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

Chapter 12. Crackenfudge Outwitted By Fenton

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_ CHAPTER XII. Crackenfudge Outwitted by Fenton

--The Baronet, Enraged at His Daughter's Firmness, strikes Her.

Crackenfudge, who was completely on the alert to ascertain if possible the name of the stranger, and the nature of his business in Ballytrain, learned that Fenton and he had had three or four private interviews, and he considered it very likely that if he could throw himself in that wild young fellow's way, without any appearance of design, he might be able to extract something concerning the other out of him. In the course, then, of three or four days after that detailed in our last chapter, and we mention this particularly, because Father M'Mahon was obliged to write to Dublin, in order to make inquiries touching the old man's residence to whom he had undertaken to give the stranger a letter--in the course, we say, of three or four days after that on which the worthy priest appears in our pages, it occurred that Crackenfudge met the redoubtable Fenton in his usual maudlin state, that is to say, one in which he could be termed neither drunk nor sober. We have said that Fenton's mind was changeful and unstable; sometimes evincing extraordinary quietness and civility, and sometimes full of rant and swagger, to which we may add, a good deal of adroitness and tact. In his most degraded state he was always known to claim a certain amount of respect, and would scarcely hold conversation with any one who would not call him Mr. Fenton.

On meeting Fenton, the worthy candidate for the magistracy, observing the condition he was in, which indeed was his usual one, took it for granted that his chance was good. He accordingly addressed him as follows:

"Fenton," said he, "what's the news in town?"

"To whom do you speak, sirra?" replied Fenton, indignantly. "Take off your hat, sir, whenever you address a gentleman."

"Every one knows you're a gentleman, Mr. Fenton," replied Crackenfudge; "and as for me, a'd be sorry to address you as anything else."

"I'm sorry I can't return the compliment, then," said Fenton; "everyone knows you're anything but a gentleman, and that's the difference between us. What piece of knavery have you on the anvil now, my worthy embryo magistrate?"

"You're severe this morning, Mr. Fenton; a' don't think a' ever deserved that at your hands. But come, Mr. Fenton, let us be on good terms. A' acknowledge you are a gentleman, Mr. Fenton."

"Take care," replied Fenton, "and don't overdo the thing neither. Whether is it the knave or fool predominates in you to-day, Mr. Crackenfudge?"

"A' hope a'm neither the one nor the other," replied the embryo magistrate. "A' hope a'm not, Mr. Fenton."

"I believe, however, you happen to be both," said Fenton; "that's a fact as well known, my good fellow, as the public stocks there below; and if Madam Fame reports aright, it's a pity you should be long out of them. Avaunt, you upstart! Before the close of your life, you will die with as many aliases as e'er a thief that ever swung from a gallows, and will deserve the swing, too, better than the thief."

"A' had a right to change my name," replied the other, "when a' got into property. A' was ashamed of my friends, because there's a great many of them poor."

"Invert the tables, you misbegotten son of an elve," replied Fenton; "'tis they that are ashamed of you; there is not one among the humblest of them but would blush to name you. So you did not uncover, as I desired you; but be it so. You wish to let me, sir, who am a gentleman, know, and to force me to say, that there is a knave under your hat. But come, Mr. Crackenfudge," he continued, at once, and by some unaccountable impulse, changing his manner, "come, my friend Crackenfudge, you must overlook my satire. Thersites' mood has past, and now for benevolence and friendship. Give us your honest hand, and bear not malice against your friend and neighbor."

"You must have your own way, Mr. Fenton," said Crackenfudge, smiling, or assuming a smile, and still steady as a sleuthhound to his purpose.

"Where now are you bound for, oh, benevolent and humane Crackenfudge?"

"A' was jist thinking of asking this strange fellow--"

"Right, O Crackenfudgius! that impostor is a fellow; or if you prefer the reverse of the proposition, that fellow is an impostor. I have found him out."

"A' hard," replied Crackenfudge, "that he and you were on rather intimate terms, and--"

"And so as being my companion, you considered him a fellow! Proceed, Crackenfudgius."

"No, not at all; a' was thinkin' of makin' his acquaintance, and paying some attention to him; that is, if a' could know who and what he is."

"And thou shalt know, my worthy mock magistrate. I am in a communicative humor to-day, and know thou shalt."

"And what may his name be, pray, Mr. Fenton?" with a peculiar emphasis on the Mr.

"Caution," said Fenton; "don't overdo the thing, I say, otherwise I am silent as the grave. Heigh-ho! what put that in my head? Well, sir, you shall know all you wish to know. In the first place, as to his name--it is Harry Hedles. He was clerk to a toothbrush-maker in London, but it seems he made a little too free with a portion of the brush money: he accordingly brushed off to our celebrated Irish metropolis, ycleped Dublin, where, owing to a tolerably good manner, a smooth English accent, and a tremendous stock of assurance, he insinuated himself into several respectable families as a man of some importance. Among others, it is said that he has engaged the affections of a beautiful creature, daughter and heiress to an Irish baronet, and that they are betrothed to each other. But as to the name or residence of the baronet, O Crackenfudgius, I am not in a condition to inform you--for this good reason, that I don't know either myself."

"But is it a fair question, Mr. Fenton, to ask how you became acquainted with all this?"

"How?" exclaimed Fenton, with a doughty but confident swagger; "incredulous varlet, do you doubt the authenticity of my information? He disclosed to me every word of it himself, and sought me out here for the purpose of getting me to influence my friends, who, you distrustful caitiff, are persons of rank and consequence, for the purpose of bringing about a reconciliation between him and old Grinwell, the toothbrush man, and having the prosecution stopped. Avaunt! now, begone! This is all the information I can afford upon the subject of that stout but gentlemanly impostor."

Crackenfudge, we should have said, was on horseback during the previous dialogue, and no sooner had Fenton passed on, with a look of the most dignified self-consequence on his thin and wasted, though rather handsome features, than the candidate magistrate set spurs to his horse, and with a singularly awkward wabbling motion of his feet and legs about the animal's sides, his right hand flourishing his whip at the same time into circles in the air, he approached Red Hall, as if he brought tidings of some great national victory.

He found the baronet perusing a letter, who, after having given him a nod, and pointing to a chair, without speaking, read on, with an expression of countenance which almost alarmed poor Crackenfudge. Whatever intelligence the letter may have contained, one thing seemed obvious--that it was gall and wormwood to his heart. His countenance, naturally more than ordinarily dark, literally blackened with rage and mortification, or perhaps with both; his eyes flashed fire, and seemed as about to project themselves out of his head, and poor Crackenfudge could hear most distinctly the grinding of his teeth. At length he rose up, and strode, as was his custom, through the room, moved by such a state of feeling as it was awful to look upon. During all this time he never seemed to notice Crackenfudge, whose face, on the other hand, formed a very ludicrous contrast with that of the baronet. There was at any time very little meaning, to an ordinary observer, in the countenance of this anxious candidate for the magisterial bench, but it was not without cunning; just as in the case of a certain class of fools, any one may recollect that anomalous combination of the latter with features whose blankness betokens the natural idiot at a first glance. Crackenfudge, who, on this occasion, felt conscious of the valuable intelligence he was about to communicate, sat with a face in which might be read, as far at least as anything could, a full sense of the vast importance with which he was charged, and the agreeable surprise which he must necessarily give the raging baronet. Not that the expression, after all, could reach anything higher than that union of stupidity and assurance which may so frequently be read in the same countenance.

"A' see, Sir Thomas," he at length said, "that something has vexed you, and a'm sorry to see it."

The baronet gave him a look of such fury, as in a moment banished not only the full-blown consciousness of the important intelligence he was about to communicate, but its very expression from his face, which waxed meaningless and cowardly-looking as ever.

"A' hope," he added, in an apologetical tone, "that a' didn't offend you by my observation; at least, a' didn't intend it."

"Sir," replied the baronet, "your apology is as unseasonable as the offence for which you make it. You see in what a state of agitation I am, and yet, seeing this, you have the presumption to annoy me by your impertinence. I have already told you, that I would help you to this d----d magistracy: although it is a shame, before God and man to put such a creature as you are upon the bench. Don't you see, sir, that I am not in a mood to be spoken to?"

Poor Crackenfudge was silent; and, upon remembering his previous dialogue with Fenton, he could not avoid thinking that he was treated rather roughly between them, The baronet, however, still moved backward and forward, like an enraged tiger in his cage, without any further notice of Crackenfudge; who, on his part, felt likely to explode, unless he should soon disburden himself of his intelligence. Indeed, so confident did he feel of the sedative effect it would and must have upon the disturbed spirit of this dark and terrible man, that he resolved to risk an experiment, at all hazards, after his own way. He accordingly puckered his face into a grin that was rendered melancholy by the terror which was still at his heart, and, in a voice that had one of the most comical quavers imaginable, he said: "Good news, Sir Thomas."

"Good devil, sir! what do you mean?"

"A' mean good news, Sir Thomas. The fellow in the inn--a' know everything about him."

"Eh! what is that? I beg your pardon, Crackenfudge; I have treated you discourteously and badly--but you will excuse me. I have had such cause for excitement as is sufficient to drive me almost mad. What is the good news you speak of, Crackenfudge?"

"Do you know who the fellow in the inn is, Sir Thomas?"

"Not I; but I wish I did."

"Well, then, a' can tell you."

Sir Thomas turned abruptly about, and, fastening his dark gleaming eyes upon him, surveyed him with an expression of which no language could give an adequate description.

"Crackenfudge," said he, in a voice condensed into tremendous power and interest, "keep me not a moment in suspense--don't tamper with me, sir--don't attempt to play upon me--don't sell your intelligence, nor make a bargain for it. Curse your magistracy--have I not already told you that I will help you to it? What is the intelligence--the good news you speak of?"

"Why, simply this, Sir Thomas," replied the other,--"that a' know who and what the fellow in the inn is; but, for God's sake, Sir Thomas, keep your temper within bounds, or if you don't, a' must only go home again, and keep my secret to myself. You have treated me very badly, Sir Thomas; you have insulted me, Sir Thomas; you have grossly offended me, Sir Thomas, in your own house, too, and without the slightest provocation. A' have told you that a' know everything about the fellow in the inn; and now, sir, you may thank the treatment a' received that a' simply tell you that, and have the honor of bidding you good day."

"Crackenfudge," replied. Sir Thomas, who in an instant saw his error, and felt in all its importance the value of the intelligence with which the other was charged, "I beg your pardon; but you may easily see that I was not--that I am not myself."

"You pledge your honor, Sir Thomas, that you will get me the magistracy? A' know you can if you set about it. A' declare to God, Sir Thomas, a' will never have a happy day unless I'm able to write J. P. after my name. A' can think of nothing else. And, Sir Thomas, listen to me; my friends--a' mean my relations--poor, honest, contemptible creatures, are all angry with me, because a' changed my name to Crackenfudge."

"But what has this to do with the history of the fellow in the inn?" replied Sir Thomas. "With respect to the change of your name, I have been given to understand that your relations have been considerably relieved by it."

"How, Sir Thomas?"

"Because they say that they escape the disgrace of the connection; but, as for myself," added the baronet, with a peculiar sneer, "I don't pretend to know anything about the matter--one way or other. But let it pass, however; and now for your intelligence."

"But you didn't pledge your honor that you would get me the magistracy."

"If," said. Sir Thomas, "the information you have to communicate be of the importance I expect, I pledge my honor, that whatever man can do to serve you in that matter, I will. You know I cannot make magistrates at my will--I am not the lord chancellor."

"Well, then, Sir Thomas, to make short work of it, the fellow's name is Harry Hedles. He was clerk to the firm of Grinwell and Co., the great tooth-brush manufacturers--absconded with some of their cash, came over here, and smuggled himself, in the shape of a gentleman, into respectable families; and a'm positively informed, that he has succeeded in seducing the affections, and becoming engaged to the daughter and heiress of a wealthy baronet."

The look which Sir Thomas turned upon Crackenfudge made the cowardly caitiff tremble.

"Harkee, Mr. Crackenfudge," said he; "did you hear the name of the baronet, or of his daughter?"

"A' did not, Sir Thomas; the person that told me was ignorant of this himself."

"May I ask who your informant was, Mr. Crackenfudge?"

"Why, Sir Thomas, a half mad fellow, named Fenton, who said that he saw this vagabond at an establishment in England conducted by a brother of this Grinwell's."

The baronet paused for a moment, but the expression which took possession of his features was one of the most intense interest that could be depicted on the human countenance; he fastened his eyes upon Crackenfudge, as if he would have read the very soul within him, and by an effort restrained himself so far as to say, with forced composure, "Pray, Mr. Crackenfudge, what kind of a person is this Fenton, whom you call half-mad, and from whom you had this information?"

Crackenfudge described Fenton, and informed Sir Thomas that in the opinion of the people he was descended of a good family, though neglected and unfortunate. "But," he added, "as to who he really is, or of what family, no one can get out of him. He's close and cunning."

"Is he occasionally unsettled in his reason?" asked the baronet, with assumed indifference.

"No doubt of it, Sir Thomas; he'll sometimes pass a whole week or fortnight and never open his lips."

The baronet appeared to be divided between two states of feeling so equally balanced as to leave him almost without the power of utterance. He walked, he paused, he looked at Crackenfudge as if he would speak, then resumed his step with a hasty and rapid stride that betokened the depth of what he felt.

"Well, Crackenfudge," he said, "your intelligence, after all, is but mere smoke. I thought the fellow in the inn was something beyond the rank of clerk to a tooth-brush maker; he is not worth our talk, neither is that madman Fenton. In the mean time, I am much obliged to you, and you may calculate upon my services wherever they can be made available to your interests. I would not now hurry you away nor request you to curtail your visit, were it not that I expect Lord Cullamore here in about half an hour, or perhaps less, and I wish to see Miss Gourlay previous to his arrival."

"But you won't forget the magistracy, Sir Thomas? A'm dreaming of it every night. A' think that a'm seated upon a bench with five or six other magistrates along with me, and you can't imagine the satisfaction I feel in sending those poor vermin that are going about in a state of disloyalty and starvation to the stocks or the jail. Oh, authority is a delightful thing, Sir Thomas, especially when a man can exercise it upon the vile rubbish that constitutes the pauper population of the country. You know, if a' were a magistrate, Sir Thomas, a' would fine every one--as well as my own tenants, whom I do fine--that did not take off their hat or make me a courtesy."

"And if you were to do so, Crackenfudge," replied the baronet, with a grim, sardonic smile, or rather a sneer, "I assure you, that such a measure would become a very general and heavy impost upon the country. But goodby, now; I shall remember your wishes as touching the magistracy. You shall have J. P. after your name, and be at liberty to fine, flog, put in the stocks, and send to prison as many of the rubbish you speak of as you wish."

"That will be delightful, Sir Thomas. A'll then make many a vagabond that despises and laughs at me suffer."

"In that case, the country at large will suffer heavily; for to tell you the truth, Crackenfudge, you are anything but a favorite. Goodby, now, I must see my daughter." And so he nodded the embryo magistrate out.

After the latter had taken his departure, Sir Thomas rubbed his hands, with a strong turbid gleam of ferocious satisfaction, that evidently resulted from the communication that Crackenfudge had made to him.

"It can be no other," thought he; "his allusion to the establishment of Grinwell is a strong presumptive proof that it is; but he must be secured forthwith, and that with all secrecy and dispatch, taking it always for granted that he is the fugitive for whom we have been seeking so long. One point, however, in our favor is, that as he knows neither his real name nor origin, nor even the hand which guided his destiny, he can make no discovery of which I may feel apprehensive. Still it is dangerous that he should be at large, for it is impossible to say what contingency might happen--what chance would, or perhaps early recollection might, like a spark of light to a train, blow up in a moment the precaution of years. As to the fellow in the inn, the account of him may be true enough, for unquestionably Grinwell, who kept the asylum, had a brother in the tooth-brush business, and this fact gives the story something like probability, as does the mystery with which this man wraps himself so closely. In the meantime, if he be a clerk, he is certainly an impostor of the most consummate art, for assuredly so gentlemanly a scoundrel I have never yet come in contact with. But, good heavens! if such a report should have gone abroad concerning that stiff-necked and obstinate girl, her reputation and prospects in life are ruined forever. What would Dunroe say if he heard it? as it is certain he will. Then, again, here is the visit from this conscientious old blockhead, Lord Cullamore, who won't allow me to manage my daughter after my own manner. He must hear from her own lips, forsooth, how she relishes this union. He must see her, he says; but, if she betrays me now and continues restive, I shall make her feel what it is to provoke me. This interview will ruin me with old Cullamore; but in the meantime I must see the girl, and let her know what the consequences will be if she peaches against me."

All this, of course, passed through his mind briefly, as he walked to and fro, according to his usual habit. After a few minutes he rang, and with a lowering brow, and in a stern voice, ordered Miss Gourlay to be conducted to him. This was accordingly done, her maid having escorted her to the library door, for it is necessary to say here, that she had been under confinement since the day of her father's visit to Lord Cullamore.

She appeared pale and dejected, but at the same time evidently sustained by serious composure and firmness. On entering the room, her father gazed at her with a long, searching look, that seemed as if he wished to ascertain, from her manner, whether imprisonment had in any degree tamed her down to his purposes. He saw, indeed, that she was somewhat paler than usual, but he perceived at once that not one jot of her resolution had abated. After an effort, he endeavored to imitate her composure, and in some remote degree the calm and serene dignity of her manner. Lucy, who considered herself a prisoner, stood after having entered the room, as if in obedience to her father's wishes.

"Lucy, be seated," said he; and whilst speaking, he placed himself in an arm-chair, near the fire, but turned toward her, and kept his eyes steadily fixed upon her countenance. "Lucy," he proceeded, "you are to receive a visit from Lord Cullamore, by and by, and it rests with you this day whether I shall stand in his estimation a dishonored man or not."

"I do not understand you, papa."

"You soon shall. I paid him a visit, as you are aware, at his own request, a few days ago. The object of that visit was to discuss the approaching union between you and his son. He said he would not have you pressed against your inclinations, and expressed an apprehension that the match was not exactly in accordance with your wishes. Now, mark me, Lucy, I undertook, upon my own responsibility, as well as upon yours, to assure him that it had your fullest concurrence, and I expect that you shall bear me out and sustain me in this assertion."

"I who am engaged to another?"

"Yes, but clandestinely, without your father's knowledge or approbation."

"I admit my error, papa; I fully and freely acknowledge it, and the only atonement I can make to you for it is, to assure you that although I am not likely ever to marry according to your wishes, yet I shall never marry against them."

"Ha!" thought the baronet, "I have brought her down a step already."

"Now, Lucy," said he, "it is time that this undutiful obstinacy on your part should cease. It is time you should look to and respect--yes, and obey your father's wishes. I have already told you that I have impressed Lord Cullamore with a belief that you are a free and consenting party to this marriage, and I trust you have too much delicacy and self-respect to make your father a liar, for that is the word. I admit I told him a falsehood, but I did so for the honor and exaltation of my child. You will not betray me, Lucy?"

"Father," said she, "I regret that you make these torturing communications to me. God knows I wish to love and respect you, but when, under solemn circumstances, you utter, by your own admission, a deliberate falsehood to a man of the purest truth and honor; when you knowingly and wilfully mislead him for selfish and ambitious purposes;--nay, I will retract these words, and suppose it is from an anxiety to secure me rank and happiness,--I say, father, when you thus forget all that constitutes the integrity and dignity of man, and stoop to the discreditable meanness of falsehood, I ask you, is it manly, or honorable, or affectionate, to involve me in proceedings so utterly shameful, and to ask me to abet you in such a wanton perversion of truth? Sir, there are fathers--indeed, I believe, most fathers living--who would rather see any child of theirs stretched and shrouded up in the grave than know them to be guilty of such a base and deliberate violation of all the sacred principles of truth as this."

"You will expose me then, and disgrace me forever with this cursed conscientious old blockhead? I tell you that he doubts my assertion as touching your consent, and is coming to hear the truth from your own lips. But hearken, girl, betray me to him, and by heavens you know not the extent to which my vengeance will carry me."

He rose up, and glared at her in a manner that made her apprehensive for her personal safety.

"Father," said she, growing pale, for the dialogue, brief as it was, had brought the color into her cheeks, "will you permit me to withdraw? I am quite unequal to these contests of temper and opinion; permit me, sir, to withdraw. I have already told you, that provided you do not attempt to force me into a marriage contrary to my wishes I shall never marry contrary to yours."

The baronet swore a deep and blasphemous oath that he would enter into no such stipulation. The thing, he said, was an evasion, an act of moral fraud and deceit upon her part, and she should not escape from him.

"You wish to gain time, madam, to work out your own treacherous purposes, and to defeat my intentions with respect to you; but it shall not be. You must see Lord Cullamore; you must corroborate my assertions to him; you must save me from shame and dishonor or dread the consequences. A paltry sacrifice, indeed, to tell a fib to a doting old peer, who thinks no one in the world honest or honorable but himself!"

"Think of the danger of what you ask," she replied; "think of the deep iniquity--the horrible guilt, and the infamy of the crime into which you wish to plunge me. Reflect that you are breaking down the restraints of honor and conscience in iny heart; that you are defiling my soul with falsehood; and that if I yield to you in this, every subsequent temptation will beset me with more success, until my faith, truth, honor, integrity, are gone forever--until I shall be lost. Is there no sense of religion, father? Is there no future life? Is there no God--no judgment? Father, in asking me to abet your falsehood, and sustain you in your deceit, you transgress the limits of parental authority, and the first principles of natural affection. You pervert them, you abuse them; and, I must say, once and for all, that be the weight of your vengeance what it may, I prefer bearing it to enduring the weight of a guilty conscience."

The baronet rose, and rushing at her, raised his open hand and struck her rather severely on the side of the head. She felt, as it were, stunned for a little, but at length she rose up, and said: "Father, this is the insanity of a bad ambition, or perhaps of affection, and you know not what you have done." She then approached him, and throwing her arms about his neck, exclaimed: "Papa, kiss me; and I shall never think of it, nor allude to it;" as she spoke the tears fell in showers from her eyes.

"No, madam," he replied, "I repulse you; I throw you off from me now and forever."

"Be calm, papa; compose yourself, my dear papa. I shall not see Lord Cullamore; it would be now impossible; I could not sustain an interview with him. You, consequently, can have nothing to fear; you can say I am ill, and that will be truth indeed."

"I shall never relax one moment," he replied, "until I either subdue you, or break your obstinate heart. Come, madam," said he, "I will conduct you to your apartment."

She submissively preceded him, until he committed her once more to the surveillance of the maid whom he had engaged and bribed to be her sentinel.

It is unnecessary to say that the visit of the honorable old nobleman ended in nothing. Lucy was not in a condition to see him; and as her father at all risks reiterated his assertions as to her free and hearty consent to the match, Lord Cullamore went away, now perfectly satisfied that if his son had any chance of being reclaimed by the influence of a virtuous wife, it must be by his union with Lucy. The noble qualities and amiable disposition of this excellent young lady were so well known that only one opinion prevailed with respect to her.

Some wondered, indeed, how such a man could be father to such a daughter; but, on the other hand, the virtues of the mother were remembered, and the wonder was one no longer. _

Read next: Chapter 13. The Stranger's Second Visit To Father M'mahon

Read previous: Chapter 11. The Stranger's Visit To Father Macmalum

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