Read CHAPTER VII - THE FLIGHT FROM GURT-NA-MORRA of Charles O' Malley‚ The Irish Dragoon Volume 1, free online book, by Charles Lever, on ReadCentral.com.

It was by one of those sudden and inexplicable révulsions which occasionally restore to sense and intellect the maniac of years standing, that I was no sooner left alone in my chamber than I became perfectly sober. The fumes of the wine and I had drunk deeply were dissipated at once; my head, which but a moment before was half wild with excitement, was now cool, calm, and collected; and stranger than all, I, who had only an hour since entered the dining-room with all the unsuspecting freshness of boyhood, became, by a mighty bound, a man, a man in all my feelings of responsibility, a man who, repelling an insult by an outrage, had resolved to stake his life upon the chance. In an instant a new era in life had opened before me; the light-headed gayety which fearlessness and youth impart was replaced by one absorbing thought, one all-engrossing, all-pervading impression, that if I did not follow up my quarrel with Bodkin, I was dishonored and disgraced, my little knowledge of such matters not being sufficient to assure me that I was now the aggressor, and that any further steps in the affair should come from his side.

So thoroughly did my own griefs occupy me, that I had no thought for the disappointment my poor uncle was destined to meet with in hearing that the Blake interest was lost to him, and the former breach between the families irreparably widened by the events of the evening. Escape was my first thought; but how to accomplish it? The door, a solid one of Irish oak, doubly locked and bolted, defied all my efforts to break it open; the window was at least five-and-twenty feet from the ground, and not a tree near to swing into. I shouted, I called aloud, I opened the sash, and tried if any one outside were within hearing; but in vain. Weary and exhausted, I sat down upon my bed and ruminated over my fortunes. Vengeance quick, entire, decisive vengeance I thirsted and panted for; and every moment I lived under the insult inflicted on me seemed an age of torturing and maddening agony. I rose with a leap; a thought had just occurred to me. I drew the bed towards the window, and fastening the sheet to one of the posts with a firm knot, I twisted it into a rope, and let myself down to within about twelve feet of the ground, when I let go my hold, and dropped upon the grass beneath safe and uninjured. A thin, misty rain was falling, and I now perceived, for the first time, that in my haste I had forgotten my hat; this thought, however, gave me little uneasiness, and I took my way towards the stable, resolving, if I could, to saddle my horse and get off before any intimation of my escape reached the family.

When I gained the yard, all was quiet and deserted; the servants were doubtless enjoying themselves below stairs, and I met no one on the way. I entered the stable, threw the saddle upon “Badger,” and before five minutes from my descent from the window, was galloping towards O’Malley Castle at a pace that defied pursuit, had any one thought of it.

It was about five o’clock on a dark, wintry morning as I led my horse through the well-known defiles of out-houses and stables which formed the long line of offices to my uncle’s house. As yet no one was stirring; and as I wished to have my arrival a secret from the family, after providing for the wants of my gallant gray, I lifted the latch of the kitchen-door no other fastening being ever thought necessary, even at night and gently groped my way towards the stairs; all was perfectly still, and the silence now recalled me to reflection as to what course I should pursue. It was all-important that my uncle should know nothing of my quarrel, otherwise he would inevitably make it his own, and by treating me like a boy in the matter, give the whole affair the very turn I most dreaded. Then, as to Sir Harry Boyle, he would most certainly turn the whole thing into ridicule, make a good story, perhaps a song out of it, and laugh at my notions of demanding satisfaction. Considine, I knew, was my man; but then he was at Athlone, at least so my uncle’s letter mentioned. Perhaps he might have returned; if not, to Athlone I should set off at once. So resolving, I stole noiselessly up-stairs, and reached the door of the count’s chamber; I opened it gently and entered; and though my step was almost imperceptible to myself, it was quite sufficient to alarm the watchful occupant of the room, who, springing up in his bed, demanded gruffly, “Who’s there?”

“Charles, sir,” said I, shutting the door carefully, and approaching his bedside. “Charles O’Malley, sir. I’m come to have a bit of your advice; and as the affair won’t keep, I have been obliged to disturb you.”

“Never mind, Charley,” said the count; “sit down, there’s a chair somewhere near the bed, have you found it? There! Well now, what is it? What news of Blake?”

“Very bad; no worse. But it is not exactly that I came about; I’ve got into a scrape, sir.”

“Run off with one of the daughters,” said Considine. “By jingo, I knew what those artful devils would be after.”

“Not so bad as that,” said I, laughing. “It’s just a row, a kind of squabble; something that must come ”

“Ay, ay,” said the count, brightening up; “say you so, Charley? Begad, the young ones will beat us all out of the field. Who is it with, not old Blake himself; how was it? Tell me all.”

I immediately detailed the whole events of the preceding chapter, as well as his frequent interruptions would permit, and concluded by asking what farther step was now to be taken, as I was resolved the matter should be concluded before it came to my uncle’s ears.

“There you are all right; quite correct, my boy. But there are many points I should have wished otherwise in the conduct of the affair hitherto.”

Conceiving that he was displeased at my petulance and boldness, I was about to commence a kind of defence, when he added,

“Because, you see,” said he, assuming an oracular tone of voice, “throwing a wine-glass, with or without wine, in a man’s face is merely, as you may observe, a mark of denial and displeasure at some observation he may have made, not in any wise intended to injure him, further than in the wound to his honor at being so insulted, for which, of course, he must subsequently call you out. Whereas, Charley, in the present case, the view I take is different; the expression of Mr. Bodkin, as regards your uncle, was insulting to a degree, gratuitously offensive, and warranting a blow. Therefore, my boy, you should, under such circumstances, have preferred aiming at him with a decanter: a cut-glass decanter, well aimed and low, I have seen do effective service. However, as you remark it was your first thing of the kind, I am pleased with you very much pleased with you. Now, then, for the next step.” So saying, he arose from his bed, and striking a light with a tinder-box, proceeded to dress himself as leisurely as if for a dinner party, talking all the while.

“I will just take Godfrey’s tax-cart and the roan mare on to Meelish, put them up at the little inn, it is not above a mile from Bodkin’s; and I’ll go over and settle the thing for you. You must stay quiet till I come back, and not leave the house on any account. I’ve got a case of old broad barrels there that will answer you beautifully; if you were anything of a shot, I’d give you my own cross handles, but they’d only spoil your shooting.”

“I can hit a wine-glass in the stem at fifteen paces,” said I, rather nettled at the disparaging tone in which he spoke of my performance.

“I don’t care sixpence for that; the wine-glass had no pistol in his hand. Take the old German, then; see now, hold your pistol thus, no finger on the guard there, these two on the trigger. They are not hair-triggers; drop the muzzle a bit; bend your elbow a trifle more; sight your man outside your arm, outside, mind, and take him in the hip, and if anywhere higher, no matter.”

By this time the count had completed his toilet, and taking the small mahogany box which contained his peace-makers under his arm, led the way towards the stables. When we reached the yard, the only person stirring there was a kind of half-witted boy, who, being about the house, was employed to run of messages from the servants, walk a stranger’s horse, or to do any of the many petty services that regular domestics contrive always to devolve upon some adopted subordinate. He was seated upon a stone step formerly used for mounting, and though the day was scarcely breaking, and the weather severe and piercing, the poor fellow was singing an Irish song, in a low monotonous tone, as he chafed a curb chain between his hands with some sand. As we came near he started up, and as he pulled off his cap to salute us, gave a sharp and piercing glance at the count, then at me, then once more upon my companion, from whom his eyes were turned to the brass-bound box beneath his arm, when, as if seized with a sudden impulse, he started on his feet, and set off towards the house with the speed of a greyhound, not, however, before Considine’s practised eye had anticipated his plan; for throwing down the pistol-case, he dashed after him, and in an instant had seized him by the collar.

“It won’t do, Patsey,” said the count; “you can’t double on me.”

“Oh, Count, darlin’, Mister Considine avick, don’t do it, don’t now,” said the poor fellow, falling on his knees, and blubbering like an infant.

“Hold your tongue, you villain, or I’ll cut it out of your head,” said Considine.

“And so I will; but don’t do it, don’t for the love of ”

“Don’t do what, you whimpering scoundrel? What does he think I’ll do?”

“Don’t I know very well what you’re after, what you’re always after too? Oh, wirra, wirra!” Here he wrung his hands, and swayed himself backwards and forwards, a true picture of Irish grief.

“I’ll stop his blubbering,” said Considine, opening the box and taking out a pistol, which he cocked leisurely, and pointed at the poor fellow’s head; “another syllable now, and I’ll scatter your brains upon that pavement.”

“And do, and divil thank you; sure, it’s your trade.”

The coolness of the reply threw us both off our guard so completely that we burst out into a hearty fit of laughing.

“Come, come,” said the count, at last, “this will never do; if he goes on this way, we’ll have the whole house about us. Come, then, harness the roan mare; and here’s half a crown for you.”

“I wouldn’t touch the best piece in your purse,” said the poor boy; “sure it’s blood-money, no less.”

The words were scarcely spoken, when Considine seized him by the collar with one hand, and by the wrist with the other, and carried him over the yard to the stable, where, kicking open the door, he threw him on a heap of stones, adding, “If you stir now, I’ll break every bone in your body;” a threat that seemed certainly considerably increased in its terrors, from the rough gripe he had already experienced, for the lad rolled himself up like a ball, and sobbed as if his heart were breaking.

Very few minutes sufficed us now to harness the mare in the tax-cart, and when all was ready, Considine seized the whip, and locking the stable-door upon Patsey, was about to get up, when a sudden thought struck him. “Charley,” said he, “that fellow will find some means to give the alarm; we must take him with us.” So saying, he opened the door, and taking the poor fellow by the collar, flung him at my feet in the tax-cart.

We had already lost some time, and the roan mare was put to her fastest speed to make up for it. Our pace became, accordingly, a sharp one; and as the road was bad, and the tax-cart no “patent inaudible,” neither of us spoke. To me this was a great relief. The events of the last few days had given them the semblance of years, and all the reflection I could muster was little enough to make anything out of the chaotic mass, love, mischief, and misfortune, in which I had been involved since my leaving O’Malley Castle.

“Here we are, Charley,” said Considine, drawing up short at the door of a little country ale-house, or, in Irish parlance, shebeen, which stood at the meeting of four bleak roads, in a wild and barren mountain tract beside the Shannon. “Here we are, my boy! Jump out and let us be stirring.”

“Here, Patsey, my man,” said the count, unravelling the prostrate and doubly knotted figure at our feet; “lend a hand, Patsey.” Much to my astonishment, he obeyed the summons with alacrity, and proceeded to unharness the mare with the greatest despatch. My attention was, however, soon turned from him to my own more immediate concerns, and I followed my companion into the house.

“Joe,” said the count to the host, “is Mr. Bodkin up at the house this morning?”

“He’s just passed this way, sir, with Mr. Malowney of Tillnamuck, in the gig, on their way from Mr. Blake’s. They stopped here to order horses to go over to O’Malley Castle, and the gossoon is gone to look for a pair.”

“All right,” said Considine, and added, in a whisper, “we’ve done it well, Charley, to be beforehand, or the governor would have found it all out and taken the affair into his own hands. Now all you have to do is to stay quietly here till I come back, which will not be above an hour at farthest. Joe, send me the pony; keep an eye on Patsey, that he doesn’t play us a trick. The short way to Mr. Bodkin’s is through Scariff. Ay, I know it well; good-by, Charley. By the Lord, we’ll pepper him!”

These were the last words of the worthy count as he closed the door behind him, and left me to my own not very agreeable reflections. Independently of my youth and perfect ignorance of the world, which left me unable to form any correct judgment on my conduct, I knew that I had taken a great deal of wine, and was highly excited when my unhappy collision with Mr. Bodkin occurred. Whether, then, I had been betrayed into anything which could fairly have provoked his insulting retort or not, I could not remember; and now my most afflicting thought was, what opinion might be entertained of me by those at Blake’s table; and above all, what Miss Dashwood herself would think, and what narrative of the occurrence would reach her. The great effort of my last few days had been to stand well in her estimation, to appear something better in feeling, something higher in principle, than the rude and unpolished squirearchy about me; and now here was the end of it! What would she, what could she, think, but that I was the same punch-drinking, rowing, quarrelling bumpkin as those whom I had so lately been carefully endeavoring to separate myself from? How I hated myself for the excess to which passion had betrayed me, and how I detested my opponent as the cause of all my present misery. “How very differently,” thought I, “her friend the captain would have conducted himself. His quiet and gentlemanly manner would have done fully as much to wipe out any insult on his honor as I could do, and after all, would neither have disturbed the harmony of a dinner-table, nor made himself, as I shuddered to think I had, a subject of rebuke, if not of ridicule.” These harassing, torturing reflections continued to press on me, and I paced the room with my hands clasped and the perspiration upon my brow. “One thing is certain, I can never see her again,” thought I; “this disgraceful business must, in some shape or other, become known to her, and all I have been saying these last three days rise up in judgment against this one act, and stamp me an impostor! I that decried nay, derided our false notion of honor. Would that Considine were come! What can keep him now?” I walked to the door; a boy belonging to the house was walking the roan before the door. “What had, then, become of Pat?” I inquired; but no one could tell. He had disappeared shortly after our arrival, and had not been seen afterwards. My own thoughts were, however, too engrossing to permit me to think more of this circumstance, and I turned again to enter the house, when I saw Considine advancing up the road at the full speed of his pony.

“Out with the mare, Charley! Be alive, my boy! all’s settled.” So saying, he sprang from the pony and proceeded to harness the roan with the greatest haste, informing me in broken sentences, as he went on with all the arrangements.

“We are to cross the bridge of Portumna. They won the ground, and it seems Bodkin likes the spot; he shot Peyton there three years ago. Worse luck now, Charley, you know; by all the rule of chance, he can’t expect the same thing twice, never four by honors in two deals. Didn’t say that, though. A sweet meadow, I know it well; small hillocks, like molehills; all over it. Caught him at breakfast; I don’t think he expected the message to come from us, but said it was a very polite attention, and so it was, you know.”

So he continued to ramble on as we once more took our seats in the tax-cart and set out for the ground.

“What are you thinking of, Charley?” said the count, as I kept silent for some minutes.

“I’m thinking, sir, if I were to kill him, what I must do after.”

“Right, my boy; nothing like that, but I’ll settle all for you. Upon my conscience, if it wasn’t for the chance of his getting into another quarrel and spoiling the election, I’d go back for Godfrey; he’d like to see you break ground so prettily. And you say you’re no shot?”

“Never could do anything with the pistol to speak of, sir,” said I, remembering his rebuke of the morning.

“I don’t mind that. You’ve a good eye; never take it off him after you’re on the ground, follow him everywhere. Poor Callaghan, that’s gone, shot his man always that way. He had a way of looking without winking that was very fatal at a short distance; a very good thing to learn, Charley, when you have a little spare time.”

Half-an-hour’s sharp driving brought us to the river side, where a boat had been provided by Considine to ferry us over. It was now about eight o’clock, and a heavy, gloomy morning. Much rain had fallen overnight, and the dark and lowering atmosphere seemed charged with more. The mountains looked twice their real size, and all the shadows were increased to an enormous extent. A very killing kind of light it was, as the count remarked.