Charles James Lever.

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said the stranger, half aloud; 'I wrote it myself, and yet cannot read
a word of it.' 'Can I be of any service?' said Jack. Poor fellow! he was
always ready for anything kind or good-natured. 'Thank you,' said the
other; 'but I 'm a stranger in Dublin, - only arrived this evening from
Liverpool, - and cannot remember the name or the street of my hotel,
although I noted both down on this letter.' 'Show it to me,' said Jack,
taking the document. But although he held it every way, and tried all
manner of guesses, he never could hit on the name the stranger wanted.
'Never mind,' said Jack; 'don't bother yourself about it. Come home
with, me and have an oyster, - I 'll give you a bed; 't will be time
enough after breakfast to-morrow to hunt out the hotel.' To make short
of it, the stranger complied; after all the natural expressions of
gratitude and shame, home they went, supped, finished two bottles of
claret, and chatted away till past two o'clock. 'You 'd like to get to
bed, I see,' said Jack, as the stranger seemed growing somewhat drowsy,
and so he rang the bell and ordered the servant to show the gentleman
to his room. 'And, Martin,' said he, 'take care that everything is
comfortable, and be sure you have a nightcap.' 'Oh! I 've a nightcap
myself,' said the stranger, pulling one, neatly folded, out of his coat
pocket. 'Have you, by G - d!' said Jack. 'If you have, then, you 'll not
sleep here. A man that's so ready for a contingency has generally some
hand in contriving it.' And so he put him out of doors, and never saw
more of him. Eh, Heffernan, was Jack right?" And again the old man
broke into a hearty laugh, in which Heffernan, notwithstanding his
discomfiture, could not refrain from participating.

"Well," said he, as he arose to leave the room, "I feel twenty years
younger for that hearty laugh. It reminds me of the jolly days we used
to have long ago, with Price Godfrey and Bagenal Daly. By the way, where
is Bagenal now, and what is he doing?"

"Pretty much what he always was doing, - mischief and devilment," said
the Knight, half angrily.

"Is he still the member for Old-Castle? I forget what fate the petition
had."

"The fate of the counsel that undertook it is easily remembered," said
the Knight. "Bagenal called him out for daring to take such a liberty
with a man who had represented the borough for thirty years, and shot
him in the hip. 'You shall have a plumper, by Jove,' said Bagenal;
and he gave him one. Men grew shy of the case afterwards, and it was
dropped, and so Bagenal still represents the place. Good-by, Heffernan;
don't forget Jack Morris." And so saying, the Knight took leave of his
visitor, and returned to his chair at the breakfast-table.




CHAPTER XI. THE KNIGHT AND HIS AGENT.

The news of Lionel's promotion, and the flattering notice which the
Prince had taken of him, made the Knight very indifferent about his
heavy loss of the preceding evening. It was, to be sure, an immense sum;
but as Gleeson was arranging his affairs, it was only "raising" so much
more, and thus preventing the estate from leaving the family. Such was
his own very mode of settling the matter in his own mind, nor did he
bestow more time on the consideration than enabled him to arrive at this
satisfactory conclusion.

If ever there was an agent designed to compensate for the easy,
careless habits of such a principal, it was Mr. Gleeson, or, as he was
universally known in the world of that day, "Honest Tom Gleeson." In him
seemed concentrated all those peculiar gifts which made up the perfect
man of business. He was cautious, painstaking, and methodical; of a
temper which nothing could ruffle, and with a patience no provocation
could exhaust; punctual as a clock, neither precipitate nor dilatory, he
appeared prompt to the slow, and seemed almost tardy to the hasty man.

In the management of several large estates - he might have had many
more if he would have accepted the charge - Mr. Gleeson had amassed a
considerable fortune; but so devotedly did he attach himself to the
interests of his employers, so thoroughly identify their fortunes
with his own, that he gave little time to the cares of his immediate
property. By his skill and intelligence many country gentlemen had
emerged from embarrassments that threatened to engulf their entire
fortunes; and his aid in a difficulty was looked upon as a certain
guarantee of success. It was not very surprising if a man endowed with
qualities like these should have usurped something of ascendency over
his employers. To a certain extent their destiny lay in his hands. Of
the difficulties by which they were pressed he alone knew either the
nature or amount, while by what straits these should be overcome none
but himself could offer a suggestion. If in all his dealings the most
strict regard to honor was observable, so did he seem also inexhaustible
in his contrivances to rescue an embarrassed or encumbered estate. There
was often the greatest difficulty in securing his services, solicitation
and interest were even required to engage him; but once retained, he
applied his energies to the task, and with such zeal and acuteness that
it was said no case, however desperate, had yet failed in his hands.

For several years past he had managed all the Knight's estates; and
such was the complication and entanglement of the property, loaded with
mortgages and rent-charges, embarrassed with dowries and annuities, that
nothing short of his admirable skill could have supported the means of
that expensive and wasteful mode of life which the Knight insisted on
pursuing, and all restriction on which he deemed unfitting his station.
If Gleeson represented the urgent necessity of retrenchment, the very
word was enough to cut short the negotiation; until, at last, the agent
was fain to rest content with the fruits of good management, and merely
venture from time to time on a cautious suggestion regarding the immense
expense of the Knight's household.

With all his guardedness and care, these representations were not always
safe; for though the Knight would sometimes meet them with some jocular
or witty reply, or some bantering allusion to the agent's taste
for money-getting, at other times he would receive the advice with
impatience or ill-humor, so that, at last, Gleeson limited all
complaints on this score to his letters to Lady Eleanor, with whom he
maintained a close and confidential correspondence.

This reserve on Gleeson's part had its effects on the Knight, who felt
a proportionate delicacy in avowing any act of extravagance that should
demand a fresh call for money, and thus embarrass the negotiation by
which the agent was endeavoring to extricate the property.

If Darcy felt the loss of the preceding night, it was far more from the
necessity of avowing it to Gleeson than from the amount of the money,
considerable as it was; and he, therefore, set out to call upon him, in
a frame of mind far less at ease than he desired to persuade himself he
enjoyed.

Mr. Gleeson lived about three miles from Dublin, so that the Knight had
abundant time to meditate as he went along, and think over the interview
that awaited him. His revery was only broken by a sudden change from the
high-road to the noiseless quiet of the neat avenue which led up to the
house.

Mr. Gleeson's abode had been an ancient manor-house in the Gwynne
family, a building of such antiquity as to date from the time of the
Knights Templars; and though once a favored residence of the Darcys,
had, from the circumstances of a dreadful crime committed beneath its
roof, - the murder of a servant by his master, - been at first deserted,
and subsequently utterly neglected by the owners, so that at last it
fell into ruin and decay. The roof was partly fallen in, the windows
shattered and broken, the rich ceilings rotten and discolored with damp;
it presented an aspect of desolation, when Mr. Gleeson proposed to
take it on lease. Nor was the ruin only within doors, but without; the
ornamental planting had been torn up, or used as firewood; the gardens
pillaged and overrun with cattle; and the large trees - among which
were some rare and remarkable ones - were lopped and torn by the country
people, who trespassed and committed their depredations without fear or
impediment. Now, however, the whole aspect was changed; the same spirit
of order that exercised its happy influence in the management of distant
properties had arrested the progress of destruction here, and, happily,
in sufficient time to preserve some of the features which, in days past,
had made this the most beautiful seat in the county.

It was not without a feeling of astonishment that the Knight surveyed
the change. An interval of twelve years - for such had been the length of
time since he was last there - had worked magic in all around. Clumps had
sprung up into ornamental groups, saplings become graceful trees, sickly
evergreens that leaned their frail stems against a stake were now richly
leaved hollies or fragrant laurustinas; and the marshy pond, that seemed
stagnant with rank grass and duckweed, was a clear lake fed by a silvery
cascade which descended in quaint but graceful terraces from the very
end of the neat lawn.

In Darcy's eyes, the only fault was the excessive neatness perceptible
in everything; the very gravel seemed to shine with a peculiar lustre,
the alleys were swept clean, not even a withered leaf was suffered to
disfigure them, while the shrubs had an air of trim propriety, like the
self-satisfied air of a Sunday citizen.

The brilliant lustre of the heavy brass knocker, the white and spotless
flags of the stone hall, and the immaculate accuracy of the staid
footman who opened the door, were types of the prevailing tastes and
habits of the proprietor. A mere glance at the orderly arrangement of
Mr. Gleeson's study would have confirmed the impression of his strict
notions and regularity of discipline: not a book was out of place;
the boxes, labelled with high and titled names, were ranged with a
drill-like precision upon the shelves; the very letters that lay in
the baskets beside the table fell with an attention to staid decorum
becoming the rigid habits of the place.

The Knight had some minutes to bestow in contemplation of these objects
before Gleeson entered; he had only that morning arrived from a distant
journey, and was dressing when the Knight was announced. With a bland,
soft manner, and an air compounded of diffidence and self-importance,
Mr. Gleeson made his approaches.

"You have anticipated me, sir," said he, placing a chair for the Knight;
"I had ordered the carriage to call upon you. May I beg you to excuse
the question, but my anxiety will not permit me to defer it: there is
no truth, or very little, I trust, in the paragraph I 've just read in
Carrick's paper - "

"About a party at piquet with Lord Drogheda?" interrupted Darcy.

"The same."

"Every word of it correct, Gleeson," said the Knight, who,
notwithstanding the occasion, could not control the temptation to laugh
at the terrified expression of the agent's face.

"But surely the sum was exaggerated; the paper says, the lands and
demesne of Ballydermot, with the house, furniture, plate, wine,
equipage, garden utensils - "

"I 'm not sure that we mentioned the watering-pots," said Darcy,
smiling; "but the wine hogsheads are certainly included."

"A rental of clear three thousand four hundred and seventy-eight pounds,
odd shillings, on a lease of lives renewable forever - pepercorn fine!"
exclaimed Gleeson, closing his eyes, and folding his hands upon his
breast, like a martyr resigning himself to the torture.

"So much for going on spades without the head of the suit!" observed
the Knight; "and yet any man might have made the same blunder; and then,
Heffernan, with his interruption, - altogether, Gleeson, the whole was
mismanaged sadly."

"The greater, part of the land tithe free," moaned Gleeson to himself;
"it was a grant from the Crown to your ancestor, Everard Darcy."

"If it was the king gave it, Gleeson, it was the queen lost it."

"The lands of Corrabeg, Dunragheedaghan, and Muscarooney, let
at fifteen shillings an acre, with a right to cut turf on the
Derryslattery bog! not to speak of Knocksadowd! lost, and no
redemption!"

"Yes, Gleeson, that's the point I'm coming to; there is a proviso in
favor of redemption, whenever your grief will permit you to hear it."

Gleeson gave a brief cough, blew his nose with considerable energy,
and with an air of submissive sorrow apologized for yielding to his
feelings. "I have been so many years, sir, the guardian - if I may so
say - of that property that I cannot think of being severed from its
interests without deep, very deep, regret."

"By Jove! Gleeson, so do I! you have no monopoly of the sorrow, believe
me. I acknowledge, readily, the full extent of my culpability. This
foolish bet came to pass at a dinner at Hutchison's, - it was the
crowning point of a bragging conversation about play, - and Drogheda, it
seems, booked it, though I totally forgot all about it. I'm certain
he never intended to push the wager on me, but when reminded of it, of
course I had nothing else for it but to express my readiness to meet
him. I must say he behaved nobly all through; and even when Heffer-nan's
stupid interruption had somewhat ruffled my nerves, he begged I
would reconsider the card - he saw I had made a mistake - very handsome
that! - his backers, I assure you, did not seem as much disposed to
extend the courtesy. I relieved their minds, however, I stood by my
play, and - "

"And lost an estate of three thousand - "

"Quite correct; I'm sure no man knows the rental better. And now, let us
see how to keep it in the family."

The stare of amazement with which Gleeson heard these words might have
met a proposition far more extravagant still, and he repeated the speech
to himself, as if weighing every syllable in a balance.

"Yes, Gleeson, that was exactly what I said; now that we are engaged
in liquidating, let us proceed with the good work. If I have given you
enlarged occasion for the exercise of your abilities, I 'm only acting
like Peter Henessy, - old Peter, that held the mill at Brown's Barn."

The agent looked up with an expression in which all interest to learn
the precedent alluded to was lost in astonishment at the levity of a man
who could jest at such a moment.

"I see you never heard it, and, as the lawyers say, the rule will apply.
I 'll tell it to you. When Peter was dying, he sent for old Rush of the
Priory to give him absolution; he would not have the parish priest, for
he was a 'hard man,' as Peter said, with little compassion for human
weakness, never loved pork nor 'poteen,' but seemed to have a relish for
fasts and vigils. 'Rush will do,' said he to all the family applications
in favor of the other, - 'I 'll have Father Rush;' and so he had, and
Rush came, and they were four hours at it, for Peter had a long score
of reminiscences to bring up, and it was not without considerable
difficulty, it is said, that Rush could apply the remedies of the Church
to the various infractions of the old sinner. At last, however, it was
arranged, and Peter lay back in bed very tired and fatigued; for, I
assure you, Gleeson, whatever you may think of it, confessing one's
iniquities is excessively wearying to the spirits. 'Is it all right,
Father?' said he, as the good priest counted over the roll of ragged
bank-notes that were to be devoted to the purchase of different masses
and offerings. 'It will do well,' said Rush; 'make your mind easy, your
peace is made now.' 'And are you sure it's quite safe?' said Peter;
'a pound more or less is nothing now compared to - what you know,' - for
Peter was polite, and followed the poet's counsel. ''Tis safe and sure
both,' said Rush; 'I have the whole of the sins under my thumb now, and
don't fret yourself.' 'Take another thirty shillings then, Father,' said
he, pushing the note over to him, 'and let Whaley have the two barrels
of seed oats - the smut is in them, and they 're not worth sixpence;
but, when we are at it, Father, dear, let us do the thing complete:
what signifies a trifle like that among the rest?' Such was Peter's
philosophy, Gleeson, and, if not very laudable as he applied it, it
would seem to suit our present emergency remarkably well."

Gleeson vouchsafed but a very sickly smile as the Knight finished, and,
taking up a bundle of papers from the table, proceeded to search for
something amongst them.

"This loss was most inopportune, sir - "

"No doubt of it, Gleeson; it were far better had I won my wager,"
said the Knight, half testily; but the agent, scarce noticing the
interruption, went on: -

"Mr. Lionel has drawn on me for seven hundred, and so late as Wednesday
last I was obliged to meet a bill of his amounting to twelve hundred and
eighty pounds. Thus, you will perceive that he has this year overdrawn
his allowance considerably. He seems to have been as unlucky as
yourself, sir."

Soft and silky as the accents were, there was a tincture of sarcasm in
the way these words were uttered that did not escape Darcy's notice;
but he made no reply, and appeared to listen attentively as the other
resumed: -

"Then, the expenses of the abbey have been enormous this year; you would
scarcely credit the outlay for the hunting establishment; and, as I
learn from Lady Eleanor that you rarely, if ever, take the field
yourself - "

"Never mind that, Gleeson," broke in the Knight, suddenly. "I 'll not
sell a horse or part with a dog amongst them. My income must well be
able to afford me the luxuries I have always been used to. I 'm not to
be told that, with a rental of eighteen thousand a year - "

"A rental, sir, I grant you," said Gleeson, interrupting him; "you said
quite correctly, - the rental is even more than you stated; but consider
the charges on that rental, - the heavy sums raised on mortgages, the
debt incurred by building, the two contested elections, your losses on
the turf: these make sad inroads in the amount of your income."

"I tell you frankly, Gleeson," said the Knight, starting up and pacing
the room with hasty steps, "I 've neither head nor patience for details
of this kind. I was induced to believe that my embarrassments, such as
they are, were in course of liquidation; that by raising two hundred
and fifty thousand pounds at four-and-a-half, or even five per cent, we
should be enabled to clear off the heavy debts, for which we are paying
ten, twelve, - ay, by Jove! I believe fifteen per cent."

"Upon my word, I believe you do not exaggerate," said Gleeson, in a
conciliating accent. "Hickman's bond, though nominally bearing six per
cent, is actually treble that sum. He holds 'The Grove' at the rent of
a cottier's tenure, and with the right of cutting timber in Clon-a-gauve
wood, - a right he is by no means chary of exercising."

"That must be stopped, and at once," broke in Darcy, with a heightened
color. "The old man is actually making a clearing of the whole mountain
side; the last time I was up there, Lionel and I counted two hundred and
eighteen trees marked for the hatchet. I ordered Finn not to permit one
of them to be touched; to go with a message from me to Hickman, saying
that there was a wide difference between cutting timber for farm
purposes and carrying on a trade in rivalry with the Baltic. Oaks of
twenty, eighty, ay, a hundred and fifty years' growth, the finest trees
on the property, were among those I counted."

"And did he desist, sir?" asked Gleeson, with a half cunning look.

"Did he? - what a question you ask me! By Heavens! if he barked a sapling
in that wood after my warning, I 'd have sent the Derrahinchy boys
down to his place, and they would not have left a twig standing on his
cockney territory. Devilish lucky he 'd be if they stopped there, and
left him a house to shelter him."

"He's a very unsafe enemy, sir," observed Gleeson, timidly.

"By Jove! Gleeson, I think you are bent on driving me distracted this
morning. You have hit upon perhaps the only theme on which I cannot
control my irritability, and I beg of you, once and for all, to change
it."

"I should never have alluded to Mr. Hickman, sir, but that I wished
to remark to you that he is in a position which requires all our
watchfulness; he has within the last three weeks bought up Drake's
mortgage, and also Belson's bond for seventeen thousand, and, I know
from a source of unquestionable accuracy, is at this moment negotiating
for the purchase of Martin Hamilton's bond, amounting to twenty-one
thousand more; so that, in fact, with the exception of that small debt
to Batty and Rowe, he will remain the sole creditor."

"The sole creditor!" exclaimed Darcy, growing pale as marble, - "Peter
Hickman the sole creditor!"

"To be sure, this privilege he will not long enjoy," said Gleeson, with
a degree of alacrity he had not assumed before; "when our arrangements
are perfected with the London house of Bicknell and Jervis, we can pay
off Hickman at once; he shall have a check for the whole amount the very
same day."

"And how soon may we hope for this happy event, Gleeson?" cried the
Knight, recovering his wonted voice and manner.

"It will not be distant now, sir; one of the deeds is ready at this
moment, or at least will be to-morrow. On your signing it, we shall have
some very trifling delays, and the money can be forthcoming by the end
of the next week. The other will be perfected and compared by Wednesday
week."

"So that within three weeks, or a month at furthest, Gieeson, we shall
have cut the cable with the old pirate?"

"Three weeks, I trust, will see all finished; that is, if this affair of
Ballydermot does not interfere."

"It shall not do so," cried the Knight, resolutely; "let it go. Drogheda
is a gentleman at least, and if our old acres are to fall into other
hands, let their possessor have blood in his veins, and he will not
tyrannize over the people; but Hickman - "

"Very right, sir, Hickman might foreclose on the 24th of this month."

"Gieeson, no more of this; I 'm not equal to it," said the Knight,
faintly; and he sat down with a wearied sigh, and covered his face with
his hands. The emotion, painful as it was, passed over soon, and the
Knight, with a voice calm and measured as before, said, "You will
take care, Gieeson, that my son's bills are provided for; London is
an expensive place, and particularly for a young fellow situated like
Lionel; you may venture on a gentle - mind, a very gentle - remonstrance
respecting his repeated calls for money; hint something about
arrangements just pending, which require a little more prudence than
usual. Do it cautiously, Gieeson; be very guarded. I remember when I
was a young fellow being driven to the Jews by an old agent of my
grandfather's; he wrote me a regular homily on thrift and economy, and
to show I had benefited by the lesson, I went straightway and raised a
loan at something very like sixty per cent."

"You may rely upon my prudence, sir," said Gieeson. "I think I can
promise that Mr. Lionel will not take offence at my freedom. May I say
Tuesday to wait on you with the deeds, - Tuesday morning?"

"Of course, whenever you appoint, I 'll be ready. I hoped to have
left town this week; but these are too important matters to bear
postponement. Tuesday, then, be it." And with a friendly shake-hands,
they parted, - Gleeson, to the duties of his laborious life; the Knight,
with a mind less at ease than was his wont, but still bearing no trace
of discomposure on his manly and handsome countenance.




CHAPTER XII. A FIRST VISIT

"Whenever Captain Forester is quite able to bear the fatigue,
Sullivan, - mind that you say 'quite able,' - it will give me much
pleasure to receive him."

Such was the answer Lady Eleanor Darcy returned to a polite message from
the young officer, expressing his desire to visit Lady Eleanor and
thank her for the unwearied kindness she had bestowed on him during his
illness.

Lady Eleanor and her daughter were seated in the same chamber in which
they have already been introduced to the reader. It was towards the
close of a dark and gloomy day, the air heavy and overcast towards the
land, while, over the sea, masses of black, misshapen cloud were drifted
along hurriedly, the presage of a coming storm. The pine wood blazed
brightly on the wide hearth, and threw its mellow lustre over the
antique carvings and the porcelain ornaments of the chamber, contrasting
the glow of in-door comfort with the bleak and cheerless look of all



Online LibraryCharles James LeverThe Knight Of Gwynne, Vol. I (of II) → online text (page 9 of 34)