The Old Saint Columbkil was a sort of low sporting tavern frequented chiefly by horse-jockeys, cock-fighters, and dog-fanciers; it had its cock-pits, and its badger-baits, and an unpretending little hell of its own; and, in short, was deficient in none of the attractions most potent in alluring such company as it was intended to receive.
As Ashwoode, preceded by his agreeable companion, made his way into the low-roofed and irregular chamber, his senses were assailed by the thick fumes of tobacco, the reek of spirits, and the heavy steams of the hot dainties which ministered to the refined palates of the patrons of the Old Saint Columbkil; and through the hazy atmosphere, seated at a table by himself, and lighted by a solitary tallow candle with a portentous snuff, and canopied in the clouds of tobacco smoke which he himself emitted, Gordon Chancey was dimly discernible.
Ah! dear me, dear me. I'm right glad to see youI declare to , I am, Mr. Ashwoode, said that eminent
p.179barrister, when the young gentleman had reached his side. Indeed, I was thinking it was maybe too late to see you to-night, and that things would have to go on. Oh, dear me, but it's a regular Providence, so it is. You'd have been up in lavender to-morrow, as sure as eggs is eggs. I'm gladder than a crown piece, upon my soul, I am.
Don't talk of business here; cannot we have some place to ourselves for five minutes, out of this stifling pig-sty. I can't bear the place; besides, we shall be overheard, urged Ashwoode.
Well, and that's very true, assented Chancey, gently, very true, so it is; we'll get a small room above. You'll have to pay an extra sixpenny bit for it though, but what signifies the matter of that? M'Quirk, ask old Pottles if Noah's Ark is emptyeither that or the Royal Ramrun, Bobby.
I have something else to do, Mr. Chancey, replied Mr. M'Quirk, with hauteur.
Run, Bobby, run, man, repeated Chancey, tranquilly.
Run yourself, retorted M'Quirk, rebelliously.
Chancey looked at him for a moment to ascertain by his visible aspect whether he had actually uttered the audacious suggestion, and reading in the red face of the little gentleman nothing but the most refractory dispositions, he said with a low, dogged emphasis which experience had long taught Mr. M'Quirk to respect,
Are you at your tricks again? D you, you blackguard, if you stand prating there another minute, I'll open your head with this potbe off, you scoundrel.
The learned counsel enforced his eloquence by knocking the pewter pot with an emphatic clang upon the table.
All the aristocratic blood of the M'Quirks mounted to the face of the gentleman thus addressed; he suffered the noble inundation, however, to subside, and after some hesitation, and one long look of unutterable contempt, which Chancey bore with wonderful stoicism, he yielded to prudential considerations, as he had often done before, and proceeded to execute his orders.
The effect was instantaneousPottles himself appeared. A short, stout, asthmatic man was Pottles, bearing in his thoughtful countenance an ennobling consciousness that human society would feel it hard to go on without him, and carrying in his hand a soiled napkin, or rather clout, with which he wiped everything that came in his way, his own forehead and nose included.
With pompous step and wheezy respiration did Pottles conduct his honoured guests up the creaking stairs and into the Royal Ram. He raked the embers in the fire-place, threw on a piece of turf, and planting the candle which he carried
p.180upon a table covered with slop and pipe ashes, he wiped the candlestick, and then his own mouth carefully with his dingy napkin, and asked the gentlemen whether they desired anything for supper.
No, no, we want nothing but to be left to ourselves for ten or fifteen minutes, said Ashwoode, placing a piece of money upon the table. Take this for the use of the room, and leave us.
The landlord bowed and pocketed the coin, wheezed and bowed again, and then waddled magnificently out of the room. Ashwoode got up and closed the door after him, and then returning, drew his chair opposite to Chancey's, and in a low tone asked,
Well, what is all this about?
All about them notes, nothing else, replied Chancey, calmly.
Go onwhat of them? urged Ashwoode.
Can you pay them all to-morrow morning? inquired Chancey, tranquilly.
To-morrow! exclaimed Ashwoode. Why, hell and death, man, you promised to hold them over for three months. To-morrow! By , you must be joking, and as he spoke his face turned pale as ashes.
I told you all along, Mr. Ashwoode, said Chancey drowsily, that the money was not my own; I'm nothing more than an agent in the matter, and the notes are in the desk of that old bed- ridden cripple that lent it. Dn him, he's as full of fumes and fancies as old cheese is of maggots. He has taken it into his head that your paper is not safe; and the devil himself won't beat it out of him; and the long and the short of it is, Mr. Ashwoode, he's going to arrest you to-morrow.
In vain Ashwoode strove to hide his agitationhe shook like a man in an ague.
Good heavens! and is there no way of preventing this? Make him wait for a weekfor a day, said Ashwoode.
Was not I speaking to him ten times to-dayay, twenty times, replied Chancey, trying to make him wait even for one day? Why, I'm hoarse talking to him, and I might just as well be speaking to Patrick's tower; so make your mind up to this. As sure as light, you'll be in gaol before to-morrow's past, unless you either settle it early some way or other, or take leg bail for it.
See, Chancey, I may as well tell you this, said Ashwoode, before a fortnight, perhaps before a week, I shall have the means of satisfying these damned notes beyond the possibility of failure. Won't he hold them over for so long?
I might as well be asking him to cut out his tongue and give it to me as to allow us even a day; he has heard of
p.181different accidents that has happened to some of your paper latelyand the long and the short of it ishe won't hear of it, nor hold them over one hour more than he can help. I declare to , Mr. Ashwoode, I am very sorry for your distress, so I ambut you say you'll have the money in a week?
Ay, ay, ay, so I shall, if he don't arrest me, replied Ashwoode; but if he does, my perdition's sealed; I shall lie in gaol till I rot; but, curse it, can't the idiot see this? if he waits a week or so he'll get his moneyevery penny back againbut if he won't have patience, he loses every sixpence to all eternity.
You might as well be arguing with an iron box as think to change that old chap by talk, when he once gets a thing into his head, rejoined Chancey. Ashwoode walked wildly up and down the dingy, squalid apartment, exhibiting in his aristocratic form and face, and in the rich and elegant suit, flashing even in the dim light of that solitary, unsnuffed candle, with gold lace and jewelled buttons, and with cravat and ruffles fluttering with rich point lace, a strange and startling contrast to the slovenly and deserted scene of low debauchery which surrounded him.
Chancey, said he, suddenly stopping and grasping the shoulder of the sleepy barrister with a fierceness and energy which made him start Chancey, rouse yourself, d you. Do you hear? Is there no way of averting this awful ruinis there none?
As he spoke, Ashwoode held the shoulder of the fellow with a gripe like that of a vice, and stooping over him, glared in his face with the aspect of a maniac.
The lawyer, though by no means of a very excitable temperament, was startled at the horrible expression which encountered his gaze, and sate silently looking into his victim's face with a kind of fascination.
Well, said Chancey, turning away his head with an effort there's but one way I can think of.
What is it? Do you know anyone that will take my note at a short date? For God's sake, man, speak out at once, or my brain will turn. What is it? said Ashwoode.
Why, Mr. Ashwoode, to be plain with you, rejoined Chancey, I do not know a soul in Dublin that would discount for you to one-fourth of the amount you requirebut there is another way.
In the fiend's name, out with it, then, said Ashwoode, shaking him fiercely by the shoulder.
Well, then, get Mr. Craven to join you in a bond for the amount, said Chancey, with a warrant of attorney to confess judgment.
Craven! Why, he knows as well as you do how I am
p.182dipped. He'd just as readily thrust his hand into the fire, replied Ashwoode. Is that your hopeful scheme?
Well, then, get Mr. Blarden's name along with your own to your joint and several bondthe old chap won't have anything more to do with billsso, do you mind, your joint and several bond, with warrant of attorney to confess judgmentand I'll stake my life, he'll take it as ready as so much cash, the instant I show it to him, said the lawyer quietly.
Are you dreaming or drunk? Have not I told you twenty times over that Blarden would cut his throat first? retorted Ashwoode, passionately.
Why, said Chancey, fixing his cunning eyes, with a peculiar meaning, upon the young man, and speaking with a lowered voice and marked deliberateness, perhaps if Mr. Blarden knew that his name was wanted only to satisfy the whim of a fanciful old hunksif he knew that judgment should never be enteredif he knew that the bond should never go outside a strong iron box, under an old bedridden cripple's bedif he knew that no questions should be asked as to how he
p.183came to write his name at the foot of it and if he knew that no mortal should ever see it until you paid it long before the day it was dueand if he was quite aware that the whole transaction should be considered so strictly confidential, that even to himselfdo you mindno allusion should be made to it;don't you think, in such a case, you could, by some means or other, manage to get hisname?
They continued to gaze fixedly at one another in silence, until, at length, Ashwoode's countenance lighted into a strange, unearthly smile.
I see what you mean, Chanceyis it so? said he, in a voice so low, as scarcely to be audible.
Well, maybe you do, said the barrister, in a tone nearly as low, and returning the young man's smile with one to the full as sinister. Thus they remained without speaking for many minutes.
There's no danger in it, said Chancey, after a long pause; I would not take a part in it if there was. You can pay it eleven months before it's due. It's a thing I have known done a hundred times over, without risk; here there can be none. I do all his business myself. I tell you, that for anything that any living mortal but you and me and the old badger himself will ever hear, or see, or know of the matter, the bond might as well be burnt to dust in the back of the fire. I declare to it's the plain truth I'm telling youSir Henryso it is.
There followed another silence of some minutes. At length Ashwoode said, I'd rather use any name but Blarden's, if it must be done.
What does it matter whose name is on it, if there is no one but ourselves to read it? replied Chancey. I say Blarden's is the best, because he accepted bills for you before, which were discounted by the same old codger; and again, because the old fellow knows that the money was wanted to satisfy gambling debts, and Blarden would seem a very natural party in a gaming transaction. Blarden's is the name for us. And, for myself, all I ask is fifty pounds for my share in the trouble.
When must you have the bond? asked Ashwoode. Set about it now said Chancey; or stay, your hand shakes too much, and for both our sakes it must be done neatly; so say to-morrow morning, early. I'll see the old gentleman to-night, and have the overdue notes to hand you in the morning. I think that's doing business.
I would not do itI'd rather blow my brains outif there was a single chance of his entering judgment on the bond, or talking of it, said Ashwoode, in great agitation.
A chance! said the barrister. I tell you there's not a
p.184possibility. I manage all his money matters, and I'd burn that bond, before it should see the outside of his strong box. Why, dn! do you think I'd let myself be ruined for fifty pounds? You don't know Gordon Chancey, indeed you don't, Mr. Ashwoode.
Well, Chancey, I'll see you early to-morrow morning. said Ashwoode; but are you veryvery sureis there no
chance no possibility ofof mischief?
I tell you, Mr. Ashwoode, replied Chancey, unless I chose to betray myself, you can't come by harm. As I told you before, I'm not such a fool as to ruin myself. Rely on me, Mr. Ashwooderely on me. Do you believe what I say?
Ashwoode walked slowly up to him, and fixing his eyes upon the barrister, with a glance which made Chancey 's heart turn chill within him, Yes, Mr. Chancey, he said, you may be sure I believe you; for if I did not so help me, God!you should not quit this roomalive.
He eyed the caitiff for some minutes in silence, and then returning the sword, which he had partially drawn, to its scabbard, he abruptly wished him good-night, and left the room.