'Perhaps not. I like it better.'
'But why do you like that better?' said Caroline, deeming it his wilfulness.
Patrick put out a finger. 'The eyes there don't seem to say, "I'm yours to make a hero of you." But look,' he drew forth from under his waistcoat the miniature, 'what don't they say here! It's a bright day for the Austrian capital that has her by the river Danube. Yours has a landscape; I've made acquaintance with the country, I caught the print of it on my ride yesterday; and those are your mountains. But mine has her all to herself while she's thinking undisturbed in her boudoir. I have her and her thoughts; that's next to her soul. I've an idea it ought to be given to Philip.' He craned his head round to woo some shadow of assent to the daring suggestion. 'Just to break the shock 'twill be to my brother, Miss Adister. If I could hand him this, and say, "Keep it, for you'll get nothing more of her; and that's worth a kingdom."'
Caroline faltered: 'Your brother does not know?'
'Pity him. His blow 's to come. He can't or he 'd have spoken of it to me. I was with him a couple of hours and he never mentioned a word of it, nor did Captain Con. We talked of Ireland, and the service, and some French cousins we have.'
'Ladies?' Caroline inquired by instinct.
'And charming,' said Patrick, 'real dear girls. Philip might have one, if he would, and half my property, to make it right with her parents. There'd be little use in proposing it. He was dead struck when the shaft struck him. That's love! So I determined the night after I'd shaken his hand I'd be off to Earlsfont and try my hardest for him. It's hopeless now. Only he might have the miniature for his bride. I can tell him a trifle to help him over his agony. She would have had him, she would, Miss Adister, if she hadn't feared he'd be talked of as Captain Con has been—about the neighbourhood, I mean, because he,' Patrick added hurriedly, 'he married an heiress and sank his ambition for distinction like a man who has finished his dinner. I'm certain she would. I have it on authority.'
'What authority?' said Caroline coldly.
'Her own old nurse.'
'The one! I had it from her. And how she loves her darling Miss Adiante! She won't hear of "princess." She hates that marriage. She was all for my brother Philip. She calls him "Our handsome lieutenant." She'll keep the poor fellow a subaltern all his life.'
'You went to Jenny's inn?'
'The Earlsfont Arms, I went to. And Mrs. Jenny at the door, watching the rain. Destiny directed me. She caught the likeness to Philip on a lift of her eye, and very soon we sat conversing like old friends. We were soon playing at old cronies over past times. I saw the way to bring her out, so I set to work, and she was up in defence of her darling, ready to tell me anything to get me to think well of her. And that was the main reason, she said, why Miss Adiante broke with him and went abroad her dear child wouldn't have Mr. Philip abused for fortune-hunting. As for the religion, they could each have practised their own: her father would have consented to the fact, when it came on him in that undeniable shape of two made one. She says, Miss Adiante has a mighty soul; she has brave ideas. Miss Deenly, she calls her. Ay, and so has Philip: though the worst is, they're likely to drive him out of the army into politics and Parliament; and an Irishman there is a barrow trolling a load of grievances. Ah, but she would have kept him straight. Not a soldier alive knows the use of cavalry better than my brother. He wanted just that English wife to steady him and pour drops of universal fire into him; to keep him face to face with the world, I mean; letting him be true to his country in a fair degree, but not an old rainpipe and spout. She would have held him to his profession. And, Oh dear! She's a friend worth having, lost to Ireland. I see what she could have done there. Something bigger than an island, too, has to be served in our days: that is, if we don't forget our duty at home. Poor Paddy, and his pig, and his bit of earth! If you knew what we feel for him! I'm a landlord, but I'm one with my people about evictions. We Irish take strong root. And honest rent paid over to absentees, through an agent, if you think of it, seems like flinging the money that's the sweat of the brow into a stone conduit to roll away to a giant maw hungry as the sea. It's the bleeding to death of our land! Transactions from hand to hand of warm human flesh-nothing else will do: I mean, for men of our blood. Ah! she would have kept my brother temperate in his notions and his plans. And why absentees, Miss Adister? Because we've no centre of home life: the core has been taken out of us; our country has no hearth-fire. I'm for union; only there should be justice, and a little knowledge to make allowance for the natural cravings of a different kind of people. Well, then, and I suppose that inter-marriages are good for both. But here comes a man, the boldest and handsomest of his race, and he offers himself to the handsomest and sweetest of yours, and she leans to him, and the family won't have him. For he's an Irishman and a Catholic. Who is it then opposed the proper union of the two islands? Not Philip. He did his best; and if he does worse now he's not entirely to blame. The misfortune is, that when he learns the total loss of her on that rock-promontory, he'll be dashing himself upon rocks sure to shiver him. There's my fear. If I might take him this . . . ?' Patrick pleaded with the miniature raised like the figure of his interrogation.
Caroline's inward smile threw a soft light of humour over her features at the simple cunning of his wind-up to the lecture on his country's case, which led her to perceive a similar cunning simplicity in his identification of it with Philip's. It startled her to surprise, for the reason that she'd been reviewing his freakish hops from Philip to Ireland and to Adiante, and wondering in a different kind of surprise, how and by what profitless ingenuity he contrived to weave them together. Nor was she unmoved, notwithstanding her fancied perception of his Jesuitry: his look and his voice were persuasive; his love of his brother was deep; his change of sentiment toward Adiante after the tale told him by her old nurse Jenny, stood for proof of a generous manliness.
Before she had replied, her uncle entered the armoury, and Patrick was pleading still, and she felt herself to be a piece of damask, a very fiery dye.
To disentangle herself, she said on an impulse, desperately
'Mr. O'Donnell begs to have the miniature for his brother.'
Patrick swung instantly to Mr. Adister. 'I presumed to ask for it, sir, to carry it to Philip. He is ignorant about the princess as yet; he would like to have a bit of the wreck. I shan't be a pleasant messenger to him. I should be glad to take him something. It could be returned after a time. She was a great deal to Philip—three parts of his life. He has nothing of her to call his own.'
'That!' said Mr. Adister. He turned to the virgin Adiante, sat down and shut his eyes, fetching a breath. He looked vacantly at Patrick.
'When you find a man purely destructive, you think him a devil, don't you?' he said.
'A good first cousin to one,' Patrick replied, watchful for a hint to seize the connection.
'If you think of hunting to-day, we have not many minutes to spare before we mount. The meet is at eleven, five miles distant. Go and choose your horse. Caroline will drive there.'
Patrick consulted her on a glance for counsel. 'I shall be glad to join you, sir, for to-morrow I must be off to my brother.'
'Take it,' Mr. Adister waved his hand hastily. He gazed at his idol of untouched eighteen. 'Keep it safe,' he said, discarding the sight of the princess. 'Old houses are doomed to burnings, and a devil in the family may bring us to ashes. And some day . . . !' he could not continue his thought upon what he might be destined to wish for, and ran it on to, 'Some day I shall be happy to welcome your brother, when it pleases him to visit me.'
Patrick bowed, oppressed by the mighty gift. 'I haven't the word to thank you with, sir.'
Mr. Adister did not wait for it.
'I owe this to you, Miss Adister,' said Patrick.
Her voice shook: 'My uncle loves those who loved her.'
He could see she was trembling. When he was alone his ardour of gratefulness enabled him to see into her uncle's breast: the inflexible frigidity; lasting regrets and remorse; the compassion for Philip in kinship of grief and loss; the angry dignity; the stately generosity.
He saw too, for he was clear-eyed when his feelings were not over-active, the narrow pedestal whereon the stiff figure of a man of iron pride must accommodate itself to stand in despite of tempests without and within; and how the statue rocks there, how much more pitiably than the common sons of earth who have the broad common field to fall down on and our good mother's milk to set them on their legs again.
CAPTAIN CON AND MRS. ADISTER O'DONNELL
Riding homeward from the hunt at the leisurely trot of men who have steamed their mounts pretty well, Mr. Adister questioned Patrick familiarly about his family, and his estate, and his brother's prospects in the army, and whither he intended first to direct his travels: questions which Patrick understood to be kindly put for the sake of promoting conversation with a companion of unripe age by a gentleman who had wholesomely excited his blood to run. They were answered, except the last one. Patrick had no immediate destination in view.
'Leave Europe behind you,' said Mr. Adister warming, to advise him, and checking the trot of his horse. 'Try South America.' The lordly gentleman plotted out a scheme of colonisation and conquest in that region with the coolness of a practised freebooter. 'No young man is worth a job,' he said, 'who does not mean to be a leader, and as leader to have dominion. Here we are fettered by ancestry and antecedents. Had I to recommence without those encumbrances, I would try my fortune yonder. I stood condemned to waste my youth in idle parades, and hunting the bear and buffalo. The estate you have inherited is not binding on you. You can realise it, and begin by taking over two or three hundred picked Irish and English—have both races capable of handling spade and musket; purchasing some thousands of acres to establish a legal footing there.
'You increase your colony from the mother country in the ratio of your prosperity, until your power is respected, and there is a necessity for the extension of your territory. When you are feared you will be on your mettle. They will favour you with provocation. I should not doubt the result, supposing myself to have under my sole command a trained body of men of English blood—and Irish.'
'Owners of the soil,' rejoined Patrick, much marvelling.
'Undoubtedly, owners of the soil, but owing you service.'
'They fight sir'
'It is hardly to be specified in the calculation, knowing them. Soldiery who have served their term, particularly old artillerymen, would be my choice: young fellows and boys among them. Women would have to be taken. Half-breeds are the ruin of colonists. Our men are born for conquest. We were conquerors here, and it is want of action and going physically forward that makes us a rusty people. There are—Mr. Adister's intonation told of his proposing a wretched alternative,—'the Pacific Islands, but they will soon be snapped up by the European and North American Governments, and a single one of them does not offer space. It would require money and a navy.' He mused. 'South America is the quarter I should decide for, as a young man. You are a judge of horses; you ride well; you would have splendid pastures over there; you might raise a famous breed. The air is fine; it would suit our English stock. We are on ground, Mr. O'Donnell, which my forefathers contested sharply and did not yield.'
'The owners of the soil had to do that,' said Patrick. 'I can show the same in my country, with a difference.'
'Considerably to your benefit.'
'Everything has been crushed there barring the contrary opinion.'
'I could expect such a remark from a rebel.'
'I'm only interpreting the people, sir.'
'Jump out of that tinder-box as soon as you can.'
'When I was in South America, it astonished me that no Englishman had cast an eye on so inviting a land. Australia is not comparable with it. And where colonisations have begun without system, and without hard fighting to teach the settlers to value good leadership and respect their chiefs, they tumble into Republics.'
Patrick would have liked to fling a word in about the Englishman's cast of his eye upon inviting lands, but the trot was resumed, the lord of Earlsfont having delivered his mind, and a minute made it happily too late for the sarcastic bolt. Glad that his tongue had been kept from wagging, he trotted along beside his host in the dusky evening over the once contested land where the gentleman's forefathers had done their deeds and firmly fixed their descendants. A remainder of dull red fire prolonged the half-day above the mountain strongholds of the former owners of the soil, upon which prince and bard and priest, and grappling natives never wanting for fierceness, roared to-arms in the beacon-flames from ridge to peak: and down they poured, and back they were pushed by the inveterate coloniser—stationing at threatened points his old 'artillerymen' of those days and so it ends, that bard and priest and prince; holy poetry, and divine prescription, and a righteous holding; are as naught against him. They go, like yonder embers of the winter sunset before advancing night: and to morrow the beacon-heaps are ashes, the conqueror's foot stamps on them, the wind scatters them; strangest of all, you hear victorious lawlessness appealing solemnly to God the law.
Patrick was too young to philosophise upon his ideas; or else the series of pictures projected by the troops of sensations running through him were not of a solidity to support any structure of philosophy. He reverted, though rather in name than in spirit, to the abstractions, justice, consistency, right. They were too hard to think of, so he abandoned the puzzle of fitting them to men's acts and their consciences, and he put them aside as mere titles employed for the uses of a police and a tribunal to lend an appearance of legitimacy to the decrees of them that have got the upper hand. An insurrectionary rising of his breast on behalf of his country was the consequence. He kept it down by turning the whole hubbub within him to the practical contemplation of a visionary South America as the region for him and a fighting tenantry. With a woman, to crown her queen there, the prospect was fair. But where dwelt the woman possessing majesty suitable to such a dream in her heart or her head? The best he had known in Ireland and in France, preferred the charms of society to bold adventure.
All the same, thought he, it's queer counsel, that we should set to work by buying a bit of land to win a clean footing to rob our neighbours: and his brains took another shot at Mr. Adister, this time without penetrating. He could very well have seen the matter he disliked in a man that he disliked; but the father of Adiante had touched him with the gift of the miniature.
Patrick was not asked to postpone his departure from Earlsfont, nor was he invited to come again. Mr. Adister drove him to the station in the early morning, and gave him a single nod from the phaeton-box for a good-bye. Had not Caroline assured him at the leave-taking between them that he had done her uncle great good by his visit, the blank of the usual ceremonial phrases would have caused him to fancy himself an intruder courteously dismissed, never more to enter the grand old Hall. He was further comforted by hearing the stationmaster's exclamation of astonishment and pleasure at the sight of the squire 'in his place' handling the reins, which had not been witnessed for many a day and so it appeared that the recent guest had been exceptionally complimented. 'But why not a warm word, instead of turning me off to decipher a bit of Egyptian on baked brick,' he thought, incurably Celtic as he was.
From the moment when he beheld Mr. Adister's phaeton mounting a hill that took the first leap for the Cambrian highlands, up to his arrival in London, scarcely one of his 'ideas' darted out before Patrick, as they were in the habit of doing, like the enchanted bares of fairyland, tempting him to pursue, and changing into the form of woman ever, at some turn of the chase. For as he had travelled down to Earlsfont in the state of ignorance and hopefulness, bearing the liquid brains of that young condition, so did his acquisition of a particular fact destructive of hope solidify them about it as he travelled back: in other words, they were digesting what they had taken in. Imagination would not have stirred for a thousand fleeting hares: and principally, it may be, because he was conscious that no form of woman would anywhere come of them. Woman was married; she had the ring on her finger! He could at his option look on her in the miniature, he could think of her as being in the city where she had been painted; but he could not conjure her out of space; she was nowhere in the ambient air. Secretly she was a feeling that lay half slumbering very deep down within him, and he kept the secret, choosing to be poor rather than call her forth. He was in truth digesting with difficulty, as must be the case when it is allotted to the brains to absorb what the soul abhors.
'Poor old Philip!' was his perpetual refrain. 'Philip, the girl you loved is married; and here's her portrait taken in her last blush; and the man who has her hasn't a share in that!' Thus, throwing in the ghost of a sigh for sympathy, it seemed to Patrick that the intelligence would have to be communicated. Bang is better, thought he, for bad news than snapping fire and feinting, when you're bound half to kill a fellow, and a manly fellow.
Determined that bang it should be, he hurried from the terminus to Philip's hotel, where he had left him, and was thence despatched to the house of Captain Con O'Donnell, where he created a joyful confusion, slightly dashed with rigour on the part of the regnant lady; which is not to be wondered at, considering that both the gentlemen attending her, Philip and her husband, quitted her table with shouts at the announcement of his name, and her husband hauled him in unwashed before her, crying that the lost was found, the errant returned, the Prodigal Pat recovered by his kinsman! and she had to submit to the introduction of the disturber: and a bedchamber had to be thought of for the unexpected guest, and the dinner to be delayed in middle course, and her husband corrected between the discussions concerning the bedchamber, and either the guest permitted to appear at her table in sooty day-garb, or else a great gap commanded in the service of her dishes, vexatious extreme for a lady composed of orderliness. She acknowledged Patrick's profound salute and his excuses with just so many degrees in the inclining of her head as the polite deem a duty to themselves when the ruffling world has disarranged them.
'Con!' she called to her chattering husband, 'we are in England, if you please.'
'To be sure, madam,' said the captain, 'and so 's Patrick, thanks to the stars. We fancied him gone, kidnapped, burned, made a meal of and swallowed up, under the earth or the water; for he forgot to give us his address in town; he stood before us for an hour or so, and then the fellow vanished. We've waited for him gaping. With your permission I'll venture an opinion that he'll go and dabble his hands and sit with us as he is, for the once, as it happens.'
'Let it be so,' she rejoined, not pacified beneath her dignity. She named the bedchamber to a footman.
'And I'll accompany the boy to hurry him on,' said the captain, hurrying Patrick on as he spoke, till he had him out of the dining-room, when he whispered: 'Out with your key, and if we can scramble you into your evening-suit quick we shall heal the breach in the dinner. You dip your hands and face, I'll have out the dress. You've the right style for her, my boy: and mind, she is an excellent good woman, worthy of all respect: but formality's the flattery she likes: a good bow and short speech. Here we are, and the room's lighted. Off to the basin, give me the key; and here's hot water in tripping Mary's hands. The portmanteau opens easy. Quick! the door's shut on rosy Mary. The race is for domestic peace, my boy. I sacrifice everything I can for it, in decency. 'Tis the secret of my happiness.'
Patrick's transformation was rapid enough to satisfy the impatient captain, who said: 'You'll tell her you couldn't sit down in her presence undressed. I married her at forty, you know, when a woman has reached her perfect development, and leans a trifle more to ceremonies than to substance. And where have you been the while?'
'I'll tell you by and by,' said Patrick.
'Tell me now, and don't be smirking at the glass; your necktie's as neat as a lady's company-smile, equal at both ends, and warranted not to relax before the evening 's over. And mind you don't set me off talking over-much downstairs. I talk in her presence like the usher of the Court to the judge. 'Tis the secret of my happiness.'
'Where are those rascally dress-boots of mine?' cried Patrick.
Captain Con pitched the contents of the portmanteau right and left. 'Never mind the boots, my boy. Your legs will be under the table during dinner, and we'll institute a rummage up here between that and the procession to the drawing-room, where you'll be examined head to foot, devil a doubt of it. But say, where have you been? She'll be asking, and we're in a mess already, and may as well have a place to name to her, somewhere, to excuse the gash you've made in her dinner. Here they are, both of 'm, rolled in a dirty shirt!'
Patrick seized the boots and tugged them on, saying 'Earlsfont, then.'
'You've been visiting Earlsfont? Whack! but that's the saving of us! Talk to her of her brother he sends her his love. Talk to her of the ancestral hall—it stands as it was on the day of its foundation. Just wait about five minutes to let her punish us, before you out with it. 'Twill come best from you. What did you go down there for? But don't stand answering questions; come along. Don't heed her countenance at the going in: we've got the talisman. As to the dressing, it's a perfect trick of harlequinade, and she'll own it after a dose of Earlsfont. And, by the way, she's not Mrs. Con, remember; she's Mrs. Adister O'Donnell: and that's best rolled out to Mistress. She's a worthy woman, but she was married at forty, and I had to take her shaped as she was, for moulding her at all was out of the question, and the soft parts of me had to be the sufferers, to effect a conjunction, for where one won't and can't, poor t' other must, or the union's a mockery. She was cast in bronze at her birth, if she wasn't cut in bog-root. Anyhow, you'll study her. Consider her for my sake. Madam, it should be—madam, call her, addressing her, madam. She hasn't a taste for jokes, and she chastises absurdities, and England's the foremost country of the globe, indirect communication with heaven, and only to be connected with such a country by the tail of it is a special distinction and a comfort for us; we're that part of the kite!—but, Patrick, she's a charitable soul; she's a virtuous woman and an affectionate wife, and doesn't frown to see me turn off to my place of worship while she drum-majors it away to her own; she entertains Father Boyle heartily, like the good woman she is to good men; and unfortunate females too have a friend in her, a real friend—that they have; and that 's a wonder in a woman chaste as ice. I do respect her; and I'd like to see the man to favour me with an opportunity of proving it on him! So you'll not forget, my boy; and prepare for a cold bath the first five minutes. Out with Earlsfont early after that. All these things are trifles to an unmarried man. I have to attend to 'm, I have to be politic and give her elbow-room for her natural angles. 'Tis the secret of my happiness.'
Priming his kinsman thus up to the door of the diningroom, Captain Con thrust him in.
Mistress Adister O'Donnell's head rounded as by slow attraction to the clock. Her disciplined husband signified an equal mixture of contrition and astonishment at the passing of time. He fell to work upon his plate in obedience to the immediate policy dictated to him.
The unbending English lady contrasted with her husband so signally that the oddly united couple appeared yoked in a common harness for a perpetual display of the opposition of the races. She resembled her brother, the lord of Earlsfont, in her remarkable height and her calm air of authority and self-sustainment. From beneath a head-dress built of white curls and costly lace, half enclosing her high narrow forehead, a pale, thin, straight bridge of nose descended prominently over her sunken cheeks to thin locked lips. Her aspect suggested the repose of a winter landscape, enjoyable in pictures, or on skates, otherwise nipping. . . . Mental directness, of no greater breadth than her principal feature, was the character it expressed; and candour of spirit shone through the transparency she was, if that mild taper could be said to shine in proof of a vitality rarely notified to the outer world by the opening of her mouth; chiefly then, though not malevolently to command: as the portal of some snow-bound monastery opens to the outcast, bidding it be known that the light across the wolds was not deceptive and a glimmer of light subsists among the silent within. The life sufficed to her. She was like a marble effigy seated upright, requiring but to be laid at her length for transport to the cover of the tomb.
Now Captain Con was by nature ruddy as an Indian summer flushed in all its leaves. The corners of his face had everywhere a frank ambush, or child's hiding-place, for languages and laughter. He could worm with a smile quite his own the humour out of men possessing any; and even under rigorous law, and it could not be disputed that there was rigour in the beneficent laws imposed upon him by his wife, his genius for humour and passion for sly independence came up and curled away like the smoke of the illicit still, wherein the fanciful discern fine sprites indulging in luxurious grimaces at a government long-nosed to no purpose. Perhaps, as Patrick said of him to Caroline Adister, he was a bard without a theme. He certainly was a man of speech, and the having fearfully to contain himself for the greater number of the hours of the day, for the preservation of the domestic felicity he had learnt to value, fathered the sentiment of revolt in his bosom.
By this time, long after five minutes had elapsed, the frost presiding at the table was fast withering Captain Con; and he was irritable to hear why Patrick had gone off to Earlsfont, and what he had done there, and the adventures he had tasted on the road; anything for warmth. His efforts to fish the word out of Patrick produced deeper crevasses in the conversation, and he cried to himself: Hats and crape-bands! mightily struck by an idea that he and his cousins were a party of hired mourners over the meat they consumed. Patrick was endeavouring to spare his brother a mention of Earlsfont before they had private talk together. He answered neither to a dip of the hook nor to a pull.
'The desert where you 've come from 's good,' said the captain, sharply nodding.
Mrs. Adister O'Donnell ejaculated: 'Wine!' for a heavy comment upon one of his topics, and crushed it.
Philip saw that Patrick had no desire to spread, and did not trouble him.
'Good horses in the stable too,' said the captain.
Patrick addressed Mrs. Adister: 'I have hardly excused myself to you, madam.'
Her head was aloft in dumb apostrophe of wearifulness over another of her husband's topics.
'Do not excuse yourself at all,' she said.
The captain shivered. He overhauled his plotting soul publicly: 'Why don't you out with it yourself!' and it was wonderful why he had not done so, save that he was prone to petty conspiracy, and had thought reasonably that the revelation would be damp, gunpowder, coming from him. And for when he added: 'The boy's fresh from Earlsfont; he went down to look at the brav old house of the Adisters, and was nobly welcomed and entertained, and made a vast impression,' his wife sedately remarked to Patrick, 'You have seen my brother Edward.'
'And brings a message of his love to you, my dear,' the Captain bit his nail harder.
'You have a message for me?' she asked; and Patrick replied: 'The captain is giving a free translation. I was down there, and I took the liberty of calling on Mr. Adister, and I had a very kind reception. We hunted, we had a good day with the hounds. I think I remember hearing that you go there at Christmas, madam.'
'Our last Christmas at Earlsfont was a sad meeting for the family. My brother Edward is well?'
'I had the happiness to be told that I had been of a little service in cheering him.'
'I can believe it,' said Mrs. Adister, letting her eyes dwell on the young man; and he was moved by the silvery tremulousness of her voice.
She resumed: 'You have the art of dressing in a surprisingly short time.'
'There!' exclaimed Captain Con: for no man can hear the words which prove him a prophet without showing excitement. 'Didn't I say so? Patrick's a hero for love or war, my dear. He stood neat and trim from the silk socks to the sprig of necktie in six minutes by my watch. And that's witness to me that you may count on him for what the great Napoleon called two-o'clock-in-the-morning courage; not too common even in his immortal army:—when it's pitch black and frosty cold, and you're buried within in a dream of home, and the trumpet springs you to your legs in a trice, boots and trowsers, coat and sword-belt and shako, and one twirl to the whiskers, and away before a second snap of the fingers to where the great big bursting end of all things for you lies crouching like a Java-Tiger—a ferocious beast painted undertaker's colour—for a leap at you in particular out of the dark;—never waiting an instant to ask what's the matter and pretend you don't know. That's rare, Philip; that's bravery; Napoleon knew the thing; and Patrick has it; my hand's on the boy's back for that.'
The captain was permitted to discourse as he pleased: his wife was wholly given to the recent visitor to Earlsfont, whom she informed that Caroline was the youngest daughter of General Adister, her second brother, and an excellent maiden, her dear Edward's mainstay in his grief. At last she rose, and was escorted to the door by all present. But Captain Con rather shame-facedly explained to Patrick that it was a sham departure; they had to follow without a single spin to the claretjug: he closed the door merely to state his position; how at half-past ten he would be a free man, according to the convention, to which his wife honourably adhered, so he had to do likewise, as regarded his share of it. Thereupon he apologised to the brothers, bitterly regretting that, with good wine in the cellar, his could be no house for claret; and promising them they should sit in their shirts and stretch their legs, and toast the old country and open their hearts, no later than the minute pointing to the time for his deliverance.
Mrs. Adister accepted her husband's proffered arm unhesitatingly at the appointed stroke of the clock. She said: 'Yes,' in agreement with him, as if she had never heard him previously enunciate the formula, upon his pious vociferation that there should be no trifling with her hours of rest.
'You can find your way to my cabin,' he said to Philip over his shoulder, full of solicitude for the steps of the admirable lady now positively departing.
As soon as the brothers were alone, Philip laid his hand on Patrick, asking him, 'What does it mean?'
Patrick fired his cannon-shot: 'She's married!' Consulting his feelings immediately after, he hated himself for his bluntness.
Philip tossed his head. 'But why did you go down there?'
'I went,' said Patrick, 'well, I went . . . . I thought you looked wretched, and I went with an idea of learning where she was, and seeing if I couldn't do something. It's too late now; all's over.'
'My dear boy, I've worse than that to think of.'
'You don't mind it?'
'That's old news, Patrick.'
'You don't care for her any more, Philip?'
'You wouldn't have me caring for a married woman?'
'She has a perfect beast for a husband.'
'I'm sorry she didn't make a better choice.'
'He's a prince.'
'So I hear.'
'Ah! And what worse, Philip, can you be having to think of?'
'Affairs,' Philip replied, and made his way to the cabin of Captain Con, followed in wonderment by Patrick, who would hardly have been his dupe to suppose him indifferent and his love of Adiante dead, had not the thought flashed on him a prospect of retaining the miniature for his own, or for long in his custody.
THE CAPTAIN'S CABIN
Patrick left his brother at the second flight of stairs to run and fling on a shooting-jacket, into which he stuffed his treasure, after one peep that eclipsed his little dream of being allowed to keep it; and so he saw through Philip.
The captain's cabin was the crown of his house-top, a builder's addition to the roof, where the detestable deeds he revelled in, calling them liberty, could be practised, according to the convention, and no one save rosy Mary, in her sense of smell, when she came upon her morning business to clean and sweep, be any the wiser of them, because, as it is known to the whole world, smoke ascends, and he was up among the chimneys. Here, he would say to his friends and fellow-sinners, you can unfold, unbosom, explode, do all you like, except caper, and there 's a small square of lead between the tiles outside for that, if the spirit of the jig comes upon you with violence, as I have had it on me, and eased myself mightily there, to my own music; and the capital of the British Empire below me. Here we take our indemnity for subjection to the tyrannical female ear, and talk like copious rivers meandering at their own sweet will. Here we roll like dogs in carrion, and no one to sniff at our coats. Here we sing treason, here we flout reason, night is out season at half-past ten.
This introductory ode to Freedom was his throwing off of steam, the foretaste of what he contained. He rejoined his cousins, chirping variations on it, and attired in a green silken suit of airy Ottoman volume, full of incitement to the legs and arms to swing and set him up for a Sultan. 'Now Phil, now Pat,' he cried, after tenderly pulling the door to and making sure it was shut, 'any tale you've a mind for—infamous and audacious! You're licensed by the gods up here, and may laugh at them too, and their mothers and grandmothers, if the fit seizes ye, and the heartier it is the greater the exemption. We're pots that knock the lid and must pour out or boil over and destroy the furniture. My praties are ready for peelin', if ever they were in this world! Chuck wigs from sconces, and off with your buckram. Decency's a dirty petticoat in the Garden of Innocence. Naked we stand, boys! we're not afraid of nature. You're in the annexe of Erin, Pat, and devil a constable at the keyhole; no rats; I'll say that for the Government, though it's a despotism with an iron bridle on the tongue outside to a foot of the door. Arctic to freeze the boldest bud of liberty! I'd like a French chanson from ye, Pat, to put us in tune, with a right revolutionary hurling chorus, that pitches Kings' heads into the basket like autumn apples. Or one of your hymns in Gaelic sung ferociously to sound as horrid to the Saxon, the wretch. His reign 's not for ever; he can't enter here. You're in the stronghold defying him. And now cigars, boys, pipes; there are the boxes, there are the bowls. I can't smoke till I have done steaming. I'll sit awhile silently for the operation. Christendom hasn't such a man as your cousin Con for feeling himself a pig-possessed all the blessed day, acting the part of somebody else, till it takes me a quarter of an hour of my enfranchisement and restoration of my natural man to know myself again. For the moment, I'm froth, scum, horrid boiling hissing dew of the agony of transformation; I am; I'm that pig disgorging the spirit of wickedness from his poor stomach.'
The captain drooped to represent the state of the self-relieving victim of the evil one; but fearful lest either of his cousins should usurp the chair and thwart his chance of delivering himself, he rattled away sympathetically with his posture in melancholy: 'Ay, we're poor creatures; pigs and prophets, princes and people, victors and vanquished, we 're waves of the sea, rolling over and over, and calling it life! There's no life save the eternal. Father Boyle's got the truth. Flesh is less than grass, my sons; 'tis the shadow that crosses the grass. I love the grass. I could sit and watch grassblades for hours. I love an old turf mound, where the grey grass nods and seems to know the wind and have a whisper with it, of ancient times maybe and most like; about the big chief lying underneath in the last must of his bones that a breath of air would scatter. They just keep their skeleton shape as they are; for the turf mound protects them from troubles: 'tis the nurse to that delicate old infant!—Waves of the sea, did I say? We're wash in a hog-trough for Father Saturn to devour; big chief and suckling babe, we all go into it, calling it life! And what hope have we of reading the mystery? All we can see is the straining of the old fellow's hams to push his old snout deeper into the gobble, and the ridiculous curl of a tail totally devoid of expression! You'll observe that gluttons have no feature; they're jaws and hindquarters; which is the beginning and end of 'm; and so you may say to Time for his dealing with us: so let it be a lesson to you not to bother your wits, but leave the puzzle to the priest. He understands it, and why? because he was told. There 's harmony in his elocution, and there's none in the modern drivel about where we're going and what we came out of. No wonder they call it an age of despair, when you see the big wigs filing up and down the thoroughfares with a great advertisement board on their shoulders, proclaiming no information to the multitude, but a blank note of interrogation addressed to Providence, as if an answer from above would be vouchsafed to their impudence! They haven't the first principles of good manners. And some of 'm in a rage bawl the answer for themselves. Hear that! No, Phil; No, Pat, no: devotion's good policy.—You're not drinking! Are you both of ye asleep? why do ye leave me to drone away like this, when it 's conversation I want, as in the days of our first parents, before the fig-leaf?—and you might have that for scroll and figure on the social banner of the hypocritical Saxon, who's a gormandising animal behind his decency, and nearer to the Arch-devourer Time than anything I can imagine: except that with a little exertion you can elude him. The whisky you've got between you 's virgin of the excise. I'll pay double for freepeaty any day. Or are you for claret, my lads? No? I'm fortified up here to stand a siege in my old round tower, like the son of Eremon that I am. Lavra Con! Con speaks at last! I don't ask you, Pat, whether you remember Maen, who was born dumb, and had for his tutors Ferkelne the bard and Crafting the harper, at pleasant Dinree: he was grandson of Leary Lore who was basely murdered by his brother Cova, and Cova spared the dumb boy, thinking a man without a tongue harmless, as fools do: being one of their savings-bank tricks, to be repaid them, their heirs, executors, administrators, and assigns at compound interest, have no fear. So one day Maen had an insult put on him; and 'twas this for certain: a ruffian fellow of the Court swore he couldn't mention the name of his father; and in a thundering fury Maen burst his tongue-tie, and the Court shouted Lavra Maen: and he had to go into exile, where he married in the middle of delicious love-adventures the beautiful Moira through the cunning of Craftine the harper. There's been no harper in my instance but plenty of ruffians to swear I'm too comfortable to think of my country.' The captain holloaed. 'Do they hear that? Lord! but wouldn't our old Celtic fill the world with poetry if only we were a free people to give our minds to 't, instead of to the itch on our backs from the Saxon horsehair shirt we're forced to wear. For, Pat, as you know, we're a loving people, we're a loyal people, we burn to be enthusiastic, but when our skins are eternally irritated, how can we sing? In a freer Erin I'd be the bard of the land, never doubt it. What am I here but a discontented idle lout crooning over the empty glories of our isle of Saints! You feel them, Pat. Phil's all for his British army, his capabilities of British light cavalry. Write me the history of the Enniskillens. I'll read it. Aha, my boy, when they 're off at the charge! And you'll oblige me with the tale of Fontenoy. Why, Phil has an opportunity stretching forth a hand to him now more than halfway that comes to a young Irishman but once in a century: backed by the entire body of the priesthood of Ireland too! and if only he was a quarter as full of the old country as you and I, his hair would stand up in fire for the splendid gallop at our head that's proposed to him. His country's gathered up like a crested billow to roll him into Parliament; and I say, let him be there, he 's the very man to hurl his gauntlet, and tell 'm, Parliament, so long as you are parliamentary, which means the speaking of our minds, but if you won't have it, then-and it 's on your heads before Europe and the two Americas. We're dying like a nun that 'd be out of her cloister, we're panting like the wife who hears of her husband coming home to her from the field of honour, for that young man. And there he is; or there he seems to be; but he's dead: and the fisherman off the west coast after dreaming of a magical haul, gets more fish than disappointment in comparison with us when we cast the net for Philip. Bring tears of vexation at the emptiness we pull back for our pains. Oh, Phil! and to think of your youth! We had you then. At least we had your heart. And we should have had the length and strength of you, only for a woman fatal to us as the daughter of Rhys ap Tudor, the beautiful Nesta:—and beautiful she was to match the mother of the curses trooping over to Ireland under Strongbow, that I'll grant you. But she reined you in when you were a real warhorse ramping and snorting flame from your nostrils, challenging any other to a race for Ireland; ay, a Cuchullin you were, Philip, Culann's chain-bound: but she unmanned you. She soaked the woman into you and squeezed the hero out of you. All for Adiante! or a country left to slavery! that's the tale. And what are you now? A paltry captain of hussars on the General's staff! One O'Donnell in a thousand! And what is she?—you needn't frown, Phil; I'm her relative by marriage, and she 's a lady. More than that, she shot a dart or two into my breast in those days, she did, I'll own it: I had the catch of the breath that warns us of convulsions. She was the morning star for beauty, between night and day, and the best colour of both. Welshmen and Irishmen and Englishmen tumbled into the pit, which seeing her was, and there we jostled for a glimpse quite companionably; we were too hungry for quarrelling; and to say, I was one of 'm, is a title to subsequent friendship. True; only mark me, Philip, and you, Patrick: they say she has married a prince, and I say no; she's took to herself a husband in her cradle; she's married ambition. I tell you, and this prince of hers is only a step she has taken, and if he chases her first mate from her bosom, he'll prove himself cleverer than she, and I dare him to the trial. For she's that fiery dragon, a beautiful woman with brains—which Helen of Troy hadn't, combustible as we know her to have been: but brains are bombshells in comparison with your old-fashioned pine-brands for kindling men and cities. Ambition's the husband of Adiante Adister, and all who come nigh her are steps to her aim. She never consulted her father about Prince Nikolas; she had begun her march and she didn't mean to be arrested. She simply announced her approaching union; and as she couldn't have a scion of one of the Royal House of Europe, she put her foot on Prince Nikolas. And he 's not to fancy he 's in for a peaceful existence; he's a stone in a sling, and probably mistaken the rocking that's to launch him through the air for a condition of remarkable ease, perfectly remarkable in its lullaby motion; ha! well, and I've not heard of ambition that didn't kill its votary: somehow it will; 'tis sure to. There she lies!'
The prophetic captain pointed at the spot. He then said: 'And now I'm for my pipe, and the blackest clay of the party, with your permission. I'll just go to the window to see if the stars are out overhead. They're my blessed guardian angels.'
There was a pause. Philip broke from a brown study to glance at his brother. Patrick made a queer face.
'Fun and good-fellowship to-night, Con,' said Philip, as the captain sadly reported no star visible.
'Have I ever flown a signal to the contrary?' retorted the captain.
'No politics, and I 'll thank you,' said Philip: 'none of your early recollections. Be jovial.'
'You should have seen me here the other night about a month ago; I smuggled up an old countrywoman of ours, with the connivance of rosy Mary,' said Captain Con, suffused in the merriest of grins. 'She sells apples at a stall at a corner of a street hard by, and I saw her sitting pulling at her old pipe in the cold October fog morning and evening for comfort, and was overwhelmed with compassion and fraternal sentiment; and so I invited her to be at the door of the house at half-past ten, just to have a roll with her in Irish mud, and mend her torn soul with a stitch or two of rejoicing. She told me stories; and one was pretty good, of a relative of hers, or somebody's—I should say, a century old, but she told it with a becoming air of appropriation that made it family history, for she's come down in the world, and this fellow had a stain of red upon him, and wanted cleaning; and, "What!" says the good father, "Mika! you did it in cold blood?" And says Mika, "Not I, your Riverence. I got myself into a passion 'fore I let loose." I believe she smoked this identical pipe. She acknowledged the merits of my whisky, as poets do hearing fine verses, never clapping hands, but with the expressiveness of grave absorption. That's the way to make good things a part of you. She was a treat. I got her out and off at midnight, rosy Mary sneaking her down, and the old girl quiet as a mouse for the fun's sake. The whole intrigue was exquisitely managed.'
'You run great risks,' Philip observed.
'I do,' said the captain.
He called on the brothers to admire the 'martial and fumial' decorations of his round tower, buzzing over the display of implements, while Patrick examined guns and Philip unsheathed swords. An ancient clay pipe from the bed of the Thames and one from the bed of the Boyne were laid side by side, and strange to relate, the Irish pipe and English immediately, by the mere fact of their being proximate, entered into rivalry; they all but leapt upon one another. The captain judicially decided the case against the English pipe, as a newer pipe of grosser manufacture, not so curious by any means.
'This,' Philip held up the reputed Irish pipe, and scanned as he twirled it on his thumb, 'This was dropped in Boyne Water by one of William's troopers. It is an Orange pipe. I take it to be of English make.'
'If I thought that, I'd stamp my heel on the humbug the neighbour minute,' said Captain Con. 'Where's the sign of English marks?'
'The pipes resemble one another,' said Philip, 'like tails of Shannon-bred retrievers.'
'Maybe they 're both Irish, then?' the captain caught at analogy to rescue his favourite from reproach.
'Both of them are Saxon.'
'Not a bit of it!'
'Look at the clay.'
'I look, and I tell you, Philip, it's of a piece with your lukewarmness for the country, or you wouldn't talk like that.'
'There is no record of pipe manufactories in Ireland at the period you name.'
'There is: and the jealousy of rulers caused them to be destroyed by decrees, if you want historical evidence.'
'Your opposition to the Saxon would rob him of his pipe, Con!'
'Let him go to the deuce with as many pipes as he can carry; but he shan't have this one.'
'Not a toss-up of difference is to be seen in the pair.'
'Use your eyes. The Irish bowl is broken, and the English has an inch longer stem!'
'O the Irish bowl is broken!' Philip sang.
'You've the heart of a renegade-foreigner not to see it!' cried the captain.
Patrick intervened saying: 'I suspect they're Dutch.'
'Well, and that 's possible.' Captain Con scrutinised them to calm his temper: 'there's a Dutchiness in the shape.'
He offered Philip the compromise of 'Dutch' rather plaintively, but it was not accepted, and the pipes would have mingled their fragments on the hearthstone if Patrick had not stayed his arm, saying: 'Don't hurt them.'
'And I won't,' the captain shook his hand gratefully.
'But will Philip O'Donnell tell me that Ireland should lie down with England on the terms of a traveller obliged to take a bedfellow? Come! He hasn't an answer. Put it to him, and you pose him. But he 'll not stir, though he admits the antagonism. And Ireland is asked to lie down with England on a couch blessed by the priest! Not she. Wipe out our grievances, and then we'll begin to talk of policy. Good Lord!—love? The love of Ireland for the conquering country will be the celebrated ceremony in the concluding chapter previous to the inauguration of the millennium. Thousands of us are in a starving state at home this winter, Patrick. And it's not the fault of England?—landlordism 's not? Who caused the ruin of all Ireland's industries? You might as well say that it 's the fault of the poor beggar to go limping and hungry because his cruel master struck him a blow to cripple him. We don't want half and half doctoring, and it's too late in the day for half and half oratory. We want freedom, and we'll have it, and we won't leave it to the Saxon to think about giving it. And if your brother Philip won't accept this blazing fine offer, then I will, and you'll behold me in a new attitude. The fellow yawns! You don't know me yet, Philip. They tell us over here we ought to be satisfied. Fall upon our list of wrongs, and they set to work yawning. You can only move them by popping at them over hedges and roaring on platforms. They're incapable of understanding a complaint a yard beyond their noses. The Englishman has an island mind, and when he's out of it he's at sea.'
'Mad, you mean,' said Philip.
'I repeat my words, Captain Philip O'Donnell, late of the staff of the General commanding in Canada.'
'The Irishman too has an island mind, and when he's out of it he's at sea, and unable to manage his craft,' said Philip.
'You'll find more craft in him when he's buffeted than you reckoned on,' his cousin flung back. 'And if that isn't the speech of a traitor sold to the enemy, and now throwing off the mask, traitors never did mischief in Ireland! Why, what can you discover to admire in these people? Isn't their army such a combination of colours in the uniforms, with their yellow facings on red jackets, I never saw out of a doll-shop, and never saw there. And their Horse Guards, weedy to a man! fit for a doll-shop they are, by my faith! And their Foot Guards: Have ye met the fellows marching? with their feet turned out, flat as my laundress's irons, and the muscles of their calves depending on the joints to get 'm along, for elasticity never gave those bones of theirs a springing touch; and their bearskins heeling behind on their polls; like pot-house churls daring the dursn't to come on. Of course they can fight. Who said no? But they 're not the only ones: and they 'll miss their ranks before they can march like our Irish lads. The look of their men in line is for all the world to us what lack-lustre is to the eye. The drill they 've had hasn't driven Hodge out of them, it has only stiffened the dolt; and dolt won't do any longer; the military machine requires intelligence in all ranks now. Ay, the time for the Celt is dawning: I see it, and I don't often spy a spark where there isn't soon a blaze. Solidity and stupidity have had their innings: a precious long innings it has been; and now they're shoved aside like clods of earth from the risin flower. Off with our shackles! We've only to determine it to be free, and we'll bloom again; and I'll be the first to speak the word and mount the colours. Follow me! Will ye join in the toast to the emblem of Erin—the shamrock, Phil and Pat?'
'Oh, certainly,' said Philip. 'What 's that row going on?' Patrick also called attention to the singular noise in the room. 'I fancy the time for the Celt is not dawning, but setting,' said Philip, with a sharp smile; and Patrick wore an artful look.
A corner of the room was guilty of the incessant alarum. Captain Con gazed in that direction incredulously and with remonstrance. 'The tinkler it is!' he sighed. 'But it can't be midnight yet?' Watches were examined. Time stood at half-past the midnight. He groaned: 'I must go. I haven't heard the tinkler for months. It signifies she's cold in her bed. The thing called circulation's unknown to her save by the aid of outward application, and I 'm the warming pan, as legitimately I should be, I'm her husband and her Harvey in one. Goodbye to my hop and skip. I ought by rights to have been down beside her at midnight. She's the worthiest woman alive, and I don't shirk my duty. Be quiet!' he bellowed at the alarum; 'I 'm coming. Don't be in such a fright, my dear,' he admonished it as his wife, politely. 'Your hand'll take an hour to warm if you keep it out on the spring that sets the creature going.' He turned and informed his company: 'Her hand'll take an hour to warm. Dear! how she runs ahead: d' ye hear? That's the female tongue, and once off it won't stop. And this contrivance for fetching me from my tower to her bed was my own suggestion, in a fit of generosity! Ireland all over! I must hurry and wash my hair, for she can't bear a perfume to kill a stink; she carries her charitable heart that far. Good-night, I'll be thinking of ye while I'm warming her. Sit still, I can't wait; 'tis the secret of my happiness.' He fled. Patrick struck his knee on hearing the expected ballad-burden recur.
'Con has learnt one secret,' said Philip, quitting his chair.
Patrick went up to him, and, 'Give us a hug,' he said, and the hug was given.
They were of an equal height, tall young men, alert, nervously braced from head to foot, with the differences between soldier and civilian marked by the succintly military bearing of the elder brother, whose movements were precise and prompt, and whose frame was leopardlike in indolence. Beside him Patrick seemed cubbish, though beside another he would not have appeared so. His features were not so brilliantly regular, but were a fanciful sketch of the same design, showing a wider pattern of the long square head and the forehead, a wavering at the dip of the nose, livelier nostrils: the nostrils dilated and contracted, and were exceeding alive. His eyelids had to do with the look of his eyes, and were often seen cutting the ball. Philip's eyes were large on the pent of his brows, open, liquid, and quick with the fire in him. Eyes of that quality are the visible mind, animated both to speak it and to render it what comes within their scope. They were full, unshaded direct, the man himself, in action. Patrick's mouth had to be studied for an additional index to the character. To symbolise them, they were as a sword-blade lying beside book.
Men would have thought Patrick the slippery one of the two: women would have inclined to confide in him the more thoroughly; they bring feeling to the test, and do not so much read a print as read the imprinting on themselves; and the report that a certain one of us is true as steel, must be unanimous at a propitious hour to assure them completely that the steel is not two-edged in the fully formed nature of a man whom they have not tried. They are more at home with the unformed, which lends itself to feeling and imagination. Besides Patrick came nearer to them; he showed sensibility. They have it, and they deem it auspicious of goodness, or of the gentleness acceptable as an equivalent. Not the less was Philip the one to inspire the deeper and the wilder passion.
'So you've been down there?' said Philip. 'Tell us of your welcome. Never mind why you went: I think I see. You're the Patrick of fourteen, who tramped across Connaught for young Dermot to have a sight of you before he died, poor lad. How did Mr. Adister receive you?'
Patrick described the first interview.
Philip mused over it. 'Yes, those are some of his ideas: gentlemen are to excel in the knightly exercises. He used to fence excellently, and he was a good horseman. The Jesuit seminary would have been hard for him to swallow once. The house is a fine old house: lonely, I suppose.'
Patrick spoke of Caroline Adister and pursued his narrative. Philip was lost in thought. At the conclusion, relating to South America, he raised his head and said: 'Not so foolish as it struck you, Patrick. You and I might do that,—without the design upon the original owner of the soil! Irishmen are better out of Europe, unless they enter one of the Continental services.'
'What is it Con O'Donnell proposes to you?' Patrick asked him earnestly.
'To be a speaking trumpet in Parliament. And to put it first among the objections, I haven't an independence; not above two hundred a year.'
'I'll make it a thousand,' said Patrick, 'that is, if my people can pay.'
'Secondly, I don't want to give up my profession. Thirdly, fourthly, fifthly, once there, I should be boiling with the rest. I never could go half way. This idea of a commencement gives me a view of the finish. Would you care to try it?'
'If I'm no wiser after two or three years of the world I mean to make a better acquaintance with,' Patrick replied. 'Over there at home one catches the fever, you know. They have my feelings, and part of my judgement, and whether that's the weaker part I can't at present decide. My taste is for quiet farming and breeding.'
'Friendship, as far as possible; union, if the terms are fair,' said Philip. 'It's only the name of union now; supposing it a concession that is asked of them; say, sacrifice; it might be made for the sake of what our people would do to strengthen the nation. But they won't try to understand our people. Their laws, and their rules, their systems are forced on a race of an opposite temper, who would get on well enough, and thrive, if they were properly consulted. Ireland 's the sore place of England, and I'm sorry for it. We ought to be a solid square, with Europe in this pickle. So I say, sitting here. What should I be saying in Parliament?'
'Is Con at all likely, do you think, Philip?'
'He might: and become the burlesque Irishman of the House. There must be one, and the lot would be safe to fall on him.'
'Isn't he serious about it?'
'Quite, I fancy; and that will be the fun. A serious fellow talking nonsense with lively illustrations, is just the man for House of Commons clown. Your humorous rogue is not half so taking. Con would be the porpoise in a fish tank there, inscrutably busy on his errand and watched for his tumblings. Better I than he; and I should make a worse of it—at least for myself.'
'Wouldn't the secret of his happiness interfere?'
'If he has the secret inside his common sense. The bulk of it I suspect to be, that he enjoys his luxuries and is ashamed of his laziness; and so the secret pulls both ways. One day a fit of pride may have him, or one of his warm impulses, and if he's taken in the tide of it, I shall grieve for the secret.'
'You like his wife, Philip?'
'I respect her. They came together,—I suppose, because they were near together, like the two islands, in spite of the rolling waves between. I would not willingly see the union disturbed. He warms her, and she houses him. And he has to control the hot blood that does the warming, and she to moderate the severity of her principles, which are an essential part of the housing. Oh! shiver politics, Patrice. I wish I had been bred in France: a couple of years with your Pere Clement, and I could have met Irishmen and felt to them as an Irishman, whether they were disaffected or not. I wish I did. When I landed the other day, I thought myself passably cured, and could have said that rhetoric is the fire-water of our country, and claptrap the springboard to send us diving into it. I like my comrades-in-arms, I like the character of British officers, and the men too—I get on well with them. I declare to you, Patrice, I burn to live in brotherhood with them, not a rift of division at heart! I never show them that there is one. But our early training has us; it comes on us again; three or four days with Con have stirred me; I don't let him see it, but they always do: these tales of starvations and shootings, all the old work just as when I left, act on me like a smell of powder. I was dipped in "Ireland for the Irish"; and a contented Irishman scarcely seems my countryman.'
'I suppose it 's like what I hear of as digesting with difficulty,' Patrick referred to the state described by his brother.
'And not the most agreeable of food,' Philip added.
'It would be the secret of our happiness to discover how to make the best of it, if we had to pay penance for the discovery by living in an Esquimaux shanty,' said Patrick.
'With a frozen fish of admirable principles for wife,' said Philip.
'Ah, you give me shudders!'
'And it's her guest who talks of her in that style! and I hope to be thought a gentleman!' Philip pulled himself up. 'We may be all in the wrong. The way to begin to think so, is to do them an injury and forget it. The sensation's not unpleasant when it's other than a question of good taste. But politics to bed, Patrice. My chief is right—soldiers have nothing to do with them. What are you fiddling at in your coat there?'
'Something for you, my dear Philip.' Patrick brought out the miniature. He held it for his brother to look. 'It was the only thing I could get. Mr. Adister sends it. The young lady, Miss Caroline, seconded me. They think more of the big portrait: I don't. And it 's to be kept carefully, in case of the other one getting damaged. That's only fair.'
Philip drank in the face upon a swift shot of his eyes.
'Mr. Adister sends it?' His tone implied wonder at such a change in Adiante's father.
'And an invitation to you to visit him when you please.'
'That he might do,' said Philip: it was a lesser thing than to send her likeness to him.
Patrick could not help dropping his voice: 'Isn't it very like?' For answer the miniature had to be inspected closely.
Philip was a Spartan for keeping his feelings under.
'Yes,' he said, after an interval quick with fiery touches on the history of that face and his life. 'Older, of course. They are the features, of course. The likeness is not bad. I suppose it resembles her as she is now, or was when it was painted. You 're an odd fellow to have asked for it.'
'I thought you would wish to have it, Philip.'
'You're a good boy, Patrice. Light those candles we'll go to bed. I want a cool head for such brains as I have, and bumping the pillow all night is not exactly wholesome. We'll cross the Channel in a few days, and see the nest, and the mother, and the girls.'
'Not St. George's Channel. Mother would rather you would go to France and visit the De Reuils. She and the girls hope you will keep out of Ireland for a time: it's hot. Judge if they're anxious, when it's to stop them from seeing you, Philip!'
'Good-night, dear boy.' Philip checked the departing Patrick. 'You can leave that.' He made a sign for the miniature to be left on the table.
Patrick laid it there. His brother had not touched it, and he could have defended himself for having forgotten to leave it, on the plea that it might prevent his brother from having his proper share of sleep; and also, that Philip had no great pleasure in the possession of it. The two pleas, however, did not make one harmonious apology, and he went straight to the door in an odd silence, with the step of a decorous office-clerk, keeping his shoulders turned on Philip to conceal his look of destitution.
INTRODUCING A NEW CHARACTER
Letters and telegrams and morning journals lay on the breakfast-table, awaiting the members of the household with combustible matter. Bad news from Ireland came upon ominous news from India. Philip had ten words of mandate from his commanding officer, and they signified action, uncertain where. He was the soldier at once, buckled tight and buttoned up over his private sentiments. Vienna shot a line to Mrs. Adister O'Donnell. She communicated it:'The Princess Nikolas has a son!' Captain Con tossed his newspaper to the floor, crying:
'To-day the city'll be a chimney on fire, with the blacks in everybody's faces; but I must go down. It's hen and chicks with the director of a City Company. I must go.'
Did you say, madam?' Patrick inquired. 'A son,' said Mrs. Adister.
'And the military holloaing for reinforcements,' exclaimed Con. 'Pheu! Phil!'
'That's what it comes to,' was Philip's answer. 'Precautionary measures, eh?'
'You can make them provocative.' 'Will you beg for India?' 'I shall hear in an hour.' 'Have we got men?'
'Always the question with us.'
'What a country!' sighed the captain. 'I'd compose ye a song of old Drowsylid, except that it does no good to be singing it at the only time when you can show her the consequences of her sluggery. A country of compromise goes to pieces at the first cannon-shot of the advance, and while she's fighting on it's her poor business to be putting herself together again: So she makes a mess of the beginning, to a certainty. If it weren't that she had the army of Neptune about her—'
'The worst is she may some day start awake to discover that her protecting deity 's been napping too.—A boy or girl did you say, my dear?'
His wife replied: 'A son.'
'Ah! more births.' The captain appeared to be computing. 'But this one's out of England: and it's a prince I suppose they'll call him: and princes don't count in the population for more than finishing touches, like the crossing of t's and dotting of i's, though true they're the costliest, like some flowers and feathers, and they add to the lump on Barney's back. But who has any compassion for a burdened donkey? unless when you see him standing immortal meek! Well, and a child of some sort must have been expected? Because it's no miracle after marriage: worse luck for the crowded earth!'
'Things may not be expected which are profoundly distasteful,' Mrs. Adister remarked.
'True,' said her sympathetic husband. ''Tis like reading the list of the dead after a battle where you've not had the best of it—each name 's a startling new blow. I'd offer to run to Earlsfont, but here's my company you would have me join for the directoring of it, you know, my dear, to ballast me, as you pretty clearly hinted; and all 's in the city to-day like a loaf with bad yeast, thick as lead, and sour to boot. And a howl and growl coming off the wilds of Old Ireland! We're smitten to-day in our hearts and our pockets, and it 's a question where we ought to feel it most, for the sake of our families.'
'Do you not observe that your cousins are not eating?' said his wife, adding, to Patrick: 'I entertain the opinion that a sound breakfast-appetite testifies to the proper vigour of men.'
'Better than a doctor's pass: and to their habits likewise,' Captain Con winked at his guests, begging them to steal ten minutes out of the fray for the inward fortification of them.
Eggs in the shell, and masses of eggs, bacon delicately thin and curling like Apollo's locks at his temples, and cutlets, caviar, anchovies in the state of oil, were pressed with the captain's fervid illustrations upon the brothers, both meditatively nibbling toast and indifferent to the similes he drew and applied to life from the little fish which had their sharpness corrected but not cancelled by the improved liquid they swam in. 'Like an Irishman in clover,' he said to his wife to pay her a compliment and coax an acknowledgement: 'just the flavour of the salt of him.'
Her mind was on her brother Edward, and she could not look sweet-oily, as her husband wooed her to do, with impulse to act the thing he was imagining.
'And there is to-morrow's dinner-party to the Mattocks: I cannot travel to Earlsfont,' she said.
'Patrick is a disengaged young verderer, and knows the route, and has a welcome face there, and he might go, if you're for having it performed by word of mouth. But, trust me, my dear, bad news is best communicated by telegraph, which gives us no stupid articles and particles to quarrel with. "Boy born Vienna doctor smiling nurse laughing." That tells it all, straight to the understanding, without any sickly circumlocutory stuff; and there's nothing more offensive to us when we're hurt at intelligence. For the same reason, Colonel Arthur couldn't go, since you'll want him to meet the Mattocks?'
Captain Con's underlip shone with a roguish thinness.
'Arthur must be here,' said Mrs. Adister. 'I cannot bring myself to write it. I disapprove of telegrams.'
She was asking to be assisted, so her husband said:
'Take Patrick for a secretary. Dictate. He has a bold free hand and'll supply all the fiorituri and arabesques necessary to the occasion running.'
She gazed at Patrick as if to intimate that he might be enlisted, and said: 'It will be to Caroline. She will break it to her uncle.'
'Right, madam, on the part of a lady I 've never known to be wrong! And so, my dear, I must take leave of you, to hurry down to the tormented intestines of that poor racked city, where the winds of panic are violently engaged in occupying the vacuum created by knocking over what the disaster left standing; and it 'll much resemble a colliery accident there, I suspect, and a rescue of dead bodies. Adieu, my dear.' He pressed his lips on her thin fingers.
Patrick placed himself at Mrs. Adister's disposal as her secretary. She nodded a gracious acceptance of him.
'I recommended the telegraph because it's my wife's own style, and comes better from wires,' said the captain, as they were putting on their overcoats in the hall. 'You must know the family. "Deeds not words" would serve for their motto. She hates writing, and doesn't much love talking. Pat 'll lengthen her sentences for her. She's fond of Adiante, and she sympathises with her brother Edward made a grandfather through the instrumentality of that foreign hooknose; and Patrick must turn the two dagger sentiments to a sort of love-knot and there's the task he'll have to work out in his letter to Miss Caroline. It's fun about Colonel Arthur not going. He's to meet the burning Miss Mattock, who has gold on her crown and a lot on her treasury, Phil, my boy! but I'm bound in honour not to propose it. And a nice girl, a prize; afresh healthy girl; and brains: the very girl! But she's jotted down for the Adisters, if Colonel Arthur can look lower than his nose and wag his tongue a bit. She's one to be a mother of stout ones that won't run up big doctors' bills or ask assistance in growing. Her name's plain Jane, and she 's a girl to breed conquerors; and the same you may say of her brother John, who 's a mighty fit man, good at most things, though he counts his fortune in millions, which I've heard is lighter for a beggar to perform than in pounds, but he can count seven, and beat any of us easy by showing them millions! We might do something for them at home with a million or two, Phil. It all came from the wedding of a railway contractor, who sprang from the wedding of a spade and a clod—and probably called himself Mattock at his birth, no shame to him.'
'You're for the city,' said Philip, after they had walked down the street.
'Not I,' said Con. 'Let them play Vesuvius down there. I've got another in me: and I can't stop their eruption, and they wouldn't relish mine. I know a little of Dick Martin, who called on the people to resist, and housed the man Liffey after his firing the shot, and I'm off to Peter M'Christy, his brother-in-law. I'll see Distell too. I must know if it signifies the trigger, or I'm agitated about nothing. Dr. Forbery'll be able to tell how far they mean going for a patriotic song.
"For we march in ranks to the laurelled banks, On the bright horizon shining, Though the fields between run red on the green, And many a wife goes pining."
Will you come, Phil?'
'I 'm under orders.'
'You won't engage yourself by coming.'
'I'm in for the pull if I join hands.'
'And why not?—inside the law, of course.'
'While your Barney skirmishes outside!'
'And when the poor fellow's cranium's cracking to fling his cap in the air, and physician and politician are agreed it's good for him to do it, or he'll go mad and be a dangerous lunatic! Phil, it must be a blow now and then for these people over here, else there's no teaching their imaginations you're in earnest; for they've got heads that open only to hard raps, these English; and where injustice rules, and you'd spread a light of justice, a certain lot of us must give up the ghost—naturally on both sides. Law's law, and life's life, so long as you admit that the law is bad; and in that case, it's big misery and chronic disease to let it be and at worst a jump and tumble into the next world, of a score or two of us if we have a wrestle with him. But shake the old villain; hang on him and shake him. Bother his wig, if he calls himself Law. That 's how we dust the corruption out of him for a bite or two in return. Such is humanity, Phil: and you must allow for the roundabout way of moving to get into the straight road at last. And I see what you're for saying: a roundabout eye won't find it! You're wrong where there are dozens of corners. Logic like yours, my boy, would have you go on picking at the Gordian Knot till it became a jackasses' race between you and the rope which was to fall to pieces last.—There 's my old girl at the stall, poor soul! See her!'
Philip had signalled a cabman to stop. He stood facing his cousin with a close-lipped smile that summarised his opinion and made it readable.
'I have no time for an introduction to her this morning,' he said.
'You won't drop in on Distell to hear the latest brewing? And, by the by, Phil, tell us, could you give us a hint for packing five or six hundred rifles and a couple of pieces of cannon?'
Philip stared; he bent a lowering frown on his cousin, with a twitch at his mouth.
'Oh! easy!' Con answered the look; 'it's for another place and harder to get at.'
He was eyed suspiciously and he vowed the military weapons were for another destination entirely, the opposite Pole.
'No, you wouldn't be in for a crazy villainy like that!' said Philip.
'No, nor wink to it,' said Con. 'But it's a question about packing cannon and small arms; and you might be useful in dropping a hint or two. The matter's innocent. It's not even a substitution of one form of Government for another: only a change of despots, I suspect. And here's Mr. John Mattock himself, who'll corroborate me, as far as we can let you into the secret before we've consulted together. And he's an Englishman and a member of Parliament, and a Liberal though a landlord, a thorough stout Briton and bulldog for the national integrity, not likely to play at arms and ammunition where his country's prosperity 's concerned. How d' ye do, Mr. Mattock—and opportunely, since it's my cousin, Captain Philip O'Donnell, aide-de-camp to Sir Charles, fresh from Canada, of whom you've heard, I'd like to make you acquainted with, previous to your meeting at my wife's table tomorrow evening.'
Philip bowed to a man whose notion of the ceremony was to nod.
Con took him two steps aside and did all the talking. Mr. Mattock listened attentively the first half-minute, after which it could be perceived that the orator was besieging a post, or in other words a Saxon's mind made up on a point of common sense. His appearance was redolently marine; his pilot coat, flying necktie and wideish trowsers, a general airiness of style on a solid frame, spoke of the element his blue eyes had dipped their fancy in, from hereditary inclination. The colour of a sandpit was given him by hair and whiskers of yellow-red on a ruddy face. No one could express a negative more emphatically without wording it, though he neither frowned nor gesticulated to that effect.
'Ah!' said Con, abruptly coming to an end after an eloquent appeal. 'And I think I'm of your opinion: and the sea no longer dashes at the rock, but makes itself a mirror to the same. She'll keep her money and nurse her babe, and not be trying risky adventures to turn him into a reigning prince. Only this: you'll have to persuade her the thing is impossible. She'll not take it from any of us. She looks on you as Wisdom in the uniform of a great commander, and if you say a thing can be done it 's done.'
'The reverse too, I hope,' said Mr. Mattock, nodding and passing on his way.
'That I am not so sure of,' Con remarked to himself. 'There's a change in a man through a change in his position! Six months or so back, Phil, that man came from Vienna, the devoted slave of the Princess Nikolas. He'd been there on his father's business about one of the Danube railways, and he was ready to fill the place of the prince at the head of his phantom body of horse and foot and elsewhere. We talked of his selling her estates for the purchase of arms and the enemy—as many as she had money for. We discussed it as a matter of business. She had bewitched him: and would again, I don't doubt, if she were here to repeat the dose. But in the interim his father dies, he inherits; and he enters Parliament, and now, mind you, the man who solemnly calculated her chances and speculates on the transmission of rifled arms of the best manufacture and latest invention by his yacht and with his loads of rails, under the noses of the authorities, like a master rebel, and a chivalrous gentleman to boot, pooh poohs the whole affair. You saw him. Grave as an owl, the dead contrary of his former self!'
'I thought I heard you approve him,' said Philip.
'And I do. But the poor girl has ordered her estates to be sold to cast the die, and I 'm taking the view of her disappointment, for she believes he can do anything; and if I know the witch, her sole comfort lying in the straw is the prospect of a bloody venture for a throne. The truth is, to my thinking, it's the only thing she has to help her to stomach her husband.'
'But it's rank idiocy to suppose she can smuggle cannon!' cried Philip.
'But that man Mattock's not an idiot and he thought she could. And it 's proof he was under a spell. She can work one.'
'The country hasn't a port.'
'Round the Euxine and up the Danube, with the British flag at the stern. I could rather enjoy the adventure. And her prince is called for. He's promised a good reception when he drops down the river, they say. A bit of a scrimmage on the landing-pier may be, and the first field or two, and then he sits himself, and he waits his turn. The people change their sovereigns as rapidly as a London purse. Two pieces of artillery and two or three hundred men and a trumpet alter the face of the land there. Sometimes a trumpet blown by impudence does it alone. They're enthusiastic for any new prince. He's their Weekly Journal or Monthly Magazine. Let them make acquaintance with Adiante Adister, I'd not swear she wouldn't lay fast hold of them.'
Philip signalled to his driver, and Captain Con sang out his dinner-hour for a reminder to punctuality, thoughtful of the feelings of his wife.
Mrs. Adister O'Donnell, in common with her family, had an extreme dislike of the task of composing epistles, due to the circumstance that she was unable, unaided, to conceive an idea disconnected with the main theme of her communication, and regarded, as an art of conjuring, the use of words independent of ideas. Her native superiority caused her to despise the art, but the necessity for employing it at intervals subjected her to fits of admiration of the conjurer, it being then evident that a serviceable piece of work, beyond her capacity to do, was lightly performed by another. The lady's practical intelligence admitted the service, and at the same time her addiction to the practical provoked disdain of so flimsy a genius, which was identified by her with the genius of the Irish race. If Irishmen had not been notoriously fighters, famous for their chivalry, she would have looked on them as a kind of footmen hired to talk and write, whose volubility might be encouraged and their affectionateness deserved by liberal wages. The promptitude of Irish blood to deliver the war-cry either upon a glove flung down or taken up, raised them to a first place in her esteem: and she was a peaceful woman abhorring sanguinary contention; but it was in her own blood to love such a disposition against her principles.
She led Patrick to her private room, where they both took seats and he selected a pen. Mr. Patrick supposed that his business would be to listen and put her words to paper; a mechanical occupation permitting the indulgence of personal phantasies; and he was flying high on them until the extraordinary delicacy of the mind seeking to deliver itself forced him to prick up all his apprehensiveness. She wished to convey that she was pleased with the news from Vienna, and desired her gratification to be imparted to her niece Caroline, yet not so as to be opposed to the peculiar feelings of her brother Edward, which had her fullest sympathy; and yet Caroline must by no means be requested to alter a sentence referring to Adiante, for that would commit her and the writer jointly to an insincerity.
'It must be the whole truth, madam,' said Patrick, and he wrote: 'My dear Caroline,' to get the start. At once a magnificently clear course for the complicated letter was distinguished by him. 'Can I write on and read it to you afterward? I have the view,' he said.
Mrs. Adister waved to him to write on.
Patrick followed his 'My dear Caroline' with greetings very warm, founded on a report of her flourishing good looks. The decision of Government to send reinforcements to Ireland was mentioned as a prelude to the information from Vienna of the birth of a son to the Princess Nikolas: and then; having conjoined the two entirely heterogeneous pieces of intelligence, the composer adroitly interfused them by a careless transposition of the prelude and the burden that enabled him to play ad libitum on regrets and rejoicings; by which device the lord of Earlsfont might be offered condolences while the lady could express her strong contentment, inasmuch as he deplored the state of affairs in the sister island, and she was glad of a crisis concluding a term of suspense thus the foreign-born baby was denounced and welcomed, the circumstances lamented and the mother congratulated, in a breath, all under cover of the happiest misunderstanding, as effective as the cabalism of Prospero's wand among the Neapolitan mariners, by the skilful Irish development on a grand scale of the rhetorical figure anastrophe, or a turning about and about.
He read it out to her, enjoying his composition and pleased with his reconcilement of differences. 'So you say what you feel yourself, madam, and allow for the feelings on the other side,' he remarked. 'Shall I fold it?
There was a smoothness in the letter particularly agreeable to her troubled wits, but with an awful taste. She hesitated to assent: it seemed like a drug that she was offered.
Patrick sketched a series of hooked noses on the blotter. He heard a lady's name announced at the door, and glancing up from his work he beheld a fiery vision.
Mrs. Adister addressed her affectionately: 'My dear Jane!' Patrick was introduced to Miss Mattock.
His first impression was that the young lady could wrestle with him and render it doubtful of his keeping his legs. He was next engaged in imagining that she would certainly burn and be a light in the dark. Afterwards he discovered her feelings to be delicate, her looks pleasant. Thereupon came one of the most singular sensations he had ever known: he felt that he was unable to see the way to please her. She confirmed it by her remarks and manner of speaking. Apparently she was conducting a business.
'You're right, my dear Mrs. Adister, I'm on my way to the Laundry, and I called to get Captain Con to drive there with me and worry the manageress about the linen they turn out: for gentlemen are complaining of their shirt-fronts, and if we get a bad name with them it will ruin us. Women will listen to a man. I hear he has gone down to the city. I must go and do it alone. Our accounts are flourishing, I'm glad to say, though we cannot yet afford to pay for a secretary, and we want one. John and I verified them last night. We're aiming at steam, you know. In three or four years we may found a steam laundry on our accumulated capital. If only we can establish it on a scale to let us give employment to at least as many women as we have working now! That is what I want to hear of. But if we wait for a great rival steam laundry to start ahead of us, we shall be beaten and have to depend on the charitable sentiments of rich people to support the Institution. And that won't do. So it's a serious question with us to think of taking the initiative: for steam must come. It 's a scandal every day that it doesn't while we have coal. I'm for grand measures. At the same time we must not be imprudent: turning off hands, even temporarily, that have to feed infants, would be quite against my policy.'
Her age struck Patrick as being about twenty-three.
'Could my nephew Arthur be of any use to you?' said Mrs. Adister.
'Colonel Adister?' Miss Mattock shook her head. 'No.'
'Arthur can be very energetic when he takes up a thing.' 'Can he? But, Mrs. Adister, you are looking a little troubled. Sometimes you confide in me. You are so good to us with your subscriptions that I always feel in your debt.'
Patrick glanced at his hostess for a signal to rise and depart.
She gave none, but at once unfolded her perplexity, and requested Miss Mattock to peruse the composition of Mr. Patrick O'Donnell and deliver an opinion upon it.
The young lady took the letter without noticing its author. She read it through, handed it back, and sat with her opinion evidently formed within.
'What do you think of it?' she was asked.
'Rank jesuitry,' she replied.
'I feared so!' sighed Mrs. Adister. 'Yet it says everything I wish to have said. It spares my brother and it does not belie me. The effect of a letter is often most important. I cannot but consider this letter very ingenious. But the moment I hear it is jesuitical I forswear it. But then my dilemma remains. I cannot consent to give pain to my brother Edward: nor will I speak an untruth, though it be to save him from a wound. I am indeed troubled. Mr. Patrick, I cannot consent to despatch a jesuitical letter. You are sure of your impression, my dear Jane?'
'Perfectly,' said Miss Mattock.
Patrick leaned to her. 'But if the idea in the mind of the person supposed to be writing the letter is accurately expressed? Does it matter, if we call it jesuitical, if the emotion at work behind it happens to be a trifle so, according to your definition?'
She rejoined: 'I should say, distinctly it matters.'
'Then you'd not express the emotions at all?'
He flashed a comical look of astonishment as he spoke. She was not to be diverted; she settled into antagonism.
'I should write what I felt.'
'But it might be like discharging a bullet.'
'If your writing in that way wounded the receiver.'
'Of course I should endeavour not to wound!'
'And there the bit of jesuitry begins. And it's innocent while it 's no worse than an effort to do a disagreeable thing as delicately as you can.'
She shrugged as delicately as she could:
'We cannot possibly please everybody in life.'
'No: only we may spare them a shock: mayn't we?'
'Sophistries of any description, I detest.'
'But sometimes you smile to please, don't you?'
'Do you detect falseness in that?' she answered, after the demurest of pauses.
'No: but isn't there a soupcon of sophistry in it?'
'I should say that it comes under the title of common civility.'
'And on occasion a little extra civility is permitted!'
'Perhaps: when we are not seeking a personal advantage.'
'On behalf of the Steam Laundry?'
Miss Mattock grew restless: she was too serious in defending her position to submit to laugh, and his goodhumoured face forbade her taking offence.
'Well, perhaps, for that is in the interest of others.'
'In the interests of poor and helpless females. And I agree with you with all my heart. But you would not be so considerate for the sore feelings of a father hearing what he hates to hear as to write a roundabout word to soften bad news to him?'
She sought refuge in the reply that nothing excused jesuitry.
'Except the necessities of civilisation,' said Patrick.
'Politeness is one thing,' she remarked pointedly.
'And domestic politeness is quite as needful as popular, you'll admit. And what more have we done in the letter than to be guilty of that? And people declare it's rarer: as if we were to be shut up in families to tread on one another's corns! Dear me! and after a time we should be having rank jesuitry advertised as the specific balsam for an unhappy domesticated population treading with hard heels from desperate habit and not the slightest intention to wound.'
'My dear Jane,' Mrs. Adister interposed while the young lady sat between mildly staring and blinking, 'you have, though still of a tender age, so excellent a head that I could trust to your counsel blindfolded. It is really deep concern for my brother. I am also strongly in sympathy with my niece, the princess, that beautiful Adiante: and my conscience declines to let me say that I am not.'
'We might perhaps presume to beg for Miss Mattock's assistance in the composition of a second letter more to her taste,' Patrick said slyly.
The effect was prompt: she sprang from her seat.
'Dear Mrs. Adister! I leave it to you. I am certain you and Mr. O'Donnell know best. It's too difficult and delicate for me. I am horribly blunt. Forgive me if I seemed to pretend to casuistry. I am sure I had no such meaning. I said what I thought. I always do. I never meant that it was not a very clever letter; and if it does exactly what you require it should be satisfactory. To-morrow evening John and I dine with you, and I look forward to plenty of controversy and amusement. At present I have only a head for work.'
'I wish I had that,' said Patrick devoutly.
She dropped her eyes on him, but without letting him perceive that he was a step nearer to the point of pleasing her.
Miss Mattock ventured on a prediction in her mind:
She was sure the letter would go. And there was not much to signify if it did. But the curious fatality that a person of such a native uprightness as Mrs. Adister should have been drawn in among Irishmen, set her thoughts upon the composer of the letter, and upon the contrast of his ingenuous look with the powerful cast of his head. She fancied a certain danger about him; of what kind she could not quite distinguish, for it had no reference to woman's heart, and he was too young to be much of a politician, and he was not in the priesthood. His transparency was of a totally different order from Captain Con's, which proclaimed itself genuine by the inability to conceal a shoal of subterfuges. The younger cousin's features carried a something invisible behind them, and she was just perceptive enough to spy it, and it excited her suspicions. Irishmen both she and her brother had to learn to like, owing to their bad repute for stability: they are, moreover, Papists: they are not given to ideas: that one of the working for the future has not struck them. In fine, they are not solid, not law-supporting, not disposed to be (humbly be it said) beneficent, like the good English. These were her views, and as she held it a weakness to have to confess that Irishmen are socially more fascinating than the good English, she was on her guard against them.
Of course the letter had gone. She heard of it before the commencement of the dinner, after Mrs. Adister had introduced Captain Philip O'Donnell to her, and while she was exchanging a word or two with Colonel Adister, who stood ready to conduct her to the table. If he addressed any remarks to the lady under his charge, Miss Mattock did not hear him; and she listened—who shall say why? His unlike likeness to his brother had struck her. Patrick opposite was flowing in speech. But Captain Philip O'Donnell's taciturnity seemed no uncivil gloom: it wore nothing of that look of being beneath the table, which some of our good English are guilty of at their social festivities, or of towering aloof a Matterhorn above it, in the style of Colonel Adister. Her discourse with the latter amused her passing reflections. They started a subject, and he punctuated her observations, or she his, and so they speedily ran to earth.
'I think,' says she, 'you were in Egypt this time last winter.'
He supplies her with a comma: 'Rather later.'
Then he carries on the line. 'Dull enough, if you don't have the right sort of travelling crew in your boat.'
'Naturally,' she puts her semicolon, ominous of the full stop.
'I fancy you have never been in Egypt?'
There it is; for the tone betrays no curiosity about Egypt and her Nile, and he is led to suppose that she has a distaste for foreign places.
Condescending to attempt to please, which he has reason to wish to succeed in doing, the task of pursuing conversational intercourse devolves upon him—
'I missed Parlatti last spring. What opinion have you formed of her?'
'I know her only by name at present.'
'Ah, I fancy you are indifferent to Opera.'
'Not at all; I enjoy it. I was as busy then as I am now.'
'Meetings? Dorcas, so forth.'
'Not Dorcas, I assure you. You might join if you would.'
'Your most obliged.'
A period perfectly rounded. At the same time Miss Mattock exchanged a smile with her hostess, of whose benignant designs in handing her to the entertaining officer she was not conscious. She felt bound to look happy to gratify an excellent lady presiding over the duller half of a table of eighteen. She turned slightly to Captain O'Donnell. He had committed himself to speech at last, without tilting his shoulders to exclude the company by devoting himself to his partner, and as he faced the table Miss Mattock's inclination to listen attracted him. He cast his eyes on her: a quiet look, neither languid nor frigid seeming to her both open and uninviting. She had the oddest little shiver, due to she knew not what. A scrutiny she could have borne, and she might have read a signification; but the look of those mild clear eyes which appeared to say nothing save that there was fire behind them, hit on some perplexity, or created it; for she was aware of his unhappy passion for the beautiful Miss Adister; the whole story had been poured into her ears; she had been moved by it. Possibly she had expected the eyes of such a lover to betray melancholy, and his power of containing the expression where the sentiment is imagined to be most transparent may have surprised her, thrilling her as melancholy orbs would not have done.
Captain Con could have thumped his platter with vexation. His wife's diplomacy in giving the heiress to Colonel Adister for the evening had received his cordial support while he manoeuvred cleverly to place Philip on the other side of her; and now not a step did the senseless fellow take, though she offered him his chance, dead sick of her man on the right; not a word did he have in ordinary civility; he was a burning disgrace to the chivalry of Erin. She would certainly be snapped up by a man merely yawning to take the bite. And there's another opportunity gone for the old country!—one's family to boot!