Charles James Lever.

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detected, blushed till his face became scarlet.

"My dear Helen, at this rate we shall never - But what is this? - who have
we here?"

This sudden exclamation was caused by the appearance of a small
four-wheeled carriage drawn up at the gate of the flower-garden, from
which old Hickman's voice could now be heard, inquiring if Lady Eleanor
were at home.

"Yes, Sullivan," said she, with a sigh, "and order luncheon." Then, as
the servant left the room, she added, "I am always better pleased when
the visits of that family are paid by the old gentleman, whom I prefer
to the son or the grandson. They are better performers, I admit, but he
is an actor of nature's own making."

"Do you know him, Captain Forester?" asked Helen.

But, before he could reply, the door was opened, and Sullivan announced,
by his ancient title, "Doctor Hickman."

Strange and grotesque as in every respect he looked, the venerable
character of old age secured him a respectful, almost a cordial,
reception; and as Lady Eleanor advanced to him, there was that urbanity
and courtesy in her manner which are so nearly allied to the expression
of actual esteem. It was true, there was little in the old man's
nature to elicit such feelings towards him; he was a grasping miser,
covetousness and money-getting filled up his heart, and every avenue
leading to it. The passion for gain had alone given the interest to his
life, and developed into activity any intelligence he possessed. While
his son valued wealth as the only stepping-stone to a position of
eminence and rank, old Hickman loved riches for their own sake. The bank
was, in his estimation, the fountain of all honor, and a strong credit
there better than all the reputation the world could confer. These were
harsh traits. But then he was old; long years of infirmity were bringing
him each hour closer to the time when the passion of his existence must
be abandoned; and a feeling of pity was excited at the sight of that
withered, careworn face, to which the insensate cravings of avarice lent
an unnatural look of shrewdness and intelligence.

"What a cold morning for your drive, Mr. Hickman," said Lady Eleanor,
kindly. "Captain Forester, may I ask you to stir the fire? Mr.
Hickman - Captain Forester."

"Ah, Miss Helen, beautiful as ever!" exclaimed the old man, as, with a
look of real admiration, he gazed on Miss Darcy. "I don't know how
it is, Lady Eleanor, but the young ladies never dressed so becomingly
formerly. Captain Forester, your humble servant; I'm glad to see you
about again, - indeed, I did n't think it very likely once that you'd
ever leave the library on your own feet; Mac-Donough 's a dead shot they
tell me - ay, ay!"

"I hope your friends at 'The Grove' are well, sir?" said Lady Eleanor,
desirous of interrupting a topic she saw to be particularly distressing
to Forester.

"No, indeed, my Lady; my son Bob - Mr. Hickman O'Reilly, I mean - God
forgive me, I'm sure they take trouble enough to teach me that
name - he's got a kind of a water-brash, what we call a pyrosis. I tell
him it's the French dishes he eats for dinner, things he never was
brought op to, concoctions of lemon juice, and cloves, and saffron, and
garlic, in meat roasted - no, but stewed into chips."

"You prefer our national cookery, Mr. Hickman?"

"Yes, my Lady, with the gravy in it; the crag-end, - if your Ladyship
knows what's the crag-end of a - "

"Indeed, Mr. Hickman," said Lady Eleanor, smiling, "I'm deplorably
ignorant about everything that concerns the household. Helen affects to
be very deep in these matters; but I suspect it is only a superficial
knowledge, got up to amuse the Knight."

"I beg, Mamma, you will not infer any such reproach on my skill in
_menage_. Papa called my _omelette à la curé_ perfect."

"I should like to hear Mr. Hickman's judgment on it," said Lady Eleanor,
with a sly smile.

"If it's a plain joint, my Lady, boiled or roasted, without spices or
devilment in it, but just the way Providence intended - "

"May I ask, sir, how you suppose Providence intended to recommend any
particular kind of cookery?" said Helen, seriously.

"Whatever is most natural, most simple, the easiest to do," stammered
out Hickman, not over pleased at being asked for an explanation.

"Then the Cossack ranks first in the art," exclaimed Forester; "for
nothing can be more simple or easier than to take a slice of a live ox
and hang it up in the sun for ten or fifteen minutes."

"Them's barbarians," said Hickman, with an emphasis that made the
listeners find it no easy task to keep down a laugh.

"Luncheon, my Lady," said old Tate Sullivan, as with a reverential bow
he opened the folding-doors into a small breakfast parlor, where an
exquisitely served table was laid out.

"Practice before precept, Mr. Hickman," said Lady Eleanor; "will
you join us at luncheon, where I hope you may find something to your
liking?"

As the old man seated himself at the table, his eye ranged over the
cabinet pictures that covered the walls, the richly chased silver on the
table, and the massive wine-coolers that stood on the sideboard, with an
eye whose brilliancy betokened far more the covetous taste of the miser
than the pleased expression of mere connoisseurship; nor could he
recall himself from their admiration to hear Forester's twice-repeated
question as to what he would eat.

"'T is elegant fine plate, no doubt of it," muttered he, below his
breath; "and the pictures may be worth as much more - ay!"

The last monosyllable was the only part of his speech audible, and being
interpreted by Forester as a reply to his request, he at once helped the
old gentleman to a very highly seasoned French dish before him.

"Eh! what's this?" said Hickman, as he surveyed his plate with unfeigned
astonishment; "if I did n't see it laid down on your Ladyship's table, I
'd swear it was a bit of Gal way marble."

"It's a _gélatine truffée_, Mr. Hickman," said Forester, who was well
aware of its merits.

"Be it so, in the name of God!" said Hickman, with resignation, as
though to say that any one who could eat it might take the trouble to
learn the name. "Ay, my Lady, that 's what I like, a slice of Kerry
beef, - a beast made for man's eating."

"Mr. Hickman's pony is more of an epicure than his master," said
Forester, as he arose from his chair and moved towards the glass-door
that opened on the garden; "he has just eaten the top of your
lemon-tree."

"And by way of dessert, he is now cropping my japonica," cried Helen,
as she sprang from the room to rescue her favorite plant. Forester
followed her, and Lady Eleanor was left alone with the doctor.

"Now, my Lady, that I have the opportunity, - and sure it was luck
gave it to me, - would you give me the favor of a little private
conversation?"

"If the matter be on business, Mr. Hickman, I must frankly own I should
prefer your addressing yourself to the Knight; he will be home early
next week."

"It is - and it is not, my Lady - but, there! they're coming back, now,
and it is too late;" and so he heaved a heavy sigh, and lay back in his
chair, as though worn out and disappointed.

"Well, then, in the library, Mr. Hickman," said Lady Eleanor,
compassionately, "when you've eaten some luncheon."

"No more, my Lady; 'tis elegant fine beef as ever I tasted, and the
gravy in it, but I'm not hungry now."

Lady Eleanor, without a guess as to what might form the subject of
his communication, perceived that he was agitated and anxious; and so,
requesting Forester and her daughter to continue their luncheon, she
added: "And I have something to tell Mr. Hickman, if he will give five
minutes of his company in the next room."

Taking a chair near the fire, Lady Eleanor motioned to the doctor to
be seated; but the old man was so engaged in admiring the room and its
furniture that he seemed insensible to all else. As his eye wandered
over the many objects of taste and luxury on every side, his lips
muttered unceasingly, but the sound was inarticulate.

"I cannot pledge myself that we shall remain long uninterrupted, Mr.
Hickman," said Lady Eleanor, "so pray lose no time in the communication
you have to make."

"I humbly ask pardon, my Lady," said the old man, in a voice of
deep humility; "I'm old and feeble now, and my senses none of the
clearest, - but sure it's time for them to be worn out; ninety-one I
'll be, if I live to Lady-day." It was his habit to exaggerate his
age; besides, there was a tremulous pathos in his accents to which Lady
Eleanor was far from feeling insensible, and she awaited in silence what
was to follow.

"Well, well," sighed the old man, "if I succeed in this, the last act of
my long life, I 'm well content to go whenever the Lord pleases." And
so saying, he took from his coat-pocket the ominous-looking old leather
case to which we have already alluded, and searched for some time amid
its contents. "Ay! here it is - that is it - it is only a memorandum, my
Lady, but it will show what I mean." And he handed the paper to Lady
Eleanor.

It was some time before she had arranged her spectacles and adjusted
herself to peruse the document; but before she had concluded, her hand
trembled violently, and all color forsook her cheek. Meanwhile; the
doctor sat with his filmy eyes directed towards her, as if watching
the working of his spell; and when the paper fell from her fingers, he
uttered a low "Ay," as though to say his success was certain.

"Two hundred thousand pounds!" exclaimed she, with a shudder; "this
cannot be true."

"It is all true, my Lady, and so is this too;" and he took from his hat
a newspaper and presented it to her.

"The Ballydermot property! The whole estate lost at cards! This is a
calumny, sir, - the libellous impertinence of a newspaper paragraphist.
I'll not believe it."

"''T 's true, notwithstanding, my Lady. Harvey Dawson was there himself,
and saw it all; and as for the other, the deeds and mortgages are at
this moment in the hands of my son's solicitor."

"And this may be foreclosed - "

"On the 24th, at noon, my Lady," continued Hickman, as he folded the
memorandum and replaced it in his pocket-book.

"Well, sir," said she, as, with a great effort to master her emotion,
she addressed him in a steady and even commanding voice, "the next thing
is to learn what are your intentions respecting this debt? You have not
purchased all these various liabilities of my husband's without some
definite object. Speak it out - what is it? Has Mr. Hickman O'Reilly's
ambition increased so rapidly that he desires to date his letters from
Gwynne Abbey?"

"The Saints forbid it, my Lady," said the old man, with a pious horror.
"I 'd never come here this day on such an errand as that. If it was not
to propose what was agreeable, you 'd not see me here - "

"Well, sir, what is the proposition? Let me hear it at once, for my
patience never bears much dallying with."

"I am coming to it, my Lady," muttered Hickman, who already felt really
ashamed at the deep emotion his news evoked. "There are two ways of
doing it - " A gesture of impatience from Lady Eleanor stopped him, but,
after a brief pause, he resumed: "Bear with me, my Lady. Old age and
infirmity are always prolix; but I'll do my best."

It would be as unfair a trial of the reader's endurance as it proved to
Lady Eleanor's, were we to relate the slow steps by which Mr. Hickman
announced his plan, the substance of which, divested of all his own
circumlocution and occasional interruptions, was simply this: a promise
had been made by Lord Castlereagh to Hickman O'Reilly that if, through
his influence, exercised by means of moneyed arrangements or otherwise,
the Knight of Gwynne would vote with the Government on the "Union,"
he should be elevated to the Peerage, an object which, however
inconsiderable in the old man's esteem, both his son and grandson had
set their hearts upon. For this service they, in requital, would extend
the loan to another period of seven years, stipulating only for some
trifling advantages regarding the right of cutting timber, some coast
fisheries, and other matters to be mentioned afterwards, - points which,
although evidently of minor importance, were recapitulated by the old
man with a circumstantial minuteness.

It was only by a powerful effort that Lady Eleanor could control her
rising indignation at this proposal, while the very thought of Hickman
O'Reilly as a Peer, and member of that proud "Order" of which her own
haughty family formed a part, was an insult almost beyond endurance.

"Go on, sir," said she, with a forced composure which deceived old
Hickman completely, and made him suppose that his negotiation was
proceeding favorably.

"I 'm sure, my Lady, it 's little satisfaction all this grandeur would
give me. I 'd rather be twenty years younger, and in the back parlor of
my old shop at Loughrea than the first peer in the kingdom."

"Ambition is not your failing, then, sir," said she, with a glance
which, to one more quick-sighted, would have conveyed the full measure
of her scorn.

"That it is n't, my Lady; but they insist upon it."

"And is the Peerage to be enriched by the enrolment of your name among
its members? I thought, sir, it was your son."

"Bob - Mr. Hickman, I mean - suggests that I should be the first lord in
the family, my Lady, because then Beecham's title won't seem so new when
it comes to him. 'T is the only use they can make of me now - ay!" and
the word was accented with a venomous sharpness that told the secret
anger he had himself awakened by his remark.

"The Knight of Gwynne," said Lady Eleanor, proudly, "has often regretted
to me the few opportunities he had embraced through life of serving his
country; I have no doubt, sir, when he hears your proposal, that he will
rejoice at this occasion of making an _amende_. I will write to him by
this post. Is there anything more you wish to add, Mr. Hickman?" said
she, as, having risen from her chair, she perceived that the old man
remained seated.

"Yes, indeed, my Lady, there is, and I don't think I 'd have the heart
for it, if it was n't your Ladyship's kindness about the other business;
and even now, maybe, it would take you by surprise."

"You can scarcely do that, sir, after what I have just listened to,"
said she, with a smile.

"Well, there 's no use in going round about the bush, and this is what
I mean. We thought there might be a difficulty, perhaps, about the vote;
that the Knight might have promised his friends, or said something or
other how he 'd go, and would n't be able to get out of it so easily,
so we saw another way of serving his views about the money. You see, my
Lady, we considered it all well amongst us."

"We should feel deeply grateful, sir, to know how far this family has
occupied your kind solicitude. But proceed."

"If the Knight does n't like to vote with the Government, of course
there is no use in Bob doing it; so he 'll be a Patriot, my Lady, - and
why not? Ha! ha! ha! they 'll be breaking the windows all over Dublin,
and he may as well save the glass! - ay!"

"Forgive me, sir, if I cannot see how this has any reference to my
family."

"I'm coming to it - coming fast, my Lady. We were thinking then how we
could help the Knight, and do a good turn to ourselves; and the way we
hit upon was this: to reduce the interest on the whole debt to five per
cent, make a settlement of half the amount on Miss Darcy, and then, if
the young lady had no objection to my grandson, Beecham - "

"Stop, sir," said Lady Eleanor; "I never could suppose you meant to
offend me intentionally, - I cannot permit of your doing so through
inadvertence or ignorance. I will therefore request that this
conversation may cease. Age has many privileges, Mr. Hickman, but there
are some it can never confer: one of these is the right to insult a lady
and - a mother."

The last words were sobbed rather than spoken: affection and pride, both
outraged together, almost choked her utterance, and Lady Eleanor sat
down trembling in every limb, while the old man, only half conscious of
the emotion he had evoked, peered at her in stolid amazement through his
spectacles.

Any one who knew nothing of old Hickman's character might well have
pitied his perplexity at that moment; doubts of every kind and sort
passed through his mind as rapidly as his timeworn faculties permitted,
and at last he settled down into the conviction that Lady Eleanor might
have thought his demand respecting fortune too exorbitant, although
not deeming the proposition, in other respects, ineligible. To this
conclusion the habits of his own mind insensibly disposed him.

"Ay, my Lady," said he, after a pause, "'tis a deal of money, no doubt;
but it won't be going out of the family, and that's more than could be
said if you refuse the offer."

"Sir!" exclaimed Lady Eleanor, in a tone that to any one less obtusely
endowed would have been an appeal not requiring repetition; but the old
man had only senses for his own views, and went on: -

"They tell me that Mr. Lionel is just as free with his money as his
father; throws it out with both hands, horse-racing and high play, and
every extravagance he can think of. Well, and if that's true, my Lady,
sure it 's well worth while to think that you 'll have a decent house to
put your head under when your daughter's married to Beecham. He has no
wasteful ways, but can look after the main chance as well as any boy
ever I seen. This notion about Miss Helen is the only thing like
expense I ever knew him take up, and sure" - here he dropped his voice to
soliloquy - "sure, maybe, that same will pay well, after all - ay!"

"My head! my head is bursting with blood," sighed Lady Eleanor; but the
last words alone reached Hickman's ears.

"Ay! blood's a fine thing, no doubt of it, but, faith, it won't pay
interest on a mortgage; nor I never heard of it staying the execution of
a writ! 'T is little good blood I had in my veins, and yet I contrived
to scrape a trifle together notwithstanding - ay!"

"I do not feel myself very well, Mr. Hickman," said Lady Eleanor; "may
I request you will send my daughter to me, and excuse me if I wish you a
good morning."

"Shall I hint anything to the young lady about what we were saying?"
said he, in a tone of most confidential import.

"At your peril, sir!" said Lady Eleanor, with a look that at once seemed
to transfix him; and the old man, muttering his adieu, hobbled from
the room, while Lady Eleanor leaned back in her chair, overcome by the
conflict of her emotions.

"Is he gone?" said Lady Eleanor, faintly, as her daughter entered.

"Yes, Mamma; but are you ill? You look dreadfully pale and agitated."

"Wearied - fatigued, my dear, nothing more. Tell Captain Forester I must
release him from his engagement to us to-day; I cannot come to dinner."
And, so saying, she covered her eyes with her hand, and seemed lost in
deep thought.




CHAPTER XIV. "THE MECHANISM OP CORRUPTION"

"Well, Heffernan," said Lord Castlereagh, as they sat over their wine
alone in a small dining-room of the Secretary's Lodge, - "well, even with
Hackett, we shall be run close. I don't fancy the thought of another
division so nearly matched; our fellows don't see the honor of a
Thermopylae."

"Very true, my Lord; and the desertions are numerous, as they always
will be when men receive the bounty before they are enlisted."

"Yes; but what would you do? We make a man a Commissioner or a
sinecurist for his vote, - he vacates his seat on taking office; and,
instead of standing the brunt of another election, coolly says, 'That,
differing as he must do from his constituents on an important measure,
he restores the trust they had committed into his hands - '"

"'He hopes unsullied,' - don't forget that, my Lord."

"Yes, - 'he hopes unsullied, - and prefers to retire from the active
career of politics, carrying with him the esteem and regard of his
former friends, rather than endanger their good opinion by supporting
measures to which they are conscientiously opposed.'"

"Felicitous conjuncture, that unites patriotism and profit!" exclaimed
Heffernan. "Happy man, that can draw tears from the Mob, and two
thousand a year from the Treasury!"

"And yet I see no remedy for it," sighed the Secretary.

"There is one, notwithstanding; but it demands considerable address and
skill. You have always been too solicitous about the estimation of the
men you bought were held in, - always thinking of what would be said
and thought of them. You pushed the system so far that the fellows
themselves caught up the delusion, and began to fancy they had
characters to lose. All this was wrong, - radically, thoroughly wrong.
When the butcher smears a red streak round a lamb's neck, - we call it
'raddling' in Ireland, my Lord, - any child knows he 's destined for
the knife; now, when you 'raddled' your flock, you wanted the world to
believe you were going to make pets of them, and you said as much, and
so often that the beasts themselves believed it, and began cutting their
gambols accordingly. Why not have paraded them openly to the shambles?
It was their bleating you wanted, and nothing else."

"You forget, Heffernan, how many men would have refused our offers if we
had not made a show, at least, of respect for their scruples."

"I don't think so, my Lord; you offered a bonus on prudery, and hence
you met nothing but coyness. I'd have taken another line with them."

"And what might that be?" asked Lord Castlereagh, eagerly.

"Compromise them," said Heffernan, sternly. "I never knew the man
yet, nor woman either, that you could n't place in such a position of
entanglement that every effort to go right should seem a struggle to do
wrong; and _vice versa_. You don't agree with me! Well, my Lord, I ask
you if, in your experience of public men, you have ever met one less
likely to be captured in this way than my friend Darcy?"

"From what I have seen and heard of the Knight of Gwynne, I acknowledge
his character has all those elements of frankness and candor which
should except him from such an embarrassment."

"Well, he 's in the net already," said Heffernan, rubbing his hands
gleefully.

"Why, you told me he refused to join us, and actually saw through your
negotiation."

"So he did, and, in return for his keen-sightedness, I 've compromised
him with his party, - you did n't perceive it, but the trick succeeded to
perfection. When the Knight told me that he would not vote on the Union,
or any measure pertaining to it, I waited for Ponsonby's motion, and
made Holmes and Dawson spread the rumor at Daly's and through town that
Darcy was to speak on the division, well knowing he would not rise.
About eleven o'clock, just as Toler sat down, Prendergast got up to
reply, but there was a shout of 'Darcy! Darcy!' and Prendergast resumed
his seat amid great confusion. At that moment I left the bench beside
you, and walked over to Darcy's side of the House, and whispered a few
words in his ear - an invitation to sup, I believe it was; but while he
was answering me, I nodded towards you, and, as I went down the steps,
muttered loud enough to be heard, 'All right!' Every eye was turned at
once towards him, and he, having no intention of speaking, nor having
made any preparation, felt both confused and amazed, and left the House
about five minutes afterwards, while Prendergast was bungling out his
tiresome reply. Before Darcy reached the Club House, the report was
current that he was bought, and old Gillespie was circumstantially
recounting how that his title was 'Lord Darcy in England,' - 'Baron
Gwynne in that part of the United Kingdom called Ireland.'"

"Not even success, Heffernan," said the Secretary, with an air of
severity, - "not even success will excuse a trick of this kind."

Heffernan looked steadily towards him, as if he half doubted the
sincerity of the speech; it seemed something above or beyond his
comprehension.

"Yes," said Lord Castlereagh, "you heard me quite correctly. I repeat
it, advantages obtained in this fashion are too dearly purchased."

"What an admirable actor John Kemble is, my Lord," said Heffernan, with
a quiet smile; "don't you think so?"

Lord Castlereagh nodded his assent: the transition was too abrupt to
please him, and he appeared to suspect that it concealed some other
object than that of changing the topic.

"Kemble," continued Heffernan, while he sipped his wine carelessly, - "
Kemble is, I suspect strongly, the greatest actor we have ever had on
the English stage. Have you seen him in 'Macbeth'?"

"Several times, and always with renewed pleasure," said the Secretary,



Online LibraryCharles James LeverThe Knight Of Gwynne, Vol. I (of II) → online text (page 11 of 34)