Charles James Lever.

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

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in favor of that system of conventional good-breeding whose aim is to
repress selfish indulgence, and make the individual feel that, whatever
his own griefs, the claims of the world demand a fortitude and a bearing
that shall not obtrude his sorrows on his neighbors. That the code
may be abused, and become occasionally hypocritical in practice, is no
argument against it; we would merely speak in praise of that well-bred
forbearance which always merges private afflictions in the desire to
make others happy. To instance our meaning, we would speak of those who
now met at dinner in the old library of Gwynne Abbey.

It would be greatly to mistake us to suppose that we uphold any show
or counterfeit of kindliness where there is no substance of the feeling
behind it; we merely maintain that the very highest and most acute
sympathy is not inconsistent with a bearing of easy, nay, almost
cheerful character. So truly was it the case here that old Tate Sullivan
more than once stood still in amazement at the tranquil faces and
familiar quietude of those who, in his own condition of life, could have
found no accents loud or piercing enough to bewail their sorrow, and
whom, even with his long knowledge of them, he could scarcely acquit of
insensibility.

There is a contagion in an effort of this kind most remarkable. The
light and gentle attempts made by Lady Eleanor to sustain the spirits of
the party were met by sallies of manly good-humor by the Knight himself,
in which Lionel and Helen were not slow to join, while Bagenal Daly
could scarcely repress his enthusiastic delight at the noble and
high-souled courage that sustained them one and all.

While by a tacit understanding they avoided any allusion to the painful
circumstances of their late misfortune, the Knight adroitly turned the
conversation to their approaching journey northwards, and drew from Daly
a description of "the Corvy" that actually evoked a burst of downright
laughter. From this he passed on to speak of the peasantry, so unlike in
every trait those of the South and West; the calm, reflective character
of their minds, uninfluenced by passion and unmarked by enthusiasm, were
a strong contrast to the headlong impulse and ardent temperament of the
"real Irish."

"You 'll scarcely like them at first, my dear Helen - "

"Still less on a longer acquaintance," broke in Helen. "I 'll not
quarrel with the caution and reserve of the Scotchman, - the very mists
of his native mountains may teach him doubt and uncertainty of purpose;
but here at home, what have such frames of mind and thought in common
with our less calculating natures?"

"It were far better had they met oftener," said the Knight,
thoughtfully; "impulse is only noble when well directed; the passionate
pilots are more frequently the cause of shipwreck than of safety."

"Nothing so wearisome as the trade-winds," said Helen, with a saucy toss
of the head; "eh, Lionel, you are of my mind?"

"They do push one's temper very hard now and then," said Daly, with a
stern frown; "that impassive habit they have of taking everything as in
the common order of events is, I own, somewhat difficult to bear with.
I remember being run away with on a blood mare from a little village
called Ballintray. The beast was in high condition, and I turned her,
without knowing the country, at the first hill I could see; she breasted
it boldly, and, though full a quarter of a mile in length, never
shortened stride to the very summit. What was my surprise, when I gained
the top, to see that we were exactly over the sea. It was a cliff which,
projecting for some distance out, was fissured by an immense chasm,
through which the waves passed; not very wide, but deep enough to make
it a very awful leap. Over it she went, and then, when I expected her to
dash onwards, and was already preparing to fling myself from the saddle,
she stood stock still, trembling all over, and snorting with fear at
the danger around her. At the same instant, a hard-featured old fellow
popped his head up from amid the tall fern which he had been cutting
for thatch for his cabin, and looked at me, not the slightest sign of
astonishment in his cold, rigid countenance.

"'Ye 'll no get back so easy, my bonnie mon,' said he, with the
slightest possible approach to a smile.

"'Get back! no, faith, I 'll not try it,' said I, looking at the yawning
gulf, through which the wild waves boiled, and the opposite bank several
feet higher than the ground I stood upon.

"'I thought sae,' was the rejoinder; when, rising slowly, he leisurely
walked round the mare, as she stood riveted by fear to the one spot.
'I 'll gie ye sax shilling for the hide o' her forbye the shoes,' added
he, with a voice as imperturbable as though he were pricing the
commonest commodity of a market.

"I confess it was fortunate that the ludicrous was stronger in me at the
moment than indignation, for if I had not laughed at him I might have
done worse."

"I could not endure such a peasantry," said Helen, as soon as the mirth
the anecdote called forth had subsided.

"It's quite true," said Daly, "they have burlesqued Scotch prudence
in the same way that the Anglo-Hibernian has travestied the Irish
temperament. It is the danger of all imitators, they always transgress
the limits of their model."

"It is fortunate," broke in the Knight, "that traits which conciliate so
little the stranger should win their way on nearer intimacy; and such I
believe to be the case with the Ulster peasant."

"You are right," said Daly; "no man can detest more cordially than I
do the rudeness that is assumed to heighten a contrast with any good
quality behind it. In most instances the kernel is not worth the trouble
of breaking off the husk; but with the Northerner this is not the case:
in his independence he neither apes the equality of the Frenchman nor
the license of the Yankee. That he suffices for himself, and seeks
neither patron nor protector, is the source of honest pride, and if
this sometimes takes the guise of stubbornness, let us remember that the
virtue was reared in poverty, without encouragement or example."

"And the gentry," said Lady Eleanor, "have they any trace of these
peculiarities observable among the people?"

"Gentry!" said Daly, impetuously, "I know of none. There are some
thrifty families, who, by some generations of hard saving, have risen
to affluence and wealth. They are keen fellows, given to
money-getting, - millers some of them, bleachers most, with a tenantry
of weavers, and estates like the grass-plot of a laundry. They are as
crafty and as calculating as the peasant, shrewd as stockbrokers at a
bargain, and as pretentious as a Prince Palatine with a territory
the size of Merrion Square. Gentry! they have neither ancestry nor
tradition; they hold their estates from certain Guilds, whose
very titles are a parody upon gentle breeding, - fishmongers and
clothworkers!"

"I will not be their champion against you, Bagenal, but I cannot help
feeling how heavily they might retort upon us. These same prudent and
prosaic landlords have not spent their fortunes in wasteful extravagance
and absurd display; they have not rackrented their tenantry that they
might rival a neighbor."

"I am sincerely rejoiced," interposed Lady Eleanor, smiling, "that my
English relative, Lord Netherby, was not a witness to this discussion,
lest he should fancy that, between the wastefulness of the South and
the thrift of the North, this poor island was but ill provided with a
gentry. Pray, Mr. Daly, how does your sister like the North? She is our
neighbor, is she not?"

"Yes, - that is to say, a few miles distant," said Daly, confusedly;
for he had never acknowledged that "the Corvy" had been Miss Daly's
residence. "Of the neighborhood she knows nothing; she is not free from
my own prejudices, and lives a very secluded life."

The conversation now became broken and unconnected, and the party soon
after retired to the drawing-room, where, while Lady Eleanor and Helen
sat together, the Knight, Daly, and Lionel gathered in a little knot,
and discussed, in a low tone, the various steps for the coming journey,
and the probable events of the morrow.

It was agreed upon that Daly should accompany the Darcys to the North,
whither Sandy was already despatched, but that Lionel should remain at
the abbey for some days longer, to complete the arrangements necessary
for the removal of certain family papers and the due surrender of the
property to its new owner; after which he should repair to London, and
procure his exchange into some regiment of the line, and, if
possible, one on some foreign station, - the meeting with friends and
acquaintances, under his now altered fortunes, being judged as a trial
too painful and too difficult to undergo.

Again they all met around the tea-table, and once more they talked in
the same vein of mutual confidence; each conscious of the effort by
which he sustained his part, and wondering how the others summoned
courage to do what cost himself so much. They chatted away till near
midnight, and when they shook hands at separating, it was with feelings
of affection to which sorrow had only added fresh and stronger ties.

Daly stood for some time alone in the library, wondering within himself
at the noble fortitude with which they severally sustained their
dreadful reverse. It is only the man of stout heart can truly estimate
the higher attributes of courage; but even to him these efforts seemed
surprising. "Ay," muttered he, "each nobly upholds the other; it is
opposing a hollow square to fortune: so long as they stand firm and
together, well! let but one quail and falter, let the line be broken,
and they would be swept away at once and forever." Taking a caudle from
the table, he left the room, and ascended the wide staircase towards his
chamber. All was still and noiseless, and to prevent his footsteps being
heard, he entered the little corridor which opened on the gallery of the
refectory, the same from which Forester first caught sight of the party
at the dinner-table.

He had scarcely, with careful hand, closed the door behind him, when,
looking over the balustrades of the gallery, he beheld a figure moving
slowly along in the great apartment beneath, guided by a small lamp,
which threw its uncertain light rather on the wall than on the form of
him who carried it. Suddenly stopping before one of the large portraits
which in a long succession graced the chamber, the light was turned
fully round, so as to display the broad and massive features of old Tate
Sullivan. Curious to ascertain what the old man might be about in such
a place at such an hour, Daly extinguished the candle to watch him
unobserved. Tate was dressed in his most accurate costume: his long
cravat, edged with deep lace, descended in front of his capacious white
waistcoat; silver buckles, of a size that showed there was no parsimony
of the precious metal, shone in his shoes; and his newly powdered wig
displayed an almost snowy lustre. His gestures were in accordance with
the careful observances of his toilet; he moved along the floor with a
slow, sliding step, bowing deeply and reverentially as he went, and with
all the courtesy he would have displayed if ushering a goodly company
into the state drawing-room.

Bagenal Daly was not left long to speculate on honest Tate's intentions;
and although to a stranger's eyes the motives might have seemed strange
and dubious, the mystery was easily solved to him, who knew the old man
well and thoroughly. He was there to take a last look, and bid farewell
to those venerable portraits, who for more than half a century were
enshrined in his memory like saints. Around them were associated all the
little incidents of his peaceful life; they were the chroniclers of his
impressions in boyhood, in manhood, and in age; he could call to mind
the first moments he gazed on them in awe-struck veneration; he could
remember the proud period when the duty first devolved upon him of
describing them to the strangers who came to see the abbey; in the
history of all and each of them he was well read, versed in their noble
achievements, their triumphs in camp or cabinet. To his eyes they formed
a long line of heroic characters, of which the world had produced no
equal; they realized in his conception the proud eulogy of the Bayards,
"where all the men were brave, and all the women virtuous;" and it is
not improbable that his devotion to his master was in a great measure
ascribable to that awe-struck admiration with which he regarded his
glorious ancestors.

The old man stood, and, holding the lamp above his head, gazed in
respectful admiration at the grim figure of a Knight in armor. There
might have been little to charm the lover of painting in the execution
of the picture, and the mere castle-builder could scarcely have indulged
his fancy in weaving a story from the countenance of the portrait, for
the vizor was down, and he stood in all the unmoved sternness of his
iron prison, with his glaived hands elapsed upon the cross of a long
straight sword. Tate gazed on him for some moments. Heaven knows with
what qualities of mind or person the old man had endowed him, for while
to others he was only Sir Gavin Darcy, first Knight of Gwynne, Tate in
all likelihood had invested him with traits of character and appearance,
of which that external shell was the mere envelope.

"We're going, Sir Gavin," muttered the old man, as if addressing the
portrait; "'tis the ould stock is laving the place, never to see it
more; 't is your own proud heart will be sorry to-day to look down upon
us. Ah, ah!" muttered he, "the world is changed; there was times when a
Darcy would n't quit the house of his fathers without a blow for it - aud
they say we are better now!" With a heavy sigh he passed on, and stood
before the next picture. "Yes, my Lady," said he, "ye may well cry that
lost the two beautiful boys the same morning, fighting side by side; but
there's heavier grief here now: the brave youths sleep in peace and in
honor; but we have no home to shelter us!"

With a slow step and bent-down head, he tottered on, and, placing the
lamp upon the floor, crossed his arms upon his breast. "'Tis you that
can help us now," said he as he cast a timid and imploring glance at the
goodly countenance and rotund figure of Bernhard Emmeric, fourth Abbot
of Gwynne; "'tis your reverence can offer a prayer for your own blood
that's in sore trouble and distress. Do it, my Lord; do it in the name
of the Vargin. Smiling and happy you look, but it 's sorrowful your
heart is in you to see what's going on here. Them, them was the happy
days, when it was n't the cry of grief was heard beneath this roof, but
the heavenly chants of holy men, and the prayers of the blessed mass."
He knelt down as he said this, and with trembling lips and tearful eyes
recited some verses from his breviary.

This done, he arose, and, as if with renovated courage, proceeded on his
way.

"Reginald Herbert de Guyon! ah! second Baron of Gwynne, Lord Protector
of Munster, Knight of Malta, Chevalier of St. John of Jerusalem,
Standard-Bearer to the Queen! and well you desarve it all! 'T is
yourself sits your horse like a proud nobleman!" He stood with eyes
riveted upon the picture, while his face glowed with intense enthusiasm,
and at last, as a bitter sneer passed across his lips, he added, "Ay,
faith! and them that comes after us won't like the look of you. 'T is
you that 'll never disguise from them your real mind, and every day they
'll dine in the hall, that same frown will darken, and that same hand
will threaten them."

He moved on now, and passed several portraits without stopping,
muttering as he went, "'T is more English than Irish blood is in your
veins, and you won't feel as much for us as the rest;" then, halting
suddenly, he stood before a tall figure, dressed in black velvet, with a
deep collar of point lace. A connoisseur of higher pretensions than poor
Tate might have gazed with even greater rapture at that splendid canvas,
for it was from the hand of Vandyke, and in his very best manner. The
picture represented the person of Sir Everard Darcy, Lord Privy Seal to
Charles I. It was a specimen of manly beauty and high blood such as the
great Fleming loved to paint; and even yet the proud and lofty forehead,
the deep-set brown eyes, the thin compressed lip, the long and somewhat
projecting chin, seemed to address themselves to the beholder with
traits of character more than mere painting is able to convey. Tate
approached the spot with an almost trembling veneration, and bowed
deeply before the haughty figure. "There was a time, Sir Everard, when
your word could make a duke or a marquis, - when your whisper in the
king's ear could bring grief or joy to any heart in the empire. Could
you do nothing for us now? They say you never were at a loss, no matter
what came to pass - that you were always ready-witted to save your master
from trouble - and oh! if the power hasn't left you, stand by us now. It
is not because your eyes are so bright, and that quiet smile is on your
lips, that your heart does not feel, for I know well that the day you
were beheaded you had the same look on you as you have now. I think I
see you this minute, as you lifted your head off the block to settle the
lace collar that the villain, the executioner, rumpled with his bloody
fingers, - I think I hear the words you spoke: 'Honest Martin, for all
your practice, you are but a clumsy valet.' Weil, well! 't is a
happier and a prouder day that same than to-morrow's dawn will bring to
ourselves. Yes, yes, my darlings," said Tate, with a benevolent smile,
as he waved his hand towards a picture where two beautiful children were
represented, sitting on the grass, and playing with flowers, "be happy
and amuse yourselves, in God's name; 'tis the only time for happiness
your lives ever gave you. Ah! and here 's your father, with a smile on
his face and a cheerful brow, for he had both till the day misfortune
robbed him of his children;" and he stood in front of a portrait of an
officer in an admiral's uniform. He was a distinguished member of
the Darcy family; but from the nature of his services, which were all
maritime, and the great number of years he had spent away from Ireland,
possessed less of Tate's sympathy than most of the others.

"They say you didn't like Ireland; but I don't believe them. There never
was a Darcy did n't love the ould island; but I know well whose fault
it was if you did n't, - it was that dark villain that's standing at your
side, ould Harry Inchiquin, the renegade, that turned many a man against
his country. Ye may frown and scowl at me; but if you were alive this
minute, I 'd say it to your face. It was you that first brought gambling
and dicing under this blessed roof; it was you that sent the ould acres
to the hammer; 'twas you that loved rioting, and duelling, and every
wickedness, just like old Bagenal Daly himself, that never could sleep
in his bed if he had n't a fight on hand."

[Illustration: 408]

"What ho! you old reprobate!" called out Daly, in a voice which, echoing
under the arched roof, seemed rather to float through the atmosphere
than issue from any particular quarter.

"Oh! marciful Father!" cried Tate, as, falling on his knees, the lamp
dropped from his fingers, and became extinguished, - "oh! marciful
Father! sure I did n't mane it; 't is what the lying books said of
you, - bad luck to the villains that wrote them! O God! pardon me; I
never thought you 'd hear me; and if it 's in trouble you are, I 'll say
a mass for you every day till Aaster, and one every Friday as long as I
live."

A hoarse burst of laughter broke from Daly, while, pacing the gallery
with heavy tread, he went forth, banging the door behind him. The terror
was too great for poor Tate's endurance, and, with a faint cry for
mercy, he rolled down upon the floor almost insensible.

When morning broke, he was found seated in the refectory, pale and
careworn; but no entreaty, nor no pressing, could elicit from him one
word of a secret in which he believed were equally involved the honor of
the dead and the safety of himself.




CHAPTER XXXIV. A GLANCE AT PUBLIC OPINION IN THE YEAR 1800.

Among the arrangements for the departure of the family from the abbey,
all of which were confided to Bagenal Daly, was one which he pressed
with a more than ordinary zeal and anxiety; this was, that they should
set out at a very early hour of the morning, - at dawn of day, if
possible. Lady Eleanor's habits made such a plan objectionable, and
it was only by representing the great sacrifice of feeling a later
departure would exact, when crowds of country people would assemble to
take their farewells of them forever, that she consented. While Daly
depicted the unnecessary sorrow to which they would expose themselves by
the sight of their old and attached tenantry, he strenuously preserved
silence on the real reason which actuated him, and to explain which a
brief glance at the state of public feeling at the period is necessary.

To such a pitch of acrimony and animosity were parties borne by the
agitation which preceded the carrying of the "Union," that all previous
character and conduct of those who voted on the question were deemed as
nothing in comparison with the line they adopted on the one absorbing
subject. If none who advocated the Ministerial plan escaped the foulest
animadversions, all who espoused the opposite side were exalted to the
dignity of patriots; argument and reason went for little, principle for
still less: a vote was deemed the touchstone of honesty. Such rash and
hasty judgments suited the temper of the times, and, it may be said in
extenuation, were not altogether without some show of reason. Each day
revealed some desertion from the popular party of men who, up to that
moment, had rejected all the seductions of the Crown; country gentlemen,
hitherto supposed inaccessible to all the temptations of bribery, were
found suddenly addressing speculative letters to their constituencies,
wherein they ingeniously discussed all the contingencies of a measure
they had once opposed without qualification. Noblemen of high rank and
fortune were seen to pay long visits at the Castle, and, by a strange
fatality, were found to have modified their opinions exactly at the
period selected by the Crown to bestow on them designations of honor or
situations of trust and dignity. Lawyers in high practice at the bar,
men esteemed by their profession, and held in honor by the public,
were seen to abandon their position of proud independence, and accept
Government appointments, in many cases inferior both in profit and rank
to what they had surrendered.

There seemed a kind of panic abroad. Men feared to walk without the
protective mantle of the Crown being extended over them; the barriers of
shame were broken down by the extent to which corruption had spread.
The examples of infamy were many, and several were reconciled to the
ignominy of their degradation by their associates in disgrace. That in
such general corruption the judgments of the public should have been
equally wholesale, is little to be wondered at; the regret is rather
that they were so rarely unjust and ill-bestowed.

Public confidence was utterly uprooted; there was a national bankruptcy
of honor, and none were trusted; all the guarantees for high principle
and rectitude a lifetime had given, all the hostages to good faith years
of unimpeached honor bestowed, were forgotten in a moment, and such as
opposed the Government measure with less of acrimony or activity than
their neighbors, were set down "as waiting for or soliciting the bribery
of the Crown."

To this indiscriminating censure the Knight of Gwynne was a victim. It
may be remarked that in times of popular excitement, when passions are
rife and the rude enthusiasm of the mass has beaten down the more calmly
weighed opinion of the few, that there is a strange pleasure felt in the
detection of any real or supposed lapse of one once esteemed. It were
well if this malignant delight were limited to the mere mob, but it is
not so; men of education and position are not exempt from its taint.
It would seem as if society were so thoroughly disorganized that every
feeling was perverted, and all the esteem for what is good and great had
degenerated into a general cry of exultation over each new instance of
tarnished honor.

Accustomed as we now are to the most free and unfettered criticisms
of all public men and their acts, it would yet astonish any one not



Online LibraryCharles James LeverThe Knight Of Gwynne, Vol. I (of II) → online text (page 30 of 34)