Terence O'shaughnessy's First Attempt to
BY THE AUTHOR OF "STORIES OF WATERLOO."
Yes—here I am, Terence O'Shaughnessy, an honest major of
foot, five feet eleven and a half, and forty-one, if I only live till Michaelmas.
Kicked upon the world before the down had blackened on my chin, Fortune
and I have been wrestling from the cradle;—and yet I had little
to tempt the jade's malevolence. The youngest son of an excellent
gentleman, who, with an ill-paid rental of twelve hundred pounds, kept
his wife in Bath, and his hounds in Tipperary, my patrimony would
have scarcely purchased tools for a highwayman, when in my tenth
year my father's sister sent for me to Roundwood; for, hearing that
I was regularly going to the devil, she had determined to redeem me,
if she could.
My aunt Honor was the widow of a captain of dragoons, who
got his quietus in the Low Countries some years before I saw the light.
His relict had, in compliment to the memory of her departed lord,
eschewed matrimony, and, like a Christian woman, devoted her few and
evil days to cards and religion. She was a true specimen of an Irish
dowager. Her means were small, her temper short. She was stiff
as a ramrod, and proud as a field-marshal. To her, my education and
future settlement in life were entirely confided, as one brief month
deprived me of both parents. My mother died in a state of insolvency,
greatly regretted by every body in Bath to whom she was indebted;
and before her disconsolate husband had time to overlook a moiety of
the card claims transmitted for his liquidation, he broke his neck in
attempting to leap the pound-wall of Oranmore, for a bet of a rump
and dozen. Of course he was waked, and buried like a gentleman,—every
thing sold off by the creditors—my brothers sent to school—and
I left to the tender mercy and sole management of the widow of
My aunt's guardianship continued seven years, and at the
expiration of that time I was weary of her thrall, and she tired of my tutelage.
I was now at an age when some walk of life must be selected and
pursued. For any honest avocation I had, as it was universally
admitted, neither abilities nor inclination. What was to be done?
and how was I to be disposed of? A short deliberation showed that
there was but one path for me to follow, and I was handed over to
that refugium peccatorum, the army, and placed as a volunteer
in a regiment just raised, with a promise from the colonel that I
should be promoted to the first ensigncy that became vacant.
Great was our mutual joy when Mrs. O'Finn and I were
about to part company. I took an affectionate leave of all my kindred and
acquaintances, and even, in the fulness of my heart, shook hands
with the schoolmaster, though in boyhood I had devoted him to the
infernal gods for his wanton barbarity. But my tenderest parting was
reserved for my next-door neighbour, the belle among the village
beauties, and presumptive heiress to the virtues and estates of
Biddy MacGawly was a year younger than myself; and, to do
justice, a picture of health and comeliness. Lord! what an eye she
had!—and her leg! nothing but the gout would prevent a man from
following it, to the very end of Oxford-street. Biddy and I were next
neighbours—our houses joined—the gardens were only separated by
a low hedge, and by standing on an inverted flower-pot one could accomplish
a kiss across it easily. There was no harm in the thing—it was
merely for the fun of trying an experiment—and when a geranium
was damaged, we left the blame upon the cats.
Although there was a visiting acquaintance between the
retired quartermaster and the relict of the defunct dragoon, never had any
cordiality existed between the houses. My aunt O'Finn was so lofty
in all things appertaining to her consequence, as if she had been the
widow of a common-councilman; and Roger MacGawly, having scraped
together a good round sum, by the means quartermasters have made
money since the days of Julius Cæsar, was not inclined to admit any
inferiority on his part. Mrs. O'Finn could never imagine that any
circumstances could remove the barrier in dignity which stood between
the non-commissioned officer and the captain. While arguing on the
saw, that "a living ass is better than a dead lion," Roger contended
that he was as good a man as Captain O'Finn; he, Roger, being alive
and merry in the town of Ballinamore, while the departed commander
had been laid under a "counterpane of daisies" in some counterscarp
in the Low Countries. Biddy and I laughed at the feuds of our
superiors; and on the evening of a desperate blow-up, we met at
sunset in the garden—agreed that the old people were fools—and
resolved that nothing should interrupt our friendly relations. Of
course the treaty was ratified with a kiss, for I recollect that next
morning the cats were heavily censured for capsizing a box of mignonette.
No wonder then, that I parted from Biddy with regret. I sat
with her till we heard the quartermaster scrape his feet at the hall-door
on his return from his club, and kissing poor Biddy tenderly, as Roger
entered by the front, I levanted by the back-door. I fancied myself
desperately in love, and was actually dreaming of my dulcinea when
my aunt's maid called me before day, to prepare for the stage-couch
that was to convey me to my regiment in Dublin.
In a few weeks an ensigncy dropped in, and I got it. Time
slipped insensibly away—months became years—and three passed
before I revisited Ballinamore. I heard, at stated periods, from Mrs. O'Finn.
The letters were generally a detail of bad luck or bad health. For
the last quarter she had never marked honours—or for the last week
closed an eye with rheumatism and lumbago. Still, as these jérémiades
covered my small allowance, they were welcome as a lover's billet.
Of course, in these despatches the neighbours were duly mentioned,
and every calamity occurring since her "last," was faithfully chronicled.
The MacGawlys held a conspicuous place in my aunt's quarterly
notices. Biddy had got a new gown—or Biddy had got a new piano—but
since the dragoons had come to town there was no bearing her.
Young Hastings was never out of the house—she hoped it would end
well—but every body knew a light dragoon could have little respect
for the daughter of a quartermaster; and Mrs. O'Finn ended her
observations by hinting that if Roger went seldomer to his club, and
Biddy more frequently to mass, why probably in the end it would be
better for both of them.
I re-entered the well-remembered street of Ballinamore late
in the evening, after an absence of three years. My aunt was on a visit,
and she had taken that as a convenient season for having her domicile
newly painted. I halted at the inn, and after dinner strolled over the
any to visit my quondam acquaintances, the MacGawlys.
If I had intended a surprise, my design would have been a
failure. The quartermaster's establishment were on the qui vive. The
fact was, that since the removal of the dragoons, Ballinamore had been
dull as ditch-water; the arrival of a stranger in a post-chaise, of course
had created a sensation in the place, and, before the driver had
unharnessed, the return of Lieutenant O'Shaughnessy was regularly
gazetted, and the MacGawlys, in anticipation of a visit, were ready
to receive me.
I knocked at the door, and a servant with a beefsteak collar
opened it. Had Roger mounted a livery? Ay—faith—there it was; and
I began to recollect that my aunt O'Finn had omened badly from the
first moment a squadron of the 18th lights had entered Ballinamore.
I found Roger in the hall. He shook my hand, swore it was
an agreeable surprise, ushered me into the dining-room, and called for
hot water and tumblers. We sat down. Deeply did he interest himself
in all that had befallen me—deeply regret the absence of my
honoured aunt—but I must not stay at the inn, I should be his guest;
and, to my astonishment, it was announced that the gentleman in the
red collar had been already despatched to transport my luggage to the
house. Excuses were idle. Roger's domicile was to be head-quarters;
and when I remembered my old flame, Biddy, I concluded that I
might for the short time I had to stay, be in a less agreeable
establishment than the honest quartermaster's.
I was mortified to hear that Biddy had been indisposed. It
was a bad cold, she had not been out for a month; but she would muffle herself
and meet me in the drawing-room. This, too, was unluckily a
night of great importance in the club. The new curate was to be balloted
for; Roger had proposed him; and, ergo, Roger, as a true man,
was bound to be present at the ceremony. The thing was readily
arranged. We finished a second tumbler, the quartermaster betook
himself to the King's Arms, and the lieutenant, meaning myself; to the
drawing-room of my old inamorata.
There was a visible change in Roger's domicile. The house
was newly papered; and, leaving the livery aside, there was a greet increase
of gentility throughout the whole establishment. Instead of
bounding to the presence by three stairs at a time, as I used to do in
lang syne, I was ceremoniously paraded to the lady's chamber by him
of the beefsteak collar; and there, reclining languidly on a sofa, and
wrapped in a voluminous shawl, Biddy MacGawly held out her hand
to welcome her old confederate.
"My darling Biddy!"—"My dear Terence!" and the usual
preliminaries were got over. I looked at my old flame—she was greatly
changed, and three years had wrought a marvellous alteration. I left
her a sprightly girl—she was now a woman—and decidedly a very
pretty one; although the rosiness of seventeen was gone, and a
delicacy that almost indicated bad health had succeeded; "but,"
thought I, "it's all owing to the cold."
There was a guarded propriety in Biddy's bearing, that
appeared almost unnatural. The warm advances of old friendship were
repressed; and one who had mounted a flower-pot to kiss me across a
hedge, recoiled from any exhibition of our former tenderness. Well,
it was all as it should be. Then I was a boy, and now a man. Young
women cannot be too particular, and Biddy MacGawly rose higher in
Biddy was stouter than she promised to be, when we parted,
but the eye was as dark and lustrous, and the ankle as taper as when it
last had demolished a geranium. Gradually her reserve abated; old
feelings removed a constrained formality—we laughed and talked—ay—and
kissed as we had done formerly; and when the old quartermaster's
latch-key was heard unclosing the street-door, I found
myself admitting in confidence and a whisper, that "I would marry if
I could." What reply Biddy would have returned, I cannot tell, for
Roger summoned me to the parlour; and as her cold prevented her
from venturing down, she bade me an affectionate good-night. Of
course she kissed me at parting—and it was done as ardently and
innocently as if the hawthorn hedge divided us.
Roger had left his companions earlier than he usually did,
in order to honour me, his guest. The new butler paraded oysters, and down
we sat tête-à-tête. When supper was removed, and each had
fabricated a red-hot tumbler from the tea-kettle, the quartermaster
stretched his long legs across the hearth-rug, and with great apparent
solicitude inquired into all that had befallen me since I had assumed
the shoulder-knot and taken to the trade of war.
"Humph!"—he observed—"two steps in three years;
not bad considering there was neither money nor interest. D—it! I often
wish that Biddy was a boy. Never was such a time to purchase on.
More regiments to be raised, and promotion will be at a discount.
Sir Hugh Haughton married a stockbroker's widow with half a plum,
and paid in the two thousand I had lent him. Zounds! if Biddy
were a boy, and that money well applied, I would have her a regiment
in a twelvemonth."
"Phew!" I thought to myself. "I see what the old
fellow is driving at."
"There never would be such another opportunity," Roger
continued. "An increased force will produce an increased difficulty in
effecting it. Men will be worth their own weight in money; and
d— me, a fellow who could raise a few, might have any thing he
I remarked that, with some influence and a good round
sum, recruits might still be found.
"Ay, easy enough, and not much money either, if one knew
how to go about the thing. Get two or three smart chaps; let them watch
fairs and patterns, mind their hits when the bumpkins got drunk, and
find out when fellows were hiding from a warrant. D—me, I would
raise a hundred, while you would say Jack Robinson. Pay a friendly
magistrate; attest the scoundrels before they were sober enough to
cry off, bundle them to the regiment next morning; and if a rascal
ran away after the commanding officer passed a receipt for him, why
all the better, for you could relist him when he came home again."
I listened attentively, though in all this the cloven foot
appeared. The whole was the plan of a crimp; and, if Roger was not belied,
trafficking in "food for powder," had realized more of his wealth than
slop-shoes and short measure.
During the developement of his project for promotion, the
quartermaster and I had found it necessary to replenish frequently, and with
the third tumbler Roger came nearer to business.
"Often thought it a pity, and often said so in the club, that
a fine smashing fellow like you, Terence, had not the stuff to push you on.
What the devil signifies family, and blood, and all that balderdash.
There's your aunt, worthy woman; but sky-high about a dead captain.
D—me, all folly. Were I a young man, I'd get hold of some girl
with the wherewithal, and I would double-distance half the highfliers
for a colonelcy."
This was pretty significant—Roger had come to the
scratch, and there was no mistaking him. We separated for the night. I dreamed,
and in fancy was blessed with a wife, and honoured with a command.
Nothing could be more entrancing than my visions; and when the
quartermaster's maître d'hôtel roused me in the morning, I was engaged
in a friendly argument with my beloved Biddy, as to which of
his grandfathers our heir should be called after, and whether the
lovely babe should be christened Roderick or Roger.
Biddy was not at breakfast; the confounded cold still confined
her to her apartment; but she hoped to meet me at dinner, and I must
endure her absence until then, as I best could. Having engaged to
return at five, I walked out to visit my former acquaintances. From
all of them I received a warm welcome, and all exhibited some surprise
at hearing that I was domesticated with the quartermaster. I
comprehended the cause immediately. My aunt and Roger had probably
a fresh quarrel; but his delicacy had prevented him from communicating
it. This certainly increased my respect for the worthy
man, and made me estimate his hospitality the more highly. Still
there was an evident reserve touching the MacGawlys; and once or
twice, when dragoons were mentioned, I fancied I could detect a significant
look pass between the persons with whom I was conversing.
It was late when I had finished my calls; Roger had requested
me to be regular to time, and five was fast approaching. I turned my
steps towards his dwelling-place, when, at a corner of a street, I
suddenly encountered an old schoolfellow on horseback, and great
was our mutual delight at meeting so unexpectedly. We were both
hurried, however, and consequently our greeting was a short one.
After a few general questions and replies, we were on the point of
separating, when my friend pulled up.
"But where are you hanging out?" said Frederick Maunsell.
"I know your aunt is absent."—"I am at old MacGawly's."
"The devil you are! Of course you heard all about Biddy
and young Hastings!"—"Not a syllable. Tell it to me."
"I have not time—it's a long story; but come to breakfast,
and I'll give you all the particulars in the morning. Adieu!" He struck
the spurs to his horse, and cantered off, singing—
"Oh! she loved a bold dragoon,
With his long sword, saddle, bridle."
I was thunderstruck. "Confound the dragoon!" thought I,
"and his long sword, saddle, and bridle, into the bargain. Gad! I wish
Maunsell had told me what it was. Well—what, suppose I ask Biddy
herself?" I had half resolved that evening to have asked her a very
different question; but, 'faith! I determined now to make some inquiries
touching Cornet Hastings of the 13th, before Miss Biddy
MacGawly should be invited to become Mrs. O'Shaughnessy.
My host announced that dinner was quite ready, and I
found Biddy in the eating-room. She was prettily dressed, as an invalid
should be; and, notwithstanding her cold, looked remarkably handsome.
I should to a certainty have been over head and ears in love,
had not Maunsell's innuendo respecting the young dragoon operated
as a damper.
Dinner proceeded as dinners always do, and Roger was bent
on hospitality. I fancied that Biddy regarded me with some interest,
while momentarily I felt an increasing tenderness that would have
ended, I suppose, in a direct declaration, but for the monitory hint
which I had received from my old schoolfellow. I was dying to know
what Maunsell's allusion pointed at, and I casually threw out a feeler.
"And you are so dull, you say? Yes, Biddy, you must miss
the dragoons sadly. By the way, there was a friend of mine here. Did
you know Tom Hastings?"
I never saw an elderly gentleman and his daughter more
confused. Biddy blushed like a peony, and Roger seemed desperately bothered.
At last the quartermaster responded,
"Fact is—as a military man, showed the cavalry some
attention—constantly at the house—anxious to be
civil—helped them to make out forage—but d—d wild—obliged
to cut, and keep them at a distance."
"Ay, Maunsell hinted something of that."
I thought Biddy would have fainted, and Roger grew red
as the footman's collar.
"Pshaw! d—d gossiping chap that Maunsell. Young
Hastings—infernal hemp—used to ride with Biddy. Persuaded her
to get on a horse of his—ran away—threw her—confined
at this inn for a week—never admitted him to my house afterwards."
Oh! here was the whole mystery unravelled! No wonder Roger
was indignant, and that Biddy would redden at the recollection. It
was devilish unhandsome of Mr. Hastings; and I expressed my opinion
in a way that evidently pleased my host and his heiress, and
showed how much I disapproved of the conduct of that roué the
My fair friend rose to leave us. Her shawl caught in the
chair, and I was struck with the striking change a few years had effected in
my old playfellow. She was grown absolutely stout. I involuntarily
"Lord! Biddy, how fat you are grown!"
A deeper blush than even when I named that luckless dragoon,
flushed to her very brows at the observation, while the quartermaster
rather testily exclaimed,
"Ay, she puts on her clothes as if they were tossed on
with a pitchfork, since she got this cold. D—it! Biddy. I say, tighten
yourself, woman! Tighten yourself, or I won't be plased!"
Well, here was a load of anxiety removed, and Maunsell's
mischievous innuendo satisfactorily explained away. Biddy was right in
resenting the carelessness that exposed her to ridicule and danger;
and it was a proper feeling in the old quartermaster to cut the man
who would mount his heiress on a break-neck horse. Gradually
we resumed the conversation of last night—there was the regiment,
if I chose to have it—and when Roger departed for the club, I
made up my mind, while ascending the stairs, to make a splice with
Biddy, and become Colonel O'Shaughnessy.
Thus determined, I need not particularise what passed
upon the sofa. My wooing was short, sharp, and decisive; and no affected
delicacy restrained Biddy from confessing that the flame was mutual.
My fears had been moonshine; my suspicions groundless. Biddy
had not valued the dragoon a brass button; and—poor soul!—she hid
her head upon my shoulder, and, in a soft whisper, acknowledged
that she never had cared a traneeine for any body in the
wide world but myself!
It was a moment of exquisite delight. I told her of my
prospects, and mentioned the quartermaster's conversation. Biddy listened
with deep attention. She blushed—strove to speak—stopped—was
embarrassed. I pressed her to be courageous: and at last she
deposited her head upon my breast, and bashfully hinted that Roger
was old—avarice was the vice of age—he was fond of money—he
was hoarding it certainly for her; but still, it would be better that
my promotion should be secured. Roger had now the cash in his
own possession. If we were married without delay, it would be
transferred at once; whereas something that might appear to him
advantageous, might offer, and induce her father to invest it. But
she was really shocked at herself—such a proposition would appear
so indelicate; but still, a husband's interests were too dear to be
sacrificed to maiden timidity.
I never estimated Biddy's worth till now. She united the
foresight of a sage with the devotion of a woman. I would have been
insensible indeed, had I not testified my regard and admiration; and
Biddy was still resting on my shoulder, when the quartermaster's
latch-key announced his return from the club.
After supper I apprised Roger of my passion for his daughter,
and modestly admitted that I had found favour in her sight. He heard
my communication, and frankly confessed that I was a son-in-law he
most approved of. Emboldened by the favourable reception of my
suit, I ventured to hint at an early day, and pleaded "a short leave
between returns," for precipitancy. The quartermaster met me like
"When people wished to marry, why, delay was balderdash.
Matters could be quickly and quietly managed. His money was ready—no
bonds or post-obits—a clean thousand in hand, and another the moment
an opening to purchase a step should occur. No use in mincing
matters among friends. Mrs. O'Finn was an excellent woman:
she was a true friend, and a good Catholic; but, d—— it, she had
old-world notions about family, and in pride the devil was a fool to her. If
she came home before the ceremony, there would be an endless fuss;
and Roger concluded by suggesting that we should be married the
next evening, and give my honoured aunt an agreeable surprise."
That was precisely what I wanted; and a happier man never pressed
a pillow than I, after my interesting colloquy with the quartermaster.
The last morning of my celibacy dawned. I met Roger only at the
breakfast table; for my beloved Biddy, between cold and virgin trepidation,
was hors de combat, and signified in a tender billet her intention
to keep her chamber, until the happy hour arrived that should unite us
in the silken bonds of Hymen. The quartermaster undertook to conduct
the nuptial preparations; a friend of his would perform the ceremony,
and the quieter the thing was done the better. After breakfast
he set out to complete all matrimonial arrangements, and I strolled
into the garden to ruminate on my approaching happiness, and bless
Heaven for the treasure I was destined to possess in Biddy MacGawly.
No place could have been more appropriately selected for tender
meditation. There was the conscious hedge, that had witnessed the
first kiss of love; ay, and for naught I knew to the contrary, the
identical flower-pot on which her sylphic form had rested; sylphic it
was no longer, for the slender girl had ripened into a stout and comely
gentlewoman; and she would be mine—mine that very evening.
"Ah! Terence," I said in an undertone, "few men at twenty-one
have drawn such a prize. A thousand pounds! ready cash—a regiment
in perspective—a wife in hand; and such a wife—young, artless,
tender, and attached. By everything matrimonial, you have the luck
My soliloquy was interrupted by a noise on the other side
of the fence. I looked over. It was my aunt's maid; and great was our
mutual astonishment. Judy blessed herself;
as she ejaculated—"Holy Virgin! Master Terence, is that you?"
I satisfied her of my identity, and learned to my unspeakable
surprise that my aunt had returned unexpectedly, and that she had not
the remotest suspicion that her affectionate nephew, myself, was cantoned
within pistol-shot. Without consideration I hopped over the
hedge, and next minute was in the presence of my honoured protectress,
the relict of the departed captain.
"Blessed angels!" exclaimed Mrs. O'Finn, as she took me to her
arms, and favoured me with a kiss, in which there was more blackguard
than ambrosia. "Arrah! Terence, jewel; what the devil
drove ye here? Lord pardon me for mentioning him!"
"My duty, dear aunt. I am but a week landed from Jersey, and
could not rest till I got leave from the colonel to run down between
returns, and pay you a hurried visit. Lord! how well you look!"
"Ah! then, Terence, jewel, it's hard for me to look well,
considering the way I have been fretted by the tenants, and afflicted with
the lumbago. Denis Clark—may the widow's curse follow him
wherever he goes!—bundled off to America with a neighbour's wife,
and a year and a half's rent along with her, the thief! And then,
since Holland tide, I have not had a day's health."
"Well, from your looks I should never have supposed it.
But you were visiting at Meldrum Castle?"
"Yes, faith, and a dear visit it was. Nothing but half-crown
whist, and unlimited brag. Lost seventeen points last Saturday night. It
was Sunday morning, Lord pardon us for playing! But what was that
to my luck yesterday evening! Bragged twice for large pools, with
red nines and black knaves; and Mrs. Cooney, both times, showed
natural aces! If ever woman sold herself, she has. The Lord stand
between us and evil! Well, Terence, you'll be expecting your
quarter's allowance. We'll make it out somehow—Heigh-ho! Between
bad cards and runaway tenants, I can't attend to my soul as
I ought, and Holy Week coming!"
I expressed due sympathy for her losses, and regretted
that her health, bodily and spiritual, was so indifferent.
"I have no good news for you, Terence," continued Mrs.
O'Finn. "Your brother Arthur is following your poor father's example, and
ruining himself with hounds and horses. He's a weak and wilful man,
and nothing can save him, I fear. Though he never treated me with
proper respect, I strove to patch up match between him and Miss
MacTeggart. Five thousand down upon the nail, and three hundred
a year, failing her mother. I asked her here on a visit, and, though he
had ridden past without calling on me, wrote him my plan, and invited
him to meet her. What do you think, Terence, was his reply? Why,
that Miss MacTeggart might go to Bath, for he would have no call to
my swivel-eyed customers. There was a return for my kindness! as
if a woman with five thousand down, and three hundred a year in
expectation, was required to look straight. Ah! Terence, I wish you
had been here. She went to Dublin, and was picked up in a fortnight."
Egad! here was an excellent opportunity to broach my own success.
There could be no harm in making the commander's widow a confidante;
and, after all, she had a claim upon me as my early protectress.
"My dear aunt, I cannot be surprised at your indignation.
Arthur was a fool, and lost an opportunity that never may occur again. In
fact, my dear madam, I intended to have given you an agreeable
surprise. I—I—I am on—the very brink of matrimony!"
"Holy Bridget!" exclaimed Mrs. O'Finn, as she crossed
"Yes, ma'am. I am engaged to a lady with two thousand pounds."
"Is it ready, Terence?" said my aunt.—"Down on the table,
before the priest puts on his vestment."
"Arrah—my blessing attend ye, Terence. I knew you would come
to good. Is she young?"—"Just twenty."
"Is she good-looking?"—"More than that; extremely pretty,
innocent, and artless."
"Arrah—give me another kiss, for I'm proud of ye;" and Captain
O'Finn's representative clasped me in her arms.
"But the family, Terence; remember the old stock. Is she one of
us?"—"She is highly respectable. An only daughter, with excellent
"What is her father, Terence?"—"A soldier, ma'am."
"Lord!—quite enough. He's by profession a gentleman; and we
can't expect to find every day, descendants from the kings of Connaught,
like the O'Shaughnessys and the O'Finns. But when is it to
take place, Terence?"—"Why, faith, ma'am, it was a bit of a secret;
but I can keep nothing from you."
"And why should ye? Haven't I been to you more than a mother,
"I am to be married this evening."
"This evening! Holy Saint Patrick! and you're sure of the
money? It's not a rent-charge—nothing of bills or bonds?"
"Nothing but bank-notes; nothing but the
"Ogh! my blessing be about ye night and day. Arrah,
Terence, what's her name?"
"You'll not mention it. We want the thing done quietly."
"Augh, Terence; and do you think I would let any thing ye
told me slip? By this cross,"—and Mrs. O'Finn bisected the forefinger
of her left hand with the corresponding digit of the right one; "the
face of clay shall never be the wiser of any thing ye mention!"
After this desperate adjuration there was no
refusing my aunt's request.
"You know her well,"—and I looked extremely cunning.
"Do I, Terence? Let me see—I have it. It's Ellen Robinson.
No—though her money's safe, there's but five hundred ready."
"Guess again, aunt."
"Is it Bessie Lloyd? No—though the old miller is rich as a Jew,
he would not part a guinea to save the whole human race, or make
his daughter a duchess."—"Far from the mark as ever, aunt."
"Well," returned Mrs. O'Finn, with sigh, "I'm fairly puzzled."
"Whisper!" and I playfully took her hand, and put my lips close
to her cheek. "It's—"
"Who?—who, for the sake of Heaven?"—"Biddy MacGawly!"
"Oh, Jasus!" ejaculated the captain's relict, as she
sank upon a chair. "I'm murdered! Give me my salts, there. Terence
O'Shaughnessy, don't touch me. I put the cross between us," and
she made a crucial flourish with her hand. "You have finished
me, ye villain. Holy Virgin! what sins have I committed, that I
should be disgraced in my old age? Meat never crossed my lips of
a Friday; I was regular at mass, and never missed confession; and,
when the company were honest, played as fair as every body else.
I wish I was at peace with poor dear Pat O'Finn. Oh! murder!
I stared in amazement. If Roger MacGawly had been a
highwayman, his daughter could not have been an object of greater horror
to Mrs O'Finn. At last I mustered words to attempt to reason with
her, but to my desultory appeals she returned abuse fit only for a
pickpocket to receive.
"Hear me, madam."—"Oh, you common
"For Heaven's sake, listen!"—"Oh! that the O'Finns and the
O'Shaughnessys should be disgraced by a mean-spirited gommouge
of your kind!"
"You won't hear me."—"Biddy MacGawly!" she exclaimed.
"Why, bad as my poor brother, your father, was—and though he too
married a devil that has helped to ruin him, she was at all events a lady
in her own right, and cousin-german to Lord Lowestoffe. But—you—you
I began to wax warm, for my aunt complimented me with all the
abuse she could muster, and there never was a cessation but when
her breath failed.
"Why, what have I done? What am I about doing?" I demanded.—"Just
going," returned Mrs. O'Finn, "to make a Judy Fitzsimmons
mother of yourself?"
"And is it," said I, "because Miss MacGawly can't count her
pedigree from Fin Macoul that she should not discharge the duties of a
My aunt broke in upon me.
"There's one thing certain, that she'll discharge the duties of
a mother. Heavens! if you had married a girl with only a blast,
your connexions might brazen it out. But a woman in such a barefaced
condition!—as if her staying in the house these three months
could blind the neighbours, and close their mouths."
"Well, in the devil's name, will you say what objection exists
to Biddy MacGawly making me a husband to-night?"—"And a papa in
three months afterwards!" rejoined my loving aunt.
If a shell had burst in the bivouac, I could not have been
more electrified. Dark suspicions flashed across my mind—a host of
circumstances confirmed my doubts; and I implored the widow of the
defunct dragoon to tell me all she knew.
It was a simple, although, as far as I was concerned, not a
flattering narrative. Biddy had commenced an equestrian novitiate under
the tutelage of Lieutenant Hastings. Her progress in the art of
horsemanship was, no doubt, very satisfactory, and the pupil and the
professor frequently rode out tête-à-tête. Biddy, poor soul! was fearful
of exhibiting any mal-addresse, and of course, roads less frequented
than the king's highway were generally chosen for her riding lessons.
Gradually these excursions became more extensive; twilight, and in
summer too, often fell, before the quartermaster's heiress had returned;
and on one unfortunate occasion she was absent for a week.
This caused as desperate commotion in the town; the dowagers and
old maids sat in judgment on the case, and declared Biddy no longer
visitable. In vain her absence was ascribed to accident—a horse had
run away—she was thrown—her ankle sprained—and she was detained
unavoidably at a country inn until the injury was abated.
In this state of things the dragoons were ordered off;
and it was whispered that there had been a desperate blow-up between the
young lady's preceptor the lieutenant, and her papa the quartermaster.
Once only had Biddy ventured out upon the mall; but she
was cut dead by her quondam acquaintances. From that day she
seldom appeared abroad; and when she did, it was always in the
evening, and even then closely muffled up. No wonder scandal was
rife touching the causes of her seclusion. A few charitably ascribed
it to bad health—others to disappointment—but the greater proportion
of the fair sex attributed her confinement to the true cause, and
whispered that Miss MacGawly was "as ladies wished to be who
love their lords."
Here was a solution to the mystery! It was now pretty
easy to comprehend why Biddy was swathed like a mummy, and Roger so
ready with his cash. No wonder the demoiselle was anxious to
abridge delay, and the old crimp so obliging in procuring a priest and
preparing all requisite matters or immediate hymeneals. What was
to be done? What, but denounce the frail fair one, and annihilate
that villain her father. Without a word or explanation I caught up
my hat, and left the house in a hurry, and Mrs. O'Finn in a state
of nervousness that threatened to become hysterical.
When I reached the quartermaster's habitation, I hastened
to my own apartment, and got my traps together in double-quick. I intended
to have abdicated quietly, and favoured the intended Mrs.
O'Shaughnessy with an epistle communicating the reasons that induced
me to decline the honour of her hand; but on the landing my
worthy father-in-law cut off my retreat, and a parting
tête-a-tête became unavoidable. He appeared in great spirits
at the success of his interview with the parson.
"Well, Terence, I have done the business. The old chap
made a parcel of objections; but he's poor as Lazarus—slily slipped
him ten pounds, and that quieted his scruples. He's ready at a
moment's warning."—"He's a useful person," I replied drily; "and
all you want is a son-in-law."
"A what?" exclaimed the father of Miss Biddy.—"A son-in-law!"
"Why, what the devil do you mean?"—"Not a jot more
or less than what I say. You have procured the priest, but I suspect the
bridegroom will not be forthcoming."
"Zounds, sir! do you mean to treat my daughter with
disrespect?"—"Upon consideration, it would be hardly fair to deprive
my old friend Hastings of his pupil. Why, with another week's
private tuition Biddy might offer her services to Astley."
"Sir,—if you mean to be impertinent,—" and Roger
began to bluster, while the noise brought the footman to the hall, and Miss
Biddy to the banisters 'shawled to the nose.' I began to lose temper.
"Why, you infernal old crimp!"—"You
audacious young scoundrel!"
"Oh, Jasus! gentlemen! Pace, for the sake of the blessed
Mother!" cried the butler from below.
"Father, jewel! Terence, my only love!" screamed Miss Biddy,
over the staircase. "What is the matter?"—"He wants to be off!"
roared the quartermaster.
"Stop, Terence, or you'll have my life to answer for."—"Lord,
Biddy, how fat you are grown!"
"You shall fulfil your promise," cried Roger, "or I'll
write to the Horse Guards, and memorial the commander-in-chief."—"You
may memorial your best friend, the devil, you old crimp!" and I
forced my way to the hall.
"Come back, you deceiver!" exclaimed Miss MacGawly.—"Arrah,
Biddy, go tighten yourself," said I.
"Oh, I'm fainting!" screamed Roger's heiress.
"Don't let him out!" roared her sire.
The gentleman with the beefsteak collar made a demonstration
to interrupt my retreat, and in return received a box on the ear
that sent him halfway down the kitchen stairs.
"There," I said, "give that to the old rogue, your master,
with my best compliments,"—and bounding from the hall-door, Biddy
MacGawly, like Lord Ullin's daughter, "was left lamenting!"
Well, there is no describing
the rookawn a blow-up like this,
occasioned in a country town. I was unmercifully quizzed; but the
quartermaster and his heiress found it advisable to abdicate. Roger
removed his household goods to the metropolis—Miss Biddy
favoured him in due time with a grandson; and when I returned
from South America, I learned that "this lost love of mine" had
accompanied a Welsh lieutenant to the hymeneal altar, who, not
being "over-particular" about trifles, had obtained on the same morning
a wife, an heir, and an estate—with Roger's blessing into the bargain.