I don't half like the girl you've picked up, said Nicholas Blarden, addressing his favourite parasite, Chancey; she don't look half sharp enough for our work; she hasn't the cut of a town lass about her; she's too like a milk-maid, too simple, too soft. I've confounded misgivings she's no schemer. Well, welldear me, but you're very suspicious, said Chancey. I'd like to know did ever anything honest come out of the Old Saint Columbkil! there wasn't a sharper little wench in the place than herself, and I'll tell you that's a big wordno, no; there's not an inch of the fool about her.
Well, she can't do us much mischief anyway, said Blarden; the three others are as true as steelthe devil's own chickens; and mind you don't let the door-keys out of your pocket. Honour's all very fine, and ought not to be doubted; but there's nothing to my mind like a stiff bit of a rusty lock.
Chancey smiled sleepily, and slapped the broad skirt of his coat twice or thrice, producing therefrom the ringing clank which betoken the presence of the keys in question.
So then we're all caged, by Jove, continued Blarden, rapturously; and very different sorts of game we are too: did you ever see the show-box where the cats and the rats and the little birds are all boxed up together, higgledy-piggledy, in the same wire cage. I can't but think of it; it's so devilish like.
Well, welldear me; I declare to God but you're a terrible funny chap, said Chancey, enjoying a quiet chuckle; but some way or another, he continued, significantly, I'm thinking the cat will have a claw at the little bird yet.
Well, maybe it will; rejoined Blarden, you never knew one yet that was not fond of a tit-bit when he could have it. Eh?
Thus playfully they conversed, seasoning their pleasantries with sack and claret, and whatever else the cellars of Morley Court afforded, until evening closed, and the darkness of night succeeded.
Mary Ashwoode and her maid sat prepared for the execution of their adventurous project; they had early left the outer room in which we saw them last, and retired into her bed-chamber to avoid suspicion; as the night advanced they extinguished the lights, lest their gleaming through the windows should betray the lateness of their vigil, and alarm the fears of their persecutors. Thus, in silence and darkness, not daring
p.274to speak, and almost afraid to breathe, they waited hour after hour until long past midnight. The well-known sounds of riotous swearing and horse-laughter, and the heavy trampling of feet, as the half-drunken revellers staggered to their beds, now reached their ears in noises faint and muffled by the distance. At length all was again quiet, and nearly a whole hour of silence passed away ere they ventured to move, almost to breathe.
Now, Flora, open the outer door softly, whispered Mary, and listen for any, the faintest sound; take off your shoes, and for your life move noiselessly.
Never fear, my lady, responded the girl in a tone as low; and slipping off her shoes from her feet, she pressed her hand upon the young lady's wrist, to intimate silence, and glided into the little boudoir. With sickening anxiety the young lady heard her cross the small chamber, now and then stumbling against some pieces of furniture and cautiously groping her way; at length the door-handle turned, and then followed a silence. After an interval of a few seconds the girl returned.
Well, Flora, whispered Mary, eagerly, as she approached, is all still?
Oh! blessed hour! my lady, the door's locked on the outside, replied the maid.
It can't be, said Mary Ashwoode, while her very heart sank within her. Oh! Flora, Floragirl, don't say that.
It is indeed, my ladyas sure as I'm a living soul, it is so, replied she fearfully; and it was wide open when I came up. Oh! blessed hour! my lady, what are we to do?
I will try; I will see; perhaps you are mistaken. God grant you may be, said the young lady, making her way to the door which opened on to the lobby. She reached itturned the handlepressed it with all her feeble strength, but in vain; it was indeed securely locked upon the outside; her project of escape was baffled at the very outset, and with a heartsickening sense of terror and dismaysuch as she had never felt beforeshe returned with her attendant to her chamber.
A night, sleepless, except for a few brief and fevered slumbers, crowded with terrors, passed heavily away, and the morning found Mary Ashwoode, pale, nervous, and feverish. She resolved, at whatever hazard, to endeavour to induce one of the new servants to convey her letter to Major O'Leary. The detection of this attempt could at worst result in nothing worse than to precipitate whatever mischief Blarden and his confederates had plotted, and which would if not so speedily, at all events as surely overtake her, were no such attempt made.
Flora, said she, I am resolved to try this chance, I
p.275fear me it is but a poor one; you, however, my poor girl, must not be compromised should it fail; you must not be exposed by your faithfulness to the vengeance of these villains; do you go into the next room, and I will try what may be done.
So saying, she rang the bell, and in a few minutes it was answered by the same man who had obeyed her summons on the day before. The man, although arrayed in livery, had by no means the dapper air of a professed footman, and possessed rather a villainous countenance than otherwise; he stood at the door with one hand fumbling at the handle, while he asked with an air half gruff and half awkward what she wanted. She sat in silence for a minute like the enchanter whose spells have been for the first time answered by the appearance of the familiar; too much agitated and affrighted to utter her mandate; with a violent effort she mastered her trepidation, and with an appearance of self-possession and carelessness which she was far from feeling, she said,
Can you, my good man, find a trusty messenger to carry a letter for me to a friend in Dublin?
The man remained silent for some seconds, twisted his mouth into several strange contortions, and looked very hard indeed at her. At length he said, closing the door at the same time, and speaking in a low key,
Well, I don't say but I might find one, but there's a great many things would make it very costly; maybe you could not afford to pay him?
I couldI wouldsee here, and she took a diamond ring from her finger; this is a diamond; it is of valueconvey but this letter safely and it is yours.
The man took the ring from the table where she laid it, and examined it curiously.
It's a pretty ringit is, said he, removing it a little from his eye, and turning it in different directions so as to make it flash and sparkle in the light, it is a pretty ring, rayther small for my fingers, thoughit's a real diamond?
It is indeed, valuableworth forty pounds at least, she replied.
Well, then, here goes, it's worth a bit of a risk, and so saying he deposited it carefully in a corner of his waistcoat pocket, give me the letter now, ma'am.
She handed him the letter, and he thrust it into the deepest abyss of his breeches pocket.
Deliver that letter but safely, said she, and what I have given you shall be but the earnest of what's to come, it is importanturgentexecute but the mission truly, and I will not spare rewards.
The man gave two short nods of huge significance, accompanied with a slight grunt.
I say again, let me but have assurance that the message has been done, repeated she, and you shall have abundant reason to rejoice, above all things dispatchandandsecrecy.
The man winked very hard with one eye, and at the same time with his crooked finger drew his nose so much on one side, that he seemed intent on removing that feature into exile somewhere about the region of his ear; and having performed this elegant and expressive pantomime for several seconds, he stooped forward, and in an emphatic whisper said,
He then opened the door and abruptly made his exit, leaving poor Mary Ashwoode full of agitating hopes.