Read CHAPTER I - DALY’S CLUB-HOUSE of Charles O' Malley‚ The Irish Dragoon Volume 1, free online book, by Charles Lever, on

The rain was dashing in torrents against the window-panes, and the wind sweeping in heavy and fitful gusts along the dreary and deserted streets, as a party of three persons sat over their wine, in that stately old pile which once formed the resort of the Irish Members, in College Green, Dublin, and went by the name of Daly’s Club-House. The clatter of falling tiles and chimney-pots, the jarring of the window-frames, and howling of the storm without seemed little to affect the spirits of those within as they drew closer to a blazing fire before which stood a small table covered with the remains of a dessert, and an abundant supply of bottles, whose characteristic length of neck indicated the rarest wines of France and Germany; while the portly magnum of claret the wine par excellence of every Irish gentleman of the day passed rapidly from hand to hand, the conversation did not languish, and many a deep and hearty laugh followed the stories which every now and then were told, as some reminiscence of early days was recalled, or some trait of a former companion remembered.

One of the party, however, was apparently engrossed by other thoughts than those of the mirth and merriment around; for in the midst of all he would turn suddenly from the others, and devote himself to a number of scattered sheets of paper, upon which he had written some lines, but whose crossed and blotted sentences attested how little success had waited upon his literary labors. This individual was a short, plethoric-looking, white-haired man of about fifty, with a deep, round voice, and a chuckling, smothering laugh, which, whenever he indulged not only shook his own ample person, but generally created a petty earthquake on every side of him. For the present, I shall not stop to particularize him more closely; but when I add that the person in question was a well-known member of the Irish House of Commons, whose acute understanding and practical good sense were veiled under an affected and well-dissembled habit of blundering that did far more for his party than the most violent and pointed attacks of his more accurate associates, some of my readers may anticipate me in pronouncing him to be Sir Harry Boyle. Upon his left sat a figure the most unlike him possible. He was a tall, thin, bony man, with a bolt-upright air and a most saturnine expression; his eyes were covered by a deep green shade, which fell far over his face, but failed to conceal a blue scar that crossing his cheek ended in the angle of his mouth, and imparted to that feature, when he spoke, an apparently abortive attempt to extend towards his eyebrow; his upper lip was covered with a grizzly and ill-trimmed mustache, which added much to the ferocity of his look, while a thin and pointed beard on his chin gave an apparent length to the whole face that completed its rueful character. His dress was a single-breasted, tightly buttoned frock, in one button-hole of which a yellow ribbon was fastened, the decoration of a foreign service, which conferred upon its wearer the title of count; and though Billy Considine, as he was familiarly called by his friends, was a thorough Irishman in all his feelings and affections, yet he had no objection to the designation he had gained in the Austrian army. The Count was certainly no beauty, but somehow, very few men of his day had a fancy for telling him so. A deadlier hand and a steadier eye never covered his man in the Phoenix; and though he never had a seat in the House, he was always regarded as one of the government party, who more than once had damped the ardor of an opposition member by the very significant threat of “setting Billy at him.” The third figure of the group was a large, powerfully built, and handsome man, older than either of the others, but not betraying in his voice or carriage any touch of time. He was attired in the green coat and buff vest which formed the livery of the club; and in his tall, ample forehead, clear, well-set eye, and still handsome mouth, bore evidence that no great flattery was necessary at the time which called Godfrey O’Malley the handsomest man in Ireland.

“Upon my conscience,” said Sir Harry, throwing down his pen with an air of ill-temper, “I can make nothing of it! I have got into such an infernal habit of making bulls, that I can’t write sense when I want it!”

“Come, come,” said O’Malley, “try again, my dear fellow. If you can’t succeed, I’m sure Billy and I have no chance.”

“What have you written? Let us see,” said Considine, drawing the paper towards him, and holding it to the light. “Why, what the devil is all this? You have made him ’drop down dead after dinner of a lingering illness brought on by the debate of yesterday.’”

“Oh, impossible!”

“Well, read it yourself; there it is. And, as if to make the thing less credible, you talk of his ‘Bill for the Better Recovery of Small Debts.’ I’m sure, O’Malley, your last moments were not employed in that manner.”

“Come, now,” said Sir Harry, “I’ll set all to rights with a postscript. ’Any one who questions the above statement is politely requested to call on Mr. Considine, 16 Kildare Street, who will feel happy to afford him every satisfaction upon Mr. O’Malley’s decease, or upon miscellaneous matters.”

“Worse and worse,” said O’Malley. “Killing another man will never persuade the world that I’m dead.”

“But we’ll wake you, and have a glorious funeral.”

“And if any man doubt the statement, I’ll call him out,” said the Count.

“Or, better still,” said Sir Harry, “O’Malley has his action at law for defamation.”

“I see I’ll never get down to Galway at this rate,” said O’Malley; “and as the new election takes place on Tuesday week, time presses. There are more writs flying after me this instant than for all the government boroughs.”

“And there will be fewer returns, I fear,” said Sir Harry.

“Who is the chief creditor?” asked the Count.

“Old Stapleton, the attorney in Fleet Street, has most of the mortgages.”

“Nothing to be done with him in this way?” said Considine, balancing the corkscrew like a hair trigger.

“No chance of it.”

“May be,” said Sir Harry, “he might come to terms if I were to call and say, ’You are anxious to close accounts, as your death has just taken place.’ You know what I mean.”

“I fear so should he, were you to say so. No, no, Boyle, just try a plain, straightforward paragraph about my death; we’ll have it in Falkner’s paper to-morrow. On Friday the funeral can take place, and, with the blessing o’ God, I’ll come to life on Saturday at Athlone, in time to canvass the market.”

“I think it wouldn’t be bad if your ghost were to appear to old Timins the tanner, in Naas, on your way down. You know he arrested you once before.”

“I prefer a night’s sleep,” said O’Malley. “But come, finish the squib for the paper.”

“Stay a little,” said Sir Harry, musing; “it just strikes me that if ever the matter gets out I may be in some confounded scrape. Who knows if it is not a breach of privilege to report the death of a member? And to tell you truth, I dread the Sergeant and the Speaker’s warrant with a very lively fear.”

“Why, when did you make his acquaintance?” said the Count.

“Is it possible you never heard of Boyle’s committal?” said O’Malley. “You surely must have been abroad at the time. But it’s not too late to tell it yet.”

“Well, it’s about two years since old Townsend brought in his Enlistment Bill, and the whole country was scoured for all our voters, who were scattered here and there, never anticipating another call of the House, and supposing that the session was just over. Among others, up came our friend Harry, here, and the night he arrived they made him a ‘Monk of the Screw,’ and very soon made him forget his senatorial dignities. On the evening after his reaching town, the bill was brought in, and at two in the morning the division took place, a vote was of too much consequence not to look after it closely, and a Castle messenger was in waiting in Exchequer Street, who, when the debate was closing, put Harry, with three others, into a coach, and brought them down to the House. Unfortunately, however, they mistook their friends, voted against the bill, and amidst the loudest cheering of the opposition, the government party were defeated. The rage of the ministers knew no bounds, and looks of defiance and even threats were exchanged between the ministers and the deserters. Amidst all this poor Harry fell fast asleep and dreamed that he was once more in Exchequer Street, presiding among the monks, and mixing another tumbler. At length he awoke and looked about him. The clerk was just at the instant reading out, in his usual routine manner, a clause of the new bill, and the remainder of the House was in dead silence. Harry looked again around on every side, wondering where was the hot water, and what had become of the whiskey bottle, and above all, why the company were so extremely dull and ungenial. At length, with a half-shake, he roused up a little, and giving a look of unequivocal contempt on every side, called out, ’Upon my soul, you’re pleasant companions; but I’ll give you a chant to enliven you!’ So saying, he cleared his throat with a couple of short coughs, and struck up, with the voice of a Stentor, the following verse of a popular ballad:

’And they nibbled away, both night and day, Like mice in a round of Glo’ster; Great rogues they were all, both great and small, From Flood to Leslie Foster. Great rogues all.

Chorus, boys!’ If he was not joined by the voices of his friends in the song, it was probably because such a roar of laughing never was heard since the walls were roofed over. The whole House rose in a mass, and my friend Harry was hurried over the benches by the sergeant-at-arms, and left for three weeks in Newgate to practise his melody.”

“All true,” said Sir Harry; “and worse luck to them for not liking music. But come, now, will this do? ’It is our melancholy duty to announce the death of Godfrey O’Malley, Esq., late member for the county of Galway, which took place on Friday evening, at Daly’s Club-House. This esteemed gentleman’s family one of the oldest in Ireland, and among whom it was hereditary not to have any children ’”

Here a burst of laughter from Considine and O’Malley interrupted the reader, who with the greatest difficulty could be persuaded that he was again bulling it.

“The devil fly away with it,” said he; “I’ll never succeed.”

“Never mind,” said O’Malley, “the first part will do admirably; and let us now turn our attention to other matters.”

A fresh magnum was called for, and over its inspiring contents all the details of the funeral were planned; and as the clock struck four the party separated for the night, well satisfied with the result of their labors.