Charles James Lever.

The Knight Of Gwynne, Vol. I (of II) online

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without, where the crashing noise of breaking branches mingled with the
yet sadder sound of the swollen torrent from the mountain.

It may be remarked that persons who have lived much on the seaside,
and near a coast abounding in difficulties or dangers, are far more
susceptible of the influences of weather than those who pass their
lives inland. Storm and shipwreck become, in a measure, inseparably
associated. The loud beating of the waves upon the rocky shore, the
deafening thunder of the swollen breakers, speak with a voice to _their_
hearts, full of most meaning terror. The moaning accents of the spent
wind, and the wailing cry of the petrel, awake thoughts of those who
journey over "the great waters," amid perils more dreadful than all of
man's devising.

Partly from these causes, partly from influences of a different kind,
both mother and daughter felt unusually sad and depressed, and had
sat for a long interval without speaking, when Forester's message was
delivered, requesting leave to pay his personal respects.

Had the visit been one of mere ceremony, Lady Eleanor would have
declined it at once; her thoughts were wandering far away, engrossed by
topics of dear and painful interest, and she would not have constrained
herself to change their current and direction for an ordinary matter of
conventional intercourse. But this was a different case; it was her son
Lionel's friend, his chosen companion among his brother officers, the
guest, too, who, wounded and almost dying beneath her roof, had been a
charge of intense anxiety to her for weeks past.

"There is something strange, Helen, is there not, in this notion of
acquaintanceship with one we have never seen; but now, after weeks of
watching and inquiry, after nights of anxiety and days of care, I feel
as if I ought to be very intimate with this same friend of Lionel's."

"It is more for that very reason, Mamma, and simply because he is
Lionel's friend."

"No, my dear child, not so; it is the tie that binds us to all for whom
we have felt interested, and in whose sorrows we have taken a share.
Lionel has doubtless many friends in his regiment, and yet it is very
unlikely any of them would cause me even a momentary impatience to see
and know what they are like."

"And do you confess to such in the present case?" said Helen, smiling.

"I own it, I have a strange feeling of half curiosity, and should
be disappointed if the real Captain Forester does not come up to the
standard of the ideal one."

"Captain Forester, my Lady," said Sullivan, as he threw open the door of
the apartment, and, with a step which all his efforts could not render
firm, and a frame greatly reduced by suffering, he entered. So little
was he prepared for the appearance of the ladies who now stood to
receive him, that, despite his habitual tact, a slight expression of
surprise marked his features, and a heightened color dyed his cheek as
he saluted them in turn.

With an air which perfectly blended kindliness and grace, Lady Eleanor
held out her hand, and said, "My daughter, Captain Forester;" and then,
pointing to a chair beside her own, begged of him to be seated.
The unaccustomed exertion, the feeling of surprise, and the nervous
irritability of convalescence, all conspired to make Forester ill at
ease, and it was with a low, faint sigh he sank into the chair.

"I had hoped, madam," said he, in a weak and tremulous accent, - "I had
hoped to be able to speak my gratitude to you, - to express at least
some portion of what I feel for kindness to which I owe my life; but
the greatness of the obligation would seem too much for such strength as
mine. I must leave it to my mother to say how deeply your kindness has
affected us."

The accents in which these few words were uttered, particularly that
which marked the mention of his mother, seemed to strike a chord in
Lady Eleanor's heart, and her hand trembled as she took from Forester a
sealed letter which he withdrew from another.

"Julia Wallincourt," said Lady Eleanor, unconsciously reading half aloud
the signature on the envelope of the letter.

"My mother, madam," said Forester, bowing.

"The Countess of Wallincourt!" exclaimed Lady Eleanor, with a heightened
color and a look of excited and even anxious import.

"Yes, madam, the widowed Countess of the Earl of Wallincourt, late
Ambassador at Madrid; am I to have the happiness of hearing that my
mother is known to you?"

"I had, sir, the pleasure, - the honor of meeting Lady Julia D'Esterre;
to have enjoyed that pleasure, even once, is quite enough never to
forget it." Then, turning to her daughter, she added: "You have often
heard me speak of Lady Julia's beauty, Helen; she was certainly the
most lovely person I ever saw, but the charm of her appearance was even
inferior to the fascination of her manner."

"She retains it all, madam," cried Forester, as his eyes sparkled
with enthusiastic delight; "she has lost nothing of that power of
captivating; and as for beauty, I confess I know nothing higher in
that quality than what conveys elevation of sentiment, with purity and
tenderness of heart: this she possesses still."

"And your elder brother, Captain Forester?" inquired Lady Eleanor, with
a manner intended to express interest, but in reality meant to direct
the conversation into another channel.

"He is in Spain still, madam; he was Secretary of the Embassy when my
father died, and replaced him in the mission."

There was a pause, a long and chilling silence, after these words, that
each party felt embarrassing, and yet were unable to break; at last
Forester, turning towards Helen, asked "when she had heard from her
brother?"

"Not for some days past," replied she; "but Lionel is such an irregular
correspondent, we think nothing of his long intervals of silence. You
have heard of his promotion, perhaps?"

"No; pray let me learn the good news."

"He has got his company. Some very unexpected - I might say, from
Lionel's account, some very inexplicable - piece of good fortune has
aided his advancement, and he now writes himself, greatly to his own
delight, it would appear, Captain Darcy."

"His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales," said Lady Eleanor, with a look
of pride, "has been pleased to notice my son, and has appointed him an
extra aide-de-camp."

"Indeed!" cried Forester; "I am rejoiced at it, with all my heart. I
always thought, if the Prince were to know him, he 'd be charmed with
his agreeability. Lionel has the very qualities that win their way
at Carlton House: buoyant spirit, courtly address, tact equal to any
emergency, - all these are his; and the Prince likes to see handsome
fellows about his Court. I am overjoyed at this piece of intelligence."

There was a hearty frankness with which he spoke this that captivated
both mother and daughter.

There are few more winning traits of human nature than the unaffected,
heartfelt admiration of one young man for the qualities and endowments
of another, and never are they more likely to meet appreciation than
when exhibited in presence of the mother of the lauded one. And thus the
simple expression of Forester's delight at his friend's advancement went
further to exalt himself in the good graces of Lady Eleanor than the
display of any powers of pleasing, however ingeniously or artfully
exercised.

As through the openings of a dense wood we come unexpectedly upon a view
of a wide tract of country, unfolding features of landscape unthought of
and unlooked for, so occasionally doth it happen that, in conversation,
a chance allusion, a mere word, will develop sources of interest buried
up to that very moment, and display themes of mutual enjoyment which
were unknown before. This was now the case. Lionel's name, which evoked
the mother's pride and the sister's affection, called also into play the
generous warmth of Forester's attachment to him.

Thus pleasantly glided on the hours, and none remarked how time was
passing, or even heeded the howling storm that raged without, while
anecdotes and traits of Lionel were recorded, and comments passed upon
his character and temper such as a friend might utter and a mother love
to hear.

At last Forester rose. More than once during the interview a
consciousness crossed his mind that he was outstaying the ordinary
limits of a visit; but at each moment some observation of Lady Eleanor
or her daughter, or some newly remembered incident in Lionel's career,
would occur, and delay his departure. At last he stood up, and, warned
by the thickening darkness of how time had sped, was endeavoring to
mutter some words of apology, when Lady Eleanor interrupted him with, -

"Pray do not let us suppose you felt the hours too long, Captain
Forester; the theme you selected will always make my daughter and
myself insensible to the lapse of time. If I did not fear we should be
trespassing on both your kindness and health together, I should venture
to request you would dine with us."

Forester's sparkling eyes and flushed cheek replied to the invitation
before he had words to say how gladly he accepted it.

"I feel more reconciled to making this request, sir," said Lady Eleanor,
"because in your present state of weakness you cannot enjoy the society
of a pleasanter party, and it is a fortunate thing that you can combine
a prudent action with a kind one."

Forester appreciated the flattery of the remark, and, with a broken
acknowledgment of its import, moved towards the door.

"No, no," said Lady Eleanor, "pray don't think of dressing; you have all
the privilege of an invalid, and a - friend also."

The pause which preceded the word brought a slight blush into her cheek,
but when it was uttered, she seemed to have resumed her self-possession.

"We shall leave you now with the newspapers, which I suppose you are
longing to look at, and join you at the dinner-table." And as she spoke,
she took her daughter's arm and passed into an adjoining room, leaving
Forester in one of those pleasant reveries which so often break in upon
the hours of returning health, and compensate for all the sufferings of
a sick-bed.

"How strange and how unceasing are the anomalies of Irish life!"
thought he, as he sat alone, ruminating on the past. "Splendor, poverty,
elevation of sentiment, savage ferocity, delicacy the most refined,
barbarism the most revolting, pass before the mind's eye in the quick
succession of the objects in a magic lantern. Here, in these few
weeks, what characters and incidents have been revealed to me! and how
invariably have I found myself wrong in every effort to decipher
them! Nor are the indications of mind and temper in themselves so
very singular, as the fact of meeting them under circumstances and in
situations so unlikely. For instance, who would have expected to see
a Lady Eleanor Darcy here, in this wild region, with all the polished
grace and dignity of manner the best circles alone possess; and her
daughter, haughtier, perhaps, than the mother, more reserved, more timid
it may be, and yet with all the elegance of a Court in every gesture
and every movement. Lionel told me she was handsome, - he might have
said downright beautiful. Where were these, fascinations nurtured and
cultivated? Is it here, on the margin of this lonely bay, amid scenes of
reckless dissipation?"

Of this kind were his musings; nor, amid them all, did one thought
obtrude of the cause which threw him first into such companionship,
nor of that mission, to discharge which was the end and object of his
coming.




CHAPTER XIII. A TREATY REJECTED

Forester's recovery was slow, at least so his friends in the capital
thought it, for to each letter requiring to know when he might be
expected back again, the one reply forever was returned, "As soon as
he felt able to leave Gwynne Abbey." Nor was the answer, perhaps,
injudiciously couched.

From the evening of his first introduction to Lady Eleanor and her
daughter, his visits were frequent, sometimes occupying the entire
morning, and always prolonged far into the night. Never did an intimacy
make more rapid progress; so many tastes and so many topics were in
common to all, for while the ladies had profited by reading and study in
matters which he had little cultivated, yet the groundwork of an early
good education enabled him to join in discussions, and take part
in conversation which both interested at the time, and suggested
improvement afterward; and if Lady Eleanor knew less of the late events
which formed the staple of London small-talk, she was well informed on
the characters and passages of the early portion of the reign, which
gave all the charm of a history to reminiscences purely personal.

With the wits and distinguished men of that day she had lived in great
intimacy, and felt a pride in contrasting the displays of intellectual
wealth, so common then, with the flatter and more prosaic habita since
introduced into society. "Eccentricities and absurdities," she would
say, "have replaced in the world the more brilliant exhibitions of
cultivated and gifted minds, and I must confess to preferring the social
qualities of Horace Walpole to the exaggerations of Bagenal Daly, or the
ludicrous caprices of Buck Whaley."

"I think Mr. Daly charming, for my part," said Helen, laughing. "I'm
certain that he is a miracle of truth, as he is of adventure; if
everything he relates is not strictly accurate and matter of fact, it is
because the real is always inferior to the ideal. The things _ought_ to
have happened as he states."

"It is, at least, _ben trovato_," broke in Forester; "yet I go further,
and place perfect confidence in his narratives, and truly I have heard
some strange ones in our morning rides together."

"I suspected as much," said Lady Eleanor, "a new listener is such a
boon to him; so, then, you have heard how he carried away the Infanta of
Spain, compelled the Elector of Saxony to take off his boots, made
the Doge of Venice drunk, and instructed the Pasha of Trebizond in the
mysteries of an Irish jig."

"Not a word of these have I heard as yet."

"Indeed! then what, in all mercy, has he been talking of, - India, China,
or North America, perhaps?"

"Still less; he has never wandered from Ireland and Irish life, and I
must say, as far as adventure and incident are concerned, it would have
been quite unnecessary for him to have strayed beyond it."

"You are perfectly right there," said Lady Eleanor, with some
seriousness in the tone; "our home anomalies may shame all foreign
wonders: he himself could scarcely find his parallel in any land."

"He has a sincere affection for Lionel, Mamma," said Helen, in an accent
of deprecating meaning.

"And that very same regard gave the bias to Lionel's taste for every
species of absurdity! Believe me, Helen, Irish blood is too stimulating
an ingredient to enter into a family oftener than once in four
generations. Mr. Daly's has been unadulterated for centuries, and the
consequence is, that, although neither deficient in strong sense or
quick perception, he acts always on the impulse that precedes judgment,
and both his generosity and his injustice outrun the mark."

"I love that same rash temperament," said Helen, flushing as she spoke;
"it is a fine thing to see so much of warm and generous nature survive
all that he must have seen of the littleness of mankind."

"There! Captain Forester, there! Have I not reason on my side? You
thought me very unjust towards poor Mr. Daly, - I know you did; but it
demands all my watchfulness to prevent him being equally the model for
my daughter, as he is for my son's imitation."

"There are traits in his character any might well be proud to
imitate," said Helen, warmly; "his life has been a series of generous,
single-minded actions; and," added she, archly "if Mamma thinks it
prudent and safe to warn her children against some of Mr. Daly's
eccentricities, no one is more ready to acknowledge his real worth than
she is."

"Helen is right," said Lady Eleanor; "if we could always be certain
that Mr. Daly's imitators would copy the truly great features of his
character, we might forgive them falling into his weaknesses; and now,
can any one tell me why we have not seen him for some days past? He is
in the Abbey?"

"Yes, we rode out together yesterday morning to look at the wreck near
the Sound of Achill; strange enough, I only learned from a chance remark
of one of the sailors that Daly had been in the boat, the night before,
that took the people off the wreck."

"So like him!" exclaimed Helen, with enthusiasm.

"He is angry with me, I know he is," said Lady Eleanor, musingly.
"I asked his advice respecting the answer I should send to a certain
letter, and then rejected the counsel. He would have forgiven me had I
run counter to his opinions without asking; but when I called him into
consultation, the offence became a grave one."

"I declare, Mamma, I side with him; his arguments were clear, strong,
and unanswerable, and the best proof of it is, you have never had the
courage to follow your own determination since you listened to him."

"I have a great mind to choose an umpire between us. What say you,
Captain Forester, will you hear the case? Helen shall take Mr. Daly's
side; I will make my own statement."

"It's a novel idea," said Helen, laughing, "that the umpire should be
selected by one of the litigating parties."

"Then you doubt my impartiality, Miss Darcy?"

"If I am to accept you as a judge, I 'll not prejudice the Court against
myself, by avowing my opinions of it," said she, archly.

"When I spoke of your arbitration, Captain Forester," said Lady Eleanor,
"I really meant fairly, for upon all the topics we have discussed
together, politics, or anything bordering on political opinions, have
never come uppermost; and, up to this moment, I have not the slightest
notion what are your political leanings, Whig or Tory."

"So the point in dispute is a political one?" asked Forester,
cautiously.

"Not exactly," interposed Helen; "the policy of a certain reply to a
certain demand is the question at issue; but the advice of any party in
the matter might be tinged by his party leanings, if he have any."

"If I judge Captain Forester aright, he has troubled his head very
little about party squabbles," said Lady Eleanor; "and in any case,
he can scarcely take a deep interest in a question which is almost
peculiarly Irish."

Forester bowed, - partly in pretended acquiescence of this speech, partly
to conceal a deep flush that mounted suddenly to his cheek; for he felt
by no means pleased at a remark that might be held to reflect on his
political knowledge.

"Be thou the judge, then," said Lady Eleanor. "And, first of all, read
that letter." And she took from her work-box her cousin Lord Netherby's
letter, and handed it to Forester.

"I reserve my right to dispute that document being evidence," said
Helen, laughing; "nor is there any proof of the handwriting being Lord
Netherby's. Mamma herself acknowledges she has not heard from him for
nearly twenty years."

This cunning speech, meant to intimate the precise relation of the two
parties, was understood at once by Forester, who could with difficulty
control a smile, although Lady Eleanor looked far from pleased.

There was now a pause, while Forester read over the long letter with due
attention, somewhat puzzled to conceive to what particular portion of it
the matter in dispute referred.

"You have not read the postscript," said Helen, as she saw him folding
the letter, without remarking the few concluding lines.

Forester twice read over the passage alluded to, and at once whatever
had been mysterious or difficult was revealed before him. Lord
Netherby's wily temptation was made manifest, not the less palpably,
perhaps, because the reader was himself involved in the very same
scheme.

"You have now seen my cousin's letter," said Lady Eleanor, "and the
whole question is whether the reply should be limited to a suitable
acknowledgment of its kind expressions, and a grateful sense of the
Prince's condescension, or should convey - "

"Mamma means," interrupted Helen, laughingly, - "Mamma means, that we
might also avow our sincere gratitude for the rich temptation offered in
requital of my father's vote on the 'nion.'"

"No minister would dare to make such a proposition to the Knight of
Gwynne," said Lady Eleanor, haughtily.

"Ministers are very enterprising nowadays, Mamma," rejoined Helen;
"I have never heard any one speak of Mr. Pitt's cowardice, and Lord
Castlereagh has had courage to invite old Mr. Hickman to dinner!"

Forester would gladly have acknowledged his relationship to the
Secretary, but the moment seemed unpropitious, and the avowal would have
had the semblance of a rebuke; so he covered his confusion by a laugh,
and said nothing.

"We can scarcely contemn the hardihood of a Government that has made
Crofton a bishop, and Hawes a general," said Helen, with a flashing
eye and a lip curled in superciliousness. "Nothing short of a profound
reliance on the piety of the Church and the bravery of the Army would
support such a policy as that!"

Lady Eleanor seemed provoked at the hardy tone of Helen's speech; but
the mother's look was proud, as she gazed on the brilliant expression of
her daughter's beauty, now heightened by the excitement of the moment.

"Is it not possible, Miss Darcy," said Forester, in a voice at
once timid and insinuating, - "is it not possible that the measure
contemplated by the Government may have results so beneficial as to more
than compensate for evils like these?"

"A Jesuit, or a Tory, or both," cried Helen. "Mamma, you have chosen
your umpire most judiciously; his is exactly the impartiality needed."

"Nay, but hear me out," cried the young officer, whose cheek was
crimsoned with shame. "If the measure be a good one, - well, let me beg
the question, if it be a good one - and yet, the time for propounding it
is either inopportune or unfortunate, and, consequently, the support it
might claim on its own merits be withheld either from prejudice,
party connection, or any similar cause, - you would not call a ministry
culpable who should anticipate the happy working of a judicious Act, by
securing the assistance of those whose convictions are easily won
over, in preference to the slower process of convincing the men of more
upright and honest intentions."

"You have begged so much in the commencement, and assumed so much in
the conclusion, sir, that I am at a loss to which end of your speech to
address my answer; but I will say this much: it is but sorry evidence
of a measure's goodness when it can only meet with the approval of the
venal. I don't prize the beauty so highly that is only recognized by the
blind man."

"Distorted vision, Miss Darcy, may lead to impressions more erroneous
than even blindness."

"I may have the infirmity you speak of," said she, quickly, "but
assuredly I'll not wear Government spectacles to correct it."

If Forester was surprised at finding a young lady so deeply interested
in a political question, he was still more so on hearing the tone of
determination she spoke in, and would gladly, had he known how, have
given the conversation a less serious turn.

"We have been all the time forgetting the real question at issue," said
Lady Eleanor. "I 'm sure I never intended to listen to a discussion on
the merits or demerits of the Union, on which you both grow so eloquent;
will you then kindly return to whence we started, and advise me as to
the reply to this letter."

[Illustration: 152]

"I do not perceive any remarkable difficulty, madam," said Forester,
addressing himself exclusively to Lady Eleanor. "The Knight of Gwynne
has doubtless strong opinions on this question; they are either in favor
of, or adverse to, the Government views: if the former, your reply is
easy and most satisfactory; if the latter, perhaps he would condescend
to explain the nature of his objections, to state whether it be to
anything in the detail of the measure he is adverse to, or to the
principle of the Bill itself. A declaration like this will open a door
to negotiation, without the slightest imputation on either side. A
minister may well afford to offer his reasons for any line of policy to
one as eminent in station and ability as the Knight of Gwynne, and I
trust I am not indiscreet in assuming that the Knight would not be
derogating from that station in listening to, and canvassing, such
explanations."

"Lord Castlereagh, 'aut - -,'" said Helen, starting up from her seat, and
making a low courtesy before Forester, who, feeling himself in a measure



Online LibraryCharles James LeverThe Knight Of Gwynne, Vol. I (of II) → online text (page 10 of 34)