Charles James Lever.

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

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beget, while Tom Nolan contributed his utmost to the merriment by jests
which lost nothing of their poignancy from any scruples of their maker.

"There they go at last," said he, as Lionel and Mrs. Somerville cantered
forth, followed by two grooms. "I never heard of a stirrup so hard to
arrange as that, in all my life!"




CHAPTER XXIX. THE HUNT

The cover lay in a small valley, almost deep enough to be called a
glen, watered by a stream which in winter and summer took the alternate
character of torrent or rivulet; gently sloping hills rose on either
side, their banks clad with low furze and fern, and behind them a wide
plain extended to the foot of the great mountains of Connemara.

Both sides of the little glen were now occupied by groups on foot or
horseback, as each calculated on the likelihood of the fox taking this
direction or that. On the narrow road which led along the crest of the
lower hill were many equipages to be seen, some of which were filled
with ladies, whose waving feathers and gay colors served to heighten
the effect of the landscape. The horsemen were dotted about, some on the
ridge of the rising ground, some lower down on the sloping sides, and
others walked their horses through the dense cover, watching as the dogs
sprang and bounded from copse to copse, and made the air vibrate with
their deep voices.

The arrival of the Knight's party created no slight sensation as
carriages and horsemen came dashing up the hill, and took their station
on an eminence, from whence all who were not mounted might have a view
of the field. No sooner was he recognized, than such as had the honor
of personal acquaintance moved forward to pay their respects and welcome
him home again; among whom Beecham O'Reilly appeared, but with such
evident diffidence of manner and reserve that Darcy, from motives of
delicacy, was forced to take a more than ordinary notice of him.

"We were sorry not to have your company at the abbey last night; you 've
had a cold, I hear," said the Knight.

"Yes, sir; this is the first day I've ventured out."

"Let me introduce you to Lord Netherby. One of our foremost riders, my
Lord, Mr. Beecham O'Reilly. You may see that the merit is not altogether
his own, - splendid horse you have there."

"He's very powerful," said the young man, accepting the praise with an
air of easy indifference.

"In my country," interposed Lord Netherby, "we should value him at three
hundred guineas, if his performance equal his appearance."

"I say, Lionel, come here a moment," cried the Knight. "What do you
think of that horse? - but don't you know your old playfellow, Beecham?
Have you both forgotten each other?"

"How are you, Beecham? I'd never have guessed you. To be sure, it is
six years since we met. You were in Dublin, I think, when I was over on
leave last?"

"No, at Oxford," said Beecham, with a slight flush as he spoke; for
although he accepted the warm shake-hands Lionel proffered, his manner
was one of constraint all through. Young Darcy was, however, too much
occupied in admiring the horse to bestow much attention on the rider.

"He 'd carry you well," said Beecham, as if interpreting what was
passing in his mind, "and as I have no fancy for him, - a worse horse
will carry my weight as well, - I 'd sell him."

"At what price?"

"Lord Netherby has valued him at three hundred," said the young man. "I
gave nearly as much myself."

The Knight, who heard this conversation, without being able to interrupt
it, was in perfect misery. The full measure of his ruin rushed suddenly
on his mind, and the thought that, at the very moment his son was
meditating this piece of extravagance, he was himself actually a beggar,
sickened him to the heart. Meanwhile, Lionel walked his horse slowly
round, the better to observe the animal he coveted, and then cantered
back to his place at Mrs. Somerville's side.

Beecham seemed to hesitate for a second or two, then, riding forward,
he approached Lionel: "Perhaps you would try him to-day, Captain Darcy?"
The words came hesitatingly and with difficulty.

"Oh, no! he 's beyond my reach," said Lionel, laughing.

"I'd really take it as a favor if you would ride him; I 'm not strong
enough to hold him, consequently cannot do him justice."

"Take the offer, Darcy," said Lord Netherby, in a whisper, as he rode up
to his side; "I have a great liking for that horse myself, and will buy
him if you report favorably."

"In that case, my Lord, I'll do it with pleasure. I accept your kind
proposal, and will change nags if you agree."

Beecham at once dismounted, and, beckoning to his servant, ordered him
to change the saddles.

While this little scene was enacting, old Conolly rode up to the Knight,
with a warning to keep the ladies in the road. "The fox will take the
country towards Burnadarig," said he; "the start's with the wind; and as
the fences are large and the ground heavy, they had better not attempt
to follow the run."

"We will take your advice, Tom," said the Knight. "Come here,
Helen - Colonel Crofton, will you kindly bring Mrs. Somerville up here,
and tell Lord Netherby to join us - the day will be for the fast ones
only. There they go, - are they off?"

"Not yet, not yet," said Conolly, as, standing in his stirrups, he
looked down into the glen; "they're hunting him through the furze cover
this half hour. I know that fox well; he never breaks till the dogs are
actually on him."

By this time the scene in the valley was becoming highly exciting; the
hounds, yelping and barking, bounded hither and thither; some, with
uplifted throats, bayed deeply a long, protracted note; others, with
noses to the earth, ran swiftly along, and then, stopping, burst into a
sharp cry, as if of pain, while old Bob Carney's voice, encouraging this
one, and cursing that, was high above the tumult.

"Tiresome work, this is," said Sir Harry Beauclerk; for his horse, mad
with impatience, was white with sweat, and trembled in every limb.

"You'll have it very soon, sir," said old Conolly; "the dogs are
together now. I wish that young gentleman there would move a little up
the hill." This was said of a young officer who took his station at the
exit of the cover. "There they go, now! Tally-ho!" cried he, in ecstasy,
and the shout re-echoed from a hundred voices, as the hounds, in full
cry, burst from the cover, and were seen, in one compact mass, rising
the opposite hill.

In a second every horse was away, save that little group around the
Knight, and which, notwithstanding all the efforts of the servants,
bounded and plunged in mad impatience. Beauclerk was the first down the
hill, and over the brook, which he cleared gallantly. Conolly followed
close; and then came Crofton in a group of others, among whom rode
O'Reilly, all riding well and safely; and last of all was Lionel,
mounted on the brown thoroughbred, and holding him together, in spite of
all his eagerness to get on.

The Knight forgot everything that lay heavily on his heart as he watched
his son nearing the brook, which he took flying. "He knows his horse;
now! see!" cried Darcy, as his whole face beamed with enthusiastic
delight; "look a little this way, my dear Mrs. Somerville, Lionel's
gaining on them!"

Mrs. Somerville scarcely needed the direction, for, notwithstanding her
horse's plunging, she had never taken her glass from her eye.

"Is that a wall on the side of the hill? I really believe it is!" said
Lord Netherby, with an accent of amazement and horror.

"A stone wall, and a stout one. I know it well," said Darcy. "There goes
Sir Harry Beauclerk at it. Too fast, sir! too fast!" screamed out the
Knight, as if his advice could be heard and followed at that distance.

"He's down! he's down!" cried several voices together, as horse and
rider balanced for a second on the top, and rolled headlong on the
opposite side, while Helen grasped her father's arm, but never uttered a
word.

"His horse is away - there he goes! - but the young man is on his
legs again!" called out the Knight; "see how the rest are scattering
now - they 've no fancy for it;" for so it was, Beauclerk's catastrophe,
mounted, as they knew him to be, on one of the most perfect of hunters,
had terrified the field, and they broke up into different groups,
searching an exit where they could.

"There he goes, - that's the way to take it!" cried Darcy, as Lionel,
emerging from the little valley, was seen ascending the hill in a sharp
canter; "see, my Lord! Do you mark how he holds his horse together? The
hind legs are well forward - beautifully done!"

"Oh, beautifully done!" re-echoed Mrs. Somerville, as the young man,
with one cut of his whip, rose the horse to the wall, topped, poised for
an instant on its summit, and bounded down with the seeming lightness of
a bird.

"They're all together again," said Helen. "Mr. Conolly has found a gap,
and there they go."

For a few moments the whole field were in sight, as they rode in a
waving line, only a few stragglers in their rear; but the gradual dip
of the ground soon hid them from view, and nothing remained save the
occasional glance of a red coat as some rider, "thrown out" for a
moment, sought to recover his place by an adroit "cast."

"I suppose we are not destined to see much more of the day's sport?"
said Mrs. Somerville, with a pouting look; for she would infinitely
rather have braved all the hazards of the field than have remained
behind with the spectators.

"I trust we shall have another peep at them," said the Knight. "By
following this by-road to Burris Hill, the chances are that we see them
winding along at our feet; the fox generally runs from this cover to
the scrub beneath Nephin. We may go slowly, for if I be right in my
calculation, they have a wide circuit to make yet."

The Knight, after a few words to the parties in the carriage, took the
lead with Lord Netherby, while Mrs. Somerville and Helen followed, an
indiscriminate crowd of carriages and horsemen bringing up the rear.

This was an arrangement artfully accomplished by the Earl, who had been
most impatiently awaiting some opportunity of conferring with the Knight
on the question of politics, and ascertaining how far he himself might
adventure on claiming the merit of converting him, when he returned to
England. He had already remarked that Darcy's name did not appear in the
division on the second reading of the Bill of Union, and the fact seemed
so far indicative of a disposition not to oppose the Government. The
subject was one to be approached with skill, and it was at last by an
adroit congratulation on the pleasant contrast of a country life with
the fatigues of Parliament, that he opened the discussion.

"I believe, my Lord," said the Knight, laughing, "that Irish gentlemen
are very likely to enjoy in future a fair proportion of that agreeable
retirement you have so justly lauded. The wisdom of our rulers
has thought fit to relieve us of the burden of self-government in
Parliament, and left us, if we can succeed in effecting it, to govern
ourselves at home."

"That will be unquestionably the lot of many, Knight. I am quite aware
that men of second-rate importance will no longer possess any at all;
but estated gentlemen, of high position and liberal fortunes, like
yourself, for instance, will not lose their influence by the greater
extent of the field in which it is exercised."

Darcy sighed, but made no reply; the thought of his utter ruin came too
painfully across him to permit of an answer. Lord Netherby interpreted
his silence as doubt, and continued: "You are unjust, not only to
yourself, but to us, by any discredit of this point. Men of real
knowledge about Ireland and her interests will have a greater position
than ever they enjoyed before; no longer buried and lost among the
impracticable horde of theorists and false patriots of a Dublin
Parliament, they will be known and appreciated by a deliberative
assembly where the greatest men of the empire hold council."

"I am forced to differ with you on every point, my Lord," said the
Knight, calmly; "we are united to England, not that we may make an
integral portion of your empire, but simply that we may be more easily
governed. Up to this hour, you have ruled this country through the
instrumentality of certain deputed individuals here amongst us; your
system has had but indifferent success. You are now about to try another
method, and govern us through the means of Party. Into the subdivisions
of these parties Irishmen will fall, - with such success, personally, as
their abilities and weight may obtain for them; but Party, I assert,
will now rule Ireland, not with any regard to Irish interests or
objects, but simply to put this man into power, and to put that man out.
Now I, my Lord, humble as my station is, have no fancy for such contests
as these, - contests in which the advantages of my country will always be
subordinate to some Cabinet intrigue or Ministerial stratagem. To-day,
the Government may find it suit their views to administer the affairs of
Ireland ably, justly, and fearlessly; to-morrow, a powerful faction may
spring up here, who, by intimidation without, and by votes within the
House, shall be able to thwart the administration in their Home
measures. What will happen then? This faction will be bought off. By
concessions to them _in Ireland_, they will obtain all their demands,
for the sake of pliancy about interests of which they care little, and
know nothing. This will succeed for a time; the 'King's Government' will
go well and flippantly on; you may tax the people, promote your
followers, and bully your opponents to your heart's content: but,
meanwhile, Ireland will be gaining on you; your allies, grown exacting
by triumph, will ask more than you dare, or even have, to give; and the
question will then arise, that the party who aspires to power must bid
for it by further concession; and who is to vouch for the moderation of
such demands, or what limit will there be to them? I see a train of such
evils in the vista; and although I neither pretend to think our domestic
legislature safe nor faultless, I think the dangers we have before us
are even greater than such as would spring from an Irish Parliament."

Lord Netherby listened with great impatience - as perhaps the reader may
have done also - to this declaration of the Knight's views, and was about
to reply, when suddenly a cheer from some country people, stationed on
a rocky height at a short distance, drew all eyes towards the valley,
where now the hounds were seen in full cry, three horsemen alone
following. One of these was the huntsman; Lionel another; the third was
in plain clothes, and not known to any of the party. He was mounted on a
powerful horse, and even at that distance could be seen to manage him
with the address of a perfect rider. The rest of the field were far
behind, some still standing on the verge of a mountain torrent, which
appeared to have formed the obstacle to the run, and into which more
than one seemed to have fallen.

Groups were gathered here and there along the bank, and dismounted
horses galloped wildly to and fro, showing that the catastrophes had
been numerous. While Lord Netherby looked with some alarm at the fearful
chasm which had arrested all but three out of the entire field, the
Knight followed Lionel with anxious eyes, as he led over the most
desperate line of country in the West.

"I never knew a fox take that line but once," said Darcy, pointing to a
wide expanse of bleak country, which stretched away to the base of the
great mountain of Nephin. "I was a child at the time, but I remember
the occurrence well; horse, men, and hounds tailed off one by one, some
sorely injured, others dead beat, for the fellow was a most powerful
dog-fox, and ran straight ahead for thirty-four miles of a desperate
country. The following morning, at a little after daybreak, the fox was
seen in a half trot near Ballycroy, still followed by two of the dogs,
and he lived many years afterwards as a pensioner at the abbey; the dogs
were never worth anything from that day."

While the Knight related this anecdote, the hounds and the hunters were
gradually receding from view; and although at intervals some thought
they could catch glimpses of them, at last they disappeared altogether.

"I am sorry, Helen," said the Knight, "that our visitors should have
been so unfortunate in their sport."

"I am more grieved to think that Lionel should follow over such a
country," said Lord Netherby.

"He's well mounted, my Lord; and though many would call him a reckless
rider, he has as much judgment as he has daring. I am tolerably easy
about him."

Helen did not seem so confident as her father; and as for Mrs.
Somerville, she was considerably paler than usual, and managed her
mettlesome horse with far less than her customary address.

As well to meet their friends who were thrown out, as to show some of
the scenery of the coast, the Knight proposed they should retrace their
steps for a short distance, and take a view of the bay on their way back
to the abbey. Leaving them, therefore, to follow their route, and
not delaying our reader by an account of the various excuses of the
discomfited, or the banterings of Tom Nolan, we will turn to the wide
plain, where, still in full cry, the dogs pursued their game.

The Knight had not exaggerated when calling it a dreadful country to
ride over; yawning trenches, deep enough to engulf horse and rider, were
cut in the bog, and frequently so close together that, in clearing one,
a few strides more presented another; the ground itself, only in part
reclaimed, was deep and heavy, demanding great strength both of horse
and horseman. Through this dangerous and intricate track the fox
serpentined and wound his way with practised cunning, while at every
turning some unlucky hound would miss his spring, or lose his footing in
the slippery soil, and their cries could be heard far over the plain, as
they struggled in vain to escape from a deep trench. It was in such an
endeavor that a hound was catching at the bank with his fore-legs, as
the huntsman dashed forward to take the leap; the horse, suddenly taking
fright, swerved, and, before he could recover, the frail ground gave
way, and the animal plunged headlong down, fortunately flinging bis
rider over the head on the opposite bank.

"All safe, Bob?" cried Lionel, as he turned in his saddle. But he had
no time for more, for the strange rider was fast nearing on him, and the
chase had now become a trial of speed and skill. By degrees they emerged
from this unsafe tract and gained the grass country, where high ditches
and stone walls presented a more fair, but scarcely less dangerous, kind
of fencing. Here the stranger made an effort to pass Lionel and take the
lead, and more than once they took their leaps exactly side by side.

As they rode along close to each other, Lionel from time to time
caught glimpses of his companion, who was a strong-built man of
five-and-thirty, frank and fresh-looking, but clearly not of the rank of
gentleman. His horse was a powerful thoroughbred, with more bone than is
usually found in Irish breeding, and trained to perfection.

"Now, sir," said the stranger, "we're coming near the Crumpawn river;
that line of mist yonder is over the torrent. I warn you, the leap is a
big one."

Lionel turned a haughty glance towards the man, for there was a tone
of assumed superiority in the words he could ill brook. That instant,
however, his eyes were directed to the front, where the roaring of
a mountain stream mingled with the sharp cry of the hounds as they
struggled in the torrent, or fell back in their efforts to climb the
steep bank.

"Ride him fairly at it, - no flinching; and d - - me if I care what your
father was, I'll say you're a gentleman."

Lionel bit his lip almost through with passion; and, had the occasion
permitted, the heavy stroke of his whip had fallen on a very different
quarter from his horse's flank; but he never uttered a word.

"Badly done! Never punish your horse at the stride!" said the fellow,
who seemed bent on provoking him.

Lionel bounded in his saddle at this taunt on his riding; but there was
no time for bandying words of anger; the roar of rushing water, and the
misty foam, proclaimed the torrent near.

"The best man is first over!" shouted the stranger, as he rushed at the
terrific chasm. Lionel dashed forward; so close were they, they could
have touched; when, with a wild cheer, the stranger gave his horse a
tremendous cut, and the animal bounded from the earth like a stag, and,
soaring over the mad torrent, descended lightly on the sward beyond.

Lionel had lifted his horse at the very same instant; but the
treacherous bank gave way beneath the animal's forelegs: he struggled
dreadfully to regain his footing, and, half rearing and half backing,
tried to retire; but the effort was in vain, the slippery earth carried
him with it, and down both horse and rider came into the stream.

"Keep his head to the current, and sit steady!" shouted the stranger,
who now watched the struggle with breathless eagerness. "Well done! well
done! - don't press him, he 'll do it himself."

The counsel was wise, for the noble animal needed neither spur nor whip,
but breasted the white torrent with vigorous effort, sometimes plunging
madly above, and again sinking, all save the head, beneath the flood. At
last they reached the side, and the strong beast, with one bold spring,
placed his fore-legs on the high bank. This was the most dangerous
moment, for, unable to follow with his hind-legs, he stood opposed to
the whole force of the current, that threatened every instant to engulf
him. Lionel's efforts were tremendous; he lifted, he spurred, he
strained, he shouted, but all in vain: the animal, worn out by exertion,
faltered, and would have fallen back, when the stranger, springing from
his saddle, leaned over the bank, and, seizing Lionel by the collar,
jerked him from his horse. The beast, relieved of the weight, at once
rallied and bounded up the bank, where Lionel now found himself,
stunned, but not senseless.

"Let them say what they like," muttered the stranger, as he stood over
him, "you 're a devilish fine young fellow! D - - me if I'll ever think
so much about good blood again!"

Lionel was too weak and too much exhausted to reply, and even his
fingers could scarcely close upon the whip he tried to grasp; yet, for
all that, the stranger's insolence sickened him to the very heart. Pride
of race was the strongest feeling of his nature, and this fellow seemed
determined to outrage it at every turn.

"Here, take a pull at this; you 'll be all right presently," said the
man, as he presented a little leather flask to the youth's lips. But
Lionel repulsed the offer rudely, and turned his head away. "The
more fool you!" said he, coarsely; "your grandfather mixed many a
worse-flavored one, and charged more for it;" and, so saying, he emptied
the measure at a draught.

Lionel pondered on the words for some seconds, and suddenly the thought
occurred to him that the stranger had mistaken him for another. "Ah! I
see it all now!" thought he, and he turned his head to undeceive him;
when, what was his surprise, as he looked up, to see that the fellow was
gone. Mounted on his own horse, he was leading Lionel's by the bridle,
and, at a smart trot, moving down the glen.

The young man sprang to his feet and shouted aloud; he even tried to
follow him; but both efforts were fruitless. At the turn of the road the
man halted, and, looking round, waved his hat as in sign of adieu; then,
moving forward, disappeared, while Lionel, his passion giving way to
his sense of the absurdity of the whole adventure, burst into a fit of
hearty laughter.

"I 'll be laughed at to the day of my death about this," thought he, as
he turned his steps to seek the path homeward on foot.

It was late in the evening when Lionel reached the abbey. The guests had
for the most part left the dinner-room, and were dropping by twos and
threes into the drawing-room, when he made his appearance in the midst
of them, splashed and travel-stained from head to foot.

A burst of merry laughter rang out as they beheld his torn habiliments
and mud-colored dress, in which none joined more heartily than the
Knight himself, as he called aloud, "Well, Lionel, did you kill him,
boy, or run him to earth below Nephin?"

"By Jove, sir! if old Carney is safe, I think nobody has been killed
to-day."

"Well, Bob is all right; he came back three hours ago. He has lamed



Online LibraryCharles James LeverThe Knight Of Gwynne, Vol. I (of II) → online text (page 26 of 34)