Though the weather was hot and sultry, and the summer was at its height, yet the evening was gloomy, and low, angry clouds hung over the distant line of the sea, when, under the shelter of some low-browed cliffs upon the Irish coast, three persons stood together, two of whom were talking earnestly. About four or five miles from the shore, looking like a spectre upon the misty background of clouds, appeared a small brig with her canvas closely reefed, though there was little wind stirring, and nothing announced the approach of a gale, unless it were a long, heavy swell that heaved up the bosom of the ocean as if with a suppressed sob. The three persons we have mentioned were standing together close at the foot of the rocks; and, though there was nothing in their demeanour which would imply that they were seeking concealment by the points and angles of the cliff,—for they spoke loud, and one of them laughed more than once with the short but jocund laugh of a heart whose careless gaiety no circumstances can repress,—yet the spot was well calculated to hide them from any eye, unless it were one gazing down from the cliffs above, or one looking towards the shore from the sea.
The party of which we speak comprised two men not quite reached the middle age, and a fine, noble-looking boy of perhaps eight years old or a little more; but all the conversation was between the two elder, who bore a slight family likeness to each other. The one had a cloak thrown over his arm, and a blue handkerchief bound round his left hand. His dress in other respects was that of a military man of the period; a long-waisted, broad-tailed coat, with a good deal of gold lace and many large buttons upon it, enormous riding boots, and a heavy sword. He had no defensive armour on, indeed, though those were days when the soldierly cuirass was not yet done away with; and on his head he only wore an ordinary hat trimmed round with feathers.
He seemed, however, to be a personage perfectly well able to defend his own, being not much short of six feet in height; and though somewhat thin, extremely muscular, with long, bony arms, and a wide deep chest. His forehead was high and open, and his eye frank and clear, having withal some shrewdness in its quick twinkle. The countenance was a good one; the features handsome, though a little coarse; and if it was not altogether prepossessing, the abatement was made on account of a certain indescribable look of dissipation—not absolutely to say debauchery, but approaching it—which mingled with the expression of finer things, like nightshade filling up the broken masses of some ruined temple. His hair was somewhat prematurely grizzled; for he yet lacked several years of forty, and strong lines, not of thought, were marked upon his brow.
He was, upon the whole, a man whom many people would have called a handsome, fine-looking man; and there was certainly in his countenance that indescribable something, which can only be designated by the term engaging.