Charles James Lever.

Charles O'Malley, the Irish dragon online

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"Oh ! it's you, is it? at last! So I've unearthed you, have I?"

With these words she burst into an immoderate fit of laughter;
leaving me, who intended to be the party giving the surprise, amazed,
confused, and speechless, in the middle of the floor.

That my reader may sympathize a little in my distresses, let me
present him with the tableau before me. Seated upon the piano stool
was a young lady of at most eighteen years. Her face, had it not been
for its expression of exuberant drollery and malicious fun, would
have been downright beautiful ; her eyes, of the deepest blue, and
shaded by long lashes, instead of indulging the character of pensive
and thoughtful beauty for which Nature destined them, sparkled
with the most animated brightness ; her nose, which, rather short,
w r as still beautifully proportioned, gave, with a well-curled upper
lip, a look of sauciness to the features quite bewitching ; her hair —
that brilliant auburn we see in a Carlo Bold — fell in wild and mas-
sive curls upon her shoulders. Her costume was a dark-green riding-
habit, not of the newest in its fashion, and displaying more than
one rent in its careless folds ; her hat, whip, and gloves lay on the
floor beside her, and her whole attitude and bearing indicated the
most perfect ease and carelessness.

" So you are caught — taken alive !" said she, as she pressed her
hands upon her sides in a fresh burst of laughter.

" By Jove ! this is a surprise indeed !" said I. " And, pray, into
whose fair hands have I fallen a captive ?" recovering myself a little,
and assuming a half air of gallantry.

" So you don't know me, don't you ?"

" Upon my life I do not."

" How good ! Why, I'm Baby Blake."

" Baby Blake ?" said I, thinking that a rather strange appellation
for one whose well-developed proportions betokened nothing of in-
fancy. "Baby Blake?"

" To be sure ; your cousin Baby."

" Indeed !" said I, springing forward. " Let me embrace my rela-
tive."

Accepting my proffered salutation with the most exemplary cool-
ness, she said :

"Get a chair, now, and let's have a talk together."

" Why the devil do they call you Baby ?" said I, still puzzled by
the palpable misnomer.

" Because I am the youngest, and I was always the baby," replied



A SURPRISE. 663

she, adjusting her ringlets with a most rural coquetry. " Now, tell
me something. Why do you live shut up here like a madman, and
not come near us at Gurt-na-Morra V '

" Oh ! that's a long story, Baby. But, since we are asking ques-
tions, how did you get in here ?"

" Just through the window, my dear ; and I've torn my habit, as
you see."

So saying, she exhibited a rent of about two feet long, thrusting
through it a very pretty foot and ankle at the same time.

"As my inhospitable customs have cost you a habit, you must
let me make you a present of one."

" No, will you though ? That's a good fellow ! Lord ! I told
them I knew you weren't a miser ; that you were only odd, that's
all."

" And how did you come over, Baby ?"

" Just cantered over with little Paddy Byrne. I made him take
all the walls and ditches we met, and they're scraping the mud off
him ever since. I'm glad I made you laugh, Charley; they say
you are so sad. Dear me, how thirsty I am ! Have you any beer ?"

"To be sure, Baby. But wouldn't you like some luncheon ?"

"Of all things. Well, this is fun!" said she, as, taking my arm,
I led her from the drawing-room. " They don't know where I'm
gone — not one of them ; and I've a great mind not to tell them, if
you wouldn't blab."

"Would it be quite proper?"

" Proper !" cried she, imitating my voice ; " I like that ! as if I
was going to run away with you. Dear me ! what a pretty house !
and what nice pictures ! Who is the old fellow up there in the
armor?"

" That's Sir Hildebrand O'Malley," said I, with some pride, in re-
cognizing an ancestor of the thirteenth century.

" And the other old fright with the wig, and his hands stuck in
his pockets ?"

" My grandfather, Baby."

" Lord ! how ugly he is ! Why, Charley, he hasn't a look of you ;
one would think, too, he was angry at us. Ay, old gentleman !
you don't like to see me leaning on cousin Charley's arm. That
must be the luncheon ; I'm sure I hear knives and forks rattling
there."

The old butler's astonishment was not inferior to my own a few
minutes before, when I entered the dining-room with my fair cousin
upon my arm. As I drew a chair towards the table, a thought
struck me that possibly it might only be a due attention to my fair
guest if I invited the housekeeper, Mrs. Magra, to favor us with her



664 CHARLES O'M ALLEY.

presence ; and accordingly, in an undertone, so as not to be overheard
by old Simon, I said —

" Perhaps, Baby, you'd like to have Mrs. Magra to keep us com-
pany ?"

" Who's she ?" was the brief answer.

" The housekeeper ; a very respectable old matron."

" Is she funny ?"

" Funny ! not a bit."

" Oh, then, never mind her. What made you think of her ?"

" Why, I thought — perhaps you'd think — that is, people might
say — in fact, I was doing a little bit proper on your account."

" Oh ! that was it, was it ? Thank you for nothing, my dear ;
Baby Blake can take care of herself. And now just help me to that
wing there. Do you know, cousin Charley, I think you're an old
quiz, and not half as good a fellow as you used to be."

" Come, come, Baby, don't be in such a hurry to pronounce upon
me. Let us take a glass of wine. Fill Miss Blake's glass, Simon."

"Well, you may be better when one comes to know you. I detest
sherry ; no, never mind, I'll take it, as it's here. Charley, I'll not
compliment you upon your ham ; they don't know how to save them
here. I'll give you such a receipt when you come over to see us. But
will you come ? that's the question."

" How can you ask me ! Don't you think I'll return your visit ?"

" Oh ! hang your ceremony. Come and see us, like a good-
natured fellow, that knew us since we played together, and quar-
relled over our toys on the grass. Is that your sword up there ? Did
you hear that noise ? that was thunder : there it comes. Look at
that!"

As she spoke, a darkness like night overspread the landscape ; the
waves of the river became greatly agitated, and the rain, descending
in torrents, beat with tremendous force against the windows ; clap
after clap of thunder followed ; the lightning flashed fearfully
through the gloom, and the wind, growing every moment stronger,
drove the rain with redoubled violence against the glass. For a
while we amused ourselves with watching the effects of the storm
without; the poor laborers, flying from their work; the dripping
figures seeking shelter beneath the trees ; the barques ; the very
loaded carts themselves, all interested Miss Baby, whose eye roved
from the shore to the Shannon, recognizing, with a practised eye,
every house upon its banks, and every barque that rocked and
pitched beneath the gale.

"Well, this is pleasant to look out at," said she, at length, and
after the storm had lasted for above an hour, without evincing any
show of abatement; "but what's to become of me!"



A SURPRISE. 665

Now, that was the very question I had been asking myself for
the last twenty minutes, without ever being able to find the answer.

" Eh, Charley, what's to become of me ?"

" Oh, never fear : one thing's quite certain, you cannot leave this
in such weather ; the river is certainly impassable by this time at
the ford, and to go by the road is out of the question ; it is fully
twelve miles. I have it, Baby ; you, as I've said before, can't leave
this, but I can. Now, I'll go over to Gurt-na-Morra, and return in
the morning to bring you back ; it will be fine by that time."

" Well, I like your notion ; you'll leave me all alone here to drink
tea, I suppose, with your friend Mrs. Magra ; a pleasant evening I'd
have of it : not a bit — < — "

"Well, Baby, don't be cross; I only meant this arrangement
really for your sake. I needn't tell you how very much I'd prefer
doing the honors of my poor house in person."

"Oh, I see what you mean — more propers. Well, well, I've a
great deal to learn ; but, look, I think it's growing lighter."

" No, far from it ; it's only that gray mass along the horizon that
always bodes continual rain."

As the prospect without had little cheering to look upon, we sat
down beside the fire, and chatted away, forgetting very soon, in a
hundred mutual recollections and inquiries, the rain and the wind,
the thunder and the hurricane. Now and then, as some louder
crash would resound above our heads, for a moment we would turn
to the window, and comment upon the dreadful weather ; but the
next, we had forgotten all about it, and were deep in our confabu-
lations.

As for my fair cousin, who at first was full of contrivances to
pass the time — such as the piano, a game at backgammon, chicken
hazard, battledore — she at last became mightily interested in some
of my soldiering adventures, and it was six o'clock ere we again
thought that some final measure must be adopted for restoring
Baby to her friends, or, at least, guarding against the consequences
her simple and guileless nature might have involved her in.

Mike was called into the conference, and at his suggestion it was
decided that we should have out the phaeton, and that I should
myself drive Miss Blake home — a plan which offered no other diffi-
culties than this one, namely, that of about thirty horses in my
stables, I had not a single pair which had ever been harnessed.

This, so far from proving the obstacle I deemed it, seemed, on the
contrary, to overwhelm Baby with delight.

" Let's have them. Come, Charley ; this will be rare fun ; we
couldn't have a team of four, could we ?"

"Six, if you like it, my dear coz ; only, who's to hold them? —



6G6 CHARLES O'M ALLEY.

they're young thorough-breds ; most of them never backed ; some
not bitted. In fact, I know nothing of my stable. I say, Mike, is
there anything fit to take out ?"

" Yes, sir ; there's Miss Wildespin : she's in training, to be sure ;
but we can't help that; and the brown colt they call 'Billy the
Bolter:' they're the likeliest we have; without your honor would
take the two chestnuts we took up last week ; they're rale devils to
go; and if the tackle will hold them, they'll bring you to Mr.
Blake's door in forty minutes."

" I vote for the chestnuts," said Baby, slapping her boot with her
horse-whip.

"I move an amendment in favor of Miss Wildespin," said I,
doubtfully.

" He'll never do for Galway," sang Baby, laying her whip on my
shoulder with no tender hand ; " yet you used to cross the country
in good style when you were here before."

"And might do so again, Baby."

"Ah, no ; that vile dragoon seat, with your long stirrup, and your
heel dropped, and your elbow this way, and your head that ! How
could you ever screw your horse up to his fence, lifting him along
as you came up through the heavy ground, and with a stroke of
your hand sending him pop over, with his hind legs well under
him ?" Here she burst into a fit of laughter at my look of amaze-
ment, as with voice, gesture, and look, she actually dramatized the
scene she described.

By the time that I had costumed my fair friend in my dragoon
cloak and a foraging cap, with a gold band around it, which was
the extent of muffling my establishment could muster, a distant
noise without apprised us that the phaeton was approaching. Cer-
tainly the mode in which that equipage came up to the door might
have -inspired sentiments of fear in any heart less steeled against
danger than my fair cousin's. The two blood chestnuts (for it was
those that Mike harnessed, having a groom's dislike to take a racer
out of training) were surrounded by about twenty people : some at
their heads, some patting them on their flanks, some spoking the
wheels, and a few, the more cautious of the party, standing at a
respectable distance, and offering advice. The mode of progression
was simply a spring, a plunge, a rear, a lunge, and a kick; and,
considering it was the first time they ever performed together,
nothing could be more uniform than their display ; sometimes the
pole would be seen to point straight upward, like a lightning con-
ductor, while the infuriated animals appeared sparring with their
fore legs at an imaginary enemy. Sometimes, like the picture in a
school-book on mythology, they would seem in the act of diving,



A SURPRISE. 667

while with their hind legs they dashed the splash-board into frag-
ments behind them ; their eyes flashing fire, their nostrils distended,
their flanks heaving, and every limb trembling with passion and
excitement.

" That's what I call a rare turn-out," said Baby, who enjoyed the
proceedings amazingly.

" Yes ; but remember," said I, " we're not to have all these run-
ning footmen the whole way."

" I like that near sider with the white fetlock."

" You're right, Miss," said Mike, who entered at the moment, and
felt quite gratified at the criticism. " You're right, Miss ; it's him-
self can do it."

" Come, Baby, are you ready ?"

" All right, sir," said she, touching her cap knowingly with her
forefinger.

"Will the tackle hold, Mike?" said I.

" We'll take this with us, at any rate," pointing, as he spoke, to
a considerable coil of rope, a hammer, and a basket of nails, he
carried on his arm. " It's the break harness we have, and it ought
to be strong enough ; but sure, if the thunder comes on again, they'd
smash a chain cable."

"Now, Charley," cried Baby, "keep their heads straight; for
when they go that way, they mean going."

"Well, Baby, let's start; but pray remember one thing. If I'm
not as agreeable on the journey as I ought to be; if I don't say as
many pretty things to my pretty coz, it's because these confounded
beasts will give me as much as I can do."

" Oh yes, look after the cattle, and take another time for squeezing
my hand. I say, Charley, you'd like to smoke, now, wouldn't you ?
if so, don't mind me."

" A thousand thanks for thinking of it ; but I'll not commit such
a trespass on good-breeding."

When we reached the door, the prospect looked dark and dismal
enough ; the rain had almost ceased, but masses of black clouds
were hurrying across the sky, and the low rumbling noise of a
gathering storm crept along the ground. Our panting equipage,
with its two mounted grooms behind, — for, to provide against all
accidents, Mike ordered two such to follow us, — stood in waiting;
Miss Blake's horse, held by the smallest imaginable bit of boyhood,
bringing up the rear.

" Look at Paddy Byrne's face," said Baby, directing my attention
to the little individual in question.

Now, small as the aforesaid face was, it contrived, within its
limits, to exhibit an expression of unqualified fear. I had no time,



668 CHARLES O'M ALLEY.

however, to give a second look, when I jumped into the phaeton
and seized the reins. Mike sprang up behind at a look from me,
and, without -speaking a word, the stablemen and helpers flew right
and left. The chestnuts, seeing all free before them, made one tre-
mendous plunge, carrying the fore-carriage clear off the ground,
and straining every nut, bolt, screw, and strap about us with the
effort.

" They're off, now," cried Mickey.

" Yes, they are off, now," said Baby. " Keep them going."

Nothing could be easier to follow than this advice ; and, in fact,
so little merit had I in obeying it, that I never spoke a word. Down
the avenue we went at the speed of lightning, the stones, and the
water from the late rain, flying and splashing about us. In one
series of plunges, agreeably diversified by a strong bang upon the
splash-board, we reached the gate. Before I had time to utter a
prayer for our safety, we were through, and fairly upon the high
road.

" Musha, but the master's mad I" cried the old dame of the gate-
lodge ; " he wasn't out of this gate for a year and a half, and look
now "

The rest was lost in the clear ringing laugh of Baby, who clapped
her hands in ecstasy and delight. #

" What a spanking pair they are ! I suppose you wouldn't let
me get my hand on them ?" said she, making a gesture as if to take
the reins.

" Heaven forbid ! my dear," said I ; " they've nearly pulled my
wrists off already."

Our road, like many in the west of Ireland, lay through a level
tract of bog ; deep ditches, half filled with water, on either side of
us, but, fortunately, neither hill nor valley for several miles.

" There's the mail," said Baby, pointing to a dark speck at a long
distance off.

Ere many minutes elapsed, our stretching gallop, for such had our
pace sobered into, brought us up with it, and as we flew by, at top
speed, Baby jumped to her feet, and turning a waggish look at our
beaten rivals, burst out into a fit of triumphant laughter.

Mike was correct as to time ; in some few seconds less than forty
minutes we turned into the avenue of Gurt-na-Morra. Tearing
along like the very moment of their starting, the hot and fiery ani-
mals galloped up the approach, and at length came to a stop in a
deep ploughed field, into which, fortunately for us, Mr. Blake, ani-
mated less by the picturesque than the profitable, had converted his
green lawn. This check, however, was less owing to my agency
than to that of my servants; for, dismounting in haste, they flew to



NEW VIEWS. 669

the horses' heads, and with ready tact, and before I had helped my
cousin to the ground, succeeded in unharnessing them from the car-
riage, and led them, blown and panting, covered with foam and
splashed with mud, into the space before the door.

By this time we were joined by the whole Blake family, who
poured forth in astonishment at our strange and sudden appearance.
Explanation on my part was unnecessary, for Baby, with a volubil-
ity quite her own, gave the whole recital in less than three minutes.
From the moment of her advent to her departure, they had it all ;
and while she mingled her ridicule at my surprise, her praise of my
luncheon, her jests at my prudence, the whole family joined heartily
in her mirth, while they welcomed, with most unequivocal warmth,
my first visit to Gurt-na-Morra.

I confess it was with no slight gratification I remarked that Baby's
visit was as much a matter of surprise to them as to me. Believing
her to have gone to visit at Portumna Castle, they felt no uneasiness
at her absence ; so that, in her descent upon me, she was really only
guided by her own wilful fancy, and that total absence of all con-
sciousness of wrong which makes a truly innocent girl the hardiest
of all God's creatures. I was reassured by this feeling, and satisfied
that, whatever the intentions of the elder members of the Blake
family, Baby was, at least, no participator in their plots, or sharer
in their intrigues.



CHAPTER XLVIII.

NEW VIEWS.

WHEN I found myself the next morning at home, I could
not help ruminating over the strange adventures of the pre-
ceding day, and felt a kind of self-reproach at the frigid
manner in which I had hitherto treated all the Blake advances, con-
trasting so ill for me with the unaffected warmth and kind good-
nature of their reception. Never alluding, even by accident, to my
late estrangement ; never, by a chance speech, indicating that they
felt any soreness for the past, they talked away about the gossip of
the country, — its feuds, its dinners, its assizes, its balls, its garri-
sons, — all the varied subjects of country life were gayly and laugh-
ingly discussed ; and when, as I entered my own silent and deserted
home, and contrasted its looks of melancholy and gloom with the
gay and merry scene I so lately departed from ; when my echoing



670 CHARLES O'M ALLEY.

steps reverberated along the flagged hall, I thought of the happy-
family picture I left behind me, and could not help avowing to my-
self that the goods of fortune I possessed were but ill dispensed,
when, in the midst of every means and appliance for comfort and
happiness, I lived a solitary man, companionless and alone.

I arose from breakfast a hundred times ; now walking impatiently
towards the window, now strolling into the drawing-room. Around,
on every side, lay scattered the prints and drawings, as Baby had
thrown them carelessly upon the floor ; her handkerchief was also
there. I took it up ; I knew not why — some lurking leaven of old
romance perhaps suggested it ; but I hoped it might prove of deli-
cate texture, and bespeaking that lady-like coquetry which so pleas-
antly associates with the sex in our minds. Alas ! no. Nothing
could be more palpably the opposite. Torn, and with a knot — some
hint to memory — upon one corner, it was no aid to my careering
fancy. And yet — and yet, what a handsome girl she is! how finely,
how delicately formed that Greek outline of forehead and brow !
how transparently soft that downy pink upon her cheek ! with what
varied expression those eyes can beam ! — ay, that they can : but,
confound it ! there's this fault, — their very archness — their sly mal-
ice — will be interpreted by the ill-judging world to any but the real
motive. " How like a flirt !" will one say ; " how impertinent ! how
ill-bred!" The conventional stare of cold, patched and painted
beauty, upon whose unblushing cheek no stray tinge of modesty has
wandered, will be tolerated — even admired ; while the artless beam-
ings of the soul upon the face of rural loveliness will be condemned
without appeal.

Such a girl may a man marry who destines his days to the wild
west, but woe unto him ! — woe unto him ! should he migrate among
the more civilized and less charitable coteries of our neighbors.

"Ah I here are the papers, and I was forgetting. Let me see —
' Bayonne' — ay, ' march of the troops — sixth corps.' What can that
be without ? I say, Mike, who is cantering along the avenue ?"

" It's me, sir. I'm training the brown filly for Miss Mary, as your
honor bid me last night."

"Ah, very true. Does she go quietly ?"

" Like a lamb, sir ; barrin' she does give a kick now and then at
the sheet, when it bangs against her legs."

"Am I to go over with the books now, sir?" said a wild-looking
shockhead appearing within the door.

" Yes, take them over, with my compliments ; and say I hope
Miss Mary Blake has caught no cold."

"You were speaking about a habit and hat, sir?" said Mrs.
Magra, curtseying as she entered.



NEW VIEWS. ' 671

" Yes, Mrs. Magra ; I want your advice. Oh, tell Barnes I really
cannot be bored about those eternal turnips every day of my life.
And, Mike, I wish you'd make them look over the four-horse har-
ness. I want to try those grays; they tell me they'll run well
together. Well, Freney, more complaints, I hope? nothing but
trespasses ; I don't care ; so you'd not worry me, if they eat up every
blade of clover in the grounds. I'm sick of being bored this way.
Did you say that we'd eight couple of good dogs? — quite enough to
begin with. Tell Jones to ride into Banagher and look after that
box : Buckmaster sent it from London two months ago, and it has
been lying there ever since. And, Mrs. Magra, pray let the windows
be opened, and the house well aired. That drawing-room would be
all the better for new papering."

These few and broken directions may serve to show my readers —
what certainly they failed to convince myself of— that a new chapter
of my life had opened before me ; and that in proportion to the
length of time my feelings had found neither vent nor outlet, they
now rushed madly, tempestuously, into their new channels, suffering
no impediment to arrest, no obstacle to oppose their current.

Nothing can be conceived more opposite to my late, than my
present habits now became. The house, the grounds, the gardens,
all seemed to participate in the new influence which beamed upon
myself; the stir and bustle of active life was everywhere percepti-
ble ; and, amid numerous preparations for the moors and the hunt-
ing-field, for pleasure parties up the river, and fishing excursions up
the mountains, my days were spent. The Blakes, without even for
a moment pressing their attentions upon me, permitted me to go
and come amongst them unquestioned and unasked. When, nearly
every morning, I appeared in the breakfast-room, I felt exactly like
a member of the family. The hundred little discrepancies of
thought and habit which struck me forcibly at first looked daily
less apparent; the careless inattentions of my fair cousins as to
dress, their free-and-easy, boisterous manner, their very accents,



Online LibraryCharles James LeverCharles O'Malley, the Irish dragon → online text (page 69 of 80)