Charles James Lever.

[Charles Lever's novels (Volume 13) online

. (page 12 of 35)
Online LibraryCharles James Lever[Charles Lever's novels (Volume 13) → online text (page 12 of 35)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


expression, must have been both important and satis-
factory, for he looked intensely eager and pleased by
turns.

" And so," said he, aloud, " they really have determined
on Egypt? Well, my lord, you have brought me the best
tidings I've heard for many a day."

" And like all bearers of good despatches," said Lord
Castlereagh, catching up the tone of the Duke, " I prefer
a claim to your Royal Highness's patronage."

" If you look for Chelsea, my lord, you are just five
minutes too late. Old Sir Harry Belmore has this instant
got it."

" I could have named as old and perhaps a not less dis-
tinguished soldier to your Royal Highness, with this ad-
ditional claim a claim I must say, your Royal Highness
never disregards "

" That he has been unfortunate with the unlucky," said
the Duke, laughing, and good-naturedly alluding to his
own failure in the expedition to the Netherlands; "but
who is your friend?"

" The Knight of Gwynne an Irish gentleman."

" One of your late supporters, eh, Castlereagh ?" said
the Duke, laughing. " How came he to be forgotten till
this hour ? Or did you pass him a bill of gratitude pay-
able at nine months after date ?"

" No, my lord, he was an opponent ; he was a man that
I never could buy, when his influence and power were
such as to make the price of his own dictating. Since
that day, fortune has changed with him."

" And what do you want with him now ? " said the



134 THE KNIGHT OF GWYNNE.

Duke, while his eyes twinkled with a sly malice ; " are
you imitating the man that bowed down before statues of
Hercules and Apollo at Borne, not knowing when the
time of those fellows might come up again ? Is that your
game?"

"Not exactly, your Royal Highness; but I really feel
some scruples of conscience that, having assisted so many
unworthy candidates to pensions and peerages, I should
have done nothing for the most upright man I met in Ire-
land."

" If we could make him a Commissary General," said
the Duke, laughing, " the qualities you speak of would be
of service now : there never was such a set of rascals as
we have got in that department ! But come, what can we
do with him ? What's his rank in the army ? Where did
he serve ?"

" If I dare present him to your Boyal Highness without
a uniform," said Lord Castlereagh, hesitatingly, " he could
answer these queries better than I can."

" Oh ! by Jove ! it is too late for scruples now intro-
duce him at once."

Lord Castlereagh waited for no more formal permission,
but, hastening to the ante-chamber, took Darcy's hand,
and led him forward.

" If I don't mistake, sir," said the Duke, as the old man
raised his head after a deep and courteous salutation, " this
is not the first time we have met. Am I correct in calling
you Colonel Darcy?"

The Knight bowed low in acquiescence.

" The same officer who raised the 28th Light Dragoons,
known as Darcy's Light Horse ? "

The Knight bowed once more.

" A very proud officer in command," said the Duke,
turning to Lord Castlereagh with a stern expression on
his features ; " a Colonel who threatened a Prince of the
Blood with arrest for breach of duty."

' He had good reason, your Boyal Highness, to be
proud," said the Knight, firmly ; " first, to have a Prince
to serve under his command ; and, secondly, to have held
that station and character in the service to have rendered
BO unbecoming a threat pardonable."



THE DUKE OF YOEK'S LEVEE. 135

" And who said it was ? '" replied the Duke, hastily.

" Your Royal Highness has just done so."

" How do you mean ? "

" I mean, my Lord Duke," said Darcy, with a calm and
unmoved look, " that your Royal Highness would never
have recurred to the theme to one humbled as I am, if
you had not forgiven it."

" As freely as I trust you forgive me, Colonel Darcy,"
said the Duke, grasping his hand and shaking it with
warmth. " Now for my part : what can I do for you ?
what do you wish ?"

" I can scarcely ask your Royal Highness ; I find that
some kind friend has already applied on my behalf. 1
could not have presumed, old and useless as I am, to pre -
fer a claim myself."

"There's your own regiment vacant," said the duke,
musing. " No, by Jove ! I remember Lord Netherby
asking me for it the other day for some relative of his
own .Taylor, is the colonelcy of the 28th promised ? "

"Your Royal Highness signed it yesterday."

"I feared as much. Who is it? perhaps he'd ex-
change."

" Colonel Maurice Darcy, your Royal Highness, un-
attached."

"What! have I been doing good by stealth ? Is this
really so ?"

; ' If it be, your Royal Highness," said Darcy, smiling,
" I can only assure you that the officer promoted will not
exchange."

" The depot is at Gosport, your Royal Highness," said
Taylor, in reply to a question from the duke.

" Well, station it in Ireland, Colonel Darcy may prefer
it," said the duke ; "for, as the regiment forms part of
the expedition to Egypt, the depot need not be moved for
some time to come."

" Your Royal Highness can increase the favour by only
one concession dare I ask it ? to permit me to take the
command on service."

The Duke gazed with astonishment at the old man, and
gradually his expression became one of deep interest, as
he said,



136 THE KNIGHT OF GWYNNE.

" Colonel Darcy could claim as a right what I feel so
proud to accord him as a favour. Make a note of that,
Taylor," said the duke, raising his voice, so as to be heard
through the room ; " ' Colonel Darcy to take the command
on service at his own special request.' Yes, gentlemen,"
added he, louder, " these are times when the exigencies of
the service demand alike the energy of youth and the
experience of age; it is, indeed, a happy conjuncture that
finds them united. My Lord Castlereagh and Colonel
Darcy, are you disengaged for Wednesday ? "

They both bowed respectfully.

" Then on Wednesday I'll have some of your brother
officers to meet you, colonel. Now, Taylor, let us get
through our list."

So saying, the duke bowed graciously, and Lord
Castlereagh and the Knight retired, each too full of plea-
sure to utter a word as he went.



137



CHAPTER XII.

THE TWO SIDES OF A MEDAL.

ALTHOUGH the Knight lost not an hour in writing to Lady
Eleanor, informing her of his appointment, the letter,
hastily written, and entrusted to a waiter to be posted,
was never forwarded, and the first intelligence of the
event reached her in a letter from her courtly relative,
Lord Netherby.

So much depends upon the peculiar tact and skill of
the writer, and so much upon our own frame of mind at
the time of reading, that it is difficult to say whether we
do not bear up better under the announcement of any
sudden and sorrowful event from the hand of one less
cared for, than from those nearest and dearest to our
hearts. The consolations that look like the special plead-
ings of affection, become, as it were, the mere expressions
of impartiality. The points of view being so different,
give a different aspect to the picture, and gleams of light
fall, where, seen from another quarter, all was shadow and
gloom. So it was here. What, if the tidings had come
from her husband, had been regarded in the one painful
light of separation and long absence, assumed, under
Lord Netherby 's style, the semblance of a most gratify-
ing event, with, of course, that alloy of discomfort from
which no human felicity is altogether free : so very art-
fully was this done, that Lady Eleanor half felt as if, in
indulging in her own sorrow, she were merely giving way
to a selfish regret, and as Helen, the better to sustain her
mother's courage, affected a degree of pleasure she was
really far from feeling, this added to the conviction that
she ought, if she could, to regard her husband's appoint-
ment as a happy event.

" Truly, mamma," said Helen, as she sat with the letter



138 THE KNIGHT OF GWYNNE.

before her, " ' le style c'est I'homme.' His lordship is
quite heroic when describing all the fetes and dinners of
London ; all the honours showered on papa in visiting-
cards and invitations ; how excellencies called, and royal
highnesses shook hands : he even chronicles the distin-
guishing favour of the gracious Prince, who took wine
with him. But listen to him when the theme is really
one that might evoke some trait, if not of enthusiasm, at
least of national pride : ' As for the expedition, my dear
cousin, though nobody knows exactly for what place it is
destined, everybody is aware that it is not intended to be a
fighting one. Demonstrations are now the vogue, and it
is become just as bad taste for our army to shed blood, as
it would be for a well-bred man to mention a certain ill-
conducted individual before ears polite. Modern war is
like a game at whist between first-rate players ; when
either party has four by honours, he shows his hand, and
saves the trouble of a contest. The Naval Service is, I
grieve to say, rooted to its ancient prejudices, and con-
tinues its abominable pastime of broadsides and boardings ;
hence its mob populai'ity at this moment ! The army will,
however, always be the gentlemanlike cloth,"and I thank
my stars I don't believe we have a single relative afloat.
Guy Herries was the last ; he was shot or piked, I forget
which, in boarding a Spanish galliot off Cape Verde.
" Que diable allait-il faire dans cette galere?" Rest satis-
fied, therefore, if the gallant Knight has little glory, he
will have no dangers ; our expeditions never land. Jekyll
says they are only intended to give the service an appetite
for fresh meat and soft bread, after four months' biscuit
and salt beef. At all events, my dear cousin, reckon on
seeing my friend the Knight gazetted as major-general on
the very next promotions. The Prince is delighted with
him ; and I carried a message from his Royal Highness
yesterday to the War-office in his behalf. You would not
come to see me, despite all the seductions I threw out, and
now the season is nigh over. May I hope better things for
the next year, when perhaps I can promise an inducement
the more, and make your welcome more graceful by divid-
ing its cares with one far more competent than myself
to fulfil them.' What does he mean, mamma?"



THE TWO SIDES OP A MEDAL. 139

" Read on, my dear ; I believe I can guess the riddle."

" ' The person I allude to was, in former days, if not
actually a friend, a favoured intimate of yours ; indeed I
say that this fact is but another claim to my regard ? '
Is it possible, mamma, his lordship thinks of marrying?"

" Even so, Helen," said Lady Eleanor, sighing, for she
remembered how, in his very last interview with her at
Gwynne Abbey, he spoke of his resolve on making Lionel
his heir ; but then, those were the days of their prosper-
ous fortune, the time when, to all seeming, they needed no
increase of wealth.

If Helen was disposed to laugh at the notion of Lord
Netherby's marrying, a glance at the troubled expression
of her mother's features would have checked the emotion.
The heritage was a last hope, which was not the less
cherished that she had never imparted it to another.

"Shall I read on?" said Helen, timidly; and at a
signal from Lady Eleanor she resumed: "'I know how
much "badinage " a man at my time of life must expect
from his acquaintances, and how much of kind remon-
strance from his friends, when he announces his determi-
nation to marry. A good deal of this must be set down
to the score of envy, some of it proceeds from mere habit
on these occasions, and lastly, one's bachelor friends very
naturally are averse to the closure against them of a house
" ou on dine." I have thought of all this, and, per contra,
I have set down the isolation of one, if not deserted, at
least somewhat neglected by his relatives, and fancied,
that if not exactly of that age when people marry for love,
I am not yet quite so old but I may become the object of
true and disinterested affection.

" 'Lady , I have pledged my honour not to write

her name, even to you, is, in rank and fortune, fully my
equal, in every other quality my superior. The idlers at
" Boodle's " can neither sneer at a " mesalliance," nor
hint at the " faiblesse " of an " elderly gentleman." It is
a marriage founded on mutual esteem, and, so far as
station is concerned, on equality ; and when I say that his
Royal Highness has expressed his unqualified approval of
the step, I believe I can add no more. I owe you, my
dear cousin, this early and full explanation of my motives



140 THE KNIGHT OP GWYNNE.

on many accounts : if the result should change the dis-
positions I once believed unalterable, I beg it may be
understood as proceeding far more from necessity than
the sincere wish of your very affectionate relative,

" ' NETHEUBY.'

" ' My regret at not seeing Helen here this season is, in
a measure, alleviated by Lady telling me that bru-
nettes were more the rage ; her ladyship, who is no
common arbiter, says that no ''blonde" attracted any
notice : even Lady Georgiana Maydew drew no admira-
tion. My fair cousin is, happily, very young, et les Icaux
jours vicndront, even before hei'S have lost their bril-
liancy.

" ' I am sorry Lionel left the Coldstreams ; with eco-
nomy he could very well have managed to hold his ground,
and we might have obtained something for him in the
Household. As for India, the only influential person I
know is my wine-merchant; he is, I am told, a Director
of the Honourable Company, but he'd certainly adulterate
my Madeira if I condescended to ask him a favour.' "

" Well, Helen, I think you will agree with me, selfish-
ness is the most candid of all the vices ; how delightfully
unembarrassed is his lordship's style, how frank, honest,
and straightforward ! "

" After" his verdict upon ' blondes, ' mamma," said
Helen, laughing, " I dare not record my opinion of him
I cannot come into court an impartial evidence. This,
however, I will say, that if his lordship be not an un-
happy instance of the school, I am sincerely rejoiced that
Lionel is not being trained up a courtier ; better a soldier's
life with all its hazards and its dangers, than a career so
certain to kill every manly sentiment."

" I agree with you fully, Helen ; life cannot be circum-
scribed within petty limits and occupied by petty cares,
without reducing the mind to the same miniature uimen-
sions ; until at last so immeasurably greater are our own
passions and feelings than the miserable interests around
us, we end by self-worship and egotism, and fancy our-
selves leviathans because we swim in a fish-pond. But



THE TWO SIDES OP A MEDAL. 141

who can that be crossing the grass-plot yonder ? I thought
our neighbours of Port Ballintray had all left the coast ? "

" It is the gentleraau who dined here, mamma, the man
that never spoke I forget his name "

Helen had not time to finish, when a modest tap was
heard at the door, and the next moment Mr. Leonard
presented himself. He was dressed with more than his
wonted care, but the effort to make poverty respectable
was every where apparent ; the blue frock was brushed to
the very verge of its frail existence, the gloves were
drawn on at the hazard of their integrity, and his hat,
long inured to every vicissitude of weather, had been
cocked into a strange counterfeit of modish smartness.
With all these signs of unusual attention to appearances,
his manner was modest even to humility, and he took a
chair with the diffidence of one who seemed to doubt the
propriety of being seated in such a presence.

Notwithstanding Lady Eleanor's efforts at conversation,
aided by Helen, who tried in many ways to relieve the
embarrassment of their visitor, this difficulty seemed
every moment greater, and he seemed, as he really felt, to
have summoned up all his courage for an undertaking,
and in the very nick of the enterprise, to have left himself
beggared of his energy. A vague assent, a look of doubt
and uncertainty, a half-muttered expression of acquiescence
in whatever was said, was all that could be obtained from
him ; but still, while his embarrassment appeared each
instant greater, he evinced no disposition to take his
leave. Lady Eleanor, who, like many persons whose
ordinary manner is deemed cold and haughty, could exert
at will considerable powers of pleasing, did her utmost to
put her visitor at his ease, and by changing her topics
from time to time, detect if possible, some clue to his
coining. It was all in vain : he followed her, it is true, as
well as he was able, and with a bewildered look of con-
strained attention, seemed endeavouring to interest him-
self in what she said, but it was perfectly apparent, all
the while, that his mind was preoccupied, and by very
different thoughts.

At length she remained silent, and resuming the work
she was engaged on when he entered, sat for some time



142 THE KNIGHT OP GWYNNE.

without uttering a word, or even looking up. Mr.
Leonard coughed slightly, but, as if terrified at his own
rashness, soon became mute and still. At last, after a
long pause, so long that Lady Eleanor and Helen, forget-
ful of their visitor, had become deeply immersed in their
own reflections, Mr. Leonard arose slowly, and with a
voice not free from a certain tremor, said, "Well, madam,
then I suppose I may venture to say that I saw you and
Miss Darcy both well."

Lady Eleanor looked up with astonishment, for she
could not conceive the meaning of the words, nor in what
quarter they were to be reported.

" I mean, madam," said Leonard, " that when I present
myself to the Colonel, I may take the liberty to mention
having seen you."

" Do you speak of my husband, sir Colonel Darcy ? "
said Lady Eleanor, with a very different degree of interest
in her look and accent.

" Yes, madam," said Leonard, with a kind of forced
courage in his manner. " I hope to be under his com-
mand in a few days."

" Indeed, sir ! " said Lady Eleanor, with animation ; " I
did not know that you had served, still less that you were
about to join the army once more."

Leonard blushed deeply, and he suddenly grew deadly
pale, while, in a voice scarcely louder than a mere whisper,
he muttered, " So then, madam, Colonel Darcy has never
spoken of me to you? "

Lady Eleanor, who misunderstood the meaning of the
question, seemed slightly confused as she replied, " I have
no recollection of it, sir I cannot call up at this moment
having heard your name from my husband."

" I ought to have known it I ought to have been
certain of it," said Leonard, in a voice bursting from
emotion, while the tears gushed from his eyes ; " he could
not have asked me to his house to sit down at his table as
a mere object of your pity and contempt ! and yet I am
nothing else."

The passionate vehemence in which he now spoke
seemed so different from his recent manner, that both
Lady Eleanor and Helen had some doubts as to his sanity,



THE TWO SIDES OF A MEDAL. 143

when he quickly resumed : " I was broke for cowardice
dismissed the service with disgrace degraded ! Well
may I call it so, to be what I became. I would tell you
that I was not guilty that Colonel Darcy knows but I
dare not choose between the character of a coward and
n drunkard. I had no other prospect before me than a
life of poverty and repining maybe of worse of shame
and ignominy ! when, last night, I received these letters ;
I scarcely thought they could be for me, even when I read
my name on them. Yes, madam, this letter from the
War-office permits me to serve as a volunteer with the 8th
Regiment of Foot ; and this, which is without signature,
encloses me fifty pounds to buy my outfit and join the
regiment. It does not need a name; there is but one
man living could stoop to help such as I am, and not feel
dishonoured by the contact ; there is but one man brave
enough to protect him branded as a coward."

" You are right, sir," cried Helen ; " this must be my
father's doing."

Leonard tried to speak, but could not ; a trembling
motion of his lips, and a faint sound issued, but nothing
articulate. Lady Eleanor stopped him as he moved
towards the door, and taking his hand pressed it cordially,
while she said, " Be of good heart, sir ; my husband is
not less quick to perceive than he is ever ready to befriend.
Be assured he would not now be your ally if he had not a
well-grounded hope that you would merit it. Farewell,
then, remember you have a double tie to duty, and that
his credit, as well as your own, is on the issue."

Leonard muttered a faint " I will," and departed.

"How happily timed is this little incident, Helen,"
said Lady Eleanor, as she drew her daughter to her side ;
" how full of pleasant hope it fills the heart, at a moment
when the worldly selfishness of the courtier's letter had
left us low and sorrow-struck. These are indeed the
sunny spots in life, that never look so brilliant as when
seen amid lowering skies and darkening storms.''



144 THE KKIOHT OF GWYNNE*



CHAPTER XIII.

AN UNCEREMONIOUS VISIT.

As winter drew near, with its dark and leaden skies, and
days and nights of storm and hurricane, so did the
worldly prospect of Lady Eleanor and her daughter grow
hourly more gloomy. Bicknell's letters detailed new diffi-
culties and embarrassments on every hand. Sums of
money supposed to have been long since paid and ac-
knowledged by Gleeson, were now demanded with all
the accruing interest ; rights hitherto unquestioned were
now threatened with dispute, as Hickman O'ReillyJs
success emboldened others to try their fortune. Of the
little property that still remained to them, the rents were
withheld until their claim to them should be once
more established by law. Disaster followed disaster, till
at length the last drop filled up the measure of their
misery, as they learned that the Knight's personal liberty
was at stake, and more than one writ was issued for his
arrest.

The same post that brought this dreadful intelligence,
brought also a few lines from Darcy, the first that had
reached them since his departure.

His note was dated from the " Hcrmione frigate, off"
the Needles," and contained little more than an affec-
tionate farewell. He wrote in health, and apparently in
spirits, full of the assurance of a speedy and happy
meeting, nor was there any allusion to their embarrass-
ments, save in the vague mention of a letter he had
written to Bicknell, and who would himself write to
Lady Eleanor.

" It is not, dearest Eleanor," wrote he, " the time we
would have selected for a separation, when troubles



AN UNCEREMONIOUS VISIT. 145

thicken around us ; yet who knows if the incident may
not fall happily, and turn our thoughts from the loss of
fortune to the many blessings we enjoy in mutual affec-
tion and in our children's love, all to thicken around us
at our meeting ? I confess, too, I have a pride in being
thought worthy to serve my country still, not in the
tiresome monotony of a depot, but in the field ! among
the young, the gallant, and the brave ! Is it not enough to
take off half this load of years, and make me fancy myself
the gay colonel you may remember cantering beside your
carriage in the Park I shame to say how long ago ! I
wonder what the French will think of us, for nearly
every officer in command might be superannuated, and
Abercrombie is as venerable in white hairs as myself!
There are, however, plenty of young and dashing fellows
to replace us, and the spirit of the whole army is
admirable.

" Whither we are destined, what will be our collective
force, and what the nature of the expedition, are pro-
found secrets, with which, even the generals of brigades
are not entrusted; so that all I can tell you is, that some
seven hundred and fifty of us are now sailing southward,
under a steady breeze from the north-north-west ; that
the land is each moment growing fainter to my eyes,
while the pilot is eagerly pressing me to conclude this
last expression of my love to yourself and dearest Helen.
Adieu.

" Ever yours,

" MAURICE DARCY."

As with eyes half dimmed by tears Lady Eleanor read
these lines, she could not help muttering a thanksgiving
that her husband was at least beyond the risk of that
danger of which Bicknell spoke an indignity, she feared,
he never could have survived.

" And better still," cried Helen, " if a season of struggle
and privation awaits us, that we should bear it alone, and
not before his eyes, for wnom such a prospect would be
torture. Now let us see how to meet the evil." So
saying, she once more opened Bicknell's letter, and began
to peruse it carefully, while Lady Eleanor sat, pale and in



Online LibraryCharles James Lever[Charles Lever's novels (Volume 13) → online text (page 12 of 35)