Short Stories
All Titles

In Association with Amazon.com

Home > Authors Index > William Carleton > Black Baronet; or, The Chronicles Of Ballytrain > This page

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

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

< Previous
Table of content
Next >
_ CHAPTER XXXI. The Priest goes into Corbet's House very like a Thief

--a Sederunt, with a Bright look up for Mr. Gray.

It is unnecessary to say that the priest experienced slight regret at the mistake which had been instrumental in bringing him into collision with a man, who, although he could not afford them any trace of unfortunate Fenton, yet enabled them more clearly to identify the baronet with his fate. The stranger, besides, was satisfied from the evidence of the pound note, and Trailcudgel's robbery, that his recent disappearance was also owing to the same influence. Still, the evidence was far from being complete, and they knew that if Fenton even were found, it would be necessary to establish his identity as the heir of Sir Edward Gourlay. No doubt they had made a step in advance, and, besides, in the right direction; but much still remained to be done; the plot, in fact, must be gradually, but clearly, and regularly developed; and in order to do so, they felt that they ought, if the thing could be managed, to win over some person who had been an agent in its execution.

From what Skipton had disclosed to Father M'Mahon, both that gentleman and the stranger had little doubt that old Corbet could render them the assistance required, if he could only be prevailed upon to speak. It was evident from his own conversation that he not only hated but detested Sir Thomas Gourlay; and yet it was equally clear that some secret influence prevented him from admitting any knowledge or participation in the child's disappearance. Notwithstanding the sharp caution of his manner, and his disavowal of the very knowledge they were seeking, it was agreed upon that Father M'Mahon should see him again, and ascertain whether or not he could be induced in any way to aid their purpose. Nearly a week elapsed, however, before the cunning old ferret could be come at. The truth is, he had for many a long year been of opinion that the priest entertained a suspicion of his having been in some way engaged, either directly or indirectly, in the dark plots of the baronet, if not in the making away with the child. On this account then, the old man never wished to come in the priest's way whenever he could avoid it; and the priest himself had often remarked that whenever he (old Corbet), who lived with the baronet for a couple of years, after the child's disappearance, happened to see or meet him in Ballytrain, he always made it a point to keep his distance. In fact, the priest happened on one occasion, while making a visit to see Quin, the monomaniac, and waiting in the doctor's room, to catch a glimpse of Corbet passing through the hall, and on inquiring who he was from one of the keepers, the fellow, after some hesitation, replied, that he did not know.

By this time, however, the mysterious loss of the child had long passed out of the public mind, and as the priest never paid another visit to the asylum, he also had ceased to think of it. It is quite possible, indeed, that the circumstance would never again have recurred to him had not the stranger's inquiries upon this very point reminded him that Corbet was the most likely person he knew to communicate information upon the subject. The reader already knows with what success that application had been made.

Day after day had elapsed, and the priest, notwithstanding repeated visits, could never find him at home. The simple-hearted man had whispered to him in the watch-house, that he wished to speak to him upon that very subject--a communication which filled the old fellow with alarm, and the consequence was, that he came to the resolution of not seeing him at all, if he could possibly avoid it.

One day, however, when better than a week had passed, Father M'Mahon entered his shop, where he found a woman standing', as if she expected some person to come in. His wife was weighing huckstery with her back to the counter, so that she was not aware of his presence. Without speaking a word he passed as quietly as possible into the little back parlor, and sat down. After about fifteen minutes he heard a foot overhead passing stealthily across the room, and coming to the lobby, where there was a pause, as if the person were listening. At length the foot first came down one stair very quietly, then another, afterwards a third, and again there was a second pause, evidently to listen as before. The priest kept his eyes steadily on the staircase, but was placed in such a position that he could see without being visible himself. At length Corbet's long scraggy neck was seen projecting like that of an ostrich across the banisters, which commanded a view of the shop through the glass door. Seeing the coast, as he thought, clear, he ventured to speak.

"Is he gone?" he asked, "for I'll take my oath I saw him come up the street."

"You needn't trust your eyes much longer, I think," replied his wife, "you saw no such man; he wasn't here at all."

"Bekaise I know it's about that poor boy he's coming; and sure, if I stir in it, or betray the others, I can't keep the country; an', besides, I will lose my pension."

Having concluded these words he came down the stairs into the little parlor we have mentioned, where he found Father M'Mahon sitting, his benevolent features lit up with a good deal of mirth at the confusion of Corbet, and the rueful aspect he exhibited on being caught in the trap so ingeniously laid for him.

"Dunphy," said the priest, for by this name he went in the city, "you are my prisoner; but don't be afraid in the mane time--better my prisoner than that of a worse man. And now, you thief o' the world, why did you refuse to see me for the last week? Why keep me trotting day after day, although you know I wanted to speak with you? What have you to say for yourself?"

Corbet, before replying, gave a sharp, short, vindictive glance at his wife, whom he suspected strongly of having turned traitress, and played into the hands of the enemy.

"Troth, your reverence, I was sorry to hear that you had come so often;" and as he spoke, another glance toward the shop seemed to say, "You deceitful old wretch, you have betrayed and played the devil with me."

"I don't at all doubt it, Anthony," replied the priest, "the truth being that you were sorry I came at all. Come I am, however, and if I were to wait for twelve months, I wouldn't go without seeing you. Call in Mrs. Dunphy till I spake to her, and ask her how she is."

"You had better come in, ma'am," said the old fellow, in a tone of voice that could not be misunderstood; "here's Father M'Mahon, who wants to spake to you."

"Arra, get out o' that!" she replied; "didn't I tell you that he didn't show his round rosy face to-day yet; but I'll go bail he'll be here for all that--sorra day he missed for the last week, and it's a scandal for you to thrate him as you're doin'--sorra thing else."

"Stop your goster," said Dunphy, "and come in--isn't he inside here?"

The woman came to the door, and giving a hasty and incredulous look in, started, exclaiming, "Why, then, may I never sin, but he is. Musha! Father M'Mahon, how in the name o' goodness did you get inside at all?"

"Aisily enough," he replied; "I only made myself invisible for a couple of minutes, and passed in while you were weighing something for a woman in the shop."

"Troth, then, one would think you must a' done so, sure enough, for the sorrow a stim of you I seen anyhow."

"O, she's so attentive to her business, your reverence," said Anthony, with bitter irony, "that she sees nothing else. The lord mayor might drive his coach in, and she wouldn't see him. There's an ould proverb goin' that says there's none so blind as thim that won't see. Musha, sir, wasn't that a disagreeable turn that happened you the other morning?"

"But it didn't last long, that was one comfort. The Lord save me from ever seeing such another sight. I never thought our nature was capable of such things; it is awful, even to think of it. Yes, terrible to reflect, that there were unfortunate wretches there who will probably be hurried into eternity without repenting for their transgressions, and making their peace with God;" and as he concluded, Corbet found that the good pastor's eye was seriously and solemnly fixed upon him.

"Indeed--it's all true, your reverence--it'a all true," he replied.

"Now, Anthony," continued the priest, "I have something very important to spake to you about; something that will be for your own benefit, not only in this world, but in that awful one which is to come, and for which we ought to prepare ourselves sincerely and earnestly. Have you any objection that your wife should be present, or shall we go upstairs and talk it over there?"

"I have every objection," replied Corbet; "something she does know, but--"

"O thank goodness," replied the old woman, very naturally offended at being kept out of the secret, "I'm not in all your saicrets, nor I don't wish to know them, I'm sure. I believe you find some of them a heavy burden; at any rate."

"Come, then," said the priest, "put on your hat and take a walk with me as far as the Brazen Head inn, where I'm stopping. We can have a private room there, where there will be no one to interrupt us."

"Would it be the same thing to you, sir, if I'd call on you there about this time to-morrow?"

"What objection have you to come now?" asked the priest. "Never put off till tomorrow what can be done to-day, is a good old proverb, and applies to things of weightier importance than belong to this world."

"Why, then, it's a little business of a very particular nature that I have to attend to; and yet I don't know," he added, "maybe I'll be a betther match for them afther seeing you. In the mane time," he proceeded, addressing his wife, "if they should come here to look for me, don't say where I'm gone, nor, above all things, who I'm with. Mark that now; and tell Charley, or Ginty, whichever o' them comes, that it must be put off till to-morrow--do you mind, now?"

She merely nodded her head, by way of attention.

"Ay," he replied, with a sardonic grin, "you'll be alive, as you were a while ago, I suppose."

They then proceeded on their way to the Brazen Head, which they reached without any conversation worth recording.

"Now, Anthony," began the priest, after they had seated themselves comfortably in a private room, "will you answer me truly why you refused seeing me? why you hid or absconded whenever I went to your house for the last week?"

"Bekaise I did not wish to see you, then."

"Well, that's the truth," said the priest, "and I know it. But why did you not wish to see me?" he inquired; "you must have had some reason for it."

"I had my suspicions."

"You had, Anthony; and you've had the same suspicions this many a long year--ever since the day I saw you pass through the hall in the private mad-house in--."

"Was that the time Mr. Quin was there? asked Anthony, unconsciously committing himself from the very apprehension of doing so by giving a direct answer to the question.

"Ah! ha! Anthony, then you knew Mr. Quin was there. That will do; but there's not the slightest use in beating about the bush any longer. You have within the last half-hour let your secret out, within my own ears, and before my own eyes. And so you have a pension from the Black Baronet; and you, an old man, and I fear a guilty one, are receiving the wages of iniquity and corruption from that man--from the man that first brought shame and everlasting disgrace, and guilt and madness into and upon your family and name--a name that had been without a stain before. Yes; you have sold yourself as a slave--a bond-slave--have become the creature and instrument of his vices--the clay in his hands that he can mould as he pleases, and that he will crush and trample on, and shiver to pieces, the moment his cruel, unjust, and diabolical purposes are served."

Anthony's face was a study, but a fearful study, whilst the priest spoke. As the reverend gentleman went on, it darkened into the expression of perfect torture; he gasped and started as if every word uttered had given him a mortal stab; his keen old eye nickered with scintillations of unnatural and turbid fire, until the rebuke was ended.

The priest had observed this, and naturally imputed the feeling to an impression of remorse, not, it is true, unmingled with indignation. We may imagine his surprise, therefore, on seeing that face suddenly change into one of the wildest and most malignant delight. A series of dry, husky hiccoughs, or what is termed the black laugh, rapidly repeated, proceeded from between his thin jaws, and his eyes now blazed with an expression of such fiery and triumphant vengeance, that the other felt as if some fiendish incarnation of malignity, and not a man, sat before him.

"Crush me!" he exclaimed, "crush me, indeed! Wait a little. What have I been doin' all this time? I tell you that I have been every day for this many a long year windin' myself like a serpent about him, till I get him fairly in my power; and when I do--then for one sharp, deadly sting into his heart:--ay, and, like the serpent, it's in my tongue that sting lies--from that tongue the poison must come that will give me the revenge that I've been long waitin' for."

"You speak," replied the priest, "and, indeed, you look more like an evil spirit than a man, Anthony. This language is disgraceful and unchristian, and such as no human being should utter. How can you think of death with such principles in your heart?"

"I'll tell you how I think on death: I'm afeared of it when I think of that poor, heartbroken woman, Lady Gourlay; but when I think of him--of him--I do hope and expect that my last thought in this world will be the delightful one that I've had my revenge on him."

"And you would risk the misery of another world for the gratification of one evil passion in this! Oh, God help you, and forgive you, and turn your heart!"

"God help me, and forgive me, and turn my heart! but not so far as he is consarned. I neither wish it, nor pray for it, and what's more, if you were fifty priests, I never will. Let us drop this subject, then, for so long as we talk of him, I feel as if the blood in my ould veins was all turned into fire."

The priest saw and felt that this was true, and resolved to be guided by the hint he had unconsciously received. To remonstrate with him upon Christian principles, in that mood of mind, would, he knew, be to no purpose. If there were an assailable point about him, he concluded, from his own words, that it was in connection with the sufferings of Lady Gourlay, and the fate of her child. On this point, therefore, he resolved to sound him, and ascertain, without, if possible, alarming him, how far he would go on--whether he felt disposed to advance at all, or not.

"Well," said the priest, "since you are resolved upon an act of vengeance--against which, as a Christian priest and a Christian man, I doubly protest--I think it only right that you should perform an act of justice also. You know it is wrong to confound the innocent with the guilty. There is Lady Gourlay, with the arrow of grief, and probably despair, rankling in her heart for years. Now, you could restore that woman to happiness--you could restore her lost child to happiness, and bid the widowed mother's heart leap for joy."

"It isn't for that I'd do it, or it would, maybe, be done long ago; but I'm not sayin' I know where her son is. Do you think now, if I did, that it wouldn't gratify my heart to pull down that black villain--to tumble him down in the eyes of all the world with disgrace and shame, from the height he's sittin' on, and make him a world's wondher of villany and wickedness?"

"I know very well," replied the priest, who, not wishing to use an unchristian argument, thought it still too good to be altogether left out, "I know very well that you cannot restore Lady Gourlay's son, without punishing the baronet at the same time. If you be guided by me, however, you will think only of what is due to the injured lady herself."

"Do you think, now," persisted Corbet, not satisfied with the priest's answer, and following up his interrogatory, "do you think, I say, that I wouldn't 'a' dragged him down like a dog in the kennel, long ago, if I knew where his brother's son was."

"From your hatred to Sir Thomas Gourlay," replied the other, "I think it likely you would have tumbled him long since if you could."

"Why," exclaimed Corbet, with another sardonic and derisive grin, "that's a proof of how little you know of a man's heart. Do you forget what I said awhile ago about the black villain--that I have been windin' myself about him for years, until I get him fairly into my power? When that time comes, you'll see what I'll do."

"But will that time soon come?" asked the other. "Recollect that you are now an old man, and that old age is not the time to nourish projects of vengeance. Death may seize you--may take you at a short notice--so that it is possible you may never live to execute your devilish purpose on the one hand, nor the act of justice toward Lady Gourlay on the other. Will that time soon come, I ask?"

"So far I'll answer you. It'll take a month or two--not more. I have good authority for what I'm sayin'."

"And what will you do then?"

"I'll tell you that," he replied; and rising up, he shut his two hands, turning in his thumbs, and stretching his arms down along his body on each side, he stooped down, and looking directly and fully into the priest's eyes, he replied, "I'll give him back his son."

"Tut!" returned the clergyman, whose honest heart, and sympathies were all with the widow and her sorrows; "I was thinking of Lady Gourlay's son. In the mane time, that's a queer way of punishing the baronet. You'll give him back his son?--pooh!"

"Ay," replied Corbet, "that's the way I'll have my revenge; and maybe it'll be a greater one than you think. That's all."

This was accompanied by a sneer and a chuckle, which the ambiguous old sinner could not for the blood of him suppress. "And now," he added, "I must be off."

"Sir," said Father M'Mahon, rising up and traversing the room with considerable heat, "you have been tampering with the confidence I was disposed to place in you. Whatever dark game you are playing, or have been playing, I know not; but this I can assure you, that Lady Gourlay's friends know more of your secrets than you suspect. I believe you to be nothing more nor less than a hardened old villain, whose heart is sordid, and base, and cruel--corrupted, I fear, beyond all hope of redemption. You have been playing with me, sir--sneering at me in your sleeve, during this whole dialogue. This was a false move, however, on your part, and you will find it so. I am not a man to be either played with or sneered at by such a snake-like and diabolical old scoundrel as you are. Listen, now, to me. You think your secret is safe; you think you are beyond the reach of the law; you think we know nothing of your former movements under the guidance and in personal company with the Black Baronet. Pray, did you think it impossible that there was above you a God of justice, and of vengeance, too, whose providential disclosures are sufficient to bring your villany to light? Anthony Corbet, be warned in time. Let your disclosures be voluntary, and they will be received with gratitude, with deep thanks, with ample rewards; refuse to make them, endeavor still further to veil the crimes to which I allude, and sustain this flagitious compact, and we shall drag them up your throat, and after forcing you to disgorge them, we shall send you, in your wicked and impenitent old age, where the clank of the felon's chain will be the only music in your ears, and that chain itself the only garter that will ever keep up your Connemaras. Now begone, and lay to heart what I've said to you. It wasn't my intention to have let you go without a bit of something to eat, and a glass of something to wash it down afterwards; but you may travel now; nothing stronger than pure air will cross your lips in this house, unless at your own cost."

The old fellow seemed to hesitate, as if struck by some observation contained in the priest's lecture.

"When do you lave town, sir?" he asked.

"Whenever it's my convanience," replied the other; "that's none of your affair. I'll go immediately and see Skipton."

The priest observed that honest Anthony looked still graver at the mention of this name. "If you don't go," he added, "until a couple of days hence, I'd like to see you again, about this hour, the day afther tomorrow."

"Whether I'll be here, or whether I won't is more than I know. I may be brought to judgment before then, and so may you. You may come then, or you may stay away, just as you like. If you come, perhaps I'll see you, and perhaps I won't. So now good-by! Thank goodness we are not depending on you!"

Anthony then slunk out of the room with a good deal of hesitation in his manner, and on leaving the hall-door he paused for a moment, and seemed disposed to return. At length he decided, and after lingering awhile, took his way toward Constitution Hill.

This interview with the priest disturbed Corbet very much. His selfishness, joined to great caution and timidity of character, rendered him a very difficult subject for any man to wield according to his purposes. There could be no doubt that he entertained feelings of the most diabolical resentment and vengeance against the baronet, and yet it was impossible to get out of him the means by which he proposed to visit them upon him. On leaving Father M'Mahon, therefore, he experienced a state of alternation between a resolution to make disclosures and a determination to be silent and work out his own plans. He also feared death, it is true: but this was only when those rare visitations of conscience occurred that were awakened by superstition, instead of an enlightened and Christian sense of religion. This latter was a word he did not understand, or rather one for which he mistook superstition itself. Be this as it may, he felt uneasy, anxious, and irresolute, wavering between the right and the wrong, afraid to take his stand by either, and wishing, if he could, to escape the consequences of both. Other plans, however, were ripening as well as his, under the management of those who were deterred by none of his cowardice or irresolution. The consideration of this brings us to a family discussion; which it becomes our duty to detail before we proceed any further in our narrative.

On the following day, then, nearly the same party of which we have given an account in an early portion of this work, met in the same eating-house we have already described; the only difference being that instead of O'Donegan, the classical teacher, old Corbet himself was present. The man called Thomas Corbet, the eldest son Anthony, Ginty Cooper the fortune-teller, Ambrose Gray, and Anthony himself, composed this interesting sederunt. The others had been assembled for some time before the arrival of Anthony, who consequently had not an opportunity of hearing the following brief dialogue.

"I'm afraid of my father," observed Thomas; "he's as deep as a draw-well, and it's impossible to know what he's at. How are we to manage him at all?"

"By following his advice, I think," said Ginty. "It's time, I'm sure, to get this boy into his rights."

"I was very well disposed to help you in that," replied her brother; "but of late he has led such a life, that I fear if he comes into the property, he'll do either us or himself little credit; and what is still worse, will he have sense to keep his own secret? My father says his brother, the legitimate son, is dead; that he died of scarlet-fever many years ago in the country---and I think myself, by the way, that he looks, whenever he says it, as if he himself had furnished the boy with the fever. That, however, is not our business. If I had been at Red Hall, instead of keeping the house and place in town, it's a short time the other--or Fenton as he calls himself--would be at large. He's now undher a man that will take care of him. But indeed it's an easy task. He'll never see his mother's face again, as I well know. Scarman has him, and I give the poor devil about three months to live. He doesn't allow him half food, but, on the other hand, he supplies him with more whiskey than he can drink; and this by the baronet's own written orders. As for you, Mr. Gray, for we may as well call you so yet awhile, your conduct of late has been disgraceful."

"I grant it," replied Mr. Gray, who was now sober; "but the truth is, I really looked, after some consideration, upon the whole plan as quite impracticable. As the real heir, however, is dead--"

"Not the real heir, Amby, if you please. He, poor fellow, is in custody that he will never escape from again. Upon my soul, I often pitied him."

"How full of compassion you are!" replied his sister.

"I have very little for the baronet, however," he replied; "and I hope he will never die till I scald the soul in his body. Excuse me, Amby. You know all the circumstances of the family, and, of course, that you are the child of guilt and shame."

"Why, yes, I'm come on the wrong side as to birth, I admit; but if I clutch the property and title, I'll thank heaven every day I live for my mother's frailty."

"It was not frailty, you unfeeling boy," replied Ginty, "so much as my father's credulity and ambition. I was once said to be beautiful, and he, having taken it into his head that this man, when young, might love me, went to the expense of having me well educated. He then threw me perpetually into his society; but I was young and artless at the time, and believed his solemn oaths and promises of marriage."

"And the greater villain he," observed her brother; "for I myself did not think there could be danger in your intimacy, because you and he were foster-children; and, except in his case, I never knew another throughout the length and breadth of the country, where the obligation of that tie was forgotten."

"Well," observed Ambrose, "we must only make the best of our position. If I succeed, you shall, according to our written agreement, be all provided for. Not that I would feel very strongly disposed to do much for that enigmatical old grandfather of mine. The vile old ferret saw me in the lock-up the other morning, and refused to bail me out; ay, and threatened me besides."

"He did right," replied his uncle; "and if you're caught there again, I'll not only never bail you out, but wash my hands of the whole affair. So now be warned, and let it be for your good. Listen, then; for the case in which you stand is this: there is Miss Gourlay and Dunroe going to be married after all; for she has returned to her father, and consented to marry the young lord. The baronet, too, is ill, and I don't think will live long. He is burned out like a lime-kiln; for, indeed, like that, his whole life has been nothing but smoke and fire. Very well; now pay attention. If we wait until these marriage articles are drawn up, the appearance or the discovery of this heir here will create great confusion; and you may take my word that every opposition will be given, and every inquiry made by Dunroe, who, as there seems to be no heir, will get the property; for it goes, in that case, with Miss Gourlay. Every knot is more easily tied than untied. Let us produce the heir, then, before the property's disposed of, and then we won't have to untie the knot--to invalidate the marriage articles. So far, so good--that's our plan. But again, there's the baronet ill; should he die before we establish this youth's rights, think of our difficulty. And, thirdly, he's beginning to suspect our integrity, as he is pleased to call it. That strange gentleman, Ginty, has mentioned circumstances to him that he says could come only from my father or myself, or you."

"Proceed," replied his sister, "proceed; I may look forward to the fulfilment of these plans; but I will never live to see it."

"You certainly are much changed for the worse," replied her brother, "especially since your reason has been restored to you. In the meantime, listen. The baronet is now ill, although Gibson says there's no danger of him; he's easier in his mind, however, in consequence of this marriage, that he has, for life or death, set his heart on; and altogether this is the best time to put this vagabond's pretensions forward."

"Thank you, uncle," replied Ambrose, with a clouded brow. "In six months hence, perhaps, I'll be no vagabond."

"Ay, in sixty years hence you will; and indeed, I fear, to tell you the truth, that you'll never be anything else. That, however, is not the question now. We want to know what my father may say--whether he will agree with us, or whether he can or will give us any better advice. There is one thing, at least, we ought to respect him for; and that is, that he gave all his family a good education, although he had but little of that commodity himself, poor man."

He had scarcely concluded, when old Anthony made his appearance, with that mystical expression on his face, half sneer, half gloom, which would lead one to conclude that his heart was divided between remorse and vengeance.

"Well," said he, "you're at work, I see--honestly employed, of course. Ginty, how long is Mr. Ambrose here dead now?"

"He died," replied her brother, "soon after the intention of changing the children took place. You took the hint, father, from the worthy baronet himself."

"Ay, I did; and I wish I had not. You died, my good young fellow, of scarlet-fever--let me see--but divil a much matther it is when you died; it's little good you'll come to, barrin' you change your heart. They say, indeed, the divil's children have the divil's luck; but I say, the divil's children have the divil's face, too; for sure he's as like the black fiend his father as one egg is to another."

"And that will strengthen the claim," replied the young man, with a grin. "I don't look too old, I hope?"

"There's only two years' difference between you and the boy, your brother, that's dead," said his mother. "But I wish we were well through with this. My past life seems to me like a dream. My contemplated revenge upon that bad man, and my ambition for this boy, are the only two principles that now sustain me. What a degraded life has Thomas Gourlay caused me to lead! But I really think that I saw into futurity; nay, I am certain of it; otherwise, what put hundreds of predictions into my lips, that were verified by the event?"

There was a momentary expression of wildness in her eye as she spoke, which the others observed with pain.

"Come, Ginty," said her brother, "keep yourself steady now, at all events; be cool and firm, till we punish this man. If you want to know why you foretold so much, I'll tell you. It was because you could put two and two together."

"My whole life has been a blank," she proceeded, "an empty dream--a dead, dull level; insanity, vengeance, ambition, all jostling and crossing each other in my unhappy mind; not a serious or reasonable duty of life discharged; no claim on society--no station in the work of life--an impostor to the world, and a dupe to myself; but it was he did it. Go on; form your plans--make them firm and sure; for, by Him who withdrew the light of reason from my spirit--by Him from whom it came, I will have vengeance. Father, I know you well, and I am your daughter."

"You know me well, do you?" he replied, with his usual grin. "Maybe you do, and maybe you don't; but let us proceed. The baronet's son's dead, you know."

"But what makes you look as you do, father, when you say so? Your face seems to contradict your words. You know you have told us for years that he's dead."

"And I'm a liar, am I?" he replied, looking at him with a peculiar smile.

"No, I don't say so; certainly not. But, still, you squeeze your face up in such a way that you don't seem to believe it yourself."

"Come, come," continued the old man, "this is all useless. What do you intend to do? How do you intend to proceed?"

"We sent for you to advise us in that," replied his son. "You are the oldest and the wisest here, and of course ought to possess the soundest judgment."

"Well, then, my advice to you is, to go about your business; that is, to do any lawful business that you have to do, and not to bring yourselves to disgrace by puttin' forrid this drunken profligate, who will pitch us all to the devil when he gets himself safe, and tread in his black father's steps afterwards."

"And you must assist us, father," said Ginty, rising up, and pacing to and fro the room in a state of great agitation. "You, the first cause, the original author of my shame; you, to whose iniquitous avarice and vulgar ambition I fell a sacrifice, as much as I did to the profligacy and villany of Thomas Gourlay. But I care not--I have my ambition; it is a mother's, and more natural on that account. I have also my vengeance to gratify; for, father, we are your children, and vengeance is the family principle. Father, you must assist us--you must join us--you must lend us your perjury--supply us with false oaths, with deceitful accounts, with all that is necessary; for, father, it is to work out your own principles--that I may be able to die smiling--smiling that I have overreached and punished him at last. That, you know, will be a receipt in full for my shame and madness. Now, I say, father, you must do this, or I will kneel down and curse you."

The old man, as she proceeded, kept his eyes fixed upon her, first with a look of indifference; this, however, became agreeable and complacent; gradually his eye kindled as he caught her spirit, and when she had concluded, he ground his black old stumps of teeth together with a vindictive energy that was revolting, or at least would have been so to any others unless those that were present.

"Well, Ginty," he replied, "I have turned it over in my mind, and as helpin' you now will be givin' the black fellow an additional stab, I'll do it. Yes, my lad," he added, grinning rather maliciously, by the way, at the object of his promised support, "I will make a present of you to your father; and a thankful man he ought to be to have the like of you. I was sometimes for you, and sometimes against you; but, at all events, the old fellow must have you--for the present at least."

This was accompanied by another grin, which was, as usual, perfectly inexplicable to the others. But as he had expressed his assent and promised his assistance, they were glad to accept it on his own terms and in his own way.

"Well, then," he proceeded, "now that we've made up our minds to go through with it, I'll think over what's to be done--what's the best steps to take, and the best time and place to break it to him. This will require some time to think of it, and to put things together properly; so let us have a drop of something to drink, and we can meet again in few days."

Having partaken of the refreshment which was ordered in, they soon afterwards separated until another opportunity.

Ambrose Gray, with whose real name the reader is already acquainted, took but little part, as may have been perceived, in the discussion of a project which so deeply affected his own interests. When it was first discovered to him by his mother and uncle, he was much struck even at the bare probability of such an event. Subsequent reflection, however, induced him to look upon the whole scheme as an empty bubble, that could not bear the touch of a finger without melting into air. It was true he was naturally cunning, but then he was also naturally profligate and vicious; and although not without intellect, yet was he deficient in self-command to restrain himself when necessary. Altogether, his character was bad, and scarcely presented to any one a favorable aspect. When affected with liquor he was at once quarrelsome and cowardly--always the first to provoke a fight, and the first, also, to sneak out of it.

Soon after the disappearance of Sir Edward Gourlay's heir, the notion of removing the baronet's own son occurred, not to his mother, nor to her brother, but to old Corbet, who desired his son Charles, then a young man, and the baronet's foster-brother, as a preparatory step to his ultimate designs, to inform him that his illegitimate son was dead. Sir Thomas at this time had not assumed the title, nor taken possession of the immense estates.

"Mr. Gourlay," said Charles, "that child is dead; I was desired to tell you so by my father, who doesn't wish to speak to you himself upon the subject."

"Well," replied Mr. Gourlay, "what affair is that of mine?"

"Why," said the other, "as the unfortunate mother is insane, and without means of providing decently for its burial, he thinks it only reasonable that you should furnish money for that purpose--he, I know, won't."

"What do you mean by providing decently?" asked Mr. Gourlay. "What stuff that is!--throw the brat into a shell, and bury it. I am cursedly glad it's gone. There's half-a-crown, and pitch it into the nearest kennel. Why the deuce do you come to me with such a piece of information?"

Charles Corbet, being his father's son, looked at him, and we need not at any length describe the nature of that look nor the feeling it conveyed. This passed, but was not forgotten; and on being detailed by Charles Corbet to his father, the latter replied,

"Ah, the villain--that's his feelin', is it! Well, never mind, I'll punish him one day."

Some months after this he came into Mr. Gourlay's study, with a very solemn and anxious face, and said,

"I have something to say to you, sir."

"Well, Anthony, what is it you have to say to me?"

"Maybe I'm wrong, sir, and I know I oughtn't to alarm you or disturb your mind; but still I think I ought to put you on your guard."

"Confound your caution, sir; can't you come out with whatever you have to say at once?"

"Would it be possible, sir, that there could be any danger of the child bein' taken away like the other--like your brother's?"

"What do you mean--why do you ask such a question?"

"Bekaise, sir, I observed for the last few days a couple of strange men peepin' and pimpin' about the place, and wherever the child went they kept dodgin' afther him."

"But why should any one think of taking him away?"

"Hem!--well, I don't know, sir; but you know that the heir was taken away."

"Come, Anthony, be quiet--walls have ears; go on."

"What 'ud you think if there was sich a thing as revinge in the world? I'm not suspectin' any one, but at the same time, a woman's revinge is the worst and deepest of all revinges. You know very well that she suspects you--and, indeed, so does the world."

"But very wrongly, you know, Anthony," replied the baronet, with a smile dark as murder.

"Why, ay, to be sure," replied the instrument, squirting the tobacco spittle into the fire, and turning on him a grin that might be considered a suitable commentary upon the smile of his employer.

"But," added Mr. Gourlay, "what if it should be the father, instead of the son, they want?"

"But why would they be dodgin' about the child, sir?"

"True; it is odd enough. Well, I shall give orders to have him well watched."

"And, with the help o' God, I'll put a mark upon him that'll make him be known, at any rate, through all changes, barrin' they should take his life."

"How do you mean by a mark!" asked the other.

"I learnt it in the army, sir, when I was with Sir Edward. It's done by gunpowder. It can do no harm, and will at any time durin' his life make him known among millions. It can do no harm, at any rate, sir."

"Very well, Anthony--very well," replied Mr. Gourlay; "mark him as you like, and when it is done, let me see it."

In about a fortnight afterwards, old Corbet brought his son to him, and raising his left arm, showed him the child's initials distinctly marked on the under part of it, together with a cross and the family crest; all so plainly and neatly executed, that the father was surprised at it.

Nothing, however, happened at that time; vigilance began to relax as suspicion diminished, until one morning, about eight months afterwards, it was found that the child had disappeared. It is unnecessary to add, that every possible step was taken to discover him. Searches were made, the hue and cry was up, immense rewards were offered; but all in vain. From that day forth neither trace nor tidings of him could be found, and in the course of time he was given up, like the heir of the property, altogether for lost. _

Read next: Chapter 32. Discovery Of The Baronet's Son

Read previous: Chapter 30. A Courtship On Novel Principles

Table of content of Black Baronet; or, The Chronicles Of Ballytrain


Post your review
Your review will be placed after the table of content of this book