"Why, Mr. Cudmore," began the lady, "why, really, this is so strange. Why sir, what can you mean?"
"Just that," said the imperturbable jib, who now that his courage was up, dared every thing.
"But sir, you must surely have misunderstood me. I only asked for the kettle, Mr. Cudmore."
"The devil a more," said Cud, with a sneer.
"Well, then, of course"—
"Well, then, I'll tell you, of course," said he, repeating her words; "the sorrow taste of the kettle, I'll give you. Call you own skip—Blue Pether there—damn me, if I'll be your skip any longer."
For the uninitiated I have only to add, that "skip" is the Trinity College appellation for servant, which was therefore employed by Mr. Cudmore, on this occasion, as expressing more contemptuously his sense of the degradation of the office attempted to be put upon him. Having already informed my reader on some particulars of the company, I leave him to suppose how Mr. Cudmore's speech was received. Whist itself was at an end for that evening, and nothing but laughter, long, loud, and reiterated, burst from every corner of the room for hours after.
As I have so far travelled out of the record of my own peculiar confessions, as to give a leaf from what might one day form the matter of Mr. Cudmore's, I must now make the only amende in my power, by honestly narrating, that short as my visit was to the classic precincts of this agreeable establishment, I did not escape without exciting my share of ridicule, though, I certainly had not the worst of the joke, and may, therefore, with better grace tell the story, which, happily for my readers, is a very brief one. A custom prevailed in Mrs. Clanfrizzle's household, which from my unhappy ignorance of boarding-houses, I am unable to predicate if it belong to the genera at large, or this one specimen in particular, however, it is a sufficiently curious fact, even though thereby hang no tale, for my stating it here. The decanters on the dinner-table were never labelled, with their more appropriate designation of contents, whether claret, sherry, or port, but with the names of their respective owners, it being a matter of much less consequence that any individual at table should mix his wine, by pouring "port upon madeira," than commit the truly legal offence of appropriating to his own use and benefit, even by mistake, his neighbour's bottle. However well the system may work among the regular members of the "domestic circle," and I am assured that it does succeed extremely —to the newly arrived guest, or uninitiated visitor, the affair is perplexing, and leads occasionally to awkward results.
It so chanced, from my friend O'Flaherty's habitual position at the foot of the table, and my post of honour near the head, that on the first day of my appearing there, the distance between us, not only precluded all possible intercourse, but any of those gentle hints as to habits and customs, a new arrival looks for at the hands of his better informed friend. The only mode of recognition, to prove that we belonged to each other, being by that excellent and truly English custom of drinking wine together, Tom seized the first idle moment from his avocation as carver to say,
"Lorrequer, a glass of wine with you."
Having, of course, acceded, he again asked,
"What wine do you drink?" intending thereby, as I afterwards learned, to send me from his end of the table, what wine I selected. Not conceiving the object of the inquiry, and having hitherto without hesitation helped myself from the decanter, which bore some faint resemblance to sherry, I immediately turned for correct information to the bottle itself, upon whose slender neck was ticketed the usual slip of paper. My endeavours to decypher the writing occupied time sufficient again to make O'Flaherty ask,
"Well, Harry, I'm waiting for you. Will you have port?"
"No, I thank you," I replied, having by this revealed the inscription. "No, I thank you; I'll just stick to my old friend here, Bob M'Grotty;" for thus I rendered familiarly the name of Rt. M'Grotty on the decanter, and which I in my ignorance believed to be the boarding-house soubriquet for bad sherry. That Mr. M'Grotty himself little relished my familiarity with either his name or property I had a very decisive proof, for turning round upon his chair, and surveying my person from head to foot with a look of fiery wrath, he thundered out in very broad Scotch,
"And by my saul, my freend, ye may just as weel finish it noo, for deil a glass o' his ain wine did Bob M'Grotty, as ye ca' him, swallow this day."
The convulsion of laughter into which my blunder and the Scotchman's passion threw the whole board, lasted till the cloth was withdrawn, and the ladies had retired to the drawing-room, the only individual at table not relishing the mistake being the injured proprietor of the bottle, who was too proud to accept reparation from my friend's decanter, and would scarcely condescend to open his lips during the evening; notwithstanding which display of honest indignation, we contrived to become exceedingly merry and jocose, most of the party communicating little episodes of their life, in which, it is true, they frequently figured in situations that nothing but their native and natural candour would venture to avow. One story I was considerably amused at; it was told by the counsellor, Mr. Daly, in illustration of the difficulty of rising at the bar, and which, as showing his own mode of obviating the delay that young professional men submit to from hard necessity, as well as in evidence of his strictly legal turn, I shall certainly recount, one of these days, for the edification of the junior bar.
On the morning after my visit to the boarding-house, I received a few hurried lines from Curzon, informing me that no time was to be lost in joining the regiment—that a grand fancy ball was about to be given by the officers of the Dwarf frigate, then stationed off Dunmore; who, when inviting the _, specially put in a demand for my well-known services, to make it to go off, and concluding with an extract from the Kilkenny Moderator, which ran thus—
"An intimation has just reached us, from a quarter on which we can place the fullest reliance, that the celebrated amateur performer, Mr. Lorrequer, may shortly be expected amongst us; from the many accounts we have received of this highly-gifted gentleman's powers, we anticipate a great treat to the lovers of the drama," &c. &c. "So you see, my dear Hal," continued Curzon, "thy vocation calls thee; therefore come, and come quickly—provide thyself with a black satin costume, slashed with light blue—point lace collar and ruffles—a Spanish hat looped in front—and, if possible, a long rapier, with a flap hilt.—Carden is not here; so you may show your face under any colour with perfect impunity.—Yours from the side scenes,
This clever epistle sufficed to show me that the gallant _th had gone clean theatrical mad; and although from my "last appearance on any stage," it might be supposed I should feel no peculiar desire to repeat the experiment, yet the opportunity of joining during Col. Carden's absence, was too tempting to resist, and I at once made up my mind to set out, and, without a moment's delay, hurried across the street to the coach office, to book myself an inside in the mail of that night; fortunately no difficulty existed in my securing the seat, for the way-bill was a perfect blank, and I found myself the only person who had, as yet, announced himself a passenger. On returning to my hotel, I found O'Flaherty waiting for me; he was greatly distressed on hearing my determination to leave town—explained how he had been catering for my amusement for the week to come—that a picnic to the Dargle was arranged in a committee of the whole house, and a boating party, with a dinner at the Pigeon-house, was then under consideration; resisting, however, such extreme temptations, I mentioned the necessity of my at once proceeding to headquarters, and all other reasons for my precipitancy failing, concluded with that really knock-down argument, "I have taken my place;" this, I need scarcely add, finished the matter—at least I have never known it fail in such cases. Tell your friends that your wife is hourly expecting to be confined; your favourite child is in the measles—you best friend waiting your aid in an awkward scrape—your one vote only wanting to turn the scale in an election. Tell them, I say, each or all of these, or a hundred more like them, and to any one you so speak, the answer is—"Pooh, pooh, my dear fellow, never fear—don't fuss yourself —take it easy—to-morrow will do just as well." If, on the other hand, however, you reject such flimsy excuses, and simply say, "I'm booked in the mail," the opposition at once falls to the ground, and your quondam antagonist, who was ready to quarrel with you, is at once prepared to assist in packing your portmanteau.
Having soon satisfied my friend Tom that resistance was in vain, I promised to eat an early dinner with him at Morrisson's, and spent the better part of the morning in putting down a few notes of my Confessions, as well as the particulars of Mr. Daly's story, which, I believe, I half or wholly promised my readers at the conclusion of my last chapter; but which I must defer to a more suitable opportunity, when mentioning the next occasion of my meeting him on the southern circuit.
My dispositions were speedily made. I was fortunate in securing the exact dress my friend's letter alluded to among the stray costumes of Fishamble-street; and rich in the possession of the only "properties" it has been my lot to acquire, I despatched my treasure to the coach office, and hastened to Morrisson's, it being by this time nearly five o'clock. There, true to time, I found O'Flaherty deep in the perusal of the bill, along which figured the novel expedients for dining, I had been in the habit of reading in every Dublin hotel since my boyhood. "Mock turtle, mutton, gravy, roast beef and potatoes—shoulder of mutton and potatoes! —ducks and peas, potatoes!! ham and chicken, cutlet steak and potatoes!!! apple tart and cheese:" with a slight cadenza of a sigh over the distant glories of Very, or still better the "Freres," we sat down to a very patriarchal repast, and what may be always had par excellence in Dublin, a bottle of Sneyd's claret.
Poor Tom's spirits were rather below their usual pitch; and although he made many efforts to rally and appear gay, he could not accomplish it. However, we chatted away over old times and old friends, and forgetting all else but the topics we talked of, the time-piece over the chimney first apprised me that two whole hours had gone by, and that it was now seven o'clock, the very hour the coach was to start. I started up at once, and notwithstanding all Tom's representations of the impossibility of my being in time, had despatched waiters in different directions for a jarvey, more than ever determined upon going; so often is it that when real reasons for our conduct are wanting, any casual or chance opposition confirms us in an intention which before was but uncertain. Seeing me so resolved, Tom, at length, gave way, and advised my pursuing the mail, which must be now gone at least ten minutes, and which, with smart driving, I should probably overtake before getting free of the city, as they have usually many delays in so doing. I at once ordered out the "yellow post-chaise," and before many minutes had elapsed, what, with imprecation and bribery, I started in pursuit of his Majesty's Cork and Kilkenny mail coach, then patiently waiting in the court-yard of the Post Office.
"Which way now, your honor?" said a shrill voice from the dark—for such the night had already become, and threatened with a few heavy drops of straight rain, the fall of a tremendous shower.
"The Naas road," said I; "and, harkye, my fine fellow, if you overtake the coach in half an hour, I'll double your fare."
"Be gorra, I'll do my endayvour," said the youth; at the same time instant dashing in both spurs, we rattled down Nassau-street at a very respectable pace for harriers. Street after street we passed, and at last I perceived we had got clear of the city, and were leaving the long line of lamp-lights behind us. The night was now pitch dark. I could not see any thing whatever. The quick clattering of the wheels, the sharp crack of the postillion's whip, or the still sharper tone of his "gee hup," showed me we were going at a tremendous pace, had I not even had the experience afforded by the frequent visits my head paid to the roof of the chaise, so often as we bounded over a stone, or splashed through a hollow. Dark and gloomy as it was, I constantly let down the window, and with half my body protruded, endeavores to catch a glimpse of the "Chase;" but nothing could I see. The rain now fell in actual torrents; and a more miserable night it is impossible to conceive.
After about an hour so spent, he at last came to a check, so sudden and unexpected on my part, that I was nearly precipitated, harlequin fashion, through the front window. Perceiving that we no longer moved, and suspecting that some part of our tackle had given way, I let down the sash, and cried out—"Well now, my lad, any thing wrong?" My questions was, however, unheard; and although, amid the steam arising from the wet and smoking horses, I could perceive several figures indistinctly moving about, I could not distinguish what they were doing, nor what they said. A laugh I certainly did hear, and heartily cursed the unfeeling wretch, as I supposed him to be, who was enjoying himself at my disappointment. I again endeavoured to find out what had happened, and called out still louder than before.
"We are at Ra'coole, your honor," said the boy, approaching the door of the chaise, "and she's only beat us by hafe a mile."
"Who the devil is she?" said I.
"The mail, your honor, is always a female in Ireland."
"Then why do you stop now? You're not going to feed I suppose?"
"Of course not, your honor, it's little feeding troubles these bastes, any how, but they tell me the road is so heavy we'll never take the chaise over the next stage without leaders."
"Without leaders!" said I. "Pooh! my good fellow, no humbugging, four horses for a light post-chaise and no luggage; come get up, and no nonsense." At this moment a man approached the window with a lantern in his hand, and so strongly represented the dreadful state of the roads from the late rains—the length of the stage—the frequency of accidents latterly from under-horsing, &c. &c. that I yielded, a reluctant assent, and ordered out the leaders, comforting myself the while, that considering the inside fare of the coach, I made such efforts to overtake, was under a pound, and that time was no object to me, I certainly was paying somewhat dearly for my character for resolution.
At last we got under way once more, and set off cheered by a tremendous shout from at least a dozen persons, doubtless denizens of that interesting locality, amid which I once again heard the laugh that had so much annoyed me already. The rain was falling, if possible, more heavily than before, and had evidently set in for the entire night. Throwing myself back into a corner of the "leathern convenience," I gave myself up to the full enjoyment of the Rouchefoucauld maxim, that there is always a pleasure felt in the misfortunes of even our best friends, and certainly experienced no small comfort in my distress, by contrasting my present position with that of my two friends in the saddle, as they sweltered on through mud and mire, rain and storm. On we went, splashing, bumping, rocking, and jolting, till I began at last to have serious thoughts of abdicating the seat and betaking myself to the bottom of the chaise, for safety and protection. Mile after mile succeeded, and as after many a short and fitful slumber, which my dreams gave an apparent length to, I woke only to find myself still in pursuit—the time seemed so enormously protracted that I began to fancy my whole life was to be passed in the dark, in chase of the Kilkenny mail, as we read in the true history of the flying Dutchman, who, for his sins of impatience—like mine—spent centuries vainly endeavouring to double the Cape, or the Indian mariner in Moore's beautiful ballad, of whom we are told as—
"Many a day to night gave way, And many a morn succeeded, Yet still his flight, by day and night, That restless mariner speeded."
This might have been all very well in the tropics, with a smart craft and doubtless plenty of sea store—but in a chaise, at night, and on the Naas road, I humbly suggest I had all the worse of the parallel.
At last the altered sound of the wheels gave notice of our approach to a town, and after about twenty minutes; rattling over the pavement we entered what I supposed, correctly, to be Naas. Here I had long since determined my pursuit should cease. I had done enough, and more than enough, to vindicate my fame against any charge of irresolution as to leaving Dublin, and was bethinking me of the various modes of prosecuting my journey on the morrow, when we drew up suddenly at the door of the Swan. The arrival of a chaise and four at a small country town inn, suggests to the various employees therein, any thing rather than the traveller in pursuit of the mail, and so the moment I arrived, I was assailed with innumerable proffers of horses, supper, bed, &c. My anxious query was thrice repeated in vain, "When did the coach pass?"
"The mail," replied the landlord at length. "Is it the down mail?"
Not understanding the technical, I answered, "Of course not the Down—the Kilkenny and Cork mail."
"From Dublin, sir?"
"Yes, from Dublin."
"Not arrived yet, sir, nor will it for three quarters of an hour; they never leave Dublin till a quarter past seven; that is, in fact, half past, and their time here is twenty minutes to eleven."
"Why, you stupid son of a boot-top, we have been posting on all night like the devil, and all this time the coach has been ten miles behind us."
"Well, we've cotch them any how," said the urchin, as he disengaged himself from his wet saddle, and stood upon the ground; "and it is not my fault that the coach is not before us."
With a satisfactory anathema upon all innkeepers, waiters, hostlers, and post-boys, with a codicil including coach-proprietors, I followed the smirking landlord into a well-lighted room, with a blazing fire, when having ordered supper, I soon regained my equanimity.
My rasher and poached eggs, all Naas could afford me, were speedily despatched, and as my last glass, from my one pint of sherry, was poured out, the long expected coach drew up. A minute after the coachman entered to take his dram, followed by the guard; a more lamentable spectacle of condensed moisture cannot be conceived; the rain fell from the entire circumference of his broad-brimmed hat, like the ever-flowing drop from the edge of an antique fountain; his drab-coat had become a deep orange hue, while his huge figure loomed still larger, as he stood amid a nebula of damp, that would have made an atmosphere for the Georgium Sidus.
"Going on to-night, sir?" said he, addressing me; "severe weather, and no chance of its clearing, but of course you're inside."
"Why, there is very little doubt of that," said I. "Are you nearly full inside?"
"Only one, sir; but he seems a real queer chap; made fifty inquiries at the office if he could not have the whole inside to himself, and when he heard that one place had been taken—your's, I believe, sir—he seemed like a scalded bear."
"You don't know his name then?"
"No, sir, he never gave a name at the office, and his only luggage is two brown paper parcels, without any ticket, and he has them inside; indeed he never lets them from him even for a second."
Here the guard's horn, announcing all ready, interrupted our colloquy, and prevented my learning any thing further of my fellow-traveller, whom, however, I at once set down in my own mind for some confounded old churl that made himself comfortable every where, without ever thinking of any one else's convenience.
As I passed from the inn door to the coach, I once more congratulated myself that I was about to be housed from the terrific storm of wind and rain that railed about.
"Here's the step, sir," said the guard, "get in, sir, two minutes late already."
"I beg your pardon, sir," said I, as I half fell over the legs of my unseen companion. "May I request leave to pass you?" While he made way for me for this purpose, I perceived that he stooped down towards the guard, and said something, who from his answer had evidently been questioned as to who I was. "And how did he get here, if he took his place in Dublin?" asked the unknown.
"Came half an hour since, sir, in a chaise and four," said the guard, as he banged the door behind him, and closed the interview.
Whatever might have been the reasons for my fellow-traveller's anxiety about my name and occupation, I knew not, yet could not help feeling gratified at thinking that as I had not given my name at the coach office, I was a great a puzzle to him as he to me.
"A severe night, sir," said I, endeavouring to break ground in conversation.
"Mighty severe," briefly and half crustily replied the unknown, with a richness of brogue, that might have stood for a certificate of baptism in Cork or its vicinity.
"And a bad road too, sir," said I, remembering my lately accomplished stage.
"That's the reason I always go armed," said the unknown, clinking at the same moment something like the barrel of a pistol.
Wondering somewhat at his readiness to mistake my meaning, I felt disposed to drop any further effort to draw him out, and was about to address myself to sleep, as comfortably as I could.
"I'll jist trouble ye to lean aff that little parcel there, sir," said he, as he displaced from its position beneath my elbow, one of the paper packages the guard had already alluded to.
In complying with this rather gruff demand, one of my pocket pistols, which I carried in my breast pocket, fell out upon his knee, upon which he immediately started, and asked hurriedly—"and are you armed too?"
"Why, yes," said I, laughingly; "men of my trade seldom go without something of this kind."
"Be gorra, I was just thinking that same," said the traveller, with a half sigh to himself.
Why he should or should not have thought so, I never troubled myself to canvass, and was once more settling myself in my corner, when I was startled by a very melancholy groan, which seemed to come from the bottom of my companion's heart.
"Are you ill, sir?" said I, in a voice of some anxiety.
"You might say that," replied he—"if you knew who you were talking to —although maybe you've heard enough of me, though you never saw me till now."
"Without having that pleasure even yet," said I, "it would grieve me to think you should be ill in the coach."
"May be it might," briefly replied the unknown, with a species of meaning in his words I could not then understand. "Did ye never hear tell of Barney Doyle?" said he.
"Not to my recollection."
"Then I'm Barney," said he; "that's in all the newspapers in the metropolis; I'm seventeen weeks in Jervis-street hospital, and four in the Lunatic, and the devil a better after all; you must be a stranger, I'm thinking, or you'd know me now."
"Why I do confess, I've only been a few hours in Ireland for the last six months."
"Ay, that's the reason; I knew you would not be fond of travelling with me, if you knew who it was."
"Why, really," said I, beginning at the moment to fathom some of the hints of my companion, "I did not anticipate the pleasure of meeting you."
"It's pleasure ye call it; then there's no accountin' for tastes, as Dr. Colles said, when he saw me bite Cusack Rooney's thumb off."
"Bite a man's thumb off!" said I, in a horror.
"Ay," said he with a kind of fiendish animation, "in one chop; I wish you'd see how I scattered the consultation; begad they didn't wait to ax for a fee."
Upon my soul, a very pleasant vicinity, though I. "And, may I ask sir," said I, in a very mild and soothing tone of voice, "may I ask the reason for this singular propensity of yours?"
"There it is now, my dear," said he, laying his hand upon my knee familiarly, "that's just the very thing they can't make out; Colles says, it's all the ceribellum, ye see, that's inflamed and combusted, and some of the others think it's the spine; and more, the muscles; but my real impression is, the devil a bit they know about it at all."
"And have they no name for the malady?" said I.
"Oh sure enough they have a name for it."
"And, may I ask—"
"Why, I think you'd better not, because ye see, maybe I might be throublesome to ye in the night, though I'll not, if I can help it; and it might be uncomfortable to you to be here if I was to get one of the fits."
"One of the fits! Why it's not possible, sir," said I, "you would travel in a public conveyance in the state you mention; your friends surely would not permit it?"
"Why, if they knew, perhaps," slily responded the interesting invalid, "if they knew they might not exactly like it, but ye see, I escaped only last night, and there'll be a fine hub-bub in the morning, when they find I'm off; though I'm thinking Rooney's barking away by this time."
"Rooney barking, why, what does that mean?"
"They always bark for a day or two after they're bit, if the infection comes first from the dog."
"You are surely not speaking of hydrophobia," said I, my hair actually bristling with horror and consternation.
"Ayn't I?" replied he; "may be you've guessed it though."
"And have you the malady on you at present?" said I, trembling for the answer.
"This is the ninth day since I took to biting," said he gravely, perfectly unconscious as it appeared of the terror such information was calculated to convey.
"Any with such a propensity, sir, do you think yourself warranted in travelling in a public coach, exposing others—"
"You'd better not raise your voice, that way," quietly responded he, "if I'm roused, it 'll be worse for ye, that's all."
"Well but," said I, moderating my zeal, "is it exactly prudent, in your present delicate state, to undertake a journey?"
"Ah," said he, with a sigh, "I've been longing to see the fox hounds throw off, near Kilkenny; these three weeks I've been thinking of nothing else; but I'm not sure how my nerves will stand the cry; I might be throublesome."
"Upon my soul," thought I, "I shall not select that morning for my debut in the field."
"I hope, sir, there's no river, or watercourse on this road—any thing else, I can, I hope, control myself against; but water—running water particularly—makes me throublesome."
Well knowing what he meant by the latter phrase, I felt the cold perspiration settling on my forehead, as I remembered that we must be within about ten or twelve miles of Leighlin-bridge, where we should have to pass a very wide river. I strictly concealed this fact from him, however, and gave him to understand that there was not a well, brook, or rivulet, for forty miles on either side of us. He now sunk into a kind of moody silence, broken occasionally by a low muttering noise, as if speaking to himself—what this might portend, I knew not—but thought it better, under all circumstances, not to disturb him. How comfortable my present condition was, I need scarcely remark—sitting vis a vis to a lunatic, with a pair of pistols in his possession—who had already avowed his consciousness of his tendency to do mischief, and his inability to master it; all this in the dark, and in the narrow limits of a mail-coach, where there was scarcely room for defence, and no possibility of escape—how heartily I wished myself back in the Coffee-room at Morrisson's, with my poor friend Tom—the infernal chaise, that I cursed a hundred times, would have been an "exchange," better than into the Life Guards—ay, even the outside of the coach, if I could only reach it, would, under present circumstances, be a glorious alternative to my existing misfortune. What were rain and storm, thunder and lightning, compared with the chances that awaited me here? —wet through I should inevitably be, but then I had not yet contracted the horror of moisture my friend opposite laboured under. "Ha! what is that? is it possible he can be asleep; is it really a snore?—Heaven grant that little snort be not what the medical people call a premonitory symptom—if so, he'll be in upon me now in no time. Ah, there it is again; he must be asleep surely; now then is my time or never." With these words, muttered to myself, and a heart throbbing almost audibly at the risk of his awakening, I slowly let down the window of the coach, and stretching forth my hand, turned the handle cautiously and slowly; I next disengaged my legs, and by a long continuous effort of creeping—which I had learned perfectly once, when practising to go as a boa constrictor to a fancy ball—I withdrew myself from the seat and reached the step, when I muttered something very like a thanksgiving to Providence for my rescue. With little difficulty I now climbed up beside the guard, whose astonishment at my appearance was indeed considerable—that any man should prefer the out, to the inside of a coach, in such a night, was rather remarkable; but that the person so doing should be totally unprovided with a box-coat, or other similar protection, argued something so strange, that I doubt not, if he were to decide upon the applicability of the statute of lunacy to a traveller in the mail, the palm would certainly have been awarded to me, and not to my late companion. Well, on we rolled, and heavily as the rain poured down, so relieved did I feel at my change of position, that I soon fell fast asleep, and never awoke till the coach was driving up Patrick street. Whatever solace to my feelings reaching the outside of the coach might have been attended with at night, the pleasure I experienced on awaking, was really not unalloyed. More dead than alive, I sat a mass of wet clothes, like nothing under heaven except it be that morsel of black and spongy wet cotton at the bottom of a schoolboy's ink bottle, saturated with rain, and the black dye of my coat. My hat too had contributed its share of colouring matter, and several long black streaks coursed down my "wrinkled front," giving me very much the air of an Indian warrior, who had got the first priming of his war paint. I certainly must have been rueful object, were I only to judge from the faces of the waiters as they gazed on me when the coach drew up at Rice and Walsh's hotel. Cold, wet, and weary as I was, my curiosity to learn more of my late agreeable companion was strong as ever within me —perhaps stronger, from the sacrifices his acquaintance had exacted from me. Before, however, I had disengaged myself from the pile of trunks and carpet bags I had surrounded myself with—he had got out of the coach, and all I could catch a glimpse of was the back of a little short man in a kind of grey upper coat, and long galligaskins on his legs. He carried his two bundles under his arm, and stepped nimbly up the steps of the hotel, without turning his head to either side.
"Don't fancy you shall escape me now, my good friend," I cried out, as I sprung from the roof to the ground, with one jump, and hurried after the great unknown into the coffee-room. By the time I reached it he had approached the fire, on the table near which, having deposited the mysterious paper parcels, he was now busily engaged in divesting himself of his great coat; his face was still turned from me, so that I had time to appear employed in divesting myself of my wet drapery before he perceived me; at last the coat was unbuttoned, the gaiters followed, and throwing them carelessly on a chair, he tucked up the skirts of his coat; and spreading himself comfortably a l'Anglais, before the fire, displayed to my wondering and stupified gaze, the pleasant features of Doctor Finucane.
"Why, Doctor—Doctor Finucane," cried I, "is this possible? were you really the inside in the mail last night."
"Devil a doubt of it, Mr. Lorrequer; and may I make bould to ask,—were you the outside?"
"Then what, may I beg to know, did you mean by your damned story about Barney Doyle, and the hydrophobia, and Cusack Rooney's thumb—eh?"
"Oh, by the Lord," said Finucane, "this will be the death of me; and it was you that I drove outside in all the rain last night! Oh, it will kill Father Malachi outright with laughing, when I tell him;" and he burst out into a fit of merriment that nearly induced me to break his head with the poker.
"Am I to understand, then, Mr. Finucane, that this practical joke of your was contrived for my benefit, and for the purpose of holding me up to the ridicule of your confounded acquaintances."
"Nothing of the kind, upon my conscience," said Fin, drying his eyes, and endeavouring to look sorry and sentimental. "If I had only the least suspicion in life that it was you, upon my oath I'd not have had the hydrophobia at all, and, to tell you the truth, you were not the only one frightened—you alarmed me devilishly too."
"I alarmed you! Why, how can that be?"
"Why, the real affair is this: I was bringing these two packages of notes down to my cousin Callaghan's bank in Cork—fifteen thousand pounds —devil a less; and when you came into the coach at Naas, after driving there with your four horses, I thought it was all up with me. The guard just whispered in my ear, that he saw you look at the priming of your pistols before getting in; and faith I said four paters, and a hail Mary, before you'd count five. Well, when you got seated, the thought came into my mind that maybe, highwayman as you were, you would not like dying a natural death, more particularly if you were an Irishman; and so I trumped up that long story about the hydrophobia, and the gentleman's thumb, and devil knows what besides; and, while I was telling it, the cold perspiration was running down my head and face, for every time you stirred, I said to myself, now he'll do it. Two or three times, do you know, I was going to offer you ten shillings in the pound, and spare my life; and once, God forgive me, I thought it would not be a bad plan to shoot you by 'mistake,' do you perceave?"
"Why, upon my soul, I'm very much obliged to you for your excessively kind intentions; but really I feel you have done quite enough for me on the present occasion. But, come now, doctor, I must get to bed, and before I go, promise me two things—to dine with us to-day at the mess, and not to mention a syllable of what occurred last night—it tells, believe me, very badly for both; so, keep the secret, for if these confounded fellows of ours ever get hold of it, I may sell out, or quit the army; I'll never hear the end of it!"
"Never fear, my boy; trust me. I'll dine with you, and you're as safe as a church-mouse for any thing I'll tell them; so, now you'd better change your clothes, for I'm thinking it rained last night."
Muttering some very dubious blessings upon the learned Fin, I left the room, infinitely more chagrined and chop-fallen at the discovery I had made, than at all the misery and exposure the trick had consigned me to; "however," thought I, "if the doctor keep his word, it all goes well; the whole affair is between us both solely; but, should it not be so, I may shoot half the mess before the other half would give up quizzing me." Revolving such pleasant thought, I betook myself to bed, and what with mulled port, and a blazing fire, became once more conscious of being a warm-blooded animal, and feel sound asleep, to dream of doctors, strait waistcoats, shaved heads, and all the pleasing associations my late companion's narrative so readily suggested.
MEMS. OF THE NORTH CORK.
At six o'clock I had the pleasure of presenting the worthy Doctor Finucane to our mess, taking at the same time an opportunity, unobserved by him, to inform three or four of my brother officers that my friend was really a character, abounding in native drollery, and richer in good stories than even the generality of his countrymen.
Nothing could possibly go on better than the early part of the evening. Fin, true to his promise, never once alluded to what I could plainly perceive was ever uppermost in his mind, and what with his fund of humour, quaintness of expression, and quickness at reply, garnished throughout by his most mellifluous brogue, the true "Bocca Corkana," kept us from one roar of laughter to another. It was just at the moment in which his spirits seemed at their highest, that I had the misfortune to call upon him for a story, which his cousin Father Malachi had alluded to on the ever-memorable evening at his house, and which I had a great desire to hear from Fin's own lips. He seemed disposed to escape telling it, and upon my continuing to press my request, drily remarked,
"You forget, surely, my dear Mr. Lorrequer, the weak condition I'm in; and these gentlemen here, they don't know what a severe illness I've been labouring under lately, or they would not pass the decanter so freely down this quarter."
I had barely time to throw a mingled look of entreaty and menace across the table, when half-a-dozen others, rightly judging from the Doctor's tone and serio-comic expression, that his malady had many more symptoms of fun than suffering about it, called out together—
"Oh, Doctor, by all means, tell us the nature of your late attack—pray relate it."
"With Mr. Lorrequer's permission I'm your slave, gentlemen," said Fin, finishing off his glass.
"Oh, as for me," I cried, "Dr. Finucane has my full permission to detail whatever he pleases to think a fit subject for your amusement."
"Come then, Doctor, Harry has no objection you see; so out with it, and we are all prepared to sympathise with your woes and misfortunes, whatever they be."
"Well, I am sure, I never could think of mentioning it without his leave; but now that he sees no objection—Eh, do you though? if so, then, don't be winking and making faces at me; but say the word, and devil a syllable of it I'll tell to man or mortal."
The latter part of this delectable speech was addressed to me across the table, in a species of stage whisper, in reply to some telegraphic signals I had been throwing him, to induce him to turn the conversation into any other channel.
"Then, that's enough," continued he sotto voce—"I see you'd rather I'd not tell it."
"Tell it and be d_d," said I, wearied by the incorrigible pertinacity with which the villain assailed me. My most unexpected energy threw the whole table into a roar, at the conclusion of which Fin began his narrative of the mail-coach adventure.
I need not tell my reader, who has followed me throughout in these my Confessions, that such a story lost nothing of its absurdity, when entrusted to the Doctor's powers of narration; he dwelt with a poet's feeling upon the description of his own sufferings, and my sincere condolence and commiseration; he touched with the utmost delicacy upon the distant hints by which he broke the news to me; but when he came to describe my open and undisguised terror, and my secret and precipitate retreat to the roof of the coach, there was not a man at table that was not convulsed with laughter—-and, shall I acknowledge it, even I myself was unable to withstand the effect, and joined in the general chorus against myself.
"Well," said the remorseless wretch, as he finished his story, "if ye haven't the hard hearts to laugh at such a melancholy subject. Maybe, however, you're not so cruel after all—here's a toast for you, 'a speedy recovery to Cusack Rooney.'" This was drank amid renewed peals, with all the honors; and I had abundant time before the uproar was over, to wish every man of them hanged. It was to no purpose that I endeavoured to turn the tables, by describing Fin's terror at my supposed resemblance to a highwayman—-his story had the precedence, and I met nothing during my recital but sly allusions to mad dogs, muzzles, and doctors; and contemptible puns were let off on every side at my expense.
"It's little shame I take to myself for the mistake, any how," said Fin, "for putting the darkness of the night out of question, I'm not so sure I would not have ugly suspicions of you by daylight."
"And besides, Doctor," added I, "it would not be your first blunder in the dark."
"True for you, Mr. Lorrequer," said he, good-humouredly; "and now that I have told them your story, I don't care if they hear mine, though maybe some of ye have heard it already—it's pretty well known in the North Cork."
We all gave our disclaimers on this point, and having ordered in a fresh cooper of port, disposed ourselves in our most easy attitudes, while the Doctor proceeded as follows:—
"It was in the hard winter of the year _99, that we were quartered in Maynooth, as many said, for our sins—for a more stupid place, the Lord be merciful to it, never were men condemned to. The people at the college were much better off than us—they had whatever was to be got in the country, and never were disturbed by mounting guard, or night patrols. Many of the professors were good fellows, that liked grog fully as well as Greek, and understood short whist, and five and ten quite as intimately as they knew the Vulgate, or the confessions of St. Augustine —they made no ostentacious display of their pious zeal, but whenever they were not fasting, or praying, or something of that kind, they were always pleasant and agreeable; and to do them justice, never refused, by any chance, an invitation to dinner—no matter at what inconvenience. Well, even this little solace in our affliction we soon lost, by an unfortunate mistake of that Orange rogue of the world, Major Jones, that gave a wrong pass one night—Mr. Lorrequer knows the story, (here he alluded to an adventure detailed in an early chapter of my Confessions) —and from that day forward we never saw the pleasant faces of the Abbe D'Array, or the Professor of the Humanities, at the mess. Well, the only thing I could do, was just to take an opportunity to drop in at the College in the evening, where we had a quiet rubber of whist, and a little social and intellectual conversation, with maybe an oyster and a glass of punch, just to season the thing, before we separated; all done discreetly and quietly—no shouting nor even singing, for the 'superior' had a prejudice about profane songs. Well, one of those nights it was, about the first week in February, I was detained by stress of weather from 11 o'clock, when we usually bade good-night, to past twelve, and then to one o'clock, waiting for a dry moment to get home to the barracks—a good mile and a half off. Every time old Father Mahony went to look at the weather, he came back saying, 'It's worse it's getting; such a night of rain, glory be to God, never was seen.' So there was no good in going out to be drenched to the skin, and I sat quietly waiting, taking, between times, a little punch, just not to seem impatient, nor distress their rev'rances. At last it struck two, and I thought—'well, the decanter is empty now, and I think, if I mean to walk, I've taken enough for the present;' so, wishing them all manner of happiness, and pleasant dreams, I stumbled by way down stairs, and set out on my journey. I was always in the habit of taking a short cut on my way home, across the 'gurt na brocha,' the priest's meadows, as they call them, it saved nearly half a mile, although, on the present occasion, it exposed one wofully to the rain, for there was nothing to shelter against the entire way, not even a tree. Well, out I set in a half trot, for I staid so late I was pressed for time; besides, I felt it easier to run than walk; I'm sure I can't tell why; maybe the drop of drink I took got into my head. Well, I was just jogging on across the common; the rain beating hard in my face, and my clothes pasted to me with the wet; notwithstanding, I was singing to myself a verse of an old song, to lighten the road, when I heard suddenly a noise near me, like a man sneezing. I stopped and listened,—in fact, it was impossible to see your hand, the night was so dark—but I could hear nothing; the thought then came over me, maybe it's something 'not good,' for there were very ugly stories going about what the priests used to do formerly in these meadows; and bones were often found in different parts of them. Just as I was thinking this, another voice came nearer than the last; it might be only a sneeze, after all; but in real earnest it was mighty like a groan. 'The Lord be about us,' I said to myself, 'what's this?—have ye the pass?' I cried out, 'have ye the pass? or what brings ye walking here, in nomine patri?' for I was so confused whether it was a 'sperit' or not, I was going to address him in Latin—there's nothing equal to the dead languages to lay a ghost, every body knows. Faith the moment I said these words he gave another groan, deeper and more melancholy like than before. 'If it's uneasy ye are,' says I, 'for any neglect of your friends,' for I thought he might be in purgatory longer than he thought convenient, 'tell me what you wish, and go home peaceably out of the rain, for this weather can do no good to living or dead; go home,' said I, 'and, if it's masses ye'd like, I'll give you a day's pay myself, rather than you should fret yourself this way.' The words were not well out of my mouth, when he came so near me that the sigh he gave went right through both my ears; 'the Lord be merciful to me,' said I, trembling. 'Amen,' says he, 'whether you're joking or not.' The moment he said that my mind was relieved, for I knew it was not a sperit, and I began to laugh heartily at my mistake; 'and who are ye at all?' said I, 'that's roving about, at this hour of the night, ye can't be Father Luke, for I left him asleep on the carpet before I quitted the college, and faith, my friend, if you hadn't the taste for divarsion ye would not be out now?' He coughed then so hard that I could not make out well what he said, but just perceived that he had lost his way on the common, and was a little disguised in liquor. 'It's a good man's case,' said I, 'to take a little too much, though it's what I don't ever do myself; so, take a hold of my hand, and I'll see you safe.' I stretched out my hand, and got him, not by the arm, as I hoped, but by the hair of the head, for he was all dripping with wet, and had lost his hat. 'Well, you'll not be better of this night's excursion,' thought I, 'if ye are liable to the rheumatism; and, now, whereabouts do you live, my friend, for I'll see you safe, before I leave you?' What he said then I never could clearly make out, for the wind and rain were both beating so hard against my face that I could not hear a word; however, I was able just to perceive that he was very much disguised in drink, and spoke rather thick. 'Well, never mind,' said I, 'it's not a time of day for much conversation; so, come along, and I'll see you safe in the guard-house, if you can't remember your own place of abode in the meanwhile.' It was just at the moment I said this that I first discovered he was not a gentleman. Well, now, you'd never guess how I did it; and, faith I always thought it a very cute thing of me, and both of us in the dark."
"Well, I really confess it must have been a very difficult thing, under the circumstances; pray how did you contrive?" said the major.
"Just guess how."
"By the tone of his voice perhaps, and his accent," said Curzon.
"Devil a bit, for he spoke remarkably well, considering how far gone he was in liquor."
"Well, probably by the touch of his hand; no bad test."
"No; you're wrong again, for it was by the hair I had a hold of him for fear of falling, for he was always stooping down. Well, you'd never guess it; it was just by the touch of his foot."
"His foot! Why how did that give you any information?"
"There it is now; that's just what only an Irishman would ever have made any thing out of; for while he was stumbling about, he happened to tread upon my toes, and never, since I was born, did I feel any thing like the weight of him. 'Well,' said I, 'the loss of your hat may give you a cold, my friend; but upon my conscience you are in no danger of wet feet with such a pair of strong brogues as you have on you.' Well, he laughed at that till I thought he'd split his sides, and, in good truth, I could not help joining in the fun, although my foot was smarting like mad, and so we jogged along through the rain, enjoying the joke just as if we were sitting by a good fire, with a jorum of punch between us. I am sure I can't tell you how often we fell that night, but my clothes the next morning were absolutely covered with mud, and my hat crushed in two; for he was so confoundedly drunk it was impossible to keep him up, and he always kept boring along with his head down, so that my heart was almost broke in keeping him upon his legs. I'm sure I never had a more fatiguing march in the whole Peninsula, than that blessed mile and a half; but every misfortune has an end at last, and it was four o'clock, striking by the college clock, as we reached the barracks. After knocking a couple of times, and giving the countersign, the sentry opened the small wicket, and my heart actually leaped with joy that I had done with my friend; so, I just called out the sergeant of the guard, and said, 'will you put that poor fellow on the guard-bed till morning, for I found him on the common, and he could neither find his way home nor tell me where he lived.' 'And where is he?' said the sergeant. 'He's outside the gate there,' said I, 'wet to the skin, and shaking as if he had the ague.' 'And is this him?' said the sergeant as we went outside. 'It is,' said I, 'maybe you know him?' 'Maybe I've a guess,' said he, bursting into a fit of laughing, that I thought he'd choke with. 'Well, sergeant,' said I, 'I always took you for a humane man; but, if that's the way you treat a fellow-creature in distress.' 'A fellow-creature,' said he, laughing louder than before. 'Ay, a fellow-creature,' said I —for the sergeant was an orangeman—'and if he differs from you in matters of religion, sure he's your fellow-creature still.' 'Troth, Doctor, I think there's another trifling difference betune us,' said he. 'Damn your politics,' said I; 'never let them interfere with true humanity.' Wasn't I right, Major? 'Take good care of him, and there's a half-a-crown for ye.' So saying these words, I steered along by the barrack wall, and, after a little groping about, got up stairs to my quarters, when, thanks to a naturally good constitution, and regular habits of life, I soon fell fast asleep."
When the Doctor had said thus much, he pushed his chair slightly from the table, and, taking off his wine, looked about him with the composure of a man who has brought his tale to a termination.
"Well, but Doctor," said the Major, "you are surely not done. You have not yet told us who your interesting friend turned out to be."
"That's the very thing, then, I'm not able to do."
"But, of course," said another, "your story does not end there."
"And where the devil would you have it end?" replied he. "Didn't I bring my hero home, and go asleep afterwards myself, and then, with virtue rewarded, how could I finish it better?"
"Oh, of course; but still you have not accounted for a principal character in the narrative," said I.
"Exactly so," said Curzon. "We were all expecting some splendid catastrophe in the morning; that your companion turned out to be the Duke of Leinster, at least—or perhaps a rebel general, with an immense price upon his head."
"Neither the one nor the other," said Fin, drily.
"And do you mean to say there never was any clue to the discovery of him?"
"The entire affair is wrapt in mystery to this hour," said he. "There was a joke about it, to be sure, among the officers; but the North Cork never wanted something to laugh at."
"And what was the joke?" said several voices together.
"Just a complaint from old Mickey Oulahan, the postmaster, to the Colonel, in the morning, that some of the officers took away his blind mare off the common, and that the letters were late in consequence."
"And so, Doctor," called out seven or eight, "your friend turned out to be—"
"Upon my conscience they said so, and that rascal, the serjeant, would take his oath of it; but my own impression I'll never disclose to the hour of my death."
Our seance at the mess that night was a late one, for after we had discussed some coopers of claret, there was a very general public feeling in favour of a broiled bone and some devilled kidneys, followed by a very ample bowl of bishop, over which simple condiments we talked "green room" till near the break of day.
From having been so long away from the corps I had much to learn of their doings and intentions to do, and heard with much pleasure that they possessed an exceedingly handsome theatre, well stocked with scenery, dresses, and decorations; that they were at the pinnacle of public estimation, from what they had already accomplished, and calculated on the result of my appearance to crown them with honour. I had indeed very little choice left me in the matter; for not only had they booked me for a particular part, but bills were already in circulation, and sundry little three-cornered notes enveloping them, were sent to the elite of the surrounding country, setting forth that "on Friday evening the committee of the garrison theatricals, intending to perform a dress rehearsal of the 'Family Party,' request the pleasure of Mr. and Mrs. 's company on the occasion. Mr. Lorrequer will undertake the part of Captain Beauguarde. Supper at twelve. An answer will oblige."
The sight of one of these pleasant little epistles, of which the foregoing is a true copy—was presented to me as a great favour that evening, it having been agreed upon that I was to know nothing of their high and mighty resolves till the following morning. It was to little purpose that I assured them all, collectively and individually, that of Captain Beauguarde I absolutely knew nothing—had never read the piece —nor even seen it performed. I felt, too, that my last appearance in character in a "Family Party," was any thing but successful; and I trembled lest, in the discussion of the subject, some confounded allusion to my adventure at Cheltenham might come out. Happily they seemed all ignorant of this; and fearing to bring conversation in any way to the matter of my late travels, I fell in with their humour, and agreed that if it were possible, in the limited time allowed me to manage it—I had but four days—I should undertake the character. My concurrence failed to give the full satisfaction I expected, and they so habitually did what they pleased with me, that, like all men so disposed, I never got the credit for concession which a man more niggardly of his services may always command.
"To be sure you will do it, Harry," said the Major, "why not? I could learn the thing myself in a couple of hours, as for that."
Now, be it known that the aforesaid Major was so incorrigibly slow of study, and dull of comprehension, that he had been successively degraded at our theatrical board from the delivering of a stage message to the office of check-taker.
"He's so devilish good in the love scene," said the junior ensign, with the white eyebrows. "I say, Curzon, you'll be confoundedly jealous though, for he is to play with Fanny."
"I rather think not," said Curzon, who was a little tipsy.
"Oh, yes," said Frazer, "Hepton is right. Lorrequer has Fanny for his 'Frou;' and, upon my soul, I should feel tempted to take the part myself upon the same terms; though I verily believe I should forget I was acting, and make fierce love to her on the stage."
"And who may la charmante Fanny be?" said I, with something of the air of the "Dey of Algiers" in my tone.
"Let Curzon tell him," said several voices together, "he is the only ma to do justice to such perfection."
"Quiz away, my merry men," said Cruzon, "all I know is, that you are a confoundedly envious set of fellows; and if so lovely a girl had thrown her eyes on one amongst you—"
"Hip! hip! hurrah!" said old Fitzgerald, "Curzon is a gone man. He'll be off to the palace for a license some fine morning, or I know nothing of such matters."
"Well, Bat," said I, "if matters are really as you all say, why does not Curzon take the part you destine for me?"
"We dare not trust him," said the Major, "Lord bless you, when the call-boy would sing out for Captain Beaugarde in the second act, we'd find that he had Levanted with our best slashed trowsers, and a bird of paradise feather in his cap."
"Well," thought I, "this is better at least than I anticipated, for if nothing else offers, I shall have rare fun teasing my friend Charley" —for it was evident that he had been caught by the lady in question.
"And so you'll stay with us; give me your hand—you are a real trump." These words, which proceeded from a voice at the lower end of the table, were addressed to my friend Finucane.
"I'll stay with ye, upon my conscience," said Fin; "ye have a most seductive way about ye; and a very superior taste in milk punch."
"But, Doctor," said I, "you must not be a drone in the hive; what will ye do for us? You should be a capital Sir Lucius O'Trigger, if we could get up the Rivals."
"My forte is the drum—the big drum; put me among what the Greeks call the 'Mousikoi,' and I'll astonish ye."
It was at once agreed that Fin should follow the bent of his genius; and after some other arrangements for the rest of the party, we separated for the night, having previously toasted the "Fanny," to which Curzon attempted to reply, but sank, overpowered by punch and feelings, and looked unutterable things, without the power to frame a sentence.
During the time which intervened between the dinner and the night appointed for our rehearsal, I had more business upon my hands than a Chancellor of the Exchequer the week of the budget being produced. The whole management of every department fell, as usual, to my share, and all those who, previously to my arrival, had contributed their quota of labour, did nothing whatever now but lounge about the stage, or sit half the day in the orchestra, listening to some confounded story of Finucane's, who contrived to have an everlasting mob of actors, scene-painters, fiddlers, and call-boys always about him, who, from their uproarious mirth, and repeated shouts of merriment, nearly drove me distracted, as I stood almost alone and unassisted in the whole management. Of la belle Fanny, all I learned was, that she was a professional actress of very considerable talent, and extremely pretty; that Curzon had fallen desperately in love with her the only night she had appeared on the boards there, and that to avoid his absurd persecution of her, she had determined not to come into town until the morning of the rehearsal, she being at that time on a visit to the house of a country gentleman in the neighbourhood. Here was a new difficulty I had to contend with—to go through my part alone was out of the question to making it effective; and I felt so worried and harassed that I often fairly resolved on taking the wings of the mail, and flying away to the uttermost parts of the south of Ireland, till all was tranquil again. By degrees, however, I got matters into better train, and by getting our rehearsal early before Fin appeared, as he usually slept somewhat later after his night at mess, I managed to have things in something like order; he and his confounded drum, which, whenever he was not story-telling, he was sure to be practising on, being, in fact the greatest difficulties opposed to my managerial functions. One property he possessed, so totally at variance with all habits of order, that it completely baffled me. So numerous were his narratives, that no occasion could possibly arise, no chance expression be let fall on the stage, but Fin had something he deemed, apropos, and which, sans facon, he at once related for the benefit of all whom it might concern; that was usually the entire corps dramatique, who eagerly turned from stage directions and groupings, to laugh at his ridiculous jests. I shall give an instance of this habit of interruption, and let the unhappy wight who has filled such an office as mine pity my woes.
I was standing one morning on the stage drilling my "corps" as usual. One most refractory spirit, to whom but a few words were entrusted, and who bungled even those, I was endeavouring to train into something like his part.
"Come now, Elsmore, try it again—just so. Yes, come forward in this manner—take her hand tenderly—press it to your lips; retreat towards the flat, and then bowing deferentially—thus, say 'Good night, good night'—that's very simple, eh? Well, now that's all you have to do, and that brings you over here—so you make your exit at once."
"Exactly so, Mr. Elsmore, always contrive to be near the door under such circumstances. That was the way with my poor friend, Curran. Poor Philpot, when he dined with the Guild of Merchant Tailors, they gave him a gold box with their arms upon it—a goose proper, with needles saltier wise, or something of that kind; and they made him free of their 'ancient and loyal corporation,' and gave him a very grand dinner. Well, Curran was mighty pleasant and agreeable, and kept them laughing all night, till the moment he rose to go away, and then he told them that he never spent so happy an evening, and all that. 'But, gentlemen,' said he, 'business has its calls, and I must tear myself away; so wishing you now'—there were just eighteen of them—'wishing you now every happiness and prosperity, permit me to take my leave'—and here he stole near the door —'to take my leave, and bid you both good night.'" With a running fire of such stories, it may be supposed how difficult was my task in getting any thing done upon the stage.
Well, at last the long-expected Friday arrived, and I rose in the morning with all that peculiar tourbillon of spirits that a man feels when he is half pleased and whole frightened with the labour before him. I had scarcely accomplished dressing when a servant tapped at my door, and begged to know if I could spare a few moments to speak to Miss Ersler, who was in the drawing-room. I replied, of course, in the affirmative, and, rightly conjecturing that my fair friend must be the lovely Fanny already alluded to, followed the servant down stairs.
"Mr. Lorrequer," said the servant, and closing the door behind me, left me in sole possession of the lady.
"Will you do me the favour to sit here, Mr. Lorrequer," said one of the sweetest voices in the world, as she made room for me on the sofa beside her. "I am particularly short-sighted; so pray sit near me, as I really cannot talk to any one I don't see."
I blundered out some platitude of a compliment to her eyes—the fullest and most lovely blue that ever man gazed into—at which she smiled as if pleased, and continued, "Now, Mr. Lorrequer, I have really been longing for your coming; for your friends of the 4_th are doubtless very dashing, spirited young gentlemen, perfectly versed in war's alarms; but pardon me if I say that a more wretched company of strolling wretches never graced a barn. Now, come, don't be angry, but let me proceed. Like all amateur people, they have the happy knack in distributing the characters—to put every man in his most unsuitable position—and then that poor dear thing Curzon—I hope he's not a friend of yours—by some dire fatality always plays the lover's parts, ha! ha! ha! True, I assure you, so that if you had not been announced as coming this week, I should have left them and gone off to Bath."
Here she rose and adjusted her brown ringlets at the glass, giving me ample time to admire one of the most perfect figures I ever beheld. She was most becomingly dressed, and betrayed a foot and ancle which for symmetry and "chaussure," might have challenged the Rue Rivoli itself to match it.
My first thought was poor Curzon; my second, happy and trice fortunate Harry Lorrequer. There was no time, however, for indulgence in such very pardonable gratulation; so I at once proceeded "pour faire l'aimable," to profess my utter inability to do justice to her undoubted talents, but slyly added, "that in the love making part of the matter she should never be able to discover that I was not in earnest." We chatted then gaily for upwards of an hour, until the arrival of her friend's carriage was announced, when, tendering me most graciously her hand, she smiled benignly and saying "au revoir, donc," drove off.
As I stood upon the steps of the hotel, viewing her "out of the visible horizon," I was joined by Curzon, who evidently, from his self-satisfied air, and jaunty gait, little knew how he stood in the fair Fanny's estimation.
"Very pretty, very pretty, indeed, deeper and deeper still," cried he, alluding to my most courteous salutation as the carriage rounded the corner, and it lovely occupant kissed her hand once more. "I say Harry, my friend, you don't think that was meant for you, I should hope?"
"What! the kiss of the hand? Yes, faith, but I do."
"Well, certainly that is good! why, man, she just saw me coming up that instant. She and I—we understand each other—never mind, don't be cross—no fault of yours, you know."
"Ah, so she is taken with you," said I. "Eh, Charley?"
"Why, I believe that. I may confess to you the real state of matters. She was devilishly struck with me the first time we rehearsed together. We soon got up a little flirtation; but the other night when I played Mirabel to her, it finished the affair. She was quite nervous, and could scarcely go through with her part. I saw it, and upon my soul I am sorry for it; she's a prodigiously fine girl—such lips and such teeth! Egad I was delighted when you came; for, you see, I was in a manner obliged to take one line of character, and I saw pretty plainly where it must end; and you know with you it's quite different, she'll laugh and chat, and all that sort of thing, but she'll not be carried away by her feelings; you understand me?"
"Oh, perfectly; it's quite different, as you observed."
If I had not been supported internally during this short dialogue by the recently expressed opinion of the dear Fanny herself upon my friend Curzon's merits, I think I should have been tempted to take the liberty of wringing his neck off. However, the affair was much better as it stood, as I had only to wait a little with proper patience, and I had no fears but that my friend Charley would become the hero of a very pretty episode for the mess.
"So I suppose you must feel considerably bored by this kind of thing," I said, endeavouring to draw him out.
"Why, I do," replied he, "and I do not. The girl is very pretty. The place is dull in the morning; and altogether it helps to fill up time."
"Well," said I, "you are always fortunate, Curzon. You have ever your share of what floating luck the world affords."
"It is not exactly all luck, my dear friend; for, as I shall explain to you—"
"Not now," replied I, "for I have not yet breakfasted." So saying I turned into the coffee-room, leaving the worthy adjutant to revel in his fancied conquest, and pity such unfortunates as myself.
After an early dinner at the club-house, I hastened down to the theatre, where numerous preparations for the night were going forward. The green-room was devoted to the office of a supper-room, to which the audience had been invited. The dressing-rooms were many of them filled with the viands destined for the entertainment. Where, among the wooden fowls and "impracticable" flagons, were to be seen very imposing pasties and flasks of champaigne, littered together in most admirable disorder. The confusion naturally incidental to all private theatricals, was ten-fold increased by the circumstances of our projected supper. Cooks and scene-shifters, fiddlers and waiters, were most inextricably mingled; and as in all similar cases, the least important functionaries took the greatest airs upon them, and appropriated without hesitation whatever came to their hands—thus the cook would not have scrupled to light a fire with the violoncello of the orchestra; and I actually caught one of the "gens de cuisine" making a "soufflet" in a brass helmet I had once worn when astonishing the world as Coriolanus.
Six o'clock struck. In another short hour and we begin, thought I, with a sinking heart, as I looked upon the littered stage crowded with hosts of fellows that had nothing to do there. Figaro himself never wished for ubiquity more than I did, as I hastened from place to place, entreating, cursing, begging, scolding, execrating, and imploring by turns. To mend the matter, the devils in the orchestra had begun to tune their instruments, and I had to bawl like a boatswain of a man-of-war, to be heard by the person beside me.
As seven o'clock struck, I peeped through the small aperture in the curtain, and saw, to my satisfaction, mingled, I confess, with fear, that the house was nearly filled—the lower tier of boxes entirely so. There were a great many ladies handsomely dressed, chatting gaily with their chaperons, and I recognised some of my acquaintances on every side; in fact, there was scarcely a family of rank in the county that had not at least some member of it present. As the orchestra struck up the overture to Don Giovanni, I retired from my place to inspect the arrangements behind.
Before the performance of the "Family Party," we were to have a little one-act piece called "a day in Madrid," written by myself—the principal characters being expressly composed for "Miss Ersler and Mr. Lorrequer."
The story of this trifle, it is not necessary to allude to; indeed, if it were, I should scarcely have patience to do so, so connected is my recollection of it with the distressing incident which followed.
In the first scene of the piece, the curtain rising displays la belle Fanny sitting at her embroidery in the midst of a beautiful garden, surrounded with statues, fountains, &c. At the back is seen a pavillion in the ancient Moorish style of architecture, over which hang the branches of some large and shady trees—she comes forward, expressing her impatience at the delay of her lover, whose absence she tortures herself to account for by a hundred different suppositions, and after a very sufficient expose of her feelings, and some little explanatory details of her private history, conveying a very clear intimation of her own amiability, and her guardian's cruelty, she proceeds, after the fashion of other young ladies similarly situated, to give utterance to her feelings by a song; after, therefore, a suitable prelude from the orchestra, for which, considering the impassioned state of her mind, she waits patiently, she comes forward and begins a melody—
"Oh why is he far from the heart that adores him?"
in which, for two verses, she proceeds with sundry sol feggio's, to account for the circumstances, and show her disbelief of the explanation in a very satisfactory manner,—meanwhile, for I must not expose my reader to an anxiety on my account, similar to what the dear Fanny here laboured under, I was making the necessary preparations for flying to her presence, and clasping her to my heart—that is to say, I had already gummed on a pair of mustachios, had corked and arched a ferocious pair of eyebrows, which, with my rouged cheeks, gave me a look half Whiskerando, half Grimaldi; these operations were performed, from the stress of circumstances, sufficiently near the object of my affections, to afford me the pleasing satisfaction of hearing from her own sweet lips, her solicitude about me—in a word, all the dressing-rooms but two were filled with hampers of provisions, glass, china, and crockery, and from absolute necessity, I had no other spot where I could attire myself unseen, except in the identical pavillion already alluded to—here, however, I was quite secure, and had abundant time also, for I was not to appear till scene the second, when I was to come forward in full Spanish costume, "every inch a Hidalgo." Meantime, Fanny had been singing—
"Oh why is he far," &c. &c.
At the conclusion of the last verse, just as she repeats the words "why, why, why," in a very distracted and melting cadence, a voice behind startles her—she turns and beholds her guardian—so at least run the course of events in the real drama—that it should follow thus now however, "Dus aliter visum"—for just as she came to the very moving apostrophe alluded to, and called out, "why comes he not?"—a gruff voice from behind answered in a strong Cork brogue—"ah! would ye have him come in a state of nature?" at the instant a loud whistle rang through the house, and the pavillion scene slowly drew up, discovering me, Harry Lorrequer, seated on a small stool before a cracked looking-glass, my only habiliments, as I am an honest man, being a pair of long white silk stockings, and a very richly embroidered shirt with point lace collar. The shouts of laughter are yet in my ears, the loud roar of inextinguishable mirth, which after the first brief pause of astonishment gave way, shook the entire building—my recollection may well have been confused at such a moment of unutterable shame and misery; yet, I clearly remember seeing Fanny, the sweet Fanny herself, fall into an arm-chair nearly suffocated with convulsions of laughter. I cannot go on; what I did I know not. I suppose my exit was additionally ludicrous, for a new eclat de rire followed me out. I rushed out of the theatre, and wrapping only my cloak round me, ran without stopping to the barracks. But I must cease; these are woes too sacred for even confessions like mine, so let me close the curtain of my room and my chapter together, and say, adieu for a season.
[Note: There are two Chapter XVIs. In the table of contents, this one has an asterisk but no explanation.]
It might have been about six weeks after the events detailed in my last chapter had occurred, that Curzon broke suddenly into my room one morning before I had risen, and throwing a precautionary glance around, as if to assure himself that we were alone, seized my hand with a most unusual earnestness, and, steadfastly looking at me, said—
"Harry Lorrequer, will you stand by me?"
So sudden and unexpected was his appearance at the moment, that I really felt but half awake, and kept puzzling myself for an explanation of the scene, rather than thinking of a reply to his question; perceiving which, and auguring but badly from my silence, he continued—
"Am I then, really deceived in what I believed to be an old and tried friend?"
"Why, what the devil's the matter?" I cried out. "If you are in a scrape, why of course you know I'm your man; but, still, it's only fair to let one know something of the matter in the meanwhile."
"In a scrape!" said he, with a long-drawn sigh, intended to beat the whole Minerva press in its romantic cadence.
"Well, but get on a bit," said I, rather impatiently; "who is the fellow you've got the row with? Not one of ours, I trust?"
"Ah, my dear Hal," said he, in the same melting tone as before—"How your imagination does run upon rows, and broils, and duelling rencontres," (he, the speaker, be it known to the reader, was the fire-eater of the regiment,) "as if life had nothing better to offer than the excitement of a challenge, or the mock heroism of a meeting."
As he made a dead pause here, after which he showed no disposition to continue, I merely added—
"Well, at this rate of proceeding we shall get at the matter in hand, on our way out to Corfu, for I hear we are the next regiment for the Mediterranean."
The observation seemed to have some effect in rousing him from his lethargy, and he added—
"If you only knew the nature of the attachment, and how completely all my future hopes are concerned upon the issue—"
"Ho!" said I, "so it's a money affair, is it? and is it old Watson has issued the writ? I'll bet a hundred."
"Well, upon my soul, Lorrequer," said he, jumping from his chair, and speaking with more energy than he had before evinced, "you are, without exception, the most worldly-minded, cold-blooded fellow I ever met. What have I said that could have led you to suppose I had either a duel or a law-suit upon my hands this morning? Learn, once and for all, man, that I am in love—desperately and over head and ears in love."
"Et puis," said I coolly.
"And intend to marry immediately."
"Oh, very well," said I; "the fighting and debt will come later, that's all. But to return—now for the lady."
"Come, you must make a guess."
"Why, then, I really must confess my utter inability; for your attentions have been so generally and impartially distributed since our arrival here, that it may be any fair one, from your venerable partner at whist last evening, to Mrs. Henderson, the pastry-cook inclusive, for whose macaroni and cherry-brandy your feelings have been as warm as they are constant."
"Come, no more quizzing, Hal. You surely must have remarked that lovely girl I waltzed with at Power's ball on Tuesday last."
"Lovely girl! Why, in all seriousness, you don't mean the small woman with the tow wig?"
"No, I do not mean any such thing—but a beautiful creature, with the brightest locks in Christendom—the very light-brown waving ringlets, Dominicheno loved to paint, and a foot—did you see her foot?"
"No; that was rather difficult, for she kept continually bobbing up and down, like a boy's cork-float in a fish-pond."
"Stop there. I shall not permit this any longer—I came not here to listen to—"
"But, Curzon, my boy, you're not angry?"
"Yes, sir, I am angry."
"Why, surely, you have not been serious all this time?"
"And why not, pray?"
"Oh! I don't exactly know—that is, faith I scarcely thought you were in earnest, for if I did, of course I should honestly have confessed to you that the lady in question struck me as one of the handsomest persons I ever met."
"You think so really, Hal?"
"Certainly I do, and the opinion is not mine alone; she is, in fact universally admired."
"Come, Harry, excuse my bad temper. I ought to have known you better —give me your hand, old boy, and wish me joy, for with you aiding and abetting she is mine to-morrow morning."
I wrung his hand heartily—congratulating myself, meanwhile, how happily I had got out of my scrape; as I now, for the first time, perceived that Curzon was bona fide in earnest.
"So, you will stand by me, Hal," said he.
"Of course. Only show me how, and I'm perfectly at your service. Any thing from riding postillion on the leaders to officiating as brides-maid, and I am your man. And if you are in want of such a functionary, I shall stand in 'loco parentis' to the lady, and give her away with as much 'onction' and tenderness as tho' I had as many marriageable daughters as king Priam himself. It is with me in marriage as in duelling—I'll be any thing rather than a principal; and I have long since disapproved of either method as a means of 'obtaining satisfaction.'"
"Ah, Harry, I shall not be discouraged by your sneers. You've been rather unlucky, I'm aware; but now to return: Your office, on this occasion, is an exceedingly simple one, and yet that which I could only confide to one as much my friend as yourself. You must carry my dearest Louisa off."
"Carry her off! Where?—when?—how?"
"All that I have already arranged, as you shall hear."
"Yes. But first of all please to explain why, if going to run away with the lady, you don't accompany her yourself."
"Ah! I knew you would say that, I could have laid a wager you'd ask that question, for it is just that very explanation will show all the native delicacy and feminine propriety of my darling Loo; and first, I must tell you, that old Sir Alfred Jonson, her father, has some confounded prejudice against the army, and never would consent to her marriage with a red-coat—so that, his consent being out of the question, our only resource is an elopement. Louisa consents to this, but only upon one condition—and this she insists upon so firmly—I had almost said obstinately—that, notwithstanding all my arguments and representations, and even entreaties against it, she remains inflexible; so that I have at length yielded, and she is to have her own way."
"Well, and what is the condition she lays such stress upon?"
"Simply this—that we are never to travel a mile together until I obtain my right to do so, by making her my wife. She has got some trumpery notions in her head that any slight transgression over the bounds of delicacy made by women before marriage is ever after remembered by the husband to their disadvantage, and she is, therefore, resolved not to sacrifice her principle even at such a crisis as the present."
"All very proper, I have no doubt; but still, pray explain what I confess appears somewhat strange to me at present. How does so very delicately-minded a person reconcile herself to travelling with a perfect stranger under such circumstances?"
"That I can explain perfectly to you. You must know that when my darling Loo consented to take this step, which I induced her to do with the greatest difficulty, she made the proviso I have just mentioned; I at once showed her that I had no maiden aunt or married sister to confide her to at such a moment, and what was to be done? She immediately replied, 'Have you no elderly brother officer, whose years and discretion will put the transaction in such a light as to silence the slanderous tongues of the world, for with such a man I am quite ready and willing to trust myself.' You see I was hard pushed there. What could I do?—whom could I select? Old Hayes, the paymaster, is always tipsy; Jones is five-and-forty—but egad! I'm not so sure I'd have found my betrothed at the end of the stage. You were my only hope; I knew I could rely upon you. You would carry on the whole affair with tact and discretion; and as to age, your stage experience would enable you, with a little assistance from costume, to pass muster; besides that, I have always represented you as the very Methuselah of the corps; and in the grey dawn of an autumnal morning—with maiden bashfulness assisting—the scrutiny is not likely to be a close one. So, now, your consent is alone wanting to complete the arrangements which, before this time to-morrow, shall have made me the happiest of mortals."
Having expressed, in fitting terms, my full sense of obligation for the delicate flattery with which he pictured me as "Old Lorrequer" to the Lady, I begged a more detailed account of his plan, which I shall shorten for my reader's sake, by the following brief expose.
A post-chaise and four was to be in waiting at five o'clock in the morning to convey me to Sir Alfred Jonson's residence, about twelve miles distant. There I was to be met by a lady at the gate-lodge, who was subsequently to accompany me to a small village on the Nore, where an old college friend of Curzon's happened to reside, as parson, and by whom the treaty was to be concluded.
This was all simple and clear enough—the only condition necessary to insure success being punctuality, particularly on the lady's part. As to mine I readily promised my best aid and warmest efforts in my friend's behalf.
"There is only one thing more," said Curzon. "Louisa's younger brother is a devilish hot-headed, wild sort of a fellow; and it would be as well, just for precaution sake, to have your pistols along with you, if, by any chance, he should make out what was going forward—not but that you know if any thing serious was to take place, I should be the person to take all that upon my hands."
"Oh! of course—I understand," said I. Meanwhile I could not help running over in my mind the pleasant possibilities such an adventure presented, heartily wishing that Curzon had been content to marry by bans or any other of the legitimate modes in use, without risking his friend's bones. The other pros and cons of the matter, with full and accurate directions as to the road to be taken on obtaining possession of the lady, being all arranged, we parted, I to settle my costume and appearance for my first performance in an old man's part, and Curzon to obtain a short leave for a few days from the commanding officer of the regiment.