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

Chapter 8. The Fortune-Teller--An Equivocal Prediction

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_ CHAPTER VIII. The Fortune-Teller--An Equivocal Prediction

The stranger's appearance at the "Mitre," and the incident which occurred there, were in a peculiar degree mortifying to the Black Baronet, for so he was generally called. At this precise period he had projected the close of the negotiation with respect to the contemplated marriage between Lucy and Lord Dunroe. Lord Cullamore, whose residence was only a few miles from Red Hall, had been for some time in delicate health, but he was now sufficiently recovered to enter upon the negotiation proposed, to which, were it not for certain reasons that will subsequently appear, he had, in truth, no great relish; and this, principally on Lucy Gourlay's account, and with a view to her future happiness, which he did not think had any great chance of being promoted by a matrimonial alliance with his son.

Not many minutes after the interview between Lucy and her father, a liveried servant arrived, bearing a letter in reply to one from Sir Thomas, to the following effect:

"My Dear Gourlay,--I have got much stronger within the last fortnight; that is, so far as my mere bodily health is concerned. As I shall proceed to London in a day or two, it is perhaps better that I should see you upon the subject of this union, between your daughter and my son, especially as you seem to wish it so anxiously. To tell you the truth, I fear very much that you are, contrary to remonstrance, and with your eyes open to the consequences, precipitating your charming and admirable Lucy upon wretchedness and disconsolation for the remainder of her life; and I can tell her, and would if I were allowed, that the coronet of a countess, however highly either she or you may appreciate it, will be found but a poor substitute for the want of that affection and esteem, upon which only can be founded domestic happiness and contentment.

"Ever, my dear Gourlay, faithfully yours,


The baronet's face, after having perused this epistle, brightened up as much as any face of such sombre and repulsive expression could be supposed to do; but, again, upon taking into consideration what he looked upon as the unjustifiable obstinacy of his daughter, it became once more stern and overshadowed. He ground his teeth with vexation as he paced to and fro the room, as was his custom when in a state of agitation or anger. After some minutes, during which his passion seemed only to increase, he went to her apartment, and, thrusting in his head to ascertain that she was safe, he deliberately locked the door, and, putting the key in his pocket, once more ordered his horse, and proceeded to Glenshee Castle, the princely residence of his friend, Lord Cullamore.

None of our readers, we presume, would feel disposed to charge our hardened baronet with any tendency to superstition. That he felt its influence, however, was a fact; for it may have been observed that there is a class of minds which, whilst they reject all moral control when any legitimate barrier stands between them and the gratification of their evil passions or designs, are yet susceptible of the effects which are said to proceed from such slight and trivial incidents as are supposed to be invested with a mysterious and significant influence upon the actions of individuals. It is not, however, those who possess the strongest passions that are endowed with the strongest principles, unless when it happens that these passions are kept in subjection by religion or reason. In fact, the very reverse of the proposition in general holds true; and, indeed, Sir Thomas Gourlay was a strong and startling proof of this. In his case, however, it might be accounted for by the influence over his mind, when young, of a superstitious nurse named Jennie Corbet, who was a stout believer in all the superstitious lore which at that time constituted a kind of social and popular creed throughout the country. It was not that the reason of Sir Thomas was at all convinced by, or yielded any assent to, such legends, but a habit of belief in them, which he was never able properly to throw off, had been created, which left behind it a lingering impression resulting from their exhibition, which, in spite of all his efforts, clung to him through life.

Another peculiarity of his we may as well mention here, which related to his bearing while on horseback. It had been shrewdly observed by the people, that, whilst in the act of concocting any plan, or projecting any scheme, he uniformly rode at an easy, slow, and thoughtful pace; but, when under the influence of his angry passions, he dashed along with a fury and vehemence of speed that startled those whom he met, and caused them to pause and look after him with wonder.

The distance between Red Hall and Glenshee Castle was not more than four miles; the estates of both proprietors lying, in fact, together. The day was calm, mild, and breathed of the fragrant and opening odors of spring. Sir Thomas had nearly measured half the distance at a very slow pace, for, in truth, he was then silently rehearsing his part in the interview which was about to take place between him and his noble friend. The day, though calm, as we said, was nevertheless without sunshine, and, consequently, that joyous and exhilarating spirit of warmth and light which the vernal sun floods down upon all nature, rendering earth and air choral with music, was not felt so powerfully. On the contrary, the silence and gloom were somewhat unusual, considering the mildness which prevailed. Every one, however, has experienced the influence of such days--an influence which, notwithstanding the calm and genial character of the day itself, is felt to be depressing, and at variance with cheerfulness and good spirits.

Be this as it may, Sir Thomas was proceeding leisurely along, when a turn of the road brought him at once upon the brow of the small valley from which the residence of the Cullamore family had its name--Glenshee, or, in English, the Glen of the Fairies. Its sides were wild, abrupt, and precipitous, and partially covered with copse-wood, as was the little brawling stream which ran through it, and of which the eye of the spectator could only catch occasional glimpses from among the hazel, dogberry, and white thorn, with which it was here and there covered. In the bottom, there was a small, but beautiful green carpet, nearly, if not altogether circular, about a hundred yards in diameter, in the centre of which stood one of those fairy rings that gave its name and character to the glen. The place was, at all times, wild, and so solitary that, after dusk, few persons in the neighborhood wished to pass it alone. On the day in question, its appearance was still and impressive, and, owing to the gloom which prevailed, it presented a lonely and desolate aspect, calculated, certainly, in some degree, to inspire a weak mind with something of that superstitious feeling which was occasioned by its supernatural reputation. We said that the baronet came to a winding part of the road which brought this wild and startling spot before him, and just at the same moment he was confronted by an object quite as wild and as startling. This was no-other than a celebrated fortune-teller of that day, named Ginty Cooper, a middle-aged sibyl, who enjoyed a very wide reputation for her extraordinary insight into futurity, as well as for performing a variety of cures upon both men and cattle, by her acquaintance, it was supposed, with fairy lore, the influence of charms, and the secret properties of certain herbs with which, if you believed her, she had been made acquainted by the Dainhe Shee, or good people themselves.

The baronet's first feeling was one of annoyance and vexation, and for what cause, the reader will soon understand.

"Curse this ill-looking wretch," he exclaimed mentally; "she is the first individual I have met since I left home. It is not that I regard the matter a feather, but, somehow, I don't wish that a woman--especially such a blasted looking sibyl as this--should be the first person I meet when going on any business of importance." Indeed, it is to be observed here, that some of Ginty's predictions and cures were such as, among an ignorant and credulous people, strongly impressed by the superstitions of the day, and who placed implicit reliance upon her prophetic and sanative faculties, were certainly calculated to add very much to her peculiar influence over them, originating, as they believed, in her communion with supernatural powers. Her appearance, too, was strikingly calculated to sustain the extraordinary reputation which she bore, yet it was such as we feel it to be almost impossible to describe. Her face was thin, and supernaturally pale, and her features had a death-like composure, an almost awful rigidity, that induced the spectator to imagine that she had just risen from the grave. Her thin lips were repulsively white, and her teeth so much whiter that they almost filled you with fear; but it was in her eye that the symbol of her prophetic power might be said to lie. It was wild, gray, and almost transparent, and whenever she was, or appeared to be, in a thoughtful mood, or engaged in the contemplation of futurity, it kept perpetually scintillating, or shifting, as it were, between two proximate objects, to which she seemed to look as if they had been in the far distance of space--that is, it turned from one to another with a quivering rapidity which the eye of the spectator was unable to follow. And yet it was evident on reflection, that in her youth she must have been not only good-looking, but handsome. This quick and unnatural motion of the eye was extremely wild and startling, and when contrasted with the white and death-like character of her teeth, and the moveless expression of her countenance, was in admirable keeping with the supernatural qualities attributed to her. She wore no bonnet, but her white death-bed like cap was tied round her head by a band of clean linen, and came under her chin, as in the case of a corpse, thus making her appear as if she purposely assumed the startling habiliments of the grave. As for the outlines of her general person, they afforded evident proof--thin and emaciated as she then was--that her figure in early life must have been remarkable for great neatness and symmetry. She inhabited a solitary cottage in the glen, a fact which, in the opinion of the people, completed the wild prestige of her character.

"You accursed hag," said the baronet, whose vexation at meeting her was for the moment beyond any superstitious impression which he felt, "what brought you here? What devil sent you across my path now? Who are you, or what are you, for you look like a libel on humanity?"

"If I don't," she replied, bitterly, "I know who does. There is not much beauty between us, Thomas Gourlay."

"What do you mean by Thomas Gourlay, you sorceress?"

"You'll come to know that some day before you die, Thomas; perhaps sooner than you can think or dream of."

"How can you tell that, you irreverent old viper?"

"I could tell you much more than that, Thomas," she replied, showing her corpse-like teeth with a ghastly smile of mocking bitterness that was fearful.

The Black Baronet, in spite of himself, began to feel somewhat uneasy, for, in fact, there appeared such a wild but confident significance in her manner and language that he deemed it wiser to change his tactics with the woman, and soothe her a little if he could. In truth, her words agitated him so much that he unconsciously pulled out of his waistcoat pocket the key of Lucy's room, and began to dangle with it as he contemplated her with something like alarm.

"My poor woman, you must be raving," he replied. "What could a destitute creature like you know about my affairs? I don't remember that I ever saw you before."

"That's not the question, Thomas Gourlay, but the question is, what have you done with the child of your eldest brother, the lawful heir of the property and title that you now bear, and bear unjustly."

He was much startled by this allusion, for although aware that the disappearance of the child in question had been for many long years well known, yet, involved, as it was, in unaccountable mystery, still the circumstance had never been forgotten.

"That's an old story, my good woman," he replied. "You don't charge me, I hope, as some have done, with making away with him? You might as well charge me with kidnapping my own son, you foolish woman, who, you know, I suppose, disappeared very soon after the other."

"I know he did," she replied; "but neither I nor any one else ever charged you with that act; and I know there are a great many of opinion that both acts were committed by some common enemy to your house, who wished, for some unknown cause of hatred, to extinguish your whole family. That is, indeed, the best defence you have for the disappearance of your brother's son; but, mark me, Thomas Gourlay--that defence will not pass with God, with me, nor with your own heart. I have my own opinion upon that subject, as well as upon many others. You may ask your own conscience, Thomas Gourlay, but he'll be a close friend of yours that will ever hear its answer."

"And is this all you had to say to me, you ill-thinking old vermin." he replied, again losing his temper.

"No," she answered, "I wish to tell your fortune; and you will do well to listen to me."

"Well," said he, in a milder tone, putting at the same time the key of Lucy's door again into his pocket, without being in the slightest degree conscious of it, "if you are, I suppose I must cross your hand with silver as usual; take this."

"No," she replied, drawing back with another ghastly smile, the meaning of which was to him utterly undefinable, "from your hand nothing in the shape of money will ever pass into mine; but listen"--she looked at him for some moments, during which she paused, and then added--"I will not do it, I am not able to render good for evil, yet; I will suffer you to run your course. I am well aware that neither warning nor truth would have any effect upon you, unless to enable you to prepare and sharpen your plans with more ingenious villany. But you have a daughter; I will speak to you about her."

"Do," said the baronet; "but why not take the silver?"

"You will know that one day before you die, too," said she, "and I don't think it will smooth your death-bed pillow."

"Why, you are a very mysterious old lady."

"I'll now give you a proof of that. You locked in your daughter before you left home."

Sir Thomas could not for his life prevent himself from starting so visibly that she observed it at once.

"No such thing," he replied, affecting a composure which he certainly did not feel; "you are an impostor, and I now see that you know nothing."

"What I say is true," she replied, solemnly, "and you have stated, Thomas Gourlay, what you know to be a falsehood; I would be glad to discover you uttering truth unless with some evil intention. But now for your daughter; you wish to hear her fate?"

"Certainly I do; but then you know nothing. You charge me with falsehood, but it is yourself that are the liar."

She waved her hand indignantly.

"Will my daughter's husband be a man of title?" he asked, his mind passing to the great and engrossing object of his ambition.

"He will be a man of title," she replied, "and he will make her a countess."

"You must take money," said he, thrusting his hand into his pocket, and once more pulling out his purse--"that is worth something, surely."

She waved her hand again, with a gesture of repulse still more indignant and frightful than before, and the bitter smile she gave while doing it again displayed her corpse-like teeth in a manner that was calculated to excite horror itself.

"Very well," replied the baronet; "I will not press you, only don't make such cursed frightful grimaces. But with respect to my daughter, will the marriage be with her own consent?"

"With her own consent--it will be the dearest wish of her heart."

"Could you name her husband?"

"I could and will. Lord Dunroe will be the man, and he will make her Countess of Cullamore."

"Well, now," replied the other, "I believe you can speak truth, and are somewhat acquainted with the future. The girl certainly is attached to him, and I have no doubt the union will be, as you say, a happy one."

"You know in your soul," she replied, "that she detests him; and you know she would sacrifice her life this moment sooner than marry him."

"What, then, do you mean." he asked, "and why do you thus contradict yourself?"

"Good-by, Thomas Gourlay," she replied. "So far as regards either the past or the future, you will hear nothing further from me to-day; but, mark me, we shall meet again---and we have met before."

"That, certainly, is not true," he said, "unless it might be accidentally on the highway; but, until this moment, my good woman, I don't remember to have seen your face in my life."

She looked toward the sky, and pointing her long, skinny finger upwards, said, "How will you be prepared to render an account of all your deeds and iniquities before Him who will judge you there!"

There was a terrible calmness, a dreadful solemnity on her white, ghastly features as she spoke, and pointed to the sky, after which she passed on in silence and took no further notice of the Black Baronet.

It is very difficult to describe the singular variety of sensations which her conversation, extraordinary, wild, and mysterious as it was, caused this remarkable man to experience. He knew not what to make of it. One thing was certain, however, and he could not help admitting it to himself, that, during their short and singular dialogue, she had, he knew not how, obtained and exercised an extraordinary ascendency over him. He looked after her, but she was proceeding calmly along, precisely as if they had not spoken.

"She is certainly the greatest mystery in the shape of woman," he said to himself, as he proceeded, "that I have ever yet met--that is, if she be a thing of flesh and blood--for to me she seems to belong more to death and its awful accessories, than to life and its natural reality. How in the devil's name could she have known that I locked that obstinate and undutiful girl up. This is altogether inexplicable, upon principles affecting only the ordinary powers of common humanity. Then she affirmed, prophesied, or what you will, that Lucy and Dunroe will be married--willingly and happily! That certainly is strange, and as agreeable as strange; but I will doubt nothing after the incident of the locking up, so strangely revealed to me too, at a moment when, perhaps, no human being knew it but Lucy and myself. And, what is stranger still, she knows the state of the girl's affections, and that she at present detests Dunroe. Yet, stay, have I not seen her somewhere before? She said so herself. There is a faint impression on me that her face is not altogether unfamiliar to me, but I cannot recall either time or place, and perhaps the impression is a wrong one." _

Read next: Chapter 9. Candor And Dissimulation

Read previous: Chapter 7. The Baronet Attempts By Falsehood

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