Charles James Lever.

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

. (page 18 of 34)
Online LibraryCharles James LeverThe Knight Of Gwynne, Vol. I (of II) → online text (page 18 of 34)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

Wicklow.' I can picture to myself such a man: a man of low origin and
mean capacity; a man who carves his path in life less from his own
keen abilities than that others shrink from his contact, and leave him
unopposed in every struggle; a pettifogger at the Bar; a place-hunter
at the Parliament; half beggar, half bravo, with a petition for the
Minister, and a pistol for the Opposition. Imagine a man like this,
and reflect upon the feeling of every gentleman at hearing the rumor
announce, 'Ay, that's a learned Serjeant, a leader at the Bar of

The last words were delivered in a tone of direct personality, as,
turning towards where Nickolls sat, Daly threw at him a look of
defiance. The whole House arose as if one man, with cheers and
counter-cheers, and loud yells of insult, mingled with cries of "Order!"
Nor was it till after a long and desperate wordy altercation that the
clamor was subdued, and decorum at length restored. Then it was remarked
that Nickolls had left the House.

The Speaker immediately ordered the Serjeant of the House to place Daly
under arrest, - a measure which, however dictated by propriety, seemed to
call forth a burst of indignation from the Opposition benches.

"I hope, sir," said Daly, rising with an air of most admirably feigned
humility, - "I hope, sir, you will not execute this threat, - the
inconvenience to me will be very great: I was about to pair off with the
honorable and learned member for Newry."

The mention of the town for which the Serjeant sat in Parliament renewed
the laughter which now prevailed on both sides of the House.

"I cannot understand the mirth of the gentlemen opposite," said Daly,
with affected simplicity, "without it be from their astonishment that
the Government can spare so able and so eloquent an advocate as the
honorable and learned gentleman; but let them reassure themselves and
look around, and, believe me, they'll find the Treasury benches filled
by gentlemen as like him as possible."

The Speaker reissued the order to the Serjeant-at-Arms, and Daly now
came forward to the table and begged in all form to know the reason of
such severity. "If, sir," said he, in conclusion, - "if I could believe
it possible that you anticipate any personal collision between myself
and any member of this House, I have only to say that I am bound over
in the sum of two thousand pounds to keep the peace within the limits of
this kingdom. I take out a license at two pounds fifteen to kill game,
it is true; but I 'd not pay sixpence for the privilege to shoot a

The fact of the heavy recognizances to which Daly alluded was at once
confirmed by several members, and after a brief conversation with the
Speaker the matter was dropped.

It was, as may be supposed, a considerable time before the debate could
assume its due decorum and solemnity after an incident like this; for
although hostile collisions were neither few nor unfrequent, an insult
of so violent a character had never before been witnessed.

At length, however, order was restored, and another speaker addressed
the House. All had assumed its wonted propriety, when a messenger
delivered into Daly's hands a small sealed note; he glanced at the
contents and rose immediately. Lord Castlereagh's quick eye caught
the motion, and he at once called on the Speaker to interfere. "I have
myself seen a letter conveyed to the honorable member's hands," said he;
"it requires no peculiar gift of divination to guess the object."

"I will satisfy the noble lord at once," said Daly; "there is the letter
I have received: I pledge my word of honor the subject is purely a
private one, having no reference whatever to anything that has passed
here." He held out the letter as he spoke, but Lord Castlereagh declined
to peruse it, and expressed his regret at having made the remark. Daly
bowed courteously to him, and left the House.

"Well, Sandy," said he, as soon as he reached the corridor, where his
faithful follower stood waiting his coming, "what success?"

"No sae bad," said Sandy. "I 've got a wherry, ane of them Wicklow
craft; she's only half-decked, but she's a stout-looking sea-boat, and
broad in the beam."

"And the wind, how's that?"

"As it should be, - west, or west wi' a point north."

"Is there enough of it?"

"Enough! I trow there is," said Sanders, with a grin; "if there be no a
blast too much. Hear till it now." And, as if waiting for the remark,
a tremendous gust of wind shook the strong building, while the clanking
sound of falling slates and chimney-pots resounded through the street.

"There's music for ye," said Sandy; "there came a clap like that when I
had a'maist made the bargain, and the carles would no budge without ten
guineas mair. I promised them fifty, and the handsel whatever your honor
liked after."

"It's all right, - quite right," said Daly, wishing to stop details he
never listened to with patience.

"It's a' right, I know weel enough," said Sandy, querulously; "but it
wad no be a' right av ye went yersel'; they 'd have a gude penny, forbye
what I say."

"And what say the fellows of this wind, - is it like to last?"

"It will blow hard from the west for three or four days mair, and then
draw round to the north."

"But we shall get to Liverpool before noon to-morrow."

"Maybe," said Sandy, with a low, dry laugh.

"Well, I mean if we do get there. You told them I 'd double the pay if
we catch the American ship in the Mersey. I'd triple it; let them know

"They canna do mair than they can do: ten pounds is as good as ten

While this conversation was going forward, they had walked on together,
and were now at the entrance door of the House, where a group of four
persons stood under the shadow of the portico.

"Mr. Daly, I presume," said one, advancing, and touching his hat in
salutation. "We have waited somewhat impatiently for your coming."

"I should regret it, sir, if I was aware you did me the honor to expect

"I am the friend of Serjeant Nickolls, sir," said the other, in a voice
meant to be eloquently meaning.

"For your sake, the fact is to be deplored," answered Daly, calmly. "But

With a great effort to subdue his passion, the other resumed: "It does
not require your experience in such matters to know that the insult you
have passed upon a high-minded and honorable gentleman - the gross and
outrageous insult - should be atoned for by a meeting. We are here for
this purpose, ready to accompany you, as soon as you have provided
yourself with a friend, to wherever you appoint."

"Are you aware," said Daly, in a whisper, "that I am bound over in heavy
recognizances - "

"Ah, indeed!" interrupted the other; "that, perhaps, may explain - "

"Explain what, sir?" said Daly, as he grasped the formidable weapon
which, more club than walking-stick, he invariably carried.

"I meant nothing; I would only observe - "

"Never observe, sir, when there's nothing to be remarked. I was
informing you that I am bound over to keep the peace in this same
kingdom of Ireland; circumstances compel me to be in England to-morrow
morning, - circumstances of such moment that I have myself hired a vessel
to convey me thither, - and although the object of my journey is far from
agreeable, I shall deem it one of the happiest coincidences of my life
if it can accommodate your friend's wishes. Nothing prevents my giving
him the satisfaction he desires on English ground. I have sincere
pleasure in offering him, and every gentleman of his party, a passage
over - the tide serves in half an hour. Eh, Sandy?"

"At a quarter to twelve, sir."

"The wind is fair."

"It is a hurricane," replied the other, almost shuddering.

"It blows fresh," was Daly's cool remark.

For a moment or two the stranger returned to his party, with whom he
talked eagerly, and the voices of the others were also heard, speaking
in evident excitement.

"You have the pistols safe, Sandy?" whispered Daly.

"They 're a' safe, and in the wherry; but you 'll no want them this
time, I trow," said Sandy, with a shrug of his shoulders; "yon folk
would rather bide where they are the night, than tak' a bit o' pleasure
in the Channel."

Daly smiled, and turned away to hide it, when the stranger again came
forward. "I have consulted with my friends, Mr. Daly, who are also
the friends of Serjeant Nickolls; they are of opinion that, under
the circumstances of your being bound over, this affair cannot with
propriety go further, although it might not, perhaps, be unreasonable
to expect that you, feeling the peculiar situation in which you stand,
might express some portion of regret at the utterance of this most
severe attack."

"You are really misinformed on the whole of the business," said Daly.
"In the few words I offered to the House, I was but responding to the
question of your friend, who asked, I think somewhat needlessly, 'Where
was Bagenal Daly?' I have no regrets to express for any terms I applied
to him, though I may feel sorry that the forms of the House prevented
my saying more. I am ready to meet him now; or, as he seems to dislike
a breeze, when the weather is calmer. Tell him so; but tell him besides,
that if he utters one syllable in my absence that the most malevolent
gossip of a club-room can construe into an imputation on me, by G - d
I'll break every bone in his cowardly carcass! Come, Sandy, lead on.
Good evening, sir. I wish you a bolder friend, or better weather." So
saying, he moved forward, and was soon hastening towards the North Wall,
where the wherry was moored.

"It's unco like the night we were wrecked in the Gulf," said Sandy. "I
mind the moon had that same blue color, and the clouds were a' below,
and none above her."

"So it is, Sandy, - there 's a heavy sea outside, I 'm sure. How many men
have we?"

"Four, and a bit o' a lad that's as gude as anither. Lord save us! there
was a flash! I wish it wud come to rain, and beat down the sea; we 'd
have aye wind enough after."

"Where does she lie?"

"Yonder, sir, where you see the light bobbing. By my certie, but the
chiels were no far wrang. A bit fighting 's hard bought by a trip to sea
on such a night as this."


When the newspapers announced the division on the adjourned debate,
they also proclaimed the flight of the defaulter; and, wide as was the
disparity between the two events in point of importance, it would be
difficult to say which more engaged the attention of the Dublin public
on that morning, the majority for the Minister, or the published perfidy
of "Honest Tom Gleeson."

Such is, however, the all-engrossing interest of a local topic, aided,
as in the present case, by almost incredulous amazement, the agent's
flight was talked of and discussed in circles where the great political
event was heard as a matter of course. Where had he fled to? What sum
had he carried away with him? Who would be the principal losers? were
all the questions eagerly discussed, but none of which excited so
much diversity of opinion as the single one: What was the cause of his
defalcation? His agencies were numerous and profitable, his mode of life
neither extravagant nor ostentatious; how could a man with so few habits
of expense have contracted debts of any considerable amount, or what
circumstances could induce him to relinquish a station of respectability
and competence for a life-long of dishonorable exile?

Such has been our progress of late years in the art of revealing to the
world at large the hidden springs of every action and event around us
that a secret is in reality the only thing now impossible. Forty-five
years ago, this wonderful exercise of knowledge was in a great measure
unknown; the guessers were then a large and respectable class
in society, and men were content with what mathematicians call
approximation. In our own more accurate days, what between the
newspaper, the club-room, and "'Change," such mystery is no longer
practicable. One day, or two at furthest, would now proclaim every item
in a man's schedule, and afford that most sympathetic of all bodies,
the world, the fruitful theme of expatiating on his folly or his
criminality. In the times we refer to, however, it was only the "Con
Heffermans" of society that ventured even to speculate on the secret
causes of these events.

Although the debate had lasted from eight o'clock in the evening to past
eleven on the following morning, before twelve Mr. Heffernan's carriage
was at the door, and the owner, without any trace of fatigue, set off
to ascertain so much as might be learned of this strange and unexpected
catastrophe. It was no mere passion to know the current gossip of the
day, no prying taste for the last piece of scandal in circulation, - Con
Heffernan was above such weaknesses; but he had a habit - one which
some men practise even yet with success - of whenever the game was safe,
taking credit to himself for casualties in which he had no possible
connection, and attributing events in which he had no share to his own
direct influence. After all, he was in this only imitating the great
navigators of the globe, who have established the rule that discovery
gives a right only second to actual creation.

This was, however, a really provoking case; no one knew anything of
Gleeson's embarrassments. Several of those for whom he acted as agent
were in Dublin, but they were more amazed than all others at his flight;
most of them had settled accounts with him very lately, some men owed
him small sums. "Darcy perhaps knows something about him," was a speech
Heffernan heard more than once repeated; but Darcy's house was shut
up, and the servant announced "he had left town that morning." Hickman
O'Reilly was the next chance; not that he had any direct intercourse
with Gleeson, but his general acquaintanceship with moneyed men and
matters made him a likely source of information; while a small sealed
note addressed to Dr. Hickman was in possession of a banker with whom
Gleeson had transacted business the day before his departure. But
O'Reilly had left town with his son. "The doctor, sir, is here still;
he does not go before to-morrow," said the servant, who, knowing that
Heffernan was a person of some consequence in the Dublin world, thought
proper to give this piece of unasked news.

"Will you give Mr. Con Heffernan's compliments, and say he would be glad
to have the opportunity of a few minutes' conversation?" The servant
returned immediately, and showed him upstairs into a back drawing-room,
where, before a table covered with law papers and parchments, sat the
venerable doctor. He had not as yet performed the usual offices of
a toilet, and, with unshaven chin and uncombed hair, looked the most
melancholy contrast of age, neglect, and misery, with the gorgeous
furniture of a most splendid apartment.

He lifted his head as the door opened, and stared fixedly at the
new-comer, with an expression at once fierce and anxious, so that
Heffernan, when speaking of him afterwards, said that, "Dressed as he
was, in an old flannel morning-gown, dotted with black tufts, he looked
for all the world like a sick tiger making his will."

"Your humble servant, sir," said he, coldly, as Heffernan advanced
with an air of cordiality; nor were the words and the accents they were
uttered in lost upon the man they were addressed to. He saw how the land
lay, in a second, and said eagerly, "He has not left town, I trust, sir;
I sincerely hope your son has not gone."

"Yes, sir, he's off; I'm sure I don't know what he'd wait for."

"Too precipitate, - too rash by far, Mr. Hickman," said Heffernan,
seating himself, and wiping his forehead with an air of well-assumed

"Maybe so," repeated the old man two or three times over, while he
lowered his spectacles to his nose, and began hunting among his papers,
as though he had other occupation in hand of more moment than the
present topic.

"Are you aware, sir," said Heffernan, drawing his chair close up, and
speaking in a most confidential whisper, - "are you aware, sir, that your
son mistook the signal, - that when Mr. Corry took out his handkerchief
and opened it on his knee, that it was in token of Lord Castlereagh's
acquiescence of Mr. O'Reilly's demand, - that, in short, the peerage was
at that moment his own if he wished it?"

The look of dogged incredulity in the old man's face would have silenced
a more sensitive advocate than Heffer-nan; but he went on: "If any
one should feel angry at what has occurred, I am the person; I was the
guarantee for your son's vote, and I have now to meet Lord Castle-reagh
without one word of possible explanation."

"Hickman told me," said the old man, with a voice steady and composed,
"that if Mr. Corry did not raise the handkerchief to his mouth, the
terms were not agreed upon; that opening it before him only meant the
bargain was not quite off: more delay, more talk, Mr. Heffernan; and I
think there was enough of that already."

"A complete mistake, sir, - a total misconception on his part."

"Just like Beecham being blackballed at the club," said the doctor, with
a sarcastic bitterness all his own.

"With that, of course, we cannot be charged," said Heffernan. "Why was
he put up without our being apprised of it? The blackballing was Bagenal
Daly's doing - "

"So I heard," interrupted the other; "they told me that; and here, look
here, here's Daly's bond for four thousand six hundred. Maybe he won't
be so ready with his bank-notes as he was with his black ball - ay!"

"But, to go back to the affair of the House - "

"We won't go back to it, sir, if it's the same to you. I 'm glad, with
all my heart, the folly is over, - sorra use I could see in it, except
the expense, and there's plenty of that. The old families, as they
call them, can't last forever, no more than old houses and old castles;
there's an end of everything in time, and if Hickman waits, maybe his
turn will come as others' did before him. Where 's the Darcys now, I 'd
like to know? - " Here he paused and stammered, and at last stopped dead
short, an expression of as much confusion as age and wrinkles would
permit covering his hard, contracted features.

"You say truly," said Heffernan, finishing what he guessed to be the
sentiment, - "you say truly, the Darcys have run their race; when men's
incumbrances have reached the point that his have, family influence soon
decays. Now, this business of Gleeson's - " Had he fired a shot close to
the old man's ear he could not have startled him more effectually than
by the mention of this name.

"What of Gleeson?" said he, drawing in his breath, and holding on the
chair with both hands.

"You know that he is gone, - fled away no one knows where?"

"Gleeson! Honest Tom Gleeson ran away!" exclaimed Hickman; "no, no,
that's impossible, - I'd never believe that."

"Strange enough, sir, that the paragraphs here have not convinced you,"
said Heffernan, taking up the newspaper which lay on the table, and
where the mark of snuffy fingers denoted the very passage in question.

"Ay! I did n't notice it before," muttered the doctor, as he took up the
paper, affecting to read, but in reality to conceal his own confusion.

"They say the news nearly killed Darcy; he only heard it when going into
the House last night, and was seized with an apoplectic fit, and carried
home insensible." This latter was, it is perhaps needless to say, pure
invention of Heffernan, who found it necessary to continue talking as
a means of detecting old Hickman's game. "Total ruin to that family of
course results. Gleeson had raised immense sums to pay off the debts,
and carried all away with him."

"Ay!" muttered the doctor, as he seemed greatly occupied in arranging
his papers on the table.

"You 'll be a loser too, sir, by all accounts," added Heffernan.

"Not much, - a mere trifle," said the doctor, without looking up from the
papers. "But maybe he's not gone, after all; I won't believe it yet."

"There seems little doubt on that head," said Heffernan; "he changed
three thousand pounds in notes for gold at Ball's after the bank was
closed on Tuesday, and then went over to Finlay's, where he said he had
a lodgment to make. He left his great-coat behind him, and never came
back for it. I found that paper - it was the only one - in the breast

"What is it? what is it?" repeated the old man, clutching eagerly at it.

"Nothing of any consequence," said Heffernan, smiling; and he handed
him a printed notice, setting forth that the United States barque, the
"Congress," of five hundred tons burden, would sail for New York on
Wednesday, the 16th instant, at an hour before high water. "That looked
suspicious, didn't it?" said Heffernan; "and on inquiry I found he
had drawn largely out of, not only the banks in town, but from the
provincial ones also. Now, that note addressed to yourself, for
instance - "

"What note?" said Hickman, starting round as his face became pale as
ashes; "give it to me - give it at once!"

But Heffernan held it firmly between his fingers, and merely shook his
head, while, with a gentle smile, he said, "The banker who intrusted
this letter to my hands was well aware of what importance it might
prove in a court of justice, should this disastrous event demand a legal

The old doctor listened with breathless interest to every word of this
speech, and merely muttered at the close the words, "The note, the

"I have promised to restore the paper to the banker," said Heffernan.

"So you shall, - let me read it," cried Hickman, eagerly; and he clutched
from Heffernan's fingers the document, before the other had seemingly
determined whether he would yield to his demand.

"There it is for you, sir," said the doctor; "make what you can of it;"
and he threw the paper across the table.

The note contained merely the words, "Ten thousand pounds." There was no
signature or any date, but the handwriting was Gleeson's.

"Ten thousand pounds," repeated Heffernan, slowly; "a large sum!"

"So it is," chimed in Hickman, with a grin of self-satisfaction, while
a consciousness that the mystery, whatever it might be, was beyond the
reach of Heffernan's skill, gave him a look of excessive cunning, which
sat strangely on features so old and time-worn.

"Well, Mr. Hickman," said Heffernan, as he arose to take leave, "I have
neither the right nor the inclination to pry into any man's secrets.
This affair of Gleeson's will be sifted to the bottom one day or other,
and that small transaction of the ten thousand pounds as well as the
rest. It was not to discuss him or his fortunes I came here. I hoped to
have seen Mr. O'Reilly, and explained away a very serious misconception.
Lord Castlereagh regrets it, not for the sake of the loss of Mr.
O'Reilly's support, valuable as that unquestionably is, but because
a wrong interpretation would seem to infer that the conduct of
the Treasury bench was disingenuous. You will, I trust, make this
explanation for me, and in the name of his Lordship."

"Faith, I won't promise it," said old Hickman, looking up from a long
column of figures which he was for some minutes poring over; "I don't
understand them things at all; if Bob wanted to be a lord, 't is
more than ever I did, - I don't see much pleasure there is in being a
gentleman. I know, for my part, I 'd rather sit in the back parlor of
my little shop in Loughrea, where I could have a chat over a tumbler of
punch with a neighbor, than all the grandeur in life."

"These simple, unostentatious tastes do you credit before the world,
sir," said Heffernan, with a well put-on look of admiration.

"I don't know whether they do or not," said Hickman, "but I know they
help to make a good credit with the bank, and that's better - ay!"

Heffernan affected to relish the joke, and descended the stairs,
laughing as he went; but scarcely had he reached his carriage, however,
than he muttered a heavy malediction on the sordid old miser whose
iniquities were not less glaring because Con had utterly failed to
unravel anything of his mystery.

"To Lord Castlereagh's," said he to the footman, and then lay back to
ponder over his late interview.

The noble Secretary was not up when Con arrived, but had left orders
that Mr. Heffernan should be shown up to his room whenever he came.
It was now about five o'clock in the afternoon, and Lord Castlereagh,
wrapped up in a loose morning-gown, lay on the bed where he had thrown
himself, without undressing, on reaching home. A debate of more than
fifteen hours, with all its strong and exciting passages, had completely

Online LibraryCharles James LeverThe Knight Of Gwynne, Vol. I (of II) → online text (page 18 of 34)