Charles James Lever.

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

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attract no notice of any kind. To be as little remarked as possible is
our object; and for this reason I shall wear the uniform of an English
militia regiment, of which there are many at every Levee. We shall
separate on entering the room, and meet only from time to time; but as
we go along, I'll give you all your instructions. And now to dress, as
quickly as may be."




CHAPTER XXXIII. THE ST. PATRICK'S BALL

Much as O'Donoghue marvelled at the change effected in his own
appearance by the court dress, he was still more surprised at finding
what a complete transformation his friend Talbot had undergone. The
scarlet uniform seemed to make him appear larger and fatter; while
the assumption of a pair of dark whiskers added several years to his
apparent age, and totally changed the character of his countenance.

"I see by your face, Mark," said he, laughing, "that the disguise
is complete. You could scarcely recognise me - I may safely defy most
others?"

"But you are taller, I think?"

"About an inch and a-half only - false heels inside my boots give me a
slight advantage over you. Don't be jealous, however, I'm not your match
on a fair footing."

This flattery seemed successful, for Mark smiled, and reddened slightly.
As they drove along, Talbot entered minutely into an account of the
people they should meet with - warning Mark of the necessity there
existed to avoid any, even the most trivial, sign of astonishment at
anything he saw - to mix with the crowd, and follow the current from room
to room, carefully guarding against making any chance acquaintance - and,
above all, not to be recognised by his cousin Kate, if by any accident
he should be near her.

In the midst of these directions, Talbot was interrupted by the sudden
stoppage of the carriages in the line, which already extended above a
mile from the Castle gate.

"Here we are at last, Mark, in the train of the courtiers - does your
patriotism burn for the time when your homage shall be rendered to
a native Sovereign. Ha! there goes one of the privileged class - that
carriage, with the two footmen, is the Lord Chancellor's, he has the
right of the private 'entrée,' and takes the lead of such humble folk as
we are mixed up with."

A deep groan from the mob burst forth, as the equipage, thus noticed,
dashed forward. Such manifestations of public feeling were then
frequent, and not always limited to mere expressions of dislike. The
very circumstance of quitting the regular line, and passing the rest,
seemed to evoke popular indignation, and it was wonderful with what
readiness the mob caught up allusions to the public or private life of
those, thus momentarily exposed to their indignation. Some speech or
vote in Parliament - some judicial sentence - or some act or event in
their private history, was at once recalled and criticised, in a
manner far more frank than flattering. None escaped this notice, for,
notwithstanding the strong force of mounted police that kept the street
clear, some adventurous spirit was always ready to rush forward to the
carriage window, and in a moment announce to the others the name of its
occupant. By all this, Mark was greatly amused - he had few sympathies
with those in little favour with the multitude, and could afford to
laugh at the sallies which assailed the members of the Government. The
taunting sarcasms and personal allusions, of which the Irish members
were not sparing in the house, were here repeated by those, who suffered
the severity to lose little of its sting in their own version.

"Look at Flood, boys - there's the old vulture with broken beak and
cadaverous aspect - a groan for Flood," and the demand was answered by
thousands.

"There's Tom Connolly," shouted a loud voice, "three cheers for the
Volunteers - three cheers for Castletown."

"Thank you, boys, thank you," said a rich mellow voice, as in their
enthusiasm the mob pressed around the carriage of the popular member,
and even shook hands with the footmen behind the carriage.

"Here's Luttrel, here's Luttrel," cried out several together, and in a
moment the excitement, which before was all of joy, assumed a character
of deepest execration.

Aware of the popular feeling towards him, this gentleman's carriage
was guarded by two troopers of the horse police - nor was the precaution
needless, for no sooner was he recognised, than a general rush was made
by the mob, and for a moment or two the carriage was separated from the
rest of the line.

"Groan him, boys, groan him, but don't touch the traitor," shouted a
savage-looking fellow, who stood a head and shoulders above the crowd.

"Couldn't you afford to buy new liveries with the eighty thousand pounds
the Government gave you," yelled another, and the sally was responded to
with a burst of savage laughter.

"Throw us out a penny," called a third, "it will treat all your friends
in Ireland - let him go, boys, let him go on, he's only stopping the way
of his betters."

"Here's the man that knows how to spend his money - three cheers for the
Englishman from Stephen's-green - three cheers for Sir Marmaduke
Travers," and the cheers burst forth with an enthusiasm that showed, how
much more a character for benevolence and personal kindness conciliated
mob estimation, than all the attributes of political partizanship.

"Bring us a lamp here, bring us a lamp," cried a miserable object in
tattered rags, "take down a lamp, boys, till we have a look at the two
beauties," and strange as the suggestion may seem, it was hailed with a
cry of triumphal delight, and in another moment a street lamp was taken
from its place and handed over the heads of the mob, to the very window
of Sir Marmaduke's carriage; while the old Baronet, kindly humouring the
eccentricity of the people, lowered the glass to permit them to see in.
A respectful silence extended over that crowd, motley and miserable as
it was, and they stood in mute admiration, not venturing upon a word
nor a remark, until as it were overcome by a spontaneous feeling of
enthusiasm they broke forth into one loud cheer that echoed from the
College to the very gates of the Castle; and with blessings deep and
fervent, as they would have bestowed for some real favour, the carriage
was allowed to proceed on its way once more.

"Here's Morris, here's the Colonel," was now the cry, and a burst of
as merry laughter as ever issued from happy hearts, welcomed the new
arrival; "make him get out, boys, make him get out, and show us his
legs, that's the fellow ran away in Flanders," and before the mirth had
subsided, the unhappy Colonel had passed on.

"Who's this in the hackney-coach?" said one, as the carriage in which
Talbot and Mark were seated came up. The window was let down in a
moment, and Talbot, leaning his head out, whispered a few words in a low
voice; whatever their import, their effect was magical, and a hurra, as
wild as the war-cry of an Indian, shook the street.

"What was it you said?" cried Mark.

"Three word in Irish," said Talbot, laughing; "they are the only three
in my vocabulary, and their meaning is 'wait awhile;' and somehow, it
would seem a very significant intimation to Irishmen."

The carriage moved on, and the two friends soon alighted in the
brilliantly-illuminated vestibule, now lined with battleaxe-guards, and
resounding with the clangor of a brass band. Mixing with the crowd
that poured up the staircase, they passed into the first drawing-room,
without stopping to write their names, as was done by the others, Talbot
telling Mark, in a whisper, to move up and follow him closely.

The distressing impression, that he himself would be an object of notice
and remark to others, and which had up to that very moment tortured him,
gave way at once, as he found himself in that splendid assemblage, where
beauty, in all the glare of dress and jewels, abounded, and where,
for the first time, the world of fashion and elegance burst upon his
astonished senses. The courage that, with dauntless nerve, would have
led him to the cannon's mouth, now actually faltered, and made him feel
faint-hearted, to find himself mixing with those among whom he had no
right to be present. Talbot's shrewd intelligence seemed to divine what
was passing in Mark's mind, for he took him by the arm, and as he led
him forward, whispered, from time to time, certain particulars of the
company, intended to satisfy him, that, however distinguished by rank
and personal appearance, in reality, their characters had little claim
to his respect. With such success did he demolish reputations - so
fatally did his sarcasms depreciate those against whom they were
directed - that, ere long, Mark moved along in utter contempt for that
gorgeous throng, which at first had impressed him so profoundly. To
hear that the proud-looking general, his coat a blaze of orders, was
a coward; that the benign and mild-faced judge was a merciless,
unrelenting tyrant; that the bishop, whose simple bearing and
gentle quietude of manner were most winning, was in reality a crafty
place-hunter and a subtle "intrigant" - such were the lessons Talbot
poured into his ear, while amid the ranks of beauty still more deadly
calumnies pointed all he said.

"Society is rotten to the very core here, Mark," said he, bitterly.
"There never was a land nor an age when profligacy stood so high in the
market. It remains to be seen if our friends will do better - for a time,
at least, they are almost certain to do so; but now, that I have shown
you something of the company, let us separate, lest we be remarked.
This pillar can always be our rallying spot. Whenever you want me, come
here;" and so saying, and with a slight pressure of his hand, Talbot
mixed with the crowd, and soon was lost to Mark's view.

Talbot's revelations served at first to impair the pleasure Mark
experienced in the brilliant scene around him; but when once more alone,
the magnetic influence of a splendour so new, and of beauty so dazzling,
appealed to his heart far more powerfully than the cold sarcasms of his
companion. Glances which, directed to others, he caught in passing, and
felt with a throb of ecstasy within his own bosom; bright eyes, that
beamed not for him, sent a glow of delight through his frame. The
atmosphere of pleasure which he had never breathed before, now warmed
the current of his blood, and his pulse beat high and madly. All the
bitter thoughts he had harboured against his country's enemies could
not stand before his admiration of that gorgeous assemblage, and he felt
ashamed to think that he, and such as he, should conspire the downfall
of a system, whose very externals were so captivating. He wandered thus
from room to room in a dream of pleasure - now stopping to gaze at
the dancers, then moving towards some of the refreshment-rooms, where
parties were seated in familiar circles, all in the full enjoyment
of the brilliant festivity. Like a child roaming at will through some
beauteous garden, heightening enjoyment by the rapid variety of new
pleasures, and making in the quick transition of sensations a source of
more fervid delight, so did he pass from place to place, and in this way
time stole by, and he utterly forgot the rendezvous he had arranged with
Talbot. At last, suddenly remembering this, he endeavoured to find out
the place, and in doing so was forced to pass through a card-room, where
several parties were now at play. Around one of the tables a greater
crowd than usual was assembled. There, as he passed, Mark thought he
overheard Talbot's voice. He stopped and drew near, and, with some
little difficulty, making his way through, perceived his friend seated
at the table, deeply engaged in what, if he were to judge from the heap
of gold before him, seemed very high play. His antagonist was an old,
fine-looking man, in the uniform of a general officer; but while Mark
looked, he arose, and his place was taken by another - the etiquette
being, that the winner should remain until he ceased to win.

"He has passed eleven times," said a gentleman to his friend, in Mark's
hearing; "he must at least have won four hundred pounds."

"Do you happen to know who he is?"

"No; nor do I know any one that does. There! - see! - he has won again."

"He's a devilish cool player - that's certain. I never saw a man more
collected."

"He studies his adversary far more than his cards - I remark that."

"Oh! here's old Clangoff come to try his luck:" and an opening of the
crowd was now made to permit a tall and very old man to approach the
table. Very much stooped in the shoulders, and with snow-white hair,
Lord Clangoff still preserved the remains of one who in his youth had
been the handsomest man of his day. Although simply dressed in the
Windsor uniform, the brilliant rings he wore upon his fingers, and the
splendour of a gold snuff-box surrounded by enormous diamonds, evinced
the taste for magnificence for which he was celebrated. There was an air
of dignity with which he took his seat, saluting the acquaintances he
recognised about him, very strikingly in contrast with the familiar
manners then growing into vogue, while in the courteous urbanity of his
bow to Talbot, his whole breeding was revealed.

"It is a proud thing even to encounter such an adversary, sir," said
he, smiling. "They have just told me that you have vanquished our best
players."

"The caprice of Fortune, my lord, that so often favours the
undeserving," said Talbot, with a gesture of extreme humility.

"Your success should be small at play, if the French adage have any
truth in it," said his lordship, alluding to Talbot's handsome features,
which seemed to indicate favour with the softer sex.

"According to that theory, my lord, I have the advantage over you at
present."

This adroit flattery of the other's earlier reputation as a gallant,
seemed to please him highly; for, as he presented his box to one of
his friends near, he whispered - "A very well-bred fellow, indeed," Then
turning to Talbot, said, "Do you like a high stake?"

"I am completely at your service, my lord - whatever you please."

"Shall we say fifty? - or do you prefer a hundred?"

"If the same to you, I like the latter just twice as well."

The old lord smiled at having found an adversary similarly disposed
with himself, and drew out his pocket-book with an air of palpable
satisfaction; while in the looks of increased interest among the
bystanders could be seen the anxiety they felt in the coming struggle.

"You have the deal, my lord," said Talbot, presenting the cards. "Still,
if any gentleman cares for another fifty on the game - - "

"I'll take it, sir," said a voice from behind Lord Clangoff s chair,
and Mark, struck by the accent, fixed his eyes on the speaker. The
blood rushed to his face at once, for it was Hemsworth who stood before
him - the ancient enemy of his house - the tyrant, whose petty oppressions
and studied insults had been a theme he was familiar with from boyhood.
All fear of his being recognised himself was merged in the savage
pleasure he felt in staring fixedly at the man he hated.

He would have given much to be able to whisper the name into Talbot's
ear; but remembering how such an attempt might be attended by a
discovery of himself, he desisted, and with a throbbing heart awaited
the result of the game. Meanwhile Hemsworth, whose whole attention was
concentrated on Talbot, never turned his eyes towards any other quarter.
The moment seemed favourable for Mark, and gently retiring through the
crowd, he at last disengaged himself, and sat down on a bench near a
door-way. His mind was full of its own teeming thoughts, thoughts that
the hated presence of his enemy sent madly thronging upon him; he lost
all memory of where he was, nor did he remark that two persons had
entered, and seated themselves near him, when a word, a single word,
fell upon his ear. He turned round, and saw his cousin Kate sitting
beside Frederick Travers. The start of surprise he could not restrain
attracted her notice. She turned also, and as a deadly pallor came over
her features, she uttered the one word, "Mark." Travers immediately
caught the name, and, leaning forward, the two young men's eyes met, and
for some seconds never wandered from each other.

"I should have gone to see you, cousin Kate," said Mark, after a
momentary struggle to seem calm and collected, "but I feared - that is, I
did not know - - "

"But, Mark, dear Mark, why are you here?" said she, in a tone of
heartfelt terror. "Do you know that none save those presented at the
Levees, and known to the Lord Lieutenant, dare to attend these balls?"

"I came with a friend," said Mark, in a voice where anger and
self-reproach were mingled. "If he misled me, he must answer for it."

"It was imprudent, Mr. O'Donoghue, and that's all," said Travers, in a
tone of great gentleness; "and your friend should not have misled you.
I'll take care that nothing unpleasant shall arise in consequence. Just
remain here for a moment."

"Stay, sir," said Mark, as Travers arose from his seat; "I hate
accepting favours, even should they release me from a position as
awkward as this is. Here comes my friend, Talbot, and he'll perhaps
explain what I cannot."

"I have lost my money, Mark," said Talbot, coming forward, and
perceiving with much anxiety that his young friend was engaged in a
conversation. "Let us move about and see the dancers."

"Wait a few seconds first," said Mark, sternly, "and satisfy this
gentleman that I am not in fault in coming here, save so far as being
induced by you to do so."

"May I ask how the gentleman feels called on to require the
explanation?" said Talbot, proudly.

"I wish him to know the circumstances," said Mark.

"And I," said Travers, interrupting, "might claim a right to ask it, as
first aide-de-camp to his Excellency."

"So, then," whispered Talbot, with a smile, "it is the mere impertinence
of office."

Travers' face flushed up, and his his quivered, as in an equally low
tone of voice he said -

"Where and when, sir, will you dare to repeat these words?"

"To-morrow morning, at seven o'clock, on the strand below Clontarf, and
in this gentleman's presence," said Talbot into his ear.

A nod from Travers completed the arrangement, and Talbot, placing his
arm hurriedly within Mark's, said -

"Let us get away from this, Mark. It is all settled. We meet tomorrow."

Mark turned one look towards Kate, who was just in the act of accepting
Travers' arm to return to the ball-room. Their glances met for a second,
but with how different a meaning! - in _hers_, a world of anxiety and
interest - in _his_, the proud and scornful defiance of one who seemed to
accept of no compromise with fortune.

"So, then, it is your friend Travers, Mark, with whom I am to have the
honour of a rencontre! I'm sorry, for your sake, that it is so."

"And why so?" asked Mark, sternly, for in his present mood he was as
little satisfied with Talbot as with Travers.

"Because if I don't mistake much, you will not have the opportunity of
wiping out your old score with him. I'll shoot him, Mark!" These last
words were uttered between his almost closed teeth, and in a tone of
scarce restrained anger. "Are either of us looking very bloody-minded
or savage, Mark, I wonder? for see how the people are staring and
whispering as we pass!"

The observation was not made without reason, for already the two young
men were regarded on all sides as they passed - the different persons in
their way retiring as they approached.

"How do you do, my lord? I hope I see you well," said Talbot, bowing
familiarly to a venerable old man who stood near, and who as promptly
returned his salute.

"Who is it you bowed to?" said Mark, in a whisper.

"The Chief-Justice, Mark. Not that I know him, or he me; but at this
critical moment such a recognition is a certificate of character, which
will at least last long enough to see us down stairs. There, let me move
on first, and follow me," and as he spoke, he edged his way through a
crowded door, leaving Mark to follow how he could. This was, however a
task of more difficulty than it seemed, for already a number of persons
blocked up the doorway, eager to hear something which a gentleman was
relating to those about him.

"I can only tell you," continued he, "that none seems to know either of
them. As Clangoff has lost the diamond snuff-box the Emperor of Austria
presented him with - he missed it after leaving the card-table - the
presumption is, that we are favoured with somewhat doubtful company."

[Illustration: 326]

"Carysford says," cried another, "that he knows one of them well, and
has often seen him in Paris at the play-houses."

A low whisper ran around after these words, and at the instant every
eye was directed to Mark O'Donoghue. The young man sustained their looks
with a frown of resolute daring, turning from one to the other to see
if, perchance, by any gesture or expression, he could single out one to
pay the penalty for the rest - his blood boiled at the insulting glances
that fell upon him, and he was in the very act of giving his temper
vent, when an arm was slipped within his, and Frederick Travers
whispered in his ear -

"I hope your friend has got safely away. There are some fellows here
to-night of notoriously bad character, and Mr. Talbot may get into
trouble on that account."

"He has just left this. I hope before now he has reached the street."

"Let me be your convoy, then," said Travers, good-naturedly. "These
talking fools will cease their scandal when they see us together;" and,
affecting an air of easy intimacy, he led Mark through the crowd, which
even already bestowed very altered glances as they passed.

"Good night, sir," said Mark, abruptly, as they arrived at the room by
which he remembered to have entered, "I see my friend yonder, awaiting
me." Travers returned the greeting, and half extended his hand, but Mark
coolly bowed and turned away. The moment after he was at Talbot's side.

"Thank heaven, we are breathing the free air again," he exclaimed,
as they issued forth into the street, "a little longer would have
suffocated me."

"It was with Travers you parted at the head of the stair?" said Talbot,
inquiringly.

"Yes; he was polite enough to come up when you left me, and the company
and myself have reason to be thankful to him, for assuredly, we were,
both of us, forgetting our good manners, very much at the moment. They
were pleased to look at me in a fashion of very questionable civility,
and I, I greatly fear, was scarcely more polite. It would seem, Talbot,
that some swindlers or pickpockets had introduced themselves at the
assembly, and we had the honor of being confounded with them - so much
for the prudence of our first step."

"Come, come, Mark, don't lose temper about trifles."

"Would it have proved a trifle, if I had thrown one of those gold-laced
fops out of the window into the court? I promise you the temptation was
devilish strong in me to act so, at one moment. But what have we gained
by all this - where were the friends you should have met - whom have you
seen - what have you learned?"

Talbot made no reply, but walked on in silence.

"Or have we exposed ourselves to the taunting insolence of these people,
for the mock pleasure of mixing with them. Is that our gain here?"

Still Talbot made no reply, and Mark, as if his passion had expended
itself, now became silent also, and in this wise they reached the hotel,
each sunk in his own personal reflections.

"Now, Mark," said Talbot, when they had gained their room, "now let us
set ourselves to think over what is to be done, and not waste a thought
on what is bygone. At seven, to-morrow, I am to meet Travers; before
nine I must be on the way to France, that is if he do not issue a leaden
'ne exeat' against me. I shall certainly fire at him - your pretty cousin
will never forgive me for it, that I know well" - here he stole a
side look at Mark, across whose features a flash of passion was
thrown - "still, I am sorry this should have occurred, because I had many
things to settle here; among others, some which more nearly concerned
yourself."

"Me! concerned me," said Mark, in surprise.

"Yes; I am deeper in your secrets than you are aware of - deeper than you
are yourself, perhaps. What would you say, Mark, if I could insure you
the possession of your property and estate, as it was left to you by
your grandfather, without debt or incumbrance of any kind, free from
mortgage?"

"Free from Hemsworth," cried Mark, passionately.

"Even so - I was just coming to that.";



Online LibraryCharles James LeverThe O'Donoghue: Tale of Ireland Fifty Years Ago → online text (page 27 of 41)