are. Yes," said he, as he foamed with the fury of a raging bull; "'I—I—I,' you might have said, 'a nameless whelp, sprung from the dishonest clippings of a counter—I, I say, am in quest of Miss Gourlay, who has eloped with an adventurer, an impostor—with a brushmaker's clerk.'"
"A tooth-brush manufacturer, Sir Thomas, and, you know, they are often made of ivory."
"Come, you intermeddling rascal, I must either tear you asunder or my brain will burst; I will not have such a worthless life as yours on my hands, however; you vermin, out with you; I might have borne anything but your compassion, and even that too; but to blazon through a gaping metropolis the infamy of my family—of all that was dear to me—to turn the name of my child into a polluted word, which modest lips would feel ashamed to utter; nor, lastly, can I forgive you the crime of making me suffer this mad and unexampled agony."
Action now took the place of words, and had, indeed, come in as an auxiliary for some time previous. He seized the unfortunate Crackenfudge, and as, with red and dripping lips, he gave vent to the furious eruptions of his fiery spirit, like a living Vesuvius—for we know of no other comparison so appropriate—he kicked and cuffed the wretched and unlucky intelligencer, until he fairly threw him out at the hall-door, which he himself shut after him.
"Begone, villain!" he exclaimed; "and may you never die till you feel the torments which you have kindled, like the flames of hell, within me!"
On entering the room again, he found, however, that with a being even so wretched and contemptible as Crackenfudge, there had departed a portion of his strength. So long as he had an object on which to launch his fury, he felt that he could still sustain the battle of his passions. But now a heavy sense came over him, as if of something which he could not understand or analyze. His heart sank, and he felt a nameless and indescribable terror within him—a terror, he thought, quite distinct from the conduct of his daughter, or of anything else he had heard. He had, in fact, lost all perception of his individual misery, and a moral gloom, black as night, seemed to cover and mingle with those fiery tortures which were consuming him. An apprehension, also, of immediate dissolution came over him—his memory grew gradually weaker and weaker, until he felt himself no longer able to account for the scene which had just taken place; and for a brief period, although he neither swooned nor fainted, nor fell into a fit of any kind, he experienced a stupor that amounted to a complete unconsciousness of being, if we except an undying impression of some great evil which had befallen him, and which lay, like a grim and insatiable monster, tearing up his heart. At length, by a violent effort, he recovered a little, became once more conscious, walked about for some time, then surveyed himself in the glass, and what between the cadaverous hue of his face and the flakes of red foam which we have described, when taken in connection with his thick, midnight brows, it need not be wondered at that he felt alarmed at the state to which he awakened.
After some time, however, he rang for Gibson, who, on seeing him, started.
"Good God, sir!" said he, quite alarmed, "whit is the matter?"
"I did not ring for you, sir," he replied, "to ask impertinent questions. Send Gillespie to me."
Gibson withdrew, and in the mean time his master went to his dressing-room, where he washed himself free of the bloody evidences of his awful passions. This being done, he returned to the library, where, in a few minutes, Gillespie attended him."
"Gillespie," he exclaimed, "do you fear God?"
"I hope I do, Sir Thomas, as well as another, at any rate."
"Well, then, begone, for you are useless to me—begone, sirrah, and get me some one that fears neither God nor devil."
"Why, Sir Thomas," replied the ruffian, who, having expected a job, felt anxious to retrieve himself, "as to that matter, I can't say that I ever was overburdened with much fear of either one or other of them. Indeed, I believe, thank goodness, I have as little religion as most people."
"Are you sure, sirrah, that you have no conscience?"
"Why—hem—I have done things for your honor before, you know. As to religion, however, I'll stand upon having as little of it as e'er a man in the barony. I give up to no one in a want of that commodity."
"What proof can you afford me that you are free from it?"
"Why, blow me if I know the twelve commandments, and, besides, I was only at church three times in my life, and I fell asleep under the sermon each time; religion, sir, never agreed with me."
"To blazon my shame!—bad enough; but the ruin of my hopes, d—n you, sir, how durst you publish my disgrace to the world?"
"I, your honor! I'll take my oath I never breathed a syllable of it; and you know yourself, sir, the man was too drunk to be able to speak or remember anything of what happened."
"Sir, you came to mock and jeer at me; and, besides, you are a liar, she has not eloped."
"I don't understand you, Sir Thomas," said Gillespie, who saw at once by his master's disturbed and wandering eye, that the language he uttered was not addressed to him.
"What—what," exclaimed the latter, rising up and stretching himself, in order to call back his scattered faculties. "Eh, Gillespie!—what brought you here, sirrah? Are you too come to triumph over the ambitious projector? What am I saying? I sent for you, Gillespie, did I not?"
"You did, Sir Thomas; and with regard to what we were speaking about—I mean religion—I'll hould a pound note with Charley Corbet, when he comes back, that I have less of it than him; and we'll both leave it to your honor, as the best judge; now, if I have less of it than Charley, I think I deserve the preference."
The baronet looked at him, or rather in the direction where he stood, which induced Gillespie to suppose that he was paying the strictest attention to what he said.
"Besides, I once caught Charley at his prayers, Sir Thomas; but I'd be glad to see the man that ever caught me at them—that's the chat."
Sir Thomas placed his two hands upon his eyes for as good as a minute, after which he removed them, and stared about him like one awakening from a disturbed dream.
"Eh?—Begone, Gillespie; I believe I sent for you, but you may go. I am unwell, and not in a condition to speak to you. When I want you again, you shall be sent for."
"I don't care a d—— about either hell or the devil, Sir Thomas, especially when I'm drunk; and I once, for a wager, outswore Squire Leatherings, who was so deaf that I was obliged to swear with my mouth to the end of his ear-trumpet. I was backed for fifty guineas by Colonel Brimstone, who was head of the Hellfire Club."
The baronet signed to him impatiently to begone, and this worthy moralist withdrew, exclaiming as he went:
"Take my word for it, you will find nothing to your hand equal to myself; and if there's anything to be done, curse me but I deserve a preference. I think merit ought to have its reward at any rate."
Sir Thomas, we need not say, felt ill at ease. The tumults of his mind resembled those of the ocean after the violence of the tempest has swept over it, leaving behind that dark and angry agitation which indicates the awful extent of its power. After taking a turn or two through the room, he felt fatigued and drowsy, with something like a feeling of approaching illness. Yielding to this heaviness, he stretched himself on a sofa, and in a few minutes was fast asleep.
All minds naturally vicious, or influenced by the impulses of bad and irregular passions, are essentially vulgar, mean, and cowardly. Our baronet was, beyond question, a striking proof of this truth. Had he possessed either dignity, or one spark of gentlemanly feeling, or self-respect, he would not have degraded himself from what ought to have been expected from a man in his position, by his violence to the worthless wretch, Crackenfudge, who was slight, comparatively feeble, and by no means a match for him in a personal contest. The only apology that can be offered for him is, that it is probable he was scarcely conscious, in the whirlwind and tempest of his passions, that he allowed himself to act such a base and unmanly part to a person who had not willingly offended him, and who was entitled, whilst under his roof, to forbearance, if not protection, even in virtue of the communication he had made.
After sleeping about an hour, he arose considerably refreshed in body; but the agony of mind, although diminished in its strength by its own previous paroxysms, was still intense and bitter. He got up, surveyed himself once more in the glass, adjusted his dress, and helped himself to a glass or two of Madeira, which was his usual specific after these internal conflicts.
This day, however, was destined to be one of trial to him, although by no means his last; neither was it ordained to bring forth the final ordeals that awaited him. He had scarcely time to reflect upon the measures which, under the present circumstances, he ought to pursue, although he certainly was engaged in considering the matter, when Gibson once more entered to let him know that a gentleman requested the favor of a short interview.
"What gentleman? Who is he? I'm not in a frame of mind to see any stranger—I mean, Gibson, that I'm not well."
"Sorry, to hear it, sir; shall I tell the gentleman you can't see him?"
"Yes—no—stay; do you know who he is?"
"He is the gentleman, sir, who has been stopping for some time at the Mitre."
"What!" exclaimed the baronet, bouncing to his feet.
If some notorious felon, red with half-a-dozen murders, and who, having broken jail, left an empty noose in the hands of the hangman, had taken it into his head to return and offer himself up for instant execution to the aforesaid hangman, and eke to the sheriff, we assert that neither sheriff nor hangman, nor hangman nor sheriff, arrange them as you may, could feel a thousandth part of the astonishment which seized Sir Thomas Gourlay on learning the fact conveyed to him by Gibson. Sir Thomas, however, after the first natural start, became, if we may use the expression, deadly, fearfully calm. It was not poor, contemptible Crackenfudge he had to deal with now, but the prime offender, the great felon himself, the author of his shame, the villain who poured in the fire of perdition upon his heart, who blasted his hopes, crumbled into ruin all his schemes of ambition for his daughter, and turned her very name into a byword of pollution and guilt. This was the man whom he was now about to get into his power; the man who, besides, had on a former occasion bearded and insulted him to his teeth;—the skulking adventurer afraid to disclose his name—the low-born impostor, living by the rinsings of foul and fetid teeth—the base upstart—the thief—the man who robbed and absconded from his employer; and this wretch, this cipher, so low in the scale of society and life, was the individual who had left him what he then felt himself to be—a thing crushed, disgraced, trodden in the dust—and then his daughter!——
"Gibson," said he, "show him into a room—say I will see him presently, in about ten minutes or less; deliver this message, and return to me."
In a few moments Gibson again made his appearance.
"Gibson," continued his master, "where is Gillespie? Send him to me."
"Gillespie's gone into Ballytrain, sir, to get one of the horses fired."
"Gibson, you are a good and faithful servant. Go to my bedroom and fetch me my pistols."
"My God, Sir Thomas! oh, sir, for heaven's sake, avoid violence! The expression of your face, Sir Thomas, makes me tremble."
Sir Thomas spoke not, but by one look Gibson felt that he must obey him. On returning with the arms, his master took them out of his hands, opened the pans, shook and stirred the powder, examined the flints, saw that they were sharp and firm, and having done so, he opened a drawer in the table at which he usually wrote, and there placed them at full cock. Gibson could perceive that, although unnaturally calm, he was nevertheless in a state of great agitation; for whilst examining the pistols, he observed that his hand trembled, although his voice was low, condensed, and firm.
"For God's sake, Sir Thomas! for the Almighty God's sake—"
"Go, Gibson, and desire the 'gentleman' to walk up—show him the way."
Sir Thomas's mind was, no doubt, in a tumult; but, at the same time, it was the agitation of a man without courage. After Gibson had left the room, he grew absolutely nervous, both in mind and body, and felt as if he were unequal to the conflict that he expected. On hearing the firm, manly tread of the stranger, his heart sank, and a considerable portion of his violence abandoned him, though not the ungenerous purpose which the result of their interview might possibly render necessary. At all events, he felt that he was about to meet the stranger in a much more subdued spirit than he had expected; simply because, not being naturally a brave or a firm man, his courage, and consequently his resentment, cooled in proportion as the distance between them diminished.
Sir Thomas was standing with his back to the fire as the stranger entered. The manner of the latter was cool, but cautious, and his bow that of a perfect gentleman. The baronet, surprised into more than he had intended, bowed haughtily in return—a mark of respect which it was not his intention to have paid him.
"I presume, sir," said he, "that I understand the object of this visit?"
"You and I, Sir Thomas Gourlay," replied the stranger, "have had one interview already—and but one; and I am not aware that anything occurred then between us that could enable you to account for my presence here."
"Well, sir, perhaps so," replied the baronet, with a sneer; "but to what may I attribute the honor of that distinguished presence?"
"I come, Sir Thomas Gourlay, to seek for an explanation on a subject of the deepest importance to the party under whose wishes and instructions I act."
"That party, sir," replied the baronet, who alluded to his daughter, "has forfeited every right to give you instructions on that, or any other subject where I am concerned. And, indeed, to speak candidly, I hardly know whether more to admire her utter want of all shame in deputing you on such a mission, or your own immeasurable effrontery in undertaking it."
"Sir Thomas Gourlay," replied the stranger, with a proud smile on his lips, "I beg to assure you, once for all, that it is not my intention to notice, much less return, such language as you have now applied to me. Whatever you may forget, sir, I entreat you to remember that you are addressing a gentleman, who is anxious in this interview, as well as upon all occasions when we may meet, to treat you with courtesy. And I beg to say now, that I regret the warmth of my language to you, though not unprovoked, on a former occasion."
"Oh, much obliged, sir," replied the baronet, with a low, ironical inclination of the head, indicative of the most withering contempt; "much obliged, sir. Perhaps you would honor me with your patronage, too. I dare say that will be the next courtesy. Well, I can't say but I am a fortunate fellow. Will you have the goodness, however, to proceed, sir, and open your negotiations? unless, in the true diplomatic spirit, you wish to keep me in ignorance of its real object."
"It is a task that I enter upon with great pain," replied the other, without noticing the offensive politeness of the baronet, "because I am aware that there are associations connected with it, which you, as a father, cannot contemplate without profound sorrow."
"Don't rest assured of that," said Sir Thomas. "Your philosophy may lead you astray there. A sensible man, sir, never regrets that which is worthless."
The stranger looked a good deal surprised; however, he opened the negotiation, as the baronet said, in due form.
"I believe, Sir Thomas Gourlay," he proceeded, "you remember that the son and heir of your late brother, Sir Edward Gourlay, long deceased, disappeared very mysteriously some sixteen or eighteen years ago, and has been lost to the family ever since."
"Oh, sir," exclaimed the baronet, with no little surprise, "I beg your pardon. Your exordium was so singularly clear, that I did not understand you before. Pray proceed."
"I trust, then, you understand me now, sir," replied the stranger; "and I trust you will understand me better before we part."
The baronet, in spite of his hauteur and contemptuous sarcasm, began to feel uneasy; for, to speak truth, there was in the stranger's words and manner, an earnestness of purpose, joined to a cool and manly spirit, that could not be treated lightly, or with indifference.
"Sir Thomas Gourlay," proceeded the stranger—
"I beg your pardon, sir," said the other, interrupting him; "plain Thomas Gourlay, if you please. Is not that your object?"
"Truth, sir, is our object, and justice, and the restoration of the defrauded orphan's rights. These, sir, are our objects; and these we shall endeavor to establish. Sir Thomas Gourlay, you know that the son of your brother lives."
"Yes, sir; disguise it—conceal it as you will. You know that the son of your brother lives. I repeat that emphatically."
"So I perceive. You are evidently a very emphatic gentleman."
"If truth, sir, constitute emphasis, you shall find me so."
"I attend to you, sir; and I give you notice, that when you shall have exhausted yourself, I have my explanation to demand; and, I promise you, a terrible one you shall find it."
This the wily baronet said, in order, if possible, to confound the stranger, and throw him out of the directness of his purpose. In this, however, he found himself mistaken. The other proceeded:
"You, Sir Thomas Gourlay, did, one night about eighteen years ago, as I said, engage a man, disguised in a mask for the purpose of concealing his features, to kidnap your brother's child from Red Hall—from this very house in which we both stand."
"I beg your pardon," said Sir Thomas, "I forgot that circumstance in the blaze of your eloquence; perhaps you will have the goodness to take a seat;" and in the same spirit of bitter sarcasm, he motioned him with mock courtesy, to sit down. The other, pausing only until he had spoken, proceeded:
"You engaged this man, I repeat, to kidnap your brother's son and heir, under the pretence of bringing him to see a puppet-show. Now, Sir Thomas Gourlay," proceeded the stranger, "suppose that the friends of this child, kidnapped by you, shall succeed in proving this fact by incontestable evidence, in what position will you stand before the world?"
"Much in the same position in which I stand now. In Red Hall, as its rightful proprietor, with my back probably to the fire, as it is at present."
It is undeniable, however, that despite all this haughty coolness of the baronet, the charge involved in the statement advanced by the stranger stunned him beyond belief; not simply because the other made it, for that was a mere secondary consideration, but because he took it for granted that it never could have been made unless through the medium of treachery; and we all know that when a criminal, whether great or small, has reason to believe that he has been betrayed, his position is not enviable, inasmuch as all sense of security totters from under him. The stranger, as he proceeded, watched the features of his auditor closely, and could perceive that the struggle then going on between the tumult of alarm within and the effort at calmness without, was more than, with all his affected irony and stoicism, he could conceal.
"But, perhaps," proceeded the baronet, "you who presume to be so well acquainted with the removal of my brother's child, may have it in your power to afford me some information on the disappearance of my own. I wish you, however, to observe this distinction. As the history you have given happens to be pure fiction, I should wish the other to be nothing but—truth."
"The loss of your child I regret, sir" (Sir Thomas bowed as before), "but I am not here to speak of that. You perceive now that we have got a clew to this painful mystery—to this great crime. A portion of the veil is raised, and you may rest assured that it shall not fall again until the author of this injustice shall be fully exposed. I do not wish to use harsher language."
"As to that," replied Sir Thomas, "use no unnecessary delicacy on the subject. Thank God, the English language is a copious one. Use it to its full extent. You will find all its power necessary to establish the pretty conspiracy you are developing. Proceed, sir, I am quite attentive. I really did not imagine I could have felt so much amused. Indeed, I am very fortunate in this respect, for it is not every man who could have such an excellent farce enacted at his own fireside."
"All this language is well, and no doubt very witty, Sir Thomas; but, believe me, in the end you will find this matter anything but a farce. Now, sir, I crave your attention to a proposal which I am about to make to you on this most distressing subject. Restore this young man to his mother—use whatever means you may in bringing this about. Let it appear, for instance, that he was discovered accidentally, or in such a way, at least, that your name or agency, either now or formerly, may in no manner be connected with it. On these terms you shall be permitted to enjoy the title and property during your life, and every necessary guarantee to that effect shall be given you. The heart of Lady Gourlay is neither in your present title nor your present property, but in her child, whom that heart yearns to recover. This, then, Sir Thomas Gourlay, is the condition which I propose; and, mark me, I propose it on the alternative of our using the means and materials already in our hands for your exposure and conviction should you reject it."
"There is one quality about you, sir," replied the baronet, "which I admire extremely, and that is your extraordinary modesty. Nothing else could prompt you to stand up and charge a man of my rank and character, on my own hearth, with the very respectable crime of kidnapping my brother's child. Extremely modest, indeed! But how you should come to be engaged in this vindictive plot, and how you, above all men living, should have the assurance to thus insult me, is a mystery for the present. Of course, you see, you are aware, that I treat every word you have uttered with the utmost degree of contempt and scorn which the language is capable of expressing. I neither know nor care who may have prompted you, or misled you; be that, however, as it may, I have only simply to state that, on this subject I defy them as thoroughly as I despise you. On another subject, however, I experience toward you a different, feeling, as I shall teach you to understand before you leave the room."
"This being your reply, I must discharge my duty fully. Pray mark me, now, Sir Thomas. Did you not give instructions to a certain man to take your brother's child out of your path—out of your sight—out of your hearing? And, Sir Thomas, was not that man very liberally rewarded for that act? I pray you, sir, to think seriously of this, as I need not say that if you persist in rejecting our conditions, a serious matter you will find it."
Another contemptuous inclination, and "you have my reply, sir," was all the baronet could trust himself to say.
"I now come to a transaction of a more recent date, Sir Thomas."
"Ah!" said the baronet, "I thought I should have had the pleasure of introducing the discussion of that transaction. You really are, however, quite a universal genius—so clear and eloquent upon all topics, that I suppose I may leave it in your hands."
"A young man, named Fenton, has suddenly disappeared from this neighborhood."
"Indeed! Why, I must surely live at the antipodes, or in the moon, or I could not plead such ignorance of those great events."
"You are aware, Sir Thomas, that the person passing under that name is your brother's son—the legitimate heir to the title and property of which you are in the unjust possession."
Another bow. "I thank you, sir. I really am deriving much information at your hands."
"Now I demand, Sir Thomas Gourlay, in the name of his injured mother, what you have done with that young man?"
"It would be useless to conceal it," replied the other. "As you seem to know everything, of course you know that. To your own knowledge, therefore, I beg most respectfully to refer you."
"I have only another observation to make, Sir Thomas Gourlay. You remember last Tuesday night, when you drove at an unseasonable hour to the town of———? Now, sir, I use your words, on that subject, to your own knowledge I beg most respectfully to refer you. I have done."
Sir Thomas Gourlay, when effort was necessary, could certainly play an able and adroit part. There was not a charge brought against him in the preceding conference that did not sink his heart into the deepest dismay; yet did he contrive to throw over his whole manner and bearing such a veil of cold, hard dissimulation as it was nearly impossible to penetrate. It is true, he saw that he had an acute, sensible, independent man to deal with, whose keen eye he felt was reading every feature of his face, and every motion of his body, and weighing, as it were, with a practised hand, the force and import of every word he uttered. He knew that merely to entertain the subject, or to discuss it at all with anything like seriousness, would probably have exposed him to the risk of losing his temper, and thus placed himself in the power of so sharp and impurturbable an antagonist. As the dialogue proceeded, too, a portion of his attention was transferred from the topic in question to the individual who introduced it. His language, his manner, his dress, his tout ensemble were unquestionably not only those of an educated gentleman, but of a man who was well acquainted with life and society, and who appeared to speak as if he possessed no unequivocal position in both.
"Who the devil," thought he to himself several times, "can this person be? How does he come to speak on behalf of Lady Gourlay? Surely such a man cannot be a brush manufacturer's clerk—and he has very little the look of an impostor, too."
All this, however, could not free him from the deep and deadly conviction that the friends of his brother's widow were on his trail, and that it required the whole united powers of his faculties for deception, able and manifold as they were, to check his pursuers and throw them off the scent. It was now, too, that his indignation against his daughter and him who had seduced her from his roof began to deepen in his heart. Had he succeeded in seeing her united to Lord Dunroe, previous to any exposure of himself—supposing even that discovery was possible—his end, the great object of his life, was, to a certain extent, gained. Now, however, that that hope was out of the question, and treachery evidently at work against him, he felt that gloom, disappointment, shame, and ruin were fast gathering round him. He was, indeed, every way hemmed in and hampered. It was clear that this stranger was not a man to be either cajoled or bullied. He read a spirit—a sparkle—in his eye, which taught him that the brutality inflicted upon the unfortunate Crackenfudge, and such others as he knew he might trample on, would never do here.
As matters stood, however, he thought the only chance of throwing the stranger off his guard was to take him by a coup de main. With this purpose, he went over, and sitting down to his desk before the drawer that contained his pistols, thus placing himself between the stranger and the door, he turned upon him a look as stern and determined as he could possibly assume; and we must remark here, that he omitted no single consideration connected with the subject he was about to introduce that was calculated to strengthen his determination.
"Now, sir," said he, "in the first place, may I take the liberty of asking where you have concealed my daughter? I will have no equivocation, sir," he added, raising his voice—"no evasion, no falsehood, but in one plain word, or in as many as may be barely necessary, say where you have concealed Miss Gourlay."
"Sir Thomas Gourlay," replied the other, "I can understand your feelings upon this subject, and I can overlook much that you may say in connection with it; but neither upon that nor any other, can I permit the imputation of falsehood against myself. You are to observe this, sir, and to forbear the repetition of such an insult. My reply is brief and candid: I know not where Miss Gourlay is, upon my honor as a gentleman."
"Do you mean to tell me, sir, that you and she did not elope in the same coach on Tuesday night last?"
"I do, sir; and I beg to tell you, that such a suspicion is every way unworthy of your daughter."
"Take care, sir; you were seen together in Dublin."
"That is true. I had the honor of travelling in the same coach with her to the metropolis; but I was altogether unconscious of being her fellow-traveller until we arrived in Dublin. A few brief words of conversation I had with her in the coach, but nothing more."
"And you presume to say that you know not where she is—that you are ignorant of the place of her retreat'?"
"Yes, I presume to say so, Sir Thomas; I have already pledged my honor as a gentleman to that effect, and I shall not repeat it."
"As a gentleman!—but how do I know that you are a man of honor and a gentleman?"
"Sir Thomas, don't allow your passion or prejudice to impose upon your judgment and penetration as a man of the world. I know you feel this moment that you are addressing a man who is both; and your own heart tells you that every word I have uttered respecting Miss Gourlay is true."
"You will excuse me there, sir," replied the baronet. "Your position in this neighborhood is anything but a guarantee to the truth of what you say. If you be a gentleman—a man of honor, why live here, incognito, afraid to declare your name, or your rank, if you have any?—why lie perdu, like a man under disgrace, or who had fled from justice?"
"Well, then, I beg you to rest satisfied that I am not under disgrace, and that I have motives for concealing my name that are disinterested, and even honorable, to myself, if they were known."
"Pray, will you answer me another question—Do you happen to know a firm in London named Grinwell and Co.? they are toothbrush manufacturers? Now, mark my words well—I say Grinwell and Co., tooth-brush manufacturers."
"I have until this moment never heard of Grinwell and Co., tooth-brush manufacturers."
"Now, sir," replied Sir Thomas, "all this may be very well and very true; but there is one fact that you can neither deny nor dispute. You have been paying your addresses clandestinely to my daughter, and there is a mutual attachment between you."
"I love your daughter—I will not deny it."
"She returns your affections?"
"I cannot reply to anything involving Miss Gourlay's opinions, who is not here to explain them; nor is it generous in you to force me into the presumptuous task of interpreting her sentiments on such a subject."
"The fact, however, is this. I have for some years entertained other and different views with respect to her settlement in life. You may be a gentleman, or you may be an impostor; but one thing is certain, you have taught her to contravene my wishes—to despise the honors to which a dutiful obedience to them would exalt her—to spurn my affection, and to trample on my authority. Now, sir, listen to me. Renounce her—give up all claims to her—withdraw every pretension, now and forever; or, by the living God! you shall never carry your life out of this room. Sooner than have the noble design which I proposed for her frustrated; sooner than have the projects of my whole life for her honorable exaltation ruined, I could bear to die the death of a common felon. Here, sir, is a proposition that admits of only the one fatal and deadly alternative. You see these pistols; they are heavily loaded; and you know my purpose; —it is the purpose, let me tell you, of a resolved and desperate man."
"I know not how to account for this violence, Sir Thomas Gourlay," replied the stranger with singular coolness; "all I can say is, that on me it is thrown away."
"Refuse the compliance with the proposition I have made, and by heavens you have looked upon your last sun. The pistols, sir, are cocked; if one fails, the other won't."
"This outrage, Sir Thomas, upon a stranger, in your own house, under the protection of your own roof, is as monstrous as it is cowardly."
"My roof, sir, shall never afford protection to a villain," said the baronet, in a loud and furious voice. "Renounce my daughter, and that quickly. No, sir, this roof will afford you no protection."
"Well, sir, I cannot help that," replied the stranger, deliberately taking out of his breast, where they were covered by an outside coat, a case of excellent pistols, which he instantly cocked, and held ready for action: "If your roof won't, these good friends will. And now, Sir Thomas, hear me; lay aside your idle weapons, which, were I even unarmed, I would disregard as much as I do this moment. Our interview is now closed; but before I go, let me entreat you to reflect upon the conditions I have offered you; reflect upon them deeply—yes, and accept them, otherwise you will involve yourself in all the consequences of a guilty but unsuccessful ambition—in contempt—infamy—and ruin."
The baronet's face became exceedingly blank at the exhibition of the fire-arms. Pistol for pistol had been utterly out of the range of his calculations. He looked upon the stranger with astonishment, not un-mingled with a considerable portion of that wholesome feeling which begets self-preservation. In fact, he was struck dumb, and uttered not a syllable; and as the stranger made his parting bow, the other could only stare at him as if he had seen an apparition.
CHAPTER XXII. Lucy at Summerfield Cottage.
On his way to the inn, the stranger could not avoid admiring the excellent sense and prudence displayed by Lucy Gourlay, in the brief dialogue which we have already detailed to our readers. He felt clearly, that if he had followed up his natural impulse to ascertain the place of her retreat, he would have placed himself in the very position which, knowing her father as she did, she had so correctly anticipated. In the meantime, now that the difficulty in this respect, which she had apprehended, was over, his anxiety to know her present residence returned upon him with full force. Not that he thought it consistent with delicacy to intrude himself upon her presence, without first obtaining her permission to that effect. He was well and painfully aware that a lying report of their elopement had gone abroad, but as he did not then know that this calumny had been principally circulated by unfortunate Crackenfudge, who, however, was the dupe of Dandy Dulcimer, and consequently took the fact for granted.
Lucy, however, to whom we must now return, on arriving at the neat cottage already alluded to, occasioned no small surprise to its proprietor. The family, when the driver knocked, were all asleep, or at least had not arisen, and on the door being opened by a broad-faced, good-humored looking servant, who was desired to go to a lady in the chaise, the woman, after rubbing her eyes and yawning, looked about her as if she were in a dream, exclaiming, "Lord bless us! and divil a sowl o' them out o' the blankets yet!"
"You're nearly asleep," said the driver; "but I'll hould a testher that a tight crapper Would soon brighten your eye. Come, come," he added, as she yawned again, "shut your pittaty trap, and go to the young lady in the chaise."
The woman settled her cap, which was awry, upon her head, by plucking it quickly over to the opposite side, and hastily tying the strings of her apron, so as to give herself something of a tidy look, she proceeded, barefooted, but in slippers, to the chaise.
"Will you have the kindness," said Lucy, in a very sweet voice, "to say to Mrs. Norton that a young friend of hers wishes to see her."
"And tell her to skip," added Alley Mahon, "and not keep us here all the blessed mornin'."
"Mrs. Norton!" exclaimed the woman; "I don't know any sich parson as that, Miss."
"Why," said Lucy, putting her head out of the chaise, and re-examining the cottage, "surely this is where my friend Mrs. Norton did live, certainly. She must have changed her residence, Alley. This is most unfortunate!—What are we to do? I know not where to go."
"Whisht! Miss," said Alley, "we'll put her through her catechiz again. Come here, my good woman; come forrid; don't be ashamed or afeard in the presence of ladies. Who does live here?"
"Mr. Mainwarin'," replied the servant, omitting the "Miss," notwithstanding that Alley had put in her claim for it by using the plural number.
"This is distressing—most unfortunate!" exclaimed Lucy; "how long has this gentleman—Mr.—Mr.———"
"Mainwarin', Miss," added the woman, respectfully.
"She's a stupid lookin' sthreel, at all events," said Alley, half to herself and half to her mistress.
"Yes, Mainwaring," continued Lucy; "how long has he been living here?"
"Troth, and that's more than I can tell you, Miss," replied the woman; "I'm from the county Wexford myself, and isn't more than a month here."
Whilst this little dialogue went on, or rather, we should say, after it was concluded, a tapping was heard at one of the windows, and a signal given with the finger for the servant to return to the house. She did so; but soon presented herself a second time at the chaise door with more agreeable intelligence.
"You're right, Miss," said she; "the mistress desired me to ask you in; she seen you from the windy, and desired me to bring your things too; you're to come in, then, Miss, you, an' the sarvint that's along wid you."
On entering, an intelligent, respectable-looking female, of lady-like manners, shook hands with and even kissed Lucy, who embraced her with much affection.
"My dear Mrs. Norton," she said, "how much surprised you must feel at this abrupt and unseasonable visit."
"How much delighted, you mean, my dear Miss Gourlay; and if I am surprised, I assure you the surprise is an agreeable one."
"But," said the innocent girl, "your servant told me that you did not live here, and I felt so much distressed!"
"Well," replied Mrs. Norton, "she was right, in one sense: if Mrs. Norton that was does not live here, Mrs. Mainwaring that is certainly does—and feels both proud and flattered at the honor Miss Gourlay does her humble residence."
"How is this?" said Lucy, smiling; "you have then—"
"Yes, indeed, I have changed my condition, as the phrase goes; but neither my heart nor my affections to you, Miss Gourlay. Pray sit down on this sofa. Your maid, I presume, Miss Gourlay?"
"Yes," replied Lucy; "and a faithful creature has she proved to me, Mrs. Nor—" but I beg your pardon, my dear madam; how am I—oh, yes, Mrs. Mainwaring!"
"Nancy," said the latter, "take this young woman with you, and make her comfortable. You seem exhausted. Miss Gourlay; shall I get some tea?"
"Thank you, Mrs. Nor—Mainwaring, no; we have had a hasty cup of tea in Dublin. But if it will not be troublesome, I should like to go to bed for a time."
Mrs. Mainwaring flew out of the room, and called Nancy Gallaher. "Nancy, prepare a bed immediately for this lady; her maid, too, will probably require rest. Prepare a bed for both."
She was half in and half out of the room as she spoke; then returning with a bunch of keys dangling from her finger, she glanced at Miss Gourlay with that slight but delicate and considerate curiosity which arises only from a friendly warmth of feeling—but said nothing.
"My dear Mrs. Mainwaring," said Lucy, who understood her look, "I feel that I have acted very wrong. I have fled from my father's house, and I have taken refuge with you. I am at present confused and exhausted, but when I get some rest, I will give you an explanation. At present, it is sufficient to say that papa has taken my marriage with that odious Lord Dunroe so strongly into his head, that nothing short of my consent will satisfy him. I know he loves me, and thinks that rank and honor, because they gratify his ambition, will make me happy. I know that that ambition is not at all personal to himself, but indulged in and nurtured on my account, and for my advancement in life. How then can I blame him?"
"Well, my child, no more of that at present; you want rest."
"Yes, Mrs. Mainwaring, I do; but I am very wretched and unhappy. Alas! you know not, my dear friend, the delight which I have always experienced in obeying papa in everything, with the exception of this hateful union; and now I feel something like remorse at having abandoned him."
She then gave a brief account to her kind-hearted friend of her journey to Dublin by the "Fly," in the first instance, suppressing one or two incidents; and of her second to Mrs. Mainwaring's, who, after hearing that she had not slept at all during the night, would permit no further conversation on that or any other subject, but hurried her to bed, she herself acting as her attendant. Having seen her comfortably settled, and carefully tucked her up with her own hands, she kissed the fair girl, exclaiming, "Sleep, my love; and may God bless and protect you from evil and unhappiness, as I feel certain He will, because you deserve it."
She then left her to sepose, and in a few minutes Lucy was fast asleep.
Whilst this little dialogue between Lucy and Mrs. Mainwaring was proceeding in the parlor of Summerfield cottage, another was running parallel with it between the two servants in the kitchen.
"God bless me," said Nancy Gallaher, addressing Alley, "you look shockin' bad afther so early a journey! I'll get you a cup o' tay, to put a bloom in your cheek."
"Thank you, kindly, ma'am," replied Alley, with a toss of her head which implied anything but gratitude for this allusion to her complexion: "a good sleep, ma'am, will bring back the bloom—and that's aisy done, ma'am, to any one who has youth on their side. The color will come and go then, but let a wrinkle alone for keepin' its ground."
This was accompanied by a significant glance at Nancy's face, on which were legible some rather unequivocal traces of that description. Honest Nancy, however, although she saw the glance, and understood the insinuation, seemed to take no notice of either—the fact being that her whole spirit was seized with an indomitable curiosity, which, like a restless familiar, insisted on being gratified.
In the case of those who undertake journeys similar to that which Lucy had just accomplished, there may be noticed almost by every eye those evidences of haste, alarm, and anxiety, and even distress, which to a certain extent at least tell their own tale, and betray to the observer that all can scarcely be right. Now Nancy Gallaher saw this, and having drawn the established conclusion that there must in some way be a lover in the case, she sat down in form before the fortress of Alley Mahon's secret, with a firm determination to make herself mistress of it, if the feat were at all practicable. In Alley, however, she had an able general to compete with—a general who resolved, on the other hand, to make a sortie, as it were, and attack Nancy by a series of bold and unexpected manoeuvres.
Nancy, on her part, having felt her first error touching Alley's complexion, resolved instantly to repair it by the substitution of a compliment in its stead.
"Throth, an' it'll be many a day till there's a wrinkle in your face, avourneen—an' now that I look at you agin—a pretty an' a sweet face it is. 'Deed it's many a day since I seen two sich faces as yours and the other young lady's; but anyway, you had betther let me get you a comfortable cup o' tay—afther your long journey. Oh, then, but that beautiful creature has a sorrowful look, poor thing."
These words were accompanied by a most insinuating glance of curiosity, mingled up with an air of strong benevolence, to show Alley that it proceeded only from the purest of good feeling. "Thank you," replied Alley, "I will take a cup sure enough. What family have you here? if it's a fair question."
"Sorra one but ourselves," replied Nancy, without making her much the wiser.
"But, I mane," proceeded Alley, "have you children? bekase if you have I hate them."
"Neither chick nor child there will be under the roof wid you here," responded Nancy, whilst putting the dry tea into a tin tea-pot that had seen service; "there's only the three of us—that is, myself, the misthress, and the masther—for I am not countin' a slip of a girl that comes in every day to do odd jobs, and some o' the rough work about the house."
"Oh, I suppose," said Alley, indifferently, "the childre's all married off?"
"There's only one," replied Nancy; "and indeed you're right enough—she is married, and not long either—and, in truth, I don't envy her the husband, she got. Lord save and guard us! I know I wouldn't long keep my senses if I had him."
"Why so?" asked Alley. "Has he two heads upon him?"
"Troth, no," replied the other; "but he's what they call a mad docther, an' keeps a rheumatic asylum—that manes a place where they put mad people, to prevent them from doin' harm. They say it would make the hair stand on your head like nettles even to go into it. However, that's not what I'm thinkin' of, but that darlin' lookin' creature that's wid the misthress. The Lord keep sorrow and cross-fortune from her, poor thing—for she looks unhappy. Avillish! are you and she related? for, as I'm a sinner, there's a resemblance in your faces—and even in your figures—only you're something rounder and fuller than she is."
"Isn't she lovely?" returned Alley, making the most of the compliment. "Sure, wasn't it in Dublin her health was drunk as the greatest toast in Ireland." She then added after a pause, "The Lord knows I wouldn't—"
"I was just thinkin', that I wouldn't marry a mad docther, if there was ne'er another man in Ireland. A mad docther! Oh, beetha. Then will you let us know the name that's upon him?" she added in a most wheedling tone.
"His name is Scareman, my misthress tells me—he's related by the mother's side to the Moontides of Ballycrazy, in the barony of Quarther Clift—arrah, what's this your name is, avourneen?"
"Alley Mahon I was christened," replied her new friend; "but," she added, with an air of modest dignity that was inimitable in its way—"in regard of my place as maid of honor to Lady Lucy, I'm usually called Miss Mahon, or Miss Alley. My mistress, for her own sake, in ordher to keep up her consequence, you persave, doesn't like to hear me called anything else than either one or t'other of them."
"And it's all right," replied the other. "Well, as I was going to say, that Mrs. Mainwaring is breakin' her heart about this unforthunate marriage of her daughter to Scareman. It seems—but this is between ourselves—it seems, my dear, that he's a dark, hard-hearted scrub, that 'id go to hell or farther for a shillin', for a penny, ay, or for a farden. An' the servant that was here afore me—a clean, good-natured girl she was, in throth—an' got married to a blacksmith, at the cross-roads beyant—tould me that the scrames, an' yells, an' howlins, and roarins—the cursin' and blasphaymin'—an' the laughin', that she said was worse than all—an' the rattlin' of chains—the Lord save us—would make one think themselves more in hell than in any place upon this world. And it appears the villain takes delight in it, an' makes lashins of money by the trade."