Charles James Lever.

[Charles Lever's novels (Volume 5) online

. (page 4 of 50)
Online LibraryCharles James Lever[Charles Lever's novels (Volume 5) → online text (page 4 of 50)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


" HOW I ENTERED COLLEGE, AND HOW I LEFT IT." 27

various reflections on the presumption of people who travel
and cannot afford it, on their vanity, self-conceit, and so
forth, the fellow departed, with what my ears assured me
was no contemptible share of my poor master's purse.

I was sitting alone in my den during this scene, not Avish-
ing by my presence to add anything to his mortification ;
and now all was still and noiseless, I waited for some time
expecting to be called, to be told of some trifling service to
execute, or, at least, to be spoken to : but no, not a sound,
not a murmur was to be heard.

My own thoughts were none of the brightest ; the ceaseless
rain that streamed against the little window, and shutout all
prospect of what was without ; the cold and cheerless cham-
ber, and the death-like silence, were like lead upon my
heart.

I had often, in my reveries at home, fancied that all who
were lifted above the cottier in life must have neither care nor
sorrow ; that real want was unknown, save in their class ;
and that all afflictions of those more highly placed were of a
character too trifling to be deemed serious ; and now suddenly
there came to me the thought, What, if every one had his
share of grief ? I vow, the very suspicion thrilled through
me, and I sat still, dwelling on the sad theme with deep
intensity.

As I sat thus, a sigh, low, but distinct came from the ad-
joining chamber. I suddenly remembered my young master,
and crept noiselessly to the door ; it stood ajar, and I could
see in, and mark everything well. He was sitting at a table
covered with books and writing materials ; a single candle
threw its yellow glare over the whole, and lit up with a sickly
tint the travel-worn and tired features of the youth.

As I looked, he leaned his forehead down upon his arm, and
seemed either overcome by sorrow or fatigue ; when suddenly
a deep-booming bell sent forth a solemn peal, and made the
very chamber vibrate with its din. Lyndsay started at the
sound ; a kind of shudder, like a convulsive throe, shook his
limbs ; and sitting up on his seat, he pushed back the falling
hair from his eyes, and again addressed himself to his book.
The heavy tolling sounds seemed now no longer to distract,
but rather to nerve him to greater efforts, for he read on with
an intense persistence ; turning from volume to volume, and
repeatedly noting down on the paper as he read.

Of a sudden the bell ceased, and Lyndsay arose from the
table, and passed into the bedroom ; from which he almost
instantaneously reappeared, dressed in his cap and gown ; a



28 THE CONFESSIONS OF CON CREGAN.

new and curious costume in my eyes, but which at the time
was invested with a deep mysterious interest to me.

I retired silently now to my room, and saw him pass out
into the wide court. I hastened to look out. Already some
hundred others in similar costume were assembled there, and
the buzz of voices, and the sound of many feet, were a pleasant
relief to the desert-like silence of the court as I had seen it
before. The change was, however, of a very brief duration ;
in less than a minute the whole assemblage moved off, and
entered a great building, whose heavy door closed on them
with a deep bang, and all was still once more.

I now set myself to think by what small services I could
render myself acceptable to my young master. I arranged
the scanty furniture into a resemblance faint enough, cer-
tainly, to comfort, and made a cheerful fire with the remnant
of the roomy coal-box. This done, I proceeded to put his
clothes in order, and actually astonished myself with the
skill I seemed to possess in my new walk. An intense
curiosity to know what was going on without led me frequently
to the door which led into the court ; but I profited little by
this step. The only figures which met my eye were now and
then some elderly personage clad in his academic robes,
gravely wending towards the " Hall," and the far less
imposing cries of some "college women," as the hags are
called, who officiate as the University housemaids.

It was at one of these visits that suddenly I heard the
great door of the " Hall " burst open with a crash, and
immediately down the steps poured the black tide of figures,
talking and laughing in one multifarious din, that seemed to
fill the very air. Cautiously withdrawing, I closed the door,
and retired ; but scarcely had I reached my room, when
young Lyndsay passed through to his own chamber: his
cheek was flushed, and his eyes sparkled with animation, and
his whole air and gesture indicated great excitement.

Having removed his cravat, and bathed his temples with
cold water, he once more sat down before his books, and
was soon so immersed in study, as not to hear my footsteps
as I entered.

I stood, uncertain, and did not dare to interrupt him for
some minutes ; the very intensity of his application awed
me. Indeed, I believe I should have retired without a word,
had he not accidentally looked up and beheld me. " Eh !
what! how is this?" cried he, endeavouring to recall his
mind from the themes before him ; " I had forgotten you,
my poor boy, and you have had no breakfast."



" HOW I ENTERED COLLEGE, AND HOW I LEFT IT." 29

"And you, sir ? " said I, in reality more interested for him
than myself.

" Take this, Con," said he, not heeding my remark, and
giving me a piece of silver from his purse ; " get yourself
something to eat : to-morrow, or next day, we shall arrange
these things better ; for at this moment my head has its load
of other cares."

" But will you not eat something ? " said I ; "you have not
tasted food since we met."

" We are expected to breakfast with our tutor on the
examination mornings, Con," said he ; and then, not seeming
to feel the inconsistency of his acts with his words, he again
bent his head over the table, and lost all remembrance of
either me or our conversation. I stole noiselessly away, and
sallied forth to seek my breakfast where I could.

There were few loiterers in the court ; a stray student
hurrying past, or an old slipshod hag of hideous aspect and
squalid misery, were all I beheld ; but both classes bestowed
most unequivocal signs of surprise at my country air and
appearance, and to my question, where I could buy some
bread and milk, answers the most cynical or evasive were
returned. While I was yet endeavouring to obtain from one
of the ancient maidens alluded to some information on the
point, two young men, with velvet caps and velvet capes on
their gowns, stopped to listen.

" I say, friend," cried one, seemingly the younger of the
two, " when did you enter ?"

" This morning," said I, taking the question literally.

" Do you hear that, Ward?" continued he to his compa-
nion. " What place did you take? "

" I was on the roof," replied I, supposing the querae boro
allusion to the mode of my coming.

"Quite classical," said the elder, a tall, good-looking
youth ; " you came as did Cassar into Gaul, * summd dili-
(jentia] on the top of the Diligence."

They both laughed heartily at a very threadbare college
joke, and were about to move away, when the younger,
turning round, said, " Have you matriculated ? "

" No, sir, what's that ? "

" It's a little ceremony," interposed the elder, " necessary,
and indeed indispensable, to every one coming to reside
within these walls. You've heard of Napoleon, 1 dare say?"

" Bony, is it ? " asked I, giving the more familiar title by
which he was better known to my circle of acquaintance.

" Exactly," said he, " Bony. Now Bony used to call a



80 THE CONFESSIONS OF CON CREGAN.

first battle the baptism of Glory ; so may we style, in a like
way, Matriculation to be the baptism of Knowledge. You
understand me, eh ?"

" Not all out," said I, " but partly."

" We'll illustrate by a diagram, then."

" I say, Bob," whispered the younger, " let us find out
with whom he is;" then turning to me, said, "Where do
you live here ? "

" Yonder," said I, " where that lamp is."

" Mr. Lyndsay's chambers V "

" Yes, sir."

" All right," cried the younger ; " we'll show you the
secret of matriculation."

" Come along, my young friend," said the elder, in the
same pompous tone he had used at first, " let us teach you to
drink LI that Pierian spring which ' Labitur et labetur in
omne vo'ubilies cevum.' "

I believe it was the fluent use of the unknown tongue
which at once allayed any mistrust I might have felt of my
new acquaintances ; however that may be, there was some-
thing so imposing in the high-sounding syllables that I
yielded at once, and followed them into another and more
remote quadrangle.

Here they stopped under a window, while one gave a loud
whistle with his fingers to his lips ; the sash was immediately
thrown up, and a handsome, merry-looking face protruded.
" Eh! what! Taylor and Ward," cried he, " what's going
on?"

" Come down, Burton ; here's a youth for matriculation,"
cried the younger.

" All right," cried the other. " There are eight of us
here at breakfast ;" and disappearing from the window, he
speedily descended to the court, followed by a number of
others, who gravely saluted me with a deep bow, and solemnly
welcomed me within the classic precincts of old Trinity.

" Domine what's his name ? " said the young gentleman
called Burton.

" Cregan, sir," replied I, already flattered by the atten-
tions I was receiving, " Con Cregan, sir."

" Well, Domine Cregan, come along with us, and never
put faith in a junior sophister. You know what a junior
sophister is, I trust? "

"No, sir."

"Tell him, Ward."

"A junior sophister, Mr. Cregan, is one who, being in



" HOW I ENTERED COLLEGE, AND HOW I LEFT IT." 31

' Locke ' all day, is very often locked out all night, and who
observes the two rubrics of the statute ' de vigilantibus et
lucentibus,' by extinguishing both lamps and watchmen."

"Confound your pedantry," broke in Burton : "a junior
soph, is a man in his ninth examination."

" The terror of the porters," cried one.

" The Dean's milch cow," added another.

*' A credit to his parents, but a debtor to his tailor," broke
in a third.

" Seldom at Greek lecture, but no fellow-commoner at the
Currah," lisped out Taylor : and by this time we had reached
a narrow lane, flanked on one side by a tall building of
gloomy exterior, and on the other by an angle of the
square.

"Here we are, Mr. Cregan; as the poet says, 'this is the
place, the centre of the wood.' "

" Gentlemen sponsors, to your functions ; " scarce were the
words out, when I was seized by above half a dozen pair of
strong hands : my legs were suddenly jerked upwards, and,
notwithstanding my attempts to resist, I was borne along
for some yards at a brisk pace. I was already about to for-
bear my struggles, and suffer them to play their as I deemed
it harmless joke in quiet, when straight in front of me I
saw an enormous pump, at which, and by a double handle,
Burton and another were working away like sailors on a
wreck ; throwing forth, above a yard off, a jet of water almost
enough to turn a mill.

The whole plot now revealed itself to me at once, and I
commenced a series of kickings and plungings that almost
left me free. My enemies, however, were too many and too
powerful ; on they bore me, and in a perfect storm of blows,
lunges, writhings, and boundings, they held me fast under
the stream, which played away in a frothy current over my
head, face, chest, and legs, for, with a most laudable impar-
tiality, they moved me from side to side, till not a dry spot
remained on my whole body.

1 shouted, I yelled, I swore, and screamed for aid, but all
in vain, and my diabolical tormentors seemed to feel no touch
of weariness in their inhuman pastime ; while I, exhausted by
my struggles and the continual rush of the falling water,
almost ceased to resist ; when suddenly a cry of " The Dean !
the Dean ! " was heard : my bearers let go their hold, down
I tumbled upon the flags, with barely consciousness enough
to see the scampering crew flying in all directions, while a
host of porters followed them in hot pursuit.



82 THE CONFESSIONS OF CON CKEOAN

" Who are you, sir ? What brought you here ? " said a
tall old gentleman, I at once surmised to be the Dean.

" The devil himself, I believe ! " replied I, rising with
difficulty under the weight of my soaked garments.

" Turn him outside the gates, Hawkins ! " said the Dean
to a porter behind him. " Take care, too, he never re-enters
them."

" I'll take good care of it, sir," said the fellow, as with one
strong hand on my collar, and the closed fingers of the other
administering gentle admonitions to the back of my head, he
proceeded to march me before him through the square ; re-
volving as I went thoughts, which, certes, evinced not one
sentiment of gratitude to the learned university.

My college career was, therefore, more brief than brilliant;
for 1 was " expelled " on the very same day that I " entered."

With the '' world before me where to choose," I stepped
out into the classic precincts of College Green, fully assured
of one fact, that "Town" could scarcely treat me more harshly
than " Gown." I felt, too, that I had passed through a kind
of ordeal ; that my ducking, like the ceremonies on crossing
the line, was a kind of masonic ordinance, indispensable to
my opening career; and that thus I had got successfully
through one at least of my " trials."

A species of filial instinct suggested to me the propriety of
seeing Newgate, where my father lay, awaiting the arrival
of the convict ship that was to convey him to Van Diemen's
Land : and thither I accordingly repaired, not to enter, but
simply to gaze, with a very awestruck imagination, upon that
double-barred cage of human ferocity and crime.

In itself the circumstance has nothing worthy of record, nor
should I mention it, save that to the deep impression of that
morning do I owe a certain shrinking horror of all great
crime ; that impression has been of incalculable benefit to me
through life.

I strained my eyes to mark if, amid the faces closely pressed
against the strong bars, I could recognize that of my parent,
but in vain ; there was a terrible sameness in their features,
as if the individual had sunk in the criminal, that left all dis-
crimination difficult ; and so I turned away, satisfied that I
had done a son's part most completely.



83



CHAPTER V.

A PEEP AT " HIGH AND LOW COMPANY."

I HAVE often heard it observed, that one has as little to do
with the choice of his mode of life as with the name he re-
ceives at baptism. I rather incline to the opinion that this
is true. My own very varied, and somewhat dissimilar occu-
pations were certainly far less the result of any preconceived
plan or scheme than the mere " turn-up " of the rolling die
of Fortune.

It was while revolving a species of fatalism in this wise,
and calmly assuring myself that I was not born to be starved,
that I strolled along Merrion Square on the same afternoon
of my expulsion from Trinity and visit to Newgate.

There were brilliant equipages, cavaliers, and ladies on
horseback ; handsome houses, with balconies often thronged
by attractive-looking occupants ; and vast crowds of gaily-
dressed persons promenaded within the square itself, where
a military band performed ; in fact, there was more than
enough to interest and amuse one of higher pretensions in
the scale of pleasure than myself.

While I was thus gazing on this brilliant panorama of the
outdoor life of a great city, and wondering and guessing what
precise object thus brought people together for no feature
of a market, or a fair, or any festive occupation solved the
difficulty I was struck by a class of characters who seemed
to play the subordinate parts of the drama a set of ragged,
ill-fed, half-starved boys, who followed in crowds each new
arrival on horseback, and eagerly sought permission to hold
his horse when he dismounted ; the contrast of these mangy-
looking attendants to the glossy-coated and handsomely-
caparisoned steeds they led about being too remarkable to
escape notice. Although a very fierce rivalry prevailed
amongst them, they seemed a species of organized guild, who
constituted a distinct walk in life, and indignantly resented
the attempt of some two or three "voluntaries" who showed
a wish to join the fraternity.

I sat against the rails of the square, studying with some
curiosity little details of their etiquette, and their strange
conventionalities. A regular corps of them stood in front of

D



34 THE CONFESSIONS OF CON CKEGAN.

me, canvassing with all the eager volubility of their craft for
the possession of a handsome thorough-bred pony, from which
a young officer, in a cavalry undress, was about to dismount.

" I'm your own boy, captain ! I'm Tim, sir ! " cried one,
with a leer of most familiar intimacy.

" 'Tis me towld ye about Miss O'Grady, sir," shouted
another, preferring another and stronger claim.

" I'm the boy caught your mare the day ye was thrown,
captain!" insinuated a third, exhibiting a want of tact in the
reminiscence that drew down many a scoff upon him from
his fellows ; for these ragged and starving curs had a most
lively sense of the use of flattery.

" Off with you ! stand off!" said the young dragoon, in a
threatening tone, " let that fellow take my mare ;" and he
pointed to me, as I sat, a patient but unconcerned spectator
of the scene. Had a medical consultation been suddenly set
aside on the eve of a great surgical operation, and the " knife"
committed to the unpractised hand of a new bystander, the
breach of etiquette and the surprise could scarce have been
greater. The gang stared at me with most undisguised con-
tempt, and a perfect volley of abuse and irony followed me
as I hastened to obey the summons.

It has been very often my fortune in life to take a position
for which I neither had submitted to the usual probationary
study, nor possessed the necessary acquirement ; but I believe
this my first step in the very humble walk of a " horse-boy,"
gave me more pain than ever did any subsequent one. The criti-
cisms on my dress, my walk, my country look, my very shoes
my critics wore none were all poignant and bitter ; and I
verily believe, such is the force of ridicule, I should have pre-
ferred the rags and squalor of the initiated, at that moment,
to the warm grey frieze and blue worsted stockings of my
country costume.

I listened attentively to the young officer's directions how
I was to walk his mare, and where ; and then assuming a
degree of indifference to sarcasm I was far from feeling, moved
away from the spot in sombre dignity. The captain the
title is generic was absent about an hour; and when he
returned seemed so well pleased with my strict obedience to
his orders, that he gave me a shilling, arid desired me to be
punctually at the same hour ani the same place on the day
following.

It was now dark ; the lamplighter had begun his rounds,
and I was just congratulating myself that I should escape my
persecutors, when I saw them approaching in a body. In an



A PEEP AT " HIGH AND LOW COMPANY." 35

instant I was surrounded, and assailed with a torrent of ques-
tions, as to who I was where I came from what brought
me there and lastly, and with more eagerness than all be-
sides what did "the captain" give me ? As I answei-ed this
query first, the others were not pressed ; and it being voted
that I should expend the money on the fraternity, by way of
entrance- fee, or, as they termed it, " paying my footing,"
away we set in a body to a distant part of the town, remote
from all its better and more spacious thoroughfares, and
among a chaos of lanes and alleys, called the " Liberties." If
the title were conferred for the excessive and unlimited
freedoms permitted to the inhabitants, it was no misnomer.
On my very entrance into it I perceived the perfect free and
easy which prevailed.

A dense tide of population thronged the close, confined
passages ; mostly of hodmen, bricklayers' labourers, and
scavengers, with old clothesmen, beggars, and others whose
rollicking air and daring look bespoke more hazardous modes
of life.

My companions wended their way through the dense
throng, like practised travellers, often cutting off an angle
by a dive through the two doors of a wbisky shop, and
occasionally making a great short-cut, by penetrating through
a house and the court behind it little exploits in geography
expiated by a volley of curses from the occupants, and some-
times an admonitory brickbat in addition.

The uniform good temper they exhibited ; the easy freedom
with which they submitted to the rather rough jocularities of
the passers-by the usual salute being a smart slap on the
crown of the head, administered by the handicraft tool of the
individual, and this sometimes being an iron trowel, or a
slater's hammer could not but exalt them in my esteem as
the most patient set of varlets I had ever sojourned with.
To my question as to why we were going so far, and whither
our journey tended, I got for answer the one short reply
" We must go to ' ould Betty's.' "

Now as I would willingly spare as much of this period's
recital to my reader as I can, I will content myself with
stating that " ould Betty," or Betty Cobbe, was an old lady
who kept a species of ordinary for the unclaimed youth of
Dublin. They were fed and educated at her seminary the
washing cost little, and they were certainly " done " for at
the very smallest cost, and in the most remarkably brief space
of time. If ever these faint memorials of a life should be
read in a certain far-off land, more than one settler in the

D 2



86 THE CONFESSIONS OP CON CREGAN.

distant bush, more than one angler in the dull stream of
Swan River will confess how many of his first sharp notions
of life and manners were imbibed from the training nurture
of Mrs. Elizabeth Cobbe.

Betty's proceedings, for some years before I had the
honour and felicity of her acquaintance, had attracted to-
wards her the attention of the authorities.

The Colonial Secretary had possibly grown jealous ; for
she had been pushing emigration to Norfolk Island on a far
wider scale than ever a Cabinet dreamed of; and thus had
she acquired what, in the polite language of our neighbours,
is phrased the " Surveillance of the Police" a watchful
superintendence and anxious protectorate, for which, I grieve
to say, she evinced the very reverse of gratitude. Betty
had, in consequence, and in requirement with the spirit of the
times the most capricious spirit that ever vexed plain old-
fashioned mortals reformed her establishment ; and from
having opened her doors, as before, to what, in the language
of East Indian advertisements, are called " a few spirited
young men," she had fallen down to that sma-ll fry who, in
various disguises of vagrancy and vagabondage, invest the
highways of a capital.

By these disciples she was revered and venerated their
devotion was the compensation for the world's neglect, and
so she felt it. To train them up with a due regard to the
faults and follies of their better-endowed neighbours was
her aim and object, and to such teaching her knowledge of
Dublin life and people largely contributed.

Her original walk had been minstrelsy ; she was the famous
ballad-singer of Drogheda Street, in the year of the rebellion
of '08. She had been half a dozen times imprisoned some
said that she had even visited " Beresford's riding-school, 1 '
where the knout was in daily practice, but this is not so clear
certain it is, both her songs and sympathy had always been
on the patriotic side. She was the terror of Protestant
ascendency for many a year long.

Like Homer, she sung her own verses ; or, if they were
made for her, the secret of the authorship was never divulged.
For several years previous to the time I now speak of, she
had abandoned the Muses save on some special and striking
occasions, when she would come before the world with some
lyric, which, however, did little more than bear the name of
its once famed composer.

So much for the paat. Now to the present history of
Betty Cobbe.



A PEEP AT " HIGH AND LOW COMPANY." 37

In a large unceilinged room, with a great fire blazing on
the hearth, over which a huge pot of potatoes was boiling,
sat Betty in a straw chair. She was evidently very old, as
her snow-white hair and lustreless eye bespoke ; but the fire
of a truculent, unyielding spirit still warmed her blood, and
the sharp ringing voice told that she was decided to wrestle
for existence to the last, and would never " give in " until



Online LibraryCharles James Lever[Charles Lever's novels (Volume 5) → online text (page 4 of 50)