Read CHAPTER XVIII - THE INVITATION. THE WAGER of Charles O' Malley‚ The Irish Dragoon Volume 1, free online book, by Charles Lever, on

I was sitting at breakfast with Webber, a few mornings after the mess dinner I have spoken of, when Power came in hastily.

“Ha, the very man!” said he. “I say, O’Malley, here’s an invitation for you from Sir George, to dine on Friday. He desired me to say a thousand civil things about his not having made you out, regrets that he was not at home when you called yesterday, and all that. By Jove, I know nothing like the favor you stand in; and as for Miss Dashwood, faith! the fair Lucy blushed, and tore her glove in most approved style, when the old general began his laudation of you.”

“Pooh, nonsense,” said I; “that silly affair in the west.”

“Oh, very probably; there’s reason the less for you looking so excessively conscious. But I must tell you, in all fairness, that you have no chance; nothing short of a dragoon will go down.”

“Be assured,” said I, somewhat nettled, “my pretensions do not aspire to the fair Miss Dashwood.”

“Tant mieux et tant pis, mon cher. I wish to Heaven mine did; and, by Saint Patrick, if I only played the knight-errant half as gallantly as yourself, I would not relinquish my claims to the Secretary at War himself.”

“What the devil brought the old general down to your wild regions?” inquired Webber.

“To contest the county.”

“A bright thought, truly. When a man was looking for a seat, why not try a place where the law is occasionally heard of?”

“I’m sure I can give you no information on that head; nor have I ever heard how Sir George came to learn that such a place as Galway existed.”

“I believe I can enlighten you,” said Power. “Lady Dashwood rest her soul! came west of the Shannon; she had a large property somewhere in Mayo, and owned some hundred acres of swamp, with some thousand starving tenantry thereupon, that people dignified as an estate in Connaught. This first suggested to him the notion of setting up for the county, probably supposing that the people who never paid in rent might like to do so in gratitude. How he was undeceived, O’Malley there can inform us. Indeed, I believe the worthy general, who was confoundedly hard up when he married, expected to have got a great fortune, and little anticipated the three chancery suits he succeeded to, nor the fourteen rent-charges to his wife’s relatives that made up the bulk of the dower. It was an unlucky hit for him when he fell in with the old ‘maid’ at Bath; and had she lived, he must have gone to the colonies. But the Lord took her one day, and Major Dashwood was himself again. The Duke of York, the story goes, saw him at Hounslow during a review, was much struck with his air and appearance, made some inquiries, found him to be of excellent family and irreproachable conduct, made him an aide-de-camp, and, in fact, made his fortune. I do not believe that, while doing so kind, he could by possibility have done a more popular thing. Every man in the army rejoiced at his good fortune; so that, after all, though he has had some hard rubs, he has come well through, the only vestige of his unfortunate matrimonial connection being a correspondence kept up by a maiden sister of his late wife’s with him. She insists upon claiming the ties of kindred upon about twenty family eras during the year, when she regularly writes a most loving and ill-spelled epistle, containing the latest information from Mayo, with all particulars of the Macan family, of which she is a worthy member. To her constant hints of the acceptable nature of certain small remittances, the poor general is never inattentive; but to the pleasing prospect of a visit in the flesh from Miss Judy Macan, the good man is dead. In fact, nothing short of being broke by general court-martial could complete his sensations of horror at such a stroke of fortune; and I am not certain, if choice were allowed him, that he would not prefer the latter.”

“Then he has never yet seen her?” said Webber.

“Never,” replied Power; “and he hopes to leave Ireland without that blessing, the prospect of which, however remote and unlikely, has, I know well, more than once terrified him since his arrival.”

“I say, Power, and has your worthy general sent me a card for his ball?”

“Not through me, Master Frank.”

“Well, now, I call that devilish shabby, do you know. He asks O’Malley there from my chambers, and never notices the other man, the superior in the firm. Eh, O’Malley, what say you?”

“Why, I didn’t know you were acquainted.”

“And who said we were? It was his fault, though, entirely, that we were not. I am, as I have ever been, the most easy fellow in the world on that score, never give myself airs to military people, endure anything, everything, and you see the result; hard, ain’t it?”

“But, Webber, Sir George must really be excused in this matter. He has a daughter, a most attractive, lovely daughter, just at that budding, unsuspecting age when the heart is most susceptible of impressions; and where, let me ask, could she run such a risk as in the chance of a casual meeting with the redoubted lady-killer, Master Frank Webber? If he has not sought you out, then here be his apology.”

“A very strong case, certainly,” said Frank; “but, still, had he confided his critical position to my honor and secrecy, he might have depended on me; now, having taken the other line ”

“Well, what then?”

“Why, he must abide the consequences. I’ll make fierce love to Louisa; isn’t that the name?”

“Lucy, so please you.”

“Well, be it so, to Lucy, talk the little girl into a most deplorable attachment for me.”

“But, how, may I ask, and when?”

“I’ll begin at the ball, man.”

“Why, I thought you said you were not going?”

“There you mistake seriously. I merely said that I had not been invited.”

“Then, of course,” said I, “Webber, you can’t think of going, in any case, on my account.”

“My very dear friend, I go entirely upon my own. I not only shall go, but I intend to have most particular notice and attention paid me. I shall be prime favorite with Sir George, kiss Lucy ”

“Come, come, this is too strong.”

“What do you bet I don’t? There, now, I’ll give you a pony apiece, I do. Do you say done?”

“That you kiss Miss Dashwood, and are not kicked down-stairs for your pains; are those the terms of the wager?” inquired Power.

“With all my heart. That I kiss Miss Dashwood, and am not kicked down-stairs for my pains.”

“Then, I say, done.”

“And with you, too, O’Malley?”

“I thank you,” said I, coldly; “I am not disposed to make such a return for Sir George Dashwood’s hospitality as to make an insult to his family the subject of a bet.”

“Why, man, what are you dreaming of? Miss Dashwood will not refuse my chaste salute. Come, Power, I’ll give you the other pony.”

“Agreed,” said he. “At the same time, understand me distinctly, that I hold myself perfectly eligible to winning the wager by my own interference; for if you do kiss her, by Jove! I’ll perform the remainder of the compact.”

“So I understand the agreement,” said Webber, arranging his curls before the looking-glass. “Well, now, who’s for Howth? The drag will be here in half an hour.”

“Not I,” said Power; “I must return to the barracks.”

“Nor I,” said I, “for I shall take this opportunity of leaving my card at Sir George Dashwood’s.”

“I have won my fifty, however,” said Power, as we walked out in the courts.

“I am not quite certain ”

“Why, the devil, he would not risk a broken neck for that sum; besides, if he did, he loses the bet.”

“He’s a devilish keen fellow.”

“Let him be. In any case I am determined to be on my guard here.”

So chatting, we strolled along to the Royal Hospital, when, having dropped my pasteboard, I returned to the college.