Charles James Lever.

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ner quite unusual. He did not, as was his constant custom,
pass his hand along the mare's neck, to feel her coat; nor
did he mutter a single word of coaxing to her as he mounted.
He flung himself with a jerk into the saddle, and, rapping
my knuckles sharply with the gold knob of his whip, pet-
tishly cried, "Let her go, sirrah!" and cantered away.
I stood for some moments motionless, my mind in that
strange state when the first thought of rebellion has en-
tered, and the idea of reprisal has occurred. I was about
to go away, when the drawing-room window, straight above
me, was opened, and a lady stepped out upon the bal-
cony. It was too dark to discern either her features or her
dress ; but a certain instinct told me it was Mrs. Mansergh.
" Are you Captain De Courcy's boy? " said she, in a sweet
and subdued voice. I replied in the affirmative,, and she
went on, "You know his quarters at the Royal Hospital ?
Well, go there at once, as speedily as you can, and give him
this note." She hesitated for a second, as if uncertain what
to say, and then added, " It is a note he dropped from his
pocket by accident."

" I'll do it, ma'am," said I, catching the letter and the
half-crown, which she had half inserted in the envelope to
give it weight. " You may trust me perfectly." Before the
words were well uttered, she had retired; the window was
closed; the curtain drawn, and, except the letter and the
coin in my fingers, nothing remained to show that the whole
had not been a trick of my foolish brain.

My immediate impulse was to fulfil my mission. I even
started off at full speed to do so ; but as I turned the corner



48 THE CONFESSIONS OP CON CREGAN.

of the Square, the glare of a bright gas-lamp suggested the
temptation of, at least, a look at my despatches ; and what
was my astonishment to find that on this note, which had
been dropped by " accident" from the captain's pocket, the
superscription was scarcely dry in the very act of catching
I had blotted the words ! This, of course, was no affair of
mine ; but it evinced deception and deception at certain
moments becomes a dangerous injury. There are times
when the mind feels deceit to be an outrage. The stormy
passions of the fury-driven mob reckless and headstrong
show this ; and the most terrible moment in all political con-
vulsions is, when the people feel, or even suspect, that they
have been tricked. !My frame of mind was exactly in that
critical stage. A minute before, I was ready to yield any
obedience tender any service ; and now, of a sudden with-
out the slightest real cause, or from anything which could
in the remotest way affect me I had become a rebel. Let
the reader forgive the somewhat tedious analysis of a motive,
since it comes from one who has long studied the science of
moral chemistry, and made most of his experiments as tho
rule directs in " ignoble bodies."

My whole resolve was changed. I would not deliver the
note. Not that I had any precise idea wherefore, or that I
had the least conception what other course I should adopt.
I was a true disciple of revolt I rebelled for very rebel-
lion sake.

Betty Cobbe's was more than usually brilliant on that even-
ing. A race, which was to come off" at Kingstown the next
day, had attracted a numerous company in the various
walks of horse-boys, bill-carriers, and pickpockets all of
whom hoped to find a ready harvest on the morrow. The
conversation was, therefore, entirely of a sporting character.
Anecdotes of the turf and the ring went round, and ia the
many curious devices of roguery and fraud might be read
the prevailing taste of that select company. Combinations
were also formed to raise the rate of payment, and many
ingenious suggestions thrown out about turning cattle
loose, slacking girths, stealing curb chains, and so on,
from that antagonistic part of the public who preferred
holding their horses themselves than entrusting them to
the profession.

The race itself, too, engrossed a great share of interest ;
and a certain Fergusson was talked of with all the devoted-
ness and affection of a dear friend. Nor, as I afterwards
learned, was the admiration a merely blind one, as he was a



A BOLD STBOKE FOB AN OPENING IN THE WORLD. 49

most cunning adept in all the wily stratagems by which such
men correct the wilful ways of Fortune.

How my companions chuckled over stories of "rotten
ditches,' ' that were left purposely to betray the unwary :
swinging gates, that would open at the least touch, and in-
evitably catch the horse that attempted to clear if the hoof
but grazed them ; bog holes, to swamp ; and stone fences, to
smash had their share of approval ; but a drain dug eight
feet deep, and that must certainly break the back of the horse,
if not of the rider also, who made a " mistake " over it, seemed
the triumph, which carried away the suffrages of the whole
assembly.

Now, although I had seen far more of real sport and horse-
manship than the others, these narratives were, for the most
part, new to me ; and I listened with a high interest to every
scheme and trick by which cunning can overreach and out-
manoeuvre simplicity. The admiration of adroit knavery is
the first step on the road to fraud, and he who laughs heartily
at a clever trick, seldom suspects how he is " booking himself "
for the same road. For my own part, neither were my prin-
ciples so fixed, nor my education so careful, that I did not
conceive a very high respect for the rogue, and a very con-
temptuous disdain for his victim.

Morning came, and a bright sunny one it was ; with a keen
frost, and that kind of sharp air that invigorates and braces
both mind and body. The crisp clear outline of every tree
and building seen against the deep blue sky ; the sparkling
river, with its clean bed of bright gravel ; and the ruddy faces
one meets, are all of a nature to suggest pleasant and cheer-
ful thoughts. Even we we, with our frail fragments and
chapped hands felt it, and there was an alacrity of movement,
and a bounding step ; a gay laugh, and a merry voice every-
where. All set out for Kingstown, in the neighbourhood of
which the race was to come off. I alone remained behind,
resisting every entreaty of my companions to join them, J
cannot yet say why I did so. It was partly that long habit
had made my attendance upon " the Captain " a duty ;
partly, perhaps, that some vague notion that the letter, of
which I still kept possession, should be delivered by me at
last.

The town was quite empty on that day : not a carriage, nor
a horseman to be seen. There were very few on foot, and
the square was deserted of all save its nursery population; I
never felt a more tedious morning. I had full time, as I
loitered along all alone, to contrast my solitude with the

B



50 THE CONFESSIONS OF CON CKEGAN.

enjoyment my companions were at that same moment pur-
suing.

True to the instant, Captain de Conrcy cantered up, his
face a thought graver, and more stern than I had ever seen it
before. As he dismounted, my hand, in holding his stirrup,
soiled the brilliant polish of his lacquered boot ; he perceived
it, and rewarded my awkwardness with a smart cut of his
whip. A minute before, I had made up my mind to give him
the note : now, torture itself would not have torn it from me.

I followed him with my eyes till he entered the house not
over distinctly, it is true, for they were somewhat blinded by
tears, that would, in spite of me, come forth. The sensation
was a most painful one ; and I. am heartily glad to confess
I have seldom experienced a recurrence of it. Scarcely was
the hall-door closed on him, when 1 remembered that he would
soon hear of the note, which I had failed to deliver, and that,
in all likelihood, a heavy punishment awaited me. My offence
was a grave one : what was to be done ? turn the mare loose
and fly, or patiently await my fate ? Either were bad enough ;
the latter certainly the less advisable of the two. A third
course soon suggested itself, doubtless inspired by that most
mischief-working adage, which says, that one may be " as
well hanged for the sheep as the lamb."

I therefore voted for the " larger animal," and to satisfy
myself that I was honest to my own convictions, I immediately
proceeded to act upon them. I led the mare quietly along to
the angle of the Square, and then turning into the next street,
I shortened the stirrups, mounted, and rode off.

" Set a beggar on horseback "says the proverb; and

althouuh the consequence is only meant figuratively, I have
a suspicion that it might bear a literal reading. I rode away,
at first, at a trot, and then, striking into a brisk canter, I took
the road to Kingstown, whither, even yet, some horsemen
were hastening.

Every stride of the bounding animal elevated my spirits
and nerved my courage. The foot passengers, that plodded
wearily along, I looked down upon as inferior, with the
horsemen on either side I felt a kind of equality. How dif-
ferently does cne viesv life from the saddle and from the
ground ! The road became more thronged as I advanced,
thicker crowds pressed eagerly forward, and numerous car-
riages obstructed the way. At another moment, perhaps, I
should have attracted attention, but stranger sights were
passing at every instant, and none troubled their heads about
the "ragged urchin on the thorough-bred."



A BOLD STROKE FOE AN OPENING IN THE WOULD. 51

The crowd at last became so dense, that horsemen were
fain to desert the high road, and take short cuts wherever an
open gate, or an easily-crossed fence, opened the way. Fol-
lowing a group of well-mounted gentlemen, I cleared a low
wall into a spacious grass field, over which we cantered ; and
beyond this, by leaping an easy ditch, into another of the
same kind, till at length we saw the vast crowds that blackened
a hill in front, and, beneath, them, could distinguish the flut-
tering flags that marked the course, and the large floating
standard of the winning-post.

What a grand sight was that ! For what is so imposing a
spectacle as vast myriads of people stirred by one interest,
and animated by one absorbing passion ? Every one has
now-a-days seen something of the kind, therefore I shall not
linger to tell of the impression it made upon my youthful
senses. The first race had already come off; but the second,
and the great event of the day, was yet to take place.

It was a steeple-chase by " gentlemen riders," over a very
severe line of country ; several fences of most break-neck
character having been added to the natural difficulties of the
ground.

Mounted on my splendid barb, I rode boldly forward till I
reached the field through which the first ditch ran, a deep
and wide trench, backed by a low rail, a very formidable
leap, and requiring both stride and strength to clear it.

" Some of 'em wilt tail off, when they sees that ! " said an
English groom, with a knowing wink ; and the words were
only out when, at a " slapping canter," the riders were seen
coming down the gently sloping hill. Three rode nearly
abreast, then came a single horseman, and, after him, an in-
discriminate mass, whose bright and party-coloured jackets
glowed like a rainbow.

I watched them with a breathless interest : as they came
nearer they widened the space between them, and each cast
a rapid but stealthy glance at his neighbour. One he rode
a powerful black horse took the lead, and, dashing at the
leap, his horse rose too soon, and fell, chested against the
opposite bank, the rider under him ; the next swerved sud-
denly round and balked ; the third did the same ; so that
the leading horseman was now he who rode alone at first.
Quickening his speed as he came on, he seemed actually to
fly ; and wheu he did take the fence, it was like the bound of
a cannon shot up, and over at once ! Of the rest, some two
or three followed well ; others, pulled short up ; while the
larger share, in various forms of accident and misfortune,

E 2



52 THE CONFESSIONS OF CON CREGAN.

might be seen either struggling in the brook, or endeavour-
ing to rescue their horses from the danger of broken legs
and backs.

I did not wait to watch them, my interest was in those who
gallantly led onward, and who now, some four in number,
rode almost abreast. Among these, my favourite was the sky
blue jacket, who had led the way over the dyke, and him did
I follow with straining eyes and palpitating heart. They
were at this moment advancing towards a wall, a high and
strong one, and I thought, in the slackened pace, and more
gathered up stride, I could read the caution a difficult leap
enforced.

A brown jacket with white sleeves was the first to charge
it ; and, after a tremendous scramble, in which the wall, the
horse, and the rider were all tumbling together, he got over ;
but the animal went dead lame, and the rider, dismounting,
led him off the ground.

Next came blue jacket, and just at the very rise his mare
balked, and, at the top of her speed, ran away along the side
of the wall. A perfect roar of angry disappointment arose
from the multitude, for she was the favourite of the country
people, who were loudly indignant at this mischance.

" The race is sold !" cried one.

"Beatagh" this was the rider "pulled her round him-
self! the mare never was known to refuse a fence ! "

"I say you're both wrong!" cried a third, whose excited
manner showed he was no indifferent spectator of the scene.
" She never will take her first wall fairly ; after that she goes
like a bird ! "

"What a confounded nuisance to think that no one will
lead her over the fence ! Is there not one here will show her
the way ? " said he, looking around.

" There's the only fellow I see whose neck can afford it ! "
said another, pointing to me. " He, evidently, was never
born to be killed in a steeple-chase."

" Devilish well mounted he is, too ! " remarked some one
else.

" Hallo, rny smart boy ! " said he who before alluded to the
mare as a bolter, " try your nag over that wall yonder, go
boldly. Let her have her head, and give her a sharp cut as
she rises. Make way there, gentlemen ! Let the boy have
fair play, and I'll wager a five-pound note be does it ! You
shall have half the stakes, too, if you win !" added he. These
were the last words I heard, for the crowd clearing in front,
opened for me to advance, and without a moment's hesitation



A BOLD STROKE FOR AN OPENING IN THE WORLD. 53

of any kind, I dashed my heels to the mare's flanks, and
galloped forward. A loud shout, and a perfect shower of
whips on the mare's quarter from the bystanders, put all
question of pulling up beyond the reach of possibility. In
a minute more I was at the wall, and, ere I well knew, over
it. A few seconds after the blue jacket was beside me.
" Well done, my lad ! You've earned twenty guineas if I
win the race ! Lead the way a bit, and let your mare choose
her ground when she leaps." This was all he said, but such
words of encouragement never fell on my ears before.

Before us were the others, now reduced to three in number,
and evidently holding their stride and watching each other,
never for a moment suspecting that the most feared compe-
titor was fast creeping up behind them. One fence separated
us, and over this I led again, sitting my mare with all the
composure of an old steeple-chaser. " Out of the way, now ! "
cried my companion," and let me at them !" and he tore past
me at a tremendous pace, shouting out, as he went by the
rest, " Come along, my lads ! I'll show the way ! "

And so he did ! With all their efforts, and they were bold
ones, they never overtook him afterwards. His mare took
each fence flying, and as her speed was much greater than the
others, she came in full half a minute in advance. The
others arrived altogether, crestfallen and disappointed, and,
like all beaten men, receiving the most insulting comments
from the mob, who are somewhat keen critics on misfortune.
I came last, for I had dropped behind when I was ordered,
but, unable to extricate my mare from the crowd, was com-
pelled to ride the whole distance with the rest. If the losing
horsemen were hooted and laughed at, my approach was a
kind of triumphal entry. " There's the chap that led over
the wall ! That little fellow rode the best of them all ! "
" See that ragged boy on the small mare ; he could beat the
field this minute ! "

" 'Tis fifty guineas in goold ye ought to have, my chap ! "
said another ; a sentiment the unwashed on all sides seemed
most heartily to subscribe to.

" Be my soul, I'd rather be lookin' at him than the gentle-
men ! " said a very tattered individual, with a coat like a
transparency. These, and a hundred similiar comments, fell
like hail-drops around ; and I believe, that in my momentary
triumph, I actually forgot all the dangers and perils of my
offence.

It is a great occasion for rejoicing among the men of rags
and wretchedness, when a member of their own order has



54 THE C3NFK.SSIONS OF CON CREOAN.

achieved anything like fame. The assertion of their ability
to enter the lists with "their betters," is the very pleasantesfc
of all flatteries. It is, so to say, a kind of skirmish, before
that great battle, which, one day or other, remains to be
fought between the two classes which divide mankind those
who have, and those who have not.

I little suspected that I was, to use the cant so popular at
present, " the representative of a GREAT PKINCIPLB " in my late
success. I took all the praises bestowed, most literally, to
myself, and shook hands with all the dirty and tattered mob,
fully convinced that I was a very fine fellow.

" Mister Beatagh wants to see the boy that led him over
the ditch," shouted out a huge, wide-shouldered, red-faced
ruffian, as he shoved the crowd right and left, to make way
for the approach of the gentleman who had just won the
race.

" Stand up bowld, avic ! " whispered one in my ear ; " and
don't be ashamed to ax for your reward."

" Say ten guineas ! " muttered another.

" No ; but twenty ! " growled out a third.

"And lashings of drink besides, for the present company!"
suggested a big-headed cripple about two feet high.

" Are you the lad that took the fence before me ? " cried
out a smart-looking, red-whiskered young man, with a white
surtout loosely thrown over his riding costume.

" Yes, sir," I replied, half modestly and half assured.

" Who are you, my boy ? and where do you come from ? "

"He's one of Betty Cobbe's chickens!" shouted out an
old savage-faced beggar-man, who was terribly indignant at
the great misdirection of public sympathy ; " and a nice
clutch they are ! "

" What is it to you, Dan, where the crayture gets his
bread ! " rejoined an old newsvender, who, in all likelihood,
had once been a parlour boarder in the same seminary.

" Never mind them, but answer me, my lad ! " said the
gentleman. " If you are willing to take service, and can find
any one to recommend you "

" Sure we'll all go bail for him to any amount ! " shouted
out the little crippled fellow, from his " bowl," and certainly
a most joyous burst of laughter ran through the crowd at
the sentiment.

"Maybe ye think I'm not a householder," rejoined the
fellow, with a grin of assumed anger ; " but haven't I my
own sugar hogshead to live in, and devil receave the lodger
in the same premises ! "



A BOLD STROKE FOR AN OPENING IN THE WORLD. 55

" I see there's no chance of our being able to settle any-
thing here," said the gentleman. " These good people think
the matter more their own than ours ; so meet to-morrow,
my lad, at Dycer's, at twelve o'clock, and bring me anything
that can speak for your character." As he said these few
words he brushed the crowd to one side with his whip, and
forcing his way, with the air of a man who would not be
denied, left the place.

" And he's laving the crayture without givin' him a
farden ! " cried one of the mob, who suddenly saw all the
glorious fabric of a carouse and a drunken bout disappear
like a mirage.

" Oh the 'tarnal vagabone ! " shouted another, more in-
dignantly ; " to desart the child that a-way ; and he that
won the race for him ! "

" Will yez see the little crayture wronged ? " said another,
who appeared by his pretentious manner to be a practised
street orator. " Will yez lave the dissolute orphan " he
meant desolate " to be chayted out of his pater money ?
Are yez men at all ? or are yez dirty slaves of the bloody
'stokessy ' that's murderin' ould Ireland.' "

" We'll take charge of the orphan, and of you too, my
smart fellow, if you don't brash off pretty lively ! " said a
policeman, as, followed by two others, he pushed through the
crowd with that cool determination that seems to be actually
an instinct with them. Then laying a strong hand on my
collar, he went on : " How did you come by that mare, my
lad ? "

" She belongs to Captain de Courcy, of the Royal Hospital,"
said I, doing my utmost to seem calm and collected.

" We know that already ; what we want to hear is, what
brought you here with her ? It wasn't Captain de Courcy's
orders ? "

" No, sir. I was told to hold her for him, and and "

"And so you rode off with her out with it, it saves time,
my lad. Now, let me ask you another question : have you
any notion of the crime you have just committed ? do you
know that it amounts to horse-stealing? and do you know
what the penalty is for that offence ? "

"No, sir; I know neither one nor the other," said I,
resolutely ; " and if I did, it doesn't matter much. As well
to live upon prison diet as to starve in the streets ! "

"He's a bad 'un ; I told ye that! " remarked another of
the policemen. " Take him off, Grimes ! " and so, amid a
very general but subdued murmur of pity and condolence



56 THE CONFESSIONS OP CON CBEGAN.

from the crowd, I was dragged away on one side, while the
mare was led off on another.

It was a terrible tumble down, from being a hero to an
embryo felon ! From being cheered by the populace, to being
collared by a policeman ! As we went along towards Dublin,
on a jaunting-car, I was regaled by interesting narratives of
others who had begun life like myself, and took an abrupt
leave of it in a manner by no means too decorous. The
peculiarity of anecdote which pertains to each profession
was strongly marked in these officers of the law ; and they
appeared to have studied the dark side of human nature
with eyes the keenest and most scrutinizing.

I wish I could even now forget the long and dreary hours
of the night that ensued, as I lay, with some fifty others, in the
gaol of the station-house. The company was assuredly not
select, nor their manners at all improved by the near approach
of punishment. It seemed as if all the disguises of vice
were thrown off at once, and that iniquity stood forth in its
own true and glaring livery. I do not believe that the heart
can ever experience a ruder shock than when an unfledged
criminal first hears himself welcomed into the " Masonry "
of guilt ; to .be claimed by such associates as a fellow-
labourer ; to be received as one of the brethren into the
guild of vice, is really an awful blow to one's self-esteem
and respect : to feel yourself inoculated with a disease whose
fatal marks are to stamp you like this one or that, sends a
shuddering terror through the heart, whose cold thrill is
never, in a life-long afterwards, thoroughly eradicated !

There should be a quarantine for suspected guilt, as for
suspected disease; and the mere doubt of rectitude should
not expose any unfortunate creature to the chances of a ter-
rible contagion ! I do not affect by this to say that I was
guiltless not in the least; but my crime should scarcely have
classified me with the associates by whom I was surrounded.
Nor was a night in such company the wisest mode of restoring
to the path of duty one who might possibly have only slightly
deviated from the straight line.

When morning came I was marched off, with a strong
phalanx of other misdoers, to the College Street office, where
a magistrate presided whose bitterest calumniators could
never accuse of any undue leanings towards mercy. By him
I had the satisfaction of hearing a great variety of small
offences decided with a railroad rapidity, only interrupted
now and then by a whining lamentation over the " lenity of
the legislature," that never awarded one tithe of the suitable



A BOLD STROKE FOR AN OPENING IN THE WORLD. 57

penalty, and bewailing his own inability to do more for the
criminal than send him to prison for two months, with hard
labour, and harder diet to sweeten it.



Online LibraryCharles James Lever[Charles Lever's novels (Volume 5) → online text (page 6 of 50)