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"He has an immense estate, but, as I hear, greatly encumbered; but don't
think of money with him, that will never do."

"What's the bait, then? Does he care for rank? Has he any children grown
up?"

"One son and one daughter are all his family; and as for title, I don't
think that he 'd exchange that of Knight of Gwynne for a Dukedom. His
son is a lieutenant in the Guards."

"Yes; and the best fellow in the regiment," broke in Forester. "In every
quality of a high-spirited gentleman, Lionel Darcy has no superior."

"The better deserving of rapid promotion," said his Lordship, smiling
significantly.

"I should be sorry to offer it to him at the expense of his father's
principles," said Forester.

"Very little fear of your having to do so," said Heffernan, quickly;
"the Knight would be no easy purchase."

"You must see him, however, Dick." said the Secretary; "there is no
reason why he should not be with us on grounds of conviction. He is a
man of enlightened and liberal mind, and surely will not think the worse
of a measure because its advocates are in a position to serve his son's
interests."

"If that topic be kept very studiously out of sight, it were all the
more prudent," said Con, dryly.

"Of course; Forester will pay his visit, and only advert to the matter
with caution and delicacy. To gain him to our side is a circumstance of
so much moment that I say _carte blanche_ for the terms."

"I knew the time that a foxhound would have been a higher bribe than a
blue ribbon with honest Maurice; but it's many years since we met, now,
and Heaven knows what changes time may have wrought in him. A smile
and a soft speech from a pretty woman, or a bold exploit of some
hare-brained fellow, were sure to find favor with him, when he would
have heard flattery from the lips of royalty without pride or emotion."

"His colleague in the county is with us; has he any influence over the
Knight?"

"Far from it. Mr. Hickman O'Reilly is the last man in the world to have
weight with Maurice Darcy, and if it be your intention to make O'Reilly
a peer, you could have taken no readier method to arm the Knight against
you. No, no; if you really are bent on having him, leave all thought of
a purchase aside; let Forester, as the friend and brother officer of
young Darcy, go down to Gwynne, make himself as agreeable to the Knight
as may be, and when he has one foot on the carriage-step at his
departure, turn sharply round, and say, 'Won't you vote with us,
Knight?' What between surprise and courtesy, he may be taken too short
for reflection, and if he say but 'Yes,' ever so low, he's yours. That's
_my_ advice to you. It may seem a poor chance, but I fairly own I see no
better one."

"I should have thought rank might be acceptable in such a quarter," said
the Secretary, proudly.

"He has it, my Lord, - at least as much as would win all the respect any
rank could confer; and besides, these new peerages have no prestige
in their favor yet a while; we must wait for another generation. This
claret is perfect now, but I should not say it were quite so delicate in
flavor the first year it was bottled. The squibs and epigrams on the new
promotions are remembered where the blazons of the Heralds' College are
forgotten; that unlucky banker, for instance, that you made a Viscount
the other day, both his character and his credit have suffered for it."

"What was that you allude to? - an epigram, was it?"

"Yes, very short, but scarcely sweet. Here it is: -

"'With a name that is borrowed, a title that's bought, - '

you, remember, my Lord, how true both allegations are, -

"'With a name that is borrow'd, a title that's bought, Sir William would
fain be a gentleman thought; While his Wit is mere cunning, his Courage
but vapor, His Pride is but money, his Money but paper.'"

"Very severe, certainly," said his Lordship, in the same calm tone he
ever spoke. "Not your lines, Mr. Heffernan?"

"No, my Lord; a greater than Con Heffernan indited these, - one who did
not scruple to reply to yourself in the House in an imitation of your
own inimitable manner."

"Oh, I know whom you mean, - a very witty person indeed," said the
Secretary, smiling; "and if we were to be laughed out of office,
he might lead the Opposition. But these are very business-like,
matter-of-fact days we 're fallen upon. The cabinet that can give away
blue ribbons may afford to be indifferent to small jokers. But to revert
to matters more immediate: you must start at once, Forester, for the
West, see the Knight, and do whatever you can to bring him towards us.
I say _carte blanche_ for the terms; I only wish our other elevations to
the peerage had half the pretension he has; and, whatever our friend Mr.
Heffernan may say, I opine to the mere matter of compact, which says, so
much for so much."

"Here's success to the mission, however its negotiations incline," said
Heffernan, as he drained off his glass and rose to depart. "We shall see
you again within ten days or a fortnight, I suppose?"

"Oh, certainly; I'll not linger in that wild district an hour longer
than I must." And so, with good night and good wishes, the party
separated, - Forester to make his preparations for a journey which, in
those days, was looked on as something formidable.




CHAPTER II. A TRAVELLING ACQUAINTANCE.

Whatever the merits or demerits of the great question, the legislative
union between England and Ireland, - and assuredly we have neither the
temptation of duty nor inclination to discuss such here, - the means
employed by Ministers to carry the measure through Parliament were in
the last degree disgraceful. Never was bribery practised with more
open effrontery, never did corruption display itself with more daring
indifference to public opinion; the Treasury office was an open mart,
where votes were purchased, and men sold their country, delighted, as a
candid member of the party confessed, - delighted "to have a country to
sell."

The ardor of a political career, like the passion for the chase, would
seem in its high excitement to still many compunctious murmurings
of conscience which in calmer moments could not fail to be heard and
acknowledged: the desire to succeed, that ever-present impulse to
win, steels the heart against impressions which, under less pressing
excitements, had been most painful to endure; and, in this way,
honorable and high-minded men have often stooped to acts which,
with calmer judgment to guide them, they would have rejected with
indignation.

Such was Dick Forester's position at the moment. An aide-de-camp on the
staff of the Viceroy, a near relative of the Secretary, he was intrusted
with many secret and delicate negotiations, affairs in which, had he
been a third party, he would have as scrupulously condemned the tempter
as the tempted; the active zeal of agency allayed, however, all such
qualms of conscience, and every momentary pang of remorse was swallowed
up in the ardor for success.



Few men will deny in the abstract the cruelty of many field-sports they
persist in following; fewer still abandon them on such scruples; and
while Forester felt half ashamed to himself of the functions committed
to him, he would have been sorely disappointed if he had been passed
over in the selection of his relative's political adherents.

Of this nature were some of Dick Forester's reflections as he posted
along towards the West; nor was the scene through which he journeyed
suggestive of pleasanter thoughts. If any of our readers should
perchance be acquainted with that dreary line of country which lies
along the great western road of Ireland, they will not feel surprised
if the traveller's impressions of the land were not of the brightest or
fairest. The least reflective of mortals cannot pass through a dreary
and poverty-stricken district without imbibing some of the melancholy
which broods over the place. Forester was by no means such, and felt
deeply and sincerely for the misery he witnessed on every hand, and was
in the very crisis of some most patriotic scheme of benevolence, when
his carriage arrived in front of the little inn of Kilbeggan. Resisting,
without much violence to his inclinations, the civil request of the
landlord to alight, he leaned back to resume the broken thread of his
lucubrations, while fresh horses were put to. How long he thus waited,
or what progress his benign devices accomplished in the mean while, this
true history is unable to record; enough if we say that when he next
became aware of the incidents then actually happening around him, he
discovered that his carriage was standing fast in the same place as at
the moment of his arrival, and the rain falling in torrents, as before.

To let down the glass and call out to the postilions was a very natural
act; to do so with the addition of certain expletives not commonly used
in good society, was not an extraordinary one. Forester did both; but he
might have spared his eloquence and his indignation, for the postilions
were both in the stable, and his servant agreeably occupied in the bar
over the comforts of a smoking tumbler of punch. The merciful schemes so
late the uppermost object of his thoughts were routed in a moment, and,
vowing intentions of a very different purport to the whole household,
he opened the door and sprang out. Dark as the night was, he could see
that there were no horses to the carriage, and, with redoubled anger at
the delay, he strode into the inn.

"Holloa, I say - house here! Linwood! Where the devil is the fellow?"

"Here, sir," cried a smart-looking London servant, as he sprang from
the bar with his eyes bolting out of his head from the heat of the last
mouthful, swallowed in a second. "I've been a trying for horses, sir;
but they've never got 'em, though they 've been promising to let us have
a pair this half-hour."

"No horses! Do you mean that they've not got a pair of posters in a town
like this?"

"Yes, indeed, sir," interposed a dirty waiter in a nankeen jacket;
for the landlord was too indignant at the rejection of his proposal to
appear again, "we've four pair, besides a mare in foal; but there's a
deal of business on the line this week past, and there's a gentleman in
the parlor now has taken four of them."

"Taken four! Has he more than one carriage?"

"No, sir, a light chariot it is; but he likes to go fast."

"And so do I - when I can," muttered Forester, the last words being an
addition almost independent of him. "Could n't you tell him that there's
a gentleman here very much pressed to push on, and would take it as a
great favor if he'd divide the team?"

"To be sure, sir, I'll go and speak to him," said the waiter, as he
hurried away on the errand.

"I see how it is, sir," said Linwood, who, with true servant dexterity,
thought to turn his master's anger into any other channel than towards
himself, "they wants to get you to stop the night here."

"Confound this trickery! I'll pay what they please for the horses, only
let us have them. - Well, waiter, what does he say?"

"He says, sir," said the waiter, endeavoring to suppress a laugh, "if
you 'll come in and join him at supper, you shall have whatever you
like."

"Join him at supper! No, no; I'm hurried, I'm anxious to get forward,
and not the least hungry besides."

"Hadn't you better speak a word to him, anyhow?" said the waiter,
half opening the parlor door. And Forester, accepting the suggestion,
entered.

[Illustration: 041]

In the little low-ceilinged apartment of the small inn, at a table
very amply and as temptingly covered, sat a large and, for his age,
singularly handsome man. A forehead both high and broad surmounted
two clear blue eyes, whose brilliancy seemed to defy the wear of time;
regular and handsome teeth; and a complexion the very type of
health appeared to vouch for a strength of constitution rare at his
advanced age. His dress was the green coat so commonly worn by country
gentlemen, with leather breeches and boots, nor, though the season was
winter, did he appear to have any great-coat, or other defence against
the weather. He was heaping some turf upon the fire as Forester entered,
and, laughingly interrupting the operation, he stood up and bowed
courteously.

"I have taken a great liberty, sir, first, to suppose that any man at
this hour of the night is not the worse for something to eat and drink;
and, secondly, that he might have no objection to partake of either in
my company." Forester was not exactly prepared for a manner so palpably
that of the best society, and, at once repressing every sign of his
former impatience, replied by apologizing for a request which might
inconvenience the granter. "Let me help you to this grouse-pie, and
fill yourself a glass of sherry; and by the time you have taken some
refreshment, the horses will be put to. I am most happy to offer you a
seat."

"I am afraid there is a mistake somewhere," said Forester, half timidly.
"I heard you had engaged the only four horses here, and as my carriage
is without, my request was to obtain two if you - "

"But why not come with me? I 'm pressed, and must be up, if possible,
before morning. Remember, we are forty-eight miles from Dublin."

"Dublin! But I'm going the very opposite road. I'm for Westport."

"Oh, by Jove! that is different. What a stupid fellow the waiter is!
Never mind; sit down. Let us have a glass of wine together. You shall
have two of the horses. Old Wilkins must only make his spurs supply the
place of the leaders."

There was a hearty good-nature in every accent of the old man's voice,
and Forester drew his chair to the table, by no means sorry to spend
some time longer in his company.

There is a kind of conversation sacred to the occupations of the
table, - a mixture of the culinary and the social, the gustatory with
the agreeable. And the stranger led the way to this, with the art of
an accomplished proficient, and while recommending the good things to
Forester's attention, contrived to season their enjoyment by a tone at
once pleasing and cordial.

"I could have sworn you were hungry," said he, laughing, as Forester
helped himself for the second time to the grouse-pie. "I know you did
not expect so appetizing a supper in such a place; but Rickards has
always something in the larder for an old acquaintance, and I have been
travelling this road close upon sixty years now."

"And a dreary way it is," said Forester, "except for this most agreeable
incident. I never came so many miles before with so little to interest
me."

"Very true; it is a flat, monotonous-looking country, and poor besides;
but nothing like what I remember it as a boy."

"You surely do not mean that the people were ever worse off than they
seem now to be?"

"Ay, a hundred times worse off. They may be rack-rented and over-taxed
in some instances now, - not as many as you would suppose, after
all, - but then, they were held in actual slavery, nearly famished,
and all but naked; no roads, no markets; subject to the caprice of the
landowners on every occasion in life, and the faction fights - those
barbarous vestiges of a rude time - kept up and encouraged by those who
should have set the better example of mutual charity and good feeling.
These unhappy practices have not disappeared, but they are far less
frequent than formerly; and however the confession may seem to you a sad
one, to me there is a pride in saying, Ireland is improving."

"It is hard to conceive a people more miserably off than these," said
Forester, with a sigh.

"So they seem to your eyes; but let me remark that there is a transition
state between rude barbarism and civilization which always appears
more miserable than either; habits of life which suggest wants that
can rarely, if ever, be supplied. The struggle between poverty and
the desire for better, is a bitter conflict, and such is the actual
condition of this people. You are young enough to witness the fruits
of the reformation; I am too old ever to hope to see them, but I feel
assured that the day is coming."

"I like your theory well; it has Hope for its ally," said Forester, as
he gazed on the benevolent features of the old squire.

"It has even better, sir, it has truth; and hence it is that the
peasantry, as they approach nearer to the capital, - the seat of
civilization, - have fewest of those traits that please or attract
strangers; they are in the transition state I speak of; while down in
_my_ wild country, you can see them in their native freshness, reckless
and improvident, but light-hearted and happy."

"Where may the country be you speak of, sir?" said Forester.

"The Far West, beside the Atlantic. You have heard of Mayo?"

"Oh, that is my destination at this moment; I am going beyond Westport,
to visit one of the chieftains there. I have not the honor to know him,
but I conclude that his style of living and habits will not be a bad
specimen of the gentry customs generally."

"I know that neighborhood tolerably well. May I ask the name of your
future host?"

"The Knight of Gwynne is his title - Mr. Darcy - "

"Oh! an old acquaintance, - I may almost say an old friend of mine," said
the other, smiling. "And so you are going to pass some time at Gywnne?"

"A week or so; I scarcely think I can spare more."

"They 'll call that a very inhospitable visit at Gwynne, sir; the
Knight's guests rarely stay less than a month. I have just left it,
and there were some there who had been since the beginning of the
partridge-shooting, and not the least welcome of the party."

"I am sorry I had not the good fortune to meet you there," said
Forester.

"Make your visit a fortnight, and I 'll join you, then," said the
old man, gayly. "I 'm going up to town to settle a wager, - a foolish
excursion, you 'll say, at my time of life; but it's too late to mend."

"The horses is put to, sir," said the waiter, announcing the fact for
something like the fourth time, without being attended to.

"Well, then, it is time to start. Am I to take it as a pledge that I
shall find you at Gwynne this day fortnight?"

"I cannot answer for my host," said Forester, laughing.

"Oh! old Darcy is sure to ask you to stay. By the way, would you permit
me to trouble you with five lines to a friend who is now stopping
there?"

"Of course; I shall be but too happy to be of any service to you."

The old gentleman sat down, and, tearing a leaf from a capacious
pocket-book, wrote a few hurried lines, which, having folded and sealed,
he addressed, "Bagenal Daly, Esquire, Gwynne Abbey."

"There, that's my commission; pray add my service to the Knight himself,
when you see him."

"Permit me to ask, how shall I designate his friend?"

"Oh! I forgot, you don't know me," said he, laughing. "I have half a
mind to leave the identification with your own descriptive powers."

"I'd wager five guineas I could make the portrait a resemblance."

"Done, then; I take the bet," said the other; "and I promise you, on the
word of a gentleman, I am known to every visitor in the house."

Each laughed heartily at the drollery of such a wager, and, with many a
profession of the pleasure a future meeting would afford to both, they
parted, less like casual acquaintances than as old and intimate friends.




CHAPTER III. GWYNNE ABBEY

When Forester parted with his chance companion at Kilbeggan, he pursued
his way without meeting a single incident worth recording; nor, although
he travelled with all the speed of posters, aided by the persuasive
power of additional half-crowns, shall we ask of our reader to accompany
him, but, at one bound, cross the whole island, and stand with us on the
margin of that glorious sheet of water which, begirt with mountains and
studded with its hundred islands, is known as Clue Bay.

At the southern extremity of the bay rises the great mountain of Croagh
Patrick, its summit nearly five thousand feet above the sea; on the side
next the ocean, it is bold and precipitous, crag rising above crag in
succession, and not even the track of a mountain goat visible on the
dangerous surface; landward, however, a gentle slope descends about the
lower third of the mountain, and imperceptibly is lost in the rich and
swelling landscape beneath. Here, sheltered from the western gales, and
favored by the fertility of the soil, the trees are seen to attain a
girth and height rarely met with elsewhere, while they preserve their
foliage to a much later period than in other parts of the country.

The ruins of an ancient church, whose very walls are washed by the
Atlantic, show that the luxuriant richness of the spot was known in
times past. They who founded these goodly edifices were no mean judges
of the resources of the land, and the rich woods and blossoming orchards
that still shelter their ruined shrines evidence with what correctness
they selected their resting-places.

The coast-road which leads from Westport skirts along the edge of the
bay, and is diversified by many a pretty cottage whose trellised walls
and rose-covered porches vouch for the mildness of the climate, and
are in summer resorted to as bathing-lodges by numbers from the inland
counties. The high-road has, however, a grander destiny than to such
humble, though picturesque, dwellings, for it suddenly ceases at the
gate of an immense demesne, whose boundary wall may be seen stretching
away for miles, and at last is traced high up the mountain side, where
it forms the enclosure of a deer park.

Two square and massive towers connected by an arch form the gateway,
and though ivy and honeysuckle have covered many an architectural device
which once were looked on with pride, a massive armorial escutcheon in
yellow stone forms the key of the arch, while two leopards supporting
a crown, with the motto, "Ne la touchez pas!" proclaim the territory of
the Knight of Gwynne.

Within, an avenue wide enough for a high-road led through a park of
great extent, dotted with trees single or in groups, and bounded by
a vast wood, whose waving tops were seen for miles of distance. If a
landscape-gardener would have deplored with uplifted hands the glorious
opportunities of embellishment which neglect or ignorance had suffered
to lie undeveloped within these grounds, a true lover of scenery would
have felt delighted at the wild and picturesque beauty around him, as,
sometimes, the road would dip into a deep glade, where the overhanging
banks were clothed with the dog-rose and the sweet-brier, still and
hushed to every sound save the song of the thrush or the not less sweet
ripple of the little stream that murmured past; and again, emerging from
the shade, it wound along some height whence the great mountain might
be seen, or, between the dark foliage, the blue surface of the sea,
swelling and heaving with ever-restless motion. All the elements of
great picturesque beauty were here, and in that glorious profusion with
which nature alone diffuses her wealth, - the mountain, the forest, and
the ocean, the greensward, the pebbly shore, the great rocks, the
banks blue with the violet and the veronica, - and all diversified and
contrasted to produce effects the most novel and enchanting.

Many a road and many a pathway led through these woods and valleys,
some grass-grown, as though disused, others bearing the track of recent
wheels, still, as you went, the hares and the rabbits felt no terror,
the wood-pigeon sat upon the branch above your head, nor was scared at
your approach; for though the Knight was a passionate lover of sport, it
was his fancy to preserve the demesne intact, nor would he suffer a shot
to be fired within its precincts. These may seem small and insignificant
matters to record, but they added indescribably to the charms of the
spot, completing, as they did, the ideas of tranquillity and peace
suggested by the scene.

The approach was of some miles in extent, not needlessly prolonged by
every device of sweep and winding, but in reality proceeding by its
nearest way to the house, which, for the advantage of a view over the
sea, was situated on the slope of the mountain. Nor was the building
unworthy of its proud position: originally an abbey, its architecture
still displayed the elaborate embellishment which characterized the
erections of the latter part of the sixteenth century.

A long fa√Іade, interrupted at intervals by square towers, formed the
front, the roof consisting of a succession of tall and pointed gables,
in each of which some good saint stood enshrined in stone; the windows,
throughout this long extent, were surmounted by pediments and figures



Online LibraryCharles James LeverThe Knight Of Gwynne, Vol. I (of II) → online text (page 2 of 34)