Although we have hitherto only seen Ussher as a guest at Ballycloran, or figuring as a lion at Mary Brady’s wedding, he was, nevertheless, in the habit of frequenting much better society, and was not unfrequently a guest at the houses of certain gentlemen in the neighbourhood of Carrick-on-Shannon.
For Ussher could assume the manners of a gentleman when he chose, and moreover, be a lively and agreeable companion; and this, perhaps, quite as much as the attribute, made him somewhat of a favourite among many of the surrounding gentry. He was, however, more intimate at Brown Hall than at any other house; and he had now been asked over there, to spend the few days previous to his final departure from County Leitrim.
The establishment at Brown Hall consisted of Jonas Brown, the father — an irritable, overbearing magistrate, a greedy landlord, and an unprincipled father — and his two sons, who had both been brought up to consider sport their only business; horses and dogs their only care; grooms and trainers the only persons worthy of attention, and the mysteries of the field and the stable the only pursuits which were fit to be cultivated with industry or learnt with precision. They could read, as was sufficiently testified by their intimate knowledge of the information contained in “Nimrod upon Horses,” and the Veterinary Magazine; and the Clerk of the Course at the Curragh could prove that they could write, by the many scrawls he had received from them — entering horses, and giving their particulars as to age, colour, breeding, qualifications, &c., but beyond this they had no acquirements. For the elder son, who was only intended to be a landlord and a magistrate, and to spend about a thousand a year, this did not signify; but for the younger it afforded but a melancholy prospect, had his eyes been open to see it.
For the estate, which was all set at a rack rent, was strictly entailed; and as Jonas had always lived beyond his income, there would be little to leave to a younger son. When their mother died the two young men, together with a sister, had been left to the father’s care. She also had learnt to ride, and ride hard — to go to the stable and see that her own horse was made up — and to rate her groom in no gentle terms, if things in that department were not as they should be. She also could be eloquent on thrush, sand-cracks, and overreaches — could detect a splint or a spavin at a glance — knew all the parts and portions and joints of a horse much more accurately than she did of a sheep, and was a thorough judge of condition. Rumour also not unfrequently hinted, among the tabbies of Carrick-on-Shannon, that Miss Julia could not only ride with her brothers in the morning, but that she was also occasionally not ill inclined to drink with them of an evening.
Things were in this state, when it occurred to Jonas and his favourite son Fred, that it were well for all parties if they could get Miss Julia off from Brown Hall, as there was reason to fear she was coming out a little too fast; and that if they did not get rid of her now, she might in a short time become a card somewhat hard to play. They consequently invited a squireen of three or four hundred a year to the house, who had rather unequivocally expressed his admiration for Di Vernon; and under the fostering auspices of father and brother, the two soon made up matters together, though the lady was unable to follow her prototype’s example, by wooing her lover over the pages of Dante. However, though Dante was wanting, opportunity was not, which for one so well inclined as Miss Julia was sufficient; and before the young gentleman had been three weeks in the house, Fred was enabled to hint to him one day, as he was pulling off his boots before dinner, that of course he presumed his intentions to his sister were honourable and explicit, now that things had gone so far. Toby Armstrong — for such was the name of Di Vernon’s admirer — not relishing pistols and coffee, made no objection to the young lady; but he absolutely refused to take her empty handed, and, in consequence, Jonas and Fred had to hand him over their joint bond for two thousand pounds, before he would be induced to make her mistress of Castle Armstrong. There she now reigned supreme, and it is to be hoped, for the sake of the future generation, that she had by this time learnt to transfer her attention from the stable to the nursery.
The Browns were at any rate quit of the young lady, and had Brown Hall now wholly to themselves; and this was a satisfaction. Still the hundred a year which they had to pay their dear brother-in-law, Toby, was a great loss to them, and made it more improbable that when the old man should be gathered to his fathers, George should have anything to subsist on except his brother’s affection and bounty.
As Fred inherited all his father’s love of money, joined to an irresistible passion for everything that he called pleasure; and as he was already continually quarrelling with his younger brother, who was as continually impertinent to him, George’s prospect in life was not particularly bright. As to turning his mind to any useful pursuit — studying for any profession, or endeavouring in any way to earn his own bread honestly — he would have been as angered and felt as insulted by such a proposition, as though any one had asked him to turn cobbler, and sit cross-legged at the window of one of the little shops at Carrick-on-Shannon.
As, however, he at present had food to eat, wine to drink, horses to ride, and usually cash to bet with, he concerned himself but little for the future; and we, therefore, may fairly be equally apathetic respecting it. It would not, however, be difficult to foretell his fate. Should he not break his neck before his father’s death, he will quarrel with and slander his brother; he will ride for those who are young and green enough to trust their horses to him, and pay him for mounting them; he will spunge upon all his acquaintance till he is turned out of their houses; he will be a hanger on at the Curragh and all race-courses; he will finally become a blackleg and swindler; and will die in the Marshalsea, if he does not, as he most probably will, break his neck by a fall from the saddle; for, to the last, George will preserve his pluck — the only quality on which he could ever pride himself.
On the morning of the races the two brothers and Ussher were sitting over a very late breakfast at Brown Hall. The father had long since been out; careful to see that he got the full twelve hours’ work from the unfortunate men whom he hired at five pence a day, and who had out of that to feed themselves and families, and pay their rent; we will not talk about clothing them, it would be a mockery to call the rags with which the labouring poor in that part of the country are partially covered, clothes, or to attach value to them, though I suppose they must once have cost something.
“Why, what nonsense, Ussher,” said Fred, “to be sending that mare of yours down to Munster; she’d never be fast enough for that country — not the thing at all for Tipperary fences — all gaps and breaks; besides the expense of sending her, and the chances that she’s lamed on the road. You’d better let me have her; she’s only fit for this country. I’ll tell you what I’ll do: I’ll give you the horse and gig you’re to take that girl of yours to Longford in tomorrow for her.”
“Hush, man, for G——d’s sake! If the servants hear you talking that way, I’m dished. If it once got abroad about my taking her off, I’d have the devil to pay before I got out of the country.”
“I believe Ussher thinks,” said George, “no one ran away with a girl before himself. Why if you were going to seize a dozen stills, you couldn’t make more row about it.”
“I shouldn’t make any about that, for it would come natural to me; and I’d a deal sooner be doing that, than what I have to do tomorrow night. I’m d —— d, but I’d sooner take a score of frieze-coats, with only five or six of my own men to back me, than drive twenty miles in a gig with a squalling girl.”
“If you’re sick of the job, I’ll take her off your hands,” said the good-natured Fred.
“Thank ye, no; as I’ve got so far with it, I believe I’ll go on now.”
“Well, if you won’t take a kind offer about the girl, will you take the one I made about the mare? To tell the truth, I’d sooner have the mare than the girl myself.”
“Thank ye, no; I believe I’ll keep both.”
“I’ll tell you what I’ll do,” said Fred, getting anxious in his hankering after the mare, “I’ll throw the harness into the bargain — spick and span new from Hamilton’s. I paid eight pound ten for it not a month since. All the new fashion — brass fittings and brass haines. You could have the crests taken out, and new ones put in, for a few shillings; only send me down the old ones.”
“What would I do with a gig and horse? Besides, the gig’s shook, the shafts are all loose, and the boxes are battered; and the horse was saying his prayers lately, by the look of his knees.”
“Never down in his life, by G——d,” said George, willing to help his brother in a matter of horseflesh; “it’s only a knock he got when I was trying to put him over the little wall beyond the lawn there; but I couldn’t make the brute jump, though he’s the sweetest horse in harness I ever sat behind.”
Ussher was not to be done; and Fred consoled himself by assuring him that he’d be sorry for it, when he found the mare was not the least use in life down in Munster, and that no one would give him a twenty-pound note for her.
A drag now came round to the door. George was making his toilet before the fire, having eaten about half an ounce of dry toast after his morning exercise under the three great-coats. He was adjusting his boots and breeches — and George was not a little proud of his appearance in his riding costume; the jacket and cap were carried loose; and after many exclamations from Fred, that they would be late, and that as he had backed Conqueror, it was a shame for his brother to give the stewards the chance of starting the horses without him, which were answered by rejoinders from George that they wouldn’t dare to do so — showing that he didn’t care how much all the rest might be inconvenienced by his delay, so long as he didn’t suffer himself, the three got into the conveyance at the door, about an hour after the time at which the horses were advertised to start punctually; and Fred drove them to the course, which was not above a mile distant.
I cannot say that the ground displayed much that was elegant in the way of equipages, or anything very refined in the countenances belonging to the race-course.
The weighing stand consisted of the scales in which potatoes and oats were usually weighed in the market-place in Carrick, and were borrowed from the municipality for the occasion. The judge’s chair was formed of a somewhat more than ordinary high stool, with a kind of handle sticking up at one corner, by holding on to which he was barely able to keep his place, so constantly were the mob pressing round him.
There was a stand, from which a tolerable view of the race could be obtained, admission one shilling; but few ascended it, and long before the start, the price had fallen to sixpence.
There were two or three carriages; one containing Counsellor Webb’s family. He himself was one of the stewards, and, consequently appeared on horseback in a red coat. Another belonged to Sir Michael Gipson, who owned the greater part of the town, and who drawing about six thousand a year from this county and the next, had given ten pounds, to be run for by farmers’ horses, contriving thereby to show them that he thought they ought to indulge in expensive amusements, and to stimulate them to idleness and gambling. As, however, the land in the country was chiefly let in patches under twenty acres each, and to men who were unable to feed the sorry beast necessary to keep them in tillage, Sir Michael’s generosity had not the effect which it might be presumed to cause; and his ten pound was annually won by some large tenant, who might call himself a farmer, but who would make a desperate noise if another man presumed to call him anything but a gentleman. Of cars there were plenty, crowded with pretty faces, all evidently intending to be pleased; not invariably, however, for there was Mrs. Keegan in one of those altogether abominable affairs called inside cars, not because you had any of the comforts of an inside place in case of rain, for they have no covering, but because the inmates, sitting on each side, have full power to kick each other’s shins, and no liberty to stretch their legs. There she sat alone, as sour as at the moment when she had first seen her Hyacinth as he was deposited by the hotel waiter on the mat inside her hall-door.
She looked little as if she was there for amusement, and, in truth, she was not. After a time, Hyacinth had come to himself; and by dint of continual scolding, much soda-water, and various lavations, he had enabled himself to make a very sickly appearance on horseback; but the wife of his bosom was determined that he should not escape from thence to another ordinary, or even to any hospitable table where he might get drunk for nothing; and, consequently, she was there to watch him.
There was but one other there that did not seem bent on enjoyment, and this was poor Feemy. There she was, sitting on the same side of the car with Lyddy McKeon; and the good-natured mother had taken care that this should be the side facing the horses; but Feemy took no interest in them. She had given over crying and sobbing; but she was silent, and apparently sullen, and would much have preferred her own little room at Ballycloran.
There were to be three races. Had there been a prospect of thirty, and among them a trial of speed between all the favourites of the Derby, there could not have been a greater crowd, or more anxiety; every ragged, bare-footed boy there knew the names of each horse, and to whom he belonged, and believed in the invincibility of some favourite beast — probably from attachment to its owner — and were as anxious as if the animals were their own. Among this set, McKeon or little Larry Kelly were booked to win; — they were kind, friendly masters, and these judges thought that kind men ought to have winning horses.
“Shure thin,” said one half-naked urchin, stuck up in a small tree, growing just out of one of the banks over which the horses were to pass; “shure thin, Playful’s an illigant swate baste entirely. I’ll go bail there’s nothin’ll come nigh her this day!”
“That Tony may win the day thin!” said another. “It’s he is the fine sportsman.”
“Bedad, ye’re both out,” said a third, squatting as close on the bank as the men would let him; “it’s Mr. Larry’ll win, God bless him! — and none but him — and he the weight all wid him, and why not? There’s none of ’em in the counthry so good as the Kellys. Hoorroo for the Kellys! them’s the boys.”
“They do say,” said the second speaker, who was only half way up the tree, “that Conqueror’ll win. By Jasus, av he do, won’t young Brown be going it!”
“Is it Conqueror?” said the higher, and more sanguine votary of McKeon. “Is it the Brown Hall horse? He can’t win, I tell ye! I saw him as Paddy Cane was leading him down, and he didn’t look like winning; he hasn’t got it in him. That he may fall at the first lep, and never stir again! Tony’ll win, boys! Hurroo for Tony McKeon.”
The weighing was now accomplished, and jockeys mounted. Major McDonnell had to look after this part of the business, of which he knew as much as he did of Arabic. However, he was shoved about unmercifully for half an hour — had his toes awfully trodden on, for he was told he should dismount to see the weighing — narrowly escaped a half-hundredweight, which was dropped within three inches of his foot, and did, I daresay, as much good as stewards usually do on such occasions.
Counsellor Webb was to start them, and, though a counsellor, he was an old hand at the work. He always started the horses at the Carrick races, and usually one of his own among the lot. The Counsellor, by the by, was a great favourite with all parties, and what was more, he was a good man and a gentleman.
Major Longsword from Boyle was the third steward, and he, like his military colleague, was rather out of his element. He was desired to keep the populace back and preserve the course; but it seemed to Major Longsword that the populace didn’t care a button for him and his red coat, and though he valiantly attempted to ride in among men, women, and children, he couldn’t move them; they merely pushed the horse back with their hands, and the brute, frightened by their numbers, wouldn’t go on. They screamed, “Arrah, sir! go asy; shure you’re on my foot; musha thin, can’t you be quiet with the big horse? faix I’m murdhered with you, sir — is you going to ride over us? shure, yer honer, won’t you go over there? look how the boys is pressing in there.” The Major soon saw he could do no good, so he rode out of the crowd, mentally determining that the jockeys might, if they could, clear the course for themselves.
And now they were off — at least seven of them; for when the important morning came, the Captain had in vain used every exertion to get a rider for Kickie-wickie. His ambition had at first soared so high that he had determined to let no one but a gentleman jockey mount her; but gradually his hopes declined, and at the ordinary he was making fruitless inquiries respecting some proper person; but in vain, and now he had been from twelve to one searching for any groom in possession of the necessary toggery. He would have let the veriest tailor in Carrick get on his mare if he had merely been legitimately dressed. Really, his exertions and his misery were distressing, for at last he was obliged to send her back to Boyle, after having paid the stakes and the stable charges for her, and console himself by telling his friends that the gentleman from Galway, who was to ride for him, had deceived him, and that he could not possibly have put any one he did not know upon Kickie-wickie.
But the seven are off. There they go, gently cantering, looking so pretty, and so clean — the riders so steady — the horses so eager. How different they will look when three or four, or more probably only two, are returning to the post! The horses jaded, the men heated, with whip speedily raised, and sharply falling — spurs bloody — and jackets soiled, by perhaps more than one violent fall; and yet in ten minutes this will be their appearance.
“There they go — Hurroo! they’re off. Faix, there’s Playful at her tricks already — by dad she’ll be over the ropes! steady, Bob — steady, or she’ll back on you — give it her, Gayner, my boy, give it her, never spare her — laws! did you see that? Well if he gets her over the course, he’d ride the very divil. Well done, Bob, now you’ve got her — Hurroo, Tony, my boy, you’re all right now:"— and the mare, after a dozen preliminary plunges, joined the other horses. “Faix, they’re all over that — did you see that big brown horse? He’s Thunderer — he’s a good horse intirely; did you see the lep he took at the wall?”— and now they had come to a big drain; all the horses being well together as far as this, excepting Crom-a-boo, who having been forced through a breach made by some other of the horses in the first wall, had baulked at a bank which came next, and never went any further. Some one told poor Stark on the course that the horse didn’t run today nearly so well as his owner did last night; and it was true enough.
“There goes Conqueror — he’s over! Faith then, George is leading. — Brown Hall against the field!”
“Never mind,” said some knowing fellow, “he’s a deal too fond of leading — he’s a deal oftener seen leading than winning.”
“There’s little Larry — my! how sweet the mare went over the water. There’s Brickbat in it; — no, he’s out. He’s an awkward beast. That’s Thunderer — Holy Virgin, what a leap! He goes at everything as if there were twenty foot to cross, and a six foot wall in the middle.”
“There’s Playful at it again — he’ll never get her round. Bad cess to you, you vixen — what made me bet on you? There, she’s over — no she’s not; — there’s Diana — did you see Pat walk her through? Faith, she’d crawl up a steeple, and down the other side. There’s Playful over — no, she’s not; — right in the middle, by heavens!”
“And Bob under her — come away. My God, he’ll be drowned!”
“Gracious glory! did you see that? He’s up again; — d —— n it but he dived under her; well, I never saw the like of that; she’s out.”
“And look, look! Bob’s in the seat — you’ll win your money now. Well, Bob Gayner, afther that you’ll never live till you’re drowned! Come away to the double ditch; that’s where they’ll show what they’re made of — the mare’ll be cooled now, and she’ll run as easy as a coach-horse.”
And the two rode away to the big fence mentioned, which consisted of a broad flat-topped bank between two wide dry ditches; while the horses went the round of the course over four or five intermediate banks.
“Here they come! there’s Blake leading. What a stride that horse has! but you’ll see he’ll die away now. Larry’s second — no, George is second, but Larry’s well up.”
“Faith, and he’s been down too — he and the mare. There’s Playful, how she pulls — where’s Brickbat? now then!”
And the Galway horse came at the big fence — Blake pulling him off a little as he came to it, then stuck his spurs into his horse’s flank — gave a lift at his head, and threw his left hand to the tree of the saddle. The horse gave a terrific leap on the bank — paused for a moment — and clearing the second ditch, came down safe on his legs with a shock that seemed to shake the field.
“Hurroo! well done! beat that George — now for Brown Hall; no, by Jasus, little Larry’s next — now, Larry, the Virgin send you safe over!” The mare with the light weight on her back made nothing of what seemed in the horse so tremendous a jump, and without losing her running, skimmed on to the bank and off it, and collared the horse before he had regained his stride.
“Good luck to you, masther Larry, it’s you that can ride. Hurroo for the Kellys! — Oh, by the holy, they’re both dead!” This last exclamation referred to Conqueror, who had come up to the fence much heated, but at a great pace. George, never attempting to pull him off, or give him a moment of breath, using his whip and riding forward over his horse’s neck, hurried him on. The gallant brute leapt with all his force, but not being able to master the height, breasted it violently, sending his rider a dozen feet into the next field, and falling himself into the ditch, his head on to the field, with a broken heart, and dead! George, however, was soon on his feet, for his head was hard and he was used to tumbling.
Before he was on his legs, however, up came Playful, awfully rushing, her neck out — her nose forward — her nostrils open — her eye eager — covered with foam, but showing no sign of fatigue, nor any further inclination to baulk. Gayner was sitting her beautifully, not attempting to hold her, for he knew that if he stopped her, whipcord wouldn’t make her run again; but with a firm, steady pull on her mouth — his hands low, and both on the reins, and his legs well tucked in. There she came, on at the leap without easing her pace for a moment, and going over the carcass of the dying animal, cleared it all, bank and ditches at one leap — two and thirty feet at one stride! There are the marks to this day, for Tony McKeon, in his pride, measured the ground, and put in stakes to point out the spot where his mare showed herself so worthy of all his trouble.
Brickbat had quarrelled with some of his namesakes at a wall, and was now nowhere; Diana still persevered, and got well over the big fence, but her chance was out, unless some unaccountable accident happened to the three other horses that were still running. On they went; there were only three more fences, two small banks, and a five foot wall. Thunderer and Miss Fidget neck and neck took the two banks, the big horse making awfully high leaps at them, Playful nearing them at every stride, galloping over the banks as though they were but a part of the level field. Now for the wall. “Now, Nicholas Blake, now, show them how little they think of a five foot wall in Galway. Faith though, Larry’s first — bravo, Roscommon!” He’s over, and a couple of bricks only falling show how lightly Miss Fidget touched it with her hind feet; not so Thunderer; again the horse made an awful leap, but the pace had been too much for him, he struck the wall violently with his knees, and, bursting through, gave Blake a fall over his shoulders. Galway, however, was soon in his saddle again, but not before Bob was over, and had long passed him.
And now there was a beautiful race in between the two mares; and oh! how charmingly both were ridden! But though Miss Fidget was so favoured in weight, and had begun with the lead, her elder rival collared her, and beat her at the post by a head. “And why shouldn’t she win?” as Tony said in triumph to his friends, “for hadn’t she the dhrop in her? wasn’t she by Coriander, out of Pink, by Highflyer? Of course she’d win — hadn’t he known it all the time?”
“That’s all very well,” said Larry, as he stood with his saddle in his hand, waiting till Bob got out of the scales, “it was only her d —— d long nose and neck that won after all, fur I’ll swear my head was past the post before Bob’s.”
“Well then, Larry, we’ll make a case for the stewards, whether it’s your head or the horse’s the judge should go by.”
“There’s two of ’em,” whispered Gayner, “wouldn’t know if you were to ask ’em.”
Thunderer came in third, and a couple of minutes afterwards, Diana; — and Pat Conner, when he was laughed at as to his place, truly boasted that at any rate he was the only one that had been able to ride round the course without a fall.
The chief and most exciting race of the day being over, the more aristocratic of the multitude seemed with one accord to turn their attention to luncheon. The ladies began to unpack the treasures with which the wells of their cars had been loaded — cold hams — shoulders of mutton — pigeon pies — bottles of sherry — and dozens of porter soon made their appearance; and pretty girls putting cork-screws and carving knives into the hands of their admirers, bid them work for their food before they ate. Woe betide the young man there who had no female friends on the course — no one to relieve the pangs of his hunger, or to alleviate that intolerable delay which seems always necessary between races.
Then were made engagements for the ball; quadrilles and waltzes were given in exchange for sandwiches and ale — Lieutenants were to be had for sherry — a glass of champagne would secure a Captain.
Great was the crowd round Mrs. McKeon’s car, and plentiful the partners who solicited the honour of dancing with Lyddy, Louey, and Feemy. McKeon was there in all his glory, shaking hands with every one — praising his mare with his mouth full of ham, and uttering vehement eulogiums on Gayner between the different tumblers of porter, which in his joy he seemed to swallow unconsciously. Then Bob came up himself, glowing with triumph, for he knew that he had acquitted himself more than ordinarily well. He had changed all his clothes, for he had been completely drenched by his fall in the brook; and now, having nearly altogether fasted for the last forty-eight hours, was not at all disinclined to assist at Mrs. McKeon’s banquet.
He shook hands with her, and all the three girls round, and with Tony — although he had already done that three times before; and he began a full history of the race, which we needn’t repeat.
“I knew Brickbat was as fat as a bullock; he couldn’t keep the pace up; but I’ll tell you what, Tony, if any horse there could beat Playful, it was Conqueror. But George can’t wait — I win fifteen pound from him — he’s made a bad thing of it — lost his horse and all.”
“Did you see the horse, Bob, when you came to the big ditch?”
“By my honour, then, I didn’t see anything from the time I got out of the brook. I’d enough to do to sit where I was, and keep the mare’s head straight. When she made the great leap, I hardly felt her feet come to the ground, she came down so lightly.”
While he was speaking, Ussher came up to the car, and began congratulating them. He had now openly stated that he was to leave the country altogether, and that he had been ordered to Cashel. Mrs. McKeon was therefore no longer at a loss to account for Feemy’s melancholy; and whilst she felt a cordial dislike to the man, who she thought had so basely deceived Feemy and was now going to desert her, she was heartily glad for her sake he was going, and reflected that as he was to be off tomorrow, it was useless for her now to begin to be uncivil to him.
“I’m glad to congratulate you, Mr. McKeon — I’m glad you won, as my friend Brown didn’t; a bad thing his losing his horse, isn’t it?”
“Thank ye, Captain; and I’m to congratulate you too. I hear you’re promoted, and going away from us — very glad for one, sorry for t’other. Take a bit of cold pie; d —— n it, I forgot — the pie’s all gone, but there’s cold mutton and plenty of sherry. Lyddy, give Captain Ussher a glass of sherry.”
And Ussher went round to the side of the car where Feemy was sitting, and shook hands with her and the other girls. It was the first time through the whole long morning he had come near her; indeed, it was the first time he had seen her since his short visit at Mrs. McKeon’s, and very cruel poor Feemy had thought such conduct. Yet now, when he merely came to speak a few words, it was a relief to her, and she took it actually for a kindness. She felt herself so fallen in the world — so utterly degraded — she was so sure that soon every one else would shun her, that she shuddered at the idea of his ill-treating or deserting her. He soon left her, having got an opportunity of desiring her in a whisper to dance the first quadrille with him, as he didn’t think he should remain late at the ball.
As for Ussher himself, he would now have been glad if he had been able to have got rid of Feemy altogether. As I said before, when he started for Ballycloran on the day that he heard he had to remove his quarters, he had by no means made up his mind as to what he would do: it was not at that time at all his purpose to induce Feemy to leave her home, or go with him in the scandalous manner he had at last proposed. It was the warmth of her own affection, and the vanity which this had inspired, or rather strengthened in his breast, that had at the moment induced him to do so; and now he could not avoid it. He had told his sporting friends of his intention, and if even he could have brought himself to endure their ridicule by leaving her behind him, he had gone so far that he could not well break off with Feemy herself.
He was considerably bothered, however, by his position; he felt that she would be a dreadful chain round his neck at the place he was going to, and he began already to dislike her. Poor Feemy! she had already lost that for which she had agreed to sacrifice her pride, her family, her happiness, and herself.
Ussher now returned to his two friends, whose tempers were by no means improved by the calamity which had occurred. Fred declared it was all George’s fault — that he had ridden his horse too fast or too slow — that he had been too forward, or not forward enough. His temper was by far too much soured by the loss of his own bets, to allow him to console his brother for the more serious injury he had suffered.
At length, however, the three got into the drag, and returned to Brown Hall. After dinner, each endeavoured to solace himself by no stinted application to the bottle. George declared, that as he had been able to drink nothing for the last three days, he’d make up for it now, and that he wouldn’t allow himself to be disturbed to dress for the best ball that could be given in Ireland. Fred, however, was not so insatiable, and at about eleven he and Ussher dressed and again drove into Carrick.
The ball at Carrick passed off as such balls always do. There was but little brilliancy, but a great deal of good humour. The dresses were not the most costly, nor possibly the most fashionable, but the faces were as pretty, and the figures as good, as any that could be adorned for Almack’s by a Parisian head-dresser or milliner. The band was neither numerous nor artistic, but it played in good time, and never got tired. The tallow candles, fixed in sconces round the walls of the room, in which a short time since we saw some of our friends celebrating the orgies of Bacchus, gave quite sufficient light for the votaries of the nimble-footed muse to see their partners, mind their steps, and not come in too rude collision with one another. Quadrilles succeeded waltzes, and waltzes quadrilles, with most unceasing energy; and no one dreamt of giving way to fatigue, or supposed that it was at all desirable to sit down for a single dance. From ten to two they kept it up without five minutes’ pause, and then went joyfully to supper — not to drink half a glass of wine, and eat a mouthful of jelly or blanc-manger standing — but to sit down with well-prepared appetite to hot joints — ham and chicken, veal pies, potatoes, and bottled porter. And then the songs that were sung! It would have done your heart good to hear young Fitzpatrick sing the “Widow Machree;” and then all the punch that was mixed! and the eloquence that was used, not in vain, to induce the fairer portion of the company to taste it!
This state of things was not, however, allowed to remain long. It was not at all the thing that men — at any rate unmarried men — should waste their time in drinking when they had come there to dance; and after the ladies had left them about ten minutes, messages came hot and thick from the ball-room, desiring their immediate presence; nor were they so bold as to neglect these summonses, excepting some few inveterate sinners, who, having whiskey and hot water in their possession, and looking forward to a game at loo, neglected the commands which were brought to them.
Soon again the fiddles sounded, and quick feet flew round the floor with more rapidity than before. The tedium of the quadrille was found to be too slow, and from three till six a succession of waltzes, reels, and country dances, kept the room in one whirl of confusion, and at last sent the performers home, not from a feeling of satiety at the amusement, but because, from very weariness, they were no longer able to use their feet.
Feemy, early in the evening, had danced with Ussher, and received his final instructions respecting their departure on the morrow. He was to leave Brown Hall early for Mohill, and Fred’s gig and horse were to be sent over to him there. He was to send his heavy luggage on by the car, and leaving Mohill about seven, when it would be dusk, drive by the avenue at Ballycloran and pick Feemy up as he passed, and they would then reach Longford in time for the mail-coach during the night.
Ussher calculated that Feemy would not be missed till he had had two hours’ start, and that then it would be impossible to catch him before he reached Dublin.
“But, Myles,” said Feemy, “how am I to get home? You know I am at Mrs. McKeon’s now.”
“Why how helpless you are,” replied he; “can’t you easily make some excuse to get home? say you are ill — and sick — and want to be at home. Or if it must come to that, say you will go home; who’s to stop you?”
“But I wouldn’t like to quarrel with them, Myles; just now, too, when they’ve been so kind to me.”
“Well, dearest, you needn’t quarrel with them; say you’re ill, and wish to be at home; but don’t make difficulties, love; don’t look so unhappy; you’ll be as happy as the day is long, when we’re once away — that is, if you still love me, Feemy. I hope, after all I’m doing for you, you’ll not be sullen and cold to me because you’re leaving such a hole as Ballycloran. If you don’t love me, Feemy, say so, and you may stay where you are.”
“Oh! Myles, how can you say such words now! you know I love you — how much I love you — else I wouldn’t be leaving my home for you this way! And though Ballycloran is —”
Here the poor girl could say no more; for she was using all her energies to prevent herself from sobbing in the ball-room.
“Good G——d! you’re not going to cry here; come out of the room, Feemy;” and he led her into the passage, where, under the pretence of looking at the moon, they could turn their faces to the window. “What are you crying for now?”
“Don’t you know I love you? why else would I be going with you?”
“Well, don’t cry then; but mind, I shan’t see you again before the time, for I’m going out of this at once now. I shall be at the avenue at a quarter before eight; don’t keep me waiting. If you are there first, as you will be, walk a few steps along the Mohill road, so as to meet me; no one will know you, if you should meet any one, for it will be nearly if not quite dark; the moon won’t rise till past ten; do you understand, Feemy?”
“Oh, yes, I understand!”
“Well, good night then, my own love, for I must be off.”
“But, Myles, I want to say one thing.”
“Hurry then, dear, what is it?”
“What’ll I do about my things?”
“Why, Myles, I must bring some things with me; clothes, you know, and things of that sort.”
This puzzled Ussher rather; he had considered that he should have enough trouble with Feemy herself; he had quite forgotten the concomitant evils of the bandboxes, bundles, and draperies which it would be necessary for Feemy to take with her.
“Ah! you can get clothes in Dublin; you can’t want to take much with you; you can bring a bundle in your hand just that distance. Can’t you, eh, Feemy?”
Feemy could not but think that a week since he would not have asked her to carry all her travelling wardrobe in a bundle, in her hand. However, she only said,
“Why, not well, Myles; I shall have so many things to think of; but I shan’t have much, and if you’ll let me, I’ll send Biddy to meet you with what I must take. She’ll meet you on the road, and put it into the gig.”
“Good heavens! what do you mean! would you tell the girl what you’re going to do? Why she’ll tell your father, and Thady, and raise the whole country on me.”
“No, she wouldn’t, Myles; she wouldn’t tell anybody a word, when I told her not. You don’t know those sort of people; she’d not say a word; so if you’ll let me, I’ll send her on to meet you with my things.”
With a good deal of reluctance Ussher agreed to this; and then, again enjoining Feemy not to keep him and the gig waiting in the road, he took his leave, and departed, with his friend Fred, for Brown Hall; first of all taking Feemy into the refreshment-room, and making her drink a glass of sherry. This did her much good, and when she got back into the ball-room, she was able to dance with tolerable spirit; and Mrs. McKeon, who had been watching her, and had seen her dance with Ussher, was glad to think that her protegée had made up her mind to part with her lover in good spirits, and before the evening was over she assured Louey, with great glee, that, in spite of all that had been said, she foresaw that as soon as that horrid man had been gone three or four days, Feemy would be as well and as cheerful as ever.
Feemy was, nevertheless, very glad when she was told to get her cloak on, and found herself on the car going to Drumsna. She then told her friend that she wanted to be home with her father on the morrow — that she had promised to be home the day after the ball. She even pretended that she had received a message that evening from her father, begging her return. Mrs. McKeon did not think much about it, supposing that Feemy’s presence might be necessary for household purposes at Ballycloran, and she readily promised her the loan of the car, at four in the afternoon, on condition that she would return to Drumsna at least in a day or two. This Feemy promised, rejoicing that her expected difficulties as to getting to Ballycloran were so easily overcome, and going to bed, she slept more soundly than she had yet done since she had given her fatal consent to Ussher’s proposal.
Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:14