Charles James Lever.

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

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"No, no, there is nothing but interruptions here; at one moment it is
Heffernan, with a polite message from Lord Castlereagh; then some one
from the Club, to know if I have any objection to waive a standing
order, and have that young O'Reilly balloted for once more; and here
was George Falkner himself a while ago, asking if the Knight had really
taken office, with a seat in the Cabinet. I said it was perfectly
correct, and that he was at liberty to state it in his paper."

"You did!"

"Yes; and that he might add that I myself had refused the see of
Llandaff, preferring the command of the West India Squadron. But, what's
this? What do you want now, Richard?"

"The gentleman upstairs, sir, insists on my presenting his card."

"Oh, indeed! - Captain Forester! - I 'll see him at once." And, so saying,
Daly hastened upstairs to the drawing-room, where the young officer
awaited him.

Daly was not in a mood to scrutinize very closely the appearance of his
visitor, but he could not fail to feel struck at the alteration in his
looks since last they met; his features were paler and marked by sorrow,
so much so that Daly's first question was, "Have you been ill?" and as
Forester answered in the negative, the old man fixed his eyes steadily
on him, and said, "You have heard of our misfortune, then?"

"Misfortune! no. What do you mean?"

Daly hesitated, uncertain how to reply, whether to leave to time and
some other channel to announce the Knight's ruin, or at once communicate
it with his own lips.

"Yes, it is the better way," said he, half aloud, while, taking
Forester's hand, he led him over to a sofa, and pressed him down
beside him. "I seldom have made an error in guessing a man's character,
throughout a long and somewhat remarkable life. I think I am safe in
saying that you feel a warm interest in my friend Darcy's family?"

"You do me but justice; gratitude alone, if I had no stronger motive,
secures them every good wish of mine."

"But you have stronger motives, young man," said Daly, looking at him
with a piercing glance; "if you had not, I 'd think but meanly of you,
nor did I want that blush to tell me so."

Forester looked down in confusion. The abruptness of the address so
completely unmanned him that he could make no answer. While Daly went
on: "I force no confidences, young man, nor have I any right to ask
them; enough for my present purpose that I know you care deeply for this
family; now, sir, but a week back the ambition to be allied with them
had satisfied the proudest wish of the proudest house - to-day they are
ruined."

Overwhelmed with surprise and sorrow, Forester sat silently, while
Daly rapidly, but circumstantially, narrated the story of the Knight's
calamity, and the total wreck of his once princely fortune.

"Yes," said Daly, as with flashing eyes he arose and uttered
aloud, - "yes, the broad acres won by many a valiant deed, the lands
which his ancestors watered with their blood, lost forever; not by great
crimes, not forfeited by any bold but luckless venture, for there is
something glorious in that, - but stolen, filched away by theft. By
Heaven! our laws and liberties do but hedge round crime with so many
defences that honesty has nothing left but to stand shivering outside.
Better were the days when the strong hand avenged the deep wrong, or,
if the courage were weak, there was the Throne to appeal to against
oppression. Forester, I see how this news afflicts you; I judged you too
well to think that your own dashed hopes entered into your sorrow. No,
no, I know you better. But come, we have other duties than to mourn over
the past. Has Lord Castlereagh received Darcy's note, resigning his seat
in Parliament?"

"He has; a new writ is preparing for Mayo." "Sharp practice; I think I
can detect the fair round hand of Mr. Heffernan there, - no matter, a
few days more and the world will know all; ay, the world, so full of
honorable sentiments and noble aspirations, will smile and jest
on Darcy's ruin, that they may with better grace taunt the vulgar
assumption of Hickman O'Reilly. I know it well, - some would say I bought
the knowledge dearly. When I set out in life, my fortune was nearly
equal to the Knight's, my ideas of living and expenditure based on the
same views as his own, - that same barbaric taste for profusion which has
been transmitted to us from father to son. Ay, we retained everything
of feudalism save its chivalry! Well, I never knew a day nor an hour of
independence till the last acre of that great estate was sold, and
gone from me forever. Fawning flattery, intrigue, and trickery beset
me wherever I went; ruined gamblers, match-making mothers, bankrupt
speculators, plotting political adventurers, dogged me at every step;
nor could I break through the trammels by which they fettered me, except
at the price of my ruin; when there was no longer a stake to play for,
they left the table. Poor Darcy, however, is not a lonely stem, like me,
riven and lightning-struck; he has a wife and children; but for that,
I would not fear to grasp his stout hand and say, 'Come on to fortune.'
Poor Maurice, whose heart could never stand the slightest wrong done the
humblest cottier on his land, how will he bear up now? Forester, you can
do me a great service. Could you obtain leave for a day or two?"

"Command me how and in what way you please," said the youth, eagerly.

"I understand that proffer, and accept it as freely as it is given."

"Nay, you are mistaken," said Forester, faltering. "I will be candid
with you; you have a right to all my confidence, for you have trusted
in me. Your suspicions are only correct in part; my affection is indeed
engaged, but I have received none in return: Miss Darcy has rejected
me."

"But not without hope?"

"Without the slightest hope."

"By Heaven, it is the only gleam of light in all the gloomy business,"
said Daly, energetically; "had Helen's love been yours, this calamity
had been ten thousand times worse. Nay, nay, this is not the sentiment
of cold and selfish old age; you wrong me, Forester, but the hour is
come when every feeling within that noble girl's heart is due to those
who have loved and cherished her from childhood. Now is the time to
repay the watchful care of infancy, and recompense the anxious fears
that spring from parental affection; not a sentiment, not a thought,
should be turned from that channel now. It would be treason to win one
smile, one passing look of kind meaning from those eyes, every beam of
which is claimed by 'Home.' Helen is equal to her destiny, - that I know
well; and you, if you would strive to be worthy of her, do not endeavor
to make her falter in her duty. Trust me, there is but one road to a
heart like hers, - the path of high and honorable ambition."

"You are right," said Forester, in a sad and humble voice, - "you are
right; I offered her a heart before it was worthy of her acceptance."

"That avowal is the first step towards rendering it such one day," said
Daly, grasping his hand in both his own. "Now to my request: you can
obtain this leave, can you?"

"Yes, yes; how can I make it of any service to you?"

"Simply thus: I have offered, and Darcy has accepted, a humble cottage
on the northern coast, as a present asylum for the family. The remote
and secluded nature of the place will at least withdraw them from
the impertinence of curiosity, or the greater impertinence of vulgar
sympathy. A maiden sister of mine is the present occupant, and I wish to
communicate the intelligence to her, that she may make any preparations
which may be necessary for their coming, and also provide herself with
some other shelter. Maria is as great a Bedouin as myself, and with as
strong a taste for vagabondage; she 'll have no difficulty in housing
herself, that's certain. The only puzzle is how to apprise her of the
intended change: there is not a post-office within eight or ten miles of
the place, nor, if there were, would she think of sending to look for
a letter; there 's nothing for it but a special envoy: will you be the
man?"

"Most willingly; only give me the route, and my instructions."

"You shall have both. Come and dine with me here at five - order horses
to your carriage for eight o'clock, and I'll take care of the rest."

"Agreed," said Forester; "I'll lose no time in getting ready for the
road - the first thing is my leave."

"Is there a difficulty there?"

"There shall be none," said Forester, hurriedly, as he seized his hat,
and, bidding Daly good-bye, hastened downstairs and into the street.
"They 'll refuse me, I know that," muttered he, as he went along; "and
if they do, I'll pitch up the appointment on the spot; this slight
service over, I'm ready to join my regiment." And so saying, he turned
his steps towards the Castle, resolved on the course to follow.

Meanwhile Daly, after a brief consultation with the lawyer, sat down to
write to his sister. Simple and easy as the act is to many - far too much
so, as most men's correspondence would testify - letter-writing, to some
people, is an affair of no common difficulty. Perhaps every one in this
world has some stumbling-block of this kind ever before him: some men
cannot learn chess, some never can be taught to ride, others, if they
were to get the world for it, could not carve a hare. It would be unfair
to quote newly introduced difficulties, such as how to bray in the House
of Commons, the back step in the polka, and so on; the original evils
are enough for our illustration.

Bagenal Daly's literary difficulties were manifold; he was a discursive
thinker, passionate and vehement whenever the occasion prompted, and as
unable to control such influences when writing as speaking; and, with
very liberal ideas on the score of spelling, he wrote a hand which, if
only examined upside down, might have passed for Hebrew, with an undue
proportion of points; besides these defects, he entertained a thorough
contempt for all writing as an exponent of men's sentiments. His opinion
was, that speech was the great prerogative of living men, all other
modes of expression being feeble and miserable expedients; and, to do
him justice, he conformed, as far as in him lay, to his own theory, and
made his writing as like his speaking as could be. Brevity was the
great quality he studied, and for this reason we venture to present the
epistle to our readers: -

Dear Molly, -

The bill is carried - or, what comes to the same, the third reading comes
on next Tuesday, and they 'll have a majority - d - - n their majority, I
forget the number. I was told that bribes were plenty as blackberries.
I wish they 'd leave as many stains after them. They offered me
nothing - they were right there. There is a kind of bottle-nosed whale
the Indians never harpoon; they call him "Hik-na-critchka," - more bone
than blubber. Darcy might have been an Earl, or a Marquis, or a Duke,
perhaps; they wanted one gentleman so much, they 'd have bid high for
him. Poor fellow, he is ruined now! that scoundrel Gleeson has run away
with everything, forged, falsified, and thieved to any extent. Your
unlucky four thousand, of course, is gone to the devil with the rest.
I 'm sick of cant. People talk of badgers and such like, and yet no one
says a word about exterminating attorneys! The rascal jumped over in
the Channel, and was drowned - the shark got a bitter pill that swallowed
him. I have told Darcy he might have "the Corvy;" you can easily find a
wigwam down the coast. Forester, who brings this, knows all. We must
all economize, I suppose. I 've given up Maccabaw already, and taken
to Blackguard, in compliment to the Secretary. I must sell or shoot old
Drummer at last, he can't draw his breath, and won't draw the gig.
I only remain here till the House is up, when I must be up too and
stirring - there is a confounded bond - no matter, more at another time.

Yours ever,

Bagenal Daly.

St. George is to be the Chief Baron - an improvement of the allegory,
"Justice will be deaf as well as blind." Devil take them all!

The chorus of a Greek play, so seemingly abstruse and incoherent to our
present thinking, was, we are told, made easily comprehensible by the
aid of gesture and pantomime; and in the same way, by supplying the
fancied accompaniment of her brother's voice and action, Miss Daly
was enabled to read and understand this strange epistle. Bagenal gave
himself little trouble in examining how far it conveyed his meaning;
but, like a careless traveller who huddles his clothes into his
portmanteau, and is only anxious to make the lock meet, his greatest
care was to fold up the document and inclose it within an envelope;
that done, he hoped it was all right, - in any case, his functions
were concluded regarding it, for, as he muttered to himself, he only
contracted to write, not to read, his own letter.

Forester was punctual to the hour appointed; and if not really less
depressed than before, the stimulating sense of having a service to
perform made him seem less so. His self-esteem was flattered, too, by
his own bold line of acting, for he had just resigned his appointment on
the Staff, his application for leave having been unsuccessful. The fact
that his rash conduct might involve him in trouble or difficulty was not
without its own sense of pleasure, for, so is it in all rebellion, the
great prompter is personal pride. He would gladly have told Daly what
had happened; but a delicate fear of increasing the apparent load of
obligation prevented him, and he consequently confined his remarks on
the matter to bis being free, and at liberty to go wherever his friend
pleased.

"Here, then," said Daly, leading him across the room to a table, on
which a large map of Ireland lay open, "I have marked your route the
entire way. Follow that dark line with your eye northwards to
Coleraine, - so far you can travel with your carriage and post-horses;
how to cross this bit of desert here I must leave to yourself: there may
be a road for a wheeled carriage or not, in my day there was none; that
is, however, a good many years back; the point to strive for should be
somewhere hereabouts. This is Dunluce Castle - well, if I remember
aright, the spot is here: you must ask for 'the Corvy,' - the fishermen
all know the cabin by that name; it was originally built out of the
wreck of a French vessel that was lost there, and the word Corvy is a
Northern version of Corvette. Once there, - and I know you 'll not find
any difficulty in reaching it, - my sister will be glad to receive you; I
need not say the accommodation does not rival Gwynne Abbey, no more than
poor Molly does Helen Darcy; you will be right welcome, however, - so
much I can pledge myself, not the less so that your journey was
undertaken from a motive of true kindness. I don't well know how much or
how little I have said in that letter; you can explain all I may have
omitted, - the chief thing is to get the cabin ready for the Darcys as
soon as may be. Give her this pocket-book, - I was too much hurried
to-day to transact business at the bank; but the north road is a safe one,
and you 'll not incur any risk. And now one glass to the success of the
enterprise, and I 'll not detain you longer; I 'll give you old Martin's
toast: -

"May better days soon be our lot,
Or better courage, if we have them not."

Forester pledged the sentiment in a bumper, and they parted.

"Good stuff in that young fellow," muttered Daly, as he looked after
him; "I wish he had some Irish blood, though; these Saxons require a
deal of the hammer to warm them, and never come to a white heat after
all."




CHAPTER XXVI. "THE corvy."

If the painter's license enables him to arrange the elements of scenery
into new combinations, disposing and grouping anew, as taste or fancy
may dictate, the novelist enjoys the lesser privilege of conveying his
reader at will from place to place, and thus, by varying the point
of view, procuring new aspects to his picture; less in virtue of this
privilege than from sheer necessity, we will now ask our readers to
accompany us on our journey northward.

Whether it be the necessary condition of that profusion of nature's
gifts, so evident in certain places, or a mere accident, certain it is
there is scarcely any one spot remarkable for great picturesque beauty
to arrive at which some bleak and uninteresting tract must not be
traversed. To this rule, if it be such, the northern coast of Ireland
offers no exception.

The country, as you approach "the Causeway," has an aspect of dreary
desolation that only needs the leaden sky and the drifting storm of
winter to make it the most melancholy of all landscapes. A slightly
undulating surface extends for miles on every side, scarcely a house
to be seen, and save where the dip of the ground affords shelter, not a
tree of any kind. A small isolated spot of oats, green even in the late
autumn, is here and there to be descried, or a flock of black sheep
wandering half wild o'er these savage wastes; vast masses of cloud, dark
and lowering as rain and thunder can make them, hang gloomily overhead,
for the tableland is still a lofty one, and the horizon is formed by the
edge of those giant cliffs that stand the barriers of the western ocean,
and against whose rocky sides the waves beat with the booming of distant
artillery.

It was in one of those natural hollows of the soil, whose frequency
seems to acknowledge a diluvian origin, that the little cottage which
Sandy once owned stood. Sheltered on the south and east by rising
banks, it was open on the other sides, and afforded a view seaward which
extended from the rocky promontory of Port Rush to the great bluff of
Fairhead, whose summit is nigh one thousand seven hundred feet above the
sea.

Perhaps in all the sea-board of the empire, nothing of the same extent
can vie in awful sublimity with this iron-bound coast. Gigantic cliffs
of four and five hundred feet, straight as a wall, are seen perforated
beneath by lofty tunnels, through which the wild waters plunge madly.
Fragments of basalt, large enough to be called islands, are studded
along the shore, the outlines fanciful and strange as beating waves and
winds can make them, while, here and there, in some deep-creviced bay,
the water flows in with long and measured sweep, and, at each moment
retiring, leaves a trace upon the strand, fleeting as the blush upon the
cheek of beauty; and here a little group of fisher children may be seen
at play, while the nets are drying on the beach, the only sight or sound
of human life, save that dark moving speck, alternately seen as the
great waves roll on, be such, and, while tossing to and fro, seems by
some charmed influence fettered to the spot. Yes, it is a
fishing-boat that has ventured out at the half ebb, with the wind off
shore, - hazardous exploit, that only poverty suggests the courage to
encounter!

In front of one of these little natural bays stood "the Corvy;" and
the situation might have been chosen by a painter, for, while combining
every grand feature of the nearer landscape, the Scottish coast and
even Staffa might be seen of a clear evening; while westward, the rich
sunsets were descried in all their golden glory, tipping the rolling
waves with freckled lustre, and throwing a haze of violet-colored light
over the white rocks. And who is to say that, while the great gifts of
the artist are not his who dwells in some rude cot like this, yet
the heart is not sensitively alive to all the influences of such
a scene, - its lonely grandeur, its tranquil beauty, or its fearful
sublimity, - and that the peasant, whose associations from infancy to
age are linked with every barren rock and fissured crag around, has not
created for himself his own store of fancied images, whose power is not
less deeply felt that it has asked for no voice to tell its workings.

"The Corvy" was a strange specimen of architecture, and scarcely capable
of being classified in any of the existing orders. Originally, the hut
was formed of the stern of the corvette, which, built of timbers of
great size and strength, alone of all the vessel resisted the waves.
This, being placed keel uppermost, as most consisting with terrestrial
notions of building, and accommodated with a door and two windows, the
latter being filled with two ship-lenses, comprised the entire edifice.
Rude and uncouth as it unquestionably was, it was regarded with mingled
feelings of envy and admiration by all the fishermen for miles round,
for while they had contributed their tackle and their personal aid to
place the mass where it stood, they never contemplated its becoming the
comfortable dwelling they soon beheld, nor were these jealous murmurings
allayed by the assumption of a lofty flagstaff, which, in the pride of
conquest, old M'Grane displayed above his castle, little wotting that
the banner that floated overhead waved with the lilies of France, and
not the Union Jack of England.

Sandy's father, however, possessed those traits of character which
confer ascendency, whether a man's lot be cast among the great or the
humble; and he soon not only subdued those ungenerous sentiments,
but even induced his neighbors to assist him in placing a small brass
carronade on the keel, or, as he now termed it, the ridge of his
dwelling, where, however little serviceable for warlike purposes, it
made a very specious and imposing ornament.

Such was the inheritance to which Sandy succeeded, and such the
possession he ceded for a consideration to Bagenal Daly, on that
eventful morning their acquaintance began. In course of time, however,
it fell to ruin, and lay untenanted and uncared for, when Miss Daly, in
one of her rambling excursions, chanced to hear of it, and, being
struck by the beauty of the situation, resolved to refit it as a summer
residence. Her first intentions on this head were humble enough; two
small chambers at either side of the original edifice - now converted
into a species of hall and a kitchen - comprised the whole, and thither
she betook herself, with that strange secret pleasure a life of perfect
solitude possesses for certain minds. For a year she endured the
inconveniences of her narrow dwelling tolerably well; but as she grew
more attached to the spot, she determined on making it more comfortable;
and, communicating the resolve to her brother, he not only concurred in
the notion, but half anticipated his assent by despatching an architect
to the spot, under whose direction a cottage containing several
comfortable rooms was added, and with such attention to the
circumstances of the ground, and such regard for the ancient character
of the building, that the traces of its origin could still be
discovered, and its old name of "the Corvy," be, even yet, not
altogether inapplicable. The rude hulk was now, however, the centre of
a long cottage, the timbers, partly covered by the small-leaved ivy,
partly concealed by a rustic porch, displaying overhead the great keel
and the flagstaff, - an ornament which no remonstrance of the unhappy
architect could succeed in removing. As a sort of compromise, indeed,
the carronade was dismounted, and placed beside the hall-door. This was
the extreme stretch of compliance to which Daly assented.

The hall, which was spacious and lofty in proportion with other parts of
the building, was fitted with weapons of war and the chase, brought from
many a far-off land, and assembled with an incongruity that was no mean
type of the owner. Turkish scimitars and lances, yataghans, and Malay
creeses were grouped with Indian bows, tomahawks, and whale harpoons,
while richly embroidered pelisses hung beside coats of Esquimaux seal,
of boots made from the dried skin of the sun-fish. A long Swiss rifle
was suspended by a blue silk scarf from one wall, and, over it, a damp,
discolored parchment bore testimony, to its being won as a prize in the
great shooting match of the Oberland, nearly forty years before. Beneath
these, and stretching away into a nook contrived for the purpose, was
the bark canoe in which Daly and Sandy made their escape from the tribe
of the Sioux, by whom they were held in captivity for six years. Two
very unprepossessing figures, costumed as savages, sat in this frail
bark, paddle in hand, and to all seeming resolutely intent on their
purpose of evasion. It would have been pardonable, however, for the
observer not to have identified in these tattooed and wild-looking
personages a member of Parliament and his valet, even though assisted
to the discovery by their Indian names, which, with a laudable care for
public convenience, had been written on a card, and suspended round the



Online LibraryCharles James LeverThe Knight Of Gwynne, Vol. I (of II) → online text (page 22 of 34)