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The Black Baronet; or, The Chronicles Of Ballytrain, a novel by William Carleton

Chapter 5. Sir Thomas Gourlay Fails In Unmasking The Stranger

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_ CHAPTER V. Sir Thomas Gourlay fails in unmasking the Stranger

--Mysterious Conduct of Fenton

When Sir Thomas Gourlay, after the delay of better than an hour in town, entered the coffee-room of the "Mitre," he was immediately attended by the landlord himself.

"Who is this new guest you have got, landlord," inquired the baronet--"They tell me he is a very mysterious gentleman, and that no one can discover his name. Do! you know anything about him?"

"De'il a syllable, Sir Tammas," replied the landlord, who was a northern--"How ir you, Counsellor Crackenfudge," he added, speaking to a person who passed upstairs--"There he goes," proceeded Jack the landlord--"a nice boy. But do you know, Sir Tammas, why he changed his name to Crackenfudge?"

Sir Thomas's face at this moment, had grown frightful. While the landlord was speaking, the baronet, attracted by the noise of a carriage passing, turned to observe it, just at the moment when his daughter was bowing so significantly to the stranger in the window over them, as we have before stated. Here was a new light thrown upon the mystery or mysteries by which he felt himself surrounded on all hands. The strange guest in the Mitre inn, was then, beyond question, the very individual alluded to in the anonymous letter. The baronet's face had, in the scowl of wrath, got black, as mine host was speaking. This expression, however, gradually diminished in the darkness of that wrathful shadow which lay over it. After a severe internal struggle with his tremendous passions, he at length seemed to cool down. His face became totally changed; and in a few minutes of silence and struggle, it passed from the blackness of almost ungovernable rage to a pallid hue, that might not most aptly be compared to the summit of a volcano covered with snow, when about to project its most awful and formidable eruptions.

The landlord, while putting the question to the baronet, turned his sharp, piercing eyes upon him, and, at a single glance, perceived that something had unusually moved him.

"Sir Tammas," said he, "there is no use in denyin' it, now--the blood's disturbed in you."

"Give your guest my compliments--Sir Thomas Gourlay's compliments--and I should feel obliged by a short interview."

On going up, Jack found the stranger and Fenton as we have already described them--"Sir," said he, addressing the former--"there's a gentleman below who wishes to know who you ir."

"Who I am!" returned the other, quite unmoved; "and, pray who may he be?"

"Sir Tammas Gourlay; an' all tell you what, if you don't wish to see him, why don't see him. A 'll take him the message, an' if there's anything about you that you don't wish to be known or heard, make him keep his distance. He's this minute in a de'il of a passion about something, an' was comin' up as if he'd ait you without salt, but a' would n't allow it; so, if you don't wish to see him, am the boy won't be afeard to say so. He's not coming as a friend, a' can tell you."

"Sir Thomas Gourlay's in the house, then," said the stranger, with a good deal of surprise. He then paused for some time, and, during this pause, he very naturally concluded that the baronet had witnessed his daughter's bow, so cautiously and significantly made to himself as she passed. Whilst he turned over these matters in his mind, the landlord addressed Fenton as follows:

"You can go to another room, Fenton. A'm glad to see you in a decent suit of clothes, any way--a' hope you'll take yourself up, and avoid drink and low company; for de'il a haet good ever the same two brought anybody; but, before you go, a'll give you a gless o' grog to drink the Glorious Memory. Come, now, tramp, like a good fellow."

"I have a particular wish," said the stranger, "that Mr. Fenton should remain; and say to Sir Thomas Gourlay that I am ready to see him."

"A' say, then," said Jack, in a friendly whisper, "be on your edge with him, for, if he finds you saft, the very de'il won't stand him."

"The gentleman, Sir Tammas," said Jack, on going down stairs, "will be glad to see you. He's overhead."

Fenton, himself, on hearing that Sir Thomas was about to come up, prepared to depart; but the other besought him so earnestly to stay, that he consented, although with evident reluctance. He brought his chair over to a corner of the room, as if he wished to be as much out of the way as possible, or, it may be, as far from Sir Thomas's eye, as the size of the apartment would permit. Be this as it may, Sir Thomas entered, and brought his ungainly person nearly to the centre of the room before he spoke. At length he did so, but took care not to accompany his words with that courtesy of manner, or those rules of good-breeding, which ever prevail among gentlemen, whether as friends or foes. After standing for a moment, he glanced from the one to the other, his face still hideously pale; and ultimately, fixing his eye upon the stranger, he viewed him from head to foot, and again from foot to head, with a look of such contemptuous curiosity, as certainly was strongly calculated to excite the stranger's indignation. Finding the baronet spoke not, the other did.

"To what am I to attribute the honor of this visit, sir?"

Sir Thomas even then did not speak, but still kept looking at him with the expression we have described. At length he did speak:

"You have been residing for some time in our neighborhood, sir." The stranger simply bowed.

"May I ask how long?"

"I have the honor, I believe, of addressing Sir Thomas Gourlay?"

"Yes, you have that honor."

"And may I beg to know his object in paying me this unceremonious visit, in which he does not condescend either to announce himself, or to observe the usual rules of good-breeding?"

"From my rank and known position in this part of the country, and in my capacity also as a magistrate, sir," replied the baronet, "I'm entitled to make such inquiries as I may deem necessary from those who appear here under suspicious circumstances."

"Perhaps you may think so, but I am of opinion, sir, that you would consult the honor of the rank and position you allude to much more effectually, by letting such inquiries fall within the proper province of the executive officers of law, whenever you think there is a necessity for it."

"Excuse me, but, in that manner, I shall follow my own judgment, not yours."

"And under what circumstances of suspicion do you deem me to stand at present?"

"Very strong circumstances. You have been now living here nearly a week, in a privacy which no gentleman would ever think of observing. You have hemmed yourself in by a mystery, sir; you have studiously concealed your name--your connections--and defaced every mark by which you could be known or traced. This, sir, is not the conduct of a gentleman; and argues either actual or premeditated guilt."

"You seem heated, sir, and you also reason in resentment, whatever may have occasioned it. And so a gentleman is not to make an excursion to a country town in a quiet way--perhaps to recruit his health, perhaps to relax his mind, perhaps to gratify a whim--but he must be pounced upon by some outrageous dispenser of magisterial justice, who thinks, that, because he wishes to live quietly and unknown, he must be some cutthroat, or raw-head-and-bloody-bones coming to eat half the country?"

"I dare say, sir, that is all very fine, and very humorous; but when these mysterious vagabonds--"

The eye of the stranger blazed; lightning itself, in fact, was not quicker than the fire which gleamed from it, as the baronet uttered the last words. He walked over deliberately, but with a step replete with energy and determination:

"How, sir," said he, "do you dare to apply such an expression to me?"

The baronet's eye quailed. He paused a moment, during which he could perceive that the stranger had a spirit not to be tampered with.

"No, sir," he replied, "not exactly to you, but when persons such as you come in this skulking way, probably for the purpose of insinuating themselves into families of rank--"

"Have I, sir, attempted to insinuate myself into yours," asked the stranger, interrupting him.

"When such persons come under circumstances of strong suspicion," said the other, without replying to him, "it is the business of every gentleman in the country to keep a vigilant eye upon them."

"I shall hold myself accountable to no such gentleman," replied the stranger; "but will consider every man, no matter what his rank or character may be, as unwarrantably impertinent, who arrogantly attempts to intrude himself in affairs that don't--" he was about to add, "that don't concern him," when he paused, and added, "into any man's affairs. Every man has a right to travel incognito, and to live incognito, if he chooses; and, on that account, sir, so long as I wish to maintain mine, I shall allow no man to assume the right of penetrating it. If this has been the object of your visit, you will much oblige me by relinquishing the one, and putting an end to the other, as soon as may be."

"As a magistrate, sir, I demand to know your name," said the baronet, who thought that, in the stranger's momentary hesitation, he had observed symptoms of yielding.

"As an independent man, sir, and a gentleman, I shall not answer such a question."

"You brave me, sir--you defy me." continued the other, his face still pale, but baleful in its expression.

"Yes, sir," replied the other, "I brave you--I defy you."

"Very well, sir," returned the baronet--"remember these words."

"I am not in the habit of forgetting anything that a man of spirit ought to remember," said the other--"I have the honor of wishing you a good-morning."

The baronet withdrew in a passion that had risen to red heat, and was proceeding to mount his horse at the door, when Counsellor Crackenfudge, who had followed him downstairs, thus addressed him:

"I beg your pardon, Sir Thomas; I happened to be sitting in the back-room while you were speaking to that strange fellow above; I pledge you my honor I did not listen; but I could not help overhearing, you know--well, Sir Thomas, I can tell you something about him."

"How!" said the baronet, whose eye I gleamed with delight--"Can you, in truth, tell me anything about him, Mr. Crackenfudge? You will oblige me very much if you do."

"I will tell you all I know about him, Sir Thomas," replied the worthy counsellor; "and that is, that I know he has paid many secret visits to Mr. Birney the attorney."

"To Birney!" exclaimed the other; and, as he spoke, he seemed actually to stagger back a step or two, whilst the paleness of his complexion increased to a hue that was ghastly--"to Birney!--to my blackest and bitterest enemy--to the man who, I suspect, has important family documents of mine in his possession. Thanks, even for this, Crackenfudge--you are looking to become of the peace. Hearken now; aid me in ferreting out this lurking scoundrel, and I shall not forget your wishes." He then rode homewards.

The stranger, during this stormy dialogue with Sir Thomas Gourlay, turned his eye, from time to time, toward Fenton, who appeared to have lost consciousness itself so long as the baronet was in the room. On the departure, however, of that gentleman, he went over to him, and said:

"Why, Fenton, what's the matter?" Fenton looked at him with a face of great distress, from which the perspiration was pouring, but seemed utterly unable to speak. _

Read next: Chapter 6. Extraordinary Scene Between Fenton And The Stranger

Read previous: Chapter 4. An Anonymous Letter

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