Charles James Lever.

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Mr. Darcy's great difficulties would ever have permitted
him to approve of such a proceeding."

" The shipwrecked sailor will cling to a hen-coop,"
said Heffernan. " By the way, where are these Darcys ?
What has become of them ?"

" Living in Wales, or in Scotland, some say."

" Are they utterly ruined ?"

" Utterly, irretrievably ; a course of extravagance
maintained for years at a rate of about double his in-
come loans obtained at any sacrifice sales of property
effected without regard to loss, have overwhelmed him,
and the worst of it is, the little remnant of fortune left is
likely to be squandered in vain attempts to recover at law
what he has lost by recklessness."

Heffernan walked on for some moments in silence, and,



CO THE KNIGHT OF G WYNNE.

as if pondering over Hickman's words, repeated several
times, half aloud: "No doubt of it no doubt of it."
Then added, in a louder tone : " The whole history of
this family, Mr. O'Reilly, is a striking confirmation of a
remark I heard made, a few days since, by a distinguished
individual to you I may say it was Lord Cornwallis.
' Heffernan,' said he, ' this country is in a state of rapid
transition ; everything progresses but the old gentry of
the land ; they alone seem rooted to ancient prejudices,
and fast confirmed in bygone barbarisms.' I ventured to
ask him if he could suggest a remedy, for the evil and
I'll never forget the tone with which he whispered in my
ear, * Yes ; supersede them !' And that, sir," said Hef-
fernan, laying his hand confidentially on O'Reilly's arm
" that is and must be the future policy regarding Ireland."

Mr. Heffernan did not permit himself to risk the suc-
cess of his stroke by a word more, nor did he even dare
to cast a look at his companion and watch how his spell
was working. As the marksman feels when he has shot
his bolt that no after-thought can amend the aim, so did
he wait quietly for the result, without a single effort on,
his part.

" The remark is a new one to me," said O'Reilly, at
length ; " but so completely does it accord with my own
sentiments, I feel as if I either had, or might have, made
it myself. The old school you speak of were little cal-
culated to advance the prosperity of the country ; the
attachment of the people to them was fast wearing out."

" Nay," interposed Heffernan, " it was that very same
attachment, that rude remnant of feudalism, made the
greatest barrier against improvement. The law of the land
was powerless in comparison with the obligations of this
clanship. It is time, full time, that the people should
become English in feeling, as they are in law and in lan-
guage, and to make them so, the first step is, to work the
reformation in the gentry. Now, at the hazard of a liberty
which you may deem an impertinence, I will tell you
frankly, Mr. O'Reilly, that you, you yourself, are admir-
ably calculated to lead the van of this great movement.
It is all very natural, and perhaps very just, that in a
moment of chagrin with a Minister or his party, a man



A SCENE AT THE ASSIZES. 61

should feel indignant, and although acting under a mis-
conception throw himself into a direct opposition ;
yet a little reflection will show that such a line involves a
false position. Popularity with the masses could never
recompense a man like you for the loss of that higher
esteem you must sacrifice for it ; the devoirs of your sta-
tion impose a very different class of duties from what
this false patriotism suggests ; besides, if from indigna-
tiona causeless indignation I am ready to prove it
you separate yourself from the Government, you are vir-
tually suffering your own momentary anger to decide the
whole question of your son's career. You are shutting
the door of advancement against a young man with every
adventitious aid of fortune in his favour handsome
accomplished wealthy what limit need there be to his
ambition ? And finally, some fellow, like our friend ' the
Counsellor,' without family, friends, or fortune, but with
lungs of leather, and a ready tongue, will beat yon hollow
in the race, and secure a wider influence over the mass
of the people than a hundred gentlemen like you P You
will deem it, probably, enough to spend ten or fifteen
thousand on a contested election, and to give a vote for
your party in Parliament ; he, on the other hand, will
write letters, draw up petitions, frame societies, meetings,
resolutions, and make speeches, every word of which will
sink deeply into the hearts of men whose feelings are his
own. You, and others in your station, will be little
better than tools in his hands, and powerful as you think
yourselves to-day, with your broad acres and your cottier
freeholders, the time may come when these men will be
less at your bidding than his, and for this simple reason,
the man of nothing -will always be ready to bid higher
for mob support than he who has a fortune to lose."

" You have put a very strong case," said O'Reilly ;
" perhaps I should think it stronger, if I had not heard
most of the arguments before, from yourself; and know
by this time how their application to me has not sustained
your prophecy."

" I am ready to discuss that with you, too," said
Heffernan. " 1 know how it all happened : had I been
with you the day you dined with Castlereagh, the mis-



62 THE KNIGHT OF GWYNNE.

understanding never could have occurred ; but there was
a fatality in it all. Come," said he, familiarly, and he
slipped his arm, as he spoke, within O'Reilly's, " I am
the worst diplomatist in the world, and I fear I never
should have risen to high rank in the distinguished corps
of engineers if such had been my destination. I can lay
down the parallels and the trenches patiently enough, I
can even bring up my artillery and my battering- train,
but, hang it ! somehow, I never can wait for a breach to
storm through. The truth is, if it were not for a very
strong feeling on the subject I have just spoken of, you
never would have seen me here this day. No man is
happier or prouder to enjoy your hospitality than I am,
but, I acknowledge, it was a higher sentiment induced me
to accept your invitation. When your note reached me, I
showed it to Castlereagh.

" ' What answer have you sent ? ' said he.

" ' Declined, of course,' said I.

" ' You are wrong, Heffernan,' said his lordship, as he
took from me the note which I held ready sealed in my
hand ; ' in my opinion, Heffernan, you are quite wrong.'

" ' I may be so, my lord ; but I confess to you I always
act from the first impulse, and if it suggests regret after-
wards, it at least saves trouble at the time.'

" ' Heffernan,' said the secretary, as he calmly read
over the lines of your letter, ' there are many reasons
why you should go : in the first place, O'Reilly has really
a fair grudge against us, and this note shows that he has
the manliness to forget it. Every line of it bespeaks the
gentleman, and I'll not feel contented with myself until
you convey to him my own sorrow for what is past, and
the high sense I entertain of his character and conduct.'

" He said a great deal more ; enough, if I tell you he
induced me to rescind my first intention, and to become
your guest ; and I may say, that I never followed advice
the consequences of which, have so thoroughly sustained
my expectations."

" This is very flattering," said O'Reilly ; "it is, indeed,
more than I looked for ; but, as you have been candid with
me, I will be as open with you : I had already made up
rny mind to retire, for a season at least, from politics. My



A SCENE AT THE ASSIZES. 63

father, you know, is a very old man, and not without the
prejudices that attach to his age ; he was always averse
to those ambitious views a public career would open, and
a degree of coldness had begun to grow up between us in
consequence. This estrangement is now happily at an
end ; and, in his consenting to our present mode of life,
and its expenditure, he is, in reality, paying the recom-
pense of his former opposition. I will not say what
changes time may work in my own opinions, or my lino
of acting, but I will pledge myself that, if I do resume
the path of public life, you are the very first man I will
apprise of the intention."

A cordial shake-hands ratified this compact, and Heffer-
nan, who now saw that the fortress had capitulated, only
stipulating for the honours of war, was about to add
something very complimentary, when Beecham O'Reilly
galloped up, with his horse splashed and covered with foam.

" Don't you want to hear O'Halloran, Mr. Heffernan?"
cried he.

" Yes, by all means."

" Come along, then ; don't lose a moment ; there's a
phaeton ready for you at the door, and, if we make haste,
we'll be in good time."

O'Reilly whispered a few words in his son's ear, to
which the other replied, aloud,

" Oh ! quite safe perfectly safe. He was obliged to
join his regiment, and sail at a moment's notice."

" Young Darcy, I presume ? " said Heffernan, with a
look of malicious intelligence. But no answer was re-
turned, and O'Reilly continued to converse eagerly in
Beecham's ear.

" Here comes the carriage, Mr. Heffernan," said the
young man, " so slip in, and let's be off;" and, giving his
horse to a servant, he took his seat beside Heffernan, and
drove oif at a rapid pace towards the town.

After a quick drive of some miles they entered the town,
and had no necessity to ask if O'Halloran had begun his
address to the jury. The streets which led to the square
before the court-house, and the square itself, was actually
crammed with country people, of all sexes and ages ;
some standing with hats off, or holding their hands close



64 THE KNIGHT OF GWYNNE.

to their ears, but all, in breathless silence, listening to the
words of " the Counsellor," which were not less audible
to those without than within the building.

Nothing short of Beecham O'Reilly's present position
in the county, and the fact that the gratification they wore
then deriving was of his family's procuring for them,
could have enabled him to force a passage through that
dense crowd, which wedged up all the approaches. As it
was, he could only advance step by step, the horses and
even the pole of the carriage actually forcing the way
through the throng.

As they went thus slowly, the rich tones of the speaker
swelled on the air with a clear, distinct, and yet so soft
and even musical intonation, that they fell deeply into the
hearts of the listeners. He was evidently bent as much
on appealing to those outside the court as to the jury, for
his speech was less addressed to the legal question at
issue, than to the social condition of the peasantry ; the
all but absolutism of a landlord the serf-like slavery of
a tenantry, dependent on the will or the caprice of the
owners of the soil ! With the consummate art of a rheto-
rician, he first drew the picture of an estate happily
circumstanced, a benevolent landlord surrounded by a
contented tenantry, the blessings of the poor man, " rising
like the dews of the earth, and descending again in rain
to refresh and fertilize the source it sprang from." Not
vaguely nor unskilfully, but with thorough knowledge of
his subject, he descanted on the condition of the peasant,
his toils, his struggles against poverty and sickness borne
with long-suffering and patience, from the firm trust that,
even in this world, his destinies were committed to no
cruel or unfeeling taskmaster. Although generally a
studied plainness and even homeliness of language per-
vaded all he said, yet, at times, some bold figure, some
striking and brilliant metaphor, would escape him, and
then, far from soaring as it might be suspected he had
above the comprehension of the hearers, a subdued
murmur of delight would follow the words, and swelling
louder and louder, burst forth at last into one great roar
of applause. If a critical ear might cavil at the incom-
pleteness or inaptitude of his similes, to the warm imagi-



A SCENE AT THE ASSIZES. 65

nation and excited fancy of the Irish peasant they had no
euch blemishes.

It was at the close of a brilliant peroration on this
theme, that Heffernan and Beecham O'Reilly reached the
court-house, and with difficulty forcing their way, obtained
standing-room near the bar.

The orator had paused, and turning round he caught
Beecham's eye : the glance exchanged was but of a
second's duration, but, brief as it was, it did not escape
Heffernan's notice, and with a readiness he knew well
how to profit by, he assumed a quiet smile, as though
to say that he, too, had read its meaning. The young
man blushed deeply ; whatever his secret thoughts were,
he felt ashamed that another should seem to know them,
and in a hesitating whisper, said,

" Perhaps my father has told you ? "

A short nod from Heffernan a gesture to imply
anything or nothing was all his reply, and Beecham
went on,

" He's going to do it, now."

Heffernan made no answer, but, leaning forward on the
rail, settled himself to listen attentively to the speaker.

" Gentlemen of the jury," said O'Halloran, in a low
and deliberate tone, " if the only question I was interested
in bringing before you this day was the cause you sit
there to try, I would conclude here. Assured as I feel
what your verdict will and must be, I would not add
a word more, nor weaken the honest merit of your con-
victions by anything like an appeal to your feelings. But
I cannot do this. The law of the land, in the plenitude
of its liberty, throws wide the door of justice, that all may
enter and seek redress for wrong, and with such evident
anxiety that he who believes himself aggrieved should
find no obstacle to his right, and that even he who frivo-
lously and maliciously advances a charge against another,
suffers no heavier penalty for his offence than the costs of
the suit. No, my lords, for the valuable moments lost in
a vexatious cause, for the public time consumed, for insult
i and outrage cast upon the immutable principles of right
; and wrong, you have nothing more severe to inflict than
the costs of the action ! a pecuniary fine, seldom a heavy

VOL. II. P



CO THE KNIGHT OF GWYNNE.

one, and not un frequently to be levied upon insolvency !
What encouragement to the spirit of revengeful litigation !
How suggestive of injury is the system! How deploi*-
able would it be if the temple could not be opened with-
out the risk of. its altar being desecrated ! But, happily,
there is a remedy a great and noble remedy for an evil
like this. The same glorious institutions that have built
up for our protection the bulwark of the law, have created
another barrier against wrong grander, more expansive,
and more enduring still ; one neither founded on the
variable basis of nationality or of language, not propped
by the artifices of learned, or the subtleties of crafty men ;
not following the changeful fortunes of a political condi-
tion, or tempered by the tone of the judgment-seat, but
of all lands, of every tongue, and nation, and people,
great, endui'ing, and immutable the law of Public
Opinion. To the bar of this judgment-seat, one higher
and greater than even your lordships, I would now
summon the plaintiff in this action. There is no need
that I should detail the charge against him, the accusation
he has brought this day is our indictment- his allegation
is his crime."

The reader, by this time, may partake of Mr. Heffer-
nan's prescience, and divine what the secret intelligence
between the Counsellor and Beecham portended, and that
a long-meditated attack on the Knight of Grwynne, in all
the relations of his public and private life, was the chief
duty of Mr. O'Halloran in the action. Taking a lesson
from the great and illustrious chief of a neighbouring
state, O'Reilly felt that Usurpation can never be successful
till Legitimacy becomes odious. The "prestige" of the
" old family " clung too powerfully to every class in the
county to make his succession respected. His low origin
was too recent, his moneyed dealings too notorious, to
gain him acceptance, except on the ruins of the Darcys.
The new edifice of his own fame must be erected out of
the scattered and broken materials of his rival's house.
If any one was well calculated to assist in such an emer-
gency, it was O'Halloran.

It was by to use his own expression "weeding the
country of such men " that the field would be opened for



A SCENE AT THE ASSIZES. C7

that new class of politicians who were to issue their edicts
in newspapers, and hold their parliaments in public
meetings. Against exclusive or exaggerated loyalty the
struggle would be violent, but not difficult ; while against
moderation, sound sense and character, the Counsellor
well knew the victory was not so easy of attainment. Ho
himself, therefore, had a direct personal object in this
attack on the Knight of Gwynne, and gladly accepted the
special retainer that secured his services.

By a series of artful devices, he so arranged his case
that the Knight of Gwynne did not appear as an injured
individual seeking redress against the collusive guilt of
his agent and his tenantry, but as a ruined gambler,
endeavouring to break the leases he had himself granted
and guaranteed, and, by an act of perfidy, involve hun-
dreds of innocent families in hopeless beggary. To the
succour of these unprotected people Mr. Hickman O'Reilly
was represented as coming forward, this noble act of
devotion being the first pledge he had offered of what
might be expected from him as the future leader of a
great county.

He sketched with a masterly but diabolical ingenuity
the whole career of the Knight, representing him at
every stage of life as the pampered voluptuary seeking
means for fresh enjoyment without a thought of the con-
sequences ; he exhibited him dispensing, not the graceful
duties of hospitality, but the reckless waste of a tasteless
household, to counterbalance by profusion the insolent
hauteur of his wife, " that same Lady Eleanor who would
not deign to associate with the wives and daughters of
his neighbours ! " "I know not," cried the orator,
" whether you were more crushed by 7m gold or by her
insolence : it was time that you should weary of both.
You took the wealth on trust, and the rank on guess
what now remains of either? "

He drew a frightful picture of a suffering and poverty-
enslaved tenantry, sinking fast into barbarism from hope-
lessness unhappily, no Irishman need depend upon his
imagination for the sketch. He contrasted the hours of
toil and sickness with the wanton spendthrift in his
pleasuresthe gambler setting the fate of families ou the

F 2



G8 THE KNIGHT OF GWYNNE.

die, reserving for his last hope the consolation that he
might still betray those whom he had ruined, and that
when he had dissipated the last shilling of his for-
tune, he still had the resource of putting his honour up
to auction ! " And who is there will deny that he did
this ? " cried O'Halloran. " Is there any man in the
kingdom has not heard of his conduct in Parliament that
foul act of treachery which the justice of Heaven stigma-
tized by his ruin ! How on the very night of the debate
he was actually on his way to inflict the last wound upon
his country, when the news came of his own overwhelm-
ing destruction ! And, like as you have seen some time
in our unhappy land the hired informer transferred from
the witness-table to the dock, this man stands now forth
to answer for his own offences !

" It was full time that the rotten edifice of this feudalist
gentry should fall honour to you on whom the duty
devolves to roll away the first stone ! "

A slight movement in the crowd behind the bar dis-
turbed the silence in which the Court listened to the
speaker, and a murmur of disapprobation was heard,
when a hand, stretched forth, threw a little slip of paper
on the table before O'Halloran. It was addressed to
him ; and believing it came from the attorney in the
cause, he paused to read it. Suddenly his features be-
came of an ashy paleness, his lip trembled convulsively,
and in a voice scarcely audible from emotion, he addressed
the Bench :

" My Lords I ask the protection of this Court. I
implore your Lordships to see that an advocate, in the
discharge of his duty, is not the mark of an assassin. I

have just received this note " He attempted to read

it, but, after a pause of a second or two, unable to utter
a word, he handed the paper to the Bench.

The judge perused the paper, and immediately whis-
pered an order that the writer, or, at least, the bearer of
the note, should be taken into custody.

" You may rest assured, sir," said the senior judge,
addressing O'Halloran, " that we will punish the offender,
if he be discovered, with the utmost penalty the law per-
mits. Mr. Sheriff, let the court be searched."



A SCENE AT THE ASSIZES. 69

The sub-sheriff was already, with the aid of a strong
police force, engaged in the effort to discover the indivi-
dual who had thus dared to interfere with the administra-
tion of justice ; but all in vain. The court and the
galleries were searched without eliciting anything that
could lead to detection ; and although several were taken
up on suspicion, they were immediately afterwards liber-
ated on being recognized as persons well known and in
repute. Meanwhile the business of the trial stood still,
and O'Halloran, Avith his arms folded, and his brows bent
in a sullen frown, sat without speaking, or noticing any
one around him.

The curiosity to know the exact words the paper con-
tained was meanwhile extreme, and a thousand absurd
versions gained currency, for, in the absence of all fact,
invention was had recourse to : " Young Darcy is here
he was seen this morning on the mail it was he him-
self gave the letter." Such were among the rumours
around, while Con Heffernan, coolly tapping his snuff-
box, asked one of the lawyers near him, but in a voice
plainly audible on either side, " I hope our friend
Bagenal Daly is well ; have you seen him lately ? "

From that moment an indistinct murmur ran through
the crowd that it was Daly had come back to " the
West " to challenge the Bar, and the whole Bench, if neces-
sary. Many added that there could no longer be any
doubt of the fact, as Mr. Heffernan had seen and spoken
to him.

Order was at last restored, but so completely had this
new incident absorbed all the interest of the trial, that
already the galleries began to thin, and of the great
crowd that filled the body of the court, many had taken
their departure. The Counsellor arose, agitated, and
evidently disconcerted, to finish his task : he spoke,
indeed, indignantly of the late attempt to coerce the free
expression of the advocate " by a brutal threat," but the
theme seemed one he felt no pleasure in dwelling upon, and
he once more addressed himself to the facts of the case.

The judge charged briefly, and the jury, without re-
tiring from the box, brought in a verdict for Hickmaii
O'Reilly.



70 THE KNIGHT OF GWYNNE.

When the judges retired to unrobe, a messenger of tlio
court summoned O'Halloran to their chamber. His
absence was very brief, but when he returned his face
was paler, and his manner more disturbed than ever, not-
withstanding an evident effort to seem, at ease and uncon-
cerned. By this time Hickman O'Reilly had arrived in
the town, and Heffernan was complimenting the Coun-
sellor on the admirable display of his speech.

" I regret sincerely that the delicate nature of the
position in which I stood prevented my hearing you,"
said O'Reilly, shaking his hand.

" You have indeed had a great loss," said Heffernan ;
"a more brilliant display I never listened to."

" Well, sir," interposed the little priest of Curragh-
glass, who, not altogether to the Counsellor's satisfaction,
had now slipped an arm inside of his, " I hope the evil
admits of remedy ; Mr. O'Halloran intends to address a
few words to the people before he leaves the town."

Whether it was the blank look that suddenly O'Reilly's
features assumed, or the sly malice that twinkled in Hef-
fernan's grey eyes, or that his own feelings suggested the
course, but the Counsellor hastily whispered a few words
in the priest's ear, the only audible portion of which was
the conclusion : " Be that as it may, I'll not do it."

" I'm ready now, Mr. O'Reilly," said he, turning
abruptly round.

" My father has gone over to say Good-bye to the
judges," said Beeeham ; " but I'll drive you back to the
abbey the carriage is now at the door."

With a few more words in a whisper to the priest,



Online LibraryCharles James Lever[Charles Lever's novels (Volume 13) → online text (page 6 of 35)