The Confessions of Harry Lorrequer Part 8

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Poor Tom's spirits were rather below their usual pitch; and although he made many efforts to rally and appear gay, he could not accomplish it. However, we chatted away over old times and old friends, and forgetting all else but the topics we talked of, the time-piece over the chimney first apprised me that two whole hours had gone by, and that it was now seven o'clock, the very hour the coach was to start. I started up at once, and notwithstanding all Tom's representations of the impossibility of my being in time, had despatched waiters in different directions for a jarvey, more than ever determined upon going; so often is it that when real reasons for our conduct are wanting, any casual or chance opposition confirms us in an intention which before was but uncertain. Seeing me so resolved, Tom, at length, gave way, and advised my pursuing the mail, which must be now gone at least ten minutes, and which, with smart driving, I should probably overtake before getting free of the city, as they have usually many delays in so doing. I at once ordered out the "yellow post-chaise," and before many minutes had elapsed, what, with imprecation and bribery, I started in pursuit of his Majesty's Cork and Kilkenny mail coach, then patiently waiting in the court-yard of the Post Office.

"Which way now, your honor?" said a shrill voice from the dark--for such the night had already become, and threatened with a few heavy drops of straight rain, the fall of a tremendous shower.

"The Naas road," said I; "and, harkye, my fine fellow, if you overtake the coach in half an hour, I'll double your fare."

"Be gorra, I'll do my endayvour," said the youth; at the same time instant das.h.i.+ng in both spurs, we rattled down Na.s.sau-street at a very respectable pace for harriers. Street after street we pa.s.sed, and at last I perceived we had got clear of the city, and were leaving the long line of lamp-lights behind us. The night was now pitch dark. I could not see any thing whatever. The quick clattering of the wheels, the sharp crack of the postillion's whip, or the still sharper tone of his "gee hup," showed me we were going at a tremendous pace, had I not even had the experience afforded by the frequent visits my head paid to the roof of the chaise, so often as we bounded over a stone, or splashed through a hollow. Dark and gloomy as it was, I constantly let down the window, and with half my body protruded, endeavores to catch a glimpse of the "Chase;" but nothing could I see. The rain now fell in actual torrents; and a more miserable night it is impossible to conceive.

After about an hour so spent, he at last came to a check, so sudden and unexpected on my part, that I was nearly precipitated, harlequin fas.h.i.+on, through the front window. Perceiving that we no longer moved, and suspecting that some part of our tackle had given way, I let down the sash, and cried out--"Well now, my lad, any thing wrong?" My questions was, however, unheard; and although, amid the steam arising from the wet and smoking horses, I could perceive several figures indistinctly moving about, I could not distinguish what they were doing, nor what they said. A laugh I certainly did hear, and heartily cursed the unfeeling wretch, as I supposed him to be, who was enjoying himself at my disappointment. I again endeavoured to find out what had happened, and called out still louder than before.

"We are at Ra'coole, your honor," said the boy, approaching the door of the chaise, "and she's only beat us by hafe a mile."

"Who the devil is she?" said I.

"The mail, your honor, is always a female in Ireland."

"Then why do you stop now? You're not going to feed I suppose?"

"Of course not, your honor, it's little feeding troubles these bastes, any how, but they tell me the road is so heavy we'll never take the chaise over the next stage without leaders."

"Without leaders!" said I. "Pooh! my good fellow, no humbugging, four horses for a light post-chaise and no luggage; come get up, and no nonsense." At this moment a man approached the window with a lantern in his hand, and so strongly represented the dreadful state of the roads from the late rains--the length of the stage--the frequency of accidents latterly from under-horsing, &c. &c. that I yielded, a reluctant a.s.sent, and ordered out the leaders, comforting myself the while, that considering the inside fare of the coach, I made such efforts to overtake, was under a pound, and that time was no object to me, I certainly was paying somewhat dearly for my character for resolution.

At last we got under way once more, and set off cheered by a tremendous shout from at least a dozen persons, doubtless denizens of that interesting locality, amid which I once again heard the laugh that had so much annoyed me already. The rain was falling, if possible, more heavily than before, and had evidently set in for the entire night. Throwing myself back into a corner of the "leathern convenience," I gave myself up to the full enjoyment of the Rouchefoucauld maxim, that there is always a pleasure felt in the misfortunes of even our best friends, and certainly experienced no small comfort in my distress, by contrasting my present position with that of my two friends in the saddle, as they sweltered on through mud and mire, rain and storm. On we went, splas.h.i.+ng, b.u.mping, rocking, and jolting, till I began at last to have serious thoughts of abdicating the seat and betaking myself to the bottom of the chaise, for safety and protection. Mile after mile succeeded, and as after many a short and fitful slumber, which my dreams gave an apparent length to, I woke only to find myself still in pursuit--the time seemed so enormously protracted that I began to fancy my whole life was to be pa.s.sed in the dark, in chase of the Kilkenny mail, as we read in the true history of the flying Dutchman, who, for his sins of impatience--like mine--spent centuries vainly endeavouring to double the Cape, or the Indian mariner in Moore's beautiful ballad, of whom we are told as-- "Many a day to night gave way, And many a morn succeeded, Yet still his flight, by day and night, That restless mariner speeded."

This might have been all very well in the tropics, with a smart craft and doubtless plenty of sea store--but in a chaise, at night, and on the Naas road, I humbly suggest I had all the worse of the parallel.

At last the altered sound of the wheels gave notice of our approach to a town, and after about twenty minutes; rattling over the pavement we entered what I supposed, correctly, to be Naas. Here I had long since determined my pursuit should cease. I had done enough, and more than enough, to vindicate my fame against any charge of irresolution as to leaving Dublin, and was bethinking me of the various modes of prosecuting my journey on the morrow, when we drew up suddenly at the door of the Swan. The arrival of a chaise and four at a small country town inn, suggests to the various employees therein, any thing rather than the traveller in pursuit of the mail, and so the moment I arrived, I was a.s.sailed with innumerable proffers of horses, supper, bed, &c. My anxious query was thrice repeated in vain, "When did the coach pa.s.s?"

"The mail," replied the landlord at length. "Is it the down mail?"

Not understanding the technical, I answered, "Of course not the Down--the Kilkenny and Cork mail."

"From Dublin, sir?"

"Yes, from Dublin."

"Not arrived yet, sir, nor will it for three quarters of an hour; they never leave Dublin till a quarter past seven; that is, in fact, half past, and their time here is twenty minutes to eleven."

"Why, you stupid son of a boot-top, we have been posting on all night like the devil, and all this time the coach has been ten miles behind us."

"Well, we've cotch them any how," said the urchin, as he disengaged himself from his wet saddle, and stood upon the ground; "and it is not my fault that the coach is not before us."

With a satisfactory anathema upon all innkeepers, waiters, hostlers, and post-boys, with a codicil including coach-proprietors, I followed the smirking landlord into a well-lighted room, with a blazing fire, when having ordered supper, I soon regained my equanimity.

My rasher and poached eggs, all Naas could afford me, were speedily despatched, and as my last gla.s.s, from my one pint of sherry, was poured out, the long expected coach drew up. A minute after the coachman entered to take his dram, followed by the guard; a more lamentable spectacle of condensed moisture cannot be conceived; the rain fell from the entire circ.u.mference of his broad-brimmed hat, like the ever-flowing drop from the edge of an antique fountain; his drab-coat had become a deep orange hue, while his huge figure loomed still larger, as he stood amid a nebula of damp, that would have made an atmosphere for the Georgium Sidus.

"Going on to-night, sir?" said he, addressing me; "severe weather, and no chance of its clearing, but of course you're inside."

"Why, there is very little doubt of that," said I. "Are you nearly full inside?"

"Only one, sir; but he seems a real queer chap; made fifty inquiries at the office if he could not have the whole inside to himself, and when he heard that one place had been taken--your's, I believe, sir--he seemed like a scalded bear."

"You don't know his name then?"

"No, sir, he never gave a name at the office, and his only luggage is two brown paper parcels, without any ticket, and he has them inside; indeed he never lets them from him even for a second."

Here the guard's horn, announcing all ready, interrupted our colloquy, and prevented my learning any thing further of my fellow-traveller, whom, however, I at once set down in my own mind for some confounded old churl that made himself comfortable every where, without ever thinking of any one else's convenience.

As I pa.s.sed from the inn door to the coach, I once more congratulated myself that I was about to be housed from the terrific storm of wind and rain that railed about.

"Here's the step, sir," said the guard, "get in, sir, two minutes late already."

"I beg your pardon, sir," said I, as I half fell over the legs of my unseen companion. "May I request leave to pa.s.s you?" While he made way for me for this purpose, I perceived that he stooped down towards the guard, and said something, who from his answer had evidently been questioned as to who I was. "And how did he get here, if he took his place in Dublin?" asked the unknown.

"Came half an hour since, sir, in a chaise and four," said the guard, as he banged the door behind him, and closed the interview.

Whatever might have been the reasons for my fellow-traveller's anxiety about my name and occupation, I knew not, yet could not help feeling gratified at thinking that as I had not given my name at the coach office, I was a great a puzzle to him as he to me.

"A severe night, sir," said I, endeavouring to break ground in conversation.

"Mighty severe," briefly and half crustily replied the unknown, with a richness of brogue, that might have stood for a certificate of baptism in Cork or its vicinity.

"And a bad road too, sir," said I, remembering my lately accomplished stage.

"That's the reason I always go armed," said the unknown, clinking at the same moment something like the barrel of a pistol.

Wondering somewhat at his readiness to mistake my meaning, I felt disposed to drop any further effort to draw him out, and was about to address myself to sleep, as comfortably as I could.

"I'll jist trouble ye to lean aff that little parcel there, sir," said he, as he displaced from its position beneath my elbow, one of the paper packages the guard had already alluded to.

In complying with this rather gruff demand, one of my pocket pistols, which I carried in my breast pocket, fell out upon his knee, upon which he immediately started, and asked hurriedly--"and are you armed too?"

"Why, yes," said I, laughingly; "men of my trade seldom go without something of this kind."

"Be gorra, I was just thinking that same," said the traveller, with a half sigh to himself.

Why he should or should not have thought so, I never troubled myself to canva.s.s, and was once more settling myself in my corner, when I was startled by a very melancholy groan, which seemed to come from the bottom of my companion's heart.

"Are you ill, sir?" said I, in a voice of some anxiety.

"You might say that," replied he--"if you knew who you were talking to --although maybe you've heard enough of me, though you never saw me till now."

"Without having that pleasure even yet," said I, "it would grieve me to think you should be ill in the coach."

"May be it might," briefly replied the unknown, with a species of meaning in his words I could not then understand. "Did ye never hear tell of Barney Doyle?" said he.

"Not to my recollection."

"Then I'm Barney," said he; "that's in all the newspapers in the metropolis; I'm seventeen weeks in Jervis-street hospital, and four in the Lunatic, and the devil a better after all; you must be a stranger, I'm thinking, or you'd know me now."

"Why I do confess, I've only been a few hours in Ireland for the last six months."

"Ay, that's the reason; I knew you would not be fond of travelling with me, if you knew who it was."

"Why, really," said I, beginning at the moment to fathom some of the hints of my companion, "I did not antic.i.p.ate the pleasure of meeting you."

"It's pleasure ye call it; then there's no accountin' for tastes, as Dr. Colles said, when he saw me bite Cusack Rooney's thumb off."

"Bite a man's thumb off!" said I, in a horror.

"Ay," said he with a kind of fiendish animation, "in one chop; I wish you'd see how I scattered the consultation; begad they didn't wait to ax for a fee."

Upon my soul, a very pleasant vicinity, though I. "And, may I ask sir," said I, in a very mild and soothing tone of voice, "may I ask the reason for this singular propensity of yours?"

"There it is now, my dear," said he, laying his hand upon my knee familiarly, "that's just the very thing they can't make out; Colles says, it's all the ceribellum, ye see, that's inflamed and combusted, and some of the others think it's the spine; and more, the muscles; but my real impression is, the devil a bit they know about it at all."

"And have they no name for the malady?" said I.

"Oh sure enough they have a name for it."

"And, may I ask--"

"Why, I think you'd better not, because ye see, maybe I might be throublesome to ye in the night, though I'll not, if I can help it; and it might be uncomfortable to you to be here if I was to get one of the fits."

"One of the fits! Why it's not possible, sir," said I, "you would travel in a public conveyance in the state you mention; your friends surely would not permit it?"

"Why, if they knew, perhaps," slily responded the interesting invalid, "if they knew they might not exactly like it, but ye see, I escaped only last night, and there'll be a fine hub-bub in the morning, when they find I'm off; though I'm thinking Rooney's barking away by this time."

"Rooney barking, why, what does that mean?"

"They always bark for a day or two after they're bit, if the infection comes first from the dog."

"You are surely not speaking of hydrophobia," said I, my hair actually bristling with horror and consternation.

"Ayn't I?" replied he; "may be you've guessed it though."

"And have you the malady on you at present?" said I, trembling for the answer.

"This is the ninth day since I took to biting," said he gravely, perfectly unconscious as it appeared of the terror such information was calculated to convey.

"Any with such a propensity, sir, do you think yourself warranted in travelling in a public coach, exposing others--"

"You'd better not raise your voice, that way," quietly responded he, "if I'm roused, it 'll be worse for ye, that's all."

"Well but," said I, moderating my zeal, "is it exactly prudent, in your present delicate state, to undertake a journey?"

"Ah," said he, with a sigh, "I've been longing to see the fox hounds throw off, near Kilkenny; these three weeks I've been thinking of nothing else; but I'm not sure how my nerves will stand the cry; I might be throublesome."

"Upon my soul," thought I, "I shall not select that morning for my debut in the field."

"I hope, sir, there's no river, or watercourse on this road--any thing else, I can, I hope, control myself against; but water--running water particularly--makes me throublesome."

Well knowing what he meant by the latter phrase, I felt the cold perspiration settling on my forehead, as I remembered that we must be within about ten or twelve miles of Leighlin-bridge, where we should have to pa.s.s a very wide river. I strictly concealed this fact from him, however, and gave him to understand that there was not a well, brook, or rivulet, for forty miles on either side of us. He now sunk into a kind of moody silence, broken occasionally by a low muttering noise, as if speaking to himself--what this might portend, I knew not--but thought it better, under all circ.u.mstances, not to disturb him. How comfortable my present condition was, I need scarcely remark--sitting vis a vis to a lunatic, with a pair of pistols in his possession--who had already avowed his consciousness of his tendency to do mischief, and his inability to master it; all this in the dark, and in the narrow limits of a mail-coach, where there was scarcely room for defence, and no possibility of escape--how heartily I wished myself back in the Coffee-room at Morrisson's, with my poor friend Tom--the infernal chaise, that I cursed a hundred times, would have been an "exchange," better than into the Life Guards--ay, even the outside of the coach, if I could only reach it, would, under present circ.u.mstances, be a glorious alternative to my existing misfortune. What were rain and storm, thunder and lightning, compared with the chances that awaited me here? --wet through I should inevitably be, but then I had not yet contracted the horror of moisture my friend opposite laboured under. "Ha! what is that? is it possible he can be asleep; is it really a snore?--Heaven grant that little snort be not what the medical people call a premonitory symptom--if so, he'll be in upon me now in no time. Ah, there it is again; he must be asleep surely; now then is my time or never." With these words, muttered to myself, and a heart throbbing almost audibly at the risk of his awakening, I slowly let down the window of the coach, and stretching forth my hand, turned the handle cautiously and slowly; I next disengaged my legs, and by a long continuous effort of creeping--which I had learned perfectly once, when practising to go as a boa constrictor to a fancy ball--I withdrew myself from the seat and reached the step, when I muttered something very like a thanksgiving to Providence for my rescue. With little difficulty I now climbed up beside the guard, whose astonishment at my appearance was indeed considerable--that any man should prefer the out, to the inside of a coach, in such a night, was rather remarkable; but that the person so doing should be totally unprovided with a box-coat, or other similar protection, argued something so strange, that I doubt not, if he were to decide upon the applicability of the statute of lunacy to a traveller in the mail, the palm would certainly have been awarded to me, and not to my late companion. Well, on we rolled, and heavily as the rain poured down, so relieved did I feel at my change of position, that I soon fell fast asleep, and never awoke till the coach was driving up Patrick street. Whatever solace to my feelings reaching the outside of the coach might have been attended with at night, the pleasure I experienced on awaking, was really not unalloyed. More dead than alive, I sat a ma.s.s of wet clothes, like nothing under heaven except it be that morsel of black and spongy wet cotton at the bottom of a schoolboy's ink bottle, saturated with rain, and the black dye of my coat. My hat too had contributed its share of colouring matter, and several long black streaks coursed down my "wrinkled front," giving me very much the air of an Indian warrior, who had got the first priming of his war paint. I certainly must have been rueful object, were I only to judge from the faces of the waiters as they gazed on me when the coach drew up at Rice and Walsh's hotel. Cold, wet, and weary as I was, my curiosity to learn more of my late agreeable companion was strong as ever within me --perhaps stronger, from the sacrifices his acquaintance had exacted from me. Before, however, I had disengaged myself from the pile of trunks and carpet bags I had surrounded myself with--he had got out of the coach, and all I could catch a glimpse of was the back of a little short man in a kind of grey upper coat, and long galligaskins on his legs. He carried his two bundles under his arm, and stepped nimbly up the steps of the hotel, without turning his head to either side.

"Don't fancy you shall escape me now, my good friend," I cried out, as I sprung from the roof to the ground, with one jump, and hurried after the great unknown into the coffee-room. By the time I reached it he had approached the fire, on the table near which, having deposited the mysterious paper parcels, he was now busily engaged in divesting himself of his great coat; his face was still turned from me, so that I had time to appear employed in divesting myself of my wet drapery before he perceived me; at last the coat was unb.u.t.toned, the gaiters followed, and throwing them carelessly on a chair, he tucked up the skirts of his coat; and spreading himself comfortably a l'Anglais, before the fire, displayed to my wondering and stupified gaze, the pleasant features of Doctor Finucane.

"Why, Doctor--Doctor Finucane," cried I, "is this possible? were you really the inside in the mail last night."

"Devil a doubt of it, Mr. Lorrequer; and may I make bould to ask,--were you the outside?"

"Then what, may I beg to know, did you mean by your d.a.m.ned story about Barney Doyle, and the hydrophobia, and Cusack Rooney's thumb--eh?"

"Oh, by the Lord," said Finucane, "this will be the death of me; and it was you that I drove outside in all the rain last night! Oh, it will kill Father Malachi outright with laughing, when I tell him;" and he burst out into a fit of merriment that nearly induced me to break his head with the poker.

"Am I to understand, then, Mr. Finucane, that this practical joke of your was contrived for my benefit, and for the purpose of holding me up to the ridicule of your confounded acquaintances."

"Nothing of the kind, upon my conscience," said Fin, drying his eyes, and endeavouring to look sorry and sentimental. "If I had only the least suspicion in life that it was you, upon my oath I'd not have had the hydrophobia at all, and, to tell you the truth, you were not the only one frightened--you alarmed me devilishly too."

"I alarmed you! Why, how can that be?"

"Why, the real affair is this: I was bringing these two packages of notes down to my cousin Callaghan's bank in Cork--fifteen thousand pounds --devil a less; and when you came into the coach at Naas, after driving there with your four horses, I thought it was all up with me. The guard just whispered in my ear, that he saw you look at the priming of your pistols before getting in; and faith I said four paters, and a hail Mary, before you'd count five. Well, when you got seated, the thought came into my mind that maybe, highwayman as you were, you would not like dying a natural death, more particularly if you were an Irishman; and so I trumped up that long story about the hydrophobia, and the gentleman's thumb, and devil knows what besides; and, while I was telling it, the cold perspiration was running down my head and face, for every time you stirred, I said to myself, now he'll do it. Two or three times, do you know, I was going to offer you ten s.h.i.+llings in the pound, and spare my life; and once, G.o.d forgive me, I thought it would not be a bad plan to shoot you by 'mistake,' do you perceave?"

"Why, upon my soul, I'm very much obliged to you for your excessively kind intentions; but really I feel you have done quite enough for me on the present occasion. But, come now, doctor, I must get to bed, and before I go, promise me two things--to dine with us to-day at the mess, and not to mention a syllable of what occurred last night--it tells, believe me, very badly for both; so, keep the secret, for if these confounded fellows of ours ever get hold of it, I may sell out, or quit the army; I'll never hear the end of it!"

"Never fear, my boy; trust me. I'll dine with you, and you're as safe as a church-mouse for any thing I'll tell them; so, now you'd better change your clothes, for I'm thinking it rained last night."

Muttering some very dubious blessings upon the learned Fin, I left the room, infinitely more chagrined and chop-fallen at the discovery I had made, than at all the misery and exposure the trick had consigned me to; "however," thought I, "if the doctor keep his word, it all goes well; the whole affair is between us both solely; but, should it not be so, I may shoot half the mess before the other half would give up quizzing me." Revolving such pleasant thought, I betook myself to bed, and what with mulled port, and a blazing fire, became once more conscious of being a warm-blooded animal, and feel sound asleep, to dream of doctors, strait waistcoats, shaved heads, and all the pleasing a.s.sociations my late companion's narrative so readily suggested.

CHAPTER XV.

MEMS. OF THE NORTH CORK.

At six o'clock I had the pleasure of presenting the worthy Doctor Finucane to our mess, taking at the same time an opportunity, un.o.bserved by him, to inform three or four of my brother officers that my friend was really a character, abounding in native drollery, and richer in good stories than even the generality of his countrymen.

Nothing could possibly go on better than the early part of the evening. Fin, true to his promise, never once alluded to what I could plainly perceive was ever uppermost in his mind, and what with his fund of humour, quaintness of expression, and quickness at reply, garnished throughout by his most mellifluous brogue, the true "Bocca Corkana," kept us from one roar of laughter to another. It was just at the moment in which his spirits seemed at their highest, that I had the misfortune to call upon him for a story, which his cousin Father Malachi had alluded to on the ever-memorable evening at his house, and which I had a great desire to hear from Fin's own lips. He seemed disposed to escape telling it, and upon my continuing to press my request, drily remarked, "You forget, surely, my dear Mr. Lorrequer, the weak condition I'm in; and these gentlemen here, they don't know what a severe illness I've been labouring under lately, or they would not pa.s.s the decanter so freely down this quarter."

I had barely time to throw a mingled look of entreaty and menace across the table, when half-a-dozen others, rightly judging from the Doctor's tone and serio-comic expression, that his malady had many more symptoms of fun than suffering about it, called out together-- "Oh, Doctor, by all means, tell us the nature of your late attack--pray relate it."

"With Mr. Lorrequer's permission I'm your slave, gentlemen," said Fin, finis.h.i.+ng off his gla.s.s.

"Oh, as for me," I cried, "Dr. Finucane has my full permission to detail whatever he pleases to think a fit subject for your amus.e.m.e.nt."

The Confessions of Harry Lorrequer Part 8

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