The Confessions of Harry Lorrequer — Complete by Charles James Lever - HTML preview
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This was indeed a piece of news for me; I stammered out some ridiculous explanation, and promised a fuller detail. Could it be that I had done the Callonbys injustice, and that they never intended to break off my attention to Lady Jane--that she was still faithful, and that of all concerned I alone had been to blame. Oh! how I hoped this might be the case; heavily as my conscience might accuse, I longed ardently to forgive and deal mercifully with myself. Tom continued to talk about indifferent matters, as these thoughts flitted through my mind; perceiving at last that I did not attend, he stopped suddenly and said--
"Harry, I see clearly that something has gone wrong, and perhaps I can make a guess at the mode too: but however, you can do nothing about it now; come and dine with me to-day, and we'll discuss the affair together after dinner; or if you prefer a 'distraction,' as we used to say in Dunkerque, why then I'll arrange something fashionable for your evening's amusement. Come, what say you to hearing Father Keogh preach, or would you like a supper at the Carlingford, or perhaps you prefer a soiree chez Miladi; for all of these Dublin affords--all three good in their way, and very intellectual.""Well, Tom, I'm yours; but I should prefer your dining with me; I am at Bilton's; we'll have our cutlet quite alone, and--"
"And be heartily sick of each other, you were going to add. No, no, Harry; you must dine with me; I have some remarkably nice people to present you to--six is the hour--sharp six--number ___ Molesworth-street, Mrs. Clanfrizzle's--easily find it--large fanlight over the door--huge lamp in the hall, and a strong odour of mutton broth for thirty yards on each side of the premises--and as good luck would have it, I see old Daly the counsellor, as they call him, he's the very man to get to meet you, you always liked a character, eh!"
Saying this, O'Flaherty disengaged himself from my arm, and hurried across the street towards a portly middle-aged looking gentleman, with the reddest face I ever beheld. After a brief but very animated colloquy, Tom returned, and informed that that all was right; he had secured Daly.
"And who is Daly?" said I, inquiringly, for I was rather interested in hearing what peculiar qualification as a diner-out the counsellor might lay claim to, many of Tom's friends being as remarkable for being the quizzed as the quizzers.
"Daly," said he, "is the brother of a most distinguished member of the Irish bar, of which he himself is also a follower, bearing however, no other resemblance to the clever man than the name, for as assuredly as the reputation of the one is inseparably linked with success, so unerringly is the other coupled with failure, and strange to say, that the stupid man is fairly convinced that his brother owes all his success to him, and that to his disinterested kindness the other is indebted for his present exalted station. Thus it is through life; there seems ever to accompany dullness a sustaining power of vanity, that like a life-buoy, keeps a mass afloat whose weight unassisted would sink into obscurity. Do you know that my friend Denis there imagines himself the first man that ever enlightened Sir Robert Peel as to Irish affairs; and, upon my word, his reputation on this head stands incontestably higher than on most others."
"You surely cannot mean that Sir Robert Peel ever consulted with, much less relied upon, the statements of such a person, as you described you friend Denis to be?"
"He did both--and if he was a little puzzled by the information, the only disgrace attaches to a government that send men to rule over us unacquainted with our habits of thinking, and utterly ignorant of the language--ay, I repeat it--but come, you shall judge for yourself; the story is a short one, and fortunately so, for I must hasten home to give timely notice of your coming to dine with me. When the present Sir Robert Peel, then Mr. Peel, came over here, as secretary to Ireland, a very distinguished political leader of the day invited a party to meet him at dinner, consisting of men of different political leanings; among whom were, as may be supposed, many members of the Irish bar; the elder Daly was too remarkable a person to be omitted, but as the two brothers resided together, there was a difficulty about getting him--however, he must be had, and the only alternative that presented itself was adopted
--both were invited. When the party descended to the dining-room, by one of those unfortunate accidents, which as the proverb informs us occasionally take place in the best regulated establishments, the wrong Mr. Daly got placed beside Mr. Peel, which post of honor had been destined by the host for the more agreeable and talented brother. There was now no help for it; and with a heart somewhat nervous for the consequences of the proximity, the worthy entertainer sat down to do the honors as best he might; he was consoled during dinner by observing that the devotion bestowed by honest Denis on the viands before him effectually absorbed his faculties, and thereby threw the entire of Mr. Peel's conversation towards the gentleman on his other flank. This happiness was like most others, destined to be a brief one. As the dessert made its appearance, Mr. Peel began to listen with some attention to the conversation of the persons opposite; with one of whom he was struck most forcibly--so happy a power of illustration, so vivid a fancy, such logical precision in argument as he evinced, perfectly charmed and surprised him. Anxious to learn the name of so gifted an individual, he turned towards his hitherto silent neighbour and demanded who he was.
"'Pray,' said Mr. Peel, again returning to the charge, though certainly feeling not a little surprised at the singular laconicism of his informant, no less than the mellifluous tones of an accent then perfectly new to him. 'Pray, may I ask, what is the peculiar character of Mr. Bushe's eloquence? I mean of course, in his professional capacity.'"'Eh!' said Denis, 'I don't comprehend you exactly.' "'I mean,' said Mr. Peel, 'in one word, what's his forte?' "'His forte!' "'I mean what his peculiar gift consists in--' "'Oh, I perceave--I have ye now--the juries!' "'Ah! addressing a jury.' "'Ay, the juries.' "'Can you oblige me by giving me any idea of the manner in which he obtains such signal success in this difficult branch of eloquence.'
"'I'll tell ye,' said Denis, leisurely finishing his glass, and smacking his lips, with the air of a man girding up his loins for a mighty effort, 'I'll tell ye--well, ye see the way he has is this,'--here Mr. Peel's expectation rose to the highest degree of interest,--'the way he has is this--he first butthers them up, and then slithers them down! that's all, devil a more of a secret there's in it.'"
How much reason Denis had to boast of imparting early information to the new secretary I leave my English readers to guess; my Irish ones I may trust to do him ample justice.
My friend now left me to my own devices to while away the hours till time to dress for dinner. Heaven help the gentleman so left in Dublin, say I. It is, perhaps, the only city of its size in the world, where there is no lounge--no promenade. Very little experience of it will convince you that it abounds in pretty women, and has its fair share of agreeable men; but where are they in the morning? I wish Sir Dick Lauder, instead of speculating where salmon spent the Christmas holidays, would apply his most inquiring mind to such a question as this. True it is, however, they are not to be found. The squares are deserted--the streets are very nearly so--and all that is left to the luckless wanderer in search of the beautiful, is to ogle the beauties of Dame-street, who are shopkeepers in Grafton-street, or the beauties of Grafton-street, who are shopkeepers in Dame-street. But, confound it, how cranky I am getting--I must be tremendously hungry. True, it's past six. So now for my suit of sable, and then to dinner.CHAPTER XIII DUBLIN--THE BOARDING-HOUSE--SELECT SOCIETY.
Punctual to my appointment with O'Flaherty, I found myself a very few minutes after six o'clock at Mrs. Clanfrizzle's door. My very authoritative summons at the bell was answered by the appearance of a young, pale-faced invalid, in a suit of livery the taste of which bore a very unpleasant resemblance to the one I so lately figured in. It was with considerable difficulty I persuaded this functionary to permit my carrying my hat with me to the drawing-room, a species of caution on my part--as he esteemed it--savouring much of distrust. This point however, I carried, and followed him up a very ill-lighted stair to the
drawing-room; here I was announced by some faint resemblance to my real name, but sufficiently near to bring my friend Tom at once to meet me, who immediately congratulated me on my fortune in coming off so well, for that the person who preceded me, Mr. Jones Blennerhasset, had been just announced as Mr. Blatherhasit--a change the gentleman himself was not disposed to adopt--"But come along, Harry, while we are waiting for Daly, let me make you known to some of our party; this, you must know, is a boarding-house, and always has some capital fun--queerest people you ever met--I have only one hint--cut every man, woman, and child of them, if you meet them hereafter--I do it myself, though I have lived here these six months." Pleasant people, thought I, these must be, with whom such a line is advisable, much less practicable.
"Mrs. Clanfrizzle, my friend Mr. Lorrequer; thinks he'll stay the summer in town. Mrs. Clan--, should like him to be one of us." This latter was said sotto voce, and was a practice he continued to adopt in presenting me to his several friends through the room.
Miss Riley, a horrid old fright, in a bird of paradise plume, and corked eyebrows, gibbetted in gilt chains and pearl ornaments, and looking as the grisettes say, "superbe en chrysolite"--"Miss Riley, Captain Lorrequer, a friend I have long desired to present to you--fifteen thousand a-year and a baronetcy, if he has sixpence"--sotto again. "Surgeon M'Culloch--he likes the title," said Tom in a whisper--"Surgeon, Captain Lorrequer. By the by, lest I forget it, he wishes to speak to you in the morning about his health; he is stopping at Sandymount for the baths; you could go out there, eh!" The tall thing in green spectacles bowed, and acknowledged Tom's kindness by a knowing touch of the elbow. In this way he made the tour of the room for about ten minutes, during which brief space, I was according to the kind arrangements of O'Flaherty, booked as a resident in the boarding-house--a lover to at least five elderly, and three young ladies--a patient--a client--a second in a duel to a clerk in the post-office--and had also volunteered (through him always) to convey, by all of his Majesty's mails, as many parcels, packets, band-boxes, and bird-cages, as would have comfortably filled one of Pickford's vans. All this he told me was requisite to my being well received, though no one thought much of any breach of compact subsequently, except Mrs. Clan--herself. The ladies had, alas! been often treated vilely before; the doctor had never had a patient; and as for the belligerent knight of the dead office, he'd rather die than fight any day.
The last person to whom my friend deemed it necessary to introduce me, was a Mr. Garret Cudmore, from the Reeks of Kerry, lately matriculated to all the honors of freshmanship in the Dublin university. This latter was a low-sized, dark-browed man, with round shoulders, and particularly long arms, the disposal of which seemed sadly to distress him. He possessed the most perfect brogue I ever listened to; but it was difficult to get him to speak, for on coming up to town some weeks before, he had been placed by some intelligent friend at Mrs. Clanfrizzle's establishment, with the express direction to mark and thoroughly digest as much as he could of the habits and customs of the circle about him, which he was rightly informed was the very focus of good breeding and haut ton; but on no account, unless driven thereto by the pressure of sickness, or the wants of nature, to trust himself with speech, which, in his then uninformed state, he was assured would inevitably ruin him among his fastidiously cultivated associates.
To the letter and the spirit of the despatch he had received, the worthy Garret acted rigidly, and his voice was scarcely ever known to transgress the narrow limits prescribed by his friends. In more respects that one, was this a good resolve; for so completely had he identified himself with college habits, things, and phrases, that whenever he conversed, he became little short of unintelligible to the vulgar--a difficulty not decreased by his peculiar pronunciation.
My round of presentation was just completed, when the pale figure in light blue livery announced Counsellor Daly and dinner, for both came fortunately together. Taking the post of honour, Miss Riley's arm, I followed Tom, who I soon perceived ruled the whole concern, as he led the way with another ancient vestal in black stain and bugles. The long procession wound its snake-like length down the narrow stair, and into the dining-room, where at last we all got seated; and here let me briefly vindicate the motives of my friend--should any unkind person be found to impute to his selection of a residence, any base and grovelling passion for gourmandaise, that day's experience should be an eternal vindication of him. The soup--alas! that I should so far prostitute the word; for the black broth of Sparta was mock turtle in comparison--retired to make way for a mass of beef, whose tenderness I did not question; for it sank beneath the knife of the carver like a feather bed--the skill of Saladin himself would have failed to divide it. The fish was a most rebellious pike, and nearly killed every loyal subject at table; and then down the sides were various comestibles of chickens, with azure bosoms, and hams with hides like a rhinoceros; covered dishes of decomposed vegetable matter, called spinach and cabbage; potatoes arrayed in small masses, and browned, resembling those ingenious architectural structures of mud, children raise in the high ways, and call dirt-pies. Such were the chief constituents of the "feed;" and such, I am bound to confess, waxed beautifully less under the vigorous onslaught of the party.
The conversation soon became both loud and general. That happy familiarity--which I had long believed to be the exclusive prerogative of a military mess, where constant daily association sustains the interest of the veriest trifles--I here found in a perfection I had not anticipated, with this striking difference, that there was no absurd deference to any existing code of etiquette in the conduct of the party generally, each person quizzing his neighbour in the most free and easy style imaginable, and all, evidently from long habit and conventional usage, seeming to enjoy the practice exceedingly. Thus, droll allusions, good stories, and smart repartees, fell thick as hail, and twice as harmless, which any where else that I had ever heard of, would assuredly have called for more explanations, and perhaps gunpowder, in the morning, than usually are deemed agreeable. Here, however, they knew better; and though the lawyer quizzed the doctor for never having another patient than the house dog, all of whose arteries he had tied in the course of the winter for practice--and the doctor retorted as heavily, by showing that the lawyer's practice had been other than beneficial to those for whom he was concerned--his one client being found guilty, mainly through his ingenious defence of him; yet they never showed any, the slightest irritation--on the contrary, such little playful badinage ever led to some friendly passages of taking wine together, or in arrangements for a party to the "Dargle," or "Dunleary;" and thus went on the entire party, the young ladies darting an occasion slight at their elders, who certainly returned the fire, often with advantage; all uniting now and then, however, in one common cause, an attack of the whole line upon Mrs. Clanfrizzle herself, for the beef, or the mutton, or the fish, or the poultry--each of which was sure to find some sturdy defamer, ready and willing to give evidence in dispraise. Yet even these, and I thought them rather dangerous sallies, led to no more violent results than dignified replies from the worthy hostess, upon the goodness of her fare, and the evident satisfaction it afforded while being eaten, if the appetites of the party were a test. While this was at its height, Tom stooped behind my chair, and whispered gently--
"This is good--isn't it, eh?--life in a boarding-house--quite new to you; but they are civilized now compared to what you'll find them in the drawing-room. When short whist for five-penny points sets in--then Greek meets Greek, and we'll have it."
During all this melee tournament, I perceived that the worthy jib as he would be called in the parlance of Trinity, Mr. Cudmore, remained perfectly silent, and apparently terrified. The noise, the din of voices, and the laughing, so completely addled him, that he was like one in a very horrid dream. The attention with which I had observed him, having been remarked by my friend O'Flaherty, he informed me that the scholar, as he was called there, was then under a kind of cloud--an adventure which occurred only two nights before, being too fresh in his memory to permit him enjoying himself even to the limited extent it had been his wont to do. As illustrative, not only of Mr. Cudmore, but the life I have been speaking of, I may as well relate it.
Soon after Mr. Cudmore's enlistment under the banners of the Clanfrizzle, he had sought and found an asylum in the drawing-room of the establishment, which promised, from its geographical relations, to expose him less to the molestations of conversation than most other parts of the room. This was a small recess beside the fire-place, not uncommon in old-fashioned houses, and which, from its incapacity to hold more than one, secured to the worthy recluse the privacy he longed for; and here, among superannuated hearth-brushes, an old hand screen, an asthmatic bellows, and a kettle-holder, sat the timid youth, "alone, but in a crowd." Not all the seductions of loo, limited to three pence, nor even that most appropriately designated game, beggar-my-neighbour--could withdraw him from his blest retreat. Like his countryman, St. Kevin--my friend Petrie has ascertained that the saint was a native of Tralee--he fled from the temptations of the world, and the blandishments of the fair; but, alas! like the saint himself, the"poor jib little knew All that wily sex can do;"
For while he hugged himself in the security of his fortress, the web of his destiny was weaving. So true is it, as he himself used, no less pathetically than poetically to express it, "misfortune will find you out, if ye were hid in a tay chest."
It happened that in Mrs. Clanfrizzle's establishment, the "enfant bleu," already mentioned, was the only individual of his sex retained; and without for a moment disparaging the ability or attentions of this gifted person, yet it may reasonably be credited, that in waiting on a party of twenty-five or thirty persons at dinner, all of whom he had admitted as porter, and announced as maitre d'hotel, with the subsequent detail of his duties in the drawing-room, that Peter, blue Peter--his
boarding-house soubriquet--not enjoying the bird-like privilege of "being in two places at once," gave one rather the impression of a person of hasty and fidgetty habits--for which nervous tendency the treatment he underwent was certainly injudicious--it being the invariable custom for each guest to put his services in requisition, perfectly irrespective of all other claims upon him, from whatsoever quarter coming--and then, at the precise moment that the luckless valet was snuffing the candles, he was abused by one for not bringing coal; by another for having carried off his tea-cup, sent on an expedition for sugar; by a third for having left the door open, which he had never been near; and so on to the end of the chapter.
It chanced that a few evenings previous to my appearance at the house, this indefatigable Caleb was ministering as usual to the various and discrepant wants of the large party assembled in the drawing-room. With his wonted alacrity he had withdrawn from their obscure retreat against the wall, sundry little tables, destined for the players at whist, or "spoil five"--the popular game of the establishment. With a dexterity that savoured much of a stage education, he had arranged the candles, the cards, the counters; he had poked the fire, settled the stool for Miss Riley's august feet, and was busily engaged in changing five shillings into small silver for a desperate victim of loo--when Mrs. Clanfrizzle's third, and, as it appeared, last time, of asking for the kettle smote upon his ear. His loyalty would have induced him at once to desert every thing on such an occasion; but the other party engaged, held him fast, saying--
"Never mind HER, Peter--you have sixpence more to give me." Poor Peter rummaged one pocket, then another--discovering at last three pence in copper, and some farthings, with which he seemed endeavouring to make a composition with his creditor for twelve shillings in the pound; when Mrs. Clan's patience finally becoming exhausted, she turned towards Mr. Cudmore, the only unemployed person she could perceive, and with her blandest smile said,"Mr. Cudmore, may I take the liberty of requesting you would hand me the kettle beside you."
Now, though the kettle aforesaid was, as the hostess very properly observed, beside him, yet the fact that in complying with the demand, it was necessary for the bashful youth to leave the recess he occupied, and, with the kettle, proceed to walk half across the room--there to perform certain manual operations requiring skill and presence of mind, before a large and crowded assembly--was horror to the mind of the poor Jib; and he would nearly as soon have acceded to a desire to dance a hornpipe, if such had been suggested as the wish of the company. However, there was nothing for it; and summoning up all his nerve--knitting his brows
--clenching his teeth, like one prepared to "do or die," he seized the hissing cauldron, and strode through the room, like the personified genius of steam, very much to the alarm of all the old ladies in the vicinity, whose tasteful drapery benefitted but little from his progress. Yet he felt but little of all this; he had brought up his courage to the sticking place, and he was absolutely half unconscious of the whole scene before him; nor was it till some kind mediator had seized his arm, while another drew him back by the skirts of the coat, that he desisted from the deluge of hot water, with which, having filled the tea-pot, he proceeded to swamp every thing else upon the tray, in his unfortunate abstraction. Mrs. Clanfrizzle screamed--the old ladies accompanied her
--the young ones tittered--the men laughed--and, in a word, poor Cudmore, perfectly unconscious of any thing extraordinary, felt himself the admired of all admirers,--very little, it is true, to his own
satisfaction. After some few minutes exposure to these eclats de rire, he succeeded in depositing the source of his griefs within the fender, and once more retired to his sanctuary,--having registered a vow, which, should I speak it, would forfeit his every claim to gallantry for ever.
Whether in the vow aforesaid Mr. Cudmore had only been engaged in that species of tesselating which furnishes the pavement so celebrated in the lower regions, I know not; but true it is, that he retired that night to his chamber very much discomfited at his debut in the great world, and half disposed to believe that nature had neither intended him for a Brummel nor a D'Orsay. While he was ruminating on such matters, he was joined by O'Flaherty, with whom he had been always more intimate than any other inmate of the house--Tom's tact having entirely concealed what the manners of the others too plainly evinced, the perfect appreciation of the student's oddity and singularity. After some few observations on general matters, O'Flaherty began with a tone of some seriousness to express towards Cudmore the warm interest he had ever taken in him, since his first coming among them; his great anxiety for his welfare, and his firm resolve that no chance or casual inattention to mere ceremonial observances on his part should ever be seized on by the other guests as a ground for detraction or an excuse for ridicule of him.
"Rely upon it, my dear boy," said he, "I have watched over you like a parent; and having partly foreseen that something like this affair of to-night would take place sooner or later"--"What affair?" said Cudmore--his eyes staring half out of his head. "That business of the kettle." "Kett--el. The kettle! What of that?" said Cudmore. "What of it? Why, if you don't feel it, I am sure it is not my duty to remind you; only"-- "Feel it--oh, yes. I saw them laughing, because I spilled the water over old Mrs. Jones, or something of that sort." "No, no, my dear young friend, they were not laughing at that--their mirth had another object." "What the devil was it at, then?" "You don't know, don't you?" "No; I really do not." "Nor can't guess--eh?" "Confound me if I can."
"Well. I see, Mr. Cudmore, you are really too innocent for these people. But come--it shall never be said that youth and inexperience ever suffered from the unworthy ridicule and cold sarcasm of the base world, while Tom O'Flaherty stood by a spectator.
"Sir," said Tom, striking his hand with energy on the table, and darting a look of fiery indignation from his eye, "Sir, you were this night trepanned--yes, sir, vilely, shamefully trepanned--I repeat the expression--into the performance of a menial office--an office so degrading, so offensive, so unbecoming the rank, the station, and the habits of gentlemen, my very blood recoils when I only think of the indignity."
The expression of increasing wonder and surprise depicted in Mr. Cudmore's face at these words, my friend Phiz might convey--I cannot venture to describe it--suffice it to say, that even O'Flaherty himself found it difficult to avoid a burst of laughter, as he looked at him and resumed.
"Witnessing, as I did, the entire occurrence; feeling deeply for the inexperience which the heartless worldlings had dared to trample upon, I resolved to stand by you, and here I am come for that purpose.""Well, but what in the devil's name have I done all this time?" "What! are you still ignorant?--is it possible? Did you not hand the kettle from the fire-place, and fill the tea-pot?--answer me that!" "I did," said Cudmore, with a voice already becoming tremulous. "Is that the duty of a gentleman?--answer me that." A dead pause stood in place of a reply, while Tom proceeded-- "Did you ever hear any one ask me, or Counsellor Daly, or Mr. Fogarty, or any other person to do so?--answer me that." "No; never" muttered Cudmore, with a sinking spirit.
"Well then why may I ask, were you selected for an office that by your own confession, no one else would stoop to perform? I'll tell you, because from your youth and inexperience, your innocence was deemed a fit victim to the heartless sneers of a cold and unfeeling world."
And here Tom broke forth into a very beautiful apostrophe, beginning--
"Oh, virtue!" (this I am unfortunately unable to present to my readers; and must only assure them that it was a very faithful imitation of the well-known one delivered by Burke in the case of Warren Hastings,) and concluding with an exhortation to Cudmore to wipe out the stain of his wounded honour, by repelling with indignation the slightest future attempt at such an insult.
This done, O'Flaherty retired, leaving Cudmore to dig among Greek roots, and chew over the cud of his misfortune. Punctual to the time and place, that same evening beheld the injured Cudmore resume his wonted corner, pretty much with the feeling with which a forlorn hope stands match in hand to ignite the train destined to explode with ruin to thousands
--himself perhaps amongst the number: there he sat with a brain as burning, and a heart as excited, as though, instead of sipping his bohea beside a sea-coal fire, he was that instant trembling beneath the frown of Dr. Elrington, for the blunders in his Latin theme, and what terror to the mind of a "Jib" can equal that one?
As luck would have it, this was a company night in the boarding-house. Various young ladies in long blue sashes, and very broad ribbon sandals, paraded the rooms, chatting gaily with very distinguished looking young gentlemen, with gold brooches, and party-coloured inside waistcoats; sundry elderly ladies sat at card-tables, discussing the "lost honour by an odd trick they played," with heads as large as those of Jack or Jill in the pantomime; spruce clerks in public offices, (whose vocation the expansive tendency of the right ear, from long pen-carrying, betokened) discussed fashion, "and the musical glasses" to some very over-dressed married ladies, who preferred flirting to five-and-ten. The tea-table, over which the amiable hostess presided, had also its standing votaries: mostly grave parliamentary-looking gentlemen, with powdered heads, and very long-waisted black coats, among whom the Sir Oracle was a functionary of his Majesty's High Court of Chancery, though I have reason to believe, not, Lord Manners: meanwhile, in all parts of the room might be seen Blue Peter, distributing tea, coffee, and biscuit, and
occasionally interchanging a joke with the dwellers in the house. While all these pleasing occupations proceeded, the hour of Cudmore's trial was approaching. The tea-pot which had stood the attack of fourteen cups without flinching, at last began to fail, and discovered to the prying eyes of Mrs. Clanfrizzle, nothing but an olive-coloured deposit of soft matter, closely analogous in appearance and chemical property to the residuary precipitate in a drained fish-pond; she put down the lid with a gentle sigh and turning towards the fire bestowed one of her very blandest and most captivating looks on Mr. Cudmore, saying--as plainly as looks could say--"Cudmore, you're wanting." Whether the youth did, or did not understand, I am unable to record: I can only say, the appeal was made without acknowledgment. Mrs. Clanfrizzle again essayed, and by a little masonic movement of her hand to the tea-pot, and a sly glance at the hob, intimated her wish--still hopelessly; at last there was nothing for it but speaking; and she donned her very softest voice, and most persuasive tone, saying--
"Is it for the kettle, ma'am?" said Cudmore, with a voice that startled the whole room, disconcerting three whist parties, and so absorbing the attention of the people at loo, that the pool disappeared without any one being able to account for the circumstance."Is it for the kettle, ma'am?" "If you will be so very kind," lisped the hostess. "Well, then, upon my conscience, you are impudent," said Cudmore, with his face crimsoned to the ears, and his eyes flashing fire. "Why, Mr. Cudmore," began the lady, "why, really, this is so strange. Why sir, what can you mean?" "Just that," said the imperturbable jib, who now that his courage was up, dared every thing. "But sir, you must surely have misunderstood me. I only asked for the kettle, Mr. Cudmore." "The devil a more," said Cud, with a sneer. "Well, then, of course"--
"Well, then, I'll tell you, of course," said he, repeating her words; "the sorrow taste of the kettle, I'll give you. Call you own skip--Blue Pether there--damn me, if I'll be your skip any longer."
For the uninitiated I have only to add, that "skip" is the Trinity College appellation for servant, which was therefore employed by Mr. Cudmore, on this occasion, as expressing more contemptuously his sense of the degradation of the office attempted to be put upon him. Having already informed my reader on some particulars of the company, I leave him to suppose how Mr. Cudmore's speech was received. Whist itself was at an end for that evening, and nothing but laughter, long, loud, and reiterated, burst from every corner of the room for hours after.
As I have so far travelled out of the record of my own peculiar confessions, as to give a leaf from what might one day form the matter of Mr. Cudmore's, I must now make the only amende in my power, by honestly narrating, that short as my visit was to the classic precincts of this agreeable establishment, I did not escape without exciting my share of ridicule, though, I certainly had not the worst of the joke, and may, therefore, with better grace tell the story, which, happily for my readers, is a very brief one. A custom prevailed in Mrs. Clanfrizzle's household, which from my unhappy ignorance of boarding-houses, I am unable to predicate if it belong to the genera at large, or this one specimen in particular, however, it is a sufficiently curious fact, even though thereby hang no tale, for my stating it here. The decanters on the dinner-table were never labelled, with their more appropriate designation of contents, whether claret, sherry, or port, but with the names of their respective owners, it being a matter of much less consequence that any individual at table should mix his wine, by pouring "port upon madeira," than commit the truly legal offence of appropriating to his own use and benefit, even by mistake, his neighbour's bottle. However well the system may work among the regular members of the "domestic circle," and I am assured that it does succeed extremely
--to the newly arrived guest, or uninitiated visitor, the affair is perplexing, and leads occasionally to awkward results.
It so chanced, from my friend O'Flaherty's habitual position at the foot of the table, and my post of honour near the head, that on the first day of my appearing there, the distance between us, not only precluded all possible intercourse, but any of those gentle hints as to habits and customs, a new arrival looks for at the hands of his better informed friend. The only mode of recognition, to prove that we belonged to each other, being by that excellent and truly English custom of drinking wine together, Tom seized the first idle moment from his avocation as carver to say,"Lorrequer, a glass of wine with you." Having, of course, acceded, he again asked,
"What wine do you drink?" intending thereby, as I afterwards learned, to send me from his end of the table, what wine I selected. Not conceiving the object of the inquiry, and having hitherto without hesitation helped myself from the decanter, which bore some faint resemblance to sherry, I immediately turned for correct information to the bottle itself, upon whose slender neck was ticketed the usual slip of paper. My endeavours to decypher the writing occupied time sufficient again to make O'Flaherty ask,"Well, Harry, I'm waiting for you. Will you have port?"
"No, I thank you," I replied, having by this revealed the inscription. "No, I thank you; I'll just stick to my old friend here, Bob M'Grotty;" for thus I rendered familiarly the name of Rt. M'Grotty on the decanter, and which I in my ignorance believed to be the boarding-house soubriquet for bad sherry. That Mr. M'Grotty himself little relished my familiarity with either his name or property I had a very decisive proof, for turning round upon his chair, and surveying my person from head to foot with a look of fiery wrath, he thundered out in very broad Scotch,"And by my saul, my freend, ye may just as weel finish it noo, for deil a glass o' his ain wine did Bob M'Grotty, as ye ca' him, swallow this day."
The convulsion of laughter into which my blunder and the Scotchman's passion threw the whole board, lasted till the cloth was withdrawn, and the ladies had retired to the drawing-room, the only individual at table not relishing the mistake being the injured proprietor of the bottle, who was too proud to accept reparation from my friend's decanter, and would scarcely condescend to open his lips during the evening; notwithstanding which display of honest indignation, we contrived to become exceedingly merry and jocose, most of the party communicating little episodes of their life, in which, it is true, they frequently figured in situations that nothing but their native and natural candour would venture to avow. One story I was considerably amused at; it was told by the counsellor, Mr. Daly, in illustration of the difficulty of rising at the bar, and which, as showing his own mode of obviating the delay that young professional men submit to from hard necessity, as well as in evidence of his strictly legal turn, I shall certainly recount, one of these days, for the edification of the junior bar.
On the morning after my visit to the boarding-house, I received a few hurried lines from Curzon, informing me that no time was to be lost in joining the regiment--that a grand fancy ball was about to be given by the officers of the Dwarf frigate, then stationed off Dunmore; who, when inviting the ___, specially put in a demand for my well-known services, to make it to go off, and concluding with an extract from the Kilkenny Moderator, which ran thus--
"An intimation has just reached us, from a quarter on which we can place the fullest reliance, that the celebrated amateur performer, Mr. Lorrequer, may shortly be expected amongst us; from the many accounts we have received of this highly-gifted gentleman's powers, we anticipate a great treat to the lovers of the drama," &c. &c. "So you see, my dear Hal," continued Curzon, "thy vocation calls thee; therefore come, and come quickly--provide thyself with a black satin costume, slashed with light blue--point lace collar and ruffles--a Spanish hat looped in front--and, if possible, a long rapier, with a flap hilt.--Carden is not here; so you may show your face under any colour with perfect impunity.--Yours from the side scenes,"C. Curzon."
This clever epistle sufficed to show me that the gallant __th had gone clean theatrical mad; and although from my "last appearance on any stage," it might be supposed I should feel no peculiar desire to repeat the experiment, yet the opportunity of joining during Col. Carden's absence, was too tempting to resist, and I at once made up my mind to set out, and, without a moment's delay, hurried across the street to the coach office, to book myself an inside in the mail of that night; fortunately no difficulty existed in my securing the seat, for the way-bill was a perfect blank, and I found myself the only person who had, as yet, announced himself a passenger. On returning to my hotel, I found O'Flaherty waiting for me; he was greatly distressed on hearing my determination to leave town--explained how he had been catering for my amusement for the week to come--that a picnic to the Dargle was arranged in a committee of the whole house, and a boating party, with a dinner at the Pigeon-house, was then under consideration; resisting, however, such extreme temptations, I mentioned the necessity of my at once proceeding to headquarters, and all other reasons for my precipitancy failing, concluded with that really knock-down argument, "I have taken my place;" this, I need scarcely add, finished the matter--at least I have never known it fail in such cases. Tell your friends that your wife is hourly expecting to be confined; your favourite child is in the measles--you best friend waiting your aid in an awkward scrape--your one vote only wanting to turn the scale in an election. Tell them, I say, each or all of these, or a hundred more like them, and to any one you so speak, the answer is--"Pooh, pooh, my dear fellow, never fear--don't fuss yourself
--take it easy--to-morrow will do just as well." If, on the other hand, however, you reject such flimsy excuses, and simply say, "I'm booked in the mail," the opposition at once falls to the ground, and your quondam antagonist, who was ready to quarrel with you, is at once prepared to assist in packing your portmanteau.
Having soon satisfied my friend Tom that resistance was in vain, I promised to eat an early dinner with him at Morrisson's, and spent the better part of the morning in putting down a few notes of my Confessions, as well as the particulars of Mr. Daly's story, which, I believe, I half or wholly promised my readers at the conclusion of my last chapter; but which I must defer to a more suitable opportunity, when mentioning the next occasion of my meeting him on the southern circuit.
My dispositions were speedily made. I was fortunate in securing the exact dress my friend's letter alluded to among the stray costumes of Fishamble-street; and rich in the possession of the only "properties" it has been my lot to acquire, I despatched my treasure to the coach office, and hastened to Morrisson's, it being by this time nearly five o'clock. There, true to time, I found O'Flaherty deep in the perusal of the bill, along which figured the novel expedients for dining, I had been in the habit of reading in every Dublin hotel since my boyhood. "Mock turtle, mutton, gravy, roast beef and potatoes--shoulder of mutton and potatoes!
--ducks and peas, potatoes!! ham and chicken, cutlet steak and potatoes!!! apple tart and cheese:" with a slight cadenza of a sigh over the distant glories of Very, or still better the "Freres," we sat down to a very patriarchal repast, and what may be always had par excellence in Dublin, a bottle of Sneyd's claret.
Poor Tom's spirits were rather below their usual pitch; and although he made many efforts to rally and appear gay, he could not accomplish it. However, we chatted away over old times and old friends, and forgetting all else but the topics we talked of, the time-piece over the chimney first apprised me that two whole hours had gone by, and that it was now seven o'clock, the very hour the coach was to start. I started up at once, and notwithstanding all Tom's representations of the impossibility of my being in time, had despatched waiters in different directions for a jarvey, more than ever determined upon going; so often is it that when real reasons for our conduct are wanting, any casual or chance opposition confirms us in an intention which before was but uncertain. Seeing me so resolved, Tom, at length, gave way, and advised my pursuing the mail, which must be now gone at least ten minutes, and which, with smart driving, I should probably overtake before getting free of the city, as they have usually many delays in so doing. I at once ordered out the "yellow post-chaise," and before many minutes had elapsed, what, with imprecation and bribery, I started in pursuit of his Majesty's Cork and Kilkenny mail coach, then patiently waiting in the court-yard of the Post Office.
"Which way now, your honor?" said a shrill voice from the dark--for such the night had already become, and threatened with a few heavy drops of straight rain, the fall of a tremendous shower."The Naas road," said I; "and, harkye, my fine fellow, if you overtake the coach in half an hour, I'll double your fare."
"Be gorra, I'll do my endayvour," said the youth; at the same time instant dashing in both spurs, we rattled down Nassau-street at a very respectable pace for harriers. Street after street we passed, and at last I perceived we had got clear of the city, and were leaving the long line of lamp-lights behind us. The night was now pitch dark. I could not see any thing whatever. The quick clattering of the wheels, the sharp crack of the postillion's whip, or the still sharper tone of his "gee hup," showed me we were going at a tremendous pace, had I not even had the experience afforded by the frequent visits my head paid to the roof of the chaise, so often as we bounded over a stone, or splashed through a hollow. Dark and gloomy as it was, I constantly let down the window, and with half my body protruded, endeavores to catch a glimpse of the "Chase;" but nothing could I see. The rain now fell in actual torrents; and a more miserable night it is impossible to conceive.
After about an hour so spent, he at last came to a check, so sudden and unexpected on my part, that I was nearly precipitated, harlequin fashion, through the front window. Perceiving that we no longer moved, and suspecting that some part of our tackle had given way, I let down the sash, and cried out--"Well now, my lad, any thing wrong?" My questions was, however, unheard; and although, amid the steam arising from the wet and smoking horses, I could perceive several figures indistinctly moving about, I could not distinguish what they were doing, nor what they said. A laugh I certainly did hear, and heartily cursed the unfeeling wretch, as I supposed him to be, who was enjoying himself at my disappointment. I again endeavoured to find out what had happened, and called out still louder than before."We are at Ra'coole, your honor," said the boy, approaching the door of the chaise, "and she's only beat us by hafe a mile." "Who the devil is she?" said I. "The mail, your honor, is always a female in Ireland." "Then why do you stop now? You're not going to feed I suppose?"
"Of course not, your honor, it's little feeding troubles these bastes, any how, but they tell me the road is so heavy we'll never take the chaise over the next stage without leaders."
"Without leaders!" said I. "Pooh! my good fellow, no humbugging, four horses for a light post-chaise and no luggage; come get up, and no nonsense." At this moment a man approached the window with a lantern in his hand, and so strongly represented the dreadful state of the roads from the late rains--the length of the stage--the frequency of accidents latterly from under-horsing, &c. &c. that I yielded, a reluctant assent, and ordered out the leaders, comforting myself the while, that considering the inside fare of the coach, I made such efforts to overtake, was under a pound, and that time was no object to me, I certainly was paying somewhat dearly for my character for resolution.
At last we got under way once more, and set off cheered by a tremendous shout from at least a dozen persons, doubtless denizens of that interesting locality, amid which I once again heard the laugh that had so much annoyed me already. The rain was falling, if possible, more heavily than before, and had evidently set in for the entire night. Throwing myself back into a corner of the "leathern convenience," I gave myself up to the full enjoyment of the Rouchefoucauld maxim, that there is always a pleasure felt in the misfortunes of even our best friends, and certainly experienced no small comfort in my distress, by contrasting my present position with that of my two friends in the saddle, as they sweltered on through mud and mire, rain and storm. On we went, splashing, bumping, rocking, and jolting, till I began at last to have serious thoughts of abdicating the seat and betaking myself to the bottom of the chaise, for safety and protection. Mile after mile succeeded, and as after many a short and fitful slumber, which my dreams gave an apparent length to, I woke only to find myself still in pursuit--the time seemed so enormously protracted that I began to fancy my whole life was to be passed in the dark, in chase of the Kilkenny mail, as we read in the true history of the flying Dutchman, who, for his sins of impatience--like mine--spent centuries vainly endeavouring to double the Cape, or the Indian mariner in Moore's beautiful ballad, of whom we are told as--"Many a day to night gave way, And many a morn succeeded, Yet still his flight, by day and night, That restless mariner speeded."
This might have been all very well in the tropics, with a smart craft and doubtless plenty of sea store--but in a chaise, at night, and on the Naas road, I humbly suggest I had all the worse of the parallel.
At last the altered sound of the wheels gave notice of our approach to a town, and after about twenty minutes; rattling over the pavement we entered what I supposed, correctly, to be Naas. Here I had long since determined my pursuit should cease. I had done enough, and more than enough, to vindicate my fame against any charge of irresolution as to leaving Dublin, and was bethinking me of the various modes of prosecuting my journey on the morrow, when we drew up suddenly at the door of the Swan. The arrival of a chaise and four at a small country town inn, suggests to the various employees therein, any thing rather than the traveller in pursuit of the mail, and so the moment I arrived, I was assailed with innumerable proffers of horses, supper, bed, &c. My anxious query was thrice repeated in vain, "When did the coach pass?""The mail," replied the landlord at length. "Is it the down mail?" Not understanding the technical, I answered, "Of course not the Down--the Kilkenny and Cork mail." "From Dublin, sir?" "Yes, from Dublin."
"Not arrived yet, sir, nor will it for three quarters of an hour; they never leave Dublin till a quarter past seven; that is, in fact, half past, and their time here is twenty minutes to eleven."
"Why, you stupid son of a boot-top, we have been posting on all night like the devil, and all this time the coach has been ten miles behind us."
"Well, we've cotch them any how," said the urchin, as he disengaged himself from his wet saddle, and stood upon the ground; "and it is not my fault that the coach is not before us."
With a satisfactory anathema upon all innkeepers, waiters, hostlers, and post-boys, with a codicil including coach-proprietors, I followed the smirking landlord into a well-lighted room, with a blazing fire, when having ordered supper, I soon regained my equanimity.
My rasher and poached eggs, all Naas could afford me, were speedily despatched, and as my last glass, from my one pint of sherry, was poured out, the long expected coach drew up. A minute after the coachman entered to take his dram, followed by the guard; a more lamentable spectacle of condensed moisture cannot be conceived; the rain fell from the entire circumference of his broad-brimmed hat, like the ever-flowing drop from the edge of an antique fountain; his drab-coat had become a deep orange hue, while his huge figure loomed still larger, as he stood amid a nebula of damp, that would have made an atmosphere for the Georgium Sidus."Going on to-night, sir?" said he, addressing me; "severe weather, and no chance of its clearing, but of course you're inside." "Why, there is very little doubt of that," said I. "Are you nearly full inside?"
"Only one, sir; but he seems a real queer chap; made fifty inquiries at the office if he could not have the whole inside to himself, and when he heard that one place had been taken--your's, I believe, sir--he seemed like a scalded bear.""You don't know his name then?"
"No, sir, he never gave a name at the office, and his only luggage is two brown paper parcels, without any ticket, and he has them inside; indeed he never lets them from him even for a second."
Here the guard's horn, announcing all ready, interrupted our colloquy, and prevented my learning any thing further of my fellow-traveller, whom, however, I at once set down in my own mind for some confounded old churl that made himself comfortable every where, without ever thinking of any one else's convenience.
As I passed from the inn door to the coach, I once more congratulated myself that I was about to be housed from the terrific storm of wind and rain that railed about."Here's the step, sir," said the guard, "get in, sir, two minutes late already."
"I beg your pardon, sir," said I, as I half fell over the legs of my unseen companion. "May I request leave to pass you?" While he made way for me for this purpose, I perceived that he stooped down towards the guard, and said something, who from his answer had evidently been questioned as to who I was. "And how did he get here, if he took his place in Dublin?" asked the unknown."Came half an hour since, sir, in a chaise and four," said the guard, as he banged the door behind him, and closed the interview.
Whatever might have been the reasons for my fellow-traveller's anxiety about my name and occupation, I knew not, yet could not help feeling gratified at thinking that as I had not given my name at the coach office, I was a great a puzzle to him as he to me."A severe night, sir," said I, endeavouring to break ground in conversation.
"Mighty severe," briefly and half crustily replied the unknown, with a richness of brogue, that might have stood for a certificate of baptism in Cork or its vicinity."And a bad road too, sir," said I, remembering my lately accomplished stage.
"That's the reason I always go armed," said the unknown, clinking at the same moment something like the barrel of a pistol.
Wondering somewhat at his readiness to mistake my meaning, I felt disposed to drop any further effort to draw him out, and was about to address myself to sleep, as comfortably as I could.
"I'll jist trouble ye to lean aff that little parcel there, sir," said he, as he displaced from its position beneath my elbow, one of the paper packages the guard had already alluded to.
In complying with this rather gruff demand, one of my pocket pistols, which I carried in my breast pocket, fell out upon his knee, upon which he immediately started, and asked hurriedly--"and are you armed too?""Why, yes," said I, laughingly; "men of my trade seldom go without something of this kind." "Be gorra, I was just thinking that same," said the traveller, with a half sigh to himself.
Why he should or should not have thought so, I never troubled myself to canvass, and was once more settling myself in my corner, when I was startled by a very melancholy groan, which seemed to come from the bottom of my companion's heart."Are you ill, sir?" said I, in a voice of some anxiety.
"You might say that," replied he--"if you knew who you were talking to
--although maybe you've heard enough of me, though you never saw me till now."
"May be it might," briefly replied the unknown, with a species of meaning in his words I could not then understand. "Did ye never hear tell of Barney Doyle?" said he."Not to my recollection."
"Then I'm Barney," said he; "that's in all the newspapers in the metropolis; I'm seventeen weeks in Jervis-street hospital, and four in the Lunatic, and the devil a better after all; you must be a stranger, I'm thinking, or you'd know me now.""Why I do confess, I've only been a few hours in Ireland for the last six months."
"Ay, that's the reason; I knew you would not be fond of travelling with me, if you knew who it was."
"Why, really," said I, beginning at the moment to fathom some of the hints of my companion, "I did not anticipate the pleasure of meeting you."
"Ay," said he with a kind of fiendish animation, "in one chop; I wish you'd see how I scattered the consultation; begad they didn't wait to ax for a fee."
Upon my soul, a very pleasant vicinity, though I. "And, may I ask sir," said I, in a very mild and soothing tone of voice, "may I ask the reason for this singular propensity of yours?"
"There it is now, my dear," said he, laying his hand upon my knee familiarly, "that's just the very thing they can't make out; Colles says, it's all the ceribellum, ye see, that's inflamed and combusted, and some of the others think it's the spine; and more, the muscles; but my real impression is, the devil a bit they know about it at all.""And have they no name for the malady?" said I. "Oh sure enough they have a name for it." "And, may I ask--"
"Why, I think you'd better not, because ye see, maybe I might be throublesome to ye in the night, though I'll not, if I can help it; and it might be uncomfortable to you to be here if I was to get one of the fits."
"One of the fits! Why it's not possible, sir," said I, "you would travel in a public conveyance in the state you mention; your friends surely would not permit it?"
"Why, if they knew, perhaps," slily responded the interesting invalid, "if they knew they might not exactly like it, but ye see, I escaped only last night, and there'll be a fine hub-bub in the morning, when they find I'm off; though I'm thinking Rooney's barking away by this time.""Rooney barking, why, what does that mean?" "They always bark for a day or two after they're bit, if the infection comes first from the dog." "You are surely not speaking of hydrophobia," said I, my hair actually bristling with horror and consternation. "Ayn't I?" replied he; "may be you've guessed it though." "And have you the malady on you at present?" said I, trembling for the answer.
"This is the ninth day since I took to biting," said he gravely, perfectly unconscious as it appeared of the terror such information was calculated to convey."Any with such a propensity, sir, do you think yourself warranted in travelling in a public coach, exposing others--" "You'd better not raise your voice, that way," quietly responded he, "if I'm roused, it 'll be worse for ye, that's all." "Well but," said I, moderating my zeal, "is it exactly prudent, in your present delicate state, to undertake a journey?"
"Ah," said he, with a sigh, "I've been longing to see the fox hounds throw off, near Kilkenny; these three weeks I've been thinking of nothing else; but I'm not sure how my nerves will stand the cry; I might be throublesome.""Upon my soul," thought I, "I shall not select that morning for my debut in the field."
"I hope, sir, there's no river, or watercourse on this road--any thing else, I can, I hope, control myself against; but water--running water particularly--makes me throublesome."
Well knowing what he meant by the latter phrase, I felt the cold perspiration settling on my forehead, as I remembered that we must be within about ten or twelve miles of Leighlin-bridge, where we should have to pass a very wide river. I strictly concealed this fact from him, however, and gave him to understand that there was not a well, brook, or rivulet, for forty miles on either side of us. He now sunk into a kind of moody silence, broken occasionally by a low muttering noise, as if speaking to himself--what this might portend, I knew not--but thought it better, under all circumstances, not to disturb him. How comfortable my present condition was, I need scarcely remark--sitting vis a vis to a lunatic, with a pair of pistols in his possession--who had already avowed his consciousness of his tendency to do mischief, and his inability to master it; all this in the dark, and in the narrow limits of a mail-coach, where there was scarcely room for defence, and no possibility of escape--how heartily I wished myself back in the Coffee-room at Morrisson's, with my poor friend Tom--the infernal chaise, that I cursed a hundred times, would have been an "exchange," better than into the Life Guards--ay, even the outside of the coach, if I could only reach it, would, under present circumstances, be a glorious alternative to my existing misfortune. What were rain and storm, thunder and lightning, compared with the chances that awaited me here?
--wet through I should inevitably be, but then I had not yet contracted the horror of moisture my friend opposite laboured under. "Ha! what is that? is it possible he can be asleep; is it really a snore?--Heaven grant that little snort be not what the medical people call a premonitory symptom--if so, he'll be in upon me now in no time. Ah, there it is again; he must be asleep surely; now then is my time or never." With these words, muttered to myself, and a heart throbbing almost audibly at the risk of his awakening, I slowly let down the window of the coach, and stretching forth my hand, turned the handle cautiously and slowly; I next disengaged my legs, and by a long continuous effort of creeping--which I had learned perfectly once, when practising to go as a boa constrictor to a fancy ball--I withdrew myself from the seat and reached the step, when I muttered something very like a thanksgiving to Providence for my rescue. With little difficulty I now climbed up beside the guard, whose astonishment at my appearance was indeed considerable--that any man should prefer the out, to the inside of a coach, in such a night, was rather remarkable; but that the person so doing should be totally unprovided with a box-coat, or other similar protection, argued something so strange, that I doubt not, if he were to decide upon the applicability of the statute of lunacy to a traveller in the mail, the palm would certainly have been awarded to me, and not to my late companion. Well, on we rolled, and heavily as the rain poured down, so relieved did I feel at my change of position, that I soon fell fast asleep, and never awoke till the coach was driving up Patrick street. Whatever solace to my feelings reaching the outside of the coach might have been attended with at night, the pleasure I experienced on awaking, was really not unalloyed. More dead than alive, I sat a mass of wet clothes, like nothing under heaven except it be that morsel of black and spongy wet cotton at the bottom of a schoolboy's ink bottle, saturated with rain, and the black dye of my coat. My hat too had contributed its share of colouring matter, and several long black streaks coursed down my "wrinkled front," giving me very much the air of an Indian warrior, who had got the first priming of his war paint. I certainly must have been rueful object, were I only to judge from the faces of the waiters as they gazed on me when the coach drew up at Rice and Walsh's hotel. Cold, wet, and weary as I was, my curiosity to learn more of my late agreeable companion was strong as ever within me
--perhaps stronger, from the sacrifices his acquaintance had exacted from me. Before, however, I had disengaged myself from the pile of trunks and carpet bags I had surrounded myself with--he had got out of the coach, and all I could catch a glimpse of was the back of a little short man in a kind of grey upper coat, and long galligaskins on his legs. He carried his two bundles under his arm, and stepped nimbly up the steps of the hotel, without turning his head to either side.
"Don't fancy you shall escape me now, my good friend," I cried out, as I sprung from the roof to the ground, with one jump, and hurried after the great unknown into the coffee-room. By the time I reached it he had approached the fire, on the table near which, having deposited the mysterious paper parcels, he was now busily engaged in divesting himself of his great coat; his face was still turned from me, so that I had time to appear employed in divesting myself of my wet drapery before he perceived me; at last the coat was unbuttoned, the gaiters followed, and throwing them carelessly on a chair, he tucked up the skirts of his coat; and spreading himself comfortably a l'Anglais, before the fire, displayed to my wondering and stupified gaze, the pleasant features of Doctor Finucane."Why, Doctor--Doctor Finucane," cried I, "is this possible? were you really the inside in the mail last night." "Devil a doubt of it, Mr. Lorrequer; and may I make bould to ask,--were you the outside?" "Then what, may I beg to know, did you mean by your damned story about Barney Doyle, and the hydrophobia, and Cusack Rooney's thumb--eh?"
"Oh, by the Lord," said Finucane, "this will be the death of me; and it was you that I drove outside in all the rain last night! Oh, it will kill Father Malachi outright with laughing, when I tell him;" and he burst out into a fit of merriment that nearly induced me to break his head with the poker.
"Am I to understand, then, Mr. Finucane, that this practical joke of your was contrived for my benefit, and for the purpose of holding me up to the ridicule of your confounded acquaintances."
"Nothing of the kind, upon my conscience," said Fin, drying his eyes, and endeavouring to look sorry and sentimental. "If I had only the least suspicion in life that it was you, upon my oath I'd not have had the hydrophobia at all, and, to tell you the truth, you were not the only one frightened--you alarmed me devilishly too.""I alarmed you! Why, how can that be?"
"Why, the real affair is this: I was bringing these two packages of notes down to my cousin Callaghan's bank in Cork--fifteen thousand pounds
--devil a less; and when you came into the coach at Naas, after driving there with your four horses, I thought it was all up with me. The guard just whispered in my ear, that he saw you look at the priming of your pistols before getting in; and faith I said four paters, and a hail Mary, before you'd count five. Well, when you got seated, the thought came into my mind that maybe, highwayman as you were, you would not like dying a natural death, more particularly if you were an Irishman; and so I trumped up that long story about the hydrophobia, and the gentleman's thumb, and devil knows what besides; and, while I was telling it, the cold perspiration was running down my head and face, for every time you stirred, I said to myself, now he'll do it. Two or three times, do you know, I was going to offer you ten shillings in the pound, and spare my life; and once, God forgive me, I thought it would not be a bad plan to shoot you by 'mistake,' do you perceave?"
"Why, upon my soul, I'm very much obliged to you for your excessively kind intentions; but really I feel you have done quite enough for me on the present occasion. But, come now, doctor, I must get to bed, and before I go, promise me two things--to dine with us to-day at the mess, and not to mention a syllable of what occurred last night--it tells, believe me, very badly for both; so, keep the secret, for if these confounded fellows of ours ever get hold of it, I may sell out, or quit the army; I'll never hear the end of it!"
"Never fear, my boy; trust me. I'll dine with you, and you're as safe as a church-mouse for any thing I'll tell them; so, now you'd better change your clothes, for I'm thinking it rained last night."
Muttering some very dubious blessings upon the learned Fin, I left the room, infinitely more chagrined and chop-fallen at the discovery I had made, than at all the misery and exposure the trick had consigned me to; "however," thought I, "if the doctor keep his word, it all goes well; the whole affair is between us both solely; but, should it not be so, I may shoot half the mess before the other half would give up quizzing me." Revolving such pleasant thought, I betook myself to bed, and what with mulled port, and a blazing fire, became once more conscious of being a warm-blooded animal, and feel sound asleep, to dream of doctors, strait waistcoats, shaved heads, and all the pleasing associations my late companion's narrative so readily suggested.CHAPTER XV. MEMS. OF THE NORTH CORK.
At six o'clock I had the pleasure of presenting the worthy Doctor Finucane to our mess, taking at the same time an opportunity, unobserved by him, to inform three or four of my brother officers that my friend was really a character, abounding in native drollery, and richer in good stories than even the generality of his countrymen.
Nothing could possibly go on better than the early part of the evening. Fin, true to his promise, never once alluded to what I could plainly perceive was ever uppermost in his mind, and what with his fund of humour, quaintness of expression, and quickness at reply, garnished throughout by his most mellifluous brogue, the true "Bocca Corkana," kept us from one roar of laughter to another. It was just at the moment in which his spirits seemed at their highest, that I had the misfortune to call upon him for a story, which his cousin Father Malachi had alluded to on the ever-memorable evening at his house, and which I had a great desire to hear from Fin's own lips. He seemed disposed to escape telling it, and upon my continuing to press my request, drily remarked,
"You forget, surely, my dear Mr. Lorrequer, the weak condition I'm in; and these gentlemen here, they don't know what a severe illness I've been labouring under lately, or they would not pass the decanter so freely down this quarter."
I had barely time to throw a mingled look of entreaty and menace across the table, when half-a-dozen others, rightly judging from the Doctor's tone and serio-comic expression, that his malady had many more symptoms of fun than suffering about it, called out together--"Oh, Doctor, by all means, tell us the nature of your late attack--pray relate it." "With Mr. Lorrequer's permission I'm your slave, gentlemen," said Fin, finishing off his glass. "Oh, as for me," I cried, "Dr. Finucane has my full permission to detail whatever he pleases to think a fit subject for your amusement."
"Come then, Doctor, Harry has no objection you see; so out with it, and we are all prepared to sympathise with your woes and misfortunes, whatever they be."
"Well, I am sure, I never could think of mentioning it without his leave; but now that he sees no objection--Eh, do you though? if so, then, don't be winking and making faces at me; but say the word, and devil a syllable of it I'll tell to man or mortal."
The latter part of this delectable speech was addressed to me across the table, in a species of stage whisper, in reply to some telegraphic signals I had been throwing him, to induce him to turn the conversation into any other channel."Then, that's enough," continued he sotto voce--"I see you'd rather I'd not tell it."
"Tell it and be d____d," said I, wearied by the incorrigible pertinacity with which the villain assailed me. My most unexpected energy threw the whole table into a roar, at the conclusion of which Fin began his narrative of the mail-coach adventure.
I need not tell my reader, who has followed me throughout in these my Confessions, that such a story lost nothing of its absurdity, when entrusted to the Doctor's powers of narration; he dwelt with a poet's feeling upon the description of his own sufferings, and my sincere condolence and commiseration; he touched with the utmost delicacy upon the distant hints by which he broke the news to me; but when he came to describe my open and undisguised terror, and my secret and precipitate retreat to the roof of the coach, there was not a man at table that was not convulsed with laughter---and, shall I acknowledge it, even I myself was unable to withstand the effect, and joined in the general chorus against myself.
"Well," said the remorseless wretch, as he finished his story, "if ye haven't the hard hearts to laugh at such a melancholy subject. Maybe, however, you're not so cruel after all--here's a toast for you, 'a speedy recovery to Cusack Rooney.'" This was drank amid renewed peals, with all the honors; and I had abundant time before the uproar was over, to wish every man of them hanged. It was to no purpose that I endeavoured to turn the tables, by describing Fin's terror at my supposed resemblance to a highwayman---his story had the precedence, and I met nothing during my recital but sly allusions to mad dogs, muzzles, and doctors; and contemptible puns were let off on every side at my expense.
"It's little shame I take to myself for the mistake, any how," said Fin, "for putting the darkness of the night out of question, I'm not so sure I would not have ugly suspicions of you by daylight.""And besides, Doctor," added I, "it would not be your first blunder in the dark."
"True for you, Mr. Lorrequer," said he, good-humouredly; "and now that I have told them your story, I don't care if they hear mine, though maybe some of ye have heard it already--it's pretty well known in the North Cork."
We all gave our disclaimers on this point, and having ordered in a fresh cooper of port, disposed ourselves in our most easy attitudes, while the Doctor proceeded as follows:--
"It was in the hard winter of the year __99, that we were quartered in Maynooth, as many said, for our sins--for a more stupid place, the Lord be merciful to it, never were men condemned to. The people at the college were much better off than us--they had whatever was to be got in the country, and never were disturbed by mounting guard, or night patrols. Many of the professors were good fellows, that liked grog fully as well as Greek, and understood short whist, and five and ten quite as intimately as they knew the Vulgate, or the confessions of St. Augustine
--they made no ostentacious display of their pious zeal, but whenever they were not fasting, or praying, or something of that kind, they were always pleasant and agreeable; and to do them justice, never refused, by any chance, an invitation to dinner--no matter at what inconvenience. Well, even this little solace in our affliction we soon lost, by an unfortunate mistake of that Orange rogue of the world, Major Jones, that gave a wrong pass one night--Mr. Lorrequer knows the story, (here he alluded to an adventure detailed in an early chapter of my Confessions)
--and from that day forward we never saw the pleasant faces of the Abbe D'Array, or the Professor of the Humanities, at the mess. Well, the only thing I could do, was just to take an opportunity to drop in at the College in the evening, where we had a quiet rubber of whist, and a little social and intellectual conversation, with maybe an oyster and a glass of punch, just to season the thing, before we separated; all done discreetly and quietly--no shouting nor even singing, for the 'superior' had a prejudice about profane songs. Well, one of those nights it was, about the first week in February, I was detained by stress of weather from 11 o'clock, when we usually bade good-night, to past twelve, and then to one o'clock, waiting for a dry moment to get home to the barracks--a good mile and a half off. Every time old Father Mahony went to look at the weather, he came back saying, 'It's worse it's getting; such a night of rain, glory be to God, never was seen.' So there was no good in going out to be drenched to the skin, and I sat quietly waiting, taking, between times, a little punch, just not to seem impatient, nor distress their rev'rances. At last it struck two, and I thought--'well, the decanter is empty now, and I think, if I mean to walk, I've taken enough for the present;' so, wishing them all manner of happiness, and pleasant dreams, I stumbled by way down stairs, and set out on my journey. I was always in the habit of taking a short cut on my way home, across the 'gurt na brocha,' the priest's meadows, as they call them, it saved nearly half a mile, although, on the present occasion, it exposed one wofully to the rain, for there was nothing to shelter against the entire way, not even a tree. Well, out I set in a half trot, for I staid so late I was pressed for time; besides, I felt it easier to run than walk; I'm sure I can't tell why; maybe the drop of drink I took got into my head. Well, I was just jogging on across the common; the rain beating hard in my face, and my clothes pasted to me with the wet; notwithstanding, I was singing to myself a verse of an old song, to lighten the road, when I heard suddenly a noise near me, like a man sneezing. I stopped and listened,--in fact, it was impossible to see your hand, the night was so dark--but I could hear nothing; the thought then came over me, maybe it's something 'not good,' for there were very ugly stories going about what the priests used to do formerly in these meadows; and bones were often found in different parts of them. Just as I was thinking this, another voice came nearer than the last; it might be only a sneeze, after all; but in real earnest it was mighty like a groan. 'The Lord be about us,' I said to myself, 'what's this?--have ye the pass?' I cried out, 'have ye the pass? or what brings ye walking here, in nomine patri?' for I was so confused whether it was a 'sperit' or not, I was going to address him in Latin--there's nothing equal to the dead languages to lay a ghost, every body knows. Faith the moment I said these words he gave another groan, deeper and more melancholy like than before. 'If it's uneasy ye are,' says I, 'for any neglect of your
friends,' for I thought he might be in purgatory longer than he thought convenient, 'tell me what you wish, and go home peaceably out of the rain, for this weather can do no good to living or dead; go home,' said I, 'and, if it's masses ye'd like, I'll give you a day's pay myself, rather than you should fret yourself this way.' The words were not well out of my mouth, when he came so near me that the sigh he gave went right through both my ears; 'the Lord be merciful to me,' said I, trembling. 'Amen,' says he, 'whether you're joking or not.' The moment he said that my mind was relieved, for I knew it was not a sperit, and I began to laugh heartily at my mistake; 'and who are ye at all?' said I, 'that's roving about, at this hour of the night, ye can't be Father Luke, for I left him asleep on the carpet before I quitted the college, and faith, my friend, if you hadn't the taste for divarsion ye would not be out now?' He coughed then so hard that I could not make out well what he said, but just perceived that he had lost his way on the common, and was a little disguised in liquor. 'It's a good man's case,' said I, 'to take a little too much, though it's what I don't ever do myself; so, take a hold of my hand, and I'll see you safe.' I stretched out my hand, and got him, not by the arm, as I hoped, but by the hair of the head, for he was all dripping with wet, and had lost his hat. 'Well, you'll not be better of this night's excursion,' thought I, 'if ye are liable to the rheumatism; and, now, whereabouts do you live, my friend, for I'll see you safe, before I leave you?' What he said then I never could clearly make out, for the wind and rain were both beating so hard against my face that I could not hear a word; however, I was able just to perceive that he was very much disguised in drink, and spoke rather thick. 'Well, never mind,' said I, 'it's not a time of day for much conversation; so, come along, and I'll see you safe in the guard-house, if you can't remember your own place of abode in the meanwhile.' It was just at the moment I said this that I first discovered he was not a gentleman. Well, now, you'd never guess how I did it; and, faith I always thought it a very cute thing of me, and both of us in the dark."
"No; you're wrong again, for it was by the hair I had a hold of him for fear of falling, for he was always stooping down. Well, you'd never guess it; it was just by the touch of his foot.""His foot! Why how did that give you any information?"
"There it is now; that's just what only an Irishman would ever have made any thing out of; for while he was stumbling about, he happened to tread upon my toes, and never, since I was born, did I feel any thing like the weight of him. 'Well,' said I, 'the loss of your hat may give you a cold, my friend; but upon my conscience you are in no danger of wet feet with such a pair of strong brogues as you have on you.' Well, he laughed at that till I thought he'd split his sides, and, in good truth, I could not help joining in the fun, although my foot was smarting like mad, and so we jogged along through the rain, enjoying the joke just as if we were sitting by a good fire, with a jorum of punch between us. I am sure I can't tell you how often we fell that night, but my clothes the next morning were absolutely covered with mud, and my hat crushed in two; for he was so confoundedly drunk it was impossible to keep him up, and he always kept boring along with his head down, so that my heart was almost broke in keeping him upon his legs. I'm sure I never had a more fatiguing march in the whole Peninsula, than that blessed mile and a half; but every misfortune has an end at last, and it was four o'clock, striking by the college clock, as we reached the barracks. After knocking a couple of times, and giving the countersign, the sentry opened the small wicket, and my heart actually leaped with joy that I had done with my friend; so, I just called out the sergeant of the guard, and said, 'will you put that poor fellow on the guard-bed till morning, for I found him on the common, and he could neither find his way home nor tell me where he lived.' 'And where is he?' said the sergeant. 'He's outside the gate there,' said I, 'wet to the skin, and shaking as if he had the ague.' 'And is this him?' said the sergeant as we went outside. 'It is,' said I, 'maybe you know him?' 'Maybe I've a guess,' said he, bursting into a fit of laughing, that I thought he'd choke with. 'Well, sergeant,' said I, 'I always took you for a humane man; but, if that's the way you treat a fellow-creature in distress.' 'A fellow-creature,' said he, laughing louder than before. 'Ay, a fellow-creature,' said I
--for the sergeant was an orangeman--'and if he differs from you in matters of religion, sure he's your fellow-creature still.' 'Troth, Doctor, I think there's another trifling difference betune us,' said he. 'Damn your politics,' said I; 'never let them interfere with true humanity.' Wasn't I right, Major? 'Take good care of him, and there's a half-a-crown for ye.' So saying these words, I steered along by the barrack wall, and, after a little groping about, got up stairs to my quarters, when, thanks to a naturally good constitution, and regular habits of life, I soon fell fast asleep."
When the Doctor had said thus much, he pushed his chair slightly from the table, and, taking off his wine, looked about him with the composure of a man who has brought his tale to a termination."Well, but Doctor," said the Major, "you are surely not done. You have not yet told us who your interesting friend turned out to be." "That's the very thing, then, I'm not able to do." "But, of course," said another, "your story does not end there." "And where the devil would you have it end?" replied he. "Didn't I bring my hero home, and go asleep afterwards myself, and then, with virtue rewarded, how could I finish it better?" "Oh, of course; but still you have not accounted for a principal character in the narrative," said I.
"Exactly so," said Curzon. "We were all expecting some splendid catastrophe in the morning; that your companion turned out to be the Duke of Leinster, at least--or perhaps a rebel general, with an immense price upon his head.""Neither the one nor the other," said Fin, drily. "And do you mean to say there never was any clue to the discovery of him?"
"The entire affair is wrapt in mystery to this hour," said he. "There was a joke about it, to be sure, among the officers; but the North Cork never wanted something to laugh at.""And what was the joke?" said several voices together.
"Just a complaint from old Mickey Oulahan, the postmaster, to the Colonel, in the morning, that some of the officers took away his blind mare off the common, and that the letters were late in consequence.""And so, Doctor," called out seven or eight, "your friend turned out to be--"
"Upon my conscience they said so, and that rascal, the serjeant, would take his oath of it; but my own impression I'll never disclose to the hour of my death."CHAPTER XVI. THEATRICALS.
Our seance at the mess that night was a late one, for after we had discussed some coopers of claret, there was a very general public feeling in favour of a broiled bone and some devilled kidneys, followed by a very ample bowl of bishop, over which simple condiments we talked "green room" till near the break of day.
From having been so long away from the corps I had much to learn of their doings and intentions to do, and heard with much pleasure that they possessed an exceedingly handsome theatre, well stocked with scenery, dresses, and decorations; that they were at the pinnacle of public estimation, from what they had already accomplished, and calculated on the result of my appearance to crown them with honour. I had indeed very little choice left me in the matter; for not only had they booked me for a particular part, but bills were already in circulation, and sundry little three-cornered notes enveloping them, were sent to the elite of the surrounding country, setting forth that "on Friday evening the committee of the garrison theatricals, intending to perform a dress rehearsal of the 'Family Party,' request the pleasure of Mr. ____ and Mrs. ____'s company on the occasion. Mr. Lorrequer will undertake the part of Captain Beauguarde. Supper at twelve. An answer will oblige."
The sight of one of these pleasant little epistles, of which the foregoing is a true copy--was presented to me as a great favour that evening, it having been agreed upon that I was to know nothing of their high and mighty resolves till the following morning. It was to little purpose that I assured them all, collectively and individually, that of Captain Beauguarde I absolutely knew nothing--had never read the piece
--nor even seen it performed. I felt, too, that my last appearance in character in a "Family Party," was any thing but successful; and I trembled lest, in the discussion of the subject, some confounded allusion to my adventure at Cheltenham might come out. Happily they seemed all ignorant of this; and fearing to bring conversation in any way to the matter of my late travels, I fell in with their humour, and agreed that if it were possible, in the limited time allowed me to manage it--I had but four days--I should undertake the character. My concurrence failed to give the full satisfaction I expected, and they so habitually did what they pleased with me, that, like all men so disposed, I never got the credit for concession which a man more niggardly of his services may always command.
Now, be it known that the aforesaid Major was so incorrigibly slow of study, and dull of comprehension, that he had been successively degraded at our theatrical board from the delivering of a stage message to the office of check-taker.
"He's so devilish good in the love scene," said the junior ensign, with the white eyebrows. "I say, Curzon, you'll be confoundedly jealous though, for he is to play with Fanny.""I rather think not," said Curzon, who was a little tipsy.
"Oh, yes," said Frazer, "Hepton is right. Lorrequer has Fanny for his 'Frou;' and, upon my soul, I should feel tempted to take the part myself upon the same terms; though I verily believe I should forget I was acting, and make fierce love to her on the stage."
"And who may la charmante Fanny be?" said I, with something of the air of the "Dey of Algiers" in my tone.
"Let Curzon tell him," said several voices together, "he is the only ma to do justice to such perfection."
"Quiz away, my merry men," said Cruzon, "all I know is, that you are a confoundedly envious set of fellows; and if so lovely a girl had thrown her eyes on one amongst you__"
"Hip! hip! hurrah!" said old Fitzgerald, "Curzon is a gone man. He'll be off to the palace for a license some fine morning, or I know nothing of such matters.""Well, Bat," said I, "if matters are really as you all say, why does not Curzon take the part you destine for me?"
"We dare not trust him," said the Major, "Lord bless you, when the call-boy would sing out for Captain Beaugarde in the second act, we'd find that he had Levanted with our best slashed trowsers, and a bird of paradise feather in his cap."
"Well," thought I, "this is better at least than I anticipated, for if nothing else offers, I shall have rare fun teasing my friend Charley"
--for it was evident that he had been caught by the lady in question.
"And so you'll stay with us; give me your hand--you are a real trump." These words, which proceeded from a voice at the lower end of the table, were addressed to my friend Finucane."I'll stay with ye, upon my conscience," said Fin; "ye have a most seductive way about ye; and a very superior taste in milk punch."
"But, Doctor," said I, "you must not be a drone in the hive; what will ye do for us? You should be a capital Sir Lucius O'Trigger, if we could get up the Rivals.""My forte is the drum--the big drum; put me among what the Greeks call the 'Mousikoi,' and I'll astonish ye."
It was at once agreed that Fin should follow the bent of his genius; and after some other arrangements for the rest of the party, we separated for the night, having previously toasted the "Fanny," to which Curzon attempted to reply, but sank, overpowered by punch and feelings, and looked unutterable things, without the power to frame a sentence.
During the time which intervened between the dinner and the night appointed for our rehearsal, I had more business upon my hands than a Chancellor of the Exchequer the week of the budget being produced. The whole management of every department fell, as usual, to my share, and all those who, previously to my arrival, had contributed their quota of labour, did nothing whatever now but lounge about the stage, or sit half the day in the orchestra, listening to some confounded story of Finucane's, who contrived to have an everlasting mob of actors, scene-painters, fiddlers, and call-boys always about him, who, from their uproarious mirth, and repeated shouts of merriment, nearly drove me distracted, as I stood almost alone and unassisted in the whole management. Of la belle Fanny, all I learned was, that she was a professional actress of very considerable talent, and extremely pretty; that Curzon had fallen desperately in love with her the only night she had appeared on the boards there, and that to avoid his absurd persecution of her, she had determined not to come into town until the morning of the rehearsal, she being at that time on a visit to the house of a country gentleman in the neighbourhood. Here was a new difficulty I had to contend with--to go through my part alone was out of the question to making it effective; and I felt so worried and harassed that I often fairly resolved on taking the wings of the mail, and flying away to the uttermost parts of the south of Ireland, till all was tranquil again. By degrees, however, I got matters into better train, and by getting our rehearsal early before Fin appeared, as he usually slept somewhat later after his night at mess, I managed to have things in something like order; he and his confounded drum, which, whenever he was not story-telling, he was sure to be practising on, being, in fact the greatest difficulties opposed to my managerial functions. One property he possessed, so totally at variance with all habits of order, that it completely baffled me. So numerous were his narratives, that no occasion could possibly arise, no chance expression be let fall on the stage, but Fin had something he deemed, apropos, and which, sans facon, he at once related for the benefit of all whom it might concern; that was usually the entire corps dramatique, who eagerly turned from stage directions and groupings, to laugh at his ridiculous jests. I shall give an instance of this habit of interruption, and let the unhappy wight who has filled such an office as mine pity my woes.
I was standing one morning on the stage drilling my "corps" as usual. One most refractory spirit, to whom but a few words were entrusted, and who bungled even those, I was endeavouring to train into something like his part.
"Come now, Elsmore, try it again--just so. Yes, come forward in this manner--take her hand tenderly--press it to your lips; retreat towards the flat, and then bowing deferentially--thus, say 'Good night, good night'--that's very simple, eh? Well, now that's all you have to do, and that brings you over here--so you make your exit at once."
"Exactly so, Mr. Elsmore, always contrive to be near the door under such circumstances. That was the way with my poor friend, Curran. Poor Philpot, when he dined with the Guild of Merchant Tailors, they gave him a gold box with their arms upon it--a goose proper, with needles saltier wise, or something of that kind; and they made him free of their 'ancient and loyal corporation,' and gave him a very grand dinner. Well, Curran was mighty pleasant and agreeable, and kept them laughing all night, till the moment he rose to go away, and then he told them that he never spent so happy an evening, and all that. 'But, gentlemen,' said he, 'business has its calls, and I must tear myself away; so wishing you now'--there were just eighteen of them--'wishing you now every happiness and prosperity, permit me to take my leave'--and here he stole near the door
--'to take my leave, and bid you both good night.'" With a running fire of such stories, it may be supposed how difficult was my task in getting any thing done upon the stage.
Well, at last the long-expected Friday arrived, and I rose in the morning with all that peculiar tourbillon of spirits that a man feels when he is half pleased and whole frightened with the labour before him. I had scarcely accomplished dressing when a servant tapped at my door, and begged to know if I could spare a few moments to speak to Miss Ersler, who was in the drawing-room. I replied, of course, in the affirmative, and, rightly conjecturing that my fair friend must be the lovely Fanny already alluded to, followed the servant down stairs."Mr. Lorrequer," said the servant, and closing the door behind me, left me in sole possession of the lady.
"Will you do me the favour to sit here, Mr. Lorrequer," said one of the sweetest voices in the world, as she made room for me on the sofa beside her. "I am particularly short-sighted; so pray sit near me, as I really cannot talk to any one I don't see."
I blundered out some platitude of a compliment to her eyes--the fullest and most lovely blue that ever man gazed into--at which she smiled as if pleased, and continued, "Now, Mr. Lorrequer, I have really been longing for your coming; for your friends of the 4_th are doubtless very dashing, spirited young gentlemen, perfectly versed in war's alarms; but pardon me if I say that a more wretched company of strolling wretches never graced a barn. Now, come, don't be angry, but let me proceed. Like all amateur people, they have the happy knack in distributing the characters--to put every man in his most unsuitable position--and then that poor dear thing Curzon--I hope he's not a friend of yours--by some dire fatality always plays the lover's parts, ha! ha! ha! True, I assure you, so that if you had not been announced as coming this week, I should have left them and gone off to Bath."
Here she rose and adjusted her brown ringlets at the glass, giving me ample time to admire one of the most perfect figures I ever beheld. She was most becomingly dressed, and betrayed a foot and ancle which for symmetry and "chaussure," might have challenged the Rue Rivoli itself to match it.
My first thought was poor Curzon; my second, happy and trice fortunate Harry Lorrequer. There was no time, however, for indulgence in such very pardonable gratulation; so I at once proceeded "pour faire l'aimable," to profess my utter inability to do justice to her undoubted talents, but slyly added, "that in the love making part of the matter she should never be able to discover that I was not in earnest." We chatted then gaily for upwards of an hour, until the arrival of her friend's carriage was announced, when, tendering me most graciously her hand, she smiled benignly and saying "au revoir, donc," drove off.
As I stood upon the steps of the hotel, viewing her "out of the visible horizon," I was joined by Curzon, who evidently, from his self-satisfied air, and jaunty gait, little knew how he stood in the fair Fanny's estimation.
"Very pretty, very pretty, indeed, deeper and deeper still," cried he, alluding to my most courteous salutation as the carriage rounded the corner, and it lovely occupant kissed her hand once more. "I say Harry, my friend, you don't think that was meant for you, I should hope?""What! the kiss of the hand? Yes, faith, but I do."
"Well, certainly that is good! why, man, she just saw me coming up that instant. She and I--we understand each other--never mind, don't be cross--no fault of yours, you know.""Ah, so she is taken with you," said I. "Eh, Charley?"
"Why, I believe that. I may confess to you the real state of matters. She was devilishly struck with me the first time we rehearsed together. We soon got up a little flirtation; but the other night when I played Mirabel to her, it finished the affair. She was quite nervous, and could scarcely go through with her part. I saw it, and upon my soul I am sorry for it; she's a prodigiously fine girl--such lips and such teeth! Egad I was delighted when you came; for, you see, I was in a manner obliged to take one line of character, and I saw pretty plainly where it must end; and you know with you it's quite different, she'll laugh and chat, and all that sort of thing, but she'll not be carried away by her feelings; you understand me?""Oh, perfectly; it's quite different, as you observed."
If I had not been supported internally during this short dialogue by the recently expressed opinion of the dear Fanny herself upon my friend Curzon's merits, I think I should have been tempted to take the liberty of wringing his neck off. However, the affair was much better as it stood, as I had only to wait a little with proper patience, and I had no fears but that my friend Charley would become the hero of a very pretty episode for the mess."So I suppose you must feel considerably bored by this kind of thing," I said, endeavouring to draw him out. "Why, I do," replied he, "and I do not. The girl is very pretty. The place is dull in the morning; and altogether it helps to fill up time." "Well," said I, "you are always fortunate, Curzon. You have ever your share of what floating luck the world affords." "It is not exactly all luck, my dear friend; for, as I shall explain to you--"
"Not now," replied I, "for I have not yet breakfasted." So saying I turned into the coffee-room, leaving the worthy adjutant to revel in his fancied conquest, and pity such unfortunates as myself.
After an early dinner at the club-house, I hastened down to the theatre, where numerous preparations for the night were going forward. The green-room was devoted to the office of a supper-room, to which the audience had been invited. The dressing-rooms were many of them filled with the viands destined for the entertainment. Where, among the wooden fowls and "impracticable" flagons, were to be seen very imposing pasties and flasks of champaigne, littered together in most admirable disorder. The confusion naturally incidental to all private theatricals, was ten-fold increased by the circumstances of our projected supper. Cooks and scene-shifters, fiddlers and waiters, were most inextricably mingled; and as in all similar cases, the least important functionaries took the greatest airs upon them, and appropriated without hesitation whatever came to their hands--thus the cook would not have scrupled to light a fire with the violoncello of the orchestra; and I actually caught one of the "gens de cuisine" making a "soufflet" in a brass helmet I had once worn when astonishing the world as Coriolanus.
Six o'clock struck. In another short hour and we begin, thought I, with a sinking heart, as I looked upon the littered stage crowded with hosts of fellows that had nothing to do there. Figaro himself never wished for ubiquity more than I did, as I hastened from place to place, entreating, cursing, begging, scolding, execrating, and imploring by turns. To mend the matter, the devils in the orchestra had begun to tune their instruments, and I had to bawl like a boatswain of a man-of-war, to be heard by the person beside me.
As seven o'clock struck, I peeped through the small aperture in the curtain, and saw, to my satisfaction, mingled, I confess, with fear, that the house was nearly filled--the lower tier of boxes entirely so. There were a great many ladies handsomely dressed, chatting gaily with their chaperons, and I recognised some of my acquaintances on every side; in fact, there was scarcely a family of rank in the county that had not at least some member of it present. As the orchestra struck up the overture to Don Giovanni, I retired from my place to inspect the arrangements behind.Before the performance of the "Family Party," we were to have a little one-act piece called "a day in Madrid," written by myself--the principal characters being expressly composed for "Miss Ersler and Mr. Lorrequer."
The story of this trifle, it is not necessary to allude to; indeed, if it were, I should scarcely have patience to do so, so connected is my recollection of it with the distressing incident which followed.
In the first scene of the piece, the curtain rising displays la belle Fanny sitting at her embroidery in the midst of a beautiful garden, surrounded with statues, fountains, &c. At the back is seen a pavillion in the ancient Moorish style of architecture, over which hang the branches of some large and shady trees--she comes forward, expressing her impatience at the delay of her lover, whose absence she tortures herself to account for by a hundred different suppositions, and after a very sufficient expose of her feelings, and some little explanatory details of her private history, conveying a very clear intimation of her own amiability, and her guardian's cruelty, she proceeds, after the fashion of other young ladies similarly situated, to give utterance to her feelings by a song; after, therefore, a suitable prelude from the orchestra, for which, considering the impassioned state of her mind, she waits patiently, she comes forward and begins a melody--"Oh why is he far from the heart that adores him?"
in which, for two verses, she proceeds with sundry sol feggio's, to account for the circumstances, and show her disbelief of the explanation in a very satisfactory manner,--meanwhile, for I must not expose my reader to an anxiety on my account, similar to what the dear Fanny here laboured under, I was making the necessary preparations for flying to her presence, and clasping her to my heart--that is to say, I had already gummed on a pair of mustachios, had corked and arched a ferocious pair of eyebrows, which, with my rouged cheeks, gave me a look half Whiskerando, half Grimaldi; these operations were performed, from the stress of circumstances, sufficiently near the object of my affections, to afford me the pleasing satisfaction of hearing from her own sweet lips, her solicitude about me--in a word, all the dressing-rooms but two were filled with hampers of provisions, glass, china, and crockery, and from absolute necessity, I had no other spot where I could attire myself unseen, except in the identical pavillion already alluded to--here, however, I was quite secure, and had abundant time also, for I was not to appear till scene the second, when I was to come forward in full Spanish costume, "every inch a Hidalgo." Meantime, Fanny had been singing--"Oh why is he far," &c. &c.
At the conclusion of the last verse, just as she repeats the words "why, why, why," in a very distracted and melting cadence, a voice behind startles her--she turns and beholds her guardian--so at least run the course of events in the real drama--that it should follow thus now however, "Dus aliter visum"--for just as she came to the very moving apostrophe alluded to, and called out, "why comes he not?"--a gruff voice from behind answered in a strong Cork brogue--"ah! would ye have him come in a state of nature?" at the instant a loud whistle rang through the house, and the pavillion scene slowly drew up, discovering me, Harry Lorrequer, seated on a small stool before a cracked looking-glass, my only habiliments, as I am an honest man, being a pair of long white silk stockings, and a very richly embroidered shirt with point lace collar. The shouts of laughter are yet in my ears, the loud roar of
inextinguishable mirth, which after the first brief pause of astonishment gave way, shook the entire building--my recollection may well have been confused at such a moment of unutterable shame and misery; yet, I clearly remember seeing Fanny, the sweet Fanny herself, fall into an arm-chair nearly suffocated with convulsions of laughter. I cannot go on; what I did I know not. I suppose my exit was additionally ludicrous, for a new eclat de rire followed me out. I rushed out of the theatre, and wrapping only my cloak round me, ran without stopping to the barracks. But I must cease; these are woes too sacred for even confessions like mine, so let me close the curtain of my room and my chapter together, and say, adieu for a season.
It might have been about six weeks after the events detailed in my last chapter had occurred, that Curzon broke suddenly into my room one morning before I had risen, and throwing a precautionary glance around, as if to assure himself that we were alone, seized my hand with a most unusual earnestness, and, steadfastly looking at me, said--"Harry Lorrequer, will you stand by me?"
So sudden and unexpected was his appearance at the moment, that I really felt but half awake, and kept puzzling myself for an explanation of the scene, rather than thinking of a reply to his question; perceiving which, and auguring but badly from my silence, he continued--"Am I then, really deceived in what I believed to be an old and tried friend?"
"Why, what the devil's the matter?" I cried out. "If you are in a scrape, why of course you know I'm your man; but, still, it's only fair to let one know something of the matter in the meanwhile.""In a scrape!" said he, with a long-drawn sigh, intended to beat the whole Minerva press in its romantic cadence. "Well, but get on a bit," said I, rather impatiently; "who is the fellow you've got the row with? Not one of ours, I trust?"
"Ah, my dear Hal," said he, in the same melting tone as before--"How your imagination does run upon rows, and broils, and duelling rencontres," (he, the speaker, be it known to the reader, was the fire-eater of the regiment,) "as if life had nothing better to offer than the excitement of a challenge, or the mock heroism of a meeting."As he made a dead pause here, after which he showed no disposition to continue, I merely added--
"Well, at this rate of proceeding we shall get at the matter in hand, on our way out to Corfu, for I hear we are the next regiment for the Mediterranean."The observation seemed to have some effect in rousing him from his lethargy, and he added-- "If you only knew the nature of the attachment, and how completely all my future hopes are concerned upon the issue--" "Ho!" said I, "so it's a money affair, is it? and is it old Watson has issued the writ? I'll bet a hundred."
"Well, upon my soul, Lorrequer," said he, jumping from his chair, and speaking with more energy than he had before evinced, "you are, without exception, the most worldly-minded, cold-blooded fellow I ever met. What have I said that could have led you to suppose I had either a duel or a law-suit upon my hands this morning? Learn, once and for all, man, that I am in love--desperately and over head and ears in love.""Et puis," said I coolly. "And intend to marry immediately." "Oh, very well," said I; "the fighting and debt will come later, that's all. But to return--now for the lady." "Come, you must make a guess."
"Why, then, I really must confess my utter inability; for your attentions have been so generally and impartially distributed since our arrival here, that it may be any fair one, from your venerable partner at whist last evening, to Mrs. Henderson, the pastry-cook inclusive, for whose macaroni and cherry-brandy your feelings have been as warm as they are constant."
"Come, no more quizzing, Hal. You surely must have remarked that lovely girl I waltzed with at Power's ball on Tuesday last."
"No, I do not mean any such thing--but a beautiful creature, with the brightest locks in Christendom--the very light-brown waving ringlets, Dominicheno loved to paint, and a foot--did you see her foot?""No; that was rather difficult, for she kept continually bobbing up and down, like a boy's cork-float in a fish-pond." "Stop there. I shall not permit this any longer--I came not here to listen to--" "But, Curzon, my boy, you're not angry?" "Yes, sir, I am angry." "Why, surely, you have not been serious all this time?" "And why not, pray?"
"Oh! I don't exactly know--that is, faith I scarcely thought you were in earnest, for if I did, of course I should honestly have confessed to you that the lady in question struck me as one of the handsomest persons I ever met.""You think so really, Hal?" "Certainly I do, and the opinion is not mine alone; she is, in fact universally admired."
"Come, Harry, excuse my bad temper. I ought to have known you better
--give me your hand, old boy, and wish me joy, for with you aiding and abetting she is mine to-morrow morning."
I wrung his hand heartily--congratulating myself, meanwhile, how happily I had got out of my scrape; as I now, for the first time, perceived that Curzon was bona fide in earnest."So, you will stand by me, Hal," said he.
"Of course. Only show me how, and I'm perfectly at your service. Any thing from riding postillion on the leaders to officiating as brides-maid, and I am your man. And if you are in want of such a functionary, I shall stand in 'loco parentis' to the lady, and give her away with as much 'onction' and tenderness as tho' I had as many marriageable daughters as king Priam himself. It is with me in marriage as in duelling--I'll be any thing rather than a principal; and I have long since disapproved of either method as a means of 'obtaining satisfaction.'"
"Ah, Harry, I shall not be discouraged by your sneers. You've been rather unlucky, I'm aware; but now to return: Your office, on this occasion, is an exceedingly simple one, and yet that which I could only confide to one as much my friend as yourself. You must carry my dearest Louisa off.""Carry her off! Where?--when?--how?" "All that I have already arranged, as you shall hear." "Yes. But first of all please to explain why, if going to run away with the lady, you don't accompany her yourself."
"Ah! I knew you would say that, I could have laid a wager you'd ask that question, for it is just that very explanation will show all the native delicacy and feminine propriety of my darling Loo; and first, I must tell you, that old Sir Alfred Jonson, her father, has some confounded prejudice against the army, and never would consent to her marriage with a red-coat--so that, his consent being out of the question, our only resource is an elopement. Louisa consents to this, but only upon one condition--and this she insists upon so firmly--I had almost said obstinately--that, notwithstanding all my arguments and representations, and even entreaties against it, she remains inflexible; so that I have at length yielded, and she is to have her own way.""Well, and what is the condition she lays such stress upon?"
"Simply this--that we are never to travel a mile together until I obtain my right to do so, by making her my wife. She has got some trumpery notions in her head that any slight transgression over the bounds of delicacy made by women before marriage is ever after remembered by the husband to their disadvantage, and she is, therefore, resolved not to sacrifice her principle even at such a crisis as the present."
"All very proper, I have no doubt; but still, pray explain what I confess appears somewhat strange to me at present. How does so very delicately-minded a person reconcile herself to travelling with a perfect stranger under such circumstances?"
"That I can explain perfectly to you. You must know that when my darling Loo consented to take this step, which I induced her to do with the greatest difficulty, she made the proviso I have just mentioned; I at once showed her that I had no maiden aunt or married sister to confide her to at such a moment, and what was to be done? She immediately replied, 'Have you no elderly brother officer, whose years and discretion will put the transaction in such a light as to silence the slanderous tongues of the world, for with such a man I am quite ready and willing to trust myself.' You see I was hard pushed there. What could I do?--whom could I select? Old Hayes, the paymaster, is always tipsy; Jones is five-and-forty--but egad! I'm not so sure I'd have found my betrothed at the end of the stage. You were my only hope; I knew I could rely upon you. You would carry on the whole affair with tact and discretion; and as to age, your stage experience would enable you, with a little assistance from costume, to pass muster; besides that, I have always represented you as the very Methuselah of the corps; and in the grey dawn of an autumnal morning--with maiden bashfulness assisting--the scrutiny is not likely to be a close one. So, now, your consent is alone wanting to complete the arrangements which, before this time to-morrow, shall have made me the happiest of mortals."
Having expressed, in fitting terms, my full sense of obligation for the delicate flattery with which he pictured me as "Old Lorrequer" to the Lady, I begged a more detailed account of his plan, which I shall shorten for my reader's sake, by the following brief expose.
A post-chaise and four was to be in waiting at five o'clock in the morning to convey me to Sir Alfred Jonson's residence, about twelve miles distant. There I was to be met by a lady at the gate-lodge, who was subsequently to accompany me to a small village on the Nore, where an old college friend of Curzon's happened to reside, as parson, and by whom the treaty was to be concluded.
This was all simple and clear enough--the only condition necessary to insure success being punctuality, particularly on the lady's part. As to mine I readily promised my best aid and warmest efforts in my friend's behalf.
"There is only one thing more," said Curzon. "Louisa's younger brother is a devilish hot-headed, wild sort of a fellow; and it would be as well, just for precaution sake, to have your pistols along with you, if, by any chance, he should make out what was going forward--not but that you know if any thing serious was to take place, I should be the person to take all that upon my hands."
"Oh! of course--I understand," said I. Meanwhile I could not help running over in my mind the pleasant possibilities such an adventure presented, heartily wishing that Curzon had been content to marry by bans or any other of the legitimate modes in use, without risking his friend's bones. The other pros and cons of the matter, with full and accurate directions as to the road to be taken on obtaining possession of the lady, being all arranged, we parted, I to settle my costume and appearance for my first performance in an old man's part, and Curzon to obtain a short leave for a few days from the commanding officer of the regiment.
When we again met, which was at the mess-table, it was not without evidence on either side of that peculiar consciousness which persons feel who have, or think they have, some secret in common, which the world wots not of. Curzon's unusually quick and excited manner would at once have struck any close observer as indicating the eve of some important step, no less than continual allusions to whatever was going on, by sly and equivocal jokes and ambiguous jests. Happily, however, on the present occasion, the party were otherwise occupied than watching him--being most profoundly and learnedly engaged in discussing medicine and matters medical with all the acute and accurate knowledge which characterises such discussions among the non-medical public.
The present conversation originated from some mention our senior surgeon Fitzgerald had just made of a consultation which he was invited to attend on the next morning, at the distance of twenty miles, and which necessitated him to start at a most uncomfortably early hour. While he continued to deplore the hard fate of such men as himself, so eagerly sought after by the world, that their own hours were eternally broken in upon by external claims, the juniors were not sparing of their mirth on the occasion, at the expense of the worthy doctor, who, in plain truth, had never been disturbed by a request like the present within any one's memory. Some asserted that the whole thing was a puff, got up by Fitz. himself, who was only going to have a day's partridge-shooting; others hinting that it was a blind to escape the vigilance of Mrs. Fitzgerald
--a well-known virago in the regiment--while Fitz. enjoyed himself; and a third party, pretending to sympathise with the doctor, suggested that a hundred pounds would be the least he could possibly be offered for such services as his on so grave an occasion.
"Fifty! Why, you tremendous old humbug, you don't mean to say you'll make fifty pounds before we are out of our beds in the morning?" cried one."I'll take your bet on it," said the doctor, who had, in this instance, reason to suppose his fee would be a large one.
During this discussion, the claret had been pushed round rather freely; and fully bent, as I was, upon the adventure before me, I had taken my share of it as a preparation. I thought of the amazing prize I was about to be instrumental in securing for my friend--for the lady had really thirty thousand pounds--and I could not conceal my triumph at such a prospect of success in comparison with the meaner object of ambition. They all seemed to envy poor Fitzgerald. I struggled with my secret for some time--but my pride and the claret together got the better of me, and I called out, "Fifty pounds on it, then, that before ten to-morrow morning, I'll make a better hit of it than you--and the mess shall decide between us afterwards as to the winner."
"And if you will," said I, seeing some reluctance on Fitz.'s part to take the wager, and getting emboldened in consequence, "let the judgment be pronounced over a couple of dozen of champaigne, paid by the loser."
This was a coup d'etat on my part, for I knew at once there were so many parties to benefit by the bet, terminate which way it might, there could be no possibility of evading it. My ruse succeeded, and poor Fitzgerald, fairly badgered into a wager, the terms of which he could not in the least comprehend, was obliged to sign the conditions inserted in the adjutant's note-book--his greatest hope in so doing being in the quantity of wine he had seen me drink during the evening. As for myself, the bet was no sooner made than I began to think upon the very little chance I had of winning it; for even supposing my success perfect in the department allotted to me, it might with great reason be doubted what peculiar benefit I myself derived as a counterbalance to the fee of the doctor. For this, my only trust lay in the justice of a decision which I conjectured would lean more towards the goodness of a practical joke than the equity of the transaction. The party at mess soon after separated, and I wished my friend good night for the last time before meeting him as a bride-groom.
I arranged every thing in order for my start. My pistol-case I placed conspicuously before me, to avoid being forgotten in the haste of departure; and, having ordered my servant to sit up all night in the guard-room until he heard the carriage at the barrack-gate, threw myself on my bed, but not to sleep. The adventure I was about to engage in suggested to my mind a thousand associations, into which many of the scenes I have already narrated entered. I thought how frequently I had myself been on the verge of that state which Curzon was about to try, and how it always happened that when nearest to success, failure had intervened. From my very school-boy days my love adventures had the same unfortunate abruptness in their issue; and there seemed to be something very like a fatality in the invariable unsuccess of my efforts at marriage. I feared, too, that my friend Curzon had placed himself in very unfortunate hands--if augury were to be relied upon. Something will surely happen, thought I, from my confounded ill luck, and all will be blown up. Wearied at last with thinking I fell into a sound sleep for about three-quarters of an hour, at the end of which I was awoke by my servant informing me that a chaise and four were drawn up at the end of the barrack lane."Why, surely, they are too early, Stubber? It's only four o'clock." "Yes, sir; but they say that the road for eight miles is very bad, and they must go it almost at a walk." That is certainly pleasant, thought I, but I'm in for it now, so can't help it.
In a few minutes I was up and dressed, and so perfectly transformed by the addition of a brown scratch-wig and large green spectacles, and a deep-flapped waistcoat, that my servant, on re-entering my room, could not recognise me. I followed him now across the barrack-yard, as, with my pistol-case under one arm and a lantern in his hand, he proceeded to the barrack-gate.As I passed beneath the adjutant's window, I saw a light--the sash was quickly thrown open, and Curzon appeared. "Is that you, Harry?" "Yes--when do you start?" "In about two hours. I've only eight miles to go--you have upwards of twelve, and no time to lose. God bless you, my boy--we'll meet soon." "Here's the carriage, sir; this way." "Well, my lads, you know the road I suppose?" "Every inch of it, your honour's glory; we're always coming it for doctors and 'pothecaries; they're never a week without them." I was soon seated, the door clapped to, and the words "all right" given, and away we went.
Little as I had slept during the night, my mind was too much occupied with the adventure I was engaged in, to permit any thoughts of sleep now, so that I had abundant opportunity afforded me of pondering over all the bearings of the case, with much more of deliberation and caution than I had yet bestowed upon it. One thing was certain, whether success did or did not attend our undertaking, the risk was mine and mine only; and if by any accident the affair should be already known to the family, I stood a very fair chance of being shot by one of the sons, or stoned to death by the tenantry; while my excellent friend Curzon should be eating his breakfast with his reverend friend, and only interrupting himself in his fourth muffin, to wonder "what could keep them;" and besides for minor miseries will, like the little devils in Don Giovanni, thrust up their heads among their better-grown brethren, my fifty-pound bet looked rather blue; for even under the most favourable light considered, however Curzon might be esteemed a gainer, it might be well doubted how far I had succeeded better than the doctor, when producing his fee in evidence. Well, well, I'm in for it now; but it certainly is strange, all these very awkward circumstances never struck me so forcibly before; and after all, it was not quite fair of Curzon to put any man forward in such a transaction; the more so, as such a representation might be made of it at the Horse-Guards as to stop a man's promotion, or seriously affect his prospects for life, and I at last began to convince myself that many a man so placed, would carry the lady off himself, and leave the adjutant to settle the affair with the family. For two mortal hours did I conjure up every possible disagreeable contingency that might arise. My being mulcted of my fifty and laughed at by the mess seemed inevitable, even were I fortunate enough to escape a duel with the fire-eating brother. Meanwhile a thick misty rain continued to fall, adding so much to the darkness of the early hour, that I could see nothing of the country about me, and knew nothing of where I was.
Troubles are like laudanum, a small dose only excites, a strong one sets you to sleep--not a very comfortable sleep mayhap--but still it is sleep, and often very sound sleep; so it now happened with me. I had pondered over, weighed, and considered all the pros, cons, turnings, and windings of this awkward predicament, till I had fairly convinced myself that I was on the high road to a confounded scrape; and then, having established that fact to my entire satisfaction, I fell comfortably back in the chaise, and sunk into a most profound slumber.
If to any of my readers I may appear here to have taken a very despondent view of this whole affair, let him only call to mind my invariable ill luck in such matters, and how always it had been my lot to see myself on the fair road to success, only up to that point at which it is certain, besides--but why explain? These are my confessions. I may not alter what are matters of fact, and my reader must only take me with all the imperfections of wrong motives and headlong impulses upon my head, or abandon me at once.
Meanwhile the chaise rolled along, and the road being better and the pace faster, my sleep became more easy; thus, about an hour and a half after I had fallen asleep, passed rapidly over, when the sharp turning of an angle distended me from my leaning position, and I awoke. I started up and rubbed my eyes; several seconds elapsed before I could think where I was or whither going. Consciousness at last came, and I perceived that we were driving up a thickly planted avenue. Why, confound it, they can't have mistaken it, thought I, or are we really going up to the house, instead of waiting at the lodge? I at once lowered the sash, and stretching out my head, cried out, "Do you know what ye are about, lads; is this all right?" but unfortunately, amid the rattling of the gravel and the clatter of the horses, my words were unheard; and thinking I was addressing a request to go faster, the villains cracked their whips, and breaking into a full gallop, before five minutes flew over, they drew up with a jerk at the foot of a long portico to a large and spacious cut-stone mansion. When I rallied from the sudden check, which had nearly thrown me through the window, I gave myself up for lost: here I was vis a vis to the very hall-door of the man whose daughter I was about to elope with, whether so placed by the awkwardness and blundering of the wretches who drove me, or delivered up by their treachery, it mattered not, my fate seemed certain; before I had time to determine upon any line of acting in this confounded dilemma, the door was jerked open by a servant in a sombre livery; who, protruding his head and shoulders into the chaise, looked at me steadily for a moment, and said, "Ah! then, doctor darlin', but ye're welcome." With the speed with which sometimes the bar of an air long since heard, or the passing glance of an old familiar fact can call up the memory of our very earliest childhood, bright and vivid before us, so that one single phrase explained the entire mystery of my present position, and I saw in one rapid glance that I had got into the chaise intended for Dr. Fitzgerald, and was absolutely at that moment before the hall-door of the patient. My first impulse was an honest one, to avow the mistake and retrace my steps, taking my chance to settle with Curzon, whose matrimonial scheme I foresaw was doomed to the untimely fate of all those I had ever been concerned in. My next thought, how seldom is the adage true which says "that second thoughts are best," was upon my luckless wager; for, even supposing that Fitzgerald should follow me in the other chaise, yet as I had the start of him, if I could only pass muster for half an hour, I might secure the fee, and evacuate the territory; besides that there was a great chance of Fitz's having gone on my errand, while I was journeying on his, in which case I should be safe from interruption. Meanwhile, heaven only could tell, what his interference in poor Curzon's business might not involve. These serious reflections took about ten seconds to pass through my mind, as the grave-looking old servant proceeded to encumber himself with my cloak and my pistol-case, remarking as he lifted the latter, "And may the Lord grant ye won't want the instruments this time, doctor, for they say he is better this morning;" heartily wishing amen to the benevolent prayer of the honest domestic, for more reasons than one, I descended leisurely, as I conjectured a doctor ought to do, from the chaise, and with a solemn pace and grave demeanour followed him into the house.
In the small parlour to which I was ushered, sat two gentlemen somewhat advanced in years, who I rightly supposed were my medical confreres. One of these was a tall, pale, ascetic-looking man, with grey hairs, and retreating forehead, slow in speech, and lugubrious in demeanour. The other, his antithesis, was a short, rosy-cheeked, apoplectic-looking subject, with a laugh like a suffocating wheeze, and a paunch like an alderman; his quick, restless eye, and full nether lip denoting more of the bon vivant than the abstemious disciple of Aesculapius. A moment's glance satisfied me, that if I had only these to deal with, I was safe, for I saw that they were of that stamp of country practitioner, half-physician, half-apothecary, who rarely come in contact with the higher orders of their art, and then only to be dictated to, obey, and grumble.
"Doctor, may I beg to intrude myself, Mr. Phipps, on your notice? Dr. Phipps or Mr. It's all one; but I have only a license in pharmacy, though they call me doctor.""Surgeon Riley, sir; a very respectable practitioner," said he, waving his hand towards his rubicund confrere.
I at once expressed the great happiness it afforded me to meet such highly informed and justly celebrated gentlemen; and fearing every moment the arrival of the real Simon Pure should cover me with shame and disgrace, begged they would afford me as soon as possible, some history of the case we were concerned for. They accordingly proceeded to expound in a species of duet, some curious particulars of an old gentleman who had the evil fortune to have them for his doctors, and who laboured under some swelling of the neck, which they differed as to the treatment of, and in consequence of which, the aid of a third party (myself, God bless the mark!) was requested.
As I could by no means divest myself of the fear of Fitz.'s arrival, I pleaded the multiplicity of my professional engagements as a reason for at once seeing the patient; upon which I was conducted up stairs by my two brethren, and introduced to a half-lighted chamber. In a large easy chair sat a florid-looking old man, with a face in which pain and habitual ill-temper had combined to absorb every expression."This is the doctor of the regiment, sir, that you desired to see," said my tall coadjutor.
"Oh! then very well; good morning, sir. I suppose you will find out something new the matter, for them two there have been doing so every day this two months."
"I trust, sir," I replied stiffly, "that with the assistance of my learned friends, much may be done for you. Ha! hem! So this is the malady. Turn your head a little to that side;" here an awful groan escaped the sick man, for I, it appears, had made considerable impression upon rather a delicate part, not unintentionally I must confess; for as I remembered Hoyle's maxim at whist, "when in doubt play a trump," so I thought it might be true in physic, when posed by a difficulty to do a bold thing also. "Does that hurt you, sir?" said I in a soothing and affectionate tone of voice. "Like the devil," growled the patient. "And here?" said I. "Oh! oh! I can't bear it any longer." "Oh! I perceive," said I, "the thing is just as I expected." Here I raised my eyebrows, and looked indescribably wise at my confreres."No aneurism, doctor," said the tall one. "Certainly not."
"Maybe," said the short man, "maybe it's a stay-at-home-with-us tumour after all;" so at least he appeared to pronounce a confounded technical, which I afterwards learned was "steatomatous;" conceiving that my rosy friend was disposed to jeer at me, I gave him a terrific frown, and resumed, "this must not be touched.""So you won't operate upon it," said the patient.
"I would not take a thousand pounds and do so," I replied. "Now if you please gentlemen," said I, making a step towards the door, as if to withdraw for consultation; upon which they accompanied me down stairs to the breakfast-room. As it was the only time in my life I had performed in this character, I had some doubts as to the propriety of indulging a very hearty breakfast appetite, not knowing if it were unprofessional to eat; but from this doubt my learned friends speedily relieved me, by the entire devotion which they bestowed for about twenty minutes upon ham, rolls, eggs, and cutlets, barely interrupting these important occupations by sly allusions to the old gentleman's malady, and his chance of recovery."Well, doctor," said the pale one, as at length he rested from his labours, "what are we to do?" "Ay," said the other, "there's the question."
"Go on," said I, "go on as before; I can't advise you better." Now, this was a deep stroke of mine; for up to the present moment I do not know what treatment they were practising; but it looked a shrewd thing to guess it, and it certainly was civil to approve of it."So you think that will be best." "I am certain--I know nothing better," I answered.
"Well, I'm sure, sir, we have every reason to be gratified for the very candid manner you have treated us. Sir, I'm your most obedient servant," said the fat one.
"Gentlemen, both your good healths and professional success also:" here I swallowed a petit verre of brandy; thinking all the while there were worse things than the practice of physic."I hope you are not going," said one, as my chaise drew up at the door. "Business calls me," said I, "and I can't help it." "Could not you manage to see our friend here again, in a day or two?" said the rosy one. "I fear it will be impossible," replied I; "besides I have a notion he may not desire it." "I have been commissioned to hand you this," said the tall doctor, with a half sigh, as he put a check into my hand.
I bowed slightly, and stuffed the crumpled paper with a half careless air into my waistcoat pocket, and wishing them both every species of happiness and success, shook hands four times with each, and drove off; never believing myself safe 'till I saw the gate-lodge behind me, and felt myself flying on the road to Kilkenny at about twelve miles Irish an hour.
It was past two o'clock when I reached the town. On entering the barrack-yard, I perceived a large group of officers chatting together, and every moment breaking into immoderate fits of laughter. I went over, and immediately learned the source of their mirth, which was this: No sooner had it been known that Fitzgerald was about to go to a distance, on a professional call, than a couple of young officers laid their heads together, and wrote an anonymous note to Mrs. Fitz. who was the very dragon of jealousy, informing her, that her husband had feigned the whole history of the patient and consultation as an excuse for absenting himself on an excursion of gallantry; and that if she wished to satisfy herself of the truth of the statement, she had only to follow him in the morning, and detect his entire scheme; the object of these amiable friends being to give poor Mrs. Fitz. a twenty miles' jaunt, and confront her with her injured husband at the end of it.
Having a mind actively alive to suspicions of this nature, the worthy woman made all her arrangements for a start, and scarcely was the chaise and four, with her husband, out of the town, than was she on the track of it, with a heart bursting with jealousy, and vowing vengeance to the knife, against all concerned in this scheme to wrong her.
So far the plan of her persecutors had perfectly succeeded; they saw her depart, on a trip of, as they supposed, twenty miles, and their whole notions of the practical joke were limited to the eclaircissement that must ensue at the end. Little, however, were they aware how much more nearly the suspected crime, was the position of the poor doctor to turn out; for, as by one blunder I had taken his chaise, so he, without any inquiry whatever, had got into the one intended for me; and never awoke from a most refreshing slumber, till shaken by the shoulder by the postillion, who whispered in his ear--"here we are sir; this is the gate.""But why stop at the gate? Drive up the avenue, my boy." "His honor told me, sir, not for the world to go farther than the lodge; nor to make as much noise as a mouse." "Ah! very true. He may be very irritable, poor man! Well stop here, and I'll get out." Just as the doctor had reached the ground, a very smart-looking soubrette tripped up, and said to him-- "Beg pardon, sir; but you are the gentleman from the barrack, sir?" "Yes, my dear," said Fitz., with a knowing look at the pretty face of the damsel, "what can I do for you?" "Why sir, my mistress is here in the shrubbery; but she is so nervous, and so frightened, I don't know how she'll go through it." "Ah! she's frightened, poor thing; is she? Oh! she must keep up her spirits, while there's life there's hope." "Sir." "I say, my darling, she must not give way. I'll speak to her a little. Is not he rather advanced in life?" "Oh, Lord! no sir. Only two-and-thirty, my mistress tells me?" "Two-and-thirty! Why I thought he was above sixty."
"Above sixty! Law! sir. You have a bright fancy. This is the gentleman, ma'am. Now sir, I'll just slip aside for a moment, and let you talk to her.""I am grieved, ma'am, that I have not the happiness to make your acquaintance under happier circumstances." "I must confess, sir--though I am ashamed"-- "Never be ashamed, ma'am. Your grief, although, I trust causeless, does you infinite honor." "Upon my soul she is rather pretty," said the doctor to himself here.
"Well, sir! as I have the most perfect confidence in you, from all I have heard of you, I trust you will not think me abrupt in saying that any longer delay here is dangerous.""Dangerous! Is he in so critical a state as that then?" "Critical a state, sir! Why what do you mean?" "I mean, ma'am, do you think, then, it must be done to-day?" "Of course I do, sir, and I shall never leave the spot without your assuring me of it."
"Oh! in that case make your mind easy. I have the instruments in the chaise."
"The instruments in the chaise! Really, sir, if you are not jesting--I trust you don't think this is a fitting time for such--I entreat of you to speak more plainly and intelligibly."
A moment more saw the poor doctor seated beside the young lady, while the postillions plied whip and spur with their best energy; and the road flew beneath them. Meanwhile the delay caused by this short dialogue, enabled Mrs. Fitz.'s slower conveyance to come up with the pursuit, and her chaise had just turned the angle of the road as she caught a glimpse of a muslin dress stepping into the carriage with her husband.
There are no words capable of conveying the faintest idea of the feelings that agitated Mrs. Fitz. at this moment. The fullest confirmation to her worst fears was before her eyes--just at the very instant when a doubt was beginning to cross over her mind that it might have been merely a hoax that was practised on her, and that the worthy Doctor was innocent and blameless. As for the poor Doctor himself, there seemed little chance of his being enlightened as to the real state of matters; for from the moment the young lady had taken her place in the chaise, she had buried her face in her hands, and sobbed continually. Meanwhile he concluded that they were approaching the house by some back entrance, to avoid noise and confusion, and waited, with due patience, for the journey's end.
As, however, her grief continued unabated, Fitz. at length began to think of the many little consolatory acts he had successfully practised in his professional career, and was just insinuating some very tender speech on the score of resignation, with his head inclined towards the weeping lady beside him, when the chaise of Mrs. Fitz. came up along-side, and the postillions having yielded to the call to halt, drew suddenly up, displaying to the enraged wife the tableau we have mentioned."So, wretch," she screamed rather than spoke, "I have detected you at last." "Lord bless me! Why it is my wife." "Yes, villain! your injured, much-wronged wife! And you, madam, may I ask what you have to say for thus eloping with a married man?"
"Shame! My dear Jemima," said Fitz. "how can you possibly permit your foolish jealousy so far to blind your reason. Don't you see I am going upon a professional call?""Oh! you are. Are you? Quite professional, I'll be bound." "Oh, sir! Oh, madam! I beseech you, save me from the anger of my relatives, and the disgrace of exposure. Pray bring me back at once." "Why, my God! ma'am, what do you mean? You are not gone mad, as well as my wife."
"Really, Mr. Fitz." said Mrs. F. "this is carrying the joke too far. Take your unfortunate victim--as I suppose she is such--home to her parents, and prepare to accompany me to the barrack; and if there be law and justice in--""Well! may the Lord in his mercy preserve my senses, or you will both drive me clean mad."