'Finding out what a woman means by the stars does seem very poor fun.'
'Perhaps you prefer the moon for your observation,' replied Walpole; and the easy impertinence of his manner was almost too much for the other's patience.
'I don't care for your speculations—I want to hear what passed between you and the Greek girl.'
'The Greek girl will in a very few days be Mrs. Walpole, and I shall crave a little more deference for the mention of her.'
'I forgot her name, or I should not have called her with such freedom! What is it?'
'Kostalergi. Her father is Kostalergi, Prince of Delos.'
'All right; it will read well in the Post.'
'My dear friend, there is that amount of sarcasm in your conversation this evening, that to a plain man like myself, never ready to reply, and easily subdued by ridicule, is positively overwhelming. Has any disaster befallen you that you are become so satirical and severe?'
'Never mind me—tell me about yourself,' was the blunt reply.
'I have not the slightest objection. When we had walked a little way together, and I felt that we were beyond the risk of interruption, I led her to the subject of my sudden reappearance here, and implied that she, at least, could not have felt much surprise. "You remember," said I, "I promised to return?"
'"There is something so conventional," said she, "in these pledges, that one comes to read them like the 'yours sincerely' at the foot of a letter."
'"I ask for nothing better," said I, taking her up on her own words, "than to be 'yours sincerely.' It is to ratify that pledge by making you 'mine sincerely' that I am here."
'"Indeed!" said she slowly, and looking down.
'"I swear it!" said I, kissing her hand, which, however, had a glove on.'
'Why not her cheek?'
'That is not done, major mine, at such times.'
'Well, go on.'
'I can't recall the exact words, for I spoke rapidly; but I told her I was named Minister at a foreign Court, that my future career was assured, and that I was able to offer her a station, not, indeed, equal to her deserts, but that, occupied by her, would be only less than royal.'
'At Guatemala!' exclaimed the other derisively.
'Have the kindness to keep your geography to yourself,' said Walpole. 'I merely said in South America, and she had too much delicacy to ask more.'
'But she said Yes? She consented?'
'Yes, sir, she said she would venture to commit her future to my charge.'
'Didn't she ask you what means you had? what was your income?'
'Not exactly in the categorical way you put it, but she alluded to the possible style we should live in.'
'I'll swear she did. That girl asked you, in plain words, how many hundreds or thousands you had a year?'
'And I told her. I said, "It sounds humbly, dearest, to tell you we shall not have fully two thousand a year; but the place we are going to is the cheapest in the universe, and we shall have a small establishment of not more than forty black and about a dozen white servants, and at first only keep twenty horses, taking our carriages on job."'
'What about pin-money?'
'There is not much extravagance in toilet, and so I said she must manage with a thousand a year.'
'And she didn't laugh in your face?'
'No, sir! nor was there any strain upon her good-breeding to induce her to laugh in my face.'
'At all events, you discussed the matter in a fine practical spirit. Did you go into groceries? I hope you did not forget groceries?'
'My dear Lockwood, let me warn you against being droll. You ask me for a correct narrative, and when I give it, you will not restrain that subtle sarcasm the mastery of which makes you unassailable.'
'When is it to be? When is it to come off? Has she to write to His Serene Highness the Prince of What's-his-name?'
'No, the Prince of What's-his-name need not be consulted; Lord Kilgobbin will stand in the position of father to her.'
Lockwood muttered something, in which 'Give her away!' were the only words audible. 'I must say,' added he aloud, 'the wooing did not take long.'
'You forget that there was an actual engagement between us when I left this for London. My circumstances at that time did not permit me to ask her at once to be my wife; but our affections were pledged, and—even if more tender sentiments did not determine—my feeling, as a man of honour, required I should come back here to make her this offer.'
'All right; I suppose it will do—I hope it will do; and after all, I take it, you are likely to understand each other better than others would.'
'Such is our impression and belief.'
'How will your own people—how will Danesbury like it?'
'For their sakes I trust they will like it very much; for mine, it is less than a matter of indifference to me.'
'She, however—she will expect to be properly received amongst them?'
'Yes,' cried Walpole, speaking for the first time in a perfectly natural tone, divested of all pomposity. 'Yes, she stickles for that, Lockwood. It was the one point she seemed to stand out for. Of course I told her she would be received with open arms by my relatives—that my family would be overjoyed to receive her as one of them. I only hinted that my lord's gout might prevent him from being at the wedding. I'm not sure Uncle Danesbury would not come over. "And the charming Lady Maude," asked she, "would she honour me so far as to be a bridesmaid?"'
'She didn't say that?'
'She did. She actually pushed me to promise I should ask her.'
'Which you never would.'
'Of that I will not affirm I am quite positive; but I certainly intend to press my uncle for some sort of recognition of the marriage—a civil note; better still, if it could be managed, an invitation to his house in town.'
'You are a bold fellow to think of it.'
'Not so bold as you imagine. Have you not often remarked that when a man of good connections is about to exile himself by accepting a far-away post, whether it be out of pure compassion or a feeling that it need never be done again, and that they are about to see the last of him; but, somehow—whatever the reason—his friends are marvellously civil and polite to him, just as some benevolent but eccentric folk send a partridge to the condemned felon for his last dinner.'
'They do that in France.'
'Here it would be a rumpsteak; but the sentiment is the same. At all events, the thing is as I told you, and I do not despair of Danesbury.'
'For the letter, perhaps not; but he'll never ask you to Bruton Street, nor, if he did, could you accept.'
'You are thinking of Lady Maude.'
'There would be no difficulty in that quarter. When a Whig becomes Tory, or a Tory Whig, the gentlemen of the party he has deserted never take umbrage in the same way as the vulgar dogs below the gangway; so it is in the world. The people who must meet, must dine together, sit side by side at flower-shows and garden-parties, always manage to do their hatreds decorously, and only pay off their dislikes by instalments. If Lady Maude were to receive my wife at all, it would be with a most winning politeness. All her malevolence would limit itself to making the supposed underbred woman commit a gaucherie, to do or say something that ought not to have been done or said; and, as I know Nina can stand the test, I have no fears for the experiment.'
A knock at the door apprised them that the dinner was waiting, neither having heard the bell which had summoned them a quarter of an hour before. 'And I wanted to hear all about your progress,' cried Walpole, as they descended the staircase together.
'I have none to report,' was the gruff reply.
'Why, surely you have not passed the whole day in Kearney's company without some hint of what you came here for?'
But at the same moment they were in the dining-room.
'We are a man party to-day, I am sorry to say,' cried old Kearney, as they entered. 'My niece and my daughter are keeping Miss O'Shea company upstairs. She is not well enough to come down to dinner, and they have scruples about leaving her in solitude.'
'At least we'll have a cigar after dinner,' was Dick's ungallant reflection as they moved away.
TWO YOUNG LADIES ON MATRIMONY
'I hope they had a pleasanter dinner downstairs than we have had here,' said Nina, as, after wishing Miss O'Shea a good-night, the young girls slowly mounted the stairs.
'Poor old godmother was too sad and too depressed to be cheerful company; but did she not talk well and sensibly on the condition of the country? was it not well said, when she showed the danger of all that legislation which, assuming to establish right, only engenders disunion and class jealousy?'
'I never followed her; I was thinking of something else.'
'She was worth listening to, then. She knows the people well, and she sees all the mischief of tampering with natures so imbued with distrust. The Irishman is a gambler, and English law-makers are always exciting him to play.'
'It seems to me there is very little on the game.'
'There is everything—home, family, subsistence, life itself—all that a man can care for.'
'Never mind these tiresome themes; come into my room; or I'll go to yours, for I'm sure you've a better fire; besides, I can walk away if you offend me: I mean offend beyond endurance, for you are sure to say something cutting.'
'I hope you wrong me, Nina.'
'Perhaps I do. Indeed, I half suspect I do; but the fact is, it is not your words that reproach me, it is your whole life of usefulness is my reproach, and the least syllable you utter comes charged with all the responsibility of one who has a duty and does it, to a mere good-for-nothing. There, is not that humility enough?'
'More than enough, for it goes to flattery.'
'I'm not a bit sure all the time that I'm not the more lovable creature of the two. If you like, I'll put it to the vote at breakfast.'
'Very shocking, that's the phrase for it, very shocking! Oh dear, what a nice fire, and what a nice little snug room; how is it, will you tell me, that though my room is much larger and better furnished in every way, your room is always brighter and neater, and more like a little home? They fetch you drier firewood, and they bring you flowers, wherever they get them. I know well what devices of roguery they practise.'
'Shall I give you tea?'
'Of course I'll have tea. I expect to be treated like a favoured guest in all things, and I mean to take this arm-chair, and the nice soft cushion for my feet, for I warn you, Kate, I'm here for two hours. I've an immense deal to tell you, and I'll not go till it's told.'
'I'll not turn you out.'
'I'll take care of that; I have not lived in Ireland for nothing. I have a proper sense of what is meant by possession, and I defy what your great Minister calls a heartless eviction. Even your tea is nicer, it is more fragrant than any one else's. I begin to hate you out of sheer jealousy.'
'That is about the last feeling I ought to inspire.'
'More humility; but I'll drop rudeness and tell you my story, for I have a story to tell. Are you listening? Are you attentive? Well, my Mr. Walpole, as you called him once, is about to become so in real earnest. I could have made a long narrative of it and held you in weary suspense, but I prefer to dash at once into the thick of the fray, and tell you that he has this morning made me a formal proposal, and I have accepted him. Be pleased to bear in mind that this is no case of a misconception or a mistake. No young gentleman has been petting and kissing my hand for another's; no tender speeches have been uttered to the ears they were not meant for. I have been wooed this time for myself, and on my own part I have said Yes.'
'You told me you had accepted him already. I mean when he was here last.'
'Yes, after a fashion. Don't you know, child, that though lawyers maintain that a promise to do a certain thing, to make a lease or some contract, has in itself a binding significance, that in Cupid's Court this is not law? and the man knew perfectly that all passed between us hitherto had no serious meaning, and bore no more real relation to marriage than an outpost encounter to a battle. For all that has taken place up to this, we might never fight—I mean marry—after all. The sages say that a girl should never believe a man means marriage till he talks money to her. Now, Kate, he talked money; and I believed him.'
'I wish you would tell me of these things seriously, and without banter.'
'So I do. Heaven knows I am in no jesting humour. It is in no outburst of high spirits or gaiety a girl confesses she is going to marry a man who has neither wealth nor station to offer, and whose fine connections are just fine enough to be ashamed of him.'
'Are you in love with him?'
'If you mean, do I imagine that this man's affection and this man's companionship are more to me than all the comforts and luxuries of life with another, I am not in love with him; but if you ask me, am I satisfied to risk my future with so much as I know of his temper, his tastes, his breeding, his habits, and his abilities, I incline to say Yes. Married life, Kate, is a sort of dietary, and one should remember that what he has to eat of every day ought not to be too appetising.'
'I abhor your theory.'
'Of course you do, child; and you fancy, naturally enough, that you would like ortolans every day for dinner; but my poor cold Greek temperament has none of the romantic warmth of your Celtic nature. I am very moderate in my hopes, very humble in all my ambitions.'
'It is not thus I read you.'
'Very probably. At all events, I have consented to be Mr. Walpole's wife, and we are to be Minister Plenipotentiary and Special Envoy somewhere. It is not Bolivia, nor the Argentine Republic, but some other fabulous region, where the only fact is yellow fever.'
'And you really like him?'
'I hope so, for evidently it must be on love we shall have to live, one half of our income being devoted to saddle-horses and the other to my toilet.'
'How absurd you are!'
'No, not I. It is Mr. Walpole himself, who, not trusting much to my skill at arithmetic, sketched out this schedule of expenditure; and then I bethought me how simple this man must deem me. It was a flattery that won me at once. Oh! Kate dearest, if you could understand the ecstasy of being thought, not a fool, but one easily duped, easily deceived!'
'I don't know what you mean.'
'It is this, then, that to have a man's whole heart—whether it be worth the having is another and a different question—you must impress him with his immense superiority in everything—that he is not merely physically stronger than you, and bolder and more courageous, but that he is mentally more vigorous and more able, judges better, decides quicker, resolves more fully than you; and that, struggle how you will, you pass your life in eternally looking up to this wonderful god, who vouchsafes now and then to caress you, and even say tender things to you.'
'Is it, Nina, that you have made a study of these things, or is all this mere imagination?'
'Most innocent young lady! I no more dreamed of these things to apply to such men as your country furnishes—good, homely, commonplace creatures—than I should have thought of asking you to adopt French cookery to feed them. I spoke of such men as one meets in what I may call the real world: as for the others, if they feel life to be a stage, they are always going about in slipshod fashion, as if at rehearsal. Men like your brother and young O'Shea, for instance—tossed here and there by accidents, made one thing by a chance, and something else by a misfortune. Take my word for it, the events of life are very vulgar things; the passions and emotions they evoke, these constitute the high stimulants of existence, they make the gross jeu, which it is so exciting to play.'
'I follow you with some difficulty; but I am rude enough to own I scarcely regret it.'
'I know, I know all about that sweet innocence that fancies to ignore anything is to obliterate it; but it's a fool's paradise, after all, Kate. We are in the world, and we must accept it as it is made for us.'
'I'll not ask, does your theory make you better, but does it make you happier?'
'If being duped were an element of bliss, I should say certainly not happier, but I doubt the blissful ignorance of your great moralist. I incline to believe that the better you play any game—life amongst the rest—the higher the pleasure it yields. I can afford to marry, without believing my husband to be a paragon—could you do as much?'
'I should like to know that I preferred him to any one else.'
'So should I, and I would only desire to add "to every one else that asked me." Tell the truth, Kate dearest, we are here all alone, and can afford sincerity. How many of us girls marry the man we should like to marry, and if the game were reversed, and it were to be we who should make the choice—the slave pick out his master—how many, think you, would be wedded to their present mates?'
'So long as we can refuse him we do not like, I cannot think our case a hard one.'
'Neither should I if I could stand fast at three-and-twenty. The dread of that change of heart and feeling that will come, must come, ten years later, drives one to compromise with happiness, and take a part of what you once aspired to the whole.'
'You used to think very highly of Mr. Walpole; admired, and I suspect you liked him.'
'All true—my opinion is the same still. He will stand the great test that one can go into the world with him and not be ashamed of him. I know, dearest, even without that shake of the head, the small value you attach to this, but it is a great element in that droll contract, by which one person agrees to pit his temper against another's, and which we are told is made in heaven, with angels as sponsors. Mr. Walpole is sufficiently good-looking to be prepossessing, he is well bred, very courteous, converses extremely well, knows his exact place in life, and takes it quietly but firmly. All these are of value to his wife, and it is not easy to over-rate them.'
'Is that enough?'
'Enough for what? If you mean for romantic love, for the infatuation that defies all change of sentiment, all growth of feeling, that revels in the thought, experience will not make us wiser, nor daily associations less admiring, it is not enough. I, however, am content to bid for a much humbler lot. I want a husband who, if he cannot give me a brilliant station, will at least secure me a good position in life, a reasonable share of vulgar comforts, some luxuries, and the ordinary routine of what are called pleasures. If, in affording me these, he will vouchsafe to add good temper, and not high spirits—which are detestable—but fair spirits, I think I can promise him, not that I shall make him happy, but that he will make himself so, and it will afford me much gratification to see it.'
'Is this real, or—'
'Or what? Say what was on your lips.'
'Or are you utterly heartless?' cried Kate, with an effort that covered her face with blushes.
'I don't think I am,' said she oddly and calmly; 'but all I have seen of life teaches me that every betrayal of a feeling or a sentiment is like what gamblers call showing your hand, and is sure to be taken advantage of by the other players. It's an ugly illustration, dear Kate, but in the same round game we call life there is so much cheating that if you cannot afford to be pillaged, you must be prudent.'
'I am glad to feel that I can believe you to be much better than you make yourself.'
'Do so, and as long as you can.'
There was a pause of several moments after this, each apparently following out her own thoughts.
'By the way,' cried Nina suddenly, 'did I tell you that Mary wished me joy this morning. She had overheard Mr. Gorman's declaration, and believed he had asked me to be his wife.'
'How absurd!' said Kate, and there was anger as well as shame in her look as she said it.
'Of course it was absurd. She evidently never suspected to whom she was speaking, and then—' She stopped, for a quick glance at Kate's face warned her of the peril she was grazing. 'I told the girl she was a fool, and forbade her to speak of the matter to any one.'
'It is a servants'-hall story already,' said Kate quietly.
'Do you care for that?'
'Not much; three days will see the end of it.'
'I declare, in your own homely way, I believe you are the wiser of the two of us.'
'My common sense is of the very commonest,' said Kate, laughing; 'there is nothing subtle nor even neat about it.'
'Let us see that! Give me a counsel or, rather, say if you agree with me. I have asked Mr. Walpole to show me how his family accept my entrance amongst them; with what grace they receive me as a relative. One of his cousins called me the Greek girl, and in my own hearing. It is not, then, over-caution on my part to inquire how they mean to regard me. Tell me, however, Kate, how far you concur with me in this. I should like much to hear how your good sense regards the question. Should you have done as I have?'
'Answer me first one question. If you should learn that these great folks would not welcome you amongst them, would you still consent to marry Mr. Walpole?'
'I'm not sure, I am not quite certain, but I almost believe I should.'
'I have, then, no counsel to give you,' said Kate firmly. 'Two people who see the same object differently cannot discuss its proportions.'
'I see my blunder,' cried Nina impetuously. 'I put my question stupidly. I should have said, "If a girl has won a man's affections and given him her own—if she feels her heart has no other home than in his keeping—that she lives for him and by him—should she be deterred from joining her fortunes to his because he has some fine connections who would like to see him marry more advantageously?"' It needed not the saucy curl of her lip as she spoke to declare how every word was uttered in sarcasm. 'Why will you not answer me?' cried she at length; and her eyes shot glances of fiery impatience as she said it.
'Our distinguished friend Mr. Atlee is to arrive to-morrow, Dick tells me,' said Kate, with the calm tone of one who would not permit herself to be ruffled.
'Indeed! If your remark has any apropos at all, it must mean that in marrying such a man as he is, one might escape all the difficulties of family coldness, and I protest, as I think of it, the matter has its advantages.'
A faint smile was all Kate's answer.
'I cannot make you angry; I have done my best, and it has failed. I am utterly discomfited, and I'll go to bed.'
'Good-night,' said Kate, as she held out her hand.
'I wonder is it nice to have this angelic temperament—-to be always right in one's judgments, and never carried away by passion? I half suspect perfection does not mean perfect happiness.'
'You shall tell me when you are married,' said Kate, with a laugh; and Nina darted a flashing glance towards her, and swept out of the room.
A MISERABLE MORNING
It was not without considerable heart-sinking and misgiving that old Kearney heard it was Miss Betty O'Shea's desire to have some conversation with him after breakfast. He was, indeed, reassured, to a certain extent, by his daughter telling him that the old lady was excessively weak, and that her cough was almost incessant, and that she spoke with extreme difficulty. All the comfort that these assurances gave him was dashed by a settled conviction of Miss Betty's subtlety. 'She's like one of the wild foxes they have in Crim Tartary; and when you think they are dead, they're up and at you before you can look round.' He affirmed no more than the truth when he said that 'he'd rather walk barefoot to Kilbeggan than go up that stair to see her.'
There was a strange conflict in his mind all this time between these ignoble fears and the efforts he was making to seem considerate and gentle by Kate's assurance that a cruel word, or even a harsh tone, would be sure to kill her. 'You'll have to be very careful, papa dearest,' she said. 'Her nerves are completely shattered, and every respiration seems as if it would be the last.'
Mistrust was, however, so strong in him, that he would have employed any subterfuge to avoid the interview; but the Rev. Luke Delany, who had arrived to give her 'the consolations,' as he briefly phrased it, insisted on Kearney's attending to receive the old lady's forgiveness before she died.
'Upon my conscience,' muttered Kearney, 'I was always under the belief it was I was injured; but, as the priest says, "it's only on one's death-bed he sees things clearly."'
As Kearney groped his way through the darkened room, shocked at his own creaking shoes, and painfully convinced that he was somehow deficient in delicacy, a low, faint cough guided him to the sofa where Miss O'Shea lay. 'Is that Mathew Kearney?' said she feebly. 'I think I know his foot.'
'Yes indeed, bad luck to them for shoes. Wherever Davy Morris gets the leather I don't know, but it's as loud as a barrel-organ.'
'Maybe they re cheap, Mathew. One puts up with many a thing for a little cheapness.'
'That's the first shot!' muttered Kearney to himself, while he gave a little cough to avoid reply.
'Father Luke has been telling me, Mathew, that before I go this long journey I ought to take care to settle any little matter here that's on my mind. "If there's anybody you bear an ill will to," says he; "if there's any one has wronged you," says he, "told lies of you, or done you any bodily harm, send for him," says he, "and let him hear your forgiveness out of your own mouth. I'll take care afterwards," says Father Luke, "that he'll have to settle the account with me; but you mustn't mind that. You must be able to tell St. Joseph that you come with a clean breast and a good conscience ": and that's'—here she sighed heavily several times—'and that's the reason I sent for you, Mathew Kearney!'
Poor Kearney sighed heavily over that category of misdoers with whom he found himself classed, but he said nothing.
'I don't want to say anything harsh to you, Mathew, nor have I strength to listen, if you'd try to defend yourself; time is short with me now, but this I must say, if I'm here now sick and sore, and if the poor boy in the other room is lying down with his fractured head, it is you, and you alone, have the blame.'
'May the blessed Virgin give me patience!' muttered he, as he wrung his hands despairingly.
'I hope she will; and give you more, Mathew Kearney. I hope she'll give you a hearty repentance. I hope she'll teach you that the few days that remain to you in this life are short enough for contrition—ay—contrition and castigation.'
'Ain't I getting it now,' muttered he; but low as he spoke the words her quick hearing had caught them.
'I hope you are; it is the last bit of friendship I can do you. You have a hard, worldly, selfish nature, Mathew; you had it as a boy, and it grew worse as you grew older. What many believed high spirits in you was nothing else than the reckless devilment of a man that only thought of himself. You could afford to be—at least to look—light-hearted, for you cared for nobody. You squandered your little property, and you'd have made away with the few acres that belonged to your ancestors, if the law would have let you. As for the way you brought up your children, that lazy boy below-stairs, that never did a hand's turn, is proof enough, and poor Kitty, just because she wasn't like the rest of you, how she's treated!'
'How is that: what is my cruelty there?' cried he.
'Don't try to make yourself out worse than you are,' said she sternly, 'and pretend that you don't know the wrong you done her.'
'May I never—if I understand what you mean.'
'Maybe you thought it was no business of yours to provide for your own child. Maybe you had a notion that it was enough that she had her food and a roof over her while you were here, and that somehow—anyhow—she'd get on, as they call it, when you were in the other place. Mathew Kearney, I'll say nothing so cruel to you as your own conscience is saying this minute; or maybe, with that light heart that makes your friends so fond of you, you never bothered yourself about her at all, and that's the way it come about.'
'What came about? I want to know that.'
'First and foremost, I don't think the law will let you. I don't believe you can charge your estate against the entail. I have a note there to ask McKeown's opinion, and if I'm right, I'll set apart a sum in my will to contest it in the Queen's Bench. I tell you this to your face, Mathew Kearney, and I'm going where I can tell it to somebody better than a hard-hearted, cruel old man.'
'What is it that I want to do, and that the law won't let me?' asked he, in the most imploring accents.
'At least twelve honest men will decide it.'
'Decide what! in the name of the saints?' cried he.
'Don't be profane; don't parade your unbelieving notions to a poor old woman on her death-bed. You may want to leave your daughter a beggar, and your son little better, but you have no right to disturb my last moments with your terrible blasphemies.'
'I'm fairly bothered now,' cried he, as his two arms dropped powerlessly to his sides. 'So help me, if I know whether I'm awake or in a dream.'
'It's an excuse won't serve you where you'll be soon going, and I warn you, don't trust it.'
'Have a little pity on me, Miss Betty, darling,' said he, in his most coaxing tone; 'and tell me what it is I have done?'
'You mean what you are trying to do; but what, please the Virgin, we'll not let you!'
'What is that?'
'And what, weak and ill, and dying as I am, I've strength enough left in me to prevent, Mathew Kearney—and if you'll give me that Bible there, I'll kiss it, and take my oath that, if he marries her, he'll never put foot in a house of mine, nor inherit an acre that belongs to me; and all that I'll leave in my will shall be my—well, I won't say what, only it's something he'll not have to pay a legacy duty on. Do you understand me now, or ain't I plain enough yet?'
'No, not yet. You'll have to make it clearer still.'
'Faith, I must say you did not pick up much cuteness from your adopted daughter.'
'Who is she?'
'The Greek hussy that you want to marry my nephew, and give a dowry to out of the estate that belongs to your son. I know it all, Mathew. I wasn't two hours in the house before my old woman brought me the story from Mary. Ay, stare if you like, but they all know it below-stairs, and a nice way you are discussed in your own house! Getting a promise out of a poor boy in a brain fever, making him give a pledge in his ravings! Won't it tell well in a court of justice, of a magistrate, a county gentleman, a Kearney of Kilgobbin? Oh! Mathew, Mathew, I'm ashamed of you!'
'Upon my oath, you're making me ashamed of myself that I sit here and listen to you,' cried he, carried beyond all endurance. 'Abusing, ay, blackguarding me this last hour about a lying story that came from the kitchen. It's you that ought to be ashamed, old lady. Not, indeed, for believing ill of an old friend—for that's nature in you—but for not having common sense, just common sense to guide you, and a little common decency to warn you. Look now, there is not a word—there is not a syllable of truth in the whole story. Nobody ever thought of your nephew asking my niece to marry him; and if he did, she wouldn't have him. She looks higher, and she has a right to look higher than to be the wife of an Irish squireen.'
'Go on, Mathew, go on. You waited for me to be as I am now before you had courage for words like these.'
'Well, I ask your pardon, and ask it in all humiliation and sorrow. My temper—bad luck to it!—gets the better, or, maybe, it's the worse, of me at times, and I say fifty things that I know I don't feel—just the way sailors load a gun with anything in the heat of an action.'
'I'm not in a condition to talk of sea-fights, Mr. Kearney, though I'm obliged to you all the same for trying to amuse me. You'll not think me rude if I ask you to send Kate to me? And please to tell Father Luke that I'll not see him this morning. My nerves have been sorely tried. One word before you go, Mathew Kearney; and have compassion enough not to answer me. You may be a just man and an honest man, you may be fair in your dealings, and all that your tenants say of you may be lies and calumnies, but to insult a poor old woman on her death-bed is cruel and unfeeling; and I'll tell you more, Mathew, it's cowardly and it's—'
Kearney did not wait to hear what more it might be, for he was already at the door, and rushed out as if he was escaping from a fire.
'I'm glad he's better than they made him out,' said Miss Betty to herself, in a tone of calm soliloquy; 'and he'll not be worse for some of the home truths I told him.' And with this she drew on her silk mittens, and arranged her cap composedly, while she waited for Kate's arrival.
As for poor Kearney, other troubles were awaiting him in his study, where he found his son and Mr. Holmes, the lawyer, sitting before a table covered with papers. 'I have no head for business now,' cried Kearney. 'I don't feel over well to-day, and if you want to talk to me, you'll have to put it off till to-morrow.'
'Mr. Holmes must leave for town, my lord,' interposed Dick, in his most insinuating tone, 'and he only wants a few minutes with you before he goes.'
'And it's just what he won't get. I would not see the Lord-Lieutenant if he was here now.'
'The trial is fixed for Tuesday the 19th, my lord,' cried Holmes,' and the National press has taken it up in such a way that we have no chance whatever. The verdict will be "Guilty," without leaving the box; and the whole voice of public opinion will demand the very heaviest sentence the law can pronounce.'
'Think of that poor fellow O'Shea, just rising from a sick-bed,' said Dick, as his voice shook with agitation.
'They can't hang him.'
'No, for the scoundrel Gill is alive, and will be the chief witness on the trial; but they may give him two years with prison labour, and if they do, it will kill him.'
'I don't know that. I've seen more than one fellow come out fresh and hearty after a spell. In fact, the plain diet, and the regular work, and the steady habits, are wonderful things for a young man that has been knocking about in a town life.'
'Oh, father, don't speak that way. I know Gorman well, and I can swear he'd not survive it.'
Kearney shook his head doubtingly, and muttered, 'There's a great deal said about wounded pride and injured feelings, but the truth is, these things are like a bad colic, mighty hard to bear, if you like, but nobody ever dies of it.'
'From all I hear about young Mr. O'Shea,' said Holmes, 'I am led to believe he will scarcely live through an imprisonment.'
'To be sure! Why not? At three or four-and-twenty we're all of us high-spirited and sensitive and noble-hearted, and we die on the spot if there's a word against our honour. It is only after we cross the line in life, wherever that be, that we become thick-skinned and hardened, and mind nothing that does not touch our account at the bank. Sure I know the theory well! Ay, and the only bit of truth in it all is, that we cry out louder when we're young, for we are not so well used to bad treatment.'
'Right or wrong, no man likes to have the whole press of a nation assailing him and all the sympathies of a people against him,' said Holmes.
'And what can you and your brothers in wigs do against that? Will all your little beguiling ways and insinuating tricks turn the Pike and the Irish Cry from what sells their papers? Here it is now, Mr. Holmes, and I can't put it shorter. Every man that lives in Ireland knows in his heart he must live in hot water; but somehow, though he may not like it, he gets used to it, and he finds it does him no harm in the end. There was an uncle of my own was in a passion for forty years, and he died at eighty-six.'
'I wish I could only secure your attention, my lord, for ten minutes.'
'And what would you do, counsellor, if you had it?'
'You see, my lord, there are some very grave questions here. First of all, you and your brother magistrates had no right to accept bail. The injury was too grave: Gill's life, as the doctor's certificate will prove, was in danger. It was for a judge in Chambers to decide whether bail could be taken. They will move, therefore, in the Queen's Bench, for a mandamus—'
'May I never, if you won't drive me mad!' cried Kearney passionately; 'and I'd rather be picking oakum this minute than listening to all the possible misfortunes briefs and lawyers could bring on me.'
'Just listen to Holmes, father,' whispered Dick. 'He thinks that Gill might be got over—that if done by you with three or four hundred pounds, he'd either make his evidence so light, or he'd contradict himself, or, better than all, he'd not make an appearance at the trial—'
'Compounding a felony! Catch me at it!' cried the old man, with a yell.
'Well, Joe Atlee will be here to-night,' continued Dick. 'He's a clever fellow at all rogueries. Will you let him see if it can't be arranged.'
'I don't care who does it, so it isn't Mathew Kearney,' said he angrily, for his patience could endure no more. 'If you won't leave me alone now, I won't say but that I'll go out and throw myself into a bog-hole!'
There was a tone of such perfect sincerity in his speech, that, without another word, Dick took the lawyer's arm, and led him from the room.
A third voice was heard outside as they issued forth, and Kearney could just make out that it was Major Lockwood, who was asking Dick if he might have a few minutes' conversation with his father.
'I don't suspect you'll find my father much disposed for conversation just now. I think if you would not mind making your visit to him at another time—'
'Just so!' broke in the old man, 'if you're not coming with a strait-waistcoat, or a coil of rope to hold me down, I'd say it's better to leave me to myself.'
Whether it was that the major was undeterred by these forbidding evidences, or that what he deemed the importance of his communication warranted some risk, certain it is he lingered at the door, and stood there where Dick and the lawyer had gone and left him.
A faint tap at the door at last apprised Kearney that some one was without, and he hastily, half angrily, cried, 'Come in!' Old Kearney almost started with surprise as the major walked in.
'I'm not going to make any apology for intruding on you,' cried he. 'What I want to say shall be said in three words, and I cannot endure the suspense of not having them said and answered. I've had a whole night of feverish anxiety, and a worse morning, thinking and turning over the thing in my mind, and settled it must be at once, one way or other, for my head will not stand it.'
'My own is tried pretty hard, and I can feel for you,' said Kearney, with a grim humour.
'I've come to ask if you'll give me your daughter?' said Lockwood, and his face became blood-red with the effort the words had cost him.
'Give you my daughter?' cried Kearney.
'I want to make her my wife, and as I know little about courtship, and have nobody here that could settle this affair for me—for Walpole is thinking of his own concerns—I've thought the best way, as it was the shortest, was to come at once to yourself: I have got a few documents here that will show you I have enough to live on, and to make a tidy settlement, and do all that ought to be done.'
'I'm sure you are an excellent fellow, and I like you myself; but you see, major, a man doesn't dispose of his daughter like his horse, and I'd like to hear what she would say to the bargain.'
'I suppose you could ask her?'
'Well, indeed, that's true, I could ask her; but on the whole, major, don't you think the question would come better from yourself?'
'That means courtship?'
'Yes, I admit it is liable to that objection, but somehow it's the usual course.'
'No, no,' said the other slowly, 'I could not manage that. I'm sick of bachelor life, and I'm ready to send in my papers and have done with it, but I don't know how to go about the other. Not to say, Kearney,' added he, more boldly, 'that I think there is something confoundedly mean in that daily pursuit of a woman, till by dint of importunity, and one thing or another, you get her to like you! What can she know of her own mind after three or four months of what these snobs call attentions? How is she to say how much is mere habit, how much is gratified vanity of having a fellow dangling after her, how much the necessity of showing the world she is not compromised by the cad's solicitations? Take my word for it, Kearney, my way is the best. Be able to go up like a man and tell the girl, "It's all arranged. I've shown the old cove that I can take care of you, he has seen that I've no debts or mortgages; I'm ready to behave handsomely, what do you say yourself?"'
'She might say, "I know nothing about you. I may possibly not see much to dislike, but how do I know I should like you."'
'And I'd say, "I'm one of those fellows that are the same all through, to-day as I was yesterday, and to-morrow the same. When I'm in a bad temper I go out on the moors and walk it off, and I'm not hard to live with."'
'There's many a bad fellow a woman might like better.'
'All the luckier for me, then, that I don't get her.'
'I might say, too,' said Kearney, with a smile, 'how much do you know of my daughter—of her temper, her tastes, her habits, and her likings? What assurance have you that you would suit each other, and that you are not as wide apart in character as in country?'
'I'll answer for that. She's always good-tempered, cheerful, and light-hearted. She's always nicely dressed and polite to every one. She manages this old house, and these stupid bog-trotters, till one fancies it a fine establishment and a first-rate household. She rides like a lion, and I'd rather hear her laugh than I'd listen to Patti.'
'I'll call all that mighty like being in love.'
'Do if you like—but answer me my question.'
'That is more than I'm able; but I'll consult my daughter. I'll tell her pretty much in your own words all you have said to me, and she shall herself give the answer.'
'All right, and how soon?'
'Well, in the course of the day. Should she say that she does not understand being wooed in this manner, that she would like more time to learn something more about yourself, that, in fact, there is something too peremptory in this mode of proceeding, I would not say she was wrong.'
'But if she says Yes frankly, you'll let me know at once.'
'I will—on the spot.'
The news of Nina's engagement to Walpole soon spread through the castle at Kilgobbin, and gave great satisfaction; even the humbler members of the household were delighted to think there would be a wedding and all its appropriate festivity.
When the tidings at length arrived at Miss O'Shea's room, so reviving were the effects upon her spirits, that the old lady insisted she should be dressed and carried down to the drawing-room that the bridegroom might be presented to her in all form.
Though Nina herself chafed at such a proceeding, and called it a most 'insufferable pretension,' she was perhaps not sorry secretly at the opportunity afforded herself to let the tiresome old woman guess how she regarded her, and what might be their future relations towards each other. 'Not indeed,' added she, 'that we are likely ever to meet again, or that I should recognise her beyond a bow if we should.'
As for Kearney, the announcement that Miss Betty was about to appear in public filled him with unmixed terror, and he muttered drearily as he went, 'There'll be wigs on the green for this.' Nor was Walpole himself pleased at the arrangement. Like most men in his position, he could not be brought to see the delicacy or the propriety of being paraded as an object of public inspection, nor did he perceive the fitness of that display of trinkets which he had brought with him as presents, and the sight of which had become a sort of public necessity.
Not the least strange part of the whole procedure was that no one could tell where or how or with whom it originated. It was like one of those movements which are occasionally seen in political life, where, without the direct intervention of any precise agent, a sort of diffused atmosphere of public opinion suffices to produce results and effect changes that all are ready to disavow but to accept.
The mere fact of the pleasure the prospect afforded to Miss Betty prevented Kate from offering opposition to what she felt to be both bad in taste and ridiculous.
'That old lady imagines, I believe, that I am to come down like a pretendu in a French vaudeville—dressed in a tail-coat, with a white tie and white gloves, and perhaps receive her benediction. She mistakes herself, she mistakes us. If there was a casket of uncouth old diamonds, or some marvellous old point lace to grace the occasion, we might play our parts with a certain decorous hypocrisy; but to be stared at through a double eye-glass by a snuffy old woman in black mittens, is more than one is called on to endure—eh, Lockwood?'
'I don't know. I think I'd go through it all gladly to have the occasion.'
'Have a little patience, old fellow, it will all come right. My worthy relatives—for I suppose I can call them so now—are too shrewd people to refuse the offer of such a fellow as you. They have that native pride that demands a certain amount of etiquette and deference. They must not seem to rise too eagerly to the fly; but only give them time—give them time, Lockwood.'
'Ay, but the waiting in this uncertainty is terrible to me.'
'Let it be certainty, then, and for very little I'll ensure you! Bear this in mind, my dear fellow, and you'll see how little need there is for apprehension. You—and the men like you—snug fellows with comfortable estates and no mortgages, unhampered by ties and uninfluenced by connections, are a species of plant that is rare everywhere, but actually never grew at all in Ireland, where every one spent double his income, and seldom dared to move a step without a committee of relations. Old Kearney has gone through that fat volume of the gentry and squirearchy of England last night, and from Sir Simon de Lockwood, who was killed at Crecy, down to a certain major in the Carbineers, he knows you all.'
'I'll bet you a thousand they say No.'
'I've not got a thousand to pay if I should lose, but I'll lay a pony—two, if you like—that you are an accepted man this day—ay, before dinner.'
'If I only thought so!'
'Confound it—you don't pretend you are in love!'
'I don't know whether I am or not, but I do know how I should like to bring that nice girl back to Hampshire, and install her at the Dingle. I've a tidy stable, some nice shooting, a good trout-stream, and then I should have the prettiest wife in the county.'
'Happy dog! Yours is the real philosophy of life. The fellows who are realistic enough to reckon up the material elements of their happiness—who have little to speculate on and less to unbelieve—they are right.'
'If you mean that I'll never break my heart because I don't get in for the county, that's true—I don't deny it. But come, tell me, is it all settled about your business? Has the uncle been asked?—has he spoken?'
'He has been asked and given his consent. My distinguished father-in-law, the prince, has been telegraphed to this morning, and his reply may be here to-night or to-morrow. At all events, we are determined that even should he prove adverse, we shall not be deterred from our wishes by the caprice of a parent who has abandoned us.'
'It's what people would call a love-match.'
'I sincerely trust it is. If her affections were not inextricably engaged, it is not possible that such a girl could pledge her future to a man as humble as myself?'
'That is, she is very much in love with you?'
'I hope the astonishment of your question does not arise from its seeming difficulty of belief?'
'No, not so much that, but I thought there might have been a little heroics, or whatever it is, on your side.'
'Most dull dragoon, do you not know that, so long as a man spoons, he can talk of his affection for a woman; but that, once she is about to be his wife, or is actually his wife, he limits his avowals to her love for him?'
'I never heard that before. I say, what a swell you are this morning. The cock-pheasants will mistake you for one of them.'
'Nothing can be simpler, nothing quieter, I trust, than a suit of dark purple knickerbockers; and you may see that my thread stockings and my coarse shoes presuppose a stroll in the plantations, where, indeed, I mean to smoke my morning cigar.'
'She'll make you give up tobacco, I suppose?'
'Nothing of the kind—a thorough woman of the world enforces no such penalties as these. True free-trade is the great matrimonial maxim, and for people of small means it is inestimable. The formula may be stated thus—'Dine at the best houses, and give tea at your own.'
What other precepts of equal wisdom Walpole was prepared to enunciate were lost to the world by a message informing him that Miss Betty was in the drawing-room, and the family assembled, to see him.
Cecil Walpole possessed a very fair stock of that useful quality called assurance; but he had no more than he needed to enter that large room, where the assembled family sat in a half-circle, and stand to be surveyed by Miss O'Shea's eye-glass, unabashed. Nor was the ordeal the less trying as he overheard the old lady ask her neighbour, 'if he wasn't the image of the Knave of Diamonds.'
'I thought you were the other man!' said she curtly, as he made his bow.
'I deplore the disappointment, madam—even though I do not comprehend it.'
'It was the picture, the photograph, of the other man I saw—a fine, tall, dark man, with long moustaches.'
'The fine, tall, dark man, with the long moustaches, is in the house, and will be charmed to be presented to you.'
'Ay, ay! presented is all very fine; but that won't make him the bridegroom,' said she, with a laugh.
'I sincerely trust it will not, madam.'
'And it is you, then, are Major Walpole?'
'Mr. Walpole, madam—my friend Lockwood is the major.'
'To be sure. I have it right now. You are the young man that got into that unhappy scrape, and got the Lord-Lieutenant turned away—'
'I wonder how you endure this,' burst out Nina, as she arose and walked angrily towards a window.
'I don't think I caught what the young lady said; but if it was, that what cannot be cured must be endured, it is true enough; and I suppose that they'll get over your blunder as they have done many another.'
'I live in that hope, madam.'
'Not but it's a bad beginning in public life; and a stupid mistake hangs long on a man's memory. You're young, however, and people are generous enough to believe it might be a youthful indiscretion.'
'You give me great comfort, madam.'
'And now you are going to risk another venture?'
'I sincerely trust on safer grounds.'
'That's what they all think. I never knew a man that didn't believe he drew the prize in matrimony. Ask him, however, six months after he's tied. Say, "What do you think of your ticket now?" Eh, Mat Kearney? It doesn't take twenty or thirty years quarrelling and disputing to show one that a lottery with so many blanks is just a swindle.'
A loud bang of the door, as Nina flounced out in indignation, almost shook the room.
'There's a temper you'll know more of yet, young gentleman; and, take my word for it, it's only in stage-plays that a shrew is ever tamed.'
'I declare,' cried Dick, losing all patience, 'I think Miss O'Shea is too unsparing of us all. We have our faults, I'm sure; but public correction will not make us more comfortable.'
'It wasn't your comfort I was thinking of, young man; and if I thought of your poor father's, I'd have advised him to put you out an apprentice. There's many a light business—like stationery, or figs, or children's toys—and they want just as little capital as capacity.'
'Miss Betty,' said Kearney stiffly, 'this is not the time nor the place for these discussions. Mr. Walpole was polite enough to present himself here to-day to have the honour of making your acquaintance, and to announce his future marriage.'
'A great event for us all—and we're proud of it! It's what the newspapers will call a great day for the Bog of Allen. Eh, Mat? The princess—God forgive me, but I'm always calling her Costigan—but the princess will be set down niece to Lord Kilgobbin; and if you'—and she addressed Walpole—'haven't a mock-title and a mock-estate, you'll be the only one without them!'
'I don't think any one will deny us our tempers,' cried Kearney.
'Here's Lockwood,' cried Walpole, delighted to see his friend enter, though he as quickly endeavoured to retreat.
'Come in, major,' said Kearney. 'We're all friends here. Miss O'Shea, this is Major Lockwood, of the Carbineers—Miss O'Shea.'
Lockwood bowed stiffly, but did not speak.
'Be attentive to the old woman,' whispered Walpole. 'A word from her will make your affair all right.'
'I have been very desirous to have had the honour of this introduction, madam,' said Lockwood, as he seated himself at her side.
'Was not that a clever diversion I accomplished with "the Heavy "?' said Walpole, as he drew away Kearney and his son into a window.
'I never heard her much worse than to-day,' said Dick.
'I don't know,' hesitated Kilgobbin. 'I suspect she is breaking. There is none of the sustained virulence I used to remember of old. She lapses into half-mildness at moments.'
'I own I did not catch them, nor, I'm afraid, did Nina,' said Dick. 'Look there! I'll be shot if she's not giving your friend the major a lesson! When she performs in that way with her hands, you may swear she is didactic.'
'I think I'll go to his relief,' said Walpole; 'but I own it's a case for the V.C.'
As Walpole drew nigh, he heard her saying: 'Marry one of your own race, and you will jog on well enough. Marry a Frenchwoman or a Spaniard, and she'll lead her own life, and be very well satisfied; but a poor Irish girl, with a fresh heart and a joyous temper—what is to become of her, with your dull habits and your dreary intercourse, your county society and your Chinese manners!'
'Miss O'Shea is telling me that I must not look for a wife among her countrywomen,' said Lockwood, with a touching attempt to smile.
'What I overheard was not encouraging,' said Walpole; 'but I think Miss O'Shea takes a low estimate of our social temperament.'
'Nothing of the kind! All I say is, you'll do mighty well for each other, or, for aught I know, you might intermarry with the Dutch or the Germans; but it's a downright shame to unite your slow sluggish spirits with the sparkling brilliancy and impetuous joy of an Irish girl. That's a union I'd never consent to.'
'I hope this is no settled resolution,' said Walpole, speaking in a low whisper; 'for I want to bespeak your especial influence in my friend's behalf. Major Lockwood is a most impassioned admirer of Miss Kearney, and has already declared as much to her father.'
'Come over here, Mat Kearney! come over here this moment!' cried she, half wild with excitement. 'What new piece of roguery, what fresh intrigue is this? Will you dare to tell me you had a proposal for Kate, for my own god-daughter, without even so much as telling me?'
'My dear Miss Betty, be calm, be cool for one minute, and I'll tell you everything.'
'Ay, when I've found it out, Mat!'
'I profess I don't think my friend's pretensions are discussed with much delicacy, time and place considered,' said Walpole.
'We have something to think of as well as delicacy, young man: there's a woman's happiness to be remembered.'
'Here it is, now, the whole business,' said Kearney. 'The major there asked me yesterday to get my daughter's consent to his addresses.'
'And you never told me,' cried Miss Betty.
'No, indeed, nor herself neither; for after I turned it over in my mind, I began to see it wouldn't do—'
'How do you mean not do?' asked Lockwood.
'Just let me finish. What I mean is this—if a man wants to marry an Irish girl, he mustn't begin by asking leave to make love to her—'
'Mat's right!' cried the old lady stoutly.
'And above all, he oughtn't to think that the short cut to her heart is through his broad acres.'
'Mat's right—quite right!'
'And besides this, that the more a man dwells on his belongings, and the settlements, and such like, the more he seems to say, "I may not catch your fancy in everything, I may not ride as boldly or dance as well as somebody else, but never mind—you're making a very prudent match, and there is a deal of pure affection in the Three per Cents."'
'And I'll give you another reason,' said Miss Betty resolutely. 'Kate Kearney cannot have two husbands, and I've made her promise to marry my nephew this morning.'
'What, without any leave of mine?' exclaimed Kearney.
'Just so, Mat. She'll marry him if you give your consent; but whether you will or not, she'll never marry another.'
'Is there, then, a real engagement?' whispered Walpole to Kearney. 'Has my friend here got his answer?'
'He'll not wait for another,' said Lockwood haughtily, as he arose. 'I'm for town, Cecil,' whispered he.
'So shall I be this evening,' replied Walpole, in the same tone. 'I must hurry over to London and see Lord Danesbury. I've my troubles too.' And so saying, he drew his arm within the major's, and led him away; while Miss Betty, with Kearney on one side of her and Dick on the other, proceeded to recount the arrangement she had made to make over the Barn and the estate to Gorman, it being her own intention to retire altogether from the world and finish her days in the 'Retreat.'
'And a very good thing to do, too,' said Kearney, who was too much impressed with the advantages of the project to remember his politeness.
'I have had enough of it, Mat,' added she, in a lugubrious tone; 'and it's all backbiting, and lying, and mischief-making, and what's worse, by the people who might live quietly and let others do the same!'
'What you say is true as the Bible.'
'It may be hard to do it, Mat Kearney, but I'll pray for them in my hours of solitude, and in that blessed Retreat I'll ask for a blessing on yourself, and that your heart, hard and cruel and worldly as it is now, may be changed; and that in your last days—maybe on the bed of sickness—when you are writhing and twisting with pain, with a bad heart and a worse conscience—when you'll have nobody but hirelings near you—hirelings that will be robbing you before your eyes, and not waiting till the breath leaves you—when even the drop of drink to cool your lips—'
'Don't—don't go on that way, Miss Betty. I've a cold shivering down the spine of my back this minute, and a sickness creeping all over me.'
'I'm glad of it. I'm glad that my words have power over your wicked old nature—if it's not too late.'
'If it's miserable and wretched you wanted to make me, don't fret about your want of success; though whether it all comes too late, I cannot tell you.'
'We'll leave that to St. Joseph.'
'Do so! do so!' cried he eagerly, for he had a shrewd suspicion he would have better chances of mercy at any hands than her own.
'As for Gorman, if I find that he has any notions about claiming an acre of the property, I'll put it all into Chancery, and the suit will outlive him; but if he owns he is entirely dependent on my bounty, I'll settle the Barn and the land on him, and the deed shall be signed the day he marries your daughter. People tell you that you can't take your money with you into the next world, Mat Kearney, and a greater lie was never uttered. Thanks to the laws of England, and the Court of Equity in particular, it's the very thing you can do! Ay, and you can provide, besides, that everybody but the people that had a right to it shall have a share. So I say to Gorman O'Shea, beware what you are at, and don't go on repeating that stupid falsehood about not carrying your debentures into the next world.'
'You are a wise woman, and you know life well,' said he solemnly.
'And if I am, it's nothing to sigh over, Mr. Kearney. One is grateful for mercies, but does not groan over them like rheumatism or the lumbago.'
'Maybe I 'in a little out of spirits to-day.'
'I shouldn't wonder if you were. They tell me you sat over your wine, with that tall man, last night, till nigh one o'clock, and it's not at your time of life that you can do these sort of excesses with impunity; you had a good constitution once, and there's not much left of it.'
'My patience, I'm grateful to see, has not quite deserted me.'
'I hope there's other of your virtues you can be more sure of,' said she, rising, 'for if I was asked your worst failing, I'd say it was your irritability.' And with a stern frown, as though to confirm the judicial severity of her words, she nodded her head to him and walked away.
It was only then that Kearney discovered he was left alone, and that Dick had stolen away, though when or how he could not say.
'I'm glad the boy was not listening to her, for I'm downright ashamed that I bore it,' was his final reflection as he strolled out to take a walk in the plantation.
A NEW ARRIVAL
Though the dinner-party that day at Kilgobbin Castle was deficient in the persons of Lockwood and Walpole, the accession of Joe Atlee to the company made up in a great measure for the loss. He arrived shortly before dinner was announced, and even in the few minutes in the drawing-room, his gay and lively manner, his pleasant flow of small talk, dashed with the lightest of epigrams, and that marvellous variety he possessed, made every one delighted with him.
'I met Walpole and Lockwood at the station, and did my utmost to make them turn back with me. You may laugh, Lord Kilgobbin, but in doing the honours of another man's house, as I was at that moment, I deem myself without a rival.'
'I wish with all my heart you had succeeded; there is nothing I like as much as a well-filled table,' said Kearney.
'Not that their air and manner,' resumed Joe, 'impressed me strongly with the exuberance of their spirits; a pair of drearier dogs I have not seen for some time, and I believe I told them so.'
'Did they explain their gloom, or even excuse it?' asked Dick.
'Except on the general grounds of coming away from such fascinating society. Lockwood played sulky, and scarcely vouchsafed a word, and as for Walpole, he made some high-flown speeches about his regrets and his torn sensibilities—so like what one reads in a French novel, that the very sound of them betrays unreality.'
'But was it, then, so very impossible to be sorry for leaving this?' asked Nina calmly.
'Certainly not for any man but Walpole.'
'And why not Walpole?'
'Can you ask me? You who know people so well, and read them so clearly; you to whom the secret anatomy of the "heart" is no mystery, and who understand how to trace the fibre of intense selfishness through every tissue of his small nature. He might be miserable at being separated from himself—there could be no other estrangement would affect him.'
'This was not always your estimate of your friend,' said Nina, with a marked emphasis of the last word.
'Pardon me, it was my unspoken opinion from the first hour I met him. Since then, some space of time has intervened, and though it has made no change in him, I hope it has dealt otherwise with me. I have at least reached the point in life where men not only have convictions but avow them.'
'Come, come; I can remember what precious good-luck you called it to make his acquaintance,' cried Dick, half angrily.
'I don't deny it. I was very nigh drowning at the time, and it was the first plank I caught hold of. I am very grateful to him for the rescue; but I owe him more gratitude for the opportunity the incident gave me to see these men in their intimacy—to know, and know thoroughly, what is the range, what the stamp of those minds by which states are ruled and masses are governed. Through Walpole I knew his master; and through the master I have come to know the slipshod intelligences which, composed of official detail, House of Commons' gossip, and Times' leaders, are accepted by us as statesmen. And if—' A very supercilious smile on Nina's mouth arrested him in the current of his speech, and he said, 'I know, of course, I know the question you are too polite to ask, but which quivers on your lip: "Who is the gifted creature that sees all this incompetence and insufficiency around him?" And I am quite ready to tell you. It is Joseph Atlee—Joseph Atlee, who knows that when he and others like him—for we are a strong coterie—stop the supply of ammunition, these gentlemen must cease firing. Let the Debats and the Times, the Revue des Deux Mondes and the Saturday, and a few more that I need not stop to enumerate, strike work, and let us see how much of original thought you will obtain from your Cabinet sages! It is in the clash and collision of the thinkers outside of responsibility that these world-revered leaders catch the fire that lights up their policy. The Times made the Crimean blunder. The Siecle created the Mexican fiasco. The Kreuz Zeitung gave the first impulse to the Schleswig-Holstein imbroglio; and if I mistake not, the "review" in the last Diplomatic Chronicle will bear results of which he who now speaks to you will not disown the parentage.'
'The saints be praised! here's dinner,' exclaimed Kearney, 'or this fellow would talk us into a brain-fever. Kate is dining with Miss Betty again—God bless her for it,' muttered he as he gave his arm to Nina, and led the way.
'I've got you a commission as a "peeler," Dick,' said Joe, as they moved along. 'You'll have to prove that you can read and write, which is more than they would ask of you if you were going into the Cabinet; but we live in an intellectual age, and we test all the cabin-boys, and it is only the steersman we take on trust.'
Though Nina was eager to resent Atlee's impertinence on Walpole, she could not help feeling interested and amused by his sketches of his travels.
If, in speaking of Greece, he only gave the substance of the article he had written for the Revue des Deux Mondes, as the paper was yet unpublished all the remarks were novel, and the anecdotes fresh and sparkling. The tone of light banter and raillery in which he described public life in Greece and Greek statesmen, might have lost some of its authority had any one remembered to count the hours the speaker had spent in Athens; and Nina was certainly indignant at the hazardous effrontery of the criticisms. It was not, then, without intention that she arose to retire while Atlee was relating an interesting story of brigandage, and he—determined to repay the impertinence in kind—continued to recount his history as he arose to open the door for her to pass out. Her insolent look as she swept by was met by a smile of admiration on his part that actually made her cheek tingle with anger.
Old Kearney dozed off gently, under the influence of names of places and persons that did not interest him, and the two young men drew their chairs to the fire, and grew confidential at once.
'I think you have sent my cousin away in bad humour,' said Dick.
'I see it,' said Joe, as he slowly puffed his cigar. 'That young lady's head has been so cruelly turned by flattery of late, that the man who does not swing incense before her affronts her.'
'Yes; but you went out of your way to provoke her. It is true she knows little of Greece or Greeks, but it offends her to hear them slighted or ridiculed; and you took pains to do both.'
'Contemptible little country! with a mock-army, a mock-treasury, and a mock-chamber. The only thing real is the debt and the brigandage.'
'But why tell her so? You actually seemed bent on irritating her.'
'Quite true—so I was. My dear Dick, you have some lessons to learn in life, and one of them is that, just as it is bad heraldry to put colour on colour, it is an egregious blunder to follow flattery by flattery. The woman who has been spoiled by over-admiration must be approached with something else as unlike it as may be—pique—annoy—irritate—outrage, but take care that you interest her Let her only come to feel what a very tiresome thing mere adulation is, and she will one day value your two or three civil speeches as gems of priceless worth. It is exactly because I deeply desire to gain her affections, I have begun in this way.'
'You have come too late.'
'How do you mean too late—she is not engaged?'
'She is engaged—she is to be married to Walpole.'
'Yes; he came over a few days ago to ask her. There is some question now—I don't well understand it—about some family consent, or an invitation—something, I believe, that Nina insists on, to show the world how his family welcome her amongst them; and it is for this he has gone to London, but to be back in eight or nine days, the wedding to take place towards the end of the month.'
'Is he very much in love?'
'I should say he is.'
'And she? Of course she could not possibly care for a fellow like Walpole?'
'I don't see why not. He is very much the stamp of man girls admire.'
'Not girls like Nina; not girls who aspire to a position in life, and who know that the little talents of the salon no more make a man of the world than the tricks of the circus will make a foxhunter. These ambitious women—she is one of them—will marry a hopeless idiot if he can bring wealth and rank and a great name; but they will not take a brainless creature who has to work his way up in the world. If she has accepted Walpole, there is pique in it, or ennui, or that uneasy desire of change that girls suffer from like a malady.'
'I cannot tell you why, but I know she has accepted him.'
'Women are not insensible to the value of second thoughts.'
'You mean she might throw him over—might jilt him?'
'I'll not employ the ugly word that makes the wrong it is only meant to indicate; but there are few of our resolves in life to which we might not move amendment, and the changed opinion a woman forms of a man before marriage would become a grievous injury if it happened after.'
'But must she of necessity change?'
'If she marry Walpole, I should say certainly. If a girl has fair abilities and a strong temper—and Nina has a good share of each—she will endure faults, actual vices, in a man, but she'll not stand littleness. Walpole has nothing else; and so I hope to prove to her to-morrow and the day after—in fact, during those eight or ten days you tell me he will be absent.'
'Will she let you? Will she listen to you?'
'Not at first—at least, not willingly, or very easily; but I will show her, by numerous little illustrations and even fables, where these small people not only spoil their fortunes in life, but spoil life itself; and what an irreparable blunder it is to link companionship with one of them. I will sometimes make her laugh, and I may have to make her cry—it will not be easy, but I shall do it—I shall certainly make her thoughtful; and if you can do this day by day, so that a woman will recur to the same theme pretty much in the same spirit, you must be a sorry steersman, Master Dick, but you will know how to guide these thoughts and trace the channel they shall follow.'
'And supposing, which I do not believe, that you could get her to break with Walpole, what could you offer her?'
'Inestimable boon, doubtless; but what of fortune—position or place in life?'
'The first Napoleon used to say that the "power of the unknown number was incommensurable"; and so I don't despair of showing her that a man like myself may be anything.'
Dick shook his head doubtingly, and the other went on: 'In this round game we call life it is all "brag." The fellow with the worst card in the pack, if he'll only risk his head on it, keep a bold face to the world and his own counsel, will be sure to win. Bear in mind, Dick, that for some time back I have been keeping the company of these great swells who sit highest in the Synagogue, and dictate to us small Publicans. I have listened to their hesitating counsels and their uncertain resolves; I have seen the blotted despatches and equivocal messages given, to be disavowed if needful; I have assisted at those dress rehearsals where speech was to follow speech, and what seemed an incautious avowal by one was to be "improved" into a bold declaration by another "in another place"; in fact, my good friend, I have been near enough to measure the mighty intelligences that direct us, and if I were not a believer in Darwin, I should be very much shocked for what humanity was coming to. It is no exaggeration that I say, if you were to be in the Home Office, and I at the Foreign Office, without our names being divulged, there is not a man or woman in England would be the wiser or the worse; though if either of us were to take charge of the engine of the Holyhead line, there would be a smash or an explosion before we reached Rugby.'
'All that will not enable you to make a settlement on Nina Kostalergi.'
'No; but I'll marry her all the same.'
'I don't think so.'
'Will you have a bet on it, Dick? What will you wager?'
'A thousand—ten, if I had it; but I'll give you ten pounds on it, which is about as much as either of us could pay.'
'Speak for yourself, Master Dick. As Robert Macaire says, "Je viens de toucher mes dividendes," and I am in no want of money. The fact is, so long as a man can pay for certain luxuries in life, he is well off: the strictly necessary takes care of itself.'
'Does it? I should like to know how.'
'With your present limited knowledge of life, I doubt if I could explain it to you, but I will try one of these mornings. Meanwhile, let us go into the drawing-room and get mademoiselle to sing for us. She will sing, I take it?'
'Of course—if asked by you.' And there was the very faintest tone of sneer in the words.
And they did go, and mademoiselle did sing all that Atlee could ask her for, and she was charming in every way that grace and beauty and the wish to please could make her. Indeed, to such extent did she carry her fascinations that Joe grew thoughtful at last, and muttered to himself, 'There is vendetta in this. It is only a woman knows how to make a vengeance out of her attractions.'
'Why are you so serious, Mr. Atlee?' asked she at last.
'I was thinking—I mean, I was trying to think—yes, I remember it now,' muttered he. 'I have had a letter for you all this time in my pocket.'
'A letter from Greece?' asked she impatiently.
'No—at least I suspect not. It was given me as I drove through the bog by a barefooted boy, who had trotted after the car for miles, and at length overtook us by the accident of the horse picking up a stone in his hoof. He said it was for "some one at the castle," and I offered to take charge of it—here it is,' and he produced a square-shaped envelope of common coarse-looking paper, sealed with red wax, and a shamrock for impress.
'A begging-letter, I should say, from the outside,' said Dick.
'Except that there is not one so poor as to ask aid from me,' added Nina, as she took the document, glanced at the writing, and placed it in her pocket.
As they separated for the night, and Dick trotted up the stairs at Atlee's side, he said, 'I don't think, after all, my ten pounds is so safe as I fancied.'
'Don't you?' replied Joe. 'My impressions are all the other way, Dick. It is her courtesy that alarms me. The effort to captivate where there is no stake to win, means mischief. She'll make me in love with her whether I will or not.' The bitterness of his tone, and the impatient bang he gave his door as he passed in, betrayed more of temper than was usual for him to display, and as Dick sought his room, he muttered to himself, 'I'm glad to see that these over-cunning fellows are sure to meet their match, and get beaten even at the game of their own invention.'
AN UNLOOKED-FOR CORRESPONDENT
It was no uncommon thing for the tenants to address petitions and complaints in writing to Kate, and it occurred to Nina as not impossible that some one might have bethought him of entreating her intercession in their favour. The look of the letter, and the coarse wax, and the writing, all in a measure strengthened this impression, and it was in the most careless of moods she broke the envelope, scarcely caring to look for the name of the writer, whom she was convinced must be unknown to her.
She had just let her hair fall freely down on her neck and shoulders, and was seated in a deep chair before her fire, as she opened the paper and read, 'Mademoiselle Kostalergi.' This beginning, so unlikely for a peasant, made her turn for the name, and she read, in a large full hand, the words 'DANIEL DONOGAN.' So complete was her surprise, that to satisfy herself there was no trick or deception, she examined the envelope and the seal, and reflected for some minutes over the mode in which the document had come to her hands. Atlee's story was a very credible one: nothing more likely than that the boy was charged to deliver the letter at the castle, and simply sought to spare himself so many miles of way, or it might be that he was enjoined to give it to the first traveller he met on his road to Kilgobbin. Nina had little doubt that if Atlee guessed or had reason to know the writer, he would have treated the letter as a secret missive which would give him a certain power over her.
These thoughts did not take her long, and she turned once more to the letter. 'Poor fellow,' said she aloud, 'why does he write to me?' And her own voice sent back its surmises to her; and as she thought over him standing on the lonely road, his clasped hands before him, and his hair wafted wildly back from his uncovered head, two heavy tears rolled slowly down her cheeks and dropped upon her neck. 'I am sure he loved me—I know he loved me,' muttered she, half aloud. 'I have never seen in any eye the same expression that his wore as he lay that morning in the grass. It was not veneration, it was genuine adoration. Had I been a saint and wanted worship, there was the very offering that I craved—a look of painful meaning, made up of wonder and devotion, a something that said: take what course you may, be wilful, be wayward, be even cruel, I am your slave. You may not think me worthy of a thought, you may be so indifferent as to forget me utterly, but my life from this hour has but one spell to charm, one memory to sustain it. It needed not his last words to me to say that my image would lay on his heart for ever. Poor fellow, I need not have been added to his sorrows, he has had his share of trouble without me!'
It was some time ere she could return to the letter, which ran thus:—
'MADEMOISELLE KOSTALERGI,—You once rendered me a great service—not alone at some hazard to yourself, but by doing what must have cost you sorely. It is now my turn; and if the act of repayment is not equal to the original debt, let me ask you to believe that it taxes my strength even more than your generosity once taxed your own.
'I came here a few days since in the hope that I might see you before I leave Ireland for ever; and while waiting for some fortunate chance, I learned that you were betrothed and to be married to the young gentleman who lies ill at Kilgobbin, and whose approaching trial at the assizes is now the subject of so much discussion. I will not tell you—I have no right to tell you—the deep misery with which these tidings filled me. It was no use to teach my heart how vain and impossible were all my hopes with regard to you. It was to no purpose that I could repeat over aloud to myself how hopeless my pretensions must be. My love for you had become a religion, and what I could deny to a hope, I could still believe. Take that hope away, and I could not imagine how I should face my daily life, how interest myself in its ambitions, and even care to live on.
'These sad confessions cannot offend you, coming from one even as humble as I am. They are all that are left me for consolation—they will soon be all I shall have for memory. The little lamp in the lowly shrine comforts the kneeling worshipper far more than it honours the saint; and the love I bear you is such as this. Forgive me if I have dared these utterances. To save him with whose fortunes your own are to be bound up became at once my object; and as I knew with what ingenuity and craft his ruin had been compassed, it required all my efforts to baffle his enemies. The National press and the National party have made a great cause of this trial, and determined that tenant-right should be vindicated in the person of this man Gill.
'I have seen enough of what is intended here to be aware what mischief may be worked by hard swearing, a violent press, and a jury not insensible to public opinion—evils, if you like, but evils that are less of our own growing than the curse ill-government has brought upon us. It has been decided in certain councils—whose decrees are seldom gainsaid—that an example shall be made of Captain Gorman O'Shea, and that no effort shall be spared to make his case a terror and a warning to Irish landowners; how they attempt by ancient process of law to subvert the concessions we have wrung from our tyrants.
'A jury to find him guilty will be sworn; and let us see the judge—in defiance of a verdict given from the jury-box, without a moment's hesitation or the shadow of dissent—let us see the judge who will dare to diminish the severity of the sentence. This is the language, these are the very words of those who have more of the rule of Ireland in their hands than the haughty gentlemen, honourable and right honourable, who sit at Whitehall.
'I have heard this opinion too often of late to doubt how much it is a fixed determination of the party; and until now—until I came here, and learned what interest his fate could have for me—I offered no opposition to these reasonings. Since then I have bestirred myself actively. I have addressed the committee here who have taken charge of the prosecution; I have written to the editors of the chief newspapers; I have even made a direct appeal to the leading counsel for the prosecution, and tried to persuade them that a victory here might cost us more than a defeat, and that the country at large, who submit with difficulty to the verdict of absolving juries, will rise with indignation at this evidence of a jury prepared to exercise a vindictive power, and actually make the law the agent of reprisal. I have failed in all—utterly failed. Some reproach me as faint-hearted and craven; some condescend to treat me as merely mistaken and misguided; and some are bold enough to hint that, though as a military authority I stand without rivalry, as a purely political adviser, my counsels are open to dispute.
'I have still a power, however, through the organisation of which I am a chief; and by this power I have ordered Gill to appear before me, and in obedience to my commands, he will sail this night for America. With him will also leave the two other important witnesses in this cause; so that the only evidence against Captain O'Shea will be some of those against whom he has himself instituted a cross charge for assault. That the prosecution can be carried on with such testimony need not be feared. Our press will denounce the infamous arts by which these witnesses have been tampered with, and justice has been defeated. The insults they may hurl at our oppressors—for once unjustly—will furnish matter for the Opposition journals to inveigh against our present Government, and some good may come even of this. At all events, I shall have accomplished what I sought. I shall have saved from a prison the man I hate most on earth, the man who, robbing me of what never could be mine, robs me of every hope, of every ambition, making my love as worthless as my life! Have I not repaid you? Ask your heart which of us has done more for the other?
'The contract on which Gill based his right as a tenant, and which would have sustained his action, is now in my hands; and I will—if you permit me—place it in yours. This may appear an ingenious device to secure a meeting with you; but though I long to see you once more, were it but a minute, I would not compass it by a fraud. If, then, you will not see me, I shall address the packet to you through the post.
'I have finished. I have told you what it most concerns you to know, and what chiefly regards your happiness. I have done this as coldly and impassively, I hope, as though I had no other part in the narrative than that of the friend whose friendship had a blessed office. I have not told you of the beating heart that hangs over this paper, nor will I darken one bright moment of your fortune by the gloom of mine. If you will write me one line—a farewell if it must be—send it to the care of Adam Cobb, "Cross Keys," Moate, where I shall find it up to Thursday next. If—and oh! how shall I bless you for it—if you will consent to see me, to say one word, to let me look on you once more, I shall go into my banishment with a bolder heart, as men go into battle with an amulet. DANIEL DONOGAN.'
'Shall I show this to Kate?' was the first thought of Nina as she laid the letter down. 'Is it a breach of confidence to let another than myself read these lines? Assuredly they were meant for my eyes alone. Poor fellow!' said she, once more aloud. 'It was very noble in him to do this for one he could not but regard as a rival.' And then she asked herself how far it might consist with honour to derive benefit from his mistake—since mistake it was—in believing O'Shea was her lover, and to be her future husband.
'There can be little doubt Donogan would never have made the sacrifice had he known that I am about to marry Walpole.' From this she rambled on to speculate on how far might Donogan's conduct compromise or endanger him with his own party, and if—which she thought well probable—there was a distinct peril in what he was doing, whether he would have incurred that peril if he really knew the truth, and that it was not herself he was serving.
The more she canvassed these doubts, the more she found the difficulty of resolving them, nor indeed was there any other way than one—distinctly to ask Donogan if he would persist in his kind intentions when he knew that the benefit was to revert to her cousin and not to herself. So far as the evidence of Gill at the trial was concerned, the man's withdrawal was already accomplished, but would Donogan be as ready to restore the lease, and would he, in fact, be as ready to confront the danger of all this interference, as at first? She could scarcely satisfy her mind how she would wish him to act in the contingency! She was sincerely fond of Kate, she knew all the traits of honesty and truth in that simple character, and she valued the very qualities of straightforwardness and direct purpose in which she knew she was herself deficient. She would have liked well to secure that dear girl's happiness, and it would have been an exquisite delight to her to feel that she had been an aid to her welfare; and yet, with all this, there was a subtle jealousy that tortured her in thinking, 'What will this man have done to prove his love for me? Where am I, and what are my interests in all this?' There was a poison in this doubt that actually extended to a state of fever. 'I must see him,' she said at last, speaking aloud to herself. 'I must let him know the truth. If what he proposes shall lead him to break with his party or his friends, it is well he should see for what and for whom he is doing it.'