Charles James Lever.

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

. (page 8 of 34)
Online LibraryCharles James LeverThe Knight Of Gwynne, Vol. I (of II) → online text (page 8 of 34)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


difficulty for the parties betting to say who is the delinquent." He
took his hat as he spoke, and was moving through the crowd, when a
sudden cheer from without was heard, and then, almost the instant after,
a confused sound of acclamation as the Knight of Gwynne entered, leaning
on the arm of Con Heffernan. Making his way with difficulty through the
crowd of welcoming friends and acquaintances, the Knight approached the
end of the room where Lord Drogheda now awaited him, standing.

"Not late, my Lord, though very near it," said he, extending his
hand. "If I should apologize, however, I have an excuse you will not
reject, - Con Heffernan's Burgundy is hard to part with."

"Very true, Knight," said his Lordship, smiling. "With a friend one sees
so seldom, a little dalliance is most pardonable."

This sarcasm was met by a ready laugh, for Heffernan was better known
as a guest at other tables than a host at his own; nor did he, at whose
expense the jest was made, refrain from joining in the mirth, while he
added, -

"The Burgundy, like one of your Lordship's _bons mots_, is perhaps
appreciated the more highly because of its rarity."

"Very true, Heffernan," replied Lord Drogheda; "we should keep our wit
and wine only for our best friends."

"Faith, then," whispered the red-whiskered squire who spoke before, "if
the liquor does not gain more by keeping than the wit, I'd recommend Con
to drink it off a little faster."

"Or, better still," interposed the Knight, "only give it to those
who understand its flavor. But we are, if I mistake not, losing very
valuable time. What say you to the small room off the library, or will
your Lordship remain here?"

"Here, if equally agreeable to you. We are both of us too old in the
harness to care much for being surrounded by spectators."

"Is it true, Con," said a friend in Heffernan's ear, "that Darcy has
laid fifty thousand on this party?"

"I believe you are rather under than over the mark," whispered
Heffernan. "The wager has been off and on these last eight or ten years.
It was made at Hutchinson's one evening when we all had drunk a good
deal of wine. At first, whist was talked of; but Drogheda objected to
Darcy's naming Vicars as his partner."

"More fool he! Vicars is a first-rate player, but confoundedly unlucky."

"Be that as it may, they fixed on piquet as the game, and, if accounts
be true, all the better for Darcy. They say he has beaten the best
players in France."

"And what is really the stake? One hears so many absurd versions of it."

"The Ballydermot property."

"The whole of it?"

"Every acre, with the demesne, house, plate, pictures, carriages,
wine, - begad! I 'm not sure if the livery servants are not
included, - against fifty thousand pounds. You know Drogheda has lent him
a very large sum on a mortgage of that property already, and this will
make the thing about double or quits."

"Well, Heffernan," cried the Knight, "are you making your book there?
When you've quite finished, let me have a pinch of that excellent snuff
of yours."

"Why not try mine?" said Lord Drogheda, pushing a magnificently jewelled
box, containing a miniature, across the table.

"'T would be a bad augury, my Lord," said Darcy, laughing. "If I
remember aright, you won this handsome box from the Duke de Richelieu."

"Ah! you know that story, then?"

"I was present at the time, and remember the circumstance perfectly. The
King was leaning over the Duke's chair, watching the game - "

"Quite true. The Duke affected not to know that his Majesty was there,
and when he placed the box on the table, cried, 'A thousand louis
against the portrait of the King!' There was no declining such a wager
at such a moment, although, intrinsically, the box was not worth half
the sum. I accepted, and won it."

"And the Duke then offered to give you twice the money for it back
again?"

"He did so, and I refused. I shall not readily forget the sweet, sad
smile of the King as he tapped the wily courtier on the shoulder, and
said, 'Ah! Monsieur le Duc, do you only value your King when you've lost
him?' They were prophetic words! Well, well! we 've got upon a sorrowful
theme; let's change it."

"Here are the cards, at last," said the Knight, taking a sealed packet
from the waiter's hand, and breaking it open on the table. "Now,
Heffernan, order me a glass of claret negus, and take care that no one
comes to worry us with news of the House."

"It's a sugar bill, or a new clause in the Corporation Act, or something
of that kind, they 're working at," said Lord Drogheda, negligently.

"No, my Lord," interposed Heffernan, slyly, "it's a bill to permit your
Lordship's nephew to hold the living of Ardragh with his deanery."

"All right and proper," said his Lordship, endeavoring to hide a rising
flush on his cheek by an opportune laugh. "Tom is a capital fellow, and
a good parson too."

"And ought never to omit the prayer for the Parliament!" muttered
Heffernan, loud enough to be heard by the bystanders, who relished the
allusion heartily.

"The deal is with you, Knight," said Lord Drogheda, pushing the cards
across the table.

The moment afterwards, a pin could not have fallen unheard in that
crowded assembly. Even they who were not themselves bettors felt the
deepest interest in the game where the stake was so great, and all who
could set value on skill and address were curious to watch the progress
of the contest. Not a word was spoken on either side as the cards fell
upon the table, and although many of the bystanders displayed looks
of more eager anxiety, the players showed by their intentness how
strenuously each struggled for the victory.

After the lapse of about half an hour, a low, murmuring noise spread
through the room, and the news was circulated that the first game was
over, and the Knight was the winner. The players, however, were silent
as before, and the deal went over without a word.

"One moment, my Lord," said Darcy, as he gently interposed his hand to
prevent Lord Drogheda taking up his cards, - "a single moment. You will
call me faint-hearted for it, but I do not care. I beseech you, let the
party cease here. It is a great favor; but as I could not ask it if I
had lost the game, give me, I pray, so much of advantage for my good
luck."

"You forget, Knight, that I, as a loser, could not accede to your
proposal; what would be said of any man who, with such a stake at issue,
accepted an offer like this?"

"My dear Lord, don't you think that you and I might afford to have our
actions canvassed, and yet be very little afraid of criticism?" said
Darcy, proudly.

"No, no, my dear Darcy, I really could not do this; besides, you must
concede something to mortified vanity. Now, I am anxious to have my
revenge."

"Be it so, my Lord," said the Knight, with a sigh, and the game began.

The looks and glances which were interchanged by those about during
this brief colloquy showed how little sympathy there was felt with the
generosity of either side. The bettors had set their hearts on gain, and
cared little for the feelings of the players.

"You see he was right," whispered the red-whiskered squire to his
neighbor; "my Lord has won the game in one hand." And so it was; in less
than five minutes the party was over.

"Now for the conqueror," cried the Knight of Gwynne, who, somewhat
nettled at a success which seemed to lessen the generous character of
his own proposal, dealt the cards hastily, as if anxious to conclude.

"Now, Darcy, we have a better opportunity," said Lord Drogheda, smiling;
"what say you to draw stakes as we stand?"

"Willingly, most willingly, my Lord. If a bad cause saps courage, I have
reason to be low at heart. This foolish wager has cost me the loss of
three nights' sleep, and if you are content - "

"But are these gentlemen here satisfied?" said Lord Drogheda; and an
almost universal cry of "No" was the reply.

"Then if we are to play for the bystanders, my Lord, let us not delay
them," said the Knight, as he took up his cards and began to arrange
them.

"Darcy has it, by Jove! - the game is his," was muttered from one to
another in the crowd behind his chair, and the report, gaining currency,
was soon circulated in the larger room without.

"Have you anything heavy on it, Con?" said a fashionably dressed man to
Heffernan, who endeavored to force his way through the crowd to where
the Knight sat.

"Look at Heffernan!" said another. "They say he never bets; but mark the
excitement of his face now!"

"What is it, Heffernan?" said the Knight, as the other leaned over his
chair and tried to whisper something in his ear. "Is that a queen, my
Lord? In that case I believe the game is mine. - What is it, Heffernan?"
and he bent his ear to listen; then, suddenly dashing the cards upon the
table, cried out, "Great Heaven! is this true? - the young fellow I met
at Kilbeggan?"

"The same," whispered Heffernan, rapidly; "a brother officer of your son
Lionel's - a cousin of Lord Castle-reagh's - a fine, dashing fellow, too."

"Where is he wounded?" asked Darcy, eagerly.

"Finish your game - I must tell you all about it," said Heffernan,
folding up a letter which he had taken from his pocket a few minutes
before.

"Your pardon, my Lord," said Darcy, with a look full of agitation; "I
have just heard very bad news. - I play the knave." A murmur ran through
the crowd behind him.

"You meant the king, I know, Knight," said Lord Drogheda, restoring the
card to his hand as he spoke, but a loud expression of dissatisfaction
arose from those at his side.

"You are right, my Lord, I did intend the king," said the Knight; "but
these gentlemen insist upon the knave, and, if you 'll permit me, I 'll
play it."

The whole fortune of the game hung upon the card, and, after a brief
struggle, the Knight was beaten.

"Even so, my Lord," said the Knight, smiling calmly, "you have beaten
me against luck; Fortune will not do everything. The Roman satirist goes
even further, and says she can do nothing." He rose as he said these
words, and looked around for Heffernan.

"If you want Con Heffernan, Knight," said one of the party, "I think he
has gone down to the House."

"The very man," said Darcy. "Good-night, my Lord, - good-night, gentlemen
all."

"I did not believe that anything could shake Darcy's nerve, but he
certainly played that game ill," said a bystander.

"Heffernan could tell us more about it," said another; "rely on it,
Master Con and the devil knew why that knave was played."




CHAPTER X. AN INTRIGUE DETECTED

Of all the evil influences which swayed the destinies of Ireland in
latter days, none can compare, in extent of importance, with the fatal
taste for prodigality that characterized the habits of the gentry.
Reckless, wasteful extravagance, in every detail of life, suggested
modes of acting and thinking at variance with all individual and,
consequently, all national prosperity. Hospitality was pushed to
profusion, liberality became a spendthrift habit. The good and the bad
qualities of the Irish temperament alike contributed to this passion;
there was the wish to please, the desire to receive courteously, and
entertain with splendor within doors, and to appear with proportionate
magnificence without.

A proud sense of what they deemed befitting their station induced the
gentry to vie in expenditure with the richly endowed officials of the
Government, and the very thought of prudence or foresight in matters of
expense would have been stigmatized as a meanness by those who believed
they were sustaining the honor of their country while sapping the
foundation of its prosperity.

If we have little to plead in defence or in palliation of such habits,
we can at least affirm that in many cases they were practised with a
taste and elegance that shed lustre over the period. Unlike the vulgar
displays of newly acquired wealth, they exhibited in a striking light
the generous and high-spirited features of the native character, which
deemed that nothing could be too good for the guest, nor any expenditure
for his entertainment either too costly or too difficult. The fatal
facility of Irish nature, and the still more ruinous influence of
example, hurried men along on this road to ruin; and as political
prospects grew darker, a reckless indifference to the future succeeded,
in which little care was taken for the morrow, until, at last,
thoughtless extravagance became a habit, and moneyed difficulties the
lot of almost every family of Ireland.

That a gentry so embarrassed, and with such prospects of ruin before
them, should have been easy victims to Ministerial seduction, is far
less surprising than that so many were to be seen who could prefer
their integrity to the rich bribes of Government patronage; and it is
a redeeming feature of the day that amid all the lavish and heedless
course of prodigality and excess there were some who could face
poverty with stouter hearts than they could endure the stigma of gilded
corruption: nor is it the history of every Parliament that can say as
much.

Let us leave this theme, even at the hazard of being misunderstood, for
the moment, by our reader, and turn to the Knight of Gwynne, who now
was seated at his breakfast in a large parlor of his house in Henrietta
Street. Sad and deserted as it seems now, this was in those days the
choice residence of Irish aristocracy, and the names of peers and
baronets on every door told of a class which, now, should be sought for
in scattered fragments among the distant cities of the Continent.

The Knight was reading the morning papers, in which, amid the
fashionable news, was an account of his own wager with Lord Drogheda,
when a carriage drove up hastily to the door, and, immediately after,
the loud summons of a footman resounded through the street.

While the Knight was yet wondering who this early visitor should prove,
the servant announced Mr. Con Heffernan.

"The very man I wished to see," cried Darcy, eagerly; "tell me all about
this unfortunate business. But, first of all, is he out of danger?"

"Quite safe. I understand, for a time, it was a very doubtful thing;
Daly's surgery, it would seem, rather increased the hazard. He began
searching for the ball regardless of the bleeding, and the young fellow
was very near sinking under loss of blood."

"The whole affair was his doing!" said the Knight, impatiently. "How Mr.
MacDonough could have found himself at _my_ table is more than I can
well imagine; that when he got there, something like this would follow,
does not surprise me. Daly is really too bad. Well, well, I hoped to
have set off for the abbey to-day, but I must stay here, I find;
Drogheda is kind enough to let me redeem Ballydermot, and I must see
Gleeson about it. It's rather a heavy blow just now."

"I am afraid I am not altogether blameless," said Heffernan, timidly.
"I ought not to have mentioned that unlucky business till the game was
over; but I thought your nerve was proof against anything."

"So it was, Heffernan," said the Knight, laughing, "some five-and-twenty
years ago; but this shattered wreck has little remains of the old
three-decker. I should have won that game."

"It's all past and over now, so never think more about it."

"Yes, I should have won the game. Drogheda saw my advantage: he went
on with the very suit in my hand, and when he reached over for his
snuff-box, his hand trembled like in an ague-fit."

"Come, don't let the thing dwell in your mind. There is another and a
heavier game to play, and you 're certain to win there, if you do but
like it."

"I don't clearly understand you," said Darcy, doubtingly.

"I'll be explicit enough, then," said Heffernan, taking a chair and
seating himself directly in front of the Knight. "You know the position
of the Government at this moment. They have secured a safe and certain
majority, - the 'Union' is carried. When I say 'carried,' I mean that
there is not a doubt on any reasonable mind but that the bill will pass.
The lists show a majority of seven, perhaps eight, for the Ministry;
and if they had but one in their favor, Pitt is determined to go through
with it. Now, we all very well know how this has been done. Our people
have behaved infamously, disgracefully, - there's no mincing the matter.
You heard of Fox - ?"

"No. What of him?"

"He has just accepted the escheatorship of - I forget what or where, but
he vacates his seat to make room for Courtenay."

"Sam Courtenay? - Scrub, as we used to call him?"

"Scrub, - exactly so. Well, he comes in for Roscommon, and is to have a
place under the new commission of twelve hundred a year. But to go back
to what I was saying: Castlereagh has bought these fellows at his
price or their own; some were dear enough, some were cheap. Barton, for
instance, takes it out in Castle dinners, and has sold his birthright
for the Viceroy's venison."

"May good digestion wait on appetite!" repeated Darcy, laughing.

"Well, let's not waste more time on them, but come to what I mean.
Castlereagh wants to know how you mean to vote: some have told him you
would be on his side; others, myself among the number, say the reverse.
In fact, little as you may think about the matter, heavy bets are laid
at this moment on the question, and - But I won't mention names; enough
if I say a friend of ours - an old friend, too - has a thousand on it."

The Knight tapped his snuff-box calmly, and with his blandest smile
begged Heffernan to proceed.

"Faith! I 've nearly told all I had to say. Every one well knows that,
whatever decision you come to, it will be unbiassed by everything save
your own conscientious sense of right; and as arguments are pretty
nearly equal on the question, - for, in truth, after having heard
and read most of what has been written or spoken on the point, - I
'm regularly nonplussed on which side to see the advantage. The real
question seems to be, Can we go on as we are?"

"I think not," observed the Knight, gravely. "A Parliament which has
exhibited its venality so openly can have little pretension to public
confidence."

"The very remark I made myself," cried Heffernan, triumphantly.

"The men who sell themselves to-day to the Crown will, if need be, sell
themselves to-morrow to the mob."

"My own words, by Jove! - my very words."

"A dependent Parliament, attempting separate and independent
legislation, means an absurdity."

"There is no other name for it," cried Heffernan, in ecstasy.

"I have known Ireland for something more than half a century now," said
the Knight, with a touch of melancholy in his voice, "and yet never
before saw so much of social disorder as at present, and perhaps we are
only at the beginning of it. The scenes we have witnessed in France
have been more bloody and more cruel, but they will leave less permanent
results behind them than our own revolution; for such, after all, it is.
The property of the country is changing hands, the old aristocracy are
dying out, if not dead; their new successors have neither any hold on
the affection of the people, nor a bond of union with each other. See
what will come of it; the old game of feudalism will be tried by these
men of yesterday, and the peasantry, whose reverence for birth is a
religion, will turn on them, and the time is not very distant, perhaps,
when the men who would not harm the landlord's dog will have little
reverence for the landlord's self."

"You have drawn a sad picture," said Heffernan, either feeling or
affecting to feel the truthfulness of the Knight's delineation.

"Our share in the ruin," said the Knight, rising, and pacing the room
with rapid strides, - "our share is not undeserved. We had a distinct
and defined duty to perform, and we neglected it; instead of extending
civilization, we were the messengers of barbarism among the people."

"Your own estates, I have heard, are a refutation of your theory,"
interposed Heffernan, insinuatingly.

"My estates - " repeated the Knight; and then, stopping suddenly, with
a changed voice, he said, "Heffernan, we have got into a long and
very unprofitable theme; let us try back, if we can, and see whence we
started: we were talking of the Union."

"Just so," said Heffernan, not sorry to resume the subject which induced
his visit.

"I have determined not to vote on the measure," said the Knight,
solemnly; "my reasons for the course I adopt I hope to be able to
justify when the proper time arrives; meanwhile, it will prevent
unnecessary speculation, and equally unnecessary solicitation, if I tell
you frankly what I mean to do. Such is my present resolve."

The word "solicitation" fell from the Knight's lips with such a peculiar
expression that Heffernan at once saw his own game was detected,
and, like a clever tactician, resolved to make the best of his forced
position.

"You have been frank with me, Knight; I'll not be less candid
with _you_, I came here to convey to you a distinct offer from the
Government, - not of any personal favor or advantage, _that_, they well
knew, you would reject, - but, in the event of your support, to take
any suggestion you might make on the new Bill into their serious and
favorable consideration; to advise with you how, in short, the measure
might be made to meet your views, and, so to say, admit you into
conclave with the Cabinet."

"All this is very flattering," said the Knight, with a smile of evident
satisfaction, "but I scarcely see how the opinions of a very humble
country gentleman can weigh in the grave councils of a Government."

"The best proof is the fact itself," replied Heffernan, artfully. "Were
I to tell you of other reasons, you might suspect me of an intention to
canvass your support on very different grounds."

"I confess I'm in the dark; explain yourself more fully."

"This is a day for sincerity," said Heffernan, smiling, "and so, here
it is: the Prince has taken a special liking to your son Lionel, and has
given him his company."

"His company! I never heard of it."

"Strange enough that he should not have written to you on the subject,
but the fact is unquestionable; and, as I was saying, he is a frequent
guest at Carlton House, and admitted into the choice circle of his Royal
Highness's parties: if, in the freedom of that intimacy with which he is
honored by the Prince, the question should have arisen, how his father
meant to vote, the fact was not surprising, no more than that Captain
Darcy should have replied - "

"Lionel never pledged himself to control _my_ vote, depend upon that,
Mr. Heffernan," said the Knight, reddening.

"Nor did I say so," interposed Heffernan. "Hear me out: your son is
reported to have answered, 'My father's family have been too trained in
loyalty, sire, not to give their voice for what they believe the best
interests of the empire: your Royal Highness may doubt his judgment,
his honor will, I am certain, never be called in question.' The Prince
laughed good-naturedly, and said, 'Enough, Darcy, - quite enough; it will
give me great satisfaction to think as highly of the father as I do of
the son; there is a vacancy on the staff, and I can offer you the post
of an extra aide-de-camp.'"

"This is very good news, - the best I 've heard for many a day,
Heffernan; and for its accuracy - "

"Lord Castlereagh is the guarantee," added Heffernan, hastily; "I had it
from his own lips."

"I 'll wait on him this morning. I can at least express my gratitude for
his Royal Highness's kindness to my boy."

"You 'll not have far to go," said Heffernan, smiling.

"How so? - what do you mean?"

"Lord Castlereagh is at the door this moment in that carriage;" and
Hefifernan pointed to the chariot which, with its blinds closely drawn,
stood before the street door.

The Knight moved hastily towards the door, and then, turning suddenly,
burst into a hearty laugh, - a laugh so racy and full of enjoyment that
Heffernan himself joined in it, without knowing wherefore.

"You are a clever fellow, Hefifernan!" said the Knight, as he lay back
in a deep-cushioned chair, and wiped his eyes, now streaming with tears
of laughter, - "a devilish clever fellow! The whole affair reminds me of
poor Jack Morris."

"Faith! I don't see your meaning," said Hefifernan, half fearful that
all was not right.

"You knew Jack, - we all knew him. Well, poor Morris was going home one
night, - from the theatre, I believe it was, - but, just as he reached Ely
Place, he saw, by the light of a lamp, a gentlemanlike fellow trying to
make out an address on a letter, and endeavoring, as well as he could,
to spell out the words by the uncertain light. 'Devilish provoking!'



Online LibraryCharles James LeverThe Knight Of Gwynne, Vol. I (of II) → online text (page 8 of 34)