'I cannot affect to be very sensitive as to these Celtic criticisms, and I shall not ask you to recall them.'
'They say that Danesbury got kicked out, all for your blunders!'
'Do they?' said Walpole innocently.
'Yes; and they declare that if old Daney wasn't the most loyal fellow breathing, he'd have thrown you over, and owned that the whole mess was of your own brewing, and that he had nothing to do with it.'
'Do they, indeed, say that?'
'That's not half of it, for they have a story about a woman—some woman you met down at Kilgobbin—who made you sing rebel songs and take a Fenian pledge, and give your word of honour that Donogan should be let escape.'
'Is that all?'
'Isn't it enough? A man must be a glutton for tomfoolery if he could not be satisfied with that.'
'Perhaps you never heard that the chief of the Cabinet took a very different view of my Irish policy.'
'Irish policy?' cried the other, with lifted eyebrows.
'I said Irish policy, and repeat the words. Whatever line of political action tends to bring legislation into more perfect harmony with the instincts and impulses of a very peculiar people, it is no presumption to call a policy.'
'With all my heart. Do you mean to deal with that old Liverpool rascal for the furniture?'
'His offer is almost an insult.'
'Well, you'll be gratified to know he retracts it. He says now he'll only give L35! And as for the screws, Bobbidge, of the Carbineers, will take them both for L50.'
'Why, Lightfoot alone is worth the money!'
'Minus the sand-crack.'
'I deny the sand-crack. She was pricked in the shoeing.'
'Of course! I never knew a broken knee that wasn't got by striking the manger, nor a sand-crack that didn't come of an awkward smith.'
'What a blessing it would be if all the bad reputations in society could be palliated as pleasantly.'
'Shall I tell Bobbidge you take his offer? He wants an answer at once.'
'My dear major, don't you know that the fellow who says that, simply means to say: "Don't be too sure that I shall not change my mind." Look out that you take the ball at the hop!'
'Lucky if it hops at all.'
'Is that your experience of life?' said Walpole inquiringly.
'It is one of them. Will you take L50 for the screws?'
'Yes; and as much more for the break and the dog-cart. I want every rap I can scrape together, Harry. I'm going out to Guatemala.'
'I heard that.'
'Infernal place; at least, I believe, in climate—reptiles, fevers, assassination—it stands without a rival.'
'So they tell me.'
'It was the only thing vacant; and they rather affected a difficulty about giving it.'
'So they do when they send a man to the Gold Coast; and they tell the newspapers to say what a lucky dog he is.'
'I can stand all that. What really kills me is giving a man the C.B. when he is just booked for some home of yellow fever.'
'They do that too,' gravely observed the other, who was beginning to feel the pace of the conversation rather too fast for him. 'Don't you smoke?'
'I'm rather reducing myself to half batta in tobacco. I've thoughts of marrying.'
'Don't do that.'
'Why? It's not wrong.'
'No, perhaps not; but it's stupid.'
'Come now, old fellow, life out there in the tropics is not so jolly all alone! Alligators are interesting creatures, and cheetahs are pretty pets; but a man wants a little companionship of a more tender kind; and a nice girl who would link her fortunes with one's own, and help one through the sultry hours, is no bad thing.'
'The nice girl wouldn't go there.'
'I'm not so sure of that. With your great knowledge of life, you must know that there has been a glut in "the nice-girl" market these years back. Prime lots are sold for a song occasionally, and first-rate samples sent as far as Calcutta. The truth is, the fellow who looks like a real buyer may have the pick of the fair, as they call it here.'
So he ought,' growled out the major.
'The speech is not a gallant one. You are scarcely complimentary to the ladies, Lockwood.'
'It was you that talked of a woman like a cow, or a sack of corn, not I.'
'I employed an illustration to answer one of your own arguments.'
'Who is she to be?' bluntly asked the major.
'I'll tell you whom I mean to ask, for I have not put the question yet.'
'A long, fine whistle expressed the other's astonishment. 'And are you so sure she'll say Yes?'
'I have no other assurance than the conviction that a woman might do worse.'
'Humph! perhaps she might. I'm not quite certain; but who is she to be?'
'Do you remember a visit we made together to a certain Kilgobbin Castle.'
'To be sure I do. A rum old ruin it was.'
'Do you remember two young ladies we met there?'
'Perfectly. Are you going to marry both of them?'
'My intention is to propose to one, and I imagine I need not tell you which?'
'Naturally, the Irish girl. She saved your life—'
'Pray let me undeceive you in a double error. It is not the Irish girl; nor did she save my life.'
'Perhaps not; but she risked her own to save yours. You said so yourself at the time.'
'We'll not discuss the point now. I hope I feel duly grateful for the young lady's heroism, though it is not exactly my intention to record my gratitude in a special license.'
'A very equivocal sort of repayment,' grumbled out Lockwood.
'You are epigrammatic this evening, major.'
'So, then, it's the Greek you mean to marry?'
'It is the Greek I mean to ask.'
'All right. I hope she'll take you. I think, on the whole, you suit each other. If I were at all disposed to that sort of bondage, I don't know a girl I'd rather risk the road with than the Irish cousin, Miss Kearney.'
'She is very pretty, exceedingly obliging, and has most winning manners.'
'She is good-tempered, and she is natural—the two best things a woman can be.'
'Why not come down along with me and try your luck?'
'When do you go?'
'By the 10.30 train to-morrow. I shall arrive at Moate by four o'clock, and reach the castle to dinner.'
'They expect you?'
'Only so far, that I have telegraphed a line to say I'm going down to bid "Good-bye" before I sail for Guatemala. I don't suspect they know where that is, but it's enough when they understand it is far away.'
'I'll go with you.'
'Will you really?'
'I will. I'll not say on such an errand as your own, because that requires a second thought or two; but I'll reconnoitre, Master Cecil, I'll reconnoitre.'
'I suppose you know there is no money.'
'I should think money most unlikely in such a quarter; and it's better she should have none than a small fortune. I'm an old whist-player, and when I play dummy, there's nothing I hate more than to see two or three small trumps in my partner's hand.'
'I imagine you'll not be distressed in that way here.'
'I've got enough to come through with; that is, the thing can be done if there be no extravagances.'
'Does one want for more?' cried Walpole theatrically.
'I don't know that. If it were only ask and have, I should like to be tempted.'
'I have no such ambition. I firmly believe that the moderate limits a man sets to his daily wants constitute the real liberty of his intellect and his intellectual nature.'
'Perhaps I've no intellectual nature, then,' growled out Lockwood, 'for I know how I should like to spend fifteen thousand a year. I suppose I shall have to live on as many hundreds.'
'It can be done.'
'Perhaps it may. Have another weed?'
'No. I told you already I have begun a tobacco reformation.'
'Does she object to the pipe?'
'I cannot tell you. The fact is, Lockwood, my future and its fortunes are just as uncertain as your own. This day week will probably have decided the destiny of each of us.'
'To our success, then!' cried the major, filling both their glasses.
'To our success!' said Walpole, as he drained his, and placed it upside down on the table.
AT KILGOBBIN CASTLE
The 'Blue Goat' at Moate was destined once more to receive the same travellers whom we presented to our readers at a very early stage of this history.
'Not much change here,' cried Lockwood, as he strode into the little sitting-room and sat down. 'I miss the old fellow's picture, that's all.'
'Ah! by the way,' said Walpole to the landlord, 'you had my Lord Kilgobbin's portrait up there the last time I came through here.'
'Yes, indeed, sir,' said the man, smoothing down his hair and looking apologetically. 'But the Goats and my lord, who was the Buck Goat, got into a little disagreement, and they sent away his picture, and his lordship retired from the club, and—and—that was the way of it.'
'A heavy blow to your town, I take it,' said the major, as he poured out his beer.
'Well, indeed, your honour, I won't say it was. You see, sir, times is changed in Ireland. We don't care as much as we used about the "neighbouring gentry," as they called them once; and as for the lord, there! he doesn't spend a hundred a year in Moate.'
'How is that?'
'They get what they want by rail from Dublin, your honour; and he might as well not be here at all.'
'Can we have a car to carry us over to the castle?' asked Walpole, who did not care to hear more of local grievances.
'Sure, isn't my lord's car waiting for you since two o'clock!' said the host spitefully, for he was not conciliated by a courtesy that was to lose him a fifteen-shilling fare. 'Not that there's much of a horse between the shafts, or that old Daly himself is an elegant coachman,' continued the host; 'but they're ready in the yard when you want them.'
The travellers had no reason to delay them in their present quarters, and taking their places on the car, set out for the castle.
'I scarcely thought when I last drove this road,' said Walpole, 'that the next time I was to come should be on such an errand as my present one.'
'Humph!' ejaculated the other. 'Our noble relative that is to be does not shine in equipage. That beast is dead lame.'
'If we had our deserts, Lockwood, we should be drawn by a team of doves, with the god Cupid on the box.'
'I'd rather have two posters and a yellow postchaise.'
A drizzling rain that now began to fall interrupted all conversation, and each sank back into his own thoughts for the rest of the way.
Lord Kilgobbin, with his daughter at his side, watched the car from the terrace of the castle as it slowly wound its way along the bog road.
'As well as I can see, Kate, there is a man on each side of the car,' said Kearney, as he handed his field-glass to his daughter.
'Yes, papa, I see there are two travellers.'
'And I don't well know why there should be even one! There was no such great friendship between us that he need come all this way to bid us good-bye.'
'Considering the mishap that befell him here, it is a mark of good feeling to desire to see us all once more, don't you think so?'
'May be so,' muttered he drearily. 'At all events, it's not a pleasant house he's coming to. Young O'Shea there upstairs, just out of a fever; and old Miss Betty, that may arrive any moment.'
'There's no question of that. She says it would be ten days or a fortnight before she is equal to the journey.'
'Heaven grant it!—hem—I mean that she'll be strong enough for it by that time. At all events, if it is the same as to our fine friend, Mr. Walpole, I wish he'd have taken his leave of us in a letter.'
'It is something new, papa, to see you so inhospitable.'
'But I am not inhospitable, Kitty. Show me the good fellow that would like to pass an evening with me and think me good company, and he shall have the best saddle of mutton and the raciest bottle of claret in the house. But it's only mock-hospitality to be entertaining the man that only comes out of courtesy and just stays as long as good manners oblige him.'
'I do not know that I should undervalue politeness, especially when it takes the shape of a recognition.'
'Well, be it so,' sighed he, almost drearily. 'If the young gentleman is so warmly attached to us all that he cannot tear himself away till he has embraced us, I suppose there's no help for it. Where is Nina?'
'She was reading to Gorman when I saw her. She had just relieved Dick, who has gone out for a walk.'
'A jolly house for a visitor to come to!' cried he sarcastically.
'We are not very gay or lively, it is true, papa; but it is not unlikely that the spirit in which our guest comes here will not need much jollity.'
'I don't take it as a kindness for a man to bring me his depression and his low spirits. I've always more of my own than I know what to do with. Two sorrows never made a joy, Kitty.'
'There! they are lighting the lamps,' cried she suddenly. 'I don't think they can be more than three miles away.'
'Have you rooms ready, if there be two coming?'
'Yes, papa, Mr. Walpole will have his old quarters; and the stag-room is in readiness if there be another guest.'
'I'd like to have a house as big as the royal barracks, and every room of it occupied!' cried Kearney, with a mellow ring in his voice. 'They talk of society and pleasant company; but for real enjoyment there's nothing to compare with what a man has under his own roof! No claret ever tastes so good as the decanter he circulates himself. I was low enough half an hour ago, and now the mere thought of a couple of fellows to dine with me cheers me up and warms my heart! I'll give them the green seal, Kitty; and I don't know there's another house in the county could put a bottle of '46 claret before them.'
'So you shall, papa. I'll go to the cellar myself and fetch it.'
Kearney hastened to make the moderate toilet he called dressing for dinner, and was only finished when his old servant informed him that two gentlemen had arrived and gone up to their rooms.
'I wish it was two dozen had come,' said Kearney, as he descended to the drawing-room.
'It is Major Lockwood, papa,' cried Kate, entering and drawing him into a window-recess; 'the Major Lockwood that was here before, has come with Mr. Walpole. I met him in the hall while I had the basket with the wine in my hand, and he was so cordial and glad to see me you cannot think.'
'He knew that green wax, Kitty. He tasted that "bin" when he was here last.'
'Perhaps so; but he certainly seemed overjoyed at something.'
'Let me see,' muttered he, 'wasn't he the big fellow with the long moustaches?'
'A tall, very good-looking man; dark as a Spaniard, and not unlike one.'
'To be sure, to be sure. I remember him well. He was a capital shot with the pistol, and he liked his wine. By the way, Nina did not take to him.'
'How do you remember that, papa?' said she archly.
If I don't mistake, she told me so, or she called him a brute, or a savage, or some one of those things a man is sure to be, when a woman discovers he will not be her slave.'
Nina entering at the moment cut short all rejoinder, and Kearney came forward to meet her with his hand out.
'Shake out your lower courses, and let me look at you,' cried he, as he walked round her admiringly. 'Upon my oath, it's more beautiful than ever you are! I can guess what a fate is reserved for those dandies from Dublin.'
'Do you like my dress, sir? Is it becoming?' asked she.
'Becoming it is; but I'm not sure whether I like it.'
'And how is that, sir?'
'I don't see how, with all that floating gauze and swelling lace, a man is to get an arm round you at all—'
'I cannot perceive the necessity, sir,' and the insolent toss of her head, more forcibly even than her words, resented such a possibility.
When Atlee arrived at Bruton Street, the welcome that met him was almost cordial. Lord Danesbury—not very demonstrative at any time—received him with warmth, and Lady Maude gave him her hand with a sort of significant cordiality that overwhelmed him with delight. The climax of his enjoyment was, however, reached when Lord Danesbury said to him, 'We are glad to see you at home again.'
This speech sank deep into his heart, and he never wearied of repeating it over and over to himself. When he reached his room, where his luggage had already preceded him, and found his dressing articles laid out, and all the little cares and attentions which well-trained servants understand awaiting him, he muttered, with a tremulous sort of ecstasy, 'This is a very glorious way to come home!'
The rich furniture of the room, the many appliances of luxury and ease around him, the sense of rest and quiet, so delightful after a journey, all appealed to him as he threw himself into a deep-cushioned chair. He cried aloud, 'Home! home! Is this indeed home? What a different thing from that mean life of privation and penury I have always been associating with this word—from that perpetual struggle with debt—the miserable conflict that went on through every day, till not an action, not a thought, remained untinctured with money, and if a momentary pleasure crossed the path, the cost of it as certain to tarnish all the enjoyment! Such was the only home I have ever known, or indeed imagined.'
It is said that the men who have emerged from very humble conditions in life, and occupy places of eminence or promise, are less overjoyed at this change of fortune than impressed with a kind of resentment towards the destiny that once had subjected them to privation. Their feeling is not so much joy at the present as discontent with the past.
'Why was I not born to all this?' cried Atlee indignantly. 'What is there in me, or in my nature, that this should be a usurpation? Why was I not schooled at Eton, and trained at Oxford? Why was I not bred up amongst the men whose competitor I shall soon find myself? Why have I not their ways, their instincts, their watchwords, their pastimes, and even their prejudices, as parts of my very nature? Why am I to learn these late in life, as a man learns a new language, and never fully catches the sounds or the niceties? Is there any competitorship I should flinch from, any rivalry I should fear, if I had but started fair in the race?'
This sense of having been hardly treated by Fortune at the outset, marred much of his present enjoyment, accompanied as it was by a misgiving that, do what he might, that early inferiority would cling to him, like some rag of a garment that he must wear over all his 'braverie,' proclaiming as it did to the world, 'This is from what I sprung originally.'
It was not by any exercise of vanity that Atlee knew he talked better, knew more, was wittier and more ready-witted than the majority of men of his age and standing. The consciousness that he could do scores of things they could not do was not enough, tarnished as it was by a misgiving that, by some secret mystery of breeding, some freemasonry of fashion, he was not one of them, and that this awkward fact was suspended over him for life, to arrest his course in the hour of success, and balk him at the very moment of victory.
'Till a man's adoption amongst them is ratified by a marriage, he is not safe,' muttered he. 'Till the fate and future of one of their own is embarked in the same boat with himself, they'll not grieve over his shipwreck.'
Could he but call Lady Maude his wife! Was this possible? There were classes in which affections went for much, where there was such a thing as engaging these same affections, and actually pledging all hope of happiness in life on the faith of such engagements. These, it is true, were the sentiments that prevailed in humbler walks of life, amongst those lowly-born people whose births and marriages were not chronicled in gilt-bound volumes. The Lady Maudes of the world, whatever imprudences they might permit themselves, certainly never 'fell in love.' Condition and place in the world were far too serious things to be made the sport of sentiment. Love was a very proper thing in three-volume novels, and Mr. Mudie drove a roaring trade in it; but in the well-bred world, immersed in all its engagements, triple-deep in its projects and promises for pleasure, where was the time, where the opportunity, for this pleasant fooling? That luxurious selfishness in which people delight to plan a future life, and agree to think that they have in themselves what can confront narrow fortune and difficulty—these had no place in the lives of persons of fashion! In that coquetry of admiration and flattery which in the language of slang is called spooning, young persons occasionally got so far acquainted that they agreed to be married, pretty much as they agreed to waltz or to polka together; but it was always with the distinct understanding that they were doing what mammas would approve of, and family solicitors of good conscience could ratify. No tyrannical sentimentality, no uncontrollable gush of sympathy, no irresistible convictions about all future happiness being dependent on one issue, overbore these natures, and made them insensible to title, and rank, and station, and settlements.
In one word, Atlee, after due consideration, satisfied his mind that, though a man might gain the affections of the doctor's daughter or the squire's niece, and so establish him as an element of her happiness that friends would overlook all differences of fortune, and try to make some sort of compromise with Fate, all these were unsuited to the sphere in which Lady Maude moved. It was, indeed, a realm where this coinage did not circulate. To enable him to address her with any prospect of success, he should be able to show—ay, and to show argumentatively—that she was, in listening to him, about to do something eminently prudent and worldly-wise. She must, in short, be in a position to show her friends and 'society' that she had not committed herself to anything wilful or foolish—had not been misled by a sentiment or betrayed by a sympathy; and that the well-bred questioner who inquired, 'Why did she marry Atlee?' should be met by an answer satisfactory and convincing.
In the various ways he canvassed the question and revolved it with himself, there was one consideration which, if I were at all concerned for his character for gallantry, I should be reluctant to reveal; but as I feel little interest on this score, I am free to own was this. He remembered that as Lady Maude was no longer in her first youth, there was reason to suppose she might listen to addresses now which, some years ago, would have met scant favour in her eyes.
In the matrimonial Lloyd's, if there were such a body, she would not have figured A No. 1; and the risks of entering the conjugal state have probably called for an extra premium. Atlee attached great importance to this fact; but it was not the less a matter which demanded the greatest delicacy of treatment. He must know it, and he must not know it. He must see that she had been the belle of many seasons, and he must pretend to regard her as fresh to the ways of life, and new to society. He trusted a good deal to his tact to do this, for while insinuating to her the possible future of such a man as himself—the high place, and the great rewards which, in all likelihood, awaited him—there would come an opportune moment to suggest, that to any one less gifted, less conversant with knowledge of life than herself, such reasonings could not be addressed.
'It could never be,' cried he aloud; 'to some miss fresh from the schoolroom and the governess, I could dare to talk a language only understood by those who have been conversant with high questions, and moved in the society of thoughtful talkers.'
There is no quality so dangerous to eulogise as experience, and Atlee thought long over this. One determination or another must speedily be come to. If there was no likelihood of success with Lady Maude, he must not lose his chances with the Greek girl. The sum, whatever it might be, which her father should obtain for his secret papers, would constitute a very respectable portion. 'I have a stronger reason to fight for liberal terms,' thought he, 'than the Prince Kostalergi imagines; and, fortunately, that fine parental trait, that noble desire to make a provision for his child, stands out so clearly in my brief, I should be a sorry advocate if I could not employ it.'
In the few words that passed between Lord Danesbury and himself on arriving, he learned that there was but little chance of winning his election for the borough. Indeed, he bore the disappointment jauntily and good-humouredly. That great philosophy of not attaching too much importance to any one thing in life, sustained him in every venture. 'Bet on the field—never back the favourite,' was his formula for inculcating the wisdom of trusting to the general game of life, rather than to any particular emergency. 'Back the field,' he would say, 'and you must be unlucky, or you'll come right in the long run.'
They dined that day alone, that is, they were but three at table; and Atlee enjoyed the unspeakable pleasure of hearing them talk with the freedom and unconstraint people only indulge in when 'at home.' Lord Danesbury discussed confidential questions of political importance: told how his colleagues agreed in this, or differed on that; adverted to the nice points of temperament which made one man hopeful and that other despondent or distrustful; he exposed the difficulties they had to meet in the Commons, and where the Upper House was intractable; and even went so far in his confidences as to admit where the criticisms of the Press were felt to be damaging to the administration.
'The real danger of ridicule,' said he, 'is not the pungency of the satire, it is the facility with which it is remembered and circulated. The man who reads the strong leader in the Times may have some general impression of being convinced, but he cannot repeat its arguments or quote its expressions. The pasquinade or the squib gets a hold on the mind, and in its very drollery will ensure its being retained there.'
Atlee was not a little gratified to hear that this opinion was delivered apropos to a short paper of his own, whose witty sarcasms on the Cabinet were exciting great amusement in town, and much curiosity as to the writer.
'He has not seen "The Whitebait Dinner" yet,' said Lady Maude; 'the cleverest jeu d'esprit of the day.'
'Ay, or of any day,' broke in Lord Danesbury. 'Even the Anti-Jacobin has nothing better. The notion is this. The Devil happens to be taking a holiday, and he is in town just at the time of the Ministerial dinner, and hearing that he is at Claridge's, the Cabinet, ashamed at the little attention bestowed on a crowned head, ask him down to Greenwich. He accepts, and to kill an hour—
"He strolled down, of course, To the Parliament House, And heard how England stood, As she has since the Flood, Without ally or friend to assist her. But, while every persuasion Was full of invasion From Russian or Prussian, Yet the only discussion Was, how should a Gentleman marry his sister."'
'Can you remember any more of it, my lord?' asked Atlee, on whose table at that moment were lying the proof-sheets of the production.
'Maude has it all somewhere. You must find it for him, and let him guess the writer—if he can.'
'What do the clubs say?' asked Atlee.
'I think they are divided between Orlop and Bouverie. I'm told that the Garrick people say it's Sankey, a young fellow in F. O.'
'You should see Aunt Jerningham about it, Mr. Atlee—her eagerness is driving her half mad.'
'Take him out to "Lebanon" on Sunday,' said my lord; and Lady Maude agreed with a charming grace and courtesy, adding as she left the room, 'So remember you are engaged for Sunday.'
Atlee bowed as he held the door open for her to pass out, and threw into his glance what he desired might mean homage and eternal devotion.
'Now then for a little quiet confab,' said my lord. 'Let me hear what you mean by your telegram. All I could make out was that you found our man.'
'Yes, I found him, and passed several hours in his company.'
'Was the fellow very much out at elbows, as usual?'
'No, my lord—thriving, and likely to thrive. He has just been named envoy to the Ottoman Court.'
'Bah!' was all the reply his incredulity could permit.
'True, I assure you. Such is the estimation he is held in at Athens, the Greeks declare he has not his equal. You are aware that his name is Spiridion Kostalergi, and he claims to be Prince of Delos.'
'With all my heart. Our Hellenic friends never quarrel over their nobility. There are titles and to spare for every one. Will he give us our papers?'
'Yes; but not without high terms. He declares, in fact, my lord, that you can no more return to the Bosporus without him than he can go there without you.'
'Is the fellow insolent enough to take this ground?'
'That is he. In fact, he presumes to talk as your lordship's colleague, and hints at the several points in which you may act in concert.'
'It is very Greek all this.'
'His terms are ten thousand pounds in cash, and—'
'There, there, that will do. Why not fifty—why not a hundred thousand?'
'He affects a desire to be moderate, my lord.'
'I hope you withdrew at once after such a proposal? I trust you did not prolong the interview a moment longer?'
'I arose, indeed, and declared that the mere mention of such terms was like a refusal to treat at all.'
'And you retired?'
'I gained the door, when he detained me. He has, I must admit, a marvellous plausibility, for though at first he seemed to rely on the all-importance of these documents to your lordship—how far they would compromise you in the past and impede you for the future, how they would impair your influence, and excite the animosity of many who were freely canvassed and discussed in them—yet he abandoned all that at the end of our interview, and restricted himself to the plea that the sum, if a large one, could not be a serious difficulty to a great English noble, and would be the crowning fortune of a poor Greek gentleman, who merely desired to secure a marriage-portion for his only daughter.'
'And you believed this?'
'I so far believed him that I have his pledge in writing that, when he has your lordship's assurance that you will comply with his terms—and he only asks that much—he will deposit the papers in the hands of the Minister at Athens, and constitute your lordship the trustee of the amount in favour of his daughter, the sum only to be paid on her marriage.'
'How can it possibly concern me that he has a daughter, or why should I accept such a trust?'
'The proposition had no other meaning than to guarantee the good faith on which his demand is made.'
'I don't believe in the daughter.'
'That is, that there is one?'
'No. I am persuaded that she has no existence. It is some question of a mistress or a dependant; and if so, the sentimentality, which would seem to have appealed so forcibly to you, fails at once.'
'That is quite true, my lord; and I cannot pretend to deny the weakness you accuse me of. There may be no daughter in the question.'
'Ah! You begin to perceive now that you surrendered your convictions too easily, Atlee. You failed in that element of "restless distrust" that Talleyrand used to call the temper of the diplomatist.'
'It is not the first time I have had to feel I am your lordship's inferior.'
'My education was not made in a day, Atlee. It need be no discouragement to you that you are not as long-sighted as I am. No, no; rely upon it, there is no daughter in the case.'
'With that conviction, my lord, what is easier than to make your adhesion to his terms conditional on his truth? You agree, if his statement be in all respects verified.'
'Which implies that it is of the least consequence to me whether the fellow has a daughter or not?'
'It is so only as the guarantee of the man's veracity.'
'And shall I give ten thousand pounds to test that?'
'No, my lord; but to repossess yourself of what, in very doubtful hands, might prove a great scandal and a great disaster.'
'Ten thousand pounds! ten thousand pounds!'
'Why not eight—perhaps five? I have not your lordship's great knowledge to guide me, and I cannot tell when these men really mean to maintain their ground. From my own very meagre experiences, I should say he was not a very tractable individual. He sees some promise of better fortune before him, and like a genuine gambler—as I hear he is—he determines to back his luck.'
'Ten thousand pounds!' muttered the other, below his breath.
'As regards the money, my lord, I take it that these same papers were documents which more or less concerned the public service—they were in no sense personal, although meant to be private; and, although in my ignorance I may be mistaken, it seems to me that the fund devoted to secret services could not be more fittingly appropriated than in acquiring documents whose publicity could prove a national injury.'
'Totally wrong—utterly wrong. The money could never be paid on such a pretence—the "Office" would not sanction—no Minister would dare to advise it.'
'Then I come back to my original suggestion. I should give a conditional acceptance, and treat for a reduction of the amount.'
'You would say five?'
'I opine, my lord, eight would have more chance of success.'
'You are a warm advocate for your client,' said his lordship, laughing; and though the shot was merely a random one, it went so true to the mark that Atlee flushed up and became crimson all over. 'Don't mistake me, Atlee,' said his lordship, in a kindly tone. 'I know thoroughly how my interests, and only mine, have any claim on your attention. This Greek fellow must be less than nothing to you. Tell me now frankly, do you believe one word he has told you? Is he really named as Minister to Turkey?'
'That much I can answer for—he is.'
'What of the daughter—is there a daughter?'
'I suspect there may be. However, the matter admits of an easy proof. He has given me names and addresses in Ireland of relatives with whom she is living. Now, I am thoroughly conversant with Ireland, and, by the indications in my power, I can pledge myself to learn all, not only about the existence of this person, but of such family circumstances as might serve to guide you in your resolve. Time is what is most to be thought of here. Kostalergi requires a prompt answer—first of all, your assurance that you will support his claim to be received by the Sultan. Well, my lord, if you refuse, Mouravieff will do it. You know better than me how impolitic it might be to throw those Turks more into Russian influence—'
'Never mind that, Atlee. Don't distress yourself about the political aspect of the question.'
'I promised a telegraphic line to say, would you or would you not sustain his nomination. It was to be Yes or No—not more.'
'Say Yes. I'll not split hairs about what Greek best represents his nation. Say Yes.'
'I am sure, my lord, you do wisely. He is evidently a man of ability, and, I suspect, not morally much worse than his countrymen in general.'
'Say Yes; and then'—he mused for some minutes before he continued—'and then run over to Ireland—learn something, if you can, of this girl, with whom she is staying, in what position, what guarantees, if any, could be had for the due employment and destination of a sum of money, in the event of our agreeing to pay it. Mind, it is simply as a gauge of the fellow's veracity that this story has any value for us. Daughter or no daughter, is not of any moment to me; but I want to test the problem—can he tell one word of truth about anything? You are shrewd enough to see the bearing of this narrative on all he has told you—where it sustains, where it accuses him.'
'Shall I set out at once, my lord?'
'No. Next week will do. We'll leave him to ruminate over your telegram. That will show him we have entertained his project; and he is too practised a hand not to know the value of an opened negotiation. Cradock and Mellish, and one or two more, wish to talk with you about Turkey. Graydon, too, has some questions to ask you about Suez. They dine here on Monday. Tuesday we are to have the Hargraves and Lord Masham, and a couple of Under-Secretaries of State; and Lady Maude will tell us about Wednesday, for all these people, Atlee, are coming to meet you. The newspapers have so persistently been keeping you before the world, every one wants to see you.'
Atlee might have told his lordship—but he did not—by what agency it chanced that his journeys and his jests were so thoroughly known to the press of every capital in Europe.
Sunday came, and with it the visit to South Kensington, where Aunt Jerningham lived; and Atlee found himself seated beside Lady Maude in a fine roomy barouche, whirling along at a pace that our great moralist himself admits to be amongst the very pleasantest excitements humanity can experience.
'I hope you will add your persuasions to mine, Mr. Atlee, and induce my uncle to take these horses with him to Turkey. You know Constantinople, and can say that real carriage-horses cannot be had there.'
'Horses of this size, shape, and action the Sultan himself has not the equals of.'
'No one is more aware than my lord,' continued she, 'that the measure of an ambassador's influence is, in a great degree, the style and splendour in which he represents his country, and that his household, his equipage, his retinue, and his dinners, should mark distinctly the station he assumes to occupy. Some caprice of Mr. Walpole's about Arab horses—Arabs of bone and blood he used to talk of—has taken hold of my uncle's mind, and I half fear that he may not take the English horses with him.'
'By the way,' said Atlee, half listlessly, 'where is Walpole? What has become of him?'
'He is in Ireland at this moment.'
'In Ireland! Good heavens! has he not had enough of Ireland?'
'Apparently not. He went over there on Tuesday last.'
'And what can he possibly have to do in Ireland?'
'I should say that you are more likely to furnish the answer to that question than I. If I'm not much mistaken, his letters are forwarded to the same country-house where you first made each other's acquaintance.'
'What, Kilgobbin Castle?'
'Yes, it is something Castle, and I think the name you mentioned.'
'And this only puzzles me the more,' added Atlee, pondering. 'His first visit there, at the time I met him, was a mere accident of travel—a tourist's curiosity to see an old castle supposed to have some historic associations.'
'Were there not some other attractions in the spot?' interrupted she, smiling.
'Yes, there was a genial old Irish squire, who did the honours very handsomely, if a little rudely, and there were two daughters, or a daughter and a niece, I'm not very clear which, who sang Irish melodies and talked rebellion to match very amusingly.'
'Were they pretty?'
'Well, perhaps courtesy would say "pretty," but a keener criticism would dwell on certain awkwardnesses of manner—Walpole called them Irishries.'
'Yes, he confessed to have been amused with the eccentric habits and odd ways, but he was not sparing of his strictures afterwards.'
'So that there were no "tendernesses?"'
'Oh, I'll not go that far. I rather suspect there were "tendernesses," but only such as a fine gentleman permits himself amongst semi-savage peoples—something that seems to say, "Be as fond of me as you like, and it is a great privilege you enjoy; and I, on my side, will accord you such of my affections as I set no particular store by." Just as one throws small coin to a beggar.'
'Oh, Mr. Atlee!'
'I am ashamed to own that I have seen something of this kind myself.'
'It is not like my cousin Cecil to behave in that fashion.'
'I might say, Lady Maude, that your home experiences of people would prove a very fallacious guide as to what they might or might not do in a society of whose ways you know nothing.'
'A man of honour would always be a man of honour.'
'There are men, and men of honour, as there are persons of excellent principles with delicate moral health, and they—I say it with regret—must be satisfied to be as respectably conducted as they are able.'
'I don't think you like Cecil,' said she, half-puzzled by his subtlety, but hitting what she thought to be a 'blot.'
'It is difficult for me to tell his cousin what I should like to say in answer to this remark.'
'Oh, have no embarrassment on that score. There are very few people less trammelled by the ties of relationship than we are. Speak out, and if you want to say anything particularly severe, have no fears of wounding my susceptibilities.'
'And do you know, Lady Maude,' said he, in a voice of almost confidential meaning, 'this was the very thing I was dreading? I had at one time a good deal of Walpole's intimacy—I'll not call it friendship, for somehow there were certain differences of temperament that separated us continually. We could commonly agree upon the same things; we could never be one-minded about the same people. In my experiences, the world is by no means the cold-hearted and selfish thing he deems it; and yet I suppose, Lady Maude, if there were to be a verdict given upon us both, nine out of ten would have fixed on me as the scoffer. Is not this so?'
The artfulness with which he had contrived to make himself and his character a question of discussion achieved only a half-success, for she only gave one of her most meaningless smiles as she said, 'I do not know; I am not quite sure.'
'And yet I am more concerned to learn what you would think on this score than for the opinion of the whole world.'
Like a man who has taken a leap and found a deep 'drop' on the other side, he came to a dead halt as he saw the cold and impassive look her features had assumed. He would have given worlds to recall his speech and stand as he did before it was uttered; for though she did not say one word, there was that in her calm and composed expression which reproved all that savoured of passionate appeal. A now-or-never sort of courage nerved him, and he went on: 'I know all the presumption of a man like myself daring to address such words to you, Lady Maude; but do you remember that though all eyes but one saw only fog-bank in the horizon, Columbus maintained there was land in the distance; and so say I, "He who would lay his fortunes at your feet now sees high honours and great rewards awaiting him in the future. It is with you to say whether these honours become the crowning glories of a life, or all pursuit of them be valueless!" May I—dare I hope?'
'This is Lebanon,' said she; 'at least I think so'; and she held her glass to her eye. 'Strange caprice, wasn't it, to call her house Lebanon because of those wretched cedars? Aunt Jerningham is so odd!'
'There is a crowd of carriages here,' said Atlee, endeavouring to speak with unconcern.
'It is her day; she likes to receive on Sundays, as she says she escapes the bishops. By the way, did you tell me you were an old friend of hers, or did I dream it?'
'I'm afraid it was the vision revealed it?'
'Because, if so, I must not take you in. She has a rule against all presentations on Sundays—they are only her intimates she receives on that day. We shall have to return as we came.'
'Not for worlds. Pray let me not prove an embarrassment. You can make your visit, and I will go back on foot. Indeed, I should like a walk.'
'On no account! Take the carriage, and send it back for me. I shall remain here till afternoon tea.'
'Thanks, but I hold to my walk.'
'It is a charming day, and I'm sure a walk will be delightful.'
'Am I to suppose, Lady Maude,' said he, in a low voice, as he assisted her to alight, 'that you will deign me a more formal answer at another time to the words I ventured to address you? May I live in the hope that I shall yet regard this day as the most fortunate of my life?'
'It is wonderful weather for November—an English November, too. Pray let me assure you that you need not make yourself uneasy about what you were speaking of. I shall not mention it to any one, least of all to "my lord"; and as for myself, it shall be as completely forgotten as though it had never been uttered.'
And she held out her hand with a sort of cordial frankness that actually said, 'There, you are forgiven! Is there any record of generosity like this?'
Atlee bowed low and resignedly over that gloved hand, which he felt he was touching for the last time, and turned away with a rush of thoughts through his brain, in which certainly the pleasantest were not the predominating ones.
He did not dine that day at Bruton Street, and only returned about ten o'clock, when he knew he should find Lord Danesbury in his study.
'I have determined, my lord,' said he, with somewhat of decision in his tone that savoured of a challenge, 'to go over to Ireland by the morning mail.'
Too much engrossed by his own thoughts to notice the other's manner, Lord Danesbury merely turned from the papers before him to say, 'Ah, indeed! it would be very well done. We were talking about that, were we not, yesterday? What was it?'
'The Greek—Kostalergi's daughter, my lord?'
'To be sure. You are incredulous about her, ain't you?'
'On the contrary, my lord, I opine that the fellow has told us the truth. I believe he has a daughter, and destines this money to be her dowry.'
'With all my heart; I do not see how it should concern me. If I am to pay the money, it matters very little to me whether he invests it in a Greek husband or the Double Zero—speculations, I take it, pretty much alike. Have you sent a telegram?'
'I have, my lord. I have engaged your lordship's word that you are willing to treat.'
'Just so; it is exactly what I am! Willing to treat, willing to hear argument, and reply with my own, why I should give more for anything than it is worth.'
'We need not discuss further what we can only regard from one point of view, and that our own.'
Lord Danesbury started. The altered tone and manner struck him now for the first time, and he threw his spectacles on the table and stared at the speaker with astonishment.
'There is another point, my lord,' continued Atlee, with unbroken calm, 'that I should like to ask your lordship's judgment upon, as I shall in a few hours be in Ireland, where the question will present itself. There was some time ago in Ireland a case brought under your lordship's notice of a very gallant resistance made by a family against an armed party who attacked a house, and your lordship was graciously pleased to say that some recognition should be offered to one of the sons—something to show how the Government regarded and approved his spirited conduct.'
'I know, I know; but I am no longer the Viceroy.'
'I am aware of that, my lord, nor is your successor appointed; but any suggestion or wish of your lordship's would be accepted by the Lords Justices with great deference, all the more in payment of a debt. If, then, your lordship would recommend this young man for the first vacancy in the constabulary, or some place in the Customs, it would satisfy a most natural expectation, and, at the same time, evidence your lordship's interest for the country you so late ruled over.'
'There is nothing more pernicious than forestalling other people's patronage, Atlee. Not but if this thing was to be done for yourself—'
'Pardon me, my lord, I do not desire anything for myself.'
'Well, be it so. Take this to the Chancellor or the Commander-in-Chief'—and he scribbled a few hasty lines as he talked—'and say what you can in support of it. If they give you something good, I shall be heartily glad of it, and I wish you years to enjoy it.'
Atlee only smiled at the warmth of interest for him which was linked with such a shortness of memory; but was too much wounded in his pride to reply. And now, as he saw that his lordship had replaced his glasses and resumed his work, he walked noiselessly to the door and withdrew.
THE SAUNTER IN TOWN
As Atlee sauntered along towards Downing Street, whence he purposed to despatch his telegram to Greece, he thought a good deal of his late interview with Lord Danesbury. There was much in it that pleased him. He had so far succeeded in re Kostalergi, that the case was not scouted out of court; the matter, at least, was to be entertained, and even that was something. The fascination of a scheme to be developed, an intrigue to be worked out, had for his peculiar nature a charm little short of ecstasy. The demand upon his resources for craft and skill, concealment and duplicity, was only second in his estimation to the delight he felt at measuring his intellect with some other, and seeing whether, in the game of subtlety, he had his master.
Next to this, but not without a long interval, was the pleasure he felt at the terms in which Lord Danesbury spoke of him. No orator accustomed to hold an assembly enthralled by his eloquence—no actor habituated to sway the passions of a crowded theatre—is more susceptible to the promptings of personal vanity than your 'practised talker.' The man who devotes himself to be a 'success' in conversation glories more in his triumphs, and sets a greater value on his gifts, than any other I know of.
That men of mark and station desired to meet him—that men whose position secured to them the advantage of associating with the pleasantest people and the freshest minds—men who commanded, so to say, the best talking in society—wished to confer with and to hear him, was an intense flattery, and he actually longed for the occasion of display. He had learned a good deal since he had left Ireland. He had less of that fluency which Irishmen cultivate, seldom ventured on an epigram, never on an anecdote, was guardedly circumspect as to statements of fact, and, on the whole, liked to understate his case, and affect distrust of his own opinion. Though there was not one of these which were not more or less restrictions on him, he could be brilliant and witty when occasion served, and there was an incisive neatness in his repartee in which he had no equal. Some of those he was to meet were well known amongst the most agreeable people of society, and he rejoiced that at least, if he were to be put upon his trial, he should be judged by his peers.
With all these flattering prospects, was it not strange that his lordship never dropped a word, nor even a hint, as to his personal career? He had told him, indeed, that he could not hope for success at Cradford, and laughingly said, 'You have left Odger miles behind you in your Radicalism. Up to this, we have had no Parliament in England sufficiently advanced for your opinions.' On the whole, however, if not followed up—which Lord Danesbury strongly objected to its being—he said there was no great harm in a young man making his first advances in political life by something startling. They are only fireworks, it is true; the great requisite is, that they be brilliant, and do not go out with a smoke and a bad smell!
Beyond this, he had told him nothing. Was he minded to take him out to Turkey, and as what? He had already explained to him that the old days in which a clever fellow could be drafted at once into a secretaryship of embassy were gone by; that though a parliamentary title was held to supersede all others, whether in the case of a man or a landed estate, it was all-essential to be in the House for that, and that a diplomatist, like a sweep, must begin when he is little.
'As his private secretary,' thought he, 'the position is at once fatal to all my hopes with regard to Lady Maude.' There was not a woman living more certain to measure a man's pretensions by his station. 'Hitherto I have not been "classed." I might be anybody, or go anywhere. My wide capabilities seemed to say that if I descended to do small things, it would be quite as easy for me to do great ones; and though I copied despatches, they would have been rather better if I had drafted them also.'
Lady Maude knew this. She knew the esteem in which her uncle held him. She knew how that uncle, shrewd man of the world as he was, valued the sort of qualities he saw in him, and could, better than most men, decide how far such gifts were marketable, and what price they brought to their possessor.
'And yet,' cried he, 'they don't know one-half of me! What would they say if they knew that it was I wrote the great paper on Turkish Finance in the Memorial Diplomatique, and the review of it in the Quarterly; that it was I who exposed the miserable compromise of Thiers with Gambetta in the Debuts, and defended him in the Daily News; that the hysterical scream of the Kreuz Zeitung, and the severe article on Bismarck in the Fortnightly, were both mine; and that at this moment I am urging in the Pike how the Fenian prisoners must be amnestied, and showing in a London review that if they are liberated, Mr. Gladstone should be attainted for high treason? I should like well to let them know all this; and I'm not sure I would not risk all the consequences to do it.'
And then he as suddenly bethought him how little account men of letters were held in by the Lady Maudes of this world; what a humble place they assigned them socially; and how small they estimated their chances of worldly success!
'It is the unrealism of literature as a career strikes them; and they cannot see how men are to assure themselves of the quoi vivre by providing what so few want, and even they could exist without.'
It was in a reverie of this fashion he walked the streets, as little cognisant of the crowd around him as if he were sauntering along some rippling stream in a mountain gorge.
A DARKENED KOOM
The 'comatose' state, to use the language of the doctors, into which Gorman O'Shea had fallen, had continued so long as to excite the greatest apprehensions of his friends; for although not amounting to complete insensibility, it left him so apathetic and indifferent to everything and every one, that the girls Kate and Nina, in pure despair, had given up reading or talking to him, and passed their hours of 'watching' in perfect silence in the half-darkened room.
The stern immobility of his pale features, the glassy and meaningless stare of his large blue eyes, the unvarying rhythm of a long-drawn respiration, were signs that at length became more painful to contemplate than evidences of actual suffering; and as day by day went on, and interest grew more and more eager about the trial, which was fixed for the coming assize, it was pitiable to see him, whose fate was so deeply pledged on the issue, unconscious of all that went on around him, and not caring to know any of those details the very least of which might determine his future lot.
The instructions drawn up for the defence were sadly in need of the sort of information which the sick man alone could supply; and Nina and Kate had both been entreated to watch for the first favourable moment that should present itself, and ask certain questions, the answers to which would be of the last importance.
Though Gill's affidavit gave many evidences of unscrupulous falsehood, there was no counter-evidence to set against it, and O'Shea's counsel complained strongly of the meagre instructions which were briefed to him in the case, and his utter inability to construct a defence upon them.
'He said he would tell me something this evening, Kate,' said Nina; 'so, if you will let me, I will go in your place and remind him of his promise.'
This hopeful sign of returning intelligence was so gratifying to Kate that she readily consented to the proposition of her cousin taking her 'watch,' and, if possible, learning something of his wishes.
'He said it,' continued Nina, 'like one talking to himself, and it was not easy to follow him. The words, as well as I could make out, were, "I will say it to-day—this evening, if I can. When it is said"—here he muttered something, but I cannot say whether the words were, "My mind will be at rest," or "I shall be at rest for evermore."'
Kate did not utter a word, but her eyes swam, and two large tears stole slowly down her face.
'His own conviction is that he is dying,' said Nina; but Kate never spoke.
'The doctors persist,' continued Nina, 'in declaring that this depression is only a well-known symptom of the attack, and that all affections of the brain are marked by a certain tone of despondency. They even say more, and that the cases where this symptom predominates are more frequently followed by recovery. Are you listening to me, child?'
'No; I was following some thoughts of my own.'
'I was merely telling you why I think he is getting better.'
Kate leaned her head on her cousin's shoulder, and she did not speak. The heaving motion of her shoulders and her chest betrayed the agitation she could not subdue.
'I wish his aunt were here; I see how her absence frets him. Is she too ill for the journey?' asked Nina.
'She says not, and she seems in some way to be coerced by others; but a telegram this morning announces she would try and reach Kilgobbin this evening.'
'What could coercion mean? Surely this is mere fancy?'
'I am not so certain of that. The convent has great hopes of inheriting her fortune. She is rich, and she is a devout Catholic; and we have heard of cases where zeal for the Church has pushed discretion very far.'
'What a worldly creature it is!' cried Nina; 'and who would have suspected it?'
'I do not see the worldliness of my believing that people will do much to serve the cause they follow. When chemists tell us that there is no finding such a thing as a glass of pure water, where are we to go for pure motives?'
'To one's heart, of course,' said Nina; but the curl of her perfectly-cut lip as she said it, scarcely vouched for the sincerity.
On that same evening, just as the last flickerings of twilight were dying away, Nina stole into the sick-room, and took her place noiselessly beside the bed.
Slowly moving his arm without turning his head, or by any gesture whatever acknowledging her presence, he took her hand and pressed it to his burning lips, and then laid it upon his cheek. She made no effort to withdraw her hand, and sat perfectly still and motionless.
'Are we alone?' whispered he, in a voice hardly audible.
'Yes, quite alone.'
'If I should say what—displease you,' faltered he, his agitation making speech even more difficult; 'how shall I tell?' And once more he pressed her hand to his lips.
'No, no; have no fears of displeasing me. Say what you would like to tell me.'
'It is this, then,' said he, with an effort. 'I am dying with my secret in my heart. I am dying, to carry away with me the love I am not to tell—my love for you, Kate.'
'I am not Kate,' was almost on her lips; but her struggle to keep silent was aided by that desire so strong in her nature—to follow out a situation of difficulty to the end. She did not love him, nor did she desire his love; but a strange sense of injury at hearing his profession of love for another shot a pang of intense suffering through her heart, and she lay back in her chair with a cold feeling of sickness like fainting. The overpowering passion of her nature was jealousy; and to share even the admiration of a salon, the 'passing homage,' as such deference is called, with another, was a something no effort of her generosity could compass.
Though she did not speak, she suffered her hand to remain unresistingly within his own. After a short pause he went on: 'I thought yesterday that I was dying; and in my rambling intellect I thought I took leave of you; and do you know my last words—my last words, Kate?'
'No; what were they?'
'My last words were these: "Beware of the Greek; have no friendship with the Greek."'
'And why that warning?' said she, in a low, faint voice.
'She is not of us, Kate; none of her ways or thoughts are ours, nor would they suit us. She is subtle, and clever, and sly; and these only mislead those who lead simple lives.'
'May it not be that you wrong her?'
'I have tried to learn her nature.'
'Not to love it?'
'I believe I was beginning to love her—just when you were cold to me. You remember when?'
'I do; and it was this coldness was the cause? Was it the only cause?'
'No, no. She has wiles and ways which, with her beauty, make her nigh irresistible.'
'And now you are cured of this passion? There is no trace of it in your breast?'
'Not a vestige. But why speak of her?'
'Perhaps I am jealous.'
Once more he pressed his lips to her hand, and kissed it rapturously.
'No, Kate,' cried he, 'none but you have the place in my heart. Whenever I have tried a treason, it has turned against me. Is there light enough in the room to find a small portfolio of red-brown leather? It is on that table yonder.'
Had the darkness been not almost complete, Nina would scarcely have ventured to rise and cross the room, so fearful was she of being recognised.
'It is locked,' said she, as she laid it beside him on the bed; but touching a secret spring, he opened it, and passed his fingers hurriedly through the papers within.
'I believe it must be this,' said he. 'I think I know the feel of the paper. It is a telegram from my aunt; the doctor gave it to me last night. We read it over together four or five times. This is it, and these are the words: "If Kate will be your wife, the estate of O'Shea's Barn is your own for ever."'
'Is she to have no time to think over this offer?' asked she.
'Would you like candles, miss?' asked a maid-servant, of whose presence there neither of the others had been aware.
'No, nor are you wanted,' said Nina haughtily, as she arose; while it was not without some difficulty she withdrew her hand from the sick man's grasp.
'I know,' said he falteringly, 'you would not leave me if you had not left hope to keep me company in your absence. Is not that so, Kate?'
'Bye-bye,' said she softly, and stole away.
AN ANGRY COLLOQUY
It was with passionate eagerness Nina set off in search of Kate. Why she should have felt herself wronged, outraged, insulted even, is not so easy to say, nor shall I attempt any analysis of the complex web of sentiments which, so to say, spread itself over her faculties. The man who had so wounded her self-love had been at her feet, he had followed her in her walks, hung over the piano as she sang—shown by a thousand signs that sort of devotion by which men intimate that their lives have but one solace, one ecstasy, one joy. By what treachery had he been moved to all this, if he really loved another? That he was simply amusing himself with the sort of flirtation she herself could take up as a mere pastime was not to be believed. That the worshipper should be insincere in his worship was too dreadful to think of. And yet it was to this very man she had once turned to avenge herself on Walpole's treatment of her; she had even said, 'Could you not make a quarrel with him?' Now, no woman of foreign breeding puts such a question without the perfect consciousness that, in accepting a man's championship, she has virtually admitted his devotion. Her own levity of character, the thoughtless indifference with which she would sport with any man's affections, so far from inducing her to palliate such caprices, made her more severe and unforgiving. 'How shall I punish him for this? How shall I make him remember whom it is he has insulted?' repeated she over and over to herself as she went.
The servants passed her on the stairs with trunks and luggage of various kinds; but she was too much engrossed with her own thoughts to notice them. Suddenly the words, 'Mr. Walpole's room,' caught her ear, and she asked, 'Has any one come?'
Yes, two gentlemen had just arrived. A third was to come that night, and Miss O'Shea might be expected at any moment.
'Where was Miss Kate?' she inquired.
'In her own room at the top of the house.'
Thither she hastened at once.
'Be a dear good girl,' cried Kate as Nina entered, 'and help me in my many embarrassments. Here are a flood of visitors all coming unexpectedly. Major Lockwood and Mr. Walpole have come. Miss Betty will be here for dinner, and Mr. Atlee, whom we all believed to be in Asia, may arrive to-night. I shall be able to feed them; but how to lodge them with any pretension to comfort is more than I can see.'
'I am in little humour to aid any one. I have my own troubles—worse ones, perhaps, than playing hostess to disconsolate travellers.'
'And what are your troubles, dear Nina?'
'I have half a mind not to tell you. You ask me with that supercilious air that seems to say, "How can a creature like you be of interest enough to any one or anything to have a difficulty?"'
'I force no confidences,' said the other coldly.
'For that reason you shall have them—at least this one. What will you say when I tell you that young O'Shea has made me a declaration, a formal declaration of love?'
'I should say that you need not speak of it as an insult or an offence.'
'Indeed! and if so, you would say what was perfectly wrong. It was both insult and offence—yes, both. Do you know that the man mistook me for you, and called me Kate?'
'How could this be possible?'
'In a darkened room, with a sick man slowly rallying from a long attack of stupor; nothing of me to be seen but my hand, which he devoured with kisses—raptures, indeed, Kate, of which I had no conception till I experienced them by counterfeit!'
'Oh! Nina, this is not fair!'
'It is true, child. The man caught my hand and declared he would never quit it till I promised it should be his own. Nor was he content with this; but, anticipating his right to be lord and master, he bade you to beware of me! "Beware of that Greek girl!" were his words—words strengthened by what he said of my character and my temperament. I shall spare you, and I shall spare myself, his acute comments on the nature he dreaded to see in companionship with his wife. I have had good training in learning these unbiassed judgments—my early life abounded in such experiences—but this young gentleman's cautions were candour itself.'
'I am sincerely sorry for what has pained you.'
'I did not say it was this boy's foolish words had wounded me so acutely. I could bear sterner critics than he is—his very blundering misconception of me would always plead his pardon. How could he, or how could they with whom he lived and talked, and smoked and swaggered, know of me, or such as me? What could there be in the monotonous vulgarity of their tiresome lives that should teach them what we are, or what we wish to be? By what presumption did he dare to condemn all that he could not understand?'
'You are angry, Nina; and I will not say without some cause.'
'What ineffable generosity! You can really constrain yourself to believe that I have been insulted!'
'I should not say insulted.'
'You cannot be an honest judge in such a cause. Every outrage offered to me was an act of homage to yourself! If you but knew how I burned to tell him who it was whose hand he held in his, and to whose ears he had poured out his raptures! To tell him, too, how the Greek girl would have resented his presumption, had he but dared to indulge it! One of the women-servants, it would seem, was a witness to this boy's declaration. I think it was Mary was in the room, I do not know for how long, but she announced her presence by asking some question about candles. In fact, I shall have become a servants'-hall scandal by this time.'
'There need not be any fear of that, Nina: there are no bad tongues amongst our people.'
'I know all that. I know we live amidst human perfectabilities—all of Irish manufacture, and warranted to be genuine.'
'I would hope that some of your impressions of Ireland are not unfavourable?'
'I scarcely know. I suppose you understand each other, and are tolerant about capricious moods and ways, which, to strangers, might seem to have a deeper significance. I believe you are not as hasty, or as violent, or as rash as you seem, and I am sure you are not as impulsive in your generosity, or as headlong in your affections. Not exactly that you mean to be false, but you are hypocrites to yourselves.'
'A very flattering picture of us.'
'I do not mean to flatter you; and it is to this end I say, you are Italians without the subtlety of the Italian, and Greeks without their genius.—You need not curtsy so profoundly.—I could say worse than this, Kate, if I were minded to do so.'
'Pray do not be so minded, then. Pray remember that, even when you wound me, I cannot return the thrust.'
'I know what you mean,' cried Nina rapidly. 'You are veritable Arabs in your estimate of hospitality, and he who has eaten your salt is sacred.'
'You remind me of what I had nigh forgotten, Nina—of our coming guests.'
'Do you know why Walpole and his friend are coming?'
'They are already come, Nina—they are out walking with papa; but what has brought them here I cannot guess, and, since I have heard your description of Ireland, I cannot imagine.'
'Nor can I,' said she indolently, and moved away.
MATHEW KEARNEY'S REFLECTIONS
To have his house full of company, to see his table crowded with guests, was nearer perfect happiness than anything Kearney knew; and when he set out, the morning after the arrival of the strangers, to show Major Lockwood where he would find a brace of woodcocks, the old man was in such spirits as he had not known for years.
'Why don't your friend Walpole come with us?' asked he of his companion, as they trudged across the bog.
'I believe I can guess,' mumbled out the other; 'but I'm not quite sure I ought to tell.'
'I see,' said Kearney, with a knowing leer; 'he's afraid I'll roast him about that unlucky despatch he wrote. He thinks I'll give him no peace about that bit of stupidity; for you see, major, it was stupid, and nothing less. Of all the things we despise in Ireland, take my word for it, there is nothing we think so little of as a weak Government. We can stand up strong and bold against hard usage, and we gain self-respect by resistance; but when you come down to conciliations and what you call healing measures, we feel as if you were going to humbug us, and there is not a devilment comes into our heads we would not do, just to see how you'll bear it; and it's then your London newspapers cry out: "What's the use of doing anything for Ireland? We pulled down the Church, and we robbed the landlords, and we're now going to back Cardinal Cullen for them, and there they are murthering away as bad as ever."'
'Is it not true?' asked the major.
'And whose fault if it is true? Who has broke down the laws in Ireland but yourselves? We Irish never said that many things you called crimes were bad in morals, and when it occurs to you now to doubt if they are crimes, I'd like to ask you, why wouldn't we do them? You won't give us our independence, and so we'll fight for it; and though, maybe, we can't lick you, we'll make your life so uncomfortable to you, keeping us down, that you'll beg a compromise—a healing measure, you'll call it—just as when I won't give Tim Sullivan a lease, he takes a shot at me; and as I reckon the holes in my hat, I think better of it, and take a pound or two off his rent.'
'So that, in fact, you court the policy of conciliation?'
'Only because I'm weak, major—because I'm weak, and that I must live in the neighbourhood. If I could pass my days out of the range of Tim's carbine, I wouldn't reduce him a shilling.'
'I can make nothing of Ireland or Irishmen either.'
'Why would you? God help us! we are poor enough and wretched enough; but we're not come down to that yet that a major of dragoons can read us like big print.'
'So far as I see you wish for a strong despotism.'
'In one way it would suit us well. Do you see, major, what a weak administration and uncertain laws do? They set every man in Ireland about righting himself by his own hand. If I know I shall be starved when I am turned out of my holding, I'm not at all so sure I'll be hanged if I shoot my landlord. Make me as certain of the one as the other, and I'll not shoot him.'
'I believe I understand you.'
'No, you don't, nor any Cockney among you.'
'I'm not a Cockney.'
'I don't care, you're the same: you're not one of us; nor if you spent fifty years among us, would you understand us.'
'Come over and see me in Berkshire, Kearney, and let me see if you can read our people much better.'
'From all I hear, there's not much to read. Your chawbacon isn't as cute a fellow as Pat.'
'He's easier to live with.'
'Maybe so; but I wouldn't care for a life with such people about me. I like human nature, and human feelings—ay, human passions, if you must call them so. I want to know—I can make some people love me, though I well know there must be others will hate me. You're all for tranquillity all over in England—a quiet life you call it. I like to live without knowing what's coming, and to feel all the time that I know enough of the game to be able to play it as well as my neighbours. Do you follow me now, major?'
'I'm not quite certain I do.'
'No—but I'm quite certain you don't; and, indeed, I wonder at myself talking to you about these things at all.'
'I'm much gratified that you do so. In fact, Kearney, you give me courage to speak a little about myself and my own affairs; and, if you will allow me, to ask your advice.'
This was an unusually long speech for the major, and he actually seemed fatigued when he concluded. He was, however, consoled for his exertions by seeing what pleasure his words had conferred on Kearney; and with what racy self-satisfaction, that gentleman heard himself mentioned as a 'wise opinion.'
'I believe I do know a little of life, major,' said he sententiously. 'As old Giles Dackson used to say, "Get Mathew Kearney to tell you what he thinks of it." You knew Giles?'
'Well, you've heard of him? No! not even that. There's another proof of what I was saying—we're two people, the English and the Irish. If it wasn't so, you'd be no stranger to the sayings and doings of one of the cutest men that ever lived.'
'We have witty fellows too.'
'No, you haven't! Do you call your House of Commons' jokes wit? Are the stories you tell at your hustings' speeches wit? Is there one over there'—and he pointed in the direction of England—'that ever made a smart repartee or a brilliant answer to any one about anything? You now and then tell an Irish story, and you forget the point; or you quote a French mot, and leave out the epigram. Don't be angry—it's truth I'm telling you.'
'I'm not angry, though I must say I don't think you are fair to us.'
The last bit of brilliancy you had in the House was Brinsley Sheridan, and there wasn't much English about him.'
'I've never heard that the famous O'Connell used to convulse the House with his drollery.'
'Why should he? Didn't he know where he was? Do you imagine that O'Connell was going to do like poor Lord Killeen, who shipped a cargo of coalscuttles to Africa?'
'Will you explain to me then how, if you are so much shrewder and wittier and cleverer than us, it does not make you richer, more prosperous, and more contented?'
'I could do that too—but I'm losing the birds. There's a cock now. Well done! I see you can shoot a bit.—Look here, major, there's a deal in race—in the blood of a people. It's very hard to make a light-hearted, joyous people thrifty. It's your sullen fellow, that never cuts a joke, nor wants any one to laugh at it, that's the man who saves. If you're a wit, you want an audience, and the best audience is round a dinner-table; and we know what that costs. Now, Ireland has been very pleasant for the last hundred and fifty years in that fashion, and you, and scores of other low-spirited, depressed fellows, come over here to pluck up and rouse yourselves, and you go home, and you wonder why the people who amused you were not always as jolly as you saw them. I've known this country now nigh sixty years, and I never knew a turn of prosperity that didn't make us stupid; and, upon my conscience, I believe, if we ever begin to grow rich, we'll not be a bit better than yourselves.'
'That would be very dreadful,' said the other, in mock-horror.
'So it would, whether you mean it or not.—There's a hare missed this time!'
'I was thinking of something I wanted to ask you. The fact is, Kearney, I have a thing on my mind now.'
'Is it a duel? It's many a day since I was out, but I used to know every step of the way as well as most men.'
'No, it's not a duel!'
'It's money, then! Bother it for money! What a deal of bad blood it leads to. Tell me all about it, and I'll see if I can't deal with it.'
'No, it's not money; it has nothing to do with money. I'm not hard up. I was never less so.'
'Indeed!' cried Kearney, staring at him.
'Why, what do you mean by that?'
'I was curious to see how a man looks, and I'd like to know how he feels, that didn't want money. I can no more understand it than if a man told me he didn't want air.'
'If he had enough to breathe freely, could he need more?'
'That would depend on the size of his lungs, and I believe mine are pretty big. But come now, if there's nobody you want to shoot, and you have a good balance at the banker's, what can ail you, except it's a girl you want to marry, and she won't have you?'
'Well, there is a lady in the case.'
'Ay, ay! she's a married woman,' cried Kearney, closing one eye, and looking intensely cunning. 'Then I may tell you at once, major, I'm no use to you whatever. If it was a young girl that liked you against the wish of her family, or that you were in love with though she was below you in condition, or that was promised to another man but wanted to get out of her bargain, I'm good for any of these, or scores more of the same kind; but if it's mischief, and misery, and lifelong sorrow you have in your head, you must look out for another adviser.'
'It's nothing of the kind,' said the other bluntly. 'It's marriage I was thinking of. I want to settle down and have a wife.'
'Then why couldn't you, if you think it would be any comfort to you?'
The last words were rather uttered than spoken, and sounded like a sad reflection uttered aloud.
'I am not a rich man,' said the major, with that strain it always cost him to speak of himself, 'but I have got enough to live on. A goodish old house, and a small estate, underlet as it is, bringing me about two thousand a year, and some expectations, as they call them, from an old grand-aunt.'
'You have enough, if you marry a prudent girl,' muttered Kearney, who was never happier than when advocating moderation and discretion.
'Enough, at least, not to look for money with a wife.'
'I'm with you there, heart and soul,' cried Kearney. 'Of all the shabby inventions of our civilisation, I don't know one as mean as that custom of giving a marriage-portion with a girl. Is it to induce a man to take her? Is it to pay for her board and lodging? Is it because marriage is a partnership, and she must bring her share into the "concern"? or is it to provide for the day when they are to part company, and each go his own road? Take it how you like, it's bad and it's shabby. If you're rich enough to give your daughter twenty or thirty thousand pounds, wait for some little family festival—her birthday, or her husband's birthday, or a Christmas gathering, or maybe a christening—and put the notes in her hand. Oh, major dear,' cried he aloud, 'if you knew how much of life you lose with lawyers, and what a deal of bad blood comes into the world by parchments, you'd see the wisdom of trusting more to human kindness and good feeling, and above all, to the honour of gentlemen—things that nowadays we always hope to secure by Act of Parliament.'
'I go with a great deal of what you say.'
'Why not with all of it? What do we gain by trying to overreach each other? What advantage in a system where it's always the rogue that wins? If I was a king to-morrow, I'd rather fine a fellow for quoting Blackstone than for blasphemy, and I'd distribute all the law libraries in the kingdom as cheap fuel for the poor. We pray for peace and quietness, and we educate a special class of people to keep us always wrangling. Where's the sense of that?'
While Kearney poured out these words in a flow of fervid conviction, they had arrived at a little open space in the wood, from which various alleys led off in different directions. Along one of these, two figures were slowly moving side by side, whom Lockwood quickly recognised as Walpole and Nina Kostalergi. Kearney did not see them, for his attention was suddenly called off by a shout from a distance, and his son Dick rode hastily up to the spot.
'I have been in search of you all through the plantation,' cried he. 'I have brought back Holmes the lawyer from Tullamore, who wants to talk to you about this affair of Gorman's. It's going to be a bad business, I fear.'
'Isn't that more of what I was saying?' said the old man, turning to the major. 'There's law for you!'
'They're making what they call a "National" event of it,' continued Dick. 'The Pike has opened a column of subscriptions to defray the cost of proceedings, and they've engaged Battersby with a hundred-guinea retainer already.'
It appeared from what tidings Dick brought back from the town, that the Nationalists—to give them the much unmerited name by which they called themselves—were determined to show how they could dictate to a jury.
'There's law for you!' cried the old man again.
'You'll have to take to vigilance committees, like the Yankees,' said the major.
'We've had them for years; but they only shoot their political opponents.'
'They say, too,' broke in the young man, 'that Donogan is in the town, and that it is he who has organised the whole prosecution. In fact, he intends to make Battersby's speech for the plaintiff a great declaration of the wrongs of Ireland; and as Battersby hates the Chief Baron, who will try the cause, he is determined to insult the Bench, even at the cost of a commitment.'
'What will he gain by that?' asked Lockwood.
'Every one cannot have a father that was hanged in '98; but any one can go to gaol for blackguarding a Chief-Justice,' said Kearney.
For a moment or two the old man seemed ashamed at having been led to make these confessions to 'the Saxon,' and telling Lockwood where he would be likely to find a brace of cocks, he took his son's arm and returned homeward.
VERY CONFIDENTIAL CONVERSATION
When Lockwood returned, only in time to dress for dinner, Walpole, whose room adjoined his, threw open the door between them and entered. He had just accomplished a most careful 'tie,' and came in with the air of one fairly self-satisfied and happy.
'You look quite triumphant this evening,' said the major, half sulkily.
'So I am, old fellow; and so I have a right to be. It's all done and settled.'
'Ay, already. I asked her to take a stroll with me in the garden; but we sauntered off into the plantation. A woman always understands the exact amount of meaning a man has in a request of this kind, and her instinct reveals to her at once whether he is eager to tell her some bit of fatal scandal of one of her own friends, or to make her a declaration.'
A sort of sulky grunt was Lockwood's acknowledgment of this piece of abstract wisdom—a sort of knowledge he never listened to with much patience.
'I am aware,' said Walpole flippantly, 'the female nature was an omitted part in your education, Lockwood, and you take small interest in those nice distinctive traits which, to a man of the world, are exactly what the stars are to the mariner.'