Charles James Lever.

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

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neck of each. Opposite to them, and in the corner of the hall, stood a
large black bear, with fiery eyeballs and snow-white teeth, so admirably
counterfeiting life as almost to startle the beholder; while over his
head was a fearful, misshapen figure, whose malignant look and distorted
proportions at once proclaimed it an Indian idol. But why enumerate
the strange and curious objects which, notwithstanding their seeming
incongruity, were yet all connected with Daly's history, and formed, in
fact, a kind of pictorial narrative of his life? Here stood the cup, - a
splendid specimen of Benvenuto's chisel, given him by the Doge of
Venice, - and there was the embossed dagger presented by a King of Spain,
with a patent of Grandee of the first class; while in a small glass
case, covered with dust, and scarce noticeable, was a small and
beautifully shaped satin slipper, with a rosette of now faded silver.
But of this only one knew the story, and _he_ never revealed it.

If we have taken an unwarrantable liberty with our reader by this too
prolix description, our excuse is, that we might have been far more
tiresome had we been so disposed, leaving, as we have, the greater part
of this singular chamber unnoticed; while our _amende_ is ready, and
we will spare any further detail of the rest of the cottage, merely
observing that it was both commodious and well arranged, and furnished
not only with taste, but even elegance. And now to resume our
long-neglected story.

It was about eight o'clock of a cold, raw February night, with
occasional showers of sleet and sudden gusts of fitful wind, - that happy
combination which makes up the climate of the north of Ireland, and,
with a trifling abatement of severity, constitutes its summer as well
as its winter, - that Miss Daly sat reading in that strange apartment we
have just mentioned, and which, from motives of economy, she occupied
frequently during the rainy season, as the necessity of keeping it aired
required constant fires, not so necessary in the other chambers.

A large hearth displayed the cheerful blaze of burning bog-deal, and an
old Roman lamp, an ancient patern, threw its lustre on the many curious
and uncouth objects on every side. If the flashing jets of light that
broke from the dry wood gave at times a false air of vitality to the
stuffed figures around, in compensation it made the only living thing
there seem as unreal as the rest.

Wrapped up in the great folds of a wide Greek capote she had taken from
the wall, and the hood of which she had drawn over her head, Miss Daly
bent over the yellow pages of an old quarto volume. Of her figure no
trace could be marked, nor any guess concerning it, save that she was
extremely tall. Her features were bold and commanding, and in youth must
have been eminently handsome. The eyebrows were large and arched, the
eyes dark and piercing, and the whole contour of the face had that
character of thoughtful beauty so often seen in the Jewish race. Age and
solitude, perhaps, had deepened the lines around the angles of the mouth
and brought down the brows, so as to give a look of severity to features
which, from this cause, became strikingly resembling her brother's.
If time had made its sad inroad on those lineaments once so lovely,
it seemed to spare even the slightest touch to that small white hand,
which, escaping from the folds of her mantle, was laid upon the volume
before her. The taper fingers were covered with rings, and more than
one bracelet of great price glittered upon her wrist; nor did this taste
seem limited to these displays, for in the gold combs that fastened, on
either temple, her masses of gray hair, rich gems were set profusely,
forming the strangest contrast to the coarse folds of that red-brown
cloak in which she was enveloped.

However disposed to profit by her studies, Miss Daly was occasionally
broken in upon by the sound of voices from the kitchen, which, by an
unlucky arrangement of the architect, was merely separated from the hall
by a narrow corridor. Sometimes the sound was of laughter and merriment;
far oftener, however, the noises betokened strife; for so it is, in
the very smallest household - there were but two in the present
case - unanimity will not always prevail. The contention was no less a
one than that great national dispute which has separated the island into
two wide and opposing parties; Miss Daly's butler, or man of all work,
being a stout representative of southern Ireland; her cook an equally
rigid upholder of the northern province. If little Dan Nelligan had the
broader cause, he was the smaller advocate, being scarcely four feet in
height; while Mrs. M'Kerrigan was fifteen stone of honest weight, and
with a _torso_ to rival the Farnese Hercules. Their altercations were
daily, almost hourly; for, living in a remote, unvisited spot, they
seemed to console themselves for want of collision with the world by
mutual disputes and disagreements.

To these family jars, habit had so reconciled Miss Daly that she seldom
noticed them; indeed, the probability is that, like the miller who wakes
up when the mill ceases its clamors, she might have felt a kind of shock
had matters taken a quieter course. People who employ precisely the same
weapons cannot long continue a warfare without the superiority of one or
the other being sure to evince itself. The diversity of the forces, on
the contrary, suggests new combinations, and with dissimilar armor the
combat may be prolonged to any extent. Thus was it here; Dan's forte
was aggravation, - that peculiarly Irish talent which makes much out
of little, and, when cultivated with the advantages of natural gifts,
enables a man to assume the proud political position of an Agitator, and
in time a Liberator.

Mrs. M'Kerrigan, slow of thought, and slower of speech, was ill-suited
to repel the assaults of so wily and constant a foe; she consequently
fell back on the prerogatives of her office in the household, and repaid
all Dan's declamation by changes in his diet, - a species of retribution
the heaviest she could have hit upon.

Such was the present cause of disturbance, and such the reason for Dan's
loud denunciations on the "black north," uttered with a volubility and
vehemence that pertain to a very different portion of the empire. Twice
had Miss Daly rung the little hand-bell that stood beside her to enforce
order, but it was unnoticed in the clamor of the fray, while louder and
louder grew the angry voice of Dan Nelligan, which at length was plainly
audible in the hall.

"Look now, see then, may the divil howld a looking-glass to your sins,
but I 'll show it to the mistress! I may, may I? That 's what you 're
grumbling, ye ould black-mouthed Prasbytarien! 'T is the fine supper to
put before a crayture wet to the skin!"

"Dinna ye hear the bell, Nelly?" This was an epithet of insult the
little man could not endure. "Ye 'd ken the tinkle o' that, av ye heard
it at the mass."

"Oh, listen to the ould heretic! Oh, holy Joseph! there 's the way to
talk of the blessed ould ancient religion! Give me the dish; I 'll bring
it into the parlor this minit, I will. I 'll lave the place, - my time's
up in March. I would n't live in the house wid you for a mine of goold!"

"Are ye no goin' to show the fish to the leddy?" growled out the cook,
in her quiet barytone.

At this moment Miss Daly's bell announced that endurance had reached
its limit, and Dan, without waiting to return the fire, hastened to the
hall, muttering as he went, loud enough to be heard, "There, now, that's
the mistress ringing, I 'm sure; but sorra bit one can hear wid your
noise and ballyragging!"

"What is the meaning of this uproar?" said Miss Daly, as the little man
entered, with a very different aspect from what he wore in the kitchen.

"'Tis Mrs. M'Kerrigan, my Lady; she was abusin' the ould families in the
county Mayo, and I could n't bear it; and because I would n't hear the
master trated that way, she gives me nothing but fish the day after a
black fast, though she does be ating beef under my nose when I darn't
touch meat, and it's what, she put an ould baste of a cod before me
this evening for my supper, and here 's Lent will be on us in a few days
more."

"How often have I told you," said Miss Daly, sternly, "that I 'll not
suffer these petty, miserable squabbles to reach me? Go back to the
kitchen; and, mark me, if I hear a whisper, or muttering ever so low in
your voice, I 'll put you to spend the night upon the rocks."

Dan skulked from the room like a culprit remanded to jail; but no sooner
had he reached the kitchen than, assuming a martial air and bearing, he
strutted up to the fire and turned his back to it.

"Ay," said he, in a stage soliloquy, "it was what it must come to sooner
or later; and now she may go on her knees, and divil a foot I 'll stay!
It's not like the last time, sorra bit! I know what she 's at - ' 'T is
my way, Danny, you must have a pound at Avster ' - bother! I 'm used to
that now."

"There's the bell again, ye auld blethering deevil."

But Mrs. M'Kerrigan ran no risk of a reply now, for at the first tinkle
Dan was back in the hall.

"There is some one knocking at the wicket without; see who it may be at
this late hour of the night," said Miss Daly, without raising her head
from the book, for, strange as were such sounds in that solitary place,
her attention was too deeply fixed on the page before her to admit of
even a momentary distraction of thought. Dan left the room with becoming
alacrity, but in reality bent on anything rather than the performance of
his errand. Of all the traits of his southern origin, none had the
same predominance in his nature as a superstitious fear of spirits
and goblins, - a circumstance not likely to be mitigated by his present
lonely abode, independently of the fact that more than one popular
belief attributed certain unearthly sights and sounds to the old
timbers of "the Corvy," whose wreck was associated with tales of horror
sufficient to shake stouter nerves than "Danny's."

When he received this order from his mistress, he heard it pretty much
as a command to lead a forlorn hope, and sat himself down at the
outside of the door to consider what course to take. While he was thus
meditating, the sounds became plainly audible, a loud and distinct
knocking was heard high above the whistling wind and drifting rain,
accompanied from time to time by a kind of shout, or, as it seemed to
Dan's ears, a scream like the cry of a drowning man.

"Dinna ye hear that, ye auld daft body?" said Nancy, as, pale with fear,
and trembling in every limb, Dan entered the kitchen.

"I do indeed, Mrs. Mac," - this was the peace appellation he always
conferred on Nancy, - "I hear it, and my heart 's beatin' for every
stroke I listen to; 't is n't afeard I am, but a kind of a notion I
have, like a dhrame, you know " - (here he gave a sort of hysterical
giggle) - "as if the ould French Captain was coming to look after his
hand, that was chopped off with the hatchet when he grasped hold of the
rock."

"He canna hae muckle use for it noo," responded Nancy, dryly, as she
smoked away as unconcerned as possible.

"Or the mate!" said Dan, giving full vent to his store of horrors; "they
say, when he got hold of the rope, that they gave it out so fast as he
hauled on it, till he grew faint, and sank under the waves."

"He's no likely to want a piece of spunyarn at this time o' day,"
rejoined Nancy again. "He's knocking brawly, whoever he be; had ye no
better do the leddy's bidding, and see who 's there?"

"Would it be plazing to you, Mrs. Mac," said Dan, in his most melting
accents, "to come as far as the little grass-plot, just out of
curiosity, ye know, to say ye seen it?"

"Na, na, my bra' wee mon, ye maun ee'n gae by your-sel'; I dinna ken
mickle about sperits and ghaists, but I hae a gude knowledge of the
rheumatiz without seekin' it on a night like this. There's the leddy's
bell again, she 's no pleased wi' yer delay."

"Say I was puttin' on my shoes, Nancy," said Dan, as his teeth chattered
with fear, while he took down an old blunderbuss from its place above
the fire, and which had never been stirred for years past.

"Lay her back agen where ye found her," said Nancy, dryly; "is na every
fule kens the like o' them! Take your mass-book, and the gimcracks ye
hae ower your bed, but dinna try mortal weapons with them creatures."

Ironical as the tone of this counsel unquestionably was, Dan was in no
mood to reject it altogether, and he slipped from its place within his
breast to a more ostensible position a small blessed token, or "gospel,"
as it is called, which he always wore round his neck. By this time the
clank of the bell kept pace with the knocking sounds without, and
poor Dan was fairly at his wits' end which enemy to face. Some vague
philosophy about the "devil you know, and the devil you don't," seemed
to decide his course, for he rushed from the kitchen in a state of
frenzied desperation, and, with the blunderbuss at full cock, took the
way towards the gate.

The wicket, as it was termed, was in reality a strong oak gate,
garnished at top with a row of very formidable iron spikes, and as it
was hung between two jagged and abrupt masses of rock, formed a very
sufficient outwork, though a very needless one, since the slightest turn
to either side would have led to the cottage without any intervening
barrier to pass. This fact it was which now increased Dan Nelligan's
terrors, as he reasoned that nobody but a ghost or evil spirit would be
bothering himself at the wicket, when there was a neat footpath close
by.

"Who's there?" cried Dan, with a voice that all his efforts could not
render steady.

"Come out and open the gate," shouted a deep voice in return.

"Not till you tell me where you come from, and who you are, if you are
'lucky.'"

"That I 'm not," cried the other, with something very like a deep groan;
"if I were, I 'd scarce be here now."

"That's honest? anyhow," muttered Dan, who interpreted the phrase in its
popular acceptation among the southern peasantry. "And what are you come
back for, alanah?" continued he, in a most conciliating tone.

"Open the gate, and don't keep me here answering your stupid questions."

Though these words were uttered with a round, strong intonation that
sounded very like the present world, Dan made no other reply than an
endeavor to repeat a Latin prayer against evil spirits, when suddenly,
and with a loud malediction on his obstinacy, Dan saw "the thing," as he
afterwards described it, take a flying leap over the gate, at least
ten feet high, and come with a bang on the grass, not far from where he
stood. To fire off his blunderbuss straight at the drifting clouds over
his head, and to take to flight was Dan's only impulse, screaming out,
"the Captain 's come! he's come!" at the very top of his lungs. The
little strength he possessed only carried him to the kitchen door,
where, completely overcome with terror, he dropped senseless on the
ground.

While this was occurring, Miss Daly, alarmed by the report of fire-arms,
but without any personal fears of danger, threw open the hall door and
called out, "Who is there?" and as the dark shadow of a figure came
nearer, "Who are you, sir?"

"My name is Forester, madam, - a friend of your brother's; for I perceive
I have the honor to address Miss Daly."

By this time the stranger had advanced into the full light of the
lamp within, where his appearance, tired and travel-stained as he was,
corroborated his words.

"You have had a very uncourteous welcome, sir," said Miss Daly,
extending her hand and leading him within the cottage.

"The reception was near being a warm one, I fear," said Forester,
smiling; "for as I unfortunately, growing rather impatient, threw my
carpet bag over the gate, intending to climb it afterwards, some one
fired at me, - not with a good aim, however; for I heard the slugs
rattling on a high cliff behind me."

"Old Dan, I am certain, mistook you for a ghost or a goblin," said Miss
Daly, laughing, as if the affair were an excellent joke devoid of all
hazard; "we have few visitors down here from either world."

"Really, madam, I will confess it, if the roads are only as impassable
for ghosts as for men of mortal mould, I 'm not surprised at it. I left
Coleraine at three o'clock to-day, where I was obliged to exchange my
travelling carriage for a car, and I have been travelling ever since,
sometimes on what seemed a highway, far oftener, however, across fields
with now and then an intervening wall to throw down, - which we did, I
own, unceremoniously; while lifting the horse twice out of deep holes,
mending a shaft, and splicing the traces, lost some time. The driver,
too, was once missing, - a fact I only discovered after leaving him half
a mile behind. In fact, the whole journey was full of small adventures
up to the moment when we came to a dead stand at the foot of a high
cliff, where the driver told me the road stopped, and that the rest of
my way must be accomplished on foot; and on my asking what direction
to take, he brought me some distance off to the top of a rock, whence I
could perceive the twinkling of a light, and said, 'That's the Corvy.' I
did my best to secure his services as a guide, but no offer of money nor
persuasions could induce him to leave his horse and come any further;
and now, perhaps, I can guess the reason, - there is some superstition
about the place at nightfall."

"No, no, you 're mistaken there, sir; few of these people, however they
may credit such tales, are terrified by them. It was the northern spirit
dictated the refusal: his contract was to go so far, it would have 'put
him out of his way' to go further, and his calculation was that all
the profit he could fairly derive - and he never speculated on anything
unfair - would not repay him. Such are the people of this province."

"The trait is honest, I 've no doubt, but it can scarcely be the
source of many amiable ones," said Forester, smarting under the recent
inconvenience.

"We 'll talk of that after supper," said Miss Daly, rising, "and I leave
you to make a good fire while I go to give some orders."

"May I not have the honor to present my credentials first?" said
Forester, handing Bagenal Daly's letter to her.

"My brother is quite well, is he not?"

"In excellent health; I left him but two days since."

"The despatch will keep, then," said she, thrusting it into a
letter-rack over the chimney-piece, while she left the room to make the
arrangement she spoke of.

Miss Daly's absence was not of long duration, but, brief as it was, it
afforded Forester time enough to look around at the many strange
and incongruous decorations of the apartment, nor had he ceased his
wonderment when Dan, pale and trembling in every limb, entered, tray in
hand, to lay the supper-table.

With many a sidelong, stealthy look, Dan performed his duties, as it was
easy to see that however disposed to regard the individual before him as
of this world's company, "the thing that jumped out of the sky," as he
called it, was yet an unexplained phenomenon.

"I see you are surprised by the motley companionship that surrounds
me," said Miss Daly; "but, as a friend of Bagenal's, and acquainted,
doubtless, with his eccentric habits, they will astonish you less. Come,
let me hear about him, - is he going to pay me a visit down here?"

"I fear not, at this moment," said Forester, with an accent of
melancholy; "his friendship is heavily taxed at the present juncture.
You have heard, perhaps, of the unhappy event which has spread such
dismay in Dublin?"

"No! what is it? I hear of nothing, and see nobody here."

"A certain Mr. Gleeson, the trusted agent of many country gentlemen, has
suddenly fled - "

Before Forester could continue, Miss Daly arose, and tore open her
brother's letter. For a few seconds Forester was struck with the
wonderful resemblance to her brother, as, with indrawn breath and
compressed lips, she read; but gradually her color faded away, her hands
trembled, and the paper fell from them, while, with a voice scarcely
audible, she whispered: "And it has come to this!" Covering her face
with the folds of her cloak, she sat for some minutes buried in deep
sorrow; and when she again looked up, years seemed to have passed over,
and left their trace upon her countenance: it was pale and haggard, and
a braid of gray hair, escaping beneath her cap, had fallen across her
cheek, and increased the sad expression.

"So is it," said she, aloud, but speaking as though to herself, - "so
is it: the heavy hand is laid on all in turn; happier they who meet
misfortune early in life, when the courage is high and the heart
unshrinking: if the struggle be life-long, the victory is certain;
but after years of all the world can give of enjoyment - You know
Maurice? - you know the Knight, sir?"

"Yes, madam, slightly; but with Lady Eleanor and her daughter I have the
honor of intimate acquaintance."

"I will not ask how he bears up against a blow like this. If his own
fate only hung in the balance, I could tell that myself; but for his
wife, to whom they say he is so devotedly attached - you know it was a
love-match, so they called it in England, because the daughter of an
Earl married the first Commoner in Ireland. And Bagenal advises their
coming here! Well, perhaps he is right; they will at least escape the
insolence of pity in this lonely spot. Oh! sir, believe me, there is a
weighty load of responsibility on those who rule us; these things are
less the faults of individuals than of a system. You began here by
confiscation, you would finish by corruption. Stimulating to excesses
of every kind a people ten times more excitable than your own, - now
flattering, now goading, - teaching them to vie with you in display
while you mocked the recklessness of their living, you chafed them into
excesses of alternate loyalty or rebellion."

However satisfied of its injustice, Forester made no reply to this burst
of passion, but sat without speaking as she resumed: -

"You will say there are knaves in every country, and that this Gleeson
was of our rearing; but I deny it, sir. I tell you he was a base
counterfeit we have borrowed from yourselves. That meek, submissive
manner, that patient drudgery of office, that painstaking, petty
rectitude, make up 'your respectable men;' and in this garb of character
the business of life goes on with you. And why? Because you take it
at its worth. But here, in Ireland, we go faster; trust means full
confidence, - confidence without limit or bound; and then, too often,
ruin without redemption. Forgive me, sir; age and sorrow both have
privileges, and I perhaps have more cause than most others to speak
warmly on this theme. Now, let me escape my egotism by asking you to
eat, for I see we have forgotten our supper all this time."

From that moment Miss Daly never adverted further to the burden of her
brother's letter, but led Forester to converse about his journey and the
people whom, even in his brief experience, he perceived to be so unlike
the peasantry of the West.

"Yes," said she, in reply to an observation of his, "these diversities
of character observable in different places are doubtless intended,
like the interminable varieties of natural productions, to increase our
interest in life, and, while extending the sphere of speculation, to
contribute to our own advancement. Few people, perhaps not any, are to
be found without some traits of amiability; here there is much to
be respected, and, when habit has dulled the susceptibility of first
impressions, much also to be liked. But shall I not have the pleasure of
showing you my neighbors and my neighborhood?"

"My visit must be of the shortest; I rather took than obtained my leave
of absence."

"Well, even a brief visit will do something; for my neighbors all dwell
in cottages, and my neighborhood comprises the narrow strip of coast
between this hut and the sea, whose plash you hear this minute.
To-morrow you will be rested from your journey, and if the day permits
we 'll try the Causeway."

Forester accepted the invitation so frankly proffered, and went to his
room not sorry to lay his head upon a pillow after two weary nights upon
the road.

Forester was almost shocked as he entered the breakfast-room on the
following morning to see the alteration in Miss Daly's appearance. She
had evidently passed a night of great sorrow, and seemed with difficulty
to bear up against the calamitous tidings of which he was the bearer.



Online LibraryCharles James LeverThe Knight Of Gwynne, Vol. I (of II) → online text (page 23 of 34)