Henry Ashwoode was but too anxious to avail himself of the indulgence offered by Gordon Chancey. With the immediate urgency of distress, any thoughts of prudence or retrenchment which may have crossed his mind vanished, and along with the command of new resources came new wants and still more extravagant prodigality. His passion for gaming was now indulged without restraint, and almost without the interruption of a day. For a time his fortune rallied, and sums, whose amount would startle credulity, flowed into his hands, only to be lost and squandered again in dissipation and extravagance, which grew but the wilder and more reckless, in proportion as the sources which supplied them were temporarily increased. At length, after some coquetting, the giddy goddess again deserted him. Night after night brought new and heavier disasters; and with this reverse of fortune came its invariable accompanimenta wilder and more daring recklessness, and a more unmeasured prodigality in hazarding larger and larger sums; as if the victims of ill luck sought, by this frantic defiance, to bully and browbeat their capricious persecutor into subjection. There was scarcely an available security of any kind which he had not already turned into money, and now he began to feel, in downright earnest, the iron gripe of ruin closing upon him.
He was changedin spirit and in aspect changed. The unwearied fire of a secret fever preyed upon his heart and brain; an untold horror robbed him of his rest, and haunted him night and day.
Brother, said Mary Ashwoode, throwing one hand fondly round his neck, and with the other pressing his, as he sate moodily, with compressed lips and haggard face, and eyes fixed upon the floor, in the old parlour of Morley Court dear brother, you are greatly changed; you are ill; some great trouble weighs upon your mind. Why will you keep all your cares and griefs from me? I would try to comfort you, whatever your sorrows may be. Then let me know it all, dear brother; why should your griefs be hidden from me? Are there not now but the two of us in the wide world to care for each other? and as she said this her eyes filled with tears.
You would know what grieves me? said Ashwoode, after a short silence, and gazing fixedly in her face, with stern,
p.175dilated eyes, and pale features. He remained again silent for a time, and then uttered the emphatic word Ruin.
How, dear brother, what has befallen you? asked the poor girl, pressing her brother's hand more kindly.
I say, we are ruinedboth of us. I've lost everything. We are little better than beggars, replied he. There's nothing I can call my own, he resumed, abruptly, after a pause, but that old place, Incharden. It's worth next to nothingbog, rocks, brushwood, old stables, and allabsolutely nothing. We are ruinedbeggaredthat's all.
Oh! brother, I am glad we have still that dear old place. Oh, let us go down and live there together, among the quiet glens, and the old green woods; for amongst its pleasant shades I have known happier times than shall ever come again for me. I would like to ramble there again in the pleasant summer time, and hear the birds sing, and the sound of the rustling leaves, and the clear winding brook, as I used to hear them long ago. There I could think over many things, that it breaks my heart to think of here; and you and I, brother, would be always together, and we would soon be as happy as either of us can be in this sorrowful world.
She threw her arms around her brother's neck, and while the tears flowed fast and silently, she kissed his pale and wasted cheeks again and again.
In the meantime, said Ashwoode, starting up abruptly, and looking at his watch, I must go into town, and see some of these harpiesusurers that have gotten their fangs in me. It is as well to keep out of jail as long as one can, and, with a very joyless laugh, he strode from the room.
As he rode into town, his thoughts again and again recurred to his old scheme respecting Lady Stukely.
It is after all my only chance, said he. I have made my mind up fifty times to it, but somehow or other, dn me, if I could ever bring myself to do it. That woman will live for five-and-twenty years to come, and she would as easily part with the control of her property as with her life. While she lives I must be her dependenther slave: there is no use in mincing the matter, I shall not have the command of a shilling, but as she pleases; but patiencepatience, Harry Ashwoode, sooner or later death will come, and then begins your jubilee.
As these thoughts hurried through his brain, he checked his horse at Lady Betty Stukely's door.
As he traversed the capacious hall, and ascended the handsome staircase Well, thought he, even with her ladyship, this were better than the jail.
In the drawing-room he found Lady Stukely, Emily Copland, and Lord Aspenly. The two latter evidently deep in a
p.176very desperate flirtation, and her ladyship meanwhile very considerately employed in trying a piece of music on the spinet.
The entrance of Sir Henry produced a very manifest sensation among the little party. Lady Stately looked charmingly conscious and fluttered. Emily Copland smiled a gracious welcome, for though she and her handsome cousin perfectly well understood each other, and both well knew that marriage was out of the question, they had each, what is called, a fancy for the other; and Emily, with the unreasonable jealousy of a woman, felt a kind of soreness, secretly and almost unacknowledged to herself, at Sir Henry's marked devotion to Lady Stukely, though, at the same time, no feeling of her own heart, beyond the lightest and the merest vanity, had ever been engaged in favour of Henry Ashwoode. Of the whole party, Lord Aspenly alone was a good deal disconcerted, and no wonder, for he had not the smallest notion upon what kind of terms he and Henry Ashwoode were to meet; whether that young gentleman would shake hands with him as usual, or proceed to throttle him on the spot. Ashwoode was, however, too completely a man of the world to make any unnecessary fuss about the awkward affair of Morley Court; he therefore met the little nobleman with cold and easy politeness; and, turning from him, was soon engaged in an animated and somewhat tender colloquy with the love-stricken widow, whose last words to him, as at length he arose to take his leave, were,
Remember to-morrow evening, Sir Henry, we shall look for you early; and you have promised not to disappoint your cousin Emilyhas not he, Emily? I shall positively be affronted with you for a week at least if you are late. I am very absolute, and never forgive an act of rebellion. I'm quite a little sovereign here, and very despotic; so you had better not venture to be naughty.
Here she raised her finger, and shook it in playful menace at her admirer.
Lady Stukely had, however, little reason to doubt his punctuality. If she had but known the true state of the case she would have been aware that in literal matter-of-fact she had become as necessary to Sir Henry Ashwoode as his daily bread.
Accordingly, next evening Sir Henry Ashwoode was one of the gayest of the guests in Lady Stukely's drawing-rooms. His resolution was taken; and he now looked round upon the splendid rooms and all their rich furniture as already his own. Some chatted, some played cards, some danced the courtly minuet, and some hovered about from group to group, without any determinate occupation, and sharing by turns in the
p.177frivolities of all. Ashwoode was, of course, devoted exclusively to his fair hostess. She was all smiles, and sighs, and bashful coyness; he all tenderness and fire. In short, he felt that all he wanted at that moment was the opportunity of asking, to ensure his instantaneous acceptance. While thus agreeably employed, the young baronet was interrupted by a footman, who, with a solemn bow, presented a silver salver, on which was placed an exceedingly dirty and crumpled little note. Ashwoode instantly recognized the hand in which the address was written, and snatching the filthy billet from its conspicuous position, he thrust it into his waistcoat pocket.
A messenger, sir, waits for an answer, murmured the servant.
Where is he?
He waits in the hall, sir.
Then I shall see him in a momenttell him so, said Ashwoode; and turning to Lady Stukely, he spoke a few sweet words of gallantry, and with a forced smile, and casting a longing, lingering look behind, he glided from the room.
So, what can this mean? muttered he, as he placed himself immediately under a cluster of lights in the lobby, and hastily drew forth the crumpled note. He read as follows:
My Dear Sir Henry,
There is bad newsas bad as can be. Wherever you are, and whatever you are doing, come on receipt of these, on the moment, to me. If you don't, you'll be done for to-morrow; so come at once. Bobby M'Quirk will hand you these, and if you follow him, will bring you where I am now. I am desirous to serve you, and if the art of man can do it, to keep you out of this pickle.Your obedient, humble servant,
Gordon ChanceyN.B. It is about these infernal notes, so come quickly.
Through this production did Ashwoode glance with no very enviable feelings; and tearing the note into the very smallest possible pieces, he ran downstairs to the hall, where he found the aristocratic Mr. M'Quirk, with his chin as high as ever, marching up and down with a free and easy swagger, and one arm akimbo, and whistling the while an air of martial defiance.
Did you bring a note to me just now? inquired Ashwoode.
I have had that pleasure, replied M'Quirk, with an aristocratic air. I presume I am addressed by Sir Henry Ashwoode, baronet. I am Mr. M'QuirkMr. Robert M'Quirk.
p.178Sir Henry, I kiss your handsproud of the honour of your acquaintance.
Is Mr. Chancey at his own lodging now? inquired Ashwoode, without appearing to hear the speeches which M'Quirk thought proper to deliver.
Why, no, replied the little gentleman. Our friend Chancey is just now swigging his pot of beer, and smoking his pen'orth of pigtail in the Old Saint Columbkil, in Ship Streeta comfortable house, Sir Henry, as any in Dublin, and very cheapcheap as dirt, sir. A Welsh rarebit, one penny; a black pudding, and neat cut of bread, and three leeks, forhow much do you guess?
Have the goodness to conduct me to Mr. Chancey, wherever he is, said Ashwoode drily. I will followgo on, sir.
Well, Sir Henry, I'm your manI'm your manglad of your company, Sir Henry, exclaimed the insinuating Bobby M'Quirk; and following his voluble conductor in obstinate silence, Sir Henry Ashwoode found himself, after a dark and sloppy walk, for the first, though not for the last time in his life, under the roof tree of the Old Saint Columbkil.