Charles James Lever.

The O'Donoghue: Tale of Ireland Fifty Years Ago online

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As Frederick Travers, with his two lady companions, appeared within
the walls, the murmur of their names ran through the crowd of gownsmen,
already assembled in the court; for although by College time, it still
wanted fifteen minutes of the hour, a considerable number of students
were gathered together, anxious to hear the result of the day. The
simple but massive style of the buildings; the sudden change from the
tumult and noise of a crowded city, to the silence and quietude of these
spacious quadrangles, the number of youths dressed in their University
costume, and either gazing wistfully, at the door of the Examination
Hall, or conversing eagerly together, were all matters of curious
interest to the Travers' party, who saw themselves in a world so
different from that they daily moved in. Nor were the loungers the
students only; mixed up with them, here and there, might be seen,
some of the leading barristers of the day, and one or two of the most
distinguished members of the House of Commons - men, who themselves had
tasted the sweets of College success, and were fain, even by a passing
moment, to refresh the memory of youthful triumphs, and bring back, by
the sight of familiar objects, the recollection of days, to which all
the glories of after-life, are but poor in comparison. Many of these
were recognized by the students, and saluted by them, with marks of
profound respect; and one, a small mean-looking man with jet black
eyes, and olive complexion, was received with a cheer, which was with
difficulty arrested by a waving motion with his hand, and a gesture
towards the door of the "Hall," from which with a hollow cavernous
sound, a heavy bolt was now drawn, and the wide portal opened. A general
movement in the crowd showed how intense expectation then was, but it
was destined to a further trial, for it was only the head porter dressed
in his crimson robe, and carrying his cap at arms length before him,
who, followed by the Provost, issued forth; the students removed their
caps, and stood in respectful silence as he passed. Again the door was
closed, and all was still.

"There is something in all this, that stimulates curiosity strongly,"
said Kate; "when I came in here, I could have waited patiently for an
hour or two, but now, the sight of all these anxious faces, these prying
looks, that seem eager to pierce the very door itself; those short
sentences, broken by quick glances at the clock, have worked me up to an
excitement high and fevered as their own."

"It wants but a minute now," said Fred.

"I think the hand has not moved, for the last ten," said Sybella,
smiling faintly.

"I hope he has gained the prize," muttered Kate, below her breath; and
at the moment, the bell tolled, and the wide doors, as if burst open by
the sound, were flung wide, and the human tide poured forth, and mingled
with that beneath; but what a different aspect did it present. The faces
were mostly flushed and heated, the eyes flashing, the dress disordered,
the cravats awry, the hair tangled - all the signs of mental excitement,
long and arduously sustained, were there, and save a few whose careless
look and unmoved expression showed that their part had no high ambition
at stake, all were impressed with the same character of mingled
eagerness and exhaustion.

Many among these were quickly singled out and surrounded by troops of
eager and anxious friends, and the passing stranger might easily read in
the tone and accent of the speaker his fortune, whether good or evil.

"Where is Herbert? - where can he be? - I don't see him," said each of
the Travers' party, as, mingling with the crowd, they cast their anxious
looks on every side; but amid the bustle of the scene, the hurrying
forms, and the babble of tongues, they felt bewildered and confused.

"Let us try at his chambers," said Frederick; "he will, in all
likelihood, be there soon," and at once they turned their steps towards
the corner of the old square near the library, where Herbert lived his
solitary life; for although nominally linked with a companion - a chum,
in College parlance - he rarely made his appearance within the walls, and
then only for a few days at a time.

When they reached the door, they found it open, and without further
waiting, or any notice of their approach, they entered, but so
noiselessly and quietly withal, that the deep accents of grief - the
heavy sound of broken sobs - struck at once upon their ears. They stopped
and gazed in silence at each other, reading, as it were, their own
heartfelt fears in the face of each.

"Poor fellow," said Kate, as her proud lip trembled with agitation.
"This is a sad beginning."

"Let us go back," whispered Sybella, faintly, and her cheek was pale as
death as she spoke.

"No, no," cried Frederick, hurriedly; "we must cheer him up, what
signifies the whole affair - a piece of mere boyish ambition, that he'll
only laugh at one of these days."

"Not so," said Kate. "The augury of success or failure in the outset of
life is no such trifle as you deem it. If he be faint-hearted, the game
is up with him for ever - if he be made of sterner stuff, as one of his
name and house ought to be, he'll revenge his present fall, by a great
hereafter. Let me see him," and at once disengaging her arm, she walked
forward, and entered the chamber; while Frederick and his sister retired
to the court to await her return.

When Kate O'Donoghue entered the room, Herbert was seated before a
table, on which his head was leaning, with his hands pressed against his
face. At his feet lay his cap, and the books he carried with him from
the Hall. Unconscious of her presence, lost to every thing, save his
overwhelming affliction, the sobs came with a convulsive shudder that
shook his frame, and made the very table rattle, while at intervals
there broke from him a faint moan of heart-rending sorrow.

[Illustration: 284]

"My dear brother," said Kate, placing her arm around his neck. The boy
started and looked up, and prepared as she was to see the traces of
suffering there, she started at the ravages long days and nights of
study and deep grief had left behind them: his eyes were sunk, and
surrounded by dark circles, that made them seem quite buried beneath
his brows; his forehead traversed by a net-work of blue veins, had that
transparent thinness mental labour impresses, and his lips were thin and
colourless; while on each cheek a burning spot of red looked like the
mark of hectic. He made no answer; but the tears ran fast from his eyes,
and his mouth quivered as he tried to say something.

She sat down beside him on the same chair, and bending her head, till
the silken curls touched his very cheek, she spoke to him - not in words
of encouragement or good cheer, for such her own instinct told her were
inapplicable, but in the soft accents of affection, neither undervaluing
the source of his grief, nor yet suffering him to be carried away by his
own sense of his calamity. "Remember, my dear brother," said she, "you
are not less dear to our hearts for all this - remember that for
the casualties of the world, and its chances, we can only do our
utmost - that success is not for us to determine, but to strive for. Had
you won to-day, some other must now have grieved like you, and who can
tell if he could count as many fond and loving hearts to feel for and
console him."

"Oh, if you knew how I strived and longed - how I prayed for success,"
said he, in a voice almost stifled by convulsive throbs.

"And it will come yet, Herbert. The tree is only the more fruitful when
the knife has cut down to its very heart. Yours is not the nature to be
deterred by one repulse, nor yours the name to be stamped with failure,
because the contest is difficult. Ambitions are only noble when their
path is steep. Who knows how indolent you might have become, had you
found the prize too easily won. Come, come, Herbert, enough for the
past; look forward now, and with good courage and hope. The next
struggle will end differently; but, above all, wear a fair face before
the world. I remember some French prisoners being brought into Courtray,
who amused us so much by their gay and smiling air, and look of ease
and satisfaction - their secret was, that defeat was never disgrace,
save when it lowered the spirit, and made the heart droop. Theirs never
failed, and I promise you we thought all the better of them."

"But my uncle - who is to tell him - - "

"Let _me_ tell him. I see you have begun a letter already - "

"That was written last night," said the boy, as the tears gushed forth
afresh - "last night, when hope was almost certainty."

"Then I'll finish it," said Kate, taking up the half-written letter.

"Say to him - I would wish him to know all - say that I had beaten my
opponents down to one, and that he, too, almost gave up the contest,
when, somehow - I cannot now say exactly how or wherefore - I got into
a dispute with the examiner about the meaning of a word in Terence; he
seemed to enjoy the eagerness with which I defended my opinion for a
time, and actually encouraged my persistence, until at length, my temper
excited, and my brain on fire, I said something - I know not what - but
it was evidently an offence, for he closed the book, and merely
replied - 'Enough, sir, I give your opponent the premium; his temper
more than compensates for any deficiency in his scholarship; and I was
beaten." The last words evoked all his sorrow once more, and the youth
burst into tears.

"That, then, I call unfair," said Kate, passionately, "unless the
gentleman were the arbiter of temperament, as well as talent. Come,
Herbert, even this should reconcile you to your fortune: you have not
failed unworthily."

"But my uncle, Kate - my uncle will deem it far otherwise. To guard
against this very error of my temper was almost the last pledge I made
him, and here, in my first trial, see how I have kept my promise."

"Leave the explanation to me, only promise one thing - and mind,
Herbert, this is a pledge there must be no forgetting - do all in your
power - spare nothing to win the next time. I care not whether you ever
carry away another prize within these walls; but one you must have. Is
this agreed? - give me your hand upon it. There, that's like your own
self, and now don't waste another thought on what's bygone. The Travers
invited you to dine with them to-day."

"Oh, no - no."

"No - I have not any intention to press you, only come soon to see us - to
see _me_." She kissed his forehead tenderly as she spoke the last word,
and glided rapidly from the room.




CHAPTER XXIX. FIRST IMPRESSIONS.

Kate O'Donoghue was more deeply affected by Herbert's failure than she
had let appear to the youth, or even confessed to herself. It was not
that the character of his ambition enlisted her sympathies, or engaged
her interest. Far from it: she thought too meanly of such triumphs, and
knew not how far they shed an influence on a future career. The habits
of her education, all her early prejudices, disposed her to regard the
life of a soldier as the only one becoming a gentleman. The passion
for military glory, which the great victories of the Republic and the
Consulate had spread throughout Europe, penetrated into every remote
village of the continent, and even the prison-like walls of the convent
did not keep out the spirit-stirring sounds of drum and trumpet, the
tramp of marching hosts, and the proud clangor of war. It was a time
when the soldier was every thing. There was but one path in life by
which to win honour, rank, fame, and fortune. Even the humblest might
strive, for the race was open to all; or, in the phrase of the period,
every conscript left a spare corner in his knapsack for his future
"baton de maréchal."

All she had ever seen of foreign society, partook of this character.
For, strangely enough, on the ruin of an aristocracy, a new and splendid
chivalry was founded - a chivalry, whose fascinations covered many a
wrong, and made many a bad cause glorious by the heroism it evoked! The
peaceful path in life was, then, in her estimate, the inglorious one.
Still, her proud nature could not brook defeat in any thing. It was not
without its influence upon the hearts and minds of her house, that the
eagle figured as their crest. The soaring bird, with outstretched wing,
careering high above his compeers, told of a race who once, at least,
thought no ambition above their daring; and she was worthy of the
haughtiest of her ancestors.

Too proud to enter into any detail of Herbert's failure, she dismissed
the subject as briefly as she could, and made her appearance in the
drawing-room without any perceptible change of manner; nor did she
appear to take any notice of the announcement made by Sir Marmaduke to
his son, that Hemsworth, who had just arrived from Scotland, would join
the family circle at dinner. Kate had never seen him, but his name was
long associated in her mind with anecdotes of oppression and cruelty
to her uncle - of petty insults and annoyances which the letters from
Carrig-na-curra used constantly to tell of, and of which her relatives
abroad had often descanted in her hearing. The picture she had drawn of
him in her own mind was not a flattering one - composed of features
and ingredients which represented all that was base, low-minded, and
treacherous - a vulgar sycophant, and a merciless tyrant. What was her
astonishment, almost her chagrin, to discover, that Hemsworth entered
the room a gentleman-like person, of about five-and-forty, tall,
and well-formed, with regular features, rather melancholy in their
expression than otherwise, and with a voice singularly low, soft, and
pleasing, his manner a mixture of well-bred ease, and that excessive
deference so often seen in those who have passed a long portion of life
about persons of rank superior to their own, but without the slightest
trace, that she could discover, of any thing subservient. With all her
disposition to be critical, she could find little fault with either
his manner or his conversation, nor could she detect any appearance
of affectation. On the contrary, he seemed affable, like one who felt
himself among friends, and need set no limits to his natural frankness.
On the several topics he talked, he spoke with good sense and fairness;
and even when the often agitated question of the state of Ireland
was alluded to, he surprised Kate by the absence of any violent or
exaggerated tone, speaking of the people in terms of kindliness and even
affection - lauding the native virtues of their character, and dwelling
with pleasure on the traits which advantageously distinguish them from
the peasantry of other lands.

She listened at first with suspicion and distrust, then, by degrees,
with interested attention, and, at last, with actual delight, to the
narrative he gave of the social condition of Ireland; in which he
laboured to show that a mistaken estimate of the people by England - a
misconception of the national character, a contempt of it, perhaps - had
perpetuated usages, which, by their injustice, had excited the hatred
and animosity of the country, and led to that condition of insulting
depreciation on one side, and proud defiance on the other, which the two
people exhibited towards each other.

So well and ably did he sustain his part - so powerfully support each
position by reference to some fact with which his ample memory supplied
him - that Sir Marmaduke was eventually obliged to confess himself
vanquished, though unconvinced - who ever was, when worsted? - and
Frederick, chagrined at the favour Kate bestowed on the speaker, merely
remarked as he concluded -

"Very conclusive and satisfactory, I have no doubt, it is; but, in
my mind, all you have said goes to prove, that we English are a very
inferior nation, and very unworthily placed in rule and governance over
a people so much our superiors."

Kate's eyes flashed with an unwonted fire, and for an instant she felt
almost unable to control the temptation to answer this taunt; but a
quiet smile of half acquiescence on Hemsworth's face so adequately
expressed what she wished but dared not say, that she merely returned
the smile, and was silent.

Had Hemsworth's whole object been on that evening to disabuse Kate
O'Donoghue of her dislike to him - to obliterate all memory of the wrongs
with which she had heard him charged towards her family - he could
not have chosen a more successful path. There was the very degree of
firmness and decision she admired in the manner he gave his opinions,
and yet all the courtesy of one who would not be supposed capable of
advancing them as incontrovertible or irrefutable. They were merely
his sentiments - his mode of seeing and estimating particular events, of
which another might judge differently. For all he advanced he was
ready to show his reasons - they might be shallow, they might be
inconclusive - but they were _his_, and, fortunately for his chance of
winning her favour, they were _her_ opinions also.

"So you think we shall have no outbreak, Hemsworth," said Sir Marmaduke,
as they sat at tea.

"I scarcely go so far," said he, gravely. "There are too many reasons
for an opposite fear, to say so much, even if the Secretary of State did
not assure us that the danger is over. The youth of Ireland will always
be dangerous, when left without a career, or a road to their ambition;
and from them, any peril that may now be apprehended will certainly
come. Many young men of the best families of the country, whose estates
are deeply incumbered - heavy mortgages and large dowries weighing them
down - are ready to join in any bold attempt which promises a new order
of things. They see themselves forgotten in the distribution of all
patronage - excluded from every office - -sometimes for reasons of
religion - sometimes for family, even for a mere name's sake. They are
ready to play a bold game, where losing is only quicker ruin, and to
gain would be a glorious victory."

"But what could a few rash and desperate young men like these effect
against a power so great and so consolidated as England?"

"Little, perhaps, as regards the overthrow of a Government; but a world
of injury to the prospect of future quiet. The rebellion of a week - ay,
a day - in Ireland, will sow the seeds of fifty years of misery, and
retard the settlement of peaceful relations at least another century.
Had the Minister made the same concessions here he was glad to accord to
Scotland - had he, without insulting a nationality, converted it into a
banner under which loyalty was only rendered more conspicuous - you might
have, perchance, seen a different order of things in Ireland."

"For the life of me, I cannot see the evils and wrongs these people
labour under. I have a very large Irish acquaintance in London, and
pleasanter, happier fellows cannot exist than they are."

"All the young men of family in Ireland are not in the Guards," said
Hemsworth, with a smile, which, with all its blandishment, very thinly
covered over the sarcasm of his remark.

Frederick's face flushed angrily, and he turned away without speaking.

"Should we not ask pardon of the ladies for this subject of our
conversation?" said Hemsworth. "I am sure neither Miss Travers nor Miss
O'Donoghue deem the topic interesting or amusing."

"On the contrary, sir, I believe I may reply for both of us," said Kate,
"whatever concerns the fortunes of a country we have so near at heart,
has all our sympathy; and, as an Irish girl, I feel grateful for your
explanation of motives which, while I appreciate, I should still be
unable so satisfactorily to account for."

"How happy I am to meet my countrywoman's approval," said Hemsworth,
bowing courteously, and with a marked emphasis directing his speech to
Kate.

The manner in which he spoke the words was so palpably intended
for herself, that she felt all the charm of a flattery to which the
disparity of their years imparted force.

Soon after tea, Sir Marmaduke retired with Hemsworth to his study.
Frederick took his leave at the same time, and Sybella and Kate were
left alone together.

"I have a long letter to write this evening, my dear Sybella," said
Kate, after they had talked some time. "Poor Herbert has failed in his
examination, and I have promised to break the news to my uncle. Not so
difficult a task as the poor boy deems, but one to which he is himself
unequal."

"Does he then feel it so deeply?" said Sybella, timidly.

"Too much, as regards the object of the ambition; but no more than he
ought as a defeat. It is so bad to be beaten, Sybella," said she, with
a sharp distinctness on each word. "I shall hate the sight of that
University until he carries off the next prize; and then - then I care
not whether his taste incline him for another effort;" and so saying,
she embraced her friend, and they parted for the night.

The epistle which Kate had promised to conclude was in itself a
lengthy one - written at different intervals during the week before the
examination, and containing a minute account of his progress, his hopes
and his fears, up to that very moment. There was little in it which
could interest any but him to whom it was addressed, and to whom every
allusion was familiar, and the reference to each book and subject
thoroughly known - what difficulties he had found here, what obscurity
there - how well he had mastered this, how much he feared he might have
mistaken the other - until on the evening of the first day's examination,
when the following few lines, written with a trembling hand, appeared: -

"They say I shall gain it. H - - - called my translation
of Horace a brilliant one, and asked the Vice-Provost to
listen to my repeating it. I heard. I gave it in blank
verse. Oh, my dearest uncle, am I deceiving myself, and
deceiving you? Shall I be able to write thus to-morrow
night?"

Then came one tremulous line, dated, "Twelve o'clock:" -

"Better and better - I might almost even now say, victory;
but my heart is too much excited to endure a chance."

"And it remains for me, my dear uncle," wrote Kate after
these words, "to fulfil the ungrateful task of bearing bad
tidings; and I, who have never had the good fortune to
bring you happiness, must now speak to you of misfortune. -
My dear cousin has failed."

She followed these few lines by the brief narrative Herbert had
given her - neither seeking to extenuate his errors, nor excuse his
rashness - well knowing in her heart that Sir Archy would regard the
lesson thus conveyed, an ample recompense for the honour of a victory so
hardly lost.

"It is to you he looks for comfort - to you, sir, whom his
efforts were all made to please, and for whose praise his
weary nights and toilsome days were offered. You, who know
more of the human heart than I do, can tell how far so
severe a discouragement may work for good or evil on his
future life; for myself, I feel the even current of
prosperity is but a sluggish stream, that calls for no
efforts to stem its tide; and were his grief over, I'd
rather rejoice that he has found a conflict, because he
may now discover he has courage to meet it.

"Even I, to follow a theme as dispiriting, even I, grow
weary of pleasure, and tired of gaiety. The busy world of
enjoyment leaves not a moment free for happiness, and
already I am longing to be back in the still valley of
Glenflesk. It is not that Dublin is not very brilliant, or
that society has less of agreeability than I expected - both
have exceeded my anticipations; nor is it, that I have not
been what we should call in France 'successful' in my
'debut' - far from that, I am the fashion, or, rather, half
the fashion - Sybella dividing public favour with me; - but,
somehow, nobody contradicts me here - no one has courage to
tell me I'm wrong - no one will venture to say, what you have
often said, and even oftener looked, that 'I talked of what
I knew nothing;' and, in fact, my dear uncle, every one is
so very much in love with me, that I am beginning to detest
them, and would give the world to be once more at home,
before I extend the hatred to myself, which I must
inevitably end by doing, if nobody anticipates me in the
sentiment.

"You told me I should prove faithless to you. Well, I have
refused heaven knows how many 'brilliant offers,' for such
even the proposers called them. Generals of fourscore,
guardsmen of twenty, dignitaries in the church, sergeants



Online LibraryCharles James LeverThe O'Donoghue: Tale of Ireland Fifty Years Ago → online text (page 24 of 41)