Charles James Lever.

[Charles Lever's novels (Volume 13) online

. (page 33 of 35)
Online LibraryCharles James Lever[Charles Lever's novels (Volume 13) → online text (page 33 of 35)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

men, on questions sometimes of the greatest subtlety and
obscurity. The sum of such conflicting currents makes
up a " cross sea," where everything is possible, from the
favouring tide that leads to safety, to the swell and storm
of utter shipwreck.

At the winter assizes of Galway, in the year 1802, all
the deep sympathies of a law-loving population were
destined to be most heartily engaged by the record of
Darcy versus Hickman, now removed by a change of
venue for trial to that city. It needed not the unusual
compliment of Galway being selected as a likely spot for
the due administration of justice, to make the plaintiff'
somewhat popular on this occasion. The reaction which
for some time back had taken place in favour of the " real
gentry," had gone on gaining in strength, so that public
opinion was already inclining to the side of those who
had earned a sort of prescriptive right to public confi-
dence. The claptraps of patriotism, associated as they
were often found to be with cruel treatment of tenants
and dependents, were contrasted with the independent
bearing of men who, rejecting dictation and spurning
mob popularity, devoted the best energies of mind and
fortune to the interests of all belonging to them. All the
vindictiveness and rancour of a party press could not
obliterate these traits, and character sufficed to put down

Hickman O'Reilly, accompanied by the old doctor, had
arrived in Galway the evening before the trial, in all the
pomp of a splendid travelling carriage, drawn by four
posters. The whole of " Nolan's " Head Inn had been
already engaged for them, and their party, who formed a
tolerably numerous suite of lawyers, solicitors, and clerks,
together with some private friends, curious to witness the

In a very quiet but comfortable old inn called the
" Devil and the Bag of Nails " a corruption of the
ancient Satyr and the Bacchanals Mr. Bicknell had
pitched his camp, having taken rooms for the Knight and


Forester, who were to arrive soon after him, but whose
presence in Ireland was not even suspected by the enemy.

There was a third individual who repaired to the West
on this occasion, but who studiously screened himself
from observation, waiting patiently for the issue of the
combat to see on which side he should carry his congratu-
lation : need we say his name was Con Heffernan.

Bicknell had heard of certain threats of the opposite
party, which, while he did not communicate them to
Darcy, were sufficient to give him deep uneasiness, as
they went so far as to menace a very severe reprisal for
these continued proceedings by a criminal action against
Lionel Darcy. Of what nature, and on what grounds
sustained, he knew not, but he was given to understand
that if his principal would even now submit to some
final adjustment out of court, the Hickmans would
treat liberally with him, and, while abandoning these
threatened proceedings against young Darcy, show Bick-
nell all the grounds for such a procedure.

It was past midnight when Darcy and Forester arrived ;
but before the Knight retired to rest he had learnt all
Bicknell's doubts and scruples, and unhesitatingly decided
on proceeding with his suit. He felt that a compromise
would now involve the honour of his son, of which he
had not the slightest dread of any investigation ; and,
however small the prospect of success, the trial must take
place to evidence his utter disregard his open defiance
of this menace.

Morning came, and long before the judges took their
seat, the court was crowded in every part. The town
was thronged with the equipages of the neighbouring
gentry, all eager to witness the trial ; while the country
people, always desirous of an exciting scene, thronged
every avenue and passage of the building, and even the
wide area in front of it. Nothing short of that passion
for law and its interests, so inherent in an Irish heart,
could have held that vast multitude thus enchained, for
the day was one of terrific storm, the rain beating, the
wind howling, and the sea roaring as it swept into the bay
and broke in showers of foam upon the rocky shore. Each
moment ran the rumour of some new disaster in the town
now it was a chimney fallen, now a roof blown in, now


an entire house, with all its inmates destroyed ; fires, too,
the invariable accompaniment of hurricane, had broken
out in various quarters, and cries for help and screams of
wretchedness were mingled with the wilder uproar of the
elements. Yet of that dense mob, few if any quitted
their places for these sights and sounds of woe. The
whole interest lay within that sombre building, and on
the issue of an event of whose particulars they knew
absolutely nothing, and the details of which it was im-
possible they could follow did they even hear them.

The ordinary precursors to the interest of these scenes
are the chance appearances of those who are to figure
prominently in them, and such, indeed, attracted far more
of attention on this occasion than all the startling acci-
dents by fire and storm then happening on every side.
Each lawyer of celebrity on the circuit was speedily recog-
nized, and greeted by tokens of welcome or expressions
of disfavour, as politics or party inclined. The attorneys
were treated with even greater familiarity, themselves not
disdaining to exchange a repartee as they passed, in which
combats, be it said, they were not always the victors. At
last came old Dr. Hickman, feebly crawling along, leaning
one arm on his son's, and the other on the stalwart sup-
port of Counsellor O'Halloran. The already begun cheer
for the popular " Counsellor" was checked by the arrival
of the sheriff, preceding and making way for the judges,
whose presence ever imposed a respectful demeanour. The
buzz and hum of voices, subdued for a moment, had again
resumed its sway, when once more the police exerted
themselves to make a passage through the throng, calling
out, " Make way for the Attorney-General ! " and a jovial,
burly personage, with a face redolent of convivial humour
and rough merriment, came up, rather dragging than
linked with the thin, slight figure of Bicknell, who with
unwonted eagerness was whispering something in his ear.

" I'll do it with pleasure, Bicknell," rejoined the full,
mellow voice, loud enough to be heard by those on either
side ; " I know the sheriff very well, and he will take
care to let him have a seat on the bench. What's the

" The Earl of Wallincourt," whispered Bicknell, a little


" That's enough ; I'll not forget it." So saying, he
released his grasp of the little man, and pursued his
vigorous course. In a few moments after, Bicknell was
seen, accompanied by Forester alone, " the Knight "
having determined not to present himself till towards
the close of the proceedings, if even then.

The buzz and din, incident to a tumultuous assembly,
had just subsided to the decorous quietude of a Court of
Justice, by the judges entering and taking their seats,
when, after a few words interchanged between the Attor-
ney-General and the sheriff, the latter courteously ad-
dressed Lord Wallincourt and made way for him to ascend
the steps leading to the bench. The incident was in itself
too slight and unimportant for mention, save that it
speedily attracted the attention of O'Halloran, whose
quick glance at once recognized his ancient enemy. So
sudden was the shock, and so poignant did it seem, that
he actually desisted from, the occupation he was engaged
in, of turning over his brief, and sat down pale and trem-
bling with passion.

" You are not ill ?" asked O'Reilly, eagerly, for he had
not remarked the incident.

"Not ill," rejoined O'Halloran, in a low, deep whisper ;
" but do you see who is sitting next Judge Wallace, on the
left of the bench ? "

"Forester, I really believe," exclaimed O'Reilly; for
so separated were the two " United " countries at that
period, that his accession to rank and title was a circum-
stance of which neither O'Reilly nor his lawyer had ever

" We'll change the venue for him, too, before the day
is over," said O'Halloran, with a savage leer. " Do not
let him see that we notice him."

While these brief words were interchanged, the busi-
ness of the Court was opened, and some routine matters
over, the record of Darcy versus Hickman called on.
After this, the names of the special jury list were re-
cited, and the invariable scene of dispute and wrangling,
incident to their choice, followed. In law, as in war,
the combat opens by a skirmish ; a single cannon-shot,
or a leading question, if thrown out, are meant rather
to ascertain " the range," than with any positive inteu-


tiou of damage ; but, gradually, the light troops fall
back, forces concentrate, and a mighty movement is
made. In the present instance, the preliminaries were
unusually long, the plaintiff's counsel not only stating all
the grounds of the present suit, but recapitulating, with
painful accuracy, the reasons for the change of venue,
and reviewing, and, of course, rebutting by anticipation
every possible or impossible objection that might be
made by his learned friend on " the other side." For
our purpose, it is enough if we condense the matter into
a single statement, that the action was to show that Hick-
man, in purchasing portions of the Darcy estate, was, and
must have been, aware that the Knight of Gwynne's
signature appended to the deed of sale was a forgery, and
that he never had concurred in, nor was even cognisant
of, this disposal of his property. A single case was
selected to establish this fact, on which, if proved, further
proceedings in Equity would be founded.

The plaintiff's case opened by an examination of a
number of witnesses, old tenants of the Darcy property.
These were not only called to prove the value of their
holdings, as being very far above the price alleged to
have been paid by Hickman, but also that they them-
selves were in total ignorance that the estate had been
conveyed away to another proprietor, and never knew
till the flight and death of Gleeson took place, that for
many years previous they had ceased to be tenants of
Maurice Darcy, to become those of Dr. Hickman.

The examination and cross-examination of these wit-
nesses presented all the varying and changeful fortunes
ever observable in such scenes. At one moment, some
obdurate old farmer resisting, with ludicrous pertinacity,
all the efforts of the examining counsel to elicit the very
testimony he himself wished to give ; at another, the
native humour of the peasant was seen baffling and foiling
all the trained skill and practised dexterity of the pleader.
Many a merry burst of laughter, many a jest that set the
Court in a roar, were exchanged. It was in Ireland, re-
member ; but still the business of the day advanced, and
a great weight of evidence was adduced, which, however
suggestive to common intelligence, went legally only so
far as to show that the tenantry were, almost to a man,


of an opinion which, whether well founded or not in
reason, turned out to be incorrect.

Darcy's counsel, a man of quickness and intelligence,
made a very able speech, summing up the evidence, and
commenting on every leading portion of it. He dwelt
powerfully on the fact, that at the time of this alleged
sale, the Knight, so far from being a distressed and em-
barrassed man, and consequently likely to effect a sale at
a great loss, was, in reality, in possession of a princely
fortune, his debts few and insignificant, and his income
far above any possible expenditure. If he studiously
avoided adverting to Gleeson's perfidy, as solely in fault,
he assumed to himself credit for the forbearance, alleging
that less scrupulous advisers might have gone perhaps
further, and inferred connivance in a case so dubious and
dark. " My client, however," said he, "gave me but one
instruction in this cause, and it was this : ' If the law of
the land, justly administered, as I believe it will be, re-
stores to me my own, I shall be grateful ; but if the pur-
suit of what I feel my right, involve the risk of reflect-
ing on one honest man's fame, or imputing falsely aught
of dishonour to an unblemished reputation, I tell you
frankly, I don't think a verdict so obtained can carry
with it anything but shame and disgrace."

With these words he sat down, amid a murmur of
approving voices, for there were many there who knew
the Knight by reputation, if not personally, and were
aware how well such a speech accorded with every feature
of his character.

There was a brief delay as he resumed his seat. It was
already late, the Court had been obliged to be lighted up
a considerable time previous, and the question of an ad-
journment was now discussed. The probable length of
O'Halloran's reply would best guide the decision, and the
Chief Baron asked if the learned counsel's statement were
likely to be long.

" Yes, my Lord," replied he ; "it is not a case to be
dismissed briefly, and I have many witnesses to call."

Another brief discussion took place on the Bench, and
the Chief Baron announced that, as there were many im-
portant causes still standing over for trial, they should
best consult public convenience by proceeding, and that,


after a few momenta devoted to refreshment, the case
should go on.

The judges retired, and many of the leading counsel
took the same opportunity to recruit strength exhausted
by several hours of severe toil. The Hickmans and
O'Halloran never quitted their places; a decanter of
sherry and a sandwich from the hotel were served where
they sat, but the old man took nothing. The interest of
the scene appeared too absorbing to admit of even a
sense of hunger or weariness, and he sat with his hands
folded, and his eyes mechanically fixed upon the now
empty jury-box, for there, the whole day, were his looks
riveted, to read, if he might, the varying emotions in the
faces of those who held so much of his fortune in their

While the noise and hubbub which characterize a court
at such intervals was at its highest, a report was circu-
lated that increased in no small degree the excitement of
the scene, and gave a character of intense anxiety to an
assemblage so lately broken up by varied and dissimilar
passions. It was this : a large vessel had struck on a
reef in the bay, and the sea was now breaking over her.
She had been seen from an early hour endeavouring to
beat to the southward ; but the wind had drawn more to
the westward as the storm increased, and a strong shore
current had also drawn her on land. In a last endeavour
to clear the headlands of Clare, she missed stays, and
being struck by a heavy sea, her rudder was carried away.
Totally unmanageable now, she was drifted along, till she
struck on a most dangerous reef about a mile from shore.
Signals of distress were seen at her masthead, but no
boat could venture out. The storm was already a hurri-
cane, and even in the very harbour two fishing-boats had

As the dreadful tidings flew from mouth to mouth, a
terrible confirmation was heard in the booming of guns
of distress, which at brief intervals sounded amid the
Crashing of the storm.

It was at this moment of intense excitement that the
crier proclaimed silence for the approaching entry of the
judges. Jf the din of human voices became hushed and
low, the deafening thunder of the elements seemed to


increase, and the roaring of the enraged sea appeared to
fill the very atmosphere.

As the judges resumed their seats, and the vast crowd
ceased to stir or speak, O'Halloran arose. His voice was
singularly low and quiet : but yet every word he uttered
was distinctly heard through all the clamour of the storm.

"My lords," said he, " before entering upon my client's
case, I would bespeak the kind indulgence of the Court
in respect to a matter purely personal to myself. Your
lordships are too well aware that I should insist upon it,
that in a cause where the weightiest interests of property
are engaged, the mind of the advocate should be disem-
barrassed and free not only free as regards the exercise
of whatever knowledge and skill he may possess not
merely free from the supposition of any individual hazard
the honest discharge of his duty might incur but free from
the greater thraldom of disturbed and irritated emotions,
originating in the deepest sense of wounded honour.

" Far be it from me, my lords, long used in the prac-
tice of these courts, and long intimate with the righteous
principle on which the laws are administered in them, to
utter a syllable that in the remotest degree might seem
to impugn the justice of the Bench; but, a mere frail and
erring creature, with feelings common to all around me, I
wish to protest against continuing my client's case while
your lordships' Bench is occupied by one who, in my
person, has grossly outraged the sanctity of the law. Yes,
my lords," said he, raising his voice, till the deep tones
swelled and floated through the vast space, " as the
humble advocate of a cause, I now proclaim, that in ad-
dressing that Bench, I am incapable to render justice to
the case before me, so long as I see associated with your
lordships a man more worthy to figure in the dock than
to take his seat among the ermined judges of the land.
A moment more, my lords. I am ready to make oath,
that the individual on your lordships' left is Richard
Forester, commonly called the Honourable Richard Fores-
ter; how suitable the designation, your lordships shall
soon hear "

" I beg to interrupt my learned friend," interposed the
Attorney- General, rising. " He is totally in error; and I
would wish to save him from the embarrassment of mis-


description. The gentleman he alludes to is the Earl of
Wallincourt, a peer of the realm."

" Proceed with your client's case, Mr. O'Halloran,"
said the Chief Baron, who saw that to discuss the ques-
tion further was now irrelevant. O'Halloran sat down,
overwhelmed with rage ; a whispered communication from
behind told him that the Attorney- General was correct,
and that Forester was removed beyond the reach of his
vengeance. After a few moments, he rallied, and again
rose. Turning slowly over the pages of a voluminous
brief, he stood waiting, with practised art, till expectancy
had hushed each murmur around, when suddenly the crier
called, " Way, there,- make way for the High Sheriff! "
and that functionary, with a manner of excessive agita-
tion, leaned over the bar, and addressed the Bench. " My
lords, I most humbly entreat your lordships' forgiveness
for thus interrupting the business of the court ; but the
extreme emergency will, I hope, pardon the indecorum.
A large vessel has struck on the rocks in the bay : each
moment it is expected she must go to pieces. A panic
seems to prevail among even our hardy fishermen ; and
my humble request is, that if there be any individual in
this crowded assembly possessing naval knowledge, or any
experience in. calamities of this nature, he will aid us by
his advice and co-operation."

The senior judge warmly approved the humane sug-
gestion of the sheriff; and several persons were seen now
forcing their way through the dense mass, the far
greater part, be it owned, more excited by curiosity than
stimulated by any hope of rendering efficient service.
Notwithstanding Bicknell's repeated entreaties, and re-
membrances of his late severe illness, Forester also quitted
the court, and accompanied the sheriff to the beach. And
now O'Halloran, whose impatience during this interval
displayed little sympathy with the sad occasion of the
interruption, asked, in a manner almost querulous, if their
lordships were ready to hear him? The Court assented,
and he began. Without once adverting to the subject on
which he so lately addressed them, he opened his case by
a species of narrative of the whole legal contest which for
some time back had been maintained between the opposite
parties in the present suit. Nothing could be more calm


or more dispassionate than the estimate he formed of such
straggles ; neither inclining the balance to one party nor
the other, but weighing with impartiality all the reasons
that might prompt men, on one side, to continue a course
of legal investigations, and the painful necessity, on the
other, to provide a series of defences costly, onerous, and
harassing. " I have only to point out to the Court the
defendant in this action, to show how severe such a duty
may become. Here, my lords, beside me, sits the gentle-
man, bowed down with more years than are allotted to
humanity generally. Look upon him, and say if it be not
difficult to determine what course to follow the abandon-
ment of a just right, or its maintenance, at the cost of
rendering the few last years why do I say years ? days,
hours of a life, careworn, distracted, and miserable ! "

Dwelling long enough on this theme to interest without
wearying the jury, he adroitly addressed himself to the
case of those who, by a system of litigious persecution,
would seek to obtain by menace what they must despair of
by law. Beginning by vague and wide generalities, he
gradually accumulated a mass of allegations and in-
ferences, which concentrating to a point, he suddenly
checked himself, and said, " Now, my lords, it may be
supposed that I will imitate the delicate reserve of my
learned friend opposite ; and, while filling your minds
with dai'k and mysterious suspicions, profess a perfect
ignorance of all intention to apply them. But I will not
do this : I will be candid and free-spoken ; nay, more, my
lords, I will finish what my learned friend has left in-
complete ; and I will proclaim to the Court, and this jury,
what he wished, but did not dare, to say, that we, the
defendants in this action, were not only cognizant of a
forgery, but were associated in the act ! There it is, my
lords ; and I accept my learned friend's bland smile as the
warm acknowledgment of the truth of my assertion. My
learned friend is obliged to me. I see that he cannot
conceal his joy at the inaptitude of my avowal. But we
have a case, my lords, that can happily dispense with the
dexterity of an advocate, and make its truth felt, even
through means as unskilful as mine. They disclaimed, it
is true they disclaimed in words the wish to make this
inference ; but even take their disclaimer as such, and


what is it ? An avowal of their weakness an open
expression of the poverty of their proofs. Yes, my lords,
their disclaimers were like the ominous sounds which
break from time to time upon our ear but signal-guns of
distress. Like that fated vessel, whose sad destiny is per-
haps this moment accomplishing, they have been storm-
tossed and cast away their proud ensign torn, and their
rudder gone, but unlike her, they cannot brave their fate
without seeking to involve others in the calamity."

A terrible gust of wind, so sudden and violent as to be
like a thunderclap, now struck the building, and with one
tremendous crash the great window of the court-house was
driven in, and scattered in fragments of glass and timber
throughout the court. A scene of the wildest confusion
ensued, for almost immediately the lights became ex-
tinguished, and from the dark abyss arose a terrible chaos
of voices in every agony of fear and suffering. Some
announced that the roof was giving way and was about to
crush them ; others, in all the bodily torture of severe
wounds, cried for help.

It was nearly an hour before the Court could resume its
sitting, which at length was done in one of the adjoining
courts, the usual scene of the criminal trials. Here, now,
lights were procured, and after a considerable delay the
cause proceeded. If the various events of the night,
added to the fatigue of the day, had impressed both the
bench and the jury with signs of greatest exhaustion,
O'Halloran showed no evidence of abated vigour. On
the contrary, like one whose vengeance had been thwarted
by opposing accident, he exhibited a species of impatient
ardour to resume his work of defamation. With a brief
apology for any want of due coherence in an argument so
frequently interrupted, he launched out into the most
ferocious attack upon the plaintiff in the suit ; and while
repudiating the affected reserve of the opposite counsel,

Online LibraryCharles James Lever[Charles Lever's novels (Volume 13) → online text (page 33 of 35)