Charles James Lever.

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exhausted his strength, while the short and disturbed sleep had wearied
rather than refreshed him. The bed and the table beside it were covered
with the morning papers and open letters and despatches, for, tired as
he was, he could not refrain from learning the news of the day.

"Well, my Lord," said Heffernan, with his habitual smile, as he
stepped noiselessly across the floor, "I believe I may wish you joy at
last, - the battle is gained now."

"Heigho!" was the reply of the Secretary, while he extended two fingers
of his hand in salutation. "What hour is it, Heffernan?"

"It is near five; but really there 's not a creature to be seen in the
streets, and, except old Killgobbin airing his pocket-handkerchief
at the fire, not a soul at the Club. Last night's struggle has nearly
killed every one."

"Who is this Mr. Gleeson that has run off with so much money, - did you
know him?"

"Oh, yes, we all knew 'honest Tom Gleeson.'"

"Ah! that was his sobriquet, was it?" said the Secretary, smiling.

"Yes, my Lord, such was he, - or such, at least, was he believed to be,
till yesterday evening. You know it's the last glass of wine always
makes a man tipsy."

"And who is ruined, Heffernan, - any of our friends?"

"As yet there's no saying. Drogheda will lose something considerable, I
believe; but at the banks the opinion is that Darcy will be the heaviest
loser of any."

"The Knight?"

"Yes, the Knight of Gwynne."

"I am sincerely sorry to hear it," said Lord Castlereagh, with an energy
of tone he had not displayed before; "if I had met half-a-dozen such
men as he is, I should have had some scruples - " He paused, and at the
instant caught sight of a very peculiar smile on Heffernan's features;
then, suddenly changing the topic, he said, "What of Nickolls, - is he
shot?"

"No, my Lord, there was no meeting. Bagenal Daly, so goes the story,
proposed going over to the Isle of Man in a row-boat."

"What, last night!" said the Secretary, laughing.

"Yes, when it was blowing the roof off the Custom House; he offered
him his choice of weapons, from a blunderbuss to a harpoon, and his own
distance, over a handkerchief, or fifty yards with a rifle."

"And was Nickolls deaf to all such seductions?"

"Quite so, my Lord; even when Daly said to him, 'I think it a public
duty to shoot a fellow like you, for, if you are suffered to live, the
Government will make a judge of you one of these days.'"

"What profound solicitude for the purity of the judgment seat!"

"Daly has reason to think of these things; he has been in the dock
already, and perhaps suspects he may be again."

"Poor Darcy!" said Lord Castlereagh to himself, in a half whisper, "I
wish I knew you were not a sufferer by this fellow's flight. By the bye,
Heffernan, sit down and write a few lines to Forester; say that Lord
Cornwallis is greatly displeased at his protracted absence. I am tired
of making excuses for him, and as I dine there to-day, I shall be
tormented all the evening."

"Darcy's daughter is very good-looking, I hear," said Heffernan, smiling
slyly, "and should have a large fortune if matters go right."

"Very possibly; but old Lady Wallincourt is the proudest dowager
in England, and looks to the blood-royal for alliances. Forester is
entirely dependent on her; and that reminds me of a most solemn pledge I
made her to look after her 'dear Dick,' and prevent any entanglement
in this barbarous land, - as if I had nothing else to think of! Write at
once, Heffernan, and order him up; say he 'll lose his appointment by
any further delay, and that I am much annoyed at his absence."

While Heffernan descended to the library to write, Lord Castlereagh
turned once more to sleep until it was time to dress for the Viceroy's
dinner.




CHAPTER XXII. "A WARNING" AND "A PARTING."

If we wanted any evidence of how little avail all worldly wisdom is,
we might take it from the fact that our severest calamities are
often impending us at the moments we deem ourselves most secure from
misfortune. Thus was it that while the events were happening whose
influence was to shadow over all the sunshine of her life, Lady Eleanor
Darcy never felt more at ease. That same morning the post had brought
her a letter from the Knight, - only a few lines, hastily written, but
enough to allay all her anxiety. He spoke of law arrangements, then
almost completed, by which any immediate pressure regarding money might
be at once obviated, and promised, for the very first time in his life,
to submit to any plan of retrenchment she desired to adopt. Had it been
in her power, she could not have dictated lines more full of pleasant
anticipation. The only drawback on the happiness of her lot in life was
the wasteful extravagance of a mode of living which savored far more of
feudal barbarism than of modern luxury.

Partly from long habit and association, partly from indolence of
character, but more than either from a compassionate consideration
of those whose livelihood might be impaired by any change in his
establishment, the Knight had resisted all suggestion of alteration. He
viewed the very peculations around him as vested rights, and the most
he could pledge himself to was, that when the present race died out he
would not appoint any successors.

The same post that brought this pleasant letter, conveyed one of far
less grateful import to Forester. It was a long epistle from his mother,
carefully worded, and so characteristic withal, that if it were any part
of our object to introduce that lady to our readers, we could not more
easily do so than through her own letter. Such is not, however, our
intention; enough if we say that it was a species of domestic homily,
where moral principles and worldly wisdom found themselves so
inextricably interwoven, no mean skill could have disentangled them. She
had learned, as careful mothers somehow always contrive to learn, that
her son was domesticated in the house with a very charming and beautiful
girl, and the occasion seemed suitable to enforce some of those
excellent precepts which hitherto had been deficient in force for want
of a practical example.

Had Lady Wallincourt limited herself to cautious counsels about falling
in love with some rustic beauty in a remote region, Forester might have
treated the advice as one of those matter-of-course events which cause
no more surprise than the receipt of a printed circular; but she went
further. She deemed this a fitting occasion to instruct her son into
the mystery of that craft, which, in her own experience of life, she had
seen make more than one man's fortune, and by being adepts in which many
of her own family had attained to high and lasting honors. This science
was neither more nor less than success in female society. "I will not
insult either your good taste or your understanding," wrote she, "by
any warning against falling in love in Ireland. Beauty is - France
excepted - pretty equally distributed through the world; neither is there
any nationality in good looks, for, nowadays, admixture of race has
obliterated every peculiarity of origin. In all, then, that concerns
manner, tone, and breeding, your own country possesses the true
standard: every deviation from this is a fault. What is conventional
must be right, because it is the exponent of general opinion on those
topics for which each feels interested. Now, the Irish, my dear boy, the
Irish are never conventional; they are clannish, provincial, peculiar,
but never conventional. Their pride would seem to be rather to ruffle
than fall in with the general sympathies of society. They forget that
the social world is a great compact, and they are always striving for
individual successes by personal distinction: this is the very acme of
vulgarity.

"If they, however, are very indifferent models for imitation, they
afford an excellent school for your own training; they are a shrewd,
quick-sighted race, with a strong sense of the ludicrous, and are what
the French call _malin_ to a degree. To win favor among them without any
subservient imitation of their own habits, which would be contemptible,
is not over easy.

"If I am rightly informed, you are at present well circumstanced to
profit by my counsels. I am told of a very agreeable and very pretty
girl with whom you ride and walk out constantly, and, far from feeling
any maternal uneasiness, - for I trust I know my son, - I am rejoiced at
the circumstance. Make the most of such an advantage by exercising your
own abilities and powers of pleasing, give yourself the habit of
talking your very best on every topic, without pedantry or any sign
of premeditation. Practise that blending of courteous deference to a
woman's opinions with a subdued consciousness of your own powers, which
I have spoken to you of in your dear father's character. Seldom venture
on an axiom, never tell an anecdote; be most guarded in any indulgence
of humor: a laugh is the most dangerous of all triumphs. It is the
habit to reproach us with our frigidity, - I believe not without reason;
cultivate, then, a certain amount of warmth which may suggest the idea
of earnestness, apart from all suspicion of enthusiasm, which I have
often told you is low-lived. Watch carefully by what qualities your
success is more advanced; examine yourself as to what defects you
experience in your own character; make yourself esteemed as a means of
being estimable; win regard, and the habit of pleasing will give a charm
to your manner, even when you are not desirous to secure affection. Your
poor dear father often confessed the inestimable advantages of his first
affairs of the heart, and used to say, whenever by any adroit exercise
of his captivation he had gained over an adverse Maid of Honor, I owe
that to Louisa, for such was the name of the young lady, - I forget now
who she was. The mechanism of the heart is alike in all lands; the means
of success in Ireland will win victory where the prize is higher. In all
this, remember, I by no means advise you to sport with any young lady's
feelings, nor to win more of her affection than may assure you that
the entire could also become yours: a polite chess-player will rest
satisfied to say, 'check,' without pushing the adversary to 'mate.'

"It will soon be time you should leave the army, and I hope to find you
have acquired some other education by the pursuit than mere knowledge of
dress."

This is a short specimen of the maternal Machiavelism by which "the most
fascinating woman of her set" hoped to instruct her son, and teach him
the road to fortune.

Such is the fatal depravity of every human heart that any subtle appeal
to selfishness, if it fail to flex the victim to the will, at least
shakes the strong sense of conscious rectitude, and makes our very
worthiness seem weakness.

Forester's first impression was almost anger as he read these lines,
the second time he perused them he was far less shocked, and at last
was puzzled whether more to wonder at the keen worldly knowledge they
betrayed, or the solicitude of that affection which consented to unveil
so much of life for his guidance. The result of all these conflicting
emotions was depression of spirits, and a discontent with himself and
all the world; nor could the fascinations of that little circle in which
he lived so intimately, subdue the feeling.

Lady Eleanor saw this, and exerted herself with all her wonted powers to
amuse and interest him; Helen, too, delighted at the favorable change in
her mother's spirits, contributed to sustain the tone of light-hearted
pleasantry, while she could not restrain a jest upon Forester's unusual
gloominess.

The manner whose fascinations had hitherto so many charms, now almost
irritated him; the poison of suspicion had been imbibed, and he
continually asked himself, what if the very subtlety his mother's letter
spoke of was now practised by her? If all the varied hues of captivation
her changing humor wore were but the deep practised lures of coquetry?
His self-love was piqued by the thought, as well as his perceptive
shrewdness, and he set himself, as he believed, to decipher her real
nature; but, such is the blindness of mere egotism, in reality to
misunderstand and mistake her.

How often it happens in life that the moment a doubt prevails as to some
trait or feature of our character, we should exactly seize upon that
very instant to indulge in some weakness or passing levity that may
strengthen a mere suspicion, or make it a certainty.

Helen never seemed gayer than on this evening, scarcely noticing
Forester, save when to jest upon his morose and silent mood; she talked,
and laughed, and sang in all the free joyousness of a happy heart,
unconsciously displaying powers of mind and feeling which, in calmer
moments, lay dormant and concealed.

The evening wore on, and Helen had just risen from her harp, - where she
was playing one of those wild, half-sad, half-playful melodies of her
country, - when a gentle tap came to the door, and, without waiting for
leave to enter, old Tate appeared.

The old man was pale, and his features wore an expression of extreme
terror; but he was doing his very utmost, as it seemed, to struggle
against some inward fear, as, with a smile of far more melancholy than
mirth, he said, "Did ye hear it, my Lady? I 'm sure ye heerd it."

"Heard what, Tate?" said Lady Eleanor.

"The - but I see Miss Helen's laughing at me. Ah! don't then, Miss,
darlin', - don't laugh."

"What was it, Tate? Tell us what you heard."

"The Banshee, my Lady! Ay, there 's the way, - I knew how 't would be;
you 'd only laugh when I tould you."

"Where was it you heard it?" said Lady Eleanor, affecting seriousness to
gratify the old man's superstition.

"Under the east window, my Lady; then it moved across the flower-garden,
and down to the shore beneath the big rocks."

"What was it like, Tate?"

"'T was like a funeral 'coyne' first, Miss, when ye heerd it far away in
the mountain; and then it rose, and swelled fuller and stronger, till
it swam all round me, and at last died away to the light, soft cry of an
infant."

"Exactly, Tate; it was Captain Forester sighing. I never heard a better
description in my life."

"Ah! don't laugh, my Lady, - don't now, Miss Helen, dear. I never knew
luck nor grace come of laughing when the warnin' was come. 'T is the
Captain, there, looks sad and thoughtful, - the Heavens bless him for it!
He knows 'tis no time for laughing."

Forester might have accepted the eulogy in better part, perhaps, had he
understood it; but as it was, he turned abruptly about, and asked Lady
Eleanor for an explanation of the whole mystery.

"Tate thinks he has heard - "

"Thinks!" interrupted the old man, with a sorrowful gesture of both
hands. "Musha! I'd take the Gospel on it; I heard it as plain as I hear
your Ladyship now."

Lady Eleanor smiled, and went on - "the cry of the Banshee, that dreadful
warning which, in the superstition of the country, always betokens
death, or at least some great calamity, to the house it is heard to wail
over."

"A polite attention, to say the least," said Forester, smiling
sarcastically, "of the witch or fairy or whatever it is, to announce
to people an approaching misfortune. And has every cabin got its own
Ban - what do you call it?"

"The cabins has none," said Tate, with a loot of severe reproach, the
most remote possible from his habitual air of deference; "'tis only the
ouldest and most ancient families, like his honor the Knight's, has a
Banshee. But it's no use talking; I see nobody believes me."

"Yes, Tate, I do," cried Helen, with an earnestness of manner, either
really felt, or assumed to gratify the poor old man's superstitious
veneration; "just tell me how you heard it first."

"Like that!" whispered Tate, as he held up his hand to enforce silence;
and at the same instant a low, plaintive cry was heard, as if beneath
the very window. The accent was not of pain or suffering, but of
melancholy so soft, so touching, and yet so intense, that it stilled
every voice within the room, where now each long-drawn breath was
audible.

There is a lurking trait of superstition in every human heart, which
will resist, at some one moment or other, every effort of reason and
every scoff of irony. An instant before, and Forester was ready to jest
with the old man's terrors, and now his own spirit was not all devoid
of them. The feeling was, however, but of a moment's duration; suspicion
again assumed its sway, and, seizing his hat, he rushed from the room,
to search the flower-garden and examine every spot where any one might
lie concealed.

"There he goes now, as if he could see _her_; and maybe 't would be
as well for him he did n't," said Tate, as, in contempt of the English
incredulity, he gazed after the eager youth. "Is his honor well, my
Lady? - when did you hear from him?"

"We heard this very day, Tate; he is perfectly well."

"And Master Lionel - the captain, I mane - but I only think he's a child
still."

"Quite well, too," said Helen. "Don't alarm yourself, Tate; you know how
sadly the wind can sigh through these old walls at times, and under the
yew-trees, too, it sounds drearily; I 've shuddered to myself often, as
I 've heard it."

"God grant it!" said old Tate, piously; but the shake of his head and
the muttering sounds between his teeth attested that he laid no such
flattering unction to his heart as mere disbelief might offer. "'T is
n't a death-cry, anyhow, Miss Helen," whispered he to Miss Darcy, as he
moved towards the door; "for I went down to the back of the abbey, where
Sir Everard was buried, and all was still there."

"Well, go to bed now, Tate, and don't think more about it; if the
wind - "

"Ah! the wind! the wind!" said he, querulously; "that's the way it
always is, - as if God Almighty had no other way of talking to our hearts
than the cry of the night-wind."

"Well, Captain Forester, what success? Have you confronted the spectre?"
said Lady Eleanor, as he re-entered the apartment.

"Except having fallen into a holly-bush, where I rivalled the
complaining accents of the old witch, I have no adventure to recount;
all is perfectly still and tranquil without."

"You have got your cheek scratched for following the siren," said Lady
Eleanor, laughing; "pray put another log on the fire, it is fearfully
chilly here."

Old Tate withdrew slowly and unwillingly; he saw that his intelligence
had failed to produce a proper sense of terror on their minds; and his
own load of anxiety was heavier, from want of participation.

The conversation, by that strange instinct which influences the least
as well as the most credulous people, now turned on the superstitions
of the peasantry, and many a legend and story were remembered by Lady
Eleanor and her daughter, in which these popular beliefs formed a chief
feature.

"It is unfair and unwise," said Lady Eleanor, at the conclusion of one
of these stories, "to undervalue such influences; the sailor, who passes
his life in dangers, watches the elements with an eye and an air that
training have rendered almost preternaturally observant, and he sees the
sign of storm where others would but mark the glow of a red sunset;
so among a primitive people communing much with their own hearts in
solitary, unfrequented places, imagination becomes developed in undue
proportion, and the mind seeks relief in creative efforts from the
wearying sense of loneliness; but even these are less idle fancies than
conclusions come to from long and deep thought. Some strange process
of analogy would seem the parent of superstitions which we know to be
common to all lands."

"Which means, that you half believe in a Banshee!" said Forester,
smiling.

"Not so; but that I cannot consent to despise the frame of mind which
suggests these beliefs, although I have no faith in the apparitions.
Poor Tate, there, had never dreamed of hearing the Banshee cry if some
painful thought of impending misfortune had not suggested her presence;
his fears may not be unfounded, although the form they take be
preternatural."

"I protest against all such plausibilities," said Helen. "I 'm for the
Banshee, as the Republicans say in France, 'one and indivisible.' I 'll
not accept of natural explanations. Mr. Bagenal Daly says, we may
well believe in spirits, when we put faith in the mere ghost of a
Parliament."

"Helen is throwing out a bait for a political discussion," said Lady
Eleanor, laughing, "and so I 'll even say good night, Captain Forester,
and pleasant dreams of the Banshee."

Forester rose and took his leave, which, somehow, was colder than usual.
His mother's counsels had got possession of his mind, and distrust
perverted every former source of pleasure.

"Her manner is all coquetry," said he, angrily, to himself, as he walked
towards his room.

Poor fellow! and what if it were? Coquetry is but a gilding, to be
sure; but it can never be well laid on if the substance beneath is not a
precious metal.

There was, at the place where the river opened into the sea, a small
inlet of the bay guarded by two bold and rocky headlands, between which
the tide swept with uncommon violence, accumulating in time a kind
of bar, over which, even in calm weather, the waves were lashed into
breakers, while the waters within were still as a mountain lake. The
ancient ruin we have already alluded to passingly, stood on a little
eminence fronting this small creek, and although unmarked by any
architectural beauty, or any pretensions, save the humble possession of
four rude walls pierced by narrow windows, and a low doorway formed of
three large stones, was yet, in the eyes of the country people, endowed
with some superior holiness, - so it is certain the little churchyard
around bespoke. It was crowded with graves, whose humble monuments
consisted in wooden crosses, decorated in recent cases with little
garlands of paper or wild flowers, as piety or affection suggested. The
fragments of ship-timber around showed that they who slept beneath had
been mostly fishermen, for the chapel was peculiarly esteemed by them;
and at the opening of the fishing season a mass was invariably offered
here for the success of the herring-fishery, by a priest from a
neighboring parish, whose expenses were willingly and liberally rewarded
by the fishermen.

In exact proportion with the reverence in which this spot was regarded
by day was the fear and dread entertained of it by night. Stories of
ghosts and evil spirits were rife far and near of that lonely ruin, and
the hardiest seamen, who would brave the wild waves of the Atlantic,
would not venture alone within these deserted walls after dark. Helen
remembered, as a child, having been once there after sunset, induced by
an intense curiosity to hear or see something of those sounds and shapes
her nurse had told of, and what alarm her absence created among the
household increased when it was discovered where she had been.

The same strange desire to hear if it might be that sad and wailing
voice which all had so distinctly heard in the drawing-room, led her,
when she had wished her mother good-night, to leave her chamber, and,
crossing the flower-garden, to descend to the beach by a small door
which opened to a little pathway down to the sea. When the superstitions
whose terrors have affrighted childhood are either conquered by reason
or uprooted by worldly influence, they still leave behind them a
strange passion for the marvellous, which in imaginative temperaments is
frequently greatly developed, and becomes a great source of enjoyment or
suffering to its possessor. Helen Darcy's nature was of this kind,
and she would gladly have accepted all the tremors and terrors of
her nursery days to feel once again that intense awe, that anxious
heart-beating expectancy, a ghost story used to create within her.

The night was calm and starlit, the sea was tranquil and unruffled,
except where the bar broke the flow of the tide, and marked by a long
line of foam the struggling breakers, whose hoarse plash was heard above
the rippling on the strand. Even in the rocky caves all was still,
not an echo resounded within those dreary caverns where at times the
thunder's self was not louder. Helen reached the little churchyard;
she knew every path and foot-track through it, and at last, strolling
leisurely onward, entered the ruin and sat down within the deep window
that looked over the sea.

For some time her attention was directed seaward, watching the waves as
they reflected back the spangled heaven, or sank again in dark shadow,
when suddenly she perceived the figure of a man, who appeared slowly



Online LibraryCharles James LeverThe Knight Of Gwynne, Vol. I (of II) → online text (page 19 of 34)