Charles James Lever.

[Charles Lever's novels (Volume 13) online

. (page 19 of 35)
Online LibraryCharles James Lever[Charles Lever's novels (Volume 13) → online text (page 19 of 35)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

little patience, than endanger it by fresh shocks to public
opinion ? Even a boa, my dear Heffernan, when he
swallows a goat, takes six months to digest his meal,


No ! no ! such men must be taught reserve, if their own
prudence does not suggest it! "

"I believe you are right, my lord," said Heffernan,
thoughtfully ; " O'Reilly is the very man to forget himself
in the sunshine of court favour, and mistake good luck for

" With all his money, too," rejoined Lord Castlereagh,
"his influence will just be proportioned to the degree of
acceptance his constituents suppose him to possess with
us here. He has never graduated as a Patriot, and his
slight popularity is only ' special gratia.' His patent of
Gentleman has not come to him by birth."

" For this reason the baronetcy "

" Let us not discuss that," said Lord Castlereagh,
quickly. " There is an objection in a high quarter to
bestow honours, which would seem to ratify the downfall
of an ancient house." He seemed to have said more
than he was ready to admit, and to change the theme
turned the conversation on the party they had just

" Sir George Hannaper always does these things well,"

Mr. HefFernan assented blandly, but not over eagerly.
London was not "his world," and the tone of a society
so very different to what he was habituated had not
made on him the most favourable impression.

" And after all," said Lord Castlereagh, musingly,
" there is a great deal of tact ability, if you will
essential to the success of such entertainments, to bring
together men of different classes and. shades of opinion,
people who have never met before, perhaps are never to
meet again, to hit upon the subjects of conversation that
may prove generally interesting, without the risk of
giving undue preponderance to any one individual's
claims to superior knowledge. This demands consider-
able skill."

" Perhaps the difficulty is not so great here, my lord,"
said Heffernan, half timidly, "each man understands
his part so well ; information and conversational power
appear tolerably equally distributed ; and when all the
instruments are so well tuned, the leader of the orchestra
has an easy task."


"Ah! I believe I comprehend you," said Lord Castle-
reagh, laughing ; " you are covertly sneering at the easy
and unexciting quietude of our London habits. Well,
Heffernan, I admit we are not so fond of solo perform-
ances as you are in Dublin ; few among us venture on
those ' obligate passages ' which are so charming to Irish
ears ; but don't you think the concerted pieces are better
performed ? "

" I believe, my lord," said Heffernan, abandoning the
figure in his anxiety to reply, " that we would call this
dull in Ireland. I'm afraid that we are barbarous enough
to set more store by wit and pleasantry than on grave
discussion and shrewd table-talk. It appears to me
that these gentlemen carry an air of business into their

" Scarcely so dangerous an error as to carry convivi-
ality into business," said Lord Castlereagh, slily.

" There's too much holding back," said Heffernan, not
heeding the taunt ; " each man seems bent on making
what jockeys call ' a waiting race.' "

" Confess, however," said Lord Castlereagh, smiling,
"there's no struggle, no hustling at the winning-post:
the best horse comes in first ''

" Upon my soul, my lord," said Heffernan, interrupt-
ing, " I have yet to learn that there is such a thing. I
conclude from your lordship's observation that the
company we met to-day were above the ordinary run of

" I should certainly say so."

" Well, then, I can only affirm thab we should call this
a failure in our less polished land. I listened with becom-
ing attention ; the whole thing was new to me, and I can
safely aver I neither heard one remark above the level
of commonplace, nor one observation evidencing acute
perception of passing events or reflection on the past.
As to wit or epigram

" Oh, we do not value these gifts at your price ; we are
too thrifty a nation, Heffernan, to expend all our powder
on fireworks."

" Faith, I agree with you, my lord ; the man who would
venture on a rocket would be treated as an incendiary."


" Come, come, Heffernan, I'll not- permit you to say so.
l)id you ever in any society see a man more appreciated
than our friend Darcy was the last evening we met him,
his pleasantry relished, his racy humour well taken, and
his stores of anecdote enjoyed with a degree of zest I
have never seen surpassed ?"

" Darcy was always too smooth for our present taste,"
said Hefl'ernan, caustically. " His school was antiquated
years ago ; there was a dash of the French courtier through
the Irishmen of his day."

'' That made the most polished gentlemen of Europe,
I've been told," said Lord Castlereagh, interrupting. " I
know your taste inclines to a less chastened and more ad-
venturous pleasantry, shrewd insight into an antagonist's
weak point, a quick perception of the ridiculous "

" Allied with deep knowledge of men and motives, my
lord," said Heffernan, catching up the sentence, " a prac-
tical acquaintance with the world in its widest sense ; that
cultivated keenness that smacks of reading intentions before
they are avowed, and divining plans before they are more
than conceived. These solid gifts are all essential to the
man who would influence society, whether in a social circle
or in the larger sphere of active life."

" Ah ! but we were talking of merely social qualities,"
said Lord Castlereagh, stealing a cautious look of half
malice, " the wit that sets the table in a roar."

" And which, like lightning, my lord, must now and then
prove dangerous, or men will cease to be dazzled by its
brilliancy. Now, I rather incline to think that the Knight's
pleasantry is like some of the claret we were drinking to-
day, a little spoiled by age."

" I protest strongly against the judgment," said Lord
Castlereagh, with energy ; " the man who at his time of
life consents to resume the toils and dangers of a soldier's
career must not be accused of growing old."

" Perhaps your lordship would rather shift the charge
of senility against the Government which appoints such
an officer," said Hefiernan, maliciously.

" As to that," said Lord Castlereagh, laughingly, " I
believe the whole thing was a mistake. Some jealous but
indiscreet friend of Darcy's made an application in his be-


half, and without his cognizance, pressing the claim of an
old and meritorious officer, and directly asking for a res-
titution to his grade. This was backed by Lord Netherby,
one of the lords in waiting, and without much inquiry
indeed, I fancy without any he was named colonel, in
xchange from the unattached list. The Knight was evi-
dently flattered by so signal a mark of favour, and, if I
read him aright, would not change his command for a
brigade at home. In fact, he has already declined pros-
pects not less certain of success."

" And is this really the mode in which officers are se-
lected for an enterprise of hazard and importance ? " said
Heffernan, affecting a tone of startled indignation as he

"Upon my word, Heffernan," said Lord Castlereagh,
subduing the rising tendency to laugh outright, " I fear it
is too true. We live in days of backstairs and court
favour. I saw an application for the office of Under
Secretary for Ireland, so late as yesterday "

"You did, my lord!" interrupted Heffernan, with more
warmth than he almost ever permitted himself to feel.
" You did, from a man who has rendered more unrewarded
services to the Government than any individual in the

" The claim was a very suitable one," said Lord Castle-
reagh, mildly. " The gentleman who preferred it could
point to a long list of successful operations, whose conduct
rested mainly or solely on his own consummate skill and
address ; he could even allege the vast benefit of his advice
to young and not over-informed Chief Secretaries "

" I would beg to observe, my lord "

"Pray allow me to continue," said Lord Castlereagh,
laying his hand gently on the other's arm. " As one of
that helpless class so feelingly alluded to, I am ready to
evince the deepest sense of grateful acknowledgments. It
may be that I would rather have been mentioned more
flatteringly ; that the applicant had spoken of me as an
apter and more promising scholar- "

" My lord, I must and will interrupt you. The me-
morial, which was presented in my name, was sent forward
under the solemn pledge that it should meet the eyes of


Mr. Pitt alone ; that whether its prayer was declined or
accorded, none, save himself, should have cognizance of it.
If, after this, it was submitted to your lordship's critical
examination, I leave it to your good taste and your sense
of decorum how far you can avow or make use of the
knowledge so obtained."

" I was no party in the compact you allege, nor, I dare
to say, was Mr. Pitt," said Lord Castlereagh, proudly ;
but, momentarily resuming his former tone, he went on :
" The Prime Minister, doubtless, knew how valuable the
lesson might be to a young man entering on public life
which should teach him not to lay too much store by his
own powers of acuteness ; not to trust too implicitly to
his own qualities of shrewdness and perception ; and that,
by well reflecting on the aid he received from others, he
might see how little the subtraction would leave for his
own peculiar amount of skill. In this way I have to
acknowledge myself greatly Mr. Heffernan's debtor, since,
without the aid of this document, I should never have re-
cognized how ignorant I was of every party and every
public man in Ireland ; how dependent on his good guid-
ance ; how I never failed, save in rejecting never suc-
ceeded save in profiting by his wise and politic counsels."

" Is your lordship prepared to deny these assertions ? "
said Heff'ernan, with an imperturbable coolness.

" Am I not avowing my grateful sense of them ?" said
Lord Castlereagh, smiling blandly. " I feel only the more
deeply your debtor, because, till now, I never knew the
debt both principal and interest must be paid together ;
but seriously, Heffernan, if you wanted office, was
I not the proper channel to have used in asking for
it ? Why disparage your pupil while extolling your
system? "

" You did my system but little credit, my lord," replied
Heffernan, with an accent as unmoved as before ; " you
bought votes when you should have bought the voters
themselves; you deemed the Bill of Union the consumma-
tion of Irish policy it is only the first act of the piece.
You were not the first general who thought he beat the
enemy when he drove in the pickets."

" Would my tactics have been better had I made one of


my spies a major-general, Mr. Heffernan," said Lord
Castlereagh, sneeringly.

" Safer, my lord far safer," said Heffernan, " for he
might not have exposed you afterwards. But I think this
is my hotel ; and I must say it is the first time in my
life that I have closed an interview with your lordship
without regret."

" Am I to hope it will be the last ?" said Lord Castle-
reagh, laughing.

" The last interview, my lord, or the last occasion of
regretting its shortness?" said Heffernan, with a slight
anxiety of voice.

" Whichever Mr. Heffernan opines most to his advan-
tage," was the cool reply.

" The former, with your permission, my lord," said
Heffernan, as a flush suffused his cheek. " I wish your
lordship a very good night."

" Good night, good night ! Stay, Thomas, Mr. Heffernan
has forgotten his gloves."

" Thanks, my lord ; they were not left as a gage of
battle, I assure you."

" I feel certain of it," said Lord Castlereagh, laughing.
" Good night, once more."

The carriage rolled on, and Mr. Heffernan stood for an
instant gazing after it through the gloom.

"I might have known it," muttered he to himself;
" these lords are the only people who do stick to each
other now-a-days." Then, after a pause, he added,
" Drogheda is right, by Jove ! there's no playing against
' four by honours.' "

And with this reflection he slowly entered the hotel, and
repaired to his chamber.



REVERSES of fortune might be far more easily supported,
if they did not entail, as their inevitable consequence, the
association with those, all of whose tastes, habits, and
opinions, run in a new and different channel. It is a
terrible aggravation to the loss of those comforts which
habit has rendered necessaries, to unlearn the usages of a
certain condition, and adopt those of a class beneath us
or, what is still worse, engage in the daily, hourly conflict
between our means and our requirements.

Perhaps Lady Eleanor Darcy and her daughter never
really felt the meaning of their changed condition, nor
understood its poignancy, till they saw themselves as
residents of Mrs. Fumbally's boarding-house, whither
Mr. Dempsey's polite attentions had conducted them. It
was to no want of respect on that lady's part that any
portion of this feeling could be traced. " The Panther"
had really behaved with the most dignified consideration ;
aud while her new guests were presented as Mrs. and Miss
Gwynne, intimated, by a hundred little adroit devices of
manner, that their real rank and title were regarded by
her as inviolable secrets not the less likely to be respected,
that she was herself ignorant of both. Heaven knows
what secret anguish the retention of these facts cost poor
Paul ! secresy being with him a quality something like
Acres courage, which " oozed out of his fingers' ends."
Mr. Dempsey hated those miserly souls that can treasure
up a fact for their own personal enjoyment, and yet never
invite a neighbour to partake of it; and it was a very
inefficient consolation to him, in this instance, to throw a
mysterious cloak over the strangers, and, by an air of pro-
found consciousness, seek to impose op the other boarders.



He made less scruple about what lie deemed his own share
of the mystery, and scarcely had Mrs. Fumbally performed
the honours of the two small chambers destined for Lady
Eleanor and Helen, than Paul followed her to the little
apartment familiarly termed her " den," and shutting the
door, with an appearance of deep caution, took his place
opposite to her at the fire.

" Well, Mr. Dempsey," said Mrs. Fumbally, "now that
all is done and settled now that I have taken these ladies
into the ' Establishment ' " a very favourite designation
of Mrs. Fum's when she meant to be imposing " I hope
I am not unreasonable in expecting a full and complete
account from you of who they are, whence they came,
and, in fact, every particular necessary to satisfy me con-
cerning them."

" Mrs. Gwynne ! Miss Gwynne ! mother and daughter
Captain Gwynne, the father, on the recruiting staff in
the Isle of Skye, or, if you like it better, with his regi-
ment at St. John's. Mrs. G a Miss Rickaby, one of

the Rickabys of Pwhlmdlwmm, North Wales ancient
family small estate all spent obliged to live retired
till till no matter what a son comes of age to sign
something or anything that way "

" This is all fiddle-faddle, Mr. Dempsey," said Mrs.
Fum, with an expression that seemed to say, " Take care
how you trifle with me."

" To be sure it is," rejoined Paul ; " all lies, every word
of it. What do you say, then, if we have her the Widow
Gwynne husband shot at Bergen-op-Zoom "

" I say, Mr. Dempsey, that if you wish me to keep your
secret before the other boarders "

" The best way is never to tell it to you eh, Mrs.
Fum? Well, come, I will be open. Name, Gwynne
place of abode unknown family ditto means supposed
to be ample daughter charming so very much so,
indeed, that if Paul Dempsey were only what he ought
the Dempsey of Dempsey's Grove "

" Oh, is that it? " said Mrs. Fumbally, endeavouring to
smile " is that it ? "

" That's it," rejoined Paul, as he drew up his shirt-collar,
and adjusted his cravat.

A BIT OF " BY-PLAY." 227

" Isn't she very young, Mr. Dempsey ? " said Mrs. Fum,

" Twenty, or thereabouts, I take it," said Paul, care-
lessly, " quite suitable as regards age."

" I never thought you'd marry, Mr. Derapsey," said
Mrs. Fum, with a languishing look, that contrasted
strangely with the habitually shrewish expression of the
"Panther's" face.

"Can't help it, Mrs. Fum. The last of the Romans!
No more Dempseys when I'm gone, if I don't. Elder
branch'all dropped off last twig of the younger myself."

" Ah ! these are considerations, indeed ! " sighed the
lady. "But don't you think that a person more like
yourself in taste more similar in opinion of the world ?
She looks proud, Mr. Dempsey ; I should say, overbear-
ingly proud."

" Rather proud myself, if that's all," said Dempsey,
drawing himself up, and protruding his chin with a most
comic imitation of dignity.

" Only becomingly so, Mr. Dempsey a proper sense of
self-respect, a due feeling for your future position in life
I never saw more than that, I must say. Now, I couldn't
help remarking the way that young lady threw himself
into the chair, and the glance she gave at the room. Ifc
was number eight, Mr. Dempsey, with the chintz furni-
ture, and the looking-glass over the chimney ! well, really
you'd say, it was poor Leonard's room, with the settee bed
in the corner the look she gave it ! "

" Indeed!" exclaimed Dempsey, who really felt horrified
at this under-valuing judgment of what every boarder re-
garded as the very sanctum of the Fumbally Temple.

" Truth, every word of it!" resumed Mrs. Fum. "I
thought my ears deceived me, as she said to her mother,
' Oh, it's all very neat and clean ! ' neat and clean, Mr.
Dempsey ! The elegant rug which I worked myself the
pointer and the wild duck."

" Like life, by Jove, if it wasn't that the dog has only
three legs."

" Perspective, Mr. Dempsey, don't forget its perspective,
and if the bird's wings are maroon, I couldn't help it, it
was the only colour to be had in the town."


" The group is fine devilish fine! " said Paul, with the
air of one whose word was final.

" ' Neat and clean ' were the expressions she used ! I
could have cried as I heard it." Here the lady, probably
in consideration for the omission, wiped her eyes, and
dropped her voice to a very sympathetic key.

" She meant it well, depend upon it, Mrs. Fum, she
meant it well."

" And the old lady," resumed Mrs. Fumbally, deaf to
every consolation, " lay back in her chair this way, and
said, ' Oh, it will all do very well you'll not find us
troublesome, Mrs. Flumary ! ' I haven't been the head of
this establishment eight-and-twenty years to be called
Flumary. How these airs are to tolerated by the other
boarders, I'm sure is more than I can say."

It appeared more than Mr. Dempsey could say also,
if one might pronounce from the woe-begone expression
of his face; for, up to this moment totally wrapped up in
the mysterious portion of the affair, he had lost sight of
all the conflicting interests this sudden advent would call
into activity.

" That wasn't all, "continued Mrs. Fumbally, "for when
I told them the dinner hour was five, the old lady inter-
rupted me with ' For the present with your permission
we should prefer dining at six.' Did any one ever hear
the like ? I'll have a pretty rebellion in the house, when
it gets out ! Mrs. Mackay will have her tea up-stairs every
night Mr. Dunlop will always breakfast in bed. I
wouldn't be surprised if Miss Boyle stood out for broth
in the middle of the day."

" Oh ! " exclaimed Paul, holding up both hands in horror.

" I vow and protest, I expect that next ! " exclaimed
Mrs. Fum, as folding her arms, and fixing her eyes rigidly
on the grate, she sat, the ideal of abused and injured
benevolence. " Indeed, Mr. Dempsey," said she, after a
long silence on both sides, " it would be a great breach of
the regard many years of intimacy with you has formed,
if I did not say, that your affections are misplaced.
Beauty is a perishable gift."

Paul looked at Mrs. Fumbally, and seemed struck with
the truth of her remark.


" But the qualities of the mind, Mr. Detnpsey, those
rare endowments that make happy the home and hearth.
You're fond of beef hash with pickled onions," said she,
smiling sweetly; " well, you shall have one to-day."

" Good creature ? " muttered Paul, while he pressed
her hand affectionately, " The best heart in the world ! "

" Ah, yes," sighed the lady, half soliloquising, " con-
formity of temper the pliancy of the reed the tender
attachment of the ivy."

Paul coughed, and drew himself tip proudly, and, as if
a sudden thought occurred to him that he resembled the
oak of the forest, he planted his feet firmly, and stood
stiff and erect.

" You are not half careful enough about yourself, Mr.
Dempsey never attend to changing your damp clothes
and I assure you the climate here requires it ; and when
you come in, cold and wet, you should always step in
here, on your way upstairs, and take a little something
warm and cordial. I don't know if you approve of this,"
suiting the action to the words. Mrs. Fum had opened a
small cupboard in the wall, and taken out a quaint-look-
ing flask, and a very diminutive glass.

" Nectar, by Jove downright nectar."

" Made with some white currants and ginger," chimed
in Mrs. Fum, simply, as if to imply See what skill can
effect behold the magic power of intelligence !

" White currants and ginger!" echoed Paul, holding
out the glass to be refilled.

" A trifle of spirits, of course."

" Of course ! couldn't be comforting without it."

" That's what poor dear Fumbally always called, ' Ye
know, ye know ! ' It was his droll way of saying
' Noyau ! ' ' Here Mrs. F. displayed a conflict of smiles
and tears ; a perfect April landscape on her features.
" He had such spirits."

" I don't wonder, if he primed himself with this,
often," said Dempsey, who at last relinquished his glass,
but with evident unwillingness.

" He used to say that his was a happy home ! " sobbed
Mrs. Fum, while she pressed her handkerchief to her


Paul did not well know what he should say, or if, in-
deed, he was called upon to utter a sentiment at all ; but
lie thought he could have drunk another glass to the late
Fum's memory, if his widow hadn't kept such a tight
grip of the flask.

" Oh, Mr. Dempsey, who could have thought it would
come to this?" The sorrowful drooping of her eyelids,
as she spoke, seemed to intimate an allusion to the low
state of the decanter, and Dempsey at once replied,

" There's a very honest glass in it still."

" Kind kind creature ! " sobbed Mrs. Fum, as she
poured out the last of the liquor. And Paul was sorely
puzzled, whether the encomium applied to the defunct or
himself. " Do you know, Mr. Dempsey," here she gave
a kind of hysterical giggle, that might take any turn
hilarious, or the reverse, as events should dictate " do
you know, that as I see you there, standing before the fire,
looking so pleasant and cheerful, so much at home, as a
body might bay, I can't help fancying a great resemblance
between you and my poor dear Fum. He was older than
you," said she, rapidly, as a slight cloud passed over
Paul's features ; " older and stouter, but he had the same
jocose smile, the same merry voice, and even that little
fidgety habit with the hands. I know you'll forgive me
even that was his."

This was in all probability strictly correct, inasmuch as
for several years before his demise the gifted individual
had laboured under a perpetual " delirium tremens."

" He rather liked this kind of thing," said Paul, panto-
miming the action of drinking with his now empty glass.

" In moderation only in moderation."

" I've heard that it disagreed with him," rejoined Paul,
who, not pleased with his counterpart, resolved on show-
ing a knowledge of his habits.

" So it did," sighed Mrs. Fum; "and he gave it up in

" I heard that, too," said Paul; and then muttered to
himself, " on the morning he died."

A gentle tap at the door now broke in upon the colloquy,
and a very slatternly servant woman, with bare legs and
feet, made her appearance.


" What d'ye want, Biddy?" asked her mistress, in an
angry voice. " I'm just settling accounts with Mr.

Online LibraryCharles James Lever[Charles Lever's novels (Volume 13) → online text (page 19 of 35)