Charles James Lever.

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

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her captivations were acknowledged by those who, but a week before,
would not have admitted the possibility of any excellence that had not
received the stamp of London approval.

Crofton could never expatiate sufficiently on the delights of an
establishment which, with the best cook, the best cellar, and the best
stable, called not upon him for the exercise of the small talents and
petty attentions by which his invitations to great houses were usually
purchased; while the younger men of the party agreed in regarding their
friend Lionel as the most to be envied of all their acquaintance.

Happiness, perhaps, shines more brightly by reflected light; certainly
Lionel Darcy never felt more disposed to be content with the world,
and, although not devoid of a natural pride at exhibiting to his English
friends the style of his father's house and habits, yet was he far more
delighted at the praises he heard on every side of the Knight himself.
Maurice Darcy possessed that rarest of all gifts, the power of being
a delightful companion to younger men, without ever detracting in
the slightest degree from the most rigid tone of good taste and
good principle. The observation may seem an illiberal one, but it is
unhappily too true, that even among those who from right feeling would
be incapable of anything mean or sordid, there often prevails a laxity
in expression and a libertinism of sentiment very far remote from their
real opinions, and, consequently, such as flatter this tendency are
frequently the greatest favorites among them. The Knight, not less from
high principle than pride, rejected every such claim; his manly, joyous
temperament needed no aids to its powers of interesting and amusing;
his sympathies went with young men in all their enthusiasm for sport; he
gloried in the exuberance of their high spirits, and felt his own youth
come back in the eager pleasure with which he listened to their plans of
amusement.

It may well be believed with what sorrow to each the morning dawned that
was to be the last of their visit. These last times are sad things!
They are the deaths of our affections and attachments; for assuredly the
memory we retain of past pleasures is only the unreal spirit of a world
we are to know of no more, - not alone the records of friends lost or
dead, but of ourselves, such as we once were, and can never again be;
of a time when hope was fed by credulity, and could not be exhausted by
disappointment. They must have had but a brief experience of life who do
not see in every separation from friends the many chances against their
meeting again, least of all, of meeting unchanged, with all around them
as they parted.

These thoughts, and others like them, weighed heavily on the hearts of
those who now assembled for the last time beneath the roof of Gwynne
Abbey.

It was in vain that Lionel suggested various schemes of pleasure for the
day; the remembrance that it was the last was ever present, and while
every moment seemed precious, there was a fidgety impatience to be about
and stirring, mingled with a desire to loiter and linger over the spot
so associated with pleasant memories.

A boating party to Clare Island, long planned and talked over, could
find now no advocates. All Lionel's descriptions of the shooting along
the rocky shores of the bay were heard unheeded; every one clung to the
abbey, as if to enjoy to the very last the sense of home happiness
they had known there. Even those less likely to indulge feelings of
attachment were not free from the depressing influence of a last day.
Nor were these sentiments confined to the visitors only. Lady Eleanor
experienced a return of her former spirits in her intercourse with those
whose habits and opinions all reminded her of the past, and would gladly
have prolonged a visit so full of pleasant recollections. The request
was, however, in vain; the Earl was to be in waiting early in the
following week, Lionel's leave was only regimental, and equally limited,
and each of the others had engagements and projects no less fixed and
immutable.

In little knots of two and three they spent the day wandering about from
place to place, to take a last look of the great cliff, to visit for the
last time the little wood path, whose every turning presented some new
aspect of the bay and the shore. Lord Netherby attached himself to the
Knight, devoting himself with a most laudable martyrdom to a morning in
the farm-yard and the stable, where, notwithstanding all his efforts,
his blunders betrayed how ill-suited were his habits to country life and
its interests. He bore all, however, well and heroically, for he had an
object in view, and that, with him, was always sufficient to induce
any degree of endurance. Up to this moment he had scarcely enjoyed an
opportunity of conversing with the Knight on the subject of politics.
The few words they had exchanged at the cover side were all that passed
between them, and although they conveyed sentiments very remote from his
own, he did not entirely despair of gaining over one who evidently was
less actuated by party motives than impressed by the force of strong
personal convictions.

"Such a man will, of course," thought the Earl, "be in the Imperial
Parliament, and carry with him great influence on every question
connected with Ireland; his support of the Ministry will be all the more
valuable that his reputation is intact from every stain of corruption.
To withdraw him from his own country by the seductions of London life
would not be easy, but he may be attached to England by ties still more
binding." Such were some of the reasonings which the wily peer revolved
in his mind, and to whose aid a fortunate accident had in some measure
contributed.

"I believe I have never shown you our garden, my Lord," said the Knight,
who, at last taking compassion on the suffering complaisance of the
Earl, proposed this change. "The season is scarcely the most flattering,
but we are early in this part of Ireland. What say you if we walk
thither?"

The plan was at once approved of, and after a short circuit through a
shrubbery, they crossed a large orchard, and, ascending a gentle slope,
they entered the garden, which rose in successive terraces behind the
abbey, and commanded a wide prospect over the bay and the sea beyond it.
Lord Netherby's admiration was not feigned, as he turned his eyes around
and beheld the extent and beauty of that cultivated scene, which, in the
brightness of a spring morning, glittered like a gem on the mountain's
side. The taste alone was not the engrossing thought of his mind, but
he reflected on the immense expenditure such a caprice must have cost,
terraced as the ground was into the very granite rock, and the earth all
supplied artificially. The very keeping these parterres in order was a
thing of no mean cost. Not all the terrors of his own approaching fate
could deprive Darcy of a sense of pride as he watched the expression of
the Earl's features, surprise and wonder depicted in every lineament.

"How extensive the park is," said the courtier, at length, half ashamed,
as it seemed, of giving way to his amazement; "are those trees yonder
within your grounds?"

"Yes, my Lord: the wood at that point where you see the foam splashing
up is our limit in that direction; on this side we stretch away somewhat
further."

"Whose property, then, have we yonder, where I see the village?"

"It is all the Gwynne estate," said the Knight, with difficulty
repressing the sigh that rose as he spoke.

"And the town?"

"The town also. The worthy monks took a wide circuit, and, by all
accounts, did not misuse their wealth. I sadly fear, my Lord, their
successors were not as blameless."

"A noble possession, indeed!" said the Earl, half aloud, and not
attending to Darcy's remark. "Are you certain, my dear Knight, that you
have made your political influence at all commensurate with the amount
of either your property or your talents? An English gentleman with an
estate like this, and ability such as yours, might command any position
he pleased."

"In other words, my Lord, he might barter his independence for the
exercise of a precarious power, and, in ceasing to dispense the duties
of a landed proprietor, he might become a very considerable ingredient
in a party."

"I hope you do not deem the devoir of a country gentleman incompatible
with the duties of a statesman?"

"By no means; but I greatly regret the gradual desertion of social
influence in the search after political ascendency. I am not for the
working of a system that spoils the gentry, and yet does not make them
statesmen."

"And yet the very essence of our Constitution is to connect the power of
Government with the possession of landed property."

"And justly so, too; none other offers so little in return as a mere
speculation. None is so little exposed to the casualties which affect
every other kind of wealth. The legitimate influence of the landed
gentry is the safeguard of the State; but if, by the attractions of
power, the flatteries of a Court, or the seductions of Party, you
withdraw them from the rightful sphere of its exercise, you reduce them
to the level of the Borough members, without, perhaps, their technical
knowledge or professional acquirements. I am for giving them a
higher position, - the heritage of the bold barons, from whom they are
descended: but to maintain this, they must live on their own estates,
dispense the influences of their wealth and their morals in their own
native districts, be the friend of the poor man, the counsellor of the
misguided, the encourager of the weak; know and be known to all around,
not as the corrupt dispensers of Government patronage, but the guardians
of those whose rights are in their keeping for defence and protection.
I would have them with their rightful influence in the Senate; an
influence which should preponderate in both Houses. Their rank and
education would be the best guarantee for the safety and wisdom of
their counsels, their property the best surety for the permanence of
the institutions of the State. Suddenly acquired wealth can scarcely be
intrusted with political power; it lacks the element of prudent caution,
by which property is maintained as well as accumulated; it wants also
the prestige of antiquity as a claim to respect; and, legislate as you
will, men will look back as well as forward."

Lord Netherby made no reply; he thought the Knight, perhaps, was venting
his own regrets at the downfall of a political ascendency he wished to
see vested in men of his own station, - a position they had long enjoyed,
and which, in some respects, had placed them above the law.

"You lay more store by such ties, Knight," said the Earl, in a low,
insinuating voice, "than we are accustomed to do. Blood and birth have
suffered less admixture with mere wealth here than with us."

"Perhaps we do, my Lord," said Darcy, smiling; "it is the compensation
for our poverty. Unmixed descent is the boast of many who have retained
nothing of their ancestors save the name."

"But you yourself can scarcely be an advocate for the maintenance of
these opinions: this spirit of clan and chieftainship is opposed, not
only to progress, but to liberty."

"I have given the best proof of the contrary," said Darcy, laughing,
"by marrying an Englishwoman, - a dereliction, I assure you, that cost me
many a warm supporter in this very country."

"Indeed! By the way, I am reminded of a subject I wished to speak of
to you, and which I have been hesitating whether I should open with my
cousin Eleanor or yourself; the moment seems, however, propitious, - may
I broach it?"

Darcy bowed courteously, and the other resumed: -

"I will be brief, then. Young Beauclerk, a friend of your son Lionel,
has been, as every one younger and older than himself must be, greatly
taken by the charms of Miss Darcy. Brief as the acquaintance here has
been, the poor fellow is desperately in love, and, while feeling how
such an acknowledgment might prejudice his chance of success on so short
an intimacy, he cannot leave this without the effort to secure for his
pretensions a favorable hearing hereafter. In fact, my dear Knight, he
has asked of me to be his intercessor with you, - not to receive him as a
son-in-law, but to permit him to pay such attentions as, in the event of
your daughter's acceptance, may enable him to make the offer of his hand
and fortune. I need not tell you that in point of position and means he
is unexceptionable; a very old Baronetcy, - not one of these yesterday
creations made up of State Physicians and Surgeons in Ordinary, - an
estate of above twelve thousand a year. Such are claims to look high
with; but I confess I think he could not lay them at the feet of one
more captivating than my fair Helen."

Darcy made no reply for several minutes; he pressed his hand across his
eyes, and turned his head away, as if to escape observation; then, with
an effort that seemed to demand all his strength, he said, -

"This is impossible, my Lord. There are reasons - there are circumstances
why I cannot entertain this proposition. I am not able to explain them;
a few days more, and I need not trouble myself on that subject."

The evident agitation of manner the Knight displayed astonished his
companion, who, while he forebore to ask more directly for its reason,
yet gently hinted that the obstacles alluded to might be less stringent
than Darcy deemed them.

Darcy shook his head mournfully, and Lord Netherby, though most anxious
to divine the secret of his thoughts, had too much breeding to continue
the subject.

Without any abruptness, which might have left an unpleasant impression
after it, the polished courtier once more adverted to Beauclerk, but
rather in a tone of regret for the youth's own sake than with any
reference to the Knight's refusal.

"There was a kind of selfishness in my advocacy, Knight," said he,
smiling. "I was - I am - very much depressed at quitting a spot where I
have tasted more true happiness than it has been my fortune for many
years to know, and I wish to carry away with me the reflection that
I had left the germ of even greater happiness behind me; if Helen,
however - "

"Hush!" said Darcy; "here she comes, with her mother."

"My dear Lady Eleanor," said Lord Netherby, "you have come to see me
forget all the worldliness it has cost me a life to learn, and actually
confess that I cannot tear myself away from the abbey."

"Well, my Lord," interposed Tom Nolan, who had just come up with a
large walking party, "I suppose it's only ordering away the posters, and
staying another day."

"No, no, by Jove!" cried Crofton; "my Lord is in waiting, and I'm on
duty."

While the groups now gathered together from the different parts of the
garden, Lord Netherby joined Beauclerk, who awaited him in a distant
alley, and soon after the youth was seen returning alone to the abbey.

The time of bustle and leave-taking - that moment when many a false smile
and merry speech ill conceals the secret sorrow - was come, and each
after each spoke his farewell; and Lord Netherby, kindly pledging
himself to make Lionel's peace at the Horse Guards for an extended
absence of some days, thus conferred upon Lady Eleanor the very greatest
of favors.

"Our next meeting is to be in London, remember," said the peer, in his
blandest accents. "I stand pledged to show my countrymen that I have
nothing extenuated in speaking of Irish beauty; - nay, Helen, it is my
last time, forgive it."

"There they go," said Darcy, as he looked after the retiring equipages.
"Now, Eleanor, and my dear children, come along with me into the
library. I have long been struggling against a secret sorrow; another
moment would be more than I could bear."

They turned silently towards the abbey, none daring, even by a look, to
interrogate him whose sad accents foreboded so much evil; yet as they
walked they drew closer around him, and seemed even by that gesture to
show that, come what might, they would meet their fortune boldly.

Darcy moved on for some minutes sunk in thought; but as he ascended the
wide steps of the terrace, appearing to read the motives of those who
clung so closely to his side, he smiled sadly, and said, "Ay! I knew it
well, - in weal or woe - together!"




CHAPTER XXXII. "SAD DISCLOSURES."

The vicissitudes of life are never more palpably displayed before us
than when the space of a few brief hours has converted the scene of
festivity and pleasure into one of gloom and sorrow, when the same
silent witnesses of our joy should be present at our affliction. Thus
was it now in the richly adorned chambers of Gwynne Abbey, so lately
filled with happy faces and resounding with pleasant voices, - all
was silent. Iu the courtyard, but a day before crowded with brilliant
equipages and gay horsemen, the long shadows lay dark and unbroken, and
the plash of the fountain was the only sound in the stillness. Over that
wide lawn no groups on foot or horseback were to be seen; the landscape
was fair and soft to look upon; the mild radiance of a spring morning
beamed on the water and the shore, the fresh budding trees, and the tall
towers; and the passing traveller who might have stopped to gaze upon
that princely dwelling and its swelling woods, might have thought it an
earthly paradise, and that they who owned it must needs be above worldly
cares and afflictions.

The scene within the walls was very unlike this impression. In a
darkened room, where the close-drawn curtains excluded every ray of
sunshine, sat Helen Darcy by the bedside of her mother. Lady Eleanor had
fallen asleep after a night of intense suffering, both of mind and
body, and her repose even yet exhibited, in short and fitful starts, the
terrible traces of an agony not yet subdued. Helen was pale as death;
two dark circles of almost purple hue surrounded her eyes, and her
cheeks seemed wasted: yet she had not wept. The overwhelming amount of
misfortune had stunned her for a moment or two, but, recalled to active
exertion by her mother's illness, she addressed herself to her task, and
seemed to have no thought or care save to watch and tend her. It was
only at last when, wearied out by suffering, Lady Eleanor fell into a
slumber that Helen's feelings found their vent, and the tears rolled
heavily along her cheek, and dropped one by one upon her neck.

Her sorrow was indeed great, for it was unalloyed by one selfish
feeling; her grief was for those a thousand times more dear to her than
herself, nor through all her affliction did a single thought intrude of
how this ruin was also her own.

The Knight was in the library, where he had passed the night, lying down
at short intervals to catch some moments' rest, and again rising to
walk the room and reflect upon the coming stroke of fortune. Lionel had
parted from him at a late hour, promising to go to bed; but, unable to
endure the gloom of his own thoughts in his chamber, he wandered out
into the woods, and strolled on without knowing or caring whither, till
day broke. The bodily exertion at length induced sleep, and after a few
hours' deep repose he joined his father, with few traces of weariness or
even sorrow.

It was not without a struggle on either side that they met on that
morning, and as Darcy grasped his son's hand in both his own, his lip
trembled, and his strong frame shook with agitation. Lionel's ruddy
cheek and clear blue eye seemed to reassure the old man's courage; and
after gazing on him steadfastly with a look where fatherly love and
pride were blended, he said, "I see, my boy, the old blood of a Darcy
has not degenerated - you are well to-day?"

"Never was better in my life," said Lionel, boldly; "and if I could
only think that you, my mother, and Helen had no cause for sorrow, I 'd
almost say I never felt my spirits higher."

"My own brave-hearted boy," said Darcy, throwing his arms around the
youth's neck, while the tears gushed from his eyes and a choking stopped
his utterance.

"I see your letters have come," said Lionel, gently disengaging himself,
and affecting a degree of calmness his heart was very far from feeling.
"Do they bring us any news?"

"Nothing to hope from," said Darcy, sorrowfully. "Daly has seen
Hickman's solicitors, and the matter is as I expected: Gleeson did not
pay the bond debt; his journey to Kildare was, probably, undertaken to
gain time until the moment of the American ship's sailing. He must have
meditated this step for a considerable time, for it now appears that his
losses in South America occurred several years back, though carefully
screened from public knowledge. The man was a cold, calculating
scoundrel, who practised peculation systematically and slowly; his
resolve to escape was not a sudden notion, - these are Bagenal Daly's
impressions at least, and I begin to feel their force myself."

"Does Daly offer any suggestion for our guidance, or say how we should
act?" said Lionel, far more eager to meet the present than speculate on
either the past or the future.

"Yes; he gives us a choice of counsels, honestly confessing that his own
advice meets little support or sympathy with the lawyers. It is to hold
forcible possession of the abbey, to leave Hickman to his remedy by
law, and to defy him when he has even got a verdict; he enumerates very
circumstantially all our means of defence, and exhibits a very hopeful
array of lawless probabilities in our favor. But this is a counsel
I would never follow; it would not become one who has in a long
life endeavored to set the example among the people of obedience and
observance to law, to obliterate by one act of rashness and folly the
whole force of his teaching. No, Lionel, we are cleanhanded on this
score, and if the lesson, be a heavy one for ourselves, let it not be
profitless for our poor neighbors. This is your own feeling too, my boy,
I'm certain."

Lionel bit his lip, and his cheek grew scarlet; when, after a pause, he
said, "And the other plan, what is that?"

"The renewed offer of his cottage on the northern coast, a lonely
and secluded spot, where we can remain at least until we determine on
something better."

"Perhaps that may be a wiser course," muttered the youth, half aloud;
"my mother and Helen are to be thought of first. And yet, father, I.
cannot help thinking Daly's first counsel has something in it."

"Something in it! ay, Lionel, that it has, - the whole story of our
country's misery and degradation. The owner of the soil has diffused
little else among the people than the licentious terror of his own
unbridled passion; he has taught lawless outrage, when he should have
inculcated obedience and submission. The corruption of our people has
come from above downwards; the heavy retribution will come one day; and
when the vices of the peasant shall ascend to the master, the social
ruin will be complete. To this dreadful consummation let us lend no aid.
No, no, Lionel, sorrow may be lessened by time; but remorse is undying
and eternal."

"I must leave the Guards at once," said the young man, pacing the room
slowly, and endeavoring to speak with an air of calm composure, while
every feature of his face betrayed the agitation he suffered; "an
exchange will not be difficult to manage."

"You have some debts, too, in London: they must be cared for
immediately."

"Nothing of any large amount; my horses and carriages when sold will
more than meet all I owe. Have you formed any guess as to what income
will be left you to live on?" said he, in a voice which anxiety made
weak and tremulous.

"Without Daly's assistance, I cannot answer that point; the extent of
this fellow Gleeson's iniquity seems but half explored. The likelihood
is, that your mother's jointure will be the utmost we can save from the
wreck. Even that, however, will be enough for all we need, although,
from motives of delicacy on her part, it was originally set down at a
very small sum, - not more than a thousand per annum."

A long silence now ensued. The Knight, buried in thought, sat with his
arms crossed, and his eyes bent upon the ground. Lionel leaned on the
window-frame and looked out upon the lawn; nothing stirred, no sound was
heard save the sharp ticking of the clock upon the mantelpiece, which
marked with distinctness every second, as if reminding them of the
fleeting moments that were to be their last beneath that roof.

"This is the 24th, if I remember aright," said Darcy, looking up at the
dial; "at noon, to-day, we are no longer masters here."

"The Hickmans will scarcely venture to push matters to such extremities;



Online LibraryCharles James LeverThe Knight Of Gwynne, Vol. I (of II) → online text (page 28 of 34)