Charles James Lever.

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

. (page 32 of 34)
Online LibraryCharles James LeverThe Knight Of Gwynne, Vol. I (of II) → online text (page 32 of 34)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


misfortunes, are, in some sense, claims. I can scarcely suppose his
opposition in Parliament would be remembered against him at such a
moment."

"I hardly think it would," said Daly, musingly; "there is much in what
you propose. Would Lord Netherby support such a request if it were
made?"

"He could not well decline it; almost the last thing he said at parting
was, that whatever favor he enjoyed should be gladly employed in our
behalf. Besides, we really seek nothing to which we may not lay fair and
honest claim. My intention would be to write at once to Lord Netherby.
acquainting him briefly with our altered fortunes."

"The more briefly on that topic the better," said Daly, dryly.

"To mention my father's military rank and services, to state that,
having raised and equipped a company at his own expense, without
accepting the slightest aid from the Government, now, in his present
change of condition, he would be proud of any recognition of those
services which once he was but too happy to render unrewarded by the
Crown. There are many positions, more or less lucrative, which would
well become him, and which no right-minded gentleman could say were
ill-bestowed on such a man."

"All true," said Daly, whose eye brightened as he gazed on the youth,
whose character seemed already about to develop itself under the
pressure of misfortune with traits of more thoughtful meaning than yet
appeared iu him.

"Then I will write to Lord Netherby at once," resumed Lionel; "there
can be no indelicacy in making such a request: he is our relative, the
nearest my mother has."

"He is far better, he 's a Lord in Waiting, and a very subtle courtier,"
said Daly. "Write this day, and, if you like it, I 'll dictate the
letter."

Lionel accepted the offer with all the pleasure possible. He had been
from boyhood a firm believer in the resources and skill of Daly in every
possible contingency of life, and looked on him as one of those persons
who invariably succeed when everybody else fails.

There is a species of promptitude in action, the fruit generally of a
strong will and a quick imagination, which young men mistake for a much
higher gift, and estimate at a price very far above its value. Bagenal
Daly had, however, other qualities than these; but truth compels us to
own that, in Lionel's eyes, his supremacy on such grounds was no small
merit. He had ever found him ready for every emergency, prompt to
decide, no less quick to act, and, without stopping to inquire how far
success followed such rapid resolves, this very energy charmed him. It
was, then, in perfect confidence in the skill and address of his adviser
that Lionel sat down, pen in hand, to write at his dictation.




CHAPTER XXXVI. THE LAW AND ITS CHANCES.

We left Mr. Daly at the conclusion of our last chapter in the exercise
of - what to him was always a critical matter - the functions of a polite
letter-writer. His faults, it is but justice to say, were much less
those of style than of the individual himself; for if he rarely failed
to convey a clear notion of his views and intentions, he still more
rarely omitted to impart considerable insight into his own character.

His abrupt and broken sentences, his sudden outbreaks of intelligence
or passion, were not inaptly conveyed by the character of a handwriting
which was bold, careless, and hurried. Indifferent to everything like
neatness or accuracy, generally blotted, and never very legible, these
defects, if they did not palliate, they might, in a measure, explain
something of his habits of thought and action; but now, when about to
dictate to another, the case was different, and those interruptions
which Daly would have set down by a dash of his pen, were to be conveyed
by the less significant medium of mere blanks.

"I 'm ready," said Lionel, at length, as he sat for some time in silent
expectation of Daly's commencement. But that gentleman was walking up
and down the room with his hands behind his back, occasionally stopping
to look out upon the lawn.

"Very well, begin - 'My dear Lord Netherby,' or 'My dear Lord,' - it does
n't signify which, though I suppose he would be of another mind, and
find a whole world of difference between the two. Have you that? - very
well. Then go on to mention, in such terms as you like yourself, the
sudden change of fortune that has befallen your family, - briefly, but
decisively."

"Dictate it, I'll follow you," said Lionel, somewhat put out by this
mode of composition.

"Oh! it doesn't matter exactly what the words are, - say, that a d - - d
scoundrel, Gleeson - Honest Tom we always called him - has cut and
run with something like a hundred thousand pounds, after forging and
falsifying every signature to our leases for the last ten or fifteen
years; we are, in consequence, ruined - obliged to leave the abbey, take
to a cottage - a devilish poor one, too."

"Don't go so fast - 'we are in consequence - '"

"Utterly smashed - broken up - no home, and devilish little to live
upon, - my mother's jointure being barely sufficient for herself and
Helen. I want, therefore, to remind you - your Lordship, that is - to
remind your Lordship of the kind pledge which you so lately made us, at
a time when we little anticipated the early necessity we should have
to recall it. My father, some forty-five or six years back, raised the
Darcy Light Horse, equipped, armed, and mounted six hundred men, at his
own expense. This regiment, of which he took the head, did good service
in the Low Countries, and although distinguished in many actions, he
received nothing but thanks, - happily not wanting more, if so much.
Times are changed now with him, and it would be a seasonable act of
kindness and a suitable reward to an old officer - highly esteemed as
he is and has been through life - to make up for past neglect by some
appointment - the service has many such - Confound them! the pension-list
shows what fellows there are - 'governors and deputy-governors,' 'acting
adjutants' of this, and 'deputy assistant commissaries' of that."

"I 'm not to write that, I suppose?"

"No, you needn't, - it would do no harm, though, to give them a hint
on the subject; but never mind it now. 'As for myself, I 'll leave the
Guards, and take service in the Line. I am only anxious for a regiment
on a foreign station, and if in India, so much the better.' Is that
down? Well - eh! that will do, I think. You may just say, that the
matter ought to be arranged without any communication with your father,
inasmuch as, from motives of delicacy, he might feel bound to decline
what was tendered as an offer, though he would hold himself pledged to
accept what was called by the name of duty. Yes, Lionel, that's the
way to put the case; active service, by all means active service, - no
guard-mounting at Windsor or Carlton House; no Hounslow Heath
engagements."

Lionel followed, as well as he was able, the suggestions, to which
sundry short interjections and broken "hems!" and "ha's!" gave no small
confusion, and at last finished a letter, which, if it conveyed some
part of the intention, was even a stronger exponent of the character, of
him who dictated it.

"Shall I read it over to you?"

"Heaven forbid! If you did, I 'd alter every word of it. I never
reconsidered a note that I did not change my mind about it, and I don't
believe I ever counted a sum of money over more than once without making
the tot vary each time. Send it off as it is - ' Yours truly, Lionel
Darcy.'"

It was about ten days after the events we have just related that Bagenal
Daly sat in consultation with Darcy's lawyer in the back parlor of the
Knight's Dublin residence. Lionel, who had been in conclave with them
for several hours, had just left the room, and they now remained in
thoughtful silence, pondering over their late discussion.

"That young man," said Bicknell, at length, "is very far from being
deficient in ability, but he is wayward and reckless as the rest of the
family; he seems to have signed his name everywhere they told him,
and to anything. Here are leases forever at nominal rents - no fines
in renewal - rights of fishery disposed of - oak timber - marble
quarries - property of every kind - made away with. Never was there such
wasteful, ruinous expenditure coupled with peculation and actual robbery
at the same time."

"What's to be done?" said Daly, interrupting a catalogue of disasters he
could scarcely listen to with patience; "have you anything to propose?"

"We must move in Equity for an inquiry into the validity of these
documents; many of the signatures are probably false; we can lay a case
for a jury - "

"Well, I don't want to hear the details, - you mean to go to law; now,
has Darcy wherewithal to sustain a suit? These Hickmans are rich."

"Very wealthy people indeed," said Bicknell, dryly. "The Knight cannot
engage in a legal contest with them without adequate means. I am not
sufficiently in possession of Mr. Darcy's resources to pronounce on the
safety of such a step."

"I can tell you, then: they have nothing left to live upon save his
wife's jointure. Lady Eleanor has something like a thousand a year in
settlement, - certainly not more."

"If they can contrive to live on half this sum," said the lawyer,
cautiously, "we may, perhaps, find the remainder enough for our
purposes. The first expenses will be, of course, very heavy: drafts to
prepare, searches to make, witnesses to examine, with opinion of high
counsel, will all demand considerable outlay."

"This is a point I can give no opinion upon," said Daly; "they have been
accustomed to live surrounded with luxuries of every kind: whether they
can at once descend to actual poverty, or would rather cling to the
remnant of their former comforts, is not in my power to tell."

"The very bond under which they have foreclosed," said Bicknell, "admits
of great question. Unfortunately, that fellow Gleeson destroyed all
the papers before his suicide, or we could ascertain if a clause of
redemption were not inserted; there was no registry of the judgment, and
we are consequently in the hands of the enemy."

"I cannot help saying," said Daly, sternly, "that if it were not for
the confounded subtleties of your craft, roguery would have a less
profitable sphere of employment: so many hitches, so many small
crotchety conjunctures influence the mere question of right and wrong
that a man is led at last to think less of justice itself than of the
petty artifices to secure a superiority."

"I must assure you that you are in a great error," said Bicknell,
calmly; "the complication of a suit is the necessary security the law
has recourse to against the wiles and stratagems of designing men. What
you call its hitches and subtleties are the provisions against craft by
which mere honesty is protected: that they are sometimes employed to
defeat justice, is saying no more than that they are only human
contrivances; for what good institution cannot be so perverted?"

"So much the better, if you can think so. Now, what are Darcy's chances
of success? - never mind recapitulating details, which remind me a
great deal too much of my own misfortunes, but say, in one word, is the
prospect good or bad, or has it a tinge of both?"

"It may be any of the three, according to the way in which the claim is
prosecuted; if there be sufficient means - "

"Is that the great question?"

"Undoubtedly; large fees to the leading counsel, retainers, if a record
be kept for trial at the Assizes, and payment to special juries: all are
expensive, and all necessary."

"I 'll write to Darcy to-night, then, - or, better still, I 'll write to
Lady Eleanor, repeating what you have told me, and asking her advice and
opinion; meanwhile, lose no time in consulting Mr. Boyle, - you prefer
him?"

"Certainly, in a case like this he cannot be surpassed; besides, he is
already well acquainted with all the leading facts, and has taken a deep
interest in the affair. There are classes and gradations of ability at
the bar, irrespective of degrees of actual capacity; we have the heavy
artillery of the Equity Court, the light field-pieces of the King's
Bench, and the Congreve rockets of Assize display: to misplace or
confound them would be a grave error."

"I know where I 'd put them all, if _my_ pleasure were to be consulted,"
muttered Daly, in an undergrowl.

"Now, if we have a case for a jury, we must secure Mr. O'Halloran - "

"He who made a speech to the mob in Smithfield the other day?"

"The same. I perceive you scarcely approve of my suggestion; but his
success at the bar is very considerable: he knows a good deal of law,
and a great deal more about mankind. A rising man, sir, I assure you."

"It must be in a falling state of society, then," said Daly, bitterly.
"Time was when the first requisite of a barrister was to be a gentleman.
An habitual respect for the decorous observances of polite life was
deemed an essential in one whose opinions were as often to be listened
to in questions of right feeling as of right doing. His birth, his
social position, and his acquirements were the guarantees he gave the
world that, while discussing subtleties, he would not be seduced into
anything low or unworthy. I am sorry that notion has become antiquated."

"You would not surely exclude men of high talents from a career because
their origin was humble?" said Bicknell.

"And why not, sir? Upon what principle was the bodyguard of noble
persons selected to surround the person of the sovereign, save that
blood was deemed the best security for allegiance? And why should not
the law, only second in sacred respect to the person of the monarch,
be as rigidly protected? The Church excludes from her ministry all who,
even by physical defect, may suggest matter of ridicule or sarcasm to
the laity; for the same reason I would reject from all concern with the
administration of justice those coarser minds whose habits familiarize
them with vulgar tastes and low standards of opinion."

"I confess this seems to me very questionable doctrine, not to speak of
the instances which the law exhibits of her brightest ornaments derived
from the very humblest walks in life."

"Such cases are probably esteemed the more because of that very reason,"
said Daly, haughtily; "they are like the pearl in the oyster-shell, not
very remarkable in itself, but one must go so low down to seek for it.
I have an excuse for warmth; I have lost the greater part of a large
fortune in contesting a right pronounced by high authority to be
incontrovertible. Besides," added he, with a courteous smile, "if Mr.
Bicknell may oppose my opinion, he has the undoubted superiority that
attaches to liberality, his own family claiming alliance with the best
in the land."

This happy turn seemed to divert the course of a conversation which half
threatened angrily. Again the business topic was resumed, and after a
short discussion, Bicknell took his leave, while Daly prepared to write
his letter to Lady Eleanor.

He had not proceeded far in his task when Lionel entered with a
newspaper in his hand.

"Have you heard the news of the notorious robber being taken?" said he.

"Who do you mean? Barrington, is it?"

"No; Freney."

"Freney! taken? - when - how - where?"

"It's curious enough," said Lionel, coolly, seating himself to read the
paragraph, without noticing the eagerness of Daly's manner; "the fellow
seems to have had a taste for sporting matters which no personal fear
could eradicate. His capture took place this wise. He went over to
Doncaster, to be present at the Spring Meeting, where he betted freely,
and won largely. There happened, however, to come a reverse to his
fortune, and on the last day of the running he lost everything, and was
obliged to apply for assistance to a former companion, who, it would
seem, was some hundred pounds in his debt; this worthy, having no desire
to refund, threatened the police; Freney became exasperated, knocked him
down on the spot, and then, turning smartly round, chucked one of the
jockeys from his saddle, sprang on the horse's back, and made off like
lightning. The other, only stunned for a moment, was soon on his legs
again, and the cry of 'Freney! it was Freney the robber!' resounded
throughout the race-course. The scene must then have been a most
exciting one, for the whole mounted population, with one accord,
gave chase. Noblemen and country gentlemen, fox-hunters, farmers, and
blacklegs, away they went, Freney about a quarter of a mile in front,
and riding splendidly."

"That I 'm sure of," said Daly, earnestly. "Go on!"

"Mellington took the lead of every one, mounted on that great
steeplechase horse he is so proud of, - no fences too large for him, they
say; but the robber - and what a good judge of country the fellow must
be - left the heavy ground and preferred even breasting a long hill of
grass-land, with several high rails, to the open country below,
where the clay soil distressed his horse. By this manoeuvre, says the
newspaper, he was obliged to make a circuit which again brought the
great body of his pursuers close up with him; and now his dexterity as
a horseman became apparent, for while riding at top speed, and handling
his horse with the most perfect judgment, he actually contrived to
divest himself of his heavy greatcoat. He had but just accomplished this
very difficult task, when Lord Mellington once more came up. There was
a heavy dike in front, with a double post and rail, and at this they
rushed desperately, each, apparently, calculating on the other being
thrown, or at least checked.

"Freney, now only a dozen strides in advance, turned in his saddle, and
drawing a pistol from his breast, took an aim, - as steadily, too, as
if firing at a mark. Lord Mellington saw the dreadful purpose of the
robber; he shouted aloud, and, pulling up with all his might, he bent
down to the very mane of his horse. Freney pulled the trigger, and with
one mad plunge Lord Mellington's horse came headforemost to the ground,
with his rider under him. Freney was not long the victor; the racer he
bestrode breasted the high rail, and, unable to clear it, fell heavily
forward, smashing the frail timbers before him, and pitching the rider
on his head. He was up in a second and away; for about twenty yards
his speed was immense, then, reeling, he staggered forwards and fell
senseless; before he rallied he was taken, and in handcuffs. There is a
description of the fellow," said Lionel, "and, by Jove! one would think
they were describing some wild denizen of the woods, or some strange
animal of savage life, so eloquent is the paragraph about his appearance
and personal strength."

"A well-knit fellow, no doubt, and more than a match for most in single
combat," said Daly, musing.

"You have seen him, then?"

"Ay, that I have, and must see him again. Where is he confined?"

"In Newgate."

"That is so far fortunate, because the jailer is an old acquaintance of
mine."

"I have a great curiosity to see this Freney."

"Come along with me, then," said Daly, as he arose and rang the bell to
order a carriage; "you shall gratify your curiosity; but I must ask you
to leave us alone together afterwards, for, strange as it may seem, we
have a little affair of confidence between us."

It did, indeed, appear not a little strange that any secret negotiation
or understanding should exist between two such men; but Lionel did not
venture to ask any explanation of the difficulty, but silently prepared
to accompany him. As they went along towards Newgate, Daly related
several anecdotes of Freney, all of which tended to show that the fellow
had all his life felt that strange passion for danger so attractive to
certain minds, and that his lawless career was more probably adopted
from this tendency than any mere desire of money-getting. Many of his
robberies resembled feats of daring rather than cautious schemes to
obtain property. "Society," added Daly, "is truly not much benefited
because the highwayman is capricious; but still, one cannot divest
oneself of a certain interest for a rascal who has always shown himself
ready to risk his neck, and who has never been charged with any distinct
act of cruelty. When I say this much, I must caution you against
indulging a sympathy for a law-breaker because he is not a perfect
monster of iniquity; such fellows are very rare, and we are always too
well inclined to admire the few good qualities of a bad man, just as we
are astonished at a few words spoken plain by a parrot.

"'The things themselves are neither strange nor rare;
We wonder how the devil they came there.'"

While Daly wisely cautioned his young companion against the indulgence
of a false and mawkish sympathy for the criminal, he in his own heart
could not help feeling the strongest interest for any misfortune of a
spirit so wild and so reckless.

Daly's card, passed through the iron grating of the strong door, soon
procured them admission, and they were conducted into a small and
neatly furnished room, where a mild-looking middle-aged man was seated,
reading. He rose as they entered, and saluted them respectfully.

"Good evening, Dunn; I hope I see you well. My friend Captain Darcy - Mr.
Dunn. We have just heard that the noted Freney has taken up his lodgings
here, and are curious to see him."

"I 'm afraid I must refuse your request, Mr. Daly; my orders are most
positive about the admission of any one to the prisoner: there have been
I can't say how many people here on the same errand since four o'clock,
when he arrived."

"I think I ought to be free of the house," said Daly, laughing; "I
matriculated here at least, if I didn't take out a high degree."

"So you did, sir," said Dunn, joining in the laugh. "Freney is in the
very same cell you occupied for four months."

"Come, come, then, you can't refuse me paying a visit to my old
quarters."

"There is another objection, and a stronger one, - . Freney himself
declines seeing any one, and asked a special leave of the sheriff to
refuse all comers admission to him."

"This surprises me," said Daly. "Why, the fellow has a prodigious deal
of personal vanity, and I cannot conceive his having adopted such a
resolution."

"Perhaps I can guess his meaning," said the jailer, shrewdly; "the
greater number of those who came here, and also who tried to see him in
Liverpool, were artists of one kind or other, wanting to take busts
or profiles of him. Now, my surmise is, Freney would not dislike the
notoriety, if it were not that it might be inconvenient one of these
days. To be plain, sir, though he is doubly ironed, and in the strongest
part of the strongest jail in Ireland, he is at this moment meditating
on an escape, in the event of which he calculates all the trouble and
annoyance it would give him to have his picture or his cast stuck up in
every town and village of the kingdom. This, at least, is my reading of
the mystery; but I think it is not without some show of probability."

"Well, the objection could scarcely apply to me," said Daly; "if his
portrait be not taken by a more skilful artist than I am, he may be very
easy on the score of recognition. Pray let me send in my name to him,
and if he refuses to see me, I 'll not press the matter further."

Partly from an old feeling of kindness towards Daly, Dunn gave no
further opposition, but in reality he was certain that Freney's refusal
would set the matter at rest. His surprise was consequently great when
the turnkey returned with a civil message from Freney that he would be
very glad to see Mr. Daly.

"Your friend can remain here," said Dunn, in a voice that plainly showed
he was not quite easy in his mind as to the propriety of the
interview; and Daly, to alleviate suspicions natural enough in one so
circumstanced, assented, and walked on after the turnkey, alone.

"That's the way he spends his time; listen to him now," whispered the
turnkey, as they stopped at the door of the cell, from within which the
deep tones of a man's voice were heard singing to himself, as he slowly
paced the narrow chamber, his heavy fetters keeping a melancholy time to
the melody: -

"'T was afther two when he quitted Naas,
But he gave the spar, and he went the pace,
'As many an like may now give chase,'
Says he, 'I give you warning.
You may raise the country far and near,
From Malin Head down to Cape Clear,
But the divil a man of ye all I fear,
I 'll be far away before morning.'

"By break of day he reach'd Kildare,
The black horse never turn'd a hair;



Online LibraryCharles James LeverThe Knight Of Gwynne, Vol. I (of II) → online text (page 32 of 34)