Charles James Lever.

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customary phrase ? " said Nalty, carelessly.

" Something in that way," replied O'Reilly, affecting an
equal unconcern ; " but we need not discuss the point, it
affords no light to guide us regarding the future."

If Nalty saw plainly that some concealment was prac-
tised towards him, he knew his client too well to venture
on pushing his inquiries further, so he contented himself
with asking when and in what manner O'Reilly proposed
to open the siege.

" To-morrow morning," replied the other ; "there's no
time to be lost. A few lines from my father to Lady
Eleanor will acquaint her with his arrival in the neigh-
bourhood, after a long and fatiguing search for her resi-
dence. We may rely upon him performing his part well ;
he will allude to his own breaking health in terms lhat
will not fail to tonch her, and ask permission to wait upon
her. As for us, Nalty, we must not be foreground figures
in the picture. You, if known to be here at all, must be
supposed to be my father's medical friend. I must be
strictly in the shade."

Nalty gave a grim smile at the notion of his new
professional character, and begged O'Reilly to pro-

" Our strategy goes no further ; such will be the order
of battle. We must trust to my father for the mode he
will engage the enemy afterwards, for the reasons which
have led him to take this step ; the approaching close of
a long life, unburdened with any weighty retrospect, save
that which concerns the Darcy family ; for, while affecting
to sorrow over their changed fortunes, he can attribute
their worst evils to bad counsels and rash advice, and
insinuate how different had been their lot had they only
consented to regard us as they might and ought to have
done in the light of friends. Hush ! who is speaking
there ? "

They listened for a second or two, and then came the
sound of the old man's voice, as he talked to himself in
his sleep : his accents were low and complaining, as if he


were suffering deeply from some mental affliction, and, at
intervals, a heavy sob would break from him.

" He is ill, sir ; the old gentleman is very ill ! " said
Nalty, in real alarm.

*' Hush ! " said O'Reilly, as, with one hand on the door,
he motioned silence with the other.

" Yes, my lady," muttered the sleeper, but in a voice
every syllable of which was audible, "eighty-six years
have crept to your feet, to utter this last wish and die. It
is the last request of one that has already left the things
of this world, and would carry from it nothing but the
thought that will track him to the grave ! " A burst of
grief, too sudden and too natural to admit of a doubt of
its sincerity, followed the words, and O'Reilly was about
to enter the room, when a low dry laugh arrested his steps
and the old man said,

" Ay ! Bob Hickman, didn't I tell you that would do ?
I knew she'd cry, and I told you, if she cried one tear,
the day was ours ! "

There was something so horrible in the baseness of a
mind thus revelling in its own duplicity, that even Nalty
seemed struck with dread. O'Reilly saw what was passing
in the other's mind, and affecting to laugh at these "effects
of fatigue and exhaustion," half led, half pushed him from
the room, and said " Good night."




" TELL Mister Bob Mr. O'Reilly I mean to come to me,"
were the first words of old Doctor Hickman, as he awoke
on the following morning.

" Well, sir, how have yon slept ? " said his son, approach-
ing the bedside, and taking a chair ; " have you rested

" Middling only middling, Bob. The place is like a
vault, and the rats have it all their own way. They were
capering about the whole night, and made such a noise
trying to steal off with one of my shoes."

" Did they venture that far ? "

" Ay, did they ! but I couldn't let it go with them. I
know you're in a hurry to stand in them yourself, Bob,
and leave me and the rats to settle it between us ay !"

" Really, sir, these are jests "

" Too like earnest to be funny, Bob ; so I feel them my-
self. Ugh ! ugh ! The damp of this place is freezing the
very heart's blood of me. How is Nalty this morning?"

" Like a fellow taken off a wreck, sir, after a week's
starvation. He is sitting at the fire there, with two blan-
kets round him, and vows to heaven, every five minutes,
that if he was once back in Old Dominick Street, a thou-
sand guineas wouldn't tempt him to such another expedi-

The old doctor laughed till it made him cough, and
when the fit was over, laughed again, wiping his weeping
eyes, and chuckling in the most unearthly glee at the
i lawyer's discomfiture.

I " Wrapped up in blankets, eh, Bob?" said he, that he
might hear further of his fellow-traveller's misery.

VOL. II. s


O'Reilly saw thnt he had touched the right key, and ex-
patiated for some minutes upon Nalty's sufferings, throw-
ing out, from time to time, adroit hints that only certain
strong and hale constitutions could endure privations like
these. Now, you, sir," continued he, "you look as much
yourself as ever ; in fact, I half doubt how you are to
play the sick man, with all these signs of rude health
about you."

"Leave that to me, Bob; I think I've seen enough of
them things to know them now. When I've carried my
point, and all's safe and secure, you'll see me like the pope
we read of, that looked all but dead till they elected him, -
and then stood up stout and hearty five minutes after
we'll have a miracle of this kind in our own family."

" I suspect, sir, we shall have difficulty in obtaining
an interview," said O'Reilly.

" No ! " rejoined the old man, with, a scarcely perceptible
twinkle of his fishy eyes.

"Nalty's of my opinion, and thinks that Lady Eleanor,
will positively decline it."

" No," echoed he once more.

" And that, without any suspicion of our plan, she will
yet refuse to receive you."

" I'm not going to ask her, Bob," croaked the old doctor,
with a species of chuckling crow in his voice.

" Then you have abandoned your intention," exclaimed
O'Reilly, in dismay, " and the whole journey has been
incurred for nothing."

" No ! " said the doctor, whose grim old features were
lit up with a most spiteful sense of his superior cunning.

" Then I don't understand you that's clear," exclaimed
O'Reilly, testily. "You say that you do not intend to
call upon her "

" Because she's coming here to see me," cried the old
man, in a scream of triumph ; " read that, it's an answer
to a note I sent off at eight o'clock. Joe waited and
brought back this reply." As he spoke, he drew from
beneath his pillow a small note, and handed it to his son.
O'Reilly opened it with impatience, and read: "Lady
Eleanor Darcy begs to acknowledge the receipt of Dr.
Hickman's note, and, while greatly indisposed to accept


of an interview which mast be so painful to both parties
without any reasonable prospect of rendering service to
either, feels reluctant to refuse a request made under cir-
cumstances so trying. She will therefore comply with
Dr. Hickman's entreaty, and, to spare him the necessity
of venturing abroad in this severe weather, will call upon
him at twelve o'clock, should she not learn in the mean-
while that the hour is inconvenient."

" Lady Eleanor Darcy come out to call upon you, sir ! "
said O'Reilly, with an amazement in part simulated to
flatter the old man's skill, but far more really experienced.
" This is indeed success."

"Ay, you may well say so," chimed in the old man
" for besides that I always look ten years older when I'm
in bed and unshaved, with my nightcap a little off this
way ; the very sight of these miserable walls, green with
damp and mould, this broken window, and the poverty-
struck furniture, will all help, and I can get up a cough,
if I only draw a long breath."

" I vow, sir, you beat us all ; we are mere children com-
pared to you. This is a master-stroke of policy."

" What will Nalty say now eh, Bob ? "

" Say, sir ? what can any one say, but that the move
showed a master's hand, as much above our skill to accom-
plish as it was beyond our wit to conceive ? I should
like greatly to hear how you intend to play the game out,"
said O'Reilly, throwing a most flattering expression of
mingled curiosity and astonishment into his features.

' Wait till I see what trumps the adversary has in hand,
Bob ; time enough to determine the lead wnen the cards
are dealt."

" I suppose I must keep Out of sight, and perhaps
Nulty also."

" Nalty ought to be in the house if we want him ; as
my medical friend, he could assist to draw any little me-
morandum we might determine upon ; a mere note, Bob,
between friends, not requiring the interference of lawyers,
eh?" There was something fiendish in the low laugh
which accompanied these words. " What brings that fel-
low into the room so often, putting turf on, and looking if
the windows are fast ? I don't like him, Bob." This was

3 2


said in reference to a little chubby man, in a waiter's jacket,
who really had taken every imaginable professional privi-
lege to obtrude his presence.

" There, there, that will do," said O'Reilly, harshly ;
" you needn't come till we ring the bell.

" Leave the turf-basket where it is. Don't you think we
can mind the fire for ourselves ? "

" Let Joe wait, that will be better, sir," whispered
O'Reilly ! " we cannot be too cautious here." And with
a motion of the hand he dismissed the waiter, who, true
to his order, seemed never to hear " an aside."

" Leave me by myself, Bob, for half an hour ; I'd like
to collect my thoughts to settle and think over this meet-
ing. It's past eleven now, and she said twelve o'clock in
the note."

" Well, I'll take a stroll over the hills, and be back for
dinner about three ; you'll be up by that time."

" That will I, and very hungry, too," muttered the old
man. " This dying scene has cost me the loss of my break-
fast ; and faith, I'm so weak and low, my head is quite
dizzy. There's an old saying, mocking is catching, and sure
enough there may be some truth in it, too."

O'Heilly affected not to hear the remark, and moved
towards the door, when he turned about and said,

" I should say, sir, that the wisest course would be to
avoid anything like coercion, or the slightest approach to
it. The more the appeal is made to her feelings of com-
passion and pity "

" For great age and bodily infirmity," croaked the old
man, while the filmy orbs shot forth a flash of malicious

" Just so, sir. To others' eyes you do indeed seem weak
and bowed down with years. It is only they who have
opportunity to recognize the clearness of your intellect and
the correctness of your judgment can see how little inroad
time has made."

" Ay, but it has, though," interposed the old man, irri-
tably. " My hand shakes more than it used to do ;
there's many an operation I'd not be able for as I once

" Well, well, sir," said his son, who found it difficult to


repress the annoyance he suffered from his continual refer-
ence to the old craft ; " remember that you are not
called upon now to perform these things."

" Sorry I am it is so," rejoined the other. " I gave up
seven hundred a year when I left Loughrea to turn gen-
tleman with you at Gvvynne Abbey ; and faith, the new
trade isn't so profitable as the old one ! So it is," mut-
tered he to himself, " and now, there's a set of young
chaps come into the town, with their medical halls, and
great bottles of pink and blue water in the windows !
What chance would I have to go back again ? "

O'Reilly heard these half-uttered regrets in silence ;
he well knew that the safest course was to let the feeble
brain exhaust its scanty memories without impediment.
At length, when the old doctor seemed to have wearied of
the theme, he said,

" If she make allusion to the Dalys, sir, take care not
to confess our mistake about that cabin they called the
Corvy, and which you remember we discovered that Daly
had settled upon his servant. Let Lady Eleanor suppose
that we withdrew proceedings out of respect to her."

" I know, I know," said the old man, querulously, for
his vanity was wounded by these reiterated instructions.

" It is possible, too, sir, she'd stand upon the question of
rank ; if so, say that Heffernan no, say that Lord Castle-
reagh will advise the king to confer the baronetcy on the
marriage don't forget that, sir on the marriage."

" Indeed, then, I'll say nothing about it," said he, with
an energy almost startling. " It's that weary baronetcy
cost me the loan to Heffernan on his own bare bond ; I'm
well sick of it ! Seven thousand pounds at five and a half
per cent., and no security !"

" I only thought, sir, it might be introduced inciden-
tally," said O'Reilly, endeavouring to calm down this un-
expected burst of irritation.

" I tell you I won't. If I'm bothered any more about
that same baronetcy, I'll make a clause in my will against
my heir accepting it. How bad you are for the coronet
with the two balls ; faix, I remember when the family arms
had three of thorn ; ay, and we sported them over the door,
too. Eh, Bob, shall I tell her that ? "


" I don't suppose it would serve our cause much, sir,"
said O'Reilly, repressing with difficulty his swelling
anger. Then, after a moment, he added, " I could never
think of obtruding any advice of mine, sir, but that I
half feared you might, in the course of the interview,
forget many minor circumstances, not to speak of the
danger that your natural kindliness might expose you to
in any compact with a very artful woman of the world."

" Don't be afraid of that anyhow, Bob," said he, with
a most hideous grin. " I keep a watchful eye over my
natural -kindliness, and, to say truth, it has done me
mighty little mischief up to this. There, now, leave me
quiet and to myself."

When the old man was left alone his head fell slightly
forward, and his hands, elapsed together, rested on his
breast. His eyes, half closed and downcast, and his
scarcely-heaving chest, seemed barely to denote life, or at
most that species of life in which the senses are steeped
in apathy. The grim, hard features, stiffened by years
and a stern nature, never moved ; the thin, close-drawn
lips never once opened ; and to any observer the figure
might have seemed a lifeless counterfeit of old age. And
yet, within that brain, fast yielding to time and infirmity,
where reason came and went like the flame of some
flickering taper, and where memory brought up objects
of dreamy fancy as often as bygone events even thei'e
plot and intrigue held their ground, and all the machinery
of deception was at work, suggesting, contriving, and
devising wiles that in their complexity were too puzzling
for the faculties that originated them. Is there a Nemesis
in this, and do the passions by which we have swayed
and controlled others rise up before us in our weak hours,
and become the tyrants of our terror-stricken hearts ?

It is not our task, were it even in our power, to trace
the strange commingled web of reality and fiction that
composed the old man's thoughts. At one time he
believed he was supplicating the Knight to accord him
some slight favour, as he had done more than once suc-
cessfully. Then he suddenly remembered their relative
stations, so strangely reversed ; the colossal fortune he
had himself accumulated; the hopes and ambitions of


his son and grandson, whose only impediments to rank
and favour lay in himself, the humble origin of all this
wealth. How strange and novel did the conviction strike
him that all the benefit of his vast riches lay in the
pleasure of their accumulation. That for him fortune
had no seductions to offer. Bank, power, munificence,
what were they ? he never cared for them.

No ; it was the game he loved even more than the stake.
That tortuous course of policy, by which he had out-
witted this man and doubled on that. The schemes skil-
fully conducted the plots artfully accomplished these he
loved to think over ; and while he grieved to reflect upon
the reckless waste he witnessed in the household of his
son, he felt a secret thrill of delight that he, and he
alone, was capable of those rare devices and bold ex-
pedients by which such a fortune could be amassed.
Once and only once did any expression of his features
sympathize with these ponderings : and then a low, harsh
laugh broke suddenly from him, so fleeting that it failed
to arouse even himself. It came from the thought that if
after his death, his son or grandson would endeavour to
forget his memory, and have it forgotten by others, that
every effort of display, every new evidence of their
gorgeous wealth, would as certainly evoke the criticism
of the envious world, who, in spite of them, would bring
up the " old doctor " once more, and, by the narrative
of his life, humble them to the dust.

This desire to bring down to a level with himself those
around him had been the passion of his existence. For
this he had toiled and laboured, and struggled through
imaginary poverty when possessed of wealth : had en-
dured scoffs and taunts had borne everything and to
this desire could be traced his whole feeling towards the
Darcys. It was no happiness to him to be the owner of
their princely estate if he did not revel in the reflection
that they were in poverty. And this envious feeling he
extended to his very son. If now and then a vague
thought of the object of his present journey crossed his
mind, it was speedily forgotten in the all-absorbing
delight of seeing the proud Lady Eleanor humbled
before him, and the inevitable affliction the Knight would


experience when be learned the success of this last
device. That it would succeed he had little doubt ; he
had come too well prepared with arguments to dread
failure. Nay, he thought, he believed he could compel
compliance if such were to be needed.

It was in the very midst of these strangely confused
musings that the doctor's servant announced to him the
arrival of Lady Eleanor Darcy. The old man looked
around him on the miserable furniture, the damp, dis-
coloured walls, the patched and mended window-panes,
and for a moment he could not imagine where he was ;
the repetition of the servant's announcement, however,
cleared away the cloud from his faculties, and with a
slight gesture of his hand he made a sign that she should
be admitted. A momentary pause ensued, and he could
hear his servant expressing a hope that her ladyship
might not catch cold, as the snow-drift was falling
heavily, and the storm very severe. A delay of a few
minutes was caused to remove her wet cloak. What a
whole story did these two or three seconds reveal to old
Hickman as he thought of that Lady Eleanor Darcy of
whose fastidious elegance the whole " West " was full
whose expensive habits and luxurious tastes had invested
her with something like an Oriental reputation for mag-
nificence. Of her coming on foot and alone, through
storm and snow, to wait upon him.

He listened eagerly, her footstep was on the stairs,
and he heard a low sigh she gave, as, reaching the land-
ing-place, she stood for a moment to recover breath.

" Say Lady Eleanor Darcy," said she, unaware that
her coming had been already telegraphed to the sick
man's chamber.

A faint complaining cry issued from the room as she
spoke, and Lady Eleanor said, " Stay. Perhaps Dr.
Hickman is too ill ; if so, at another time. I'll come
this evening, or to-morrow."

" My master is most impatient to see your ladyship,"
said the man. " He has talked of nothing else all the
morning, and is always asking if it is nigh twelve

Lady Eleanor nodded as if to concede her permission,


and the servant entered the half-darkened room. A
weak, murmuring sound of voices followed, and the
servant returned, saying, in a cautious whisper, " He is
awake, my lady, and wishes to see your ladyship now."

Lady Eleanor's heart beat loudly and painfully ; many
a sharp pang shot through it, as, with a strong effort to
seem calm, she entered.



DOCTOR HICKMAN was so little prepared for the favourable
change in Lady Eleanor's appearance since he had last
seen her, as almost to doubt that she was the same, and
it was with a slight tremor of voice he said,

" Is it age with me, my lady, or altered health, that
makes the difference, but you seem to uie not what I
remember you ? You are fresher, pardon an old man's
freedom, and I should say far handsomer, too ! "

" Really, Mr. Hickman, you make me think my
excursion well repaid by such flatteries," said she, smil-
ing pleasantly, and not sorry thus for a moment to say
something that might relieve the awkward solemnity of
the scene. " I hope sir, that this air, severe though it
be, may prove as serviceable to yourself. Have you slept

" No, my lady, I scarcely dozed the whole night ; this
place is a very poor one. The rain comes in there
where you see that green mark and the wind whistles
through these broken panes and rats, bother them, they
never ceased the night through. A poor, poor spot it is,
sure enough ! "


It never chanced to cross his mind while bewailing these
signs of indigence and discomfort, that she, to whom he
addressed the complaint, had been reduced to as bad,
even worse hardships, by his own contrivance. Perhaps,
indeed, the memory of such had not occured at that
moment to Lady Eleanor, had not the persistence with
which he dwelt on the theme somewhat ruffled her
patience, and eventually reminded her of her own changed
lot. It was then with a slightly irritated tone she re-

" Such accommodation is a very unpleasant contrast to
the comforts you are accustomed to, sir, and these sudden
lessons in adversity are, now and then, very trying

"What does is signify ?" sighed the old man heavily,
" a day sooner, a few hours less of sunshine, and the world
can make little difference to one like me ! Happy for me,
if, in confronting them, I have done anything towards my
great purpose, the only object between me and the
grave ! "

Lady Eleanor never broke the silence which followed
these words, and though the old man looked as if he
expected some observation or rejoinder, she said not a
word. At length he resumed, with a faint moan,

"Ah, my lady, you have much to forgive us for."

" I trust, sir, that our humble fortunes have not taught
us to forget the duties of Christianity," was the calm

"Much, indeed, to pardon," continued he, "but far
less, my lady, than is laid to our charge. Lawyers and
attorneys make many a thing a cause of bitterness, that
a few words of kindness would have settled. And what
two men of honest intentions could arrange amicably in
five minutes, is often worked up into a tedious lawsuit,
or a ruinous inquiry in Chancery. So it is ! ''

"I have no experience in these affairs, sir, but I con-
clude your remarks are quite correct."

" Faith you may believe them, my lady, like the Bible,
and yet, knowing these fellows so well, having dealings
with them since since oh, God knows how long upon
my life, they beat me entirely after all. "Pis like taking


a walk with a quarrelsome dog, devil a cur he sees but
he sets on him, and gets you into a scrape at every step
you go ! That's what an attorney does for you. Take
out a writ against that fellow process this one, distrain
the other get an injunction here apply for a rule there.
Oh dear! oh dear! I'm weary of it for law! All the
bitterness it has given me in my life long all the sorrow
and affliction it costs me now." He wiped his eyes as he
concluded, and seemed as if overcome by grief.

"It must needs be a sorry source of reparation, sir,"
rejoined Lady Eleanor, with a calm, steady tone, " when
even those so eminently successful can see nothing but
affliction in their triumphs."

" Don't call them triumphs, my lady ; that's not the
name to give them. I never thought them such."

" I'm glad to hear it, sir glad to know that you have
laid up such store of pleasant memories for seasons like
the present."

" There was that proceeding, for instance, in December
last. Now would you believe it, my lady, Bob and I
never knew a syllable about it till it was all over. You
don't know what I'm speaking of; I mean the writ against

Online LibraryCharles James Lever[Charles Lever's novels (Volume 13) → online text (page 22 of 35)