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

Chapter 6. Extraordinary Scene Between Fenton And The Stranger

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_ CHAPTER VI. Extraordinary Scene between Fenton and the Stranger

The character of Fenton was one that presented an extraordinary variety of phases. With the exception of the firmness and pertinacity with which he kept the mysterious secret of his origin and identity--that is, if he himself knew them, he was never known to maintain the same moral temperament for a week together. Never did there exist a being so capricious and unstable. At one time, you found him all ingenuousness and candor; at another, no earthly power could extort a syllable of truth from his lips. For whole days, if not for weeks together, he dealt in nothing but the wildest fiction, and the most extraordinary and grotesque rodomontade. The consequence was, that no reliance could be placed on anything he said or asserted. And yet--which appeared to be rather unaccountable in such a character--it could be frequently observed that he was subject to occasional periods of the deepest dejection. During those painful and gloomy visitations, he avoided all intercourse with his fellow-men, took to wandering through the country--rarely spoke to anybody, whether stranger or acquaintance, but maintained the strictest and most extraordinary silence. If he passed a house at meal-time he entered, and, without either preface or apology, quietly sat down and joined them. To this freedom on his part, in a country so hospitable as Ireland in the days of her prosperity was, and could afford to be, no one ever thought of objecting.

"It was," observed the people, "only the poor young gentleman who is not right in the head."

So that the very malady which they imputed to him was only a passport to their kindness and compassion. Fenton had no fixed residence, nor any available means of support, save the compassionate and generous interest which the inhabitants of Ballytrain took in him, in consequence of those gentlemanly manners which he could assume whenever he wished, and the desolate position in which some unknown train of circumstances had unfortunately placed him.

When laboring under these depressing moods to which we have alluded, his memory seemed filled with recollections that, so far as appearances went, absolutely stupefied his heart by the heaviness of the suffering they occasioned it; and, when that heart, therefore, sank as far as its powers of endurance could withstand this depression, he uniformly had recourse to the dangerous relief afforded by indulgence in the fiery stimulant of liquor, to which he was at all times addicted.

Such is a slightly detailed sketch of an individual whose fate is deeply involved in the incidents and progress of our narrative.

The horror which we have described as having fallen upon this unfortunate young man, during Sir Thomas Gourlay's stormy interview with the stranger, so far from subsiding, as might be supposed, after his departure, assumed the shape of something bordering on insanity. On looking at his companion, the wild but deep expression of his eyes began to change into one of absolute frenzy, a circumstance which could not escape the stranger's observation, and which, placed as he was in the pursuit of an important secret, awoke a still deeper interest, whilst at the same time it occasioned him much pain.

"Mr. Fenton," said he, "I certainly have no wish, by any proceeding incompatible with an ungentlemanly feeling of impertinent curiosity, to become acquainted with the cause of this unusual excitement, which the appearance of Miss Gourlay and her father seems to produce upon you, unless in so far as its disclosure, in honorable confidence, might enable me, as a person sincerely your friend, to allay or remove it."

"Suppose, sir, you are mistaken." replied the other--"Do you not know that there are memories arising from association, that are touched and kindled into great pain, by objects that are by no means the direct cause of them, or the cause of them in any sense?"

"I admit the truth of what you say, Mr. Fenton; but we can only draw our first inferences from appearances. It is not from any idle or prurient desire to become acquainted with the cause of your emotion that I speak, but simply from a wish to serve you, if you will permit me. It is distressing to witness what you suffer."

"I have experienced," said Fenton, whose excitement seemed not only to rise as he proceeded, but in a considerable degree to give that fervor and elevation to his language, which excitement often gives; "yes, sir," he proceeded, his eyes kindling almost into fury, "I have experienced much treacherous and malignant sympathy, under the guise of pretended friendship--sympathy! why do I say sympathy? Persecution--vengeance. Yes, sir, till I have become mad--or--or nearly so. No," he added, "I am not mad--I never was mad--but I understand your object--avaunt, sir--begone--or I shall throw you out of the window."

"Be calm, Mr. Fenton--be calm," replied the stranger, "and collect yourself. I am, indeed, sincerely your friend."

"Who told you, sir, that I was mad?"

"I never said so, Mr. Fenton."

"It matters not, sir--you are a traitor--and as such I denounce you. This room is mine, sir, and I shall forthwith expel you from it--" and, as he spoke, he started up, and sprung at the stranger, who, on seeing him rise for the purpose, instantly rang the bell. The waiter immediately entered, and found the latter holding poor Fenton by the two wrists, and with such a tremendous grasp as made him feel like an infant, in point of strength, in his hands.

"This is unmeaning violence, sir," exclaimed the latter, calmly but firmly, "unless you explain yourself, and give a reason for it. If you are moved by any peculiar cause of horror, or apprehension, or danger, why not enable me to understand it, in order that you may feel assured of my anxious disposition to assist you?"

"Gintlemen," exclaimed Paudeen, "what in the name of Pether White and Billy Neelins is the reason of this? But I needn't ax--it's one of Mr. Fenton's tantrams--an' the occasion of it was, lying snug and warm this mornin', in one of Andy Trimble's whiskey barrels. For shame, Mr. Fenton, you they say a gintleman born, and to thrate one of your own rank--a gintleman that befriended you as he did, and put a daicint shoot of clo'es on your miserable carcase; when you know that before he did it, if the wind was blowing from the thirty-two points of the compass, you had an openin' for every point, if they wor double the number. Troth, now, you're ongrateful, an' if God hasn't said it, you'll thravel from an onpenitent death-bed yet. Be quiet, will you, or my sinful sowl to glory, but I'll bundle you downstairs?"

"He will be quiet, Pat," said the stranger. "In truth, after all, this is a mere physical malady, Mr. Fenton, and will pass away immediately, if you will only sit down and collect yourself a little."

Fenton, however, made another unavailable attempt at struggle, and found that he was only exhausting himself to no purpose. All at once, or rather following up his previous suspicions, he seemed to look upon the powerful individual who held him, as a person who had become suddenly invested with a new character that increased his terrors; and yet, if we may say so, almost forced him into an anxiety to suppress their manifestation. His limbs, however, began to tremble excessively; his eyes absolutely dilated, and became filled by a sense of terror, nearly as wild as despair itself. The transitions of his temper, however, like those of his general conduct, supervened upon each other with remarkable rapidity, and, as it were, the result of quick, warm, and inconsiderate impulses.

"Well," he exclaimed at length, "I will be quiet, I am, I assure you, perfectly harmless; but, at the same time," he added, sitting down, "I know that the whole dialogue between you and that awful-looking man, was a plot laid for me. Why else did you insist on my being present at it? This accounts for your giving me a paltry sum of money, too--it does, sir--and for your spurious and dishonest humanity in wishing to see me well clothed. Yes, I perceive it all; but, let what may happen, I will not wear these clothes any longer. They are not the offering of a generous heart, but the fraudulent pretext for insinuating yourself into my confidence, in order to--to--yes, but I shall not say it--it is enough that I know you, sir--that I see through, and penetrate your designs."

He was about to put his threat with respect to the clothes into instant execution, when the stranger, once more seizing him, exclaimed--"You must promise, Mr. Fenton, before you leave my grasp, that you will make no further attempt to tear off your dress. I insist on this;" and as he spoke he fixed his eye sternly and commandingly on that of Fenton.

"I will not attempt it," replied the latter; "I promise it, on the word of a gentleman."

"There, then," said the stranger--"Keep yourself quiet, and, mark me, I shall expect that you will not violate that word, nor yield to these weak and silly paroxysms."

Fenton merely nodded submissively, and the other proceeded, still with a view of sounding him: "You say you know me; if so, who and what am I?"

"Do not ask me to speak at further length," replied Fenton; "I am quite exhausted, and I know not what I said."

He appeared now somewhat calmer, or, at least, affected to be so. By his manner, however, it would appear that some peculiar opinion or apprehension, with reference either to the baronet or the stranger, seemed as if confirmed, whilst, at the same time, acting under one of his rapid transitions, he spoke and looked like a man who was influenced by new motives. He then withdrew in a mood somewhat between sullenness and regret.

When the stranger was left to himself, he paced the room some time in a state of much anxiety, if not distress. At length he sat down, and, leaning his head upon his hand, exclaimed unconsciously aloud:

"Alas! I fear this search is vain. The faint traces of imaginary resemblance, which I thought I had discovered in this young man's features, are visible no longer. It is; true, this portrait," looking once more at the miniature, "was taken when the original was only a child of five years; but still it was remarked that the family resemblances were, from childhood up, both strong and striking. Then, this unfortunate person is perfectly inscrutable, and not to be managed by any ordinary procedure at present intelligible to me. Yet,--after all, as far as I have been able to conjecture, there is a strong similarity in the cases. The feeling among the people here is, that he is a gentleman by birth: but this may proceed from the air and manners which he can assume when he pleases. I would mention my whole design and object at hazard, but this would be running an unnecessary risk by intrusting my secret to him; and, although it is evident that he can preserve his own, it does not necessarily follow that he would keep mine. However, I must only persevere and bide my time, as the Scotch say."

He again rose, and, pacing the apartment once more, his features assumed a still deeper expression of inward agitation.

"And, again," he exclaimed, "that unfortunate rencounter! Great Heavens, what if I stand here a murderer, with the blood of a fellow-creature, hurried, I fear, in the very midst of his profligacy, into eternity! The thought is insupportable; and I know not, unless I can strictly preserve my incognito, whether I am at this moment liable, if apprehended, to pay the penalty which the law exacts. The only consolation that remains for me is, that the act was not of my seeking, but arrogantly and imperiously forced upon me." _

Read next: Chapter 7. The Baronet Attempts By Falsehood

Read previous: Chapter 5. Sir Thomas Gourlay Fails In Unmasking The Stranger

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