Joe Atlee read this paragraph three times over before he carried in the paper to Kearney.
'Here's an insolent paragraph, Dick,' he cried, as he threw the paper to him on the bed. 'Of course it's a thing cannot be noticed in any way, but it's not the less rascally for that.'
'You know the fellow who edits this paper, Joe?' said Kearney, trembling with passion.
'No; my friend is doing his bit of oakum at Kilmainham. They gave him thirteen months, and a fine that he'll never be able to pay; but what would you do if the fellow who wrote it were in the next room at this moment?'
'Thrash him within an inch of his life.'
'And, with the inch of life left him, he'd get strong again and write at you and all belonging to you every day of his existence. Don't you see that all this license is one of the prices of liberty? There's no guarding against excesses when you establish a rivalry. The doctors could tell you how many diseased lungs and aneurisms are made by training for a rowing match.'
'I'll go down by the mail to-night and see what has given the origin to this scandalous falsehood.'
'There's no harm in doing that, especially if you take me with you.'
'Why should I take you, or for what?'
'As guide, counsellor, and friend.'
'Bright thought, when all the money we can muster between us is only enough for one fare.'
'Doubtless, first class; but we could go third class, two of us for the same money. Do you imagine that Damon and Pythias would have been separated if it came even to travelling in a cow compartment?'
'I wish you could see that there are circumstances in life where the comic man is out of place.'
'I trust I shall never discover them; at least, so long as Fate treats me with "heavy tragedy."'
'I'm not exactly sure, either, whether they 'd like to receive you just now at Kilgobbin.'
'Inhospitable thought! My heart assures me of a most cordial welcome.'
'And I should only stay a day or two at farthest.'
'Which would suit me to perfection. I must be back here by Tuesday if I had to walk the distance.'
'Not at all improbable, so far as I know of your resources.'
'What a churlish dog it is! Now had you, Master Dick, proposed to me that we should go down and pass a week at a certain small thatched cottage on the banks of the Ban, where a Presbyterian minister with eight olive branches vegetates, discussing tough mutton and tougher theology on Sundays, and getting through the rest of the week with the parables and potatoes, I'd have said, Done!'
'It was the inopportune time I was thinking of. Who knows what confusion this event may not have thrown them into? If you like to risk the discomfort, I make no objection.'
'To so heartily expressed an invitation there can be but one answer, I yield.'
'Now look here, Joe, I'd better be frank with you: don't try it on at Kilgobbin as you do with me.'
'You are afraid of my insinuating manners, are you?'
'I am afraid of your confounded impudence, and of that notion you cannot get rid of, that your cool familiarity is a fashionable tone.'
'How men mistake themselves. I pledge you my word, if I was asked what was the great blemish in my manner, I'd have said it was bashfulness.'
'Well, then, it is not!'
'Are you sure, Dick, are you quite sure?'
'I am quite sure, and unfortunately for you, you'll find that the majority agree with me.'
'"A wise man should guard himself against the defects that he might have, without knowing it." That is a Persian proverb, which you will find in Hafiz. I believe you never read Hafiz!'
'No, nor you either.'
'That's true; but I can make my own Hafiz, and just as good as the real article. By the way, are you aware that the water-carriers at Tehran sing Lalla Rookh, and believe it a national poem?'
'I don't know, and I don't care.'
'I'll bring down an Anacreon with me, and see if the Greek cousin can spell her way through an ode.'
'And I distinctly declare you shall do no such thing.'
'Oh dear, oh dear, what an unamiable trait is envy! By the way, was that your frock-coat I wore yesterday at the races?'
'I think you know it was; at least you remembered it when you tore the sleeve.'
'True, most true; that torn sleeve was the reason the rascal would only let me have fifteen shillings on it.'
'And you mean to say you pawned my coat?'
'I left it in the temporary care of a relative, Dick; but it is a redeemable mortgage, and don't fret about it.'
'Ever the same!'
'No, Dick, that means worse and worse! Now, I am in the process of reformation. The natural selection, however, where honesty is in the series, is a slow proceeding, and the organic changes are very complicated. As I know, however, you attach value to the effect you produce in that coat, I'll go and recover it. I shall not need Terence or Juvenal till we come back, and I'll leave them in the avuncular hands till then.'
'I wonder you're not ashamed of these miserable straits.'
'I am very much ashamed of the world that imposes them on me. I'm thoroughly ashamed of that public in lacquered leather, that sees me walking in broken boots. I'm heartily ashamed of that well-fed, well-dressed, sleek society, that never so much as asked whether the intellectual-looking man in the shabby hat, who looked so lovingly at the spiced beef in the window, had dined yet, or was he fasting for a wager?'
'There, don't carry away that newspaper; I want to read over that pleasant paragraph again!'
THE JOURNEY TO THE COUNTRY
The two friends were deposited at the Moate station at a few minutes after midnight, and their available resources amounting to something short of two shillings, and the fare of a car and horse to Kilgobbin being more than three times that amount, they decided to devote their small balance to purposes of refreshment, and then set out for the castle on foot.
'It is a fine moonlight; I know all the short cuts, and I want a bit of walking besides,' said Kearney; and though Joe was of a self-indulgent temperament, and would like to have gone to bed after his supper and trusted to the chapter of accidents to reach Kilgobbin by a conveyance some time, any time, he had to yield his consent and set out on the road.
'The fellow who comes with the letter-bag will fetch over our portmanteau,' said Dick, as they started.
'I wish you'd give him directions to take charge of me, too,' said Joe, who felt very indisposed to a long walk.
'I like you,' said Dick sneeringly; 'you are always telling me that you are the sort of fellow for a new colony, life in the bush, and the rest of it, and when it conies to a question of a few miles' tramp on a bright night in June, you try to skulk it in every possible way. You're a great humbug, Master Joe.'
'And you a very small humbug, and there lies the difference between us. The combinations in your mind are so few, that, as in a game of only three cards, there is no skill in the playing; while in my nature, as in that game called tarocco, there are half-a-dozen packs mixed up together, and the address required to play them is considerable.'
'You have a very satisfactory estimate of your own abilities, Joe.'
'And why not? If a clever fellow didn't know he was clever, the opinion of the world on his superiority would probably turn his brain.'
'And what do you say if his own vanity should do it?'
'There is really no way of explaining to a fellow like you—'
'What do you mean by a fellow like me?' broke in Dick, somewhat angrily.
'I mean this, that I'd as soon set to work to explain the theory of exchequer bonds to an Eskimo, as to make an unimaginative man understand something purely speculative. What you, and scores of fellows like you, denominate vanity, is only another form of hopefulness. You and your brethren—for you are a large family—do you know what it is to Hope! that is, you have no idea of what it is to build on the foundation of certain qualities you recognise in yourself, and to say that "if I can go so far with such a gift, such another will help me on so much farther."'
'I tell you one thing I do hope, which is, that the next time I set out a twelve miles' walk, I'll have a companion less imbued with self-admiration.'
'And you might and might not find him pleasanter company. Cannot you see, old fellow, that the very things you object to in me are what are wanting in you? they are, so to say, the compliments of your own temperament.'
'Have you a cigar?'
'Two—take them both. I'd rather talk than smoke just now.'
'I am almost sorry for it, though it gives me the tobacco.'
'Are we on your father's property yet?'
'Yes; part of that village we came through belongs to us, and all this bog here is ours.'
'Why don't you reclaim it? labour costs a mere nothing in this country. Why don't you drain those tracts, and treat the soil with lime? I'd live on potatoes, I'd make my family live on potatoes, and my son, and my grandson, for three generations, but I'd win this land back to culture and productiveness.'
'The fee-simple of the soil wouldn't pay the cost. It would be cheaper to save the money and buy an estate.'
'That is one, and a very narrow view of it; but imagine the glory of restoring a lost tract to a nation, welcoming back the prodigal, and installing him in his place amongst his brethren. This was all forest once. Under the shade of the mighty oaks here those gallant O'Caharneys your ancestors followed the chase, or rested at noontide, or skedaddled in double-quick before those smart English of the Pale, who I must say treated your forbears with scant courtesy.'
'We held our own against them for many a year.'
'Only when it became so small it was not worth taking. Is not your father a Whig?'
'He's a Liberal, but he troubles himself little about parties.'
'He's a stout Catholic, though, isn't he?'
'He is a very devout believer in his Church,' said Dick with the tone of one who did not desire to continue the theme.
'Then why does he stop at Whiggery? why not go in for Nationalism and all the rest of it?'
'And what's all the rest of it?'
'Great Ireland—no first flower of the earth or gem of the sea humbug—but Ireland great in prosperity, her harbours full of ships, the woollen trade, her ancient staple, revived: all that vast unused water-power, greater than all the steam of Manchester and Birmingham tenfold, at full work; the linen manufacture developed and promoted—'
'And the Union repealed?'
'Of course; that should be first of all. Not that I object to the Union, as many do, on the grounds of English ignorance as to Ireland. My dislike is, that, for the sake of carrying through certain measures necessary to Irish interests, I must sit and discuss questions which have no possible concern for me, and touch me no more than the debates in the Cortes, or the Reichskammer at Vienna. What do you or I care for who rules India, or who owns Turkey? What interest of mine is it whether Great Britain has five ironclads or fifty, or whether the Yankees take Canada, and the Russians Kabul?'
'You're a Fenian, and I am not.'
'I suppose you'd call yourself an Englishman?'
'I am an English subject, and I owe my allegiance to England.'
'Perhaps for that matter, I owe some too; but I owe a great many things that I don't distress myself about paying.'
'Whatever your sentiments are on these matters—and, Joe, I am not disposed to think you have any very fixed ones—pray do me the favour to keep them to yourself while under my father's roof. I can almost promise you he'll obtrude none of his peculiar opinions on you, and I hope you will treat him with a like delicacy.'
'What will your folks talk, then? I can't suppose they care for books, art, or the drama. There is no society, so there can be no gossip. If that yonder be the cabin of one of your tenants, I'll certainly not start the question of farming.'
'There are poor on every estate,' said Dick curtly.
'Now what sort of a rent does that fellow pay—five pounds a year?'
'More likely five-and-twenty or thirty shillings.'
'By Jove, I'd like to set up house in that fashion, and make love to some delicately-nurtured miss, win her affections, and bring her home to such a spot. Wouldn't that be a touchstone of affection, Dick?'
'If I could believe you were in earnest, I'd throw you neck and heels into that bog-hole.'
'Oh, if you would!' cried he, and there was a ring of truthfulness in his voice now there could be no mistaking. Half-ashamed of the emotion his idle speech had called up, and uncertain how best to treat the emergency, Kearney said nothing, and Atlee walked on for miles without a word.
'You can see the house now. It tops the trees yonder,' said Dick.
'That is Kilgobbin Castle, then?' said Joe slowly.
'There's not much of castle left about it. There is a square block of a tower, and you can trace the moat and some remains of outworks.'
'Shall I make you a confession, Dick? I envy you all that! I envy you what smacks of a race, a name, an ancestry, a lineage. It's a great thing to be able to "take up the running," as folks say, instead of making all the race yourself; and there's one inestimable advantage in it, it rescues you from all indecent haste about asserting your station. You feel yourself to be a somebody and you've not hurried to proclaim it. There now, my boy, if you'd have said only half as much as that on the score of your family, I'd have called you an arrant snob. So much for consistency.'
'What you have said gave me pleasure, I'll own that.'
'I suppose it was you planted those trees there. It was a nice thought, and makes the transition from the bleak bog to the cultivated land more easy and graceful. Now I see the castle well. It's a fine portly mass against the morning sky, and I perceive you fly a flag over it.'
'When the lord is at home.'
'Ay, and by the way, do you give him his title while talking to him here?'
'The tenants do, and the neighbours and strangers do as they please about it.'
'Does he like it himself?'
'If I was to guess, I should perhaps say he does like it. Here we are now. Inside this low gate you are within the demesne, and I may bid you welcome to Kilgobbin. We shall build a lodge here one of these days. There's a good stretch, however, yet to the castle. We call it two miles, and it's not far short of it.'
'What a glorious morning. There is an ecstasy in scenting these nice fresh woods in the clear sunrise, and seeing those modest daffodils make their morning toilet.'
'That's a fancy of Kate's. There is a border of such wild flowers all the way to the house.'
'And those rills of clear water that flank the road, are they of her designing?'
'That they are. There was a cutting made for a railroad line about four miles from this, and they came upon a sort of pudding-stone formation, made up chiefly of white pebbles. Kate heard of it, purchased the whole mass, and had these channels paved with them from the gate to the castle, and that's the reason this water has its crystal clearness.'
'She's worthy of Shakespeare's sweet epithet, the "daintiest Kate in Christendom." Here's her health!' and he stooped down, and filling his palm with the running water, drank it off.
'I see it's not yet five o'clock. We'll steal quietly off to bed, and have three or four hours sleep before we show ourselves.'
Cecil Walpole occupied the state-room and the state-bed at Kilgobbin Castle; but the pain of a very serious wound had left him very little faculty to know what honour was rendered him, or of what watchful solicitude he was the object. The fever brought on by his wound had obliterated in his mind all memory of where he was; and it was only now—that is, on the same morning that the young men had arrived at the castle—that he was able to converse without much difficulty, and enjoy the companionship of Lockwood, who had come over to see him and scarcely quitted his bedside since the disaster.
It seems going on all right,' said Lockwood, as he lifted the iced cloths to look at the smashed limb, which lay swollen and livid on a pillow outside the clothes.
'It's not pretty to look at, Harry; but the doctor says "we shall save it"—his phrase for not cutting it off.'
'They've taken up two fellows on suspicion, and I believe they were of the party here that night.'
'I don't much care about that. It was a fair fight, and I suspect I did not get the worst of it. What really does grieve me is to think how ingloriously one gets a wound that in real war would have been a title of honour.'
'If I had to give a V.C. for this affair, it would be to that fine girl I'd give it, and not to you, Cecil.'
'So should I. There is no question whatever as to our respective shares in the achievement.'
'And she is so modest and unaffected about it all, and when she was showing me the position and the alcove, she never ceased to lay stress on the safety she enjoyed during the conflict.'
'Then she said nothing about standing in front of me after I was wounded?'
'Not a word. She said a great deal about your coolness and indifference to danger, but nothing about her own.'
'Well, I suppose it's almost a shame to own it—not that I could have done anything to prevent it—but she did step down one step of the stair and actually cover me from fire.'
'She's the finest girl in Europe,' said Lockwood warmly.
'And if it was not the contrast with her cousin, I'd almost say one of the handsomest,' said Cecil.
'The Greek is splendid, I admit that, though she'll not speak—she'll scarcely notice me.'
'How is that?'
'I can't imagine, except it might have been, an awkward speech I made when we were talking over the row. I said, "Where were you? what were you doing all this time? "'
'And what answer did she make you?'
'None; not a word. She drew herself proudly up, and opened her eyes so large and full upon me, that I felt I must have appeared some sort of monster to be so stared at.'
'I've seen her do that.'
'It was very grand and very beautiful; but I'll be shot if I'd like to stand under it again. From that time to this she has never deigned me more than a mere salutation.'
'And are you good friends with the other girl?'
'The best in the world. I don't see much of her, for she's always abroad, over the farm, or among the tenants: but when we meet we are very cordial and friendly.'
'And the father, what is he like?'
'My lord is a glorious old fellow, full of hospitable plans and pleasant projects; but terribly distressed to think that this unlucky incident should prejudice you against Ireland. Indeed, he gave me to understand that there must have been some mistake or misconception in the matter, for the castle had never been attacked before; and he insists on saying that if you will stop here—I think he said ten years—you'll not see another such occurrence.'
'It's rather a hard way to test the problem though.'
'What's more, he included me in the experiment.'
'And this title? Does he assume it, or expect it to be recognised?'
'I can scarcely tell you. The Greek girl "my lords" him occasionally; his daughter, never. The servants always do so; and I take it that people use their own discretion about it.'
'Or do it in a sort of indolent courtesy, as they call Marsala, sherry, but take care at the same time to pass the decanter. I believe you telegraphed to his Excellency?'
'Yes; and he means to come over next week.'
'Any news of Lady Maude?'
'Only that she comes with him, and I'm sorry for it.'
'So am I—deuced sorry! In a gossiping town like Dublin there will be surely some story afloat about these handsome girls here. She saw the Greek, too, at the Duke of Rigati's ball at Rome, and she never forgets a name or a face. A pleasant trait in a wife.'
'Of course the best plan will be to get removed, and be safely installed in our old quarters at the Castle before they arrive.'
'We must hear what the doctor says.'
'He'll say no, naturally, for he'll not like to lose his patient. He will have to convey you to town, and we'll try and make him believe it will be the making of him. Don't you agree with me, Cecil, it's the thing to do?'
'I have not thought it over yet. I will to-day. By the way, I know it's the thing to do,' repeated he, with an air of determination. 'There will be all manner of reports, scandals, and falsehoods to no end about this business here; and when Lady Maude learns, as she is sure to learn, that the "Greek girl" is in the story, I cannot measure the mischief that may come of it.'
'Break off the match, eh?'
'That is certainly "on the cards."'
'I suspect even that would not break your heart.'
'I don't say it would, but it would prove very inconvenient in many ways. Danesbury has great claims on his party. He came here as Viceroy dead against his will, and, depend upon it, he made his terms. Then if these people go out, and the Tories want to outbid them, Danesbury could take—ay, and would take—office under them.'
'I cannot follow all that. All I know is, I like the old boy himself, though he is a bit pompous now and then, and fancies he's Emperor of Russia.'
'I wish his niece didn't imagine she was an imperial princess.'
'That she does! I think she is the haughtiest girl I ever met. To be sure she was a great beauty.'
'Was, Harry! What do you mean by "was"? Lady Maude is not eight-and-twenty.'
'Ain't she, though? Will you have a ten-pound note on it that she's not over thirty-one; and I can tell you who could decide the wager?'
'A delicate thought!—a fellow betting on the age of the girl he's going to marry!'
'Ten o'clock!—nearly half-past ten!' said Lockwood, rising from his chair. 'I must go and have some breakfast. I meant to have been down in time to-day, and breakfasted with the old fellow and his daughter; for coming late brings me to a tete-a-tete with the Greek damsel, and it isn't jolly, I assure you.'
'Don't you speak?'
'Never a word?' She's generally reading a newspaper when I go in. She lays it down; but after remarking that she fears I'll find the coffee cold, she goes on with her breakfast, kisses her Maltese terrier, asks him a few questions about his health, and whether he would like to be in a warmer climate, and then sails away.'
'And how she walks!'
'Is she bored here?'
'She says not.'
'She can scarcely like these people; they 're not the sort of thing she has ever been used to.'
'She tells me she likes them: they certainly like her.'
'Well,' said Lockwood, with a sigh, 'she's the most beautiful woman, certainly, I've ever seen; and, at this moment, I'd rather eat a crust with a glass of beer under a hedge than I'd go down and sit at breakfast with her.'
'I'll be shot if I'll not tell her that speech the first day I'm down again.'
'So you may, for by that time I shall have seen her for the last time.' And with this he strolled out of the room and down the stairs towards the breakfast-parlour.
As he stood at the door he heard the sound of voices laughing and talking pleasantly. He entered, and Nina arose as he came forward, and said, 'Let me present my cousin—Mr. Richard Kearney, Major Lockwood; his friend, Mr. Atlee.'
The two young men stood up—Kearny stiff and haughty, and Atlee with a sort of easy assurance that seemed to suit his good-looking but certainly snobbish style. As for Lockwood, he was too much a gentleman to have more than one manner, and he received these two men as he would have received any other two of any rank anywhere.
'These gentlemen have been showing me some strange versions of our little incident here in the Dublin papers,' said Nina to Lockwood. 'I scarcely thought we should become so famous.'
'I suppose they don't stickle much for truth,' said Lockwood, as he broke his egg in leisurely fashion.
'They were scarcely able to provide a special correspondent for the event,' said Atlee; 'but I take it they give the main facts pretty accurately and fairly.'
'Indeed!' said Lockwood, more struck by the manner than by the words of the speaker. 'They mention, then, that my friend received a bad fracture of the forearm.'
'No, I don't think they do; at least so far as I have seen. They speak of a night attack on Kilgobbin Castle, made by an armed party of six or seven men with faces blackened, and their complete repulse through the heroic conduct of a young lady.'
'The main facts, then, include no mention of poor Walpole and his misfortune?'
'I don't think that we mere Irish attach any great importance to a broken arm, whether it came of a cricket-ball or gun; but we do interest ourselves deeply when an Irish girl displays feats of heroism and courage that men find it hard to rival.'
'It was very fine,' said Lockwood gravely.
'Fine! I should think it was fine!' burst out Atlee. 'It was so fine that, had the deed been done on the other side of this narrow sea, the nation would not have been satisfied till your Poet Laureate had commemorated it in verse.'
'Have they discovered any traces of the fellows?' said Lockwood, who declined to follow the discussion into this channel.
'My father has gone over to Moate to-day,' said Kearney, now speaking for the first time, 'to hear the examination of two fellows who have been taken up on suspicion.'
'You have plenty of this sort of thing in your country,' said Atlee to Nina.
'Where do you mean when you say my country?'
'I mean Greece.'
'But I have not seen Greece since I was a child, so high; I have lived always in Italy.'
'Well, Italy has Calabria and the Terra del Lavoro.'
'And how much do we in Rome know about either?'
'About as much,' said Lockwood, 'as Belgravia does of the Bog of Allen.'
'You'll return to your friends in civilised life with almost the fame of an African traveller, Major Lockwood,' said Atlee pertly.
'If Africa can boast such hospitality, I certainly rather envy than compassionate Doctor Livingstone,' said he politely.
'Somebody,' said Kearney dryly, 'calls hospitality the breeding of the savage.'
'But I deny that we are savage,' cried Atlee. 'I contend for it that all our civilisation is higher, and that class for class we are in a more advanced culture than the English; that your chawbacon is not as intelligent a being as our bogtrotter; that your petty shopkeeper is inferior to ours; that throughout our middle classes there is not only a higher morality but a higher refinement than with you.'
'I read in one of the most accredited journals of England the other day that Ireland had never produced a poet, could not even show a second-rate humorist,' said Kearney.
'Swift and Sterne were third-rate, or perhaps, English,' said Atlee.
'These are themes I'll not attempt to discuss,' said Lockwood; 'but I know one thing, it takes three times as much military force to govern the smaller island.'
'That is to say, to govern the country after your fashion; but leave it to ourselves. Pack your portmanteaus and go away, and then see if we'll need this parade of horse, foot, and dragoons; these batteries of guns and these brigades of peelers.'
'You'd be the first to beg us to come back again.'
'Doubtless, as the Greeks are begging the Turks. Eh, mademoiselle; can you fancy throwing yourself at the feet of a Pasha and asking leave to be his slave?'
'The only Greek slave I ever heard of,' said Lockwood, 'was in marble and made by an American.'
'Come into the drawing-room and I'll sing you something,' said Nina, rising.
'Which will be far nicer and pleasanter than all this discussion,' said Joe.
'And if you'll permit me,' said Lockwood, 'we'll leave the drawing-room door open and let poor Walpole hear the music.'
'Would it not be better first to see if he's asleep?' said she.
'That's true. I'll step up and see.'
Lockwood hurried away, and Joe Atlee, leaning back in his chair, said, 'Well, we gave the Saxon a canter, I think. As you know, Dick, that fellow is no end of a swell.'
'You know nothing about him,' said the other gruffly.
'Only so much as newspapers could tell me. He's Master of the Horse in the Viceroy's household, and the other fellow is Private Secretary, and some connection besides. I say, Dick, it's all King James's times back again. There has not been so much grandeur here for six or eight generations.'
'There has not been a more absurd speech made than that, within the time.'
'And he is really somebody?' said Nina to Atlee.
'A gran signore davvero,' said he pompously. 'If you don't sing your very best for him, I'll swear you are a republican.'
'Come, take my arm, Nina. I may call you Nina, may I not?' whispered Kearney.
'Certainly, if I may call you Joe.'
'You may, if you like,' said he roughly, 'but my name is Dick.'
'I am Beppo, and very much at your orders,' said Atlee, stepping forward and leading her away.
They were assembled in the drawing-room before dinner, when Lord Kilgobbin arrived, heated, dusty, and tired, after his twelve miles' drive. 'I say, girls,' said he, putting his head inside the door, 'is it true that our distinguished guest is not coming down to dinner, for, if so, I'll not wait to dress?'
'No, papa; he said he'd stay with Mr. Walpole. They've been receiving and despatching telegrams all day, and seem to have the whole world on their hands,' said Kate.
'Well, sir, what did you do at the sessions?'
'Yes, my lord,' broke in Nina, eager to show her more mindful regard to his rank than Atlee displayed; 'tell us your news?'
'I suspect we have got two of them, and are on the traces of the others. They are Louth men, and were sent special here to give me a lesson, as they call it. That's what our blessed newspapers have brought us to. Some idle vagabond, at his wits' end for an article, fastens on some unlucky country gentleman, neither much better nor worse than his neighbours, holds him up to public reprobation, perfectly sure that within a week's time some rascal who owes him a grudge—the fellow he has evicted for non-payment of rent, the blackguard he prosecuted for perjury, or some other of the like stamp—will write a piteous letter to the editor, relating his wrongs. The next act of the drama is a notice on the hall door, with a coffin at the top; and the piece closes with a charge of slugs in your body, as you are on your road to mass. Now, if I had the making of the laws, the first fellow I'd lay hands on would be the newspaper writer. Eh, Master Atlee, am I right?'
'I go with you to the furthest extent, my lord.'
'I vote we hang Joe, then,' cried Dick. 'He is the only member of the fraternity I have any acquaintance with.'
'What—do you tell me that you write for the papers?' asked my lord slyly.
'He's quizzing, sir; he knows right well I have no gifts of that sort.'
'Here's dinner, papa. Will you give Nina your arm? Mr. Atlee, you are to take me.'
'You'll not agree with me, Nina, my dear,' said the old man, as he led her along; 'but I'm heartily glad we have not that great swell who dined with us yesterday.'
'I do agree with you, uncle—I dislike him.'
'Perhaps I am unjust to him; but I thought he treated us all with a sort of bland pity that I found very offensive.'
'Yes; I thought that too. His manner seemed to say, "I am very sorry for you, but what can be done?"'
'Is the other fellow—the wounded one—as bad?'
She pursed up her lip, slightly shrugged her shoulders, and then said, 'There's not a great deal to choose between them; but I think I like him better.'
'How do you like Dick, eh?' said he, in a whisper.
'Oh, so much,' said she, with one of her half-downcast looks, but which never prevented her seeing what passed in her neighbour's face.
'Well, don't let him fall in love with you,' said he, with a smile, 'for it would be bad for you both.'
'But why should he?' said she, with an air of innocence.
'Just because I don't see how he is to escape it. What's Master Atlee saying to you, Kitty?'
'He's giving me some hints about horse-breaking,' said she quietly.
'Is he, by George? Well, I 'd like to see him follow you over that fallen timber in the back lawn. We'll have you out, Master Joe, and give you a field-day to-morrow,' said the old man.
'I vote we do,' cried Dick; 'unless, better still, we could persuade Miss Betty to bring the dogs over and give us a cub-hunt.'
'I want to see a cub-hunt,' broke in Nina.
'Do you mean that you ride to hounds, Cousin Nina?' asked Dick.
'I should think that any one who has taken the ox-fences on the Roman Campagna, as I have, might venture to face your small stone-walls here.'
'That's plucky, anyhow; and I hope, Joe, it will put you on your metal to show yourself worthy of your companionship. What is old Mathew looking so mysteriously about? What do you want?'
The old servant thus addressed had gone about the room with the air of one not fully decided to whom to speak, and at last he leaned over Miss Kearney's shoulder, and whispered a few words in her ear. 'Of course not, Mat!' said she, and then turning to her father—'Mat has such an opinion of my medical skill, he wants me to see Mr. Walpole, who, it seems, has got up, and evidently increased his pain by it.'
'Oh, but is there no doctor near us?' asked Nina eagerly.
'I'd go at once,' said Kate frankly, 'but my skill does not extend to surgery.'
'I have some little knowledge in that way: I studied and walked the hospitals for a couple of years,' broke out Joe. 'Shall I go up to him?'
'By all means,' cried several together, and Joe rose and followed Mathew upstairs.
'Oh, are you a medical man?' cried Lockwood, as the other entered.
'After a fashion, I may say I am. At least, I can tell you where my skill will come to its limit, and that is something.'
'Look here, then—he would insist on getting up, and I fear he has displaced the position of the bones. You must be very gentle, for the pain is terrific.'
'No; there's no great mischief done—the fractured parts are in a proper position. It is the mere pain of disturbance. Cover it all over with the ice again, and'—here he felt his pulse—'let him have some weak brandy-and-water.'
'That's sensible advice—I feel it. I am shivery all over,' said Walpole.
'I'll go and make a brew for you,' cried Joe, 'and you shall have it as hot as you can drink it.'
He had scarcely left the room, when he returned with the smoking compound.
'You're such a jolly doctor,' said Walpole, 'I feel sure you'd not refuse me a cigar?'
'Only think! that old barbarian who was here this morning said I was to have nothing but weak tea or iced lemonade.'
Lockwood selected a mild-looking weed, and handed it to his friend, and was about to offer one to Atlee, when he said—
'But we have taken you from your dinner—pray go back again.'
'No, we were at dessert. I'll stay here and have a smoke, if you will let me. Will it bore you, though?'
'On the contrary,' said Walpole, 'your company will be a great boon to us; and as for myself, you have done me good already.'
'What would you say, Major Lockwood, to taking my place below-stairs? They are just sitting over their wine—some very pleasant claret—and the young ladies, I perceive, here, give half an hour of their company before they leave the dining-room.'
'Here goes, then,' said Lockwood. 'Now that you remind me of it, I do want a glass of wine.'
Lockwood found the party below-stairs eagerly discussing Joe Atlee's medical qualifications, and doubting whether, if it was a knowledge of civil engineering or marine gunnery had been required, he would not have been equally ready to offer himself for the emergency.
'I'll lay my life on it, if the real doctor arrives, Joe will take the lead in the consultation,' cried Dick: 'he is the most unabashable villain in Europe.'
'Well, he has put Cecil all right,' said Lockwood: 'he has settled the arm most comfortably on the pillow, the pain is decreasing every moment, and by his pleasant and jolly talk he is making Walpole even forget it at times.'
This was exactly what Atlee was doing. Watching carefully the sick man's face, he plied him with just that amount of amusement that he could bear without fatigue. He told him the absurd versions that had got abroad of the incident in the press; and cautiously feeling his way, went on to tell how Dick Kearney had started from town full of the most fiery intentions towards that visitor whom the newspapers called a 'noted profligate' of London celebrity. 'If you had not been shot before, we were to have managed it for you now,' said he.
'Surely these fellows who wrote this had never heard of me.'
'Of course they had not, further than you were on the Viceroy's staff; but is not that ample warranty for profligacy? Besides, the real intention was not to assail you, but the people here who admitted you.' Thus talking, he led Walpole to own that he had no acquaintanceship with the Kearneys, that a mere passing curiosity to see the interesting house had provoked his request, to which the answer, coming from an old friend, led to his visit. Through this channel Atlee drew him on to the subject of the Greek girl and her parentage. As Walpole sketched the society of Rome, Atlee, who had cultivated the gift of listening fully as much as that of talking, knew where to seem interested by the views of life thrown out, and where to show a racy enjoyment of the little humoristic bits of description which the other was rather proud of his skill in deploying; and as Atlee always appeared so conversant with the family history of the people they were discussing, Walpole spoke with unbounded freedom and openness.
'You must have been astonished to meet the "Titian Girl" in Ireland?' said Joe at last, for he had caught up the epithet dropped accidentally in the other's narrative, and kept it for use.
'Was I not! but if my memory had been clearer, I should have remembered she had Irish connections. I had heard of Lord Kilgobbin on the other side of the Alps.'
'I don't doubt that the title would meet a readier acceptance there than here.'
'Ah, you think so!' cried Walpole. 'What is the meaning of a rank that people acknowledge or deny at pleasure? Is this peculiar to Ireland?'
'If you had asked whether persons anywhere else would like to maintain such a strange pretension, I might perhaps have answered you.'
'For the few minutes of this visit to me, I liked him; he seemed frank, hearty, and genial.'
'I suppose he is, and I suspect this folly of the lordship is no fancy of his own.'
'Nor the daughter's, then, I'll be bound?'
'No; the son, I take it, has all the ambition of the house.'
'Do you know them well?'
'No, I never saw them till yesterday. The son and I are chums: we live together, and have done so these three years.'
'You like your visit here, however?'
'Yes. It's rather good fun on the whole. I was afraid of the indoor life when I was coming down, but it's pleasanter than I looked for.'
'When I asked you the question, it was not out of idle curiosity. I had a strong personal interest in your answer. In fact, it was another way of inquiring whether it would be a great sacrifice to tear yourself away from this.'
'No, inasmuch as the tearing-away process must take place in a couple of days—three at farthest.'
'That makes what I have to propose all the easier. It is a matter of great urgency for me to reach Dublin at once. This unlucky incident has been so represented by the newspapers as to give considerable uneasiness to the Government, and they are even threatened with a discussion on it in the House. Now, I'd start to-morrow, if I thought I could travel with safety. You have so impressed me with your skill, that, if I dared, I'd ask you to convoy me up. Of course I mean as my physician.'
'But I'm not one, nor ever intend to be.'
'You studied, however?'
'As I have done scores of things. I know a little bit of criminal law, have done some shipbuilding, rode haute ecole in Cooke's circus, and, after M. Dumas, I am considered the best amateur macaroni-maker in Europe.'
'And which of these careers do you intend to abide by?'
'None, not one of them. "Financing" is the only pursuit that pays largely. I intend to go in for money.'
'I should like to hear your ideas on that subject.'
'So you shall, as we travel up to town.'
'You accept my offer, then?'
'Of course I do. I am delighted to have so many hours in your company. I believe I can safely say I have that amount of skill to be of service to you. One begins his medical experience with fractures. They are the pothooks and hangers of surgery, and I have gone that far. Now, what are your plans?'
'My plans are to leave this early to-morrow, so as to rest during the hot hours of the day, and reach Dublin by nightfall. Why do you smile?'
'I smile at your notion of climate; but I never knew any man who had been once in Italy able to disabuse himself of the idea that there were three or four hours every summer day to be passed with closed shutters and iced drinks.'
'Well, I believe I was thinking of a fiercer sun and a hotter soil than these. To return to my project: we can find means of posting, carriage and horses, in the village. I forget its name.'
'I'll take care of all that. At what hour will you start?'
'I should say by six or seven. I shall not sleep; and I shall be all impatience till we are away.'
'Well, is there anything else to be thought of?'
'There is—that is, I have something on my mind, and I am debating with myself how far, on a half-hour's acquaintance, I can make you a partner in it.'
'I cannot help you by my advice. I can only say that if you like to trust me, I'll know how to respect the confidence.'
Walpole looked steadily and steadfastly at him, and the examination seemed to satisfy him, for he said, 'I will trust you—not that the matter is a secret in any sense that involves consequences; but it is a thing that needs a little tact and discretion, a slight exercise of a light hand, which is what my friend Lockwood fails in. Now you could do it.'
'If I can, I will. What is it?'
'Well, the matter is this. I have written a few lines here, very illegibly and badly, as you may believe, for they were with my left hand; and besides having the letter conveyed to its address, I need a few words of explanation.'
'The Titian Girl,' muttered Joe, as though thinking aloud.
'Why do you say so?'
'Oh, it was easy enough to see her greater anxiety and uneasiness about you. There was an actual flash of jealousy across her features when Miss Kearney proposed coming up to see you.'
'And was this remarked, think you?'
'Only by me. I saw, and let her see I saw it, and we understood each other from that moment.'
'I mustn't let you mistake me. You are not to suppose that there is anything between Mademoiselle Kostalergi and myself. I knew a good deal about her father, and there were family circumstances in which I was once able to be of use; and I wished to let her know that if at any time she desired to communicate with me, I could procure an address, under which she could write with freedom.'
'As for instance: "J. Atlee, 48 Old Square, Trinity College, Dublin."'
'Well, I did not think of that at the moment,' said Walpole, smiling. 'Now,' continued he, 'though I have written all this, it is so blotted and disgraceful generally—done with the left hand, and while in great pain—that I think it would be as well not to send the letter, but simply a message—'
Atlee nodded, and Walpole went on: 'A message to say that I was wishing to write, but unable; and that if I had her permission, so soon as my fingers could hold a pen, to finish—yes, to finish that communication I had already begun, and if she felt there was no inconvenience in writing to me, under cover to your care, I should pledge myself to devote all my zeal and my best services to her interests.'
'In fact, I am to lead her to suppose she ought to have the most implicit confidence in you, and to believe in me, because I say so.'
'I do not exactly see that these are my instructions to you.'
'Well, you certainly want to write to her.'
'I don't know that I do.'
'At all events, you want her to write to you.'
'You are nearer the mark now.'
'That ought not to be very difficult to arrange. I'll go down now and have a cup of tea, and I may, I hope, come up and see you again before bed-time.'
'Wait one moment,' cried Walpole, as the other was about to leave the room. 'Do you see a small tray on that table yonder, with some trinkets? Yes, that is it. Well, will you do me the favour to choose something amongst them as your fee? Come, come, you know you are my doctor now, and I insist on this. There's nothing of any value there, and you will have no misgivings.'
'Am I to take it haphazard?' asked Atlee.
'Whatever you like,' said the other indolently.
'I have selected a ring,' said Atlee, as he drew it on his finger.
'Not an opal?'
'Yes, it is an opal with brilliants round it.'
'I'd rather you'd taken all the rest than that. Not that I ever wear it, but somehow it has a bit of memory attached to it!'
'Do you know,' said Atlee gravely, 'you are adding immensely to the value I desired to see in it? I wanted something as a souvenir of you—what the Germans call an Andenken, and here is evidently what has some secret clue to your affections. It was not an old love-token?'
'No; or I should certainly not part with it.'
'It did not belong to a friend now no more?'
'Nor that either,' said he, smiling at the other's persistent curiosity.
'Then if it be neither the gift of an old love nor a lost friend, I'll not relinquish it,' cried Joe.
'Be it so,' said Walpole, half carelessly. 'Mine was a mere caprice after all. It is linked with a reminiscence—there's the whole of it; but if you care for it, pray keep it.'
'I do care for it, and I will keep it.'
It was a very peculiar smile that curled Walpole's lip as he heard this speech, and there was an expression in his eyes that seemed to say, 'What manner of man is this, what sort of nature, new and strange to me, is he made of?'
'Bye-bye!' said Atlee carelessly, and he strolled away.
IN THE GARDEN AT DUSK
When Atlee quitted Walpole's room, he was far too full of doubt and speculation to wish to join the company in the drawing-room. He had need of time to collect his thoughts, too, and arrange his plans. This sudden departure of his would, he well knew, displease Kearney. It would savour of a degree of impertinence, in treating their hospitality so cavalierly, that Dick was certain to resent, and not less certain to attribute to a tuft-hunting weakness on Atlee's part of which he had frequently declared he detected signs in Joe's character.
'Be it so. I'll only say, you'll not see me cultivate "swells" for the pleasure of their society, or even the charms of their cookery. If I turn them to no better uses than display, Master Dick, you may sneer freely at me. I have long wanted to make acquaintance with one of these fellows, and luck has now given me the chance. Let us see if I know how to profit by it.'
And, thus muttering to himself, he took his way to the farmyard, to find a messenger to despatch to the village for post-horses.
The fact that he was not the owner of a half-crown in the world very painfully impressed itself on a negotiation, which, to be prompt, should be prepaid, and which he was endeavouring to explain to two or three very idle but very incredulous listeners—not one of whom could be induced to accept a ten miles' tramp on a drizzling night without the prompting of a tip in advance.
'It's every step of eight miles,' cried one.
'No, but it's ten,' asseverated another with energy, 'by rayson that you must go by the road. There's nobody would venture across the bog in the dark.'
'Wid five shillings in my hand—'
'And five more when ye come back,' continued another, who was terrified at the low estimate so rashly adventured.
'If one had even a shilling or two to pay for a drink when he got in to Kilbeggan wet through and shivering—'
The speaker was not permitted to finish his ignominiously low proposal, and a low growl of disapprobation smothered his words.
'Do you mean to tell me,' said Joe angrily, 'that there's not a man here will step over to the town to order a chaise and post-horses?'
'And if yer honour will put his hand in his pocket and tempt us with a couple of crown-pieces, there's no saying what we wouldn't do,' said a little bandy old fellow, who was washing his face at the pump.
'And are crown-pieces so plentiful with you down here that you can earn them so easily?' said Atlee, with a sneer.
'Be me sowl, yer honour, it's thinking that they're not so aisy to come at, makes us a bit lazy this evening!' said a ragged fellow, with a grin, which was quickly followed by a hearty laugh from those around him.
Something that sounded like a titter above his head made Atlee look up, and there, exactly over where he stood, was Nina, leaning over a little stone balcony in front of a window, an amused witness of the scene beneath.
'I have two words for yourself,' cried he to her in Italian. 'Will you come down to the garden for one moment?'
'Cannot the two words be said in the drawing-room?' asked she, half saucily, in the same language.
'No, they cannot be said in the drawing-room,' continued he sternly.
'It's dropping rain. I should get wet.'
'Take an umbrella, then, but come. Mind me, Signora Nina, I am the bearer of a message for you.'
There was something almost disdainful in the toss of her head as she heard these words, and she hastily retired from the balcony and entered the room.
Atlee watched her, by no means certain what her gesture might portend. Was she indignant with him for the liberty he had taken? or was she about to comply with his request, and meet him? He knew too little of her to determine which was the more likely; and he could not help feeling that, had he only known her longer, his doubt might have been just as great. Her mind, thought he, is perhaps like my own: it has many turnings, and she's never very certain which one of them she will follow. Somehow, this imputed wilfulness gave her, to his eyes, a charm scarcely second to that of her exceeding beauty. And what beauty it was! The very perfection of symmetry in every feature when at rest, while the varied expressions of her face as she spoke, or smiled, or listened, imparted a fascination which only needed the charm of her low liquid voice to be irresistible.
How she vulgarises that pretty girl, her cousin, by mere contrast! What subtle essence is it, apart from hair and eyes and skin, that spreads an atmosphere of conquest over these natures, and how is it that men have no ascendencies of this sort—nothing that imparts to their superiority the sense that worship of them is in itself an ecstasy?
'Take my message into town,' said he to a fellow near, 'and you shall have a sovereign when you come back with the horses'; and with this he strolled away across a little paddock and entered the garden. It was a large, ill-cultivated space, more orchard than garden, with patches of smooth turf, through which daffodils and lilies were scattered, and little clusters of carnations occasionally showed where flower-beds had once existed. 'What would I not give,' thought Joe, as he strolled along the velvety sward, over which a clear moonlight had painted the forms of many a straggling branch—'What would I not give to be the son of a house like this, with an old and honoured name, with an ancestry strong enough to build upon for future pretensions, and then with an old home, peaceful, tranquil, and unmolested, where, as in such a spot as this, one might dream of great things, perhaps more, might achieve them! What books would I not write! What novels, in which, fashioning the hero out of my own heart, I could tell scores of impressions the world had made upon me in its aspect of religion, or of politics, or of society! What essays could I not compose here—the mind elevated by that buoyancy which comes of the consciousness of being free for a great effort! Free from the vulgar interruptions that cling to poverty like a garment, free from the paltry cares of daily subsistence, free from the damaging incidents of a doubtful position and a station that must be continually asserted. That one disparagement, perhaps, worst of all,' cried he aloud: 'how is a man to enjoy his estate if he is "put upon his title" every day of the week? One might as well be a French Emperor, and go every spring to the country for a character.'
'What shocking indignity is this you are dreaming of?' said a very soft voice near him, and turning he saw Nina, who was moving across the grass, with her dress so draped as to show the most perfect instep and ankle with a very unguarded indifference.
'This is very damp for you; shall we not come out into the walk?' said he.
'It is very damp,' said she quickly; 'but I came because you said you had a message for me: is this true?'
'Do you think I could deceive you?' said he, with a sort of tender reproachfulness.
'It might not be so very easy, if you were to try,' replied she, laughing.
'That is not the most gracious way to answer me.'
'Well, I don't believe we came here to pay compliments; certainly I did not, and my feet are very wet already—look there, and see the ruin of a chaussure I shall never replace in this dear land of coarse leather and hobnails.'
As she spoke she showed her feet, around which her bronzed shoes hung limp and misshapen.
'Would that I could be permitted to dry them with my kisses,' said he, as, stooping, he wiped them with his handkerchief, but so deferentially and so respectfully, as though the homage had been tendered to a princess. Nor did she for a moment hesitate to accept the service.
'There, that will do,' said she haughtily. 'Now for your message.'
'We are going away, mademoiselle,' said Atlee, with a melancholy tone.
'And who are "we," sir?'
'By "we," mademoiselle, I meant to convey Walpole and myself.' And now he spoke with the irritation of one who had felt a pull-up.
'Ah, indeed!' said she, smiling, and showing her pearly teeth. '"We" meant Mr. Walpole and Mr. Atlee.'
'You should never have guessed it?' cried he in question.
'Never—certainly,' was her cool rejoinder.
'Well! He was less defiant, or mistrustful, or whatever be the name for it. We were only friends of half-an-hour's growth when he proposed the journey. He asked me to accompany him as a favour; and he did more, mademoiselle: he confided to me a mission—a very delicate and confidential mission—such an office as one does not usually depute to him of whose fidelity or good faith he has a doubt, not to speak of certain smaller qualities, such as tact and good taste.'
'Of whose possession Mr. Atlee is now asserting himself?' said she quietly.
He grew crimson at a sarcasm whose impassiveness made it all the more cutting.
'My mission was in this wise, mademoiselle,' said he, with a forced calm in his manner. 'I was to learn from Mademoiselle Kostalergi if she should desire to communicate with Mr. Walpole touching certain family interests in which his counsels might be of use; and in this event, I was to place at her disposal an address by which her letters should reach him.'
'No, sir,' said she quietly, 'you have totally mistaken any instructions that were given you. Mr. Walpole never pretended that I had written or was likely to write to him; he never said that he was in any way concerned in family questions that pertained to me; least of all did he presume to suppose that if I had occasion to address him by letter, I should do so under cover to another.'
'You discredit my character of envoy, then?' said he, smiling easily.
'Totally and completely, Mr. Atlee; and I only wait for you yourself to admit that I am right, to hold out my hand to you and say let us be friends.'
'I'd perjure myself twice at such a price. Now for the hand.'
'Not so fast—first the confession,' said she, with a faint smile.
'Well, on my honour,' cried he seriously, 'he told me he hoped you might write to him. I did not clearly understand about what, but it pointed to some matter in which a family interest was mixed up, and that you might like your communication to have the reserve of secrecy.'
'All this is but a modified version of what you were to disavow.'
'Well, I am only repeating it now to show you how far I am going to perjure myself.'
'That is, you see, in fact, that Mr. Walpole could never have presumed to give you such instructions—that gentlemen do not send such messages to young ladies—do not presume to say that they dare do so; and last of all, if they ever should chance upon one whose nice tact and cleverness would have fitted him to be the bearer of such a commission, those same qualities of tact and cleverness would have saved him from undertaking it. That is what you see, Mr. Atlee, is it not?'
'You are right. I see it all.' And now he seized her hand and kissed it as though he had won the right to that rapturous enjoyment.
She drew her hand away, but so slowly and so gently as to convey nothing of rebuke or displeasure. 'And so you are going away?' said she softly.
'Yes; Walpole has some pressing reason to be at once in Dublin. He is afraid to make the journey without a doctor; but rather than risk delay in sending for one, he is willing to take me as his body-surgeon, and I have accepted the charge.'
The frankness with which he said this seemed to influence her in his favour, and she said, with a tone of like candour, 'You were right. His family are people of influence, and will not readily forget such a service.'
Though he winced under the words, and showed that it was not exactly the mode in which he wanted his courtesy to be regarded, she took no account of the passing irritation, but went on—
If you fancy you know something about me, Mr. Atlee, I know far more about you. Your chum, Dick Kearney, has been so outspoken as to his friend, that my cousin Kate and I have been accustomed to discuss you like a near acquaintance—what am I saying?—I mean like an old friend.'
'I am very grateful for this interest; but will you kindly say what is the version my friend Dick has given of me? what are the lights that have fallen upon my humble character?'
'Do you fancy that either of us have time at this moment to open so large a question? Would not the estimate of Mr. Joseph Atlee be another mode of discussing the times we live in, and the young gentlemen, more or less ambitious, who want to influence them? would not the question embrace everything, from the difficulties of Ireland to the puzzling embarrassments of a clever young man who has everything in his favour in life, except the only thing that makes life worth living for?'
'You mean fortune—money?'
'Of course I mean money. What is so powerless as poverty? do I not know it—not of yesterday, or the day before, but for many a long year? What so helpless, what so jarring to temper, so dangerous to all principle, and so subversive of all dignity? I can afford to say these things, and you can afford to hear them, for there is a sort of brotherhood between us. We claim the same land for our origin. Whatever our birthplace, we are both Bohemians!'
She held out her hand as she spoke, and with such an air of cordiality and frankness that Joe caught the spirit of the action at once, and, bending over, pressed his lips to it, as he said, 'I seal the bargain.'
'And swear to it?'
'I swear to it,' cried he.
'There, that is enough. Let us go back, or rather, let me go back alone. I will tell them I have seen you, and heard of your approaching departure.'
THE TWO 'KEARNEYS'
A visit to his father was not usually one of those things that young Kearney either speculated on with pleasure beforehand, or much enjoyed when it came. Certain measures of decorum, and some still more pressing necessities of economy, required that he should pass some months of every year at home; but they were always seasons looked forward to with a mild terror, and when the time drew nigh, met with a species of dogged, fierce resolution that certainly did not serve to lighten the burden of the infliction; and though Kate's experience of this temper was not varied by any exceptions, she would still go on looking with pleasure for the time of his visit, and plotting innumerable little schemes for enjoyment while he should remain. The first day or two after his arrival usually went over pleasantly enough. Dick came back full of his town life, and its amusements; and Kate was quite satisfied to accept gaiety at second-hand. He had so much to tell of balls, picnics, charming rides in the Phoenix, of garden-parties in the beautiful environs of Dublin, or more pretentious entertainments, which took the shape of excursions to Bray or Killiney, that she came at last to learn all his friends and acquaintances by name, and never confounded the stately beauties that he worshipped afar off with the 'awfully jolly girls' whom he flirted with quite irresponsibly. She knew, too, all about his male companions, from the flash young fellow-commoner from Downshire, who had a saddle-horse and a mounted groom waiting for him every day after morning lecture, down to that scampish Joe Atlee, with whose scrapes and eccentricities he filled many an idle hour.
Independently of her gift as a good listener, Kate would very willingly have heard all Dick's adventures and descriptions not only twice but tenth-told; just as the child listens with unwearied attention to the fairy-tale whose end he is well aware of, but still likes the little detail falling fresh upon his ear, so would this young girl make him go over some narratives she knew by heart, and would not suffer him to omit the slightest incident or most trifling circumstance that heightened the history of the story.
As to Dick, however, the dull monotony of the daily life, the small and vulgar interests of the house or the farm, which formed the only topics, the undergrowl of economy that ran through every conversation, as though penuriousness was the great object of existence—but, perhaps more than all these together, the early hours—so overcame him that he at first became low-spirited, and then sulky, seldom appearing save at meal-times, and certainly contributing little to the pleasure of the meeting; so that at last, though she might not easily have been brought to the confession, Kate Kearney saw the time of Dick's departure approach without regret, and was actually glad to be relieved from that terror of a rupture between her father and her brother of which not a day passed without a menace.
Like all men who aspire to something in Ireland, Kearney desired to see his son a barrister; for great as are the rewards of that high career, they are not the fascinations which appeal most strongly to the squirearchy, who love to think that a country gentleman may know a little law and be never the richer for it—may have acquired a profession, and yet never know what was a client or what a fee.
That Kearney of Kilgobbin Castle should be reduced to tramping his way down the Bachelor's Walk to the Four Courts, with a stuff bag carried behind him, was not to be thought of; but there were so many positions in life, so many situations for which that gifted creature the barrister of six years' standing was alone eligible, that Kearney was very anxious his son should be qualified to accept that L1000 or L1800 a year which a gentleman could hold without any shadow upon his capacity, or the slightest reflection on his industry.
Dick Kearney, however, had not only been living a very gay life in town, but, to avail himself of a variety of those flattering attentions which this interested world bestows by preference on men of some pretension, had let it be believed that he was the heir to a very considerable estate, and, by great probability, also to a title. To have admitted that he thought it necessary to follow any career at all, would have been to abdicate these pretensions, and so he evaded that question of the law in all discussions with his father, sometimes affecting to say he had not made up his mind, or that he had scruples of conscience about a barrister's calling, or that he doubted whether the Bar of Ireland was not, like most high institutions, going to be abolished by Act of Parliament, and all the litigation of the land be done by deputy in Westminster Hall.
On the morning after the visitors took their departure from Kilgobbin, old Kearney, who usually relapsed from any exercise of hospitality into a more than ordinary amount of parsimony, sat thinking over the various economies by which the domestic budget could be squared, and after a very long seance with old Gill, in which the question of raising some rents and diminishing certain bounties was discussed, he sent up the steward to Mr. Richard's room to say he wanted to speak to him.
Dick at the time of the message was stretched full length on a sofa, smoking a meerschaum, and speculating how it was that the 'swells' took to Joe Atlee, and what they saw in that confounded snob, instead of himself. Having in a degree satisfied himself that Atlee's success was all owing to his intense and outrageous flattery, he was startled from his reverie by the servant's entrance.
'How is he this morning, Tim?' asked he, with a knowing look. 'Is he fierce—is there anything up—have the heifers been passing the night in the wheat, or has any one come over from Moate with a bill?'
'No, sir, none of them; but his blood's up about something. Ould Gill is gone down the stair swearing like mad, and Miss Kate is down the road with a face like a turkey-cock.'
'I think you'd better say I was out, Tim—that you couldn't find me in my room.'
'I daren't, sir. He saw that little Skye terrier of yours below, and he said to me, "Mr. Dick is sure to be at home; tell him I want him immediately."'
'But if I had a bad headache, and couldn't leave my bed, wouldn't that be excuse enough?'
'It would make him come here. And if I was you, sir, I'd go where I could get away myself, and not where he could stay as long as he liked.'
'There's something in that. I'll go, Tim. Say I'll be down in a minute.'
Very careful to attire himself in the humblest costume of his wardrobe, and specially mindful that neither studs nor watch-chain should offer offensive matter of comment, he took his way towards the dreary little den, which, filled with old top-boots, driving-whips, garden-implements, and fishing-tackle, was known as 'the lord's study,' but whose sole literary ornament was a shelf of antiquated almanacs. There was a strange grimness about his father's aspect which struck young Kearney as he crossed the threshold. His face wore the peculiar sardonic expression of one who had not only hit upon an expedient, but achieved a surprise, as he held an open letter in one hand and motioned with the other to a seat.
'I've been waiting till these people were gone, Dick—till we had a quiet house of it—to say a few words to you. I suppose your friend Atlee is not coming back here?'
'I suppose not, sir.'
'I don't like him, Dick; and I'm much mistaken if he is a good fellow.'
'I don't think he is actually a bad fellow, sir. He is often terribly hard up and has to do scores of shifty things, but I never found him out in anything dishonourable or false.'
'That's a matter of taste, perhaps. Maybe you and I might differ about what was honourable or what was false. At all events, he was under our roof here, and if those nobs—or swells, I believe you call them—were like to be of use to any of us, we, the people that were entertaining them, were the first to be thought of; but your pleasant friend thought differently, and made such good use of his time that he cut you out altogether, Dick—he left you nowhere.'
'Really, sir, it never occurred to me till now to take that view of the situation.'
'Well, take that view of it now, and see how you'll like it! You have your way to work in life as well as Mr. Atlee. From all I can judge, you're scarcely as well calculated to do it as he is. You have not his smartness, you have not his brains, and you have not his impudence—and, 'faith, I'm much mistaken but it's the best of the three!'
'I don't perceive, sir, that we are necessarily pitted against each other at all.'
'Don't you? Well, so much the worse for you if you don't see that every fellow that has nothing in the world is the rival of every other fellow that's in the same plight. For every one that swims, ten, at least, sink.'
'Perhaps, sir, to begin, I never fully realised the first condition. I was not exactly aware that I was without anything in the world.'
'I'm coming to that, if you'll have a little patience. Here is a letter from Tom McKeown, of Abbey Street. I wrote to him about raising a few hundreds on mortgage, to clear off some of our debts, and have a trifle in hand for drainage and to buy stock, and he tells me that there's no use in going to any of the money-lenders so long as your extravagance continues to be the talk of the town. Ay, you needn't grow red nor frown that way. The letter was a private one to myself, and I'm only telling it to you in confidence. Hear what he says: "You have a right to make your son a fellow-commoner if you like, and he has a right, by his father's own showing, to behave like a man of fortune; but neither of you have a right to believe that men who advance money will accept these pretensions as good security, or think anything but the worse of you both for your extravagance."'
'And you don't mean to horsewhip him, sir?' burst out Dick.
'Not, at any rate, till I pay off two thousand pounds that I owe him, and two years' interest at six per cent. that he has suffered me to become his debtor for.'
'Lame as he is, I'll kick him before twenty-four hours are over.'
'If you do, he'll shoot you like a dog, and it wouldn't be the first time he handled a pistol. No, no, Master Dick. Whether for better or worse, I can't tell, but the world is not what it was when I was your age. There's no provoking a man to a duel nowadays; nor no posting him when he won't fight. Whether it's your fortune is damaged or your feelings hurt, you must look to the law to redress you; and to take your cause into your own hands is to have the whole world against you.'
'And this insult is, then, to be submitted to?'
'It is, first of all, to be ignored. It's the same as if you never heard it. Just get it out of your head, and listen to what he says. Tom McKeown is one of the keenest fellows I know; and he has business with men who know not only what's doing in Downing Street, but what's going to be done there. Now here's two things that are about to take place: one is the same as done, for it's all ready prepared—the taking away the landlord's right, and making the State determine what rent the tenant shall pay, and how long his tenure will be. The second won't come for two sessions after, but it will be law all the same. There's to be no primogeniture class at all, no entail on land, but a subdivision, like in America and, I believe, in France.'
'I don't believe it, sir. These would amount to a revolution.'
'Well, and why not? Ain't we always going through a sort of mild revolution? What's parliamentary government but revolution, weakened, if you like, like watered grog, but the spirit is there all the same. Don't fancy that, because you can give it a hard name, you can destroy it. But hear what Tom is coming to. "Be early," says he, "take time by the forelock: get rid of your entail and get rid of your land. Don't wait till the Government does both for you, and have to accept whatever condition the law will cumber you with, but be before them! Get your son to join you in docking the entail; petition before the court for a sale, yourself or somebody for you; and wash your hands clean of it all. It's bad property, in a very ticklish country," says Tom—and he dashes the words—"bad property in a very ticklish country; and if you take my advice, you'll get clear of both." You shall read it all yourself by-and-by; I am only giving you the substance of it, and none of the reasons.'
'This is a question for very grave consideration, to say the least of it. It is a bold proposal.'
'So it is, and so says Tom himself; but he adds: "There's no time to be lost; for once it gets about how Gladstone's going to deal with land, and what Bright has in his head for eldest sons, you might as well whistle as try to dispose of that property." To be sure, he says,' added he, after a pause—'he says, "If you insist on holding on—if you cling to the dirty acres because they were your father's and your great-grandfather's, and if you think that being Kearney of Kilgobbin is a sort of title, in the name of God stay where you are, but keep down your expenses. Give up some of your useless servants, reduce your saddle-horses"—my saddle-horses, Dick! "Try if you can live without foxhunting." Foxhunting! "Make your daughter know that she needn't dress like a duchess"—poor Kitty's very like a duchess; "and, above all, persuade your lazy, idle, and very self-sufficient son to take to some respectable line of life to gain his living. I wouldn't say that he mightn't be an apothecary; but if he liked law better than physic, I might be able to do something for him in my own office."'
'Have you done, sir?' said Dick hastily, as his father wiped his spectacles, and seemed to prepare for another heat.
'He goes on to say that he always requires one hundred and fifty guineas fee with a young man; "but we are old friends, Mathew Kearney," says he, "and we'll make it pounds."'
'To fit me to be an attorney!' said Dick, articulating each word with a slow and almost savage determination.
''Faith! it would have been well for us if one of the family had been an attorney before now. We'd never have gone into that action about the mill-race, nor had to pay those heavy damages for levelling Moore's barn. A little law would have saved us from evicting those blackguards at Mullenalick, or kicking Mr. Hall's bailiff before witnesses.'
To arrest his father's recollection of the various occasions on which his illegality had betrayed him into loss and damage, Dick blurted out, 'I'd rather break stones on the road than I'd be an attorney.'
'Well, you'll not have to go far for employment, for they are just laying down new metal this moment; and you needn't lose time over it,' said Kearney, with a wave of his hand, to show that the audience was over and the conference ended.
'There's just one favour I would ask, sir,' said Dick, with his hand on the lock.
'You want a hammer, I suppose,' said his father, with a grin—'isn't that it?'
With something that, had it been uttered aloud, sounded very like a bitter malediction, Dick rushed from the room, slamming the door violently after him as he went.
'That's the temper that helps a man to get on in life,' said the old man, as he turned once more to his accounts, and set to work to see where he had blundered in his figures.
When Dick Kearney left his father, he walked from the house, and not knowing or much caring in what direction he went, turned into the garden.
It was a wild, neglected sort of spot, with fruit-trees of great size, long past bearing, and close underwood in places that barred the passage. Here and there little patches of cultivation appeared, sometimes flowering plants, but oftener vegetables. One long alley, with tall hedges of box, had been preserved, and led to a little mound planted with laurels and arbutus, and known as 'Laurel Hill'; here a little rustic summer-house had once stood, and still, though now in ruins, showed where, in former days, people came to taste the fresh breeze above the tree-tops, and enjoy the wide range of a view that stretched to the Slieve-Bloom Mountains, nearly thirty miles away.
Young Kearney reached this spot, and sat down to gaze upon a scene every detail of which was well known to him, but of which he was utterly unconscious as he looked. 'I am turned out to starve,' cried he aloud, as though there was a sense of relief in thus proclaiming his sorrow to the winds. 'I am told to go and work upon the roads, to live by my daily labour. Treated like a gentleman until I am bound to that condition by every tie of feeling and kindred, and then bade to know myself as an outcast. I have not even Joe Atlee's resource—I have not imbibed the instincts of the lower orders, so as to be able to give them back to them in fiction or in song. I cannot either idealise rebellion or make treason tuneful.
'It is not yet a week since that same Atlee envied me my station as the son and heir to this place, and owned to me that there was that in the sense of name and lineage that more than balanced personal success, and here I am now, a beggar! I can enlist, however, blessings on the noble career that ignores character and defies capacity. I don't know that I'll bring much loyalty to Her Majesty's cause, but I'll lend her the aid of as broad shoulders and tough sinews as my neighbours.' And here his voice grew louder and harsher, and with a ring of defiance in it. 'And no cutting off the entail, my Lord Kilgobbin! no escape from that cruel necessity of an heir! I may carry my musket in the ranks, but I'll not surrender my birthright!'
The thought that he had at length determined on the path he should follow aroused his courage and made his heart lighter; and then there was that in the manner he was vindicating his station and his claim that seemed to savour of heroism. He began to fancy his comrades regarding him with a certain deference, and treating him with a respect that recognised his condition. 'I know the shame my father will feel when he sees to what he has driven me. What an offence to his love of rank and station to behold his son in the coarse uniform of a private! An only son and heir, too! I can picture to myself his shock as he reads the letter in which I shall say good-bye, and then turn to tell my sister that her brother is a common soldier, and in this way lost to her for ever!
'And what is it all about? What terrible things have I done? What entanglements have I contracted? Where have I forged? Whose name have I stolen? whose daughter seduced? What is laid to my charge, beyond that I have lived like a gentleman, and striven to eat and drink and dress like one? And I'll wager my life that for one who will blame him, there will be ten—no, not ten, fifty—to condemn me. I had a kind, trustful, affectionate father, restricting himself in scores of ways to give me my education among the highest class of my contemporaries. I was largely supplied with means, indulged in every way, and if I turned my steps towards home, welcomed with love and affection.'
'And fearfully spoiled by all the petting he met with,' said a soft voice leaning over his shoulder, while a pair of very liquid grey eyes gazed into his own.
'What, Nina!—Mademoiselle Nina, I mean,' said he, 'have you been long there?'
'Long enough to hear you make a very pitiful lamentation over a condition that I, in my ignorance, used to believe was only a little short of Paradise.'
'You fancied that, did you?'
'Yes, I did so fancy it.'
'Might I be bold enough to ask from what circumstance, though? I entreat you to tell me, what belongings of mine, what resources of luxury or pleasure, what incident of my daily life, suggested this impression of yours?'
'Perhaps, as a matter of strict reasoning, I have little to show for my conviction, but if you ask me why I thought as I did, it was simply from contrasting your condition with my own, and seeing that in everything where my lot has gloom and darkness, if not worse, yours, my ungrateful cousin, was all sunshine.'
'Let us see a little of this sunshine, Cousin Nina. Sit down here beside me, and show me, I pray, some of those bright tints that I am longing to gaze on.'
'There's not room for both of us on that bench.'
'Ample room; we shall sit the closer.'
'No, Cousin Dick; give me your arm and we'll take a stroll together.'
'Which way shall it be?'
'You shall choose, cousin.'
'If I have the choice, then, I'll carry you off, Nina, for I'm thinking of bidding good-bye to the old house and all within it.'
'I don't think I'll consent that far,' said she, smiling. 'I have had my experience of what it is to be without a home, or something very nearly that. I'll not willingly recall the sensation. But what has put such gloomy thoughts in your head? What, or rather who is driving you to this?'
'My father, Nina, my father!'
'This is past my comprehending.'
'I'll make it very intelligible. My father, by way of curbing my extravagance, tells me I must give up all pretension to the life of a gentleman, and go into an office as a clerk. I refuse. He insists, and tells me, moreover, a number of little pleasant traits of my unfitness to do anything, so that I interrupt him by hinting that I might possibly break stones on the highway. He seizes the project with avidity, and offers to supply me with a hammer for my work. All fact, on my honour! I am neither adding to nor concealing. I am relating what occurred little more than an hour ago, and I have forgotten nothing of the interview. He, as I said, offers to give me a stone-hammer. And now I ask you, is it for me to accept this generous offer, or would it be better to wander over that bog yonder, and take my chance of a deep pool, or the bleak world where immersion and death are just as sure, though a little slower in coming?'
'Have you told Kate of this?'
'No, I have not seen her. I don't know, if I had seen her, that I should have told her. Kate has so grown to believe all my father's caprices to be absolute wisdom, that even his sudden gusts of passion seem to her like flashes of a bright intelligence, too quick and too brilliant for mere reason. She could give me no comfort nor counsel either.'
'I am not of your mind,' said she slowly. 'She has the great gift of what people so mistakingly call common sense.'
'And she'd recommend me, perhaps, not to quarrel with my father, and to go and break the stones.'
'Were you ever in love, Cousin Dick?' asked she, in a tone every accent of which betokened earnestness and even gravity.
'Perhaps I might say never. I have spooned or flirted or whatever the name of it might be, but I was never seriously attached to one girl, and unable to think of anything but her. But what has your question to do with this?'
'Everything. If you really loved a girl—that is, if she filled every corner of your heart, if she was first in every plan and project of your life, not alone her wishes and her likings, but her very words and the sound of her voice—if you saw her in everything that was beautiful, and heard her in every tone that delighted you—if to be moving in the air she breathed was ecstasy, and that heaven itself without her was cheerless—if—'
'Oh, don't go on, Nina. None of these ecstasies could ever be mine. I have no nature to be moved or moulded in this fashion. I might be very fond of a girl, but she'd never drive me mad if she left me for another.'
'I hope she may, then, if it be with such false money you would buy her,' said she fiercely. 'Do you know,' added she, after a pause, 'I was almost on the verge of saying, go and break the stones; the metier is not much beneath you, after all!'
'This is scarcely civil, mademoiselle; see what my candour has brought upon me!'
'Be as candid as you like upon the faults of your nature. Tell every wickedness that you have done or dreamed of, but don't own to cold-heartedness. For that there is no sympathy!'
'Let us go back a bit, then,' said he, 'and let us suppose that I did love in the same fervent and insane manner you spoke of, what and how would it help me here?'
'Of course it would. Of all the ingenuity that plotters talk of, of all the imagination that poets dream, there is nothing to compare with love. To gain a plodding subsistence a man will do much. To win the girl he loves, to make her his own, he will do everything: he will strive, and strain, and even starve to win her. Poverty will have nothing mean if confronted for her, hardship have no suffering if endured for her sake. With her before him, all the world shows but one goal; without her, life is a mere dreary task, and himself a hired labourer.'
'I confess, after all this, that I don't see how breaking stones would be more palatable to me because some pretty girl that I was fond of saw me hammering away at my limestone!'
'If you could have loved as I would wish you to love, your career had never fallen to this. The heart that loved would have stimulated the head that thought. Don't fancy that people are only better because they are in love, but they are greater, bolder, brighter, more daring in danger, and more ready in every emergency. So wonder-working is the real passion that even in the base mockery of Love men have risen to genius. Look what it made Petrarch, and I might say Byron too, though he never loved worthy of the name.'
'And how came you to know all this, cousin mine? I'm really curious to know that.'
'I was reared in Italy, Cousin Dick, and I have made a deep study of nature through French novels.'
Now there was a laughing devilry in her eye as she said this that terribly puzzled the young fellow, for just at the very moment her enthusiasm had begun to stir his breast, her merry mockery wafted it away as with a storm-wind.
'I wish I knew if you were serious,' said he gravely.
'Just as serious as you were when you spoke of being ruined.'
'I was so, I pledge my honour. The conversation I reported to you really took place; and when you joined me, I was gravely deliberating with myself whether I should take a header into a deep pool or enlist as a soldier.'
'Fie, fie! how ignoble all that is. You don't know the hundreds of thousands of things one can do in life. Do you speak French or Italian?'
'I can read them, but not freely; but how are they to help me?'
'You shall see: first of all, let me be your tutor. We shall take two hours, three if you like, every morning. Are you free now from all your college studies?'
'I can be after Wednesday next. I ought to go up for my term examination.'
'Well, do so; but mind, don't bring down Mr. Atlee with you.'
'My chum is no favourite of yours?'
'That's as it may be,' said she haughtily. 'I have only said let us not have the embarrassment, or, if you like it, the pleasure of his company. I'll give you a list of books to bring down, and my life be on it, but my course of study will surpass what you have been doing at Trinity. Is it agreed?'
'Give me till to-morrow to think of it, Nina.'
'That does not sound like a very warm acceptance; but be it so: till to-morrow.'
'Here are some of Kate's dogs,' cried he angrily. 'Down, Fan, down! I say. I'll leave you now before she joins us. Mind, not a word of what I told you.'
And, without another word, he sprang over a low fence, and speedily disappeared in the copse beyond it.
'Wasn't that Dick I saw making his escape?' cried Kate, as she came up.
'Yes, we were taking a walk together, and he left me very abruptly.'
'I wish I had not spoiled a tete-a-tete,' said Kate merrily.
'It is no great mischief: we can always renew it.'
'Dear Nina,' said the other caressingly, as she drew her arm around her—'dear, dear Nina, do not, do not, I beseech you.'