Charles James Lever.

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

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where the mob stood thickest.

The space in front of the Parliament House and before the College was
filled with soldiers; while patrols of cavalry traversed every avenue
leading to it, for information had reached the Government that violence
might be apprehended from a mob whose force and numbers were alluded
to by members within the House in terms meant to intimidate, while the
presence of the soldiery was retorted by the Opposition as a measure of
tyranny and oppression of the Castle party. Brushing somewhat roughly
through the armed line, Daly, with the Knight beside him, entered the
space, and was passing onward, when a bustle and a confused uproar
behind him arrested his steps. Believing that it might be to Sandy's
progress some objection was offered, Daly wheeled round, when he saw two
policemen in the act of dragging away a boy, whose loud cries for help
from the mob were incessant, while he mingled the name of Mr. Daly
through his entreaties.

"What is it?" said Daly. "Does the fellow want me?"

[Illustration: 234]

"Never mind him," said Darcy; "the boy has caught up your name, and
that's all."

But the urchin struggled and kicked with all his might; and, although
overpowered by superior strength, gave battle to the last, screaming at
the top of his voice, "One word with Mr. Daly, - just one word!"

Bagenal Daly turned back, and, approaching the scene of contest, said,
"Have you anything to say to me? I am Mr. Daly."

"If they 'd let me go my hands, I 've something to give you," said the
boy, who, although sorely bruised and beaten, seemed to care less for
his own troubles than for the object of his enterprise.

At a word from Daly, the policemen relinquished their hold, and stood
guard on either side, while the boy, giving himself a shake, leered up
in Daly's face with an expression he could not fail to recognize.

"There's a way to treat a young gentleman at home for the Christmas
holidays!" said the imp, with a compassionate glance at his torn and
tattered garments, while the words and the tone they were uttered in
sent a shout of laughter through the mob.

"What, Jemmy!" said Daly, stooping down and accosting him in a whisper,
for it was no other than that reputable youth himself, "you here?"

"Just so, sir. Ain't I in a nice way to appear at the Privy Council?"

The police were growing impatient at the continued insolence of
the fellow, and were about to lay hold on him once more, when Daly
interposed, and said, in a still lower voice, "Have you anything to tell
me?"

"I 've a bit of paper for you somewhere, from one you know, if them
blackguards the 'polis' has not made me lose it."

"Be quick, then," said Daly, "and see after it." For Darcy was chafed at
a delay he could not see any reason for.

"Here it is," said the imp, taking a piece of dirty and crumpled paper
from the lining of his hat; "there, you have it now safe and sure. Give
my best respects to Alderman Darby," added he to the police; "say I was
too hurried to call;" and with that he dived between the legs of one of
them, dashed through the line of soldiers, and was speedily concealed
among the dense crowd outside, where shouts of approving laughter
welcomed him.

"A rendezvous or a challenge, Bagenal, - which?" said the Knight,
laughing, as Daly stood endeavoring, by the light of a lamp in the
corridor, to decipher the torn scrawl.

The other made no reply, but, holding the paper close to his eyes, stood
silent and motionless. At last an expression of impatient anger burst
from him: "That imp of h - ll has almost effaced the words, - I cannot
make them out!" Then he added, in a low muttering, "I trust in Heaven I
have not read them aright. Come here, Darcy." And, so saying, he grasped
the Knight's hand, and led him along to one of the many small chambers
used as offices of the House.

"Ah! they're looking anxiously out for you, sir," said a young man who
stood with his back to the fire, reading a paper. "Mr. Ponsonby has just
been here."

"Leave us together here for a few minutes," said Daly, "and let there
be no interruption." And as he spoke, he motioned to the door with a
gesture there was no mistaking. The clerk left the room, and they were
alone.

"Maurice Darcy," said Daly, as he turned the key in the lock, "you have
a stout heart and a courage I never saw fail, and you need both at this
moment."

"What is it, Bagenal?" gasped the Knight, as a most deadly pallor
covered his face. "Is my wife - are my children - "

"No, no; be calm, Darcy, they are all well."

"Go on, then," cried he, with a firmer voice; "I'll listen to you
patiently."

"Read that," said Daly, as he held the paper near the candle; and
the Knight read aloud: "'Honored Sir, - I saw the other night you were
troubled when I spoke of Gleeson, and I take the occasion of - '"
"'warning you,' I think the words are," broke in Daly.

"So it is: - 'warning you honest Tom is away to America!'" The paper fell
from Darcy's hand, and he staggered back into a seat.

"With they say above a hundred thousand pounds, Darcy," continued Daly,
taking up the fragment. "If the news be true - "

"If so, I'm ruined; he received the whole loan on Saturday last, - he
could not delay Hickman's payment beyond Wednesday without suspicion."

"Ah! I see it all, and the American packet does not sail till to-morrow
morning from Liverpool."

"But it may all be false," said Darcy. "Who writes you this story?"

"It is signed 'F.,' and Freney is the man; I know the fellow that
brought it."

"I 'll not believe a word of it, Bagenal," said the Knight, impetuously.
"I 'll not credit the calumny of a highwayman against the honor of one I
have known and respected for years. It is false, depend upon it."

"Yet how it tallies with Sandy's tidings; there is something in it.
Hush! Darcy, don't speak; there is some one passing."

The sounds of feet and voices were heard at the same instant without,
and among them the clear, distinctive accents of Hickman O'Reilly.

"Yes," said he, "if the news had come a little earlier, Lord
Castlereagh, would have found some of our patriots less stern in virtue.
Gleeson will have carried away half a province with him."

"There," whispered Daly, "you heard that, - the news is about already."

But Darcy was now totally overcome, and, with his head resting on the
table, neither spoke nor stirred. "Bagenal," said he, at length, but in
a voice faint as a whisper, "I am too ill to face the House; let us turn
homewards."

"I 'll see for a carriage," said Daly, who issued forth to take the
first he could find.

"I say, Hamilton," cried a member, as he alighted from his chariot,
"there's the Knight of Gwynne and Bagenal Daly in Castlereagh's
carriage."

"Daly said he could drive a coach-and-six through the Bill!" replied the
other; "perhaps he's gone to practise with a pair first."




CHAPTER XX. THE ADJOURNED DEBATE

Although the debate had commenced at seven o'clock, none of the great
speakers on either side arose before eleven. Some fierce skirmishes had,
indeed, occurred; personalities and sarcasms the most cutting had been
interchanged with a freedom that showed that if shame were in a great
measure departed, personal daring and intrepidity were qualities still
in repute. The Ministerial party, no longer timid or wavering, took
no pains to conceal their sense of coming victory, and even Lord
Castlereagh, usually so guarded on every outward observance, entered the
House and took his seat with a smile of conscious triumph that did not
escape observation from either friends or opponents.

The tactics of the Treasury benches, too, seemed changed: not waiting,
as hitherto, to receive and repel the attack of the Opposition, they
now became themselves the assailants, and evinced, by the readiness and
frequency of their assaults, the perfect organization they had attained.
The Opposition members, who opened the debate, were suffered to proceed
without any attempt at reply, an ironical cheer, a well-put question,
some home-thrust as to former opinions, alone breaking the thread of an
argument which, even from its monotony, was becoming less effective.

Sir Henry Parnell, the late Chancellor of the Exchequer, and who had
been dismissed from office for his opinions on the Union, was the first
speaker; with a moderation, in part the result of his former position
with regard to those who had been his colleagues, he limited himself to
a strict examination of the measure in its bearings and consequences,
and never, even for a moment, digressed into anything like reflection on
the motives of its advocates. His speech was able and argumentative, but
evidently unsatisfactory to his party, who seemed impatient and uneasy
till he concluded, and hailed Ponsonby, who rose after him, with cheers
that showed their expectations were now, at least, more likely to be
realized.

Whether the occasion alone was the cause, or that catching the
excitement of his supporters, Ponsonby deviated from the usually calm
and temperate character he was accustomed to assume in the House, and
became warm and impassioned. Disdaining to examine the relative merits
or demerits of the proposed Bill, he boldly pronounced Parliament
incompetent to decide it, and concluded by declaring that, if carried,
the measure might endanger not only the ties of amity between the two
nations, but dissolve those of allegiance also. A loud burst of mingled
indignation and irony broke from the Treasury benches at this daring
flight, when the speaker, at once collecting himself, turned the whole
force of his attack on the Secretary. With slow and measured intonation,
he depicted the various stages of his political career, recalling to
memory the liberal pledges he had once contracted, and the various
shades of defection by which he had at last reached the position in
which he could "betray Ireland."

None were prepared for the degree of eloquent power Ponsonby displayed
on this occasion; and the effect of such a speech from one habitually
calm, even to coldness, was overwhelming. It was not Lord Castlereagh's
intention to have spoken at this early hour of the debate; but,
apologizing for occupying the time of the House by a personality, he
arose, not self-possessed and at ease, but flushed and excited.

Without adverting for a second to the measure in debate, he launched
forth into a most violent invective on his adversary. With a vehement
passion that only his nearest friends knew him to possess, he exposed
every act of his political life; taunted him with holding opinions
liberal enough to be a patriot, but sufficiently plastic to be
marketable; he accused his very calmness as being a hypocritical
affectation of fairness, while in reality it was but the tacit admission
of his readiness to be bought; and at length pushed his violent sarcasm
so far that a loud cry of "Order!" burst forth from the Opposition,
while cheers of defiance were heard along the densely crowded ranks of
the Ministerial party.

From this moment the discussion assumed a most bitter character;
assertions and denials, uttered in language the most insulting, were
heard at every moment, and no speaker could proceed without some
interruption which demanded several minutes to subdue. More than one
member was seen to cross the floor and interchange a few words with
an adversary, the import of which, as he returned to his place, no
physiognomist need have doubted. It was not debate or discussion, it was
the vehement outpouring of personal and political hatred, by men whose
passions were no longer restrainable, and many of whom saw in this
the last occasion of their ever being able to confront their enemies.
Language that could not be uttered with impunity elsewhere, was heard at
every moment; open declarations were made that, the Bill once carried,
allegiance and loyalty were dissolved; and Sir Neil O'Donnell went so
far as to say that he regarded the measure as an act of treason, and
would place himself at the head of his regiment to oppose and annul it.

It was in a momentary pause of this bitter conflict that rumor announced
the arrival of the Knight of Gwynne and Bagenal Daly at the House. Never
were reinforcements more gladly hailed by a weakened and disabled army;
cheers of triumphant delight broke from the Opposition benches, answered
by others, not less loud and taunting, from the Ministerial side,
and every eye was turned eagerly towards the door by which they were
expected to enter.

To such a pitch of violence had partisanship carried the members on both
sides, expressions of open defiance and insult were exchanged in the
midst of this scene of tumult, nor was the authority of the Speaker able
to restore order for several minutes; when at last the doors were thrown
open, and Hickman O'Reilly entered, and walked up the body of the
House. Shouts of loud laughter now resounded from either side; such
an apparition at the moment was the most ludicrous contrast to that
expected, and a boisterous gayety succeeded to the late scene of
acrimony and intemperance.

The individual himself seemed somewhat puzzled at these unlooked-for
marks of public notice, and stared around him in astonishment, till his
eyes rested on the spot where Lord Castlereagh sat whispering with
Mr. Corry. Brief as was the glance, it seemed to have conveyed some
momentous intelligence to the gazer, for he became at first scarlet, and
then pale as death; he looked again, but the Secretary had turned his
head away, and Corry was coolly unfolding the plaits of a white cambric
handkerchief, and apparently only occupied with that object. At this
moment Hickman was standing with one foot upon the steps which led
towards the Treasury benches: he wheeled abruptly round, and walked
over to the other side of the House, where he sat down between Egan and
Ponsonby.

The cheers of the Opposition now burst forth anew, and with a deafening
clamor, while from back and cross benches, and everywhere within reach,
hands were eagerly stretched forth to grasp O'Reilly's. Never was
support less expected, never an alliance less speculated on, and
the cries of exultation were almost maddening. How long the scene of
tumultuous excitement might have lasted, it is difficult to say, when
Lord Castlereagh rose, with a calm dignity of manner that never in the
most trying moments forsook him. "He begged to remind the gentlemen
opposite that if these triumphant expressions were not indecorous, they
were at least premature; that the momentous occasion on which they were
met demanded all the temperate and calm consideration which they could
bestow upon it; that the time for the adoption of any course would
not be distant, and would sufficiently show to which side, with most
propriety, the expression of triumph belonged."

The hint was significant; the foreshadowed victory was too plainly
and too palpably predicted to admit of a doubt, and a chilling silence
succeeded to the former uproar. The individual whose address this long
scene of tumult had interrupted was now suffered to proceed. He was a
law-serjeant, a man of inferior capacity and small professional repute,
whose advocacy of the Government plan had raised him to an unbecoming
and dangerous eminence at the Bar. Without the slightest pretensions as
a speaker, or one quality that should adorn a statesman, he possessed
other gifts scarcely less valuable at that day: he was a ready
pistol; he came of a fighting family, not one of whom did not owe some
advancement in life to a cool hand and a steady eye; and he occupied his
place in the Ministerial van by virtue of this signal accomplishment.
As incapable of feeling the keen sarcasm of his opponents as he was
of using a similar weapon, he was yet irascible from temperament,
and overbearing in manner, and was used by his party as men employ a
fire-ship, - with a strong conviction that it may damage more than the
enemy.

To cover the deficiencies of his oratory, as well as to add poignancy to
his personalities, it was the invariable custom of his friends to cheer
him vociferously at the end of every sentence which contained anything
like attack on the Opposition; and to this species of backing he was
indebted for the courage that made him assail men incomparably above him
in every quality of intellect.

Mr. Plunkett was now the object of his invective, nor was the boldness
of such a daring its least recommendation. Few of the Government side
of the House would have adventured to cross weapons with this master
of sarcasm and irony; none but the Serjeant Nickolls could have done so
without a strong fear of consequences. He, however, was unconcerned for
the result as it affected himself personally; and as for the withering
storm that awaited him, the triple hide of his native dulness was an
armor of proof that nothing could penetrate. From Plunkett he passed on
to Bushe, from Bushe to Grattan; no game flew too high for his shafts,
nor was any invective coarse enough to level at the great leaders of the
Opposition. If the overbearing insolence of his harangue delighted his
own party, it called down peals of laughter from his opponents, who
cheered every figurative absurdity and every illogical conclusion with
shouts of ironical admiration.

Lord Castlereagh saw the mischief, and would gladly have cut short the
oration; but the speaker was revelling in an imaginary victory, and
would listen to no suggestions whatever. Passing from the great names of
the Irish party, he launched forth in terms of insult towards the
county members, whom he openly accused of holding their opinions under
a mistaken hope that they were a marketable commodity, and that as
some stanch adherents of the Crown had reaped the honors due to "their
loyalty," these quasi-patriots were only waiting for their price. The
allusion was so palpable that every eye was turned to where Hickman
O'Reilly sat, and whose confusion was now overwhelming.

"Ay," continued the speaker, now carried beyond all self-restraint by
the evident sensation he had caused, "there are gentlemen opposite whose
confessions would reveal much of this kind of independence. I have my
eye on some of them, - men who will be Patriots if they cannot be Peers,
ready to put on the cap of liberty for the Mob if they cannot get the
coronet from the Crown. Many, too, are absent from this debate: they
stand out, perhaps, for high terms; they have got Peerages for their
wives, and now, like a hackney-coachman, not content with their fare,
they want 'something for themselves.' I heard of two such a while ago;
they even came as far as the lobby of this House, where they halted and
hesitated: a mitre or a regiment, a blue ribbon or a red one, would have
turned the scale, perhaps. Why are they not here now? I ask, what has
become of them?"

"Name! name!" screamed the Opposition, in a torrent of mad excitement,
while the Government party, outrageous at the blundering folly of the
whole harangue, endeavored to pull the speaker back into his seat. Never
was such a scene: one party lashed to madness by suspected treachery and
open insult; the other indignant at the stupidity of a man who, in his
attempts at attack, had raked up every calumny against his own friends.
Already, more than one hand was laid on his arms to press him down
into his seat, when he, with the obstinacy of thorough dullness, shook
himself free, and called out, "I 'm ready to name."

Again the cries of "Name!" were shouted, mingled with no less vociferous
cries of "No, no!" and the struggle now had every appearance of a
personal one, when the Speaker, calling to order, asked if it was the
sense of the House that the Serjeant should gives the names he alluded
to.

"I 'll soon cut the matter short," called out the Serjeant, in a voice
that resounded through every corridor of the House. "I mean the Knight
of Gwynne and Bagenal Daly."

A cry of "Order! order!" now arose from all parts of the House, the
direct mention of any member by name being a liberty unprecedented.

"I beg to correct myself," said the Serjeant. "I should have said the
honorable members for Mayo and Old Castle. I ask again, why are they not
here?"

"Better you had never put the question," said a deep, low voice from
beneath the gallery; and at the same instant Bagenal Daly advanced along
one of the passages, and took his place at the table directly in front
of the Serjeant. A tremendous cheer now broke from the Opposition
benches, which the Ministerial party in vain essayed to return.

"I perceive, sir," said the Serjeant, with an effort to resume his
former ease, - "I perceive I have succeeded in conjuring up one at least
of these truant spirits, and I cannot do better than leave him to make
his explanations to the House."

With this lame, disjointed conclusion the learned Serjeant sat down; and
although the greatest exertions were made by his friends to cover this
palpable failure, the cries of derision drowned all other sounds, and
before they were silenced, a shout of "Daly! Daly! - Bagenal Daly!"
resounded through the building.

Daly arose slowly, and saluted the Speaker with a most deferential
courtesy. It was several minutes before the tumult had sufficiently
subsided to make his words audible; but when silence prevailed, he was
heard to regret, in terms of unaffected ease, that any circumstance
might occur which should occupy the time of the House by observations
from one so rude and unlettered as himself, nor would he now venture
on the trespass, were the occasion merely a personal one. From this
he proceeded to state that great emergencies were always occurring, in
which even the humblest opinions should be made known as evidencing the
probable impressions upon others as lowly circumstanced as he who now
addressed them.

"Such is the present one," said he, raising his voice, and looking
around him with a glance of bold defiance. "You are about to take away
the right of self-government from a nation, and every man in the land,
not only such as sit here, sir, but every man to whose future ambition
a seat in this House may form a goal, every man has a deep interest in
your proceedings. It is a grave and weighty question, whose
conditions impose the conviction that we are unfit to legislate for
ourselves, - that we are too weak, or too venal, or too ignorant, or too
dishonest. To that conclusion you must come, or no other. Absence from
Ireland must suggest enlightenment on her interests; distance must lend
knowledge as well as enchantment, or an English Parliament cannot be
better than our own. I have listened attentively, but unconvinced, to
all arguments on this head; I have heard over and over again the long
catalogue of benefits to accrue to this country when the power of
realizing them herself has been wrested from her, and I have thought of
Lear and his daughters! It would seem to me, however, that the social
welfare and the commercial prosperity of a people are themes too vulgar
for the high consideration of our times. The real question at issue is
not whether a Parliament should or should not continue to sit here, but
what shall I, and others like me, benefit by voting it away forever?"

"Order! order!" called out several voices.

But Daly resumed: "I ask pardon. It is more parliamentary to put the
case differently, and I shall, under correction, do so. Well, sir,
we may benefit largely. I trust I am not disorderly in saying that
peerages, bishoprics, regiments, frigates, commissionerships, and Heaven
knows what more, will reward us when our utility to the State has met
the approval of an Imperial Parliament. I can well credit every promise
of such gratitude, and have only to ask in turn, Are these the arguments
that should sway us now? Is it because we are bungling legislators that
they wish for us in London? - is it because we are venal they seek our
company, because we are inefficient they ask for our cooperation? Are
they so supremely right-minded, honorable, and far-seeing that they need
the alloy of our dulness to make them mortal? And suppose such the case,
will it be gratifying to us to become the helots to this people? Will
our national pride be flattered because our eloquence is sneered at,
our law derided, our political knowledge a scoff, and our very accent a
joke? Do not tell me such things are unlikely; we are far weaker on the
point than we like to confess. For myself, I can imagine the sense of
shame - of deep, heartfelt, abasing shame - I should feel at seeing some
of those I see here rise in a British House of Commons to address that
body, while the rumor should run, 'He is the member for Meath or for



Online LibraryCharles James LeverThe Knight Of Gwynne, Vol. I (of II) → online text (page 17 of 34)