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

Chapter 9. Candor And Dissimulation

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_ CHAPTER IX. Candor and Dissimulation

Glenshee Castle was built by the father of the then Lord Cullamore, at a cost of upwards of one hundred thousand pounds. Its general effect and situation were beautiful, imposing, and picturesque in the extreme. Its north and east sides, being the principal fronts, contained the state apartments, while the other sides, for the building was a parallelogram, contained the offices, and were overshadowed, or nearly altogether concealed, by trees of a most luxuriant growth. In the east front stood a magnificent circular tower, in fine proportion with it; whilst an octagon one, of proportions somewhat inferior, terminated the northern angle. The front, again, on the north, extending from the last mentioned tower, was connected with a fine Gothic chapel, remarkable for the beauty of its stained windows, supervening buttresses, and a belfry at its western extremity. On the north front, which was the entrance, rose a porch leading into a vestibule, and from thence into the magnificent hall. From this sprung a noble stone staircase, with two inferior flights that led to a corridor, which communicated with a gorgeous suit of bedchambers. The grand hall communicated on the western side with those rooms that were appropriated to the servants, and those on the opposite, with the state apartments, which were of magnificent size and proportions, having all the wood-work of Irish oak, exquisitely polished. The gardens were in equal taste, and admirably kept. The pleasure grounds were ornamented with some of the rarest exotics. On each side of the avenue, as you approached the castle, stood a range of noble elms, beeches, and oaks intermingled; and, as you reached the grand entrance, you caught a view of the demesne and deer-park, which were, and are, among the finest in the kingdom. There was also visible, from the steps of the hall and front window, the bends of a sweet, and winding river near the centre of the demesne, spanned by three or four light and elegant arches, that connected the latter and the deer-park with each other. Nothing, however, was so striking in the whole landscape as the gigantic size and venerable appearance of the wood, which covered a large portion of the demesne, and the patriarchal majesty of those immense trees, which stood separated from the mass of forest, singly or in groups, in different parts of it. The evening summer's deep light, something between gold and purple, as it poured its mellow radiance upon the green openings between these noble trees, or the evening smoke, as it arose at the same hour from the chimneys of the keepers' houses among their branches, were sights worth a whole gallery of modern art.

As the baronet approached the castle, he thought again of the woman and her prophecies, and yielded to their influence, in so far as they assured him that his daughter was destined to become the proud mistress of all the magnificence by which he was surrounded. The sun had now shone forth, and as its clear light fell upon the house, its beautiful pleasure-grounds, its ornamented lawns, and its stately avenues, he felt that there was something worth making a struggle for, even at the expense of conscience, when he contemplated, with the cravings of an ambitious heart, the spirit of rich and deep repose in which the whole gorgeous spectacle lay.

On reaching the hall he rang, and in a few minutes was admitted to his friend, Lord Cullamore.

Lord Cullamore was remarkable for that venerable dignity and graceful ease, which, after all, can only result from early and constant intercourse with polished and aristocratic society. This person was somewhat above the middle size, his eye clear and significant, his features expressive, and singularly indicative of what he felt or said. In fact, he appeared to be an intelligent, candid man, who, in addition to that air bestowed upon him by his rank and position, and which could never for a moment be mistaken, was altogether one of the best specimens of his class. He had neither those assumptions of hateful condescension, nor that eternal consciousness of his high birth, which too frequently degrade and disgrace the commonplace and vulgar nobleman; especially when he makes the privileges of his class an offence and an oppression to his inferiors, or considers it a crime to feel or express those noble sympathies, which, as a first principle, ought to bind him to that class by whom he lives, and who constitute the great mass of humanity, from whose toil and labor originate the happiness of his order. When in conversation, the natural animation of his lordship's countenance was checked, not only by a polite and complacent sense of what was due to those with whom he spoke, and a sincere anxiety to put them at their ease, but evidently by an expression that seemed the exponent of some undivulged and corroding sorrow. We may add, that he was affectionate, generous, indolent; not difficult to be managed when he had no strong purpose to stimulate him; keen of observation, but not prone to suspicion; consequently often credulous, and easily imposed upon; but, having once detected fraud or want of candor, the discovery was certain forever to deprive the offending party of his esteem--no matter what their rank or condition in life might be.

We need scarcely say, therefore, that this, amiable nobleman, possessing as he did all the high honor and integrity by which his whole life was regulated, (with one solitary exception, for which his heart paid a severe penalty,) carried along with him, in his old age, that respect, reverence, and affection, to which the dignified simplicity of his life entitled him. He was, indeed, one of those few noblemen whose virtues gave to the aristocratic spirit, true grace and appropriate dignity, instead of degrading it, as too many of his caste do, by pride, arrogance, and selfishness.

Sir Thomas Gourlay, on entering the magnificent library to which he was conducted, found his lordship in the act of attaching his signature to some papers. The latter received him kindly and graciously, and shook hands with him, but without rising, for which he apologized.

"I am not at all strong, Sir Thomas," he added; "for although this last attack has left me, yet I feel that it has taken a considerable portion of my strength along with it. I am, however, free from pain and complaint, and my health is gradually improving."

"But, my lord, do you think you will be able to encounter the fatigue and difficulties of a journey to London." replied the other--"Will you have strength for it?"

"I hope so; travelling by sea always agreed with and invigorated my constitution. The weather, too, is fine, and. I will take the long voyage. Besides, it is indispensable that I should go. This wild son of mine has had a duel with some one in a shooting gallery--has been severely hit--and is very ill; but, at the same time, out of danger."

"A duel! Good heavens! My lord, how did it happen." asked the baronet.

"I am not exactly aware of all the particulars; but I think they cannot be creditable to the parties, or to Dunroe, at least; for one of his friends has so far overshot the mark as to write to me, for my satisfaction, that they have succeeded in keeping the affair out of the papers. Now, there must be something wrong when my son's friends are anxious to avoid publicity in the matter. The conduct of that young man, my dear Sir Thomas, is a source of great affliction to me; and I tremble for the happiness of your daughter, should they be united."

"You are too severe on Dunroe, my lord," replied the baronet--"It is better for a man to sow his wild oats in season than out of season. Besides, you know the proverb, 'A reformed rake,' etc."

"The popularity of a proverb, my good friend, is no proof of its truth; and, besides, I should wish to place a hope of my son's reformation upon something firmer and more solid than the strength of an old adage."

"But you know, my lord," replied the other, "that the instances of post-matrimonial reformation, if I may use the word, from youthful folly, are sufficient to justify the proverb. I am quite certain, that, if Lord Dunroe were united to a virtuous and sensible wife, he would settle down into the character of a steady, honorable, and independent man. I could prove this by many instances, even within your knowledge and mine. Why, then, exclude his lordship from the benefit of a contingency, to speak the least, which we know falls out happily in so many instances?"

"You mean you could prove the probability of it, my dear baronet; for, at present, the case is not susceptible of proof. What you say may be true; but, on the other hand, it may not; and, in the event of his marrying without the post-matrimonial reformation you speak of, what becomes of your daughter's happiness?"

"Nay, I know generous Dunroe so well, my lord, that I would not, even as Lucy's father, hesitate a moment to run the risk."

"But what says Lucy herself? And how does she stand affected toward him? For that is the main point. This matter, you know, was spoken over some few years ago, and conditionally approved of by us both; but my son was then very young, and had not plunged into that course of unjustifiable extravagance and profligacy which, to my cost, has disgraced his latter years. I scorn to veil his conduct, baronet, for it would be dishonorable under the circumstances between us, and I trust you will be equally candid in detailing to me the sentiments of your daughter on the subject."

"My lord, I shall unquestionably do so; but Lucy, you must know, is a girl of a very peculiar disposition. She possesses, in fact, a good deal of her unworthy father's determination and obstinacy. Urge her with too much vehemence, and she will resist; try to accelerate her pace, and she will stand still; but leave her to herself, to the natural and reasonable suggestions of her excellent sense, and you will get her to do anything."

"That is but a very indifferent character you bestow upon your daughter, Sir Thomas," replied his lordship--"I trust she deserves a better one at your hands."

"Why, my lord," replied the baronet, smiling after his own peculiar fashion, that is to say, with a kind of bitter sarcasm, "I have as good a right, I think, to exaggerate the failings of my daughter as you have to magnify those of your son. But a truce to this, and to be serious: I know the girl; you know, besides, something about women yourself, my lord, and I need not say that it is unwise to rely upon the moods and meditations of a young lady before marriage. Upon the prospect of such an important change in their position, the best of them will assume a great deal. The period constitutes the last limited portion of their freedom; and, of course, all the caprices of the heart, and all the giddy ebullitions of gratified vanity, manifest themselves so strangely, that it is extremely difficult to understand them, or know their wishes. Under such circumstances, my lord, they will, in the very levity of delight, frequently say 'no,' when they mean 'yes,' and vice versa."

"Sir Thomas," replied his lordship, gravely, "marriage, instead of being the close, should be the commencement, of their happiness. No woman, however, of sense, whether before marriage or after it, is difficult to be understood. Upon a subject of such importance--one that involves the happiness of her future life--no female possessing truth and principle would, for one moment, suffer a misconception to exist. Now your daughter, my favorite Lucy, is a girl of fine sense and high feeling, and I am at a loss, Sir Thomas, I assure you, to reconcile either one or the other with your metaphysics. If Miss Gourlay sat for the disagreeable picture you have just drawn, she must be a great hypocrite, or you have grossly misrepresented her, which I conceive it is not now your interest or your wish to do."

"But, my lord, I was speaking of the sex in general."

"But, sir," replied his lordship with dignity, "we are here to speak of your daughter."

Our readers may perceive that the wily baronet was beating about the bush, and attempting to impose upon his lordship by vague disquisitions. He was perfectly aware of Lord Cullamore's indomitable love of truth, and he consequently feared to treat him with a direct imposition, taking it for granted that, if he had, an interview of ten minutes between Lucy and his lordship might lead to an exposure of his duplicity and falsehood. He felt himself in a painful and distressing dilemma. Aware that, if the excellent peer had the slightest knowledge of Lucy's loathing horror of his son, he would never lend his sanction to the marriage, the baronet knew not whether to turn to the right or to the left, or, in other words, whether to rely on truth or falsehood. At length, he began to calculate upon the possibility of his daughter's ultimate acquiescence, upon the force of his own unbending character, her isolated position, without any one to encourage or abet her in what he looked upon as her disobedience, consequently his complete control over her; having summoned up all those points together, he resolved to beat about a little longer, but, at all events, to keep the peer in the dark, and, if pressed, to hazard the falsehood. He replied, however, to his lordship's last observation:

"I assure you, my lord, I thought not of my daughter while I drew the picture."

"Well, then," replied his lordship, smiling, "all I have to say is, that you are very eloquent in generalities--generalities, too, my friend, that do not bear upon the question. In one word, is Miss Gourlay inclined to this marriage? and I beseech you, my dear baronet, no more of these generalities."

"She is as much so, my lord," replied the other, "as nineteen women out of every twenty are in general. But it is not to be expected, I repeat, that a delicately-minded and modest young creature will at once step forward unabashed and exclaim, 'Yes, papa, I will marry him.' I protest, my lord, it would require the desperate heroism of an old maid on the last legs of hope, or the hardihood of a widow of three husbands, to go through such an ordeal. We consequently must make allowance for those delicate and blushing evasions which, after all, only mask compliance."

By this reply the baronet hoped to be able to satisfy his friend, without plunging into the open falsehood. The old nobleman, however, looked keenly at him, and asked a question which penetrated like a dagger into the lying soul within him.

"She consents, then, in the ordinary way?"

"She does, my lord."

"Well," replied the peer, "that, as the world goes, is, perhaps, as much as can be expected at present. You have not, I dare say, attempted to force her very much on the subject, and the poor girl has no mother. Under such circumstances, the delicacy of a young lady is certainly entitled to a manly forbearance. Have you alluded to Dunroe's want of morals?"

"Your opinion of his lordship and mine differ on this point considerably, my lord," replied the baronet--"You judge him with the severity of a father, I with the moderation of a friend. I have certainly made no allusion to his morals."

"Of course, then, you are aware, that it is your duty to do so; as a father, that it is a most solemn and indispensable duty?"

The soul of Sir Thomas Gourlay writhed within him like a wounded serpent, at the calm but noble truth contained in this apophthegm. He was not, however, to be caught; the subtlety of his invention enabled him to escape on that occasion at least.

"It has this moment occurred to me, my lord, with reference to this very point, that it may be possible, and by no means improbable--at least I for one anxiously hope it--that the recent illness of my Lord Dunroe may have given him time to reflect upon his escapades and follies, and that he will rejoin society a wiser and a better man. Under these expectations, I appeal to your own good sense, my lord, whether it would be wise or prudent by at present alluding--especially if it be rendered unnecessary by his reformation--to his want of morals, in any conversation I may hold with my daughter, and thereby deprive him of her personal respect and esteem, the only basis upon which true affection and domestic happiness can safely rest. Let us therefore wait, my lord. Perhaps the loss of some of his hot blood may have cooled him. Perhaps, after all," he added, smiling, "we may have reason to thank his phlebotomist."

The peer saw Sir Thomas's play, and, giving him another keen glance, replied:

"I never depended much upon a dramatic repentance, my dear baronet. Many a resolution of amendment has been made on the sick bed; but we know in general how they are kept, especially by the young. Be this as it may, our discussion has been long enough, and sufficiently ineffectual. My impression is, that Miss Gourlay is disinclined to the alliance. In truth, I dare say she is as well acquainted with his moral reputation as we are--perhaps better. Dunroe's conduct has been too often discussed in fashionable life to be a secret to her, or any one else who has access to it. If she reject him from a principle of virtuous delicacy and honor, she deserves a better fate than ever to call him husband. But perhaps she may have some other attachment?"

"My lord," replied Sir Thomas, rising, "I think I can perceive on which side the disinclination lies. You have--and pray excuse me for saying so--studiously thrown, during the present conference, every possible obstruction in the way of an arrangement on this subject. If your lordship is determined that the alliance between our families shall not take place, I pray you to say so. Upon your own showing my daughter will have little that she ought to regret in escaping Dunroe."

"And Dunroe would have much to be thankful to God for in securing your daughter. But, Sir Thomas Gourlay, I will be candid and open with you. Pray observe, sir, that, during this whole discussion, conference, or what you will, I did not get out of you a single direct answer, and that upon a subject involving the life-long happiness of your only child. I tell you, baronet, that your indirectness of purpose, and--you will excuse me, too, for what I am about to say, the importance of the subject justifies me--your evasions have excited my suspicions, and my present impression is, that Miss Gourlay is averse to a matrimonial union with my son; that she has heard reports of his character which have justly alarmed her high-minded sense of delicacy and honor; and that you, her parent, are forcing her into a marriage which she detests. Look into your own heart, Sir Thomas, and see whether you are not willing to risk her peace of mind for the miserable ambition of seeing her one day a countess. Alas! my friend," he continued, "there is no talisman in the coronet of a countess to stay the progress of sorrow, or check the decline of a breaking heart. If Miss Gourlay be, as I fear she is, averse to this union, do not sacrifice her to ambition and a profligate. She is too precious a treasure to be thrown away upon two objects so utterly worthless. Her soul is too pure to be allied to contamination--her heart too noble, too good, too generous, to be broken by unavailing grief and a repentance that will probably come too late."

"If I assure you, my lord, that she is not averse to the match--nay"--and here this false man consoled his conscience by falling back upon the prophecy of Ginty Cooper--"if I assure you that she will marry Dunroe willingly--nay, with delight, will your lordship then rest satisfied?"

"I must depend upon your word, Sir Thomas; am I not in conversation with a gentleman?"

"Well, then, my lord, I assure you that it is so. Your lordship will find, when the time comes, that my daughter is not only not indisposed to this union, but absolutely anxious to become your daughter-in-law"--bad as he was, he could not force himself to say, in so many plain words, "the wife of your son"--"But, my lord," he proceeded, "if you will permit me to make a single observation, I will thank you, and I trust you will excuse me besides."

"Unquestionably, Sir Thomas."

"Well, then, my lord, what I have observed during our conversation, with great pain, is, that you seem to entertain--pardon me, I speak in good feeling, I assure your lordship--that you seem, I say, to entertain a very unkind and anything but a parental feeling for your son. What, after all, do his wild eccentricities amount to more than the freedom and indulgence in those easy habits of life which his wealth and station hold out to him with greater temptation than they do to others? I cannot, my lord, in fact, see anything so monstrous in the conduct of a young nobleman like him, to justify, on the part of your lordship, language so severe, and, pardon me, so prejudicial to his character. Excuse me, my lord, if I have taken a liberty to which I am in nowise entitled." Socrates himself could scarcely have assumed a tone more moral, or a look of greater sincerity, or more anxious interest, than did the Black Baronet whilst he uttered these words.

The peer rose up, and his eye and whole person were marked by an expression and an air of the highest dignity, not unmingled with deep and obvious feeling.

"Sir Thomas Gourlay," said he, "you seem to forget the object of our conference, and our respective positions."

"My Lord," exclaimed the other, in a deprecating tone, "I meant no offence, upon my honor."

"I have taken none," replied his lordship; "but I must teach you to understand me. Whatever my son's conduct may be, one thing is evident, that you are his apologist; now, as a moral man, anxious for the happiness of your child, I tell you that you ought to have exchanged positions with me; it is you who, when about to intrust your daughter to him for life, ought to have investigated his moral character and habits, and manifested an anxiety to satisfy yourself whether they were such as would reflect honor upon her, and secure her peace of mind and tranquillity in the married state. You say, too, that I do not speak of my son in a kind or parental feeling; but do you imagine, sir, that, engaged as I am here, in a confidential and important conference, the result of which may involve the happiness or misery of two persons so dear to us both, I would be justified in withholding the truth, or lending myself to a course of dishonorable deception?"

He sat down again, and seemed deeply affected.

"God knows," he said, "that I love that wild and unthinking young man, perhaps more than I ought; but do you imagine, sir, that, because I have spoken of him with the freedom necessary and due to the importance and solemnity of our object in meeting, I could or would utter such sentiments to the world at large? I pray you, sir, then, to make and observe the distinction; and, instead of assailing me for want of affection as a parent, to thank me for the candor with which I have spoken."

The baronet felt subdued; it is evident that his mind was too coarse and selfish to understand the delicacy, the truth, and high, conscientious feeling with which Lord Cullamore conducted his part of this negotiation.

"My lord," said the baronet, who thought of another point on which to fall back, "there is one circumstance, one important fact, which we have both unaccountably overlooked, and which, after all, holds out a greater promise of domestic happiness between these young persons than anything we have thought of. His lordship is attached to my daughter. Now, where there is love, my lord, there is every chance and prospect of happiness in the married life."

"Yes, if it be mutual, Sir Thomas; everything depends on that. I am glad, however, you mentioned it. There is some hope left still; but alas, alas! what is even love when opposed to selfishness and ambition? I could--I myself could----" he seemed deeply moved, and paused for some time, as if unwilling to trust himself with speech--"Yes, I am glad you mentioned it, and I thank you, Sir Thomas, I thank you. I should wish to see these two young people happy. I believe he is attached to your daughter, and I will now mention a fact which certainly proves it. The gentleman with whom he fought that unfortunate duel was forced into it by Dunroe, in consequence of his having paid some marked attentions to Miss Gourlay, when she and her mother were in Paris, some few months before Lady Gourlay's decease. I did not wish to mention this before, out of respect for your daughter; but I do so now, confidentially, of course, in consequence of the turn our conversation has taken."

Something on the moment seemed to strike the baronet, who started, for he was unquestionably an able hand at putting scattered facts and circumstances together, and weaving a significant conclusion from them.

"That, my lord, at all events," said the coarse-minded man, after having recovered himself, "that is gratifying."

"What!" exclaimed Lord Cullamore, "to make your daughter the cause and subject of a duel, an intemperate brawl in a shooting gallery. The only hope I have is, that I trust she was not named."

"But, my lord, it is, after all, a proof of his affection for her."

His lordship smiled sarcastically, and looked at him with something like amazement, if not with contempt; but did not deign to reply.

"And now, my lord," continued the baronet, "what is to be the result of our conference? My daughter will have all my landed property at my death, and a large marriage-portion besides, now in the funds. I am apparently the last of my race. The disappearance and death--I take it for granted, as they have never since been heard of--of my brother Sir Edward's heir, and very soon after of my own, have left me without a hope of perpetuating my name; I shall settle my estates upon Lucy."

His lordship appeared abstracted for a few moments--"Your brother and you," he observed, "were on terms of bitter hostility, in consequence of what you considered an unequal marriage on his part, and I candidly assure you, Sir Thomas, that, were it not for the mysterious disappearance of your own son, so soon after the disappearance of his, it would have been difficult to relieve you from dark and terrible suspicions on the subject. As it is, the people, I believe, criminate you still; but that is nothing; my opinion is, that the same enemy perpetrated the double crime. Alas! the worst and bitterest of all private feuds are the domestic. There is my own brother; in a moment of passion and jealousy he challenged me to single combat; I had sense to resist his impetuosity. He got a foreign appointment, and there has been a gulf like that of the grave between him and his, and me and mine, ever since."

"Nothing, my lord," replied Sir Thomas, his countenance, as he spoke, becoming black with suppressed rage, "will ever remove the impression from my mind, that the disappearance or murder of my son was not a diabolical act of retaliation committed under the suspicion that I was privy to the removal or death, as the case may be, of my brother's heir; and while I have life I will persist in charging Lady Gourlay, as I must call her so, with the crime."

"In that impression," replied his lordship, "you stand alone. Lady Gourlay, that amiable, mild, affectionate, and heart-broken woman, is utterly incapable of that, or any act of cruelty whatsoever. A woman who is the source of happiness, kindness, relief, and support, to so many of her humble and distressed fellow-creatures, is not likely to commit or become accessory in any way to such a detestable and unnatural crime. Her whole life and conduct render such a supposition monstrous and incredible."

Both, after he had closed his observations, mused for some time, when the baronet, rising and pacing to and fro, as was his custom, at length asked--"Well, my lord, what say you? Are we never to come to a conclusion?"

"My determination is simply this, my dear baronet,--that, if you and Miss Gourlay are satisfied to take Lord Dunroe, with all his imperfections on his head, I shall give no opposition. She will, unless he amends and reforms, take him, I grant you, at her peril; but be it so. If the union, as, you say, will be the result of mutual attachment, in God's name let them marry. It is possible, we are assured, that the 'unbelieving husband may be saved by the believing wife.'"

"I am quite satisfied, my lord, with this arrangement; it is fair, and just, and honorable, and I am perfectly willing to abide by it. When does your lordship propose to return to us?"

"I am tired of public life, my dear baronet. My daughter, Lady Emily, who, you know, has chiefly resided with her maiden aunt, hopes to succeed in prevailing on her to accompany us to Glenshee Castle, to spend the summer and autumn, and visit some of the beautiful scenery of this unknown land of ours. Something, as to time, depends upon Dunroe's convalescence. My stay in England, however, will be as short as I can make it. I am getting too old for the exhausting din and bustle of society; and what I want now, is quiet repose, time to reflect upon my past life, and to prepare myself, as well as I can, for a new change. Of course, we will be both qualified to resume the subject of this marriage after my return, and, until then, farewell, my dear baronet. But mark me--no force, no violence."

Sir Thomas, as he shook hands with him, laughed--"None will be necessary, my lord, I assure you--I pledge you my honor for that."

The worthy baronet, on mounting his horse, paced him slowly out of the grounds, as was his custom when in deep meditation.

"If I don't mistake," thought he, "I have a clew to this same mysterious gentleman in the inn. He has seen and become acquainted with Lucy in Paris, under sanction of her weak-minded and foolish mother. The girl herself admitted that her engagement to him was with her consent. Dunroe, already aware of his attentions to her, becomes jealous, and on meeting him in London quarrels with him, that is to say, forces him, I should think, into one;--not that the fellow seems at all to be a coward either,--but why the devil did not the hot-headed young scoundrel take steadier aim, and send the bullet through his heart or brain? Had he pinked him, it would have saved me much vexation and trouble."

He then passed to another train of thought--"Thomas Gourlay,--plain Thomas Gourlay--what the devil could the corpse-like hag mean by that? Is it possible that this insane scoundrel will come to light in spite of me? Would to Heaven that I could ascertain his whereabouts, and get him into my power once more. I would take care to put him in a place of safety." He then touched his horse with the spurs, and proceeded to Red Hall at a quicker pace. _

Read next: Chapter 10. A Family Dialogue--And A Secret Nearly Discovered

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