Charles James Lever.

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

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pacing the beach immediately beneath where she sat.

What could have brought any one there at such an hour she could not
imagine; and however few her terrors of the world of spirits, she would
gladly at this moment have been safe within the abbey. While she debated
with herself how to act - whether to remain in her present concealment,
or venture on a sudden flight - the figure halted exactly under the
window. Her doubts and fears were now speedily resolved, for she
perceived it was Forester, who, induced by the beauty of the night, had
thus strolled out upon the shore. "What if I should put his courageous
incredulity to the test?" thought Helen; "the moment is propitious now.
I could easily imitate the cry of the Banshee!" The temptation was too
strong to be resisted, and without further thought she uttered a low,
thrilling wail, in an accent of most touching sorrow. Forester started
and looked up, but the dark walls were in deep shadow; whatever his real
feelings at the moment, he lost no time in clambering up the bank
on which the ruin stood, and from which he rightly judged the sound
proceeded. Helen was yet uncertain whether to attribute this step to
terror or the opposite, when she heard his foot as he traversed the
thickly-studded graveyard, - a moment more, and he would be in the church
itself, where he could not fail to discover her by her white dress. But
one chance offered of escape, which was to leap from the window down
upon the strand: it was deeper than she fancied, nearly twice her own
height; but then detection, for more than one good reason, was not to be
thought of.

Helen was not one of those who long hesitate when their minds are to be
made up; she slipped noiselessly between the stone mullion and the side
of the window, and sprang out; unfortunately one foot turned on a
small stone, and she fell on the sand, while a slight accent of pain
unconsciously broke from her. Before she could rise, Forester was beside
her; with one arm round her waist, he half pressed, as he assisted her
to recover her feet.

"So, fair spirit," said he, jocularly, "I have tracked you, it would
seem;" then, for the first time discovering it was Helen, he muttered in
a different tone, "I ask pardon, Miss Darcy; I really did not know - "

"I am sure of that, Captain Forester," said she, disengaging herself
from his aid. "I certainly deserve a lesson for my silly attempt to
frighten you, and I believe I have sprained my ankle. Will you kindly
send Florence to me?"

"I cannot leave you here alone, Miss Darcy; pray take my arm, and let me
assist you back to the abbey."

The tone of deference he now spoke in, and the increasing pain,
concurred to persuade her, and she accepted the proffered assistance.

"The absurdity of this adventure is not repaid by the pleasure of having
frightened you," said she, laughing; "if I could only say how terrified
you were - "

"You might indeed have said so," interrupted Forester, "had I guessed
the figure I saw leap out was yours."

"It was even higher than I thought," said she, avoiding to remark the
fervent accents in which these words were spoken.

Forester was silent; his heart was full to bursting; the passion so
lately dashed by doubts and suspicions returned with tenfold force now
that he felt her arm within his own as step by step they moved along.

"You are in great pain, I fear," said he, tremulously.

"No, not now. I am so much more ashamed of my folly than a sufferer
from it that I could forgive the sprain if I could the silly notion that
caused it. 'Twas an unlucky fancy, to say the least of it."

Again there was a pause, and although they walked but slowly, they were
fast approaching the little gate that opened into the flower-garden.
Forester was silent. "Was it from this cause, or by some secret
freemasonry of the female heart that she suspected what was passing in
his mind, and exerted herself to move on more rapidly?

"Take time, Miss Darcy; not so fast; if not for your sake, for mine at
least."

The last few words were scarcely above a whisper, but every one of them
reached her to whom they were addressed; whether affecting not to hear
them, or preferring to mistake their meaning, Helen made no answer.

"I said for _my_ sake," resumed he, with a courage that demanded all
his energy, "because on these few moments the whole fortune of my future
life is placed. I love you."

"Nay, Captain Forester," said she, smiling, "this is not quite fair; I
failed in my attempt to terrify you, and have paid the penalty: let
there not be a further one of my listening to what I should not hear."

"And why not hear it, Helen? Is the devotion of one even humble as I am,
a thing to offend? Is it the less sincere that I feel how much you are
above me in every way? Will not my very presumption prove how fervent is
the passion that has made me forget all save itself, - all save you?"

Truth has its own accents, however weak the words it syllables. Helen
laughed not now, but walked on with quicker steps; while the youth, the
barrier once passed, poured forth with heartfelt eloquence his tale
of love, recalling to her mind by many a slight, unnoticed trait, his
long-pledged devotion; how he had watched and worshipped her, seeking to
win favor in her eyes, and seem not all unworthy of her heart.

"It is true," said he, "I cannot, dare not, ask in return for an
affection which should repay my own; but let me hope that what I now
speak, the devotion I pledge, is no rejected offering; that although you
care not for me, you will not crush forever one who lives but in your
smile, that you will give me time to show myself more worthy of the
prize I strive for. There is no trial I would not dare - "

"I must interrupt you, Captain Forester," said Helen, with a voice
that all her efforts had not rendered quite steady; "it would be an
ungenerous requital for the sentiments you say you feel - "

"Say! - nay, Helen, I swear it, by every hope that now thrills within
me - "

"It would be," resumed she, tremulously, "an ungenerous requital for
this, were I to practise any deception on you. I am sincerely, deeply
sorry to hear you speak as you have done. I had long since learned to
regard you as the friend of Lionel, almost like a brother. The pleasure
your society afforded one I am most attached to increased the feeling;
and as intimacy increased between us, I thought how happy were it if the
ambitions of life did not withdraw from home the sons whose kindness can
be as thoughtful and as tender as that of the daughters of the house.
Shall I confess it? I almost wished my brother like you; but yet all
this was not love, - nay, for I will be frank, at whatever cost, - I had
never felt this towards you, if I suspected your sentiments towards
me - "

"But, dearest Helen - "

"Hear me out. There is but one way in which the impropriety of such a
meeting as this can be obviated, chance though it be, and that is,
by perfect candor. I have told you the simple truth, not with any
undervaluing sense of the affection you proffer, still less with any
coquetry of reserve. I should be unworthy of the heart you offer me,
since I could not give my own in exchange."

"Do you deny me all hope?" said he, in an accent almost bursting with
grief.

"I am not arrogant enough to say I shall never change; but I am honest
enough to tell you that I do not expect it."

"Farewell, then, Helen! I do not love you less that you have taught me
to think more humbly of myself. Good-by - forever!"

"It is better it should come to this," said Helen, faintly; and she held
out her hand towards him. "Good-by, Forester!"

He pressed one long and burning kiss upon her hand, and turned away,
while she, pushing open the door, entered the little garden. Scarcely,
however, was the door closed behind her, when the calm courage in which
she spoke forsook her, and she burst into tears.

So is it, the heart can be moved, even its most tender chords, when the
touch that stirs it is less of love than sorrow.




CHAPTER XXIII. SOME SAD REVELATIONS

It was on the fourth day after the memorable debate we have briefly
alluded to, that the Knight of Gwynne was sitting alone in one of the
large rooms of his Dublin mansion. Although his servants had strict
orders to say he had left town, he had not quitted the capital, but
passed each day, from sunrise till late at night, in examining his
various accounts, and endeavoring with what slight business knowledge
he possessed, to ascertain the situation in which he stood, and how far
Gleeson's flight had compromised him. There is no such chaotic confusion
to the unaccustomed mind as the entangled web of long-standing moneyed
embarrassments, and so Darcy found it. Bills for large sums had been
passed, to provide for which, renewals had been granted, and this for
a succession of years, until the debt accumulating had been met by a
mortgage or a bond: many of these bills were missing - where were they?
was the question, and what liability might yet attach to them?

Again, loans had been raised more than once to pay off these
encumbrances, the interest on which was duly charged in his account, and
yet there was no evidence of these payments having been made; nor among
the very last sent papers from Gleeson was there any trace of that bond,
to release which the enormous sum of seventy thousand pounds had
been raised. That the money was handed to Hickman, Bagenal Daly was
convinced; the memorandum given him by Freney was a corroboration of the
probability at least, but still there was no evidence of the transaction
here. Even this was not the worst, for the Knight now discovered that
the rental charged in his accounts was more than double the reality,
Gleeson having for many years back practised the fraud of granting
leases at a low, sometimes a merely nominal, rent, while he accepted
renewal fines from the tenants, which he applied to his own purposes. In
fact, it at length became manifest to Darcy's reluctant belief that his
trusted agent had for years long pursued a systematic course of perfidy,
merely providing money sufficient for the exigencies of the time, while
he was, in reality, selling every acre of his estate.

The Knight's last hope was in the entail. "I am ruined - I am a beggar,
it is true!" muttered he, as each new discovery broke upon him, "but
my boy, my dear Lionel, at my death will have his own again." This
cherished dream was not of long duration, for to his horror he
discovered a sale of a considerable part of the estate in which Lionel's
name was signed as a concurring party. This was the crowning point
of his affliction; the ruin was now utter, without one gleam of hope
remaining.

The property thus sold was that in the possession of the O'Reillys, and
the sale was dated the very day Lionel came of age. Darcy remembered
well having signed his name to several papers on that morning. Gleeson
had followed him from place to place, through the crowds of happy and
rejoicing people assembled by the event, and at last, half vexed at the
importunity, he actually put his name to several papers as he sat on
horseback on the lawn: this very identical deed was thus signed; the
writing was straggling and irregular as the motion of the horse shook
his hand. So much for his own inconsiderate rashness, but how, or by
what artifice was Lionel's signature obtained?

Never had Lionel Darcy practised the slightest deception on his father;
never concealed from him any difficulty or any embarrassment, but
frankly confided to him his cares, as he would to one of his own age.
How, then, had he been drawn into a step of this magnitude without
apprising him? There was one explanation, and this was, that Glee-son
persuaded the young man, that by thus sacrificing his own future rights
he would be assisting his father, who, from motives of delicacy, could
not admit of any negotiation in the matter, and that by ceding so
much of his own property, he should relieve his father from present
embarrassment.

Through all the revelation of the agent's guilt now opening before him,
not one word of anger, one expression of passion, escaped the Knight
till his eyes fell upon this paper; but then, grasping it in both hands,
he shook in every limb with indignant rage, and in accents of bitterest
hate invoked a curse upon his betrayer. The very sound of his own voice
in that sileut chamber startled him, while a sick tremor crept through
his frame at the unhallowed wish he uttered. "No, no," said he, with
clasped hands, "it is not for one like me, whose sensual carelessness
has brought my own to ruin, to speak thus of another; may Heaven assist
me, and pardon him that injured me!"

The stunning effects of heavy calamity are destined in all likelihood
to give time to rally against the blow - to permit exhausted Nature to
fortify herself by even a brief repose against the harassing influences
of deep sorrow. One who saw far into the human heart tells us that it
is not the strongest natures are the first to recover from the shock of
great misfortunes, but that "light and frivolous spirits regain their
elasticity sooner than those of loftier character."

The whole extent of his ruin unfolded itself gradually before Darcy's
eyes, until at length the accumulated load became too great to bear, and
he sat in almost total unconsciousness gazing at the mass of law
papers and accounts before him, only remembering at intervals, and then
faintly, the nature of the investigation he was engaged in, and by
an effort recalling himself again to the task: in this way passed the
entire day we speak of. Brief struggles to exert himself in examining
the various papers and letters on the table were succeeded by long
pauses of apparent apathy, until, as evening drew near, these intervals
of indifference grew longer, and he sat for hours in this scarce-waking
condition.

It was long past midnight as a loud knocking was heard at the street
door, and ere Darcy could sufficiently recall his wandering faculties
from their revery, he felt a hand grasp his own - he looked up, and saw
Bagenal Daly.

"Well, Darcy," said he, in a low whisper, "how stand matters here?"

"Ruined!" said he, in an accent hardly audible, but with a look that
thrilled through the stern heart of Daly.

"Come, come, there must be a long space between _your_ fortune and ruin
yet. Have you seen any legal adviser?"

"What of Gleeson, Bagenal, has he been heard of?" said the Knight, not
attending to Daly's question.

"He has had the fitting end of a scoundrel. He leaped overboard in the
Channel - "

"Poor fellow!" said Darcy, while he passed his hand across his eyes;
"his spirit was not all corrupted, Bagenal; he dared not to face the
world."

"Face the world! the villain, it was the gallows he had not courage to
face. Don't speak one word of compassion about a wretch like him, or you
'll drive me mad. There's no iniquity in the greatest crimes to compare
with the slow, dastardly scoundrelism of your fair-faced swindler. It
seems so, at least. The sailors told us that he went below immediately
on their leaving the river, and, having locked the cabin door, spent his
time in writing till they were in sight of the Holyhead light, when a
sudden splash was heard, and a cry of 'A man overboard!' called every
one to the deck; then it was discovered that the fellow had opened one
of the stern-windows and thrown himself into the sea. They brought
me this open letter, the last, it is said, he ever wrote, and, though
unaddressed, evidently meant for you. You need not read it; it contains
nothing but the whining excuses of a scoundrel who bases his virtue on
the fact that he was more coward than cheat. Strangest thing of all,
he had no property with him beyond some few clothes, a watch, and about
three hundred guineas in a purse. This was deposited by the skipper with
the authorities in Liverpool; not a paper, not a document of any kind.
Don't read that puling scrawl, Darcy; I have no patience with your
pity!"

"I wish he had escaped with life, Bagenal," said Darcy, feelingly; "it
is a sad aggravation of all my sorrow to think of this man's suicide."

"And so he might, had he had the courage to take his chance. The
'Congress' passed us as we went up the river; she had her studding-sails
set, and, with the strong tide in her favor, was cutting through
the water as fast as ever a runaway scoundrel could wish or ask for.
Gleeson's servant contrived to reach her in time, and got away safe, not
improbably with a heavy booty, if the truth were known."

Daly continued to dwell on the theme, repeating circumstantially the
whole of the examination before the Liverpool Justices, where the
depositions of the case were taken, and the investigation conducted with
strict accuracy; but Darcy paid little attention. The sad end of one
for whom through years long he had entertained feelings of respect and
friendship, seemed to obliterate all memory of his crime, and he had no
other feelings in his heart than those of sincere grief for the suicide.

"There is but one circumstance in the whole I cannot understand," said
Daly, "and that is why Gleeson paid off Hickman's bond last week, when
he had evidently made up his mind to fly, - seventy thousand was such a
sum to carry away with him, all safe and sound as he had it."

"But where's the evidence of such a payment?" said Darcy, sorrowfully;
"the bond is not to be found, nor is it among the papers discovered at
Gleeson's house."

"It may be found yet," said Daly, confidently. "That the money was paid
I have not a particle of doubt on my mind; Freney's information, and
the memorandum I showed you, are strong in corroborating the fact; old
Hickman dared not deny it, if the bond never were to turn up."

"Heaven grant it!" said Darcy, fervently; "that will at least save the
abbey, and rescue our old house from the pollution I dreaded."

"All that, however, does not explain the difficulty," said Daly,
thoughtfully; "I wish some shrewder head than mine had the matter before
him. But now that I have told you so much, let me have some supper,
Darcy, for we forgot to victual our sloop, and had no sea-store but
whiskey on either voyage."

Though this was perfectly true, Daly's proposition was made rather to
induce the Knight to take some refreshment, which it was so evident he
needed, than from any personal motive.

"They carried the second reading by a large majority; I read it in
Liverpool," said Daly, as the servant laid the table for supper.

The Knight nodded an assent, and Daly resumed: "I saw also that
an address was voted by the patriotic members of Daly's to Hickman
O'Reilly, Esquire, M.P., for his manly and independent conduct in the
debate, when he taunted the Government with their ineffectual attempts
at corruption, and spurned indignantly every offer of their patronage."

"Is that the case?" said the Knight, smiling faintly.

"'All fact; while the mob drew his carriage home, and nearly smoked the
entire of Merrion Square into blackness with burning tar-barrels."

"He has improved on Johnson's definition, Bagenal, and made patriotism
the first as well as the last refuge of a scoundrel."

"I looked out in the House that evening, but could not see him, for I
wanted him to second a motion for me."

"Indeed! of what nature?"

"A most patriotic one, to this effect: that all bribes to members of
either House should be in money, that we might have at least the benefit
of introducing so much capital into Ireland."

"You forget, Bagenal, how it would spoil old Hickman's market: loans
would then be had for less than ten per cent."

"So it would, by Jove! That shows the difficulty of legislating for
conflicting interests."

This conversation was destined only to occupy the time the servant was
engaged about the table, but when he had withdrawn, the Knight and his
friend at once returned to the eventful theme that engaged all their
anxieties, and where the altered tones of their voices and eager looks
betokened the deepest interest.

It would have been difficult to find two men more generally well
informed, and less capable of comprehending or unravelling the
complicated tissue of a business matter. At the same time, by dint of
much mutual inquiry and discussion, they attained to that first and
greatest of discoveries, namely, their own insufficiency to conduct the
investigation, and the urgent necessity of employing some able man
of law to go through all Gleeson's accounts, and ascertain the real
condition of Darcy's fortune. With this prudent resolve, they parted:
Darcy to his room, where he sat with unclosed eyes till morning; while
Daly, who had disciplined his temperament more rigidly, soon fell fast
asleep, and never awoke till roused by the voice of his servant Sandy.

"You must find out the fellow that brought the note from Freney," said
Daly, the moment he opened his eyes.

"I was thinking so," said Sandy, sententiously.

"You'd know him again?"

"I 'd ken his twa eyes amang a thousand."

"Very well, then, set off after breakfast and search for him; you used
to know where devils of this kind were to be found."

"Maybe I havna quite forgot it yet," replied he, dryly; "but it winna do
to gae there before nightfall."

"Lose no more time than you can help about it," said Daly; "bring him
here if you can find him."

We have not the necessity, and more certainly it is far from our
inclination, to dwell upon the accumulated calamities of the Knight, nor
recount more particularly the sad disclosures which the few succeeding
days made regarding his fortunes. His own words were correct; he was
utterly ruined. Every species of iniquity which perfidy could practise
upon unbounded confidence had been effected. His property subdivided
and leased at nominal rents, debts long supposed to have been paid yet
outstanding; mortgages alleged to have been redeemed still impending;
while of the large sums raised to meet these encumbrances not one
shilling had been paid by Gleeson, save perhaps the bond for seventy
thousand; but even of this there was no evidence, except the vague
assertion of one whose testimony the law would reject.

Such, in brief, were the sad results of that investigation to which the
Knight's affairs were submitted, nor could all the practised subtlety
of the lawyer suggest one reasonable chance of extrication from the
difficulty.

"Your friend is a ruined man, sir," said he to Daly, as they both arose
after a seven hours' examination of the various documents; "there is a
strong presumption that many of these signatures are forged, and that
the Knight of Gwynne never even saw the papers; but he appears to have
written his name so carelessly, and in so many ways, as to have no clear
recollection of what he did sign, and what he did not. It would be very
difficult to submit a good case for a jury."

That the payment of the seventy thousand had been made he regarded as
more than doubtful, coupling the fact of Gleeson's immediate flight with
the temptation of so large a sum, while nothing could be less accurate
than the robber's testimony. "We must watch the enemy closely on this
point," said he; "we must exhibit not the slightest apparent doubt upon
it. They must not be led to suspect that we have not the bond in our
possession. This question will admit of a long contest, and does not
press like the others. As to young Darcy's concurrence in the sale - "

"Ay, that is the great matter in my friend's eyes."

"He must be written to at once, - let him come over here without loss of
time, and if it can be shown that this signature is a forgery, we might
make it the ground of a compromise with the O'Reillys, who, to obtain a
good title, would be glad to admit us to liberal terms."

"Darcy will never listen to that, depend upon it," said Daly; "his
greatest affliction is for his son's ruin."

"We 'll see, we 'll see - the game shall open its own combinations as
we go on; for the present, all the task of your friend the Knight is to
carry a bold face to the world, let no rumor get abroad that matters are
in their real condition. Our chance of extrication lies in the front we
can show to the enemy."

"You are making a heavier demand than you are aware of, - Darcy detests
anything like concealment. I don't believe he would practise the
slightest mystery that would involve insincerity for twelve hours to
free the whole estate."

"Very honorable indeed; but at this moment we must waive a punctilio."

"Don't give it that name to him, - that's all," said Daly, sternly. "I
am as little for subterfuge as any man, and yet I did my best to prevent



Online LibraryCharles James LeverThe Knight Of Gwynne, Vol. I (of II) → online text (page 20 of 34)