Charles James Lever.

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

. (page 3 of 34)
Online LibraryCharles James LeverThe Knight Of Gwynne, Vol. I (of II) → online text (page 3 of 34)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


not rudely chiselled, but with high pretension as works of art, and
evidencing both taste and skill in the designer; while the great
entrance was a miracle of tracery and carving, the rich architraves
retreating one within another to the full depth of twelve feet, such
being the thickness of the external wall.

Spacious and imposing as this great mass of building appeared at first
sight, it formed but a fragment of the whole, and was in reality but the
side of a great quadrangle, the approach to which led through one of the
large towers, defended by fosse and drawbridge, while overhead the iron
spikes of a massive portcullis might be seen; for the Abbot of Gwynne
had been a "puissance" in days long past, and had his servitors in
steel, as well as his followers in sackcloth. This road, which was
excessively steep and difficult of access, was yet that by which
carriages were accustomed to approach the house; for the stables
occupied one entire wing of the quadrangle, the servants, of whom
there were a goodly company, holding possession of the suite of rooms
overhead, once the ancient dormitory of the monks of Gwynne.

In the middle of the courtyard was a large fountain, over which an
effigy of St. Francis had formerly stood; but the saint had unhappily
been used as a lay figure whereupon to brush hunting-coats and soiled
leathers, and gradually his proportions had suffered grievous injury,
till at last nothing remained of him save the legs, which were still
profaned as a saddle-tree; for grooms and stable-boys are irreverent in
their notions, and, probably, deemed it no disgrace for a saint to carry
such honorable trappings.

The appearance of the abbey from within was even more picturesque than
when seen from the outside, each side of the quadrangle displaying a
different era and style of architecture; for they had been built with
long intervals of time between them, and one wing, a low, two-storied
range, with jail-like windows and a small, narrow portal, bore, on a
three-cornered stone, the date 1304.

We shall not ask of our readers to accompany us further in our dry
description, nor even cast a glance up at that myriad of strange beasts
which, in dark gray stone, are frowning or grinning, or leaping or
rearing, from every angle and corner of the building, - a strange
company, whose representatives in real life it would puzzle the
zoologist to produce; but there they were, some with a coat-of-arms
between their paws, some supporting an ornamental capital, and others
actually, as it seemed, cutting their uncouth capers out of pure
idleness.

At the back of the abbey, and terraced on the mountain side, lay a
perfect wilderness of flower-gardens and fishponds, amid which a taste
more profane than that of the founders had erected sundry summer-houses
in rockwork, hermitages without hermits, and shrines without
worshippers, but all moss-grown, and old enough to make them objects of
curiosity, while some afforded glorious points of view over the distant
bay and the rich valley where stands the picturesque town of Westport.

The interior of this noble edifice was worthy of its appearance from
without. Independent of the ample accommodation for a great household,
there was a suite of state apartments running along the entire front and
part of one wing, and these were fitted up and furnished with a luxury
and costliness that would not have disgraced a royal palace. Here were
seen velvet hangings and rich tapestries upon the walls, floors inlaid
with tulip and sandal-wood, windows of richly stained glass threw a
mysterious and mellow light over richly carved furniture, the triumphs
of that art which the Netherlands once boasted; cabinets, curiously
inlaid with silver and tortoiseshell, many of them gifts of
distinguished donors, few without their associations of story; while
one chamber, the ancient hall of audience, was hung round with armor and
weapons, the trophies of long-buried ancestors, the proud memorials of
a noble line; dark suits of Milan mail, or richly inlaid cuirasses of
Spanish workmanship, with great two-handed swords and battle-axes, and,
stranger still, weapons of Eastern mould and fashion, for more than one
of the house had fought against the Turks, and crossed his broadsword
with the scimitar.

There were objects rare and curious enough within these walls to stay
and linger over; but even if we dared to take such a liberty with our
reader, our duty would not permit the dalliance, and it is to a very
different part of the building, and one destined for far other uses,
that we must now for a brief space conduct him.

In a small chamber of the ground-floor, whose curiously groined roof and
richly stained window showed that its occupancy had once been held
by those in station above the common, now sat two persons at a
well-garnished table, while before them, on the wide hearth, blazed a
cheerful fire of bog deal. On either side of the fireplace was a niche,
in which formerly some saintly effigy had stood, but now - such are
Time's chances - an earthenware pitcher, with a pewter lid, decorated
each, of whose contents the boon companions drank jovially to each
other. One of these was a short, fat old fellow of nigh eighty years;
his bowed legs and wide round shoulders the still surviving signs of
great personal strength in days gone by; his hair, white as snow, was
carefully brushed back from his forehead, and tied into "queue" behind.
Old as he was, the features were intelligent and pleasing, the hale and
hearty expression of good health and good temper animated them when
he spoke, nor were the words the less mellow to an Irish ear that they
smacked of the "sweet south," for Tate Sullivan was a Kerry man, and
possessed in full measure the attributes of that pleasant kingdom; he
was courteous and obliging, faithful in his affections, and if a bit
hasty in temper, the very first to discover and correct it. His failing
was the national one, - the proneness to conceal a truth if its
disclosure were disagreeable: he could not bring himself to bear bad
tidings; and this tendency had so grown with years that few who knew his
weakness could trust any version of a fact from his lips without making
due allowance for blarney.

[Illustration: 051]

For eight-and-forty years he had been a butler in the Knight's family,
and his reverence for his master went on increasing with his years;
in his eyes he was the happy concentration of every good quality of
humanity, nor could he bring himself to believe that his like would ever
come again.

Opposite to him sat one as unlike him in form and appearance as he was
in reality by character: a gaunt, thin, hollow-cheeked man of sixty-six
or seven, rueful and sad-looking, with a greenish gray complexion, and a
head of short, close gray hair, cut horseshoe fashion over the temples,
his long thin nose, pointed chin, and his cold green eye only wanted
the additional test of his accent to pronounce him from the North. So it
was, Sandy M'Grane was from Antrim, and a keener specimen of the "cold
countrie" need not have been looked for.

His dress was a wide-skirted, deep-cuffed brown coat, profusely studded
with large silver buttons richly crested, one sleeve of which, armless
and empty, was attached to his breast; a dark-crimson waistcoat, edged
with silver lace, descended below the hips; black leather breeches
and high black boots, - a strange costume, uniting in some respects the
attributes of in-door life and the road. On the high back of his oaken
chair hung a wide-brimmed felt hat and a black leather belt, from
which a short straight sword depended, the invariable companion of his
journeys; for Sandy had travelled in strange lands, where protective
police were unknown, and his master, Mr. Bagenal Daly, was one who ever
preferred his own administration of criminal law, when the occasion
required such, to the slower process of impartial justice.

Meagre and fleshless as he looked, he was possessed of great personal
strength, and it needed no acute physiognomist to pronounce, from the
character of his head and features, that courage had not been omitted
among the ingredients of his nature.

A word of explanation may be necessary as to how a western gentleman,
as Bagenal Daly was, should have attached to his person for some
forty years a native of a distant county, and one all whose habits and
sympathies seemed so little in unison with his own part of the country.
Short as the story is, we should not feel warranted in obtruding it on
our readers if it did not to a certain extent serve to illustrate the
characters of both master and man.

Mr. Daly when a very young man chanced to make an excursion to the
northern part of the island, the principal object of which was to see
the Giant's Causeway, and the scenery in the neighborhood. The visit was
undertaken with little foresight or precaution, and happened at the very
time of the year when severe gales from the north and west prevail, and
a heavy sea breaks along that iron-bound coast. Having come so far to
see the spot, he was unwilling to be baulked in his object; but still,
the guides and boatmen of the neighborhood refused to venture out, and,
notwithstanding the most tempting offers, would not risk their lives by
an enterprise so full of danger.

Daly's ardor for the expedition seemed to increase as the difficulty
to its accomplishment grew greater, and he endeavored, now by profuse
offers of money, now by taunting allusions to their want of courage, to
stimulate the men to accompany him; when, at last, a tall, hard-featured
young fellow stood forward and offered, if Daly himself would pull an
oar, to go along with him. Overjoyed at his success, Daly agreed to the
proposal; and although a heavy sea was then running, and the coast
for miles was covered with fragments of a wreck, the skiff was Boon
launched, and stood out to sea.

"I'll ga wi'ye to the twa caves and Dunluce; but I 'll no engage to ga
to Carrig-a-rede," said Sandy, as the sea broke in masses on the bow,
and fell in torrents over them.

After about an hour's rowing, during which the boat several times
narrowly escaped being swamped, and was already more than half full of
water, they arrived off the great cave, and could see the boiling surf
as, sent back with force, it issued beneath the rock, with a music
louder than thunder, while from the great cliffs overhead the water
poured in a thick shower, as each receding wave left a part behind it.

"The cobble" (so is the boat termed there) "is aye drawing in to shore,"
said Sandy; "I trow we 'd better pull back, noo."

"Not till we 've seen Carrig-a-rede, surely," said Daly, on whom danger
acted like the most exciting of all stimulants.

"Ye may go there by yersel," said Sandy, "when ye put me ashore; I tauld
you, I 'd no ga so far."

"Come, come, it's no time to flinch now," said Daly; "turn her head
about, and lean down to your oar."

"I 'll no do it," said Sandy, "nor will I let you either." And as he
spoke, he leaned forward to take the oar from Daly's hand. The young
man, irritated at the attempt, rudely repulsed him, and Sandy, whose
temper, if not as violent, was at least as determined, grappled with him
at once.

"You'll upset the boat - curse the fellow!" said Daly, who now found that
he had met his match in point of strength and daring.

"Let go the oar, man," cried Sandy, savagely.

"Never," said Daly, with a violent effort to free his hands.

"Then swim for it, if ye like better," said Sandy; and, placing one foot
on the gunwale, he gave a tremendous push, and the next instant they
were both struggling in the sea. For a long time they continued, almost
side by side, to buffet the dark water; but at last Daly began to
falter, his efforts became more labored, and his strength seemed
failing; Sandy turned his head, and seized him in the very struggle that
precedes sinking. They were still far from shore, but the hardy Northern
never hesitated; he held him by the arm, and after a long and desperate
effort succeeded in gaining the land.

"Ye got a bra wetting for your pains, anyhow," said Sandy; "but I 'm no
the best off either: I 'll never see the cobble mair."

Such were the first words Bagenal Daly heard when consciousness returned
to him; the rest of the story is soon told. Daly took Sandy into his
service, not without all due thought and consideration on the latter's
part, for he owned a small fishing-hut, for which he expected and
received due compensation, as well as for the cobble and the damage to
his habiliments by salt water, - all matters of which, as they were
left to his own uncontrolled valuation, he was well satisfied with the
arrangement; and thus began a companionship which had lasted to the very
moment we have presented him to our readers.

It is but fair to say that in all this time no one had ever heard from
Sandy's lips one syllable of the adventure we have related, nor did
he ever, in the remotest degree, allude to it in intercourse with his
master. Sandy was little disposed to descant either on the life or
the character of his master; the Scotch element of caution was mingled
strongly through his nature, and he preferred any other topic of
conversation than such as led to domestic events. Whether that he was
less on his guard on this evening, or that, esteeming Tate's perceptions
at no very high rate, so it is, he talked more freely and unadvisedly
than was his wont.

"Ye hae a bra berth o' it here, Maister Sullivan," said he, as he
smacked his lips after the smoking compound, whose odor pronounced it
mulled port; "I maun say, that a man wha has seen a good deal of life
might do far war' than settle down in a snug little nook like this;
maybe, ye hae no journeyed far in your time either."

"Indeed, 'tis true for you, Mr. M'Grane, I had not the opportunities you
had of seeing the world, and the strange people in foreign parts; they
tell me you was in Jericho, and Jerusalem, and Gibraltar."

"Further than that, Maister Sullivan. I hae been in very curious places
wi' Mr. Daly; this day nine years we were in the Rocky Mountains, among
the Red Indians."

"The Red Indians! blood alive! them was dangerous neighbors."

"Not in our case. My master was a chief among them, I was the doctor of
the tribe, - the 'Great Mystery Man,' they cau'd me; my master's name was
the 'Howling Wind.'"

"Sorra doubt, but it was not a bad one, - listen to him now;" and Tate
lifted his hand to enforce silence, while a cheer loud and sonorous rang
out, and floated in rich cadence along the arched corridors of the old
abbey; "'tis singing he is," added Tate, lower, while he opened the door
to listen.

"That's no a sang, that's the war-cry of the Manhattas," said Sandy,
gravely.

"The saints be praised it's no worse!" remarked Tate, with pious horror
in every feature. "I thought he was going to raise the divil. And who
was the man-haters, Mr. M'Grane?" added he, meekly.

"A vara fine set o' people; a leetle fond o' killing and eating their
neighbors, but friendly and ceevil to strangers; I hae a wife amang them
mysel."

"A wife! Is she a Christian, then?"

"Nae muck le o' that, but a douce, good-humored lassie for a' that."

"And she'sa black?"

"Na, na; she was a rich copper tint, something deeper than my waistcoat
here, but she had twa yellow streaks over her forehead, and the tip o'
her nose was blue."

"The mother of Heaven be near us! she was a beauty, by all accounts."

"Ay, that she was; the best-looking squaw of the tribe, and rare handy
wi' a hatchet."

"Divil fear her," muttered Tate, between his teeth. "And what was her
name, now?"

"Her name was Orroawaccanaboo, the 'Jumping Wild Cat.'"

"Oh, holy Moses!" exclaimed Tate, unable any longer to subdue his
feelings, "I would n't be her husband for a mine of goold."

"You are no sae far wrong there, my auld chap," said Sandy, without
showing any displeasure at this burst of feeling.

"And Mr. Daly, had he another - of these craytures?" said Tate, who felt
scruples in applying the epithet of the Church in such a predicament.

"He had twa," said Sandy, "forbye anein the mountains, that was too auld
to come down; puir lone body, she was unco' fond of a child's head and
shoulders wi' fish gravy!"

"To ate it! Do you mane for ating, Mr. M'Grane?"

"Ay, just so; butchers' shops is no sae plenty down in them parts. But
what's that! dinna ye hear a ringing o' the bell at the gate there?"

"I hear nothing, I can think of nothing! sorra bit! with the thought of
that ould baste in my head, bad luck to her!" exclaimed Tate, ruefully.
"A child's head and shoulders! Sure enough, that's the bell, and them
that's ringing it knows the way, too." And with these words Tate lighted
his lantern and issued forth to the gate tower, the keys of which were
each night deposited in his care.

As the massive gates fell back, four splashed and heated horses drew
forward a calèche, from which, disengaging himself with speed, Dick
Forester descended, and endeavored, as well as the darkness would
permit, to survey the great pile of building around him.

"Coming to stop, yer honor?" said Tate, courteously uncovering his white
head.

"Yes. Will you present these letters and this card to your master?"

"I must show you your room first, - that's my orders always. - Tim, bring
up this luggage to 27. - Will yer honor have supper in the hall, or in
your own dressing-room?"

There is nothing more decisive as to the general tone of hospitality
pervading any house than the manner of the servants towards strangers;
and thus, few and simple as the old butler's words were, they were amply
sufficient to satisfy Forester that his reception would be a kindly one,
even though less ably accredited than by Lionel Darcy's introduction;
and he followed Tate Sullivan with the pleasant consciousness that he
was to lay his head beneath a friendly roof.

"Never mind the supper," said he; "a good night's rest is what I stand
most in need of. Show me to my room, and to-morrow I 'll pay my respects
to the Knight."

"This way then, sir," said Tate, entering a large hall, and leading
the way up a wide oak staircase, at the top of which was a corridor of
immense extent. Turning short at the head of this, Tate opened a small
empanelled door, and with a gesture of caution moved forwards. Forester
followed, not a little curious to know the meaning of the precaution,
and at the same instant the loud sounds of merry voices laughing and
talking reached him, but from what quarter he could not guess, when,
suddenly, his guide drew back a heavy cloth curtain, and he perceived
that they were traversing a long gallery, which ran along the entire
length of a great room, in the lower part of which a large company was
assembled. So sudden and unexpected was the sight that Forester started
with amazement, and stood uncertain whether to advance or retire, while
Tate Sullivan, as if enjoying his surprise, leaned his hands on his
knees and stared steadily at him.

The scene below was indeed enough to warrant his astonishment. In the
great hail, which had once been the refectory of the abbey, a party
of about thirty gentlemen were now seated around a table covered with
drinking vessels of every shape and material, as the tastes of the
guests inclined their potations. Claret, in great glass jugs holding
the quantity of two or three ordinary bottles; port, in huge square
decanters, both being drunk from the wood, as was the fashion of the
day; large china bowls of mulled wine, in which the oranges and limes
floated fragrantly; and here and there a great measure made of wood and
hooped with silver, called the "mether," contained the native beverage
in all its simplicity, and supplied the hard drinker with the liquor he
preferred to all, - "poteen." The guests were no less various than the
good things of which they partook. Old, young, and middle-aged; some men
stamped with the air and seeming of the very highest class; others as
undeniably drawn from the ranks of the mere country squire; a few were
dressed in all the accuracy of dinner costume; some wore the well-known
livery of Daly's Club, and others were in the easy negligence of morning
dress; while, scattered up and down, could be seen the red coat of a
hunter, whose splashed and stained scarlet spoke rather for the daring
than the dandyism of its wearer. But conspicuous above all was a figure
who, on an elevated seat, sat at the head of the table and presided over
the entertainment. He was a tall - a very tall - and powerfully built man,
whose age might have been guessed at anything, from five-and-forty to
seventy; for though his frame and figure indicated few touches of time,
his seared and wrinkled forehead boded advanced life. His head was long
and narrow, and had been entirely bald, were it not for a single stripe
of coal-black hair which grew down the very middle of it, and came to a
point on the forehead, looking exactly like the scalplock of an Indian
warrior. The features were long and melancholy in expression, - a
character increased by a drooping moustache of black hair, the points of
which descended below the chin. His eyes were black as a raven's wing,
and glanced with all the brilliancy and quickness of youth, while the
incessant motion of his arched eyebrows gave to their expression
a character of almost demoniac intelligence. His voice was low and
sonorous, and, although unmistakably Irish in accent, occasionally
lapsed into traits which might be called foreign, for no one that knew
him would have accused him of the vice of affectation. His dress was a
claret-colored coat edged with narrow silver lace, and a vest of white
satin, over which, by a blue ribbon, hung the medal of a foreign order;
white satin breeches and silk stockings, with shoes fastened by large
diamond buckles, completed a costume which well became a figure that had
lost nothing of its pretension to shapeliness and symmetry. His hands,
though remarkably large and bony, were scrupulously white and cared for,
and more than one ring of great value ornamented his huge and massive
fingers. Altogether, he was one whom the least critical would have
pronounced not of the common herd of humanity, and yet whose character
was by no means so easy to guess at from external traits.

Amid all the tumult and confusion of the scene, his influence seemed
felt everywhere, and his rich, solemn tones could be heard high above
the crash and din around. As Forester stood and leaned over the balcony,
the noise seemed to have reached its utmost; one of the company - a
short, square, bull-faced little squire - being interrupted in a song
by some of the party, while others - the greater number - equally loud,
called on him to proceed. It was one of the slang ditties of the
time, - a lyric suggested by that topic which furnished matter for
pamphlets and speeches and songs, dinners, debates, and even duels, - the
Union.

"Go on, Bodkin; go on, man! You never were in better voice in your
life," mingled with, "No, no; why introduce any party topic here?" - with
a murmured remark: "It's unfair, too. Hickman O'Reilly is with the
Government."

The tumult, which, without being angry, increased every moment, was at
last stilled by the voice of the chairman, saying, -

"If the song have a moral, Bodkin - "

"It has, I pledge my honor it has, your 'Grandeur.'" said Bodkin.

"Then finish it. Silence there, gentlemen." And Bodkin resumed his
chant: -

"'Trust me, Squire,' the dark man cried,
'I 'll follow close and mind you,
Nor however high the fence you ride,
I 'll ever be far behind you.'

"And true to his word, like a gentleman
He rode, there 'a no denying;
And though full twenty miles they ran,
He took all his ditches flying.

"The night now came, and down they sat,
And the Squire drank while he was able;
But though glass for glass the dark man took,
He left him under the table.

"When morning broke, the Squire's brains,
Though racking, were still much clearer.
'I know you well,' said he to his guest,
'Now that I see you nearer.

"'You 've play'd me a d - - d scurvy trick:
Come, what have I lost - don't tease me.
Is it my soul?' 'Not at all,' says Nick;
'Just vote for the Union, to please me.'"

Amid the loud hurrahs and the louder laughter that fol-lowed this rude
chant Forester hurried on to his room, fully convinced that his mission
was not altogether so promising as he anticipated.

Undeniable in every respect as was the accommodation of his bed-chamber,



Online LibraryCharles James LeverThe Knight Of Gwynne, Vol. I (of II) → online text (page 3 of 34)