Charles James Lever.

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

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She endeavored, it is true, to converse on matters of indifference, - the
road he had travelled, the objects he had seen, and so on; but the
effort was ever interrupted by broken snatches of reflection that would
vent themselves in words, and all of which bore on the Knight and his
fortunes.

To Forester's account of her brother Bagenal's devotion to his friend
she listened with eager interest, asking again and again what part he
had taken, whether his counsels were deemed wise ones, and if he still
enjoyed to the fullest extent the confidence of his old friend.

"It is no friendship of yesterday, sir," said she, with a heightened
color and a flashing eye; "they knew each other as boys, they walked
the mountains together as young men, speculated on the future paths
fate might open before them, and the various ambitions which, even then,
stirred within them. Bagenal was ever rash, headstrong, and impetuous,
rarely firm in purpose till some obstacle seemed to defy its
accomplishment. Maurice - the Knight, I mean - was not less resolute when
roused, but more often so much disposed to concede to others that he
would postpone his wishes to their own; and once believing himself in
any way pledged to a course, would forget all, save the fulfilment of
the implied promise. Such were the two dispositions, which, acting and
reacting on each other, effected the ruin of both: the one wasted in
eccentricity what the other squandered in listless indifference; and
with abilities enough to have won distinction for humble men, they have
earned no other reputation than that of singularity or convivialism.

"As for Bagenal," she said, after a pause, "wealth was never but an
incumbrance to him; he was one of those persons who never saw any use
for money, save in the indulgence of mere caprice; he treated his great
fortune as a spoiled child will do a toy, and never rested till he
had pulled it to pieces, and perhaps derived the same moral lesson
too, - astonishment at the mere trifle which once amused him. But Maurice
Darcy, - whose tastes were ever costly and cultivated, who regarded
splendor not as the means of vulgar display, but as the fitting
accompaniment of a house illustrious by descent and deeds, and deemed
that all about and around him should bear the impress of himself,
generous and liberal as he was, - how is he to bear this reverse? Tell
me of Lady Eleanor; and Miss Darcy, is she like the Knight, or has her
English blood given the character to her beauty?"

"She is very like her father," said Forester, "but more so even in
disposition than in features."

"How happy I am to hear it," said Miss Daly, hastily; "and she is, then,
high-spirited and buoyant? What gifts in an hour like this!"

"You say truly, madam, she will not sink beneath the stroke, believe
me."

"Well, this news has reconciled me to much of your gloomier tidings,"
said Miss Daly; "and now let us wander out upon the hills; I feel as if
we could talk more freely as we stroll along the beach."

Miss Daly arose as she spoke, and led the way through the little garden
wicket, which opened on a steep pathway down to the shore.

"This will be a favorite walk with Helen, I'm certain," said she. "The
caves are all accessible at low water, and the view of Fairhead finer
than from any other point. I must instruct you to be a good and a safe
guide. I must teach you all the art and mystery of the science, make
you learned in the chronicles of Dunluce, and rake up for you legends of
ghostcraft and shipwreck enough to make the fortunes of a romancer."

"I thank you heartily," said Forester; "but I cannot remain here to meet
my friends."

"Oh, I understand you," said Miss Daly, who in reality put a wrong
interpretation on his words; "but you shall be my guest. There is a
little village about four miles from this, where I intend to take up my
abode. I hope you will not decline hospitality which, if humble, is at
least freely proffered."

"I regret deeply," said Forester, and he spoke in a tone of sorrow,
"that I cannot accept your kindness. I stand in a position of no common
difficulty at this moment." He hesitated, as if doubting whether to
proceed or not, and then, in a more hurried voice, resumed: "There is no
reason why I should obtrude my own petty cares and trials where greater
misfortunes are impending; but I cannot help telling you that I have
been rash enough, in a moment of impatience, to throw up an appointment
I held on the Viceroy's Staff, and I know not how far the step may yet
involve me with my relatives."

"Tell me how came you first acquainted with the Darcys?" said Miss Daly,
as if following out in her own mind a train of thought.

"I will be frank with you," said Forester, "for I cannot help being so;
there are cases where confidence is not a virtue, but a necessity. Every
word you speak, every tone of your voice, is so much your brother's that
I feel as if I were confiding to him in another form. I learned to know
the Knight of Gwynne in a manner which you may deem, perhaps, little
creditable to myself, though I trust you will see that I neither abused
the knowledge nor perverted the honor of the acquaintanceship. It was in
this wise."

Briefly, but without reserve, Forester narrated the origin of his first
journey to the West, and, without implicating the honor of his relative,
Lord Castlereagh, explained the nature of his mission, to ascertain the
sentiments of the Knight, and the possibility of winning him to the side
of the Government. His own personal adventures could not, of course, be
omitted, in such a narrative; but he touched on the theme as slightly as
he could, and only dwelt on the kindness he had experienced in his long
and dangerous illness, and the long debt of gratitude which bound him to
the family.

Of the intimacy that succeeded he could not help speaking, and, whether
from his studied avoidance of her name, or that, when replying to any
question of Miss Daly's concerning Helen Darcy, his manner betrayed
agitation, certain it is that when he concluded, Miss Daly's eyes were
turned towards him with an expression of deep significance that called
the color to his cheek.

"And so, sir," said she, in a slow and measured voice, "you went down
to play the tempter, and were captured yourself. Come, come, I know
your secret; you have told it by signs less treacherous than words; and
Helen, - for I tell you freely my interest is stronger for her, - how is
she disposed towards you?"

Forester never spoke, but hung his head abashed and dejected.

"Yes, yes, I see it all," said Miss Daly, hurriedly; "you would win
the affection of a generous and high-souled girl by the arts which
find favor in your more polished world, and you have found that the
fascinations of manner and the glittering _éclat_ of an aide-de-camp
have failed. Now, take my counsel. But first let me ask, is this
affection the mere prompting of an idle or capricious moment, or do you
love her with a passion round which the other objects of your life are
to revolve and depend? I understand that pressure of the hand; it is
enough. My advice is simple. You belong to a profession second to none
in its high and great rewards: do not waste its glorious opportunities
by the life of a courtier; be a soldier in feeling as well as in garb;
let her whose heart you would win, feel that in loving you she is paying
the tribute to qualities that make men esteem and respect you; that she
is not bestowing her hand upon the mere favorite of a Court, but on
one whose ambitions are high, and whose darings are generous. Oh! leave
nothing, or as little as you may, to mere influence; let your boast be,
and it will be a proud one, that with high blood and a noble name you
have started fairly in the race, and distanced your competitors. This is
my counsel. What think you of it?"

"I will follow it," said Forester, firmly; "I will follow it, though, I
own it to you, it suggests no hope, where hope would be happiness."

"Well, then," said Miss Daly, "you shall spend this day with me, and
I will not keep you another; you have made me your friend by this
confidence, and I will use the trust with delicacy and with fidelity."

"May I write to you?" said Forester, "and will you let me hear from you
again?"

"With pleasure; I should have asked it myself had you not done so. Now,
let us talk of the first steps to be taken in this affair; and here is a
bench where we can rest ourselves while we chat."

Forester sat down beside her, and, in the freedom of one to whom fortune
had so unexpectedly presented a confidante, opened all the secret store
of his cares and hopes and fears. It was late when they turned again
towards "the Corvy," but the youth's step was lighter, and his brow more
open, while his heart was higher than many a previous day had found him.




CHAPTER XXVII. THE KNIGHT'S RETURN

We must now for a brief space, return to the Knight, as with a heavy
heart he journeyed homeward. Never did the long miles seem so wearisome
before, often and often as he had travelled them. The little accidental
delays, which once he had met with a ready jest, and in a spirit of
kindly indulgence, he now resented as so many intentional insults upon
his changed and ruined fortune. The gossiping landlords, to whom he
had ever extended so much of freedom, he either acknowledged coldly, or
repelled with distance; their liberties were now construed into want of
deference and respect; the very jestings of the postboys to each other
seemed so many covert impertinences, and equivocal allusions to himself;
for even so much will the stroke of sudden misfortune change the nature,
and convert the contented and happy spirit into a temperament of gloomy
sorrow and suspicion.

Unconscious of his own altered feelings, and looking at every object
through the dim light of his own calamity, he hurried along, not, as
of old, recognizing each well-known face, saluting this one, inquiring
after that; he sat back in his carriage, and, with his hat drawn almost
over his eyes, neither noticed the way nor the wayfarers.

In this mood it was he entered Castlebar. The sight of his
well-remembered carriage drew crowds of beggars to the door of the inn,
every one of whom had some special prayer for aid, or some narrative
of sickness for his hearing. By the time the horses drew up, the
crowd numbered some hundreds of every variety, not only in age, but
in raggedness, all eagerly calling on him by name, and imploring his
protection on grounds the most strange and dissimilar.

"I knew the sound of the wheels; ax Biddy if I did n't say it was his
honor was coming!" cried one, in a sort of aside intended for the Knight
himself.

"Ye 're welcome home, sir; long may you reign over us," said an old
fellow with a beard like a pilgrim. "I dreamed I seen you last night
standing at the door there, wid a half-crown in your fingers. 'Ouid
Luke,' says you, 'come here! - - '"

A burst of rude laughter drowned this sage parable, while a good-looking
young woman, with an expression of softness in features degraded by
poverty and its consequences, courtesied low, and tried to attract
his notice, as she held up a miserable-looking infant to the carriage
window. "Clap them, acushla! 't is proud he is to see you back again,
sir; he never forgets the goold guinea ye gave him on New Year's Day!
Don't be pushin' that way, you rude cray-tures; you want to hurt the
child, and it's the image of his honor."

"Many returns of the blessed sason to you," growled out a creature in a
bonnet, but in face and figure far more like a man than a woman; "throw
us out a fippenny to buy two ounces of tay. Asy, asy; don't be drivin'
me under the wheels - ugh! it's no place for a faymale, among such
rapscallions."

"What did they give you, Maurice? how much did you get, honey?" cried
a tall and almost naked fellow, that leaned over the heads of several
others, and put his face close to the glass of the carriage, which, for
safety's sake, the Knight now let down, while he called aloud to the
postboys to make haste and bring out the horses.

"Tell us all about it, Maurice, my boy, - are you a lord, or a bishop?"
cried the tall fellow, with an eagerness of face that told his own sad
bereavement, for he was deranged in intellect from a fall from one of
the cliffs on the coast. "By my conscience, I think I must change my
politics myself soon; my best pantaloons is like Nat Fitzgibbon, - it has
resigned its sate! Out with a bit of silver here! - quick, I didn't kiss
the King's face this ten days."

To all these entreaties Darcy seemed perfectly deaf; if his eyes
wandered over the crowd, they noticed nothing there, nor did he appear
to listen to a word around him, while he again asked why the horses were
not coming.

"We're doing our best, your honor," cried a postboy, "but it's mighty
hard to get through these divils; they won't stir till the beasts is
trampling them down."

"Drive on, then, and let them take care of themselves," said the Knight,
sternly.

"O blessed Father! there's a way to talk of the poor! O heavenly Vargin!
but you are come back cruel to us, after all!"

"Drive on!" shouted out Darcy, in a voice of angry impatience.

The postboys sprang into their saddles, cracked their whips, and dashed
forward, while the mob, rent in a hundred channels, fled on every side,
with cries of terror and shouts of laughter, according as the distance
suggested danger or security. All escaped safely, except the poor idiot,
Flury, who, having one foot on the step when the carriage started, was
thrown backward, when, to save himself, he grasped the spring, and was
thus half dragged, half carried along to the end of the street, and
there, failing strength and fear combining, he relinquished his hold and
fell senseless to the ground, where the wheel grazed but did not injure
him as he lay.

With a cry of terror, the Knight called out "Stop!" and, flinging wide
the door, sprang out. To lift the poor fellow up to a sitting posture
was the work of a second, while he asked, in accents the very kindest,
if he were hurt.

"Sorra bit, Maurice," said the fellow, whose faculties sooner rallied
than if they were habitually under better control. "I was on the wrong
side of the coach, that's all; 't is safer to be within. The clothes is
not the better of it," said he, looking at his sleeve, now hanging in
stripes.

"Never mind that, Flury; we'll soon repair that misfortune; it does not
signify much."

"Does n't it, faith?" said the other, shaking his head dubiously; "'tis
asy talking, but I can't turn my coat without showing the hole in it. 'T
is only the rich can do that."

The Knight bit his lip; for even from the fool's sarcasm he could
gather the imputations already rife upon his conduct. Another and a very
different thought succeeded to this, and he blushed with shame to think
how far his sense of his own misfortune had rendered him indifferent,
not only to the kindly feelings, but the actual misery, of others. The
right impulses of high-minded men are generally rapid in their action,
like the spring of the bent bow when the cord is cut asunder. It did
not cost Darcy many minutes to be again the warm-hearted, generous soul
nature had made him.

"Come, Flury," said he to the poor fellow, as he stood ruefully
surveying his damaged drapery, "give that among the people there in the
town, and keep this for yourself."

"This is goold, Maurice, - yellow goold!"

"So it is; but you're not the less welcome to it; tell them, too, that
I have had troubles of my own lately; and that's the reason I hurried on
without exchanging a word with them."

"How do you know, Maurice, but I'll keep it all to myself?".

"I'd trust you with a heavier sum," said the Knight, smiling.

"I know why, - I know why, well enough, - because I'm a fool. Never mind,
there's greater fools nor me going. What did they give you up there for
your vote, Maurice, - tell me, how much was it?"

The Knight shook his head, and Flury resumed: "Didn't I say it? Wasn't
I right? By my ould hat! there's two fools in the country now; - Maurice
Darcy and Red Flury; and Maurice the biggest of the two! Whoop, the more
the merrier; there 's room for us all!" And with this wise reflection,
Flury gave a very wild caper and a wilder shout, and set off at the
speed of a hare towards Castlebar.

The Knight resumed his journey, and in a more contented mood. The little
incident had called on him for an exertion, and his faculties only
needed the demand to respond to the call. He summoned to his aid,
besides, every comforting reflection in his power; he persuaded himself
that there were some hopes remaining still, and tried to believe the
evil not beyond remedy. "After all," thought he, "we are together; it is
not death has been dealing with us, nor is there any stain upon our fair
fame; and, save these, all ills are light, and can be borne."

From thoughts like these he was aroused by the heavy clank of the iron
gate, as it fell back to admit the carriage within the park, while a
thousand welcomes saluted him.

"Thank you, Darby! - thank you, Mary! All well up at the abbey?"

But the carriage dashed past at full speed, and the answer was drowned
in the tumult. The postboys, true to the etiquette of their calling, had
reserved their best pace for the finish, and it was at the stride of a
hunting gallop they now tore along.

It was a calm night, with a young faint moon and a starry sky, which,
without displaying in bright light the details of the scenery, yet
exhibited them in strong, bold masses, making all seem even more
imposing and grander than in reality; the lofty mountain appeared
higher, the dark woods vaster, and the wide-spreading lawn seemed to
stretch away into immense plains. Darcy's heart swelled with pride as
he looked, while a pang shot through him as he thought, if even at that
hour he could call them his own.

They had now reached a little glen, where the postboys were obliged to
walk their blown cattle; emerging from this, they passed a thick grove
of beech, and at once came in sight of the abbey. Darcy leaned anxiously
from the window to catch the first sight of home, when what was his
amazement to perceive that the whole was lighted up from end to end. The
great suite of state rooms were a blaze of lustres, which even at that
distance glittered in their starry brilliancy, and showed the shadows of
figures moving within. He well knew that Lady Eleanor never saw company
in his absence, - what could this mean? Tortured with doubts that in his
then state of mind took every painful form, he ordered the postilions to
get on faster, and at the very top of their speed they tore along, over
the wide lawn, across the terrace drive, up the steep ascent to the gate
tower into the courtyard.

This was also brilliantly lighted by lamps from the walls, and also by
the lights of numerous carriage lamps which crowded the ample space.

"What is this? Can no one tell me?" muttered the Knight, as he leaped
from the carriage, and, seizing a livery servant who was passing, said,
"What is going on here? What company has the abbey?"

"Full of company," said the man, in an English accent; "there 's my
Lord - "

"Who do you mean?"

"The Earl of Netherby, sir, and Sir Harry Beauclerk, and Colonel
Crofton, and - "

"When did they arrive?" said the Knight, interrupting a catalogue, every
name of which, although unknown, sent a feeling like a stab through his
heart.

"They came the evening before last, sir; Mr. Lionel Darcy, who arrived
the same morning - "

"Is he here?" cried the Knight; and, without waiting for more, hastened
forward.

The servants, of whom there seemed a great number about, were in strange
liveries, and unknown to the Knight; nor was it without undergoing a
very cool scrutiny from them that Darcy succeeded in gaining admittance
to his own house. At last he reached the foot of the great stair, whence
the sounds of music and the din of voices filled the air; servants
hurried along with refreshments, or carried orders to others in waiting;
all was bustle and excitement, in the midst of which Darcy stood only
half conscious of the reality of what he saw, and endeavoring to reason
himself into a conviction of what he heard. It was at this moment that
several officers of a newly quartered regiment passed up, admiring, as
they went, the splendor of the house, and the magnificent preparations
they witnessed on every side.

[Illustration: 330]

"I say, Dallas," cried one, "you're always talking of your uncle
Beverley: does he do the thing in this style, eh?"

"By Jove!" interposed a short, thick-set major, with a bushy beard and
eyebrows, "this is what I call going the pace: do they give dinners
here?"

"Yes, that they do," said a white-faced, ghostly looking ensign; "I
heard all about this place from Giles of the 40th; he was quartered
six months in this county, and used to grub here half the week. The old
fellow is n't at home now, but they say he's a trump."

"Let's drink his health, Watkins," cried the first speaker, "here's
champagne going up;" and so saying, the party gathered around two
servants, one of whom carried an ice-pail with some bottles, and the
other a tray of glasses.

"Does any one know his name, though?" said the major, as he held his
glass to be filled.

"Yes, it's something like - Oh, you know that fellow that joined us at
Coventry?"

"Brereton, is it?"

"No, hang it! I mean the fellow that had the crop-eared cob with the
white legs. Never mind, here he goes, anyhow."

"Oh, I know who you mean, - it was Jack Quin."

"That's the name; and your friend here is called 'Gwynne,' I think.
Here, gentlemen, I give you Gwynne's health, and all the honors; may he
live a few centuries more - "

"With a warm heart and a cool cellar," added one.

"Pink champagne, and red-coats to drink it," chimed in the ensign.

"May I join you in that pleasant sentiment, gentlemen?" said the Knight,
bowing courteously, as he took a glass from the tray and held it towards
the servant.

"Make no apology, sir," said the major, eying him rather superciliously,
for the travelling dress concealed the Knight's appearance, and
distinguished him but slightly from many of those lounging around the
doors.

"Capital ginger-beer that! eh?" said the ensign, as, winking at his
companions, he proceeded to quiz the stranger.

"I have certainly drunk worse," said the Knight, gravely, - "at an
infantry mess."

There was a pause before he uttered the last three words, which gave
them a more direct application; a stare, half stupid, half impertinent,
was, however, all they elicited, and the group moved on, while the
Knight, disencumbering himself of his travelling gear, slowly followed
them.

"Grim old gentlemen these, ain't they?" said the major, gazing at the
long line of family portraits that covered the walls; "that fellow with
the truncheon does not seem to like the look of us."

"Here's a bishop, I take it, with the great wig."

"That's a chancellor, man; don't you see the mace? But he's not a whit
more civil-looking than the other; commend me to the shepherdess yonder,
in blue satin. But come on, we 're losing time; I hear the flourish of
a new dance. I say," said he, in a whisper, "do you see who we've got
behind us?" And they turned and saw the Knight as he mounted the stairs
behind them.

"A friend of the family, sir?" asked the major, in a voice that might
bear the equivocal meaning of either impertinence or mere inquiry.

The Knight seemed to prefer taking it in the latter acceptation, as he
answered mildly, "I have that honor."

"Ah! indeed; well, we 've the misfortune to be strangers in these
parts; only arrived in the neighborhood last week, and were invited here
through our colonel. Would you have any objection to present us? - Major
Hopecot of the 5th, Captain Mills, Mr. Dallas, Mr. Fothergill, Mr.
Watkins."

"How the major _is_ going it!" lisped the ensign, while his goggle eyes
rolled fearfully, and the others seemed struggling to control their
enjoyment of such drollery.

"It will afford me much pleasure, sir, to do your bidding," said the
Knight, calmly.

"Take the head of the column, then," resumed the major, making way for
him to pass; and the Knight entered, with the others after him.

"My father - my dearest father!" cried a voice at the moment, and,
escaping from her partner, Helen was in a moment in bis arms. The next
instant Lionel was also at his side.

"My dear children! - my sweet Helen! - and Lionel, how well you 're
looking, boy! Ah! Eleanor, what a pleasant surprise you have managed for



Online LibraryCharles James LeverThe Knight Of Gwynne, Vol. I (of II) → online text (page 24 of 34)