'I never hint,' said the other gravely; 'least of all with those I love.'
'So much the better. I detest an equivoque. If I am to be shot, let me look the fire in the face.'
'There is no question of shooting at all. I think you are very angry for nothing.'
'Angry for nothing! Do you call that studied coldness you have observed towards me all day yesterday nothing? Is your ceremonious manner—exquisitely polite, I will not deny—is that nothing? Is your chilling salute when we met—I half believe you curtsied—nothing? That you shun me, that you take pains not to keep my company, never to be with me alone is past denial.'
'And I do not deny it,' said Kate, with a voice of calm and quiet meaning.
'At last, then, I have the avowal. You own that you love me no longer.'
'No, I own nothing of the kind: I love you very dearly; but I see that our ideas of life are so totally unlike, that unless one should bend and conform to the other, we cannot blend our thoughts in that harmony which perfect confidence requires. You are so much above me in many things, so much more cultivated and gifted—I was going to say civilised, and I believe I might—'
'Ta—ta—ta,' cried Nina impatiently. 'These flatteries are very ill-timed.'
'So they would be, if they were flatteries; but if you had patience to hear me out, you'd have learned that I meant a higher flattery for myself.'
'Don't I know it? don't I guess?' cried the Greek. 'Have not your downcast eyes told it? and that look of sweet humility that says, "At least I am not a flirt?"'
'Nor am I,' said Kate coldly.
'And I am! Come now, do confess. You want to say it.'
'With all my heart I wish you were not!' And Kate's eyes swam as she spoke.
'And what if I tell you that I know it—that in the very employment of the arts of what you call coquetry, I am but exercising those powers of pleasing by which men are led to frequent the salon instead of the cafe, and like the society of the cultivated and refined better than—'
'No, no, no!' burst in Kate. 'There is no such mock principle in the case. You are a flirt because you like the homage it secures you, and because, as you do not believe in such a thing as an honest affection, you have no scruple about trifling with a man's heart.'
'So much for captivating that bold hussar,' cried Nina.
'For the moment I was not thinking of him.'
'Of whom, then?'
'Of that poor Captain Curtis, who has just ridden away.'
'Yes. He has a pretty wife and three nice little girls, and they are the happiest people in the world. They love each other, and love their home—so, at least, I am told, for I scarcely know them myself.'
'And what have I done with him?'
'Sent him away sad and doubtful—very doubtful if the happiness he believed in was the real article after all, and disposed to ask himself how it was that his heart was beating in a new fashion, and that some new sense had been added to his nature, of which he had no inkling before. Sent him away with the notes of a melody floating through his brain, so that the merry laugh of his children will be a discord, and such a memory of a soft glance, that his wife's bright look will be meaningless.'
'And I have done all this? Poor me!'
'Yes, and done it so often, that it leaves no remorse behind it.'
'And the same, I suppose, with the others?'
'With Mr. Walpole, and Dick, and Mr. O'Shea, and Mr. Atlee too, when he was here, in their several ways.'
'Oh, in theirs, not in mine, then?'
'I am but a bungler in my explanation. I wished to say that you adapted your fascinations to the tastes of each.'
'What a siren!'
'Well, yes—what a siren; for they're all in love in some fashion or other; but I could have forgiven you these, had you spared the married man.'
'So you actually envy that poor prisoner the gleam of light and the breath of cold air that comes between his prison bars—that one moment of ecstasy that reminds him how he once was free and at large, and no manacles to weigh him down? You will not let him even touch bliss in imagination? Are you not more cruel than me?'
'This is mere nonsense,' said Kate boldly. 'You either believe that man was fooling you, or that you have sent him away unhappy? Take which of these you like.'
'Can't your rustic nature see that there is a third case, quite different from both, and that Harry Curtis went off believing—'
'Was he Harry Curtis?' broke in Kate.
'He was dear Harry when I said good-bye,' said Nina calmly.
'Oh, then, I give up everything—I throw up my brief.'
'So you ought, for you have lost your cause long ago.'
'Even that poor Donogan was not spared, and Heaven knows he had troubles enough on his head to have pleaded some pity for him.'
'And is there no kind word to say of me, Kate?'
'O Nina, how ashamed you make me of my violence, when I dare to blame you! but if I did not love you so dearly, I could better bear you should have a fault.'
'I have only one, then?'
'I know of no great one but this. I mean, I know of none that endangers good-nature and right feeling.'
'And are you so sure that this does? Are you so sure that what you are faulting is not the manner and the way of a world you have not seen? that all these levities, as you would call them, are not the ordinary wear of people whose lives are passed where there is more tolerance and less pain?'
'Be serious, Nina, for a moment, and own that it was by intention you were in the approach when Captain Curtis rode away: that you said something to him, or looked something—perhaps both—on which he got down from his horse and walked beside you for full a mile?'
'All true,' said Nina calmly. 'I confess to every part of it.'
'I'd far rather that you said you were sorry for it.'
'But I am not; I'm very glad—I'm very proud of it.
Yes, look as reproachfully as you like, Kate! "very proud" was what I said.'
'Then I am indeed sorry,' said Kate, growing pale as she spoke.
'I don't think, after all this sharp lecturing of me, that you deserve much of my confidence, and if I make you any, Kate, it is not by way of exculpation; for I do not accept your blame; it is simply out of caprice—mind that, and that I am not thinking of defending myself.'
'I can easily believe that,' said Kate dryly.
And the other continued: 'When Captain Curtis was talking to your father, and discussing the chances of capturing Donogan, he twice or thrice mentioned Harper and Fry—names which somehow seemed familiar to me; and on thinking the matter over when I went to my room, I opened Donogan's pocket-book and there found how these names had become known to me. Harper and Fry were tanners, in Cork Street, and theirs was one of the addresses by which, if I had occasion to warn Donogan, I could write to him. On hearing these names from Curtis, it struck me that there might be treachery somewhere. Was it that these men themselves had turned traitors to the cause? or had another betrayed them? Whichever way the matter went, Donogan was evidently in great danger; for this was one of the places he regarded as perfectly safe.
'What was to be done? I dared not ask advice on any side. To reveal the suspicions which were tormenting me required that I should produce this pocket-book, and to whom could I impart this man's secret? I thought of your brother Dick, but he was from home, and even if he had not been, I doubt if I should have told him. I should have come to you, Kate, but that grand rebukeful tone you had taken up this last twenty-four hours repelled me; and finally, I took counsel with myself. I set off just before Captain Curtis started, to what you have called waylay him in the avenue.
'Just below the beech-copse he came up; and then that small flirtation of the drawing-room, which has caused you so much anger and me such a sharp lesson, stood me in good stead, and enabled me to arrest his progress by some chance word or two, and at last so far to interest him that he got down and walked along at my side. I shall not shock you by recalling the little tender "nothings" that passed between us, nor dwell on the small mockeries of sentiment which we exchanged—I hope very harmlessly—but proceed at once to what I felt my object. He was profuse of his gratitude for what I had done for him with Walpole, and firmly believed that my intercession alone had saved him; and so I went on to say that the best reparation he could make for his blunder would be some exercise of well-directed activity when occasion should offer. "Suppose, for instance," said I, "you could capture this man Donogan?"
'"The very thing I hope to do," cried he. "The train is laid already. One of my constables has a brother in a well-known house in Dublin, the members of which, men of large wealth and good position, have long been suspected of holding intercourse with the rebels. Through his brother, himself a Fenian, this man has heard that a secret committee will meet at this place on Monday evening next, at which Donogan will be present. Molloy, another head-centre, will also be there, and Cummings, who escaped from Carrickfergus." I took down all the names, Kate, the moment we parted, and while they were fresh in my memory. "We'll draw the net on them all," said he; "and such a haul has not been made since '98. The rewards alone will amount to some thousands." It was then I said, "And is there no danger, Harry? "'
'Yes, darling, it was very dreadful, and I felt it so; but somehow one is carried away by a burst of feeling at certain moments, and the shame only comes too late. Of course it was wrong of me to call him Harry, and he, too, with a wife at home, and five little girls—or three, I forget which—should never have sworn that he loved me, nor said all that mad nonsense about what he felt in that region where chief constables have their hearts; but I own to great tenderness and a very touching sensibility on either side. Indeed, I may add here, that the really sensitive natures amongst men are never found under forty-five; but for genuine, uncalculating affection, for the sort of devotion that flings consequences to the winds, I say, give me fifty-eight or sixty.'
'Nina, do not make me hate you,' said Kate gravely.
'Certainly not, dearest, if a little hypocrisy will avert such a misfortune. And so to return to my narrative, I learned, as accurately as a gentleman so much in love could condescend to inform me, of all the steps taken to secure Donogan at this meeting, or to capture him later on if he should try to make his escape by sea.'
'You mean, then, to write to Donogan and apprise him of his danger?'
'It is done. I wrote the moment I got back here. I addressed him as Mr. James Bredin, care of Jonas Mullory, Esq., 41 New Street, which was the first address in the list he gave me. I told him of the peril he ran, and what his friends were also threatened by, and I recounted the absurd seizure of Mr. Walpole's effects here; and, last of all, what a dangerous rival he had in this Captain Curtis, who was ready to desert wife, children, and the constabulary to-morrow for me; and assuring him confidentially that I was well worth greater sacrifices of better men, I signed my initials in Greek letters.'
'Marvellous caution and great discretion,' said Kate solemnly.
'And now come over to the drawing-room, where I have promised to sing for Mr. O'Shea some little ballad that he dreamed over all the night through; and then there's something else—what is it? what is it?'
'How should I know, Nina? I was not present at your arrangement.'
'Never mind; I'll remember it presently. It will come to my recollection while I'm singing that song.'
'If emotion is not too much for you.'
'Just so, Kate—sensibilities permitting; and, indeed,' she said,' I remember it already. It was luncheon.'
HOW MEN IN OFFICE MAKE LOVE
'Is it true they have captured Donogan?' said Nina, coming hurriedly into the library, where Walpole was busily engaged with his correspondence, and sat before a table covered not only with official documents, but a number of printed placards and handbills.
He looked up, surprised at her presence, and by the tone of familiarity in her question, for which he was in no way prepared, and for a second or two actually stared at without answering her.
'Can't you tell me? Are they correct in saying he has been caught?' cried she impatiently.
'Very far from it. There are the police returns up to last night from Meath, Kildare, and Dublin; and though he was seen at Naas, passed some hours in Dublin, and actually attended a night meeting at Kells, all trace of him has been since lost, and he has completely baffled us. By the Viceroy's orders, I am now doubling the reward for his apprehension, and am prepared to offer a free pardon to any who shall give information about him, who may not actually have committed a felony.'
'Is he so very dangerous, then?'
'Every man who is so daring is dangerous here. The people have a sort of idolatry for reckless courage. It is not only that he has ventured to come back to the country where his life is sacrificed to the law, but he declares openly he is ready to offer himself as a representative for an Irish county, and to test in his own person whether the English will have the temerity to touch the man—the choice of the Irish people.'
'He is bold,' said she resolutely.
'And I trust he will pay for his boldness! Our law-officers are prepared to treat him as a felon, irrespective of all claim to his character as a Member of Parliament.'
'The danger will not deter him.'
'You think so?'
'I know it,' was the calm reply.
'Indeed,' said he, bending a steady look at her. 'What opportunities, might I ask, have you had to form this same opinion?'
'Are not the public papers full of him? Have we not an almost daily record of his exploits? Do not your own rewards for his capture impart an almost fabulous value to his life?'
'His portrait, too, may lend some interest to his story,' said he, with a half-sneering smile. 'They say this is very like him.' And he handed a photograph as he spoke.
'This was done in New York,' said she, turning to the back of the card, the better to hide an emotion she could not entirely repress.
'Yes, done by a brother Fenian, long since in our pay.'
'How base all that sounds! how I detest such treachery!'
'How deal with treason without it? Is it like him?' asked he artlessly.
'How should I know?' said she, in a slightly hurried tone. 'It is not like the portrait in the Illustrated News.'
'I wonder which is the more like,' added he thoughtfully, 'and I fervently hope we shall soon know. There is not a man he confides in who has not engaged to betray him.'
'I trust you feel proud of your achievement.'
'No, not proud, but very anxious for its success. The perils of this country are too great for mere sensibilities. He who would extirpate a terrible disease must not fear the knife.'
'Not if he even kill the patient?' asked she.
'That might happen, and would be to be deplored,' said he, in the same unmoved tone. 'But might I ask, whence has come all this interest for this cause, and how have you learned so much sympathy with these people?'
'I read the newspapers,' said she dryly.
'You must read those of only one colour, then,' said he slyly; 'or perhaps it is the tone of comment you hear about you. Are your sentiments such as you daily listen to from Lord Kilgobbin and his family?'
'I don't know that they are. I suspect I'm more of a rebel than he is; but I'll ask him if you wish it.'
'On no account, I entreat you. It would compromise me seriously to hear such a discussion even in jest. Remember who I am, mademoiselle, and the office I hold.'
'Your great frankness, Mr. Walpole, makes me sometimes forget both,' said she, with well-acted humility.
'I wish it would do something more,' said he eagerly. 'I wish it would inspire a little emulation, and make you deal as openly with me as I long to do with you.'
'It might embarrass you very much, perhaps.'
'As how?' asked he, with a touch of tenderness in his voice.
For a second or two she made no answer, and then, faltering at each word, she said, 'What if some rebel leader—this man Donogan, for instance—drawn towards you b some secret magic of trustfulness, moved by I know not what need of your sympathy—for there is such a craving void now and then felt in the heart—should tell you some secret thought of his nature—something that he could utter alone to himself—would you bring yourself to use it against him? Could you turn round and say, "I have your inmost soul in my keeping. You are mine now—mine—mine?"'
'Do I understand you aright?' said he earnestly. 'Is it just possible, even possible, that you have that to confide to me which would show that you regard me as a dear friend?'
'Oh! Mr. Walpole,' burst she out passionately, 'do not by the greater power of your intellect seek the mastery over mine. Let the loneliness and isolation of my life here rather appeal to you to pity than suggest the thought of influencing and dominating me.'
'Would that I might. What would I not give or do to have that power that you speak of.'
'Is this true?' said she.
'Will you swear it?'
She paused for a moment, and a slight tremor shook her mouth; but whether the motion expressed a sentiment of acute pain or a movement of repressed sarcasm, it was very difficult to determine.
'What is it, then, that you would swear?' asked she calmly and even coldly.
'Swear that I have no hope so high, no ambition so great, as to win your heart.'
'Indeed! And that other heart that you have won—what is to become of it?'
'Its owner has recalled it. In fact, it was never in my keeping but as a loan.'
'How strange! At least, how strange to me this sounds. I, in my ignorance, thought that people pledged their very lives in these bargains.'
'So it ought to be, and so it would be, if this world were not a web of petty interests and mean ambitions; and these, I grieve to say, will find their way into hearts that should be the home of very different sentiments. It was of this order was that compact with my cousin—for I will speak openly to you, knowing it is her to whom you allude. We were to have been married. It was an old engagement. Our friends—that is, I believe, the way to call them—liked it. They thought it a good thing for each of us. Indeed, making the dependants of a good family intermarry is an economy of patronage—the same plank rescues two from drowning. I believe—that is, I fear—we accepted all this in the same spirit. We were to love each other as much as we could, and our relations were to do their best for us.'
'And now it is all over?'
'All—and for ever.'
'How came this about?'
'At first by a jealousy about you.'
'A jealousy about me! You surely never dared—' and here her voice trembled with real passion, while her eyes flashed angrily.
'No, no. I am guiltless in the matter. It was that cur Atlee made the mischief. In a moment of weak trustfulness, I sent him over to Wales to assist my uncle in his correspondence. He, of course, got to know Lady Maude Bickerstaffe—by what arts he ingratiated himself into her confidence, I cannot say. Indeed, I had trusted that the fellow's vulgarity would form an impassable barrier between them, and prevent all intimacy; but, apparently, I was wrong. He seems to have been the companion of her rides and drives, and under the pretext of doing some commissions for her in the bazaars of Constantinople, he got to correspond with her. So artful a fellow would well know what to make of such a privilege.'
'And is he your successor now?' asked she, with a look of almost undisguised insolence.
'Scarcely that,' said he, with a supercilious smile. 'I think, if you had ever seen my cousin, you would scarcely have asked the question.'
'But I have seen her. I saw her at the Odescalchi Palace at Rome. I remember the stare she was pleased to bestow on me as she swept past me. I remember more, her words as she asked, "Is this your Titian Girl I have heard so much of?"'
'And may hear more of,' muttered he, almost unconsciously.
'Yes—even that too; but not, perhaps, in the sense you mean.' Then, as if correcting herself, she went on, 'It was a bold ambition of Mr. Atlee. I must say I like the very daring of it.'
'He never dared it—take my word for it.'
An insolent laugh was her first reply. 'How little you men know of each other, and how less than little you know of us! You sneer at the people who are moved by sudden impulse, but you forget it is the squall upsets the boat.'
'I believe I can follow what you mean. You would imply that my cousin's breach with me might have impelled her to listen to Atlee?'
'Not so much that as, by establishing himself as her confidant, he got the key of her heart, and let himself in as he pleased.'
'I suspect he found little to interest him there.'
'The insufferable insolence of that speech! Can you men never be brought to see that we are not all alike to each of you; that our natures have their separate watchwords, and that the soul which would vibrate with tenderness to this, is to that a dead and senseless thing, with no trace or touch of feeling about it?'
'I only believe this in part.'
'Believe it wholly, then, or own that you know nothing of love—no more than do those countless thousands who go through life and never taste its real ecstasy, nor its real sorrow; who accept convenience, or caprice, or flattered vanity as its counterfeit, and live out the delusion in lives of discontent. You have done wrong to break with your cousin. It is clear to me you suited each other.'
'This is sarcasm.'
'If it is, I am sorry for it. I meant it for sincerity. In your career, ambition is everything. The woman that could aid you on your road would be the real helpmate. She who would simply cross your path by her sympathies, or her affections, would be a mere embarrassment. Take the very case before us. Would not Lady Maude point out to you how, by the capture of this rebel, you might so aid your friends as to establish a claim for recompense? Would she not impress you with the necessity of showing how your activity redounded to the credit of your party? She would neither interpose with ill-timed appeals to your pity or a misplaced sympathy. She would help the politician, while another might hamper the man.'
'All that might be true, if the game of political life were played as it seems to be on the surface, and my cousin was exactly the sort of woman to use ordinary faculties with ability and acuteness; but there are scores of things in which her interference would have been hurtful, and her secrecy dubious. I will give you an instance, and it will serve to show my implicit confidence in yourself. Now with respect to this man, Donogan, there is nothing we wish less than to take him. To capture means to try—to try means to hang him—and how much better, or safer, or stronger are we when it is done? These fellows, right or wrong, represent opinions that are never controverted by the scaffold, and every man who dies for his convictions leaves a thousand disciples who never believed in him before. It is only because he braves us that we pursue him, and in the face of our opponents and Parliament we cannot do less. So that while we are offering large rewards for his apprehension, we would willingly give double the sum to know he had escaped. Talk of the supremacy of the Law—the more you assert that here, the more ungovernable is this country by a Party. An active Attorney-General is another word for three more regiments in Ireland.'
'I follow you with some difficulty; but I see that you would like this man to get away, and how is that to be done?'
'Easily enough, when once he knows that it will be safe for him to go north. He naturally fears the Orangemen of the northern counties. They will, however, do nothing without the police, and the police have got their orders throughout Antrim and Derry. Here—on this strip of paper—here are the secret instructions:—"To George Dargan, Chief Constable, Letterkenny District. Private and confidential.—It is, for many reasons, expedient that the convict Donogan, on a proper understanding that he will not return to Ireland, should be suffered to escape. If you are, therefore, in a position to extort a pledge from him to this extent—and it should be explicit and beyond all cavil—you will, taking due care not to compromise your authority in your office, aid him to leave the country, even to the extent of moneyed assistance." To this are appended directions how he is to proceed to carry out these instructions: what he may, and what he may not do, with whom he may seek for co-operation, and where he is to maintain a guarded and careful secrecy. Now, in telling you all this, Mademoiselle Kostalergi, I have given you the strongest assurance in my power of the unlimited trust I have in you. I see how the questions that agitate this country interest you. I read the eagerness with which you watch them, but I want you to see more. I want you to see that the men who purpose to themselves the great task of extricating Ireland from her difficulties must be politicians in the highest sense of the word, and that you should see in us statesmen of an order that can weigh human passions and human emotions—and see that hope and fear, and terror and gratitude, sway the hearts of men who, to less observant eyes, seem to have no place in their natures but for rebellion. That this mode of governing Ireland is the one charm to the Celtic heart, all the Tory rule of the last fifty years, with its hangings and banishments and other terrible blunders, will soon convince you. The Priest alone has felt the pulse of this people, and we are the only Ministers of England who have taken the Priest into our confidence. I own to you I claim some credit for myself in this discovery. It was in long reflecting over the ills of Ireland that I came to see that where the malady has so much in its nature that is sensational and emotional, so must the remedy be sensational too. The Tories were ever bent on extirpating—we devote ourselves to "healing measures." Do you follow me?'
'I do,' said she thoughtfully.
'Do I interest you?' asked he, more tenderly.
'Intensely,' was the reply.
'Oh, if I could but think that. If I could bring myself to believe that the day would come, not only to secure your interest, but your aid and your assistance in this great task! I have long sought the opportunity to tell you that we, who hold the destinies of a people in our keeping, are not inferior to our great trust, that we are not mere creatures of a state department, small deities of the Olympus of office, but actual statesmen and rulers. Fortune has given me the wished-for moment, let it complete my happiness, let it tell me that you see in this noble work one worthy of your genius and your generosity, and that you would accept me as a fellow-labourer in the cause.'
The fervour which he threw into the utterance of these words contrasted strongly and strangely with the words themselves; so unlike the declaration of a lover's passion.
'I do—not—know,' said she falteringly.
'What is that you do not know?' asked he, with tender eagerness.
'I do not know if I understand you aright, and I do not know what answer I should give you.'
'Will not your heart tell you?'
She shook her head.
'You will not crush me with the thought that there is no pleading for me there.'
'If you had desired in honesty my regard, you should not have prejudiced me: you began here by enlisting my sympathies in your Task; you told me of your ambitions. I like these ambitions.'
'Why not share them?' cried he passionately.
'You seem to forget what you ask. A woman does not give her heart as a man joins a party or an administration. It is no question of an advantage based upon a compromise. There is no sentiment of gratitude, or recompense, or reward in the gift. She simply gives that which is no longer hers to retain! She trusts to what her mind will not stop to question—she goes where she cannot help but follow.'
'How immeasurably greater your every word makes the prize of your love.'
'It is in no vanity that I say I know it,' said she calmly. 'Let us speak no more on this now.'
'But you will not refuse to listen to me, Nina?'
'I will read you if you write to me,' and with a wave of good-bye she slowly left the room.
'She is my master, even at my own game,' said Walpole, as he sat down, and rested his head between his hands. 'Still she is mistaken: I can write just as vaguely as I can speak, and if I could not, it would have cost me my freedom this many a day. With such a woman one might venture high, but Heaven help him when he ceased to climb the mountain!'
A CUP OP TEA
It was so rare an event of late for Nina to seek her cousin in her own room, that Kate was somewhat surprised to see Nina enter with all her old ease of manner, and flinging away her hat carelessly, say, 'Let me have a cup of tea, dearest, for I want to have a clear head and a calm mind for at least the next half-hour.'
'It is almost time to dress for dinner, especially for you, Nina, who make a careful toilet.'
'Perhaps I shall make less to-day, perhaps not go down to dinner at all. Do you know, child, I have every reason for agitation, and maiden bashfulness besides? Do you know I have had a proposal—a proposal in all form—from—but you shall guess whom.
'Mr. O'Shea, of course.'
'No, not Mr. O'Shea, though I am almost prepared for such a step on his part—nor from your brother Dick, who has been falling in and out of love with me for the last three months or more. My present conquest is the supremely arrogant, but now condescending, Mr. Walpole, who, for reasons of state and exigencies of party, has been led to believe that a pretty wife, with a certain amount of natural astuteness, might advance his interests, and tend to his promotion in public life; and with his old instincts as a gambler, he is actually ready to risk his fortunes on a single card, and I, the portionless Greek girl, with about the same advantages of family as of fortune—I am to be that queen of trumps on which he stands to win. And now, darling, the cup of tea, the cup of tea, if you want to hear more.'
While Kate was busy arranging the cups of a little tea-service that did duty in her dressing-room, Nina walked impatiently to and fro, talking with rapidity all the time.
'The man is a greater fool than I thought him, and mistakes his native weakness of mind for originality. If you had heard the imbecile nonsense he talked to me for political shrewdness, and when he had shown me what a very poor creature he was, he made me the offer of himself! This was so far honest and above-board. It was saying in so many words, "You see, I am a bankrupt." Now, I don't like bankrupts, either of mind or money. Could he not have seen that he who seeks my favour must sue in another fashion?'
'And so you refused him?' said Kate, as she poured out her tea.
'Far from it—I rather listened to his suit. I was so far curious to hear what he could plead in his behalf, that I bade him write it. Yes, dearest; it was a maxim of that very acute man my papa, that when a person makes you any dubious proposition in words, you oblige him to commit it to writing. Not necessarily to be used against him afterwards, but for this reason—and I can almost quote my papa's phrase on the occasion—in the homage of his self-love, a man will rarely write himself such a knave as he will dare to own when he is talking, and in that act of weakness is the gain of the other party to the compact.'
'I don't think I understand you.'
'I'm sure you do not; and you have put no sugar in my tea, which is worse. Do you mean to say that your clock is right, and that it is already nigh seven? Oh dear! and I, who have not told you one-half of my news, I must go and dress. I have a certain green silk with white roses which I mean to wear, and with my hair in that crimson Neapolitan net, it is a toilet a la minute.'
'You know how it becomes you,' said Kate, half slyly.
'Of course I do, or in this critical moment of my life I should not risk it. It will have its own suggestive meaning too. It will recall ce cher Cecil to days at Baia, or wandering along the coast at Portici. I have known a fragment of lace, a flower, a few bars of a song, do more to link the broken chain of memory than scores of more laboured recollections; and then these little paths that lead you back are so simple, so free from all premeditation. Don't you think so, dear?'
'I do not know, and if it were not rude, I'd say I do not care?'
'If my cup of tea were not so good, I should be offended, and leave the room after such a speech. But you do not know, you could not guess, the interesting things that I could tell you,' cried she, with an almost breathless rapidity. 'Just imagine that deep statesman, that profound plotter, telling me that they actually did not wish to capture Donogan—that they would rather that he should escape!'
'He told you this?'
'He did more: he showed me the secret instructions to his police creatures—I forget how they are called—showing what they might do to connive at his escape, and how they should—if they could—induce him to give some written pledge to leave Ireland for ever.'
'Oh, this is impossible!' cried Kate.
'I could prove it to you, if I had not just sent off the veritable bit of writing by post. Yes, stare and look horrified if you like; it is all true. I stole the piece of paper with the secret directions, and sent it straight to Donogan, under cover to Archibald Casey, Esq., 9 Lower Gardner Street, Dublin.'
'How could you have done such a thing?'
'Say, how could I have done otherwise. Donogan now knows whether it will become him to sign this pact with the enemy. If he deem his life worth having at the price, it is well that I should know it.'
'It is then of yourself you were thinking all the while.'
'Of myself and of him. I do not say I love this man; but I do say his conduct now shall decide if he be worth loving. There's the bell for dinner. You shall hear all I have to say this evening. What an interest it gives to life, even this much of plot and peril! Short of being with the rebel himself, Kate, and sharing his dangers, I know of nothing could have given me such delight.'
She turned back as she left the door, and said, 'Make Mr. Walpole take you down to dinner to-day; I shall take Mr. O'Shea's arm, or your brother's.'
The address of Archibald Casey, which Nina had used on this occasion, was that of a well-known solicitor in Dublin, whose Conservative opinions placed him above all suspicion or distrust. One of his clients, however—a certain Mr. Maher—had been permitted to have letters occasionally addressed to him to Casey's care; and Maher, being an old college friend of Donogan's, afforded him this mode of receiving letters in times of unusual urgency or danger. Maher shared very slightly in Donogan's opinions. He thought the men of the National party not only dangerous in themselves, but that they afforded a reason for many of the repressive laws which Englishmen passed with reference to Ireland. A friendship of early life, when both these young men were college students, had overcome such scruples, and Donogan had been permitted to have many letters marked simply with a D., which were sent under cover to Maher. This facility had, however, been granted so far back as '47, and had not been renewed in the interval, during which time the Archibald Casey of that period had died, and been succeeded by a son with the same name as his father.
When Nina, on looking over Donogan's note-book, came upon this address, she saw also some almost illegible words, which implied that it was only to be employed as the last resort, or had been so used—a phrase she could not exactly determine what it meant. The present occasion—so emergent in every way—appeared to warrant both haste and security; and so, under cover to S. Maher, she wrote to Donogan in these words:—
'I send you the words, in the original handwriting, of the instructions with regard to you. You will do what your honour and your conscience dictate. Do not write to me; the public papers will inform me what your decision has been, and I shall be satisfied, however it incline. I rely upon you to burn the inclosure.'
A suit-at-law, in which Casey acted as Maher's attorney at this period, required that the letters addressed to his house for Maher should be opened and read; and though the letter D. on the outside might have suggested a caution, Casey either overlooked or misunderstood it, and broke the seal. Not knowing what to think of this document, which was without signature, and had no clue to the writer except the postmark of Kilgobbin, Casey hastened to lay the letter as it stood before the barrister who conducted Maher's cause, and to ask his advice. The Right Hon. Paul Hartigan was an ex-Attorney-General of the Tory party—a zealous, active, but somewhat rash member of his party; still in the House, a member for Mallow, and far more eager for the return of his friends to power than the great man who dictated the tactics of the Opposition, and who with more of responsibility could calculate the chances of success.
Paul Hartigan's estimate of the Whigs was such that it would have in nowise astonished him to discover that Mr. Gladstone was in close correspondence with O'Donovan Rossa, or that Chichester Fortescue had been sworn in as a head-centre. That the whole Cabinet were secretly Papists, and held weekly confession at the feet of Dr. Manning, he was prepared to prove. He did not vouch for Mr. Lowe; but he could produce the form of scapular worn by Mr. Gladstone, and had a facsimile of the scourge by which Mr. Cardwell diurnally chastened his natural instincts.
If, then, he expressed but small astonishment at this 'traffic of the Government with rebellion,' for so he called it—he lost no time in endeavouring to trace the writer of the letter, and ascertaining, so far as he might, the authenticity of the inclosure.
'It's all true, Casey,' said he, a few days after his receipt of the papers. 'The instructions are written by Cecil Walpole, the private secretary of Lord Danesbury. I have obtained several specimens of his writing. There is no attempt at disguise or concealment in this. I have learned, too, that the police-constable Dargan is one of their most trusted agents; and the only thing now to find out is, who is the writer of the letter, for up to this all we know is, the hand is a woman's.'
Now it chanced that when Mr. Hartigan—who had taken great pains and bestowed much time to learn the story of the night attack on Kilgobbin, and wished to make the presence of Mr. Walpole on the scene the ground of a question in Parliament—had consulted the leader of the Opposition on the subject, he had met not only a distinct refusal of aid, but something very like a reproof for his ill-advised zeal. The Honourable Paul, not for the first time disposed to distrust the political loyalty that differed with his own ideas, now declared openly that he would not confide this great disclosure to the lukewarm advocacy of Mr. Disraeli; he would himself lay it before the House, and stand or fall by the result.
If the men who 'stand or fall' by any measure were counted, it is to be feared that they usually would be found not only in the category of the latter, but that they very rarely rise again, so very few are the matters which can be determined without some compromise, and so rare are the political questions which comprehend a distinct principle.
What warmed the Hartigan ardour, and, indeed, chafed it to a white heat on this occasion, was to see by the public papers that Daniel Donogan had been fixed on by the men of King's County as the popular candidate, and a public meeting held at Kilbeggan to declare that the man who should oppose him at the hustings should be pronounced the enemy of Ireland. To show that while this man was advertised in the Hue and Cry, with an immense reward for his apprehension, he was in secret protected by the Government, who actually condescended to treat with him; what an occasion would this afford for an attack that would revive the memories of Grattan's scorn and Curran's sarcasm, and declare to the senate of England that the men who led them were unworthy guardians of the national honour!
Whether Walpole found some peculiar difficulty in committing his intentions to writing, or whether the press of business which usually occupied his mornings served as an excuse, or whether he was satisfied with the progress of his suit by his personal assiduities, is not easy to say; but his attentions to Mademoiselle Kostalergi had now assumed the form which prudent mothers are wont to call 'serious,' and had already passed into that stage where small jealousies begin, and little episodes of anger and discontent are admitted as symptoms of the complaint.
In fact, he had got to think himself privileged to remonstrate against this, and to dictate that—a state, be it observed, which, whatever its effect upon the 'lady of his love,' makes a man particularly odious to the people around him, and he is singularly fortunate if it make him not ridiculous also.
The docile or submissive was not the remarkable element in Nina's nature. She usually resisted advice, and resented anything like dictation from any quarter. Indeed, they who knew her best saw that, however open to casual influences, a direct show of guidance was sure to call up all her spirit of opposition. It was, then, a matter of actual astonishment to all to perceive not only how quietly and patiently she accepted Walpole's comments and suggestions, but how implicitly she seemed to obey them.
All the little harmless freedoms of manner with Dick Kearney and O'Shea were now completely given up. No more was there between them that interchange of light persiflage which, presupposing some subject of common interest, is in itself a ground of intimacy.
She ceased to sing the songs that were their favourites. Her walks in the garden after breakfast, where her ready wit and genial pleasantry used to bring her a perfect troop of followers, were abandoned. The little projects of daily pleasure, hitherto her especial province, were changed for a calm subdued demeanour which, though devoid of all depression, wore the impress of a certain thoughtfulness and seriousness.
No man was less observant than old Kearney, and yet even he saw the change at last, and asked Kate what it might mean. 'She is not ill, I hope,' said he, 'or is our humdrum life too wearisome to her?'
'I do not suspect either,' said Kate slowly. 'I rather believe that as Mr. Walpole has paid her certain attentions, she has made the changes in her manner in deference to some wishes of his.'
'He wants her to be more English, perhaps,' said he sarcastically.
'Well, she is not born one of us, but she is like us all the same, and I'll be sorely grieved if she'll give up her light-heartedness and her pleasantry to win that Cockney.'
'I think she has won the Cockney already, sir.'
A long low whistle was his reply. At last he said, 'I suppose it's a very grand conquest, and what the world calls "an elegant match"; but may I never see Easter, if I wouldn't rather she'd marry a fine dashing young fellow over six feet high, like O'Shea there, than one of your gold-chain-and-locket young gentlemen who smile where they ought to laugh, and pick their way through life as a man crosses a stream on stepping-stones.'
'Maybe she does not like Mr. O'Shea, sir.'
'And do you think she likes the other man? or is it anything else than one of those mercenary attachments that you young ladies understand better, far better, than the most worldly-minded father or mother of us all?'
'Mr. Walpole has not, I believe, any fortune, sir. There is nothing very dazzling in his position or his prospects.'
'No. Not amongst his own set, nor with his own people—he is small enough there, I grant you; but when he come down to ours, Kitty, we think him a grandee of Spain; and if he was married into the family, we'd get off all his noble relations by heart, and soon start talking of our aunt, Lady Such-a-one, and Lord Somebody else, that was our first-cousin, till our neighbours would nearly die out of pure spite. Sitting down in one's poverty, and thinking over one's grand relations, is for all the world like Paddy eating his potatoes, and pointing at the red-herring—even the look of what he dare not taste flavours his meal.'
'At least, sir, you have found an excuse for our conduct.'
'Because we are all snobs, Kitty; because there is not a bit of honesty or manliness in our nature; and because our women, that need not be bargaining or borrowing—neither pawnbrokers nor usurers—are just as vulgar-minded as ourselves; and now that we have given twenty millions to get rid of slavery, like to show how they can keep it up in the old country, just out of defiance.'
'If you disapprove of Mr. Walpole, sir, I believe it is full time you should say so.'
'I neither approve nor disapprove of him. I don't well know whether I have any right to do either—I mean so far as to influence her choice. He belongs to a sort of men I know as little about as I do of the Choctaw Indians. They have lives and notions and ways all unlike ours. The world is so civil to them that it prepares everything to their taste. If they want to shoot, the birds are cooped up in a cover, and only let fly when they're ready. When they fish, the salmon are kept prepared to be caught; and if they make love, the young lady is just as ready to rise to the fly, and as willing to be bagged as either. Thank God, my darling, with all our barbarism, we have not come to that in Ireland.'
'Here comes Mr. Walpole now, sir; and if I read his face aright, he has something of importance to say to you.' Kate had barely time to leave the room as Walpole came forward with an open telegram and a mass of papers in his hand.
'May I have a few moments of conversation with you?' said he; and in the tone of his words, and a certain gravity in his manner, Kearney thought he could perceive what the communication portended.
'I am at your orders,' said Kearney, and he placed a chair for the other.
'An incident has befallen my life here, Mr. Kearney, which, I grieve to say, may not only colour the whole of my future career, but not impossibly prove the barrier to my pursuit of public life.'
Kearney stared at him as he finished speaking, and the two men sat fixedly gazing on each other.
'It is, I hasten to own, the one unpleasant, the one, the only one, disastrous event of a visit full of the happiest memories of my life. Of your generous and graceful hospitality, I cannot say half what I desire—'
'Say nothing about my hospitality,' said Kearney, whose irritation as to what the other called a disaster left him no place for any other sentiment; 'but just tell me why you count this a misfortune.'
'I call a misfortune, sir, what may not only depose me from my office and my station, but withdraw entirely from me the favour and protection of my uncle, Lord Danesbury.'
'Then why the devil do you do it?' cried Kearney angrily.
'Why do I do what, sir? I am not aware of any action of mine you should question with such energy.'
'I mean, if it only tends to ruin your prospects and disgust your family, why do you persist, sir? I was going to say more, and ask with what face you presume to come and tell these things to me?'
'I am really unable to understand you, sir.'
'Mayhap, we are both of us in the same predicament,' cried Kearney, as he wiped his brow in proof of his confusion.
'Had you accorded me a very little patience, I might, perhaps, have explained myself.'
Not trusting himself with a word, Kearney nodded, and the other went on: 'The post this morning brought me, among other things, these two newspapers, with penmarks in the margin to direct my attention. This is the Lily of Londonderry, a wild Orange print; this the Banner of Ulster, a journal of the same complexion. Here is what the Lily says: "Our county member, Sir Jonas Gettering, is now in a position to call the attention of Parliament to a document which will distinctly show how Her Majesty's Ministers are not only in close correspondence with the leaders of Fenianism, but that Irish rebellion receives its support and comfort from the present Cabinet. Grave as this charge is, and momentous as would be the consequences of such an allegation if unfounded, we repeat that such a document is in existence, and that we who write these lines have held it in our hands and have perused it."
'The Banner copies the paragraph, and adds, "We give all the publicity in our power to a statement which, from our personal knowledge, we can declare to be true. If the disclosures which a debate on this subject must inevitably lead to will not convince Englishmen that Ireland is now governed by a party whose falsehood and subtlety not even Machiavelli himself could justify, we are free to declare we are ready to join the Nationalists to-morrow, and to cry out for a Parliament in College Green, in preference to a Holy Inquisition at Westminster."'
'That fellow has blood in him,' cried Kearney, with enthusiasm, 'and I go a long way with him.'
'That may be, sir, and I am sorry to hear it,' said Walpole coldly; 'but what I am concerned to tell you is, that the document or memorandum here alluded to was among my papers, and abstracted from them since I have been here.'
'So that there was actually such a paper?' broke in Kearney.
'There was a paper which the malevolence of a party journalist could convert to the support of such a charge. What concerns me more immediately is, that it has been stolen from my despatch-box.'
'Are you certain of that?'
'I believe I can prove it. The only day in which I was busied with these papers, I carried them down to the library, and with my own hands I brought them back to my room and placed them under lock and key at once. The box bears no trace of having been broken, so that the only solution is a key. Perhaps my own key may have been used to open it, for the document is gone.'
'This is a bad business,' said Kearney sorrowfully.
'It is ruin to me,' cried Walpole, with passion. 'Here is a despatch from Lord Danesbury, commanding me immediately to go over to him in Wales, and I can guess easily what has occasioned the order.'
'I'll send for a force of Dublin detectives. I'll write to the chief of the police. I'll not rest till I have every one in the house examined on oath,' cried Kearney. 'What was it like? Was it a despatch—was it in an envelope?'
'It was a mere memorandum—a piece of post-paper, and headed, "Draught of instruction touching D.D. Forward to chief constable of police at Letterkenny. October 9th."'
'But you had no direct correspondence with Donogan?'
'I believe, sir, I need not assure you I had not. The malevolence of party has alone the merit of such an imputation. For reasons of state, we desired to observe a certain course towards the man, and Orange malignity is pleased to misrepresent and calumniate us.'
'And can't you say so in Parliament?'
'So we will, sir, and the nation will believe us. Meanwhile, see the mischief that the miserable slander will reflect upon our administration here, and remember that the people who could alone contradict the story are those very Fenians who will benefit by its being believed.'
'Do your suspicions point to any one in particular? Do you believe that Curtis—?'
'I had it in my hand the day after he left.'
'Was any one aware of its existence here but yourself?'
'None—wait, I am wrong. Your niece saw it. She was in the library one day. I was engaged in writing, and as we grew to talk over the country, I chanced to show her the despatch.'
'Let us ask her if she remembers whether any servant was about at the time, or happened to enter the room.'
'I can myself answer that question. I know there was not.'
'Let us call her down and see what she remembers,' said Kearney.
'I'd rather not, sir. A mere question in such a case would be offensive, and I would not risk the chance. What I would most wish is, to place my despatch-box, with the key, in your keeping, for the purposes of the inquiry, for I must start in half an hour. I have sent for post-horses to Moate, and ordered a special train to town. I shall, I hope, catch the eight o'clock boat for Holyhead, and be with his lordship before this time to-morrow. If I do not see the ladies, for I believe they are out walking, will you make my excuses and my adieux? my confusion and discomfiture will, I feel sure, plead for me. It would not be, perhaps, too much to ask for any information that a police inquiry might elicit; and if either of the young ladies would vouchsafe me a line to say what, if anything, has been discovered, I should feel deeply gratified.'
'I'll look to that. You shall be informed.'
'There was another question that I much desired to speak of,' and here he hesitated and faltered; 'but perhaps, on every score, it is as well I should defer it till my return to Ireland.'
'You know best, whatever it is,' said the old man dryly.
'Yes, I think so. I am sure of it. 'A hurried shake-hands followed, and he was gone.
It is but right to add that a glance at the moment through the window had shown him the wearer of a muslin dress turning into the copse outside the garden, and Walpole dashed down the stairs and hurried in the direction he saw Nina take, with all the speed he could.
'Get my luggage on the carriage, and have everything ready,' said he, as the horses were drawn up at the door. 'I shall return in a moment.'
When Walpole hurried into the beech alley which he had seen Nina take, and followed her in all haste, he did not stop to question himself why he did so. Indeed, if prudence were to be consulted, there was every reason in the world why he should rather have left his leave-takings to the care of Mr. Kearney than assume the charge of them himself; but if young gentlemen who fall in love were only to be logical or 'consequent,' the tender passion would soon lose some of the contingencies which give it much of its charm, and people who follow such occupations as mine would discover that they had lost one of the principal employments of their lifetime.
As he went along, however, he bethought him that as it was to say good-bye he now followed her, it behoved him to blend his leave-taking with that pledge of a speedy return, which, like the effects of light in landscape, bring out the various tints in the richest colouring, and mark more distinctly all that is in shadow. 'I shall at least see,' muttered he to himself, 'how far my presence here serves to brighten her daily life, and what amount of gloom my absence will suggest.' Cecil Walpole was one of a class—and I hasten to say it is a class—who, if not very lavish of their own affections, or accustomed to draw largely on their own emotions, are very fond of being loved themselves, and not only are they convinced that as there can be nothing more natural or reasonable than to love them, it is still a highly commendable feature in the person who carries that love to the extent of a small idolatry, and makes it the business of a life. To worship the men of this order constitutes in their eyes a species of intellectual superiority for which they are grateful, and this same gratitude represents to themselves all of love their natures are capable of feeling.
He knew thoroughly that Nina was not alone the most beautiful woman he had ever seen, that the fascinations of her manner, and her grace of movement and gesture, exercised a sway that was almost magic; that in quickness to apprehend and readiness to reply, she scarcely had an equal; and that whether she smiled, or looked pensive, or listened, or spoke, there was an absorbing charm about her that made one forget all else around her, and unable to see any but her; and yet, with all this consciousness, he recognised no trait about her so thoroughly attractive as that she admired him.
Let me not be misunderstood. This same sentiment can be at times something very different from a mere egotism—not that I mean to say it was such in the present case. Cecil Walpole fully represented the order he belonged to, and was a most well-looking, well-dressed, and well-bred young gentleman, only suggesting the reflection that, to live amongst such a class pure and undiluted, would be little better than a life passed in the midst of French communism.
I have said that, after his fashion, he was 'in love' with her, and so, after his fashion, he wanted to say that he was going away, and to tell her not to be utterly disconsolate till he came back again. 'I can imagine,' thought he, 'how I made her life here, how, in developing the features that attract me, I made her a very different creature to herself.'
It was not at all unpleasant to him to think that the people who should surround her were so unlike himself. 'The barbarians,' as he courteously called them to himself, 'will be very hard to endure. Nor am I very sorry for it, only she must catch nothing of their traits in accommodating herself to their habits. On that I must strongly insist. Whether it be by singing their silly ballads—that four-note melody they call "Irish music," or through mere imitation, she has already caught a slight accent of the country. She must get rid of this. She will have to divest herself of all her "Kilgobbinries" ere I present her to my friends in town.' Apart from these disparagements, she could, as he expressed it, 'hold her own,' and people take a very narrow view of the social dealings of the world, who fail to see how much occasion a woman has for the exercise of tact and temper and discretion and ready-wittedness and generosity in all the well-bred intercourse of life. Just as Walpole had arrived at that stage of reflection to recognise that she was exactly the woman to suit him and push his fortunes with the world, he reached a part of the wood where a little space had been cleared, and a few rustic seats scattered about to make a halting-place. The sound of voices caught his ear, and he stopped, and now, looking stealthily through the brushwood, he saw Gorman O'Shea as he lay in a lounging attitude on a bench and smoked his cigar, while Nina Kostalergi was busily engaged in pinning up the skirt of her dress in a festoon fashion, which, to Cecil's ideas at least, displayed more of a marvellously pretty instep and ankle than he thought strictly warranted. Puzzling as this seemed, the first words she spoke gave the explanation.
'Don't flatter yourself, most valiant soldier, that you are going to teach me the "Czardasz." I learned it years ago from Tassilo Esterhazy; but I asked you to come here to set me right about that half-minuet step that begins it. I believe I have got into the habit of doing the man's part, for I used to be Pauline Esterhazy's partner after Tassilo went away.'
'You had a precious dancing-master in Tassilo,' growled out O'Shea. 'The greatest scamp in the Austrian army.'
'I know nothing of the moralities of the Austrian army, but the count was a perfect gentleman, and a special friend of mine.'
'I am sorry for it,' was the gruff rejoinder.
'You have nothing to grieve for, sir. You have no vested interest to be imperilled by anything that I do.'
'Let us not quarrel, at all events,' said he, as he arose with some alacrity and flung away his cigar; and Walpole turned away, as little pleased with what he had heard as dissatisfied with himself for having listened. 'And we call these things accidents,' muttered he; 'but I believe Fortune means more generously by us when she crosses our path in this wise. I almost wish I had gone a step farther, and stood before them. At least it would have finished this episode, and without a word. As it is, a mere phrase will do it—the simple question as to what progress she makes in dancing will show I know all. But do I know all?' Thus speculating and ruminating, he went his way till he reached the carriage, and drove off at speed, for the first time in his life, really and deeply in love!
He made his journey safely, and arrived at Holyhead by daybreak. He had meant to go over deliberately all that he should say to the Viceroy, when questioned, as he expected to be, on the condition of Ireland. It was an old story, and with very few variations to enliven it.
How was it that, with all his Irish intelligence well arranged in his mind—the agrarian crime, the ineffective police, the timid juries, the insolence of the popular press, and the arrogant demands of the priesthood—how was it that, ready to state all these obstacles to right government, and prepared to show that it was only by 'out-jockeying' the parties, he could hope to win in Ireland still, that Greek girl, and what he called her perfidy, would occupy a most disproportionate share of his thoughts, and a larger place in his heart also? The simple truth is, that though up to this Walpole found immense pleasure in his flirtation with Nina Kostalergi, yet his feeling for her now was nearer love than anything he had experienced before. The bare suspicion that a woman could jilt him, or the possible thought that a rival could be found to supplant him, gave, by the very pain it occasioned, such an interest to the episode, that he could scarcely think of anything else. That the most effectual way to deal with the Greek was to renew his old relations with his cousin Lady Maude was clear enough. 'At least I shall seem to be the traitor,' thought he, 'and she shall not glory in the thought of having deceived me.' While he was still revolving these thoughts, he arrived at the castle, and learned as he crossed the door that his lordship was impatient to see him.
Lord Danesbury had never been a fluent speaker in public, while in private life a natural indolence of disposition, improved, so to say, by an Eastern life, had made him so sparing of his words, that at times when he was ill or indisposed he could never be said to converse at all, and his talk consisted of very short sentences strung loosely together, and not unfrequently so ill-connected as to show that an unexpressed thought very often intervened between the uttered fragments. Except to men who, like Walpole, knew him intimately, he was all but unintelligible. The private secretary, however, understood how to fill up the blanks in any discourse, and so follow out indications which, to less practised eyes, left no footmarks behind them.
His Excellency, slowly recovering from a sharp attack of gout, was propped by pillows, and smoking a long Turkish pipe, as Cecil entered the room and saluted him. 'Come at last,' was his lordship's greeting. 'Ought to have been here weeks ago. Read that.' And he pushed towards him a Times, with a mark on the margin: 'To ask the Secretary for Ireland whether the statement made by certain newspapers in the North of a correspondence between the Castle authorities and the Fenian leader was true, and whether such correspondence could be laid on the table of the House?'
'Read it out,' cried the Viceroy, as Walpole conned over the paragraph somewhat slowly to himself.
'I think, my lord, when you have heard a few words of explanation from me, you will see that this charge has not the gravity these newspaper-people would like to attach to it.'
'Can't be explained—nothing could justify—infernal blunder—and must go.'
'Pray, my lord, vouchsafe me even five minutes.'
'See it all—balderdash—explain nothing—Cardinal more offended than the rest—and here, read.' And he pushed a letter towards him, dated Downing Street, and marked private. 'The idiot you left behind you has been betrayed into writing to the rebels and making conditions with them. To disown him now is not enough.'
'Really, my lord, I don't see why I should submit to the indignity of reading more of this.'
His Excellency crushed the letter in his hand, and puffed very vigorously at his pipe, which was nearly extinguished. 'Must go,' said he at last, as a fresh volume of smoke rolled forth.
'That I can believe—that I can understand, my lord. When you tell me you cease to endorse my pledges, I feel I am a bankrupt in your esteem.'
'Others smashed in the same insolvency—inconceivable blunder—where was Cartwright?—what was Holmes about? No one in Dublin to keep you out of this cursed folly?'
'Until your lordship's patience will permit me to say a few words, I cannot hope to justify my conduct.'
'No justifying—no explaining—no! regular smash and complete disgrace. Must go.'
'I am quite ready to go. Your Excellency has no need to recall me to the necessity.'
'Knew it all—and against my will, too—said so from the first—thing I never liked—nor see my way in. Must go—must go.'
'I presume, my lord, I may leave you now. I want a bath and a cup of coffee.'
'Answer that!' was the gruff reply, as he tossed across the table a few lines signed, 'Bertie Spencer, Private Secretary.'
'"I am directed to request that Mr. Walpole will enable the Right Honourable Mr. Annihough to give the flattest denial to the inclosed."'
'That must be done at once,' said the Viceroy, as the other ceased to read the note.
'It is impossible, my lord; I cannot deny my own handwriting.'
'Annihough will find some road out of it,' muttered the other. 'You were a fool, and mistook your instructions, or the constable was a fool and required a misdirection, or the Fenian was a fool, which he would have been if he gave the pledge you asked for. Must go, all the same.'
'But I am quite ready to go, my lord,' rejoined Walpole angrily. 'There is no need to insist so often on that point.'
'Who talks—who thinks of you, sir?' cried the other, with an irritated manner. 'I speak of myself. It is I must resign—no great sacrifice, perhaps, after all; stupid office, false position, impracticable people. Make them all Papists to-morrow, and ask to be Hindus. They've got the land, and not content if they can't shoot the landlords!'
'If you think, my lord, that by any personal explanation of mine, I could enable the Minister to make his answer in the House more plausible—'
'Leave the plausibility to himself, sir,' and then he added, half aloud, 'he'll be unintelligible enough without you. There, go, and get some breakfast—come back afterwards, and I'll dictate my letter of resignation. Maude has had a letter from Atlee. Shrewd fellow, Atlee—done the thing well.'
As Walpole was near the door, his Excellency said, 'You can have Guatemala, if they have not given it away. It will get you out of Europe, which is the first thing, and with the yellow fever it may do more.'
'I am profoundly grateful, my lord,' said he, bowing low.
'Maude, of course, would not go, so it ends that.'
'I am deeply touched by the interest your lordship vouchsafes to my concerns.'
'Try and live five years, and you'll have a retiring allowance. The last fellow did, but was eaten by a crocodile out bathing.' And with this he resumed his Times, and turned away, while Walpole hastened off to his room, in a frame of mind very far from comfortable or reassuring.
A CHANCE AGREEMENT
As Dick Kearney and young O'Shea had never attained any close intimacy—a strange sort of half-jealousy, inexplicable as to its cause, served to keep them apart—it was by mere accident that the two young men met one morning after breakfast in the garden, and on Kearney's offer of a cigar, the few words that followed led to a conversation.
'I cannot pretend to give you a choice Havana, like one of Walpole's,' said Dick, 'but you'll perhaps find it smokeable.'
'I'm not difficult,' said the other; 'and as to Mr. Walpole's tobacco, I don't think I ever tasted it.'
'And I,' rejoined the other, 'as seldom as I could; I mean, only when politeness obliged me.'
'I thought you liked him?' said Gorman shortly.
'I? Far from it. I thought him a consummate puppy, and I saw that he looked down on us as inveterate savages.'
'He was a favourite with your ladies, I think?'
'Certainly not with my sister, and I doubt very much with my cousin. Do you like him?'
'No, not at all; but then he belongs to a class of men I neither understand nor sympathise with. Whatever I know of life is associated with downright hard work. As a soldier I had my five hours' daily drill and the care of my equipments, as a lieutenant I had to see that my men kept to their duty, and whenever I chanced to have a little leisure, I could not give it up to ennui or consent to feel bored and wearied.'
'And do you mean to say you had to groom your horse and clean your arms when you served in the ranks?'
'Not always. As a cadet I had a soldier-servant, what we call a "Bursche"; but there were periods when I was out of funds, and barely able to grope my way to the next quarter-day, and at these times I had but one meal a day, and obliged to draw my waist-belt pretty tight to make me feel I had eaten enough. A Bursche costs very little, but I could not spare even that little.'
'Confoundedly hard that.'
'All my own fault. By a little care and foresight, even without thrift, I had enough to live as well as I ought; but a reckless dash of the old spendthrift blood I came of would master me now and then, and I'd launch out into some extravagance that would leave me penniless for months after.'
'I believe I can understand that. One does get horribly bored by the monotony of a well-to-do existence: just as I feel my life here—almost insupportable.'
'But you are going into Parliament; you are going to be a great public man.'
'That bubble has burst already; don't you know what happened at Birr? They tore down all Miller's notices and mine, they smashed our booths, beat our voters out of the town, and placed Donogan—the rebel Donogan—at the head of the poll, and the head-centre is now M.P. for King's County.'
'And he has a right to sit in the House?'
'There's the question. The matter is discussed every day in the newspapers, and there are as many for as against him. Some aver that the popular will is a sovereign edict that rises above all eventualities; others assert that the sentence which pronounces a man a felon declares him to be dead in law.'
'And which side do you incline to?'
'I believe in the latter: he'll not be permitted to take his seat.'
'You'll have another chance, then?'
'No; I'll venture no more. Indeed, but for this same man Donogan, I had never thought of it. He filled my head with ideas of a great part to be played and a proud place to be occupied, and that even without high abilities, a man of a strong will, a fixed resolve, and an honest conscience, might at this time do great things for Ireland.'
'And then betrayed you?'
'No such thing; he no more dreamed of Parliament himself than you do now. He knew he was liable to the law,—he was hiding from the police—and well aware that there was a price upon his head.'
'But if he was true to you, why did he not refuse this honour? why did he not decline to be elected?'
'They never gave him the choice. Don't you see, it is one of the strange signs of the strange times we are living in that the people fix upon certain men as their natural leaders and compel them to march in the van, and that it is the force at the back of these leaders that, far more than their talents, makes them formidable in public life.'
'I only follow it in part. I scarcely see what they aim at, and I do not know if they see it more clearly themselves. And now, what will you turn to?'
'I wish you could tell me.'
'About as blank a future as my own,' muttered Gorman.
'Come, come, you have a career: you are a lieutenant of lancers; in time you will be a captain, and eventually a colonel, and who knows but a general at last, with Heaven knows how many crosses and medals on your breast.'
'Nothing less likely—the day is gone by when Englishmen were advanced to places of high honour and trust in the Austrian army. There are no more field-marshals like Nugent than major-generals like O'Connell. I might be made a Rittmeister, and if I lived long enough, and was not superannuated, a major; but there my ambition must cease.'
'And you are content with that prospect?'
'Of course I am not. I go back to it with something little short of despair.'
'Why go back, then?'
'Tell me what else to do—tell me what other road in life to take—show me even one alternative.'
The silence that now succeeded lasted several minutes, each immersed in his own thoughts, and each doubtless convinced how little presumption he had to advise or counsel the other.
'Do you know, O'Shea,' cried Kearney, 'I used to fancy that this Austrian life of yours was a mere caprice—that you took "a cast," as we call it in the hunting-field, amongst those fellows to see what they were like and what sort of an existence was theirs—but that being your aunt's heir, and with a snug estate that must one day come to you, it was a mere "lark," and not to be continued beyond a year or two?'
'Not a bit of it. I never presumed to think I should be my aunt's heir—and now less than ever. Do you know, that even the small pension she has allowed me hitherto is now about to be withdrawn, and I shall be left to live on my pay?'
'How much does that mean?'
'A few pounds more or less than you pay for your saddle-horse at livery at Dycers'.'
'You don't mean that?'
'I do mean it, and even that beggarly pittance is stopped when I am on my leave; so that at this moment my whole worldly wealth is here,' and he took from his pocket a handful of loose coin, in which a few gold pieces glittered amidst a mass of discoloured and smooth-looking silver.
'On my oath, I believe you are the richer man of the two,' cried Kearney, 'for except a few half-crowns on my dressing-table, and some coppers, I don't believe I am master of a coin with the Queen's image.'
'I say, Kearney, what a horrible take-in we should prove to mothers with daughters to marry!'
'Not a bit of it. You may impose upon any one else—your tailor, your bootmaker, even the horsy gent that jobs your cabriolet, but you'll never cheat the mamma who has the daughter on sale.'
Gorman could not help laughing at the more than ordinary irritability with which these words were spoken, and charged him at last with having uttered a personal experience.
'True, after all!' said Dick, half indolently. 'I used to spoon a pretty girl up in Dublin, ride with her when I could, and dance with her at all the balls, and a certain chum of mine—a Joe Atlee—of whom you may have heard—under-took, simply by a series of artful rumours as to my future prospects—now extolling me as a man of fortune and a fine estate, to-morrow exhibiting me as a mere pretender with a mock title and mock income—to determine how I should be treated in this family; and he would say to me, "Dick, you are going to be asked to dinner on Saturday next"; or, "I say, old fellow, they're going to leave you out of that picnic at Powerscourt. You'll find the Clancys rather cold at your next meeting."'
'And he would be right in his guess?'
'To the letter! Ay, and I shame to say that the young girl answered the signal as promptly as the mother.'
'I hope it cured you of your passion?'
'I don't know that it did. When you begin to like a girl, and find that she has regularly installed herself in a corner of your heart, there is scarcely a thing she can do you'll not discover a good reason for; and even when your ingenuity fails, go and pay a visit; there is some artful witchery in that creation you have built up about her—for I heartily believe most of us are merely clothing a sort of lay figure of loveliness with attributes of our fancy—and the end of it is, we are about as wise about our idols as the South Sea savages in their homage to the gods of their own carving.'
'I don't think that!' said Gorman sternly. 'I could no more invent the fascination that charms me than I could model a Venus or an Ariadne.'
'I see where your mistake lies. You do all this, and never know you do it. Mind, I am only giving you Joe Atlee's theory all this time; for though I believe in, I never invented it.'
'And who is Atlee?'
'A chum of mine—a clever dog enough—who, as he says himself, takes a very low opinion of mankind, and in consequence finds this a capital world to live in.'
'I should hate the fellow.'
'Not if you met him. He can be very companionable, though I never saw any one take less trouble to please. He is popular almost everywhere.'
'I know I should hate him.'
'My cousin Nina thought the same, and declared, from the mere sight of his photograph, that he was false and treacherous, and Heaven knows what else besides; and now she'll not suffer a word in his disparagement. She began exactly as you say you would, by a strong prejudice against him. I remember the day he came down here—her manner towards him was more than distant; and I told my sister Kate how it offended me; and Kate only smiled and said, "Have a little patience, Dick."'
'And you took the advice? You did have a little patience?'
'Yes; and the end is they are firm friends. I'm not sure they don't correspond.'
'Is there love in the case, then?'
'That is what I cannot make out. So far as I know either of them, there is no trustfulness in their dispositions; each of them must see into the nature of the other. I have heard Joe Atlee say, "With that woman for a wife, a man might safely bet on his success in life." And she herself one day owned, "If a girl was obliged to marry a man without sixpence, she might take Atlee."'
'So, I have it, they will be man and wife yet!'
'Who knows! Have another weed?'
Gorman declined the offered cigar, and again a pause in the conversation followed. At last he suddenly said, 'She told me she thought she would marry Walpole.'
'She told you that? How did it come about to make you such a confidence?'
'Just this way. I was getting a little—not spooney—but attentive, and rather liked hanging after her; and in one of our walks in the wood—and there was no flirting at the time between us—she suddenly said, "I don't think you are half a bad fellow, lieutenant." "Thanks for the compliment," said I coldly. She never heeded my remark, but went on, "I mean, in fact, that if you had something to live for, and somebody to care about, there is just the sort of stuff in you to make you equal to both." Not exactly knowing what I said, and half, only half in earnest, I answered, "Why can I not have one to care for?" And I looked tenderly into her eyes as I spoke. She did not wince under my glance. Her face was calm, and her colour did not change; and she was full a minute before she said, with a faint sigh, "I suppose I shall marry Cecil Walpole." "Do you mean," said I, "against your will?" "Who told you I had a will, sir?" said she haughtily; "or that if I had, I should now be walking here in this wood alone with you? No, no," added she hurriedly, "you cannot understand me. There is nothing to be offended at. Go and gather me some of those wild flowers, and we'll talk of something else."'
'How like her!—how like her!' said Dick, and then looked sad and pondered. 'I was very near falling in love with her myself!' said he, after a considerable pause.
'She has a way of curing a man if he should get into such an indiscretion,' muttered Gorman, and there was bitterness in his voice as he spoke.
'Listen! listen to that!' and from an open window of the house there came the prolonged cadence of a full sweet voice, as Nina was singing an Irish ballad air. 'That's for my father! "Kathleen Mavourneen" is one of his favourites, and she can make him cry over it.'
'I'm not very soft-hearted,' muttered Gorman, 'but she gave me a sense of fulness in the throat, like choking, the other day, that I vowed to myself I'd never listen to that song again.'
'It is not her voice—it is not the music—there is some witchery in the woman herself that does it,' cried Dick, almost fiercely. 'Take a walk with her in the wood, saunter down one of these alleys in the garden, and I'll be shot if your heart will not begin to beat in another fashion, and your brain to weave all sorts of bright fancies, in which she will form the chief figure; and though you'll be half inclined to declare your love, and swear that you cannot live without her, some terror will tell you not to break the spell of your delight, but to go on walking there at her side, and hearing her words just as though that ecstasy could last for ever.'
'I suspect you are in love with her,' said O'Shea dryly.
'Not now. Not now; and I'll take care not to have a relapse,' said he gravely.
'How do you mean to manage that?'
'The only one way it is possible—not to see her, nor to hear her—not to live in the same land with her. I have made up my mind to go to Australia. I don't well know what to do when I get there; but whatever it be, and whatever it cost me to bear, I shall meet it without shrinking, for there will be no old associates to look on and remark upon my shabby clothes and broken boots.'
'What will the passage cost you?' asked Gorman eagerly.
'I have ascertained that for about fifty pounds I can land myself in Melbourne, and if I have a ten-pound note after, it is as much as I mean to provide.'
'If I can raise the money, I'll go with you,' said O'Shea.
'Will you? is this serious? is it a promise?'
'I pledge my word on it. I'll go over to the Barn to-day and see my aunt. I thought up to this I could not bring myself to go there, but I will now. It is for the last time in my life, and I must say good-bye, whether she helps me or not.'
'You'll scarcely like to ask her for money,' said Dick.
'Scarcely—at all events, I'll see her, and I'll tell her that I'm going away, with no other thought in my mind than of all the love and affection she had for me, worse luck mine that I have not got them still.'
'Shall I walk over with—? would you rather be alone?'
'I believe so! I think I should like to be alone.'
'Let us meet, then, on this spot to-morrow, and decide what is to be done?'
'Agreed!' cried O'Shea, and with a warm shake-hands to ratify the pledge, they parted: Dick towards the lower part of the garden, while O'Shea turned towards the house.
We have all of us felt how depressing is the sensation felt in a family circle in the first meeting after the departure of their guests. The friends who have been staying some time in your house not only bring to the common stock their share of pleasant converse and companionship, but, in the quality of strangers, they exact a certain amount of effort for their amusement, which is better for him who gives than for the recipient, and they impose that small reserve which excludes the purely personal inconveniences and contrarieties, which unhappily, in strictly family intercourse, have no small space allotted them for discussion.
It is but right to say that they who benefit most by, and most gratefully acknowledge, this boon of the visitors, are the young. The elders, sometimes more disposed to indolence than effort, sometimes irritable at the check essentially put upon many little egotisms of daily use, and oftener than either, perhaps, glad to get back to the old groove of home discussion, unrestrained by the presence of strangers; the elders are now and then given to express a most ungracious gratitude for being once again to themselves, and free to be as confidential and outspoken and disagreeable as their hearts desire.
The dinner at Kilgobbin Castle, on the day I speak of, consisted solely of the Kearney family, and except in the person of the old man himself, no trace of pleasantry could be detected. Kate had her own share of anxieties. A number of notices had been served by refractory tenants for demands they were about to prefer for improvements, under the new land act. The passion for litigation, so dear to the Irish peasant's heart—that sense of having something to be quibbled for, so exciting to the imaginative nature of the Celt, had taken possession of all the tenants on the estate, and even the well-to-do and the satisfied were now bestirring themselves to think if they had not some grievance to be turned into profit, and some possible hardship to be discounted into an abatement.
Dick Kearney, entirely preoccupied by the thought of his intended journey, already began to feel that the things of home touched him no longer. A few months more and he should be far away from Ireland and her interests, and why should he harass himself about the contests of party or the balance of factions, which never again could have any bearing on his future life. His whole thought was what arrangement he could make with his father by which, for a little present assistance, he might surrender all his right on the entail and give up Kilgobbin for ever.
As for Nina, her complexities were too many and too much interwoven for our investigation; and there were thoughts of all the various persons she had met in Ireland, mingled with scenes of the past, and, more strangely still, the people placed in situations and connections which by no likelihood should they ever have occupied. The thought that the little comedy of everyday life, which she relished immensely, was now to cease for lack of actors, made her serious—almost sad—and she seldom spoke during the meal.
At Lord Kilgobbin's request, that they would not leave him to take his wine alone, they drew their chairs round the dining-room fire; but, except the bright glow of the ruddy turf, and the pleasant look of the old man himself, there was little that smacked of the agreeable fireside.
'What has come over you girls this evening?' said the old man. 'Are you in love, or has the man that ought to be in love with either of you discovered it was only a mistake he was making?'
'Ask Nina, sir,' said Kate gravely.
'Perhaps you are right, uncle,' said Nina dreamily.
'In which of my guesses—the first or the last?'
'Don't puzzle me, sir, for I have no head for a subtle distinction. I only meant to say it is not so easy to be in love without mistakes. You mistake realities and traits for something not a bit like them, and you mistake yourself by imagining that you mind them.'
'I don't think I understand you,' said the old man.
'Very likely not, sir. I do not know if I had a meaning that I could explain.'
'Nina wants to tell you, my lord, that the right man has not come forward yet, and she does not know whether she'll keep the place open in her heart for him any longer,' said Dick, with a half-malicious glance.
'That terrible Cousin Dick! nothing escapes him,' said Nina, with a faint smile.
'Is there any more in the newspapers about that scandal of the Government?' cried the old man, turning to Kate.
'Is there not going to be some inquiry as to whether his Excellency wrote to the Fenians?'
'There are a few words here, papa,' cried Kate, opening the paper. '"In reply to the question of Sir Barnes Malone as to the late communications alleged to have passed between the head of the Irish Government and the head-centre of the Fenians, the Right Honourable the First Lord of the Treasury said, 'That the question would be more properly addressed to the noble lord the Secretary for Ireland, who was not then in the House. Meanwhile, sir,' continued he, 'I will take on myself the responsibility of saying that in this, as in a variety of other cases, the zeal of party has greatly outstripped the discretion that should govern political warfare. The exceptional state of a nation, in which the administration of justice mainly depends on those aids which a rigid morality might disparage—the social state of a people whose integrity calls for the application of means the most certain to disseminate distrust and disunion, are facts which constitute reasons for political action that, however assailable in the mere abstract, the mind of statesmanlike form will at once accept as solid and effective, and to reject which would only show that, in over-looking the consequences of sentiment, a man can ignore the most vital interests of his country.'"'
'Does he say that they wrote to Donogan?' cried Kilgobbin, whose patience had been sorely pushed by the Premier's exordium.
'Let me read on, papa.'
'Skip all that, and get down to a simple question and answer, Kitty; don't read the long sentences.'
'This is how he winds up, papa. "I trust I have now, sir, satisfied the House that there are abundant reasons why this correspondence should not be produced on the table, while I have further justified my noble friend for a course of action in which the humanity of the man takes no lustre from the glory of the statesman"—then there are some words in Latin—"and the right hon. gentleman resumed his seat amidst loud cheers, in which some of the Opposition were heard to join."'
'I want to be told, after all, did they write the letter to say Donogan was to be let escape?'
'Would it have been a great crime, uncle?' said Nina artlessly.
'I'm not going into that. I'm only asking what the people over us say is the best way to govern us. I'd like to know, once for all, what was wrong and what was right in Ireland.'
'Has not the Premier just told you, sir,' replied Nina, 'that it is always the reverse of what obtains everywhere else?'
'I have had enough of it, anyhow,' cried Dick, who, though not intending it before, now was carried away by a momentary gust of passion to make the avowal.
'Have you been in the Cabinet all this time, then, without our knowing it?' asked Nina archly.
'It is not of the Cabinet I was speaking, mademoiselle. It was of the country.' And he answered haughtily.