'Send the ould humbug his picture there,' cried a voice from the crowd, and the sentiment was backed by a roar of voices; and it was at once decreed the portrait should accompany the letter which the indignant 'Goats' now commissioned their chairman to compose.
That same evening saw the gold-framed picture on its way to Kilgobbin Castle, with an ample-looking document, whose contents we have no curiosity to transcribe—nor, indeed, is the whole incident one which we should have cared to obtrude upon our readers, save as a feeble illustration of the way in which the smaller rills of public opinion swell the great streams of life, and how the little events of existence serve now as impulses, now obstacles, to the larger interests that sway fortune. So long as Mathew Kearney drank his punch at the 'Blue Goat' he was a patriot and a Nationalist; but when he quarrelled with his flock, he renounced his Irishry, and came out a Whig.
AN UNLOOKED-FOR PLEASURE
When Dick Kearney waited on Cecil Walpole at his quarters in the Castle, he was somewhat surprised to find that gentleman more reserved in manner, and in general more distant, than when he had seen him as his father's guest.
Though he extended two fingers of his hand on entering, and begged him to be seated, Walpole did not take a chair himself, but stood with his back to the fire—the showy skirts of a very gorgeous dressing-gown displayed over his arms—where he looked like some enormous bird exulting in the full effulgence of his bright plumage.
'You got my note, Mr. Kearney?' began he, almost before the other had sat down, with the air of a man whose time was too precious for mere politeness.
'It is the reason of my present visit,' said Dick dryly.
'Just so. His Excellency instructed me to ascertain in what shape most acceptable to your family he might show the sense entertained by the Government of that gallant defence of Kilgobbin; and believing that the best way to meet a man's wishes is first of all to learn what the wishes are, I wrote you the few lines of yesterday.'
'I suspect there must be a mistake somewhere,' began Kearney, with difficulty. 'At least, I intimated to Atlee the shape in which the Viceroy's favour would be most agreeable to us, and I came here prepared to find you equally informed on the matter.'
'Ah, indeed! I know nothing—positively nothing. Atlee telegraphed me, "See Kearney, and hear what he has to say. I write by post.—ATLEE." There's the whole of it.'
'And the letter—'
'The letter is there. It came by the late mail, and I have not opened it.'
'Would it not be better to glance over it now?' said Dick mildly.
'Not if you can give me the substance by word of mouth. Time, they tell us, is money, and as I have got very little of either, I am obliged to be parsimonious. What is it you want? I mean the sort of thing we could help you to obtain. I see,' said he, smiling, 'you had rather I should read Atlee's letter. Well, here goes.' He broke the envelope, and began:—
'"MY DEAR MR. WALPOLE,—I hoped by this time to have had a report to make you of what I had done, heard, seen, and imagined since my arrival, and yet here I am now towards the close of my second week, and I have nothing to tell; and beyond a sort of confused sense of being immensely delighted with my mode of life, I am totally unconscious of the flight of time.
'"His Excellency received me once for ten minutes, and later on, after some days, for half an hour; for he is confined to bed with gout, and forbidden by his doctor all mental labour. He was kind and courteous to a degree, hoped I should endeavour to make myself at home—giving orders at the same time that my dinner should be served at my own hour, and the stables placed at my disposal for riding or driving. For occupation, he suggested I should see what the newspapers were saying, and make a note or two if anything struck me as remarkable.
'"Lady Maude is charming—and I use the epithet in all the significance of its sorcery. She conveys to me each morning his Excellency's instructions for my day's work; and it is only by a mighty effort I can tear myself from the magic thrill of her voice, and the captivation of her manner, to follow what I have to reply to, investigate, and remark on.
'"I meet her each day at luncheon, and she says she will join me 'some day at dinner.' When that glorious occasion arrives, I shall call it the event of my life, for her mere presence stimulates me to such effort in conversation that I feel in the very lassitude afterwards what a strain my faculties have undergone."'
'What an insufferable coxcomb, and an idiot to boot!' cried Walpole. 'I could not do him a more spiteful turn than to tell my cousin of her conquest. There is another page, I see, of the same sort. But here you are—this is all about you: I'll read it. "In re Kearney. The Irish are always logical; and as Miss Kearney once shot some of her countrymen, when on a mission they deemed National, her brother opines that he ought to represent the principles thus involved in Parliament."'
'Is this the way in which he states my claims!' broke in Dick, with ill-suppressed passion.
'Bear in mind, Mr. Kearney, this jest, and a very poor one it is, was meant for me alone. The communication is essentially private, and it is only through my indiscretion you know anything of it whatever.'
'I am not aware that any confidence should entitle him to write such an impertinence.'
'In that case, I shall read no more,' said Walpole, as he slowly refolded the letter.' The fault is all on my side, Mr. Kearney,' he continued;' but I own I thought you knew your friend so thoroughly that extravagance on his part could have neither astonished nor provoked you.'
'You are perfectly right, Mr. Walpole; I apologise for my impatience. It was, perhaps, in hearing his words read aloud by another that I forgot myself, and if you will kindly continue the reading, I will promise to behave more suitably in future.'
Walpole reopened the letter, but, whether indisposed to trust the pledge thus given, or to prolong the interview, ran his eyes over one side and then turned to the last page. 'I see,' said he, 'he augurs ill as to your chances of success; he opines that you have not well calculated the great cost of the venture, and that in all probability it has been suggested by some friend of questionable discretion. "At all events,"' and here he read aloud—'"at all events, his Excellency says, 'We should like to mark the Kilgobbin affair by some show of approbation; and though supporting young K. in a contest for his county is a "higher figure" than we meant to pay, see him, and hear what he has to say of his prospects—what he can do to obtain a seat, and what he will do if he gets one. We need not caution him against'"—'hum, hum, hum,' muttered he, slurring over the words, and endeavouring to pass on to something else.
'May I ask against what I am supposed to be so secure?'
'Oh, nothing, nothing. A very small impertinence, but which Mr. Atlee found irresistible.'
'Pray let me hear it. It shall not irritate me.'
'He says, "There will be no more a fear of bribery in your case than of a debauch at Father Mathew's."'
'He is right there,' said Kearney. 'The only difference is that our forbearance will be founded on something stronger than a pledge.'
Walpole looked at the speaker, and was evidently struck by the calm command he had displayed of his passion.
'If we could forget Joe Atlee for a few minutes, Mr. Walpole, we might possibly gain something. I, at least, would be glad to know how far I might count on the Government aid in my project.'
'Ah, you want to—in fact, you would like that we should give you something like a regular—eh?—that is to say, that you could declare to certain people—naturally enough, I admit; but here is how we are, Kearney. Of course what I say now is literally between ourselves, and strictly confidential.'
'I shall so understand it,' said the other gravely.
'Well, now, here it is. The Irish vote, as the Yankees would call it, is of undoubted value to us, but it is confoundedly dear! With Cardinal Cullen on one side and Fenianism on the other, we have no peace. Time was when you all pulled the one way, and a sop to the Pope pleased you all. Now that will suffice no longer. The "Sovereign Pontiff dodge" is the surest of all ways to offend the Nationals; so that, in reality, what we want in the House is a number of Liberal Irishmen who will trust the Government to do as much for the Catholic Church as English bigotry will permit, and as much for the Irish peasant as will not endanger the rights of property over the Channel.'
'There's a wide field there, certainly,' said Dick, smiling.
'Is there not?' cried the other exultingly. 'Not only does it bowl over the Established Church and Protestant ascendency, but it inverts the position of landlord and tenant. To unsettle everything in Ireland, so that anybody might hope to be anything, or to own Heaven knows what—to legalise gambling for existence to a people who delight in high play, and yet not involve us in a civil war—was a grand policy, Kearney, a very grand policy. Not that I expect a young, ardent spirit like yourself, fresh from college ambitions and high-flown hopes, will take this view.'
Dick only smiled and shook his head.
'Just so,' resumed Walpole. 'I could not expect you to like this programme, and I know already all that you allege against it; but, as B. says, Kearney, the man who rules Ireland must know how to take command of a ship in a state of mutiny, and yet never suppress the revolt. There's the problem—as much discipline as you can, as much indiscipline as you can bear. The brutal old Tories used to master the crew and hang the ringleaders; and for that matter, they might have hanged the whole ship's company. We know better, Kearney; and we have so confused and addled them by our policy, that, if a fellow were to strike his captain, he would never be quite sure whether he was to be strung up at the gangway or made a petty-officer. Do you see it now?'
'I can scarcely say that I do see it—I mean, that I see it as you do.'
'I scarcely could hope that you should, or, at least, that you should do so at once; but now, as to this seat for King's County, I believe we have already found our man. I'll not be sure, nor will I ask you to regard the matter as fixed on, but I suspect we are in relations—you know what I mean—with an old supporter, who has been beaten half-a-dozen times in our interest, but is coming up once more. I'll ascertain about this positively, and let you know. And then'—here he drew breath freely and talked more at ease—'if we should find our hands free, and that we see our way clearly to support you, what assurance could you give us that you would go through with the contest, and fight the battle out?'
'I believe, if I engage in the struggle, I shall continue to the end,' said Dick, half doggedly.
'Your personal pluck and determination I do not question for a moment. Now, let us see'—here he seemed to ruminate for some seconds, and looked like one debating a matter with himself. 'Yes,' cried he at last, 'I believe that will be the best way. I am sure it will. When do you go back, Mr. Kearney—to Kilgobbin, I mean?'
'My intention was to go down the day after to-morrow.'
'That will be Friday. Let us see, what is Friday? Friday is the 15th, is it not?'
'Friday'—muttered the other—'Friday? There's the Education Board, and the Harbour Commissioners, and something else at—to be sure, a visit to the Popish schools with Dean O'Mahony. You couldn't make it Saturday, could you?'
'Not conveniently. I had already arranged a plan for Saturday. But why should I delay here—to what end?'
'Only that, if you could say Saturday, I would like to go down with you.'
From the mode in which he said these words, it was clear that he looked for an almost rapturous acceptance of his gracious proposal; but Dick did not regard the project in that light, nor was he overjoyed in the least at the proposal.
'I mean,' said Walpole, hastening to relieve the awkwardness of silence—'I mean that I could talk over this affair with your father in a practical business fashion, that you could scarcely enter into. Still, if Saturday could not be managed, I'll try if I could not run down with you on Friday. Only for a day, remember, I must return by the evening train. We shall arrive by what hour?'
'By breakfast-time,' said Dick, but still not over-graciously.
'Nothing could be better; that will give us a long day, and I should like a full discussion with your father. You'll manage to send me on to—what's the name?'
'Moate. Yes; that's the place. The up-train leaves at midnight, I remember. Now that's all settled. You'll take me up, then, here on Friday morning, Kearney, on your way to the station, and meanwhile I'll set to work, and put off these deputations and circulars till Saturday, when, I remember, I have a dinner with the provost. Is there anything more to be thought of?'
'I believe not,' muttered Dick, still sullenly.
'Bye-bye, then, till Friday morning,' said he, as he turned towards his desk, and began arranging a mass of papers before him.
'Here's a jolly mess with a vengeance,' muttered Kearney, as he descended the stair. 'The Viceroy's private secretary to be domesticated with a "head-centre" and an escaped convict. There's not even the doubtful comfort of being able to make my family assist me through the difficulty.'
PLMNUDDM CASTLE, NORTH WALES
Among the articles of that wardrobe of Cecil Walpole's of which Atlee had possessed himself so unceremoniously, there was a very gorgeous blue dress-coat, with the royal button and a lining of sky-blue silk, which formed the appropriate costume of the gentlemen of the viceregal household. This, with a waistcoat to match, Atlee had carried off with him in the indiscriminating haste of a last moment, and although thoroughly understanding that he could not avail himself of a costume so distinctively the mark of a condition, yet, by one of the contrarieties of his strange nature, in which the desire for an assumption of any kind was a passion, he had tried on that coat fully a dozen times, and while admiring how well it became him, and how perfectly it seemed to suit his face and figure, he had dramatised to himself the part of an aide-de-camp in waiting, rehearsing the little speeches in which he presented this or that imaginary person to his Excellency, and coining the small money of epigram in which he related the news of the day.
'How I should cut out those dreary subalterns with their mess-room drolleries, how I should shame those tiresome cornets, whose only glitter is on their sabretaches!' muttered he, as he surveyed himself in his courtly attire. 'It is all nonsense to say that the dress a man wears can only impress the surrounders. It is on himself, on his own nature and temper, his mind, his faculties, his very ambition, there is a transformation effected; and I, Joe Atlee, feel myself, as I move about in this costume, a very different man from that humble creature in grey tweed, whose very coat reminds him he is a "cad," and who has but to look in the glass to read his condition.'
On the morning he learned that Lady Maude would join him that day at dinner, Atlee conceived the idea of appearing in this costume. It was not only that she knew nothing of the Irish Court and its habits, but she made an almost ostentatious show of her indifference to all about it, and in the few questions she asked, the tone of interrogation might have suited Africa as much as Ireland. It was true, she was evidently puzzled to know what place or condition Atlee occupied; his name was not familiar to her, and yet he seemed to know everything and everybody, enjoyed a large share of his Excellency's confidence, and appeared conversant with every detail placed before him.
That she would not directly ask him what place he occupied in the household he well knew, and he felt at the same time what a standing and position that costume would give him, what self-confidence and ease it would also confer, and how, for once in his life, free from the necessity of asserting a station, he could devote all his energies to the exercise of agreeability and those resources of small-talk in which he knew he was a master.
Besides all this, it was to be his last day at the castle—he was to start the next morning for Constantinople, with all instructions regarding the spy Speridionides, and he desired to make a favourable impression on Lady Maude before he left. Though intensely, even absurdly vain, Atlee was one of those men who are so eager for success in life that they are ever on the watch lest any weakness of disposition or temper should serve to compromise their chances, and in this way he was led to distrust what he would in his puppyism have liked to have thought a favourable effect produced by him on her ladyship. She was intensely cold in manner, and yet he had made her more than once listen to him with interest. She rarely smiled, and he had made her actually laugh. Her apathy appeared complete, and yet he had so piqued her curiosity that she could not forbear a question.
Acting as her uncle's secretary, and in constant communication with him, it was her affectation to imagine herself a political character, and she did not scruple to avow the hearty contempt she felt for the usual occupation of women's lives. Atlee's knowledge, therefore, actually amazed her: his hardihood, which never forsook him, enabled him to give her the most positive assurances on anything he spoke; and as he had already fathomed the chief prejudices of his Excellency, and knew exactly where and to what his political wishes tended, she heard nothing from her uncle but expressions of admiration for the just views, the clear and definite ideas, and the consummate skill with which that 'young fellow' distinguished himself.
'We shall have him in the House one of these days,' he would say; 'and I am much mistaken if he will not make a remarkable figure there.'
When Lady Maude sailed proudly into the library before dinner, Atlee was actually stunned by amazement at her beauty. Though not in actual evening-dress, her costume was that sort of demi-toilet compromise which occasionally is most becoming; and the tasteful lappet of Brussels lace, which, interwoven with her hair, fell down on either side so as to frame her face, softened its expression to a degree of loveliness he was not prepared for.
It was her pleasure—her caprice, perhaps—to be on this occasion unusually amiable and agreeable. Except by a sort of quiet dignity, there was no coldness, and she spoke of her uncle's health and hopes just as she might have discussed them with an old friend of the house.
When the butler flung wide the folding-doors into the dining-room and announced dinner, she was about to move on, when she suddenly stopped, and said, with a faint smile, 'Will you give me your arm?' Very simple words, and commonplace too, but enough to throw Atlee's whole nature into a convulsion of delight. And as he walked at her side it was in the very ecstasy of pride and exultation.
Dinner passed off with the decorous solemnity of that meal, at which the most emphatic utterances were the butler's 'Marcobrunner,' or 'Johannisberg.' The guests, indeed, spoke little, and the strangeness of their situation rather disposed to thought than conversation.
'You are going to Constantinople to-morrow, Mr. Atlee, my uncle tells me,' said she, after a longer silence than usual.
'Yes; his Excellency has charged me with a message, of which I hope to acquit myself well, though I own to my misgivings about it now.'
'You are too diffident, perhaps, of your powers,' said she; and there was a faint curl of the lip that made the words sound equivocally.
'I do not know if great modesty be amongst my failings,' said he laughingly. 'My friends would say not.'
'You mean, perhaps, that you are not without ambitions?'
'That is true. I confess to very bold ones.' And as he spoke he stole a glance towards her; but her pale face never changed.
'I wish, before you had gone, that you had settled that stupid muddle about the attack on—I forget the place.'
'Yes, Kil-gobbin—horrid name!—for the Premier still persists in thinking there was something in it, and worrying my uncle for explanations; and as somebody is to ask something when Parliament meets, it would be as well to have a letter to read to the House.'
'In what sense, pray?' asked Atlee mildly.
'Disavowing all: stating the story had no foundation: that there was no attack—no resistance—no member of the viceregal household present at any time.'
'That would be going too far; for then we should next have to deny Walpole's broken arm and his long confinement to house.'
'You may serve coffee in a quarter of an hour, Marcom,' said she, dismissing the butler; and then, as he left the room—'And you tell me seriously there was a broken arm in this case?'
'I can hide nothing from you, though I have taken an oath to silence,' said he, with an energy that seemed to defy repression. 'I will tell you everything, though it's little short of a perjury, only premising this much, that I know nothing from Walpole himself.'
With this much of preface, he went on to describe Walpole's visit to Kilgobbin as one of those adventurous exploits which young Englishmen fancy they have a sort of right to perform in the less civilised country. 'He imagined, I have no doubt,' said he, 'that he was studying the condition of Ireland, and investigating the land question, when he carried on a fierce flirtation with a pretty Irish girl.'
'And there was a flirtation?'
'Yes, but nothing more. Nothing really serious at any time. So far he behaved frankly and well, for even at the outset of the affair he owned to—a what shall I call it?—an entanglement was, I believe, his own word—an entanglement in England—'
'Did he not state more of this entanglement, with whom it was, or how, or where?'
'I should think not. At all events, they who told me knew nothing of these details. They only knew, as he said, that he was in a certain sense tied up, and that till Fate unbound him he was a prisoner.'
'Poor fellow, it was hard.'
'So he said, and so they believed him. Not that I myself believe he was ever seriously in love with the Irish girl.'
'And why not?'
'I may be wrong in my reading of him; but my impression is that he regards marriage as one of those solemn events which should contribute to a man's worldly fortune. Now an Irish connection could scarcely be the road to this.'
'What an ungallant admission,' said she, with a smile. 'I hope Mr. Walpole is not of your mind.' After a pause she said, 'And how was it that in your intimacy he told you nothing of this?'
He shook his head in dissent.
'Not even of the "entanglement"?'
'Not even of that. He would speak freely enough of his "egregious blunder," as he called it, in quitting his career and coming to Ireland; that it was a gross mistake for any man to take up Irish politics as a line in life; that they were puzzles in the present and lead to nothing in the future, and, in fact, that he wished himself back again in Italy every day he lived.'
'Was there any "entanglement" there also?'
'I cannot say. On these he made me no confidences.'
'Coffee, my lady!' said the butler, entering at this moment. Nor was Atlee grieved at the interruption.
'I am enough of a Turk,' said she laughingly, 'to like that muddy, strong coffee they give you in the East, and where the very smallness of the cups suggests its strength. You, I know, are impatient for your cigarette, Mr. Atlee, and I am about to liberate you.' While Atlee was muttering his assurances of how much he prized her presence, she broke in, 'Besides, I promised my uncle a visit before tea-time, and as I shall not see you again, I will wish you now a pleasant journey and a safe return.'
'Wish me success in my expedition,' said he eagerly.
'Yes, I will wish that also. One word more. I am very short-sighted, as you may see, but you wear a ring of great beauty. May I look at it?'
'It is pretty, certainly. It was a present Walpole made me. I am not sure that there is not a story attached to it, though I don't know it.'
'Perhaps it may be linked with the "entanglement,'" said she, laughing softly.
'For aught I know, so it may. Do you admire it?'
'Immensely,' said she, as she held it to the light.
'You can add immensely to its value if you will,' said he diffidently.
'In what way?'
'By keeping it, Lady Maude,' said he; and for once his cheek coloured with the shame of his own boldness.
'May I purchase it with one of my own? Will you have this, or this?' said she hurriedly.
'Anything that once was yours,' said he, in a mere whisper.
'Good-bye, Mr. Atlee.'
And he was alone!
The family at Kilgobbin Castle were seated at tea when Dick Kearney's telegram arrived. It bore the address, 'Lord Kilgobbin,' and ran thus: 'Walpole wishes to speak with you, and will come down with me on Friday; his stay cannot be beyond one day.—RICHARD KEARNEY.'
'What can he want with me?' cried Kearney, as he tossed over the despatch to his daughter. 'If he wants to talk over the election, I could tell him per post that I think it a folly and an absurdity. Indeed, if he is not coming to propose for either my niece or my daughter, he might spare himself the journey.'
'Who is to say that such is not his intention, papa?' said Kate merrily. 'Old Catty had a dream about a piebald horse and a haystack on fire, and something about a creel of duck eggs, and I trust that every educated person knows what they mean.'
'I do not,' cried Nina boldly.
'Marriage, my dear. One is marriage by special license, with a bishop or a dean to tie the knot; another is a runaway match. I forget what the eggs signify.'
'An unbroken engagement,' interposed Donogan gravely, 'so long as none of them are smashed.'
'On the whole, then, it is very promising tidings,' said Kate.
'It may be easy to be more promising than the election,' said the old man.
'I'm not flattered, uncle, to hear that I am easier to win than a seat in Parliament.'
'That does not imply you are not worth a great deal more,' said Kearney, with an air of gallantry. 'I know if I was a young fellow which I'd strive most for. Eh, Mr. Daniel? I see you agree with me.'
Donogan's face, slightly flushed before, became now crimson as he sipped his tea in confusion, unable to utter a word.
'And so,' resumed Kearney, 'he'll only give us a day to make up our minds! It's lucky, girls, that you have the telegram there to tell you what's coming.'
'It would have been more piquant, papa, if he had made his message say, "I propose for Nina. Reply by wire."'
'Or, "May I marry your daughter?" chimed in Nina quickly.
'There it is, now,' broke in Kearney, laughing, 'you're fighting for him already! Take my word for it, Mr. Daniel, there's no so sure way to get a girl for a wife, as to make her believe there's another only waiting to be asked. It's the threat of the opposition coach on the road keeps down the fares.'
'Papa is all wrong,' said Kate. 'There is no such conceivable pleasure as saying No to a man that another woman is ready to accept. It is about the most refined sort of self-flattery imaginable.'
'Not to say that men are utterly ignorant of that freemasonry among women which gives us all an interest in the man who marries one of us,' said Nina. 'It is only your confirmed old bachelor that we all agree in detesting.'
''Faith, I give you up altogether. You're a puzzle clean beyond me,' said Kearney, with a sigh.
'I think it is Balzac tells us,' said Donogan, 'that women and politics are the only two exciting pursuits in life, for you never can tell where either of them will lead you.'
'And who is Balzac?' asked Kearney.
'Oh, uncle, don't let me hear you ask who is the greatest novelist that ever lived.'
''Faith, my dear, except Tristram Shandy and Tom Jones, and maybe Robinson Crusoe—if that be a novel—my experience goes a short way. When I am not reading what's useful—as in the Farmer's Chronicle or Purcell's "Rotation of Crops"—I like the "Accidents" in the newspapers, where they give you the name of the gentleman that was smashed in the train, and tell you how his wife was within ten days of her third confinement; how it was only last week he got a step as a clerk in Somerset House. Haven't you more materials for a sensation novel there than any of your three-volume fellows will give you?'
'The times we are living in give most of us excitement enough,' said Donogan. 'The man who wants to gamble for life itself need not be balked now.'
'You mean that a man can take a shot at an emperor?' said Kearney inquiringly.
'No, not that exactly; though there are stakes of that kind some men would not shrink from. What are called "arms of precision" have had a great influence on modern politics. When there's no time for a plebiscite, there's always time for a pistol.'
'Bad morality, Mr. Daniel,' said Kearney gravely.
'I suspect we do not fairly measure what Mr. Daniel says,' broke in Kate. 'He may mean to indicate a revolution, and not justify it.'
'I mean both!' said Donogan. 'I mean that the mere permission to live under a bad government is too high a price to pay for life at all. I'd rather go "down into the streets," as they call it, and have it out, than I'd drudge on, dogged by policemen, and sent to gaol on suspicion.'
'He is right,' cried Nina. 'If I were a man, I'd think as he does.'
'Then I'm very glad you're not,' said Kearney; 'though, for the matter of rebellion, I believe you would be a more dangerous Fenian as you are. Am I right, Mr. Daniel?'
'I am disposed to say you are, sir,' was his mild reply.
'Ain't we important people this evening!' cried Kearney, as the servant entered with another telegram. 'This is for you, Mr. Daniel. I hope we're to hear that the Cabinet wants you in Downing Street.'
'I'd rather it did not,' said he, with a very peculiar smile, which did not escape Kate's keen glance across the table, as he said, 'May I read my despatch?'
'By all means,' said Kearney; while, to leave him more undisturbed, he turned to Nina, with some quizzical remark about her turn for the telegraph coming next. 'What news would you wish it should bring you, Nina?' asked he.
'I scarcely know. I have so many things to wish for, I should be puzzled which to place first.'
'Should you like to be Queen of Greece?' asked Kate.
'First tell me if there is to be a King, and who is he?'
'Maybe it's Mr. Daniel there, for I see he has gone off in a great hurry to say he accepts the crown.'
'What should you ask for, Kate,' cried Nina, 'if Fortune were civil enough to give you a chance?'
'Two days' rain for my turnips,' said Kate quickly. 'I don't remember wishing for anything so much in all my life.'
'Your turnips!' cried Nina contemptuously.
'Why not? If you were a queen, would you not have to think of those who depended on you for support and protection? And how should I forget my poor heifers and my calves—calves of very tender years some of them—and all with as great desire to fatten themselves as any of us have to do what will as probably lead to our destruction?'
'You're not going to have the rain, anyhow,' said Kearney; 'and you'll not be sorry, Nina, for you wanted a fine day to finish your sketch of Croghan Castle.'
'Oh! by the way, has old Bob recovered from his lameness yet, to be fit to be driven?'
'Ask Kitty there; she can tell you, perhaps.'
'Well, I don't think I'd harness him yet. The smith has pinched him in the off fore-foot, and he goes tender still.'
'So do I when I go afoot, for I hate it,' cried Nina; 'and I want a day in the open air, and I want to finish my old Castle of Croghan—and last of all,' whispered she in Kate's ear, 'I want to show my distinguished friend Mr. Walpole that the prospect of a visit from him does not induce me to keep the house. So that, from all the wants put together, I shall take an early breakfast, and start to-morrow for Cruhan—is not that the name of the little village in the bog?'
'That's Miss Betty's own townland—though I don't know she's much the richer of her tenants,' said Kearney, laughing. 'The oldest inhabitants never remember a rent-day.'
'What a happy set of people!'
'Just the reverse. You never saw misery till you saw them. There is not a cabin fit for a human being, nor is there one creature in the place with enough rags to cover him.'
'They were very civil as I drove through. I remember how a little basket had fallen out, and a girl followed me ten miles of the road to restore it,' said Nina.
'That they would; and if it were a purse of gold they 'd have done the same,' cried Kate.
'Won't you say that they'd shoot you for half a crown, though?' said Kearney, 'and that the worst "Whiteboys" of Ireland come out of the same village?'
'I do like a people so unlike all the rest of the world,' cried Nina; 'whose motives none can guess at, none forecast. I'll go there to-morrow.'
These words were said as Daniel had just re-entered the room, and he stopped and asked, 'Where to?'
'To a Whiteboy village called Cruhan, some ten miles off, close to an old castle I have been sketching.'
'Do you mean to go there to-morrow?' asked he, half-carelessly; but not waiting for her answer, and as if fully preoccupied, he turned and left the room.
A DRIVE AT SUNRISE
The little basket-carriage in which Nina made her excursions, and which courtesy called a phaeton, would scarcely have been taken as a model at Long Acre. A massive old wicker-cradle constituted the body, which, from a slight inequality in the wheels, had got an uncomfortable 'lurch to port,' while the rumble was supplied by a narrow shelf, on which her foot-page sat dos a dos to herself—a position not rendered more dignified by his invariable habit of playing pitch-and-toss with himself, as a means of distraction in travel.
Except Bob, the sturdy little pony in the shafts, nothing could be less schooled or disciplined than Larry himself. At sight of a party at marbles or hopscotch, he was sure to desert his post, trusting to short cuts and speed to catch up his mistress later on.
As for Bob, a tuft of clover or fresh grass on the roadside were temptations to the full as great to him, and no amount of whipping could induce him to continue his road leaving these dainties untasted. As in Mr. Gill's time, he had carried that important personage, he had contracted the habit of stopping at every cabin by the way, giving to each halt the amount of time he believed the colloquy should have occupied, and then, without any admonition, resuming his journey. In fact, as an index to the refractory tenants on the estate, his mode of progression, with its interruptions, might have been employed, and the sturdy fashion in which he would 'draw up' at certain doors might be taken as the forerunner of an ejectment.
The blessed change by which the county saw the beast now driven by a beautiful young lady, instead of bestrode by an inimical bailiff, added to a popularity which Ireland in her poorest and darkest hour always accords to beauty; and they, indeed, who trace points of resemblance between two distant peoples, have not failed to remark that the Irish, like the Italians, invariably refer all female loveliness to that type of surpassing excellence, the Madonna.
Nina had too much of the South in her blood not to like the heartfelt, outspoken admiration which greeted her as she went; and the 'God bless you—but you are a lovely crayture!' delighted, while it amused her in the way the qualification was expressed.
It was soon after sunrise on this Friday morning that she drove down the approach, and made her way across the bog towards Cruhan. Though pretending to her uncle to be only eager to finish her sketch of Croghan Castle, her journey was really prompted by very different considerations. By Dick's telegram she learned that Walpole was to arrive that day at Kilgobbin, and as his stay could not be prolonged beyond the evening, she secretly determined she would absent herself so much as she could from home—only returning to a late dinner—and thus show her distinguished friend how cheaply she held the occasion of his visit, and what value she attached to the pleasure of seeing him at the castle.
She knew Walpole thoroughly—she understood the working of such a nature to perfection, and she could calculate to a nicety the mortification, and even anger, such a man would experience at being thus slighted. 'These men,' thought she, 'only feel for what is done to them before the world: it is the insult that is passed upon them in public, the soufflet that is given in the street, that alone can wound them to the quick.' A woman may grow tired of their attentions, become capricious and change, she may be piqued by jealousy, or, what is worse, by indifference; but, while she makes no open manifestation of these, they can be borne: the really insupportable thing is, that a woman should be able to exhibit a man as a creature that had no possible concern or interest for her—one might come or go, or stay on, utterly unregarded or uncared for. To have played this game during the long hours of a long day was a burden she did not fancy to encounter, whereas to fill the part for the short space of a dinner, and an hour or so in the drawing-room, she looked forward to rather as an exciting amusement.
'He has had a day to throw away,' said she to herself, 'and he will give it to the Greek girl. I almost hear him as he says it. How one learns to know these men in every nook and crevice of their natures, and how by never relaxing a hold on the one clue of their vanity, one can trace every emotion of their lives.'
In her old life of Rome these small jealousies, these petty passions of spite, defiance, and wounded sensibility, filled a considerable space of her existence. Her position in society, dependent as she was, exposed her to small mortifications: the cold semi-contemptuous notice of women who saw she was prettier than themselves, and the half-swaggering carelessness of the men, who felt that a bit of flirtation with the Titian Girl was as irresponsible a thing as might be.
'But here,' thought she, 'I am the niece of a man of recognised station; I am treated in his family with a more than ordinary deference and respect—his very daughter would cede the place of honour to me, and my will is never questioned. It is time to teach this pretentious fine gentleman that our positions are not what they once were. If I were a man, I should never cease till I had fastened a quarrel on him; and being a woman, I could give my love to the man who would avenge me. Avenge me of what? a mere slight, a mood of impertinent forgetfulness—nothing more—as if anything could be more to a woman's heart! A downright wrong can be forgiven, an absolute injury pardoned—one is raised to self-esteem by such an act of forgiveness; but there is no elevation in submitting patiently to a slight. It is simply the confession that the liberty taken with you was justifiable—was even natural.'
These were the sum of her thoughts as she went, ever recurring to the point how Walpole would feel offended by her absence, and how such a mark of her indifference would pique his vanity, even to insult.
Then she pictured to her mind how this fine gentleman would feel the boredom of that dreary day. True, it would be but a day; but these men were not tolerant of the people who made time pass heavily with them, and they revenged their own ennui on all around them. How he would snub the old man for the son's pretensions, and sneer at the young man for his disproportioned ambition; and last of all, how he would mystify poor Kate, till she never knew whether he cared to fatten calves and turkeys, or was simply drawing her on to little details, which he was to dramatise one day in an after-dinner story.
She thought of the closed pianoforte, and her music on the top—the songs he loved best; she had actually left Mendelssohn there to be seen—a very bait to awaken his passion. She thought she actually saw the fretful impatience with which he threw the music aside and walked to the window to hide his anger.
'This excursion of Mademoiselle Nina was then a sudden thought, you tell me; only planned last night? And is the country considered safe enough for a young lady to go off in this fashion. Is it secure—is it decent? I know he will ask, "Is it decent?" Kate will not feel—she will not see the impertinence with which he will assure her that she herself may be privileged to do these things; that her "Irishry" was itself a safeguard, but Dick will notice the sneer. Oh, if he would but resent it! How little hope there is of that. These young Irishmen get so overlaid by the English in early life, they never resist their dominance: they accept everything in a sort of natural submission. I wonder does the rebel sentiment make them any bolder?' And then she bethought her of some of those national songs Mr. Daniel had been teaching her, and which seemed to have such an overwhelming influence over his passionate nature. She had even seen the tears in his eyes, and twice he could not speak to her with emotion. What a triumph it would have been to have made the high-bred Mr. Walpole feel in this wise. Possibly at the moment, the vulgar Fenian seemed the finer fellow. Scarcely had the thought struck her, than there, about fifty yards in advance, and walking at a tremendous pace, was the very man himself.
'Is not that Mr. Daniel, Larry?' asked she quickly.
But Larry had already struck off on a short cut across the bog, and was miles away.
Yes, it could be none other than Mr. Daniel. The coat thrown back, the loose-stepping stride, and the occasional flourish of the stick as he went, all proclaimed the man. The noise of the wheels on the hard road made him turn his head; and now, seeing who it was, he stood uncovered till she drove up beside him.
'Who would have thought to see you here at this hour?' said he, saluting her with deep respect.
'No one is more surprised at it than myself,' said she, laughing; 'but I have a partly-done sketch of an old castle, and I thought in this fine autumn weather I should like to throw in the colour. And besides, there are now and then with me unsocial moments when I fancy I like to be alone. Do you know what these are?'
'Do I know?—too well.'
'These motives then, not to think of others, led me to plan this excursion; and now will you be as candid, and say what is your project?'
'I am bound for a little village called Cruhan: a very poor, unenticing spot; but I want to see the people there, and hear what they say of these rumours of new laws about the land.'
'And can they tell you anything that would be likely to interest you?'
'Yes, their very mistakes would convey their hopes; and hopes have come to mean a great deal in Ireland.'
'Our roads are then the same. I am on my way to Croghan Castle.'
'Croghan is but a mile from my village of Cruhan,' said he.
'I am aware of that, and it was in your village of Cruhan, as you call it, I meant to stable my pony till I had finished my sketch; but my gentle page, Larry, I see, has deserted me; I don't know if I shall find him again.'
'Will you let me be your groom? I shall be at the village almost as soon as yourself, and I'll look after your pony.'
'Do you think you could manage to seat yourself on that shelf at the back?'
'It is a great temptation you offer me, if I were not ashamed to be a burden.'
'Not to me, certainly; and as for the pony, I scarcely think he'll mind it.'
'At all events, I shall walk the hills.'
'I believe there are none. If I remember aright, it is all through a level bog.'
'You were at tea last night when a certain telegram came?'
'To be sure I was. I was there, too, when one came for you, and saw you leave the room immediately after.'
'In evident confusion?' added he, smiling.
'Yes, I should say, in evident confusion. At least, you looked like one who had got some very unexpected tidings.'
'So it was. There is the message.' And he drew from his pocket a slip of paper, with the words,' Walpole is coming for a day. Take care to be out of the way till he is gone.'
'Which means that he is no friend of yours.'
'He is neither friend nor enemy. I never saw him; but he is the private secretary, and, I believe, the nephew of the Viceroy, and would find it very strange company to be domiciled with a rebel.'
'And you are a rebel?'
'At your service, Mademoiselle Kostalergi.'
'And a Fenian, and head-centre?'
'A Fenian and a head-centre.'
'And probably ought to be in prison?'
'I have been already, and as far as the sentence of English law goes, should be still there.'
'How delighted I am to know that. I mean, what a thrilling sensation it is to be driving along with a man so dangerous, that the whole country would be up and in pursuit of him at a mere word.'
'That is true. I believe I should be worth a few hundred pounds to any one who would capture me. I suspect it is the only way I could turn to valuable account.'
'What if I were to drive you into Moate and give you up?'
'You might. I'll not run away.'
'I should go straight to the Podesta, or whatever he is, and say, "Here is the notorious Daniel Donogan, the rebel you are all afraid of.'"
'How came you by my name?' asked he curtly.
'By accident. I overheard Dick telling it to his sister. It dropped from him unawares, and I was on the terrace and caught the words.'
'I am in your hands completely,' said he, in the same calm voice; 'but I repeat my words: I'll not run away.'
'That is, because you trust to my honour.'
'It is exactly so—because I trust to your honour.'
'But how if I were to have strong convictions in opposition to all you were doing—how if I were to believe that all you intended was a gross wrong and a fearful cruelty?'
'Still you would not betray me. You would say, "This man is an enthusiast—he imagines scores of impossible things—but, at least, he is not a self-seeker—a fool possibly, but not a knave. It would be hard to hang him."'
'So it would. I have just thought that.'
'And then you might reason thus: "How will it serve the other cause to send one poor wretch to the scaffold, where there are so many just as deserving of it?"'
'And are there many?'
'I should say close on two millions at home here, and some hundred thousand in America.'
'And if you be as strong as you say, what craven creatures you must be not to assert your own convictions.'
'So we are—I'll not deny it—craven creatures; but remember this, mademoiselle, we are not all like-minded. Some of us would be satisfied with small concessions, some ask for more, some demand all; and as the Government higgles with some, and hangs the others, they mystify us all, and end by confounding us.'
'That is to say, you are terrified.'
'Well, if you like that word better, I'll not quarrel about it.'
'I wonder how men as irresolute ever turn to rebellion. When our people set out for Crete, they went in another spirit to meet the enemy.'
'Don't be too sure of that. The boldest fellows in that exploit were the liberated felons: they fought with desperation, for they had left the hangman behind.'
'How dare you defame a great people!' cried she angrily.
'I was with them, mademoiselle. I saw them and fought amongst them; and to prove it, I will speak modern Greek with you, if you like it.'
'Oh! do,' said she. 'Let me hear those noble sounds again, though I shall be sadly at a loss to answer you. I have been years and years away from Athens.'
'I know that. I know your story from one who loved to talk of you, all unworthy as he was of such a theme.'
'And who was this?'
'Atlee—Joe Atlee, whom you saw here some months ago.'
'I remember him,' said she thoughtfully.
'He was here, if I mistake not, with that other friend of yours you have so strangely escaped from to-day.'
'Yes, Mr. Walpole; to meet whom would not have involved you, at least, in any contrariety.'
'Is this a question, sir? Am I to suppose your curiosity asks an answer here?'
'I am not so bold; but I own my suspicions have mastered my discretion, and, seeing you here this morning, I did think you did not care to meet him.'
'Well, sir, you were right. I am not sure that my reasons for avoiding him were exactly as strong as yours, but they sufficed for me.'
There was something so like reproof in the way these words were uttered that Donogan had not courage to speak for some time after. At last he said, 'In one thing, your Greeks have an immense advantage over us here. In your popular songs you could employ your own language, and deal with your own wrongs in the accents that became them. We had to take the tongue of the conqueror, which was as little suited to our traditions as to our feelings, and travestied both. Only fancy the Greek vaunting his triumphs or bewailing his defeats in Turkish!'
'What do you know of Mr. Walpole?' asked she abruptly.
'Very little beyond the fact that he is an agent of the Government, who believes that he understands the Irish people.'
'Which you are disposed to doubt?'
'I only know that I am an Irishman, and I do not understand them. An organ, however, is not less an organ that it has many "stops."'
'I am not sure Cecil Walpole does not read you aright. He thinks that you have a love of intrigue and plot, but without the conspirator element that Southern people possess; and that your native courage grows impatient at the delays of mere knavery, and always betrays you.'
'That distinction was never his—that was your own.'
'So it was; but he adopted it when he heard it.'
'That is the way the rising politician is educated,' cried Donogan. 'It is out of these petty thefts he makes all his capital, and the poor people never suspect how small a creature can be their millionaire.'
'Is not that our village yonder, where I see the smoke?'
'Yes; and there on the stile sits your little groom awaiting you. I shall get down here.'
'Stay where you are, sir. It is by your blunder, not by your presence, that you might compromise me.' And this time her voice caught a tone of sharp severity that suppressed reply.
The little village of Cruhan-bawn, into which they now drove, was, in every detail of wretchedness, dirt, ruin, and desolation, intensely Irish. A small branch of the well-known bog-stream, the 'Brusna,' divided one part of the village from the other, and between these two settlements so separated there raged a most rancorous hatred and jealousy, and Cruhan-beg, as the smaller collection of hovels was called, detested Cruhan-bawn with an intensity of dislike that might have sufficed for a national antipathy, where race, language, and traditions had contributed their aids to the animosity.
There was, however, one real and valid reason for this inveterate jealousy. The inhabitants of Cruhan-beg—who lived, as they said themselves, 'beyond the river'—strenuously refused to pay any rent for their hovels; while 'the cis-Brusnaites,' as they may be termed, demeaned themselves to the condition of tenants in so far as to acknowledge the obligation of rent, though the oldest inhabitant vowed he had never seen a receipt in his life, nor had the very least conception of a gale-day.
If, therefore, actually, there was not much to separate them on the score of principle, they were widely apart in theory, and the sturdy denizens of the smaller village looked down upon the others as the ignoble slaves of a Saxon tyranny. The village in its entirety—for the division was a purely local and arbitrary one—belonged to Miss Betty O'Shea, forming the extreme edge of her estate as it merged into the vast bog; and, with the habitual fate of frontier populations, it contained more people of lawless lives and reckless habits than were to be found for miles around. There was not a resource of her ingenuity she had not employed for years back to bring these refractory subjects into the pale of a respectable tenantry. Every process of the law had been essayed in turn. They had been hunted down by the police, unroofed, and turned into the wide bog; their chattels had been 'canted,' and themselves—a last resource—cursed from the altar; but with that strange tenacity that pertains to life where there is little to live for, these creatures survived all modes of persecution, and came back into their ruined hovels to defy the law and beard the Church, and went on living—in some strange, mysterious way of their own—an open challenge to all political economy, and a sore puzzle to the Times commissioner when he came to report on the condition of the cottier in Ireland.
At certain seasons of county excitement—such as an election or an unusually weighty assizes—it was not deemed perfectly safe to visit the village, and even the police would not have adventured on the step except with a responsible force. At other periods, the most marked feature of the place would be that of utter vacuity and desolation. A single inhabitant here and there smoking listlessly at his door—a group of women, with their arms concealed beneath their aprons, crouching under a ruined wall—or a few ragged children, too miserable and dispirited even for play, would be all that would be seen.
At a spot where the stream was fordable for a horse, the page Larry had already stationed himself, and now walked into the river, which rose over his knees, to show the road to his mistress.
'The bailiffs is on them to-day,' said he, with a gleeful look in his eye; for any excitement, no matter at what cost to others, was intensely pleasurable to him.
'What is he saying?' asked Nina.
'They are executing some process of law against these people,' muttered Donogan. 'It's an old story in Ireland; but I had as soon you had been spared the sight.'
'Is it quite safe for yourself?' whispered she. 'Is there not some danger in being seen here?'
'Oh, if I could but think that you cared—I mean ever so slightly,' cried he, with fervour, 'I'd call this moment of my danger the proudest of my life!'
Though declarations of this sort—more or less sincere as chance might make them—were things Nina was well used to, she could not help marking the impassioned manner of him who now spoke, and bent her eyes steadily on him.
'It is true,' said he, as if answering the interrogation in her gaze. 'A poor outcast as I am—a rebel—a felon—anything you like to call me—the slightest show of your interest in me gives my life a value, and my hope a purpose I never knew till now.'
'Such interest would be but ill-bestowed if it only served to heighten your danger. Are you known here?'
'He who has stood in the dock, as I have, is sure to be known by some one. Not that the people would betray me. There is poverty and misery enough in that wretched village, and yet there's not one so hungry or so ragged that he would hand me over to the law to make himself rich for life.'
'Then what do you mean to do?' asked she hurriedly.
'Walk boldly through the village at the head of your pony, as I am now—your guide to Croghan Castle.'
'But we were to have stabled the beast here. I intended to have gone on foot to Croghan.'
'Which you cannot now. Do you know what English law is, lady?' cried he fiercely. 'This pony and this carriage, if they had shelter here, are confiscated to the landlord for his rent. It's little use to say you owe nothing to this owner of the soil; it's enough that they are found amongst the chattels of his debtors.'
'I cannot believe this is law.'
'You can prove it—at the loss of your pony; and it is mercy and generous dealing when compared with half the enactments our rulers have devised for us. Follow me. I see the police have not yet come down. I will go on in front and ask the way to Croghan.'
There was that sort of peril in the adventure now that stimulated Nina and excited her; and as they stoutly wended their way through the crowd, she was far from insensible to the looks of admiration that were bent on her from every side.
'What are they saying?' asked she; 'I do not know their language.'
'It is Irish,' said he; 'they are talking of your beauty.'
'I should so like to follow their words,' said she, with the smile of one to whom such homage had ever its charm.
'That wild-looking fellow, that seemed to utter an imprecation, has just pronounced a fervent blessing; what he has said was, "May every glance of your eye be a candle to light you to glory."'
A half-insolent laugh at this conceit was all Nina's acknowledgment of it. Short greetings and good wishes were now rapidly exchanged between Donogan and the people, as the little party made their way through the crowd—the men standing bareheaded, and the women uttering words of admiration, some even crossing themselves piously, at sight of such loveliness, as, to them, recalled the ideal of all beauty.
'The police are to be here at one o'clock,' said Donogan, translating a phrase of one of the bystanders.
'And is there anything for them to seize on?' asked she.
'No; but they can level the cabins,' cried he bitterly. 'We have no more right to shelter than to food.'
Moody and sad, he walked along at the pony's head, and did not speak another word till they had left the village far behind them.
Larry, as usual, had found something to interest him, and dropped behind in the village, and they were alone.
A passing countryman, to whom Donogan addressed a few words in Irish, told them that a short distance from Croghan they could stable the pony at a small 'shebeen.'
On reaching this, Nina, who seemed to have accepted Donogan's companionship without further question, directed him to unpack the carriage and take out her easel and her drawing materials. 'You'll have to carry these—fortunately not very far, though,' said she, smiling, 'and then you'll have to come back here and fetch this basket.'
'It is a very proud slavery—command me how you will,' muttered he, not without emotion.
'That,' continued she, pointing to the basket, 'contains my breakfast, and luncheon or dinner, and I invite you to be my guest.'
'And I accept with rapture. Oh!' cried he passionately, 'what whispered to my heart this morning that this would be the happiest day of my life!'
'If so, Fate has scarcely been generous to you.' And her lip curled half superciliously as she spoke.
'I'd not say that. I have lived amidst great hopes, many of them dashed, it is true, by disappointment; but who that has been cheered by glorious daydreams has not tasted moments at least of exquisite bliss?'
'I don't know that I have much sympathy with political ambitions,' said she pettishly.
'Have you tasted—have you tried them? Do you know what it is to feel the heart of a nation throb and beat?—to know that all that love can do to purify and elevate, can be exercised for the countless thousands of one's own race and lineage, and to think that long after men have forgotten your name, some heritage of freedom will survive to say that there once lived one who loved his country.'
'This is very pretty enthusiasm.'
'Oh, how is it that you, who can stimulate one's heart to such confessions, know nothing of the sentiment?'
'I have my ambitions,' said she coldly, almost sternly.
'Let me hear some of them.'
'They are not like yours, though they are perhaps just as impossible.' She spoke in a broken, unconnected manner, like one who was talking aloud the thoughts that came laggingly; then with a sudden earnestness she said, 'I'll tell you one of them. It's to catch the broad bold light that has just beat on the old castle there, and brought out all its rich tints of greys and yellows in such a glorious wealth of colour. Place my easel here, under the trees; spread that rug for yourself to lie on. No—you won't have it? Well, fold it neatly, and place it there for my feet: very nicely done. And now, Signer Ribello, you may unpack that basket, and arrange our breakfast, and when you have done all these, throw yourself down on the grass, and either tell me a pretty story, or recite some nice verses for me, or be otherwise amusing and agreeable.'
'Shall I do what will best please myself? If so, it will be to lie here and look at you.'
'Be it so,' said she, with a sigh. 'I have always thought, in looking at them, how saints are bored by being worshipped—it adds fearfully to martyrdom, but happily I am used to it. "Oh, the vanity of that girl!" Yes, sir, say it out: tell her frankly that if she has no friend to caution her against this besetting wile, that you will be that friend. Tell her that whatever she has of attraction is spoiled and marred by this self-consciousness, and that just as you are a rebel without knowing it, so should she be charming and never suspect it. Is not that coming nicely,' said she, pointing to the drawing; 'see how that tender light is carried down from those grey walls to the banks beneath, and dies away in that little pool, where the faintest breath of air is rustling. Don't look at me, sir, look at my drawing.'
'True, there is no tender light there,' muttered he, gazing at her eyes, where the enormous size of the pupils had given a character of steadfast brilliancy, quite independent of shape, or size, or colour.
'You know very little about it,' said she saucily; then, bending over the drawing, she said, 'That middle distance wants a bit of colour: you shall aid me here.'
'How am I to aid you?' asked he, in sheer simplicity.
'I mean that you should be that bit of colour. There, take my scarlet cloak, and perch yourself yonder on that low rock. A few minutes will do. Was there ever immortality so cheaply purchased! Your biographer shall tell that you were the figure in that famous sketch—what will be called in the cant of art, one of Nina Kostalergi's earliest and happiest efforts. There, now, dear Mr. Donogan, do as you are bid.'
'Do you know the Greek ballad, where a youth remembers that the word "dear" has been coupled with his name—a passing courtesy, if even so much, but enough to light up a whole chamber in his heart?'
'I know nothing of Greek ballads. How does it go?'
'It is a simple melody, in a low key.' And he sang, in a deep but tremulous voice, to a very plaintive air—
'I took her hand within my own, I drew her gently nearer, And whispered almost on her cheek, "Oh, would that I were dearer." Dearer! No, that's not my prayer: A stranger, e'en the merest, Might chance to have some value there; But I would be the dearest.'
'What had he done to merit such a hope?' said she haughtily.
'Loved her—only loved her!'
'What value you men must attach to this gift of your affection, when it can nourish such thoughts as these! Your very wilfulness is to win us—is not that your theory? I expect from the man who offers me his heart that he means to share with me his own power and his own ambition—to make me the partner of a station that is to give me some pre-eminence I had not known before, nor could gain unaided.'
'And you would call that marrying for love?'
'Why not? Who has such a claim upon my life as he who makes the life worth living for? Did you hear that shout?'
'I heard it,' said he, standing still to listen.
'It came from the village. What can it mean?'
'It's the old war-cry of the houseless,' said he mournfully. 'It's a note we are well used to here. I must go down to learn. I'll be back presently.'
'You are not going into danger?' said she; and her cheek grew paler as she spoke.
'And if I were, who is to care for it?'
'Have you no mother, sister, sweetheart?'
'No, not one of the three. Good-bye.'
'But if I were to say—stay?'
'I should still go. To have your love, I'd sacrifice even my honour. Without it—' he threw up his arms despairingly and rushed away.
'These are the men whose tempers compromise us,' said she thoughtfully. 'We come to accept their violence as a reason, and take mere impetuosity for an argument. I am glad that he did not shake my resolution. There, that was another shout, but it seemed in joy. There was a ring of gladness in it. Now for my sketch.' And she reseated herself before her easel. 'He shall see when he comes back how diligently I have worked, and how small a share anxiety has had in my thoughts. The one thing men are not proof against is our independence of them.' And thus talking in broken sentences to herself, she went on rapidly with her drawing, occasionally stopping to gaze on it, and humming some old Italian ballad to herself. 'His Greek air was pretty. Not that it was Greek; these fragments of melody were left behind them by the Venetians, who, in all lust of power, made songs about contented poverty and humble joys. I feel intensely hungry, and if my dangerous guest does not return soon, I shall have to breakfast alone—another way of showing him how little his fate has interested me. My foreground here does want that bit of colour. Why does he not come back?' As she rose to look at her drawing, the sound of somebody running attracted her attention, and turning, she saw it was her foot-page Larry coming at full speed.
'What is it, Larry? What has happened?' asked she.
'You are to go—as fast as you can,' said he; which being for him a longer speech than usual, seemed to have exhausted him.
'Go where? and why?'
'Yes,' said he, with a stolid look, 'you are.'
'I am to do what? Speak out, boy! Who sent you here?'
'Yes,' said he again.
'Are they in trouble yonder? Is there fighting at the village?'
'No.' And he shook his head, as though he said so regretfully.
'Will you tell me what you mean, boy?'
'The pony is ready?' said he, as he stooped down to pack away the things in the basket.
'Is that gentleman coming back here—that gentleman whom you saw with me?'
'He is gone; he got away.' And here he laughed in a malicious way, that was more puzzling even than his words.
'And am I to go back home at once?'
'Yes,' replied he resolutely.
'Do you know why—for what reason?'
'Come, like a good boy, tell me, and you shall have this.' And she drew a piece of silver from her purse, and held it temptingly before him. 'Why should I go back, now?'
'Because,' muttered he, 'because—' and it was plain, from the glance in his eyes, that the bribe had engaged all his faculties.
'So, then, you will not tell me?' said she, replacing the money in her purse.
'Yes,' said he, in a despondent tone.
'You can have it still, Larry, if you will but say who sent you here.'
'He sent me,' was the answer.
'Who was he? Do you mean the gentleman who came here with me?' A nod assented to this. 'And what did he tell you to say to me?'
'Yes,' said he, with a puzzled look, as though once more the confusion of his thoughts was mastering him.
'So, then, it is that you will not tell me?' said she angrily. He made no answer, but went on packing the plates in the basket. 'Leave those there, and go and fetch me some water from the spring yonder.' And she gave him a jug as she spoke, and now she reseated herself on the grass. He obeyed at once, and returned speedily with water.
'Come now, Larry,' said she kindly to him. 'I'm sure you mean to be a good boy. You shall breakfast with me. Get me a cup, and I'll give you some milk; here is bread and cold meat.'
'Yes,' muttered Larry, whose mouth was already too much engaged for speech.
'You will tell me by-and-by what they were doing at the village, and what that shouting meant—won't you?'
'Yes,' said he, with a nod. Then suddenly bending his head to listen, he motioned with his hand to keep silence, and after a long breath said, 'They're coming.'
'Who are coming?' asked she eagerly; but at the same instant a man emerged from the copse below the hill, followed by several others, whom she saw by their dress and equipment to belong to the constabulary.
Approaching with his hat in his hand, and with that air of servile civility which marked him, old Gill addressed her. 'If it's not displazin' to ye, miss, we want to ax you a few questions,' said he.
'You have no right, sir, to make any such request,' said she, with a haughty air.
'There was a man with you, my lady,' he went on, 'as you drove through Cruhan, and we want to know where he is now.'
'That concerns you, sir, and not me.'
'Maybe it does, my lady,' said he, with a grin; 'but I suppose you know who you were travelling with?'
'You evidently don't remember, sir, whom you are talking to.'
'The law is the law, miss, and there's none of us above it,' said he, half defiantly; 'and when there's some hundred pounds on a man's head, there's few of us such fools as to let him slip through our fingers.'
'I don't understand you, sir, nor do I care to do so.'
'The sergeant there has a warrant against him,' said he, in a whisper he intended to be confidential; 'and it's not to do anything that your ladyship would think rude that I came up myself. There's how it is now,' muttered he, still lower. 'They want to search the luggage, and examine the baskets there, and maybe, if you don't object, they'd look through the carriage.'
'And if I should object to this insult?' broke she in.
'Faix, I believe,' said he, laughing, 'they'd do it all the same. Eight hundred—I think it's eight—isn't to be made any day of the year!'
'My uncle is a justice of the peace, Mr. Gill; and you know if he will suffer such an outrage to go unpunished.'
'There's the more reason that a justice shouldn't harbour a Fenian, miss,' said he boldly; 'as he'll know when he sees the search-warrant.'
'Get ready the carriage, Larry,' said she, turning contemptuously away, 'and follow me towards the village.'
'The sergeant, miss, would like to say a word or two,' said Gill, in his accustomed voice of servility.
'I will not speak with him,' said she proudly, and swept past him.
The constables stood to one side, and saluted in military fashion as she passed down the hill. There was that in her queenlike gesture and carriage that so impressed them, the men stood as though on parade.
Slowly and thoughtfully as she sauntered along, her thoughts turned to Donogan. Had he escaped? was the idea that never left her. The presence of these men here seemed to favour that impression; but there might be others on his track, and if so, how in that wild bleak space was he to conceal himself? A single man moving miles away on the bog could be seen. There was no covert, no shelter anywhere! What an interest did his fate now suggest, and yet a moment back she believed herself indifferent to him. 'Was he aware of his danger,' thought she,' when he lay there talking carelessly to me? was that recklessness the bravery of a bold man who despised peril?' And if so, what stuff these souls were made of! These were not of the Kearney stamp, that needed to be stimulated and goaded to any effort in life; nor like Atlee, the fellow who relied on trick and knavery for success; still less such as Walpole, self-worshippers and triflers. 'Yes,' said she aloud,' a woman might feel that with such a man at her side the battle of life need not affright her. He might venture too far—he might aspire to much that was beyond his reach, and strive for the impossible; but that grand bold spirit would sustain him, and carry him through all the smaller storms of life: and such a man might be a hero, even to her who saw him daily. These are the dreamers, as we call them,' said she. 'How strange it would be if they should prove the realists, and that it was we should be the mere shadows! If these be the men who move empires and make history, how doubly ignoble are we in our contempt of them.' And then she bethought her what a different faculty was that great faith that these men had in themselves from common vanity; and in this way she was led again to compare Donogan and Walpole.
She reached the village before her little carriage had overtaken her, and saw that the people stood about in groups and knots. A depressing silence prevailed over them, and they rarely spoke above a whisper. The same respectful greeting, however, which welcomed her before, met her again; and as they lifted their hats, she saw, or thought she saw, that they looked on her with a more tender interest. Several policemen moved about through the crowd, who, though they saluted her respectfully, could not refrain from scrutinising her appearance and watching her as she went. With that air of haughty self-possession which well became her—for it was no affectation—she swept proudly along, resolutely determined not to utter a word, or even risk a question as to the way.
Twice she turned to see if her pony were coming, and then resumed her road. From the excited air and rapid gestures of the police, as they hurried from place to place, she could guess that up to this Donogan had not been captured. Still, it seemed hopeless that concealment in such a place could be accomplished.
As she gained the little stream that divided the village, she stood for a moment uncertain, when a countrywoman, as it were divining her difficulty, said, 'If you'll cross over the bridge, my lady, the path will bring you out on the highroad.'
As Nina turned to thank her, the woman looked up from her task of washing in the river, and made a gesture with her hand towards the bog. Slight as the action was, it appealed to that Southern intelligence that reads a sign even faster than a word. Nina saw that the woman meant to say Donogan had escaped, and once more she said, 'Thank you—from my heart I thank you!'
Just as she emerged upon the highroad, her pony and carriage came up. A sergeant of police was, however, in waiting beside it, who, saluting her respectfully, said, 'There was no disrespect meant to you, miss, by our search of the carriage—our duty obliged us to do it. We have a warrant to apprehend the man that was seen with you this morning, and it's only that we know who you are, and where you come from, prevents us from asking you to come before our chief.'
He presented his arm to assist her to her place as he spoke; but she declined the help, and, without even noticing him in any way, arranged her rugs and wraps around her, took the reins, and motioning Larry to his place, drove on.
'Is my drawing safe?—have all my brushes and pencils been put in?' asked she, after a while. But already Larry had taken his leave, and she could see him as he flitted across the bog to catch her by some short cut.
That strange contradiction by which a woman can journey alone and in safety through the midst of a country only short of open insurrection, filled her mind as she went, and thinking of it in every shape and fashion occupied her for miles of the way. The desolation, far as the eye could reach, was complete—there was not a habitation, not a human thing to be seen. The dark-brown desert faded away in the distance into low-lying clouds, the only break to the dull uniformity being some stray 'clamp,' as it is called, of turf, left by the owners from some accident of season or bad weather, and which loomed out now against the sky like a vast fortress.
This long, long day—for so without any weariness she felt it—was now in the afternoon, and already long shadows of these turf-mounds stretched their giant limbs across the waste. Nina, who had eaten nothing since early morning, felt faint and hungry. She halted her pony, and taking out some bread and a bottle of milk, proceeded to make a frugal luncheon. The complete loneliness, the perfect silence, in which even the rattling of the harness as the pony shook himself made itself felt, gave something of solemnity to the moment, as the young girl sat there and gazed half terrified around her.
As she looked, she thought she saw something pass from one turf-clamp to the other, and, watching closely, she could distinctly detect a figure crouching near the ground, and, after some minutes, emerging into the open space, again to be hidden by some vast turf-mound. There, now—there could not be a doubt—it was a man, and he was waving his handkerchief as a signal. It was Donogan himself—she could recognise him well. Clearing the long drains at a bound, and with a speed that vouched for perfect training, he came rapidly forward, and, leaping the wide trench, alighted at last on the road beside her.
'I have watched you for an hour, and but for this lucky halt, I should not have overtaken you after all,' cried he, as he wiped his brow and stood panting beside her.
'Do you know that they are in pursuit of you?' cried she hastily.
'I know it all. I learned it before I reached the village, and in time—only in time—to make a circuit and reach the bog. Once there, I defy the best of them.'
'They have what they call a warrant to search for you.'
'I know that too,' cried he. 'No, no!' said he passionately, as she offered him a drink, 'let me have it from the cup you have drank from. It may be the last favour I shall ever ask you—don't refuse me this!'
She touched the glass slightly with her lips, and handed it to him with a smile.
'What peril would I not brave for this!' cried he, with a wild ecstasy.
'Can you not venture to return with me?' said she, in some confusion, for the bold gleam of his gaze now half abashed her.
'No. That would be to compromise others as well as myself. I must gain Dublin how I can. There I shall be safe against all pursuit. I have come back for nothing but disappointment,' added he sorrowfully. 'This country is not ready to rise—they are too many-minded for a common effort. The men like Wolfe Tone are not to be found amongst us now, and to win freedom you must dare the felony.'
'Is it not dangerous to delay so long here?' asked she, looking around her with anxiety.
'So it is—and I will go. Will you keep this for me?' said he, placing a thick and much-worn pocket-book in her hands. 'There are papers there would risk far better heads than mine; and if I should be taken, these must not be discovered. It may be, Nina—oh, forgive me if I say your name! but it is such joy to me to utter it once—it may be that you should chance to hear some word whose warning might save me. If so, and if you would deign to write to me, you'll find three, if not four, addresses, under any of which you could safely write to me.'
'I shall not forget. Good fortune be with you. Adieu!'
She held out her hand; but he bent over it, and kissed it rapturously; and when he raised his head, his eyes were streaming, and his cheeks deadly pale. 'Adieu!' said she again.
He tried to speak, but no sound came from his lips; and when, after she had driven some distance away, she turned to look after him, he was standing on the same spot in the road, his hat at his foot, where it had fallen when he stooped to kiss her hand.
Kate Kearney was in the act of sending out scouts and messengers to look out for Nina, whose long absence had begun to alarm her, when she heard that she had returned and was in her room.
'What a fright you have given me, darling!' said Kate, as she threw her arms about her, and kissed her affectionately. 'Do you know how late you are?'
'No; I only know how tired I am.'
'What a long day of fatigue you must have gone through. Tell me of it all.'
'Tell me rather of yours. You have had the great Mr. Walpole here: is it not so?'
'Yes; he is still here—he has graciously given us another day, and will not leave till to-morrow night.'
'By what good fortune have you been so favoured as this?'
'Ostensibly to finish a long conversation or conference with papa, but really and truthfully, I suspect, to meet Mademoiselle Kostalergi, whose absence has piqued him.'
'Yes, piqued is the word. It is the extreme of the pain he is capable of feeling. What has he said of it?'
'Nothing beyond the polite regrets that courtesy could express, and then adverted to something else.'
'With an abruptness that betrayed preparation?'
'Not perhaps, but certainly so. Vanity such as his has no variety. It repeats its moods over and over; but why do we talk of him? I have other things to tell you of. You know that man who came here with Dick. That Mr. ——'
'I know—I know,' cried the other hurriedly, 'what of him?'
'He joined me this morning, on my way through the bog, and drove with me to Cruhan.'
'Indeed!' muttered Kate thoughtfully.
'A strange, wayward, impulsive sort of creature—unlike any one—interesting from his strong convictions—'
'Did he convert you to any of his opinions, Nina?'
'You mean, make a rebel of me. No; for the simple reason that I had none to surrender. I do not know what is wrong here, nor what people would say was right.'
'You are aware, then, who he is?'
'Of course I am. I was on the terrace that night when your brother told you he was Donogan—the famous Fenian Donogan. The secret was not intended for me, but I kept it all the same, and I took an interest in the man from the time I heard it.'
'You told him, then, that you knew who he was.'
'To be sure I did, and we are fast friends already; but let me go on with my narrative. Some excitement, some show of disturbance at Cruhan, persuaded him that what he called—I don't know why—the Crowbar Brigade was at work and that the people were about to be turned adrift on the world by the landlord, and hearing a wild shout from the village, he insisted on going back to learn what it might mean. He had not left me long, when your late steward, Gill, came up with several policemen, to search for the convict Donogan. They had a warrant to apprehend him, and some information as to where he had been housed and sheltered.'
'Here—with you! Gill knew it all. This, then, was the reason for that excitement we had seen in the village—the people had heard the police were coming, but for what they knew not; of course the only thought was for their own trouble.'
'Has he escaped? Is he safe?'
'Safe so far, that I last saw him on the wide bog, some eight miles away from any human habitation; but where he is to turn to, or who is to shelter him, I cannot say.'
'He told you there was a price upon his head?'
'Yes, a few hundred pounds, I forget how much, but he asked me this morning if I did not feel tempted to give him up and earn the reward.'
Kate leaned her head upon her hand, and seemed lost in thought.
'They will scarcely dare to come and search for him here,' said she; and, after a pause, added, 'And yet I suspect that the chief constable, Mr. Curtis, owes, or thinks he owes, us a grudge: he might not be sorry to pass this slight upon papa.' And she pondered for some time over the thought.
'Do you think he can escape?' asked Nina eagerly.
'Yes, I suspect he will: these men have popular feeling with them, even amongst many who do not share their opinions. Have you lived long enough amongst us, Nina, to know that we all hate the law? In some shape or other it represents to the Irish mind a tyranny.'
'You are Greeks without their acuteness,' said Nina.
'I'll not say that,' said Kate hastily. 'It is true I know nothing of your people, but I think I could aver that for a shrewd calculation of the cost of a venture, for knowing when caution and when daring will best succeed, the Irish peasant has scarcely a superior anywhere.'
'I have heard much of his caution this very morning,' said Nina superciliously.
'You might have heard far more of his recklessness, if Donogan cared to tell of it,' said Kate, with irritation. 'It is not English squadrons and batteries he is called alone to face, he has to meet English gold, that tempts poverty, and English corruption, that begets treachery and betrayal. The one stronghold of the Saxon here is the informer, and mind, I, who tell you this, am no rebel. I would rather live under English law, if English law would not ignore Irish feeling, than I'd accept that Heaven knows what of a government Fenianism could give us.'
'I care nothing for all this, I don't well know if I can follow it; but I do know that I'd like this man to escape. He gave me this pocket-book, and told me to keep it safely. It contains some secrets that would compromise people that none suspect, and it has, besides, some three or four addresses to which I could write with safety if I saw cause to warn him of any coming danger.'
'And you mean to do this?'
'Of course I do; I feel an interest in this man. I like him. I like his adventurous spirit. I like that ambitious daring to do or to be something beyond the herd around him. I like that readiness he shows to stake his life on an issue. His enthusiasm inflames his whole nature. He vulgarises such fine gentlemen as Mr. Walpole, and such poor pretenders as Joe Atlee, and, indeed, your brother, Kate.'
'I will suffer no detraction of Dick Kearney,' said Kate resolutely.
'Give me a cup of tea, then, and I shall be more mannerly, for I am quite exhausted, and I am afraid my temper is not proof against starvation.'
'But you will come down to the drawing-room, they are all so eager to see you,' said Kate caressingly.
'No; I'll have my tea and go to bed, and I'll dream that Mr. Donogan has been made King of Ireland, and made an offer to share the throne with me.'
'Your Majesty's tea shall be served at once,' said Kate, as she curtsied deeply and withdrew.
There were many more pretentious houses than O'Shea's Barn. It would have been easy enough to discover larger rooms and finer furniture, more numerous servants and more of display in all the details of life; but for an air of quiet comfort, for the certainty of meeting with every material enjoyment that people of moderate fortune aspire to, it stood unrivalled.
The rooms were airy and cheerful, with flowers in summer, as they were well heated and well lighted in winter. The most massive-looking but luxurious old arm-chairs, that modern taste would have repudiated for ugliness, abounded everywhere; and the four cumbrous but comfortable seats that stood around the circular dinner-table—and it was a matter of principle with Miss Betty that the company should never be more numerous—only needed speech to have told of traditions of conviviality for very nigh two centuries back.
As for a dinner at the Barn, the whole countyside confessed that they never knew how it was that Miss Betty's salmon was 'curdier' and her mountain mutton more tender, and her woodcocks racier and of higher flavour, than any one else's. Her brown sherry you might have equalled—she liked the colour and the heavy taste—but I defy you to match that marvellous port which came in with the cheese, and as little, in these days of light Bordeaux, that stout-hearted Sneyd's claret, in its ancient decanter, whose delicately fine neck seemed fashioned to retain the bouquet.
The most exquisite compliment that a courtier ever uttered could not have given Miss Betty the same pleasure as to hear one of her guests request a second slice off 'the haunch.' This was, indeed, a flattery that appealed to her finest sensibilities, and as she herself carved, she knew how to reward that appreciative man with fat.
Never was the virtue of hospitality more self-rewarding than in her case; and the discriminating individual who ate with gusto, and who never associated the wrong condiment with his food, found favour in her eyes, and was sure of re-invitation.
Fortune had rewarded her with one man of correct taste and exquisite palate as a diner-out. This was the parish priest, the Rev. Luke Delany, who had been educated abroad, and whose natural gifts had been improved by French and Italian experiences. He was a small little meek man, with closely-cut black hair and eyes of the darkest, scrupulously neat in dress, and, by his ruffles and buckled shoes at dinner, affecting something of the abbe in his appearance. To such as associated the Catholic priest with coarse manners, vulgar expressions, or violent sentiments, Father Luke, with his low voice, his well-chosen words, and his universal moderation, was a standing rebuke; and many an English tourist who met him came away with the impression of the gross calumny that associated this man's order with underbred habits and disloyal ambitions. He spoke little, but he was an admirable listener, and there was a sweet encouragement in the bland nod of his head, and a racy appreciation in the bright twinkle of his humorous eye, that the prosiest talker found irresistible.
There were times, indeed—stirring intervals of political excitement—when Miss Betty would have liked more hardihood and daring in her ghostly counsellor; but Heaven help the man who would have ventured on the open avowal of such opinion or uttered a word in disparagement of Father Luke.
It was in that snug dinner-room I have glanced at that a party of four sat over their wine. They had dined admirably, a bright wood fire blazed on the hearth, and the scene was the emblem of comfort and quiet conviviality. Opposite Miss O'Shea sat Father Delany, and on either side of her her nephew Gorman and Mr. Ralph Miller, in whose honour the present dinner was given.
The Catholic bishop of the diocese had vouchsafed a guarded and cautious approval of Mr. Miller's views, and secretly instructed Father Delany to learn as much more as he conveniently could of the learned gentleman's intentions before committing himself to a pledge of hearty support.
'I will give him a good dinner,' said Miss O'Shea, 'and some of the '45 claret, and if you cannot get his sentiments out of him after that, I wash my hands of him.'
Father Delany accepted his share of the task, and assuredly Miss Betty did not fail on her part.
The conversation had turned principally on the coming election, and Mr. Miller gave a flourishing account of his success as a canvasser, and even went the length of doubting if any opposition would be offered to him.
'Ain't you and young Kearney going on the same ticket?' asked Gorman, who was too new to Ireland to understand the nice distinctions of party.
'Pardon me,' said Miller, 'we differ essentially. We want a government in Ireland—the Nationalists want none. We desire order by means of timely concessions and judicious boons to the people. They want disorder—the display of gross injustice—content to wait for a scramble, and see what can come of it.'
'Mr. Miller's friends, besides,' interposed Father Luke, 'would defend the Church and protect the Holy See'—and this was said with a half-interrogation.
Miller coughed twice, and said, 'Unquestionably. We have shown our hand already—look what we have done with the Established Church.'
'You need not be proud of it,' cried Miss Betty. 'If you wanted to get rid of the crows, why didn't you pull down the rookery?'
'At least they don't caw so loud as they used,' said the priest, smiling; and Miller exchanged delighted glances with him for his opinion.
'I want to be rid of them, root and branch,' said Miss Betty.
'If you will vouchsafe us, ma'am, a little patience. Rome was not built in a day. The next victory of our Church must be won by the downfall of the English establishment. Ain't I right, Father Luke?'
'I am not quite clear about that,' said the priest cautiously. 'Equality is not the safe road to supremacy.'
'What was that row over towards Croghan Castle this morning?' asked Gorman, who was getting wearied with a discussion he could not follow. 'I saw the constabulary going in force there this afternoon.'
'They were in pursuit of the celebrated Dan Donogan,' said Father Luke. 'They say he was seen at Moate.'
'They say more than that,' said Miss Betty. 'They say that he is stopping at Kilgobbin Castle!'
'I suppose to conduct young Kearney's election,' said Miller, laughing.
'And why should they hunt him down?' asked Gorman. 'What has he done?'
'He's a Fenian—a head-centre—a man who wants to revolutionise Ireland,' replied Miller.
'And destroy the Church,' chimed in the priest.
'Humph!' muttered Gorman, who seemed to imply, Is this all you can lay to his charge? 'Has he escaped? asked he suddenly.
'Up to this he has,' said Miller. 'I was talking to the constabulary chief this afternoon, and he told me that the fellow is sure to be apprehended. He has taken to the open bog, and there are eighteen in full cry after him. There is a search-warrant, too, arrived, and they mean to look him up at Kilgobbin Castle.'
'To search Kilgobbin Castle, do you mean?' asked Gorman.
'Just so. It will be, as I perceive you think it, a great offence to Mr. Kearney, and it is not impossible that his temper may provoke him to resist it.'
'The mere rumour may materially assist his son's election,' said the priest slyly.
'Only with the party who have no votes, Father Luke,' rejoined Miller. 'That precarious popularity of the mob is about the most dangerous enemy a man can have in Ireland.'
'You are right, sir,' said the priest blandly. 'The real favour of this people is only bestowed on him who has gained the confidence of the clergy.'
'If that be true,' cried Gorman, 'upon my oath I think you are worse off here than in Austria. There, at least, we are beginning to think without the permission of the Church.'
'Let us have none of your atheism here, young man,' broke in his aunt angrily. 'Such sentiments have never been heard in this room before.'
'If I apprehend Lieutenant Gorman aright,' interposed Father Luke, 'he only refers to the late movement of the Austrian Empire with reference to the Concordat, on which, amongst religious men, there are two opinions.'
'No, no, you mistake me altogether,' rejoined Gorman. 'What I mean was, that a man can read, and talk, and think in Austria without the leave of the priest; that he can marry, and if he like, he can die without his assistance.'
'Gorman, you are a beast,' said the old lady, 'and if you lived here, you would be a Fenian.'
'You're wrong too, aunt,' replied he. 'I'd crush those fellows to-morrow if I was in power here.'
'Mayhap the game is not so easy as you deem it,' interposed Miller.
'Certainly it is not so easy when played as you do it here. You deal with your law-breakers only by the rule of legality: that is to say, you respect all the regulations of the game towards the men who play false. You have your cumbrous details, and your lawyers, and judges, and juries, and you cannot even proclaim a county in a state of siege without a bill in your blessed Parliament, and a basketful of balderdash about the liberty of the subject. Is it any wonder rebellion is a regular trade with you, and that men who don't like work, or business habits, take to it as a livelihood?'
'But have you never heard Curran's saying, young gentleman? "You cannot bring an indictment against a nation,'" said Miller.
'I'd trouble myself little with indictments,' replied Gorman. 'I'd break down the confederacy by spies; I'd seize the fellows I knew to be guilty, and hang them.'
'Without evidence, without trial?'
'Very little of a trial, when I had once satisfied myself of the guilt.'
'Are you so certain that no innocent men might be brought to the scaffold?' asked the priest mildly.
'No, I am not. I take it, as the world goes, very few of us go through life without some injustice or another. I'd do my best not to hang the fellows who didn't deserve it, but I own I'd be much more concerned about the millions who wanted to live peaceably than the few hundred rapscallions that were bent on troubling them.'