Charles James Lever.

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coveted mode of life, which was to frequent " sheebeens " and
alehouses, and all similar places of resort ; not, indeed, for
the gratification of any passion for drink, for my father
only indulged when he was " treated," and never could
bring himself to spend a farthing in liquor himself, but his
great fondness for these places took its origin in his passion
for talk. Never, indeed, lived there a man from Lord
Brougham himself downwards who had a greater taste
for gossip and loquaciousness than my father. It mattered
little what the subject, he was always ready ; and whether it
were a crim. con. in the newspapers, a seizure for rent, a
marriage in high life, or a pig in the pound there he was,
explaining away all difficult terms of law and jurisprudence;
and many a difficulty that Tom Cafferty, the postmaster, had
attempted in vain to solve, was, by a kind of " writ of error,"
removed to my father's court for explanation and decision.

That he soon became a kind of authority in the neigh-
bouring town of Kilbeggan, need not excite any surprise. It


is men of precisely his kind, and with talents of an order
very similar to his, that wield influence in the great cities of
the earth. It is your talking, pushing, forward men, seeming
always confident in what they say never acknowledging
an error nor confessing a defeat, who take the lead in life.
With average ability, and ten times the average assurance,
they reach the goal that bashful merit never even so much as
gets within sight of.

His chief resort, however, was the Court of Quarter Ses-
sions, where he sat from the first opening case to the last
judgment, watching with an intense interest all the vacillating
changes of the law's uncertainty, which unquestionably were
not in any way diminished by the singular individual who pre-
sided in that seat of justice. Simon Ball or as he was better
known at the bar, Snow Ball an epithet he owed to his
white head and eyebrows, had qualified himself for the bench
by improving upon the proverbial attribute of justice. He
was not only blind but deaf. For something like forty-five
years he had walked the hall of the Four Courts with an
empty bag, and a head scarcely more encumbered, when one
morning no one could guess why the Gazette announced
that the Lord Lieutenant had appointed him to the vacant
chairmanship of Westmeath a promotion which had the
effect of confounding all political animosity by its perfect

It is a law of Nature that nothing ever goes to loss. Bad
wine will make very tolerable vinegar ; spoiled hay is converted
into good manure; and so, a very middling lawyer often
drops down into a very respectable judge. Had the gods
but acknowledged Mr. Ball's abilities some years earlier,
doubtless he had been an exception to the theory. They
waited, however, so long, that both sight and hearing were
in abeyance when the promotion came. It seemed to rally
him, however, this act of recognition, although late. It was
a kind of corroboration of the self-estimate of a long life,
and he prepared to show the world that he was very different
from what they took him for. No men have the bump of
self-esteem like lawyers : they live, and grow old, and die,
always fancying that Holts, and Hales, and Mansfields, are
hid within the unostentatious exterior of their dusty gar-
ments ; and that, the wit that dazzles, and the pathos that
thrills, are all rusting inside, just for want of a little of that
cheering encouragement by which their contemporaries are
clad in silk and walk in high places. Snow Ball was deter-
mined to show the world its error, and with a smart frock


and green spectacles, he took the field like a " fine old Irish
barrister," with many a dry joke or sly sarcasm, curled up
in the wrinkles beside his mouth. However cheap a man
may be held by his fellows in the " Hall," he is always sure
of a compensation in the provinces. There, the country
gentlemen looked upon their chairman as a Blackstone ; not
alone a storehouse of law, but a great appeal upon questions
of general knowledge and information. I should scarcely
have ventured upon what some of my readers may regard as
a mere digression, if it were not that thq gentleman and
the peculiar nature of his infirmities had led to an intimate
relation with my father. My parent's fondness for law, and
all appertaining to it, had attached him to the little inn where
Mr. Ball usually put up at each season of his visit : and
gradually, by tendering little services, as fetching an um-
brella when it rained, hastening for a book of reference if
called for, searching out an important witness, and probably
by a most frequent and respectful use of the title " my lord,
instead of the humble " your worship," he succeeded in so
ingratiating himself with the judge, that without exactly
occupying any precise station, or having any regular em-
ployment, he became in some sort a recognized appendage
a kind of " unpaid attache to the court" of Kilbeggan.

My father was one of those persons who usually ask only a
" lift " from Fortune, and do not require to be continually
aided by her. From being the humble attendant on the judge,
he soon succeeded to being his privy councillor ; supplying a
hundred little secret details of the neighbourhood and its local
failings, which usually gave Mr. Ball's decisions on the bench
an air approaching inspiration, so full were they of a know-
ledge of individual life. As confidence ripened, my father
was employed in reading out to the judge of an evening the
various depositions of witnesses, the informations laid, and
the affidavits sworn opportunities from which he did not
neglect to derive the full advantage : for while he usually
accompanied the written document with a running commen-
tary of his own to Mr. Ball, he also contrived to let the
suitor feel how great was his knowledge of the case, and
what a powerful influence behind the scenes he wielded over
the fortunes of the cause, insomuch that it became soon well
known that he who had Con Cregan on his side was better
off than with the whole bench of country magistrates disposed
to favour him.

My father's prudence did not desert him in these trying
circumstances. Without any historical knowledge of the


matter, he knew by a species of instinct, that pride was the
wreck of most men, and that, to wield real substantial power,
it is often necessary to assume a garb of apparent inefficiency
and incapacity. To this end, the greater the influence he
possessed, the humbler did he affect to be ; disclaiming every-
thing like power, he got credit for possessing a far greater
share than he ever really enjoyed.

That the stream of justice did not run perfectly pure and
clear, however, may not be a matter of surprise ; for how
many rocks, and shoals, and quicksands, are there in the
channel ! and certainly my father was a dangerous hand at
the wheel. Litigation, it must be owned, lost much of its
vacillation. The usual question about any case, was, " What
does Con say ! did Con Cregan tell ye ye'll win ? " That was
decisive ; none sceptical enough to ask for more !

At the feet of this Gamaliel I was brought up ; nothing the
more tenderly that a stepmother presided over the " home
department." As I was a stout boy, of some thirteen or
fourteen at this period of my father's life, and could read and
write tolerably well, I was constantly employed in making
copies of various papers used at the Sessions. Were I
psychologically inclined, I might pause here to inquire, how
far these peculiar studies had their influence in biassing the
whole tenor of my very eventful life ; what latent stores of
artifice did I lay up from all these curious subtleties ; how
did I habituate my mind to weigh and balance probabilities,
as evidence inclined to this side or that ; above all, how
gratified was I with the discovery, that there existed a legal
right and wrong, perfectly distinct from the moral ones ; a
fact which served at once to open the path of life far wider
and more amply before me.

I must, however, leave this investigation to the reader's
acuteness, if he think it worth following out ; nor would I
now allude to it, save as it affords me the opportunity, once for
all, of explaining modes of thinking and acting which might
seem, without some such clue, as unfitting and unseemly, in
one reared and brought up as I was.

Whether the new dignity of his station had disposed him to
it or not, I cannot say, but my father became far more stern
in his manner and exacting in his requirements as he rose in
life. The practice of the law seemed to impart some feature
of its own peremptory character to himself, as he issued his
orders in our humble household with all the impressive
solemnity of a writ indeed, aiding the effect by phrases
taken from the awful vocabulary of justice.


If my stepmother objected to anything, the answer was
usually, she might " traverse in prox " at the next Sessions ;
while to myself every order was in the style of a " mandamus."
Not satisfied with the mere terrors of the Bench, he became
so enamoured of the pursuit, as to borrow some features of
prison discipline for the conduct of our household ; thus, for
the slightest infractions of his severe code, I was " put " upon
No. 3, Penitentiary diet, only reading potatoes vice bread.

There would seem to be something uncongenial to obedi-
ence in any form, in the life of an Irish peasant ; something
doubtless in the smell of the turf. He seems to imbibe a
taste for freedom, by the very architecture of his dwelling,
and the easy unbuttoned liberty of his corduroys. Young as
I was, I suppose the Celt was strong within me ; and the
Times says, that will account for all delinquencies. I felt this
powerfully ; not the less, indeed, that my father almost in-
variably visited me with the penalty of the case, then before
the Court: so that while copying out at night the details of
the prosecution, I had time to meditate over the coming
sentence. It was, perhaps, fortunate for me that capital cases
do not come under the jurisdiction of a " sitting barrister,"
otherwise I verily believe I might have suffered the last
penalty of the law from my parent's infatuation.

My sense of " equity " at last revolted. I perceived, that
no matter who "sued," / was always "cast;" and I at length
resolved on resistance. I remember well the night this
resolution was formed, it was a cold and cheerless one of
January ; my father had given me a great mass of papers to
copy, and along article for the newspapers to write out, which
the " Judge " was to embody in his address to the Bench. I
never put pen to either, but sate with my head between my
hands for twelve mortal hours, revolving every possible
wickedness, and wondering, whether in my ingenuity I could
not invent some offences that no indictment could comprise.
Day broke, and found me still unoccupied. I was just medi-
tating whether I should avow my rebellion openly, and
" plead " in mitigation, when my father came in.

My reader must excuse me if I do not dwell on what
followed. It is enough to say that the nature of my injuries
are unknown to the criminal statute, and that although my
wounds and bruises are familiar to the prize-ring, they are
ignored by all jurisprudence out of the slave states. Even
my stepmother confessed, that I was not fit to " pick out of
the gutter," and she proved her words by leaving me where
I lay.


Revenge must be a very " human " passion ; my taste for
it came quite naturally. I had never read " Othello " nor
"Zanga;" but I conceived a very clear and precise notion
that I had a debt to pay, and pay it I would. Had the
obligation been of a pecuniary character, and some " bank-
rupt commission " been in jurisdiction over it, I had doubtless
oeen called upon to discharge it in a series of instalments
proportional to my means of life ; being a moral debt, how-
ever, I enjoyed the privilege of paying it at once, and in full :
which I did thus. I had often remarked that my father arose
at night and left the cabin, crossing a little garden behind
the house to a little shed, where our pig and an ass lived in
harmony together ; and here, by dint of patient observation,
I discovered that his occupation lay in the thatch of the afore-
said shed, in which he seemed to conceal some object of value.

Thither I now repaired, some secret prompting suggesting
that it might afford me the wished for means of vengeance ;
my disappointment was indeed great, that no compact roll of
bank-notes, no thick woollen stocking close packed with
guineas, or even crown-pieces, met my hand ; a heavy bundle
of papers and parchment were all 1 could find ; and these
bore such an unhappy family resemblance to the cause of all
my misfortunes, that I was ready to tear them to pieces in
very spite. A mere second's reflection suggested a better
course. There was a certain attorney in Kilbeggan, one
Morissy, my father's bitterest enemy ; indeed, my parent's
influence in the Session court had almost ruined and left him
without a client. The man of law and precedents in vain
struggled against decisions, which a secret and irresponsible
adviser contrived beforehand, and Morissy's knowledge and
experience were soon discovered to be valueless. It was a
game in which skill went for nothing.

This gentleman's character at once pointed him out as the
fitting agent of vengeance on my father, and by an hour
after daybreak did I present myself before him in all the con-
sciousness of my injured state.

Mr. Morissy's reception of me was not over gracious.

" Well, ye spawn of the devil," said he, as he turned about
from a small fragment of looking-glass, before which he was
shaving : " what brings ye here ? bad luck to ye ; the sight
of ye's made me cut myself."

" I'm come, sir, for a bit of advice, sir," said I, putting my
hand to my hat in salutation.

"Assault and battery ! " said he, with a grin on the side of
his mouth where the soap had been shaved away.


" Yes, sir ; an aggravated case," said I, using the phrase of
the sessions.

" Why don't ye apply to yer father ? he's Crown lawyer
and Attorney- General ; faith, he's more besides he's judge
and jury too."

" And more than that in the present suit, sir," says I,
following up his illustration ; " he's the defendant here."

" What ! is that his doing ? "

" Yes, sir ; his own hand and mark," said I, laughing.

" That's an ugly cut, and mighty near the eye ! but sure,
after all, you're his child."

" Very true, sir ; it's only paternal correction ; but I have
something else ! "

" What's that, Con my boy ? " said he ; for we were now
grown very familiar.

" It is this, sir," said I ; " this roll of papers that I found
hid in the thatch a safe place my father used to make his

" Let us see ! " said Morissy, sitting down and opening the
package ; many were old summonses discharged, notices to
quit withdrawn, and so on ; but at last he came to two papers
pinned together, at sight of which he almost jumped from
his chair. " Con," says he, " describe the place you found
them in." I went over all the discovery again. " Did ye
yourself see your father put in papers there ? "

I did, sir."

" On more than one occasion ? "

" At least a dozen times, sir."

" Did ye ever remark any one else putting papers there ? "

" Never, sir ! none of the neighbours ever come through
the garden."

" And it was always at night, and in secret, he used to
repair there ? "

" Always at night."

" That'll do, Con ; that'll do, my son. You'll soon turn
the tables on the old boy. You may go do down to the
kitchen and get your breakfast ; be sure, however, that you
don't leave the house to-day. Your father mustn't know
where ye are till we're ready for him."

" Is it a strong case, sir ? " said I.

" A very strong case never a flaw in it."

" Is it more than a larceny, sir? " said I.

" It is better than that."

" I'd rather it didn't go too far," said I, for I was beginning
to feel afraid of what I had done.


"Leave that to me, Con," said Mr. Morissy, " and go down
to yer breakfast."

I did as I was bid, and never stirred out of the house the
whole day, nor for eight days after ; when one morning
Morissy bid me clean myself, and brush my hair, to come
with him to the Court-house.

I guessed at once what was going to happen ; and now, as
my head was healed, and all my bruises cured, I'd very gladly
have forgiven all the affair, and gone home again with my
father ; but it was too late. As Mr. Morissy said, with a grin,
" The law is an elegant contrivance ; a child's finger can set
it in motion, but a steam engine could not hold it back after-
wards! "

The Court was very full that morning ; there was five
magistrates on the bench, and Mr. Ball in the middle of them.
There were a great many farmers, too, for it was market-day ;
and numbers of the townspeople, who all knew my father, and
were not sorry to see him " up." Cregan versus Cregan
stood third on the list of cases ; and very little interest
attached to the two that preceded it. At last it was called ;
and there I stood before the Bench, with five hundred pair of
eyes all bent upon me ; and two of them actually looking
through my very brain for they were my father's, as he stood
at the opposite side of the table below the Bench.

The case was called an assault, and very soon terminated ;
for, by my own admission, it was clear that I deserved pun-
ishment ; though probably not so severely as it had been
inflicted. The judge delivered a very impressive lesson to
my father and myself, about our respective duties, and dis-
missed the case, with a reproof, the greater share of which
fell to me. " You may go now, sir," said he, winding up a
fine peroration; "fear God and honour the king; respect
your parents, and make your capitals smaller."

" Before your worship dismisses the witness, "said Morissy,
" I wish to put a few questions to him."

" The case is disposed of ; call the next," said the judge,

" I have a most important fact to disclose to your worship
one which is of the highest importance to the due administra-
tion of justice one which, if suffered to lie in obscurity, will be
a disgrace to the law, and a reproach to the learned Bench."

" Call the next case, crier," said the judge. " Sit down,
Mr. Morissy."

" Your worship may commit me ; but I will be heard "

"Tipstaff! take that man into "


"When you hear of a mandamus from the King's Bench
when you know that a case of compounding a felony

*' Come away, Mr. Morissy ; come quiet, sir ! " said the

" What were ye saying of a mandamus ? " said the judge,
getting frightened at the dreaded word.

" I was saying this, sir," said Morissy, turning fiercely
round ; " that I am possessed of information which you re-
fused to hear, and which will make the voice of the Chief
Justice heard in this court, which now denies its ear to truth."

" Conduct yourself more becomingly, sir," said one of the
county magistrates, "and open your case."

Morissy, who was far more submissive to the gentry than
to the chairman, at once replied in his blandest tone :

"Your worship, it is now more than a month since I ap-
peared before you in the case of Noonan versus M'Quade and
others ; an aggravated case of homicide, I might go further,
and apply to it the most awful term the vocabulary of justice
contains ! Your worship will remember, that on that very
interesting and important case a document was missing, of
such a character that the main feature of the case seemed
actually to hang upon it. This was no less than the death-
bed confession of Noonan, formally taken before a justice of
the peace, Mr. Styles, and written with all the accurate regard
to circumstances the law exacts. Mr. Styles, the magistrate
who took the deposition, was killed by a fall from his horse
the following week ; his clerk being ill, the individual who
wrote the case was Con Cregan. Your worship may bear in
mind that this man, when called to the witness box, denied
all knowledge of this dying confession ; asserted that what
he took down in writing were simply some brief and unsatis-
factory notes of the affray all to the advantage of the
M'Quades and swore that Mr. Styles, who often alluded to
the document as a confession, was entirely in error, the
whole substance of it being unimportant and vague : some
very illegible, and ill-written notes, corroborating which,
were produced in court, as the papers in question.

" Noonan being dead, and Mr. Styles also, the whole case
rested on the evidence of Cregan, and although your wor-
ship, the man's character for veracity was not of that nature
among the persons of his own neighbourhood to '

" Confine yourself to the case, sir," said the judge, " with-
out introducing matter of mere common report."

" I am in a position to prove my assertion,'' said Morissy,
triumphantly, " I hold here in my hand the abstracted docu-


ments, signed and sealed by Mr. Styles, and engrossed with
every item of regularity. I have more : a memorandum
purporting to be a copy of a receipt for eighteen pounds ten
shillings, received by Cregan, from Jos. M'Quade, the wages
of this crime ; and, if more were necessary, a promissory-
note from M'Quade for an additional sum of seven pounds,
at six months' date. These are the papers which I am pre-
pared to prove in Court ; this, the evidence, which a few
minutes back I tendered in vain before you, and there," said
he, turning with a vindictive solemnity to where my father was
standing, pale, but collected, "there's the man who, dis-
tinguished by your worship's confidence, I now arraign for
the suppression of this evidence, and the composition of a
felony ! "

If Mr. Morissy was not perfectly correct in his law, there
was still quite enough to establish a charge of misdemeanour
against my father: and he was accordingly committed for
trial at the approaching assizes, while I was delivered over to
the charge of a police-sergeant, to fee in readiness when my
testimony should be required.

The downfall of a dynasty is sure to evoke severe recrimi-
nation against the late ruler, and now my parent, who but
a few days past could have tilted the beam of justice at his
mere pleasure, was overwhelmed with, not merely abuse and
attack, but several weighty accusations of crime were alleged
against him. Not only was it discovered that he interfered
with the due course of justice, but that he was a prime actor
in, and contriver of, many of the scenes of insurrectionary dis-
turbance, which for years back had filled the country with
alarm and the gaols with criminals.

For one of these cases, a night attack for arms, the evi-
dence was so complete and unquestionable, that the Crown
prosecutor disliking the exhibition of a son giving evidence
against his parent, dispensed with my attendance altogether,
and prosecuting the graver charge obtained a verdict of

The sentence was transportation for life, with a confisca-
tion of all property to the Crown. Thus my first step in life
was to exile my father, and leave myself a beggar j a pro-
mising beginning, it must be owned !




IT is among the strange and singular anomalies of onr nature,
that however pleased men may be at the conviction of a noted
offender, few of those instrumental to his punishment are
held in honour and esteem. If all Kilbeggan rejoiced, as
they did, at my father's downfall, a very considerable share
of obloquy rested on me ; a species of judgment, I honestly
confess, that I was not the least prepared for.

" There goes the little informer," said they, as I passed ;
" what did ye get for hanging, " a very admirable piece of
Irish exaggeration " for hanging yer father, Con ? " said one.

" Couldn't ye help yer stepmother to a say voyage ? "
shouted another.

" And then we'd be rid of yez all," chimed in a third.

" He's rich now," whined out an old beggar-man that
often had eaten his potatoes at our fireside. " He's rich now,
the chap is ; he'll marry a lady ! "

This was the hardest to bear of all the slights, for not
alone had I lost all pretension to my father's property,

Online LibraryCharles James Lever[Charles Lever's novels (Volume 5) → online text (page 2 of 50)