'Don't what, child?—you must not speak in riddles.'
'Don't make that poor boy in love with you. You yourself told me you could save him from it if you liked.'
'And so I shall, Kate, if you don't dictate or order me. Leave me quite to myself, and I shall be most merciful.'
MATHEW KEARNEY'S 'STUDY'
Had Mathew Kearney but read the second sheet of his correspondent's letter, it is more than likely that Dick had not taken such a gloomy view of his condition. Mr. McKeown's epistle continued in this fashion: 'That ought to do for him, Mathew, or my name ain't Tom McKeown. It is not that he is any worse or better than other young fellows of his own stamp, but he has the greatest scamp in Christendom for his daily associate. Atlee is deep in all the mischief that goes on in the National press. I believe he is a head-centre of the Fenians, and I know he has a correspondence with the French socialists, and that Rights-of-labour-knot of vagabonds who meet at Geneva. Your boy is not too wise to keep himself out of these scrapes, and he is just, by name and station, of consequence enough to make these fellows make up to and flatter him. Give him a sound fright, then, and when he is thoroughly alarmed about his failure, send him abroad for a short tour, let him go study at Halle or Heidelberg—anything, in short, that will take him away from Ireland, and break off his intimacy with this Atlee and his companions. While he is with you at Kilgobbin, don't let him make acquaintance with those Radical fellows in the county towns. Keep him down, Mathew, keep him down; and if you find that you cannot do this, make him believe that you'll be one day lords of Kilgobbin, and the more he has to lose the more reluctant he'll be to risk it. If he'd take to farming, and marry some decent girl, even a little beneath him in life, it would save you all uneasiness; but he is just that thing now that brings all the misery on us in Ireland. He thinks he's a gentleman because he can do nothing; and to save himself from the disgrace of incapacity, 'he'd like to be a rebel.'
If Mr. Tom McKeown's reasonings were at times somewhat abstruse and hard of comprehension to his friend Kearney, it was not that he did not bestow on them due thought and reflection; and over this private and strictly confidential page he had now meditated for hours.
'Bad luck to me,' cried he at last, 'if I see what he's at. If I'm to tell the boy he is ruined to-day, and to-morrow to announce to him that he is a lord—if I'm to threaten him now with poverty, and the morning after I'm to send him to Halle, or Hell, or wherever it is—I'll soon be out of my mind myself through bare confusion. As to having him "down," he's low enough; but so shall I be too, if I keep him there. I'm not used to seeing my house uncomfortable, and I cannot bear it.'
Such were some of his reflections, over his agent's advice; and it may be imagined that the Machiavellian Mr. McKeown had fallen upon a very inapt pupil.
It must be owned that Mathew Kearney was somewhat out of temper with his son even before the arrival of this letter. While the 'swells,' as he would persist in calling the two English visitors, were there, Dick took no trouble about them, nor to all seeming made any impression on them. As Mathew said, 'He let Joe Atlee make all the running, and, signs on it! Joe Atlee was taken off to town as Walpole's companion, and Dick not so much as thought of. Joe, too, did the honours of the house as if it was his own, and talked to Lockwood about coming down for the partridge-shooting as if he was the head of the family. The fellow was a bad lot, and McKeown was right so far—the less Dick saw of him the better.'
The trouble and distress these reflections, and others like them, cost him would more than have recompensed Dick, had he been hard-hearted enough to desire a vengeance. 'For a quarter of an hour, or maybe twenty minutes,' said he, 'I can be as angry as any man in Europe, and, if it was required of me during that time to do anything desperate—downright wicked—I could be bound to do it; and what's more, I'd stand to it afterwards if it cost me the gallows. But as for keeping up the same mind, as for being able to say to myself my heart is as hard as ever, I'm just as much bent on cruelty as I was yesterday—that's clean beyond me; and the reason, God help me, is no great comfort to me after all—for it's just this: that when I do a hard thing, whether distraining a creature out of his bit of ground, selling a widow's pig, or fining a fellow for shooting a hare, I lose my appetite and have no heart for my meals; and as sure as I go asleep, I dream of all the misfortunes in life happening to me, and my guardian angel sitting laughing all the while and saying to me, "Didn't you bring it on yourself, Mathew Kearney? couldn't you bear a little rub without trying to make a calamity of it? Must somebody be always punished when anything goes wrong in life? Make up your mind to have six troubles every day of your life, and see how jolly you'll be the day you can only count five, or maybe four."'
As Mr. Kearney sat brooding in this wise, Peter Gill made his entrance into the study with the formidable monthly lists and accounts, whose examination constituted a veritable doomsday to the unhappy master.
'Wouldn't next Saturday do, Peter?' asked Kearney, in a tone of almost entreaty.
'I'm afther ye since Tuesday last, and I don't think I'll be able to go on much longer.'
Now as Mr. Gill meant by this speech to imply that he was obliged to trust entirely to his memory for all the details which would have been committed to writing by others, and to a notched stick for the manifold dates of a vast variety of events, it was not really a very unfair request he had made for a peremptory hearing.
'I vow to the Lord,' sighed out Kearney, 'I believe I'm the hardest-worked man in the three kingdoms.'
'Maybe you are,' muttered Gill, though certainly the concurrence scarcely sounded hearty, while he meanwhile arranged the books.
'Oh, I know well enough what you mean. If a man doesn't work with a spade or follow the plough, you won't believe that he works at all. He must drive, or dig, or drain, or mow. There's no labour but what strains a man's back, and makes him weary about the loins; but I'll tell you, Peter Gill, that it's here'—and he touched his forehead with his finger—'it's here is the real workshop. It's thinking and contriving; setting this against that; doing one thing that another may happen, and guessing what will come if we do this and don't do that; carrying everything in your brain, and, whether you are sitting over a glass with a friend or taking a nap after dinner, thinking away all the time! What would you call that, Peter Gill—what would you call that?'
'Madness, begorra, or mighty near it!'
'No; it's just work—brain-work. As much above mere manual labour as the intellect, the faculty that raises us above the brutes, is above the—the—'
'Yes,' said Gill, opening the large volume and vaguely passing his hand over a page. 'It's somewhere there about the Conacre!'
'You're little better than a beast!' said Kearney angrily.
'Maybe I am, and maybe I'm not. Let us finish this, now that we're about it.'
And so saying, he deposited his other books and papers on the table, and then drew from his breast-pocket a somewhat thick roll of exceedingly dirty bank-notes, fastened with a leather thong.
'I'm glad to see some money at last, Peter,' cried Kearney, as his eye caught sight of the notes.
'Faix, then, it's little good they'll do ye,' muttered the other gruffly.
'What d'ye mean by that, sir?' asked he angrily.
'Just what I said, my lord, the devil a more nor less, and that the money you see here is no more yours nor it is mine! It belongs to the land it came from. Ay, ay, stamp away, and go red in the face: you must hear the truth, whether you like it or no. The place we're living in is going to rack and ruin out of sheer bad treatment. There's not a hedge on the estate; there isn't a gate that could be called a gate; the holes the people live in isn't good enough for badgers; there's no water for the mill at the cross-roads; and the Loch meadows is drowned with wet—we're dragging for the hay, like seaweed! And you think you've a right to these'—and he actually shook the notes at him—to go and squander them on them "impedint" Englishmen that was laughing at you! Didn't I hear them myself about the tablecloth that one said was the sail of a boat.'
'Will you hold your tongue?' cried Kearney, wild with passion.
'I will not! I'll die on the floore but I'll speak my mind.'
This was not only a favourite phrase of Mr. Gill's, but it was so far significant that it always indicated he was about to give notice to leave—a menace on his part of no unfrequent occurrence.
'Ye's going, are ye?' asked Kearney jeeringly.
'I just am; and I'm come to give up the books, and to get my receipts and my charac—ter.'
'It won't be hard to give the last, anyway,' said Kearney, with a grin.
'So much the better. It will save your honour much writing, with all that you have to do.'
'Do you want me to kick you out of the office, Peter Gill?'
'No, my lord, I'm going quiet and peaceable. I'm only asking my rights.'
'You're bidding hard to be kicked out, you are.'
'Am I to leave them here, or will your honour go over the books with me?'
'Leave the notes, sir, and go to the devil.'
'I will, my lord; and one comfort at least I'll have—it won't be harder to put up with his temper.'
Mr. Gill's head barely escaped the heavy account-book which struck the door above him as he escaped from the room, and Mathew Kearney sat back in his chair and grasped the arms of it like one threatened with a fit.
'Where's Miss Kitty—where's my daughter?' cried he aloud, as though there was some one within hearing. 'Taking the dogs a walk, I'll be bound,' muttered he, 'or gone to see somebody's child with the measles, devil fear her! She has plenty on her hands to do anywhere but at home. The place might be going to rack and ruin for her if there was only a young colt to look at, or a new litter of pigs! And so you think to frighten me, Peter Gill! You've been doing the same thing every Easter, and every harvest, these five-and-twenty years! I can only say I wish you had kept your threat long ago, and the property wouldn't have as many tumble-down cabins and ruined fences as it has now, and my rent-roll, too, wouldn't have been the worse. I don't believe there's a man in Ireland more cruelly robbed than myself. There isn't an estate in the county has not risen in value except my own! There's not a landed gentleman hasn't laid by money in the barony but myself, and if you were to believe the newspapers, I'm the hardest landlord in the province of Leinster. Is that Mickey Doolan there? Mickey!' cried he, opening the window, 'did you see Miss Kearney anywhere about?'
'Yes, my lord. I see her coming up the Bog road with Miss O'Shea.'
'The worse luck mine!' muttered he, as he closed the window, and leaned his head on his hand.
AN UNWELCOME VISIT
If Mathew Kearney had been put to the question, he could not have concealed the fact that the human being he most feared and dreaded in life was his neighbour Miss Betty O'Shea.
With two years of seniority over him, Miss Betty had bullied him as a child, snubbed him as a youth, and opposed and sneered at him ever after; and to such an extent did her influence over his character extend, according to his own belief, that there was not a single good trait of his nature she had not thwarted by ridicule, nor a single evil temptation to which he had yielded that had not come out of sheer opposition to that lady's dictation.
Malevolent people, indeed, had said that Mathew Kearney had once had matrimonial designs on Miss Betty, or rather, on that snug place and nice property called 'O'Shea's Barn,' of which she was sole heiress; but he most stoutly declared this story to be groundless, and in a forcible manner asseverated that had he been Robinson Crusoe and Miss Betty the only inhabitant of the island with him, he would have lived and died in celibacy.
Miss Betty, to give her the name by which she was best known, was no miracle of either tact or amiability, but she had certain qualities that could not be disparaged. She was a strict Catholic, charitable, in her own peculiar and imperious way, to the poor, very desirous to be strictly just and honest, and such a sure foe to everything that she thought pretension or humbug of any kind—which meant anything that did not square with her own habits—that she was perfectly intolerable to all who did not accept herself and her own mode of life as a model and an example.
Thus, a stout-bodied copper urn on the tea-table, a very uncouth jaunting-car, driven by an old man, whose only livery was a cockade, some very muddy port as a dinner wine, and whisky-punch afterwards on the brown mahogany, were so many articles of belief with her, to dissent from any of which was a downright heresy.
Thus, after Nina arrived at the castle, the appearance of napkins palpably affected her constitution; with the advent of finger-glasses she ceased her visits, and bluntly declined all invitations to dinner. That coffee and some indescribable liberties would follow, as postprandial excesses, she secretly imparted to Kate Kearney in a note, which concluded with the assurance that when the day of these enormities arrived, O'Shea's Barn Would be open to her as a refuge and a sanctuary; 'but not,' added she, 'with your cousin, for I'll not let the hussy cross my doors.'
For months now this strict quarantine had lasted, and except for the interchange of some brief and very uninteresting notes, all intimacy had ceased between the two houses—a circumstance, I am loth to own, which was most ungallantly recorded every day after dinner by old Kearney, who drank 'Miss Betty's health, and long absence to her.' It was then with no small astonishment Kate was overtaken in the avenue by Miss Betty on her old chestnut mare Judy, a small bog-boy mounted on the croup behind to act as groom; for in this way Paddy Walshe was accustomed to travel, without the slightest consciousness that he was not in strict conformity with the ways of Rotten Row and the 'Bois.'
That there was nothing 'stuck-up' or pretentious about this mode of being accompanied by one's groom—a proposition scarcely assailable—was Miss Betty's declaration, delivered in a sort of challenge to the world. Indeed, certain ticklesome tendencies in Judy, particularly when touched with the heel, seemed to offer the strongest protest against the practice; for whenever pushed to any increase of speed or admonished in any way, the beast usually responded by a hoist of the haunches, which invariably compelled Paddy to clasp his mistress round the waist for safety—a situation which, however repugnant to maiden bashfulness, time, and perhaps necessity, had reconciled her to. At all events, poor Paddy's terror would have been the amplest refutation of scandal, while the stern immobility of Miss Betty during the embrace would have silenced even malevolence.
On the present occasion, a sharp canter of several miles had reduced Judy to a very quiet and decorous pace, so that Paddy and his mistress sat almost back to back—a combination that only long habit enabled Kate to witness without laughing.
'Are you alone up at the castle, dear?' asked Miss Betty, as she rode along at her side; 'or have you the house full of what the papers call "distinguished company"?'
'We are quite alone, godmother. My brother is with us, but we have no strangers.'
'I am glad of it. I've come over to "have it out" with your father, and it's pleasant to know we shall be to ourselves.'
Now, as this announcement of having 'it out' conveyed to Kate's mind nothing short of an open declaration of war, a day of reckoning on which Miss O'Shea would come prepared with a full indictment, and a resolution to prosecute to conviction, the poor girl shuddered at a prospect so certain to end in calamity.
'Papa is very far from well, godmother,' said she, in a mild way.
'So they tell me in the town,' said the other snappishly. 'His brother magistrates said that the day he came in, about that supposed attack—the memorable search for arms—'
'Supposed attack! but, godmother, pray don't imagine we had invented all that. I think you know me well enough and long enough to know—'
'To know that you would not have had a young scamp of a Castle aide-de-camp on a visit during your father's absence, not to say anything about amusing your English visitor by shooting down your own tenantry.'
'Will you listen to me for five minutes?'
'No, not for three.'
'Two, then—one even—one minute, godmother, will convince you how you wrong me.'
'I won't give you that. I didn't come over about you nor your affairs. When the father makes a fool of himself, why wouldn't the daughter? The whole country is laughing at him. His lordship indeed! a ruined estate and a tenantry in rags; and the only remedy, as Peter Gill tells me, raising the rents—raising the rents where every one is a pauper.'
'What would you have him do, Miss O'Shea?' said Kate, almost angrily.
'I'll tell you what I'd have him do. I'd have him rise of a morning before nine o'clock, and be out with his labourers at daybreak. I'd have him reform a whole lazy household of blackguards, good for nothing but waste and wickedness. I'd have him apprentice your brother to a decent trade or a light business. I'd have him declare he'd kick the first man that called him "My lord"; and for yourself, well, it's no matter—'
'Yes, but it is, godmother, a great matter to me at least. What about myself?'
'Well, I don't wish to speak of it, but it just dropped out of my lips by accident; and perhaps, though not pleasant to talk about, it's as well it was said and done with. I meant to tell your father that it must be all over between you and my nephew Gorman; that I won't have him back here on leave as I intended. I know it didn't go far, dear. There was none of what they call love in the case. You would probably have liked one another well enough at last; but I won't have it, and it's better we came to the right understanding at once.'
'Your curb-chain is loose, godmother,' said the girl, who now, pale as death and trembling all over, advanced to fasten the link.
'I declare to the Lord, he's asleep!' said Miss Betty, as the wearied head of her page dropped heavily on her shoulder. 'Take the curb off, dear, or I may lose it. Put it in your pocket for me, Kate; that is, if you wear a pocket.'
'Of course I do, godmother. I carry very stout keys in it, too. Look at these.'
'Ay, ay. I liked all that, once on a time, well enough, and used to think you'd be a good thrifty wife for a poor man; but with the viscount your father, and the young princess your first cousin, and the devil knows what of your fine brother, I believe the sooner we part good friends the better. Not but if you like my plan for you, I'll be just as ready as ever to aid you.'
'I have not heard the plan yet,' said Kate faintly.
'Just a nunnery, then—no more nor less than that. The "Sacred Heart" at Namur, or the Sisters of Mercy here at home in Bagot Street, I believe, if you like better—eh?'
'It is soon to be able to make up one's mind on such a point. I want a little time for this, godmother.'
'You would not want time if your heart were in a holy work, Kate Kearney. It's little time you'd be asking if I said, will you have Gorman O'Shea for a husband?'
'There is such a thing as insult, Miss O'Shea, and no amount of long intimacy can license that.'
'I ask your pardon, godchild. I wish you could know how sorry I feel.'
'Say no more, godmother, say no more, I beseech you,' cried Kate, and her tears now gushed forth, and relieved her almost bursting heart. 'I'll take this short path through the shrubbery, and be at the door before you,' cried she, rushing away; while Miss Betty, with a sharp touch of the spur, provoked such a plunge as effectually awoke Paddy, and apprised him that his duties as groom were soon to be in request.
While earnestly assuring him that some changes in his diet should be speedily adopted against somnolency, Miss Betty rode briskly on, and reached the hall door.
'I told you I should be first, godmother,' said the girl; and the pleasant ring of her voice showed she had regained her spirits, or at least such self-control as enabled her to suppress her sorrow.
A DOMESTIC DISCUSSION
It is a not infrequent distress in small households, especially when some miles from a market-town, to make adequate preparation for an unexpected guest at dinner; but even this is a very inferior difficulty to that experienced by those who have to order the repast in conformity with certain rigid notions of a guest who will criticise the smallest deviation from the most humble standard, and actually rebuke the slightest pretension to delicacy of food or elegance of table-equipage.
No sooner, then, had Kate learned that Miss O'Shea was to remain for dinner, than she immediately set herself to think over all the possible reductions that might be made in the fare, and all the plainness and simplicity that could be imparted to the service of the meal.
Napkins had not been the sole reform suggested by the Greek cousin. She had introduced flowers on the table, and so artfully had she decked out the board with fruit and ornamental plants, that she had succeeded in effecting by artifice what would have been an egregious failure if more openly attempted—the service of the dishes one by one to the guests without any being placed on the table. These, with finger-glasses, she had already achieved, nor had she in the recesses of her heart given up the hope of seeing the day that her uncle would rise from the table as she did, give her his arm to the drawing-room, and bow profoundly as he left her. Of the inestimable advantages, social, intellectual, and moral, of this system, she had indeed been cautious to hold forth; for, like a great reformer, she was satisfied to leave her improvements to the slow test of time, 'educating her public,' as a great authority has called it, while she bided the result in patience.
Indeed, as poor Mathew Kearney was not to be indulged with the luxury of whisky-punch during his dinner, it was not easy to reply to his question, 'When am I to have my tumbler?' as though he evidently believed the aforesaid 'tumbler' was an institution that could not be abrogated or omitted altogether.
Coffee in the drawing-room was only a half-success so long as the gentlemen sat over their wine; and as for the daily cigarette Nina smoked with it, Kate, in her simplicity, believed it was only done as a sort of protest at being deserted by those unnatural protectors who preferred poteen to ladies.
It was therefore in no small perturbation of mind that Kate rushed to her cousin's room with the awful tidings that Miss Betty had arrived and intended to remain for dinner.
'Do you mean that odious woman with the boy and band-box behind her on horseback?' asked Nina superciliously.
'Yes, she always travels in that fashion; she is odd and eccentric in scores of things, but a fine-hearted, honest woman, generous to the poor, and true to her friends.'
'I don't care for her moral qualities, but I do bargain for a little outward decency, and some respect for the world's opinion.'
'You will like her, Nina, when you know her.'
'I shall profit by the warning. I'll take care not to know her.'
'She is one of the oldest, I believe the oldest, friend our family has in the world.'
'What a sad confession, child; but I have always deplored longevity.'
'Don't be supercilious or sarcastic, Nina, but help me with your own good sense and wise advice. She has not come over in the best of humours. She has, or fancies she has, some difference to settle with papa. They seldom meet without a quarrel, and I fear this occasion is to be no exception; so do aid me to get things over pleasantly, if it be possible.'
'She snubbed me the only time I met her. I tried to help her off with her bonnet, and, unfortunately, I displaced, if I did not actually remove, her wig, and she muttered something "about a rope-dancer not being a dexterous lady's-maid."'
'O Nina, surely you do not mean—'
'Not that I was exactly a rope-dancer, Kate, but I had on a Greek jacket that morning of blue velvet and gold, and a white skirt, and perhaps these had some memories of the circus for the old lady.'
'You are only jesting now, Nina.'
'Don't you know me well enough to know that I never jest when I think, or even suspect, I am injured?'
'It's not the word I wanted, but it will do; I used it in its French sense.'
'You bear no malice, I'm sure?' said the other caressingly.
'No!' replied she, with a shrug that seemed to deprecate even having a thought about her.
'She will stay for dinner, and we must, as far as possible, receive her in the way she has been used to here, a very homely dinner, served as she has always seen it—no fruit or flowers on the table, no claret-cup, no finger-glasses.'
'I hope no tablecloth; couldn't we have a tray on a corner table, and every one help himself as he strolled about the room?'
'Dear Nina, be reasonable just for this once.'
'I'll come down just as I am, or, better still, I'll take down my hair and cram it into a net; I'd oblige her with dirty hands, if I only knew how to do it.'
'I see you only say these things in jest; you really do mean to help me through this difficulty.'
'But why a difficulty? what reason can you offer for all this absurd submission to the whims of a very tiresome old woman? Is she very rich, and do you expect an heritage?'
'No, no; nothing of the kind.'
'Does she load you with valuable presents? Is she ever ready to commemorate birthdays and family festivals?'
'Has she any especial quality or gift beyond riding double and a bad temper? Oh, I was forgetting; she is the aunt of her nephew, isn't she?—the dashing lancer that was to spend his summer over here?'
'You were indeed forgetting when you said this,' said Kate proudly, and her face grew scarlet as she spoke.
'Tell me that you like him or that he likes you; tell me that there is something, anything, between you, child, and I'll be discreet and mannerly, too; and more, I'll behave to the old lady with every regard to one who holds such dear interests in her keeping. But don't bandage my eyes, and tell me at the same time to look out and see.'
'I have no confidences to make you,' said Kate coldly. 'I came here to ask a favour—a very small favour, after all—and you might have accorded it without question or ridicule.'
'But which you never need have asked, Kate,' said the other gravely. 'You are the mistress here; I am but a very humble guest. Your orders are obeyed, as they ought to be; my suggestions may be adopted now and then—partly in caprice, part compliment—but I know they have no permanence, no more take root here than—than myself.'
'Do not say that, my dearest Nina,' said Kate, as she threw herself on her neck and kissed her affectionately again and again. 'You are one of us, and we are all proud of it. Come along with me, now, and tell me all that you advise. You know what I wish, and you will forgive me even in my stupidity.'
'Where's your brother?' asked Nina hastily.
'Gone out with his gun. He'll not be back till he is certain Miss Betty has taken her departure.'
'Why did he not offer to take me with him?'
'Over the bog, do you mean?'
'Anywhere; I'd not cavil about the road. Don't you know that I have days when "don't care" masters me—when I'd do anything, go anywhere—'
'Marry any one?' said the other, laughing.
'Yes, marry any one, as irresponsibly as if I was dealing with the destiny of some other that did not regard me. On these days I do not belong to myself, and this is one of them.'
'I know nothing of such humours, Nina; nor do I believe it a healthy mind that has them.'
'I did not boast of my mind's health, nor tell you to trust to it. Come, let us go down to the dinner-room, and talk that pleasant leg-of-mutton talk you know you are fond of.'
'And best fitted for, say that,' said Kate, laughing merrily.
The other did not seem to have heard her words, for she moved slowly away, calling on Kate to follow her.
A SMALL DINNER-PARTY
It is sad to have to record that all Kate's persuasions with her cousin, all her own earnest attempts at conciliation, and her ably-planned schemes to escape a difficulty, were only so much labour lost. A stern message from her father commanded her to make no change either in the house or the service of the dinner—an interference with domestic cares so novel on his part as to show that he had prepared himself for hostilities, and was resolved to meet his enemy boldly.
'It's no use, all I have been telling you, Nina,' said Kate, as she re-entered her room, later in the day. 'Papa orders me to have everything as usual, and won't even let me give Miss Betty an early dinner, though he knows she has nine miles of a ride to reach home.'
'That explains somewhat a message he has sent myself,' replied Nina, 'to wear my very prettiest toilet and my Greek cap, which he admired so much the other day.'
'I am almost glad that my wardrobe has nothing attractive,' said Kate, half sadly. 'I certainly shall never be rebuked for my becomingness.'
'And do you mean to say that the old woman would be rude enough to extend her comments to me?'
'I have known her do things quite as hardy, though I hope on the present occasion the other novelties may shelter you.'
'Why isn't your brother here? I should insist on his coming down in discreet black, with a white tie and that look of imposing solemnity young Englishmen assume for dinner.'
'Dick guessed what was coming, and would not encounter it.'
'And yet you tell me you submit to all this for no earthly reason. She can leave you no legacy, contribute in no way to your benefit. She has neither family, fortune, nor connections; and, except her atrocious manners and her indomitable temper, there is not a trait of her that claims to be recorded.'
'Oh yes; she rides capitally to hounds, and hunts her own harriers to perfection.'
'I am glad she has one quality that deserves your favour.'
'She has others, too, which I like better than what they call accomplishments. She is very kind to the poor, never deterred by any sickness from visiting them, and has the same stout-hearted courage for every casualty in life.'
'A commendable gift for a squaw, but what does a gentlewoman want with this same courage?'
'Look out of the window, Nina, and see where you are living! Throw your eyes over that great expanse of dark bog, vast as one of the great campagnas you have often described to us, and bethink you how mere loneliness—desolation—needs a stout heart to bear it; how the simple fact that for the long hours of a summer's day, or the longer hours of a winter's night, a lone woman has to watch and think of all the possible casualties lives of hardship and misery may impel men to. Do you imagine that she does not mark the growing discontent of the people? see their careworn looks, dashed with a sullen determination, and hear in their voices the rising of a hoarse defiance that was never heard before? Does she not well know that every kindness she has bestowed, every merciful act she has ministered, would weigh for nothing in the balance on the day that she will be arraigned as a landowner—the receiver of the poor man's rent! And will you tell me after this she can dispense with courage?'
'Bel paese davvero!' muttered the other.
'So it is,' cried Kate; 'with all its faults I'd not exchange it for the brightest land that ever glittered in a southern sun. But why should I tell you how jarred and disconcerted we are by laws that have no reference to our ways—conferring rights where we were once contented with trustfulness, and teaching men to do everything by contract, and nothing by affection, nothing by good-will.'
'No, no, tell me none of all these; but tell me, shall I come down in my Suliote jacket of yellow cloth, for I know it becomes me?'
'And if we women had not courage,' went on Kate, not heeding the question, 'what would our men do? Should we see them lead lives of bolder daring than the stoutest wanderer in Africa?'
'And my jacket and my Theban belt?'
'Wear them all. Be as beautiful as you like, but don't be late for dinner.' And Kate hurried away before the other could speak.
When Miss O'Shea, arrayed in a scarlet poplin and a yellow gauze turban—the month being August—arrived in the drawing-room before dinner, she found no one there—a circumstance that chagrined her so far that she had hurried her toilet and torn one of her gloves in her haste. 'When they say six for the dinner-hour, they might surely be in the drawing-room by that hour,' was Miss Betty's reflection as she turned over some of the magazines and circulating-library books which since Nina's arrival had found their way to Kilgobbin. The contemptuous manner in which she treated Blackwood and Macmillan, and the indignant dash with which she flung Trollope's last novel down, showed that she had not been yet corrupted by the light reading of the age. An unopened country newspaper, addressed to the Viscount Kilgobbin, had however absorbed all her attention, and she was more than half disposed to possess herself of the envelope, when Mr. Kearney entered.
His bright blue coat and white waistcoat, a profusion of shirt-frill, and a voluminous cravat proclaimed dinner-dress, and a certain pomposity of manner showed how an unusual costume had imposed on himself, and suggested an important event.
'I hope I see Miss O'Shea in good health?' said he, advancing.
'How are you, Mathew?' replied she dryly. 'When I heard that big bell thundering away, I was so afraid to be late that I came down with one bracelet, and I have torn my glove too.'
'It was only the first bell—the dressing-bell,' he said.
'Humph! That's something new since I was here last,' said she tartly.
'You remind me of how long it is since you dined with us, Miss O'Shea.'
'Well, indeed, Mathew, I meant to be longer, if I must tell the truth. I saw enough the last day I lunched here to show me Kilgobbin was not what it used to be. You were all of you what my poor father—who was always thinking of the dogs—used to call "on your hind-legs," walking about very stately and very miserable. There were three or four covered dishes on the table that nobody tasted; and an old man in red breeches ran about in half-distraction, and said, "Sherry, my lord, or Madeira?" Many's the time I laughed over it since.' And, as though to vouch for the truth of the mirthfulness, she lay back in her chair and shook with hearty laughter.
Before Kearney could reply—for something like a passing apoplexy had arrested his words—the girls entered, and made their salutations.
'If I had the honour of knowing you longer, Miss Costigan,' said Miss O'Shea—for it was thus she translated the name Kostalergi—'I'd ask you why you couldn't dress like your cousin Kate. It may be all very well in the house, and it's safe enough here, there's no denying it; but my name's not Betty if you'd walk down Kilbeggan without a crowd yelling after you and calling names too, that a respectable young woman wouldn't bargain for; eh, Mathew, is that true?'
'There's the dinner-bell now,' said Mathew; 'may I offer my arm?'
'It's thin enough that arm is getting, Mathew Kearney,' said she, as he walked along at her side. 'Not but it's time, too. You were born in the September of 1809, though your mother used to deny it; and you're now a year older than your father was when he died.'
'Will you take this place?' said Kearney, placing her chair for her. 'We 're a small party to-day. I see Dick does not dine with us.'
'Maybe I hunted him away. The young gentlemen of the present day are frank enough to say what they think of old maids. That's very elegant, and I'm sure it's refined,' said she, pointing to the mass of fruit and flowers so tastefully arranged before her. 'But I was born in a time when people liked to see what they were going to eat, Mathew Kearney, and as I don't intend to break my fast on a stockgilly-flower, or make a repast of raisins, I prefer the old way. Fill up my glass whenever it's empty,' said she to the servant, 'and don't bother me with the name of it. As long as I know the King's County, and that's more than fifty years, we've been calling Cape Madeira, Sherry!'
'If we know what we are drinking, Miss O'Shea, I don't suppose it matters much.'
'Nothing at all, Mathew. Calling you the Viscount Kilgobbin, as I read a while ago, won't confuse me about an old neighbour.'
'Won't you try a cutlet, godmother?' asked Kate hurriedly.
'Indeed I will, my dear. I don't know why I was sending the man away. I never saw this way of dining before, except at the poorhouse, where each poor creature has his plateful given him, and pockets what he can't eat.' And here she laughed long and heartily at the conceit.
Kearney's good-humour relished the absurdity, and he joined in the laugh, while Nina stared at the old woman as an object of dread and terror.
'And that boy that wouldn't dine with us. How is he turning out, Mathew? They tell me he's a bit of a scamp.'
'He's no such thing, godmother. Dick is as good a fellow and as right-minded as ever lived, and you yourself would be the first to say it if you saw him,' cried Kate angrily.
'So would the young lady yonder, if I might judge from her blushes,' said Miss Betty, looking at Nina. 'Not indeed but it's only now I'm remembering that you're not a boy. That little red cap and that thing you wear round your throat deceived me.'
'It is not the lot of every one to be so fortunate in a head-dress as Miss O'Shea,' said Nina, very calmly.
'If it's my wig you are envying me, my dear,' replied she quietly, 'there's nothing easier than to have the own brother of it. It was made by Crimp, of Nassau Street, and box and all cost four pound twelve.'
'Upon my life, Miss Betty,' broke in Kearney, 'you are tempting me to an extravagance.' And he passed his hand over his sparsely-covered head as he spoke.
'And I would not, if I was you, Mathew Kearney,' said she resolutely. 'They tell me that in that House of Lords you are going to, more than half of them are bald.'
There was no possible doubt that she meant by this speech to deliver a challenge, and Kate's look, at once imploring and sorrowful, appealed to her for mercy.
'No, thank you,' said Miss Betty to the servant who presented a dish, 'though, indeed, maybe I'm wrong, for I don't know what's coming.'
'This is the menu,' said Nina, handing a card to her.
'The bill of fare, godmother,' said Kate hastily.
'Well, indeed, it's a kindness to tell me, and if there is any more novelties to follow, perhaps you'll be kind enough to inform me, for I never dined in the Greek fashion before.'
'The Russian, I believe, madam, not the Greek,' said Nina.
'With all my heart, my dear. It's about the same, for whatever may happen to Mathew Kearney or myself, I don't suspect either of us will go to live at Moscow.'
'You'll not refuse a glass of port with your cheese?' said Kearney.
'Indeed I will, then, if there's any beer in the house, though perhaps it's too vulgar a liquor to ask for.'
While the beer was being brought, a solemn silence ensued, and a less comfortable party could not easily be imagined.
When the interval had been so far prolonged that Kearney himself saw the necessity to do something, he placed his napkin on the table, leaned forward with a half-motion of rising, and, addressing Miss Betty, said, 'Shall we adjourn to the drawing-room and take our coffee?'
'I'd rather stay where I am, Mathew Kearney, and have that glass of port you offered me a while ago, for the beer was flat. Not that I'll detain the young people, nor keep yourself away from them very long.'
When the two girls withdrew, Nina's look of insolent triumph at Kate betrayed the tone she was soon to take in treating of the old lady's good manners.
'You had a very sorry dinner, Miss Betty, but I can promise you an honest glass of wine,' said Kearney, filling her glass.
'It's very nice,' said she, sipping it, 'though, maybe, like myself, it's just a trifle too old.'
'A good fault, Miss Betty, a good fault.'
'For the wine, perhaps,' said she dryly, 'but maybe it would taste better if I had not bought it so dearly.'
'I don't think I understand you.'
'I was about to say that I have forfeited that young lady's esteem by the way I obtained it. She'll never forgive me, instead of retiring for my coffee, sitting here like a man—and a man of that old hard-drinking school, Mathew, that has brought all the ruin on Ireland.'
'Here's to their memory, anyway,' said Kearney, drinking off his glass.
'I'll drink no toasts nor sentiments, Mathew Kearney, and there's no artifice or roguery will make me forget I'm a woman and an O'Shea.'
'Faix, you'll not catch me forgetting either,' said Mathew, with a droll twinkle of his eye, which it was just as fortunate escaped her notice.
'I doubted for a long time, Mathew Kearney, whether I'd come over myself, or whether I 'd write you a letter; not that I'm good at writing, but, somehow, one can put their ideas more clear, and say things in a way that will fix them more in the mind; but at last I determined I'd come, though it's more than likely it's the last time Kilgobbin will see me here.'
'I sincerely trust you are mistaken, so far.'
'Well, Mathew, I'm not often mistaken! The woman that has managed an estate for more than forty years, been her own land-steward and her own law-agent, doesn't make a great many blunders; and, as I said before, if Mathew has no friend to tell him the truth among the men of his acquaintance, it's well that there is a woman to the fore, who has courage and good sense to go up and do it.'
She looked fixedly at him, as though expecting some concurrence in the remark, if not some intimation to proceed; but neither came, and she continued.
'I suppose you don't read the Dublin newspapers?' said she civilly.
'I do, and every day the post brings them.'
'You see, therefore, without my telling you, what the world is saying about you. You see how they treat "the search for arms," as they head it, and "the Maid of Saragossa!" O Mathew Kearney! Mathew Kearney! whatever happened the old stock of the land, they never made themselves ridiculous.'
'Have you done, Miss Betty?' asked he, with assumed calm.
'Done! Why, it's only beginning I am,' cried she. 'Not but I'd bear a deal of blackguarding from the press—as the old woman said when the soldier threatened to run his bayonet through her: "Devil thank you, it's only your trade." But when we come to see the head of an old family making ducks and drakes of his family property, threatening the old tenants that have been on the land as long as his own people, raising the rent here, evicting there, distressing the people's minds when they've just as much as they can to bear up with—then it's time for an old friend and neighbour to give a timely warning, and cry "Stop.'"
'Have you done, Miss Betty?' And now his voice was more stern than before.
'I have not, nor near done, Mathew Kearney. I've said nothing of the way you're bringing up your family—that son, in particular—to make him think himself a young man of fortune, when you know, in your heart, you'll leave him little more than the mortgages on the estate. I have not told you that it's one of the jokes of the capital to call him the Honourable Dick Kearney, and to ask him after his father the viscount.'
'You haven't done yet, Miss O'Shea?' said he, now with a thickened voice.
'No, not yet,' replied she calmly—'not yet; for I'd like to remind you of the way you're behaving to the best of the whole of you—the only one, indeed, that's worth much in the family—your daughter Kate.'
'Well, what have I done to wrong her?' said he, carried beyond his prudence by so astounding a charge.
'The very worst you could do, Mathew Kearney; the only mischief it was in your power, maybe. Look at the companion you have given her! Look at the respectable young lady you've brought home to live with your decent child!'
'You'll not stop?' cried he, almost choking with passion.
'Not till I've told you why I came here, Mathew Kearney; for I'd beg you to understand it was no interest about yourself or your doings brought me. I came to tell you that I mean to be free about an old contract we once made—that I revoke it all. I was fool enough to believe that an alliance between our families would have made me entirely happy, and my nephew Gorman O'Shea was brought up to think the same. I have lived to know better, Mathew Kearney: I have lived to see that we don't suit each other at all, and I have come here to declare to you formally that it's all off. No nephew of mine shall come here for a wife. The heir to Shea's Barn shan't bring the mistress of it out of Kilgobbin Castle.'
'Trust me for that, old lady,' cried he, forgetting all his good manners in his violent passion.
'You'll be all the freer to catch a young aide-de-camp from the Castle,' said she sneeringly; 'or maybe, indeed, a young lord—a rank equal to your own.'
'Haven't you said enough?' screamed he, wild with rage.
'No, nor half, or you wouldn't be standing there, wringing your hands with passion and your hair bristling like a porcupine. You'd be at my feet, Mathew Kearney—ay, at my feet.'
'So I would, Miss Betty,' chimed he in, with a malicious grin, 'if I was only sure you'd be as cruel as the last time I knelt there. Oh dear! oh dear! and to think that I once wanted to marry that woman!'
'That you did! You'd have put your hand in the fire to win her.'
'By my conscience, I'd have put myself altogether there, if I had won her.'
'You understand now, sir,' said she haughtily, 'that there's no more between us.'
'Thank God for the same!' ejaculated he fervently.
'And that no nephew of mine comes courting a daughter of yours?'
'For his own sake, he'd better not.'
'It's for his own sake I intend it, Mathew Kearney. It's of himself I'm thinking. And now, thanking you for the pleasant evening I've passed, and your charming society, I'll take my leave.'
'I hope you'll not rob us of your company till you take a dish of tea,' said he, with well-feigned politeness.
'It's hard to tear one's self away, Mr. Kearney; but it's late already.'
'Couldn't we induce you to stop the night, Miss Betty?' asked he, in a tone of insinuation. 'Well, at least you'll let me ring to order your horse?'
'You may do that if it amuses you, Mathew Kearney; but, meanwhile, I'll just do what I've always done in the same place—I'll just go look for my own beast and see her saddled myself; and as Peter Gill is leaving you to-morrow, I'll take him back with me to-night.'
'Is he going to you?' cried he passionately.
'He's going to me, Mr. Kearney, with your leave, or without it, I don't know which I like best.' And with this she swept out of the room, while Kearney closed his eyes and lay back in his chair, stunned and almost stupefied.
A CONFIDENTIAL TALK
Dick Kearney walked the bog from early morning till dark without firing a shot. The snipe rose almost at his feet, and wheeling in circles through the air, dipped again into some dark crevice of the waste, unnoticed by him! One thought only possessed, and never left him, as he went. He had overheard Nina's words to his sister, as he made his escape over the fence, and learned how she promised to 'spare him'; and that if not worried about him, or asked to pledge herself, she should be 'merciful,' and not entangle the boy in a hopeless passion.
He would have liked to have scoffed at the insolence of this speech, and treated it as a trait of overweening vanity; he would have gladly accepted her pity as a sort of challenge, and said, 'Be it so; let us see who will come safest out of this encounter,' and yet he felt in his heart he could not.
First of all, her beauty had really dazzled him, and the thousand graces of a manner of which he had known nothing captivated and almost bewildered him. He could not reply to her in the same tone he used to any other. If he fetched her a book or a chair, he gave it with a sort of deference that actually reacted on himself, and made him more gentle and more courteous, for the time. 'What would this influence end in making me?' was his question to himself. 'Should I gain in sentiment or feeling? Should I have higher and nobler aims? Should I be anything of that she herself described so glowingly, or should I only sink to a weak desire to be her slave, and ask for nothing better than some slight recognition of my devotion? I take it that she would say the choice lay with her, and that I should be the one or the other as she willed it, and though I would give much to believe her wrong, my heart tells me that I cannot. I came down here resolved to resist any influence she might attempt to have over me. Her likeness showed me how beautiful she was, but it could not tell me the dangerous fascination of her low liquid voice, her half-playful, half-melancholy smile, and that bewitching walk, with all its stately grace, so that every fold as she moves sends its own thrill of ecstasy. And now that I know all these, see and feel them, I am told that to me they can bring no hope! That I am too poor, too ignoble, too undistinguished, to raise my eyes to such attraction. I am nothing, and must live and die nothing.
'She is candid enough, at all events. There is no rhapsody about her when she talks of poverty. She chronicles every stage of the misery, as though she had felt them all; and how unlike it she looks! There is an almost insolent well-being about her that puzzles me. She will not heed this, or suffer that, because it looks mean. Is this the subtle worship she offers Wealth, and is it thus she offers up her prayer to Fortune?
'But why should she assume I must be her slave?' cried he aloud, in a sort of defiance. 'I have shown her no such preference, nor made any advances that would show I want to win her favour. Without denying that she is beautiful, is it so certain it is the kind of beauty I admire? She has scores of fascinations—I do not deny it; but should I say that I trust her? And if I should trust her and love her too, where must it all end in? I do not believe in her theory that love will transform a fellow of my mould into a hero, not to say that I have my own doubt if she herself believes it. I wonder if Kate reads her more clearly? Girls so often understand each other by traits we have no clue to; and it was Kate who asked her, almost in tone of entreaty, "to spare me," to save me from a hopeless passion, just as though I were some peasant-boy who had set his affection on a princess. Is that the way, then, the world would read our respective conditions? The son of a ruined house or the guest of a beggared family leaves little to choose between! Kate—the world—would call my lot the better of the two. The man's chance is not irretrievable, at least such is the theory. Those half-dozen fellows, who in a century or so contrive to work their way up to something, make a sort of precedent, and tell the others what they might be if they but knew how.
'I'm not vain enough to suppose I am one of these, and it is quite plain that she does not think me so.' He pondered long over this thought, and then suddenly cried aloud, 'Is it possible she may read Joe Atlee in this fashion? is that the stuff out of which she hopes to make a hero?' There was more bitterness in this thought than he had first imagined, and there was that of jealousy in it too that pained him deeply.
Had she preferred either of the two Englishmen to himself, he could have understood and, in a measure, accepted it. They were, as he called them, 'swells.' They might become, he knew not what. The career of the Saxon in fortune was a thing incommensurable by Irish ideas; but Joe was like himself, or in reality less than himself, in worldly advantages.
This pang of jealousy was very bitter; but still it served to stimulate him and rouse him from a depression that was gaining fast upon him. It is true, he remembered she had spoken slightingly of Joe Atlee. Called him noisy, pretentious, even vulgar; snubbed him openly on more than one occasion, and seemed to like to turn the laugh against him; but with all that she had sung duets with him, corrected some Italian verses he wrote, and actually made a little sketch in his note-book for him as a souvenir. A souvenir! and of what? Not of the ridicule she had turned upon him! not the jest she had made upon his boastfulness. Now which of these two did this argue: was this levity, or was it falsehood? Was she so little mindful of honesty that she would show these signs of favour to one she held most cheaply, or was it that her distaste to this man was mere pretence, and only assumed to deceive others.
After all, Joe Atlee was a nobody; flattery might call him an adventurer, but he was not even so much. Amongst the men of the dangerous party he mixed with he was careful never to compromise himself. He might write the songs of rebellion, but he was little likely to tamper with treason itself. So much he would tell her when he got back. Not angrily, nor passionately, for that would betray him and disclose his jealousy, but in the tone of a man revealing something he regretted—confessing to the blemish of one he would have liked better to speak well of. There was not, he thought, anything unfair in this. He was but warning her against a man who was unworthy of her. Unworthy of her! What words could express the disparity between them? Not but if she liked him—and this he said with a certain bitterness—or thought she liked him, the disproportion already ceased to exist.
Hour after hour of that long summer day he walked, revolving such thoughts as these; all his conclusions tending to the one point, that he was not the easy victim she thought him, and that, come what might, he should not be offered up as a sacrifice to her worship of Joe Atlee.
'There is nothing would gratify the fellow's vanity,' thought he, 'like a successful rivalry of him! Tell him he was preferred to me, and he would be ready to fall down and worship whoever had made the choice.'
By dwelling on all the possible and impossible issues of such an attachment, he had at length convinced himself of its existence, and even more, persuaded himself to fancy it was something to be regretted and grieved over for worldly considerations, but not in any way regarded as personally unpleasant.
As he came in sight of home and saw a light in the small tower where Kate's bedroom lay, he determined he would go up to his sister and tell her so much of his mind as he believed was finally settled, and in such a way as would certainly lead her to repeat it to Nina.
'Kate shall tell her that if I have left her suddenly and gone back to Trinity to keep my term, I have not fled the field in a moment of faint-heartedness. I do not deny her beauty. I do not disparage one of her attractions, and she has scores of them. I will not even say that when I have sat beside her, heard her low soft voice, and watched the tremor of that lovely mouth vibrating with wit, or tremulous with feeling, I have been all indifference; but this I will say, she shall not number me amongst the victims of her fascinations; and when she counts the trinkets on her wrist that record the hearts she has broken—a pastime I once witnessed—not one of them shall record the initial of Dick Kearney.'
With these brave words he mounted the narrow stair and knocked at his sister's door. No answer coming, he knocked again, and after waiting a few seconds, he slowly opened the door and saw that Kate, still dressed, had thrown herself on her bed, and was sound asleep. The table was covered with account-books and papers; tax-receipts, law-notices, and tenants' letters lay littered about, showing what had been the task she was last engaged on; and her heavy breathing told the exhaustion which it had left behind it.
'I wish I could help her with her work,' muttered he to himself, as a pang of self-reproach shot through him. This certainly should have been his own task rather than hers; the question was, however, Could he have done it? And this doubt increased as he looked over the long column of tenants' names, whose holdings varied in every imaginable quantity of acres, roods, and perches. Besides these there were innumerable small details of allowances for this and compensation for that. This one had given so many days' horse-and-car hire at the bog; that other had got advances 'in seed-potatoes'; such a one had a claim for reduced rent, because the mill-race had overflowed and deluged his wheat crop; such another had fed two pigs of 'the lord's' and fattened them, while himself and his own were nigh starving.
Through an entire column there was not one case without its complication, either in the shape of argument for increased liability or claim for compensation. It was makeshift everywhere, and Dick could not but ask himself whether any tenant on the estate really knew how far he was hopelessly in debt or a solvent man? It only needed Peter Gill's peculiar mode of collecting the moneys due, and recording the payment by the notched stick, to make the complication perfect; and there, indeed, upon the table, amid accounts and bills and sale warrants, lay the memorable bits of wood themselves, as that worthy steward had deposited them before quitting his master's service.
Peter's character, too, written out in Kate's hand, and only awaiting her father's signature, was on the table—the first intimation Dick Kearney had that old Gill had quitted his post.
'All this must have occurred to-day,' thought Dick; 'there were no evidences of these changes when I left this morning! Was it the backwater of my disgrace, I wonder, that has overwhelmed poor Gill?' thought he, 'or can I detect Miss Betty's fine Roman hand in this incident?'
In proportion to the little love he bore Miss O'Shea, were his convictions the stronger that she was the cause of all mischief. She was one of those who took very 'utilitarian' notions of his own career, and he bore her small gratitude for the solicitude. There were short sentences in pencil along the margin of the chief book in Kate's handwriting which could not fail to strike him as he read them, indicating as they did her difficulty, if not utter incapacity, to deal with the condition of the estate. Thus:—
'There is no warranty for this concession. It cannot be continued.'—'The notice in this case was duly served, and Gill knows that it was to papa's generosity they were indebted for remaining.'—'These arrears have never been paid, on that point I am positive!'—'Malone's holding was not fairly measured, he has a just claim to compensation, and shall have it.'—'Hannigan's right to tenancy must not be disputed, but cannot be used as a precedent by others on the same part of the estate, and I will state why.'—'More of Peter Gill's conciliatory policy! The Regans, for having been twice in gaol, and once indicted, and nearly convicted of Ribbonism, have established a claim to live rent-free! This I will promise to rectify.'—'I shall make no more allowances for improvements without a guarantee, and a penalty besides on non-completion.'
And last of all came these ominous words:—
'It will thus be seen that our rent-roll since '64 has been progressively decreasing, and that we have only been able to supply our expenses by sales of property. Dick must be spoken to on this, and at once.'
Several entries had been already rubbed out, and it was clear that she had been occupied in the task of erasion on that very night. Poor girl! her sleep was the heavy repose of one utterly exhausted; and her closely clasped lips and corrugated brow showed in what frame of intense thought she had sunk to rest. He closed the book noiselessly, as he looked at her, replaced the various objects on the table, and rose to steal quietly away.
The accidental movement of a chair, however, startled her; she turned, and leaning on her elbow, she saw him as he tried to move away. 'Don't go, Dick, don't go. I'm awake, and quite fresh again. Is it late?'
'It's not far from one o'clock,' said he, half-roughly, to hide his emotion; for her worn and wearied features struck him now more forcibly than when she slept.
'And are you only returned now? How hungry you must be. Poor fellow—have you dined to-day?'
'Yes; I got to Owen Molloy's as they were straining the potatoes, and sat down with them, and ate very heartily too.'
'Weren't they proud of it? Won't they tell how the young lord shared their meal with them?'
'I don't think they are as cordial as they used to be, Kate; they did not talk so openly, nor seem at their ease, as I once knew them. And they did one thing, significant enough in its way, that I did not like. They quoted the county newspaper twice or thrice when we talked of the land.'
'I am aware of that, Dick; they have got other counsellors than their landlords now,' said she mournfully, 'and it is our own fault if they have.'
'What, are you turning Nationalist, Kitty?' said he, laughing.
'I was always a Nationalist in one sense,' said she, 'and mean to continue so; but let us not get upon this theme. Do you know that Peter Gill has left us?'
'What, for America?'
'No; for "O'Shea's Barn." Miss Betty has taken him. She came here to-day to "have it out" with papa, as she said; and she has kept her word. Indeed, not alone with him, but with all of us—even Nina did not escape.'
'Insufferable old woman. What did she dare to say to Nina?'
'She got off the cheapest of us all, Dick,' said she, laughing. 'It was only some stupid remark she made her about looking like a boy, or being dressed like a rope-dancer. A small civility of this sort was her share of the general attention.'
'And how did Nina take the insolence?'
'With great good-temper, or good-breeding. I don't know exactly which covered the indifference she displayed, till Miss Betty, when taking her leave, renewed the impertinence in the hall, by saying something about the triumphant success such a costume would achieve in the circus, when Nina curtsied, and said: "I am charmed to hear you say so, madam, and shall wear it for my benefit; and if I could only secure the appearance of yourself and your little groom, my triumph would be, indeed, complete." I did not dare to wait for more, but hurried out to affect to busy myself with the saddle, and pretend that it was not tightly girthed.'
'I'd have given twenty pounds, if I had it, to have seen the old woman's face. No one ever ventured before to pay her back with her own money.'
'But I give you such a wrong version of it, Dick. I only convey the coarseness of the rejoinder, and I can give you no idea of the ineffable grace and delicacy which made her words sound like a humble apology. Her eyelids drooped as she curtsied, and when she looked up again, in a way that seemed humility itself, to have reproved her would have appeared downright cruelty.'
'She is a finished coquette,' said he bitterly; 'a finished coquette.'
Kate made no answer, though he evidently expected one; and after waiting a while, he went on: 'Not but her high accomplishments are clean thrown away in such a place as this, and amongst such people. What chance of fitting exercise have they with my father or myself? Or is it on Joe Atlee she would try the range of her artillery?'
'Not so very impossible this, after all,' muttered Kate quietly.
'What, and is it to that her high ambitions tend? Is he the prize she would strive to win?'
'I can be no guide to you in this matter, Dick. She makes no confidences with me, and of myself I see nothing.'
'You have, however, some influence over her.'
'No; not much.'
'I did not say much; but enough to induce her to yield to a strong entreaty, as when, for instance, you implored her to spare your brother—that poor fellow about to fall so hopelessly in love—'
'I'm not sure that my request did not come too late after all,' said she, with a laughing malice in her eye.
'Don't be too sure of that,' retorted he, almost fiercely.
'Oh, I never bargained for what you might do in a moment of passion or resentment.'
'There is neither one nor the other here. I am perfectly cool, calm, and collected, and I tell you this, that whoever your pretty Greek friend is to make a fool of, it shall not be Dick Kearney.'
'It might be very nice fooling, all the same, Dick.'
'I know—that is, I believe I know—what you mean. You have listened to some of those high heroics she ascends to in showing what the exaltation of a great passion can make of any man who has a breast capable of the emotion, and you want to see the experiment tried in its least favourable conditions—on a cold, soulless, selfish fellow of my own order; but, take my word for it, Kate, it would prove a sheer loss of time to us both. Whatever she might make of me, it would not be a hero; and whatever I should strive for, it would not be her love.'
'I don't think I'd say that if I were a man.'
He made no answer to these words, but arose and walked the room with hasty steps. 'It was not about these things I came here to talk to you, Kitty,' said he earnestly. 'I had my head full of other things, and now I cannot remember them. Only one occurs to me. Have you got any money? I mean a mere trifle—enough to pay my fare to town?'
'To be sure I have that much, Dick; but you are surely not going to leave us?'
'Yes. I suddenly remembered I must be up for the last day of term in Trinity. Knocking about here—I'll scarcely say amusing myself—I had forgotten all about it. Atlee used to jog my memory on these things when he was near me, and now, being away, I have contrived to let the whole escape me. You can help me, however, with a few pounds?'
'I have got five of my own, Dick; but if you want more—'
'No, no; I'll borrow the five of your own, and don't blend it with more, or I may cease to regard it as a debt of honour.'
'And if you should, my poor dear Dick—'
'I'd be only pretty much what I have ever been, but scarcely wish to be any longer,' and he added the last words in a whisper. 'It's only to be a brief absence, Kitty,' said he, kissing her; 'so say good-bye for me to the others, and that I shall be soon back again.'
'Shall I kiss Nina for you, Dick?'
'Do; and tell her that I gave you the same commission for Miss O'Shea, and was grieved that both should have been done by deputy!'
And with this he hurried away.
A HAPHAZARD VICEROY
When the Government came into office, they were sorely puzzled where to find a Lord-Lieutenant for Ireland. It is, unhappily, a post that the men most fitted for generally refuse, while the Cabinet is besieged by a class of applicants whose highest qualification is a taste for mock-royalty combined with an encumbered estate.
Another great requisite, beside fortune and a certain amount of ability, was at this time looked for. The Premier was about, as newspapers call it, 'to inaugurate a new policy,' and he wanted a man who knew nothing about Ireland! Now, it might be carelessly imagined that here was one of those essentials very easily supplied. Any man frequenting club-life or dining out in town could have safely pledged himself to tell off a score or two of eligible Viceroys, so far as this qualification went. The Minister, however, wanted more than mere ignorance: he wanted that sort of indifference on which a character for impartiality could so easily be constructed. Not alone a man unacquainted with Ireland, but actually incapable of being influenced by an Irish motive or affected by an Irish view of anything.
Good-luck would have it that he met such a man at dinner. He was an ambassador at Constantinople, on leave from his post, and so utterly dead to Irish topics as to be uncertain whether O'Donovan Rossa was a Fenian or a Queen's Counsel, and whether he whom he had read of as the 'Lion of Judah' was the king of beasts or the Archbishop of Tuam!
The Minister was pleased with his new acquaintance, and talked much to him, and long. He talked well, and not the less well that his listener was a fresh audience, who heard everything for the first time, and with all the interest that attaches to a new topic. Lord Danesbury was, indeed, that 'sheet of white paper' the head of the Cabinet had long been searching for, and he hastened to inscribe him with the characters he wished.
'You must go to Ireland for me, my lord,' said the Minister. 'I have met no one as yet so rightly imbued with the necessities of the situation. You must be our Viceroy.'
Now, though a very high post and with great surroundings, Lord Danesbury had no desire to exchange his position as an ambassador, even to become a Lord-Lieutenant. Like most men who have passed their lives abroad, he grew to like the ways and habits of the Continent. He liked the easy indulgences in many things, he liked the cosmopolitanism that surrounds existence, and even in its littleness is not devoid of a certain breadth; and best of all he liked the vast interests at stake, the large questions at issue, the fortunes of states, the fate of dynasties! To come down from the great game, as played by kings and kaisers, to the small traffic of a local government wrangling over a road-bill, or disputing over a harbour, seemed too horrible to confront, and he eagerly begged the Minister to allow him to return to his post, and not risk a hard-earned reputation on a new and untried career.
'It is precisely from the fact of its being new and untried I need you,' was the reply, and his denial was not accepted.
Refusal was impossible; and with all the reluctance a man consents to what his convictions are more opposed to even than his reasons, Lord Danesbury gave in, and accepted the viceroyalty of Ireland.
He was deferential to humility in listening to the great aims and noble conceptions of the mighty Minister, and pledged himself—as he could safely do—to become as plastic as wax in the powerful hands which were about to remodel Ireland.
He was gazetted in due course, went over to Dublin, made a state entrance, received the usual deputations, complimented every one, from the Provost of Trinity College to the Chief Commissioner of Pipewater; praised the coast, the corporation, and the city; declared that he had at length reached the highest goal of his ambition; entertained the high dignitaries at dinner, and the week after retired to his ancestral seat in North Wales, to recruit after his late fatigue, and throw off the effects of that damp, moist climate which already he fancied had affected him.
He had been sworn in with every solemnity of the occasion; he had sat on the throne of state, named the officers of his household, made a master of the horse, and a state steward, and a grand chamberlain; and, till stopped by hearing that he could not create ladies and maids of honour, he fancied himself every inch a king; but now that he had got over to the tranquil quietude of his mountain home, his thoughts went away to the old channels, and he began to dream of the Russians in the Balkan and the Greeks in Thessaly. Of all the precious schemes that had taken him months to weave, what was to come of them now? How and with what would his successor, whoever he should be, oppose the rogueries of Sumayloff or the chicanery of Ignatief? what would any man not trained to the especial watchfulness of this subtle game know of the steps by which men advanced? Who was to watch Bulgaria and see how far Russian gold was embellishing the life of Athens? There was not a hungry agent that lounged about the Russian embassy in Greek petticoats and pistols whose photograph the English ambassador did not possess, with a biographical note at the back to tell the fellow's name and birthplace, what he was meant for, and what he cost. Of every interview of his countrymen with the Grand-Vizier he was kept fully informed, and whether a forage magazine was established on the Pruth, or a new frigate laid down at Nickolief, the news reached him by the time it arrived at St. Petersburg. It is true he was aware how hopeless it was to write home about these things. The ambassador who writes disagreeable despatches is a bore or an old woman. He who dares to shake the security by which we daily boast we are surrounded, is an alarmist, if not worse. Notwithstanding this, he held his cards well 'up' and played them shrewdly. And now he was to turn from this crafty game, with all its excitement, to pore over constabulary reports and snub justices of the peace!
But there was worse than this. There was an Albanian spy who had been much employed by him of late, a clever fellow, with access to society, and great facilities for obtaining information. Seeing that Lord Danesbury should not return to the embassy, would this fellow go over to the enemy? If so, there were no words for the mischief he might effect. By a subordinate position in a Greek government-office, he had often been selected to convey despatches to Constantinople, and it was in this way his lordship first met him; and as the fellow frankly presented himself with a very momentous piece of news, he at once showed how he trusted to British faith not to betray him. It was not alone the incalculable mischief such a man might do by change of allegiance, but the whole fabric on which Lord Danesbury's reputation rested was in this man's keeping; and of all that wondrous prescience on which he used to pride himself before the world, all the skill with which he baffled an adversary, and all the tact with which he overwhelmed a colleague, this same 'Speridionides' could give the secret and show the trick.
How much more constantly, then, did his lordship's thoughts revert to the Bosporus than the Liffey! all this home news was mean, commonplace, and vulgar. The whole drama—scenery, actors, plot—all were low and ignoble; and as for this 'something that was to be done for Ireland,' it would of course be some slowly germinating policy to take root now, and blossom in another half-century: one of those blessed parliamentary enactments which men who dealt in heroic remedies like himself regarded as the chronic placebo of the political quack.
'I am well aware,' cried he aloud, 'for what they are sending me over. I am to "make a case" in Ireland for a political legislation, and the bill is already drawn and ready; and while I am demonstrating to Irish Churchmen that they will be more pious without a religion, and the landlords richer without rent, the Russians will be mounting guard at the Golden Horn, and the last British squadron steaming down the Levant.'
It was in a temper kindled by these reflections he wrote this note:—
PLMNUDDM CASTLE, NORTH WALES.
'DEAR WALPOLE,—I can make nothing out of the papers you have sent me; nor am I able to discriminate between what you admit to be newspaper slander and the attack on the castle with the unspeakable name. At all events, your account is far too graphic for the Treasury lords, who have less of the pictorial about them than Mr. Mudie's subscribers. If the Irish peasants are so impatient to assume their rights that they will not wait for the "Hatt-Houmaioun," or Bill in Parliament that is to endow them, I suspect a little further show of energy might save us a debate and a third reading. I am, however, far more eager for news from Therapia. Tolstai has been twice over with despatches; and Boustikoff, pretending to have sprained his ankle, cannot leave Odessa, though I have ascertained that he has laid down new lines of fortification, and walked over twelve miles per day. You may have heard of the great "Speridionides," a scoundrel that supplied me with intelligence. I should like much to get him over here while I am on my leave, confer with him, and, if possible, save him from the necessity of other engagements. It is not every one could be trusted to deal with a man of this stamp, nor would the fellow himself easily hold relations with any but a gentleman. Are you sufficiently recovered from your sprained arm to undertake this journey for me? If so, come over at once, that I may give you all necessary indications as to the man and his whereabouts.
'Maude has been "on the sick-list," but is better, and able to ride out to-day. I cannot fill the law-appointments till I go over, nor shall I go over till I cannot help it. The Cabinet is scattered over the Scotch lakes. C. alone in town, and preparing for the War Ministry by practising the goose-step. Telegraph, if possible, that you are coming, and believe me yours,
TWO FRIENDS AT BREAKFAST
Irishmen may reasonably enough travel for climate, they need scarcely go abroad in search of scenery. Within even a very short distance from the capital, there are landscapes which, for form, outline, and colour, equal some of the most celebrated spots of continental beauty.
One of these is the view from Bray Head over the wide expanse of the Bay of Dublin, with Howth and Lambay in the far distance. Nearer at hand lies the sweep of that graceful shore to Killiney, with the Dalky Islands dotting the calm sea; while inland, in wild confusion, are grouped the Wicklow Mountains, massive with wood and teeming with a rich luxuriance.
When sunlight and stillness spread colour over the blue mirror of the sea—as is essential to the scene—I know of nothing, not even Naples or Amalfi, can surpass this marvellous picture.
It was on a terrace that commanded this view that Walpole and Atlee sat at breakfast on a calm autumnal morning; the white-sailed boats scarcely creeping over their shadows; and the whole scene, in its silence and softened effect, presenting a picture of almost rapturous tranquillity.
'With half-a-dozen days like this,' said Atlee, as he smoked his cigarette, in a sort of languid grace, 'one would not say O'Connell was wrong in his glowing admiration for Irish scenery. If I were to awake every day for a week to this, I suspect I should grow somewhat crazy myself about the green island.'
'And dash the description with a little treason too,' said the other superciliously. 'I have always remarked the ingenious connection with which Irishmen bind up a love of the picturesque with a hate of the Saxon.'
'Why not? They are bound together in the same romance. Can you look on the Parthenon and not think of the Turk?'
'Apropos of the Turk,' said the other, laying his hand on a folded letter which lay before him, 'here's a long letter from Lord Danesbury about that wearisome "Eastern question," as they call the ten thousand issues that await the solution of the Bosporus. Do you take interest in these things.'
'Immensely. After I have blown myself with a sharp burst on home politics, I always take a canter among the Druses and the Lebanites; and I am such an authority on the "Grand Idea," that Rangabe refers to me as "the illustrious statesman whose writings relieve England from the stain of universal ignorance about Greece."'
'And do you know anything on the subject?'
'About as much as the present Cabinet does of Ireland. I know all the clap-traps: the grand traditions that have sunk down into a present barbarism—of course, through ill government; the noble instincts depraved by gross usage; I know the inherent love of freedom we cherish, which makes men resent rents as well as laws, and teaches that taxes are as great a tyranny as the rights of property.'
'And do the Greeks take this view of it?'
'Of course they do; and it was in experimenting on them that your great Ministers learned how to deal with Ireland. There was but one step from Thebes to Tipperary. Corfu was "pacified"—that's the phrase for it—by abolishing the landlords. The peasants were told they might spare a little if they liked to the ancient possessor of the soil; and so they took the ground, and they gave him the olive-trees. You may imagine how fertile these were, when the soil around them was utilised to the last fraction of productiveness.'
'Is that a fair statement of the case?'
'Can you ask the question? I'll show it to you in print.'
'Perhaps written by yourself?'
'And why not? What convictions have not broken on my mind by reading my own writings? You smile at this; but how do you know your face is clean till you look in a glass?'
Walpole, however, had ceased to attend to the speaker, and was deeply engaged with the letter before him.
'I see here,' cried he, 'his Excellency is good enough to say that some mark of royal favour might be advantageously extended to those Kilgobbin people, in recognition of their heroic defence. What should it be, is the question.'
'Confer on him the peerage, perhaps.'
'That is totally out of the question.'
'It was Kate Kearney made the defence; why not give her a commission in the army?—make it another "woman's right."'
'You are absurd, Mr. Atlee.'
'Suppose you endowed her out of the Consolidated Fund? Give her twenty thousand pounds, and I can almost assure you that a very clever fellow I know will marry her.'
'A strange reward for good conduct.'
'A prize of virtue. They have that sort of thing in France, and they say it gives a great support to purity of morals.'
'Young Kearney might accept something, if we knew what to offer him.'
'I'd say a pair of black trousers; for I think I'm now wearing his last in that line.'
'Mr. Atlee,' said the other grimly, 'let me remind you once again, that the habit of light jesting—persiflage—is so essentially Irish, you should keep it for your countrymen; and if you persist in supposing the career of a private secretary suits you, this is an incongruity that will totally unfit you for the walk.'
'I am sure you know your countrymen, sir, and I am grateful for the rebuke.'
Walpole's cheek flushed at this, and it was plain that there was a hidden meaning in the words which he felt, and resented.
'I do not know,' continued Walpole, 'if I am not asking you to curb one of the strongest impulses of your disposition; but it rests entirely with yourself whether my counsel be worth following.'
'Of course it is, sir. I shall follow your advice to the letter, and keep all my good spirits and my bad manners for my countrymen.'
It was evident that Walpole had to exercise some strong self-control not to reply sharply; but he refrained, and turned once more to Lord Danesbury's letter, in which he was soon deeply occupied. At last he said: 'His Excellency wants to send me out to Turkey to confer with a man with whom he has some confidential relations. It is quite impossible that, in my present state of health, I could do this. Would the thing suit you, Atlee—that is, if, on consideration, I should opine that you would suit it?'
'I suspect,' replied Atlee, but with every deference in his manner, 'if you would entertain the last part of the contingency first, it would be more convenient to each of us. I mean whether I were fit for the situation.'
'Well, perhaps so,' said the other carelessly; 'it is not at all impossible, it may be one of the things you would acquit yourself well in. It is a sort of exercise for tact and discretion—an occasion in which that light hand of yours would have a field for employment, and that acute skill in which I know you pride yourself as regards reading character—'
'You have certainly piqued my curiosity,' said Atlee.
'I don't know that I ought to have said so much; for, after all, it remains to be seen whether Lord Danesbury would estimate these gifts of yours as highly as I do. What I think of doing is this: I shall send you over to his Excellency in your capacity as my own private secretary, to explain how unfit I am in my present disabled condition to undertake a journey. I shall tell my lord how useful I have found your services with regard to Ireland, how much you know of the country and the people, and how worthy of trust I have found your information and your opinions; and I shall hint—but only hint, remember—that, for the mission he speaks of, he might possibly do worse than fix upon yourself. As, of course, it rests with him to be like-minded with me or not upon this matter—to take, in fact, his own estimate of Mr. Atlee from his own experiences of him—you are not to know anything whatever of this project till his Excellency thinks proper to open it to you. You understand that?'
'Your mission will be to explain—when asked to explain—certain difficulties of Irish life and habits, and if his lordship should direct conversation to topics of the East, to be careful to know nothing of the subject whatever—mind that.'
'I shall be careful. I have read the Arabian Nights—but that's all.'
'And of that tendency to small joking and weak epigram I would also caution you to beware; they will have no success in the quarter to which you are going, and they will only damage other qualities which you might possibly rely on.'
Atlee bowed a submissive acquiescence.
'I don't know that you'll see Lady Maude Bickerstaffe, his lordship's niece.' He stopped as if he had unwittingly uttered an awkwardness, and then added—'I mean she has not been well, and may not appear while you are at the castle; but if you should—and if, which is not at all likely, but still possible, you should be led to talk of Kilgobbin and the incident that has got into the papers, you must be very guarded in all you say. It is a county family of station and repute. We were there as visitors. The ladies—I don't know that I 'd say very much of the ladies.'
'Except that they were exceedingly plain in looks, and somewhat passees besides,' added Atlee gravely.
'I don't see why you should say that, sir,' replied the other stiffly. 'If you are not bent on compromising me by an indiscretion, I don't perceive the necessity of involving me in a falsehood.'
'You shall be perfectly safe in my hands,' said Atlee.
'And that I may be so, say as little about me as you can. I know the injunction has its difficulties, Mr. Atlee, but pray try and observe it.'
The conversation had now arrived at a point in which one angry word more must have produced a rupture between them; and though Atlee took in the whole situation and its consequences at a glance, there was nothing in the easy jauntiness of his manner that gave any clue to a sense of anxiety or discomfort.
'Is it likely,' asked he at length, 'that his Excellency will advert to the idea of recognising or rewarding these people for their brave defence?'
'I am coming to that, if you will spare me a little patience: Saxon slowness is a blemish you'll have to grow accustomed to. If Lord Danesbury should know that you are an acquaintance of the Kilgobbin family, and ask you what would be a suitable mode of showing how their conduct has been appreciated in a high quarter, you should be prepared with an answer.'
Atlee's eyes twinkled with a malicious drollery, and he had to bite his lips to repress an impertinence that seemed almost to master his prudence, and at last he said carelessly—
'Dick Kearney might get something.'
'I suppose you know that his qualifications will be tested. You bear that in mind, I hope—'
'Yes. I was just turning it over in my head, and I thought the best thing to do would be to make him a Civil Service Commissioner. They are the only people taken on trust.'
'You are severe, Mr. Atlee. Have these gentlemen earned this dislike on your part?'
'Do you mean by having rejected me? No, that they have not. I believe I could have survived that; and if, however, they had come to the point of telling me that they were content with my acquirements, and what is called "passed me," I fervently believe I should have been seized with an apoplexy.'
'Mr. Atlee's opinion of himself is not a mean one,' said Walpole, with a cold smile.
'On the contrary, sir, I have occasion to feel pretty often in every twenty-four hours what an ignominious part a man plays in life who has to affect to be taught what he knows already—to be asking the road where he has travelled every step of the way—and to feel that a threadbare coat and broken boots take more from the value of his opinions than if he were a knave or a blackleg.'
'I don't see the humility of all this.'
'I feel the shame of it, though,' said Atlee; and as he arose and walked out upon the terrace, the veins in his forehead were swelled and knotted, and his lips trembled with suppressed passion.
In a tone that showed how thoroughly indifferent he felt to the other's irritation, Walpole went on to say: 'You will then make it your business, Mr. Atlee, to ascertain in what way most acceptable to those people at Kilgobbin his Excellency may be able to show them some mark of royal favour—bearing in mind not to commit yourself to anything that may raise great expectations. In fact, a recognition is what is intended, not a reward.'
Atlee's eyes fell upon the opal ring, which he always wore since the day Walpole had given it to him, and there was something so significant in the glance that the other flushed as he caught it.
'I believe I appreciate the distinction,' said Atlee quietly. 'It is to be something in which the generosity of the donor is more commemorated than the merits of the person rewarded, and, consequently, a most appropriate recognition of the Celt by the Saxon. Do you think I ought to go down to Kilgobbin Castle, sir?'
'I am not quite sure about that; I'll turn it over in my mind. Meanwhile I'll telegraph to my lord that, if he approves, I shall send you over to Wales; and you had better make what arrangements you have to make, to be ready to start at a moment.'
'Unfortunately, sir, I have none. I am in the full enjoyment of such complete destitution, that I am always ready to go anywhere.'
Walpole did not notice the words, but arose and walked over to a writing-table to compose his message for the telegraph.
'There,' said he, as he folded it, 'have the kindness to despatch this at once, and do not be out of the way about five, or half-past, when I shall expect an answer.'
'Am I free to go into town meanwhile?' asked Atlee.
Walpole nodded assent without speaking.
'I wonder if this sort of flunkeydom be good for a man,' muttered Atlee to himself as he sprang down the stairs. 'I begin to doubt it. At all events, I understand now the secret of the first lieutenant's being a tyrant: he has once been a middy. And so I say, let me only reach the ward-room, and Heaven help the cockpit!'
When Atlee returned to dress for dinner, he was sent for hurriedly by Walpole, who told him that Lord Danesbury's answer had arrived with the order, 'Send him over at once, and write fully at the same time.'
'There is an eleven o'clock packet, Atlee, to-night,' said he: 'you must manage to start by that. You'll reach Holyhead by four or thereabouts, and can easily get to the castle by mid-day.'
'I wish I had had a little more time,' muttered the other. 'If I am to present myself before his Excellency in such a "rig" as this—'
'I have thought of that. We are nearly of the same size and build; you are, perhaps, a trifle taller, but nothing to signify. Now Buckmaster has just sent me a mass of things of all sorts from town; they are in my dressing-room, not yet unpacked. Go up and look at them after dinner: take what suits you—as much—all, if you like—but don't delay now. It only wants a few minutes of seven o'clock.'
Atlee muttered his thanks hastily, and went his way. If there was a thoughtfulness in the generosity of this action, the mode in which it was performed—the measured coldness of the words—the look of impassive examination that accompanied them, and the abstention from anything that savoured of apology for a liberty—were all deeply felt by the other.
It was true, Walpole had often heard him tell of the freedom with which he had treated Dick Kearney's wardrobe, and how poor Dick was scarcely sure he could call an article of dress his own, whenever Joe had been the first to go out into the town. The innumerable straits to which he reduced that unlucky chum, who had actually to deposit a dinner-suit at an hotel to save it from Atlee's rapacity, had amused Walpole; but then these things were all done in the spirit of the honest familiarity that prevailed between them—the tie of true camaraderie that neither suggested a thought of obligation on one side nor of painful inferiority on the other. Here it was totally different. These men did not live together with that daily interchange of liberties which, with all their passing contentions, so accustom people to each other's humours as to establish the soundest and strongest of all friendships. Walpole had adopted Atlee because he found him useful in a variety of ways. He was adroit, ready-witted, and intelligent; a half-explanation sufficed with him on anything—a mere hint was enough to give him for an interview or a reply. He read people readily, and rarely failed to profit by the knowledge. Strange as it may seem, the great blemish of his manner—his snobbery—Walpole rather liked than disliked it. I was a sort of qualifying element that satisfied him, as though it said, 'With all that fellow's cleverness, he is not "one of us." He might make a wittier reply, or write a smarter note; but society has its little tests—not one of which he could respond to.' And this was an inferiority Walpole loved to cherish and was pleased to think over.