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

Chapter 30. A Courtship On Novel Principles

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_ CHAPTER XXX. A Courtship on Novel Principles

Having stated that Sir Thomas Gourlay requested Dunroe to postpone an interview with Lucy until her health should become reestablished, we feel it necessary to take a glance at the kind of life the unfortunate girl led from the day she made the sacrifice until that at which we have arrived in this narrative. Since that moment of unutterable anguish her spirits completely abandoned her. Naturally healthy she had ever been, but now she began to feel what the want of it meant; a feeling which to her, as the gradual precursor of death, and its consequent release from sorrow, brought something like hope and consolation. Yet this was not much; for we know that to the young heart entering upon the world of life and enjoyment, the prospect of early dissolution, no matter by what hopes or by what resignation supported, is one so completely at variance with the mysterious gift of existence and the natural tenacity with which we cling to it, that, like the drugs which we so reluctantly take during illness, its taste upon the spirit is little else than bitterness itself. Lucy's appetite failed her; she could not endure society, but courted solitude, and scarcely saw any one, unless, indeed, her father occasionally, and her maid Alley Mahon, when her attendance was necessary. She became pale as a shadow, began to have a wasted appearance, and the very fountains of her heart seemed to have dried up, for she found it impossible to shed a tear. A dry, cold, impassive agony, silent, insidious, and exhausting, appeared to absorb the very elements of life, and reduce her to a condition of such physical and morbid incapacity as to feel an utter inability, or at all events disinclination, to complain.

Her father's interviews with her were not frequent. That worthy man, however, looked upon all her sufferings as the mere pinings of a self-willed girl, lovesick and sentimental, such as he had sometimes heard of, or read in books, and only worthy to be laughed at and treated with contempt. He himself was now progressing in an opposite direction, so far as health was concerned, to that of his daughter. In other words, as she got ill, he gradually, and with a progress beautifully adapted to the accomplishment of his projects, kept on recovering. This fact was Lucy's principal, almost her sole consolation; for here, although she had sacrificed herself, she experienced the satisfaction of seeing that the sacrifice was not in vain.

But, after all, and notwithstanding his base and ungodly views of life, let us ask, had the baronet no painful visitations of remorse in contemplating the fading form and the silent but hopeless agony of his daughter? Did conscience, which in his bosom of stone indulged in an almost unbroken slumber, never awaken to scourge his hardened spirit with her whip of snakes, and raise the gloomy curtain that concealed from him the dark and tumultuous fires that await premeditated guilt and impenitence? We answer, he was man. Sometimes, especially in the solemn hours of night, he experienced brief periods, not of remorse, much less of repentance, but of dark, diabolical guilt--conscious guilt, unmitigated by either penitence or remorse, as might have taught his daughter, could she have known them, how little she herself suffered in comparison with him. These dreadful moments remind one of the heavings of some mighty volcano, when occasioned by the internal stragglings of the fire that is raging within it, the power and fury of which may be estimated by the terrible glimpses which rise up, blazing and smouldering from its stormy crater.

"What am I about?" he would say. "What a black prospect does life present to me! I fear I am a bad man. Could it be possible now, that there are thousands of persons in life who have committed great crimes in the face of society, who, nevertheless, are not responsible for half my guilt? Is it possible that a man may pass through the world, looking on it with a plausible aspect, and yet become, from the natural iniquity of his disposition and the habitual influence of present and perpetual evil within him, a man of darker and more extended guilt than the murderer or robber? Is it, then, the isolated crime, the crime that springs from impulse, or passion, or provocation, or revenge?--or is it the black unbroken iniquity of the spirit, that constitutes the greater offence, or the greater offender against society? Am I, then, one of I those reprobates of life in whom there is everything adverse to good and friendly to evil, yet who pass through existence with a high head, and look upon the public criminal and felon with abhorrence or affected compassion? But why investigate myself? Here I am; and that fact is the utmost limit to which my inquiries and investigations can go. I am what I am: besides, I did not form nor create myself. I am different from my daughter, she is different from me. I am different from most people. In what? May I not have a destined purpose in creation to fulfil; and is it not probable that my natural disposition has been bestowed upon me for the purpose of fulfilling it? Yet if all were right, how account for these dreadful and agonizing glimpses of my inner life which occasionally visit me? But I dare say every man feels them. What are they, after all, but the superstitious operations of conscience--of that grim spectre which is conjured up by the ridiculous fables of the priest and nurse? Conscience! Why, its fearful tribunal is no test of truth. The wretched anchorite will often experience as much remorse if he neglect to scourge his miserable carcass, as the murderer who sheds the blood of man--or more. Away with it! I am but a fool for allowing it to disturb me at all, or mar my projects."

In this manner would he attempt to reason himself out of these dreadful visitations, by the shallow sophistry of the sceptic and infidel.

The time, however, he thought, was now approaching when it was necessary that something should be done with respect to Lucy's approaching marriage. He accordingly sent for her, and having made very affectionate inquiries after her health, for he had not for a moment changed the affected tenderness of his manner, he asked if she believed herself capable of granting an interview to Lord Dunroe. Lucy, now that escape from the frightful penalty of her obedience was impossible, deemed it, after much painful reflection, better to submit with as little apparent reluctance as possible.

"I fear, papa," she said, in tones that would have touched and softened any heart but that to which she addressed herself, "I fear that it is useless to wait until I am better. I feel my strength declining every day, without any hope of improvement. I may therefore as well see him now as at a future time."

"My dear Lucy, I know that you enter into this engagement with reluctance. I know that you do it for my sake; and you may rest assured that your filial piety and obedience will be attended with a blessing. After marriage you will find that change of scene, Dunroe's tenderness, and the influence of enlivening society, will completely restore your health and spirits. Dunroe's a rattling, pleasant fellow; and notwithstanding his escapades, has an excellent heart. Tut, my dear child, after a few months you will yourself smile at these girlish scruples, and thank papa for forcing you into happiness."

Lucy's large eyes had been fixed upon him while he spoke, and as he concluded, two big tears, the first she had shed for weeks, stood within their lids. They seemed, however, but visionary; for although they did fall they soon disappeared, having been absorbed, as it were, into the source from which they came, by the feverish heat of her brain.

"It is enough, papa," she said; "I am willing to see him--willing to see him whenever you wish. I am in your hands, and neither you nor he need apprehend any further opposition from me."

"You are a good girl, Lucy; and you may believe me again that this admirable conduct of yours will have its reward in a long life of future happiness."

"Future happiness, papa," she replied, with a peculiar emphasis on the word; "I hope so. May I withdraw, sir?"

"You may, my dear child. God bless and reward you, Lucy. It is to your duty I owe it that I am a living man--that you have a father."

When she had gone, he sat down to his desk, and without losing a moment sent a note to Dunroe, of which the following is a copy:

"My dear Lord Dunroe,--I am happy to tell you that Lucy is getting on famously.

"Of course you know, I suppose, that these vaporish affections are, with most young girls, nothing but the performance of the part which they choose to act before marriage; the mere mists of the morning, poor wenches, which only prognosticate for themselves and their husbands an unclouded day. All this make-believe is very natural; and it is a good joke, besides, to see them pout and look grave, and whine and cry, and sometimes do the hysteric, whilst they are all the time dying in secret, the hypocritical baggages, to get themselves transformed into matrons. Don't, therefore, be a whit surprised or alarmed if you find Miss Lucy in the pout--she is only a girl, after all, and has her little part to play, as well as the best of them. Still, such a change is often in reality a serious one to a young woman; and you need not be told that no animal will allow itself to be caught without an effort. When you see her, therefore, pluck up your spirits, rattle away, laugh and jest, so as, if possible, to get her into good humor, and there is no danger of you. Or stay--I am wrong. Had you followed this advice, it would have played the deuce with you. Don't be merry. On the contrary, pull a long face--be grave and serious; and if you can imitate the manner of one of those fellows who pass for young men of decided piety, you were nothing but a made man. Have you a Bible? If you have, commit half-a-dozen texts to memory, and intersperse them judiciously through your conversation. Talk of the vanity of life, the comforts of religion, and the beauty of holiness. But don't overdo the thing either. Just assume the part of a young person on whose mind the truth is beginning to open, because Lucy knows now very well that these rapid transitions are suspicious. At all events, you will do the best you can; and if you are here to-morrow--say about three o'clock--she will see you.

"Ever, my dear Dunroe,

"Faithfully, your father-in-law that is to be,

"Thomas Gourlay."

This precious epistle Dunroe found upon his table after returning from his ride in the Phoenix Park; and having perused it, he immediately rang for Norton, from whom he thought it was much too good a thing to be concealed.

"Norton," said he, "I am beginning to think that this black fellow, the baronet, is not such a disgraceful old scoundrel as I had thought him. There's not a bad thing in its way--read it."

Norton, after throwing his eye over it, laughed heartily.

"Egad," said he, "that fellow has a pretty knowledge of life; but it is well he recovered himself in the instructions, for, from all that I have heard of Miss Gourlay, his first code would have ruined you, sure enough."

"I am afraid I will break down, however, in the hypocrisy. I failed cursedly with the old peer, and am not likely to be more successful with her."

"Indeed, I question whether hypocrisy would sit well upon one who has been so undisguised an offender. The very assumption of it requires some training. I think a work to be called 'Preparations for Hypocrisy' would be a great book to the general mass of mankind. You cannot bound at one step from the licentious to the hypocritical, unless, indeed, upon the convenient principle of instantaneous conversion. The thing must be done decently, and by judicious gradations, nor is the transition attended with much difficulty, in consequence of the natural tendency which hypocrisy and profligacy always have to meet. Still, I think you ought to attempt the thing. Get by heart, as her father advises, half-a-dozen serious texts of Scripture, and drop one in now and then, such as, 'All flesh is grass.' 'Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof.' 'He that marrieth not doth well, but he that marrieth doth better.' To be sure, there is a slight inversion of text here, but then it is made more appropriate."

"None of these texts, however," replied his lordship, "except the last, are applicable to marriage."

"So much the better; that will show her that you can think of other and more serious things."

"But there are very few things more serious, my boy."

"At all events," proceeded the other, "it will be original, and originality, you know, is your forte. I believe it is supposed that she has no great relish for this match, and is not overburdened with affection for you?"

"She must have changed, though," replied his lordship, "or she wouldn't have consented."

"That may be; but if she should candidly tell you that she does not like you--why, in that case, your originality must bear you out. Start some new and original theory on marriage; say, for instance, that your principle is not to marry a girl who does love you, but rather one who feels the other way. Dwell fearfully on the danger of love before marriage: and thus strike out strongly upon the advantages of indifference--honest indifference. By this means you will meet all her objections, and be able to capsize her on every point."

"Norton," said his lordship, "I think you are right. My originality will carry the day; but in the meantime you must give me further instructions on the subject, so that I may be prepared at all points."

"By the by, Dunroe, you will be a happy fellow. I am told she is a magnificent creature; beautiful, sensible, brilliant, and mistress of many languages."

"Not to be compared with the blonde, though."

"I cannot say," replied Norton, "having not yet seen her. You will get very fond of her, of course."

"Fond--'gad, I hope it will never come to that with me. The moment a man suffers himself to become fond of his wife, he had better order his Bible and Prayer-book at once--it is all up with him."

"I grant you it's an unfortunate condition to get into; and the worst of it is, that once you are in, it is next to an impossibility to get out. Of course, you will take care to avoid it, for your own sake, and, if you have no objection, for mine. Perhaps her ladyship may take a fancy to support the venerable peer against me in recommending the process of John Thrustout. If so, Dunroe, whatever happiness your marriage may bring yourself, it will bring nothing but bitterness and calamity to me. I am now so much accustomed--so much--so much--hang it, why conceal it?--so much attached and devoted to you--that a separation would be the same as death to me."

"Never fear, Norton," replied Dunroe, "I have not yielded to my father on this point, neither shall I to my wife. Happen what may, my friend must never be given up for the whim of any one. But, indeed, you need entertain no apprehensions. I am not marrying the girl for love, so that she is not likely to gain any ascendancy whatever over me. It is her fortune and property that have attracted my affections, just as the title she will enjoy has inveigled those of the old father."

Norton, in deep emotions of gratitude, ably sustained, had already seized the hand of his patron, and was about to reply--but the effort was too much for him; his heart was too full; he felt a choking; so, clapping his handkerchief to his face with one hand, and the other upon his heart, he rushed out of the room, lest Dunroe might perceive the incredible force of his affection for him.

The next day, when Dunroe made his appearance in the drawing-room, Lucy, before descending, felt as one may be supposed to do who stands upon the brow of a precipice, conscious at the same time that not only is retreat from this terrible position impossible, but that the plunge must be made. On this occasion she experienced none of that fierce energy which sometimes results from despair, and which one might imagine to have been in accordance with her candid and generous character, when driven as she was to such a step. On the contrary, she felt calm, cold, and apathetic. Her pulse could scarcely be perceived by Alley Mahon; and all the physical powers of life within her seemed as if about to suspend their functions. Her reason, however, was clear, even to torture. Those tumultuous vibrations of the spirit--those confused images and unsettled thoughts of the brain; and all those excited emotions of the heart, that are usually called into existence in common minds by such scenes, would have been to her as a relief, in comparison to what she experienced. In her case there was a tranquillity of agony--a quiet, unresisting submission--a gentle bowing of the neck to the stake, at the sacrifice that resulted from the clear perception of her great mind, which thus, by its very facility of apprehension, magnified the torture she suffered. Whilst descending the stairs, she felt such a sinking of the soul within her, as the unhappy wretch does who ascends from those which lead to that deadly platform from which is taken the terrible spring into eternity.

On entering the room she saw herself in the large mirror that adorned the mantel-piece, and felt for the first time as if all this was some dreadful dream. The reality, however, of the misery she felt was too strongly in her heart to suffer this consoling fiction, painful even though it was, to remain. The next moment she found Lord Dunroe doing her homage and obeisance,--an obeisance which she returned with a lady-like but melancholy grace, that might have told to any other observer the sufferings she felt, and the sacrifice she was making.

Dunroe, with as much politeness as he could assume, handed her to the sofa, close to which he drew a chair, and opened the dialogue as follows:

"I am sorry to hear that you have not been well, Miss Gourlay. Life, however, is uncertain, and we should always be prepared--at least, so says Scripture. All flesh is grass, I think is the expression--ahem."

Lucy looked at him with a kind of astonishment; and, indeed, we think our readers will scarcely feel surprised that she did so; the reflection being anything but adapted to the opening of a love scene.

"Your observation, my lord," she replied, "is very true--too true, for we rarely make due preparation for death."

"But I can conceive, readily enough," replied his lordship, "why the man that wrote the Scripture used the expression. Death, you know Miss Gourlay, is always represented as a mower, bearing a horrible scythe, and an hour-glass. Now, a mower, you know, cuts down grass; and there is the origin of the similitude."

"And a very appropriate one it is, I think," observed Lucy.

"Well, I dare say it is; but somewhat vulgar though. I should be disposed to say, now, that the man who wrote that must have been a mower himself originally."

Lucy made no reply to this sapient observation. His lordship, however, who seemed to feel that he had started upon a wrong principle, if not a disagreeable one, went on:

"It is not, however, to talk of death, Miss Gourlay, that we have met, but of a very different and much more agreeable subject--marriage."

"To me, my lord," she replied, "death is the more agreeable of the two."

"I am sorry to hear that, Miss Gourlay; but I think you are in low spirits, and that accounts for it. Your father tells me, however, that I have your permission to urge my humble claims. He says you have kindly and generously consented to look upon me, all unworthy as I feel I am, as your future husband."

"It is true, my lord, I have consented to this projected union; but I feel that it is due to your lordship to state that I have done so under very painful and most distressing circumstances. It is better I should speak now, my lord, than at a future day. My father's mind has been seized by an unaccountable ambition to see me your wife. This preyed upon him so severely that he became dangerously ill." Here, however, from delicacy to the baronet, she checked herself, but added, "Yes, my lord, I have consented; but, understand me--you have not my affections."

"Why, as to that, Miss Gourlay, I have myself peculiar opinions; and I am glad that they avail me here. You will think it odd, now, that I had made my mind up never to marry a woman who loved me. This is really fortunate."

"I don't understand you, my lord."

"Well, I suppose you don't; but I shall make myself intelligible as well as I can. Love before marriage, in my opinion, is exceedingly dangerous to future happiness; and I will tell you why I think so. In the first place, a great deal of that fuel which feeds the post-matrimonial flame is burned away and wasted unnecessarily; the imagination, too, is raised to a ridiculous and most enthusiastic expectation of perpetual bliss and ecstasy; then comes disappointment, coolness, indifference, and the lights go out for want of the fuel I mentioned; and altogether the domestic life becomes rather a dull and tedious affair. The wife wonders that the husband is no longer a, lover; and the husband cannot for the soul of him see all the--the--the--ahem!--I scarcely know what to call them--that enchanted him before marriage. Then, you perceive, that when love is necessary, the fact comes out that it was most injudiciously expended before the day of necessity. Both parties feel, in fact, that the property has been prematurely squandered--like many another property--and when it is wanted, there is nothing to fall back upon. I wish to God affection could be funded, so that when a married couple found themselves low in pocket in that commodity they could draw the interest or sell out at once."

"And what can you expect, my lord, from those who marry without affection?" asked Lucy.

"Ten chances for happiness," replied his lordship, "for one that results from love. When such persons meet, mark you, Miss Gourlay, they are not enveloped in an artificial veil of splendor, which the cares of life, and occasionally a better knowledge of each other, cause to dissolve from about them, leaving them stripped of those imaginary qualities of mind and person which never had any existence at all, except in their hypochondriac brains, when love-stricken; whereas, your honest, matter-of-fact people come together--first with indifference, and, as there is nothing angelic to be expected on either side, there is consequently no disappointment. There has, in fact, been no sentimental fraud committed--no swindle of the heart--for love, too, like its relation, knavery, has its black-legs, and very frequently raises credit upon false pretences; the consequence is, that plain honesty begins to produce its natural effects."

"Can this man," thought Lucy, "have been taking lessons from papa? And pray, my lord," she proceeded, "what are those effects which marriage without love--produces?"

"Why, a good honest indifference, in the first place, which keeps the heart easy and somewhat indolent withal. There is none of that sharp jealousy which is perpetually on the spy for offence. None of that pulling and pouting--falling out and falling in--which are ever the accessories of love. On the contrary, honest indifference minds the family--honest indifference, mark, buys the beef and mutton, reckons the household linen--eschews parties and all places of fashionable resort, attends to the children--sees them educated, bled, blistered, et cetera, when necessary; and, what is still better, looks to their religion, hears them their catechism, brings them, in their clean bibs and tuckers, to church, and rewards that one who carries home most of the sermon with a large lump of sugar-candy."

"These are very original views of marriage, my lord."

"Aha!" thought his lordship, "I knew the originality would catch her."

"Why, the fact is, Miss Gourlay, that I believe--at least I think I may say--that originality is my forte. I have a horror against everything common."

"I thought so, my lord," replied Lucy; "your sense, for instance, is anything but common sense."

"You are pleased to flatter me, Miss Gourlay, but you speak very truly; and that is because I always think for myself--I do not wish to be measured by a common standard."

"You are very right; my lord; it would be difficult, I fear, to find a common standard to measure you by. One would imagine, for instance, that you have been on this principle absolutely studying the subject of matrimony. At least, you are the first person I have ever met who has succeeded in completely stripping it of common sense, and there I must admit your originality."

"Gad!" thought his lordship, "I have her with me--I am getting on famously."

"They would imagine right, Miss Gourlay; these principles are the result of a deep and laborious investigation into that mysterious and awful topic. Honest indifference has no intrigues, no elopements, no disgraceful trials for criminal conversation, no divorces. No; your lovers in the yoke of matrimony, when they tilt with each other, do it sharply, with naked weapons; whereas, the worthy indifferents, in the same circumstances, have a wholesome regard for each other, and rattle away only with the scabbards. Upon my honor, Miss Gourlay, I am quite delighted to hear that you are not attached to me. I can now marry upon my own principles. It is not my intention to coax, and fondle, and tease you after marriage; not at all. I shall interfere as little as possible with your habits, and you, I trust, as little with mine. We shall see each other only occasionally, say at church, for instance, for I hope you will have no objection to accompany me there. Neither man nor woman knows what is due to society if they pass through the world without the comforts of religion. All flesh--ahem!--no--sufficient unto the day--as Scripture says."

"My lord, I think marriage a solemn subject, and--"

"Most people find it so, Miss Gourlay."

--"And on that account that it ought to be exempted from ridicule."

"I perfectly agree with you, Miss Gourlay: it is indeed a serious subject, and ought not to be sported with or treated lightly."

"My lord," said Lucy, "I must crave your attention for a few moments. I believe the object of this interview is to satisfy you that I have given the consent which my father required and entreated of me. But, my lord, you are mistaken. Our union cannot take place upon your principles, and for this reason, there is no indifference in the case, so far, at least, as I am concerned. It would not become me to express here, under my father's roof, the sentiments which I feel. Your own past life, my lord--your habits, your associates, may enable you to understand them. It is enough to say, that in wedding you I wed misery, wretchedness, despair; so that, in my case, at least, there is no 'sentimental fraud' committed."

"Not a bit of it, Miss Gourlay; your conduct, I say, is candid and honorable; and I am quite satisfied that the woman who has strength of mind and love of truth to practice this candor before marriage, gives the best security for fidelity and all the other long list of matrimonial virtues afterwards. I am perfectly charmed with your sentiments. Indeed I was scarcely prepared for this. Our position will be delightful. The only thing I have any apprehension of is, lest this wholesome aversion might gradually soften into fondness, which, you know, would be rather unpleasant to us both."

"My lord," replied Lucy, rising up with disdain and indignation glowing in her face, "there is one sentiment due to every woman whose conduct is well regulated and virtuous--that sentiment is, respect. From you on this occasion, at least, and on this subject especially, I had thought myself entitled to it. I find I have been mistaken, however. Such a sentiment is utterly incompatible with the heartless tirade of buffoonery in which you have indulged. This dialogue is very painful, my lord. I have already intimated to you that I am prepared to fulfil the engagement into which my father has entered with you. I know--I feel what the result will be--you are to consider me your victim, my lord, as well as your wife."

"Excuse me, Miss Gourlay, I was utterly unconscious of any buffoonery. Upon my honor, I expressed on the subject of matrimony no principles that I do not feel; but as to your charge of disrespect, I solemnly assure you there is not an individual of your sex in existence whom I respect more highly; nor do I believe there is a lady living more signally entitled to it from all who have the honor to know her."

"Then, if you be serious, my lord, it betrays a painful equality between your understanding and your heart. No man with such a heart should enter into the state of matrimony at all; and no man with an understanding level to such principles is capable either of communicating or receiving happiness."

"Well, then, suppose I say that I shall submit myself in everything to your wishes?"

"Then I should reply, that the husband capable of doing so would experience from me a sentiment little short of contempt. What, my lord! so soon to abandon your favorite principles! That is a proof, I fear, that, after all, you place but little value on them."

"Well, but I know I have not been so good a boy as I ought to have been; I have been naughty now and then; and as I intend to reform, I shall make you my guide and adviser. I assure you, I am perfectly serious in the reformation. It shall be on quite an original scale. I intend to repent, Miss Gourlay; but, then, my repentance won't be commonplace repentance. I shall do the thing with an aristocratic feeling--or, in other words, I shall repent like a man of honor and a gentleman."

"Like anything but a Christian, my I presume."

"Just so; I must be original or die. I will give up everything; for, after all. Miss Gourlay, what is there more melancholy than the vanity of life--unless, indeed, it be the beauty of holiness--ahem! All flesh--no--I repeated that sweet text before. He that marrieth doth well; but he that marrieth not doth better. Sufficient unto the day--No, hang it, I think I misquoted it. I believe it runs correctly--He that giveth 'way, does well; but he that giveth not way, does better: then, I believe, comes in, Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof. What beautiful and appropriate texts are to be found in Scripture, Miss Gourlay! By the way, the man that wrote it was a shrewd fellow and a profound thinker. The only pity is, that the work's anonymous."

Lucy rose, absolutely sickened, and said, "My lord, excuse me. The object of our interview has been accomplished, and as I am far from well, you will permit me to withdraw. In the meantime, pray make whatever arrangements and hold, whatever interviews may be necessary in this miserable and wretched business; but henceforth they must be with my father."

"You are surely not going, Miss Gourlay?"

She replied not, but turning round, seemed to reflect for a moment, after which she spoke as follows:

"I cannot bring myself to think, my lord, after the unusual opinions you have expressed, that you have been for one moment serious in the conversation which has taken place between us. Their strangeness and eccentricity forbid me to suppose this; and if I did not think that it is so, and that, perhaps, you are making an experiment upon my temper and judgment, for some purpose at present inconceivable; and if I did not think, besides, notwithstanding these opinions, that you may possess sufficient sense and feeling to perceive the truth and object of what I am about to say, I would not remain one moment longer in your society. I request, therefore, that you will be serious for a little, and hear me with attention, and, what is more, if you can, with sympathy. My lord, the highest instance of a great and noble mind is to perform a generous act; and when you hear from my own lips the circumstances which I am about to state, I would hope to find you capable of such an act. I am now appealing to your generosity--your disinterestedness--your magnanimity (and you ought to be proud to possess these virtues)--to all those principles that honor and dignify our nature, and render man a great example to his kind. My lord, I am very unhappy--I am miserable--I am wretched; so completely borne down by suffering that life is only a burden, which I will not be able long to bear; and you, my lord, are the cause of all this anguish and agony."

"Upon my honor, Miss Gourlay, I am very much concerned to hear it. I would rather the case were otherwise, I assure you. Anything that I can do, I needn't say, I shall be most happy to do; but proceed, pray."

"My lord, I throw myself upon your generosity; do you possess it? Upon your feeling as a man, upon your honor as a gentleman. I implore, I entreat you, not to press this unhappy engagement. I implore you for my sake, for the sake of humanity, for the sake of God; and if that will not weigh with you, then I ask it for the sake of your own honor, which will be tarnished by pressing it on. I have already said that you possess not my affections, and that to a man of honor and spirit ought to be sufficient; but I will go farther, and say, that if there be one man living against a union with whom I entertain a stronger and more unconquerable aversion than another, you are that man."

"But you know, Miss Gourlay, if I may interrupt you for a moment, that that fact completely falls into my principles. There is only one other circumstance wanting to make the thing complete; but perhaps you will come to it; at least I hope so. Pray, proceed, madam; I am all attention."

"Yes," she replied, "I shall proceed; because I would not that my conscience should hereafter reproach me for having left anything undone to escape this misery. My lord, I implore you to spare me; force me not over the brow of this dreadful precipice; have compassion on me--have generosity--act with honor."

"I would crown you with honor, if I could, Miss Gourlay."

"You are about to crown me with fire, my lord; to wring my spirit with torture; to drive me into distraction--despair--madness. But you will not do so. You know that I cannot love you. I am not to blame for this; our affections are not always under our own control. Have pity on me, then, Lord Dunroe. Go to my father, and tell him that you will not be a consenting party to my misery--and accessory to my death. Say what is true; that as I neither do nor can love you, the honor of a gentleman, and the spirit of a man, equally forbid you to act ungenerously to me and dishonorably to yourself. What man, not base and mean, and sunk farther down in degradation of spirit than contempt could reach him, would for a moment think of marrying a woman who, like me, can neither love nor honor him? Go, my lord; see my father; tell him you are a man--an Irish gentleman--"

"Pardon me, Miss Gourlay, I do not wish to be considered such."

--"That justice, humanity, self-respect, and a regard for the good opinion of the world, all combine to make you release me from this engagement."

"Unfortunately, Miss Gourlay, I have it not in my power, even if I were willing, to release you from this engagement. I am pledged to your father, and cannot, as a man of honor and a gentleman, recede from that pledge. All these objections and difficulties only bring you exactly up to my theory, or very near it. We shall marry upon very original principles; so that altogether the whole affair is very gratifying to me. I had expectations that there was a prior attachment; but that would be too much to hope for. As it is, I am perfectly satisfied."

"Then, my lord, allow me to add to your satisfaction by assuring you that my heart is wholly and unalterably in possession of another; that that other knows it; and that I have avowed my love for him with the same truth and candor with which I now say that I both loathe and despise you."

"I perceive you are excited, Miss Gourlay; but, believe me, all this sentimental affection for another will soon disappear after marriage, as it always does; and your eyes will become open to a sense of your enviable position. Yes, indeed, you will live to wonder at these freaks of a heated imagination; and I have no doubt the day will come when you will throw your arms about my neck, and exclaim, 'My dear Dunroe, or Cullamore (you will then be my countess, I hope), what a true prophet you have been! And what a proof it was of your good sense to overcome my early folly! I really thought at the time that I was in love with another; but you knew better. Shan't we spend the winter in England, my love? I am sick of this dull, abominable country, where nobody that one can associate with is to be met; and you mustn't forget the box at the Opera. Yes; we shall have an odd scene or so occasionally of that sort of thing; and no doubt be as happy as our neighbors."

Lucy turned upon him one withering look, in which might be read hatred, horror, contempt; after which she slightly inclined her head, and without speaking, for she had now become incapable of it, withdrew to her own apartment, in a state of feeling which the reader may easily imagine.

"Alice," said she to her maid, and her cheek, that had only a little before been so pale, now glowed with indignation like fire as she spoke, "Alice, I have degraded myself; I am sunk forever in my own opinion since I saw that heartless wretch."

"How is that, miss?" asked Alice; "such a thing can't be."

"Because," replied Lucy, "I was mean enough to throw myself on his very compassion--on his honor--on his generosity--on his pride as a man and a gentleman--but he has not a single virtue;" and she then, with cheeks still glowing, related to her the principal part of their conversation.

"And that was the reply he gave you, miss?" observed Alley; "in truth, it was more like the answer of a sheriff's bailiff to some poor woman who had her cattle distrained for rent, and wanted to get time to pay it."

"Alice," she exclaimed, "I hope in God I may retain my senses, or, rather, let them depart from me, for then I shall not be conscious of what I do. Matters are far worse than I had even imagined--desperate--full of horror. This man is a fool; his intellect is beneath the very exigencies of hypocrisy, which he would put on if he could. His infamy, his profligacy, can proceed even from no perverted energy of character, and must therefore be associated with contempt. There is a lively fatuity about him that is uniformly a symptom of imbecility. Among women, at least, it is so, and I have no doubt but it is the same with men. Alice, I know what my fate will be. It is true, you may see me married to him; but you will see me drop dead at the altar, or worse than that may happen. I shall marry him; but to live his wife!--oh! to live the wife of that man! the thing would be impossible; death in any shape a thousand times sooner! Think, Alice, how you should feel if your husband were despised and detested by the world; think of that, Alice. Still, there might be consolation even there, for the world might be wrong; but think, Alice, if he deserved that contempt and detestation--think of it; and that you yourself knew he was entitled, to nothing else but that and infamy at its hands! Oh, no!--not one spark of honor--not one trace of feeling--of generosity--of delicacy--of truth--not one moral point to redeem him from contempt. He may be a lord, Alice, but he is not a gentleman. Hardened, vicious, and stupid, I can see he is, and altogether incapable of comprehending what is due to the feelings of a lady, of a woman, which he I outrages without even the consciousness of the offence. But, Alice, oh Alice! when I think--when I compare him with--and may Heaven forgive me for the comparison!--when I compare him with the noble, the generous, the delicate, the true-hearted, and intellectual gentleman who has won and retains, and ever will retain, my affections, I am sick almost to death at the contrast. Satan, Alice, is a being whom we detest and fear, but cannot despise. This mean profligate, however, is all vice, and low vice; for even vice sometimes has its dignity. If you could conceive Michael the Archangel resplendent with truth, brightness, and the glory of his divine nature, and compare him with the meanest, basest, and at the same time wickedest spirit that ever crawled in the depths of perdition, then indeed you might form an opinion as to the relative character of this Dunroe and my noble lover. And yet I cannot weep, Alice; I cannot weep, for I feel that my brain is burning, and my heart scorched. And now, for my only melancholy consolation!"

She then pulled from her bosom the portrait of her mother, by the contemplation of which she felt the tumult of her heart gradually subside; but, after having gazed at it for some time, she returned it to its place next her heart; the consolation it had transiently afforded her passed away, and the black and deadly gloom which had already withered her so much came back once more. _

Read next: Chapter 31. The Priest Goes Into Corbet's House Very Like A Thief

Read previous: Chapter 29. Lord Dunroe's Affection For His Father

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