At twenty-one I came into possession of my property; it was a moderate inheritance, and exempt from every embarrassment. I settled in the family mansion, and fell in love with the daughter of my next neighbour.
My overtures were favourably received, and I was assured the lady's heart was mine. Every preliminary for my marriage was nearly completed, when another suitor, unexpectedly, addressed my mistress. In age he was my senior by twenty years, in fortune he exceeded me by one hundred thousand pounds. I despised him: he was ugly-I was handsome. At the next ball, however, my mistress cut me dead, and on the second morning after it she married my ill-looking rival. I left England in disgust, and became a women-hater, and a wanderer.
I had passed three weeks miserably enough in a French fishing town. How I managed to consume so much time there, was to me a subject of surprise. All my resources were at length exhausted, and to remain, even for another day, was impossible; but where to go, whither to bend my course-there lay the puzzle.
While quite undetermined whether I should head towards Corinth or Carniola, one time ruminating on a journey to the Morea, at another weighing the probable results of a voyage to Madras, I opportunely received a letter from a gentleman I had known at Florence, pressing me to fulfil a premise I had once made of visiting him at his place in Ireland. He told me that he had been lately married, that his wife was all a poet fancies; and here his letter became a perfect rhapsody on the virtues of the sex.
To me, all this was any thing but an inducement to visit him-I, who had eschewed love, as I would the Pontine Marshes. In a simple case, I might look on without an agony; but the mawkish tenderness of a married pair is not endurable. "I shall refuse point-blank." I looked coldly through the letter. I passed over "soft blue eye-brown hair in natural ringlets-sweet smile-musical voice-small foot-round arm," all being a faithful description of "the lady of his love," when the postscript produced a change of sentiment I could not have foreseen. "The country is in an extraordinary ferment. Lord B-- has started, and this new candidate is about to overturn a long and uninterrupted order of representative arrangement. We shall have a desperate contest. God grant some valuable lives be not lost! As to myself, I have given my interest to-- : but, blest as I am with Emily"- Pish! I ejaculated-hang "Emily;"-but for her, I should have seen an election even at the expense of a fractured bone.
I had already been over the greater part of the habitable globe. I had been following Nature into her wildest retreats-and where should I be more likely to find her perfectly at home than in Connemara? I had also read a speech of Daniel O'Connell, Esq., in which that learned gentleman averred that his countrymen were the finest people on the surface of the globe. The authority being undoubted, one would naturally wish to become acquainted with these accomplished and interesting islanders.
Was it not then a melancholy circumstance that my friend had chosen this particular time to become a Benedict? I dread a newly-married pair. Billing and cooing to me is worse to witness an execution. The stolen glances, that like the fingering of an unpractised pickpocket, can only escape the observation of a dolt or a drunkard, the significant smiles, the silly terms of endearment, the mingling of hands, and other little approaches to dalliance-in short, all the nausea of hymeneal tenderness are detestable.
But an election, and that too beyond the Shannon, with its full accompaniments of assaults and accidents, duels and inquests, battle, murder, and sudden death, and broken promises, and broken windows!-there was no resisting this; and forthwith I transported myself and baggage to the next post, caught the Diligence, reached Dieppe, embarked for Margate, on to London, thence to Liverpool, and crossed the channel in the United Company's steamer, the St. Patrick, commanded by Captain Mac Conky, a short navigator, delighting in long stories and whisky punch.
I landed safely in the capital of the Emerald Isle, established myself at Bitton's, and proceeded, as travellers generally do, to eat, drink, and look out at the window. I counted one evening, three private carriages, and thirteen hacknies; observed that the young women went to the Bethesda, and the old ones to the play;-read in the Warder, that Father Maguire and Mr. Pope would have "a set-to" at the Rotunda, and that the Chinese jugglers would exhibit in somebody's "great room." I hate argument-what then should bring me to the Rotunda? I detest juggling, and accordingly avoided the "great room." Other circumstances combined to hurry my departure. Abroad, I met nothing but empty shops and idle tradesmen; -at home, an eternal controversy between a country curate, desperately orthodox, and a fat gentleman who obstinately believed in transubstantiation. I determined to quit the city instantly-demanded a bill-satisfied the house-maid-left Boots sulky-started for the coach-office, and booked myself for Ballinasloe.
It was a wet night, and wanted a quarter to eight o'clock, when the Galway mail-coach rolled out from under the arch-way in Dawson street. We were full inside-my companions of the coarser sex-men of formidable dimensions, and "each and every" well encompassed in camlet cloak, or trustier fearnought. "What shall I do with my legs?" thought I; for I stand six feet, and, Heavens knows, the Galway mail was never constructed for corporators, or gentlemen who wear shovel hats.
Jolt-jolt-jolt-we whirled into the post-office yard-interchanged legs by mutual agreement-compared watches with Crosthwait's clock-and rattled off for that portion of the land of saints where bating's chape, and poteen plinty.
Irishmen are not reserved, and the company appeared dying to be intimately acquainted. Some cunning speculations on the state of the weather, the state of the nation, and the state of the crops, and we were bosom friends in a twinkling. My opposite neighbour was arrayed in a shag wrap-rascal; his hat covered with oiled silk; he sighed heavily while speaking of corn laws, and falling cattle. "Here's a farmer," said I, "there's no mistaking him."
Beside him sat an upright figure "with his martial cloak around him." His evident anxiety to ascertain the number of that portion of his Majesty's forces, to whom the safety of the ancient town of Galway was entrusted, superadded to a lamp-light glimpse I got of huge black whiskers, and braided frock with Prussian collar, left me no reason to doubt that he belonged to that most honourable community, whose "trade is war."
A short, corpulent gentleman, who wore spectacles, and indulged in the use of that plain, but pungent snuff, known to the fancier by the appellation of "Irish blackguard," completed the parti quarre.
The conversation flagged: I am naturally taciturn, and became a silent and attentive listener. The gentleman in the oil-skin hat was drowsy before we cleared the Quays; and his heavy breath proved that whisky punch is no bad preparation for sleeping in the royal mail.
But the soldier, and the man in spectacles, betrayed no indication of somnolency. They plunged at once into a fierce and furious argument upon the claims and merits of the rival candidates for Galway; and, in the course of the discussion, I learned that the short man was a polisher for --, and the tall one, a fighting friend of Dick Martin.
Never were two people more opposite in sentiment than my companions. On one subject they did agree; and that was, in refreshing themselves comfortably whenever a change of horses afforded the opportunity. Often and earnestly was I appealed to by both, and invariably I decided against the polisher. The man in spectacles was a dead hand at polling a free-holder twice over, or patching up a defective registry; but Dick Martin's supporter was a subject for contradiction. He might be inclined to take offence at a difference of opinion; and, by the way of practice, amuse himself with my person, at the imminent risk of doing me a mortal injury. I determined to agree with him, therefore, on every disputed point; and when he left us at Ballinasloe next morning, and I saw him remove his luggage, comprising three pistol-cases, and a portmanteau of the dimensions of a dress-maker's reticule, I offered a short prayer for my deliverance, while I received from Dick's aid-de-camp an assurance of eternal regard.
The town of Ballinasloe was a scene of desperate commotion; the bustle little inferior to that witnessed at the period of its cattle fair: free-holders and fighting-men, polishers and poll clerks, every specimen of the human race were being forwarded to the scene of action. No wonder I found immense difficulty in procuring a scrambling breakfast in a back bed-room. In the large parlour were assembled a score of Dick Martin's committee; in the small one, a number of James Lambert's friends. The front drawing-room was occupied by certain adherents of Lord Bingham, and the back one by divers supporters of James Browne.
Now, I being a stranger to all concerned, was naturally considered on every side an interloper. I opened the right-hand parlour-"Fat the divil di ye want?" roared a little man with a nose of portentous crimson. I tried the opposite apartment, and was ordered out by a long gentleman, who swore as they formerly did in Flanders. For an attempt upon the front drawing-room, I narrowly escaped being kicked down stairs; and a flying peep I hazarded at the back one, was terminated by over-hearing a rough voice request his opposite friend at the fire to "shy the poker at that rascally bagman." I would have given a quarterly dividend of my three per cents to have been safe at my friend's place. I often heard "hell and Connaught" assimilated by the profane; but, in my judgment, no places can be so different. The approach to one, if Virgil speaks truth, is easy enough;* but an entrance into the realms beyond the Shannon was, in my case, perilous exploit.
*"Facilis descensus Averni."
I had no inducement to remain longer in the town of Ballinasloe, and having luckily procured a carriage, I set off for Glantane. Here I arrived in safety, but had the mortification to find that no post-horses could be had. This was indeed a melancholy discovery. What was to be done? I sallied into the yard, bribed the ostler, and implored him by every tender epithet to get me forward.
Money works miracles. The ostler scratched his head-thought for a moment-"There was a shay at home, but the horses and driver were off with a gentleman's carriage-Lanty White was all but well-and Breedein Rua as fresh as a daisy;-but, bad luck to them for a pair, there was no depindin on ather, and Crith* Corcoran was no match for two such contrarey bastes. Sure, my honour could thry-Crith, the cratur, was handy enough. Once they started, there was no fear-that is if Crith could get them over the hill of Mullagh More, and across the bridge of Carnegat." *The Irish term for a hump-back.
I had no alternative, and consented to trust life and limb to Crith Corcoran. Accordingly my luggage was tied on, and after a considerable delay the horses were put to. Half a score of labourers were called from the potato field by a warning whistle. I was duly deposited in the carriage, and an extraordinary looking cripple, with long legs and no body, grappled the reins with his fleshless fingers, clambered up by the fore-wheel, and perched himself upon the driving bar.
These preparations being made, we started, or rather attempted to start. Then came the tug of war. Breedein lashed out like a fury, and Lanty White was obstinate in being stationary. In vain the cripple objurgated, "rest, Biddy," and encouraged Lanty White. In vain the ostler cherupped and cursed alternately; the struggle was in favour of the cattle, till the boys, with sheer strength, spoked the wheels on. Breedein, finding her tail invaded, after discharging a succession of kicks at the cripple, which he most ingeniously avoided, dashed forward; and Lanty, furiously assaulted on every side, by Crith, the ostler, and as many of the boys as could manage to get a blow at him, laid his shoulders to the collar, and away we went.
A wild hurra from the potato diggers announced their victory; and the ostler shouted a "God speed ye!" accompanied with "Padreein avournein, for the sake of the blissid Mother, mind yourself at the hill of Mullagh More!"
The road was level, and we got on gallantly. I concluded our danger was at an end, and so did Crith for he sung merrily-
While the road continued level we got on gallantly; but we were now approaching the dangerous pass, and the bridge of Carnegat appeared in view. It was narrow and ruinous, the battlements having been swept way by a winter flood. A sudden hill met its extremity, and it required quiet horses to effect a passage with tolerable security. I would have left the carriage, but Crith, elated with previous success, warranted me against any danger, and before I could enforce an order to stop, a whoop and flourish of the thong rendered it impossible.
We passed the bridge, and ascended the hill for a few yards, when at once the infernal quadrupeds relaxed their efforts, stopped, backed, and the carriage begun to descend. In vain I endeavoured to undo the fastening of the door-it resisted. Crith whipped, cherupped, shouted, cursed. I made a desperate effort-the door yielded. I sprang into the ditch, and next moment the carriage, horses, and driver vanished over the broken battlement.
I did not escape without considerable injury. My wrist was sprained, and my foot severely lacerated. With difficulty I crawled to the place over which the carriage had been precipitated. The vehicle was sadly shattered, and the horses struggling in the brook. Crith Corcoran was sitting on the bank, clapping his hands, and making a terrible lament, in a sort of Irish monologue.
A few peasants came promptly to our assistance. The carriage and horses were extricated from the river, and I was carried to the lodge of a gentleman's domain, which happened to be at no great distance from the scene of my misfortune.
The owners of the cottage were anxious to convey me to the mansion-house; but I determined to get on, and requested that a messenger might be despatched to the next market town for a conveyance. Some delay occurred before a person could be procured. I was giving the necessary orders when an elderly gentlemen entered the lodge, saluted me with all the courtesy of the old school, introduced himself as General Mervyn, and insisted on my accompanying him to the Hall.
The general's carriage was sent for, and we entered it. In the course of conversation I mentioned my name, and to my great surprise, found that my companion was father-in-law to my friend's bride-that very "Emily" whom I had so often and piously consigned to the bottom of the Red sea!
It was nearly dinner hour when I entered Mervyn Hall. My wounds were examined and dressed, and, with the assistance of a servant, I managed to reach the drawing-room before the dinner-bell rang. There the general was waiting for me. He was a striking looking old man; his hair was white as snow, but his person still erect and unbroken. He presented me to a stranger some ten years younger than himself, whose air and dress bespoke him to be a member of the military profession; and I farther learned that Colonel Mac Dermott was the brother-in-law of my host.
"We may order dinner-ring the bell, Dennis." The order was delightful; there was no gang of men to worry me; no flock of females to make one miserable. I was indulging in this agreeable anticipation, when the drawing-room door opened. Was it the servant to announce dinner? Alas! No-it was a girl of nineteen!
I shall pass over the first evening of my sejour at the general's. I spent the night in considerable pain, and with difficulty reached the breakfast room, where I found Lucy Mervyn was already waiting for me. Her father and Colonel Mac Dermott immediately joined us; and after many apologies for deserting their guest, I learned that the general was obliged to start for Galway, and the Colonel for Castlebar.
And what was to become of me? Was I, in this defenceless and crippled state, to be exposed to the peril of a tete-a-tete, and left at the mercy of a girl of nineteen? Heaven forbid! I determined to follow the general's example, and abscond. Accordingly, I overruled every friendly objection to this proceeding, and arranged for leaving Mervyn Hall on the morrow.
"Sed dis aliter visum;" or, in plain English, the "Fates forbade it." During the day, my foot inflamed, and the agony of my wrist became intolerable.
If life depended on the exertion, I could not stir a yard. I was carried to my room in the evening, and lay for several days unable to leave my bed. Never was a patient so kindly nursed. An old woman, not a crone, but one sufficiently active to use all necessary liniments and embrocations, attended to my wrist and ancle. Every light restorative that the nearest doctor prescribed was anxiously prepared-Miss Lucy sent this jelly, and Miss Lucy recommended that cream. There was a gentle, a lady-like attention throughout: no approximation towards familiarity; nothing indelicate or unfeminine. I left my chamber half reconciled to woman, and on the fourth morning presented myself at the breakfast-table of Lucy Mervyn.
I took her by surprise; it was believed that I should not leave my room for another day, and when I hobbled down, supported by a servant, the apparition of a departed acquaintance could not have created a more striking sensation. There sat Lucy- so neat, so becomingly dressed,-all her kindness was instantly remembered, and, for the first time, I examined her with critical attention.
Lucy Mervyn was no beauty. Her features were every thing but regular: no sculptor would select her nose-no craniologist adopt her forehead; there was a joyous expression in her countenance,-an eternal sunshine in the flashes of her hazel-eye, that were bewitching. Her smile disclosed a row of beautiful teeth: her figure was undersized; but she had a waist of excellent proportion; and a foot, that a man might swear by.
Reader! I am not writing a confession; therefore, on certain points, you must excuse my brevity. For ten days I lounged upon the sofa. Lucy was my constant companion, and entertained me, as she best could,-settled the cushion for my foot, made silk cases for my wounded finger; listened patiently to my stories, and amused me with her own. I was just beginning to discover that at times I had an odd kind of non-descript sensation when, one fine morning, a tandem-bright bay in the shafts-a thorough-bred grey one leading, passed the window at a sporting pace, and pulled up at the door-Captain Hardyman of the Lancers was announced.
In driving, dressing, drinking, and a multitude of military accomplishments, no man exceeded the bold dragoon. He really was a pleasant follow, told us the news, foreign and domestic, and brought intelligence that the Mayo election had ended in smoke. It was to all parties, save the members, a dead disappointment. One candidate did not come to the post, and to the other two, the thing was a walk over. Ah! I shame upon you, Mayo! Not a duel, or a decent death, after all the turmoil of a two years' preparation!
The lancer rattled on-gave us a return of the casualties at Castlebar-how two carriage-horses were stoned by the mob, and how two men were killed in effecting it-how one gentleman was surfeited with bad beer, and how another had died from dancing at a bonfire. What a shabby list! What a change from the good old days, when the coroner had not time to bless himself!
So far this gallant captain was particularly pleasant; but my horror was inconceivable when, after a prolonged visit, he entreated, with evident embarrassment to be permitted to speak a few words to Miss Mervyn in the next room. I instantly started on my feet, grasped the general's cane, and in a sort of frenzy left the drawing-room, hastened to the shrubbery, and there threw myself on a beach.
What the devil did the fellow want with Lucy? What else, but to make her an unconnected speech, and an offer of his hand and fortune? Was ever man so miserable as I? Lucy, the only woman that for ten years I could look upon without aversion, that she should be elected by this infernal lancer! In another week I might have come to the desperate resolution of asking her to marry, and have succeeded; but this whiskered swordsman would be my ruin. Again I forswore the sex-determined to be off for Galway-rose to order post-horses-sat down again, and passed a miserable half hour, till I heard the wheels of that execrable tandem crossing the gravel like a whirlwind.
Suspense was not endurable. I approached the house, and entered the drawing-room-Lucy was not there. I tried the library-equally unfortunate. I examined the green-house-no Lucy. The dressing-bell rang-the dinner peal succeeded-and Lucy entered the apartment by one door, as the servant announced dinner at another.
A burning blush dyed her cheek, as her eyes encountered mine. "All is over!" I mentally ejaculated; and none but the damned need envy the feelings that that conclusion carried with it.
Would I have soup? No.-Fish? No.-Fowl? Same reply. Dinner passed-neither ate. She was confused-I miserable; the dessert was laid, and the servants left us.
A pause, a painful pause of several minutes succeeded. I coughed:-"Captain Hardyman-" and the name came forth as reluctantly as a miser's donative. "Captain Hardyman is a pleasant kind of-hem!-sort of-." Lucy bowed assent:-"agreeable conversation,-hem!-I mean-that before I left the room." Lucy blushed: "suppose in tete-a-tete, the Captain equally entertaining:"-a deeper blush. "Beg pardon-don't wish to be inquisitive."
Poor Lacy appeared struggling to get words. "Captain Hardyman's request must have appeared so very odd; but-" and another blush, and more confusion. At length she managed to inform me that Captain Hardyman had offered his hand, and that she had declined the honour. Reader! the sequel shall be short; I forgot wrist, foot, and finger, and found myself muttering something about "unspeakable misery, and eternal love!"
In three weeks after this day I married Lucy. I have since resided chiefly at Mervyn Hall; and have made all the necessary arrangements for passing the remainder of my life west of the Shannon. I have obtained all that can make me happy;-a woman I love, and a course of life that I delight in.
Colonel Mac Dermott resides mostly with the general. We have a good pack of hounds, and the best shooting in the country. When the weather permits it we enjoy our field sports together: we talk of other scenes and other days at the cover-side, or while away the evening with recollections of past adventures over old port and a bog-deal fire.
The following stories were communicated to me by my friend the colonel, and relate, generally, to his former companions in arms.
Gentle reader! in arranging these military tales for your perusal, I have found employment for leisure hours, and an agreeable refuge from "Winter and bad weather." Of me, you knew enough. Of my friends, should the present stories amuse you, I promise that you shall know more hereafter. Courteous reader, adieu!
April 1, 1829.