Frank Webber’s Wager by Charles Lever

From “Charles O’Malley.”

I was sitting at breakfast with Webber, when Power came in hastily.

“Ha, the very man!” said he. “I say, O’Malley, here’s an invitation for you from Sir George to dine on Friday. He desired me to say a thousand civil things about his not having made you out, regrets that he was not at home when you called yesterday, and all that.”

“By the way,” said Webber, “wasn’t Sir George Dashwood down in the West lately? Do you know what took him there?”

“Oh,” said Power, “I can enlighten you. He got his wife west of the Shannon—a vulgar woman. She is now dead, and the only vestige of his unfortunate matrimonial connexion is a correspondence kept up with him by a maiden sister of his late wife’s. She insists upon claiming the ties of kindred upon about twenty family eras during the year, when she regularly writes a most loving and ill-spelled epistle, containing the latest information from Mayo, with all particulars of the Macan family, of which she is a worthy member. To her constant hints of the acceptable nature of certain small remittances the poor General is never inattentive; but to the pleasing prospects of a visit in the flesh from Miss Judy Macan, the good man is dead.”

“Then, he has never yet seen her?”

“Never, and he hopes to leave Ireland without that blessing?”

“I say, Power, and has your worthy General sent me a card for his ball?”

“Not through me, Master Frank. Sir George must really be excused in this matter. He has a most attractive, lovely daughter, just at that budding, unsuspecting age when the heart is most susceptible of impressions; and where, let me ask, could she run such a risk as in the chance of a casual meeting with the redoubted lady-killer, Master Frank Webber?”

“A very strong case, certainly,” said Frank; “but still, had he confided his critical position to my honour and secrecy, he might have depended on me; now, having taken the other line, he must abide the consequences. I’ll make fierce love to Lucy.”

“But how, may I ask, and when?”

“I’ll begin at the ball, man.”

“Why, I thought you said you were not going?”

“There you mistake seriously. I merely said that I had not been invited.”

“Then, of course,” said I, “Webber, you can’t think of going, in any case, on my account.”

“My very dear friend, I go entirely upon my own. I not only shall go, but I intend to have most particular notice and attention paid me. I shall be prime favourite with Sir George—kiss Lucy—”

“Come, come! this is too strong.”

“What do you bet I don’t? There, now, I’ll give you a pony a-piece, I do. Do you say done?”

“That you kiss Miss Dashwood, and are not kicked downstairs for your pains; are those the terms of your wager?” inquired Power.

“With all my heart. That I kiss Miss Dashwood, and am not kicked downstairs for my pains.”

“Then I say, done!”

“And with you, too, O’Malley?”

“I thank you,” said I, coldly; “I’m not disposed to make such a return for Sir George Dashwood’s hospitality as to make an insult to his family the subject of a bet.”

“Why, man, what are you dreaming of? Miss Dashwood will not refuse my chaste salute. Come, Power, I will give you the other pony.”

“Agreed,” said he. “At the same time, understand me distinctly—that I hold myself perfectly eligible to winning the wager by my own interference; for, if you do kiss her, I’ll perform the remainder of the compact.”

“So I understand the agreement,” said Webber, and off he went.

I have often dressed for a storming party with less of trepidation than I felt on the evening of Sir George Dashwood’s ball. It was long since I had seen Miss Dashwood; therefore, as to what precise position I might occupy in her favour was a matter of great doubt in my mind, and great import to my happiness.

Our quadrille over, I was about to conduct her to a seat, when Sir George came hurriedly up, his face greatly flushed, and betraying every semblance of high excitement.

“Read this,” said he, presenting a very dirty-looking note.

Miss Dashwood unfolded the billet, and after a moment’s silence, burst out a-laughing, while she said, “Why, really, papa, I do not see why this should put you out much, after all. Aunt may be somewhat of a character, as her note evinces; but after a few days——’,

“Nonsense, child; there’s nothing in this world I have such a dread of as this—and to come at such a time! O’Malley, my boy, read this note, and you will not feel surprised if I appear in the humour you see me.”

I read as follows:—

“Dear brother,—When this reaches your hand I’ll not be far off. I’m on my way up to town, to be under Dr. Dease for the ould complaint. Expect me to tea; and, with love to Lucy, believe me, yours in haste,

“Judith Macan.

“Let the sheets be well aired in my room; and if you have a spare bed, perhaps you could prevail upon Father Magrath to stop, too.”

I scarcely could contain my laughter till I got to the end of this very free-and-easy epistle, when at last I burst forth in a hearty fit, in which I was joined by Miss Dashwood.

“I say, Lucy,” said Sir George, “there’s only one thing to be done. If this horrid woman does arrive, let her be shown to her room, and for the few days of her stay in town, we’ll neither see nor be seen by anyone.”

Without waiting for a reply he was turning away, when the servant announced, in his loudest voice, “Miss Macan.”

No sooner had the servant pronounced the magical name than all the company present seemed to stand still. About two steps in advance of the servant was a tall, elderly lady, dressed in an antique brocade silk, with enormous flowers gaudily embroidered upon it. Her hair was powdered and turned back, in the fashion of fifty years before. Her short, skinny arms were bare,  while on her hands she wore black silk mittens; a pair of green spectacles scarcely dimmed the lustre of a most piercing pair of eyes, to whose effect a very palpable touch of rouge on the cheeks certainly added brilliancy. There she stood, holding before her a fan about the size of a modern tea-tray, while at each repetition of her name by the servant she curtseyed deeply.

Sir George, armed with the courage of despair, forced his way through the crowd, and taking her hand affectionately, bid her welcome to Dublin. The fair Judy, at this, threw her arms about his neck, and saluted him with a hearty smack, that was heard all over the room.

“Where’s Lucy, brother? Let me see my little darling,” said the lady, in a decided accent. “There she is, I’m sure; kiss me, my honey.”

This office Miss Dashwood performed with an effort at courtesy really admirable; while, taking her aunt’s arm, she led her to a sofa.

Power made his way towards Miss Dashwood, and succeeded in obtaining a formal introduction to Miss Macan.

“I hope you will do me the favour to dance next set with me, Miss Macan?”

“Really, Captain, it’s very polite of you, but you must excuse me. I was never anything great in quadrilles: but if a reel or a jig——”

“Oh, dear aunt, don’t think of it, I beg of you!”

“Or even Sir Roger de Coverley,” resumed Miss Macan.

“I assure you, quite equally impossible.”

“Then I’m certain you waltz,” said Power.

“What do you take me for, young man? I hope I know better. I wish Father Magrath heard you ask me that question; and for all your laced jacket——”

“Dearest aunt, Captain Power didn’t mean to offend you; I’m certain he——”

“Well, why did he dare to—(sob, sob)—did he see anything light about me, that he—(sob, sob, sob)—oh, dear! oh, dear! is it for this I came up from my little peaceful place in the West?—(sob, sob, sob)—General, George, dear; Lucy, my love, I’m taken bad. Oh, dear! oh, dear! is there any whiskey negus?”

After a time she was comforted.

At supper later on in the evening, I was deep in thought when a dialogue quite near me aroused me from my reverie.

“Don’t, now! don’t, I tell ye; it’s little ye know Galway, or ye wouldn’t think to make up to me, squeezing my foot.”

“You’re an angel, a regular angel. I never saw a woman suit my fancy before.”

“Oh, behave now. Father Magrath says——”

“Who’s he?”

“The priest; no less.”

“Oh! bother him.”

“Bother Father Magrath, young man?”

“Well, then, Judy, don’t be angry; I only means that a dragoon knows rather more of these matters than a priest.”

“Well, then, I’m not so sure of that. But, anyhow, I’d have you to remember it ain’t a Widow Malone you have beside you.”

“Never heard of the lady,” said Power.

“Sure, it’s a song—poor creature—it’s a song they made about her in the North Cork when they were quartered down in our county.”

“I wish you’d sing it.”

“What will you give me, then, if I do?”

“Anything—everything—my heart—my life.”

“I wouldn’t give a trauneen for all of them. Give me that old green ring on your finger, then.”

“It’s yours,” said Power, placing it gracefully upon Miss Macan’s finger; “and now for your promise.”

“Well, mind you get up a good chorus, for the song has one, and here it is.”

“Miss Macan’s song!” said Power, tapping the table with his knife.

“Miss Macan’s song!” was re-echoed on all sides; and before the luckless General could interfere, she had begun:—

“Did ye hear of the Widow Malone,

Ohone!

Who lived in the town of Athlone,

Alone?

Oh! she melted the hearts

Of the swains in them parts,

So lovely the widow Malone,

Ohone!

So lovely the Widow Malone.

“Of lovers she had a full score,

Or more;

And fortunes they all had galore,

In store;

From the Minister down

To the Clerk of the Crown,

All were courting the Widow Malone,

Ohone!

All were courting the Widow Malone.

“But so modest was Mrs. Malone,

’Twas known

No one ever could see her alone,

Ohone!

Let them ogle and sigh,

They could ne’er catch her eye,

So bashful the Widow Malone,

Ohone!

So bashful the Widow Malone.

“Till one Mr. O’Brien from Clare,—

How quare,

It’s little for blushing they care,

Down there,

Put his arm round her waist,

Gave ten kisses, at laste,—

‘Oh,’ says he, ‘you’re my Molly Malone,’

My own;

‘Oh,’ says he, ‘you’re my Molly Malone.’

“And the widow they all thought so shy,

My eye!

Ne’er thought of a simper or sigh;

For why?

But ‘Lucius,’ says she,

‘Since you’ve now made so free,

You may marry your Mary Malone,

Ohone!

You may marry your Mary Malone.’

“There’s a moral contained in my song,

Not wrong;

And, one comfort, it’s not very long,

But strong;

If for widows you die,

Larn to kiss, not to sigh,

For they’re all like sweet Mistress Malone,

Ohone!

Oh! they’re very like Mistress Malone.”

Never did song create such a sensation as Miss Macan’s.

“I insist upon a copy of ‘The Widow,’ Miss Macan,” said Power.

“To be sure; give me a call to-morrow—let me see—about two. Father Magrath won’t be at home,” said she, with a coquettish look.

“Where pray, may I pay my respects?”

Power produced a card and pencil, while Miss Macan wrote a few lines, saying, as she handed it—

“There, now, don’t read it here before all the people; they’ll think it mighty indelicate in me to make an appointment.”

Power pocketed the card, and the next minute Miss Macan’s carriage was announced.

When she had taken her departure, “Doubt it who will,” said Power, “she has invited me to call on her to-morrow—written her address on my card—told me the hour she is certain of being alone. See here!” At these words he pulled forth the card, and handed it to a friend.

Scarcely were the eyes of the latter thrown upon the writing, when he said, “So, this isn’t it, Power!”

“To be sure it is, man. Read it out. Proclaim aloud my victory.”

Thus urged, his friend read:—

“Dear P.,—Please pay to my credit—and soon, mark ye—the two ponies lost this evening. I have done myself the pleasure of enjoying your ball, kissed the lady, quizzed the papa and walked into the cunning Fred Power.—Yours,

Frank Webber.

“‘The Widow Malone, Ohone!’ is at your service.”