Charles James Lever.

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silence, nor even by a gesture showing any consciousness
of the scene.

" What miserable trifling do all these legal subtleties
seem ! " said the young girl, after she had read for some
time ; " how trying to patience to canvass the petty
details by which a clear and honest cause must be
asserted ! Here are fees to counsel, briefs, statements,
learned opinions, and wise consultations multiplied to
show that we are the rightful owners of what our
ancestors have held for centuries, while every step of
usurpation by these Hickmans would appear almost
unassailable. With what intensity of purpose, too, does
that family persecute us. All these actions are instituted
by them ; these bonds are all in their hands. What
means this hate ? "

Lady Eleanor looked up, and as her eyes met Helen's a
faint flush coloured her cheek, for she thought of her
interview with the old doctor, and that proposal by which
their conflicting interests were to be satisfied.

" We surely never injured them," resumed the young
girl, eagerly ; "they were always well and hospitably
received by us. Lionel even liked Beecham, when they
were boys together a mild and quiet youth he was."

" So I thought him, too," said Lady Eleanor, stealing
a cautious glance at her daughter. " We saw them,"
continued she, more boldly, " under circumstances of no
common difficulty struggling under the embarrassment
of a false social position, with such a grandfather 1 "

" And such a father ! Nay, mamma, of the two you
must confess the doctor was our favourite. The old man's
selfishness was not half so vulgar as his son's ambition."

" And yet, Helen," said Lady Eleanor, calmly, " such
are the essential transitions by which families are formed ;
wealthy in one generation, aspiring in the next, recognized
gentry mayhap titled in the third. It is but rarely
that the whole series unfolds itself before our eyes at
once, as in the present instance, and consequently it is but
rarely that we detect so palpably all its incongruities and
absurdities. A few years more," added she, with a deep
sigh, "and these O'Reillys will be regarded as the right-
ful owners of Gwynne Abbey by centuries of descent ;


and if an antiquary detect the old leopards of the Darcys
frowning from some sculptured keystone, it will be to
weave an ingenious theory of intermarriage between the

" An indignity they might well have spared us," said
Helen, proudly.

" Such are the world's changes," continued Lady
Eleanor, pursuing her own train of thought. " How
very few remember the origin of our proudest houses,
and how little does it matter whether the foundations
have been laid by the rude courage of some lawless baron
of the tenth century, or the crafty shrewdness of some
Hickman O'Beilly of the nineteenth."

If there was a tone of bitter mockery in Lady Eleanor's
words, there was also a secret meaning which, even to
her own heart, she would not have ventured to avow. By
one of those strange and most inexplicable mysteries of
our nature, she was endeavouring to elicit from her
daughter some expression of dissent to her own recorded
opinion of the O'Reillys, and seeking for some chance
word which might show that Helen regarded an alliance
with that family with more tolerant feelings than she did

Her intentions on this head were not destined to be
successful. Helen's prejudices on the score of birth and
station were rather strengthened than shaken by the
changes of fortune ; she cherished the prestige of their
good blood as a source of proud consolation that no
adversity could detract from. Before, however, she could
reply, the tramp of a horse's feet a most unusual sound
was heard on the gravel without ; and immediately
after the heavy foot of some one, as if feeling his way in
the dark towards the door. Without actual fear, but not
without intense anxiety, both mother and daughter heard
the heavy knocking of a loaded horsewhip on the door ;
nor was it until old Tate had twice repeated his question
that a sign replied he might open the door.

" Look to the pony there!" ci'ied a voice, as the old
man peered out into the dark night. And before he could
reply or resist, the speaker pushed past him and entered
the room. "I crave your pardon, my Lady Eleanor," said

L 2


she for it was Miss Daly who, drenched with rain, and
all splashed with mud, now stood before them " I crave
your pardon for this visit of so scant ceremony. Has the
Knight returned yet ? "

The strong resemblance to her brother Bagenal, increased
by her gesture and the tones of her voice, at once pro-
claimed to Lady Eleanor who her visitor was ; and as she
rose graciously to receive her, she replied, that " the
Knight, so far from having returned, had already sailed
with the expedition under General Abercrombie."

Miss Daly listened with breathless eagerness to the
words, and as they concluded, she exclaimed aloud,
'Thank God!" and threw herself into a chair. A pause,
which, if brief, was not devoid of embarrassment, fol-
lowed ; and while Lady Eleanor was about to break it,
Miss Daly again spoke, but with a voice and manner very
different from before. "You will 'pardon, I am certain,
the rudeness of my intrusion, Lady Eleanor, and you, too,
Miss Darcy, when I tell you that my heart was too full
of anxiety to leave any room for courtesy. It was only
this afternoon that an accident informed me that a person
had arrived in this neighbourhood with a writ to arrest
the Knight of Gwynne, I was five-and-twenty miles
from this when I heard the news, and although I com-
missioned my informant to hasten thither with the tidings,
I grew too full of dread, and had too many fears of a
mischance, to await the result, so that I resolved to come

" How full of kindness ! " exclaimed Lady Eleanor,
while Helen took Miss Daly's hand and pressed it to her
lips. " Let our benefactress not suffer too much in our
cause. Helen, dearest, assist Miss Daly to a change of
dress. You are actually wet through."

" Nay, nay, Lady Eleanor, you must not teach me
fastidiousness. It has been my custom for many a year
not to care for weather, and in the kind of life I lead such
training is indispensable." Miss Daly removed her hat
as she spoke, and, pushing back her di'ipping hair, seemed
really insensible to the discomforts which caused her hosts
so much uneasiness.

"I see clearly," resumed she, laughing, "I was right


in not making myself known to you before ; for though
you may forgive the eccentricities that come under the of good intentions, you'd never pardon the thousand
offences against good breeding and the world's prescrip-
tion, which spring from the wayward fancies of an old
maid who has lived so much beyond the pale of affection,
she has forgotten all the arts that win it."

" If you are unjust to yourself, Miss Daly, pray be not
so to us ; nor think that we can be insensible to friendship
like yours."

" Oh, as for this trifling service, you esteem it far too
highly ; besides, when you hear the story, you'll see how
much more you have to thank your own hospitality than
my promptitude."

" This is, indeed, puzzling me," exclaimed Lady Eleanor.

" Do you remember having met and received at your
house a certain Mr. Dempsey ?"

" Certainly, he dined with us on one occasion, and paid
us some three or four visits. A tiresome little vulgar man,
with a most intense curiosity devouring him to know
everything of everybody."

" To this gift, or infirmity, whichever it be, we are now
indebted. Since the breaking-up of the boarding-house
at Port Ballintray, which, this year, was somewhat earlier
than usual " here Miss Daly smiled slightly, as though
there lay more in the words than they seemed to imply
" Mr. Dempsey betook himself to a little village near
Glenarm, where I have been staying, and where the chief
recommendation as a residence lay possibly in the fact that
the weekly mail-car to Derry changed horses there. Hence,
an opportunity of communing with the world he valued
at its just price. It so chanced that the only traveller
who came for three weeks, arrived the night before last,
drenched to the skin, and so ill from cold, hunger, and
exhaustion, that, unable to prosecute his journey further,
he was carried from the car to his bed. Mr. Dempsey,
whose heart is really as kind as inquisitive, at once tendered
his services to the stranger, who, after some brief inter-
course, commissioned him to open his portmanteau, and
taking out writing materials, to inform his friends in
Dublin of his sudden indisposition, and his fears that his


illness might delay, or perhaps render totally abortive, his
mission to the north. Here was a most provoking mys-
tery for Mr. Dempsey. The very allusion to a matter of
importance, in this dubious half-light, was something more
than human nature should be tried with, and if the patient
burned with the fever of the body, Mr. Dempsey suffered
under the less tolerable agony of mental torment ima-
gining every possible contingency that should bring a
stranger down into a lonely neighbourhood, and canvassing
every imaginable inducement, from seduction to highway
robbery. Whether the sick man's sleep was merely the
heavy debt of exhausted nature, or whether Mr. Dempsey
aided his repose by adding a few drops to the laudanum
prescribed by the doctor, true it is, he lay in a deep slumber,
and never awoke till late the following day ; meanwhile
Mr. Dempsey recompensed his Samaritanism by a careful
inspection of the stranger's trunk and its contents ; and,
in particular, made a patient examination of two parch-
ment documents, which, fortunately for his curiosity, were
not sealed, but simply tied with red tape. Great was his
surprise to discover that one of these was a writ to arrest
a certain Paul Dempsey, and the other directed against the
resident of the Corvy, whom he now, for the first time,
learned was the Knight of Gwynne.

" Self-interest, the very instinct of safety itself, weighed
less with him than his old passion for gossip ; and no
sooner had he learned the important fact of who his neigh-
bour was, than he set off straight to communicate the news
to me. I must do him the justice to say, that when
I proposed his hastening off to you with the tidings,
the little man acceded with the utmost promptitude, but
as his journey was to be performed on foot, and by certain
mountain paths not always easily discovered in our misty
climate, it is probable he could not reach this for some

When Miss Daly concluded, Lady Eleanor and her
daughter renewed their grateful acknowledgments for her
thoughtful kindness. " These are sad tbemes by which to
open our acquaintance," said Lady Eleanor; "but it is
among the prerogatives of friendship to share the pressure
of misfortune, and Mr. Daly's sister can be no stranger to


"Nor how undeserved they were," added Miss Daly,

" Nay, which of us can dare say so much ? " interrupted
Lady Eleanor; "we may well have forgotten ourselves
in that long career of prosperity we enjoyed for ours
was, indeed, a happy lot ! I need not speak of my hus-
band to one who knew him once so well. Generous, frank,
and noble-hearted as he always was his only failing the
excessive confidence that would go on believing in the
honesty of others, from the prompting of a spirit that
stooped to nothing low or unworthy he never knew

" True," echoed Miss Daly, " he never did suspect ! "

There was such a plaintive sadness in her voice, that it
drew Helen's eyes towards her ; nor could all her efforts
conceal a tear that trickled along her cheek.

" And to what an alternative are we now reduced ! "
continued Lady Eleanor, who, with all the selfishness of
sorrow, loved to linger on the painful theme " to rejoice
at separation, and to feel relieved in thinking that he is
gone to peril life itself, rather than endure the lingering
death of a broken heart ! "

" Yes, young lady," said Miss Daly, turning towards
Helen, " such are the recompenses of the most endearing
affection such the penalties of loving. Would you not
almost say, ' It were better to be such as I am, unloved,
uncared for without one to share a joy or grief with.' I
half think so myself," added she, suddenly rising from her
chair. " I can almost persuade myself that this load of
life is easier borne when all its pressure is one's own."

" You are not about; to leave us? " said Lady Eleanor,
taking her hand affectionately.

" Yes," replied she, smiling sadly, " when my heart has
disburdened itself of an immediate care, I become but
sorry company, and sometimes think aloud. How fortu-
nate I have no secrets ! Bring my pony to the door,"
said she, as Tate answered the summons of the bell.

" But wait at least for daylight," said Helen, eagerly;
" the storm is increasing, and the night is dark and starless.
Remember what a road you've come."

" I often ride at this hour, and with no better weather,"


said she, adjusting the folds of her habit ; " and as to the
road, Puck knows it too well to wander from the track,
daylight or dark."

" For our sakes, I entreat you not to venture till morn-
ing," cried Lady Eleanor.

" I could not if I would," said Miss Daly, steadily. "By
to-morrow, at noon, I have an engagement at some dis-
tance hence, and much to arrange in the meantime. Pray
do not ask me again. I cannot bear to refuse you, even
in such a trifle, and as to me or my safety, waste not another
thought about it. They who have so little to live for are
wondrous secure from accident."

" When shall we see you ? Soon, I hope and trust ! "
exclaimed both mother and daughter together.

Miss Daly shook her head ; then added, hastily, " I never
promise anything. I was a great castle-builder once,
but time has cured me of the habit, and I do not like,
even by a pledge, to forestall the morrow. Farewell, Lady
Eleanor. It is better to see but little of me, and think the
better, than grow weary of my waywardness on nearer
acquaintance. Adieu, Miss Darcy ; I am glad to have
seen you ; don't forget me." So saying, she pressed Helen's
hands to her lips, but ere she let them drop, she squeezed
a letter into her grasp ; the moment after, she was gone.

" Oh then, I remember her the beauty wonst!" said
Tate, as he closed the door, after peering out for some
seconds into the dark night : "and proud she was too
riding a white Arabian, with two servants in scarlet
liveries after her! The world has quare changes ; but hers
is the greatest ever I knew ! "




LONG after Miss Daly's departure, Lady Eleanor continued
to discuss the eccentricity of her manners, and the willul
abruptness of her address, for although deeply sensible
and grateful for her kindness, she dwelt on every pecu-
liarity of her appearance with a pertinacity that more than
once surprised her daughter. Helen, indeed, was very far
from being a patient listener, not only because she was
more tolerant in her estimate of their visitor, but because
she was eager to read the letter so secretly entrusted to
her hands. A dread of some unknown calamity, some sad
tidings of her father or Lionel, was ever uppermost in her
thoughts, nor could she banish the impression that Miss
Daly's visit had another and very different object than that
which she alleged to Lady Eleanor.

It may be reckoned among the well-known contrarieties
of life, that our friends are never more disposed to be
long-winded and discursive than at the very time we
would give the world to be alone and to ourselves. With
a most malicious intensity they seem to select that moment
for indulging in all those speculations by which people
while away the weary hours. In such a mood was Lady
Eleanor Darcy. Not only did she canvass and criticize
Miss Daly, as she appeared before them, but went off into
long rambling remiuiscenaes of all she had formerly heard
about her, for, although they had never met before, Miss
Daly had been the reigning Belle of the West before her
own arrival in Ireland.

" She must have been handsome, Helen, don't you think
so f " said she, at the end of a long enumeration of the
various eccentricities imputed to her.


" I should say very handsome," replied Helen.

" Scarcely feminine enough, perhaps," resumed Lady
Eleanor ; " the features too bold, the expression too
decided ; but this may have been the fault of a social tone,
which required everything in exaggeration, and would
tolerate nothing save in excess."

" Yes, mamma," said Helen, vaguely assenting to a
remark she had not attended to.

" I never fancied that style, either in beauty or in
manner," continued Lady Eleanor. " It wants, in the
first place, the great element of pleasing ; it is not

"No, mamma!" rejoined Helen, mechanically as be-

" Besides," continued Lady Eleanor, gratified at her
daughter's ready assent, " for one person to whom these
mannerisms are becoming, there are at least a hundred
slavish imitators ready to adopt without taste, and follow
without discrimination. Now Miss Daly was the fashion
once. Who can say to what heresies she has given origin,
to what absurdities in dress, in manner, and in bearing ?"

Helen smiled, and nodded an acquiescence without
knowing to what.

" There is one evil attendant on all this," said Lady
Eleanor, who, with the merciless ingenuity of a thorough
poser, went on ratiocinating from her own thoughts ; " one
can rarely rely upon even the kindest intentions of people
of this sort, so often are their best offices but mere pass-
ing, fitful impulses ; don't you think so ?"

" Yes, mamma," said Helen, roused by this sudden
appeal to a more than usual acquiescence, while totally
ignorant as to what.

" Then, they have seldom any discretion, even when
they mean well."

" No, mamma."

'* While they expect the most implicit compliance on
your part with every scheme they have devised for your

" Very true," chimed in Helen, who assented at

" Sad alternative," sighed Lady Eleanor, " between such


rash friendship and the lukewarm kindness of our courtly

" I think not!" said Helen, who fancied she was still
following the current of her mother's reflections.

" Indeed ! " exclaimed Lady Eleanor, in astonishment,
while she looked at her daughter for an explanation.

" I quite agree with you, mamma," cried Helen, blush-
ing as she spoke, for she was suddenly recalled to herself.

" The more fortunate is the acquiescence, my dear,"
said Lady Eleanor, dryly, " since it seems perfectly in-
stinctive. I find, Helen, you have not been a very atten-
tive listener, and as I conclude I must have been a very
unamusing companion, I'll even say good night ; nay, my
sweet child, it is late enough not to seek excuse for weari-
ness good night."

Helen blushed deeply, dissimulation was a very difficult
task to her, and for a moment seemed more than her
strength could bear. She had resolved to place the letter
in her mother's hands, when the thought flashed across
her, that if its contents might occasion any sudden or
severe shock, she would never forgive herself. This
mental struggle, brief as it was, brought the tears to her
eyes, an emotion Lady Eleanor attributed to a different
cause, as she said,

" You do not suppose, rny dearest Helen, that I am
angry, because your thoughts took a pleasanter path than
my own."

" Oh, no ! no ! " cried Helen, eagerly, " I know you

are not. It is my own She stopped, another word

would have revealed everything, and with an affectionate
embrace she hurried from the room.

"Poor child!" exclaimed her mother; "the courage
that sustained us both, so long is beginning to fail her
now ; and yet I feel as if our trials were but com-

While Lady Eleanor dwelt on these sad thoughts, Helen,
sat beside her bed weeping bitterly.

" How shall I bear up," thought she, " if deprived of
that confiding trust a mother's love has ever supplied,
without one to counsel or direct me ? "

Half fearing to open the letter, lest all her resolves


should be altered by its contents, she remained a long
time balancing one difficulty against another. Wearied
and undecided, she turned at last to the letter itself, as if
for advice. It was a strange hand, and addressed to
" Miss Daly." With trembling fingers she unfolded the
paper, and read the writer's name " Richard Forester."

A flood of grateful tears burst forth as she read the
words : a sense of relief from impending calamity stole
over her mind, while she said, " Thank God ! my father

and Lionel " She could say no more, for sobbing

choked her utterance. The emotions, if violent, passed
rapidly off; and as she wiped away her tears, a smile of
hope lit up her features. At any other time she would
have speculated long and carefully over the causes which
made Forester correspond with Miss Daly, and by what
right she herself should be entrusted with his letter.
Now her thoughts were hurried along too rapidly for re-
flection. The vague dread of misfortune, so suddenly
removed, suggested a sense of gratitude that thrilled
through her heart like joy. In such a frame of mind she
read the following lines :

" At Sea.

" My dear Miss Daly,

" I cannot thank you enough for your letter, so full of
kindness, of encouragement, and of hope. How much I
stand in need of them ! I have strictly followed every
portion of your counsel would that I could tell you as
successfully as implicitly ! The address of this letter will,
however, be the shortest reply to that question. I write
these lines from the Hermione frigate. Yes, I am a
volunteer in the expedition to the Mediterranean ; and
only think who is my commanding officer the Knight
himself. I had enrolled myself under the name of Con-
way ; but when called up on deck this morning for in-
spection, such was my surprise on seeing the Knight of
Gwynne, or, as he is now called, Colonel Darcy, I almost
betrayed myself. Fortunately, however, I escaped un-
noticed a circumstance I believe I owe chiefly to the
fact that several young men of family are also volunteers,
so that my position attracted no unusual attention. It was
a most anxious moment for me as the colonel came down


the line, addressing a word here and there as he went ; he
stopped within one of me, and spoke for some seconds to a
young fellow, whose appearance indicated delicate health.
How full of gentleness and benevolence were his words ;
but when he turned and fixed his eyes on me, my heart beat
so quick, my head grew so dizzy, I thought I should have
fainted. He remained at least half a minute in front of
me, and then asked the orderly for my name ' Con way !
Conway ! ' repeated he more than once. ' A very old name.
I hope you'll do it credit, sir,' added he, and moved on:
how much to my relief I need not say. What a strange
rencontre ! Often as I wonder at the singular necessity
that has made ms a private soldier, all my astonishment
is lost in thinking of the Knight of Gwynne's presence
amongst us ; and yet he looks the soldier even as much as
he did the country gentleman when I first saw him, and,
strangely too, seems younger and more active than before.
To see him here, chatting with the officers under his com-
mand, moving about, taking interest in everything that
goes on, who would suspect the change of fortune that
has befallen him ! Not a vestige of discontent ; not even
a passing look of impatience on his handsome features,
and yet, with this example before me, and the conscious-
ness that my altered condition is nothing in comparison
with his, I am low-spirited and void of hope ! But a few
weeks ago, I would have thought myself the luckiest
fellow breathing, if told that I were to serve under Colonel
Darcy, and now, I feel ashamed and abashed, and dread a
recognition every time I see him. In good truth, I can-
not forget the presumption that led me first to his ac-
quaintance. My mind dwells on that unhappy mission to
the West, and its consequences. My foolish vanity in
supposing that I, a mere boy, uninformed, and without
reflection, should be able to influence a man, so much my
superior in every way ! and this, bad as it is, is the most

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