Charles James Lever.

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fairly conquered.

Betty's chair was the only one in the chamber : the rest of
the company disposed themselves classically in the recum-
bent posture, or sat, like primitive Christians, crosslegged. A
long deal table, sparingly provided with wooden plates and a
few spoons, occupied the middle of the room, and round the
walls were several small bundles of straw, which I soou
learned were the property of private individuals.

" Come along, till I show ye to ould Betty," said one of
the varlets to me, as he pushed his way through the crowded
room ; for already several other gangs had arrived, and were
exchanging recognitions.

" She's in a sweet temper, this evening," whispered another,
as we passed. " The Polis was here a while ago, and took
up 'Danny White,' and threatened to break up the whole

" The devil a thing at all they'll lave us of our institushuns,"
said a bow-legged little blackguard, with the Evening
Freeman written round his hat, for he was an attache of
that journal.

" Ould Betty was crying all the evening," said the former
speaker ; by this time we had gained the side of the fireplace,
where the old lady sat.

" Mother ! mother, I say ! " cried my guide, touching her
elbow, gently ; then stooping to her ear he added, " Mother
Betty ! "

" Eh ! Who's callin' me ? " said the hag, with her hand
aloft. " I'm here, my Lord, neither ashamed nor afeard to
say my name."

"She's wanderin'," cried another,- "she thinks she's in

" Betty Cobbe ! I say. It's me !" said my int"oducer, once

The old woman turned fiercely round, and her i immed and
glassy eyes, bloodshot from excess and passion, i eemed to
flare up into an angry gleam, as she said, " You dirty thief!
is it you that's turnin' informer agin me ; you that I took
up out of yer mother's arms, in Green Street, when she


fainted at the cutting down of yer father ? Tour father,"
added she, " that murdered old Meredith ! "

The boy, a hardened and bold-featured fellow, became
lividly pale, but never spoke.

" Yes, my Lord," continued she, still following the theme
of her own wild fancies; "it's James Butterley's boy!
Butterley that was hanged!" and she shook and rocked
with a fiendish exultation at the exposure.

" Many of us doesn't know what bekem of our fathers !"
said a sly-looking, old-fashioned creature, whose height
scarcely exceeded two feet, although evidently near manhood
in point of age.

" Who was yours, Mickey ?" cried another.

*' Father Glynn, of Luke Street," growled out the imp,
with a leer.

" And yours ?" said another, dragging me forward, directly
in front of Betty.

" Con Cregan, of Kilbeggan," said I, boldly.

" Success to ye, ma bouchal !" said the old hag ; " and so
you're a son of Con, the informer." She looked sternly at
me for a few seconds, and then in a slower and more deli-
berate tone added, " I'm forty years, last Lady Day, living
this way, and keepin' company with all sorts of thieves, and
rogues, and blaguards, and worse ay, far worse besides ; but
may I never see Glory if an informer, or his brat, was under
the roof afore ! "

The steadfast decision of look and voice as she spoke
seemed to impress the bystanders, who fell back and gazed
at me with that kind of shrinking terror which honest people
sometimes exhibit at the contact of a criminal.

During the pause of some seconds, while this endured, my
sense of abject debasement was at the very lowest. To be the
Pariah of such a society was indeed a most distinctive infamy.

"Are ye ashamed of yer father? tell me that! " cried the
hag, shaking me roughly by one shoulder.

" It is not here, and before the like of these," said I, looking
round at the ragged, unwashed assemblage, " that I should
feel shame ! or if I did, it is to find myself among them ! "

" That's my boy ! that's my own spirited boy ! " cried the
old woman, dragging me towards her. " Faix, I seen the
time we'd have made somethin' out of you. Howld yer
tongues, ye vagabonds ; the child's right, yer a dirty mean
crew ! Them ! " said she, pointing to me ; " them was the
kind of chaps I used to have, long ago ; that wasn't afeard
of all the Beresfords, and Major Sirr, and the rest of them.


Singing every night on Carlisle Bridge, ' The wearin* of the
Green,' or ' Tra-lal-la, the French is coming;' and when
they wor big and grown men, ready and willing to turn out
for ould Ireland. Can you read, avick? "

"Yes, and write," answered I, proudly.

"To be sure ye can," muttered she, half to herself; "is it
an informer's child not know the first rules of his trade ! "

"Tear and ages, mother!" cried out the decrepit imp
called Mickey ; " we're starvin' for the meat ! "

" Sarve it up ! " shouted the hag with a voice of command ;
and she gave three knocks with her crutch on the corner of
the table.

Never was command more promptly obeyed. A savoury
mess of that smoking compound, called "Irish stew," was
ladled out on the trenchers, and speedily disposed around
the table, which at once was surrounded by the guests a
place being made for myself by an admonitory stroke of
Betty's crutch on the red head of a very hungry juvenile,
who had jostled me in his anxiety to get near the table.

Our meal had scarcely drawn to its close, when the plates
were removed, and preparations made for a new party : nor
had I time to ask the reason, when a noisy buzz of voices
without announced the coming of a numerous throng. In an
instant they entered; a number of girls, of every age, from
mere child to womanhood, a ragged, tattered, reckless-look-
ing set of creatures, whose wild high spirits not even direst
poverty could subdue. While some exchanged greetings
with their friends of the other sex, others advanced to talk
to Betty, or stood to warm themselves around the fire, until
their supper, a similar one to our own, was got ready. My
curiosity as to whence they came in such a body was satisfied
by learning that they were employed at the " Mendicity Insti-
tution " during the day, and set free at nightfall to follow the
bent of their own, not over well-regulated, tastes. These
creatures were the ballad-singers of the city ; and sometimes
alone, sometimes in company with one of the boys, they were
wont to take their stand in some public thoroughfare ; not
only the character of the singer, but the poetry itself taking
the tone of the street ; so that while some daring bit of town
scandal caught the ears of College Green, a " bloody murder,"
or a " dying speech," formed the attraction of Thomas Street
and the " Poddle."

Many years afterwards, in the chequered page of my exist-
ence, when I have sat at lordly tables and listened to the
sharpened wit and polished raillery of the high-born and the


gifted, my mind has often "reverted to that beggar-horde, and
thought how readily the cutting jest was answered, how soon
repartee followed attack, what quaint fancies, what droll
conceits passed through those brains, where one would have
deemed there was no room for aught save brooding guilt and
Bad repining !

As night closed in, the assembly broke up ; some issued
forth to their stations as ballad-singers ; some in pure vaga-
bond spirit to stroll about the streets ; while others, of whom
I was one, lay down upon the straw to sleep, without a dream,
till daylight.



WHEN I woke the next morning, it was a few minutes before
I could thoroughly remember where I was, and how I came
there ; my next thought was the grateful one, that if the
calling was not a very exalted one, I had at least secured
a mode of living, and that my natural acuteness, and, better
still, my fixed resolve within me " to get forward in the
world," would not permit me to pass my days in the ignoble
craft of a "horse-boy."

T found that the " walk," like every other career, had cer-
tain guiding rules and principles by which it was regulated.
Not only were certain parts of the town interdicted to certain
gangs, but it was a recognized rule that when a particular
boy was singled out, habitually, by any gentleman, that no
other should endeavour to supplant him. This was the less
difficult, as a perfect community of property was the rule of
the order ; and all moneys were each night committed to the
charge of " old Betty," with a scrupulous fidelity that would
have shamed many a "joint-stock company."

The regular etiquette required that each youth should
begin his career in the north side of the city, where the class
of horsemen was of a less distinguished order, and the fees
proportionably lower. Thence he was promoted to the Four
Courts ; from which, as the highest stage, he arrived at


Merrlon Square and its neighbourhood. Here the visitors
were either the young officers of the garrison, the Castle
officials, or a wealthy class of country gentlemen, all of whom
gave sixpences ; while, in the cold quarter of northern
Dublin, pennypieces were the only currency. If the public
differed in these three places, so did the claims of the
aspirant : a grave, quiet, almost sombre look, being the grand
qualification in the one ; while an air of daring effrontery
was the best recommendation in the other. For while the
master in chancery or the " six clerk " would only commit
his bob-tailed pony to a discreet-faced varlet of grave exterior,
the dashing aide-de-camp on his thoroughbred singled out
the wild imp with roguish eye and flowing hair, that kept up
with him from the barrack in a sharp canter, and actually
dived under a carriage-pole, and upset an apple-stall, to be
" up " in time to wait on him ; and while yet breathless and
blown, was ready with voluble tongue to give him the current
news of the neighbourhood who was in the Square, or out
dining ; who had arrived, or why they were absent. To do
this task with dexterity and tact was the crowning feature of
the craft, and in such hasty journalism some attained a high
proficiency ; seasoning their scandal with sly bits of drollery,
or quaint allusions to the current topics of the day. To
succeed in this, it was necessary to know the leading charac-
ters of the town, and the circumstances of their private
history ; and these I set myself to learn with the assiduity of
a study. Never did a Bath Master of the Ceremonies devote
himself more ardently to the investigation of the faults and
foibles of his company never did young lady, before coming-
out, more patiently pore over Debrett, than did I pursue my
researches into Dublin life and manners ; until at last, what
between oral evidence and shrewd observation, I had a key
to the secret mysteries of nearly every well-known house in
the city.

None like me to explain why the father of the dashing family
in Stephen's Green only appeared of a Sunday; how the
blinds of No. 18 were always drawn down at three o'clock;
and what meant the hackney coach at the canal bridge every
Thursday afternoon. From the gentleman that always wore
a geranium leaf in his coat, to the lady who dropped her
glove in the Square, I knew them all. Nor was it merely
that I possessed the knowledge, but I made it to be felt. I
did not hoard my wealth like a miser, but I came forth like
a great capitalist to stimulate enterprise and encourage credit.
Had I been a malicious spirit, there is no saying what amount


of mischief I might have worked what discoveries antici-
pated what awkward meetings effected. I was, however,
what the French call a " bon diable," and most generously
took the side of the poor sinner against the strong spirit of
right. How many a poor subaltern had been put in arrest
for wearing " mufti," had I not been there to apprise him
the town-major White was coming. How often have I saved
a poor college-man from a heavy fine, who, with his name on
the sick-list, was flirting in the " Square." How have I
hastened, at the risk of my neck, between crashing carriages
and prancing horses, to announce to a fair lady lounging in
her britzska, that the " Counsellor," her husband, was unex-
pectedly returning from court an hour earlier than his wont.
I have rescued sons from fathers, daughters from mothers ;
the pupil from his guardian, the debtor from his creditor ;
in a word, was a kind of ragged guardian angel, who watched
over the peccadilloes of the capital. " My amour propre,"
if such an expression of such a quality may be conceded to
one like me, was interested in the cause of all who did
wrong. I was the Quixote of all deceivers.

With " Con on the look-out," none feared surprise ; and
while my shrewdness was known to be first-rate, my honesty
was alike unimpeachable. It may readily be believed how,
with acquirements and talents like these, I no longer pursued
the humble walk of " horse-holder; " indeed, I rarely touched
a bridle, or if I did so, it was only to account for my presence
in such localities as I might need an excuse to loiter in. I
was at the head of my profession ; and the ordinary salutation
of the cavaliers, " Con, get me a fellow to hold this mare,"
showed that none presumed to expect the ignoble service at
my own hands.

To some two or three of my early patrons, men who had
noticed me in my obscurity, I would still condescend to yield
this attention ; a degree of grateful acknowledgment on my
part which they always rewarded most handsomely. Among
these was the young officer whose pony I had held on the
first night of my arrival. He was an Honourable Captain
De Courcy, very well-looking, well-mannered, and very poor,
member of the Commander-in- Chief's Staff, who eked out
his life by the aid of his noble birth and his wits together.

At the time I speak of, his visits to Merrion Square were
devoted to the cause of a certain Mrs. Mansergh, the young
and beautiful wife of an old, red-faced, foul-mouthed Queen's
Counsel, at least forty years her senior. The scandal was,
that her origin had been of the very humblest, and that, seen


by accident on circuit, she had caught the fancy of the old
lawyer, a well-known connoisseur in female beauty. However
that might be, she was now about two years married, and
already recognized as the reigning beauty of the vice-regal
court and the capital.

The circumstances of her history her low origin her
beauty, and the bold game she played all invested her with
a great interest in my eyes. I used to flatter myself that
there was a kind of similarity in at least our early fortunes ;
and I enlisted myself in her cause with an ardour that I
could not explain to myself. How often, as she passed in
her splendid barouche, the best-appointed and handsomest
equipage of the capital, have I watched her, as, wrapped in
her Cachmere, she reclined in all the voluptuous indolence
of her queenly state ; glorying to think that she she, whose
proud glance scarce noticed the obsequious throng that bowed
with uncovered heads around her that she was, perhaps,
not better nurtured than myself. Far from envious jealousy
at her better fortune, I exulted in it ; she was a kind of
beacon set on a hill to guide and cheer me. I remember
well, it was an actual triumph to me one day, as the Viceroy,
a gay and dashing nobleman, not over-scrupulous where the
claim of beauty was present, stopped, with all his' glittering
staff, beside her carriage, and in playful raillery began to
chide her for being absent from the last drawing-room. " We
missed you sadly, Mrs. Mansergh," said he, smiling his most
seductive smile. " Pray tell my friend, Mansergh, that he
shows himself a most lukewarm supporter of the Government,
who denies us the fairest smiles of the capital."

" In truth, my lord, he would not give me a new train,
and I refused to wear the old one," said she, laughing.

" Downright disloyalty, upon my honour," said the Viceroy,
with well got-up gravity.

" Don't you think so, my lord ? " rejoined she ; " so I even
told him that I'd represent the case to your Excellency, who,
I'm sure, would not refuse a velvet robe to the wife, while
you gave a silk gown to the husband."

" It will be the very proudest of my poor prerogatives,"
said he, bowing, while a flash of crimson lit up his pleased
features. " Your favourite colour is "

" I should like to wear your lordship's," said she, with a
look the most finished coquette might envy, so admirably
blended were trust and timid bashfulness.

What he replied I could not catch. There was a flattering
courtesy, however, in his smile, and in the familiar motion of


the hand with which he bade " good-bye," that were enough,
to show me that he, the haughty mirror of his sovereign, did
not think it beneath him to bandy compliments and exchange
soft looks with the once humble beauty. From that time out,
my whole thoughts day and night were centred in her ; and
I have passed hours long, fancying all the possible fortunes
for which destiny might intend her. It seemed to me as
though she was piloting out the course for me in life, and
that her success was the earnest of my own. Often when a
ball or a great reception was given by her, have I sat, cold,
shivering, and hungry, opposite the house, watching with
thrilling interest all the equipages as they came, and hearing
the high and titled names called aloud by the servants, and
thinking to myself, " Such are her associates now. These
great and haughty personages are here to do honour to her,
their lovely hostess ; and she, but a few years back, if report
spoke truly, was scarcely better off than I was I

Only they who have a sanguine, hopeful temperament will
be able to understand how the poor, houseless, friendless boy
the very outcast of the world the convict's child could
ever dare to indulge in such day-dreams of future greatness.
But I had set the goal before my eyes the intermediate steps
to it I left to fortune. The noble bearing and polished graces
of the high and wealthy, which to my humble associates
seemed the actual birthright of the great, I perceived could
all be acquired. There was no prescriptive claim in any class
to the manners of high breeding; and why should not I, if
fortune favoured, be as good a gentleman as the best ? In
other particulars, all that I had observed showed me no
wondrous dissimilarity of true feeling in the two classes.
The gentleman, to be sure, did not swear, like the common
fellow ; but on the racecourse or the betting-ground I had
seen, to the full, as much deceit as ever I witnessed in my
" own order." There was faithlessness beneath Valenciennes
lace and velvet as well as beneath brown stuff and check ;
and a spirit of backbiting, that we ragged folk knew nothing
of, seemed a current pastime in better circles.

What, then, should debar me from that class ? Not the
manners, which I could feign, nor the vices, which I could
feel. To be like them, was only to be of them such, at
least, was then my conviction and my theory.

Any one who will take the pains to reflect on and analyze
the mode of thinking I have hero mentioned, will see how
necessarily it tends rather to depress those above, than to


elevate those beneath. I did not purpose to myself any
education in high and noble sentiments, but simply the per-
formance of a part which I deemed easy to assume. The
result soon began to tell. I felt a degree of contemptuous
hatred for the very persons I had once revered as almost
demigods. I no longer looked up to the " gentleman " as
such by right divine, but by accident ; and I fostered the
feeling by the writings of every radical newspaper I could
come at. All the levelling doctrines of socialism all the
plausibilities of equality became as great truths to me ; and
I found a most ready aptitude in my mind to square the
fruits of my personal observation to these pleasant theories.
The one question recurred every morning as I arose, and re-
mained unanswered each night as I lay down, " Why should
I hold a horse, and why should another man ride one ? " I
suppose the difficulty has puzzled wiser heads ; indeed, since
I mooted it to myself, it has caused some trouble in the
world; nor, writing now as I do in the year of grace '48, do
I suppose the question is yet answered.

IJ have dwelt perhaps too long on this exposition of my
feelings ; but as my subsequent life was one of far more
action than reflection, the indulgent reader will pardon the
prosiness, not simply as explaining the history which follows,
but also as affording a small breathing-space in a career where
there were few " halts."

I have said that I began to conceive a great grudge against
all who were well off in life, and against none did I indulge
this aversion more strongly than " the Captain," my first
patron almost my only one. Though he had always
employed me and none ever approached him save myself
he had never condescended to the slightest act of recognition
beyond the tap on my head with his gold-mounted whip, and
a significant nod where to lead his pony. ~No sign of his, no
look, no gesture, ever confessed to the fact that I was a
creature of his own species, that I had had a share in the
great firm which, under the name of Adam and Co., has traded
so long and industriously.

If I were sick, or cold, or hungry, it mattered not my
cheek might be sunk with want or care my rags might drip
with rain, or freeze with sleet he never noticed them ; yet,
if the wind played too roughly with his Arab's mane, or the
silky tasselled tail, he saw it at once. If her coat stirred
with the chill breeze, he would pat and pet her. It was
evident enough which had the better existence.

If these thoughts chafed and angered me at first, at least


they sei'ved to animate and rouse my spirit. He who wants
to rise in life must feel the sharp spur of a wrong there is
nothing like it to give vigour and energy to his motions.
When I came to this conclusion, I did not wait long to put
the feeling into action ; and it was thus but a new chapter
of my life deserves a new chapter of my history.



As regular as the day itself did I wait at the corner of
Merrion Square, at three o'clock, the arrival of Captain De
Courcy, who came punctual to the instant ; indeed, the
clatter of the pony's hoofs, as he cantered along, always
announced the striking of the Post-office clock. To dis-
mount, and fling me the bridle, with a short nod of the head,
in the direction he wished me to walk the animal, was the
extent of recognition ever vouchsafed me ; and as I never
ventured upon even a word with him, our intercourse was of
the simplest possible kind. There was an impassive quietude
about his pale cold features that awed me. I never saw him
smile but once; it was when the mare seized me by the
shoulder, and tore with her teeth a great piece of my ragged
coat away. Then, indeed, he did vouchsafe to give a faint,
listless smile, as he said to his pampered nag, " Fie, fie!
What a dirty feeder you are ! "

Very little notice on his part the merest act of recog-
nition, a look, a monosyllable, would have been enough to
satisfy me anything, in short, which might acknowledge
that we were part of the same great chain, no matter how
many links might lie between us.

I do not wish it to bo inferred that I had any distinct
right to such an acknowledgment, nor that any real advan-
tage would have accrued to me from obtaining it far from
that ; very little consideration might have induced me to be
contented with my station; and, if so, instead of writing


these notes in a boudoir with silk hangings, and but
this is anticipating with a vengeance! And now to go

After three hours of a cold wait, on a rainy and dreary
afternoon, the only solace to my hunger being the imagina-
tive one of reflecting on the pleasure of those happy mortals
who were sitting down to dinner in the various houses along
the Square, and fancying to myself the blessed state of tran-
quillity it must impart to a man's nature to see a meal of
appetizing jexcellence, from which no call of business, no
demand of any kind could withdraw him. And what specu-
lations did I indulge in as to the genial pleasantry that must
abound : the happy wit, the joyous ease of such gatherings
when three or four carriages at a door would bespeak the
company at such a dinner party.

At last, out came my captain, with a haste and flurry of man-

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