Charles James Lever.

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

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"I beg your pardon, Mr. Beecham O'Reilly," interposed MacDonough, with a
significant smile, "but your observation was, I think, meant to apply to
me."

The young man made no answer, but proceeded to fill his glass with
claret, while his hand trembled so much that he spilled the wine about
the table. Forester stared at him, expecting each instant to hear his
reply to this appeal; but not a word escaped him, nor did he even look
towards the quarter from which the taunt proceeded.

"Didn't I tell you so, sir?" exclaimed MacDonough, with a triumphant
laugh. "There are various descriptions of gentlemen: some are contented
with qualities of home growth, and satisfied to act, think, and deport
themselves like their neighbors; others travel for this improvement, and
bring back habits and customs that seem strange in their own country;
now, I don't doubt but in England that young gentleman would be thought
all that was spirited and honorable."

"I have nothing to say to that, sir!" replied Forester, sternly; "but
if you would like to hear the opinion my fellow-countrymen would have of
yourself, I could perhaps favor you."

"Stop, stop! where are you hurrying to? No more of this nonsense," cried
the host, who had suddenly caught the last few words, while conversing
with a person on his left.

"I beg your pardon most humbly, sir," said MacDonough, whose faced was
flushed with passion, and whose lip trembled, notwithstanding all his
efforts to seem calm and collected, "but the gentleman was about to
communicate a trait of English society. I know you misunderstood him."

"Perhaps so," said the host; "what was it, Captain Forester? I believe I
did not hear you quite accurately."

"A very simple fact, sir," said Forester, coolly, "and one that can
scarcely astonish Mr. MacDonough to hear."

"And which is - ?" said MacDonough, affecting a bland smile.

"Perhaps you 'd ask for a definition, if I employ a single word."

"Not this time," said MacDonough, still smiling in the same way.

"You are right, sir, it would be affectation to do so; for though you
may feel very natural doubts about what constitutes a gentleman, you
ought to be pretty sure what makes a blackguard."

The words seemed to fall like a shell in the company; one burst of
tumultuous uproar broke forth, voices in every tone and accent of
eagerness and excitement, when suddenly the host cried out, "Lock the
doors; no man leaves the room till this matter is settled; there shall
be no quarrelling beneath this roof so long as Bagenal Daly sits here
for his friend."

The caution came too late - MacDonough was gone.




CHAPTER V. AN AFTER-DINNER STORY

The unhappy event which so suddenly interrupted the conviviality of the
party scarcely made a more than momentary impression. Altercations
which ended most seriously were neither rare nor remarkable at the
dinner-tables of the country gentlemen, and if the present instance
caused an unusual interest, it was only because one of the parties was
an Englishman.

As for Forester himself, his first burst of anger over, he forgot all
in his astonishment that the host was not "the Knight" himself, but only
his representative and friend, Bagenal Daly.

"Come, Captain Forester," said he, "I owe you an _amende_ for the
mystification I have practised upon you. You shall have it. Your
travelling acquaintance at Kilbeggan was the 'Knight of Gwynne;' and the
few lines he sent through your hands contained an earnest desire that
your stay here might be sufficiently prolonged to admit of his meeting
you at his return."

"I shall be extremely sorry," said Forester, in a low voice, "if
anything that has occurred to-night shall deprive me of that pleasure."

"No, no - nothing of the kind," said Daly, with a significant nod of his
head. "Leave that to me." Then, raising his voice, he added: "What do
you say to that claret, Conolly?"

"I agree with you," replied a rosy-cheeked old squire in a
hunting-dress, "it 's too old, - there's little spirit left in it."

"Quite true, Tom. Wine has its dotage, like the rest of us. All that the
best can do is to keep longest; and, after all, we scarcely can complain
of the vintage that has a taste of its once flavor at our age. It's a
long time since we were schoolfellows."

"It is not an hour less than - "

"Stop, Tom, - no more of that. Of all scores to go back upon, that of
years past is the saddest."

"By Jove! I don't think so," said the hearty old squire, as he tossed
off a bumper. "I never remember riding better than I did to-day. Ask
Beecham O'Reilly there which of us was first over the double ditch at
the red barn."

"You forget, sir," said the young gentleman referred to, "that I was on
an English-bred mare, and she doesn't understand these fences."

"Faith, she wasn't worse off, in that respect, than the man on her
back," said old Conolly, with a hearty chuckle. "If to look before you
leap be wisdom, you ought to be the shrewdest fellow in the country."

"Beecham, I believe, keeps a good place in Northamptonshire," said his
father, half proudly.

"Another argument in favor of the Union, I suppose," whispered a guest
in Conolly's ear.

"Well, well," sighed the old squire, "when I was a young man, we 'd
have thought of bringing over a dromedary from Asia as soon as an
English horse to cross the country with."

"Dick French was the only one I ever heard of backing a dromedary," said
a fat old farmer-like man, from the end of the table.

"How was that, Martin?" said Daly, with a look that showed he either
knew the story or anticipated something good.

"And by all accounts, it 's the devil to ride," resumed the old fellow;
"now it's the head down and the loins up, and then a roll to one side,
and then to the other, and a twist in the small of your back, as if it
were coming in two. Oh, by the good day! Dick gave me as bad as a stitch
in the side just telling me about it."

"But where did he get his experience, Martin? I never heard of it
before," said Daly.

"He was a fortnight in Egypt, sir," said the old farmer. "He was in a
frigate, or a man-of-war of one kind or another, off - the devil a one o'
me knows well where it was, but there was a consul there, a son of one
of his father's tenants - indeed, ould French got him the place from the
Government - and when he found out that Dick was on board the ship, what
does he do but writes him an invitation to pass a week or ten days with
him at his house, and that he 'd show him some sport. 'We 've elegant
hunting,' says he; 'not foxes or hares, but a big bird, bigger nor a
goose, they call - 'By my conscience, I 'll forget my own name next, for
I heard Dick tell the story at least twenty times."

"Was it an ostrich?" said Tom.

"No; nor an oyster either, Mr. Conolly," said the old fellow, who
thought the question was meant to quiz him.

"'T was an ibis, Martin," cried Daly, - "an ibis."

"The devil a doubt of it, - that's the name. A crayture with legs as
long as Mr. Beecham O'Reilly's, and a way of going - half-flying,
half-walking - almost impossible to catch; and they hunt him on
dromedaries. Dick liked the notion well, and as he was a favorite on
board, he got lave for three days to go on shore and have his fun;
though the captain said, at parting, 'It's not many dromedaries you'll
see, Dick, for the Pasha has them all up the country at this time.' This
was true enough; sorra a bit of a camel or dromedary could be seen for
miles round. But however it was, the consul kept his word, and had one
for Dick the next morning, - a great strapping baste, all covered with
trappings of one kind or other; elegant shawls and little hearthrugs all
over him.

"The others were mounted on mules or asses, any way they could, and away
they went to look after the goose - the 'ibis,' I mean. Well, to be short
with it, they came up with one on the bank of the river, and soon gave
chase; he was a fine strong fellow, and well able to run. I wish you
heard Dick tell this part of it; never was there such sport in the
world, blazing away all together as fast as they could prime and load,
at one time at the goose, more times at each other; the mules kicking,
the asses braying, and Dick cantering about on his dromedary, upsetting
every one near him, and shouting like mad. At last he pinned the goose
up in a narrow corner among some old walls, and Dick thought he 'd
have the brush; but sorra step the dromedary would stir; he spurred and
kicked, and beat away with a stick as hard as he could, but it was all
no good, - it was the carpets maybe, that saved him; for there he stood
fast, just for all the world as if he was made of stone.

[Illustration: 077]

"Dick pulled out a pistol and fired a shot in his ear, but all to no
use; he minded it no more than before. 'Bad luck to you for a baste,'
says Dick, 'what ails you at all - are you going to die on me? Get along
now.' The divil receave the step I 'll go till I get some spirits
and wather!' says the dromedary, 'for I 'm clean smothered with them
b - - - y blankets;' and with them same words the head of the baste fell
off, and Dick saw the consul's own man wiping the perspiration off his
face, and blowing like a porpoise. 'How the divil the hind legs bears
it I can't think,' says he; 'for I 'm nigh dead, though I had a taste of
fresh air.'

"The murther was out, gentlemen, for ye see the consul could n't get
a raal dromedary, and was obliged to make one out of a Christian and a
black fellow he had for a cook, and sure enough in the beginning of the
day Dick says he went like a clipper; 'twas doubling after the goose
destroyed him."

Whether the true tale had or had not been familiar to most of the
company before, it produced the effect Bagenal Daly desired, by at first
creating a hearty roar of laughter, and then, as seems the consequence
in all cases of miraculous narrative, set several others upon recounting
stories of equal credibility. Daly encouraged this new turn of
conversation with all the art of one who knew how to lead men's thoughts
into a particular channel without exciting suspicion of his intentions
by either abruptness or over zeal: to any ordinary observer, indeed, he
would have now appeared a mere enjoyer of the scene, and not the spirit
who gave it guidance and direction.

In this way passed the hours long after midnight, when, one by one,
the guests retired to their rooms; Forester remaining at the table
in compliance with a signal which Daly had made him, until at length
Hickman O'Reilly stood up to go, the last of all, save Daly and the
young guardsman.

Passing round the table, he leaned over Forester's chair, and in a low,
cautious whisper, said, "You have put down the greatest bully in this
country, Captain Forester; do not spoil your victory by being drawn into
a disreputable quarrel! Good night, gentlemen both," said he, aloud, and
with a polite bow left the room.

"What was that he whispered?" said Daly, as the door closed and they
were left alone together.

Forester repeated the words.

"Ah, I guessed why he sat so late; he sees the game clearly enough.
You, sir, have taken up the glaive that was thrown down for his son's
acceptance, and he knows the consequence - clever fellow that he is! Had
you been less prompt, Beecham's poltroonery might have escaped notice;
and even now, if you were to decline a meeting - "

"But I have no intention of doing any such thing."

"Of course, I never supposed you had; but were you to be swayed by wrong
counsels and do so, Master Beecham would be saved even yet. Well, well,
I am sorry, Captain Forester, you should have met such a reception
amongst us, and my friend Darcy will be deeply grieved at it. However,
we have other occupation now than vain regret, so to bed as fast as you
can, and to sleep; the morning is not very far off, and we shall have
some one from MacDonough here by daybreak."

With a cordial shake-hands, like men who already knew and felt kindly
towards each other, they separated for the night.

While Forester was thus sensible of the manliness and straightforward
resolution that marked Bagenal Daly's character, he was very far from
feeling satisfied with the position in which he found himself placed. A
duel under any circumstances is scarcely an agreeable incident in one's
life; but a meeting whose origin is at a drinking-bout, and where
the antagonist is a noted fire-eater, and by that very reputation
discreditable, is still a great aggravation of the evil.

To have embroiled himself in a quarrel of this kind would, he well knew,
greatly prejudice him in the estimation of his cold-tempered relative,
Lord Castlereagh, who would not readily forgive an indiscretion that
should mar his own political views. As he sat in his dressing-room
revolving such unpleasant reflections, there came a gentle tap at the
door; he had but time to say, "Come in," when Mr. Hickman O'Reilly
entered.

"Will you excuse this intrusion, Captain Forester?" said he, with an
accent in which the blandest courtesy was mingled with a well-affected
cordiality; "but I really could not lay my head on a pillow in
tranquillity until I had seen and spoken to you in confidence. This
foolish altercation - "

"Oh, pray don't let that give you a moment's uneasiness! I believe I
understand the position the gentleman you allude to occupies in your
country society: that license is accorded him, and freedoms taken with
him, not habitually the case in the world at large."

"You are quite right, your views are strictly accurate. MacDonough is a
low fellow of very small fortune, no family, - indeed, what pretension he
has to associate with the gentry I am unable to guess, nor would you
have ever seen him under this roof had the Knight been at home; Mr.
Daly, however, who, being an old schoolfellow and friend of Darcy's,
does the honors here in his absence, is rather indiscriminate in his
hospitalities. You may have remarked around the table some
singular-looking guests, - in fact, he not only invites the whole
hunting-field, but half the farmers over whose ground we 've ridden,
and, were it not that they have sense and shame enough to see their own
place with truer eyes, we should have an election mob here every day of
the week; but this is not exactly the topic which led to my intruding
upon you. I wished, in the first place, to rest assured that you had no
intention of noticing the man's impertinence, or of accepting any
provocation on his part; in fact, were he admissible to such a
privilege, my son Beecham would have at once taken the whole upon
himself, it being more properly his quarrel than yours."

Forester, with all his efforts, was unable to repress a slight smile
at these words. O'Reilly noticed it, and colored up, while he added:
"Beecham, however, knew the impossibility of such a course, - in fact,
Captain Forester, I may venture to say, without any danger of being
misunderstood by you, that my son has imbibed more correct notions of
the world and its habits at _your_ side of St. George's Channel than
could have fallen to him had his education been merely Irish."

This compliment, if well meant, was scarcely very successful, for
Forester bit his lip impatiently, but never made any answer. Whether
O'Reilly perceived the cause of this, or that, like a skilful painter,
he knew when to take his brush off the canvas, he arose at once and
said, "I leave you, then, with a mind much relieved. I feared that a
mistaken estimate of MacDonough's claims in society, and probably some
hot-brained counsels of Mr. Bagenal Daly - "

"You are quite in error there; let me assure you, sir, his view of the
matter is exactly my own," interrupted Forester, calmly.

"I am delighted to hear it, and have now only one request: will you
favor us with a few days' visit at Mount O'Reilly? I may say, without
vanity, that my son is more likely to be a suitable companion to you
than the company here may afford; we 've some good shooting and - "

"I must not suffer you to finish the catalogue of temptations," said
Forester, smiling courteously; "my hours are numbered already, and I
must be back in Dublin within a few days."

"Beecham will be sorely disappointed; in fact, we came back here to-day
for no other reason than to meet you at dinner. Daly told us of your
arrival. May we hope to see you at another opportunity? are your
engagements formed for Christmas yet?"

"I believe so, - Dorsetshire, I think," muttered Forester, with a tone
that plainly indicated a desire to cushion the subject at once; and Mr.
O'Reilly, with a ready tact, accepted the hint, and, wishing him a most
cordial goodnight, departed.




CHAPTER VI. A MESSAGE

While Forester slept soundly and without a dream, his long, light
breathing scarce audible within the quiet chamber, a glance within the
room of Bagenal Daly would have shown that, whatever the consequences
of the past night's troubles, he, at least, was not likely to be taken
unprepared. On the table in the middle of the apartment two wax candles
burned, two others, as yet unlighted, stood ready on the chimney-piece,
a pistol case lay open, displaying the weapons, whose trim and orderly
appearance denoted recent care, a fact attested by certain cloths
and flannels which lay about; a mould for bullets, and about a dozen
newly-cast balls most carefully filed and rubbed smooth with sandpaper,
were flanked by a small case of surgical instruments, with an ample
supply of lint and ligatures such as are used to secure bleeding
vessels, in the use of which few unprofessional persons could vie with
Bagenal Daly. A few sheets of paper lay also there, on which appeared
some recent writing; and in a large, deep armchair, ready dressed for
the day, sat Daly himself, sound asleep; one arm hung listlessly over
the chair, the other was supported in the breast of his waistcoat. The
strong, stern features, unrelaxed by repose, had the same impassive
expression of cold defiance as when awake, and if his lips muttered,
the accents were not less determined and firm than in his moments of
self-possession. He awoke from time to time and looked at his watch, and
once threw open the sash, and held out his hand to ascertain if it were
raining; but these interruptions did not interfere with his rest, for,
the minute after, he slept as soundly as before. Nor was he the only one
within that house who counted the hours thus anxiously. A lantern in the
stable beamed brightly, showing three horses ready saddled, the bridles
on the neck of each, and ready at a moment's notice to be bitted; while
pacing slowly to and fro, like a sentinel on his post, was the tall
figure of Sandy M'Grane, wrapped in a long cloth cloak, and his head
covered by a cap, whose shape and material spoke of a far-off land
and wild companionship; for it was the skin of a black fox, and the
workmanship the product of a squaw's fair fingers.

Sandy's patrol was occasionally extended to the gateway, where he
usually halted for a few seconds to listen, and then resumed his path as
leisurely as before. At last, he remained somewhat longer at the gate,
and bent his head more cautiously to hear; then, noiselessly unbarring
and unlocking the door, he leaned out. To an ear less practised than
his own the silence would have been complete. Not so with Sandy, whose
perceptions had received the last finish of an Indian education. He
retired hastily, and, approaching that part of the court beneath his
master's window, gave a long, low whistle. The next moment the casement
was opened, and Daly's head appeared.

"What now, Sandy? It is but a quarter past five."

"It may be so; but there 's a horse coming fast up the lower road."

"Listen again, and try if you hear it still."

Sandy did so, and was back in a few moments. "He's crossing the bridge
at 'the elms' now, and will be here in less than three minutes more."

"Watch the gate, then - let there be no noise - and come up by the back
stairs." With these words Daly closed the sash, and Sandy returned to
his post.

Ere many minutes elapsed, the door of Mr. Daly's chamber was opened, and
Sandy announced Major Hackett of Brough. As Bagenal Daly rose to meet
him, an expression of more than ordinary sternness was stamped upon his
bold features.

"Your servant informed me that I should find you in readiness to receive
me, Mr. Bagenal Daly," said the Major, a coarse-looking, carbuncled-face
man of about forty; "but perhaps the object of my visit would be better
accomplished if I could have a few minutes' conversation with a Captain
Forester who is here."

"If you can show me no sufficient cause to the contrary, sir," replied
Daly, proudly, "I shall act for him on this occasion."

"I beg pardon," said Hackett, smiling dubiously. "The business I came
upon induced me to suspect that, at your time of life - "

"Go on, sir, - finish your speech," said Daly, with' a fixed and steady
stare which, very far from reassuring, seemed only to increase the
Major's confusion.

"After all, Mr. Daly," resumed he, more hurriedly, "I have nothing
whatever to do with that. My duty is to convey a message from Mr.
Alexander MacDonough to a gentleman named Forester, here. If you will
accept the proposition, and assist in the necessary arrangements - "

"We are ready, sir, - quite ready. One of the consequences of admitting
dubious acquaintances to the intimacy of the table is such a case as the
present. I was guilty of one fault in this respect, but I shall show you
I was not unprepared for what might follow it." And as he spoke he
threw open the window and called out, "Sandy! awaken Captain Forester. I
suppose you are ready, Major Hackett, with your friend?"

"Yes, sir. Mr. MacDonough expects us at Cluan Point."

"And bridle the horses, Sandy," continued Daly, speaking from the
window.

"I conclude, from what I see," said Hackett, "that your friend is not
only decided against offering an apology for his offence, but desirous
of a meeting."

"Who said so, sir? - or what right have you to suppose that any gentleman
of good family and good prospects should indulge such an unnatural
caprice as to wish to risk character and life in a quarrel with Mr.
Alexander MacDonough?"

"Circumstanced as that gentleman is at this moment, your observations
are unsuitable, sir," replied the Major.

"So they are," said Daly, hastily; "or, rather, so they would have been,
if not provoked by your remark. But, hang me! if I think it signifies
much; if it were not that some of our country neighbors were
good-natured enough to treat this same Mr. MacDonough on terms of
equality before, I 'd have advised Captain Forester not to mind him.
_My_ maxim is, there are always low fellows enough to shoot one another,
and never come trespassing among the manors of their betters."

"I must confess myself unprepared, sir, to hear language like this,"
said Hackett, sternly.

"Not a whit more than I feel at seeing myself negotiating a meeting with
a man turned out of the army with disgrace," said Daly, as his face grew
purple with anger. "Were it not that I would not risk a hint of dishonor
on this young Englishman's fame, I 'd never interchange three words with
Major Hackett."

"You shall answer for this, sir, and speedily too, by G - - d!" said
Hackett, moving towards the door.

Daly burst into an insolent laugh, and said, "Your friend waits us at
Cluan?" The other bowed. "Well, within an hour we'll be there also,"
continued the old man; and Hackett retired without adding a syllable.

"We 've about five miles to ride, Captain Forester," said Daly, as they
issued forth beneath the deeply arched gate of the abbey; "but the road
is a mountain one, and will not admit of fast riding. A fine old place
it is," said he, as, halting his horse, he bestowed a gaze of admiration
on the venerable building, now dimly visible in the gray of the breaking
dawn. "The pious founders little dreamt of men leaving its portals on
such an errand as ours." Then, suddenly, with a changed voice, he added,
"Men are the same in every age and country; what our ancestors did in
steel breastplates, we do now in broadcloth; the law, as they call it,
must always be subservient to human passions, and the judge and the jury
come too late, since their function is penalty, and not prevention."

"But surely you do not think the world was better in the times when
might was right?" said Forester.

"The system worked better than we suspect," said the old man, gravely;
"there was such a thing as public opinion among men in those days,
although its exponents were neither pamphlets nor scurrilous newspapers.



Online LibraryCharles James LeverThe Knight Of Gwynne, Vol. I (of II) → online text (page 5 of 34)