While this scene was going on in Mary Ashwoode's chamber, our friend Oliver French, having wished Mr. Audley goodnight, had summoned to his presence his confidential servant, Mr. M'Guinness. The corpulent invalid sat in his capacious chair by the fireside, with his muffled legs extended upon a pile of pillows, a table loaded with the materials of his protracted and omnigenous repast at his side. Black M'Guinness made his appearance, evidently a little intoxicated, and not a little excited. He proceeded in a serpentine course through the chamber, overturning, of malice prepense, everything in which he came in contact.
What the devil ails you, sir? ejaculated Mr. Frenchwhat the plague do you mean? Dn you, M'Guinness, you're drunk, sir, or mad.
Ay, to be sure, ejaculated M'Guinness, grimly. Why notoh, doI've no objection; dn away, sir, pray, do.
What do you mean by talking that way, you scoundrel? exclaimed old French.
Scoundrel! repeated M'Guinness, overturning a small table, and all thereupon, with a crash upon the floor, and
p.328approaching the old gentleman, while his ugly face grew to a sickly, tallowy white with rage, you go for to bring a whole lot of beggarly squatters into the house to make away with your substance, and to turn you against your faithful, tried, trusty, and dutiful servants, he continued, shaking his fist in his master's face. You do, and to leave them, ten to one, in their old days unprovided for. Damn ingratitude!to the devil with thankless, unnatural vermin! You call me scoundrel. Scoundrel was the wordby this cross it was.
While Oliver French, speechless with astonishment and rage, gazed upon the audacious menial, Mistress Martha herself entered the chamber.
Yes, they are, you old dark-hearted hypocritethey're settled herefixed in the house they are, screamed she; but they sha'nt stay long; or, if they do, I'll not leave a whole bone in their skins. What did they ever do for you, you thankless wretch?
Ay, what did they ever do for you? shouted M' Guinness.
Do you think we're foolsdo you? and idiotsdo you? not to know what you're at, you ungrateful miscreant! Turn them out, bag and baggageevery mother's skin of them, or I'll show them the reason why, turn them out, I say.
You infernal hag, I'd see you in hell or Bedlam first, shouted Oliver, transported with fury. You have had your way too long, you accursed witchyou have.
Never mindoh! you wretch, shrieked shenever mindwait a bitand never fear, you old crippled sinner, I'll be revenged on you, you old devil's limb. Here's your watch for you, screamed she, snatching a massive, chased gold watch from her side, and hurling it at his head. It passed close by his ear, and struck the floor behind him, attesting the force with which it had been thrown, as well as the solidity of its workmanship, by a deep mark ploughed in the floor.
Oliver French grasped his crutch and raised it threateningly.
You old wretch, I'll not let you strike the woman, cried M'Guinness, snatching the poker, and preparing to dash it at the old man's head. What might have been the issue of the strife it were hard to say, had not Mr. Audley at that moment entered the room.
Heyday! cried that gentleman, I thought it had been robberswhat's all this?
M'Guinness turned upon him, but observing that he carried a pistol in each hand, he contented himself with muttering a curse and lowering the poker which he held in his hand.
Why, what the devilyour own servantsyour own man and woman! exclaimed Mr. Audley. I beg your
p.329pardon, sirpray excuse me, Mr. French; perhaps I ought not to have intruded upon you.
Pray don't go, Mr. Audleydon't think of going, said Oliver, eagerly, observing that his visitor was drawing to the door. These beasts will murder me if you leave me; I can't help myselfdo stay.
Pray, madam, you are the amiable and remarkably quiet gentlewoman with whom I was to-day honoured by an interview? God bless my body and soul, can it possibly be? said Mr. Audley, addressing himself to the lady.
You vile old swindling schemer, shrieked she, returning you skulking, mean dogyou brandy-faced old reprobate, youhoo! wait, waitwait awhile; I'll master you yetjust waitnever mindhoo! and with something like an Indian war-whoop she dashed out of the room.
Get out of this apartment, you ruffian, youM'Guinness, get out of the room, cried old French, addressing the fellow, who still stood grinning and growling there.
No, I'll not till I do my business, retorted the man, doggedly; I'll put you to bed first. I've a right to do my own business; I'll undress you and put you to bed firstbellows me, but I will.
Mr. Audley, I beg pardon for troubling you, said Oliver, but will you pull the bell if you please, like the very devil.
Pull away till you are black in the 'face; I'll not stir, retorted M'Guinness.
Mr. Audley pulled the bell with a sustained vehemence which it put Mr. French into a perspiration even to witness. Pull away, old gentlemanyou may pull till you burstto the devil with you all. I'll not stir a peg till I choose it myself; I'll do my business what I was hired for; there's no treason in that. D me, if I stir a peg for you, repeated M'Guinness, doggedly.
Meanwhile, two half-dressed, scared-looking servants, alarmed by Mr. Audley's persevering appeals, showed themselves at the door.
ThomasMartincome in here, you pair of boobies, exclaimed French, authoritatively; Martin, do you keep an eye on that scoundrel, and Thomas, run you down and waken the post-boy and tell him to put his horses to, and do you assist him, sir, away!
With unqualified amazement in their faces, the men proceeded to obey their orders.
So, so, said Oliver, still out of breath with anger, matters are come to a pleasant pass, I'm to be brained with my own pokerby my own servantin my own housevery pleasant, because forsooth, I dare to do what I please with my ownhighly agreeable, truly! Mr. Audley, may I trouble
p.330you to give me a glass of noyeaulet me recommend that to you, Mr. Audley, it has the true flavournay, nayI'll hear of no excuseI'm absolute in my own room at leastcome, my dear sirI implore I insistnay, I command; comecomea bumper; very good health, sir; a pleasant pair of furies!just give me the legs of that woodcock while we are waiting.
Accordingly Mr. Oliver French filled up the brief interval after his usual fashion, by adding slightly to the contents of his stomach, and in a little time the servant whom he had dispatched downward, returned with the post-boy in person.
Are your horses under the coach, my good lad? inquired old French.
No, but they're to it, and that's better, responded the charioteer.
You'll not have far to goonly to the little village at the end of the avenue, said Mr. French. Mr. Audley, may I trouble you to fill a large glass of Creme de Portugal; thank you; now, my good lad, take that, continued he, delighted at an opportunity of indulging his passion for ministering to the stomach of a fellow mortal, take ittake itevery dropgoodnow Martin, do you and Thomas find that termagantfuryMartha Montgomery, and conduct her to the coachcarry her down if necessaryput her into it, and one of you remain with her, to prevent her getting out again, and let the other return, and with my friend the post-boy, do a like good office by my honest comrade Mr. M'Guinnessmind you go along with them to the village, and let them be set down at Moroney's public-house; everything belonging to them shall be sent down to-morrow morning, and if you ever catch either of them about the placeduck themwhip themset the dogs on themthat's all.
Shrieking as though body and soul were parting, Mrs. Martha was half-carried, half-dragged from the scene of her long-abused authority; screaming her threats, curses, and abuse in volleys, she was deposited safely in the vehicle, and guarded by the footmanwho in secret rejoiced in common with all the rest of the household at the disgrace of the two insolent favouritesand was forced to sit therein until her companion in misfortune being placed at her side, they were both, under a like escort, safely deposited at the door of the little public-house, scarcely crediting the evidence of their senses for the reality of their situation.
Henceforward Ardgillagh was a tranquil place, and day after day old Oliver French grew to love the gentle creature, whom a chance wind had thus carried to his door, more and more fondly. There was an artlessness and a warmth of
p.331affection, and a kindliness about her, which all, from the master down to the humblest servant, felt and loved; a grace, and dignity, and a simple beauty in every look and action, which none could see and not admire. The strange old man, whose humour had never brooked contradiction, felt for her, he knew not why, a tenderness and respect such as he never before believed a mortal creature could inspire; her gentle wish was law to him; to see her sweet face was his greatest joyto please her his first ambition; she grew to be, as it were, his idol.
It was her chief delight to ramble unattended through the fine old place. Often, with her faithful follower, Flora Guy, she would visit the humble dwellings of the poor, wherever grief or sickness was, and with gentle words of comfort and bounteous pity, cheer and relieve. But still, from week to week it became too mournfully plain that the sweet, sad face was growing paler and ever paler, and the graceful form more delicately slight. In the silent watches of the night often would Flora Guy hear her loved young mistress weep on for hours, as though her heart were breaking; yet from her lips there never fell at any time one word of murmuring, nor any save those of gentle kindness; and often would she sit by the casement and reverently read the pages of one old volume, and think and read again, while ever and anon the silent tears, gathering on the long, dark lashes, would fall one by one upon the leaf, and then would she rise with such a smile of heavenly comfort breaking through her tears, that peace, and hope, and glory seemed beaming in her pale angelic face.
Thus from day to day, in the old mansion of Ardgillagh, did she, whose beauty none, even the most stoical, had ever seen unmoved whose artless graces and perfections all who had ever beheld her had thought unmatched, fade slowly and uncomplainingly, but with beauty if possible enhanced, before the eyes of those who loved her; yet they hoped on, and strongly hoped why should they not? She was young yes, very young, and why should the young die in the glad season of their early bloom?
Mr. Audley became a wondrous favourite with his eccentric entertainer, who would not hear of his fixing a time for his departure, but partly by entreaties, partly by bullying, managed to induce him to prolong his stay from week to week. These concessions were not, however, made without corresponding conditions imposed by the consenting party, among the foremost of which was the express stipulation that he should not be expected, nor by cajolery nor menaces induced or compelled, to eat or drink at all more than he himself felt prompted by the cravings of his natural appetite to do. The old gentlemen had much in common upon which to exercise
p.332their sympathies; they were both staunch Tories, both admirable judges of claret, and no less both extraordinary proficients in the delectable pastimes of backgammon and draughts, whereat, when other resources failed, they played with uncommon industry and perseverance, and sometimes indulged in slight ebullitions of acrimonious feeling, scarcely exhibited, however, before they were atoned for by fervent apologies and vehement vows of good behaviour for the future.
Leaving this little party to the quiet seclusion of Ardgillagh, it becomes now our duty to return for a time to very different scenes and other personages.