Charles James Lever.

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if they let their tongues run glibly, they at least shall keep their
hair-triggers in order. Now, sir, you 'll not only dine with me to-day,
but you 'll do so in the large room of the Club. I 've given you my
reasons, and I tell you flatly that I will hear nothing in opposition to
them; for I am quite ready to open the ball with Mr. Con Heffernan."

Heffernan's courage had been proved on more than one occasion; but,
somehow, he had his own reasons, it would seem, for declining the gage
of battle here. That they were valid ones would appear from the evident
struggle compliance cost him, as, with a quivering lip and whisper, he
said:

"There may be much force in what you say, Mr. Daly, - your motives,
at least, are unquestionable. I will offer, therefore, no further
opposition." So saying, he opened the door to permit Daly to pass out.
"To the Club," said he to the footman, as they both seated themselves in
the chariot.

"The Club, sir!" repeated the astonished servant.

"Yes, to Daly's Club," said Bagenal himself. And they drove off.




CHAPTER XVIII. LORD CASTLEREAGH'S DINNER-PARTY.

The day of Lord Castlereagh's dinner-party had arrived, and the guests,
all save Mr. Heffernan, were assembled in the drawing-room. The party
was small and select, and his Lordship had gone through the usual
routine of introducings, when Hamilton asked if he still expected any
one.

"Yes; Mr. Heffernan promised to make one of our twelve; he is generally
punctuality itself, and I cannot understand what detains him."

"He said he 'd call for me on his way," said Lord Beerhaven, "and I
waited some time for him; but as I would not risk spoiling your
Lordship's _entrées_, I came away at last."

This speech was made by one who felt no small uneasiness on his own part
respecting the cookery, and took the occasion of suggesting his fears,
as a hint to order dinner.

"Shall we vote him present, then?" said Lord Castle-reagh, who saw the
look of dismay the further prospect of waiting threw over the party.

"By all means," said Lord Beerhaven; "Heffernan never eats soup."

"I don't think he cares much for fish, either," said Hamilton.

"I think our friend Con is fond of walnuts," said the Knight, dryly.

"Them 's the unwholesomest things he could eat," muttered old Hickman,
who, although seated in a corner of the room, and partly masked by his
son and grandson, could not be altogether secluded from earshot.

"Are they indeed?" said the bishop, turning sharply round; for the theme
of health was one that engaged all his sympathies; and although his
short apron covered a goodly rotundity of form, eating exacted to the
full as many pains as it afforded pleasures to the Churchman.

"Yes, my Lord," said Hickman, highly gratified to obtain such exalted
notice; "there's an essential oil in them that destroys the mucous
membrane - "

"Destroys the mucous membrane!" said the bishop, interrupting him.

"Mine is pretty much in that way already," said Lord Beerhaven,
querulously; "five-and-twenty minutes past six."

"No, no, my dear Darcy," said Lord Drogheda, who, having drawn the
Knight aside, was speaking in an earnest but low tone, "I never was
easier in my life, on the score of money; don't let the thing give you
any trouble; consult Gleeson about it, he's a clever fellow, and take
your own time for the payment."

"Gleeson is a clever fellow, my Lord, but there are straits that prove
too much even for his ingenuity."

"Ah! I know what you mean," said Lord Drogheda, secretly, "you 've heard
of that Spanish-American affair, - yes, he made a bad hit there; some say
he'll lose fifty thousand by it."

Dinner was at this moment announced, and the Knight was unable to learn
further on a subject the little he had heard of which gave him great
sorrow. Unfortunately, too, his position at table was opposite, not
next, to Lord Drogheda, and he was thus compelled to wait for another
opportunity of interrogating him.

Lord Castlereagh has left behind him one reputation which no political
or party animosity has ever availed to detract from, that of being the
most perfect host that ever dispensed the honors of a table. Whatever
seeming reserve or coldness he maintained at other times, here he
was courteous to cordiality; his manner, the happy union of thorough
good-breeding and friendly ease. Gifted with a most retentive memory,
and well versed on almost every topic that could arise, he possessed
that most difficult art, the power of developing the resources and
information of others, without ever making any parade of his own
acquirements; or, what is still harder, without betraying the effort
which, in hands less adroit, becomes the most vulgar of all tricks,
called "drawing out."

With all these advantages, and well suited as he was to meet every
emergency of a social meeting, he felt on the present occasion far
less at ease than was his wont. The party was one of Heffernan's
contriving, - the elements were such as he himself would never have
dreamed of collecting together, - and he relied upon his "ancient" to
conduct the plan he had so skilfully laid down. It was, as he muttered
to himself, "Heffernan's Bill," and he was not coming forward to explain
its provisions or state its object.

Happily for the success of such meetings in general, the adjuncts
contribute almost equally with the intellectual resources of the party;
and here Heffernan, although absent, had left a trace of his skill. The
dinner was admirable. Lord Castlereagh knew nothing of such matters;
the most simple, nay, the most ill-dressed, meats would have met equal
approval from him with the greatest triumphs of the art; and as to wine,
he mixed up his madeira, his claret, and his burgundy together in a
fashion which sadly deteriorated him in the estimation of many of his
more cultivated acquaintances.

All the detail of the dinner was perfect, and Lord Beer-haven, his
fears on that score allayed, emerged from the cloud of his own dreary
anticipations, and became one of the pleasantest of the party. And thus
the influence of good cheer and easy converse extended its happy sway
until even Mr. Hickman O'Reilly began to suffer less anxiety respecting
his father's presence, and felt relieved at the preoccupation the good
things of the table exacted from the old doctor.

The party was of that magnitude which, while enabling the guests to form
into the twos and threes of conversational intimacy, yet affords, from
time to time, the opportunity of generalizing the subject discussed, and
drawing, as it were, into a common centre the social abilities of each.
And there Lord Castlereagh shone conspicuously, for at the same time
that he called forth all the anecdotic stores of Lord Beerhaven, and the
witty repartee for which Hamilton was noted, he shrouded the obtrusive
old Hickman, or gave a character of quaint originality to remarks which,
with less flattering introduction, had been deemed low-lived and vulgar.

The wine went freely round, and claret, whose flavor might have found
acceptance with the most critical, began to work its influence upon
the party, producing that pleasant amalgamation in which individual
peculiarities are felt to be the attractive, and not the repelling,
properties of social intercourse.

"What splendid action that horse you drive has, Mr. Beecham O'Reilly,"
said Lord Loughdooner, who had paid the most marked attention to him
during dinner. "That's the style of moving they 're so mad after in
London, - high and fast at the same time."

"I gave three hundred and fifty for him," lisped out the youth,
carelessly, "and think him cheap."

"Cheap at three hundred and fifty!" exclaimed old Hickman, who had heard
the fact for the first time. "May I never stir from the spot, but you
told me forty pounds."

"When you can pick up another at that price let me know, I beg you,"
said Lord Loughdooner, coming to the rescue, and with a smile that
seemed to say, "How well you quizzed the old gentleman! I say, Hamilton,
who bought your gray?"

"Ecclesmere bought him for his uncle."

"Why, he starts, or shies, or something of that sort, don't he?"

"No, my Lord, he 'comes down,' which is what the uncle does not; and as
he stands between Ecclesmere and the Marquisate - "

"That's what I've always maintained," said the bishop to Lord
Castlereagh. "The potato disposes to acidity. I know the poor people
correct that by avoiding animal food, - a most invaluable fact."

"There are good grounds for your remark," said Lord Castlereagh to the
Knight, while he smiled an easy assent to the bishop, without attending
to him, "and the social relations of the country will demand the
earliest care of the Government whenever measures of immediate
importance permit this consideration. We have been unfortunate in not
drawing closer to us men who, like yourself, are thoroughly acquainted
with the condition of the people generally. It is not too late - "

"Too late for what?" interrupted Lord Drogheda. "Not too late for more
claret, I trust; and the decanter has been standing opposite to me these
ten minutes."

"A thousand pardons! - O'Reilly, will you touch that bell? Thanks."

The tone of easy familiarity with which he spoke covered Hickman with a
flush of ecstatic pleasure.

"They ginger them up so, nowadays," said Lord Loughdooner to Beecham
O'Reilly.

"Ginger!" chimed in Hickman, - "the devil a finer thing for the stomach.
I ask your pardon, my Lord, for saying his name, but I 'll give you a
receipt for the windy bile worth a guinea-note."

"Take a pinch of snuff, Dr. Hickman," said Lord Castle-reagh, who saw
the mortification of the two generations at the old man's vulgarity.

"Thank you, my Lord. 'Tis blackguard I like best: them brown snuffs
ruins the nose entirely. - I was saying about the mixture," said he,
addressing the bishop. "Take a pint of infusion of gentian, and put a
pinch of coriander seeds, and the peel of a Chaney orange - "

"I recommend a bumper of that claret, my Lord," said Lord Castlereagh,
determined to cut short the prescription, which now was being listened
to by the whole board; "and when I add the health of the primate, I
'm sure you 'll not refuse me." The toast was drunk with all suitable
honors, and the Secretary resumed in a whisper: "He wants our best
wishes on that score, poor fellow, if they could serve him. He's not
long to be with us, I fear."

"Indeed, my Lord!" said the bishop, eagerly.

"Alas! too true," sighed Lord Castlereagh; "he 'll be a severe loss,
too. I wanted to have some minutes' talk with you on the matter. These
are times of no common emergency, and the men we promote are of great
consequence at this moment. Say to-morrow, about one."

"I 'll be punctual," said the bishop, taking out his tablets to make a
note of what his memory would retain to the end of his life.

Lord Castlereagh caught the Knight's eye at the instant, and they both
smiled, without being able to control their emotion.

"And so," said Lord Castlereagh, hastening to conceal his laugh, "my
young relation continues to enjoy the hospitalities of your house.
I don't doubt in the least that he reckons that wound the luckiest
incident of his life."

"My friend Darcy paid even more dearly for it," said Lord Drogheda,
overhearing the remark; "but for Heffernan's tidings, I should certainly
have lost my wager."

"I assure you, Knight," broke in Hickman O'Reilly, "it was through no
fault of mine that the altercation ended so seriously. I visited Captain
Forester in his room, and thought I obtained his pledge to take no
further notice of the affair."

"And I, too, told him the style of fellow MacDonough was," said Beecham,
affectedly.

"I have heard honorable mention of both facts, gentlemen," said Darcy,
dryly; "that nothing could have less contributed to a breach of the
peace than Mr. Beecham O'Reilly's conduct, my friend Daly is willing to
vouch for."

"I wish his own had been equally prudent and pacific," said Hickman
O'Reilly, reddening at the taunt conveyed in the Knight's speech.

"Daly is unquestionably the best friend on the ground - "

"On or off the ground, my Lord Loughdooner," interrupted the Knight,
warmly; "he may be, now and then, somewhat hasty or rash; but rich as
our country is in men of generous natures, Bagenal Daly is second to
none."

"I protest, gentlemen," said the bishop, gravely; "I wish I could hear a
better reason for the panegyric than his skill as a duellist."

"True for you, my Lord," muttered old Hickman, in a whisper; "he's
readier with a pistol-bullet than with the interest on his bond."

"He 'd favor you with a discharge in full, sir, if he heard the
observation," said Hamilton, laughing.

"A letter, my Lord," said a servant, presenting a sealed epistle to the
Secretary.

"Heffernan's writing, gentlemen, so I shall, with your permission, read
it." He broke the seal, and read aloud: "'My dear Lord, - An adventure,
which would be laughable if it were not so provoking, prevents my coming
to dinner, so I must leave the menagerie - '" Here he dropped his voice,
and, crumpling up the letter, laughingly remarked, "Oh, we shall hear it
all later on, I 've no doubt."

"By the by, my Lord, there's a House to-night, is there not?"

"No, bishop; we moved an adjournment for to-morrow evening. You 'll come
down for the debate, won't you?"

The bishop nodded significantly, and sipped his wine. There was now a
pause. This was the great topic of the day, and yet, up to this moment,
not even a chance allusion to politics had been dropped, and all
recoiled from adventuring, even by a word, on a theme which might lead
to disagreement or discordance. Old Hickman, however, dated his origin
in life too far back for such scruples, and, leaning across the table,
said, with an accent to which wine imparted a tone of peculiar cunning,
"I wish you well through it, my Lord; for, by all accounts, it is dirty
work."

The roar of laughter that followed the speech actually shook the table,
Lord Castlereagh giving way to it with as much zest as the guests
themselves. Twice he essayed to speak, but each time a fresh burst of
mirth interrupted him, while old Hickman, unable to divine the source of
the merriment, stared at each person in turn, and at last muttered his
consolatory "Ay," but with a voice that showed he was far from feeling
satisfied.

"I wish you'd made that speech in the House, Mr. Hickman," said
Lord Drogheda; "I do believe you'd have been the most popular man in
Ireland."

"I confess," said Lord Castlereagh, wiping his eyes, "I cannot conceive
a more dangerous opponent to the Bill."

"If he held your own bill, with a protest on it," whispered Hamilton,
"your opinion would not be easily gainsaid."

"May I ask for a cup of coffee?" said the bishop, rising, for he saw
that although as yet no untoward results had followed, at any moment
something unpleasant might occur. The party rose with him, and adjourned
to the drawing-room.

"Singular old man!" said Lord Castlereagh, in a whisper to the Knight.
"Shrewd and cunning, no doubt, but scarcely calculated, as our friend
Drogheda thinks, to distinguish himself in the House of Commons."

"Do you think the Upper House would suit him better, my Lord?" said
Darcy, slyly.

"I see, Knight," said Lord Castlereagh, laughing, "you have caught up
the popular joke of the day."

"I trust, my Lord, it may be no more than a joke."

"Can you doubt it?"

"At the present moment," said the Knight, gravely, "I see no reason
for doubting anything merely on the score of its unlikelihood; your
Lordship's colleagues have given us some sharp lessons on the subject of
credulity, and we should be more unteachable than the savage if we had
not learnt something by this time."

Lord Castlereagh was about to answer, when Lord Drogheda came forward
to say "Good night." The others were going too, and in the bustle of
leave-taking some moments were passed.

"Your carriage has not come yet, sir," replied a servant to the Knight.

"Shall we take you home, Darcy," said Lord Drogheda; "or are you going
to the Club?"

"Let me say no to that offer, Knight," interposed Lord Castlereagh, "and
give me the pleasure of your company till the carriage arrives."

Darcy acceded to a request, the courteous mode of making which had
already secured its acceptance, and the Knight sat down at the fire
_tête-à-tête_ with the Secretary.

"I was most anxious for a moment like this," said Lord Castlereagh, with
the air of one abandoning himself to the full liberty of sincerity. "It
very seldom happens to men placed like myself to have even a few brief
minutes' intercourse with any out of the rank of partisans or opponents.

"I will not disguise from you how highly I should value the alliance of
yourself to our party; I place the greatest price upon such support, but
there is something better and more valuable than even a vote in a strong
division, and that is, the candid judgment of a man who has enjoyed
your opportunities and your powers of forming an opinion. Tell me now,
frankly, - for we are here in all freedom of intercourse, - what do you
object to? What do you fear from this contemplated enactment?"

"Let me rather hear," said the Knight, smiling, "what do you hope from
it, - how you propose it to become the remedy of our existing evils?
Because I shall thereby see whether your Lordship and myself are
like-minded on the score of the disease, before we begin to discuss the
remedy."

"Be it so, then," said the Secretary, gayly; and at once, without
hesitation, he commenced a short and most explicit statement of
the Government intentions. Arguments that formed the staple of long
Parliamentary harangues he condensed into a sentence or two; views that,
dilated upon, sufficed to fill the columns of a newspaper, he displayed
palpably and boldly, exhibiting powers of clear and rapid eloquence
for which so few gave him credit in public life. Not an epithet nor
an expression could have been retrenched from a detail which denoted
faculties of admirable training, assisted by a memory almost miraculous.
Stating in order the various objections to the measure, he answered
each in turn; and wherever the reply was not sufficiently ample and
conclusive, he adroitly took occasion to undervalue either the opinion
or the source from which it originated, exhibiting, while restraining,
considerable powers of sarcasm, and a thorough insight into the
character of the public men of the period.

If the Knight was unconvinced by the arguments, he was no less
astonished by the abilities of the Secretary. Up to that hour he had
been a follower of the popular notion of the Opposition party, which
agreed in decrying his talents, and making his displays as a speaker
the touchstone of his capacity. Darcy was too clever himself to linger
longer in this delusion. He saw the great and varied resources of
the youthful statesman tested by a question of no common difficulty, and
he could not control the temptation of telling him, as he concluded, -

"You have made me a convert to the union - "

"Have I, indeed?" cried the Secretary, in an ecstasy of pleasure.

"Hear me out, my Lord, - to the union of great political abilities with
the most captivating powers of conversation. Yes, my Lord, I am
old enough to make such a remark without the hazard of being deemed
impertinent or a flatterer, - _your_ success in life is certain."

"But the Bill!" cried Lord Castlereagh, while his handsome face was
flushed between delight and eagerness, - "the Bill!"

"Is an admirable Bill for England, my Lord, and were there not two
sides to a contract, would be perfect, - indeed, until I heard the
lucid statement you have just made, I never saw one-tenth part of the
advantages it must render to your country, nor, consequently, - for we
move not in parallel lines, - the great danger with which it is fraught
to mine. Let me now explain more fully."

With these words the Knight entered upon the question of the Union
in all its relations to Ireland; and while never conceding, nor even
extenuating, the difficulties attendant upon a double legislature, he
proceeded to show the probable train of events that must result on the
passing of the measure, strengthening his anticipations by facts derived
from deep knowledge of the country.

Far be it from us to endeavor to recapitulate his arguments: some of
them, now forgotten, were difficult enough to answer; others, treasured
up, have been fashionable fallacies in our own day. Such as they were,
they were the reasons why an Irish gentleman demurred to surrendering
privileges that gave his own country rank, place, and preeminence,
without the evidence of any certain or adequate compensation.

"Do not tell me, my Lord, that we shall hold our influence and our
station in the Imperial Parliament. There are many reasons against such
a belief. We shall be in the minority, a great minority; a minority
branded with provincialism as our badge, and accused of prejudice and
narrow-sightedness, from the very fact of our nationality. No, no; we
shall occupy a very different position in your country: and who will
take our places here? That's a point your Lordship has not touched upon,
but I 'll tell you. The demagogue, the public disturber, the licensed
hawker of small grievances, every briefless lawyer of bad fortune
and worse language, every mendicant patriot that can minister to the
passions of a people deserted by their natural protectors, - the day will
come, my Lord, when these men will grow ambitious, their aspirings may
become troublesome; if you coerce them, they are martyrs, - conciliate
them, and they are privileged. What will happen then? You will be asked
to repeal the Union, you will be charged with all the venality by which
you carried your Bill, every injustice with which it is chargeable, and
with a hundred other faults and crimes with which it is unconnected. You
will be asked, I say, to repeal the Union, and make of this miserable
rabble, these dregs and sweepings of party, a Parliament. You shake your
head. No, no, it is by no means impossible, - nay, I don't think it even
remote. I speak as an old man, and age, if it have many deficiencies as
regards the past, has at least some prophetic foresight for the future.
You will be asked to repeal the Union, to give a Parliament to a country
which you have drained of its wealth, from which you have seduced the
aristocracy; to restore a deliberative body to a land whose resources
for self-legislation you have studiously and industriously ruined.
Think, then, twice of a measure from which, if it fail, there is no
retreat, and the opposition to which may come in a worse form than a
vote in the House of Commons. I see you deem my anticipations have more
gloom than truthfulness; I hope it may be so."

"The Knight of Gwynne's carriage," cried a servant, throwing wide the
door.

"How opportune!" said Darcy, laughing; "it is so satisfactory to have
the last shot at the enemy."

"Pray don't go yet, - a few moments more."

"Not a second, my Lord; I dare not. The fact is, I have strenuously
avoided this subject; an old friend of mine, Bagenal Daly, has wearied
me of it, - he is an Anti-Unionist, but on grounds I scarcely concur in.
Your Lordship's defence of the measure I also demur to. I am like poor
old Murray, the Chief Justice of the Common Pleas, who, when called on
for his opinion in a case where Judge Wallace was in favor of a rule,
and Judge Mayne against it, he said, 'I agree with my brother Mayne for
the cogent reasons laid down by my brother Wallace.'"

"So," said the Secretary, laughing heartily, "I have convinced you
against myself."

"Exactly, my Lord. I came here this evening intending not to vote on the
Bill, - indeed, I accepted your Lordship's hospitality without a thought
upon a party question; I am equally certain you will acquit me of being
a spy in the camp. To-morrow I intend to vote against you."

"I wish I could have the same esteem for my friends that I now pledge
for my - "

"Don't say 'enemy,' my Lord; we both aspire to the same end, - our
country's good. If we take different roads, it is because each thinks
his own path the shortest. Good night."

Lord Castlereagh accompanied the Knight to his carriage, and again shook
his hand cordially as they parted.




CHAPTER XIX. A DAY OF EXCITEMENT

Great was the Knight's astonishment, and not less his satisfaction,
as he entered the breakfast-room the morning after his dinner with the
Secretary, to find Bagenal Daly there before him. They met with all



Online LibraryCharles James LeverThe Knight Of Gwynne, Vol. I (of II) → online text (page 15 of 34)