And then she persuaded herself she would like to hear Donogan talk, as once before she had heard him talk, of his hopes and his ambitions. There was something in the high-sounding inspirations of the man, a lofty heroism in all he said, that struck a chord in her Greek nature. The cause that was so intensely associated with danger that life was always on the issue, was exactly the thing to excite her heart, and, like the trumpet-blast to the charger, she felt stirred to her inmost soul by whatever appealed to reckless daring and peril. 'He shall tell me what he intends to do—his plans, his projects, and his troubles. He shall tell me of his hopes, what he desires in the future, and where he himself will stand when his efforts have succeeded; and oh!' thought she, 'are not the wild extravagances of these men better a thousand times than the well-turned nothings of the fine gentlemen who surround us? Are not their very risks and vicissitudes more manly teachings than the small casualties of the polished world? If life were all "salon," taste perhaps might decide against them; but it is not all "salon," or, if it were, it would be a poorer thing even than I think it!' She turned to her desk as she said this, and wrote:—
'DEAR MR. DONOGAN,—I wish to thank you in person for the great kindness you have shown me, though there is some mistake on your part in the matter. I cannot suppose you are able to come here openly, but if you will be in the garden on Saturday evening at 9 o'clock, I shall be there to meet you. I am, very truly yours,
'Very imprudent—scarcely delicate—perhaps, all this, and for a girl who is to be married to another man in some three weeks hence, but I will tell Cecil Walpole all when he returns, and if he desires to be off his engagement, he shall have the liberty. I have one-half at least of the Bayard Legend, and if I cannot say I am "without reproach," I am certainly without fear.'
The letter-bag lay in the hall, and Nina went down at once and deposited her letter in it; this done, she lay down on her bed, not to sleep, but to think over Donogan and his letter till daybreak.
'Strange house this,' said Joseph Atlee, as Nina entered the room the next morning where he sat alone at breakfast. 'Lord Kilgobbin and Dick were here a moment ago, and disappeared suddenly; Miss Kearney for an instant, and also left as abruptly; and now you have come, I most earnestly hope not to fly away in the same fashion.'
'No; I mean to eat my breakfast, and so far to keep you company.'
'I thank the tea-urn for my good fortune,' said he solemnly.
'A tete-a-tete with Mr. Atlee is a piece of good-luck,' said Nina, as she sat down. 'Has anything occurred to call our hosts away?'
'In a house like this,' said he jocularly, 'where people are marrying or giving in marriage at every turn, what may not happen? It may be a question of the settlement, or the bridecake, or white satin "slip"—if that's the name for it—the orange-flowers, or the choice of the best man—who knows?'
'You seem to know the whole bead-roll of wedding incidents.'
'It is a dull repertoire after all, for whether the piece be melodrama, farce, genteel comedy, or harrowing tragedy, it has to be played by the same actors.'
'What would you have—marriages cannot be all alike. There must be many marriages for things besides love: for ambition, for interest, for money, for convenience.'
'Convenience is exactly the phrase I wanted and could not catch.'
'It is not the word I wanted, nor do I think we mean the same thing by it.'
'What I mean is this,' said Atlee, with a firm voice, 'that when a young girl has decided in her own mind that she has had enough of that social bondage of the daughter, and cannot marry the man she would like, she will marry the man that she can.'
'And like him too,' added Nina, with a strange, dubious sort of smile.
'Yes, and like him too; for there is a curious feature in the woman's nature that, without any falsehood or disloyalty, permits her to like different people in different ways, so that the quiet, gentle, almost impassive woman might, if differently mated, have been a being of fervid temper, headstrong and passionate. If it were not for this species of accommodation, marriage would be a worse thing than it is.'
'I never suspected you of having made a study of the subject. Since when have you devoted your attention to the theme?'
'I could answer in the words of Wilkes—since I have had the honour to know your Royal Highness; but perhaps you might be displeased with the flippancy.'
'I should think that very probable,' said she gravely.
'Don't look so serious. Remember that I did not commit myself after all.'
'I thought it was possible to discuss this problem without a personality.'
'Don't you know that, let one deal in abstractions as long as he will, he is only skirmishing around special instances. It is out of what I glean from individuals I make up my generalities.'
'Am I to understand by this that I have supplied you with the material of one of these reflections?'
'You have given me the subject of many. If I were to tell you how often I have thought of you, I could not answer for the words in which I might tell it.'
'Do not tell it, then.'
'I know—I am aware—I have heard since I came here that there is a special reason why you could not listen to me.'
'And being so, why do you propose that I should hear you?'
'I will tell you,' said he, with an earnestness that almost startled her: 'I will tell you, because there are things on which a doubt or an equivocation are actually maddening; and I will not, I cannot, believe that you have accepted Cecil Walpole.'
'Will you please to say why it should seem so incredible?'
'Because I have seen you not merely in admiration, and that admiration would be better conveyed by a stronger word; and because I have measured you with others infinitely beneath you in every way, and who are yet soaring into very high regions indeed; because I have learned enough of the world to know that alongside of—often above—the influence that men are wielding in life by their genius and their capacity, there is another power exercised by women of marvellous beauty, of infinite attractions, and exquisite grace, which sways and moulds the fate of mankind far more than Cabinets and Councils. There are not above half a dozen of these in Europe, and you might be one added to the number.'
'Even admitting all this—and I don't see that I should go so far—it is no answer to my question.'
'Must I then say there can be no—not companionship, that's not the word; no, I must take the French expression, and call it solidarite—there can be no solidarite of interests, of objects, of passions, or of hopes, between people so widely dissevered as you and Walpole. I am so convinced of this, that still I can dare to declare I cannot believe you could marry him.'
'And if I were to tell you it were true?'
'I should still regard it as a passing caprice, that the mere mention of to-morrow would offend you. It is no disparagement of Walpole to say he is unworthy of you, for who would be worthy? but the presumption of his daring is enough to excite indignation—at least, I feel it such. How he could dare to link his supreme littleness with consummate perfection; to freight the miserable barque of his fortunes with so precious a cargo; to encounter the feeling—and there is no escape for it—"I must drag that woman down, not alone into obscurity, but into all the sordid meanness of a small condition, that never can emerge into anything better." He cannot disguise from himself that it is not within his reach to attain power, or place, or high consideration. Such men make no name in life; they leave no mark on their time. They are heaven-born subordinates, and never refute their destiny. Does a woman with ambition—does a woman conscious of her own great merits—condescend to ally herself, not alone with small fortune—that might be borne—but with the smaller associations that make up these men's lives? with the peddling efforts to mount even one rung higher of that crazy little ladder of their ambition—to be a clerk of another grade—a creature of some fifty pounds more—a being in an upper office?'
'And the prince—for he ought to be at least a prince who should make me the offer of his name—whence is he to come, Mr. Atlee?'
'There are men who are not born to princely station, who by their genius and their determination are just as sure to become famous, and who need but the glorious prize of such a woman's love—No, no, don't treat what I say as rant and rodomontade; these are words of sober sense and seriousness.'
'Indeed!' said she, with a faint sigh. 'So that it really amounts to this—that I shall actually have missed my whole fortune in life—thrown myself away—all because I would not wait for Mr. Atlee to propose to me.'
Nothing less than Atlee's marvellous assurance and self-possession could have sustained this speech unabashed.
'You have only said what my heart has told me many a day since.'
'But you seem to forget,' added she, with a very faint curl of scorn on her lip, 'that I had no more to guide me to the discovery of Mr. Atlee's affection than that of his future greatness. Indeed, I could more readily believe in the latter than the former.'
'Believe in both,' cried he warmly. 'If I have conquered difficulties in life, if I have achieved some successes—now for a passing triumph, now for a moment of gratified vanity, now for a mere caprice—try me by a mere hope—I only plead for a hope—try me by hope of being one day worthy of calling that hand my own.'
As he spoke, he tried to grasp her hand; but she withdrew it coldly and slowly, saying, 'I have no fancy to make myself the prize of any success in life, political or literary; nor can I believe that the man who reasons in this fashion has any really high ambition. Mr. Atlee,' added she, more gravely, 'your memory may not be as good as mine, and you will pardon me if I remind you that, almost at our first meeting, we struck up a sort of friendship, on the very equivocal ground of a common country. We agreed that each of us claimed for their native land the mythical Bohemia, and we agreed, besides, that the natives of that country are admirable colleagues, but not good partners.'
'You are not quite fair in this,' he began; but before he could say more Dick Kearney entered hurriedly, and cried out, 'It's all true. The people are in wild excitement, and all declare that they will not let him be taken. Oh! I forgot,' added he. 'You were not here when my father and I were called away by the despatch from the police-station, to say that Donogan has been seen at Moate, and is about to hold a meeting on the bog. Of course, this is mere rumour; but the constabulary are determined to capture him, and Curtis has written to inform my father that a party of police will patrol the grounds here this evening.'
'And if they should take him, what would happen—to him, I mean?' asked Nina coldly.
'An escaped convict is usually condemned to death; but I suppose they would not hang him,' said Dick.
'Hang him!' cried Atlee; 'nothing of the kind. Mr. Gladstone would present him with a suit of clothes, a ten-pound note, and a first-class passage to America. He would make a "healing measure" of him.'
'I must say, gentlemen,' said Nina scornfully, 'you can discuss your friend's fate with a marvellous equanimity.'
'So we do,' rejoined Atlee. 'He is another Bohemian.'
'Don't say so, sir,' said she passionately. 'The men who put their lives on a venture—and that venture not a mere gain to themselves—are in nowise the associates of those poor adventurers who are gambling for their daily living. He is a rebel, if you like; but he believes in rebellion. How much do you believe in, Mr. Atlee?'
'I say, Joe, you are getting the worst of this discussion. Seriously, however, I hope they'll not catch poor Donogan; and my father has asked Curtis to come over and dine here, and I trust to a good fire and some old claret to keep him quiet for this evening, at least. We must not molest the police; but there's no great harm done if we mislead them.'
'Once in the drawing-room, if Mademoiselle Kostalergi will only condescend to aid us,' added Atlee, 'I think Curtis will be more than a chief constable if he will bethink him of his duty.'
'You are a strange set of people, you Irish,' said Nina, as she walked away. 'Even such of you as don't want to overthrow the Government are always ready to impede its march and contribute to its difficulties.'
'She only meant that for an impertinence,' said Atlee, after she left the room; 'but she was wonderfully near the truth, though not truthfully expressed.'
THE GARDEN BY MOONLIGHT
There was but one heavy heart at the dinner-table that day; but Nina's pride was proof against any disclosure of suffering, and though she was tortured by anxiety and fevered with doubt, none—not even Kate—suspected that any care weighed on her.
As for Kate herself, her happiness beamed in every line and lineament of her handsome face. The captain—to give him the name by which he was known—had been up that day, and partaken of an afternoon tea with his aunt and Kate. Her spirits were excellent, and all the promise of the future was rose-coloured and bright. The little cloud of what trouble the trial might bring was not suffered to darken the cheerful meeting, and it was the one only bitter in their cup.
To divert Curtis from this theme, on which, with the accustomed mal a propos of an awkward man, he wished to talk, the young men led him to the subject of Donogan and his party.
'I believe we'll take him this time,' said Curtis. 'He must have some close relations with some one about Moate or Kilbeggan, for it is remarked he cannot keep away from the neighbourhood; but who are his friends, or what they are meditating, we cannot guess.'
'If what Mademoiselle Kostalergi said this morning be correct,' remarked Atlee, 'conjecture is unnecessary. She told Dick and myself that every Irishman is at heart a rebel.'
'I said more or less of one, Mr. Atlee, since there are some who have not the courage of their opinions.'
'I hope you are gratified by the emendation,' whispered Dick; and then added aloud, 'Donogan is not one of these.'
'He's a consummate fool,' cried Curtis bluntly. 'He thinks the attack of a police-barrack or the capture of a few firelocks will revolutionise Ireland.'
'He forgets that there are twelve thousand police, officered by such men as yourself, captain,' said Nina gravely.
'Well, there might be worse,' rejoined Curtis doggedly, for he was not quite sure of the sincerity of the speaker.
'What will you be the better of taking him?' said Kilgobbin. 'If the whole tree be pernicious, where's the use of plucking one leaf off it?'
'The captain has nothing to do with that,' said Atlee, 'any more than a hound has to discuss the morality of foxhunting—his business is the pursuit.'
'I don't like your simile, Mr. Atlee,' said Nina, while she whispered some words to the captain, and drew him in this way into a confidential talk.
'I don't mind him at all, Miss Nina,' said Curtis; 'he's one of those fellows on the press, and they are always saying impertinent things to keep their talents in wind. I'll tell you, in confidence, how wrong he is. I have just had a meeting with the Chief Secretary, who told me that the popish bishops are not at all pleased with the leniency of the Government; that whatever "healing measures" Mr. Gladstone contemplates, ought to be for the Church and the Catholics; that the Fenians or the Nationalists are the enemies of the Holy Father; and that the time has come for the Government to hunt them down, and give over the rule of Ireland to the Cardinal and his party.'
'That seems to me very reasonable, and very logical,' said Nina.
'Well, it is and it is not. If you want peace in the rabbit-warren, you must banish either the rats or the rabbits; and I suppose either the Protestants or the Papists must have it their own way here.'
'Then you mean to capture this man?'
'We do—we are determined on that. And, what's more, I'd hang him if I had the power.'
'Just because he isn't a bad fellow! There's no use in hanging a bad fellow in Ireland—it frightens nobody; but if you hang a respectable man, a man that has done generous and fine things, it produces a great effect on society, and is a terrible example.'
'There may be a deep wisdom in what you say.'
'Not that they'll mind me for all that. It's the men like myself, Miss Nina, who know Ireland well, who know every assize town in the country, and what the juries will do in each, are never consulted in England. They say, "Let Curtis catch him—that's his business."'
'And how will you do it?'
'I'll tell you. I haven't men enough to watch all the roads; but I'll take care to have my people where he's least likely to go, that is, to the north. He's a cunning fellow is Dan, and he'd make for the Shannon if he could; but now that he knows we 're after him, he'll turn to Antrim or Derry. He'll cut across Westmeath, and make north, if he gets away from this.'
'That is a very acute calculation of yours; and where do you suspect he may be now—I mean, at this moment we're talking?'
'He's not three miles from where we're sitting,' said he, in a low whisper, and a cautious glance round the table. 'He's hid in the bog outside. There's scores of places there a man could hide in, and never be tracked; and there's few fellows would like to meet Donogan single-handed. He's as active as a rope-dancer, and he's as courageous as the devil.'
'It would be a pity to hang such a fellow.'
'There's plenty more of the same sort—not exactly as good as him, perhaps, for Dan was a gentleman once.'
'And is, probably, still?'
'It would be hard for him, with the rapscallions he has to live with, and not five shillings in his pocket, besides.'
'I don't know, after all, if you'll be happier for giving him up to the law. He may have a mother, a sister, a wife, or a sweetheart.'
'He may have a sweetheart, but I know he has none of the others. He said, in the dock, that no man could quit life at less cost—that there wasn't one to grieve after him.'
'Poor fellow! that was a sad confession.'
'We're not all to turn Fenians, Miss Nina, because we're only children and unmarried.'
'You are too clever for me to dispute with,' said she, in affected humility; 'but I like greatly to hear you talk of Ireland. Now, what number of people have you here?'
'I have my orderly, and two men to patrol the demesne; but to-morrow we'll draw the net tighter. We'll call in all the party from Moate, and from information I have got, we're sure to track him.'
'What confidences is Curtis making with Mademoiselle Nina?' said Atlee, who, though affecting to join the general conversation, had never ceased to watch them.
'The captain is telling me how he put down the Fenians in the rising of '61,' said Nina calmly.
'And did he? I say, Curtis, have you really suppressed rebellion in Ireland?'
'No; nor won't, Mr. Joe Atlee, till we put down the rascally press—the unprincipled penny-a-liners, that write treason to pay for their dinner.'
'Poor fellows!' replied Atlee. 'Let us hope it does not interfere with their digestion. But seriously, mademoiselle, does it not give you a great notion of our insecurity here in Ireland when you see to what we trust, law and order.
'Never mind him, Curtis,' said Kilgobbin. 'When these fellows are not saying sharp things, they have to be silent.'
While the conversation went briskly on, Nina contrived to glance unnoticed at her watch, and saw that it wanted only a quarter of an hour to nine. Nine was the hour she had named to Donogan to be in the garden, and she already trembled at the danger to which she had exposed him. She reasoned thus: so reckless and fearless is this man, that, if he should have come determined to see me, and I do not go to meet him, he is quite capable of entering the house boldly, even at the cost of being captured. The very price he would have to pay for his rashness would be its temptation.'
A sudden cast of seriousness overcame her as she thus thought, and Kate, perceiving it, rose at once to retire.
'You were not ill, dearest Nina? I saw you grow pale, and I fancied for a moment you seemed faint.'
'No; a mere passing weakness. I shall lie down and be better presently.'
'And then you'll come up to aunt's room—I call godmother aunt now—and take tea with Gorman and us all.'
'Yes, I'll do that after a little rest. I'll take half an hour or so of quiet,' said she, in broken utterances. 'I suppose the gentlemen will sit over their wine; there's no fear of their breaking-up.'
'Very little fear, indeed,' said Kate, laughing at the word. 'Papa made me give out some of his rare old '41 wine to-day, and they're not likely to leave it.'
'Bye-bye, then, for a little while,' said Nina dreamily, for her thoughts had gone off on another track. 'I shall join you later on.'
Kate tripped gaily up the stairs, singing pleasantly as she went, for hers was a happy heart and a hopeful.
Nina lingered for a moment with her hand on the banister, and then hurried to her room.
It was a still cold night of deep winter, a very faint crescent of a new moon was low in the sky, and a thin snowfall, slightly crisped with frost, covered the ground. Nina opened her window and looked out. All was still and quiet without—not a twig moved. She bent her ear to listen, thinking that on the frozen ground a step might perhaps be heard, and it was a relief to her anxiety when she heard nothing. The chill cold air that came in through the window warned her to muffle herself well, and she drew the hood of her scarlet cloak over her head. Strong-booted, and with warm gloves, she stood for a moment at her door to listen, and finding all quiet, she slowly descended the stairs and gained the hall. She started affrighted as she entered, thinking there was some one seated at the table, but she rallied in an instant, as she saw it was only the loose horseman's coat or cloak of the chief constable, which, lined with red, and with the gold-laced cap beside it, made up the delusion that alarmed her.
It was not an easy task to withdraw the heavy bolts and bars that secured the massive door, and even to turn the heavy key in the lock required an effort; but she succeeded at length, and issued forth into the open.
'How I hope he has not come! how I pray he has not ventured!' said she to herself as she walked along. 'Leave-takings are sad things, and why incur one so full of peril and misery too? When I wrote to him, of course I knew nothing of his danger, and it is exactly his danger will make him come!' She knew of others to whom such reasonings would not have applied, and a scornful shake of the head showed that she would not think of them at such a moment. The sound of her own footsteps on the crisp ground made her once or twice believe she heard some one coming, and as she stopped to listen, the strong beating of her heart could be counted. It was not fear—at least not fear in the sense of a personal danger—it was that high tension which great anxiety lends to the nerves, exalting vitality to a state in which a sensation is as powerful as a material influence.
She ascended the steps of the little terraced mound of the rendezvous one by one, overwhelmed almost to fainting by some imagined analogy with the scaffold, which might be the fate of him she was going to meet.
He was standing under a tree, his arms crossed on his breast, as she came up. The moment she appeared, he rushed to meet her, and throwing himself on one knee, he seized her hand and kissed it.
'Do you know your danger in being here?' she asked, as she surrendered her hand to his grasp.
'I know it all, and this moment repays it tenfold.'
'You cannot know the full extent of the peril; you cannot know that Captain Curtis and his people are in the castle at this moment, that they are in full cry after you, and that every avenue to this spot is watched and guarded.'
'What care I! Have I not this?' And he covered her hand with kisses.
'Every moment that you are here increases your danger, and if my absence should become known, there will be a search after me. I shall never forgive myself if my folly should lead to your being captured.'
'If I could but feel my fate was linked with yours, I'd give my life for it willingly.'
'It was not to listen to such words as these I came here.'
'Remember, dearest, they are the last confessions of one you shall never see more. They are the last cry of a heart that will soon be still for ever.'
'No, no, no!' cried she passionately. 'There is life enough left for you to win a worthy name. Listen to me calmly now: I have heard from Curtis within the last hour all his plans for your capture; I know where his patrols are stationed, and the roads they are to watch.'
'And did you care to do this?' said he tenderly.
'I would do more than that to save you.'
'Oh, do not say so!' cried he wildly, 'or you will give me such a desire to live as will make a coward of me.'
'Curtis suspects you will go northward; either he has had information, or computes it from what you have done already.'
'He is wrong, then. When I go hence, it shall be to the court-house at Tullamore, where I mean to give myself up.'
'As what I am—a rebel, convicted, sentenced, and escaped, and still a rebel.'
'You do not, then, care for life?'
'Do I not, for such moments of life as this!' cried he, as, with a wild rapture, he kissed her hand again and again.
'And were I to ask you, you would not try to save your life?'
'To share that life with you there is not anything I would not dare. To live and know you were another's is more than I can face. Tell me, Nina, is it true you are to be the wife of this soldier? I cannot utter his name.'
'I am to be married to Mr. Walpole.'
'What! to that contemptuous young man you have already told me so much of. How have they brought you down to this?'
'There is no thought of bringing down; his rank and place are above my own—he is by family and connection superior to us all.'
'And what is he, or how does he aspire to you? Is the vulgar security of competence to live on—is that enough for one like you? is the well-balanced good-breeding of common politeness enough to fill a heart that should be fed on passionate devotion? You may link yourself to mediocrity, but can you humble your nature to resemble it. Do you believe you can plod on the dreary road of life without an impulse or an ambition, or blend your thoughts with those of a man who has neither?'
She stood still and did not utter a word.
'There are some—I do not know if you are one of them—who have an almost shrinking dread of poverty.'
'I am not afraid of poverty.'
'It has but one antidote, I know—intense love! The all-powerful sense of living for another begets indifference to the little straits and trials of narrow fortune, till the mind at last comes to feel how much there is to live for beyond the indulgence of vulgar enjoyments; and if, to crown all, a high ambition be present, there will be an ecstasy of bliss no words can measure.'
'Have you failed in Ireland?' asked she suddenly.
'Failed, so far as to know that a rebellion will only ratify the subjection of the country to England; a reconquest would be slavery. The chronic discontent that burns in every peasant heart will do more than the appeal to arms. It is slow, but it is certain.'
'And where is your part?'
'My part is in another land; my fortune is linked with America—that is, if I care to have a fortune.'
'Come, come, Donogan,' cried she, calling him inadvertently by his name, 'men like you do not give up the battle of life so easily. It is the very essence of their natures to resist pressure and defy defeat.'
'So I could; so I am ready to show myself. Give me but hope. There are high paths to be trodden in more than one region of the globe. There are great prizes to be wrestled for, but it must be by him who would share them with another. Tell me, Nina,' said he suddenly, lowering his voice to a tone of exquisite tenderness, 'have you never, as a little child, played at that game of what is called seeking your fortune, wandered out into some thick wood or along a winding rivulet, to meet whatever little incident imagination might dignify into adventure; and in the chance heroism of your situation have you not found an intense delight? And if so in childhood, why not see if adult years cannot renew the experience? Why not see if the great world be not as dramatic as the small one? I should say it is still more so. I know you have courage.'
'And what will courage do for me?' asked she, after a pause.
'For you, not much; for me, everything.'
'I do not understand you.'
'I mean this—that if that stout heart could dare the venture and trust its fate to me—to me, poor, outlawed, and doomed—there would be a grander heroism in a girl's nature than ever found home in a man's.'
'And what should I be?'
'My wife within an hour; my idol while I live.'
'There are some who would give this another name than courage,' said she thoughtfully.
'Let them call it what they will, Nina. Is it not to the unbounded trust of a nature that is above all others that I, poor, unknown, ignoble as I am, appeal when I ask, Will you be mine? One word—only one—or, better still—'
He clasped her in his arms as he spoke, and drawing her head towards his, kissed her cheek rapturously.
With wild and fervent words, he now told her rapidly that he had come prepared to make her the declaration, and had provided everything, in the event of her compliance, for their flight. By an unused path through the bog they could gain the main road to Maryborough, where a priest, well known in the Fenian interest, would join them in marriage. The officials of the railroad were largely imbued with the Nationalist sentiment, and Donogan could be sure of safe crossing to Kilkenny, where the members of the party were in great force.
In a very few words he told her how, by the mere utterance of his name, he could secure the faithful services and the devotion of the people in every town or village of the kingdom. 'The English have done this for us,' cried he, 'and we thank them for it. They have popularised rebellion in a way that all our attempts could never have accomplished. How could I, for instance, gain access to those little gatherings at fair or market, in the yard before the chapel, or the square before the court-house—how could I be able to explain to those groups of country-people what we mean by a rising in Ireland? what we purpose by a revolt against England? how it is to be carried on, or for whose benefit? what the prizes of success, what the cost of failure? Yet the English have contrived to embody all these in one word, and that word my name!'
There was a certain artifice, there is no doubt, in the way in which this poorly-clad and not distinguished-looking man contrived to surround himself with attributes of power and influence; and his self-reliance imparted to his voice as he spoke a tone of confidence that was actually dignified. And besides this, there was personal daring—for his life was on the hazard, and it was the very contingency of which he seemed to take the least heed.
Not less adroit, too, was the way in which he showed what a shock and amazement her conduct would occasion in that world of her acquaintances—that world which had hitherto regarded her as essentially a pleasure-seeker, self-indulgent and capricious. '"Which of us all," will they say, "could have done what that girl has done? Which of us, having the world at her feet, her destiny at her very bidding, would go off and brave the storms of life out of the heroism of her own nature? How we all misread her nature! how wrongfully and unfairly we judged her! In what utter ignorance of her real character was every interpretation we made! How scornfully has she, by one act, replied to all our misconstruction of her! What a sarcasm on all our worldliness is her devotion!"'
He was eloquent, after a fashion, and he had, above most men, the charm of a voice of singular sweetness and melody. It was clear as a bell, and he could modulate its tones till, like the drip, drip of water on a rock, they fell one by one upon the ear. Masses had often been moved by the power of his words, and the mesmeric influence of persuasiveness was a gift to do him good service now.
There was much in the man that she liked. She liked his rugged boldness and determination; she liked his contempt for danger and his self-reliance; and, essentially, she liked how totally different he was to all other men. He had not their objects, their hopes, their fears, and their ways. To share the destiny of such a man was to ensure a life that could not pass unrecorded. There might be storm, and even shipwreck, but there was notoriety—perhaps even fame!
And how mean and vulgar did all the others she had known seem by comparison with him—how contemptible the polished insipidity of Walpole, how artificial the neatly-turned epigrams of Atlee. How would either of these have behaved in such a moment of danger as this man's? Every minute he passed there was another peril to his life, and yet he had no thought for himself—his whole anxiety was to gain time to appeal to her. He told her she was more to him than his ambition—she saw herself she was more to him than life. The whirlwind rapidity of his eloquence also moved her, and the varied arguments he addressed—now to her heroism, now to her self-sacrifice, now to the power of her beauty, now to the contempt she felt for the inglorious lives of commonplace people—the ignoble herd who passed unnoticed. All these swayed her; and after a long interval, in which she heard him without a word, she said, in a low murmur to herself, 'I will do it.'
Donogan clasped her to his heart as she said it, and held her some seconds in a fast embrace. 'At last I know what it is to love,' cried he, with rapture.
'Look there!' cried she, suddenly disengaging herself from his arm. 'They are in the drawing-room already. I can see them as they pass the windows. I must go back, if it be for a moment, as I should be missed.'
'Can I let you leave me now?' he said, and the tears were in his eyes as he spoke.
'I have given you my word, and you may trust me,' said she, as she held out her hand.
'I was forgetting this document: this is the lease or the agreement I told you of.' She took it, and hurried away.
In less than five minutes afterwards she was among the company in the drawing-room.
'Here have I been singing a rebel ballad, Nina,' said Kate, 'and not knowing the while it was Mr. Atlee who wrote it.'
'What, Mr. Atlee,' cried Nina, 'is the "Time to begin" yours?' And then, without waiting for an answer, she seated herself at the piano, and striking the chords of the accompaniment with a wild and vigorous hand, she sang—
'If the moment is come and the hour to need us, If we stand man to man, like kindred and kin; If we know we have one who is ready to lead us, What want we for more than the word to begin?'
The wild ring of defiance in which her clear, full voice gave out these words, seemed to electrify all present, and to a second or two of perfect silence a burst of applause followed, that even Curtis, with all his loyalty, could not refrain from joining.
'Thank God, you're not a man, Miss Nina!' cried he fervently.
'I'm not sure she's not more dangerous as she is,' said Lord Kilgobbin. 'There's people out there in the bog, starving and half-naked, would face the Queen's Guards if they only heard her voice to cheer them on. Take my word for it, rebellion would have died out long ago in Ireland if there wasn't the woman's heart to warm it.'
'If it were not too great a liberty, Mademoiselle Kostalergi,' said Joe,' I should tell you that you have not caught the true expression of my song. The brilliant bravura in which you gave the last line, immensely exciting as it was, is not correct. The whole force consists in the concentrated power of a fixed resolve—the passage should be subdued.'
An insolent toss of the head was all Nina's reply, and there was a stillness in the room, as, exchanging looks with each other, the different persons there expressed their amazement at Atlee's daring.
'Who's for a rubber of whist?' said Lord Kilgobbin, to relieve the awkward pause. 'Are you, Curtis? Atlee, I know, is ready.'
'Here is all prepared,' said Dick. 'Captain Curtis told me before dinner that he would not like to go to bed till he had his sergeant's report, and so I have ordered a broiled bone to be ready at one o'clock, and we'll sit up as late as he likes after.'
'Make the stake pounds and fives,' cried Joe, 'and I should pronounce your arrangements perfection.'
'With this amendment,' interposed my lord, 'that nobody is expected to pay!'
'I say, Joe,' whispered Dick, as they drew nigh the table, 'my cousin is angry with you; why have you not asked her to sing?'
'Because she expects it; because she's tossing over the music yonder to provoke it; because she's in a furious rage with me: that will be nine points of the game in my favour,' hissed he out between his teeth.
'You are utterly wrong—you mistake her altogether.'
'Mistake a woman! Dick, will you tell me what I do know, if I do not read every turn and trick of their tortuous nature? They are occasionally hard to decipher when they're displeased. It's very big print indeed when they're angry.'
'You're off, are you?' asked Nina, as Kate was about to leave.
'Yes; I'm going to read to him.'
'To read to him!' said Nina, laughing. 'How nice it sounds, when one sums up all existence in a pronoun. Good-night, dearest—good-night,' and she kissed her twice. And then, as Kate reached the door, she ran towards her, and said, 'Kiss me again, my dearest Kate!'
'I declare you have left a tear upon my cheek,' said Kate.
'It was about all I could give you as a wedding-present,' muttered Nina, as she turned away.
'Are you come to study whist, Nina?' said Lord Kilgobbin, as she drew nigh the table.
'No, my lord; I have no talent for games, but I like to look at the players.'
Joe touched Dick with his foot, and shot a cunning glance towards him, as though to say, 'Was I not correct in all I said?'
'Couldn't you sing us something, my dear? we're not such infatuated gamblers that we'll not like to hear you—eh, Atlee?'
'Well, my lord, I don't know, I'm not sure—that is, I don't see how a memory for trumps is to be maintained through the fascinating charm of mademoiselle's voice. And as for cards, it's enough for Miss Kostalergi to be in the room to make one forget not only the cards, but the Fenians.'
'If it was only out of loyalty, then, I should leave you!' said she, and walked proudly away.
The whist-party did not break up till nigh morning. The sergeant had once appeared at the drawing-room to announce that all was quiet without. There had been no sign of any rising of the people, nor any disposition to molest the police. Indeed, so peaceful did everything look, and such an air of easy indifference pervaded the country, the police were half disposed to believe that the report of Donogan being in the neighbourhood was unfounded, and not impossibly circulated to draw off attention from some other part of the country.
This was also Lord Kilgobbin's belief. 'The man has no friends, or even warm followers, down here. It was the merest accident first led him to this part of the country, where, besides, we are all too poor to be rebels. It's only down in Meath, where the people are well off, and rents are not too high, that people can afford to be Fenians.'
While he was enunciating this fact to Curtis, they were walking up and down the breakfast-room, waiting for the appearance of the ladies to make tea.
'I declare it's nigh eleven o'clock,' said Curtis, 'and I meant to have been over two baronies before this hour.'
'Don't distress yourself, captain. The man was never within fifty miles of where we are. And why would he? It is not the Bog of Allen is the place for a revolution.'
'It's always the way with the people at the Castle,' grumbled out Curtis. 'They know more of what's going on down the country than we that live here! It's one despatch after another. Head-centre Such-a-one is at the "Three Cripples." He slept there two nights; he swore in fifteen men last Saturday, and they'll tell you where he bought a pair of corduroy breeches, and what he ate for his breakfast—'
'I wish we had ours,' broke in Kilgobbin. 'Where's Kate all this time?'
'Papa, papa, I want you for a moment; come here to me quickly,' cried Kate, whose head appeared for a moment at the door. 'Here's very terrible tidings, papa dearest,' said she, as she drew him along towards his study. 'Nina is gone! Nina has run away!'
'Run away for what?'
'Run away to be married; and she is married. Read this, or I'll read it for you. A country boy has just brought it from Maryborough.'
Like a man stunned almost to insensibility, Kearney crossed his hands before him, and sat gazing out vacantly before him.
'Can you listen to me? can you attend to me, dear papa?'
'Go on,' said he, in a faint voice.
'It is written in a great hurry, and very hard to read. It runs thus: "Dearest,—I have no time for explainings nor excuses, if I were disposed to make either, and I will confine myself to a few facts. I was married this morning to Donogan—the rebel: I know you have added the word, and I write it to show how our sentiments are united. As people are prone to put into the lottery the number they have dreamed of, I have taken my ticket in this greatest of all lotteries on the same wise grounds. I have been dreaming adventures ever since I was a little child, and it is but natural that I marry an adventurer."'
A deep groan from the old man made her stop; but as she saw that he was not changed in colour or feature, she went on—
'"He says he loves me very dearly, and that he will treat me well. I like to believe both, and I do believe them. He says we shall be very poor for the present, but that he means to become something or somebody later on. I do not much care for the poverty, if there is hope; and he is a man to hope with and to hope from.
'"You are, in a measure, the cause of all, since it was to tell me he would send away all the witnesses against your husband, that is to be, that I agreed to meet him, and to give me the lease which Miss O'Shea was so rash as to place in Gill's hands. This I now send you."'
'And this she has sent you, Kate?' asked Kilgobbin.
'Yes, papa, it is here, and the master of the Swallow's receipt for Gill as a passenger to Quebec.'
'There is little more, papa, except what I am to say to you—to forgive her.'
'I can't forgive her. It was deceit—cruel deceit.'
'It was not, papa. I could swear there was no forethought. If there had been, she would have told me. She told me everything. She never loved Walpole; she could not love him. She was marrying him with a broken heart. It was not that she loved another, but she knew she could have loved another.'
'Don't talk such muddle to me,' said he angrily. 'You fancy life is to be all courting, but it isn't. It's house-rent, and butchers' bills, and apothecaries, and the pipe water—it's shoes, and schooling, and arrears of rent, and rheumatism, and flannel waistcoats, and toothache have a considerable space in Paradise!' And there was a grim comicality in his utterance of the word.
'She said no more than the truth of herself,' broke in Kate. 'With all her queenly ways, she could face poverty bravely—I know it.'
'So you can—any of you, if a man's making love to you. You care little enough what you eat, and not much more what you wear, if he tells you it becomes you; but that's not the poverty that grinds and crushes. It's what comes home in sickness; it's what meets you in insolent letters, in threats of this or menaces of that. But what do you know about it, or why do I speak of it? She's married a man that could be hanged if the law caught him, and for no other reason, that I see, than because he's a felon.'
'I don't think you are fair to her, papa.'
'Of course I'm not. Is it likely that at sixty I can be as great a fool as I was at sixteen?'
'So that means that you once thought in the same way that she does?'
'I didn't say any such thing, miss,' said he angrily. 'Did you tell Miss Betty what's happened us?'
'I just broke it to her, papa, and she made me run away and read the note to you. Perhaps you'll come and speak to her?'
'I will,' said he, rising and preparing to leave the room. 'I'd rather hear I was a bankrupt this morning than that news!' And he mounted the stairs, sighing heavily as he went.
'Isn't this fine news the morning has brought us, Miss Betty!' cried he, as he entered the room with a haggard look, and hands clasped before him. 'Did you ever dream there was such disgrace in store for us?'
'This marriage, you mean,' said the old lady dryly.
'Of course I do—if you call it a marriage at all.'
'I do call it a marriage—here's Father Tierney's certificate, a copy made in his own handwriting: "Daniel Donogan, M.P., of Killamoyle and Innismul, County Kilkenny, to Virginia Kostalergi, of no place in particular, daughter of Prince Kostalergi, of the same localities, contracted in holy matrimony this morning at six o'clock, and witnessed likewise by Morris McCabe, vestry clerk—Mary Kestinogue, her mark." Do you want more than that?'
'Do I want more? Do I want a respectable wedding? Do I want a decent man—a gentleman—a man fit to maintain her? Is this the way she ought to have behaved? Is this what we thought of her?'
'It is not, Mat Kearney—you say truth. I never believed so well of her till now. I never believed before that she had anything in her head but to catch one of those English puppies, with their soft voices and their sneers about Ireland. I never saw her that she wasn't trying to flatter them, and to please them, and to sing them down, as she called it herself—the very name fit for it! And that she had the high heart to take a man not only poor, but with a rope round his neck, shows me how I wronged her. I could give her five thousand this morning to make her a dowry, and to prove how I honour her.'
'Can any one tell who he is? What do we know of him?'
'All Ireland knows of him; and, after all, Mat Kearney, she has only done what her mother did before her.'
'Poor Matty!' said Kearney, as he drew his hand across his eyes.
'Ay, ay! Poor Matty, if you like; but Matty was a beauty run to seed, and, like the rest of them, she married the first good-looking vagabond she saw. Now, this girl was in the very height and bloom of her beauty, and she took a fellow for other qualities than his whiskers or his legs. They tell me he isn't even well-looking—so that I have hopes of her.'
'Well, well,' said Kearney, 'he has done you a good turn, anyhow—he has got Peter Gill out of the country.'
'And it's the one thing that I can't forgive him, Mat, just the one thing that's fretting me now. I was living in hopes to see that scoundrel Peter on the table, and Counsellor Holmes baiting him in a cross-examination. I wanted to see how the lawyer wouldn't leave him a rag of character or a strip of truth to cover himself with. How he'd tear off his evasions, and confront him with his own lies, till he wouldn't know what he was saying or where he was sitting! I wanted to hear the description he would give of him to the jury; and I'd go home to my dinner after that, and not wait for the verdict.'
'All the same, I'm glad we're rid of Peter.'
'Of course you are. You're a man, and well pleased when your enemy runs away; but if you were a woman, Mat Kearney, you'd rather he'd stand out boldly and meet you, and fight his battle to the end. But they haven't done with me yet. I'll put that little blackguard attorney, that said my letter was a lease, into Chancery; and it will go hard with me if I don't have him struck off the rolls. There's a small legacy of five hundred pounds left me the other day, and, with the blessing of Providence, the Common Pleas shall have it. Don't shake your head, Mat Kearney. I'm not robbing any one. Your daughter will have enough and to spare—'
'Oh, godmother,' cried Kate imploringly.
'It wasn't I, my darling, that said the five hundred would be better spent on wedding-clothes or house-linen. That delicate and refined suggestion was your father's. It was his lordship made the remark.'
It was a fortunate accident at that conjuncture that a servant should announce the arrival of Mr. Flood, the Tory J.P., who, hearing of Donogan's escape, had driven over to confer with his brother magistrate. Lord Kilgobbin was not sorry to quit the field, where he'd certainly earned few laurels, and hastened down to meet his colleague.
While the two justices and Curtis discussed the unhappy condition of Ireland, and deplored the fact that the law-breaker never appealed in vain to the sympathies of a people whose instincts were adverse to discipline, Flood's estimate of Donogan went very far to reconcile Kilgobbin to Nina's marriage.
'Out of Ireland, you'll see that man has stuff in him to rise to eminence and station. All the qualities of which home manufacture would only make a rebel will combine to form a man of infinite resource and energy in America. Have you never imagined, Mr. Kearney, that if a man were to employ the muscular energy to make his way through a drawing-room that he would use to force his passage through a mob, the effort would be misplaced, and the man himself a nuisance? Our old institutions, with all their faults, have certain ordinary characteristics that answer to good-breeding and good manners—reverence for authority, respect for the gradations of rank, dislike to civil convulsion, and such like. We do not sit tamely by when all these are threatened with overthrow; but there are countries where there are fewer of these traditions, and men like Donogan find their place there.'
While they debated such points as these within-doors, Dick Kearney and Atlee sat on the steps of the hall door and smoked their cigars.
'I must say, Joe,' said Dick, 'that your accustomed acuteness cuts but a very poor figure in the present case. It was no later than last night you told me that Nina was madly in love with you. Do you remember, as we went upstairs to bed, what you said on the landing? "That girl is my own. I may marry her to-morrow, or this day three months."'
'And I was right.'
'So right were you that she is at this moment the wife of another.'
'And cannot you see why?'
'I suppose I can: she preferred him to you, and I scarcely blame her.'
'No such thing; there was no thought of preference in the matter. If you were not one of those fellows who mistake an illustration, and see everything in a figure but the parallel, I should say that I had trained too finely. Now had she been thoroughbred, I was all right; as a cocktail, I was all wrong.'
'I own I cannot follow you.'
'Well, the woman was angry, and she married that fellow out of pique.'
'Out of pique?'
'I repeat it. It was a pure case of temper. I would not ask her to sing. I even found fault with the way she gave the rebel ballad. I told her there was an old lady—Americanly speaking—at the corner of College Green, who enunciated the words better, and then I sat down to whist, and would not even vouchsafe a glance in return for those looks of alternate rage or languishment she threw across the table. She was frantic. I saw it. There was nothing she wouldn't have done. I vow she'd have married even you at that moment. And with all that, she'd not have done it if she'd been "clean-bred." Come, come, don't flare up, and look as if you'd strike me. On the mother's side she was a Kearney, and all the blood of loyalty in her veins; but there must have been something wrong with the Prince of Delos. Dido was very angry, but her breeding saved her; she didn't take a head-centre because she quarrelled with AEneas.'
'You are, without exception, the most conceited—'
'No, not ass—don't say ass, for I'm nothing of the kind. Conceited, if you like, or rather if your natural politeness insists on saying it, and cannot distinguish between the vanity of a puppy and the self-consciousness of real power; but come, tell me of something pleasanter than all this personal discussion—how did mademoiselle convey her tidings? have you seen her note? was it "transport"? was it high-pitched, or apologetic?'
'Kate read it to me, and I thought it reasonable enough. She had done a daring thing, and she knew it; she hoped the best, and in any case she was not faint-hearted.'
'Any mention of me?'
'Not a word—your name does not occur.'
'I thought not; she had not pluck for that. Poor girl, the blow is heavier than I meant it.'
'She speaks of Walpole; she incloses a few lines to him, and tells my sister where she will find a small packet of trinkets and such like he had given her.'
'Natural enough all that. There was no earthly reason why she shouldn't be able to talk of Walpole as easily as of Colenso or the cattle plague; but you see she could not trust herself to approach my name.'
'You'll provoke me to kick you, Atlee.'
'In that case I shall sit where I am. But I was going to remark that as I shall start for town by the next train, and intend to meet Walpole, if your sister desires it, I shall have much pleasure in taking charge of that note to his address.'
'All right, I'll tell her. I see that she and Miss Betty are about to drive over to O'Shea's Barn, and I'll give your message at once.'
While Dick hastened away on his errand, Joe Atlee sat alone, musing and thoughtful. I have no reason to presume my reader cares for his reflections, nor to know the meaning of a strange smile, half scornful and half sad, that played upon his face. At last he rose slowly, and stood looking up at the grim old castle, and its quaint blending of ancient strength and modern deformity. 'Life here, I take it, will go on pretty much as before. All the acts of this drama will resemble each other, but my own little melodrama must open soon. I wonder what sort of house there will be for Joe Atlee's benefit.'
Atlee was right. Kilgobbin Castle fell back to the ways in which our first chapter found it, and other interests—especially those of Kate's approaching marriage—soon effaced the memory of Nina's flight and runaway match. By that happy law by which the waves of events follow and obliterate each other, the present glided back into the past, and the past faded till its colours grew uncertain.
On the second evening after Nina's departure, Atlee stood on the pier of Kingstown as the packet drew up at the jetty. Walpole saw him, and waved his hand in friendly greeting. 'What news from Kilgobbin?' cried he, as he landed.
'Nothing very rose-coloured,' said Atlee, as he handed the note.
'Is this true?' said Walpole, as a slight tremor shook his voice.
'Isn't it Irish?—Irish the whole of it.'
'So they said down there, and, stranger than all, they seemed rather proud of it.'