Charles James Lever.

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me."

"Then perhaps you never got our letter," said Lady Eleanor, as she took
his arm and walked forward. "I wrote the moment I heard from Lionel."

"And I, too, wrote you a long letter from London," said Lionel.

"Neither reached me; but the last few days I have been so busy, and so
much occupied. - How are you, Conolly? Delighted to see you, Martin. - And
Lady Julia, is she here? I must take a tour and see all my friends.
First of all, I have a duty to perform; let me introduce these
gentlemen. But where are they? Oh, I see them yonder." And, as he spoke,
he led Lady Eleanor across the room to the group of officers, who,
overwhelmed with shame at their discovery, stood uncertain whether they
should remain or retire.

"Let me introduce Major Hopecot and the officers of the 5th," said he,
bowing courteously. "These gentlemen are strangers, Lady Eleanor; will
you take care that they find partners."

While the abashed subalterns left their major to make his speeches to
Lady Eleanor, the Knight moved round the room with Helen still leaning
on his arm. By this time Darcy's arrival was generally known, and all
his old friends came pressing forward to see and speak to him.

"Lord Netherby," whispered Helen in the Knight's ear, as a tall and very
thin old man, with an excessive affectation of youthfulness, tripped
forward to meet him.

"My dear Lord," exclaimed Darcy, "what a pleasure, and what an honor to
see you here!"

"You would not come to me, Knight, so there was nothing else for it,"
replied the other, laughing, as he shook hands with a great display of
cordiality. "And you were quite right," continued he; "I could not have
received you like this. There 's not so splendid a place in England,
nor has it ever been my fortune to witness so much beauty." A half bow
accompanied the last words, as he turned towards Helen.

"Take care, my Lord," said the Knight, smiling; "the flatteries of a
courtier are very dangerous things when heard out of the atmosphere that
makes them commonplace. We may take you literally, and have our heads
turned by them."

At this moment Lionel joined them, to introduce several of his friends
and brother officers who accompanied him from England, all of whom were
received by the Knight with that winning courtesy of manner of which he
was a perfect master; for, not affecting either the vices or frivolities
of youth as a claim to the consideration of younger men, the Knight
possessed the happy temper that can concede indulgence without asking
to partake of it, and, while losing nothing of the relish for wit and
humor, chasten both by the fruits of a life's experience.

"Now, Helen, you must go back to your partner; that young guardsman
looks very sulkily at me for having taken you off - yes, I insist on
it. Lionel, look to your friends, and I 'll join Lord Netherby's
whist-table, and talk whenever permitted. Where 's poor Tate?" whispered
he in Lady Eleanor's ear, as she just came up.

"Poor fellow! he has been ill for some days back; you know what
a superstitious creature he is; and about a week since he got a
fright, - some warning of a Banshee, I think; but it shook his nerves
greatly, and he has kept his bed almost ever since. Lionel brought over
some of these servants with him; but Lord Netherby's people are Legion,
and the servants' hall now numbers something like seventy, I hear."

The Knight heaved a sigh; but, catching himself, tried to conceal it by
a cough. Lady Eleanor had heard it, however, and stole a quick glance
towards him, to evade which he turned abruptly round and spoke to some
one near.

"Seventy, my dear Eleanor!" said he, after a pause, and as if he had
been reflecting over his last observation; "and what a Babel, too, it
must be! I heard French, German, and Italian in the hall; I think we can
promise Irish ourselves."

"Yes," said Lionel, "it is the most amusing scene in the world. They had
a ball last night in the lower gallery, where boleros and jigs succeeded
each other, while the refreshments ranged from iced lemonade to burnt
whiskey."

"And what did our worthy folk think of their visitors?" said Darcy,
smiling.

"Not over much. Paddy Lennan looked with great contempt at the men
sipping _orgeat_, and when he saw the waltzing, merely remarked, 'We've
a betther way of getting round the girls in Ireland;' while old Pierre
Dulange, Netherby's valet, persists in addressing the native company as
'Messieurs les Sauvages.'"

"I hope, for the sake of the public peace, they 've not got an
interpreter among them."

"No, no, all's safe on that score, and freedom of speech has suggested
the most perfect code of good manners; for it would seem, as they can
indulge themselves in the most liberal reflections on each other, they
have no necessity of proceeding to overt acts."

"Now," said the Knight, "let me not interrupt the revelry longer. To
your place, Lionel, and leave me to pay my devoirs to my friends and
kind neighbors."

The Knight's presence seemed alone wanting to fill up the measure of
enjoyment. Most of those present were his old familiar friends, glad
to see once more amongst them the great promoter of kind feeling and
hospitality, while from such as were strangers he easily won golden
opinions, the charm of courtesy being with him like a well-fitting
garment, which graced, but did not impede, the wearer's motions.

He had a hundred questions to ask and to answer. The news of the capital
travelled in those days by slow and easy stages, and the moment was
sufficiently eventful to warrant curiosity; and so, as he passed from
group to group, he gave the current gossip of the time as each in turn
asked after this circumstance or that.

At length he took his place beside Lord Netherby, as he sat engaged at
a whist-table, where the gathering crowd that gradually collected soon
converted the game into a social circle of eager talkers.

Who could have suspected that easy, unconstrained manner, that winning
smile, that ready laugh, the ever-present jest, to cover the working of
a heart so nigh to breaking? And yet he talked pleasantly and freely,
narrating with all his accustomed humor the chit-chat of the time; and
while of course, the great question of the hour occupied every tongue
and ear, all Lord Netherby's practised shrewdness could not enable him
to detect the exact part the Knight himself had taken.

"And so they have carried the bill," said Conolly, with a sigh, as he
listened to Darcy's account of the second reading. "Well, though I never
was a Parliament man, nor expected to be one, I'm sorry for it. You
think that strange, my Lord?"

"By no means, sir. A man may love monarchy without being the heir
apparent."

"Quite true," chimed in the Knight. "I would even go further, and say
that, without any warm devotion to a king, a man may hate a regicide."

Lord Netherby's eyes met Darcy's, and the wily peer smiled with a
significance that seemed to say, "I know you _now_."




CHAPTER XXVIIII. THE HUNT-BREAKFAST

The ball lasted till nigh daybreak; and while the greater number of the
guests departed, some few remained, by special invitation, at the abbey,
to join a hunting party on the following day. For this Lionel had made
every possible preparation, desiring to let his English friends witness
a favorable specimen of Irish sport and horsemanship. The stud and
kennel were both in high condition, the weather favorable, and, as the
old huntsman said, "'It would be hard if a fox would n't be agreeable
enough to give the strange gentlemen a run."

In high anticipation of the coming morning, and with many a prayer
against a frost, they separated for the night. All within the abbey were
soon sound asleep, - all save the Knight himself, who, the restraint of
an assumed part withdrawn, threw himself on a sofa in his dressing-room,
worn out and exhausted by his struggle. Ruin was inevitable, - that he
well knew; but as yet the world knew it not, and for Lionel's sake he
resolved to keep his own secret a few days longer. The visit was to last
but eight days; two were already over; for the remaining six, then, he
determined - whatever it might cost him - to preserve all the appearances
of his former estate, to wear the garb and seeming of prosperity, and do
the princely honors of a house that was never again to be his home.

"Poor Lionel!" thought he; "'twould break the boy's heart if such a
disclosure should be made now; the high and daring promptings of his
bold spirit would not quail before misfortune, although his courage
might not sustain him in the very moment of the reverse. I will not risk
the whole fortune of his future happiness in such a trial; he shall know
nothing till they are gone; one week of triumphant pleasure he shall
have, and then let him brace himself to the struggle, and breast the
current manfully."

While endeavoring to persuade himself that Lionel's lot was uppermost in
his mind, his heart would force the truth upon him that Lady Eleanor and
Helen's fate was, in reality, a heavier stroke of fortune. Lionel was
a soldier, ardent and daring, fond of his profession, and far more
ambitious of distinction than attached to the life of pleasure a court
and a great capital suggested; but they who had never known the want
of every luxury that can embellish life, whose whole existence had been
like some fairy dream of pleasure, how were they to bear up against
the dreadful shock? Lady Eleanor's health was frail and delicate in the
extreme; Helen's attachment to her mother such that any impression on
her would invariably recoil upon herself. What might be the consequences
of the disclosure to them Darcy could not, dared not, contemplate.

As he revolved all these things in his mind, and thought upon the
difficulties that beset him, he was at a loss whether to deplore the
necessity of wearing a false face of pleasure a few days longer, or
rejoice at the occasion of even this brief reprieve from ruin. Thus
passed the weary hours that preceded daybreak, and while others slept
soundly, or reviewed in their dreams the pleasures of the past night,
Darcy's gloomy thoughts were fixed upon the inevitable calamity of his
fate, and the years, few but sad, that in all likelihood were now before
him.

The stir and bustle of the servants preparing breakfast for the hunting
party broke in upon his dreary revery, and he suddenly bethought him of
the part he had assigned himself to play. He dreaded the possibility of
an interview with Lady Eleanor, in which she would inevitably advert to
Gleeson, and the circumstances of his flight; this could not be avoided,
however, were he to pass the day at home, and so he resolved to join the
hunting-field, where perhaps some lingering trace of his old enthusiasm
for the sport might lead him to hope for a momentary relief of mind.

"Lionel, too, will be glad to see me in the saddle - it's some years
since I crossed the sward at a gallop - and I am curious to know if a
man's nerve is stouter when the world looks fair before him, or when the
night of calamity is lowering above his head." Muttering these words to
himself, he passed out into the hall, and crossing which, entered the
courtyard, and took his way towards the stables. It was still dark, but
many lights were moving to and fro, and the groom population were all
about and stirring. Darcy opened the door and looked down the long
range of stalls, where above twenty saddle-horses were now standing, the
greater number of them highly bred and valuable animals, and all in the
highest possible condition. Great was the astonishment of the stablemen
as the Knight moved along, throwing a glance as he went at each stall,
while a muttered "Welcome home to yer honor" ran from mouth to mouth.

"The bastes is looking finely, sir," said Bob Carney, who, as stud-groom
and huntsman, had long presided over his department.

"So they are, Bob, but I don't know half of them; where did this strong
brown horse come from?"

"That's Clipper, yer honor; I knew you wouldn't know him. He took up
finely after his run last winter."

"And the fore leg, is it strong again?"

"As stout as a bar of iron; one of the boys had him out two days ago,
and he took the yellow ditch flying: we measured nineteen feet between
the mark of his hoofs."

"He ought to be strong enough to carry me, Bob."

"Don't ride him, sir, he's an uncertain divil; and though he 'll go
straight over everything for maybe twenty minutes or half an hour, he
'll stop short at a drain not wider than a potato furrow, and the power
of man would n't get him over it."

"That's a smart gray yonder, - what is she?"

"She's the one we tried as a leader one day; yer honor remembers you bid
me shoot her, or get rid of her, for she kicked the traces, and nearly
the wheel-horse, all to smash; and now she's the sweetest tiling to
ride, for eleven stone, in the whole country. There's an English colonel
to try her to-day; my only advice to him is, let her have her own way of
it, for, if he begins pulling at her, 't is maybe in Donegal he 'll be
before evening."

"And what have you for me?" said the Knight; "for I scarcely know any of
my old friends here."

"There's the mouse-colored cob - - "

"No, no," said the Knight, laughing; "I want to keep my place, Bob. You
must give me something better than that."

"Faith, an' your honor might have worse; but if it's for riding you
are, take Black Peter, and you 'll never find the fence too big, or the
ground too heavy for him. I was going to give him to the English lord; I
suppose, after all, he 'll be better pleased with the cob."

"Well, then, Peter for me. And now let's see what Mr. Lionel has to
ride."

"There she is, and a beauty!" said Bob, as, with a dexterous jerk, he
chucked a sheet off her haunches, and displayed the shining flanks and
splendid proportions of a thoroughbred mare. "That's Cushleen," said he,
as he fixed his eyes on the Knight's face to enjoy the reflection of his
own delight. "That's the darlin' can do it! - a child can hould her,
but it takes a man to sit on her back - racing speed over a flat, and a
jump! - 't is more like the bound of a football than anything else."

"She has the eye of a hot one, Bob."

"And why would n't she? But she knows when to be so. Let her take her
place at the head of the whole field, with a light finger to guide and a
stout heart to direct her, and she's a kitten; but the divil a tiger was
ever as fierce if another passes her, or a cowardly hand would try to
hold her back. And there 's a nate tool, that black horse, - that 's for
another of the English gentlemen. Master Lionel calls him Sir Harry.
They tell me he 's a fine rider, and has a pack of hounds himself in his
own place, and I am mistaken if he has the baste in his stable will
give him a betther day's sport. The chestnut here is for Miss Helen, for
she's coming to see them throw off, and it'll be a fine sight; we 'll
be thirty-six out of your honor's stables, Mr. Conolly is bringing nine
more, and all the Martins, and the Lynches, and Dalys, and Mr. Hickman
O'Reilly and his son, - though, to be sure, _they_ won't do much for the
honor of ould Ireland."

The Knight turned away laughing, and re-entered the house.

Early as it yet was, the inmates of the abbey were stirring, and a great
breakfast, laid for above thirty, was prepared in the library, for
the supper-tables occupied the dining-rooms, and the débris of the
magnificent entertainment of the night before still lingered there. Two
cheerful fires blazed on the ample hearths, and threw a mellow lustre
over that spacious room, where old Tate now busied himself in those
little harmless duties he fancied indispensable to the Knight's comfort,
for the poor fellow, on hearing of his master's return, had once more
resumed his office.

The Knight's meeting with him was one of true friendship; difference
of station interposed no barrier to affection, and Darcy shook the old
man's hand as cordially as though they were brothers. Yet each was sad
with a secret sorrow, which all their efforts could scarce conceal
from the other. In vain the Knight endeavored to turn away old Tate's
attention by inquiries after his health, questions about home, or little
flatteries about his preparations, Tate's filmy eyes were fixed upon his
master with a keenness that age could not dim.

"'T is maybe tired your honor is," said he, in a voice half meant as
inquiry, half insinuation; "the Parliament, they tell me, destroys the
health entirely."

"Very true, Tate; late hours, heated rooms, and some fatigue will not
serve a man of my age; but I am tolerably well for all that."

"God be praised for it!" said Tate, piously, but in a voice that showed
it was rather a wish he expressed than a conviction, when, suspecting
that he had suffered some portion of his fears to escape, he added more
cheerfully, "And is n't Master Lionel grown an iligant, fine young man!
When I seen him comin' up the stairs, it was just as if the forty-eight
years that's gone over was only a dhrame, and I was looking at your
honor the day you came home from college; he has the same way with bis
arms, and carries his head like you, and the same light step. Musha!"
muttered he, below his breath, "the ould families never die out, but
keep their looks to the last."

"He's a fine fellow, Tate!" said the Knight, turning towards the window,
for, while flattered by the old man's praises of his son, a deep pang
shot through his heart at the wide disparity of fortune with which life
opened for both of them. At the instant an arm was drawn round him, and
Helen stood at his side: she was in her riding-habit, and looking in
perfect beauty. Darcy gazed at her for a few seconds, and with such
evident admiration that she, as if accepting the compliment, drew
herself up, and, smiling, said, "Yes, nothing short of conquest. Lionel
told his friends to expect a very unformed country girl; they shall see
at least she can ride."

"No harebrained risks, Helen, dearest. I'm to take the field to-day,
and you must n't shake my nerve; for I want to bring no disgrace on my
county."

"I was but jesting, my own dear papa," said she, drawing closer to
him; "but I really felt so curious to see these English horsemen's
performance that I asked Lionel to train Alice for me."

"And Lionel, of course, but too happy to show his pretty sister - "

"Nay, nay, if you will quiz, I must only confess that my head is quite
turned already; our noble cousin overwhelms me with flatteries which,
upon the principle the Indian accepts glass beads and spangles as gems,
and gold, I take as real value. But here he comes."

And Lord Netherby, attired for the field in all the accuracy of
costume, slipped towards them. After came Colonel Crofton, a well-known
fashionable of the clubs and a hanger-on of the peer; then Sir Harry
Beauclerk, a young baronet of vast fortune, gay, good-tempered, and
extravagant; while several others of lesser note, brother officers of
Lionel's and men about town, brought up the rear, one only deserving
remark, a certain Captain, or, as he was better known, Tom Nolan, - a
strange, ambiguous kind of fellow, always seen in the world, constantly
met at the best houses, and yet nobody being able to explain why he was
asked, nor - as it very often happened - who asked him.

Lady Eleanor never appeared early in the day, but there was a sprinkling
of lady-visitors through the room, guests at the abbey: a very pretty,
but not over-afflicted widow, a Mrs. Somerville, with several Mrs.
and Miss Lynches, Brownes, and Martins, comprising the beauties of
the neighborhood. Lionel was the last to make his appearance, so many
directions had he to give about earth-stoppers and cover-hacks, drags,
phaetons, fresh horses, and all the contingent requirements of a day's
sport. Besides, he had pledged himself most faithfully to give Mrs.
Somerville's horse, a very magnificent barb, a training canter himself,
with a horse-sheet round his legs, for she was a timid rider, - on some
occasions, - though certain calumnious people averred that, when alone,
she would take any fence in the whole barony.

At length they were seated, and such a merry, happy party! There was but
one sad heart in the company, and that none could guess at. And what a
running fire of pleasant raillery rattled round the table! How brimful
of wit and good-humor were they all! How ready each to take the jest
against himself, and even heighten its flavor by some new touch of
drollery. Harmless wagers respecting the places they would occupy at the
finish, gentle quiz-zings about safe riding through the gaps, and joking
counsels as to the peculiar difficulties of an Irish country, were heard
on all sides; while the Knight recounted the Galway anecdote of Dick
Perse taking an immense leap and disappearing afterwards. "'Call the
ground, Dick!' cried Lord Clanricarde, who was charging up at top
speed - 'call the ground! What's at the other side?'

"'I _am_, thank God!' was the short reply, and the words came from the
depth of a gravel-pit."

At last, venison pasties and steaks, rolls and coffee, with their due
accompaniment of liqueurs, came to an end, and a very sufficient uproar
without, of men, dogs, and horses commingled, bespoke the activity of
preparation there, while old Bob Carney's voice topped every other, as
he swore at or commended men and beasts indiscriminately.

"What a glorious morning for our sport!" said the Knight, as he threw
open the sash, and let into the room the heavy perfume of the earth,
borne on a southerly wind. The sea was calm as an inland lake, and the
dark clouds over it were equally motionless. "We shall be unlucky, my
Lord, if we do not show you some sport on such a day. Ah, there go the
dogs!" And, as he spoke, the hounds issued from beneath the deep arch of
the gateway, and with Bob and the whipper-in at their head, took their
way across the lawn.

"To horse! to horse!" shouted Lionel, gayly, from the courtyard, for
the riding party were not to proceed to the cover by the short path the
hounds were gone, but to follow by a more picturesque and circuitous
route.

"I hope sincerely that beast is not intended for me," said Lord
Netherby, as a powerful black horse crossed the courtyard, in a series
of bounds, and finished by landing the groom over his head.

"Never fear, my Lord," said Lionel, laughing; "Billy Pitt is meant for
Beauclerk."

"You surely never named that animal after the minister, Knight?" said
his Lordship.

"Yes, my Lord," said Darcy, with a smile; "it's just as unsafe to
back one as the other. But here comes the heavy brigade. Which is your
choice, - Black Peter, or Mouse?"

"If I may choose, I will confess this is more to my liking than anything
I have seen yet. You know that I don't mean to take any part in the
debate, so I may as well secure a quiet seat under the gallery. But, my
dear Miss Darcy, what a mettlesome thing you 've got there!"

"She's only fidgety; if I can hold her when they throw off, I 'll have
no trouble afterwards." And the graceful girl sat back easily in her
saddle as the animal bounded and swerved with every stroke of her long
riding-habit.

"There goes Beauclerk!" cried Lionel, as the young baronet shot like an
arrow through the archway on the back of Billy Pitt; for no sooner had
he touched the saddle than the unmanageable animal broke away from the
groom's hands, and set off at full speed down the lawn.

"I say, Darcy," cried Colonel Crofton, "is n't Beauclerk a step over
you in the 'Army List'?"

But Lionel never heard the question, for he was most busily occupied
about Mrs. Somerville and her horse.

"Who drives the phaeton? - where's a safe whip to be found for Mrs.
Martin?" said the Knight; and, seizing on a young Guardsman, he promoted
him to the box, with a very pretty girl beside him. A drag, with four
grays, was filling at the same instant, with a mixed population of
horsemen and spectators, among whom Captain Nolan seemed the presiding
spirit, as, seated beside a brother officer of Lionel's on the box, he
introduced the several parties to each other, and did "the honors" of
the conveyance.

Troops of horses, sheeted and hooded, now passed out with a number of
grooms and stable-boys, on their way to cover; and at last the great
cavalcade moved forward, the Knight, his daughter, and Lord Netherby
gayly cantering on the grass, to permit the carriages to take the road.
The drag came last; and although but newly met, the company were already
in the full enjoyment of that intimacy which high spirits and pleasure



Online LibraryCharles James LeverThe Knight Of Gwynne, Vol. I (of II) → online text (page 25 of 34)