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

Chapter 40. Lady Gourlay Sees Her Son

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_ CHAPTER XL. Lady Gourlay sees her Son

Having done all that was possible for poor Fenton, the stranger lost no time in waiting upon Lady Gourlay, that he might, with as much prudence as the uncertain state of the young man's health would permit, make known the long wished for communication, that they had at length got him in their possession. His task was one of great difficulty, for he apprehended that an excess of joy on the part of that affectionate woman might be dangerous, when suddenly checked by the melancholy probability that he had been restored to her only to be almost immediately removed by death. He resolved, then, to temper his intelligence in such a way as to cause her own admirable sense and high Christian feeling to exercise their usual influence over her heart. As he had promised Corbet, however, to take no future step in connection with these matters without consulting him, he resolved, before seeing Lady Gourlay, to pay him a visit. He was induced the more to do this in consequence of the old man's singular conduct on the discovery of Fenton. From the very first interview that he ever had with Corbet until that event, he could not avoid observing that there was a mystery in everything he did and said--something enigmatical--unfathomable, and that his looks, and the disagreeable expression which they occasionally assumed, were frequently so much at variance with his words, that it was an utter impossibility to draw anything like a certain inference from them. On the discovery of Fenton, the old man's face went through a variety of contradictory expressions. Sometimes he seemed elated--triumphant, sometimes depressed and anxious, and occasionally angry, or excited by a feeling that was altogether unintelligible. He often turned his eye upon Fenton, as if he had discovered some precious treasure, then his countenance became overcast, and he writhed in an agony which no mortal penetration could determine as anything but the result of remorse. Taking all this into consideration, the stranger made up his mind to see him before he should wait upon Lady Gourlay.

Although a day had elapsed, he found the old man still complaining of illness, which, he said, would have been more serious had he not taken medicine.

"My mind, however," said he, "is what's troublin' me. There's a battle goin' on within me. At one time I'm delighted, but the delight doesn't give me pleasure long, for then, again, I feel a weight over me that's worse than death. However, I can't nor won't give it up. I hope I'll have time to repent yet; who knows but it is God that has put it into my heart and kept it there for so many years?"

"Kept what there?" asked the stranger.

The old man's face literally blackened as he replied, almost with a scream, "Vengeance!"

"This language," replied the other, "is absolutely shocking. Consider your advanced state of life--consider your present illness, which may probably be your last, and reflect that if you yourself expect pardon from God, you must forgive your enemies."

"So I will," he replied; "but not till I've punished them; then I'll tell them how I made my puppets of them, and when I give their heart one last crush--one grind--and the old wretch ground his teeth in the contemplation of this diabolical vision--ay," he repeated--"one last grind, then I'll tell them I've done with them, and forgive them; then--then--ay, but not till then!"

"God forgive you, Corbet, and change your heart!" replied the stranger. "I called to say that I am about to inform Lady Gourlay that we have her son safe at last, and I wish to know if you are in possession of any facts that she ought to be acquainted with in connection with his removal--in fact, to hear anything you may wish to disclose to me on the subject."

"I could, then, disclose to you something on the subject that would make you wondher; but although the time's at hand, it's not come yet. Here I am, an ould man--helpless--or, at all events, helpless-lookin'--and you would hardly believe that I'm makin' this black villain do everything accordin' as I wish it."

"That dark spirit of vengeance," replied the stranger, "is turning your brain, I think, or you would not say so. Whatever Sir Thomas Gourlay may be, he is not the man to act as the puppet of any person."

"So you think; but I tell you he's acting as mine, for all that."

"Well, well, Corbet, that is your own affair. Have you anything of importance to communicate to me, before I see Lady Gourlay? I ask you for the last time."

"I have. The black villain and she have spoken at last. He yielded to his daughter so far as to call upon her, and asked her to be present at the weddin'."

"The wedding!" exclaimed the stranger, looking aghast. "God of heaven, old man, do you mean to say that they are about to be married so soon?--about to be married at all? But I will leave you," he added; "there is no possibility of wringing anything out of you."

"Wait a little," continued Corbet. "What I'm goin' to tell you won't do you any harm, at any rate."

"Be quick, then. Gracious heaven!--married!--Curses seize you, old man, be quick."

"On the mornin' afther to-morrow the marriage is to take place in Sir Thomas's own house. Lord Dunroe's sisther is to be bridesmaid, and a young fellow named Roberts--"

"I know--I have met him."

"Well, and did you ever see any one that he resembled, or that resembled him? I hope in the Almighty," he added, uttering the ejaculation evidently in connection with some private thought or purpose of his own, "I hope in the Almighty that this sickness will keep off o' me for a couple o' days at any rate. Did you ever see any one that resembled him?"

"Yes," replied the stranger, starting, for the thought had flashed upon him; "he is the living image of Miss Gourlay! Why do you ask?"

"Bekaise, merely for a raison I have; but if you have patience, you'll find that the longer you live, the more you'll know; only at this time you'll know no more from me, barrin' that this same young officer is to be his lordship's groom's-man. Dr. Sombre, the clergyman of the parish, is to marry them in the baronet's house. A Mrs. Mainwaring, too, is to be there; Miss Gourlay begged that she would be allowed to come, and he says she may. You see now how well I know everything that happens there, don't you?" he asked, with a grin of triumph. "But I tell you there will be more at the same weddin' than he thinks. So now--ah, this pain!--there's another string of it--I feel it go through me like an arrow--so now you may go and see Lady Gourlay, and break the glad tidin's to her."

With feelings akin to awe and of repugnance, but not at all of contempt--for old Corbet was a man whom no one could despise--the stranger took his departure, and proceeded to Lady Gourlay's, with a vague impression that the remarkable likeness between Lucy and young Roberts was not merely accidental.

He found her at home, placid as usual, but with evidences of a resignation that was at once melancholy and distressing to witness. The struggle of this admirable woman's heart, though sustained by high Christian feeling, was, nevertheless, wearing her away by slow and painful degrees. The stranger saw this, and scarcely knew in what terms to shape the communication he had to make, full as it was of ecstasy to the mother's loving spirit, yet dashed with such doubt and sorrow.

"Can you bear good tidings, Lady Gourlay," said he, "though mingled with some cause of apprehension?"

"I am in the hands of God," she replied, "and feel that I ought to receive every communication with obedience. Speak on."

"Your son is found!"

"What, my child restored to me?"

She had been sitting in an arm-chair, but on hearing these words she started up, and said again, as she placed her hands upon the table at which he sat, that she might sustain herself, "What, Charles, my darling restored to me! Is he safe? Can I see him? Restored! restored at last!"

"Moderate your joy, my dear madam; he is safe--he is in my hotel."

"But why not here? Safe! oh, at last--at last! But God is a God of mercy, especially to the patient and long-suffering. But come--oh, come! Think of me,--pity me, and do not defraud me one moment of his sight. Bring me to him!"

"Hear me a moment, Lady Gourlay."

"No, no," she replied, in a passion of joyful tears, "I can hear you again. I must see my son--my son--my darling child--where is my son? Here--but no, I will ring myself. Why not have brought him here at once, sir? Am not I his mother?"

"My dear madam," said the stranger, calmly, but with a seriousness of manner that checked the exuberance of her delight, and placing his hand upon her shoulder, "hear me a moment. Your son is found; but he is ill, and I fear in some danger."

"But to see him, then," she replied, looking with entreaty in his face, "only to see him. After this long and dreary absence, to let my eyes rest on my son. He is ill, you say; and what hand should be near him and about him but his mother's? Who can with such love and tenderness cherish, and soothe, and comfort him, as the mother who would die for him? Oh, I have a thousand thoughts rushing to my heart--a thousand affectionate anxieties to gratify; but first to look upon him--to press him to that heart--to pour a mother's raptures over her long-lost child! Come with me--oh, come. If he is ill, ought I not, as I said, to see him the sooner on that account? Come, dear Charles, let the carriage be ordered; but that will take some time. A hackney-coach will do--a car--anything that will bring us there with least delay."

"But, an interview, my lady, may be at this moment as much as his life is worth; he is not out of danger."

"Well, then, I will not ask an interview. Only let me see him--let his mother's eyes rest upon him. Let me steal a look--a look; let me steal but one look, and I am sure, dear Charles, you will not gainsay this little theft of the mother's heart. But, ah," she suddenly exclaimed, "what am I doing? Ungrateful and selfish that I am, to forget my first duty! Pardon me a few moments; I will return soon."

She passed into the back drawing-room, where, although the doors were folded, he could hear this truly pious woman pouring forth with tears her gratitude to God. In a few minutes she reappeared; and such were the arguments she used, that he felt it impossible to prevent her from gratifying this natural and absorbing impulse of the heart.

On reaching the hotel, they found, after inquiring, that he was asleep, a circumstance which greatly pleased the stranger, as he doubted very much whether Fenton would have been strong enough, either in mind or body, to bear such an interview as must have taken place between them.

The unhappy young man was, as we have said, sound asleep. His face was pale and wan, but a febrile hue had tinged his countenance with a color which, although it concealed his danger, was not sufficient to remove from it the mournful expression of all he had suffered. Yet the stranger thought that he never had seen him look so well. His face was indeed a fair but melancholy page of human life. The brows were slightly knit, as if indicative of suffering; and there passed over his features, as he lay, such varying expressions as we may presume corresponded with some painful dream, by which, as far as one could judge, he seemed to be influenced. Sometimes he looked like one that endured pain, sometimes as if he felt terror; and occasionally a gleam of pleasure or joy would faintly light up his handsome but wasted countenance.

Lady Gourlay, whilst she looked upon him, was obliged to be supported by the stranger, who had much difficulty in restraining her grief within due bounds. As for the tears, they fell from her eyes in showers.

"I must really remove you, my lady," he said, in a whisper; "his recovery, his very life, may depend upon the soundness of this sleep. You see yourself, now, the state he is in; and who living has such an interest in his restoration to health as you have?"

"I know it," she whispered in reply. "I will be quiet."

As they spoke, a faint smile seemed to light up his face, which, however, was soon changed to an expression of terror.

"Don't scourge me," said he, "don't and I will tell you. It was my mother. I thought she kissed me, as she used to do long ago, when I was a boy, and never thought I'd be here." He then uttered a few faint sobs, but relapsed into a calm expression almost immediately.

The violent beatings of Lady Gourlay's heart were distinctly felt by the stranger, as he supported her; and in order to prevent the sobs which he knew, by the heavings of her breast, were about to burst forth, from awakening the sleeper, he felt it best to lead her out of the room; which he had no sooner done, than she gave way to a long fit of uncontrollable weeping.

"Oh, my child!--my child!" she exclaimed, "I fear they have murdered him! Alas! is he only to be restored to me for a moment, and am I then to be childless indeed? But I will strive to become calm. Why should I not? For even this is a blessing--to have seen him, and to have the melancholy consolation of knowing that if he is to die, he will die in my own arms."

"Well, but I trust, madam, he won't die. The workings of Providence are never ineffectual, or without a purpose. Have courage, have patience, and all will, I trust, end happily."

"Well, but I have a request to make. Allow me to kiss him; I shall not disturb him; and if he should recover, as I trust in the Almighty's mercy he will--oh, how I should like to tell him that the dream about his mother was not altogether a dream--that I did kiss him. Trust me, I will not awaken him--the fall of the thistledown will will not be lighter than the kiss I shall give my child."

"Well, be it so, my lady; and get yourself calm, for you know not his danger, if he should awaken and become agitated."

They then reentered the apartment, and Lady Gourlay, after contemplating him for a moment or two, stooped down and gently kissed his lips--once--twice--and a third time--and a single tear fell upon his cheek. At this moment, and the coincidence was beautiful and affecting, his face became once more irradiated by a smile that was singularly serene and sweet, as if his very spirit within him had recognized and felt the affection and tenderness of this timid but loving embrace.

The stranger then led her out again, and a burden seemed to have been taken off her heart. She dried her tears, and in grateful and fervid terms expressed the deep obligations she owed him for his generous and! persevering exertions in seeking out and restoring her son.

This sleep was a long one; and proved very beneficial, by somewhat recruiting the little strength that had been left him. The stranger had every measure taken that could contribute to his comfort and recovery. Two nurse tenders were procured, to whose care he was committed, under the general superintendence of Dandy Dulcimer, whom he at once recognized, and by whose performance upon that instrument the poor young man seemed not only much-pleased, but improved in confidence and the general powers of his intellect. The physician saw him twice a day, so that at the period of Lady Gourlay's visit, she found that every care and attention, which consideration and kindness, and anxiety for his recovery could bestow upon him, had been paid; a fact that eased and satisfied her mind very much.

One rather gratifying symptom appeared in him after he awoke on that occasion. He looked about the room, and inquired for Dulcimer, who soon made his appearance.

"Dandy," said he, for he had known him very well in Ballytrain, "will you be angry with me if I ask you a question? Dandy, I am a gentleman, and you will not treat me ill."

"I would be glad to see the villain that 'ud dare to do it, Mr. Fenton," replied Dandy, a good deal moved, "much less to do it myself."

"Ah," he replied in a tone of voice that was enough to draw tears from any eye, "but, then, I can depend on no one; and if they should bring me back there--" His eyes became wild and full of horror, as he spoke, and he was about to betray symptoms of strong agitation, when Dandy judiciously brought him back to the point.

"They won't, Mr. Fenton; don't be afeared of that; you are among friends now; but what was the question you were goin' to ask me?"

"A question!--was I?" said he, pausing, as if striving to recover the train of thought he had lost. "Oh, yes," he proceeded, "yes; there was a pound note taken from me. I got it from the strange gentleman in the inn, and I wish I had it."

"Well, sir," replied Dandy, "if it can be got at all, you must have it. I'll inquire for it."

"Do," he said; "I wish to have it." Dandy, in reply to the stranger's frequent and anxious inquiries about him, mentioned this little dialogue, and the latter at once recollected that he had the note in his possession.

"It may be good to gratify him," he replied; "and as the note can be of little use now, we had better let him have it."

He accordingly sent it to him by Dandy, who could observe that the possession of it seemed to give him peculiar satisfaction.

Had not the stranger been a man capable of maintaining great restraint over the exercise of very strong feelings, he could never have conducted himself with so much calmness and self-control in his interview with Lady Gourlay and poor Fenton. His own heart during all the time was in a tumult of perfect distraction, but this was occasioned by causes that bore no analogy to those that passed before him. From the moment he heard that Lucy's marriage had been fixed for the next day but one, he felt as if his hold upon hope and life, and all that they promised him, was lost, and his happiness annihilated forever; he felt as if reason were about to abandon him, as if all existence had become dark, and the sun himself had been struck out of the system of the universe. He could not rest, and only with difficulty think at all as a sane man ought. At length he resolved to see the baronet, at the risk of life or death--in spite of every obstacle--in despite of all opposition;--perish social forms and usages--perish the insolence of wealth, and the jealous restrictions of parental tyranny. Yes, perish one and all, sooner than he, a man, with an unshrinking heart, and a strong arm, should tamely suitor that noble girl to be sacrificed, ay, murdered, at the shrine of a black and guilty ambition. Agitated, urged, maddened, by these considerations, he went to the baronet's house with a hope of seeing him, but that hope was frustrated. Sir Thomas was out.

"Was Miss Gourlay at home?"

"No; she too had gone out with her father," replied Gibson, who happened to open the door.

"Would you be kind enough, sir, to deliver a note to Miss Gourlay?"

"I could not, sir; I dare not."

"I will give you five pounds, if you do."

"It is impossible, sir; I should lose my situation instantly if I attempted to deliver it. Miss Gourlay, sir, will receive no letters unless through her father's hands, and besides, sir, we have repeatedly had the most positive orders not to receive any from you, above all men living."

"I will give you ten pounds."

Gibson shook his head, but at the same time the expression of his countenance began manifestly to relax, and he licked his lips as he replied, "I--really--could--not--sir."


The fellow paused and looked stealthily in every direction, when, just at the moment he was about to entertain the subject, Thomas Corbet, the house-steward, came forward from the front parlor where he evidently had been listening, and asked Gibson what was the matter.

"This gentleman," said Gibson, "ahem--is anxious to have a--ahem--he was inquiring for Sir Thomas."

"Gibson, go down stairs," said Corbet. "You had better do so. I have ears, Gibson. Go down at once, and leave the gentleman to me."

Gibson again licked his lips, shrugged his shoulders, and with a visage rather blank and disappointed, slunk away as he had been desired. When he had gone,

"You wish, sir," said Corbet, "to have a note delivered to Miss Gourlay?"

"I do, and will give you twenty pounds if you deliver it."

"Hand me the money quietly," replied Corbet, "and the note also. I shall then give you a friend's advice."

The stranger immediately placed both the money and the note in his hands; when Corbet, having put them in his pocket, said, "I will deliver the note, sir; but go to my father, and ask him to prevent this marriage; and, above all things, to direct you how to act. If any man can serve you in the business, he can."

"Could you not let me see Miss Gourlay herself?" said the stranger.

"No, sir; she has promised her father neither to see you, nor to write to you, nor to receive any letters from you."

"But I must see Sir Thomas himself," said the stranger determinedly.

"You seem a good deal excited, sir," replied Corbet; "pray, be calm, and listen to me. I shall be obliged to put this letter under a blank cover, which I will address in a feigned hand, in order that she may even receive it. As for her father, he would not see you, nor enter into any explanation whatsoever with you. In fact, he is almost out of his mind with delight and terror; with delight, that the marriage is at length about to take place, and with terror, lest something might occur to prevent it. One word, sir. I see Gibson peeping up. Go and see my father; you have seen him more than once before."

On the part of Corbet, the stranger remarked that there was something sneaking, slightly derisive, and intimating, moreover, a want of sincerity in this short dialogue, an impression that was strengthened on hearing the relation which he bore to the obstinate old sphinx on Constitution Hill.

"But pardon me, my friend," said he, as Corbet was about to go away; "if Miss Gourlay will not receive or open my letter, why did you accept such a sum of money for it?" He paused, not knowing exactly how to proceed, yet with a tolerably strong suspicion that Corbet was cheating him.

"Observe, sir," replied the other, "that I said I would deliver the letter only--I didn't undertake to make her read it. But I dare say you are right--I don't think she will even open it at all, much less read it. Here, sir, I return both money and letter; and I wish you to know, besides, that I am not a man in the habit of being suspected of improper motives. My advice that you should see my father is a proof that I am your friend."

The other, who was completely outmanoeuvred by Corbet, at once declined to receive back either the letter or notes, and after again pressing the worthy steward to befriend him in the matter of the note as far as he could, he once more paid a visit to old Anthony. This occurred on the day before that appointed for the marriage.

"Corbet," said he, addressing him as he lay upon an old crazy sofa, the tarnished cover of which shone with dirt, "I am distracted, and have come to ask your advice and assistance."

"Is it a helpless ould creature like me you'd come to?" replied Corbet, hitching himself upon the sofa, as if to get ease. "But what is wrong now?"

"If this marriage between Miss Gourlay and Lord Dunroe takes place, I shall lose my senses."

"Well, in troth," replied Anthony, in his own peculiar manner, "if you don't get more than you appear to be gifted with at present, you won't have much to lose, and that will be one comfort. But how can you expect me to assist you?"

"Did you not tell me that the baronet is your puppet?"

"I did; but that was for my ends, not for yours."

"Well, but could you not prevent this accursed, sacrilegious, blasphemous union?"

"For God's sake, spake aisy, and keep yourself quiet," said Anthony; "I am ill, and not able to bear noise and capering like this. I'm a weak, feeble ould man."

"Listen to me, Corbet," continued the other, with vehemence, "command my purse, my means to any extent, if you do what I wish."

"I did like money," implied Corbet, "but of late my whole heart is filled with but one thought; and rather than not carry that out, I would sacrifice every child I have. I love Miss Gourlay, for I know she is a livin' angel, but--"

"What? You do not mean to say that you would sacrifice her?"

"If I would sacrifice my own, do you think I'd be apt to spare her?" he asked with a groan, for in fact his illness had rather increased.

"Are you not better?" inquired the stranger, moved by a feeling of humanity which nothing could eradicate out of his noble and generous nature. "Allow me to send a doctor to you? I shall do so at my own expense."

Anthony looked upon him with more complacency, but replied,

"The blackguard knaves, no; they only rob you first and kill you afterwards. A highway-robber's before them; for he kills you first, and afther that you can't feel the pain of being robbed. Well, I can't talk much to you now. My head's beginnin' to get troublesome; but I'll tell you what you'll do. I'll call for that young man, Fenton, and you must let him come with me to the wedding to-morrow mornin'. Indeed, I intended to take a car, and drive over to ask it as a favor from you."

"To what purpose should he go, even if he were able? but he is too ill."

"Hasn't he been out in a chaise?"

"He has; but as he is incapable of bearing any agitation or excitement, his presence there might cause his death."

"No, sir, it will not; I knew him to be worse, and he recovered; he will be better, I tell you: besides, if you wish me to sarve you in one way, you must sarve me in this."

"But can you prevent the marriage?"

"What I can do, or what I cannot do, a team of horses won't drag out o' me, until the time--the hour--comes--then! Will you allow the young man to come, sir?"

"But his mother, you say, will be there, and a scene between them would be not only distressing to all parties, and out of place, but might be dangerous to him."

"It's because his mother's to be there, maybe, that I want him to be there. Don't I tell you that I want to--but no, I'll keep my own mind to myself--only sink or swim without me, unless you allow him to come."

"Well, then, if he be sufficiently strong to go, I shall not prevent him, upon the condition that you will exercise the mysterious influence which you seem in possession of for the purpose of breaking up the marriage."

"I won't promise to do any such thing," replied Anthony. "You must only make the best of a bad bargain, by lavin' everything to myself. Go away now, sir, if you plaise; my head's not right, and I want to keep it clear for to-morrow."

The stranger saw that he was as inscrutable as ever, and consequently left him, half in indignation, and half impressed by a lurking hope that, notwithstanding the curtness of his manner, he was determined to befriend him.

This, however, was far from the heart of old Corbet, whose pertinacity of purpose nothing short of death itself could either moderate or change.

"Prevent the marriage, indeed! Oh, ay! Catch me at it. No, no; that must take place, or I'm balked of half my revenge. It's when he finds that he has, by his own bad and blind passions, married her to the profligate without the title that he'll shiver. And that scamp, too, the bastard--but, no matther--I must try and keep my head clear, as I said, for to-morrow will be a great day, either for good or evil, to some of them. Yes, and when all is over, then my mind will be at aise; this black thing that's inside o' me for years--drivin' me on, on, on--will go about his business; and then, plaise goodness, I can repent comfortably and like a Christian. Oh, dear me!--my head!" _

Read next: Chapter 41. Denouement

Read previous: Chapter 39. Fenton Recovered--The Mad-House

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