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

Chapter 21. A Spy Rewarded

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_ CHAPTER XXI. A Spy Rewarded

--Sir Thomas Gourlay Charged Home by the Stranger with the Removal and Disappearance of his Brother's Son.

We left the Black Baronet in a frame of mind by no means to be envied by our readers. The disappearance of his daughter and her maid had stunned and so completely prostrated him, that he had not sufficient energy even for a burst of his usual dark and overbearing resentment. In this state of mind, however, he was better able to reflect upon the distressing occurrence that had happened. He bethought him of Lucy's delicacy, of her sense of honor, her uniform propriety of conduct, her singular self-respect, and after all, of the complacent spirit of obedience with which, in everything but her contemplated union with Lord Dunroe, she had, during her whole life, and under the most trying circumstances, accommodated herself to his wishes. He then reflected upon the fact of her maid having accompanied her, and concluded, very naturally, that if she had resolved to elope with this hateful stranger, she would have done so in pursuance of the precedent set by most young ladies who take such steps--that is, unaccompanied by any one but her lover. From this view of the case he gathered comfort, and was beginning to feel his mind somewhat more at ease, when a servant entered to say that Mr. Crackenfudge requested to see him on particular business.

"He has come to annoy me about that confounded magistracy, I suppose," exclaimed the baronet. "Have you any notion what the worthless scoundrel wants, Gibson?"

"Not the least, your honor, but he seems brimful of something."

"Ay, brimful of ignorance, and of impertinence, too, if he durst show it; yes, and of as much pride and oppression as could well be contained in a miserable carcass like his. As he is a sneaking, vigilant rascal, however, and has a great deal of the spy in his composition, it is not impossible that he may be able to give me some information touching the disappearance of Miss Gourlay."

Gibson, after making his bow, withdrew, and the redoubtable Crackenfudge was ushered into the presence of the baronet.

The first thing the former did was to survey the countenance of his patron, for as such he wished to consider him and to find him. There, then, Sir Thomas sat, stern but indifferent, with precisely the expression of a tiger lying gloomily in his den, the natural ferocity "in grim repose" for the time, but evidently ready to blaze up at anything that might disturb or provoke him. Had Crackenfudge been gifted with either tact or experience, or any enlarged knowledge of the human heart, especially of the deep, dark, and impetuous one that beat in the bosom then before him, he would have studied the best and least alarming manner of conveying intelligence calculated to produce such terrific effects upon a man like Sir Thomas Gourlay. Of this, however, he knew nothing, although his own intercourse with him might have well taught him the necessary lesson.

"Well, Mr. Crackenfudge," said the latter, without moving, "what's wrong now? What's the news?"

"There's nothing wrong, Sir Thomas, and a've good news."

The baronet's eye and brow lost some of their gloom; he arose and commenced, as was his custom, to walk across the room.

"Pray what is this good news, Mr. Crackenfudge? Will you be kind enough, without any unnecessary circumlocution, to favor your friends with it?"

"With pleasure, Sir Thomas, because a' know you are anxious to hear it, and it deeply concerns you."

Sir Thomas paused, turned round, looked at him for a moment with an impatient scowl; but in the meaningless and simpering face before him he could read nothing but what appeared to him to be an impudent chuckle of satisfaction; and this, indeed, was no more than what Crackenfudge felt, who had altogether forgotten the nature of the communication he was about to make, dreadful and disastrous as it was, and thought only of the claim upon Sir Thomas's influence which he was about to establish with reference to the magistracy. It was the reflection, then, of this train of little ambition which Sir Thomas read in his countenance, and mistook for some communication that might relieve him, and set his mind probably at ease. The scowl we allude to accordingly disappeared, and Sir Thomas, after the glance we have recorded, said, checking himself into a milder and more encouraging tone:

"Go on, Mr. Crackenfudge, let us hear it at once."

"Well, then, Sir Thomas, a' told you a'd keep my eye on that chap."

"On whom? name him, sir."

"A' can't, Sir Thomas; the fellow in the inn."

"Oh! what about him?"

"Why he has taken her off."

"Taken whom off?" shouted the baronet, in a voice of thunder. "You contemptible scoundrel, whom has he taken off?"

"Your daughter, Sir Thomas--Miss Gourlay. They went together in the 'Fly' on Tuesday night last to Dublin; a' followed in the 'Flash of Lightning,' and seen them in conversation. Dandy Dulcimer, who is your friend--For God's sake, Sir Thomas, be quiet. You'll shake me--a-a-ach--Sir--Thom-a-as--w-wi-will you not take my--my --li-life----"

"You lie like a villain, you most contemptible reptile," shouted the other. "My daughter, sirrah, never eloped with an adventurer. She never eloped at all, sir. She durst not elope. She knows what my vengeance would be, sirrah. She knows, you lying whelp of perdition, that I would pursue herself and her paramour to the uttermost ends of the earth; that I would shoot them both dead--that I would trample upon and spurn their worthless carcasses, and make an example of them to all time, and through all eternity. And you--you prying, intermeddling scoundrel--how durst you--you petty, beggarly tyrant--hated and despised by poor and rich--was it to mock me--"

"Sir Thom-a-as,

"Was it to jeer and sneer at me--to insult me--you miserable knave--to drive me mad--into raging frenzy--that you came, with a smirk of satisfaction on your face, to communicate the disgrace and dishonor of my family--the ruin of my hopes--the frustration of my ambition--of all I had set my heart on, and that I perilled my soul to accomplish? Yes, you villain, your eye was smiling--elated--your heart was glad--for, sirrah, you hate me at heart."

"God! oh, oh! a'm--a'm--ur-urr-urrr--whee-ee-ee-hee-hee-hee. God ha-ha-ha-have mer-mer-mercy on my sinf-sinfu-l sou-so-soul! a'm gone."

"Yes, you hate me, villain, and this is a triumph to you; every one hates me, and every one will rejoice at my shame. I know it, you accursed miscreant, I feel it; and in return I hate, with more than the malignity of the devil, every human creature that God has made. I have been at enmity with them, and in that enmity I shall persist; deep and dark as hell shall it be, and unrelenting as the vengeance of a devil. There," he added, throwing the almost senseless body of Crackenfudge over on a sofa, "there, you may rest on that sofa, and get breath; get breath quickly, and mark, obey me."

"Yes, Sir Thomas, a' will; a'll do anything, provided that you'll let me escape with my life. God! a'm nearly dead, the fire's not out of my eyes yet."

"Silence, you wretched slave!" shouted the baronet, stamping with rage; not another word of complaint, but listen to n--listen to me, I say: go on, and let me hear, fully and at large, the withering history of this burning and most flagitious disgrace."

"But if a' do, you'll only beat and throttle me to death, Sir Thomas."

"Whether I may or may not do so, go on, villain, and--go on, that quickly, or by heavens I shall tear the venomous heart from your body, and trample the black intelligence out of it. Proceed instantly."

With a face of such distress as our readers may well imagine, and a voice whose quavers of terror wrere in admirable accordance with it, the unfortunate Crackenfudge related the circumstance of Lucy's visit to Dublin, as he considered it, and, in fact, so far as he was acquainted with her motions, as it appeared to him a decided elopement, without the possibility of entertaining either doubt or mistake about it.

In the meantime, how shall we describe the savage fury of the baronet, as the trembling wretch proceeded? It is impossible. His rage, the vehemence of his gestures, the spasms that seemed to sey;e sometimes upon his features and sometimes upon his limbs, as well as upon different parts of his body, transformed him into the appearance of something that was unnatural and frightful. He bit his lips in the effort to restrain these tremendous paroxysms, until the bloody foam fell in red flakes from his mouth, and as portions of it were carried by the violence of his gesticulations over several parts of his face, he had more the appearance of some bloody-fanged ghoul, reeking from the spoil of a midnight grave, than that of a human being.

"Now," said he, "how did it happen that--brainless, worthless, and beneath all contempt, as you are, most execrable scoundrel--you suffered that adroit ruffian, Dulcimer--whom I shall punish, never fear--how came it, you despicable libel on nature and common sense--that you allowed him to humbug you to your face, to laugh at you, to scorn you, to spit upon you, to poke your ribs, as if you were an idiot, as you are, and to kick you, as it were, in every imaginable part of your worthless carcass--how did it come, I say, that you did not watch them properly, that you did not get them immediately arrested, as you ought to have done, or that you did not do more than would merely enable you to chronicle my disgrace and misery?"

"A' did all a' could, Sir Thomas. A' searched through all Dublin for her without success; but as to where he has her, a' can't guess. The first thing a' did, after takin' a sleep, was to come an' tell you to-day; for a' travelled home by last night's coach. You ought to do something, Sir Thomas, for every one has it now. It's through all Ballytrain. 'Deed a' pity you, Sir Thomas."

Now this unfortunate being took it for granted that the last brief silence of the baronet resulted from, some reasonable attention to what he (Crackenfudge) had been saying, whereas the fact was, that his terrible auditor had been transfixed into the highest and most uncontrollable fit of indignation by the substance of his words.

"What!" said he, in a voice that made Crackenfudge leap at least a foot from the sofa. "You pity me, do you!--you, you diabolical eavesdropper, you pity me. Sacred heaven! And again, you searched through all Dublin for my daughter!--carrying her disgrace and infamy wherever you appeared, and advertising them as you went along, like an emissary of shame and calumny, as you are. Yes," said he, as he foamed with the fury of a raging bull; "'I--I--I,' you might have said, 'a nameless whelp, sprung from the dishonest clippings of a counter--I, I say, am in quest of Miss Gourlay, who has eloped with an adventurer, an impostor--with a brushmaker's clerk.'"

"A tooth-brush manufacturer, Sir Thomas, and, you know, they are often made of ivory."

"Come, you intermeddling rascal, I must either tear you asunder or my brain will burst; I will not have such a worthless life as yours on my hands, however; you vermin, out with you; I might have borne anything but your compassion, and even that too; but to blazon through a gaping metropolis the infamy of my family--of all that was dear to me--to turn the name of my child into a polluted word, which modest lips would feel ashamed to utter; nor, lastly, can I forgive you the crime of making me suffer this mad and unexampled agony."

Action now took the place of words, and had, indeed, come in as an auxiliary for some time previous. He seized the unfortunate Crackenfudge, and as, with red and dripping lips, he gave vent to the furious eruptions of his fiery spirit, like a living Vesuvius--for we know of no other comparison so appropriate--he kicked and cuffed the wretched and unlucky intelligencer, until he fairly threw him out at the hall-door, which he himself shut after him.

"Begone, villain!" he exclaimed; "and may you never die till you feel the torments which you have kindled, like the flames of hell, within me!"

On entering the room again, he found, however, that with a being even so wretched and contemptible as Crackenfudge, there had departed a portion of his strength. So long as he had an object on which to launch his fury, he felt that he could still sustain the battle of his passions. But now a heavy sense came over him, as if of something which he could not understand or analyze. His heart sank, and he felt a nameless and indescribable terror within him--a terror, he thought, quite distinct from the conduct of his daughter, or of anything else he had heard. He had, in fact, lost all perception of his individual misery, and a moral gloom, black as night, seemed to cover and mingle with those fiery tortures which were consuming him. An apprehension, also, of immediate dissolution came over him--his memory grew gradually weaker and weaker, until he felt himself no longer able to account for the scene which had just taken place; and for a brief period, although he neither swooned nor fainted, nor fell into a fit of any kind, he experienced a stupor that amounted to a complete unconsciousness of being, if we except an undying impression of some great evil which had befallen him, and which lay, like a grim and insatiable monster, tearing up his heart. At length, by a violent effort, he recovered a little, became once more conscious, walked about for some time, then surveyed himself in the glass, and what between the cadaverous hue of his face and the flakes of red foam which we have described, when taken in connection with his thick, midnight brows, it need not be wondered at that he felt alarmed at the state to which he awakened.

After some time, however, he rang for Gibson, who, on seeing him, started.

"Good God, sir!" said he, quite alarmed, "whit is the matter?"

"I did not ring for you, sir," he replied, "to ask impertinent questions. Send Gillespie to me."

Gibson withdrew, and in the mean time his master went to his dressing-room, where he washed himself free of the bloody evidences of his awful passions. This being done, he returned to the library, where, in a few minutes, Gillespie attended him."

"Gillespie," he exclaimed, "do you fear God?"

"I hope I do, Sir Thomas, as well as another, at any rate."

"Well, then, begone, for you are useless to me--begone, sirrah, and get me some one that fears neither God nor devil."

"Why, Sir Thomas," replied the ruffian, who, having expected a job, felt anxious to retrieve himself, "as to that matter, I can't say that I ever was overburdened with much fear of either one or other of them. Indeed, I believe, thank goodness, I have as little religion as most people."

"Are you sure, sirrah, that you have no conscience?"

"Why--hem--I have done things for your honor before, you know. As to religion, however, I'll stand upon having as little of it as e'er a man in the barony. I give up to no one in a want of that commodity."

"What proof can you afford me that you are free from it?"

"Why, blow me if I know the twelve commandments, and, besides, I was only at church three times in my life, and I fell asleep under the sermon each time; religion, sir, never agreed with me."

"To blazon my shame!--bad enough; but the ruin of my hopes, d--n you, sir, how durst you publish my disgrace to the world?"

"I, your honor! I'll take my oath I never breathed a syllable of it; and you know yourself, sir, the man was too drunk to be able to speak or remember anything of what happened."

"Sir, you came to mock and jeer at me; and, besides, you are a liar, she has not eloped."

"I don't understand you, Sir Thomas," said Gillespie, who saw at once by his master's disturbed and wandering eye, that the language he uttered was not addressed to him.

"What--what," exclaimed the latter, rising up and stretching himself, in order to call back his scattered faculties. "Eh, Gillespie!--what brought you here, sirrah? Are you too come to triumph over the ambitious projector? What am I saying? I sent for you, Gillespie, did I not?"

"You did, Sir Thomas; and with regard to what we were speaking about--I mean religion--I'll hould a pound note with Charley Corbet, when he comes back, that I have less of it than him; and we'll both leave it to your honor, as the best judge; now, if I have less of it than Charley, I think I deserve the preference."

The baronet looked at him, or rather in the direction where he stood, which induced Gillespie to suppose that he was paying the strictest attention to what he said.

"Besides, I once caught Charley at his prayers, Sir Thomas; but I'd be glad to see the man that ever caught me at them--that's the chat."

Sir Thomas placed his two hands upon his eyes for as good as a minute, after which he removed them, and stared about him like one awakening from a disturbed dream.

"Eh?--Begone, Gillespie; I believe I sent for you, but you may go. I am unwell, and not in a condition to speak to you. When I want you again, you shall be sent for."

"I don't care a d---- about either hell or the devil, Sir Thomas, especially when I'm drunk; and I once, for a wager, outswore Squire Leatherings, who was so deaf that I was obliged to swear with my mouth to the end of his ear-trumpet. I was backed for fifty guineas by Colonel Brimstone, who was head of the Hellfire Club."

The baronet signed to him impatiently to begone, and this worthy moralist withdrew, exclaiming as he went:

"Take my word for it, you will find nothing to your hand equal to myself; and if there's anything to be done, curse me but I deserve a preference. I think merit ought to have its reward at any rate."

Sir Thomas, we need not say, felt ill at ease. The tumults of his mind resembled those of the ocean after the violence of the tempest has swept over it, leaving behind that dark and angry agitation which indicates the awful extent of its power. After taking a turn or two through the room, he felt fatigued and drowsy, with something like a feeling of approaching illness. Yielding to this heaviness, he stretched himself on a sofa, and in a few minutes was fast asleep.

All minds naturally vicious, or influenced by the impulses of bad and irregular passions, are essentially vulgar, mean, and cowardly. Our baronet was, beyond question, a striking proof of this truth. Had he possessed either dignity, or one spark of gentlemanly feeling, or self-respect, he would not have degraded himself from what ought to have been expected from a man in his position, by his violence to the worthless wretch, Crackenfudge, who was slight, comparatively feeble, and by no means a match for him in a personal contest. The only apology that can be offered for him is, that it is probable he was scarcely conscious, in the whirlwind and tempest of his passions, that he allowed himself to act such a base and unmanly part to a person who had not willingly offended him, and who was entitled, whilst under his roof, to forbearance, if not protection, even in virtue of the communication he had made.

After sleeping about an hour, he arose considerably refreshed in body; but the agony of mind, although diminished in its strength by its own previous paroxysms, was still intense and bitter. He got up, surveyed himself once more in the glass, adjusted his dress, and helped himself to a glass or two of Madeira, which was his usual specific after these internal conflicts.

This day, however, was destined to be one of trial to him, although by no means his last; neither was it ordained to bring forth the final ordeals that awaited him. He had scarcely time to reflect upon the measures which, under the present circumstances, he ought to pursue, although he certainly was engaged in considering the matter, when Gibson once more entered to let him know that a gentleman requested the favor of a short interview.

"What gentleman? Who is he? I'm not in a frame of mind to see any stranger--I mean, Gibson, that I'm not well."

"Sorry, to hear it, sir; shall I tell the gentleman you can't see him?"

"Yes--no--stay; do you know who he is?"

"He is the gentleman, sir, who has been stopping for some time at the Mitre."

"What!" exclaimed the baronet, bouncing to his feet.

"Yes, sir."

If some notorious felon, red with half-a-dozen murders, and who, having broken jail, left an empty noose in the hands of the hangman, had taken it into his head to return and offer himself up for instant execution to the aforesaid hangman, and eke to the sheriff, we assert that neither sheriff nor hangman, nor hangman nor sheriff, arrange them as you may, could feel a thousandth part of the astonishment which seized Sir Thomas Gourlay on learning the fact conveyed to him by Gibson. Sir Thomas, however, after the first natural start, became, if we may use the expression, deadly, fearfully calm. It was not poor, contemptible Crackenfudge he had to deal with now, but the prime offender, the great felon himself, the author of his shame, the villain who poured in the fire of perdition upon his heart, who blasted his hopes, crumbled into ruin all his schemes of ambition for his daughter, and turned her very name into a byword of pollution and guilt. This was the man whom he was now about to get into his power; the man who, besides, had on a former occasion bearded and insulted him to his teeth;--the skulking adventurer afraid to disclose his name--the low-born impostor, living by the rinsings of foul and fetid teeth--the base upstart--the thief--the man who robbed and absconded from his employer; and this wretch, this cipher, so low in the scale of society and life, was the individual who had left him what he then felt himself to be--a thing crushed, disgraced, trodden in the dust--and then his daughter!----

"Gibson," said he, "show him into a room--say I will see him presently, in about ten minutes or less; deliver this message, and return to me."

In a few moments Gibson again made his appearance.

"Gibson," continued his master, "where is Gillespie? Send him to me."

"Gillespie's gone into Ballytrain, sir, to get one of the horses fired."

"Gibson, you are a good and faithful servant. Go to my bedroom and fetch me my pistols."

"My God, Sir Thomas! oh, sir, for heaven's sake, avoid violence! The expression of your face, Sir Thomas, makes me tremble."

Sir Thomas spoke not, but by one look Gibson felt that he must obey him. On returning with the arms, his master took them out of his hands, opened the pans, shook and stirred the powder, examined the flints, saw that they were sharp and firm, and having done so, he opened a drawer in the table at which he usually wrote, and there placed them at full cock. Gibson could perceive that, although unnaturally calm, he was nevertheless in a state of great agitation; for whilst examining the pistols, he observed that his hand trembled, although his voice was low, condensed, and firm.

"For God's sake, Sir Thomas! for the Almighty God's sake--"

"Go, Gibson, and desire the 'gentleman' to walk up--show him the way."

Sir Thomas's mind was, no doubt, in a tumult; but, at the same time, it was the agitation of a man without courage. After Gibson had left the room, he grew absolutely nervous, both in mind and body, and felt as if he were unequal to the conflict that he expected. On hearing the firm, manly tread of the stranger, his heart sank, and a considerable portion of his violence abandoned him, though not the ungenerous purpose which the result of their interview might possibly render necessary. At all events, he felt that he was about to meet the stranger in a much more subdued spirit than he had expected; simply because, not being naturally a brave or a firm man, his courage, and consequently his resentment, cooled in proportion as the distance between them diminished.

Sir Thomas was standing with his back to the fire as the stranger entered. The manner of the latter was cool, but cautious, and his bow that of a perfect gentleman. The baronet, surprised into more than he had intended, bowed haughtily in return--a mark of respect which it was not his intention to have paid him.

"I presume, sir," said he, "that I understand the object of this visit?"

"You and I, Sir Thomas Gourlay," replied the stranger, "have had one interview already--and but one; and I am not aware that anything occurred then between us that could enable you to account for my presence here."

"Well, sir, perhaps so," replied the baronet, with a sneer; "but to what may I attribute the honor of that distinguished presence?"

"I come, Sir Thomas Gourlay, to seek for an explanation on a subject of the deepest importance to the party under whose wishes and instructions I act."

"That party, sir," replied the baronet, who alluded to his daughter, "has forfeited every right to give you instructions on that, or any other subject where I am concerned. And, indeed, to speak candidly, I hardly know whether more to admire her utter want of all shame in deputing you on such a mission, or your own immeasurable effrontery in undertaking it."

"Sir Thomas Gourlay," replied the stranger, with a proud smile on his lips, "I beg to assure you, once for all, that it is not my intention to notice, much less return, such language as you have now applied to me. Whatever you may forget, sir, I entreat you to remember that you are addressing a gentleman, who is anxious in this interview, as well as upon all occasions when we may meet, to treat you with courtesy. And I beg to say now, that I regret the warmth of my language to you, though not unprovoked, on a former occasion."

"Oh, much obliged, sir," replied the baronet, with a low, ironical inclination of the head, indicative of the most withering contempt; "much obliged, sir. Perhaps you would honor me with your patronage, too. I dare say that will be the next courtesy. Well, I can't say but I am a fortunate fellow. Will you have the goodness, however, to proceed, sir, and open your negotiations? unless, in the true diplomatic spirit, you wish to keep me in ignorance of its real object."

"It is a task that I enter upon with great pain," replied the other, without noticing the offensive politeness of the baronet, "because I am aware that there are associations connected with it, which you, as a father, cannot contemplate without profound sorrow."

"Don't rest assured of that," said Sir Thomas. "Your philosophy may lead you astray there. A sensible man, sir, never regrets that which is worthless."

The stranger looked a good deal surprised; however, he opened the negotiation, as the baronet said, in due form.

"I believe, Sir Thomas Gourlay," he proceeded, "you remember that the son and heir of your late brother, Sir Edward Gourlay, long deceased, disappeared very mysteriously some sixteen or eighteen years ago, and has been lost to the family ever since."

"Oh, sir," exclaimed the baronet, with no little surprise, "I beg your pardon. Your exordium was so singularly clear, that I did not understand you before. Pray proceed."

"I trust, then, you understand me now, sir," replied the stranger; "and I trust you will understand me better before we part."

The baronet, in spite of his hauteur and contemptuous sarcasm, began to feel uneasy; for, to speak truth, there was in the stranger's words and manner, an earnestness of purpose, joined to a cool and manly spirit, that could not be treated lightly, or with indifference.

"Sir Thomas Gourlay," proceeded the stranger--

"I beg your pardon, sir," said the other, interrupting him; "plain Thomas Gourlay, if you please. Is not that your object?"

"Truth, sir, is our object, and justice, and the restoration of the defrauded orphan's rights. These, sir, are our objects; and these we shall endeavor to establish. Sir Thomas Gourlay, you know that the son of your brother lives."


"Yes, sir; disguise it--conceal it as you will. You know that the son of your brother lives. I repeat that emphatically."

"So I perceive. You are evidently a very emphatic gentleman."

"If truth, sir, constitute emphasis, you shall find me so."

"I attend to you, sir; and I give you notice, that when you shall have exhausted yourself, I have my explanation to demand; and, I promise you, a terrible one you shall find it."

This the wily baronet said, in order, if possible, to confound the stranger, and throw him out of the directness of his purpose. In this, however, he found himself mistaken. The other proceeded:

"You, Sir Thomas Gourlay, did, one night about eighteen years ago, as I said, engage a man, disguised in a mask for the purpose of concealing his features, to kidnap your brother's child from Red Hall--from this very house in which we both stand."

"I beg your pardon," said Sir Thomas, "I forgot that circumstance in the blaze of your eloquence; perhaps you will have the goodness to take a seat;" and in the same spirit of bitter sarcasm, he motioned him with mock courtesy, to sit down. The other, pausing only until he had spoken, proceeded:

"You engaged this man, I repeat, to kidnap your brother's son and heir, under the pretence of bringing him to see a puppet-show. Now, Sir Thomas Gourlay," proceeded the stranger, "suppose that the friends of this child, kidnapped by you, shall succeed in proving this fact by incontestable evidence, in what position will you stand before the world?"

"Much in the same position in which I stand now. In Red Hall, as its rightful proprietor, with my back probably to the fire, as it is at present."

It is undeniable, however, that despite all this haughty coolness of the baronet, the charge involved in the statement advanced by the stranger stunned him beyond belief; not simply because the other made it, for that was a mere secondary consideration, but because he took it for granted that it never could have been made unless through the medium of treachery; and we all know that when a criminal, whether great or small, has reason to believe that he has been betrayed, his position is not enviable, inasmuch as all sense of security totters from under him. The stranger, as he proceeded, watched the features of his auditor closely, and could perceive that the struggle then going on between the tumult of alarm within and the effort at calmness without, was more than, with all his affected irony and stoicism, he could conceal.

"But, perhaps," proceeded the baronet, "you who presume to be so well acquainted with the removal of my brother's child, may have it in your power to afford me some information on the disappearance of my own. I wish you, however, to observe this distinction. As the history you have given happens to be pure fiction, I should wish the other to be nothing but--truth."

"The loss of your child I regret, sir" (Sir Thomas bowed as before), "but I am not here to speak of that. You perceive now that we have got a clew to this painful mystery--to this great crime. A portion of the veil is raised, and you may rest assured that it shall not fall again until the author of this injustice shall be fully exposed. I do not wish to use harsher language."

"As to that," replied Sir Thomas, "use no unnecessary delicacy on the subject. Thank God, the English language is a copious one. Use it to its full extent. You will find all its power necessary to establish the pretty conspiracy you are developing. Proceed, sir, I am quite attentive. I really did not imagine I could have felt so much amused. Indeed, I am very fortunate in this respect, for it is not every man who could have such an excellent farce enacted at his own fireside."

"All this language is well, and no doubt very witty, Sir Thomas; but, believe me, in the end you will find this matter anything but a farce. Now, sir, I crave your attention to a proposal which I am about to make to you on this most distressing subject. Restore this young man to his mother--use whatever means you may in bringing this about. Let it appear, for instance, that he was discovered accidentally, or in such a way, at least, that your name or agency, either now or formerly, may in no manner be connected with it. On these terms you shall be permitted to enjoy the title and property during your life, and every necessary guarantee to that effect shall be given you. The heart of Lady Gourlay is neither in your present title nor your present property, but in her child, whom that heart yearns to recover. This, then, Sir Thomas Gourlay, is the condition which I propose; and, mark me, I propose it on the alternative of our using the means and materials already in our hands for your exposure and conviction should you reject it."

"There is one quality about you, sir," replied the baronet, "which I admire extremely, and that is your extraordinary modesty. Nothing else could prompt you to stand up and charge a man of my rank and character, on my own hearth, with the very respectable crime of kidnapping my brother's child. Extremely modest, indeed! But how you should come to be engaged in this vindictive plot, and how you, above all men living, should have the assurance to thus insult me, is a mystery for the present. Of course, you see, you are aware, that I treat every word you have uttered with the utmost degree of contempt and scorn which the language is capable of expressing. I neither know nor care who may have prompted you, or misled you; be that, however, as it may, I have only simply to state that, on this subject I defy them as thoroughly as I despise you. On another subject, however, I experience toward you a different, feeling, as I shall teach you to understand before you leave the room."

"This being your reply, I must discharge my duty fully. Pray mark me, now, Sir Thomas. Did you not give instructions to a certain man to take your brother's child out of your path--out of your sight--out of your hearing? And, Sir Thomas, was not that man very liberally rewarded for that act? I pray you, sir, to think seriously of this, as I need not say that if you persist in rejecting our conditions, a serious matter you will find it."

Another contemptuous inclination, and "you have my reply, sir," was all the baronet could trust himself to say.

"I now come to a transaction of a more recent date, Sir Thomas."

"Ah!" said the baronet, "I thought I should have had the pleasure of introducing the discussion of that transaction. You really are, however, quite a universal genius--so clear and eloquent upon all topics, that I suppose I may leave it in your hands."

"A young man, named Fenton, has suddenly disappeared from this neighborhood."

"Indeed! Why, I must surely live at the antipodes, or in the moon, or I could not plead such ignorance of those great events."

"You are aware, Sir Thomas, that the person passing under that name is your brother's son--the legitimate heir to the title and property of which you are in the unjust possession."

Another bow. "I thank you, sir. I really am deriving much information at your hands."

"Now I demand, Sir Thomas Gourlay, in the name of his injured mother, what you have done with that young man?"

"It would be useless to conceal it," replied the other. "As you seem to know everything, of course you know that. To your own knowledge, therefore, I beg most respectfully to refer you."

"I have only another observation to make, Sir Thomas Gourlay. You remember last Tuesday night, when you drove at an unseasonable hour to the town of------? Now, sir, I use your words, on that subject, to your own knowledge I beg most respectfully to refer you. I have done."

Sir Thomas Gourlay, when effort was necessary, could certainly play an able and adroit part. There was not a charge brought against him in the preceding conference that did not sink his heart into the deepest dismay; yet did he contrive to throw over his whole manner and bearing such a veil of cold, hard dissimulation as it was nearly impossible to penetrate. It is true, he saw that he had an acute, sensible, independent man to deal with, whose keen eye he felt was reading every feature of his face, and every motion of his body, and weighing, as it were, with a practised hand, the force and import of every word he uttered. He knew that merely to entertain the subject, or to discuss it at all with anything like seriousness, would probably have exposed him to the risk of losing his temper, and thus placed himself in the power of so sharp and impurturbable an antagonist. As the dialogue proceeded, too, a portion of his attention was transferred from the topic in question to the individual who introduced it. His language, his manner, his dress, his tout ensemble were unquestionably not only those of an educated gentleman, but of a man who was well acquainted with life and society, and who appeared to speak as if he possessed no unequivocal position in both.

"Who the devil," thought he to himself several times, "can this person be? How does he come to speak on behalf of Lady Gourlay? Surely such a man cannot be a brush manufacturer's clerk--and he has very little the look of an impostor, too."

All this, however, could not free him from the deep and deadly conviction that the friends of his brother's widow were on his trail, and that it required the whole united powers of his faculties for deception, able and manifold as they were, to check his pursuers and throw them off the scent. It was now, too, that his indignation against his daughter and him who had seduced her from his roof began to deepen in his heart. Had he succeeded in seeing her united to Lord Dunroe, previous to any exposure of himself--supposing even that discovery was possible--his end, the great object of his life, was, to a certain extent, gained. Now, however, that that hope was out of the question, and treachery evidently at work against him, he felt that gloom, disappointment, shame, and ruin were fast gathering round him. He was, indeed, every way hemmed in and hampered. It was clear that this stranger was not a man to be either cajoled or bullied. He read a spirit--a sparkle--in his eye, which taught him that the brutality inflicted upon the unfortunate Crackenfudge, and such others as he knew he might trample on, would never do here.

As matters stood, however, he thought the only chance of throwing the stranger off his guard was to take him by a coup de main. With this purpose, he went over, and sitting down to his desk before the drawer that contained his pistols, thus placing himself between the stranger and the door, he turned upon him a look as stern and determined as he could possibly assume; and we must remark here, that he omitted no single consideration connected with the subject he was about to introduce that was calculated to strengthen his determination.

"Now, sir," said he, "in the first place, may I take the liberty of asking where you have concealed my daughter? I will have no equivocation, sir," he added, raising his voice--"no evasion, no falsehood, but in one plain word, or in as many as may be barely necessary, say where you have concealed Miss Gourlay."

"Sir Thomas Gourlay," replied the other, "I can understand your feelings upon this subject, and I can overlook much that you may say in connection with it; but neither upon that nor any other, can I permit the imputation of falsehood against myself. You are to observe this, sir, and to forbear the repetition of such an insult. My reply is brief and candid: I know not where Miss Gourlay is, upon my honor as a gentleman."

"Do you mean to tell me, sir, that you and she did not elope in the same coach on Tuesday night last?"

"I do, sir; and I beg to tell you, that such a suspicion is every way unworthy of your daughter."

"Take care, sir; you were seen together in Dublin."

"That is true. I had the honor of travelling in the same coach with her to the metropolis; but I was altogether unconscious of being her fellow-traveller until we arrived in Dublin. A few brief words of conversation I had with her in the coach, but nothing more."

"And you presume to say that you know not where she is--that you are ignorant of the place of her retreat'?"

"Yes, I presume to say so, Sir Thomas; I have already pledged my honor as a gentleman to that effect, and I shall not repeat it."

"As a gentleman!--but how do I know that you are a man of honor and a gentleman?"

"Sir Thomas, don't allow your passion or prejudice to impose upon your judgment and penetration as a man of the world. I know you feel this moment that you are addressing a man who is both; and your own heart tells you that every word I have uttered respecting Miss Gourlay is true."

"You will excuse me there, sir," replied the baronet. "Your position in this neighborhood is anything but a guarantee to the truth of what you say. If you be a gentleman--a man of honor, why live here, incognito, afraid to declare your name, or your rank, if you have any?--why lie perdu, like a man under disgrace, or who had fled from justice?"

"Well, then, I beg you to rest satisfied that I am not under disgrace, and that I have motives for concealing my name that are disinterested, and even honorable, to myself, if they were known."

"Pray, will you answer me another question--Do you happen to know a firm in London named Grinwell and Co.? they are toothbrush manufacturers? Now, mark my words well--I say Grinwell and Co., tooth-brush manufacturers."

"I have until this moment never heard of Grinwell and Co., tooth-brush manufacturers."

"Now, sir," replied Sir Thomas, "all this may be very well and very true; but there is one fact that you can neither deny nor dispute. You have been paying your addresses clandestinely to my daughter, and there is a mutual attachment between you."

"I love your daughter--I will not deny it."

"She returns your affections?"

"I cannot reply to anything involving Miss Gourlay's opinions, who is not here to explain them; nor is it generous in you to force me into the presumptuous task of interpreting her sentiments on such a subject."

"The fact, however, is this. I have for some years entertained other and different views with respect to her settlement in life. You may be a gentleman, or you may be an impostor; but one thing is certain, you have taught her to contravene my wishes--to despise the honors to which a dutiful obedience to them would exalt her--to spurn my affection, and to trample on my authority. Now, sir, listen to me. Renounce her--give up all claims to her--withdraw every pretension, now and forever; or, by the living God! you shall never carry your life out of this room. Sooner than have the noble design which I proposed for her frustrated; sooner than have the projects of my whole life for her honorable exaltation ruined, I could bear to die the death of a common felon. Here, sir, is a proposition that admits of only the one fatal and deadly alternative. You see these pistols; they are heavily loaded; and you know my purpose; --it is the purpose, let me tell you, of a resolved and desperate man."

"I know not how to account for this violence, Sir Thomas Gourlay," replied the stranger with singular coolness; "all I can say is, that on me it is thrown away."

"Refuse the compliance with the proposition I have made, and by heavens you have looked upon your last sun. The pistols, sir, are cocked; if one fails, the other won't."

"This outrage, Sir Thomas, upon a stranger, in your own house, under the protection of your own roof, is as monstrous as it is cowardly."

"My roof, sir, shall never afford protection to a villain," said the baronet, in a loud and furious voice. "Renounce my daughter, and that quickly. No, sir, this roof will afford you no protection."

[Illustration: PAGE 446-- Pistols, which he instantly cocked, and held ready]

"Well, sir, I cannot help that," replied the stranger, deliberately taking out of his breast, where they were covered by an outside coat, a case of excellent pistols, which he instantly cocked, and held ready for action: "If your roof won't, these good friends will. And now, Sir Thomas, hear me; lay aside your idle weapons, which, were I even unarmed, I would disregard as much as I do this moment. Our interview is now closed; but before I go, let me entreat you to reflect upon the conditions I have offered you; reflect upon them deeply--yes, and accept them, otherwise you will involve yourself in all the consequences of a guilty but unsuccessful ambition--in contempt--infamy--and ruin."

The baronet's face became exceedingly blank at the exhibition of the fire-arms. Pistol for pistol had been utterly out of the range of his calculations. He looked upon the stranger with astonishment, not un-mingled with a considerable portion of that wholesome feeling which begets self-preservation. In fact, he was struck dumb, and uttered not a syllable; and as the stranger made his parting bow, the other could only stare at him as if he had seen an apparition. _

Read next: Chapter 22. Lucy At Summerfield Cottage

Read previous: Chapter 20. Interview Between Lords Cullamore, Dunroe, And Lady Emily

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